Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
The low voice whispered again in her brain. You’ll find him, it said. You will.
Annie clutched at the steering wheel as the early summer air blew in from the open window, loosening wisps
of golden hair from her ponytail and whipping them against her face. “He will not, will not get away with—” She
slammed her foot on the brake as a small animal darted out from the underbrush at the side of the road.
“Damn,” she hissed as the seatbelt bounced her back. The old Volkswagen stalled. Reflex made her look in
the rearview mirror, half expecting to see a line of cars rear-ending one another in a collision pile-up. But this
was not New York City. No, this wasn’t even close. There was not a vehicle to be seen on this two-lane blacktop
twisting back into the West Virginia hills.
She brushed the loose hairs from her forehead then reached down to the outer side of her right ankle.
Patting her jeans, she was satisfied to find that the lump beneath it did not need to be adjusted. The small
handgun, snug in its holster, was strapped securely to her leg.
Annie turned the key and the ignition started. The low voice prodded her. “He’s here somewhere.
Somewhere.” She slowed the Volkswagen almost to a stop as she groped in her back pocket. From out of it she
withdrew a photograph, dog-eared and stained. There was her sister Emily, newly married, standing on the front
porch of an unpainted wooden shack, the screen door open, the buckled roof spreading unevenly above her head.
Emily was smiling, wearing a pink and white flowered dress as she leaned against the porch railing, and there
beside her, arm groping her slim waist, he was, a sly grin plastered on his face.
The photo did not show much of the house, and Emily had never really described what the place looked like.
Annie had never been there, had never even met her sister’s husband of two years. In that time, the two women
had hardly spoken because Emily’s husband did not like his wife being chummy with her relatives. Emily had invited
her to visit a few times in the beginning of the marriage, but the invitations soon became less frequent before
stopping altogether. It was only through Emily’s letters that Annie learned about her sister’s unhappiness, through
the subtle darkness behind her words. But whenever Annie had threatened to come out there and take her home,
Emily would insist that things really were not so bad after all.
All of Emily’s letters had shown a return address with a post office box, but Annie had arrived in town just
after five o’clock and the post office had closed. It was now almost six. She had been driving around the
countryside for nearly an hour, running on instinct alone. Annie picked up speed. She knew she had better start
some inquiries soon if she was going to find this man.
Turning off the blacktop, she found herself bouncing along a gravel road, clouds of dust billowing up from
the tires. This was a heavily wooded area with just a few scattered homes tucked away between the trees. She
slowed the car again, pulled out a cigarette with one hand from the pack on the dashboard, and lit it. “Well, Annie,”
she said out loud, “pick one so we can get on with this.”
As she looked around, one house in particular caught her attention. It was a rich brown color, with a wide
front porch and a black-shingled roof—a place that looked almost civilized in this land of shacks and wilderness.
Set high against the mountain, cradled in the pines, it hovered above her in the distance.
Annie drove onto the dirt roadway that snaked up to the house and ended in a wide driveway. Parked on it,
across from the house, was a red Ford pickup. Except for the chirping of birds and the buzzing of insects, the
Volkswagen’s engine was the only noise breaking the silence surrounding the house. A chocolate-colored
Labrador retriever barely stirred on the porch as she pulled up beside the pickup and shut the engine. The dog
lifted its head, gave her a disinterested glance, and went back to sleep.
Annie rang the doorbell and a tall, slim man soon appeared, dressed in a green t-shirt and jeans. She
guessed he was around forty, with deep-set amber eyes and gold-rimmed glasses. His hair, brown and curly, fell
upon his shoulders, and a finely groomed moustache matching his hair in color curved down into a closely cut
“Yes?” The word flowed from behind a smile as warm and light as the sun.
“I’m looking for Mason Turner,” she said.
“Oh, yeah?” He looked concerned. “Are you a friend of his?”
“I might be. Where can I find him?”
He looked past her into the hills, his expression unchanging. “Well, I’m not exactly sure, miss.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He looked at her and smiled his golden smile. “That’s supposed to mean that I’m not sure where he is. He
took off yesterday, right after—”
“Right after they found his wife’s body. Damn!” She slammed a fist against her thigh.
