In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

  Duntz interrupts him to ask if Mr. and Mrs. Clutter could overhear the conversation.

  “No. We were just outside the door, where we could keep an eye on them. But we were whispering. I told Dick, ‘These people are telling the truth. The one who lied is your friend Floyd Wells. There isn’t any safe, so let’s get the hell out of here.’ But Dick was too ashamed to face it. He said he wouldn’t believe it till we searched the whole house. He said the thing to do was tie them all up, then take our time looking around. You couldn’t argue with him, he was so excited. The glory of having everybody at his mercy, that’s what excited him. Well, there was a bathroom next door to Mrs. Clutter’s room. The idea was to lock the parents in the bathroom, and wake the kids and put them there, then bring them out one by one and tie them up in different parts of the house. And then, says Dick, after we’ve found the safe, we’ll cut their throats. Can’t shoot them, he says—that would make too much noise.”

  Perry frowns, rubs his knees with his manacled hands. “Let me think a minute. Because along in here things begin to get a little complicated. I remember. Yes. Yes, I took a chair out of the hall and stuck it in the bathroom. So Mrs. Clutter could sit down. Seeing she was said to be an invalid. When we locked them up, Mrs. Clutter was crying and telling us, ‘Please don’t hurt anybody. Please don’t hurt my children.’ And her husband had his arms around her, saying, like, ‘Sweetheart, these fellows don’t mean to hurt anybody. All they want is some money.’

  “We went to the boy’s room. He was awake. Lying there like he was too scared to move. Dick told him to get up, but he didn’t move, or move fast enough, so Dick punched him, pulled him out of bed, and I said, ‘You don’t have to hit him, Dick.’ And I told the boy—he was only wearing a T-shirt—to put on his pants. He put on a pair of blue jeans, and we’d just locked him in the bathroom when the girl appeared—came out of her room. She was all dressed, like she’d been awake some while. I mean, she had on socks and slippers, and a kimono, and her hair was wrapped in a bandanna. She was trying to smile. She said, ‘Good grief, what is this? Some kind of joke?’ I don’t guess she thought it was much of a joke, though. Not after Dick opened the bathroom door and shoved her in . . .”

  Dewey envisions them: the captive family, meek and frightened but without any premonition of their destiny. Herb couldn’t have suspected, or he would have fought. He was a gentle man but strong and no coward. Herb, his friend Alvin Dewey felt certain, would have fought to the death defending Bonnie’s life and the lives of his children.

  “Dick stood guard outside the bathroom door while I reconnoitered. I frisked the girl’s room, and I found a little purse-like a doll’s purse. Inside it was a silver dollar. I dropped it somehow, and it rolled across the floor. Rolled under a chair. I had to get down on my knees. And just then it was like I was outside myself. Watching myself in some nutty movie. It made me sick. I was just disgusted. Dick, and all his talk about a rich man’s safe, and here I am crawling on my belly to steal a child’s silver dollar. One dollar. And I’m crawling on my belly to get it.”

  Perry squeezes his knees, asks the detectives for aspirin, thanks Duntz for giving him one, chews it, and resumes talking. “But that’s what you do. You get what you can. I frisked the boy’s room, too. Not a dime. But there was a little portable radio, and I decided to take it. Then I remembered the binoculars I’d seen in Mr. Clutter’s office. I went downstairs to get them. I carried the binoculars and the radio out to the car. It was cold, and the wind and the cold felt good. The moon was so bright you could see for miles. And I thought, Why don’t I walk off? Walk to the highway, hitch a ride. I sure Jesus didn’t want to go back in that house. And yet—How can I explain this? It was like I wasn’t part of it. More as though I was reading a story. And I had to know what was going to happen. The end. So I went back upstairs. And now, let’s see—uh-huh, that’s when we tied them up. Mr. Clutter first. We called him out of the bathroom, and I tied his hands together. Then I marched him all the way down to the basement—”

  Dewey says, “Alone and unarmed?”

  “I had the knife.”

  Dewey says, “But Hickock stayed guard upstairs?”

  “To keep them quiet. Anyway, I didn’t need help. I’ve worked with rope all my life.”

