She told him not to get comfortable, to go out back and split some logs for kindling. There never seemed to be enough small stuff, at least to suit her, to get the stove fire started. It must have gone out while the three of them were searching the dark woods for the past five hours behind their neighbor’s place.
Since they’d come back empty handed, they’d have another lunch and dinner of beans and vegetable soup she and his little sister, Kate, had canned last summer. At least it’d be hot. Once he got the fire set up, anyway. Maybe there was still some jerky, too. Mom wouldn’t want to break out the frozen bass from last summer yet. He was sure of that.
Jedediah told his little brothers, Adam and Micah, to kick off their boots and get inside. Why not give them a break once in awhile. Their old man never did. Besides making the three of them do all the work, he drank up any money they earned selling firewood and eggs and fixing fences. They always owed everyone until he disappeared last year.
The troopers thought Jedediah might have had something to do with it. They took him in for questioning a couple of times. They even kept him overnight once. Maybe they thought he’d break or something. He had nothing to confess anything about his old man—All they knew was that one day he was there and then he was gone. Permanently. The cops didn’t like it that Mom took four days to report him missing, either. They threatened to accuse her of something, too. Jed got really pissed about that.
“What did your old man say before he went out that last time, Jed?”
“He said he wanted a pint and a pack of cigarettes.”
“How did you feel about your dad?”
“He was okay, I guess.”
“Just okay? Not great?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, kid, did he ever rough up your mom and sister, or maybe your little brothers?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I hear things, Jed, okay?”
“You didn’t hear ‘em from me.”
So, did the old man ever go after you?”
“He’d be sorry if he did.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere, Jed. When’s the last time you and your father got into it?”
“Shit, Sergeant, not since I was maybe sixteen—like three years ago. He knew better after that.”
“Okay, then. Where do you think he’s at now?”
“If a man has a truck and a full tank of gas there’s no telling how far away he might be by now. Right?”
The troopers kicked over Jed’s chair. He hit his head, but they let him walk out.