“That’s right. Guess you’ve heard about that. Nobody’s seen him today, as far as I know.”
“No, they wouldn’t, would they? Look, do you have any idea where he could have gone?”
“No, miss, not the slightest.”
She stared at him for a moment, not wanting to believe that he couldn’t help her, that maybe no one could,
that maybe Mason had fled and gotten away with murder.
She noticed that the man was looking at her with a soft, questioning stare. “You don’t suppose he knows
anything about what happened to his wife, do you?” he asked.
“Don’t suppose he knows anything! Look,” she said, struggling to keep down her rising exasperation, “is
there anyone around here who can help me out on this?”
He slowly shook his head. “Not that I know of. You might ask around, though.”
She turned and walked back down the porch steps. “Thanks for all your help,” she sneered, without turning.
“Don’t mention it,” he said, and she heard the door close softly behind her.
By the time she got back to the car, Annie’s thoughts were burning a fiery path to nowhere. She knew that
asking around too much would arouse suspicion. For one insane moment she even thought of going to the police
and asking if they could give her any information on where Mason might be, making up a story of being a visiting
relative who had traveled a long way only to find that Mason’s house was empty. She could have pulled it off, too.
And if they had given her any leads, she could have found him, shot him, and buried him out in the back woods
without anyone being the wiser.
Annie lit a cigarette, took an angry drag, and screeched out onto the road in a fury of dust. What difference
would it make anyway if people got suspicious? Would anyone really care if the bullet of an avenging relative killed
a low-life like Mason Turner? She doubted it. She doubted anyone would even miss him.
Annie thought of her sister, as she often did, and the kind of pain Emily must have gone through living with a
man like Mason—Emily, who always had an excuse for other people’s bad tempers, who unfailingly had seen the
lighter side of every dark situation, and who had been there to offer a smile whenever the clouds converged. It
was always Emily who, since childhood, had befriended the delinquents and the underdogs, those who would
follow her home like strays, suck off her kindness, leech-like, until they had used her sufficiently, had taken her
candy, her friendship, her heart, and then silently slipped out after the using was done.
Annie would have continued to think about Emily, would have allowed these memories to possess her, acting
as fuel for the engine that generated her in driving down Mason, but just as she turned off the driveway and onto
the road, a deer strolled out of the pines across the way. Annie swerved, the deer ran off, and a tree rose up in
front of the windshield. In an instant the tree disappeared, along with the road and the sky and the hills, and the
whole world melted into blackness.
The first thing she became aware of when she regained consciousness was the feel of hands, the fingers
gently brushing her hair back before putting something cool on her forehead. They were strong and calloused—a
man’s hands, but the touch was light and graceful. Her head throbbed violently behind her closed eyelids, and she
felt nauseous. She knew she was lying on a bed between crisp and fragrant sheets, as the sounds of buzzing and
chirping drifted through an open window across from her. When she opened her eyes, the first thing she saw
were amber eyes behind a pair of gold-rimmed glasses. She scowled.
“What am I doing back here?”
“Shhh,” he said softly. “Just relax.”
“What—ow!” She had tried to rise up on her elbows, but a pain in her side sent her sinking back down on the
“I wouldn’t move around much if I were you.” He pulled a chair up and sat down beside her. “You’re a little
banged up. Nothing’s broken, though.”
“How do you know nothing’s broken? Are you a doctor? And how come I’m not in the hospital?”
“No, I’m not a doctor. I’m a schoolteacher. But I did spend some time in medical school before I found out it
wasn’t for me. And you’re not in the hospital because you don’t need to be. You have a slight concussion. You’ll
When he got up and walked into the next room, it seemed to Annie he had been gone a long time. She was
swimming, bobbing up and down between sleep and wakefulness. Her body was beginning to flame with fever, and
her bones beneath the clammy flesh felt weak. From somewhere outside the room she could hear the tinkling of
pots and dishes, followed shortly by the smell of frying bacon. She was losing herself, wanting to stay in bed, to
sink willingly into her condition, but somewhere in her throbbing brain the low voice urged her on. When he came
back into the room, food tray in hand, she already had one leg over the side of the bed.
“Now hold on there,” he said.
“I’ve got to go.”
She pulled herself up and onto her feet, wobbled, then sat back down on the bed as her legs gave way.
