(This particular scene takes place in 1956 at a county fair. The setting is the rear of the fairgrounds, past the local artisans tents, where Deputy Les Patterson is going to interview a witness he had never met and would rather just avoid)
Les studied the scene as he drew near. With his approach being so direct and obvious, the few fairgoers here had drawn into a group to the side in order to see what he was coming to do. They had been standing a bit back from the tent in the first place, and when he arrived it became obvious why.
Grandma Lilah obviously had an odd sense of décor.
The tent itself was unremarkable; a large, olive-drab affair that had probably been surplus from the Korean War. Somebody had taken a square sheet of white cloth and carefully painted the words…
PALMS READ: 50 CENTS
EVERYTHING ELSE NEGOTIABLE”
…in red letters and then pinned the cloth to the canvas on the left of the door flap. But it was what surrounded the tent that had people’s attention.
Approximately five feet away from the tent walls, somebody had driven thin metal posts in three foot intervals all the way around the structure, only leaving an eight foot wide gap in the front. The top half of the posts had each been bent to form a large hoop about four feet above the ground, sized where the side of one hoop almost touched the hoop of the adjoining post.
And each of those hoops contained a large corn spider.
They had leg spans between three to four inches, making them about the biggest examples of this breed of spider that could be found. Since the posts had only been driven recently, some were still in the process of building their web in the hoops, while others already hung in the center. Les couldn’t help but wonder how the spiders had been transported here.in the first place.
He remembered hearing that Grandma Lilah was partial to spiders, and it was rumored her shack deep in the woods was practically shrouded in webs. There were tales that she talked to the them like they could understand her.. Some whispered they were her familiars, while others suggested they acted as guardians she could command at will. It all just added to her dark notoriety.
At the same time, Les knew that despite their size and fearsome appearance, corn spiders were not dangerous. His cynical side smiled at the implications of that. It made them a perfect part of the old woman’s act. She could put on displays such as this, unsettling the customers and enhancing her already intimidating reputation, yet not have to worry about any true danger being involved. He had to admire her creativity. She might be a “local yokel”, but the old witch definitely knew her stagecraft.
At the moment though, it was her “stagehands” that interested him.
Two teenage boys sat on the ground behind the spider fence at the corner of the tent. One looked about sixteen and the other thirteen, and to Les’s experienced eye they were definitely from the Weyrich corner of the county. “More rural than most,” had been Deputy Cooper’s description, and it wasn’t a bad way to put it. Both wore patched overalls with faded railroad shirts that had the sleeves cut off, and both sets of clothes fit about the way one would expect from hand-me-downs. They also had a recently washed look that suggested to Les these were probably what passed as their Sunday best. Neither wore shoes, although from the calloused look on their feet Les suspected they could walk through a sticker patch and barely notice. The callouses on their hands looked just as thick.
No, these weren’t just rural youth. They were far backwoods products who had been working and hunting since they could walk. They had the hard, weathered look one usually found in much older men, while at the same time still obviously being kids.
The younger one had been reading a Wyatt Earp comic book he must have picked up at one of the booths, while the older had been peering around through a collapsible tin telescope that looked an awful lot like the one the sharpshooting booth gave away for the super bullseye prize. Now they both watched him approach with open curiosity
The sight of the pair gave Les an idea, and a small bit of hope that he might be able to fix things without having to bother with the old witch.
“Howdy, boys,” he greeted, and slightly changed course to approach them instead of the tent entrance. He stopped a couple of feet short of the spider fence.
“Afternoon, sir,” both replied, climbing to their feet. The “sirs” in this case weren’t the awkward formality displayed by Cooper, but the common politeness one often found in rural people, and almost always encountered with the Weyrich folk…on the rare occasion one encountered any of the Weyrich folk.
Les glanced at the tin telescope in the older boy’s hand, then up at the kid himself.
“Just curious,” he asked with a smile, “how many shots did it take you?”
“Three,” the teen grinned back. “I guess I got lucky.”
Lucky, my ass, Les thought to himself. One shot to realize the sights were off. A second to judge by how much. And then a third to make a shot the carny running that booth probably thought was nearly impossible even with an unaltered gun. He didn’t know what he was dealing with. Either one of you kids could probably sleep your way through the rifle training I took back in the army.
“Nice shooting,” Les extended his hand over the strange fence in greeting. “By the way, I’m Deputy Les Patterson.”
“Samuel,” the teen replied, shaking his hand.
“Ronald,” the younger said, shaking his hand in turn.
So this was the kid Cooper had been talking about. If he played this right, he might be able to solve the witness problem on the spot without Lilah being brought into it. It was certainly worth a try.
“Ah, so you’re Ronald Weston? The young man who reported Charlie Orville to Deputy Gillis?”
Good. Now to take the shot in the dark that might clear everything up.
“So, Ronald, just for the record, where were you standing when you saw Charlie Orville steal the owl?”
But it wasn’t to be.
“Sir?” The boy tilted his head with a puzzled expression. “I never said I saw the owl get swiped. Me and Samuel were workin’ on the spider poles when Grandma Lilah called me and sent me to tell the deputy who stole it. So I did.”
“So Grandma Lilah saw it?” Les asked with a growing sense of gloom.
“I guess so. He had it, didn’t he?”
“Yes, he did,” Les sighed.
“Well,” the kid shrugged, “there you go then.”
So much for hoping Ronald Weston had seen the crime, and tricking him into admitting it. Might as well go straight to the issue Charlie Orville’s lawyer was sure to zero in on.
“But Ronald, isn’t Grandma Lilah blind? Or have I heard wrong?”
The two youngsters shared an indecipherable look, then turned back to him.
“Um,” the boy now appeared decidedly uncomfortable. “I suppose that depends on who you ask. I’m pretty sure she don’t see it that way.”