“Ryan, did you ever visit Lorena at Vernon’s trailer?”
Continuing to stack dishes, the shy boy nodded. “Yeah, twice! Each time I visited, Mr. James took one of his rifles out of the gun cabinet and cleaned it in front of me. I was terrified and he knew it. He never said anythin’ nice. He never smiled. He just sat there glarin’ at me and cleanin’ his rifle.”
“Are you absolutely certain Vernon’s trailer contained a cabinet of guns?” Harmon asked.
“Mr. James had a whole bunch of guns and knives,” Ryan said.
“Did he say very much to you?”
“He once told me if I was havin’ sex with Lorena, he would castrate me…and kill us both,” Ryan replied.
“Vernon James threatened to kill you?” Harmon asked.
“Yeah! And he didn’t blink an eye when he said it. He meant it!”
“Is that why you severed the relationship?” Harmon asked.
Doris jumped in, saying, “Not right away. I knew Lorena had to get away from Vernon, so the kids made plans to run away to Florida and get married, but Mr. James found out. Then the threatenin’ phone calls started.”
“Phone calls?” Harmon said. “Tell me about them.”
After downing a glass of water to fight the stifling kitchen heat, Doris said, “When I answered the phone, the voice said my boy had three…two…then one more day to live. I listened on the third call, then reported it to the Sheriff’s Department.”
“What gave you the impression it was Vernon James on the phone?” Harmon asked.
“Because his voice has a hissin’ ‘s’ sound,” Ryan said. “I’ll never forget that voice. Lorena’s step-father was the only person I ever met who talked like that. That’s how I knew it was Vernon James.”