copyright © 2017
wired" photo borrowed from Mitchell Haindfield on Flickr,
courtesy his creative commons attribution 2.0 generic license. His
photo was modified for use in the cover image.
And for Kiddo, the Crescent Hotel,
and our friends at Hillspeak.
That doorknob cut him again when
he turned it, sliced right across his palm. Who would have made a
razor knob? How had it gotten that way? Who had wielded the hammer
that had bent it so? He walked into Legends and saw his family
sitting around the poker table and all was right with the world. They
were not his family as
such, but the
only family he really felt like he had, his friends: Mark, Alison,
Kallie, Jerome, Thomas, Ingrid, Clemente, Brady.
Mark had his weaponry. Ali her
apathy for the badge -- you could see it in the eyebrows, the
way they didn't scour the bar for mysteries to be solved like Ebur's
did. Kallie's ranger green. Jerome's one-handed tamping of that puck
of chew, the thwack of it catching the attention of the barflies.
Thomas' handsome should-have-been-a-model face. Ingrid's necklaces
and hair talismans. Clemente's weathered hands. Brady's childhood
still lingering in his cheeks -- he had to be seventeen. All of
them family. All of them safe.
"What happened to you?"
They turned and said hellos but
mostly noticed the hand's blood.
"Knob get ya?" Mark
Ebur nodded, procured a bar towel,
wrapped it and waited until Ali came back with the first aid kid from
her squad car. The blood stopped eventually and he asked, "Who
would do that to a knob?"
"It's a mystery," she
said, implying too that it was unsolvable.
He snorted. The worst ones were
always the mysteries no one cared to solve, the undomesticated
mysteries beneath all crimes and gnostic ceremonies, the great
answers to the great questions. Who can tame the Leviathan? Who has
He gave his money, they dealt, and
played some hands. After a few, he got into a hard spot with a hand.
"Raise," Ebur said. He knew how to raise well and so he bet
"Raise?" Mark asked.
"Isn't that how you do it at
your auction house?" he asked.
"Woodham, I closed that
months ago." He was holding his cards as if through mittens.
Alison said, "This isn't high
"Ebur," Mark added.
Ebur Woodham said, "You still
scout the roads for antiques thrown out or'd you stop that too? And
yes, I'm still raising like a champion."
"I'm calling him,"
Alison said. And winked at him.
Ebur did not wink back.
"Yes, Officer," Mark
said. "You do that."
"Insult me all you want,"
Alison said, "but don't insult the badge."
Mark gestured at her with his
whole bent hand without looking and said into his cards, "Forgot
I'm not the only one supposedly cleaning the streets."
Kallie called without saying
anything, watching them. Brady agreed and threw out chips. Jerome
called and chewed his chew. Ebur hated that smell. Thomas, Ingrid,
and Clemente folded. Ingrid took off her glasses and cleaned them
with the paisley red handkerchief tied around her long white braid of
coarse hair and then tossed it back out of his line of sight.
Clemente popped his scarred thumb knuckle with his other thumb.
Ebur asked, "Even though the
auction house is closed?"
Mark said, "Seems like
afternoon's the only time I get off. Busy every other time except
"Surprised you can still lift
it, meaning no offense," Ebur said.
"Weight's not a problem for
me, I've got the rheumatoid housebroken for that," Mark said and
barely flexed. "It's the little bends that get me."
"You on duty, Ali?" Ebur
"I think Kallie's the only
one on duty. How's Turpentine?"
"Lunch break," Kallie
said. "New interns have never touched raw chicken. You?"
Mark sighed, then folded. Sighed
"See," Ebur said,
"worked. Just like bidding at auction."
"No what worked is none of
these fools know how to fold."
"I know how," Brady
"Scuse me," Mark said.
"None of these fools know when
to fold. Screwed up my pot odds." He took a sip from his gin and
limejuice and then tamped his pipe as if through mittens. Ebur
watched him look around Legends
at the kids
shooting cutthroat on the green felt like golf grass and the cute
little college sophomore mopping up beer with a holey old green
bathtowel on the other side of the barstool trunks and then, at last,
to the TV screen and the endless babble of bullshit. The distraction
was a looping video of some gorilla dragging a kid through its
creekwater who now had been shot by animal control. They were
interviewing the family. They were interviewing the biologist. They
were interviewing everyone but the gorillas. Mark said, "Wish I
could have shot it myself. Ain't no kid that should worry about
getting flung around like a ragdoll in no city zoo."
Kallie gaped at him. "How can
you say that it was good for anything -- ever -- to die?"
"Stuff has to die for you to
eat it, Kallie, biology or no."
"I'm vegetarian," she
"Vegetables still have a life
and still have to die." He sipped his gin and winced his good
eye at her as if sighting in a rifle.
Ebur got a chill at the gesture.
"I don't celebrate its
death," she said. "I express gratitude that it offered
itself that I might live."
He scoffed. "You and your
Osage Indian Myths."
The shuffling of clay chips and
the slow sheeooohw
of a card burned, a card dealt face up at the hand of Officer Alison.
Ebur saw her wink over at Brady, trying to lighten the mood for the
kid and he giggled a teenage giggle. It was not the same wink she'd
Mark broke the silence. "We
got a regular old Lone Ranger here to weigh in. What do you think
about all this monkey business, Ebur?"
Nine eyes turned to him. Plus a
couple from the bar. Even the sophomore who had finished hand
"What of it?" he asked.
