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Days of Fury

Liam Llewellyn


Copyright © 2018 Liam Llewellyn

All rights reserved. Published by L.L. Press.

liampublisher.com

liamauthor.com

ISBN: 1979770069

ISBN-13: 978-1979770064



On a frozen February night in 1986, a ranger sat asleep in a chair in a tollbooth at the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park. His window was shut and the inside was foggy because of the space heater at the ranger’s feet.

The park was empty of people, though bears and moose and buffalos still ranged about during the day. But at night all was still, except the snowfall, which puts a spell on whatever environment it falls upon, a spell to bewilder whatever eyes are nearby to see it falling in the moonlight, such a delicate scene to educate hard minds as to the tenderness, the frailty of life.

The sides of the roads and much of the roads themselves were indistinguishable for all the snow piled up, making many areas of the park inaccessible even far into springtime. But from the northeast entrance came a trail of tire tracks, which the snowfall had made much progress in refilling. These tracks went on until the sign for Fire Hole Lake Drive, whereat the tracks diverged onto this side road.

Some way down this one-way road was a hot spring on the left side, 20 feet in diameter, no snow accumulated around it. The water under the moonlight was the colors of the aurora borealis, the pool itself having the appearance of a beach shell. The water boiled endlessly and the smell of sulfur was everywhere because of the steam wafting up from the surface.

At the end of the road was Fire Hole Lake, two bodies of steaming water divided by an empty asphalt parking lot. There was a simple network of boardwalks built out over the water, as well as the dry land five feet below the parking lot, and from this dry land stuck up signs: Do not step off boardwalks.

This dry land was not so much dry as it was damp, as it was riddled with abscesses through which steam effused, so the land was free of snow and was damp enough to retain the impressions of certain birds, squirrels, mice come scavenging for food during the day.

And also the footsteps of someone who hadn’t adhered to the signs’ orders. These footsteps began where someone dropped off the boardwalk immediately after coming off the parking lot surface, then headed for one of the steamy abscesses, which was about five feet in diameter. At the bottom of this hole, five feet down, a mound of calcified earth, about the shape of a stalagmite. This mound protruded from a pool of boiling water whose depth could not be determined.

And lying on the base of the mound, just out of reach of the boiling water, was a child’s tennis shoe, mostly melted and burned through.

Nearly all the seats in the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis were filled, with more people standing at the back. Down in front of the stage, TV cameras were pointed toward the four lecterns set up in the middle of the stage. Against the backdrop of a ruffled silk scarlet curtain stood four men, all in black suits and monocolored ties, behind the lecterns. Three were in their 50s or 60s, only one noticeably younger—by at least 20 years. Wrinkles and sweaty foreheads prominent under the intense lights, they stood looking out over the crowd of more than 100 people.

Across from the lecterns was a wooden folding table draped over with a black sheet. Three people, reporters by the press passes hanging from lanyards around their necks, sat looking over what they’d yet written in rectangular notepads.

Down in the orchestra pit, her back to the crowd and corded microphone in hand, stood the moderator.

“Hello, everybody. Thank you for coming. Let’s all take our seats so we can begin.”

Metal and wood creaking as people dropped down into seats, the crowd soon quieted.

“Thank you. Hello and good evening, everybody, welcome to the 1986 Minnesota debates held here at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and brought to you by KSTP TV. This is the second of four debates that will be televised before the big June 3 primary election. Tonight the four Democratic candidates for governor have taken the stage to ask for your vote. They are Rudy Perpich, incumbent governor of Minnesota, Walter Higgins, former U.S. congressman, Arthur Hoffstedder, state director of wildland fire suppression, and Matthew Baker, current assistant attorney for Minneapolis.”

The young one, there came resounding boos after Baker’s introduction. The moderator called for civility, then introduced the three reporters.

“Laura Holden of The Minnesota Daily will have the first question.”

“Thank you. My first question is for Mr. Baker.”

Baker swallowed, gripped the edges of his lectern.

“Mr. Baker, your empathy for the gay community is well known. Just back in October, you were quoted as saying you were ‘disgusted’ with Ryan White being prohibited from attending school and then a week later, you were quoted as saying, as assistant city attorney, you actively seek out cases that involve discrimination or violence against gays, minorities, and the issue of gay rights seems to be your main platform—advocacy groups for these communities are certainly your campaign’s financers. Can you elaborate on your views of the gay community?”

Baker thought, the theater heavily silent.

“I’m from Mankato. Every morning at breakfast, my dad read The Free Press while my mom cooked fried egg sandwiches. I attended the University of Minnesota, where I majored in philosophy and political science before going into Stanford law. I picked up an issue of The Stanford Daily that asked, what’s going on in Castro Street over in San Francisco? I was confused, how could a gay man run for public office? How could California allow this? But I went to San Francisco and all my confusion fell away. I found a community that believed in a man who believed in the equality of all people and who both tried their hardest to get the rest of the country to notice and accept him and the people he advocated for. I signed up to work on Harvey Milk’s campaigns and I met dozens of gay men and women, extremely nice, well educated, working as hard as though it were a presidential campaign. This time showed me there are no significant differences between gays and heterosexuals. We live in a time in which homophobia and misconceptions have never run wilder. If elected governor, I will try my hardest to educate people about the gay community, about HIV and AIDS, to abolish antigay laws, and promote the integration and acceptance of the gay community. We’re better than our prejudices, I promise you.”

