Sarah's rapid recovery from the outburst of remorse over her grandfather's death struck Blow as in keeping with the natural kaleidoscope of adolescent emotions. Her blurted confession that she was responsible, though, seemed extreme. She'd stopped sobbing, was wiping the tears from her eyes with her fingers. Blow decided to risk a question.
“Sarah, what makes you think you were responsible?” He'd kept his voice calm, but knew, regretfully, as the words were leaving his mouth their tone was patronizing. He started an amendment, “I mean--”
“It's not what I THINK. It's what HAPPENED!” She shouted this, her voice sharp as a trumpet's blast.
Salzwedel intervened. “Maybe we can talk about this.” He looked toward the house. A woman was on the porch, peering at them. She shouted something, but the only word Blow thought he'd gotten was Sarah. Sarah turned then and waved the woman off.
“Let's get out of here. I can't go back there right now. C'mon, can we go somewhere?” She opened the back door of Salzwedel's borrowed car.
“Wouldn't you rather sit in front, with Mr. Salzwedel? I can ride back here.”
“You're parked too close to the ditch. There's copperheads in there when it rains.” She slid onto the back seat.
Shit, Blow thought, wishing he had known this when he got out. Too late now. He couldn't act like a chickenshit ambulance-chasing lawyer. He shrugged mentally, walked around the back of the car and trod carefully alongside until he reached the front passenger door.
Once they were all inside, Sarah announced, “I just texted Mom that we're going to the store.”
Salzwedel asked, “Which store is that, Sarah?”
“Gramps's. I have his keys.”
At the store Salzwedel parked in front. A dog's barking reached them from inside the building, somehow underscoring the sadness of its circumstances. Both men followed Sarah to the door.
“It's me, Mickey.” She called to him several times while fumbling with the keys until she finally got the door open. Before stepping inside she glanced behind her. “Don't worry. He's in Gramps's office. I've been letting him sleep in there. He really misses Gramps.”
Sarah had yet to flip on the lights when the cocktail of odors reached Blow across the threshold. Riding on the faint musk of old appliances and older wood was the newer mix of scents from produce and shelf inventory. Atop all was the most piquant aroma: a residual compromise between the flat essence of daily brewed coffee and its sweet, tangy adversary from the slow-cooking electric pot's locally famous pork barbecue.
Blow and Salzwedel entered as the fluorescent lights flickered to life in their aluminum fixtures along the ceiling. Sarah hurried ahead of them on sagging floorboards past the long wooden counter that divided the store lengthwise. As she rounded a corner in the back the dog's barking, which had grown more excited after they entered, graduated to a rapid sequence of urgent whines. Her voice joined in. Blow and Salzwedel reached the corner just in time to see Sarah leading a large, dark brown German shepherd through a rear door. She returned minutes later, alone.
“We have a big pen out back for when it's too busy in here to walk him. I'll be coming here every morning and afternoon to check on him, and then I let him in at night so he can sleep in the pen Gramps fixed up for him back here.” She pointed to a wooden crib-like structure about ten feet square with newspapers spread on the floor and bowls for water and food.
Salzwedel asked, “Does you mom bring you down here?”
“I drive Gramps's pickup. Don't worry, I have my license.” She smiled, for the first time Blow could see since he'd met her. She walked to the windowed office, fiddled with the key ring and opened the door. “In here. There's a couch. This is my favorite place.”
She led them in, and sat in the swivel chair behind what Blow considered a surprisingly ordered desk. He and Salzwedel settled on the old, brown frayed leather couch facing her.
When Blow looked up at Sarah, he saw tears again streaming down her face.