Kallie bet. Brady, still in
agreement with Alison's humor, folded and reclined in his wooden
chair. Jerome called Kallie and spat into his green soda bottle. Ebur
"Don't you miss playing
detective?" Mark lit up his pipe while sighting in Ebur now. He
had an arrangement with the regulars and the barkeep -- off-peak
season, he could smoke. The locals needed
peak season to make their money, but they wanted
off-peak to live their lives away from tourists especially the
half-million that came to Bikes, Booze, and BBQ. Smoking indoors on
off-peak was one of those subtle rebellions by which Eureka stuck it
to the rest of the state. Though Ali hated the smoke and would have
fined Mark easily in peak season, even she enjoyed their little
corner of resistance. Mark smoked, waiting for Ebur to answer.
Ebur said, "I'd be lying to
say I didn't. Don't get me wrong, Texas Hold'em nights make
everything better -- I look forward to Sunday every week."
"Me too," Brady said.
"But yeah, I do miss rolling
into the townships around here and figuring stuff out the feds never
bother to come down and investigate. Everyone's always so safe all
the time, so trusting in cameras to do the trick but cameras don't
catch everything out here and even when they do catch everything --
even in... hell I don't know, New York City right at the base of the
new World Trade Center with all of those little black bubbles and the
cameras inside of them, well they still don't make crimes stop
happening or even give us all the facts, do they? Motive.
Opportunity. You need a guy on the ground for that."
The sheriff grinned at him.
Ebur ignored her. Poorly.
Mark pointed to the zookeeper and
directed a question at her. "You really think the kid fell?"
Kallie said. " That's my
whole point: none of us can know from here and now."
Mark said, "I'm glad the
gorilla got shot. Need to make sure the world knows who its tamers
are." His eyes glazed over. He was somewhere else away from Ebur
and the rest, remembering.
Ebur shook his head. "See,
that's where you're wrong, Mark. I think we can build levees but the
seas still rise. I think we can build tornado shelters but every now
and again a mammoth twister's gonna come along and suck you out like
a sky-high anteater anyways. You can't scare off the wild with a
pistol shot. Nature keeps on coming like a Black Irish boxer."
"Kallie would disagree,"
Mark said. "All those cages."
"Actually Ebur's right: we
try to never forget what exactly we're dealing with at Turpentine."
She eyed him. "Which is also why I'm glad we have cages for
violent men called jails. They are, as Aristotle said, rational
She fiddled with her claw necklace.
"They includes you,"
Mark said. "You women forget that mankind's an inclusive term
whereas womankind ain't."
Ebur had never thought about that
"The Most Dangerous Game,"
Ali said and sipped her lager with a headnod to Jerome. She pulled
out her bowie knife from where she kept it on her leg and began to
clean her nails.
No one made the connection she had
made and so sat awkwardly.
Ebur hated it when she tried to
sound smart. She was smart enough without needing to sound like
anything at all.
"Game?" Jerome asked
through a mouthful.
"Big game. You know the
story?" Ali asked.
Jerome shook his head and further
She sat down the knife and she
picked back up the deck of cards. "Well it's a great story, it
begins..." Ali started and dealt a card. It was a wild card, a
joker. "How'd that get in there?" she asked.
"Dammit," Ebur said.
"Deal another card."
Kallie said, "Hand's
"Fine by me," Mark said
and slammed down his hand and reached for his chips.
"Wait, wait, wait!"
Brady said. "What if we just called the game a wash, took our
pool and bought several rounds for all of us?"
There were several calls of no!
from Ingrid, Thomas, Clemente.
Brady said. "We don't have
to just compete
Ali said, "Sounds like a good
idea to me."
"Hell, Ali, I'd be driving
home drunk at that point," Mark said.
She sighed. "I'll drive you
home, Mark, have a little fun with us."
Mark made very blatant, very
flamboyant raises of his eyebrows. Ebur watched him check out her
overfit form, her short blond hair, her mannish biceps.
Ali said. "You're not my
type. We've been through this."
"Men don't come in types,"
Mark said. "They come broken or in working order." He
looked at Brady, elbowed the kid and said, "And this old man
works, let me tell you."
"Umm..." Brady said,
regaining his balance on the chair.
Ebur sipped the last of his Jack
and Coke. He hated Coke. "Marie?"
"Can I get another Jack and
Coke, hold the Coke?"
"In my hand?" Marie
Ebur smiled a tamed smile.
Marie giggled at herself and went
"What do you say?" Brady
"Brady," Ali said,
"Aren't you still in high school?"
"Seventeen going on
They laughed at that, all but Ebur
who had already figured that one out within the first few minutes of
meeting the boy.
"Off-peak," Mark said
and smoked his pipe.
The chorus was taken up and
everyone -- even Officer Alison -- agreed they could buy
rounds for the group and Brady too. Everyone except for Ebur who
fiddled with the tassels on his plaid scarf. He looked at all the
money in the pot, money he counted on winning almost every week
despite Mark's constant talk about pot odds and bankroll management.
Money he risked to win that was now being turned to a lesser -- but
guaranteed -- night of fun. Ebur looked around at the people at the
table and Brady who obviously hadn't had much, if any, alcohol in his
life. Didn't matter that Ebur knew how to beat all of them badly.
Didn't matter that he had the chips to push them around. Didn't
matter that he was sitting on four of a kind. All the skill in the
world couldn't trump the feral will of the crowd. "Sure,"
he said and considered flipping his cards face-up, but what good
would it do other than give him a sense of pride by way of a martyr
complex? He tossed the four of a kind one at a time under the deck.