Six men were sitting at an old wooden table in an otherwise empty dive bar. There were beer logos on the walls, as well as a neon woman in a bikini. The six watched the debate on the TV mounted above the bartop while they all drank beers out of mugs. Five of these men were in their 40s, sweaty, bloated, while one was in his 30s, tall, lean, quiet, scrutinizing Baker on the TV, the others blabbering.

“Fucking queer-lover.”

“I could watch him all day. He’s just driving the whole party into the fucking ground.”

“Look at the other three—they all wanna tell him shut the fuck up!”

They listened to the debate some more, Baker still talking.

“That’s incorrect, scientists have found ample evidence that HIV originated in western Africa.”

“He may be a faggot but at least he’s got sense enough to blame it all on the niggers.”

“Put them in a room together, let them kill each other off.”

“Liberals’d hate that. Who’d vote for them?”

“Can you imagine how many protests they’d throw up? Nobody’d get to work on time.”

“Faggots love their parades, protests,” said the 30 year old.

“Ryan White contracted HIV from a tainted blood transfusion,” Baker said. “He’s a hemophiliac—”

“More like a homophiliac.”

They all laughed.

Later, after the debate was over, the TV was off and the six men were turned toward each other, still around the table, drinking from refilled mugs, talking loudly.

“It’s fuckin’ bullshit, they only allow that shit on TV for ratings. Should be illegal.”

“More entertaining than most of the other shit on TV these days.”

“Normal people tune in, watch, they write angry letters and make angry phone calls, they don’t realize that just fuels the fire.”

“It’s what they want—all the media, fuckin’ queers, give priority to these groups for Blacks and retards and women, people who can’t get regular jobs, so they create their own fuckin’ jobs, try to convince us all these fuckin’ aberrations are normal.”

“Fuckin’ Jews and Muslims too.”

“The queers are on a different level though,” said the 30 year old. “No other group coulda created their own disease that could spread like this. And they don’t wanna admit they’re the cause of it, otherwise they’d lose the sympathy of queers like Baker, lose political leverage. So they pay off all these politicians and doctors and celebrities to say it was goddamn monkeys in Africa. But if America would wake the fuck up, we would see that it’s goddamn biological warfare they’re waging, either turn queer or die.”

“These are the same people who tell us we’re descended from fuckin’ monkeys in Africa.”

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far—”

“Nope, stop right there, we’re not going down that road again, don’t even think about it.”

“That’s right, this is my bar, I say no talking about that stuff.”

“But you’ll talk about queers.”

“I like talking about queers.”

“Maybe the niggers are descended from monkeys.”

“So the niggers made queers.”

“The niggers are queers.”

“And the queers are niggers!”

They all laughed again.

“People say it’s not a choice,” the 30 year old said. “Then this telegenic Bolshevik tells us is ain’t genetic, so it can’t be cured. So what the hell is it?”

“They say it’s not a choice but you gotta wonder, if they really wanted to change, I bet they could.”

“It’s just an excuse, I’m too fat, I’m too ugly, I can’t get laid with women, so I’ll try some dick!”

“No, you know what it is? It’s influence. It’s a way for famous people to stay famous after they die.”

“What do you mean?” the 30 year old asked.

“James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Sal Mineo, Olivier, that goddamn Rock Hudson. That’s where all this shit started. Twenty years from now, people’ll look at queers like Baker and say, ‘They were gay when it wasn’t fashionable.’”

“Only place it’s fashionable is California. Fucking queers should all move out there.”

“Then when the Big One hits, they can be their own little sovereign island,” the 30 year old said. “Die out in a few years from disease or starvation.”

“It’s in the Bible, that’s what really pisses me off, it says very clearly, ‘Man shall not lay with man.’ And yet these people—”

“No, they’re not people.”

“That’s right, this guy wants them to have the same rights as normal people, then they need to get normal!”

“They don’t deserve rights,” the 30 year old said. “Fucking animals.”

“So these animals are telling the Bible to go fuck itself. They’re ignoring God, all these actors, singers—Liberace, Michael Jackson, I guarantee you—”

“Careful now, that’s dangerous territory.”

“I heard a rumor about Marlon Brando—”

“What? Get outta town.”

“Brando with Jack Nicholson.”

“Oh Jesus Christ!”

“These are who our kids are growing up with, their fucking influences.”

“It’s recruitment is what it is, worse than the goddamn Nazis. We need someone like Hitler—”

“What?”

“Hear me out, someone like Hitler, someone to get a buncha people to agree with him, then drive out all the queers and Blacks to Russia or Germany or the Mideast, like our own Australia. We outlaw gays, that’s the fucking cure to AIDS—they don’t have this problem in Ireland! But will anybody in Washington realize that? No.”

“Fags like Baker say the cure’s all medicine and chemicals, no, it’s get your ass in line and fuck women like you’re supposed to!” the 30 year old said.

“Only fags like fags.”

“How old’s Baker?”

“Thirty-two I think.”

“That ain’t much older than you, Tom. Maybe you oughta run against him.”

“Hell yeah. We’d vote for you.”

“Work on your campaign.”

“Run on that outlaw gays platform,” said Tom, the 30 year old. “Win by a landslide.”

“But I heard you really were interested in running for public office, that right?”

