In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

  “One by one,” said Mrs. Hartman. “Just imagine. I don’t wonder the varmint fainted.”

  Others in the café—Mrs. Clare and Mabel Helm and a husky young farmer who had stopped to buy a plug of Brown’s Mule chewing tobacco—muttered and mumbled. Mrs. Helm dabbed at her eyes with a paper napkin. “I won’t listen,” she said. “I mustn’t. I won’t.”

  “. . . news of a break in the case has met with little reaction in the town of Holcomb, a half mile from the Clutter home. Generally, townspeople in the community of two hundred and seventy expressed relief . . .”

  The young farmer hooted. “Relief! Last night, after we heard it on the TV, know what my wife did? Bawled like a baby.”

  “Shush,” said Mrs. Clare. “That’s me.”

  “. . . and Holcomb’s postmistress, Mrs. Myrtle Clare, said the residents are glad the case has been solved, but some of them still feel others may be involved. She said plenty of folks are still keeping their doors locked and their guns ready . . .”

  Mrs. Hartman laughed. “Oh, Myrt!” she said. “Who’d you tell that to?”

  “A reporter from the Telegram.”

  The men of her acquaintance, many of them, treat Mrs. Clare as though she were another man. The farmer slapped her on the back and said, “Gosh, Myrt. Gee, fella. You don’t still think one of us—anybody round here—had something to do with it?”

  But that, of course, was what Mrs. Clare did think, and though she was usually alone in her opinions, this time she was not without company, for the majority of Holcomb’s population, having lived for seven weeks amid unwholesome rumors, general mistrust, and suspicion, appeared to feel disappointed at being told that the murderer was not someone among themselves. Indeed, a sizable faction refused to accept the fact that two unknown men, two thieving strangers, were solely responsible. As Mrs. Clare now remarked, “Maybe they did it, these fellows. But there’s more to it than that. Wait. Some day they’ll get to the bottom, and when they do they’ll find the one behind it. The one wanted Clutter out of the way. The brains.”

  Mrs. Hartman sighed. She hoped Myrt was wrong. And Mrs. Helm said, “What I hope is, I hope they keep ’em locked up good. I won’t feel easy knowing they’re in our vicinity.”

  “Oh, I don’t think you got to worry, ma’am,” said the young farmer. “Right now those boys are a lot more scared of us than we are of them.”

  On an Arizona highway, a two-car caravan is flashing across sagebrush country—the mesa country of hawks and rattlesnakes and towering red rocks. Dewey is driving the lead car, Perry Smith sits beside him, and Duntz is sitting in the back seat. Smith is handcuffed, and the handcuffs are attached to a security belt by a short length of chain—an arrangement so restricting his movements that he cannot smoke unaided. When he wants a cigarette, Dewey must light it for him and place it between his lips, a task that the detective finds “repellent,” for it seems such an intimate action—the kind of thing he’d done while he was courting his wife.

  On the whole, the prisoner ignores his guardians and their sporadic attempts to goad him by repeating parts of Hickock’s hour-long tape-recorded confession: “He says he tried to stop you, Perry. But says he couldn’t. Says he was scared you’d shoot him too,” and “Yes, sir, Perry. It’s all your fault. Hickock himself, he says he wouldn’t harm the fleas on a dog.” None of this—outwardly, at any rate—agitates Smith. He continues to contemplate the scenery, to read Burma-Shave doggerel, and to count the carcasses of shotgunned coyotes festooning ranch fences.

  Dewey, not anticipating any exceptional response, says, “Hickock tells us you’re a natural-born killer. Says it doesn’t bother you a bit. Says one time out there in Las Vegas you went after a colored man with a bicycle chain. Whipped him to death. For fun.”

  To Dewey’s surprise, the prisoner gasps. He twists around in his seat until he can see, through the rear window, the motorcade’s second car, see inside it: “The tough boy!” Turning back, he stares at the dark streak of desert highway. “I thought it was a stunt. I didn’t believe you. That Dick let fly. The tough boy! Oh, a real brass boy. Wouldn’t harm the fleas on a dog. Just run over the dog.” He spits. “I never killed any nigger.” Duntz agrees with him; having studied the files on unsolved Las Vegas homicides, he knows Smith to be innocent of this particular deed. “I never killed any niggers. But he thought so. I always knew if we ever got caught, if Dick ever really let fly, dropped his guts all over the goddam floor—I knew he’d tell about the nigger.” He spits again. “So Dick was afraid of me? That’s amusing. I’m very amused. What he don’t know is, I almost did shoot him.”

