People in White Cliff knew Sam Sanderson drove a white
pickup truck, and they’d read about the restitution money the state had paid,
almost $750,000 and based on a convoluted formula of what his income would have
been had he not been in prison plus the going rate, not the prison rate, for
the work he did at Pine Tree.
And they all knew that the lawsuits he’d filed were enough
to bankrupt the county twice over. The litigation had become a gigantic black
cloud over the town and the county, effectively chilling development and
investment. Sam did all of his shopping in Bozeman or Billings; in fact, this
appearance in her store was the first time Alice Willis had seen him up close
since his return from Pine Tree, although she and many others had seen him
jogging with the church pastor. The first time they’d jogged into town, jaws
dropped at the sight of the slender Dennis Cannon and the more muscular Sam jogging
side by side right down the state highway into the center of town and on to the
track at the high school.
And there he was, sitting by himself near the store’s stove,
sipping his coffee and facing the front window. She wanted to talk to him, to
say she was sorry for what had happened. But she just didn’t know how to get
the words out, or how to say them.
He wasn’t bad looking, she thought. But he still had that
prison pallor, an almost yellowish tinge to his skin. He was average height at
most, maybe 5 foot 9, and was on the stocky side, but muscular, all muscle. It
was said that he’d installed a home gym in his house and did regular workouts.
He hadn’t shaved in a couple of days, but somehow that enhanced his appearance.
Seeing him up close for the first time, Alice was both
surprised and not surprised that his hair had turned completely gray. And he’s only 31. It was cut short, like
He sat, not saying a word. The third time he looked at his
watch made Alice realize why he was there. He’s
waiting for the bus from Denver.
The bus only stopped when there was a passenger to drop off or pick up. He’s waiting for someone or something on the
bus. He doesn’t look like he’s going to Seattle. No suitcase or bag. And if he
is, he better think twice about leaving that pickup of his out front.
Alice could see that he was tense. Whatever he’s waiting for, it’s making him real nervous.
They both heard the wheeze of the air brakes before they saw
the bus. Sam stood up, and walked quickly outside. It was sunny but cold. Alice
, unable to contain
her curiosity, grabbed her coat and followed, standing a few feet away. If he asks, I’ll say I’m officially greeting the bus.
The bus stopped, and the driver walked around with the
passenger Sam was waiting for. Alice nearly dropped her teeth.
It was a little boy. Dark curly hair, thin, a little on the
scrawny side, dark eyes. He was holding on to a blanket that Alice
could see had some kind of design on
Alice watched Sam and the boy stare at each other for a
“I’m Rafe,” the boy said.
“Rafe, I’m Sam.”