The site itself, called Nimbus, though that word was not apparent anywhere, was composed of brush-lined lanes twisting among stumps as wide as water tanks. The various foremen and the constable lived in a row of large unpainted houses not far from the railroad. Jules raised his head toward an inconsequential guitar music tinkling down a lane and sounding like raindrops striking a trash pile of tin cans. He recognized the watered-down noise of a Victrola coming through the screen door of the constable's house, the man himself sitting on the porch in a hide-bottom chair, a flushed and waning sun behind him, his eyes squeezed shut under his stained hat. Jules walked up and listened to a whiny lyric about a sweet old cabin in the pines where a mammy waits with open arms. The constable's eyeballs moved under his lids like nether creatures, not in time with the music; Jules was at pains to reconcile the saccharine song with the afternoon's violence. He coughed.
"I know you're there," the man said, not opening his eyes.
Jules took off his Stetson. "That's some music."
"I'm trying to go back to how it was," the constable said quietly.
"This song. It used to be one way. Now it's another." Inside the house the music died and the record clicked off.
Jules settled his sweaty hat higher on his brow and looked up over the sun-gilded porch boards. He'd seen a picture once of a younger man, but this was the one they'd been hunting for years. "Things change when that old clock goes 'round," he said.
When Byron Aldridge opened his eyes, they were like those of a great horse strangling in a dollar's worth of fence wire. "Can I last 'til things change back?"
Excerpted from The Clearing by Tim Gautreaux. Copyright© 2003 by Tim Gautreaux. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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