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Two things don't happen very often in Hillston, North Carolina. We don't get much snow and we hardly ever murder one another. Suicide is more our style; we're a polite, college town, and our lives are sheltered by old trees. Maybe once a year a blizzard slips around a corner of the Smoky Mountains and blusters its way east, or a gale swells up from Cape Hatteras and runs across the Piedmont to break up our agreeable liaison with nature; but usually storms lose interest along the way. Whenever one does barge through town, merchants stockpile sleds as recklessly as Carolina blockade-runners once stowed tobacco and cotton. Schools close. Cars spin off the road. People have accidents.
They commit murders, too, but much more often in thought and word than deed. There is some impertinence in being a homicide detective in a town that wants to go on believing it is still too small and too temperate to require such expertise. That I should be the detective obliged to remind them of their susceptibility seems a further affront to Hillston, for I'm one of them. My mother is a Hillston Dollard. Her family has sheltered the town since its founding; they founded it. They sheltered it with pride; defensive, unchallengeable pride in the town, and the Piedmont that circled it, and the state that circled the Piedmont, and the country that circled the state. That's what Dollards did. It was the family business. For me to be searching for killers among us would have struck Hillston as an improper lack of family feeling, except that, of course, as everyone said, we rarely murdered one another.
The trouble was that now Cloris Dollard was dead, had been found dead last Sunday, her skull crushed. She was my uncle's wife.