Joel had not slept well in over a week. His hair was uncombed and stood in tufts around his ears; the back was almost past his collar. His bloodshot, bleary eyes combined with the ten-day stubble on his face was evidence of his less than admirable circumstances. What had he gotten himself into?
His stomach rumbled. Food. Depression and sleep had stolen his appetite for days; how many he did not know. Now he knew if he did not eat something, he would be physically ill. He wasn’t sure it really mattered, but the human body was determined to survive. For the first time in at least three days, by his fuzzy memory, he ventured out of his room in search of food.
He ambled across the street to the eatery where the Deputy’s girl worked. The aroma of fried potatoes, country ham, and cornbread assaulted his nose. How could something smell so good and make you want to upchuck at the same time? Maybe he should just have soup or beef stew.
He sat at a round pine table and waited for someone to take his order. A young lady he didn’t recognize walked up to him and wrinkled her nose at the man’s odor. Nevertheless, she swallowed to keep from choking, smiled, and said, “What would you like today? We have…”
Joel stopped held up a shaky hand. “Just a glass of water and a bowl of soup, please.”
“Is chicken soup okay? Bird got slaughtered this mornin’ and been plucked, bled, and—what did I say?”
Joel scraped his chair back, got up, barely made it to the door, and retched.
Dewey had been walking from the sheriff’s office to the inn for his own dinner when he spotted a man doubled over just outside the door. The unkempt appearance and the smell emanating from what appeared to be a bum made Dewey quicken his step. As he reached the bent figure he held out a hand to steady him.
Joel looked at Dewey from a sideways glance of his bowed head. “What do you want?” His voice resembled that of a mother cat getting ready to attack, low and gravelly.
“Taney? That you? What in the world happened to you ...