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In this town you had to go to jail before the right people figured you were worthy of their confidence

Black Of The Moon

By Merle Constiner

THE backwoods bus pulled away from the watering trough in the village square and Crockett picked up the suitcase. He crossed the street and entered the cafe.

It was a typical hill town restaurant, dingy, bare. The proprietor, a fat man with reddish fuzz on his forearms, was lounging on a wire-legged chair beneath an old calendar depicting a girl in an airbrushed bathing suit watching a flock of wild geese. Crockett laid the suitcase self-consciously on the table, said, "What will you give me for it? I don't want to pawn it, I want to sell it."

The fat man mounted good-naturedly to his feet. "You jest git off the Knoxville bus?"

"Yes."

"Broke, eh?"

"No."

The hillman looked long and hard at his visitor. The young man was modestly but not shabbily dressed; he was blond and thin, with lean cheeks and tired expressionless eyes. The suitcase, a tiny thing in striped canvas, was about eighteen inches in length. The fat man cleared his throat, "Looks like a woman's satchel."

Crockett hesitated. "It's too small for me. I never should have bought it."

The fat man walked back to the kitchen. When he returned he was carrying a long barreled pistol; he said, "Holden's a town of law and order." He reached down, snapped the lock, opened the bag. It was full of feminine garments, a pair of hose, a pink slip, a brassiere. He said placidly, "Set down. I done sent fer the marshal. He's on his way."

MARSHAL PICKERING was a wiry, hunched little man with rosy cups on his cheeks; his manner was entirely impersonal. As Crockett accompanied him down Main Street, he judged the town to have a population of maybe seven hundred. The business section, a block and a half long, was of old brick and in the soft spring twilight the warped pavement was a dappled pattern of purple shadow and mellow shop glow. There was the sour smell of budding trees and the pleasant spicy fragrance of wood burning ranges.

The jail was a small cement building behind the town hall. Pickering opened the door. "Step in."

The walls were whitewashed, there were a tier of iron bunks and a grilled door. The marshal declared coldly, "That hain't no way to make no living. Stealing luggage from buses! I'll take you up before the Squire tomorrer."

Crockett said cautiously, "I didn't steal anything from anybody. I want a lawyer."

"I'll tell Mart Chaffin. This hain't no county seat, he's the oney lawyer we got." He closed the door; Crockett heard the bolt click.

. . . Mr. Chaffin appeared twenty minutes later. He came alone and Crockett recognized him instantly as an old-time small town attorney. He had a stolid, thoughtful face with a bony, boxlike forehead. There were cunning wrinkles at the corners of his eyes; his hair, old style, was combed back over his temples. He sat down on a shuck- bottomed chair, easily, as though the jail were his own personal property. "What's your name, sir?"

"Lew Crockett."

"Frankly, Mr. Crockett, petty thievery is not in my line. Seeing, however, that you are a stranded wayfarer—"

The blond young man grinned slowly. He took out a pigskin wallet, extracted five small squares of yellow paper and a twenty dollar bill, handed the sheaf to Mr. Chaffin.

With great dignity, the lawyer stuffed the banknote in his watch pocket, examined the yellow papers. "Why these are sales slips! They prove you purchased the suitcase and its contents in Knoxville. What's the meaning of this?"

"I want to talk to you. And I don't want any spotlight turned on us. In a small town there are two persons that know what makes the wheels turn. The preacher and the lawyer. The preacher, of course, is out. That twenty dollars is just a retainer."

"What do you want to know?" Mr. Chaffin was wary.

"I want the lowdown on the Hazelton robbery."

"Why that happened twenty years ago!" The lawyer smiled mirthlessly. "You've chosen a pretty hard nut to crack. I've a fairly good brain myself and for two decades it's had me thinking in circles. I was present when it happened. There was some sort of flimflam involved but I can't quite put my finger on it." He paused. "May I tell it in my own way?"

"Please do."

"Twenty years ago the big establishment in this end of the county was Holden's general store run by Tom Hazelton. Hazelton's since retired, he's about eighty. He settles estates now, has a houseful of antiques he picks up from bereaved heirs at a song. In those days he was sort of a rural czar. You could buy a saddle at his store, or stick candy, or have your grandpappy embalmed. He was an independent cotton buyer, too; outside buyers couldn't pick up enough good staple hereabouts to wad a shotgun."

The lawyer closed his eyes, opened them. "In those days there was no bank in Holden and when cotton was in bale and the buying season came around, Hazelton had the money sent over from Sycamore City, the county seat eleven miles away. A sheriff's deputy ...

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