And then they bought about $200 in
drinks, give or take.
Outside after, with Brady walking
funny, Ebur sat down in the wooden rocking chair on the wooden porch
like a stockman from the 1800's. And he gave into the rocking, let it
wash over him like his mother's had.
Ali leaned against the wall
He waited as he rocked.
"Nature keeps coming?"
She had her woolen cop hat on like a cute little black chipmunk. A
very strong chipmunk. A porcupine.
"I sure hope it does,"
"I don't," Ali said.
"Couldn't bear to see Eureka burn."
He said nothing, rocking still.
"You don't believe in global
"Drastic climate change
doesn't mean we'll get fire and brimstone here,"
Ebur said. "Maybe we get a slow winding down. Didn't John Milton
freeze over Hell at the end of Inferno?"
He realized that it was Dante. And
he almost corrected himself, but she didn't know Dante either, so
ignoring the mistake would help him save face.
She said, "This is hell to
He said, " I do better with
an untamed life, I think."
"You don't plan on settling
He looked at her.
She looked back.
He searched for something there he
couldn't find. Not yet, anyways. "Eat something before you're
back on patrol."
She squared off her stance as he
"You need a ride home?"
"I'll walk," he said.
"I'll take that ride,"
"Come on, Mark." They
climbed in together, a beautiful Amazon and the village codger. She
drove around the corner to the diner and they got out and got
something to eat, as far as Ebur could tell.
Walking was a couple-hour-long
enterprise and the city looked like a smattering of stars under the
trees, warming the world from within, staving off the endless hunger
of night. He passed the JOY motel -- someone was renovating it,
the old pastel coloring from the sixties now back in style. Strange
to be so irrelevant you're suddenly relevant again. Made him care
less about relevance. He passed billboards: Bikes, Booze, and BBQ
(the noise alone...), the Passion Play and its GIANT (shittily-made)
Jesus statue (that had oddly revived Eureka mid-century), the
treehouse cabins, canoeing and kayaking, the farmer's market with the
chocolate challah bread and 1880's breakfast, Turpentine's big cats
and monkeys, another one about Basin Spring and its alleged healing
powers -- he'd heard that Joplin had found a revival in the
local healing power of those waters but they were probably just
coattailing off of Eureka for marketing purposes, another billboard
about a gun show (he thought of their loopholes and shivered, even as
a gun owner), and they went on and on.
He could have easily taken the
short way home after that stretch of billboards and arrived on his
doorstep before sunrise, but sometimes he liked to see the city at
sunrise so he walked on and ascended hills and delved into valleys
until he found himself on top of the Crescent Hotel overlooking
Eureka and its green heights and dark depths. The sun came up timid
behind the hills and cloudbanks, giving off girlish hues, blushing at
seeing the backside of Jesus. He sat out there -- they often let
him sit there long after the pub had closed. And he got himself a
drink and left money on the table. One of the morning shift girls was
cleaning up and nodded at him. He raised his glass and then walked
out to the balcony again and watched the day come on. Someone asked
him if he wanted food and that seemed like a good idea so he ordered
something but he couldn't remember what. He sat up there, watcher on
the wall, worried no one would ever come to Eureka and relieve him of
his shift. When he was finished, it was afternoon. He rose to leave
and heard a cry down in the valley. A young man. Brady?
He wished he'd heard a second
sound. Nothing came. As he searched around and about with those old
hawkeyes of his, he thought he saw something in the winding roadway
far below, that led up to The Crescent: a flash of orange. And maybe
Leaving his glass and his meal
unpaid, he ran to the elevator. He pressed the button and heard the
old groaning of hundred-year-old equipment and went to the stairs,
hustling down in his bowlegged way, old and steady, winded and
winding. Down and out and down the hill rather than taking the path
-- a dangerous way to go for sure, but he gave no damn about that now
if it was Brady or some other high school boy in trouble. He wished
he'd had his pistol handy. He'd stopped holstering after that mall
Down and around the trees and the
tall grass and the cold hard ground and leaves they'd let decompose
on their own (how
the hell you gonna rake a forest?
Mark had said once), and he couldn't think about that now because he
was coming around the bend and saw the leg. He walked up slowly,
eyeing the brush partly out of habit and partly because he dreaded
what he might find. And after walking even that slow, after padding
along the roadway towards the ditch where someone might have thrown
off an old piece of furniture, Ebur found what he dreaded.
Brady's body was face-up,
eviscerated there on the edge, mangled with the vines of the forest
and the inner vines of his gut mixed, his orange vest to protect him
from renegade cars hanging impotent and aimless on his shoulders, a
cup carrier full of coffee spilt and steaming off to the side, his
boots still laced up tight. He looked as if he had gone to-to--toe
with a hydra and lost. Ebur went to him and checked his pulse. He was
dead, so even though he wanted to hold the boy and weep, habit stayed
his hand. Instead he called her.
She said, "I have the worst
"About time. Your place?"
"Not that," he said.
She paused. He knew she heard it
in his quivering sounds. But she paused for a long time. "What's
"Up the way to the Crescent.
There weren't many policemen in
Eureka when compared to Fayetteville, but when something like this
happened they made good on showing up in the "force" end of
"police force." Cones and a roadblock and a couple of cars
and so on.
But Ebur wasn't in all of that. He
was over on the side with Alison.
"You need any coffee?"
"Sorry," she said.
