“Jim, I mean – what is he?” Annette was grabbing plates in the kitchen, and her voice rang out across the counter.
“Stag?” Jim asked.
He leaned back and looked at Kyle. “Sweetheart,” he said, “you’ve been living with your husband for how long?”
She smiled. “We’re going on ten years now.”
“Uh-huh. In that time, have you been able to figure him?”
Laughter from both Marshals. “No,” she said.
“Well, I’ve met old Stag two times face to face, and I had a few other things on the mind at the time than asking into his nature.”
“He got the little brother out,” Gret said. She shook her dad by the shoulders.
“So I don’t know much beyond hearing,” Jim said. “But Stag’s been around awhile. Been chasing Nina for years and years. Got her going out of St. Louis, killed six or seven people trying to get to her. Cincinnati, maybe another four. Milwaukee, New York. Davenport down in Iowa. Wherever she went. Shit, Omaha and Chicago too. She’s been everywhere, just running. Decades, you know? Her whole life. I asked her about him a few times back in the day and she doesn’t know much either, except that he convinces people of stuff. And I can vouch for that myself. You find yourself thinking the way he wants you to and such like that.”
He cleared his throat and took a drink of water. He was out of breath. Gret filled in.
“It seems like he’s got something to do with music, too,” she said. “Dad and I heard some song playing in the Leigh’s house when we went over.”
Jim bristled. “Gimme Shelter. Gimme Shelter off of Let it Bleed from ’69. It wasn’t ‘some song’. The Stones are –”
Gret and Annette spoke at almost the same time, in a race to see who could interrupt Jim faster. Annette edged it out and Gret was content with the outcome.
“Kyle, do you know him?” she asked. She gave Gret a significant look. Bullet dodged.
“I don’t,” Kyle said. “I get the sense that he’s the same sort as me, but we’ve never run across each other, short of when I was with Jim in ’64. I’ve looked, too. He can make himself hard to find. I mean, I got a couple of nods from friends out of town who had maybe heard of him. I never got anything more than somebody who knew somebody who saw him once. Never even got a name.”
“Stag’s as good as any,” Jim said.
“Nina calls him music man.”
“Yeah, but he looks more like Lee Shelton than he looks like Robert Preston.”
“Stagger Lee Shelton was black, Jim.”
“You said he looked like the guy from the Twilight Zone.”
Jim blinked. “So?”
“Never mind,” Kyle said.
Gret, as she sometimes did, resolved to look it up on Wikipedia when she had a moment free. She took a bite of cobbler. Things were okay.
Seven minute lull.
“So what’s the plan?” Annette asked.
Jim sighed. “I’d like to know a little more about this Zig guy. You’re alright on that front?”
“Sure,” Kyle said.
Jim cleared his throat. “Kyle, he – the kid mentioned Greg and Mary. Said they were in a house somewhere.”
Kyle blinked. He blinked again.
“Chelsea’s parents?” Annette asked.
“Yeah. The kid said some interesting things about them, and apparently he put them in some house.”
“What did he say?” Kyle asked.
Jim told him.
“Said Stag’ll find them eventually, and the kid hid them and told me where they were. So I’m gonna go get them.”
Both Marshals spoke at once.
“And this kid just told you where they were? Jim – no. He’s lying.”
“Are you sure we can trust him?
“No, we can’t,” Kyle said. “And he knows it. Come on, Jim, you can’t be serious. We can’t do that.”
“You didn’t talk to him,” Jim said. “I did. He wants to hurt the man as much as I do.”
“You think I can’t read him, kid? You think I missed something about him? He’s scared and he’s guilty and he wants to hurt him. I trust him.”
Kyle started. “I’m not saying anything like that, but seriously, Jim.”
“I’m not leaving them, Kyle. You remember last time?”
“Jim –” Annette began.
“That’s enough,” Jim said, and the room went dead. “I talked to him, I trust him, I’m going. We’re not leaving anybody else behind to him. You don’t want to help, that’s fine.”
“Nobody said anything about not helping,” Annette said.
“Jim –” Kyle said.
He looked around the room for support.
Gret came so close to it. She came so close to just quietly bringing up the Rilutek, and the antidepressant, and maybe her dad wasn’t quite as sharp as he used to be. She looked at him and remembered things about Pieter Bruegel, and she stayed quiet. He had his way.
Kyle folded. “Fine,” he said. “Sure.”
Jim took a gulp of water. He was breathing hard. “I’m gonna go get them,” he said. “See what’s going on.”
Annette looked at Kyle, who was deep and somewhere else, and not saying anything. When Jim was like this he was scary. “Even if you trust him – Jake, I mean – isn’t it dangerous going where he’s been?”
“Stag’s put away.”
“He was put away before – it didn’t stop him in March. He got out somehow.”
Gret glanced at her dad and shook her head. “We patched that hole, though. Matt Leigh. Matt’s living at Nina’s house now, and she’s the jailer. It’s as safe as it’s going to be.”
“Gret and me’ll probably deal with it tomorrow,” Jim said. Then we just wait for Izzy to get back.”
Jim smiled a little bit, like he was trying to endear him to someone who had just told a bad joke.
“Sure,” he said. “Who do you think she’s visiting?”