  Dewey lights two cigarettes, one for himself, one for the prisoner. “Tell us about it, Perry.”

  Smith smokes with closed eyes, and explains, “I’m thinking. I want to remember this just the way it was.” He pauses for quite a while. “Well, it all started with a letter I got while I was out in Buhl, Idaho. That was September or October. The letter was from Dick, and he said he was on to a cinch. The perfect score. I didn’t answer him, but he wrote again, urging me to come back to Kansas and go partners with him. He never said what kind of score it was. Just that it was a ‘sure-fire cinch.’ Now, as it happened, I had another reason for wanting to be in Kansas around about that time. A personal matter I’d just as soon keep to myself—it’s got nothing to do with this deal. Only that otherwise I wouldn’t have gone back there. But I did. And Dick met me at the bus station in Kansas City. We drove out to the farm, his parents’ place. But they didn’t want me there. I’m very sensitive; I usually know what people are feeling.

  “Like you.” He means Dewey, but does not look at him. “You hate handing me a butt. That’s your business. I don’t blame you. Any more than I bLarned Dick’s mother. The fact is, she’s a very sweet person. But she knew what I was—a friend from The Walls—and she didn’t want me in her house. Christ, I was glad to get out, go to a hotel. Dick took me to a hotel in Olathe. We bought some beer and carried it up to the room, and that’s when Dick outlined what he had in mind. He said after I’d left Lansing he celled with someone who’d once worked for a wealthy wheat grower out in western Kansas. Mr. Clutter. Dick drew me a diagram of the Clutter house. He knew where everything was—doors, halls, bedrooms. He said one of the ground-floor rooms was used as an office, and in the office there was a safe—a wall safe. He said Mr. Clutter needed it because he always kept on hand large sums of cash. Never less than ten thousand dollars. The plan was to rob the safe, and if we were seen—well, whoever saw us would have to go. Dick must have said it a million times: ‘No witnesses.’ ”

  Dewey says, “How many of these witnesses did he think there might be? I mean, how many people did he expect to find in the Clutter house?”

  “That’s what I wanted to know. But he wasn’t sure. At least four. Probably six. And it was possible the family might have guests. He thought we ought to be ready to handle up to a dozen.”

  Dewey groans, Duntz whistles, and Smith, smiling wanly, adds, “Me, too. Seemed to me that was a little off. Twelve people. But Dick said it was a cinch. He said, ‘We’re gonna go in there and splatter those walls with hair.’ The mood I was in, I let myself be carried along. But also—I’ll be honest—I had faith in Dick; he struck me as being very practical, the masculine type, and I wanted the money as much as he did. I wanted to get it and go to Mexico. But I hoped we could do it without violence. Seemed to me we could if we wore masks. We argued about it. On the way out there, out to Holcomb, I wanted to stop and buy some black silk stockings to wear over our heads. But Dick felt that even with a stocking he could still be identified. Because of his bad eye. All the same, when we got to Emporia—”

  Duntz says, “Hold on, Perry. You’re jumping ahead. Go back to Olathe. What time did you leave there?”

  “One. One-thirty. We left just after lunch and drove to Emporia. Where we bought some rubber gloves and a roll of cord. The knife and shotgun, the shells—Dick had brought all that from home. But
he didn’t want to look for black stockings. It got to be quite an argument. Somewhere on the outskirts of Emporia, we passed a Catholic hospital, and I persuaded him to stop and go inside and try and buy some black stockings from the nuns. I knew nuns wear them. But he only made believe. Came out and said they wouldn’t sell him any. I was sure he hadn’t even asked, and he confessed it; he said it was a puky idea—the nuns would’ve thought he was crazy. So we didn’t stop again till Great Bend. That’s where we bought the tape. Had dinner there, a big dinner. It put me to sleep. When I woke up, we were just coming into Garden City. Seemed like a real dead-dog town. We stopped for gas at a filling station—”

  Dewey asks if he remembers which one.

  “Believe it was a Phillips 66.”

  “What time was this?”

