In the heat of the night
Seems like a cold sweat
Creeping cross my brow, oh yes
In the heat of the night
Stars with evil eyes stare from the skies
All mean and bright

Oh Lord, it won't be long
Yes, just you be strong
And it'll be all right
In the heat of the night

~**~

"I'm sorry." Virgil offered. His dark hand, the color of Mississippi delta mud, swept over mine and squeezed it briefly. I didn't answer him with words, only a curt, somber, nod to acknowledge his attempt at consolation. I glanced at him. His eyes were rimmed with tears too. We all loved Parker, even Gillespie loved him n'matter how many times he sent him that crinkled lookin' scowl that let us all know he was annoyed and about to slam his office door.

Virgil pressed his lips together in a tight line, and sauntered on towards the car where Gillespie waited, his face hung sad beneath his wispy white hair. I stayed a mite longer. I had to. I just couldn't make m'big dumb feet move themselves from where they stood. I couldn't take m'cryin' eyes off of the smooth stone that stuck up from the ground like a shiny tooth, on its glassy surface engraved the name Parker Williams. I shook m'head and wondered how a mans whole life could be summed up with a few scratches on a stone, a couple dates, a few nice words. It wasn't enough. It just wasn't.

I shifted m'eyes away from his resting place and over the sky, cool and calm and robin egg blue, so pretty it seemed like it was smilin' at me, as if the rest of the world didn't even care a man had died. I closed m'eyes for a moment, hot and slick with tears, and watched m'hands as I flexed them, palms open. Once they'd seemed strong, sturdy, they'd gripped a pistol in defense of innocence, justice, whatever it was. They'd held on to creamy white little hands, lifted a few too many forkfuls of good southern food, but most off all, they'd held Parker Williams, dead. Now, when I looked at them, that one moment alone defined 'em and all I saw was a sea of crimson winking wetly in the moonlight come through the window.

Both of us—Parker and me—were on the graveyard shift, no pun intended at all. When I'd left home for the station that night I'd felt like a bug stuck on flypaper—it was so damn hot and muggy in the heat of the night. My uniform was stuck all over me and itchy. I'd been born and raised in the South but on night like this, sweltering, when the tar seemed like it might just melt off the road, well even a full-blooded country boy like me never could get used to that kind of sticky heat.

It was nights like these when people really got ansty, seemed like the hotter it was the more they wanted to crawl out from their holes and hurt each other, then get us all involved in it. That night was defying the usual pattern of things. I'd been loafin' around the station for hours and it was still slow goin'. Well, not that that's a bad thing, the less bloodshed and mayhem the better. So, me and Parker, we were just sittin' 'round the station shootin' the shit so to speak. I thought he seemed off that night, not his usual self. He was kind of quiet and sad like, which wasn't his usual way at all. He seemed like he had somethin' heavy weighing on that mind of his, there underneath that balding dome. I teased him about it. I tapped m'finger to the top of his head and I said Parker, last time ah heard an echo like that, was when me and a pretty little girl sneaked into the theater after hours and made us our own blockbuster hit. He didn't get it, and it kinda did seem like a stupid thing to say. He laughed anyway, but it wasn't a funny kinda laugh, it was nervous. I narrowed m'eyes at him all suspicious and asked him if he'd taken ill on me, I sure wasn't going to hang around the station all night and get myself down sick because he decided to breathe on me. He laughed at that too, still nervous.

Maybe I am sick.

He said, cryptically. I didn't think he meant in a physical kind of way, it was just how he said it, as if he had a bad taste well up in his mouth all a sudden.

What's that mean? You speakin' in riddles?

He answered me with a small shake of his head with that look still on his face, like he got a bad case of indigestion. He looked down at his hands which was curled up on the desk, fidgeting.

Just thinking. He said quietly.

If it's that painful, you might want to get that checked out. I leaned on the desk and watched him closer as he started to pick at his nails. He seemed like a man we'd dragged in here on some charges, stuck in interrogation, and was trying mighty hard to look innocent when he wasn't.

You in trouble?

He scared me, because he looked like he was gonna cry all at once. When he answered me his voice was wavering.

With God, no doubt.

Parker, God's got nothin' on you. Now you straighten up and quit this sulking stuff, before ah lay into ya good. Ah ain't allowin' this stuff on my shift.