  Dewey says, “Were you using the flashlight or did you turn on the basement lights?”

  “The lights. The basement was divided into two sections. One part seemed to be a playroom. Took him to the other section, the furnace room. I saw a big cardboard box leaning against the wall. A mattress box. Well, I didn’t feel I ought to ask him to stretch out on the cold floor, so I dragged the mattress box over, flattened it, and told him to lie down.”

  The driver, via the rear-view mirror, glances at his colleague, attracts his eye, and Duntz slightly nods, as if in tribute. All along Dewey had argued that the mattress box had been placed on the floor for the comfort of Mr. Clutter, and taking heed of similar hints, other fragmentary indications of ironic, erratic compassion, the detective had conjectured that at least one of the killers was not altogether uncharitable.

  “I tied his feet, then tied his hands to his feet. I asked him was it too tight, and he said no, but said would we please leave his wife alone. There was no need to tie her up—she wasn’t going to holler or try to run out of the house. He said she’d been sick for years and years, and she was just beginning to get a little better, but an incident like this might cause her to have a setback. I know it’s nothing to laugh over, only I couldn’t help it—him talking about a ‘setback.’

  “Next thing, I brought the boy down. First I put him in the room with his dad. Tied his hands to an overhead steampipe. Then I figured that wasn’t very safe. He might somehow get loose and undo the old man, or vice versa. So I cut him down and took him to the playroom, where there was a comfortable-looking couch. I roped his feet to the foot of the couch, roped his hands, then carried the rope up and made a loop around his neck, so if he struggled he’d choke himself. Once, while I was working, I put the knife down on this—well, it was a freshly varnished cedar chest; the whole cellar smelled of varnish—and he asked me not to put my knife there. The chest was a wedding present he’d built for somebody. A sister, I believe he said. Just as I was leaving, he had a coughing fit, so I stuffed a pillow under his head. Then I turned off the lights—”

  Dewey says, “But you hadn’t taped their mouths?”

  “No. The taping came later, after I’d tied both the women in their bedrooms. Mrs. Clutter was still crying, at the same time she was asking me about Dick. She didn’t trust him, but said she felt I was a decent young man. I’m sure you are, she says, and made me promise I wouldn’t let Dick hurt anybody. I think what she really had in mind was her daughter. I was worried about that myself. I suspected Dick was plotting something, something I wouldn’t stand for. When I finished tying Mrs. Clutter, sure enough, I found he’d taken the girl to her bedroom. She was in the bed, and he was sitting on the edge of it talking to her. I stopped that; I told him to go look for the safe while I tied her up. After he’d gone, I roped her feet together and tied her hands behind her back. Then I pulled up the covers, tucked her in till just her head showed. There was a little easy chair near the bed, and I thought I’d rest a minute; my legs were on fire—all that climbing and kneeling. I asked Nancy if she had a boy friend. She said yes, she did. She was trying hard to act casual and friendly. I really liked her. She was really nice. A very pretty girl, and not spoiled or anything. She told me quite a lot about herself. About school, and how she was going to go to a university to study music and art. Horses. Said next to dancing what she liked best was to gallop a horse, so I mentioned my mother had been a champion rodeo rider.

  “And we talked about Dick; I was curious, see, what he’d been saying to her. Seems she’d asked him why he did things like this. Rob people. And, wow, did he toss her a tearjerker—said he’d been raised an orphan in an orphanage, and how nobody had ever loved him, and his
only relative was a sister who lived with men without marrying them. All the time we were talking, we could hear the lunatic roaming around below, looking for the safe. Looking behind pictures. Tapping the walls. Tap tap tap. Like some nutty woodpecker. When he came back, just to be a real bastard I asked had he found it. Course he hadn’t, but he said he’d come across another purse in the kitchen. With seven dollars.”

  Duntz says, “How long now had you been in the house?”

  “Maybe an hour.”

  Duntz says, “And when did you do the taping?”

