gone!" the deputy shouts, like he's one of the disciples
staring into Jesus's empty tomb. "Bubba! You bastard!"
I open my eyes in time to see scrambled
eggs falling into my cell and jiggling on the floor. Then
I look over at Bubba's bed—empty—and up at
the window. Bars sawed off, window wide open.
"So that's why I was so cold,"
Bubba'd been serving a month for assaulting
the deputy, and he'd only had six days left before he
was a free man again. Apparently, he couldn't wait. He'd
left the file under my pillow so I could use it once they
put new bars up. Of course my Dad, the sheriff, finds
"So you're in on this," he
"No," I say, knowing he'd
never believe me. "Really."
He spits on my bed and throws the file
into the spit. The edge is shiny from rubbing the bars
have thought Bubba would have done it like they always
do in the movies, puffing his pillow up under his blanket
like it's him asleep in bed, but he didn't. He's too tidy
for that. He'd made the bed up before he left, and he'd
done such a good job you could have bounced a quarter
"If you don't want an extra month
for accessory to the crime," Dad says, "you'll
show us where your friend has gotten to."
"I don't have the foggiest idea,"
Dad nods at the deputy to take me outside.
"Put the cuffs on him," he
says, once we're in the front office.
"Are you sure you want to—"
the deputy starts to say.
Dad cuts him short.
"Put the cuffs on," he says.
"We're going armed and I can't have a prisoner going
around with his hands free."
The deputy makes me put my hands behind
my back, and then he snaps the cuffs over my wrists.
"Now give me the key," Dad
says, and after he's put the thing in his pocket, he reaches
over and unlocks the gun cabinet and takes out two shotguns.
"You take your truck up the back roads," he
says, "and Junior and I'll check out the area on
He hands a shotgun to the deputy and
looks over at me. "Unless you want to tell us where
he is right now, before we go through this crap. You may
get a little time knocked off for it, you know."
"Don't have the foggiest,"
"Suit yourself," he says,
pushing me toward the door with the shotgun pointed at
a baptism down by the river, and I stop to watch the preacher
ease a black man into the water, but Dad nudges me with
"Come on," he says. "You
know where the bastard is. Let's go."
"Really," I say. "I don't
He grunts and nudges me again.
"You're born again, my son,"
the preacher is saying. "You are born anew into the
life of Jesus." His voice floats over the water,
booming and deep.
"Let's listen a minute," I
Dad waves the gun at me.
"Keep moving or else," he
says. "I'm not above shooting my own son if the law
requires it, you know."
We walk into the woods across from the
jail, and Dad makes me call Bubba's name. Of course, nobody
answers. At one point, a pheasant bursts up from a pile
of leaves ahead of us. It seems to float for a second
while it gathers force in its wings, and then it flies
off down the ridge ahead of us.
"Look at that," I say.
Dad keeps walking. The bird's feathers
are brilliant in the sun.
"You should have taken a shot,"
I say. "You could have bagged him."
"Official business," he says.
"I'd have to explain using a firearm in the call
"Oh," I say. "Guess so."
We walk on for a while without talking,
our feet making swishing noises in the leaves. Then we
reach the edge of the woods above Sally's Sausage 'n'
"You know," I say, "I
haven't eaten yet. The deputy dropped my breakfast tray
when he saw the bars sawed through."
"We don't have time to stop."
"You've got to feed your prisoners,
Dad. I'm sure there's a regulation for that."
"I don't want to be seen with you
like this," he says. "You know how it makes
me feel, having my own son walking around in handcuffs?"
"You could always take them off,"
I say. "I mean, I'm not going to run off or anything."
"I can't trust you," he says.
"You've dishonored my family, and I can't trust you
"Look," I say. "If I
could just get an egg and some toast, I'm sure I could
think clearer about where Bubba's gotten to."
He considers for a minute and then sets
the shotgun against a tree. He gestures for me to turn
around and takes the handcuffs off.
"Just stick them in your pocket,"
he says. "And keep the key with them. I don't want
your mother saying I locked you up permanently because
we lost the key."