I thought my joking would make him smile but he didn't. His eyebrows pulled together and crooked, makin' a crease up above his nose. Hell, he looked like someone slapped his mama, done stole his truck, and shot his dog all in one go. It kind of came down on me then, just this heavy, dark, feeling that made m'heart thunder against my chest. I guess a feeling like somethin' big was looming, just on the dark horizon, like somethin' slinky and nasty that meant to bring down a calamity on our heads.

It's not funny. He said flatly. It's not funny at all.

I don't much like breechin' heavy subjects and deep conversations, but I felt one breechin' me none the less. I pulled a chair up to his desk and leaned on m'elbows on m'knees.

Tell me what it is that ain't so funny.

You don't want to know.

Hell if ah do, I asked ya didn't ah?

His eyes touched on m'face but not for long. He was shifting them all over me, his hands, the desk, the room, everywhere and nowhere. When they finally landed on me again they lingered a little, their crystal depths seemed like they was searchin' me.

I can't never seem to find a good girl. He said lowly, takin' his eyes off of me and landin' them back on his folded hands.

Well Par—

I don't want a good girl. That's what's wrong with me. He unfolded his hands and plucked a pen from the mug on his desk and started clicking the button on top again and again, the little end of the pen playin' peek-a-boo with each click. I noticed his brow was all wet and startin' to bead up with anxious little drops. Right then I thought it was somethin' funny, him gettin' all worked up over hankerin' for a wild woman, as though it was some sorta sin.

That's all that's got you bothered? Ain't nothin' wrong with a naughty one now and again. Ah suppose ah got some numbers could share with ya…

Parker didn't seem like that kind, but then again, y'don't know what kinds of secrets some folks hold deep down. I sure didn't know. I grinned at him, and snatched the pen from him and started to scribble a number on back of a Sparta Police Department business card.

That's not what I mean. I don't want no bad girl either. I've tried all kinds of girls and none of them…I just don't…y'see…

He ended whatever he was tryin' to tell me left untold and shoved his chair back from his desk and got up from it. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his blues and started up pacin'. I waited t'see if he might finish after he got a few rounds of nervous walkin' done, but he still kept quiet. He went to the window and pressed his fingers against it, looking out at the ink of the night sky, pin-pricked with silvery-white stars. That was the only thing I really ever liked about the graveyard shift, I liked how the sky looked at night. Only when my boots moved me to the window and I looked out and up, I didn't seem to like the sky that night. That night, it seemed hot and bitter like all the winkin' stars were really scattered shards of glass just waitin' for someone to cut up and bleed out on the dark, oily, streets. A shiver rushed up and down m'spine, and a good dose of gooseflesh bubbled up m'arms. I rubbed 'em a little and watched Parker for a few moments before I thought of maybe sayin' something else. I didn't have to though, cause he started up again.

What I really want would ruin me. This ain't the kind of community that would smile kindly on such a thing such a—a—sin. It's wrong Bubba, that's all it is it's wrong!

What is Parker? Damn it, ah ain't no mind reader! Y'might as well just come straight out with it and tell me cause—

Leviticus 20:13. He said as though that explained it all. He pulled away from the window and went back to his desk, slouchin' down heavily in his chair.

Refresh m'memory.

He studied his nails again, his whole face seemin' to tremble like it might was gonna shatter into a heap a'tears and despair.

Le-vi-viticus…20:13. He started out as if he was gonna recite then stopped again. His lips moved but nothin' come out, like what he wanted t'say was just lodged up in his throat and makin' him choke.

If a man a-also l-lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, b-both of 'em have committed an…abomination. They shall surely be put to death. He chewed on his lip, and a soft little sob snuck out. He covered his face in his hands as it turned pink outta shame. Th-their bloodguilt shall…shall be upon them.

I almost fell back into the window but managed not to. My years as an officer of the law pretty much conditioned me to stay composed in the most dangerous, and unpredictable, situations. This one wasn't no danger, but awkward, it sure was. I almost thought I hadn't heard him right. Surely he didn't mean it. He was just all upset and depressed about his lack of love life. A good woman could fix it right up. I had more numbers I could shove off on him.

Parker…

I went to his desk and thought about movin' his hands away from his face, maybe huggin' him, but that was kind of an odd thing to do. 'Specially when the man just confessed that he was a little iffy, even though I didn't believe it for a moment that he really was…well…one a'them types.

Uh, listen Parker. You're workin' too hard. You just uh, need some time off to get your ducks in a row. Just cause you ain't havin' such luck with the ladies ain't no cause to go thinkin' such—

I don't think. I know. I…I di-did it. I tri-tried it! He sobbed, his words all broken. I had to know that I was wrong about how I felt but it ju-ust co-confirmed it!