He stared over at the boy. The kid
had done nothing wrong other than not wanting to be an Olympic long
jumper in a town that had desperately wanted him to compete and put
them on the map for something other than holy water. Brady'd fought
his neighbors, his teachers, his parents. He'd wanted to be an easy
going businessman, had worked his ass off earning money and saving
and sat every Friday night with some of the pillars of the place,
playing poker. Or not so much playing poker as just playing and
helping them have a good time.
"You know I've got to ask
you," Ali said.
"Where were you? How'd you
He pointed to the balcony up on
the ridge. "Heard a cry."
"You saw him from all the way
up there, Ebur?"
"Yes," he said. He
looked back up at the balcony. The angle was off.
"Where'd you go after our
poker game? Here?"
"Sure," he said.
"Did you stay the night in...
one of the rooms?" she asked.
"No, Ali. And also no, Ali, I
didn't. And also no, Ali, I won't right now -- especially now."
"Just stick to the
procedure," he said.
He turned his head and looked off
at the treetops.
"Did you have anything
"Oh come on."
"I'm sticking to the
procedure," she said.
"I was pissed about his poker
idea because I need that child support money. You know I count on
"But is it so wrong to have a
"No," he said. "And
that's why I agreed. And it's also why I would never -- ever
-- in my life do something like this over something like that. I
wasn't even mad when I left and it's as mad as I ever got and will...
ever get at that poor boy. I'll tell his parents."
"I'll tell them."
"Did you see anything else?"
He hesitated. He looked again at
the angle of the balcony.
"You don't think Mark..."
He eyed her.
"He's off in the afternoons."
Ebur watched the people on the
balcony. He thought of Mark's hands. Mark could drop something on a
man, could crush a spine, but he didn't have the dexterity for that
kind of cut on a boy's stomach. So he would either need help or
wouldn't be involved at all. Unless he had some sort of scythe or
something in that antique store that would help him, but even then,
the way it was all scattered and mangled...
She said, "He's next on my
list after all that tough talk last night."
She looked over at the body and
something like fear, something like that dread he'd felt washed over
the creases in her eyelids, something like disgust the way the edges
of her nostrils curled as if to block out the smell of poison in the
"Alison?" he asked.
For the first time ever, she did
not acknowledge him when he spoke to her. Instead she walked away and
said, "I'll call you soon." She looked over her shoulder
and stopped. "I will call you, you know."
He thought about that and her
emotions as he walked her go, then he walked over to the body again
and he didn't feel remorse or the dread or the anguish he'd felt
hours before. He felt something had been turned loose inside of him
again, something unfamiliar, something he'd locked up years ago when
he'd married G.G., back when she'd started in with all she started in
with. It was the hunt. The thrill of the hunt, of the search for an
answer, of solving a puzzle. And he felt a bit guilty too, to go so
quickly from grief to curiosity, but there it was: the irreverence of
a mind turned loose upon clues.
He climbed back up the hillside
the slow way, eyeing the way up for any sign of anything that might
have come to claim the boy. Nothing presented itself except the
uncultivated overgrowth quiet between the imposition of city streets
that simply laid where they laid and no further. And sometimes not
even that, what with the cracks in the road and the first hints of
the tall grasses piercing those concretes and asphalts.
Upstairs again with the gawkers
rubbernecking over the railing of the Crescent's balcony, he also
looked down at the flashing red and blue, but ignored all of the
commotion everyone else around him gossiped about as they ate their
pizzas. Sitting there on the chair, he dialed in instead on the angle
and began to ignore things -- the cops, the lights, the
He could still see Brady's boot.
He could not see the orange vest.
He moved to the left end of the
balcony, to the right, nothing helped or changed the circumstances.
Either the body had moved -- which, knowing procedure, it
wouldn't unless someone had cause to tamper with it -- or something
was missing. He left The Crescent and looked back on it. The
Crescent. Like a moon. But was it waxing or was it waning?
Ebur wrote a $200 check to himself
from Cornerstone Bank and deposited it in Community First at the
teller's box. Terri flirted with him there and he felt tired. Tired
of being "easy on the eyes." He then made it down to Arvest
and deposited $200 from his Community First checkbook, again at the
teller -- this one Reesa, an older lady who talked about her ailing
husband. She thanked him. He took a colorless sucker -- good for
the flavor, good to keep him from looking like a fool with a colored
mouth. That's all he needed: something to suck on that wouldn't make
him look foolish to half the town.
He then wrote out a $200 check to
Gamgi-Gyotong Woodham, hopped in his truck -- he needed to get that
lassoing rope out of the bed before the rain ruined it -- and he
drove south until he came to that mud-rock road he'd known so well
and arrived, eventually, at a house on the hill that overlooked one
of the few valleys unmarred by civilization. He got out, kicked a red
rock, and saw his boy in the yard.
"Hey son. You want to come to
work with me?"
Ebur walked up to the front door.
He ignored the doorbell, opened the storm door, and put fist to wood
a few times.
She was on the other side of it,
He could hear her at the peephole.
He looked right at it and grimaced.
The latch slid back. The knob
turned. The door cracked and then opened to reveal her standing there
in a long dark green dress that flattered her as well as anything
she'd ever wore. The bun she wore hid her dark, sleek Korean hair.
"Hey Geeg," he said.
"Can I come in?"
"Depends," she said.
He handed over the child support
that wasn't really child support since they weren't really divorced.
She grabbed it up and didn't even
look at it before she tossed it carelessly behind her onto the floor.
