Although he was the sharpest shot in town, having run the Pineville Archery and Outdoor Store for as long as we could remember, Logan Beckman mistook her for a deer that misty day in November while she was on an evening run. Sandy Hutchings was training for a marathon with her labrador Bella in the backwoods. We heard the shots, the scream, the barking. We paused mid-dinner, ventured to our patios, watched—stricken—as Logan ran through the woods, shotgun in one hand, while Sandy’s husband came hurling down the back steps of their craftsman.
Logan was not the murdering type. He was a fair and decent salesman, had a tattoo on his chest of the Byzantine Christ, and he was nifty with all hardware needs—always fixing the sprinkler system for old Dean Raines, cleaning the gutter for Patty Hatfield who had towering pines near her roof. He wore flannels and torn Wranglers, industrial boots even in summer, and there was a shadow of red hair on his chin even after a shave. He was divorced.
The funeral was held at Our Lady of Guadalupe on Elm Street. There was no open casket. Sandy’s husband sat alone in the front row, held her Nike jacket in his hands through the service. Logan sat in back, wearing a black Northface with a Filson hat pulled over his eyebrows. He spoke to no one, not even the husband. We watched him from the corner of our eyes, saw him sitting through the Psalms and the music, face glistening with sweat. He did not follow us to the gravesite. Instead, he trudged back to his hardware store, hands in his pocket, shoulders slumped, like a hanger with a too-heavy coat.
Those of us who lived through the ensuing trial remember our town as before the Sandy Hutchings case and after the Sandy Hutchings case. The before: seeing Logan Beckman bent over some project, hanging his old-fashioned “Open” sign in the window, carrying home a prize buck in hunting season. Small town greetings and the feeling that you know someone when all you ever say to them is “Hello?” and “How much for a hose replacement?” Watching Sandy walk her labrador, volunteer with Meals on Wheels, stop by our artisan markets and charity events. After: our town on the map, on the news, on people’s mouths, the passersby stopping at the cathedral for a picture of the cemetery, and the side-choosing (Should he go to jail or shouldn’t he?) that erupted among us. The red and blue lights appearing outside his house, the camera crews descending like a swarm of locusts, their white vans rumbling down our neighborhoods with towering broadcast antennas and light panels that shone through our curtains. Reporters in wool coats stopping us to excavate stories and mine nuggets for a newsreel. Asking: “Did you know Logan Beckman? Did you see the signs?”
We said: “He always seemed so nice. Didn’t fit the profile.”
They said: “He’s being tried for murder.”
It’s that nauseous unspooling of time careening backward—from sentencing to appeal to court date to arrest to funeral to watching Logan run to her, Bella yelp and back away, him tourniquet her hip before the husband even arrived at the scene—and that under-the-skin itch of Did we see the signs? Did we see the signs? Didweseethesignsdidweseethesignsdidweseewesee
The Pineville Archery and Outdoor Store is now closed. Replaced with a pâtisserie. The white news vans have left, leaving our town quiet, lightless, without the cars standing vigil. The path where Sandy used to run is grown over. The slender trees have become wild things, their roots like crooked hurdles, and the wild mulberries have grown with tangled brambles. We have stopped walking those trails in the backwoods, cannot venture to that place where tattered yellow police tape roped off Sandy Hutchings’ body.
But sometimes, when the sun tucks itself behind the lean pines, shines through the autumn leaves on that path in the woods which we can see from our porches, we imagine that she is still running—her neon Nike blazer disappearing among pine needles and fir. And when there’s a flash of amber through the trees, likely a monarch or a bird, we think perhaps it’s Logan in blaze orange, gun slung over his shoulder. We watch the trees shudder. We listen for the shot, the scream, the barking. We’re still listening.