He scanned the valley, and the irritation broke through his voice. You may as well go on in. Inside the narrow sanctuary, mourners sat in scattered clumps along the hand-hewn pews.
Necks twisted around as my footsteps echoed on the wide-plank pine floor. I felt like a bride at the wrong wedding, and I made a hasty retreat off to the side.
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People continued to look toward the rear of the church, making me realize they were awaiting the arrival of Dallas Willard. Many faces were familiar enough to have names attached. Across the aisle sat a man who seemed out of place with the simpler mountain folk. The tailored cut of his dark suit spoke of power, and the perfectly trimmed steel-gray hair and robust tan reeked money. Then he glanced behind me to the door. I turned and saw Wayne give a single distinct nod to Preacher Stinnett. The scripture was read in predictable order: a few passages of Psalms followed by New Testament assurances of Everlasting Life.
I suspected he wanted to get everyone out to the grave and back before the heavens opened up. Then the congregation rose as Martha left the church for the final time. We led the procession down the steps and around to the cemetery. The weather had thickened. Umbrellas sprang up in the dampness like mushrooms. A British novel of forgotten title came to mind because it was the first time I had read the word mizzle —to rain so fine that the droplets hung in the air without falling to earth.
Mist and drizzle merged to mizzle. Norma Jean and Lee joined Preacher Stinnett and the casket under the tent. The rest of us encircled them, the men giving way for the women and a few children to stand under the protection of the canvas. I wound up just behind the family, positioned beside a frail, thin tombstone, trying to keep the water on my umbrella from draining down the necks of my neighbors. Preacher Stinnett cleared his throat, and then stopped short of speaking. Through the silence came the steady crunch of gravel from the footsteps of a latecomer.
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All heads turned toward the approaching sound. Dallas Willard, lips drawn tight across his expressionless face, strode stiff-legged out of the mist, his head uncovered, his body shrouded in a long gray coat that brushed the ground, and his hands buried in his pockets. He materialized like some Civil War soldier snatched from a Mathew Brady photograph. People parted to let him get to the casket. He stopped at the foot, not crossing over to stand beside his brother and sister.
He looked neither at them nor at Preacher Stinnett. Instead, his gaze fell upon only one person. I nodded but said nothing. His hair looked like wet straw.
Then his thin lips broke into a smile of some shared secret that set my neck tingling. I snapped my eyes open to see Lee Willard hurled back against a tombstone. Dallas stood with the great coat open and the twelve-gauge level at his waist. Norma Jean tried to turn away, but the second blast caught her in the side, and I heard the sickening gasp as the life-breath was wrenched from her lungs.
Steam boiled off the hot barrel. Even before he began speaking, somehow the muddled gray cells of my brain realized Dallas Willard meant to kill me. In that split-second, I reacted. I threw the open umbrella at him as I flung myself toward the protection of the tombstone. The buckshot blasted through the flying umbrella as if it were tissue paper.
The pellets hit my left shoulder with such force that the impact twisted my mid-air flight and sent me crashing on my face lengthwise behind the grave marker. Dallas fired again and the century-old tombstone disintegrated above my head.
Dust and granite chips rained down on me. Somewhere, a woman screamed. I rolled over on my back and clutched my shoulder. The warm, sticky dampness spread between my fingers. I opened my eyes and saw only the thick gray sky. Time passed in a blur of detached images.
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I heard myself shout for Uncle Wayne which must have been alarming—a wounded, bleeding man calling for an undertaker. Wayne was the only person I knew skilled in first aid.
Others rushed around me amid a continuous chorus of screams and moans. Hysteria predominated. Suddenly, he was there, pulling my hand away from the wound. Dallas got away in his pickup. I guess the buckshot never spread out enough. Make sure someone phones the sheriff. A few minutes later, I was lifted into the back of the long black vehicle. The floor was not padded, but then the regular passengers rarely complained. Several of the men shed their raincoats and tucked them under me. I felt a weariness wash over me, and my arm and shoulder began to throb.
I closed my eyes. Sounds collapsed into a muffled roar as I tumbled down a long well into darkness.
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Contemporary Women. General Fiction. Russell Mullins has left intelligence work. When his wife died of cancer, Rusty quit the Secret Service to repurpose his life. Mark de Castrique. You're getting a free audiobook.