She flattened out her dress as if to cover parts of her she didn't
want exposed and pulled up the slip to cover still more of her
cleavage -- more than that, even, to cover her collar. "Did
you and Alison hook up?"
"No," he said.
"Why not?" she asked,
crossing her arms high enough to cover the rest and the arms as well.
"G.G. I don't want nobody
else. I just want to live with you and Peter and work the land."
"Then why won't you do this
"Because I want you."
"Yes, but I'm not... not
anymore. That's why Ali and I made the deal we made. She still talks
to me, you know. We're good friends."
He looked off to the side yard.
The hedge needed trimming. "Why are you still asking this of
"What's wrong with Ali? You
said she was pretty. You said you'd go sleep with her to prove a
"I said that in anger, G.G.,
we've been over this. I actually like your father, too, I was just
mad and out of my mind."
"Well I agree with you
anyways. I think you should hook up with her and that's why you can't
come in until you do."
"This doesn't make any
"Yes it does," she said.
"Ali needs a man and thinks you're handsome. Peter needs a
father. I need help around the house -- a helpmate and a friend
-- and I don't want anyone inside of me anymore. And you're a man who
needs the things a man needs. Works out for everybody."
"Except me," he said.
"The father of your son and, I thought, the man you wanted to
Peter was standing, watching,
waiting, listening between them both.
"I did want to marry you."
"And do you now, Geeg?"
"What about that whole one
"My mother was the religious
"Religion doesn't have
anything to do with this."
"Marriage is a religious
"Then why worry about divorce
at all? Your superstition of divorce shows it. You're trying
everything you can to get us practically
divorced without signing papers but you never took the time to ask if
you were really married. You want eternal faithfulness without having
to chain yourself to eternity. You want to be free but never stop to
ask if you were free to bind yourself. Or me myself. And I did. I
bound myself to
She didn't say anything after
Philosophizing wouldn't do much
good. "I'm taking Peter with me."
"No you're not," she
Peter said, "Please mom?"
Ebur said, "Later in the
"Whenever you give Ali what
she and I need. I'll keep talking to her. Open marriage is a common
thing, now, you know. Why don't you just embrace it like any other
"Open marriage is an
oxymoron. And besides, even if such a thing existed, what you
want isn't that. Your idea's still closed, but it ain't marriage."
"It's a great arrangement!
I've worked it all out: everyone who needs sex gets sex. Everyone who
needs a friend gets a friend. Everyone who needs commitment gets
commitment. It's the perfect love triangle like in the stories."
He said. "The unconditional
love of marriage has but one condition: forsaking all others. Without
that, it isn't love."
"She's ten years younger than
me. She's fit. She's powerful as things go in Eureka."
He shook his head. "You can
just turn a man into a pet."
"Oh but I can," she
He snorted, stallion-like. "Have
a good day, sweetheart."
"Don't call me that."
"You got it babe."
"Don't call me that."
He stopped with the names. He had
work to do -- a case, paid or no. He was already in the truck driving
away watching her scream at him soundlessly beyond the windshield.
On the way, he got a call from
her. "Can we hire you out?"
He did need the money. "Have
you just talked to G.G.?"
"You know you can always ask
me for money. Is it me?" she asked.
"No, it's always me. And her.
I'm already working on Brady. Send the first check."
"I'll hand deliver it
tomorrow. Race ya?"
He said nothing.
"We just talked to Mark,
"I thought I was racing you?"
"Last one there's a rotten
"I'll do Mark's alone."
"I meant to the finish line,"
"Oh," he said.
She was silent, then.
"Okay," he said.
He hung up on her.
The barrel that drooped on the
pegboard in one of the stalls opened up to reveal row after row of
old paints. He moved on to a stack of old parking meters, those
"Be with you in a minute,"
The customer in front of him
pulled out a wad of cash.
Ebur waved a hand. Who collected
license plates anyways? Seemed a stupid thing: collecting various
bits of proof of the ways the government had you register in their
databases in order to keep you herded in. Did people collect yellow
stars from the Holocaust? Jumpsuits from prison time? The store had
so many things that you could drop on a man or use to get the drop on
a man and break him in two. But no big cutting things, nothing like
teeth and jaw extenders for a man.
Two or three more customers left
and judging by the stillness of the antique barn, he figured Mark was
free. He circled back around to the front and the old collector sat
on his hightop swivel chair, tamping his pipe.
"You come to question me
too?" Mark asked.
"Who do you think she'll
"Everyone at the table,"
Mark said. "And you too. I asked you if you missed it and it
looks as if you were right to say you did."
Ebur grimaced at the irreverence
"Don't be so pious. A man who
enjoys preaching can still enjoy giving a eulogy without
incrimination." He puffed to light it. Puffed several times and
a steady stream of Pipe
Dream wafted into
the air. "Course, preachers have also been incriminated for
"You want to question me?"
"Then no," Mark said.
"You ever use a scythe?"
"Zero point turner. Really
Ebur ignored the jealousy within.
"Where were you?"
"Sure," he said. "Looks
bad after just telling you all that afternoon's are my time off."
"Opportunity's the biggest
"Had I not been asleep half
the day. Haven't been hungover like that since Frannie Holsapple's
graduation party. Good God, I was stoned.
"You didn't get any junk off
the street yesterday?"
"Well see that's the thing,"
he said, "we're both paid to clean up the countryside of
"Don't talk about the boy
"Dog gets rabid, you put him
"Brady wasn't rabid."
