Read an Excerpt
Midnight, August 10, 1962, Solo, Mississippi.
A filthy windowpane separated the most famous actress in America from the human silhouette outside her bedroom.
The crunching of leaves, the sound of footsteps had gotten her attention. She removed her pistol from the bedside drawer and inched her way toward the window. She gathered a breath, then eased a finger to the trigger, pointing the barrel at the dark figure.
The intruder's hand touched the window. She fired. The bullet passed through the glass, into the darkness.
Movie star Tully Ivey had shot local farmer and respected citizen Andrew Dawkins.
The Bethel County Sherriff’s Department arrived an hour later. Four Hollywood RTO executives hovered around Dawkins’s body. Sheriff Butch Turnbull made a mental note of Tully Ivey crying on a man's shoulder.
Turnbull knelt beside the body and unbuttoned Dawkins's bloody shirt. The bullet wound was dead center chest. Turnbull checked for a pulse. None. He noticed a note clenched in Dawkins's right hand and a pistol in the grass.
He slipped them both--the gun and the note--into a plastic bag.
The note would hold the key to Tully Ivey's future.
How do I know these things? Because it's my business to know. I'm the only reporter for The Bethel County Gazette. The knowing is easy. It's the unknown that takes time to uncover.
In a small town like Solo, we know everything about everybody. It’s strangers who keep us up at night. And crickets.
I drove to the sheriff’s office in Greenlee. Shirley Dawkins had called me, sobbing and hysterical. She needed to know why her husband had been shot and killed. I felt sick for her.
I walked into the sheriff's department at three in the morning. Tully Ivey was sitting across a desk from the sheriff—a hefty man, built like a bull, with a crew cut and bushy eyebrows.
The famous actress was explaining what happened. “He was trying to open the window,” she said. “What would you expect me to do?”
She didn't seem the least bit arrogant or irritated. She was calm and collected. I flashed back to her roles on the big screen—elegant, sophisticated, the star of every movie she made.
“It was dark,” Butch said. “And the window was dirty. How did you know it was a man?”.
Before she could answer, I walked closer. He was surprised to see me. “Martha, what are you doing here? You need to leave.”
“I'm here for Shirley. She needs to know what happened.”
Reluctant at first, he nodded in agreement and turned back to Ivey. “So, how did you know it was a man?”
“I didn’t know,” she said. “Like I told you, eventually I went outside to see if someone was still there. I was frightened to death when I discovered his body.”
She looked at me. “Wouldn't you be? Who are you?”
I didn’t respond. Maybe I was star-struck.
The sheriff kept probing. “Did you hear him say anything from outside your window? Did he call your name?”
“No, I only heard those crickets. They're so eerie.”
“You said earlier you hardly knew Mr. Dawkins. Why were you crying over his body?”
“I was upset. Oh, I knew him a little,” she said, squeezing two provocative fingers together like Lauren Bacall. “He had a small role in the movie. I never thought of him as a bad person.”
Butch scratched his cheek. “How do you explain the note? Sure seems like you knew him more than you're lettin' on.”
“The note in his hand.”
“Oh, I did notice something in his hand. Was it a note? Wat did it say?”
Butch took the note from a manila folder. “Here—here's a copy.”
I don't deserve you. I will always love you. I just want you to know the proof of your innoçençe in the Rod Russell shooting is in safe deposit box 4918 at City National Bank. One day I will explain why I didn't tell you earlier. The key is on the ledge.