As the day “die[s] in a pall of dust,” Henry Hawkshaw catches up to John McLendon and the other men, who are driving out to the ice factory to find Will Mayes at work. Hawkshaw attempts to explain that since Mayes has not yet fled, that means he is innocent; the other men ignore him and discuss in vague terms what they plan to do with Mayes.
Hawkshaw’s attempts to reason with McLendon and the other men continue to be futile, suggesting that they are beyond rationality; they do not care about Mayes’s actual guilt or innocence. The sunset brings no relief from the heat and dry air, reflecting the fact that the men are as enthusiastic about their plan for violence as they were in the earlier in the day.
Mayes, who works as the night watchman, comes out of the ice factory at McLendon’s insistence. Under the “wan hemorrhage of the moon,” the men rush at him, then handcuff and beat him. Hawkshaw stands and watches, feeling sick to his stomach. While some of the men want to kill Mayes right there, in the parking lot next to the factory, McLendon has them put the man in the car. In the meantime, Mayes proclaims his innocence and begs for an explanation. The men give him none, and they all drive off—Mayes inside of the car with four white men, with another man riding on the side board.
Mayes notably works at an ice factory—a place that, in theory, provides relief from the intense heat of the town (heat that, in turn, symbolizes its drive toward racist violence). Of course, ice melts in the heat, reflecting that Mayes’s position as an upstanding citizen proves no match for the racist ire of these men. The image of this black man in handcuffs, unaware of his crime, is a symbol of the ongoing criminalization of black men in the post-slavery era. The pale red shade of the moon and the reference to hemorrhaging, or shedding of blood, foreshadow the spilling of blood that will happen later that night.
In the car, Mayes is sandwiched in the back seat next to Hawkshaw, pulling his arms and legs in to keep from touching anyone. As they speed out of town and towards an old abandoned kiln, Mayes continues to ask for an explanation and for help, while Hawkshaw begins to feel sick and asks to stop the car. McLendon refuses to do so, telling Hawkshaw that he will need to jump and calling him, once again, a “nigger-lover.”
Hawkshaw, who accompanied the mob of men in hopes of keeping control of the situation, now realizes that he has no control over anything; the men’s prejudice cannot be reasoned with because it’s inherently irrational. Mayes’s continued pleas for an explanation strongly suggest he has no idea what’s happening—and, it follows, is innocent of any crime.
Hawkshaw jumps out of the moving car, rolling into the ditch along the side of the road, choking and retching in the dry grass. He gets up and limps along the road back towards town. As he is walking, he sees McLendon’s car pass again in the other direction, holding only four men and no one on the side board. The moon has finally risen into the night sky, but the dust clings to everything, including Hawkshaw.
Unable to put a stop to the violence, Hawkshaw’s only option at this point is to save himself by jumping from the car. While he does not witness the violence itself, he is able to note that Mayes is not in the car on the return trip to town, strongly implying that he was murdered.