Christmas came and went. The weather got warmer and the snow melted off the front lawn, and some folks were even walking around wearing shorts. But still, the Patton family kept their Nativity scene up. January, February, March… and the little manger made of cast-off lumber remained, even though the straw had turned brown and the plastic animals toppled over.
Harry Bales heard the slap of the newspaper on his doorstep as the paper boy cycled by. Whistling cheerfully, he went out to get it.
It was a placid early summer day. A light breeze ruffled the tops of the sycamore trees up and down the street. Bales picked up the newspaper, glanced at the top half of the front page. More dead soldiers in Iraq. More lay-offs from major corporations. More salmonella in canned goods.
He nodded, comforted by the predictability of the news. He started back into the house, flipping the paper over to see the bottom half.
He stopped cold in his doorway.
A photograph took up most of the space at the bottom of the paper’s front page. It showed a man with thinning hair, a pleasant but slightly crooked nose, an unassuming mouth. The caption under the photo read: Harold J. Bales, 36 years old, Complete and Total Bastard.
He stared at it for a long moment.