“Yeah, farther down the line, too young yet. That’s what’s gonna beat Baker, too young.”

“And queer.”

They all laughed.

Outside the bar they all said their goodbyes in the blowing snow, then Tom walked crookedly to his LeSabre.

“You all right, Tommy?”

He waved them off, feet crunching the snow as the other men chuckled. Once inside he opened the glove compartment and took out a square mirror and a small glass vial of white powder. He dumped some of this out onto the mirror, then took out his debit card and a dollar bill from his wallet. He pressed the card flat against the mound of white powder, grinding it with small crunching noises. Then he rolled up the bill tight as a cigarette and used it to snort the powder. When he was done, he moved less slovenly, returning everything to where he’d retrieved it, looked in the rearview to wipe his nose clean.

He started up the car and drove out of the parking lot.

In Tom’s suburban home that night, he sat in an armchair in his living room under the harsh orange light of a floor lamp behind him. He drank straight from a bottle of whiskey as he stood, got the phone off its rotary cradle on the wall in the dark kitchen, and dialed a number, taking the receiver back to his chair, extending the cord a little.

After nearly a dozen rings, a man answered with sleep in his voice.

“Hello?”

Tom said nothing, holding the phone to his ear as though it were a seashell whispering to him. His eyes scanned the ground as though searching for something he might talk about. But in the end, he said nothing.

“So help me God, Tom, you will never speak to him again.”

The other end hung up.

In the morning Tom was wakened by the harsh school-bell ring of the phone and he nearly leapt out of the armchair, dropping the empty whiskey bottle to the shag-carpeted floor with a dull thunk. He answered: it was his sergeant, told him to get up to Montevideo, there was a missing child.

After getting dressed he poured vodka and orange juice into a thermos before heading out to his car in the blowing snow.

He got into Montevideo around noon and parked at the curb across from a house that was a replica of all the other houses on the block, aside from the local police cruiser parked in front of the mailbox. There was a station wagon in the driveway of the one-story house.

Tom looked in the rearview, moved back the hair from his forehead, took a breath. He got his gun and badge from his door’s side pocket before stepping out into the blistering-cold wind and blowing snow.

A deputy came out of the local car as Tom headed for the icy driveway and the powdered yard. Tom flashed his badge.

“Detective.”

“How long’s the kid been missing?”

“School let out at three yesterday, parents say he sometimes stayed there to play at the playground with some friends until about five, wasn’t until six they started worrying. They called around the neighborhood, didn’t think they could call us until he’d been missing for 24 hours.”

“Goddamn Hill Street Blues.”

“Father’s sister finally convinced them to call us around nine. Last time anyone saw the kid was leaving school—teachers and students.”

Tom entered the house first, greeted by the smell the furnace makes in a house in the winter—warmth and memories of warmth. There were picture frames all over the wood-paneled walls of the hall Tom went down to get to the living room, pictures of a man and a woman and their nine-year-old son, some of him at a lake holding an eight-inch fish on a chain, others from perhaps his first day of school—backpack on, nervous smile.

A man and three women sat on the living room’s furniture, which appeared bought from consignment because you don’t buy nice furniture when you have a nine year old in the house. And the furniture certainly had the mud and drink and food stains of such a charmingly careless person.

The family were drinking tea out of thick-handled mugs, which currently sat on the glass-topped coffeetable with no coasters, the heat in the white ceramic fogging the glass. Tom told the deputy to go wait back outside and then approached the family, who half-rose, half stayed sitting with the uncertainty of people never having dealt with police before.

“Hello. I’m Detective Tom Losnedahl.”

The man and the woman sitting in separate armchairs rose and shook Tom’s hand. Both were in their late 30s, early 40s, skinny, tired, pale.

“Hi, thank you for coming. I’m Bill, this is my wife, Holly. We’re Ryan’s parents. These are my sisters, Jackie and Rebecca.”

The sisters sat together on the couch and Tom shook their hands as well, Jackie blonde, full-bodied, confident, Rebecca black-haired, skinny, face lined with pre-geriatric wrinkles. Tom asked if they could all move into the linoleum-floored kitchen, where harsh white light rained down from the ceiling upon the square Formica table. They obliged him, got their teas, moved.

Jackie and Rebecca stood unsurely at the ceramic kitchen sink while Bill and Holly sat beside each other, not holding hands, at the table with Tom, who took out a rectangular notepad not very different from that of a reporter and a pen and took notes as he and Ryan’s parents talked.

“Do you have any reason to believe Ryan would run away?”

“No, none at all,” Bill said.

“OK, would he go to do his homework with some friends?”

“No.”

“Sledding?”

“No—”

“Sledding?” Holly asked. “Oh my god, what if he did and he got knocked out, he could be—”

“Holly, that’s not what happened, he would’ve told us—”

“It could have, he just didn’t—”

“You guys have a sled?”

“No,” Bill said. “We went north last Christmas, he sled there, he’s been dying to go again ever since though.”

“Do you think that’s what—oh my god…”

“What’s up north? Family?”

“A wedding.”

“Strange time for a wedding.”

“Strange people.”

“Do you have family in town?”

“Just my sisters.”

Tom turned to Jackie and Rebecca.

“Ryan know how to get to your places on foot?”

“Maybe,” Rebecca said.

