Steps, noose, mask; but before the mask was adjusted, the prisoner spat his chewing gum into the chaplain's outstretched palm. Dewey shut his eyes; he kept them shut until he heard the thud-snap that announces a rope-broken neck. Like the majority of American law-enforcement officials, Dewey is certain that capital punishment is a deterrent to violent crime, and he felt that if ever the penalty had been earned, the present instance was it. The preceding execution had not disturbed him, he had never had much use for Hickock, who seemed to him "a small-time chiseler who got out of his depth, empty and worthless." But Smith, though he was the true murderer, aroused another response, for Perry possessed a quality, the aura of an exiled animal, a creature walking wounded, that the detective could not disregard. He remembered his first meeting with Perry in the interrogation room at Police Headquarters in Las Vegas - the dwarfish boy-man seated in the metal chair, his small booted feet not quite brushing the floor. And when Dewey now opened his eyes, that is what he saw: the same childish feet, tilted, dangling.
Dewey had imagined that with the deaths of Smith and Hickock, he would experience a sense of climax, release, of a design justly completed. Instead, he discovered himself recalling an incident of almost a year ago, a casual encounter in Valley View Cemetery, which, in retrospect, had somehow for him more or less ended the Clutter case.
The pioneers who founded Garden City were necessarily a Spartan people, but when the time came to establish a formal cemetery, they were determined, despite arid soil and the troubles of transporting water, to create a rich contrast to the dusty streets, the austere plains. The result, which they named Valley View, is situated above the town on a plateau of modest altitude. Seen today, it is a dark island lapped by the undulating surf of surrounding wheat fields - a good refuge from a hot day, for there are many cool paths unbrokenly shaded by trees planted generations ago.
One afternoon the previous May, a month when the fields blaze with the green-gold fire of half-grown wheat, Dewey had spent several hours at Valley View weeding his father's grave, an obligation he had too long neglected. Dewey was fifty-one, four years older than when he had supervised the Clutter investigation; but he was still lean and agile, and still the K. B. I.'s principal agent in western Kansas; only a week earlier he had caught a pair of cattle rustlers. The dream of settling on his farm had not come true, for his wife's fear of living in that sort of isolation had never lessened. Instead, the Deweys had built a new house in town; they were proud of it, and proud, too, of both their sons, who were deep-voiced now and as tall as their father. The older boy was headed for college in the autumn.
When he had finished weeding, Dewey strolled along the quiet paths. He stopped at a tombstone marked with a recently carved name: Tate. Judge Tate had died of pneumonia the past November; wreaths, brown roses, and rain-faded ribbons still lay upon the raw earth. Close by, fresher petals spilled across a newer mound - the grave of Bonnie Jean Ashida, the Ashidas' elder daughter, who while visiting Garden City had been killed in a car collision. Deaths, births, marriages - why, just the other day he'd heard that Nancy Clutter's boy friend, young Bobby Rupp, had gone and got married.
The graves of the Clutter family, four graves gathered under a single gray stone, lie in a far corner of the cemetery - beyond the trees, out in the sun, almost at the wheat field's bright edge. As Dewey approached them, he saw that another visitor was already there: a willowy girl with white-gloved hands, a smooth cap of dark-honey hair, and long, elegant legs. She smiled at him, and he wondered who she was.
"Have you forgotten me, Mr. Dewey? Susan Kidwell." He laughed; she joined him. "Sue Kidwell. I'll be darned." He hadn't seen her since the trial; she had been a child then. "How are you? How's your mother?"