Laura came through the door on a dead run. “Billy’s dead,” she gasped. “They found his body out on the Old South Road.” She collapsed on the sofa and buried her face in her arms, weeping.
Normally I would have greeted news of the demise of my unsavory ex-nephew-in-law with unseemly laughter. In the presence of perhaps the only person on the face of the earth who would find the death of Billy Marlowe even remotely tragic, a person who was also my only living relative, I had to restrain myself. Not that I pretended actual grief; Laura was well aware of my feelings for her former husband.
“Accident—or something else?” It said all you need to know about the deceased that she didn’t find my question unreasonable or unexpected.
“Murdered! Shot twice in the chest, at least that’s what I heard down town. Everybody’s talking about it. Shot…” Her voice trailed off.
It was hardly surprising that Billy had come to a bad end. Even Laura knew that, even if she had taken quite a while to realize she was in a very bad marriage. Even then, she was unwilling to walk away from her mistake.
For unfathomable reasons, she truly loved the man. In fact, their unfortunate relationship ended only when Billy—to to almost everyone’s surprise and certainly to Laura’s—just up and left, then filed for divorce himself. It was still generally assumed around town that she’d go back to him in a minute if he asked. Lord knows, that was something I’d feared for the last two years.
I spent the morning calming my niece, and I had eased her grief considerably by the time she left. She may have loved Billy Marlowe, but there was a sense of inevitability about his brutal ending that she finally had to accept.
Once she’d gone, I made some calls. The story was that Billy had been drinking down at Millie’s Tavern most of the previous night, sitting with a tall thin fellow that nobody recalled having seen around town before. They were drunk and loud, and Billy was lording it over the stranger, talking about “easy money” and how he had it made. They left together just after two in the morning, the last time anybody saw Billy alive until the hired hand out on the Lawton farm found him shot dead in the tall grass of the meadow early this morning. The police were looking for the thin man, but so far there was no sign of him anywhere.
I thought about that for a bit, then settled in to await the visitor I knew would arrive sooner or later.
The knock came just after dark, and I opened the door to a tall, thin fellow who, if he wasn’t the man last seen with a living, breathing Billy Marlowe, was surely about as reasonable a facsimile as anyone was ever likely to find.