“I don’t think so,” Jackie said. “It’s pretty—”

“Jackie!” Bill scorned.

Tom turned, saw Bill stroke his wife’s shoulder, looked back to the two women.

“Is there anyone at your homes now?”

“No.”

“Why don’t you both head over and wait up for a while, maybe drive around your neighborhoods.”

The sisters reluctantly put their still-full tea mugs in the sink, touched Bill’s shoulder but not Holly’s before leaving.

“When is the FBI gonna get here?” Holly asked.

Bill sat back, groaned.

“The FBI doesn’t get involved in these kinda cases, ma’am.”

“Why the hell not?”

“It’s out of their juris—”

“That’s part of their job, isn’t it, they find people, how do they—”

“Holly—”

“—stop!—how do they decide who to look for, who not to, it’s bullshit! I want the FBI, the state cops, all of you looking for my son!”

Tom took a deep breath, temple throbbing.

“I understand your frustration, Mrs. Strand. But the FBI don’t get involved unless there’s evidence your son was taken over state lines.”

Holly’s mouth dropped at this. Bill grabbed her hand, squeezed it, but she quickly ripped it out of his grasp.

“What if he was?”

“Do you have any reason to believe he would be?”

“I don’t know, I don’t—”

“Do you have any family in the Dakotas?”

“No.”

“Iowa?”

“No.”

“Wisconsin?”

“No.”

“My family’s in New England mostly,” Bill said. “Hers in Illinois.”

“It’s too early to presume he’s been taken that far, if there’s even any proof that he was kidnapped.”

“Oh my—”

“Do you have any enemies you know of?”

“I don’t…”

“No,” Bill said. “You from here?”

“New Ulm.”

“So you know how small towns are.”

“It’s two hours to the cities,” Holly said.

“But there’s no reason for us to think Ryan’s outside of Montevideo.”

“But what if—”

“Mrs. Strand, you can drive yourself crazy thinking through the what-ifs. I assure you, if there were any reason for us to alert the FBI at this point, I would. But in a missing child case in a town this small, the investigation will run smoother the fewer people are involved.”

“Jesus Christ—”

Bill tried to comfort his wife with an arm over her shoulders but she wiggled away from him.

“Stop that!”

Bill groaned in defeat, turned back into his seat while Tom watched the uneasy scene.

“What are you gonna do?”

“We’ve already sent word to all the relevant entities along the highways, as far west as Rapid City, north as the Canadian border, east as Milwaukee. We’ve faxed pictures of Ryan with descriptions of what he was wearing yesterday, we have people working tiplines 24/7. Everyone with 500 miles of Montevideo knows what your son looks like.”

Tom soon asked to see Ryan’s room and they took him out of the kitchen and down a dim hallway off the living room. The walls of the hall were also littered with pictures of the boy at various ages. He was brownhaired and freckled and had an infectious smile.

Bill opened the door at the end of the hall, then stepped back with his wife, allowing Tom to enter the room on his own. Toys littered the ground while on the walls hung Transformers and Garbage Pail Kids posters. There was a small bed in a rusted metal frame, the sheets still unmade from when its inhabitant had last risen.

Tom went to the Spider-Man-curtained window: it was locked tight. Outside the snow-packed backyard was untouched, tall trees partly covering the back wall of the neighbor’s house.

Tom turned back to Bill and Holly.

“I’d like to get a list of people—family, friends, teachers, Ryan’s friends, their parents—anyone you think might have additional information about Ryan, what he did yesterday.”

Bill closed the door again as Tom came out.

Snowplows roamed the roads all day, forming taller and taller snowbanks on the sides.

Kids walked past these along the sidewalks on their way to school, the few cars that were out standing idle at red lights, tailpipes exuding steam while their windshield wipers passed along the glass every few seconds and headlights were drowned out in the white intensity of the town and when the lights turned green, the cars started up again, tires rolling along the wet asphalt.

Tom had put in a request for the state search and rescue team to come in that morning but was told they would not be there until that night.

Nonetheless, the deputy outside the Strand house told Tom when the local search and rescue team showed up at the police station, and the Strands and Tom drove to meet them and Tom made groups out of local law enforcement and the search and rescue volunteers in fluorescent orange reflective vests. Some of these groups used the search and rescue team’s few dogs to scavenge the frozen fields, sections of forest, the shores of Lake Farley while other groups used plastic poles to poke and prod the snow-packed earth.

The dogs had sniffed some of Ryan’s clothes, which Tom had told Holly to bring to the police station, held tepidly in his mother’s grasp and she pressed these against her breast once the dogs had gotten the scent and pulled their groups along.

The groups called Ryan’s name, breath-fog streaming out of their mouths as their ruddy noses dripped and they sniveled, bundling tighter into their layers, their hoods and caps, their gloves as the search stretched on into the afternoon.

Tom’s group had a bloodhound that kept his snout and his drooping jowls down to the cold ground as his handler, a very Viking-looking man, followed quickly behind, Tom and the Strands and Bill’s sisters trailing several feet back, talking. They had started from the parking lot of the town’s joint elementary-junior-high school and were now in some suburban area a mile away.

“One of us used to always drive him to school in the morning,” Bill said. “But then our jobs got busier, harder for us to pick him up when school let out, he’d have to wait around until after five. He got sick of that, begged us to let him start walking.”

