Mrs. LaPointe insisted that Blackmon escort her to the meeting. He protested, of course, threatened to say something embarrassing if she pressed but he relented in the end. As she’d known he would. Even as a boy, Blackmon had howled and kicked at the most ordinary requests—brushing his teeth before bed, picking his toys up—but his father would just keep staring at him until the tantrum was spent and he did as he’d been asked. He always relented. He just needed to make a display of independence first.
They arrived early and took a seat on the aisle in the back row. Mrs. LaPointe enjoyed being in a position to greet and be greeted as the crowd shuffled in, but on this night the only people who paused at her seat were her best friend, Penelope Ragland, who was accompanied by her husband; her across-the-street neighbor, Anita Groom, whose husband was in jail for bank fraud; Herman, Douglas, and Donna Pickering, who sat in the front row; and B.D. Schiff, the current president of the Neighborhood Association, who owned his own investment firm and managed the bulk of Reynolds LaPointe’s estate.
The Bonny Oaks courthouse had been modeled after the one made famous in the film To Kill A Mockingbird, starring Gregory Peck. Whitewashed walls. Polished floors. Arched windows that filled the room with light by day and reflected the interior after dark. In place of the judge’s bench stood a pair of conference tables, one now occupied by B.D. Schiff, the other by a man named Oscar Panks. Panks was the ranking officer of Safety 1st, a private security firm employed by Bonny Oaks to man the guardhouse and cruise the streets in gas-powered golf carts. He was a familiar sight to the residents, small and thick and balding with a mustache drooping down over his lip, always waving in his black uniform shirt and slacks, often mocked. He wore a heavy flashlight on his belt but was otherwise unarmed.
Mrs. LaPointe was frustrated by the turnout. The courthouse could manage almost 200 people, if you included the balcony, but entire rows of seats stood empty beneath the lights. Just after 7 o’clock, B.D. Schiff called the meeting to order, then turned the proceedings over to Oscar Panks. Panks hitched his belt as he ambled around to the front of the conference table.
“Thank you all for coming out. I want to assure you right off the bat that the good people at Safety 1st are determined to put an end to these senseless killings. It is our belief that these crimes were the work of juvenile delinquents sneaking into Bonny Oaks from outside the neighborhood.”
He went on to ask the Neighborhood Association to approve the expense of new security measures, including additional nightly golf cart patrols, both inside Bonny Oaks and on the perimeter.
Douglas Pickering raised his hand.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, Mr. Panks. I don’t own property in Bonny Oaks so I have no vote at this meeting but—”
“You go right ahead, son,” Panks said. “We’re grateful for your service, and we value your opinion.”
Blackmon coughed “bootlick” into his hand, but the rest of the crowd greeted Panks’s reassurance with applause.
“Thank you,” Douglas said. “I appreciate that. And I hate to call your theory into question, but it seems to me unlikely that these killings are the work of juvenile delinquents.”
“How do you figure?”
“All these deer were taken at night from relatively close range with a single kill shot from a bow. That kind of stalking requires tremendous skill. This is not to mention that he’s only killing doe. Why is that, unless he has some motive beyond delinquency?”
Their back and forth continued for half an hour, members of the community interjecting, B.D. Schiff moderating from behind the conference table, but Mrs. LaPointe was focused on Douglas Pickering. She admired the confidence with which he spoke, the muscles in his neck and shoulders. When she first met the Pickerings, Mrs. LaPointe had reserved her good will. Herman Pickering had made his fortune parlaying a single dry cleaning storefront into a string of locations spanning Tennessee from Bolivar to Johnson City. The secret of his success, he freely admitted, was employing only Asians to man the register, thus giving his stores an authentic Eastern feel. Though she admired his acumen there was something unsavory about his affluence to Mrs. LaPointe. Listening to Douglas expound on the nuances of bow hunting and stalking prey at night and “herd management” as a possible motive for killing doe, she had to admit that the Pickerings had raised a fine young man. When Blackmon whispered, “Can we please get out of here? I haven’t seen so many idiots in one place since—” Mrs. LaPointe pinched his thigh so hard he yelped. The couple in front of them—they looked familiar to Mrs. LaPointe though she couldn’t recall their names—craned to see who’d made the sound.
“She pinched me,” Blackmon said and Mrs. LaPointe vowed that she would not speak to her son again until he apologized. Until he meant it.
When her husband informed her of his plans for Bonny Oaks, Mrs. LaPointe kept her doubts to herself. She had worried that Bonny Oaks would come out tacky despite her husband. No matter how grand the homes, how intricately landscaped the lawns, they would lack the grace of age. There was nothing her husband could do about that. She had worried as well about the kind of people such a place might attract. And while it was true that the older families, good families, had not, like Mrs. LaPointe, packed up their homes in town and moved to Bonny Oaks, a few of their children had bought in, lending a measure of refinement to the place. Even the out-of-towners seemed to Mrs. LaPointe a mostly decent lot. Penelope Ragland was one of these—the wife of a diplomat who’d been stationed in Helsinki before seeking a more moderate climate in which to retire. It was Reynolds LaPointe’s confidence that Bonny Oaks would weather well that sustained Mrs. LaPointe in her most worrisome hours. But riding home from the meeting with Blackmon behind the wheel, quiet thickening between them, she felt vaguely and inexplicably nagged. When Blackmon made the left from Quail Trace onto Shady Dell and accelerated up the hill, she blurted, “You’re driving too fast,” before recalling her vow of silence.
“I’m going exactly 32 miles per hour,” Blackmon said.
“It feels faster than that.”
“You’re in the passenger seat, Mother. It feels different when somebody else is in control.”
“Slow down anyway,” she said.
“If I slow down—”
“Please, for heaven’s sake, Blackmon, for once do as I say without arguing.”
Blackmon obliged by taking his foot off the pedal altogether and the Volvo slowed, against the incline, to a creep. At that pace, it would take ten minutes to inch the last stretch home.
Blackmon said, “Better?”
Mrs. LaPointe did not reply. She refused to be mocked into submission.
“You know what I don’t get?” Blackmon said. “The way all you people fuss over Douglas Pickering. Look at those guards at Abu Ghraib, what they did. It’s not like you have to submit a resumé.”
Mrs. LaPointe knew he was baiting her, but she couldn’t help herself.
“That boy is risking his life. Not just that. Think what he’s given up to serve his country.”
Blackmon scoffed. “Law school? What a discriminating crowd that is.”
“You hush,” said Mrs. LaPointe. “You’re acting like—like—like—”
“Like what, Mother?”
“Like I don’t know what.” She was trembling with frustration. She balled her fists. “Just drive right.”
As they crested the hill at last—glacially, regally—a pair of doe raised their heads from grazing and tracked Mrs. LaPointe’s Volvo with their eyes.
“Dumb animals,” Blackmon said.