  “Right then. Started with Mrs. Clutter. I made Dick help me—because I didn’t want to leave him alone with the girl. I cut the tape in long strips, and Dick wrapped them around Mrs. Clutter’s head like you’d wrap a mummy. He asked her, ‘How come you keep on crying? Nobody’s hurting you,’ and he turned off the bedside lamp and said, ‘Good night, Mrs. Clutter. Go to sleep.’ Then he says to me, as we’re heading along the hail toward Nancy’s room, ‘I’m gonna bust that little girl.’ And I said, ‘Uh-huh. But you’ll have to kill me first.’ He looked like he didn’t believe he’d heard right. He says, ‘What do you care? Hell, you can bust her, too.’ Now, that’s something I despise. Anybody that can’t control themselves sexually. Christ, I hate that kind of stuff. I told him straight, ‘Leave her alone. Else you’ve got a buzzsaw to fight.’ That really burned him, but he realized it wasn’t the time to have a flat-out free-for-all. So he says, ‘O.K., honey. If that’s the way you feel.’ The end of it was we never even taped her. We switched off the hall light and went down to the basement.”

  Perry hesitates. He has a question but phrases it as a statement: “I’ll bet he never said anything about wanting to rape the girl.”

  Dewey admits it, but he adds that except for an apparently somewhat expurgated version of his own conduct, Hickock’s story supports Smith’s. The details vary, the dialogue is not identical, but in substance the two accounts—thus far, at least—corroborate one another.

  “Maybe. But I knew he hadn’t told about the girl. I’d have bet my shirt.”

  Duntz says, “Perry, I’ve been keeping track of the lights. The way I calculate it, when you turned off the upstairs light, that left the house completely dark.”

  “Did. And we never used the lights again. Except the flashlight. Dick carried the flashlight when we went to tape Mr. Clutter and the boy. Just before I taped him, Mr. Clutter asked me—and these were his last words—wanted to know how his wife was, if she was all right, and I said she was fine, she was ready to go to sleep, and I told him it wasn’t long till morning, and how in the morning somebody would find them, and then all of it, me and Dick and all, would seem like something they dreamed. I wasn’t kidding him. I didn’t want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.

  “Wait. I’m not telling it the way it was.” Perry scowls. He rubs his legs; the handcuffs rattle. “After, see, after we’d taped them, Dick and I went off in a corner. To talk it over. Remember, now, there were hard feelings between us. Just then it made my stomach turn to think I’d ever admired him, lapped up all that brag. I said, ‘Well, Dick. Any qualms?’ He didn’t answer me. I said, ‘Leave them alive, and this won’t be any small rap. Ten years the very least.’ He still didn’t say anything. He was holding the knife. I asked him for it, and he gave it to me, and I said, ‘All right, Dick. Here goes.’ But I didn’t mean it. I meant to call his bluff, make him argue me out of it, make him admit he was a phony and a coward. See, it was something between me and Dick. I knelt down beside Mr. Clutter, and the pain of kneeling—I thought of that goddam dollar. Silver dollar. The shame. Disgust. And they’d told me never to come back to Kansas. But I didn’t realize what I’d done till I heard the sound. Like somebody drowning. Screaming under water. I handed the knife to Dick. I said, ‘Finish him. You’ll feel better.’ Dick tried—or pretended to. But the man had the strength of ten men—he was half out of his ropes, his hands were free. Dick panicked. Dick wanted to get the hell out of there. But I wouldn’t let him go. The man would have died anyway, I know that, but I couldn’t leave him like he was. I told Dick to hold the flashlight, focus it. Then I aimed the gun. The room just exploded. Went blue. Just blazed up. Jesus, I’ll never understand why they didn’t hear the noise twenty miles around.”

  Dewey’s ears ring with it—a ringing that almost deafens him to the whispery rush of Smith’s soft voice. But the voice plunges on, ejecting a fusillade of sounds and images: Hickock hunting the discharged shell; hurrying, hurrying, and Kenyon’s head in a circle of light, the murmur of muffled pleadings, then Hickock again scrambling after a used cartridge; Nancy’s room, Nancy listening to boots on hardwood stairs, the creak of the steps as they climb toward her, Nancy’s eyes, Nancy watching the flashlight’s shine seek the target (“She said, ‘Oh, no! Oh, please. No! No! No! No! Don’t! Oh, please don’t! Please!’ I gave the gun to Dick. I told him I’d done all I could do. He took aim, and she turned her face to the wall”); the dark hall, the assassins hastening toward the final door. Perhaps, having heard all she had, Bonnie welcomed their swift approach.

