Authors: James M. Cain
“You mean, write it up that way?”
“It all checks out.”
So we were done except for moving the body, recovering the parachute, and impounding my gun for evidence at the inquest that would have to be held. Mr. Santos refused to put the body on my boat. “We'd just be asking for trouble. If that thing should capsize, I've got two men in the river, we don't mention that body, and God knows where I come out. You'll have to call DiVola.” DiVola was a fire company down the river that had a bigger boat, an aluminum thing with an outboard. To call them, we all went back to the car, the sheriff's car with a dashboard phone, and Edgren did his talking standing beside the door. But as we walked around the house I could see Mom inside, talking on the phone. I knew right away who to. It was Sid, her brother over in Flint, who got in it deep before long. Of course, she had to tell him about it, but right away I began to worry.
I've already mentioned her left-handed way of talking. If she should get in it now and began telling it in a way that didn't match up with what I'd said, and especially what Jill would say, if they ever got around to her, it could all get loused but bad. So I was nervous while Edgren talked, and hopeful when he hung up, that we'd be going down to wait for DiVola, but I was too optimistic. He had hardly turned around with the news “they're on their way,” when the door opened and Mom was there. I hardly knew her. Her hair was all combed up with a blue ribbon on one lock, and her face was powdered to hide the freckles. She had on light tan pantyhose and her best blue dress, which was short, to show her goodlooking legs. Everyone turned, but she didn't speak at first, just stood there staring at Mantle. Then: “Well, Mr. Mantle, howdy,” she sang out very friendly. “It's been a long time, hasn't it?”
But Mantle gave a blank stare. Then: “Madam, do I know you?” he asked in a puzzled way.
“You certainly do,” she told him. “I'm Myra Howell, Myra Giles that wasâLittle Myra, they called me, to tell me apart from my cousin, Big Myra Giles, who's two years older than I am. Mr. Mantle, I'm the girl that bit that bandit! Remember?”
“Oh! I place you now! And later, you were the girl Mr. Hanks called us about.”
“I'd like to forget that if you don't mind. Why, the idea, him calling the police about an argument two girls had. I never thanked him for it.”
“You were smaller then.”
“I was only sixteen. I grew. You moved to Marietta?”
“I'm from Marietta originally.”
“But you're working for the county?”
“Sergeant Edgren has some questions.”
I could feel the drawstring pull on my stomach, but she talked so simple and honest and natural that even I believed her. She told how Shaw had “made passes at that girl, poking the gun at her head and her stomach and ribs, and all the time saying he'd kill her. And then my son spoke to him from the other side of the island, and I couldn't hear what he said, but at the sound of his voice the man spun, spun around on one foot, and let go with his gun. Then I heard my son's gun, and he dropped to the ground. And soon as my son brought the girl, took her ashore from the boat, I knew I had to get moving, to bring in that poke full of money, the one they were talking about on TV.
So when Dave had gone up with the girl, I got in the boat again and rowed out to the island, first to have a look if he was really dead, and if he was, to pick up the money and bring it in. He was, all right, with his brains scattered around, but no money was there. Then I remembered the parachute he'd come down with, and thought if it was still in the river, the poke with the money might be tangled in it. If I got out there quick I could grab it before it sank from water soaking in. So I rowed around to the other side of the island and found the parachute. It's caught on the bottom somehow, between the island and the bank on the other side. But I couldn't see a poke. It could be there, though, if someone got out there quick and fished up the parachute. It could be tangled up in it.”
It all matched up, not only with what had happened but with the way I'd told it myselfâso much so that even I believed it in spite of what Jill had said. Yet Mantle kept looking at her, and the drawstring didn't loosen. When she started all over again, about how scared she'd been for “that girl,” I wanted to beg her to stop, to leave well enough alone, but of course, I didn't dare open my mouth. Just then a horn sounded from below. That shut her up, and we all went down to the river.
