One of the student trainers took Wayne to see Gibson. The coaches were all set up behind a big metal door at the end of the gym. A large room that held the desks of the assistant coaches, and then, on the other side of a glass window the size of a windshield, was a small office just for Gibson. The coach was scribbling in a notebook when Wayne came into his office, but when he saw Wayne he stopped and scratched at his crew cut. His baby face was a question mark, and he looked like a schoolboy about to quit on his homework.
Wayne stood across from Gibson’s desk, his back to the big window. He could hear the assistant coaches grab-assing behind him. “I’m Wayne Stover,” he said. “Justin Stover’s grandfather.”
Gibson smiled and then stood. “Of course, Mr. Stover!” he said. “Bo Gibson. I didn’t mean for you to have to come in here. I was planning to call over the weekend.”
Wayne shook Gibson’s hand. According to Justin, Gibson had played football up north for the Coast Guard Academy, then got into coaching after he served out his military time. He was from Biloxi or thereabouts originally, and Homer High had coaxed him back down to Mississippi from some school in Indiana.
“Everything OK?” Wayne asked.
Gibson laughed. “Well, we won — but I don’t know how many games like that I can take.”
“With Justin, I mean.”
“Oh, yeah, yeah,” said Gibson. “Justin’s great, sir. Maybe a little earnest, but still great. Please, have a seat.”
Wayne lowered himself into one of the two chairs facing the desk, and Gibson sat down as well. A temporary miracle heart murmur had spared Wayne from the army and maybe Vietnam, but he could see the military in this kid. That haircut. The creases in his collared shirt. The tidiness of his desk.
Gibson closed his notebook and placed his pen on top of it. “I need to ask a favor of you, Mr. Stover. You played football at Homer yourself, correct?”
“That’s right,” said Wayne.
“And do you remember a teammate of yours named Louis Carpenter?”
The gravel road that ended at Wayne’s property ran alongside Wolf Creek Christmas Tree Farm, and halfway down the road, where the squat firs and cypresses and pines ended and his field began, was the house where whatever Mexicans who happened to be working at Wolf Creek lived. It was a small brick house, almost a twin to Wayne’s, and with the holidays approaching there were maybe a half-dozen men staying there now: Hector, who showed up a few years ago and was always there, and some others Wayne didn’t know by name. They were standing around their fire pit in cowboy hats, drinking beer and talking, when Wayne drove by.
Wayne flashed his brights but kept on. Farther down the road he could see a flashlight working through his field. It was that armadillo hunter, he realized, one of the most recent arrivals among the Mexicans. The man didn’t speak any English, or not that he let on, but Hector had brought him by a few days ago to meet Wayne. He was a Oaxacan, Hector had explained in his cautious and faltering way, more Indian than anything else, and he wanted permission to wander Wayne’s field on occasion, night-hunting armadillos with an old .22 they kept in that bunkhouse of theirs. The owners of Wolf Creek wouldn’t stand for that on their land, but Wayne didn’t care, so long as that dark little man minded where he was shooting. The Mexicans had always been good, respectful neighbors to him, and he didn’t want to do anything that might change that. There were folks across the highway who complained of tools going missing and whatnot, and Wayne wasn’t looking to push his luck.
Wayne stood in his yard and watched the Oaxacan’s light float along in the distance. In truth he was still a little rattled from his conversation with Bo Gibson. It’d been years since Wayne had given any thought to Louis Carpenter, four decades since he’d laid eyes on the man. When Wayne knew him they were only kids in high school, same as Justin. Louis had been among the first black students allowed into Homer High when the school integrated in ’70, one face among those dozens until the day he showed up for football practice. Most of the team had quit — or at least were made to by their fathers and grandfathers.