"Boy with legs like that
doesn't want to do the Olympic trials because he's mad at mom and
dad? Come and tell me that's not a crime to all the Spring valley."
Top Ten Tourism Hot Spots isn't
good enough for you anymore?"
"You gotta sow your wild oats
a little farther than the noise."
"I think you mean cast your
"Wasn't talking about me
Ebur stewed. "You know,
people would respect you more if--"
"Don't start in, old man."
Mark said. "Only difference is you have no idea what it is to be
the runt of the litter. Your momma spoiled you sour. You want
respect..." he thumbed his holstered revolver.
Ebur was glad that separated them
now: that he didn't holster anymore.
Mark's hard face softened to let
in a bit of sadness. "I really wish I did. I really wish I
hadn't been asleep. Where were you?"
"On top of the Crescent. I
never went home."
Mark sat up straight and put his
hand on his pistol.
"Mark, I did not kill that
boy. And I would not kill that boy. And you know it."
The old mitten grip slackened.
"But you must have seen something."
"I saw his boot and I saw..."
"I heard him cry out."
Ebur had a penny so he left a
"I don't even know at this
point." The bell rang as he left and he wondered if an angel
still got its wings had it died in the jaws of the hydra or at the
end of the reaper's scythe.
As he prepared for bed, the
doorbell rang. He walked up and opened it to find Ali standing there.
"Can I come in?"
"No," he said.
"Can you come out?"
"I can come sit on my porch
"You have coffee?"
"I have chamomile tea.
Coffee's a morning drink."
"Coffee's an always drink."
"Not all of us get
pre-morning lunch breaks."
"Donut breaks," she
He got the tea with difficulty due
to the gauze and came out and joined her on the porch. "I
thought you were on that weird fitness diet."
She said, "When I break, I
always break with donuts."
"How often do you break?"
"It's not called breakfast
for nothing," she said and winked.
He sipped his tea and she hers.
And she said, "Can you ever
see us together?"
"I'm a married man, Ali."
"No, really. I am a married
man unless she leaves me."
"Why can't you do what she
"Because that would me cage
my real self. I'm not made to live like that."
"Well I'd be faithful to
you," she said and sipped her tea, her arm flexing as she did
"After helping me be
unfaithful to her," he said.
She was quiet.
"You find anything?"
She said, "Talked to Mark,
like I said. He doesn't know anything. Was really sweet about it."
"You're not going to let me
in?" she asked.
"See you tomorrow."
"Okay," he said.
She walked back to her truck,
bowie knife still strapped at her side, still carefully handling his
mug and the scalding water within.
He hated dawn. Not that there was
anything wrong with it as a thing, but he was wrong for it. He didn't
fit well in it. He was made to rise a bit later, but sometimes his
back got him up then anyways and he'd feed the horses and then head
out. He drove through town and up to Bean Me Up, as was his custom,
dawn or no, and when he pulled around the window was closed. He went
to knock on it and order his black Americano and saw instead a piece
of paper that read:
PLEASE FORGIVE US
OUR BEST EMPLOYEE
HAS PASSED AWAY
WE WILL REOPEN
IN ONE WEEK
WHEN WE HAVE
He didn't have the strength to
swear. Of course losing Brady would mean losing his coffee routine.
He sat dumbfounded with his truck idling forward at less than a mile
an hour, riding the brake. He was almost in the street before he
pressed hard enough to come to a complete stop and a truck passed by
blaring its warning.
He went to McDonald's. The coffee
was hot and nasty. He hated going to McDonald's. He pulled over and
got out and took a piss in the place -- it was the least he could do
for recompense. He drove on with his old-lady-burning coffee and
gunned it around the corners per his custom.
Ahead, brake lights.
He slammed on the breaks and
shifted down to first. The crap coffee exploded all over his dash and
he found the strength to swear then. His truck was sideways across
both lanes by the time it stopped, the cars circling to make a
clearing around a typically quiet bend in the road. He backed his
truck up so that it crested the peak and turned on his hazards and
put on the parking brake.
Walking down to the circle of
cars, he saw a bunch of morning commuters standing around something
awful. It was Jerome, dead on the pavement, his spine crushed --
blood as a result, but not as cause of death. The chewing tobacco tin
had been flattened a bit under the weight of something, as if stomped
on or as if a fridge had been dropped on him. But there was no
fridge. Had the Cyclops woken and stomped him flat? Had the sphinx or
Jack's giant pounced on his bones? And what could he -- Ebur,
the detective retired to the cattle yard -- do in the middle of such
death? He looked around: the biker bar, the hanging cabins, a
doctor's office. Nothing else, really, but the tall grass and trees
off to the side. There was the fish fry joint, but Gary couldn't hurt
a flee judging by the number of them he let cover that mangy hound of
Ebur pulled his phone and saw
Mark's number in recent calls, but Mark might be the one crushing
them. And Ali's number, who was on break. But if she was on break
then... He scrolled and called Thomas.
"We called 911," one of
the ladies said. "We didn't know what to do."
"You did the right thing,"
Ebur said, though maybe the inconvenient thing overall.
"Thomas, get down to Gary's."
"I need you here to see where
I was when I arrived."
"Because I'm the one that
"Okay, I'm on my way."
Thomas lived not too far away he'd
be there in a few minutes. Ebur walked around and comforted some of
the women and advised they park a car on the other lane like he'd
parked his in order to keep people from getting hurt. He got most of
them up to the railing on the ledge by the biker bar, still so that
they could see if they needed but out of harm's way of another truck.