"Yes sir," I say. I jam the
cuffs and the key into the only pocket I have in my jail
He looks at me and then takes his jacket
"Put this on," he says. "I
sure as hell don't want people seeing you've got a jail
number on your clothes."
does a double take when she sees me and Dad walk in. His
jacket is too big for me, and I feel like an idiot wearing
the star badge over my heart.
"When did you get out?" she
"We're just out doing a little
pheasant hunting," Dad says, setting the shotgun
on the counter and resting his butt on a stool.
I sit down beside him and smile at Sally.
There are a few older people sitting
together in the booths, and they get nervous when they
see the shotgun going onto the counter.
"Do you mind if I put this behind
the counter, Sheriff?" Sally picks the gun up. "It's
scaring my customers."
He shrugs. "Whatever. Just doing
a little pheasant hunting," he says, spinning around
on his stool so he can see the old people in the booths.
"Mighty warm out for March, isn't it?"
They smile uncertainly and agree that
it is awfully warm.
"I'll have eggs, sausage, and coffee,"
I say. "And a slice of apple pie if it's fresh."
"Sure, honey," Sally says.
"What about you, Sheriff?"
"Nothing for me. The boy's just
hungry because we left home early, you know. Looking for
I eat the eggs and sausage without saying
much. It's the first meal I've had outside the jail in
two months, and it tastes too good to waste words. After
a while, Dad orders coffee and a piece of pie, and by
the time we leave, he seems a little more relaxed. It
makes me think of the way it used to be, when we went
out cutting firewood for the stove. Dad would always stop
off at Sally's and buy us some coffee and doughnuts, and
after we'd gotten into the woods a ways, we'd sit with
our backs up against a tree and eat the doughnuts and
drink the coffee from the same cup.
I finish my pie and order another slice.
Dad pays for the food with a battered ten-dollar bill
and leaves the change on the counter as a tip.
"Sheriff," Sally calls out
to us as we're leaving. "Aren't you forgetting something?"
We turn around and see her holding the
shotgun up over the counter.
"Damn," he says, darting a
nasty look at me.
really didn't mean any harm climbing into that
old lady's house, you know," I say. We've crossed
the street and are walking into the woods on the other
side. "It was sort of a dare, you know, to see if
I would do it."
"I don't want to talk about it,"
"I would've given the stuff back
"I said I didn't want to talk about,"
We walk over a ridge and start down
the other side without talking.
"You want your jacket back?"
"How about the cuffs—want
me to put them back on?"
"No need," he says.
We reach the top of another ridge, and
something runs through the bushes beside us. Dad grabs
my arm and pulls me back behind him.
"All right, Bubba," he says,
pointing the gun at the bush. "Come on out."
For a second, we stare at the bush.
Then a dog comes out wagging his tail. I start to pet
him, but Dad shoos him off with the butt of the shotgun.
"That dog looks a little like Trigger,"
I say. "Remember Trigger?"
"Sure, I do," Dad says, peeking
into the bush. "Now just keep walking."
Dad kicks at the dog. It looks at me
and runs off into the bushes. "Now tell me the truth.
Is he out here or not."
"Listen," I say. "I really
don't know. I just don't know."
He throws the shotgun over his shoulder
and waves his free arm in front of him. "Let's go,
walk in a big circle and come out of the woods behind
the jail with the barless window in plain view below us.
After he'd dropped to the ground, Bubba had stacked the
bars up against the wall. The sun is shining on them,
and it makes me think of a basket of breadsticks.
"All right," Dad says. "You've
played your little games. Mind telling me where the hell
"The Hungry Ghost," I say,
not looking at him.
"That bar up on 33?"
"How long you known he was there?"
"I don't," I say. "It's
Ever since he'd landed in the cell,
Bubba'd been going on and on about having a cold beer.
Sometimes, he'd stand on his bed so he could look out
the window, and all he'd talk about was how cold the beer
was at the Hungry Ghost. I'd only been in the place once,
when I went in to find the guy who was setting the old
lady's house up for me to break into. I'd walked in by
myself, and everybody'd stopped moving and just stared
at me like I was a cop. "Aren't you the Sheriff's
son?" one of the guys at the pool table had said.