Tom looked ahead at the snow falling against the party’s progress, the dog panting, snout tunneling through the snow on the ground.

“We told him he could once he got to third grade. He was tall for his age. We told him he always had to walk with at least one friend—Andrew Deats normally, he lives a block over from us.”

“And you said you called his father first.”

“Right, Andrew had stayed at home sick, we asked who else Ryan might have walked with—Melissa Fleming, Kevin Rower—”

“Right, right.”

“You know their names. Anyway I called their parents, said their kids followed Ryan as far as their own neighborhoods but then after Jason Sims turned onto his street, Ryan was alone. Our house is two blocks from Jason’s.”

“Did he always go the same way?”

“Yes,” Holly spoke up, walking with her arms around herself. “That was part of the deal—he always had to come this way.”

“He didn’t ever deviate, from what you know?”

“I don’t…” Holly stopped and Bill saw her jaw tighten and he stroked her shoulder but she pulled away, muttering something under her breath, perhaps, “I’m not a dog.”

“No, he didn’t,” Bill said. “It’s 15 minutes from school to home, he always called one of us at work when he got there—3:25 most days, around five if he stayed at school to play.”

“Did he ever forget to call?”

“Once. We both lost our tempers at him. Not since though.”

A little farther on, Bill pointed up a street as the party passed it.

“Andrew Deats’ neighborhood.”

Tom peered up the street, which differed very little from the neighborhoods they had already passed and from the neighborhood the party turned into a block over. Tom halted, stayed behind the party, looking down the main road, which dead-ended 100 yards down and behind this dead end was a county road, thick white wood on the left, open snowy field on the right, no shoulder on either side to walk upon.

“What’s up there?”

The group came back beside the detective.

“You can cut through to Chinhinta Park up through there,” Bill said.

“He knew not to go through there,” Holly said. “A girl got lost in there last year.”

“What if he was with a friend?”

“Who?” Bill asked.

“There are homes on the other side, right? A friend could have met him after Jason left.”

“Why?”

Tom looked ahead to the snowbanks on the side of the county road, the untouched snow at the foot of the forest and in the field unguarded by any sort of fencing.

“Snowball fight.”

Tom motioned for the bloodhound and its handler to head for the dead end, then to the county road, and the rest of the party followed behind, Holly hesitating, Bill pulling her along but she pulled away from him, walked apart from him.

Beyond the dead end, the party moved along the middle of the road, at first walking, then the dog caught something, sped up, obliging the others to try to keep up until they were all jogging. The dog suddenly leapt off the road, flopping onto the snowbank on the left side of the road, struggling through, getting to the flat land lying before the forest, into which he bounded. The dog’s handler skidded down the snowbank after him, breaking through skinny branches at the forest entrance, and Holly jumped after him, briefly abandoning the rest of the party upon the road.

“Ryan!

The rest of the party then pursued the dog, his handler, and Holly, Bill calling his wife’s name to get her to wait but she didn’t listen.

They tripped over fallen branches and protruding rocks as they raced through the dim forest, the sound of snapping branches and the panting dog and Holly crying out for Ryan all around them.

The dog and the handler were the first to emerge into the clearing in the middle of the forest, where the bloodhound, halfway across the treeless perimeter, stopped, started digging madly in the middle of the snow-packed ground.

The rest of the party emerged soon after.

“He’s got something!”

“Ryan!”

“Stay back,” Tom said and Bill and his sisters restrained Holly.

The detective hurried across the clearing to join the handler and by then, the dog had gotten through to the covered-up bloody snow.

“Oh my god,” Tom heard Holly groan, incapable though she was of seeing the blood.

The clearing and the county road were soon cordoned off by local cops, cruisers parked diagonally across the county road, lights flashing, and later in the afternoon, the state cops arrived and started collecting evidence, taking pictures.

Tom drank coffee from a Styrofoam cup he’d gotten from one of the state cops and they stood together on the road. The state cops poked around the ground immediately in front of the forest while Tom eavesdropped on Holly, standing farther up the road with Bill and his sisters.

“—the dog was looking for him, it found blood, it has to be his, so where’s his body—oh my—”

“It doesn’t mean it’s his blood, it doesn’t even mean it’s human—”

“It’s just a little too fucking convenient for it not to be his blood, are you crazy, of course—”

“Holly, stop it! Don’t jump—”

Tom moved off the road, headed into the forest, moving parallel to the police tape.

He came abreast of the clearing, whose middle had been thoroughly tilled over to find all the burgundy snow, which was confined to a few square feet. The state cops put samples in plastic tubes.

Tom stood with his feet buried in the snow, his socks soaked, feet numb. He drank more coffee. Then he noticed some of the snow in the clearing just in front of him had superficial parallel streaks on its surface and these streaks—like ants on a picnic blanket—suddenly became more apparent throughout the clearing, bloody snow lying atop those in the center.

Tom tracked the streaks: they trailed beyond the taped-off clearing, continued into the deep of the forest Tom had not yet explored. Tom followed them, to where the trees pressed in more all around and the streaks were occasionally disturbed by squirrel or rabbit tracks but still evident. He followed them to where the trees thinned out and a highway was visible beyond. He emerged from the forest, following the tracks to where they ended just a few feet short of the roadside, in front of a snowbank.

Across the road was a neighborhood.

