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PART SEVENTY-SIX

Caleb retraced the residential route Skylar and Sara had taken back towards Mrs. McNutt’s and the adjacent shack where Skylar and Karla lived. Turning right onto Vanderbilt Road he declared, “These here are pretty nice houses. How long you and your mama been living here?”

“We don’t live here,” Skylar responded, head down and arms encircling her shins. “We live behind Mrs. McNutt.”

“McNutt?” Caleb said with a laugh. “That’s kind a funny name, don’t-cha think? McNutt. I like it. She nice?”

“Yes.”

“Huh. How old is she?”

“Old.”

“Like, how old?”

“I own’t know. Old. Like, older’n Papi.”

“My granddaddy? That is old. How long you been there?”

“Since Christmas.”

“Oh, yeah? Huh! That must a been a nice Christmas present. Where was you living before you moved in behind old lady McNutt?”

“Place called Walnut.”

“Wait! In Mississippi? Like a hour east a Memphis? You are kidding me! I was there on business right around Christmas. Damn, girl! That’s a shame! We could a had a reunion if only your mama’d let me know.

“You know, she sent me a note while I was, well, while I was away, saying you’d died and I was real beat up about it. Terrible beat up. Like fit to die. She sends me this note and then she just up and disappears. I been trying to find her ever since. I ain’t seen you since you was five and when she said you was dead that just broke my heart. I cannot tell you how glad I am to see you again.”

“Mama told you I was dead? She told me you was. That you died in prison.”

“Did she? Interesting. Nope. Not dead. See?!” he asked throwing out both arms and smiling wide. “I wonder why she would do such an evil thing.”

Caleb stopped at the tee-intersection for Black Lake Road. “Which way?” he asked.

“Right. We’re almost there.”

“Yeah. These are nice. What cher mama doing to afford a house like this?”

“I told you,” Skylar said, overemphasizing ‘told,’ “we don’t live here! We live behind Mrs. McNutt’s!”

Caleb snapped his right hand to his left ear as his nostrils flared and his lips disappeared. Checking himself, he said calmly, “Don’t talk to me that way, Skylar. Respect for your parents is the Sixth Commandment. Karla teaching you the Bible?”

“Some. No. Not really. I mean, yes, but not a lot. She says some people use the Bible to do evil and we need to be careful not to listen to evil men make God’s Good Book a instrument of the devil.”

“Does she?” Caleb said with a half-smile and double nod. “How interesting. Your mama’s right about that. Some folks misinterpret the Bible six ways to Sunday. How much further?”

“Farther,” Skylar said. “Miss Shannon done told us that farther means how far away and further’s like, I own’t know, for ideas.”

“Did she? That your teacher, this Miss Shannon? She the blonde that ole Mrs. Marti back there,” Caleb jerked his right thumb over his shoulder toward the rear of the van, “was giving a tongue lashing to at the end a school today? She looked real young to be a teacher. She teach you about watching your tongue at all, cuz that’s twice you been disrespectful in like two seconds.”

“How’d you know about that?”

“Oh, girl! I got’s ways a knowing things you would not believe. So, where’d you say your mama works?”

“At the Walmart.”

“She usually leave you alone at night?”

“No! And she didn’t! She let me spend the night at Sara’s.”

“You are gonna have to learn to watch your tone. Where’s this McNutt’s?”

“Keep going. It’s the last house on the right.”