It was too dark to see his face clearly, and I'd ignored
Just as Dad and I were coming out of
the woods and looking down at the jail, I'd thought about
Bubba and the cold beer and I realized that's where he
had to be.
"We'll take the truck," Dad
says. "Just in case you're right."
He radios to the deputy about what we're
doing, and we take off in the Blazer with the lights going
and the siren blaring. Cars swerve onto the shoulder to
"Don't you think the noise is going
to scare him off?"
"This is an emergency, son. I know
what I'm doing," Dad says.
After a couple of seconds, he reaches
over and cuts the siren off.
We park at the back of the Hungry Ghost
and Dad jumps out.
"You want me to stay here?"
"Come on," he says. "But
put the cuffs back on. I don't want anybody thinking I'm
giving my son special treatment."
I snap the cuffs over my wrists and
hop out. Dad puts on a swagger and throws himself into
the bar like he's looking for a fight. The door swings
back on me, and I have to put my cuffed hands out to catch
it before the latch clicks.
"Where the hell is he?" Dad
snaps at the bartender.
There's a big mirror behind the bar
with a naked lady etched onto it, and I can see our reflections
under her hip. The bartender stares at us blank-faced.
"Do I have to rip this place apart,"
Dad says, "or are you going to work with me?"
Bubba's sitting at the end of the bar
with a beer in his hand. He has his back to us, but I
know it's him immediately. He's soaking wet from head
to foot, and there's a big puddle of water under him.
"He's over there," I say quietly
"What?" Dad looks down at
the end of the bar and erupts. "What the hell are
you doing, Bubba? Put that goddamn beer down and get in
the truck. Pronto."
Bubba turns around and stares at us.
He's smiling really big. "Howdy, Sheriff. Junior,
how you doing?"
I smile at him and shrug.
"You know," I say.
"What the hell's happened to you?"
"What do you mean?"
Dad points at the puddle around Bubba's
"Oh, that," Bubba says. "I
was baptized, Sheriff."
"I was sitting in the woods when
you and Junior walked by," he says. "I was watching
that baptism going on, and after you left, I decided I
needed one too." He smiles at us winningly. "I
have sinned, Sheriff, but now I'm clean."
"I ought to have that nigger preacher
arrested for harboring a fugitive," Dad says.
He walks over to Bubba and pulls him
off the stool.
"He says all men are worthy of
God," Bubba points out.
"Is that right," Dad says.
"Junior, give me those cuffs."
I reach in my pocket and get the key
out. It takes me a second to get the first hand unlocked.
I hold the cuffs out to Dad.
"Snap them on him," he tells
I hesitate for a second and walk over
"I'm sorry about this, Bubba,"
"Hey, man. Don't worry about it."
He has big wrists, and it's hard to
close the cuffs over them.
"Can I finish my beer?" Bubba
"No," Dad says. "Let's
On the way out, Dad asks the bartender
if he'd known Bubba was a jailbird.
"You know," the guy says,
"the thought never occurred to me."
"Didn't the numbers on his shirt
tell you anything?"
The bartender shrugs. "You know
how people are dressing these days, Sheriff. There's just
"That's for sure," Dad says.
ride up in the front seat with Dad, and Bubba rides in
the back. The shotgun's on the seat beside me, but Dad
doesn't seem to notice. We turn onto the main road, and
Bubba starts telling us about the baptism. About how moving
it was and how clean he'd felt afterwards. Dad cuts him
"There ain't a water that can clean
a man's soul once it's sullied," Dad says in a sure
voice, like he'd practiced the line before.
He glances at Bubba's reflection in
the mirror. Then he looks over at me, and his eyes fall
on the shotgun. For a second, I watch him consider whether
I'm going to grab the thing and hold the both of them
hostage or something. Then he gives me a sarcastic smirk
and looks back at the road.
"Isn't that right, son?"
I look down at the badge on my chest
"I think he's right, Bubba,"
I say, as I reach for the shotgun.