HEN WE GOT THERE
the DiVola bunch was out on the island, having a look, at the corpseâthree firemen in helmets and plastics coats, their boat tied to a tree, a smaller one than the one I had braced the johnboat against, but sticking out of the water the same way on account of the rise in the river.
Mr. Santos called out to them: “If you'd put one of those helmets on him, kind of hold his head together, he wouldn't be so messy to handle.” One of them looked up and said: “Hey, that's a good idea. How about us using your hat?” That seemed to take care of that, but Mom chirped up real friendly: “You can wrap his head in a towel. I'll get you one from the house.”
So she went legging it back, looking quite pretty in her dress and a coat she'd put on over it. She came back with a bath towel, but while she was gone they had it, back and forth from the island to the bank, about how they were going to do it. They decided to put Shaw in the firemen's aluminum boat, which was maybe 16 feet long, with an outboard on the stern, but instead of using the motor, to put it in tow of my johnboat, with Mantle at the oars and a fireman in the stern, holding the bow of the skiff. They thought that would be better than using the motor, as it was only a hundred feet from island to bank, and oars would give better control. So, soon as Mom got back with the towel, that was how they did it, first tying Shaw's head up, mumbling every second about what a mess he was. Then while one fireman got in my boat to grab the skiff, the other two picked him up and loaded him on. But by that time he was stiff, with his arms sticking up in the air, not a pretty sight, especially with the towel wrapped around his head.
There they came, bringing him in: first my johnboat with Mantle rowing and the fireman in the stern, then the skiff with one fireman in the bow, the third fireman in the stern, and Shaw stretched out in the middle with his arms sticking up. Mantle did a real neat job of pulling in to the bank, and Edgren grabbed the johnboat's front end to hold it, while I grabbed the bow of the skiff. We tied both boats to small trees. Then Santos' men stepped up with a stretcher like the one Jill had been put on and loaded Shaw on it, covering him with a blanket, though his arms still stuck up. Then they took him away. Edgren told Santos: “Put him in storage, but don't freeze him. I'll call the coroner myself, and he'll take it from there. He'll be having an autopsy done, and there'll have to be an inquest.”
“Sure, sure, sure.”
Santos seemed to know about what would have to be done and followed his men up the path. Mom said: “Aren't you looking for that money?”
“You know where is?” asked Edgren.
“Could be tangled up in that parachute. I know where
is, but I tell you right now, if you do find that poke, I'm putting in for the reward. I got it coming for showing you where to look.”
“We got nothing to do with that.”
“With that poke? Why not?”
“With the reward.”
“I want my cut, I'm telling you.”
“Tell the airline, ma'am.”
Mantle helped her into the johnboat, manned the oars again, and rowed around the island, first downstream a little way, then up on the other side until they were out of sight, hidden by the bushes. “Hey!” he called out. “Here's the chute, looking at me.”
“OK,” Edgren told him. “Hold everything. We'll be out.”
But he and the firemen had to figure out how they'd do it. They finally decided that the motor was out again; the propeller would foul in the parachute's cordage. Then they saw they would need a line to tow the chute in with and asked me if I had one. I remembered a light cotton rope I used to line things up when putting in corn. When I got back from the house with it, Mantle had rowed Mom back to the river bank again. She was giving out once more about the reward. Nobody made any comment. Then Mantle rowed around the island again, up to where the chute was, caught on some snag in the river. The firemen had oars in their boat and followed behind the johnboat. Then Edgren, Mom, and I walked up the bank a short ways, past the head of the island, so we could see what was going on. One of the firemen reached down in the water, fished some cordage up, and made my line fast to it. Then they tried to haul the chute into the boat, but it slopped things up so bad that they gave up and decided to drag it. They rowed over to where we were, paying out my line as they came, and then started to haul. It was slow work. Out there in the johnboat, Mantle kept having to clear the cordage, when it would foul up. He would lean out of the boat, and once almost capsized. At last, though, he got things clear. The chute came out on the bankâsilk with red and white pieces. It was no sooner on the bank than Mom started pawing at it, “in case that poke is in under it,” she said. But it wasn't, and she nearly cried. “That means it's in the river,” she wailed. “Being swept down to go over the dam. If it ever gets in the Ohio, we never will get it back!