  “Around midnight. Dick said it was seven miles more to Holcomb. All the rest of the way, he kept talking to himself, saying this ought to be here and that ought to be there—according to the instructions he’d memorized. I hardly realized it when we went through Holcomb, it was such a little settlement. We crossed a railroad track. Suddenly Dick said, ‘This is it, this has to be it.’ It was the entrance to a private road, lined with trees. We slowed down and turned off the lights. Didn’t need them. Account of the moon. There wasn’t nothing else up there—not a cloud, nothing. Just that full moon. It was like broad day, and when we started up the road, Dick said, ‘Look at this spread! The barns! That house! Don’t tell me this guy ain’t loaded.’ But I didn’t like the setup, the atmosphere; it was sort of too impressive. We parked in the shadows of a tree. While we were sitting there, a light came on—not in the main house but a house maybe a hundred yards to the left. Dick said it was the hired man’s house; he knew because of the diagram. But he said it was a damn sight nearer the Clutter house than it was supposed to be. Then the light went off. Mr. Dewey—the witness you mentioned. Is that who you meant—the hired man?”

  “No. He never heard a sound. But his wife was nursing a sick baby. He said they were up and down the whole night.”

  “A sick baby. Well, I wondered. While we were still sitting there, it happened again—a light flashed on and off. And that really put bubbles in my blood. I told Dick to count me out. If he was determined to go ahead with it, he’d have to do it alone. He started the car, we were leaving, and I thought, Bless Jesus. I’ve always trusted my intuitions; they’ve saved my life more than once. But halfway down the road Dick stopped. He was sore as hell. I could see he was thinking, Here I’ve set up this big score, here we’ve come all this way, and now this punk wants to chicken out. He said, ‘Maybe you think I ain’t got the guts to do it alone. But, by God, I’ll show you who’s got guts.’ There was some liquor in the car. We each had a drink, and I told him, ‘O.K., Dick. I’m with you.’ So we turned back. Parked where we had before. In the shadows of a tree. Dick put on gloves; I’d already put on mine. He carried the knife and a flashlight. I had the gun. The house looked tremendous in the moonlight. Looked empty. I remember hoping there was nobody home—”

  Dewey says, “But you saw a dog?”


  “The family had an old gun-shy dog. We couldn’t understand why he didn’t bark. Unless he’d seen a gun and bolted.”

  “Well, I didn’t see anything or nobody. That’s why I never believed it. About an eyewitness.”

  “Not eyewitness. Witness. Someone whose testimony associates you and Hickock with this case.”

  “Oh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Him. And Dick always said he’d be too scared. Ha!”

  Duntz, not to be diverted, reminds him, “Hickock had the knife. You had the gun. How did you get into the house?”

  “The door was unlocked. A side door. It took us into Mr. Clutter’s office. Then we waited in the dark. Listening. But the only sound was the wind. There was quite a little wind outside. It made the trees move, and you could hear the leaves. The one window was curtained with Venetian blinds, but moonlight was coming through. I closed the blinds, and Dick turned on his flashlight. We saw the desk. The safe was supposed to be in the wall directly behind the desk, but we couldn’t find it. It was a paneled wall, and there were books and framed maps, and I noticed, on a shelf, a terrific pair of binoculars. I decided I was going to take them with me when we left there.”

  “Did you?” asks Dewey, for the binoculars had not been missed.

  Smith nods. “We sold them in Mexico.”

  “Sorry. Go on.”

  “Well, when we couldn’t find the safe, Dick doused the flashlight and we moved in darkness out of the office and across a parlor, a living room. Dick whispered to me couldn’t I walk quieter. But he was just as bad. Every step we took made a racket. We came to a hall and a door, and Dick, remembering the diagram, said it was a bedroom. He shined the flashlight and opened the door. A man said, ‘Honey?’ He’d been asleep, and he blinked and said, ‘Is that you, honey?’ Dick asked him, ‘Are you Mr. Clutter?’ He was wide awake now; he sat up and said, ‘Who is it? What do you want?’ Dick told him, very polite, like we were a couple of door-to-door salesmen, ‘We want to talk to you, sir. In your office, please.’ And Mr. Clutter, barefoot, just wearing pajamas, he went with us to the office and we turned on the office lights.