What do you say to that? I squeezed his shoulder and knelt next t'his chair.

Parker Williams, you look at me.

He didn't. I grabbed his chair and turned it with him 'round to face me, then I took his hands away from his face.

You ain't one a them ho—

Who are you to tell me what I am and what I'm not! I shouldn't a'said anything at all!

You're a cop, you're a Vietnam Vet for the love of—

And I'm "one of those" types!

Parker—

His eyes drifted beneath the tears that filled them, shimmerin', drippin' down his rosy cheeks.

'Nam was actually the first time I ever thought about it. I thought about a lot of things over there.

Then, he went quiet. I wanted t'shake him. I just wanted t'shake this horrible thing off that had descended upon him and swallowed him up. I wanted that warm, if rather naive smile, back on his face, his puppy eyes that didn't let Chief or anyone else really stay too irritated at him back again, and the stupid way he always had a glass of soda pop on his desk--which I now got to thinkin' that he hadn't even bothered getting tonight.

Listen…you need to calm yourself. How 'bout I go into the break room and get us each a soda pop. Maybe root around and see if there's a little somethin' to eat. Then we can…figure this out. M'kay?

He nodded his head, barely. His eyes were still fogged up with that far away, lost, gaze.

I left him. I left him! It was only for a few seconds. That was all it took.

The shot rang through the station, the bottles of pop slid from m'fingers and crashed against the floor, bathin' m'shoes and pant cuffs. I crunched glass as I ran, one hand on my sidearm. I slid into the room, weapon poised and ready in front of me, but I saw no one.

Parker! I shouted.

A groan, the answer.

Oh fuck, no! I bit out as I raced t'the desk, the heels of m'boots slippery with soda, slidin' against the floor. I fell to m'knees next to him. His service pistol was curling smoke, still clutched in his hand, laid limply over his chest. His badge was smudged. His eyes were empty.

No, NO!

But I knew, I'd seen enough dead people t'know—and the blood that was pouring—Lord, all that blood! It pooled over the floor slats like a great crimson tide and soaked through the knees of m'pants. I slipped m'arm under his neck and I—I moved him. I don't know why I fucking moved him and the back of his head just—it fucking fell apart.

I was numb. For the first time in my long career as an officer of the law I had no idea what it was I was s'posed to do. I fumbled for m'radio and smeared it red, fucked up the dial, then finally got some static. Then I guess I spilled words out. I don't remember. I don't remember sayin' anything. I don't remember who all came, I don't remember all who cried, I don't remember them takin' him out in a zipped bag. I only remember Gillespie and Tibbs whiskin' me into Gillespies office—one of them was yellin', and the other just as numb as I was. When they finally got 'round to askin' me what happened, I mean why—if he'd said anything to me, if something; had seemed off—I said no. What was I t'say, I wasn't gonna tell them what the last words from his lips were. I only know that, and it haunts me so.

I can't even hardly eat anymore. I wanted to come back to work straight away, thinkin' it would be better if I buried myself in somethin' constructive rather than take time off like I was told to do and find m'self at home, starin' at the four walls, replaying that scene over again and again until I was knelt by the john retching like a sick dog. It didn't help. Nothin' seems t'help. No amount of talkin', no amount of drinkin', no amount of cryin' alone changes it. Nothing ever will. In the heat of the night I wake up cold with sweat and screams, from a nightmare no one else knows, just t'get up and drag m'self to my window and look up at the sky. I never see it as beautiful anymore, just mean, just spiteful, the stars just like silver bullets drippin' black blood over a dead canvas.

"Bubba?"

I looked up from the grim face of the gravestone and up over m'shoulder where a hand had fallen. I saw Chief Gillespie, but it didn't really seem like he was there at all. I drew the back of m'hand over m'cheeks, warm with wet mourning.

"Chief."

"I know this here is a hard situation. This here is a damn hard situation, a damn shame. We're all hurtin' over it. When things such as this happen, you just have to be strong, Bubba, and y'get through it somehow. Come on, and let's get outta here."

I nodded, placed my hat atop my head, and stood. I walked to the black-and-white with him. This time it was Tibbs who was leaning up against it, but he just seemed like a ghost too.

~**~

An' I repeat, oh, I repeat in the night
Must be an ending to it all
And it'll be all right
In the heat of the night