Derek left the diner and went back to where his brother had lived for the past three years. It was an old farm just outside of town, taken care of by an old couple whose children had all grown up and moved away. They only had a few animals and fewer crops but they managed. Derek's brother had helped them some, in exchange for rent.
He pulled into the dirt lot behind a rusted out pick-up and got out of the car. Horses pressed up against the fence, two brown beauties that even Derek could appreciate. They chewed cud and watched him with dull eyes. He ignored them and walked to the porch. He saw the old man, Jerry moving in the barn and gave a wave. He got a stare in return. The couple had welcomed him, given him next to nothing about his brother and generally didn't talk. They'd said his brother had stayed with them and helped them out. They said he'd left a month or two ago and that was that.
What happened to good old southern hospitality, thought Derek.
The wife stood in the kitchen, washing dishes.
"Derek, is that you? Was the sheriff able to tell ya anything?"
Derek sighed and sat at the kitchen table. "Nothing. And then someone else threatened me. What the hell's wrong with this town?"
She gave a frown over her shoulder. "Ain't nothin' wrong with this town. Just don't like to talk to outsiders much is all."
"I get that, okay? Giving out information to strangers and all, but, Laurie, he's my freaking brother."
"Please refrain from swearing while in our house," she snapped.
"I'm sorry, okay?" Derek stood up and went over. He started drying the dishes with a towel. "I just want to make sure he's okay."
She gave him a caring look and shook her head. "He's gone, Derek. You're just going to have to accept that."
She scrubbed a pot particularly hard, scraping the remains of some meat off of it. "Gone."
"No," Derek said, shaking his head. "I don't accept that. I won't."
They continued in silence. She, washing each dish with a dark blue scrubbing brush, then rinsing it with the faucet in the second sink, then passing it to him. He took each and wiped them with the towel, making sure to get each drop of water. It took his mind off things.
"What did he do, here?" Derek asked.
She gave a sad smile. "He helped us out, baling hay, feeding the animals, harvesting crops. He enjoyed it, I think."
"Really? I can't say I'm surprised. He must have said something before he left. You must have some idea. He lived with you for three years."
She sighed, slumping against the counter. "The old manor," she whispered. "He spent some time there."
"What? You mean that abandoned shack I passed on my way in to town?"
Boots stomped onto the porch and Jerry stalked inside, glaring. "That's enough talkin' with my wife. You can get out, now."
"Sir, I just-"
"Enough, I said," the old man growled. "You're brother was no good, ya hear? He meddled where he shouldn't have and now he's gone." He raised a finger like a weapon, pointing it violently. "You best stay away from that house or you'll end up like 'im. Leave well enough alone."
Derek shook his head and dropped the drying towel onto the counter. He left without a word, getting into the rental car and peeling out of the driveway, kicking up dust and rocks.
The old man and woman watched him go.
"He's just looking for his brother," Laurie said.
"His brother was just lookin' for something too, or don't you remember? You want to bring ruin to this town, to all we've worked for?"
"Maybe someone could-"
"No, Laurie. No. It's better the way it is."
The blue car flashed through town, blowing through a red light before Derek realized it. He was swearing up a storm as he pressed on the accelerator, trying to escape the insane town through sheer speed.
He'd gone a few miles out of town before he recognized the sheriff's car behind him, flashing red and blue lights atop a brown sedan.
He swore some more and pulled over. He breathed in and out.
The sheriff pulled over behind him and got out of the car. He walked up to the driver's side door and tapped on the window.
Derek rolled it down.
Anderson tipped his hat back and leaned down. He had deep wrinkles set into a tired face, with hard eyes that looked into and beyond Derek. "Do ya know why I pulled ya over, son?"
"Because this town hates outsiders, apparently?"
Anderson ignored the dig. "You ran a red light right on main street. You were doin' at least twenty over the speed limit for miles. Coulda killed someone, son."
"Don't call me son, just give me a ticket and let me go on my way."
Anderson nodded, mmhmm-ing to himself. "Could do that, yes I could. Or I could just let you go on your way with a warning, long as you're heading back to where you came from."
"You'd let me go with a warning?"
"Depends. Where you headed, Mister Hodson?"
Derek looked out the windshield. "I was thinking about leaving...but I was also considering looking into the old manor at the edge of the county. I heard Dave might have gone there a few times."
"You heard wrong," Anderson said, his voice flat. "There's no reason to go there."
Derek shrugged. "Might check it out anyways, cool old place like that, completely abandoned? It's interesting."
"Ain't nothin' interestin' to it. Family up and died awhile ago, only one left moved away and hasn't been back since. You don't want to go there."
"Maybe I do."
"And maybe instead of a warning, I lock you up for reckless endangerment. Do ya get my meanin', son?"
Derek nodded. "Yeah, I get it. Place is probably useless anyway. Just give me a ticket or a warning and let me get out of this shit hole once and for all."
Anderson kicked the tire. "Get the fuck outta here and don't come back."
Derek pulled away.
The sheriff watched him go. Then, he got into the car and followed.