Before Grissom could reply, Vincent had walked out of the protective cover of the parked cars, toward Hartwell’s place. He held the shotgun in the crook of one arm, pointed at the ground and flopping easily.

“Who’s there?” a voice cried as he neared the front door.

“It’s Undersheriff Gaines, Mr. Hartwell,” said Vincent. “I’ve come to see if there’s something we can do to end this little standoff here.”

“Vincent Gaines?” Hartwell said. “The old Commissioner of Schools?”

“Not anymore,” Vincent said. “It’s Undersheriff now. And while I can hardly be called the same man, there is a certain resemblance, you might say.”

Hartwell was silent for a moment. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said. “That’s the God’s honest, I am. That’s no way to lose your wife or your daughter.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hartwell,” Vincent said. “I appreciate it.”

“So here’s what I’m gonna do, Undersheriff. I’m gonna let you walk back the way you came, and you’ve got my solemn word to the Lord God that I won’t shoot you in the back. That’s a damn sight more than I could promise any of those others. But don’t be expecting that kind of generous treatment if you come back again.”

“I’m mighty grateful for that, Mr. Hartwell. Truly I am. But I’m afraid I just wouldn’t be doing my duty if I took you up on that. Fact is, I think at this point you can’t even bribe me. I’m gonna have to come in there, arrest you, and take an axe to your still in the basement. We’ll try not to mess things up when we go on, and you should be out of jail in a few days.”

Vincent took another step forward, and Hartwell leaned out one of the front windows, a rifle in his hands. “You try that, and I’ll shoot you down where you stand. Send you to join your family.”

“Do you think I don’t know that, Mr. Hartwell?”

Hartwell furrowed his brows. “You ought to. You’re a damned fool otherwise.”

“Do you think that a single day goes by that I don’t wish I was dead, Mr. Hartwell?” Vincent continued, still advancing. “Do you think one minute goes by when I’m holding this thing that I don’t want to put it in my moth and pull the trigger?”

“What’re you talking about?” Hartwell said.

“I’m just being honest with you, Mr. Hartwell. If you’re so anxious to shoot me, you’d better go ahead and shoot me. Believe me, it’s nothing I haven’t thought about doing twenty times before breakfast this morning.”

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