Perhaps a dozen of Lee’s neighbors saw him emerge from the trailer with the .45 in his hand. Faces scanned the interior of the trailer, where the bodies were clearly visible, and then they appraised Lee. It was not difficult for him to imagine what they saw: a quiet, withdrawn veteran who had recently been discharged from a killing zone. Had some of them even picked up on his dislike for Fitzsimmons?
He stood before them in the grass. No one made an effort to speak to him yet. The gun in his hand drew all their attention. When he raised it briefly several of them flinched—until he tucked it in the back of his pants.
And then the faces seemed to make further connections. Eyes darted nervously back and forth within the little crowd.
They backed away from him, huddling in a semicircle at what they must have perceived to be a safe distance.
And someone said: “He’s got a gun.”
“Listen,” Lee began. “I saw four armed men approaching this trailer.” He took a step toward the semicircle of his neighbors. They backed away.
“I didn’t see any armed men,” someone else said. “The only armed man I see is you.”
The sirens were growing louder. A Hawkins County sheriff’s vehicle appeared at the far end of the access road that led into the trailer park. There was a second sheriff’s car behind it. Both patrol cars were going faster than they should have been in this enclosed space. The red and blue light bars atop their roofs were flashing. Their headlights flashed as well.
Even from this distance, Lee could see Sheriff Phelps in the lead car. Their eyes met, and recognition dawned on the sheriff’s face.
As the sheriff’s vehicles approached, the group of onlookers spread out and took a few more steps away from Lee. It had the effect of isolating him.
Sheriff Phelps’s car came to a halt a short distance away, not far from Lee’s own trailer. He spoke into a handheld mike that amplified his voice from a speaker. “Stand where you are!”
Was Sheriff Phelps speaking to the entire crowd, or had he already singled Lee out? The .45 was still stuck in his pants. Phelps could not see it; but there was no way to ditch the gun without the lawman noticing it. Moreover, at least a dozen people had witnessed him exit a murder scene with a weapon drawn.
Then Sheriff Phelps looked directly at him, and repeated the command. There could be no doubt. His eyes met Phelps’s stare dead-on, and Lee knew that both of them were gripped by the same question: What is this man going to do next?
Lee felt a surge of blood rush to his head. The situation had escalated too fast. Less than thirty minutes ago he had been contemplating a cup of coffee, and the comfortable routine of his work at the machine shop. Now he was at the center of a horrific crime, and a catastrophic misunderstanding had enclosed around him. His neighbors obviously believed that he was responsible for the two dead bodies in the trailer. And what did Phelps think?
That, too, was pretty obvious, wasn’t it? Phelps could see him standing there. He would talk to witnesses. And Phelps detested him anyway.
“Hal!” Lee shouted. He believed he remembered the name of the man who lived across from Tim Fitzsimmons—the peculiar old bachelor who kept to himself.
Hal appeared in his doorway. He surveyed the situation: The sirens, the gathered crowd. Hal’s face quavered. He clearly found the entire scene overwhelming.
“Tell them!” Lee said. “Tell them what you saw!”
Marsten waved him away. The expression on his face seemed to say: I’m sorry—but I can’t get involved.
Hal Martsen disappeared into the shadows of his trailer. The only witness who could possibly exonerate Lee had just betrayed him.
“Looks like Hal didn’t see nothin’” a spectator said.
“Don’t be tryin’ to trap ol’ Hal just ‘cause he be a quiet one.”
“Likely story, I’d say.”
Lee was gripped by a sudden urge to drag Hal from his trailer and wring his neck. But he knew that this would do him no good. There were really only two choices before him: He could stay put as Sheriff Phelps commanded and take his chances. Or he could run and take his chances. Either way, there would be accusatory fingers pointed at him. Either option would put his freedom in jeopardy....