That crashed into his truck by the
time they were up there. It was Thomas. Ebur ran up to him to see if
he was okay. The guy's forehead was bloody, but he was fine. "I
see where you were when you arrived," he said.
"Some alibi," Ebur said
and looked at his truck. The tailgate was curled over like a severely
tucked lip, curled in such a way that a child might make a fort out
of it, hiding away from the big bad wolf. It hurt him, but he was
more pleased that Thomas was okay.
Thomas walked out and took the lay
of the land and lost his breakfast when he looked at Jerome. They
asked questions of the people together, piecing together who arrived
first and questioning that person hard. From what they could tell,
Jerome had been dead for almost half an hour before he was found,
lying out in the middle of the street like that. Shame.
Ali showed up soon after that,
helped first get the papers sorted out between the men and their
cars. When she looked at the blood and the way the little man's spine
was crushed, she glanced at Ebur and that look of dread returned.
And he looked back and did not
Later that morning, Thomas called
him. "I've been thinking: what if it's not what you think?"
"Ali?" he asked. She had
just bragged about donut breaks, though the crushing presented a
different problem, one that suited--
"Or Mark. There are people
that have access to stuff that can mangle a body both those ways.
Kallie, for instance. Or Clemente."
"Like regular carpentry
tools?" Ebur asked. "And what's that noise?"
"That's the dolly going down
the stairs pretty hard. Making my deliveries."
"How you talking on the
"Wireless headset, old man."
"That like a Walkman?"
"For your phone."
"Okay. For your phone, okay."
"Yeah, Kallie has those big
tools in her lab, heck she's got those headdresses made out of animal
teeth and claws, and the fine cutting tools too. Clemente's got more
than regular carpentry tools. He's got big-toothed saws, hammers with
big claws on the back like big old bear-hunting pikes."
"And Jerome's crushed spine?
His midsection was jelly."
"Trucks could do that,
"It was pretty precise,"
On the other end of the phone call
came a great sound like the roar of the final trumpet, the cry of the
chimera. It made Ebur freeze. Had Thomas thrown his phone and dropped
his dolly? No, he said about the headset. Ebur heard gurgling.
The gurgling tried to form words.
"Thomas, I'll be right there.
I'll be right there."
It took walking through several
alleys near the burrito joint before he found the dolly at the edge
of one of the stone stair sets, its canned contents scattered
everywhere -- it would have made a great crash. He looked up the
stairs and saw his friend. And it was a matter of walking slow. He
didn't want to miss any of the details. He looked behind him at the
parking lot, at the bank, at the grasses and leaves and bare trees
hiding the houses on the ridge. Any man could have escaped up that
hill and hidden in a house. Could still be there.
He looked forward. The body of his
friend waited. In the street at the alley's fountainhead, people
walked by unaware that anything had happened. How had they missed
that crash? Had it been that vacant only ten minutes prior?
He threw up his hands, a competent
grown-ass man rendered impotent.
Realizing his friend might still
be alive, he ran to Thomas. The man had a jagged slit across his
throat and his body had been mangled as well, but the throat was the
biggest thing, almost like a great knife or some dragon's razor wings
had been dragged across him, the shock on his face. It called to him,
the body of Thomas, called out to him: 'tis
life we may live, 'tis death we may die.
It called him to become what all men become and to face that. It
wasn't that Ebur wanted life. It wasn't that Ebur wanted death. He
wanted drums. The words of Edwards came to him then, one of those
many resolutions that used to sit on his father's desk in the
upstairs study back when his dad pastored that little parish out on
to think much on all occasions of my own dying and of the common
circumstances which attend death.
Common circumstances. He laughed a
vain and dark laugh. Common. And then some other quote from some
other of his dad's old saints: that on the spectrum of possible
deaths, he would get only one, so why worry about them all? Not life.
Not death. He wanted drums. His heart began to beat again: thrill for
the hunt. The drums, the drums they called to him as if he were on a
safari, as if some of Kallie's ancestors had come along with some
tribal dance and had summoned his inner Kong.
Ebur called Clemente. He switched
the phone from his good hand after wincing from the wound.
"Que pas' amigo?"
"Cleme," Ebur said.
"Where are you? Thomas is dead."
"Woah, man, woah. How you
keep finding them?"
Ebur seethed. He didn't know.
"Need you here."
"I'm not off until like dusk.
On this house right now, working on the walkways for the city
"Call Alison, man. She's the
one that fixes."
He swore. "Fine."
"What's wrong with you, man?"
"Three of my friends were
brutally murdered just a couple of days after we all played poker
together." It wasn't anger he felt when he said all of that. The
anger had masked that other thing that was forming tears at the ends
of his eyesight. And he was trying to stop that, trying and failing.
After a pause, Clemente said, "I
didn't mean it like that. We're all..."
"It's fine. It's fine Cleme."
"Kay, man, be good. Call
Ali." He hung up.
Ebur called her.
She didn't answer.
He called her again.
She didn't answer.
He called her a third time and
prepared to leave a message.
She answered. "Couldn't wait
to get ahold of me?" she said. There was sadness back behind the
playfulness, something deep and unending.
"No. Thomas is dead."
He hadn't expected genuine
surprise. It was hard to fake that kind of shock. Perhaps it wasn't
Her voice started trembling.
"Where is he? Where are you?"
"I'm here with him," he
said. "With his... body."
She hung up on him. She never hung
up on him.