  “That last shell was a bitch to locate. Dick wiggled under the bed to get it. Then we closed Mrs. Clutter’s door and went downstairs to the office. We waited there, like we had when we first came. Looked through the blinds to see if the hired man was poking around, or anybody else who might have heard the gunfire. But it was just the same—not a sound. Just the wind—and Dick panting like wolves were after him. Right there, in those few seconds before we ran out to the car and drove away, that’s when I decided I’d better shoot Dick. He’d said over and over, he’d drummed it into me: No witnesses. And I thought, He’s a witness. I don’t know what stopped me. God knows I should’ve done it. Shot him dead. Got in the car and kept on going till I lost myself in Mexico.”

  A hush. For ten miles and more, the three men ride without speaking.

  Sorrow and profound fatigue are at the heart of Dewey’s silence. It had been his ambition to learn “exactly what happened in that house that night.” Twice now he’d been told, and the two versions were very much alike, the only serious discrepancy being that Hickock attributed all four deaths to Smith, while Smith contended that Hickock had killed the two women. But the confessions, though they answered questions of how and why, failed to satisfy his sense of meaningful design. The crime was a psychological accident, virtually an impersonal act; the victims might as well have been killed by lightning. Except for one thing: they had experienced prolonged terror, they had suffered. And Dewey could not forget their sufferings. Nonetheless, he found it possible to look at the man beside him without anger—with, rather, a measure of sympathy—for Perry Smith’s life had been no bed of roses but pitiful, an ugly and lonely progress toward one mirage and then another. Dewey’s sympathy, however, was not deep enough to accommodate either forgiveness or mercy. He hoped to see Perry and his partner hanged—hanged back to back.

  Duntz asks Smith, “Added up, how much money did you get from the Clutters?”

  “Between forty and fifty dollars.”

  Among Garden City’s animals are two gray tomcats who are always together—thin, dirty strays with strange and clever habits. The chief ceremony of their day is performed at twilight. First they trot the length of Main Street, stopping to scrutinize the engine grilles of parked automobiles, particularly those stationed in front of the two hotels, the Windsor and Warren, for these cars, usually the property of travelers from afar, often yield what the bony, methodical creatures are hunting: slaughtered birds—crows, chickadees, and sparrows foolhardy enough to have flown into the path of oncoming motorists. Using their paws as though they are surgical instruments, the cats extract from the grilles every feathery particle. Having cruised Main Street, they invariably turn the corner at Main and Grant, then lope along toward Courthouse Square, another of their hunting grounds—and a highly promising one on the afternoon of
Wednesday, January 6, for the area swarmed with Finney County vehicles that had brought to town part of the crowd populating the square.

  The crowd started forming at four o’clock, the hour that the county attorney had given as the probable arrival time of Hickock and Smith. Since the announcement of Hickock’s confession on Sunday evening, newsmen of every style had assembled in Garden City: representatives of the major wire services, photographers, newsreel and television cameramen, reporters from Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and, of course, all the principal Kansas papers—twenty or twenty-five men altogether. Many of them had been waiting three days without much to do except interview the service-station attendant James Spor, who, after seeing published photographs of the accused killers, had identified them as customers to whom he’d sold three dollars and six cents’ worth of gas the night of the Holcomb tragedy.

  It was the return of Hickock and Smith that these professional spectators were on hand to record, and Captain Gerald Murray, of the Highway Patrol, had reserved for them ample space on the sidewalk fronting the courthouse steps—the steps the prisoners must mount on their way to the county jail, an institution that occupies the top floor of the four-story limestone structure. One reporter, Richard Parr, of the Kansas City Star, had obtained a copy of Monday’s Las Vegas Sun. The paper’s headline raised rounds of laughter: FEAR LYNCH MOB AWAITING RETURN OF KILLER SUSPECTS. Captain Murray remarked, “Don’t look much like a necktie party to me.”

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