Lee stood there in his kitchen, thinking about the lights of the little pipes that sometimes glowed in the darkness outside Tim Fitzsimmons’s trailer at odd hours of the evening. Usually Tim would shoo these more indiscreet customers away; and occasionally he would brandish a gun at them. “Get your sorry meth-head ass away from here before you do that!” the ex-con would shout. It didn’t take much observation to figure out what sort of commerce was occurring in the trailer next door. The money and the little baggies of whitish powder sometimes exchanged hands on the steps outside Fitzsimmons’s front door.
So far, Lee had had relatively little interaction with the other residents of the Tradewinds Trailer Park. Most of them seemed to be agreeable enough; they were predominantly lower middle-class working people like himself, for whom the Tradewinds was a way station along the path to something better. Young couples saving up for a down payment on a tract house in town. A handful of retirees in temporary limbo. Some divorcees with small children. Even a few recently discharged veterans like himself. None of them had much money; you didn’t live in a trailer park if you had real money.
It had not taken Lee long to identify Tim Fitzsimmons as the sort of predatory presence that invariably works its way into low-income environments like the Tradewinds. Fitzsimmons was in his early thirties. He wore the perpetual glare of a man who had long ago accepted the role of a hood, and he wanted everyone he encountered to know it. He also had the authentic credentials: Fitzsimmons had spent most of his twenties in the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville.
These recollections weighed on Lee’s mind as he watched the four strangers disappear around a bend in the gravel path. He had long recognized what was going on next door; and yet he had done nothing about it.
Then he reminded himself that he was a civilian now. It wasn’t his job to carry a gun anymore.
But he should have called Sheriff Phelps. Many times he had thought about it. Perryston was the Hawkins County seat, and Phelps’s office was located in the town proper. Lee could have walked into the sheriff’s office and talked to him. For that matter, he could have made a telephone call.
Yes, he should have done that. But talking to Sherriff Steven Phelps had never been easy for him. And nothing had changed since he had come back from Iraq. The lawman still gave him an expression that implied a range of emotions: blame, resentment, distrust—as if Lee were responsible for the pathetic way the sheriff’s life had turned out.
It was absurd when you thought about it. Unbelievably so. But the sheriff had never let go of his old grudge. The grudge sprung from events that had occurred before Lee had even been born. But that made no difference, did it?
Was he imagining the depth of the sheriff’s ill will? No—Lee still remembered an encounter he had had with the sheriff toward the end of his high school years. The shame and humiliation of the incident still stung—even after all that had occurred since. Even after Iraq.
So you thought you were in love once, huh, Phelps? Lee thought bitterly. And I guess I’m a reminder of how that worked out for you. I guess I always will be.
This was a cruel and petty thought, he knew; but Lee could not resist taking a certain degree of satisfaction from it.