He put the tray down on the dresser, and with a gentle push on her shoulders he managed, in spite of her
protests, to get her to lie back down. He shook his head.
“You are one stubborn woman, for sure. What’s the big rush, anyhow?”
“I’ve got to—” And then, into the hazy heat of her consciousness a thought awakened and she reached for her
ankle. A surge of panic went through her.
“Where is it?”
“It’s in a safe place.”
“I want it now!”
“You’ll get it when you leave. You won’t be needing it here. What do you want with a thing like that,
“That’s none of your business.”
He nodded. “You’re right, it’s not.”
Annie, ready to spring a verbal self-defense, backed down. She could not argue with him, partly because he
offered no argument, and partly because the bed was soft, and the sheets cool, and the summer breeze coming in
from the open window washed over her fevered body like a stream of clear spring water. She ate the eggs and
bacon he had made for her, and then, soon after he left the room, sank into sleep.
She awoke the next morning to see the window across from her bed framing a steel gray sky. Her fever had
broken during the night, and her clothes, heavy with sweat, stuck uncomfortably to her skin. Pushing aside the
sheets, she stepped onto the polished wooden floor. With the fever’s departure came a slow resurgence of
strength, although her limbs still ached from the impact of the accident, and her head bore a nasty bruise. Walking
defensively into the adjoining room, she expected to be politely greeted and immediately afterwards reprimanded
by . . . by whom? It occurred to her now that she didn’t even know the man’s name. Not that it mattered. She
would find her gun and be on her way.
And then a thought struck her: news of Mason’s death, if they should ever find him, would send this man to
the police with her description, damned Good Samaritan that he was. She hoped with all her heart that he had not
taken her bag, with her wallet and identification inside. Slowly, she made her way into the living room. He was
not in there, and there were no sounds coming from anywhere in the house. If she could only find her things and
leave before he woke up . . .
The room was large and took up most of the front of the house. With the speed of desperation, she swept
in all the details in a single glance. Cedar paneling reached to a peaked cathedral ceiling, the beams rough and
exposed. On the back wall was a flagstone fireplace, with a bronze statue of a horse and rider climbing a sharp
mountain escarpment on the mantel. On either side of the statue stood two photographs in red leather frames,
one of a small boy, the other of a dog, probably the retriever Annie had seen on the front porch the previous day.
The furnishings were simple, made of wood, and she was reminded of the Shaker furniture she once saw at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art on a class trip in high school.
Annie walked around the room, but the gun was not in view. To the left of the fireplace a cabinet was
mounted to the wall. She opened it, but found only books, then went to the sofa, felt beneath the cushions.
Nothing. As she sat down on the sofa to think, the front door opened and the Good Samaritan walked in.
“Good morning,” he said. He was holding a bag of groceries in one arm. “Feeling better?”
She didn’t answer.
“I had to run to the store in town for a few things.” As he spoke he walked towards the doorway to the
kitchen. “Have a seat.” He motioned towards a table and chairs set in front of a large bay window on the side of
When he returned with two glasses of orange juice she was seated. She would have to play this game for a
while, at least until she got her pistol back.
He handed her a glass of juice and sat down at the table.
“So, are you feeling better?” he asked.
“Fine. Look, I won’t be staying long. Thanks a lot for the hospitality, but after this juice I have to be going,
and I want my property back.”
He sat back and eyed her quizzically. “Don’t you want to at least wait until your car is fixed? It won’t take
but a day.”
She stared at him. In her anxiousness to leave she had forgotten that her car was probably twisted beyond
driving at the base of a tree.
“Where is it?”
“It’s at MacDougal’s garage. Billy MacDougal’s a friend of mine. Says he can have it back here by tomorrow
“I can’t wait until tomorrow morning.”
He shrugged. “By the way,” he said, extending a hand, “my name’s Stuart.”
She ignored his hand. She was rapidly losing patience.
“Aren’t you going to introduce yourself, Annie?”
Her insides turned to ice as he smiled and held up her wallet.
“You were so worried about getting your weapon back that you forgot to ask about your other property.”
She snatched the wallet out of his hand. “You’ve got some damn nerve,” she said.
