The story of a rowdy, complex family man and his impressionable son, Colin. When a college student is raped and murdered and his body thrown into the Missouri River, Richard Sturgis and two small town troublemakers are arrested. Sturgis is tried and convicted, while the other two are set free. Colin, deeply scarred by the trial and the shame of enduring his teenage years known as the son of a murderer, doesn’t believe his father is guilty but isn’t sure he is innocent, setting up a lifelong battle within Colin which compels him twenty years later to seek the truth about the murder and about his father.
“…a strong addition to literary fiction collections, very much recommended.” – Midwest Book Review, June, 2013.
The first scene —
The exact day Dad was arrested for the murder of Kent Bullock was a subject of dispute between Mom and me. She insisted the Sheriff knocked on our hotel room door to bring us the news on a Thursday evening; I remember him coming the night before. It was one of the inconsequential things we argued about during the spring of 1960 while waiting for Dad’s trial to begin. Why it was important to us, I don’t know. We could easily have discovered the correct day in the newspaper of the small Missouri town where we lived for the better part of a year, but apparently we each needed to remember events in our own way.
I was sleeping on the folding bed in the front room when I heard the knocking. I stumbled to the door. “Who is it?”
“Sheriff McKenzie. Can I come in?”
“Who is it, Colin?”
I turned and saw Mom standing in her bathrobe. “It’s Sheriff McKenzie, Mom.”
“Let him in.”
I opened the door.
“Evenin’, folks. Sorry to disturb you.” He doffed his hat.
“Good evening, Sheriff. Come in. Has Richard gotten into another fight?” Mom wrapped her bathrobe around her.
The Sheriff stepped inside and closed the door behind him. “Perhaps Colin shouldn’t hear this.”
“Is Richard dead?” Fear hollowed Mom’s voice, this woman who never showed fear, which terrified nine-year-old me.
“He’s alive, Mrs. Sturgis.” The sheriff looked at me.
Mom commanded me. “Go in the bedroom, Colin.”
I didn’t want to go. Whatever it was, I wanted to hear. But I did as I was told.
Even with my ear pressed against the door, I could hear nothing except muted voices. Then I heard a gasp and, a moment later, Mom wept. The sobs were muffled by the door, but I had never heard Mom in such pain.
Wild thoughts ran through my head. If Dad wasn’t dead, what could be so bad? Had he been in a car crash? Was he clinging to life in a hospital bed? Had he lost a leg, an eye?
I didn’t dare open the door even after I heard the Sheriff leave. I had to respect what Mom was going through. But I was dying to know.
Finally, she opened the door. Her eyes were red and puffy.
“You can come out now, Colin.”
“What happened? What is it?” I walked into the living room.
“Sit down.” She gestured to the sofa and sat beside me.
“Mom?” I searched her face.
“You need to be brave, Colin.”
“Your dad’s been arrested. A man got killed.”
“The Sheriff says that Clarence, Hank and Dad were joyriding with two college kids. They left one of them for dead by the side of the road, and the other one was found floating in the Missouri River.”
“They think Dad did it?”
“The Sheriff warned me to be prepared. They’re waiting for the blood tests, but that’s what they think.”
“Dad wouldn’t kill anybody.”
“In his right mind, he wouldn’t, but Clarence could twist his mind.” She rubbed her forehead. “I drove him away. I warned him not to come home.”
“It’s not your fault, Mom. Don’t blame yourself.”
In everything that happened later, in all the terrible things that were to follow, I never saw Mom look as stricken. I think she glimpsed the future. “How could he do this to us? How could he?”