Unlike in my brother’s case, my father didn’t show up to the scene of the crime. That’s how Lyle and I wound up with our chauffeur. When we were hauled into the Sheriff’s station in Belton, he was seated at his desk, although he had been informed by radio that we were coming. Apparently he had given orders for us to be shown into his office. He didn’t seem to notice as we walked in, followed by the deputy. The room was impeccably organized and well-lit by a single, large window at my father’s back. A simple, black-and-white quartz clock hung on the wall.
He finished whatever paper he was bent over before looking up. The deputy knew better than to interrupt him.
My father glanced us up and down. Our knuckles and lips had clotted in time to avoid dripping blood on his linoleum. He asked, “Are these the two from the grocery?”
“Yes sir,” said the deputy. “You want them detained?”
The lines around my father’s eyes stood out like they’d been worked on by the weather for a hundred years. He said, “Put Christen in a holding cell. Rawlson will join him shortly; you can leave him here under my custody. And close the door.”
The deputy saluted and did as he was told. My father asked me to have a seat.
“Well,” he said, very slowly, “they already told me on the radio what happened, but I want to hear it from your own mouth.”
I swallowed hard, but went right ahead with it, staring down at the faux wood grain as I did, seeing patterns that looked like the blood that had dripped out of Lyle’s nose. “Sir,” I said, “I was in line at the Town and Country. Lyle was behind me, though I’d hardly said a word to him. He punched me in the kidney, I decked him, and it just escalated from there.”
Silence. The clock ticked out twelve seconds. A few dust motes floated through the shaft of light obstructed by my father’s shadow.
Finally I raised my head; and as my eyes went up, my jaw went down. My father was grinning wide as a teenager who just bagged his first pronghorn.
“I’m proud of you, son!” I could not collect myself to speak. “He attacked you, and you gave him what he deserved!”
I felt one remaining ember of what Lyle’s blow had ignited, tasted it on the back of my tongue, and realized even in my confusion that it had threatened to tear through my blood vessels and burst out of my skin, my mouth, my eyes. I murmured, “No.”
My father froze, his face still smiling, but his eyes doused. “What?”
Still all I could splutter out was, “No, I didn’t…”
He frowned, and said, “Yes you did—”
He was cut off by me jumping up and screaming—“I wanted to kill him!”
His face lightened again a bit, and he said, “That’s how you ought to have felt, with him knocking you cold from behind like that.”
His words sounded like glass shattering. I sank back into the chair, and he continued, “Now, you were obviously aggravated, and you’re a first-timer, so I can push for the court to be lenient…”
Something knotted at the base of my skull. “No,” I said again. My forehead felt like old leather, my jaw like cracked granite. “I’ll sit it out with Lyle. Whatever he gets, I’ll take the same.”
He looked hard at me again. Then at the wall, then back at me.
“All right, then,” he finally said. “But you’re doing yourself an injustice, son.” With that, he got up, walked around me, and opened the door. “Deputy Harrelson!”
“Yes sir!” said the younger man, jumping to attention.
“Take Rawlson and put him in the other holding cell. Book him and Christen; they can stay here until my shift is over.”