The idea of ducking out of the summer heat for a mid-afternoon nap between cool sheets in an air-conditioned motel room was very inviting. However, Blackhorse was determined to make some headway on the case, by nightfall. He decided to see how many people on the list he could contact and interview. One good interview could set him on the trail of the perpetrator.
Rather than randomly pick a name, he decided to start at the top of the list and work his way down. The first address had him driving down a long rutted dirt road bordered with cornfields. From a distance, the tall stalks with the bright yellow cobs peeking out were pleasing to the eye. Actually driving along a narrow road lined on both sides by a mile of the eight-foot tall plants felt ominous. Blackhorse felt hemmed in and was unconsciously relieved to reach the end of the line.
The road dead ended at a ramshackle clapboard house which appeared to be even less inviting. With no discernable path, he got out of the car and made his way across weed-choked grass past a rusting car up on cinderblocks to the porch. He pulled open the rickety screen door, hanging crookedly in the doorframe, and was greeted by the headache inducing squeal of wood scraping against wood as the bottom scraped along a groove worn into weather-beaten floorboards.
Knocking failed to bring anyone to the door. Blackhorse turned and saw a dirty white truck in the driveway alongside the house. Someone should be home. He stepped over to the window beside the door and peered through a slight gap in the dusty sheets serving as curtains. A small voice startled him.
“Are you looking for my momma?”
Blackhorse turned and saw a petite girl with long mousy brown hair on the steps. He noted the backpack slung over her narrow left shoulder and realized that school must be out for the day. She looked to be around ten years of age, old enough to have some knowledge of how things were, even if the full meaning of adult interactions escaped her. Not wishing to seem intimidating, Blackhorse arranged a charming smile.
“Oh hello yes, I was hoping to talk to your mother.”
“I’m a detective following up on a complaint she filed with the police department.”
“Oh, you talking ’bout the run-in she had with that wierd guy from out of town.”
“Yes, that’s right. Is she usually home at this time of day?”
“Yeah, she’s always home. But, you ain’t gonna get her to the door knocking soft like that. She sleeps pretty heavy. Daddy calls it sleeping one off.”
“I see…I suppose it would be best to come back another time.”
“Any time you come, she’s gonna be sleep, unless you gonna come back at night. Can I ask you something?”
“You can ask me anything,” said Blackhorse encouragingly.
“Why you wanna talk to her ’bout that now? Didn’t somebody kill that man?”
“How do you know about that?”
“Everybody knows ’bout that, it’s all over town. They say that witch killed him and his friends.”
“The one that lives in the bent woods. They say those men stole from her, so she took their souls to repay the debt.”
Before Blackhorse could respond, the door was opened by a disheveled looking woman raking her artificial red nail tipped fingers through a tangle of bottle blond hair. Her red rimmed eyes raked across his face, before fixing her daughter with a withering glare. The little girl immediately dropped her gaze and shifted from one foot to the other uneasily.
“What have I told you about talking to strangers,” snapped the woman.
“Uh ma’am, I’m Detective Blackhorse I’m here about the complaint you filed with the police department.”
“So, you decided to give my little girl the third degree without my consent?”
“No ma’am, it wasn’t…”
“Shirlene, what was he out here grilling you about?”
“Nothing mama, we was just talking about the bent woods witch.”
“Get your little ass in the house and start on your homework! I’ll deal with you later. As for you detective whatever-your-name-is, if I ever catch you giving my baby the third degree again I’m gonna file a formal complaint!”
“I wasn’t interviewing her ma’am. We were just chatting.”
“Chatting? Chatting? Is that what you people call it now? Know what I call it? Entrapment! If you wanna know something, you come and ask me directly! Don’t be pumping my little angel for information!”
“Yes ma’am, I would like to hear more about your complaint.”
“I ain’t gotta tell you nuthin’! Besides, that fool went and got himself killed. He’s the devil’s problem now!”