He brought the streaks to the attention of a state cop taking pictures. He conceded the tracks hadn’t been seen yet, then marveled at how they hadn’t, they were so clear now.

“It’s a leaf rake, right?” Tom asked as he and the photographer knelt outside the tape, looking down at a portion of undisturbed tracks.

“Looks like it.”

“Why would anyone tend to this area?”

“No reason I can think of.”

“So…whoever spilled the blood knows what they’re doing?”

“I think it’s too early to be thinking linearly.”

The cop took several close-up pictures of the tracks, then ducked back under the tape, stepping carefully into already-made footprints to avoid desecrating the tracks more.

Tom headed back out to the county road, the search party. Bill, Holly, Rebecca, and Jackie watched him as he came out, anticipating his coming over to update them—Holly most ravenous for information—but instead Tom went to a local cop sitting in his cruiser with the window partly rolled down and he rolled it down all the way after seeing Tom approaching.

“Canvas the woods, that pasture over there.”

“You got it. Thank God the water’s frozen, huh?”

In the evening Tom visited the home of Jason Sims. He was answered by the boy’s mother, Heather, who hesitantly asked him in and then went to the kitchen to finish making tea. Jason was already in the living room, as though he’d predicted Tom’s visit. He was a morose little boy, perhaps made so by the knowledge of his friend’s disappearance and the minor but curious role he himself played in the tale.

“I’m sorry to drop in unannounced,” Tom said, standing before a couch Heather had not yet asked him to sit in.

He looked around the house a little, then half-smiled at Jason, who did not reciprocate the gesture, sat hunched over his knees on the sectional.

“That’s all right. I’m usually home at this time anyway.”

When Heather turned from the stove with the steaming kettle in hand, Tom saw her wedding ring. The walls of the living room had pictures of strange people, none of the nuclear family.

“Your husband?”

“He takes nightshifts over at the Moose Lodge in Ortonville. I work mornings at Beth’s Linens.”

“Must not see each other much.”

“Yeah, well…”

Heather came back into the living room, gave him a cup of tea, kept one for herself before sitting beside her son, and then Tom sat, still with no invitation, on the couch diagonally from them.

“Is it all right if I sit in?” Heather asked.

“Sure,” Tom said, turning then to Jason. “I’m just interested in who Ryan is, what he’s like. Any light you can shed on that?”

Heather and her son looked at each other.

“Well,” the woman said. “He’d come over to play a few times. He’s quiet but sweet. Gentle, which is strange at their age.” She looked at Jason. “What did you guys do?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do, c’mon. You played Monopoly, go swimming in the lake, what else?”

“I don’t know.”

Tom considered Jason.

“How’re you feeling, Jason?”

“Fine.”

“I understand you and Ryan and Kevin Rower and Melissa Fleming stayed at school for an hour playing, then walked home together. You were the last one with Ryan?”

“Yeah.”

“What happened?”

Heather adjusted herself, sat up straighter, rolled her knees.

“We just walked. I said bye, he kept going.”

“He didn’t say anything about meeting someone? Another friend?”

“No.”

Tom nodded.

“Who are his other friends?”

Heather thought, Jason did not, and Tom poised his pen over his notepad.

“There’s…who?—Michael Padew—”

“They’re not friends.”

“He was at Ryan’s birthday party.”

“Yeah, but they’re not friends.”

“When was Ryan’s birthday?” Tom asked.

“In September at the lake.”

Tom wrote in his notepad.

“OK. Who else?”

The information Heather and, by denying the existence of friendships, Jason gave prompted Tom to call upon Mrs. Deats and Andrew, who declined the title of best friend and instead directed the detective to Mrs. Thompkins and her daughter, Mary, then to Ms. Bidwell and her son, Harry, then Mr. Luscia and his daughter, Kathy, then to Mrs. Dunkin and her son, David.

“He and Andrew Deats were close—are close,” Mrs. Dunkin corrected herself as she and Tom and David sat at her kitchen table, Tom drinking his umpteenth mug of tea.

“No, I already talked to them,” Tom said, glancing to David. “Anyone else come to mind?”

David didn’t think, sat hunched over the table as though he were drugged.

“Jason Sims maybe,” the mother said.

Tom shook his head, sitting back in his chair, in preparation of starting the thanking and leaving process.

“Oh, who was that real quiet boy at his birthday party?” Mrs. Dunkin asked her son.

“Who?”

“The real quiet boy, he didn’t wanna swim, so Ryan didn’t swim much either.”

“Oh. Scott.

Tom wrote this.

“Scott what?”

“Scott Scott Scott…” the mother puzzled. “I don’t know his last name but his mother runs that diner on Ludgate.”

“The Ludgate Diner, I saw it on my way in.”

“It’s great, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

Tom went back to his motel room late that night. The darkness of the outside, which lacked any parking lot or porch lights, even moonlight, had the same intensity as that within the doorway, which Tom only dared enter because of the red light blinking on the room’s phone. He flicked on the ceiling light, picked up the receiver, called the night clerk at the front desk to get his message: from Rebecca Larson, Bill’s sister.

He called her as he also set about pouring himself a cup of vodka from a shooter he removed from his coat pocket. Rebecca answered and he said he was glad she’d gotten his earlier message asking to speak with her husband, Steve, but she told him now he was in the cities on business.

“What does he do?”

“He works for XCel. Director for the northeast quadrant.”