Mantle kept staring at her, and Edgren asked my permission to spread the chute on my land, “to give it a chance to dry.” I told him, “of course,” and the firemen spread it over some bushes. It was now around nine o'clock, and I asked them all up for some early lunch. “I can give you hot dogs pretty quick,” I said. “With coffee and pie. They might go pretty good.”
The sheriff's men had to go back, however, and the firemen were due downriver. They said goodbye to me and Mom, then putt-putted away. Going back to his car, Edgren told me and Mom: “We'll be out later on in the day to ask more questions about itâif that girl is able to come. Around five o'clock, I'd say. So stand by. If you want a lawyer, you're entitled to have one, and of course, if you don't want to talk, you don't have to.”
“Well why wouldn't I want to talk?”
“I'm advising you of your rights. You killed a man. I don't think you'll be charged, but you might be. It's not up to me to say.”
“Who is it up to then?”
“Coroner's juryâthey generally do as the state's attorney says. But if we have reason, we can charge you too.”
“And that's why I need a lawyer?”
“I didn't say
You're entitled to one if you want him.”
“Well, that's nice,” said Mom. “Here my boy kills that awful man, and now you're fixing to lock him up.”
“Ma'am, I'm not fixing to do anything, except what the law requires, and right now the law requires I advise him. Which I've done.” And to me: “You understand, Mr. Howell?”
“I think so. Thanks.”
“And ma'am, you were a witness, so you must stand by, too. You're entitled to a lawyer, and you don't have to talk if you don't want to.”
“You mean I could be charged too?”
“It could happen.”
“We don't know yet.”
That's what he said, but before he said it he shot a look at Mantle who didn't return it but kept his eyes on the ground. “Well I like
,” said Mom.
I didn't have any. If Mom did, she kept them to herself, so the officers drove offâbut not till I got them the rifle which they took with them, the empty shell still in the chamber.
E WENT IN, AND
Mom said: “Well, thank God it'll soon be over, and then the sun will come up. Won't it?”
“Well? It generally does.”
She had plumped herself down on the sofa and looked at me kind of funny as though what I said wasn't quite what she expected to hear. But before she could say what that was, a car turned in to our lane from the main highway and pulled up in front of the houseâa cream-colored truck with the letters on the side of the TV station we have across the Ohio from Marietta at Parkersburg, West Virginia. Then a woman was ringing the bell and guys were getting out. She wanted to come in and take pictures of me and Mom, and I said OKâ“but the real star of the show was that girl, Jill Kreeger's her name, who rode that parachute down, and held Shaw off somehow until I had a chance to plug him.”
“Oh, but we have her already.”
It seemed that Jill was hardly in her hospital room before they were there too, “and shot her in her nightie, the short one the hospital gave her, which wasn't much of a costume, but a lot they'll care tonight, when the tape goes on TV. That's a mighty pretty girl, and the tribute she pays you, Mr. Howell, is really something to hear.”
Mom didn't say anything.
They set their camera up at the end of the room, next to the arch, and the woman put me on the sofa, using the low table, the one in front of the fireplace, to sit on herself. Then she began asking questions. I answered as well as I could, though there wasn't much to say, and I felt she was disappointed. I strung it out as well as I could, how I carried Jill to the house, “got her into a hot bath, to stop her teeth from chattering, and then called the sheriff's office.” After a while she seemed satisfied, then decided to work on Mom. That made me nervous, for some reason, but when she'd put Mom on the sofa in the place where I'd been sitting and stayed where she had been, there on the low table, it began to go all right. Mom really gave out with it, all about her “doing my best, to get it through his head what would happen to him if he dast to kill that girl.” You'd have thought Mom was the star of the show, and the woman was suddenly delighted. Then Mom blurted out: “But my boy is the oneâexcept he didn't tell it right. We're mountain, and we don't brag about what we do. But when the time comes to do it, we do itâas he done.”