of brown sand boas had stout, drab tails that were punctured, scarred, or incomplete.
Published observations of one with a bleeding tail, otherwise unscathed and surrounded
by jackal tracks, also agreed with my hypothesis that that species decoys injuries to its
unusually bony, expendable hind end. Checkered worm-lizards apparently use a mixed
strategy: their thrashing black-and-white posteriors mimic a venomous coralsnake and,
should that fail to deter, direct insistent enemies to a disposable tail. 4
We returned to the United States in May 1971 and spent my first night as a civilian
with Roger and Isabelle Conant in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Next day we headed for
the Fort Worth area, where I'd been accepted for a master's program at the University
of Texas at Arlington. That fall I began writing up the tail display project, studying eco-
logy and genetics, and carrying out thesis research. My world felt intact despite the
deaths of Grandpa Gibson and Paul Anderson, the loss of our Missouri neighbors and Dr.
Wolcott, and six years as a medic—after all, I'd missed Vietnam and, miserable grades
notwithstanding, I was in graduate school. Then one Saturday morning in September
1972, I came home humming and juggling groceries, propped open the back door with
a knee, and looked for my wife's familiar face.
“Your mom's on the phone,” she said in an unfamiliar tone. Maybethey'reinvitingus
for dinner—but what's that anticipatory firmness in Donna's voice?
“Hi, Mother, what's up?”
“Harry, Marsha was murdered Wednesday night.” Those green eyes, that impish
someone else . . .
“Today's paper says police found their car in an intersection . . .” I'veseenthosedark
holes in a woman's temple, the bloody matted hair.
“Marsha was in the front passenger seat.”
For years the scene was all so clear and satisfying in my mind's eye: Marsha's hus-
band had killed her, but he put on a show of grief and the cops, running out of leads,
didn't have enough evidence to arrest him. Months later, a winter storm gathers as he
on this desolate afternoon the man is cutting firewood as if nothing had happened, as
if he hadn't shot the mother of their infant son. His single bit ax is propped against a
stump and branches are piled nearby, trimmed off for kindling before he starts cutting
bigger pieces into stove logs. There is nothing to hide my approach—not another tree
in sight, and the outbuildings are not close enough for this purpose—but Lyndy never
what hit him.
That morning after my mom called I hung up and struggled with heartbreak. Having
put away the groceries, I remembered a couple with whom Marsha and I had been
friends. I steeled myself for a few minutes before dialing their number in a nearby town.
It was a relief to hear Robin answer instead of his wife, who'd been Marsha's roommate
at Southwestern, but Dee came on their other phone, and as I stammered out details of
the murder she began shrieking, “No, oh please no!” Two days later I sat in stunned,
furious disbelief as a minister stood over Marsha's casket and proclaimed this as God's
plan. At the graveside, mourners stood in line to speak with the family. I approached her
mother and brother, who didn't recognize me at first, with my longish hair and droopy