“What’s he doing in the cities?”

“Looking at the operations of plants in Monticello and Red Wing.”

“Sounds like a busy job.”

“Yeah, he’s on the road a lot.”

“Kids?”

“No. We ought to but…”

“What do you do?”

“I run the floral shop on Pike. So I’m out of work right now.”

Tom smirked with a small noise.

“What about you?” Rebecca asked. “Wife, kids?”

“No.”

“Family?”

“My dad in New Ulm.”

“Sounds lonely.”

Tom took a sip of the vodka.

“Can you give me your husband’s number at his hotel?”

She did.

“Thank you. Just preliminary stuff, different perspectives. Have a nice night.”

He hung up. He drank the last of the vodka in the cup, refilled with another shooter from his

pocket, before calling the number Rebecca had given him.

“Hi, can you connect me with Steve Larson’s room?”

The night clerk put Tom on hold for a moment, then came back on, said there was no answer in the room. Tom checked the clock on the wall: it was past midnight.

“All right, I’ll leave a message.”

He instructed Steve to call him back at his earliest convenience and left his motel’s number.

Then, seemingly all that could be done that night having been, Tom sat longways on the bed, sitting up against the headboard, drinking as he stared into the black TV screen.

When he’d had enough, he picked up the phone, dialed, held the receiver to his ear. No answer on the first try, so he called again. After the fifth ring, a man answered:

“Hello?”

“Is George there?”

The other lined hesitated before responding.

“Yes, he is. Who is this?”

“This is the night manager at the Hilton in Montevideo.”

The other line was quiet for a moment, digesting this.

“What?”

“Does he ever think about college? About a childhood friend who wasn’t there to help when some assholes with lead pi—”

The other line violently hung up. Tom dropped the phone, sank lower into the bed, drank more.

Around two a.m., a knocking at his door pulled him from his drunken stupor. Tom rolled off the bed, wooden frame groaning as though in protest of being wakened itself, and he stumbled through the darkness to the door—unlocked, unchained already—and found Rebecca standing like a refugee under the motel’s porch. As soon as he opened the door, she flew at him, kissing him and pushing him back into the room. She kicked the door shut with a foot and started peeling off her many layers, flinging snow about the darkness, Tom sensing her kisses on his skin with brief sensations of cold in the blackness.

He tripped as she moved him back, fell onto his back, lay dazed, darkness swirling all around him. Then he felt her above him, naked suddenly, somehow, straddling him, pulling his shirt up over his head and arms, then kissing down his chest to his waist, unbuckling and sliding down his pants, his boxers, seizing his penis with her still-freezing hands, making him yelp, before she sucked him into her mouth, suddenly and starkly warm and wet, head bobbing, one hand cupping his balls while another stroked his stomach, his sides, pinched his nipples.

Tom groaned, writhed a little, and she continued to suck him for so long, her jaw ached and she removed him from her mouth and stroked his still-flaccid penis with both hands, drooling globs of saliva onto the head, becoming more frustrated the longer he remained limp.

Tom rolled over onto his stomach and he felt her part his butt cheeks and start circling his asshole with her tongue and he groaned even more as he stretched out an arm for the invisible bedside table and after so much rimming and sensing his stretching, Rebecca looked up and saw—with her acculturated eyes—he was reaching for the drawer. She stood and turned on the lamp and then Tom got on his knees, crawled to the drawer, opened it. He took out a vial of cocaine lying on top of the Gideon Bible therein and, Rebecca watching with disbelieving eyes, Tom poured some coke onto the back of his hand, snorted it, licked up the residue.

And just like that, he was sober. Powder still under his nose, he put the half-empty vial on the table and slung Rebecca over one shoulder, threw her on the bed. He clamped his mouth upon her vagina, leaking salty-tasting fishy-smelling lubrication, and instantly found her clitoris, which he flicked with his tongue, driving her to cum two minutes later with emphatic crying, but he didn’t stop there, kept flicking her, probing her hole with his tongue, and she then begged him to put two fingers inside her, to rub her G-spot, and he did, twisting his fingers around inside to scratch at the scaly-feeling tissue on the front and back of her interior, alternating between scratching and pistoning his fingers in and out like a jackhammer blade, and after another two minutes, she came again, just as loudly, just as magnificently. Then she told him to wet his pinkie and stick it in her asshole while he kept finger-fucking her and she gasped when she felt his pinkie slip through with the ease of breathing and with the effect of an earthquake and she extended her legs up high and spread them wide with the grace of an Olympic gymnast, surrendering herself completely to Tom’s relentless manipulations of her holes and their delicate nerve endings, and, with the tirelessness of a diesel engine, he elicited a third leg-shaking voice-trembling throat-grating orgasm from her, after which she turned over onto her stomach and spread her asscheeks as wide as they could go, a sheen of sweat evident in the lamplight at the small of her back down to the top of the crack of her ass.

Tom stared at her tight brown asshole above the pink of her vulva and the aching purple of her labia and as he stared unblinkingly at this upper orifice, he grasped his soft penis and masturbated, continuing to finger both of her holes between her stretched-out legs, and she lay prostrate with her face buried in the comforter of the bed, body writhing like a snake knotted-up snake trying to avail itself.

