Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Murder by Deer

As a country vet I did a lot of traveling, but I had never actually been to Justin's house. He shared his lane with a single neighbor, Carl, who was also in his mid-80s and living by himself. As a matter of fact, Justin and Carl were a lot alike, except that Carl was a widower and Justin had never married.

As far as I knew, Justin only had two hobbies: hating Carl, and feeding deer. As a relative newcomer to the area (9 years this spring), I only knew about the first from small-town gossip. Something about Carl stealing Justin's beau while Justin was off in WWII. The second hobby, I had witnessed myself. On at least three of the handful of wintery occasions I had visited his neighbor's small farm, I had seen Justin with his pickup truck pulled off the road, tossing bales of hay to the ground. I couldn't guess why; most farmers, even retired ones like Justin, hated deer for the damage they did to their crops.

Two days ago, however, Carl passed away. I heard about it while I was in the hardware store, stomping snow off my boots and trying to warm my hands by rubbing them together. Nancy, her head deep in a circle of people clustered around the cashier's desk, glanced up at the jingle of the bell over the door. "Doc V, you hear the news?"

I didn't think it had to do with the new calf I had just delivered, so I shook my head.

"Carl died," Nancy said. "Got in a car wreck up by his house. The sheriff just got back a few minutes ago."

I stared at her. Carl, dead? As old as he was, I had expected him to die in his sleep, not to go like this. "What happened?" I asked.

"He went off the road up by his house and hit a tree," said Nancy, shaking her head. The cluster of people around her repeated the gesture, and I noticed Justin's face among them. He looked slightly less dismayed by the tragedy than the others, and a sudden thought struck me.

"Any idea why he went off the road?" I asked, and Nancy shook her head again.

"Sheriff says maybe he swerved to miss a deer," she said. "Then with the roads all slick, he couldn't get control back."

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, and there's nothing I could go to the sheriff with. But for the first time since I had met him, I saw Justin smile.

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