“It’s not so bad,” Reg said. “You’ll see.”
They were doing a job, Jodie’d probably been shook up when she’d talked to their boss, after she knew I was out at the ranch. Hell, she’d called the President, the Harrah’s switchboard had told me he’d been trying to get through.
What did Jodie think I’d do? Or find?
“Let me get my pants on.”
I expected them to escort me to the bedroom, check that I didn’t slam a quick pint of Jack Daniels or slit my wrists, climb out a back window and make a run, but they let me go alone.
In their line of work, they’d probably become pretty good judges of how crazy someone was.
When I came out with my hair combed and my face washed, wearing Levis and a white shirt from the closet and my old gray Stetson—for once I wasn’t dressed in black—they were standing over by the Caddie.
I reached for the door handle and the tall man, Jake, touched my arm.
“Are you guys cops?” I said.
“Club security. That’s all. If you’ll just do as we ask, Mr. Cole, until we get to Harrah’s, you can do anything you want after that.”
“Hell,” I said, “why not?”
As I started around the car, the two stood looking at one another again. Jake stepped forward.
“Mr. Cole, before you get in?”
“What now,” I said, “you want a blood test?”
“Excuse me,” he said. “I’ve got to search you.”
“Search me? What for?”
“Regulations, but we need your okay.”
“And what if I say no? You going to shoot me?”
“We’ll have to wait, until the sheriff can come out.”
I held out my arms like a scarecrow.
Jake quickly patted me down, felt the tape in my shirt pocket, and let it go.
“Sorry,” he said. “It’s the rules. Insurance company.”
“Forget it,” I said, “we’re all hired help.”
“Why don’t you ride with me?” Reg said.
He came over and put a hand on my shoulder.
“Jake can drive your car.”
I got into the passenger’s side of the Crown Victoria and we made a circle in the barnyard and started up the road. In the side mirror I saw Jake turning the Cadillac around to follow.
In the mirror I watched the barn, the house, the cottonwood grow smaller. This time I didn’t look back—
When I’d driven off with Jodie, when she’d come back at Christmas and I’d been in such bad shape, I’d told her, “We’ve got to find your ring.”
“Don’t need it. We’ll buy another one, in Denver.”
She smiled as she sped up, with one hand holding up the wrinkled sheaf of papers.
“Here’s the gold,” Jodie said. “We’ve got your songs.”
I’d looked back and seen a man standing against the barn’s dark wall.
It had started to snow again, after a week of clear weather, the fat flakes twirling down like the winter feathers of a grouse.
Then the wind came up, the snow slanting sideways.
I blinked and he was gone.
“Here,” Reg said.
He reached in his pocket and handed me my dark glasses.
“I saw these over by the barn, while you were getting ready. Must’ve dropped them.”
I looked at them but didn’t put them on.
I’d dropped them in the barrel when I leaned down to drink from the faucet. I’d reached into grab them and found the ring Jodie had thrown at me the day she’d left the ranch three years ago.
As we crossed the bridge I tossed them out the window and saw them splash.
I gazed out at the unwatered pastures and the line of trees that followed the creek.
In the cottonwood shade, near where the water came up from underground, six or seven standing deer watched our distant car. One had big antlers and I wondered if he’d been the buck in the house when I’d driven up, his head out the kitchen window as he browsed the yellow flowers along the wall. I’d watched him jump down the porch steps and walk into the barn as if now he ruled the country and Travis Jackson was a ghost.
Later, I’d thought his running hooves were my heart. He’d leapt over me as I lay in the muddy dirt by the barrel and his shadow crossed my face.
I saw the valley disappear as we climbed and then made the long turn around the last hill.