He looked offended. “I had to check to see if you had any medical problems. You know, any medical
emergency cards. Just to be on the safe side.”
She shifted in her chair, refusing to look at him.
He let out a deep breath and crossed his arms on the tabletop. “I sure wish you’d tell me why you’re
traveling with a pistol strapped to your ankle.”
“That’s none of your business.”
“You sure are fond of that expression, aren’t you? Look, maybe I can help out.”
“I don’t want your help,” she snapped.
“Suit yourself.” He waved his arm towards the door. “You can leave if you want to, but it’s a long walk into
He got up, left the room, and returned a few moments later with her gun and her bag. “Here,” he said,
handing them to her.
Annie took the weapon, and, placing it and her wallet in the bag, headed for the door.
“Before you leave, there’s something you might want to know,” he said.
She turned and stared at him.
“On the way back from town, I saw Mason walking along the road. He was going in the direction of his
Annie could have lunged at him, he said it so casually. Instead, she turned and rushed out of the house, but
Stuart was right behind her.
“What do you want with Mason, anyhow?” he shouted after her.
Annie stopped in the driveway and looked at him framed in the doorway, her eyes obsidian blades. Slowly,
she walked up the steps and onto the porch until she was inches from his face. He knew, and she didn’t care
She spoke slowly, deliberately.
“Emily Turner was my sister,” she said. “They found her with her neck broken, as I’m sure you’ve already
heard on the news. There were bruises all over her body. She died like an animal that had been penned in and
clubbed to death, and that man is going to pay even if I have to spend the rest of my life in prison.”
Stuart did not seem surprised. His face softened, and he spoke gently to her. “You can’t just go out and
shoot a man down.”
“The hell I can’t.”
She turned from him, walked down the steps and onto the driveway.
“But, Annie,” he called after her from the porch railing, “what if he didn’t do it?”
Annie ignored him. As she trudged down the dirt road and onto the blacktop, all the urgency she had felt
that morning was gone. She was tired.
She thought of Emily, her body bruised and broken, face down in a puddle of mud by a stream. In the back
of her mind Stuart’s words echoed far, far away and for a moment she wondered if perhaps Mason was innocent
after all. Even so, someone should pay, and why not Mason for taking Emily away from her and locking her up in
these forested hills. Then in her mental vision there was Emily again, alive, all sunshine and light, calling to her
from the depths of their shared past, looking for all the world like she could never hurt a living soul. How did she
get a sister like Annie, who had murder in the blood, although it was the same blood as her own?
Annie blinked, thinking for a moment that Emily was really there, knowing she was dead, but hoping all the
same, when suddenly she saw a man walking towards her far down the road. It could be Mason, or it could be
someone else—any man, really, a large figure in the stark sunlight. It could be anyone, but most likely Mason, only
a few feet away now, and she lifted the pistol out from her bag and watched his face change from a casual hello-
how-are-you-today expression, to horror as she pointed the barrel and in a single instant pulled the trigger and
the shot sounded like a firecracker, echoing long after the bullet had left its chamber.
Annie watched the man as he was falling, and she realized that he was elderly, with white hair, a tall and
fragile looking man, and he was shaking and babbling something she could not understand. She was thinking how
odd it was that his body did not change position as the earth and sky turned upside down around him. And then he
was upside down, standing on the upside down earth and she realized that the man was still standing and it was
she who had fallen, knocked off her feet by something unseen.
Annie lay there in the middle of the road. It could have been a few moments or a few hours—she could not
tell—but soon she felt a cold wet nose sniffing her face and a pair of gentle hands around her shoulders, lifting her
into a sitting position. As her eyes began to focus and her senses return, she looked up and saw amber eyes
behind gold-rimmed glasses. Stuart, she realized, was caught between trying to help her and trying to comfort the
old man in the road.
Then the dog caught her attention. It was the same dog that had been on Stuart’s porch, and it now had its
muzzle resting against her leg. Never would she have guessed that such a worn-looking animal could have run as
fast as it did, nor muster enough force to push her off her feet. Annie sank her hand into its glossy, chocolate-
colored fur. Exhausted and overwhelmed, she hesitated only a moment before allowing the tears to come; great
wracking sobs that made the dog look at her with troubled liquid eyes.