  “Up till then he hadn’t been able to see us very good. I think what he saw hit him hard. Dick says, ‘Now, sir, all we want you to do is show us where you keep that safe.’ But Mr. Clutter says, ‘What safe?’ He says he don’t have any safe. I knew right then it was true. He had that kind of face. You just knew whatever he told you was pretty much the truth. But Dick shouted at him, ‘Don’t lie to me, you sonofabitch! I know goddam well you got a safe!’ My feeling was nobody had ever spoken to Mr. Clutter like that. But he looked Dick straight in the eye and told him, being very mild about it—said, well, he was sorry but he just didn’t have any safe. Dick tapped him on the chest with the knife, says, ‘Show us where that safe is or you’re gonna be a good bit sorrier.’ But Mr. Clutter—oh, you could see he was scared, but his voice stayed mild and steady—he went on denying he had a safe.

  “Sometime along in there, I fixed the telephone. The one in the office. I ripped out the wires. And I asked Mr. Clutter if there were any other telephones in the house. He said yes, there was one in the kitchen. So I took the flashlight and went to the kitchen—it was quite a distance from the office. When I found the telephone, I removed the receiver and cut the line with a pair of pliers. Then, heading back, I heard a noise. A creaking overhead. I stopped at the foot of the stairs leading to the second floor. It was dark, and I didn’t dare use the flashlight. But I could tell there was someone there. At the top of the stairs, silhouetted against a window. A figure. Then it moved away.”

  Dewey imagines it must have been Nancy. He’d often theorized, on the basis of the gold wristwatch found tucked in the toe of a shoe in her closet, that Nancy had awakened, heard persons in the house, thought they might be thieves, and prudently hidden the watch, her most valuable property.

  “For all I knew, maybe it was somebody with a gun. But Dick wouldn’t even listen to me. He was so busy playing tough boy. Bossing Mr. Clutter around. Now he’d brought him back to the bedroom. He was counting the money in Mr. Clutter’s billfold. There was about thirty dollars. He threw the billfold on the bed and told him, ‘You’ve got more money in this house than that. A rich man like you. Living on a spread like this.’ Mr. Clutter said that was all the cash he had, and explained he always did business by check. He offered to write us a check. Dick just blew up—‘What kind of Mongolians do you think we are?’—and I thought Dick was ready to smash him, so I said, ‘Dick. Listen to me. There’s somebody awake upstairs.’ Mr. Clutter told us the only people upstairs were his wife and a son and daughter. Dick wanted to know if the wife had any money, and Mr. Clutter said if she did, it would be very little, a few dollars, and he asked us—really kind of broke down—please not to bother her, because she was an invalid, she’d been very ill for a long time. But Dick insi
sted on going upstairs. He made Mr. Clutter lead the way.

  “At the foot of the stairs, Mr. Clutter switched on lights that lighted the hall above, and as we were going up, he said, ‘I don’t know why you boys want to do this. I’ve never done you any harm. I never saw you before.’ That’s when Dick told him, ‘Shut up! When we want you to talk, we’ll tell you.’ Wasn’t anybody in the upstairs hall, and all the doors were shut. Mr. Clutter pointed out the rooms where the boy and girl were supposed to be sleeping, then opened his wife’s door. He lighted a lamp beside the bed and told her, ‘It’s all right, sweetheart. Don’t be afraid. These men, they just want some money.’ She was a thin, frail sort of woman in a long white nightgown. The minute she opened her eyes, she started to cry. She says, talking to her husband, ‘Sweetheart, I don’t have any money.’ He was holding her hand, patting it. He said, ‘Now, don’t cry, honey. It’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s just I gave these men all the money I had, but they want some more. They believe we have a safe somewhere in the house. I told them we don’t.’ Dick raised his hand, like he was going to crack him across the mouth. Says, ‘Didn’t I tell you to shut up?’ Mrs. Clutter said, ‘But my husband’s telling you the God’s truth. There isn’t any safe.’ And Dick answers back, ‘I know goddam well you got a safe. And I’ll find it before I leave here. Needn’t worry that I won’t.’ Then he asked her where she kept her purse. The purse was in a bureau drawer. Dick turned it inside out. Found just some change and a dollar or two. I motioned to him to come into the hall. I wanted to discuss the situation. So we stepped outside, and I said—”

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