Minutes Tom did this but was no harder for it when Rebecca turned over and demanded to know what was wrong. He growled, got his keys and the vial, scooped out a pile of coke on the brass, snorted it, winced as it entered his sinuses. Then he flipped Rebecca onto her stomach once more, slapped her ass once, she moaned lustfully, twice, she jumped as though she’d been shocked with a low dose of electricity, a third time, she cried into the bed, causing the comforter to vibrate with brief little ripples, then Tom bent over her, bit her asscheeks until she cried out again in pain, then he buried his face in her ass, which he wordlessly instructed her to pull open all the way again, licking and probing and sucking her asshole, fine strands of hair all around it, then trailing down the slick baldness of her taint to her vagina, pushing the tip of his nose inside while stabbing and swiping her clitoris again with his tongue. He jammed his fingers back inside her and thrust until she came for a fourth time.

Now when Tom stood, he had a full erection and he stuffed it into Rebecca’s vagina with no warning, so that not all of him went inside her with one thrust, but he pumped and bent her back by pulling her hair until she loosened and he slid all the way in, his balls swinging to hit her furry pubic mound. He fucked her slow, deep, ramming, thighs slapping her ass with each thrust, drawing tears from her eyes but she didn’t tell him to stop, brought her to a fifth orgasm.

Then he turned her onto her back, fucked her on the edge of the bed, sinking his dick into her at an angle, hitting the right spot, and she grumbled a continuous fearful cry to God as Tom simultaneously massaged her clit with a moistened thumb, pulling a sixth orgasm from her depths.

He hunched over her, tossed her legs around his waist, her arms around his neck, brought her up in a high hug, lowering her onto his dick and fucking her like that until his arms got too tired, then he put her in the corner of the wall, fucked her against the blue-beige-striped wallpaper, a finger near her occupied opening to feel the hairy veiny underside of his dick, sinking, pulling out, her wetness dripping off his balls, slipping down the soft flesh of her buttocks.

She came for a seventh time against the wall, then he pulled out, put her on her feet, swaying as though on a ship, making a high-pitched noise like a sad dog and her eyes were watery, glazed, as Tom pushed her down to her knees, grabbed the sides of her head, stuck his dick in her mouth, and fucked her face against the wall.

“Rub your clit,” he ordered and she did, with both hands, while he ceaselessly pumped her face, thrashing through her gag reflex, so she gagged, made sounds as though she were going to vomit, saliva dribbling down her chin, down Tom’s balls, sickly hollow thumping sound as Tom’s dick knocked against the back of her throat, in turn knocking the back of her head against the wall, and this drove her to an eighth orgasm, after which Tom pulled out, letting Rebecca fall on her hands and knees, body convulsing as she cried, coughed, spat.

He grabbed a fistful of her hair, tossed her onto the bed, flipped her onto her back, then stuck two fingers into her vagina, found room for a third, pumped her to her ninth orgasm, kept going even as she groped at his wrist, tried to pull him out, couldn’t, he grabbed both of her hands with his one, held her efforts at bay, pinned her down as he put a fourth finger inside, pumped harder, like the pistons of an accelerating locomotive, she whined, gasped, cried, legs trying to close, Tom pressed her down, opened her wider with the strength and insistency of the jaws of life, stuck his thumb in—his whole hand, pressed in farther, up to his wrist—and finally fisted her as she screamed with a mixture of arousal and fear, her 10th orgasm crashing down upon her like a top-heavy wall collapsing.

He pulled his fist out of her indelicately, interrupting her recovery—lying as though she’d just fallen from the Seattle Space Needle—she shivered at the removal, then at her sudden emptiness. Tom looked at his fist, glistening with Rebecca’s cum and juice, used it to lubricate his dick before aligning it with Rebecca’s asshole. Her eyes widened in exhausted fear, too weak to resist, and Tom pressed inside with a single great thrust and she exclaimed as though she’d just lifted a great weight and he sodomized her with raucous slaps against her ass and thighs, like applause, wet with sweat and cum, and she wriggled on the bed, lifting her legs and ass higher, stroking her clitoris and squeezing a breast, and she reached out for one of Tom’s hands to put on her other breast but he jerked away, closed his eyes, fucked her as she masturbated to her 11th orgasm, at which point he pulled out. She remained on her back, playing with herself, making lewd slick sounds like the stirring of steamy pasta in a bowl, while Tom looked down at his dick, saw it was covered in shit like melted milk chocolate.

Tom grabbed Rebecca’s ankles, spun her around so that her head hung over the side of the bed, then he grabbed the sides of her head and stuck his dick down her throat. She sensed something wrong immediately even before the stink struck her and when she recognized it, she rolled around, swinging her head, trying to escape, but Tom seized her around the throat, choked her even as his dick stabbed into her esophagus, held her body down with one hand as he pumped faster, killing Rebecca’s screams in her throat before they could escape.

He gritted his teeth, squeezed shut his eyes, bit his lip, gasped, gasped, screamed, then pulled out and ejaculated across her frizzy black hair, into her red eyes—veins exploded, mascara smeared down her cheeks, shit in the corners of her lips, saliva all down her chin, between her breasts.

She gasped for breath, congested, and Tom grabbed her by the hair again, picked up her scattered clothing as he pulled her off the bed, across the floor, opened the door, and threw her naked and her things into the cold night. He slammed shut the door, locked and chained it, then got a whiskey shooter out of the bedside table drawer and drank it all in one gulp.


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