Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Players - 18

Joseph Kronenwetter’s neighbour was a widow by the name of Rhonda Cannon, a sensible, sharp-eyed, garrulous old bird in jeans and a man’s shirt. She had no objection to answering Summer’s questions, telling her that she had known Joe Kronenwetter from birth, it was a darn shame he’d turned out the way he did.

‘He was a nice little boy, tow-haired and cute as apple pie. He got into a few scrapes with the law when he was a teenager, but it wasn’t anything serious, and he straightened up after he joined the army. His father, now, he was a drinking man. That’s how they reckon the house burned down, he passed out one evening with a lit cigarette in his hand. It was just after Christmas, in the middle of a snowstorm. My husband -- he was still alive then -- saw a light flickering through the falling snow, and realized the Kronenwetters’ place was on fire. It took the fire trucks more than an hour to arrive, not that it would have made any difference if they had turned up right away: the house was already alight from top to bottom when my husband spotted it. It was one of the strangest sights I’ve ever seen in my life, that house throwing yellow flame and black smoke into the night and snow coming down all the while.’

‘Joseph Kronenwetter was in the army at the time.’

‘Yes, ma’am, getting ready for the First Iraq War. He was given compassionate leave when his parents died in the fire, came back for the funeral, stood straight and tall in his dress uniform by his parents’ grave, and then he went right back to Kuwait to fight Saddam. He’s the only one of his family left. He had an older brother that died in a traffic accident, and there’s a sister who upped and went to live in Los Angeles, no one knows if she’s alive or dead. Anyhow, either the deaths of his parents hit him hard or something happened to him in Kuwait, but when he quit the army and came back here you could see at once that he was a changed man. He’d never been what you could call talkative, but when he came back he didn’t hardly care to pass the time of day. He was drinking heavily, he grew his hair and shambled about in ragged clothes like he was some kind of hobo, and when he did talk to you it was most often to sound off about how people were out to get him.’

‘What kind of people?’

Rhonda Cannon looked away, shrugged. ‘Oh, it was just nonsense. He said that people were hiding in the woods and watching him, nonsense like that. I paid it no heed.’

Summer said, ‘I know you don’t want to speak ill of your neighbour, ma’am. But anything you know about him could help us understand why this happened. It might even help him.’

‘I can’t see how, seeing as you have him locked up.’

‘It might help get him the right treatment.’
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