At half past noon, he walked down
the steps towards her car in the lot, he found his mind shifting,
sifting through things, groping about as if civil society itself had
unleashed him and left him to roam the wondering wild, a detective
without papers, a detective without tools, a detective without a
bureau or a force, without friends -- or with friends who kept dying,
a detective with nothing but his own raw manhood to find answers.
It was a comforting thought.
It was a disturbing thought.
He walked her way and she sat
there finishing her early-morning donut. Finishing. She was back on
duty. Not that she couldn't kill someone on duty, but the likelihood,
especially with that car camera... he doubted she could have gotten
to Thomas. But Jerome seemed a real possibility. Something wasn't
fitting into place. Perhaps it was completely unrelated -- some
drifter, someone with time on their hands. And yet... the killings
seemed so connected to Sunday's poker table. Could nature itself kill
so discriminately? Could random deaths like these align? Surely they
needed some will behind them.
She hit the unlock button. He
"You want to tell me what
happened?" she was stuffing her face. Comfort eating.
"I was talking to him about
Jerome and I heard him cry out."
"Why were you talking to him
"Because we're racing and
sharing my findings would give you an advantage."
She smiled weakly. "I think
we're past that."
He said nothing. This life untamed
would suffer no explanation: he remained competitive because he
remained skeptical and on the job. Until the solution arose, there
was no rest from the problem.
"Is he up there?" she
"Yeah," he said.
"I'll call it in, but you
gotta give me something."
"Wrong place, wrong time."
"Thing about coincidence is
sometimes it's intentional."
"You think someone's screwing
"I'm saying providence is
kind." She gave him a look as if waiting for a confession, kid
caught completely inside the candy jar.
"I don't see the kindness in
any of this."
"Maybe you're just getting
there a second too late." The dread, there on her face.
"Sorry," she said.
He shrugged and grabbed the
chocolate banana pudding one instead.
"I was saving that," she
said and slugged his arm.
It hurt, but not much. "For
me," he said and smiled. He looked up the hill and his
"I got an idea this morning,
looking at the truck bed how it was all bent over like a little
hideaway. What if we skipped town? Peter can come."
"He's legally bound to his
"Last I checked, there's
nothing out on that front in the courts."
"I wouldn't do that to her."
"Let's say you got brave and
took an adventure with me and took Peter along. And let's say she
pressed charges. We could fight her easy in Eureka."
He thought about it. The adventure
part sounded nice. Of course, he didn't really want to leave G.G. And
what would that do to Peter in years to come? He looked at her. She
was gorgeous. She wore a regular police uniform as if it were a
roleplaying costume. He knew it was the rigorous workout regimen she
forced herself to abide by -- minus the donuts of course.
Wouldn't want to disrespect the badge. He said, "I just can't,
Ali. It's not right."
"What's wrong with me?"
"I'm not even asking for her
arrangement anymore. I'm just wanting to take you away from this
place forever. We don't have to do it her way. We could always do it
"And that's what she's
"For a way other than ours.
I, as a man, don't fit into the picture frame either of you have
hammered together. What you call adventure, I call docile and
pedestrian and boring and damn inconvenient. You really just want me
to do your bidding like her. You want my manhood and she wants my
mind, but neither of you want me."
"That's not fair."
"Not it's not," he said
and he grunted as he got out of the car. Before he shut the door he
said, "When was the last time you used that knife of yours?"
She cocked her head at him. "Last
fall when I field-dressed that deer, why?" She squinted. "You
don't think I..."
"I don't know what I think.
He's up the hill. I need to take a walk."
Ebur let her go to him and took
off the other way along the parking lot. He noted how she watched him
go and then moved on. He called Clemente.
Clemente did not answer.
Instead of calling back as he had,
he took off walking through the city's streets. It felt like New
Orleans or some other French city had been dropped out of a toy box
onto the hill country of the Ozarks and wherever the pieces landed,
the people settled and had to build bridges and walkways and stair
sets in order to reach one another. As if it were a struggle for
civilization to germinate in that rocky soil. As if a prophecy
promising that when Christ returns on the clouds, the world really
will come to be a city in a garden: the city bewildered but not
destroyed, the wild humanized but not colonized. He walked those
walkways, eyeing a mural here and a closed coffee shop there
-- things in Eureka seldom had the stamina to stay opened all
day long. The city's life roamed in shifts: first the coffee joints
(he winced thinking of that), then the lunch and dinner joints, then
the drinking joints, then the hotels and their breakfast joints and
so on. The sun set. It was unremarkable since its marks hid behind
The cold had set in again and he
could tell it would not be letting up. It began to snow and he smiled
because that would give him something to work with, something other
than these naked trees and tall grasses and crunchy leaves.
Clemente called back. "Yo
"Cleme, you working the
"Later tonight, yes. I like
to do it when people aren't out shopping as much."
"Alright, well--" there,
on the planks of the walkway, not far, distance-wise from where he'd
found Thomas, another. Another. Another. Would they ever quit?
He walked up and found her
-- Ingrid -- laying face-up like he'd found Brady. Horror on her
face, midsection mangled like the rest. But the face. The face was
purple as if the life had been suffocated out of her as if the giant
squid or a dementor had sucked out her soul. And how could a mere man
stop such a thing? Was he still a man anymore after the way G.G. and
Ali had treated him? He looked closer.
"Ebur are you okay?"
"Give me just a minute,
Clemente." By her cheeks, piercings like miniature spears had
gone through and held some sort of bag or suffocation device to her
face. Almost like tent pegs and a tarp. Construction tools.
"Clemente, where were you this afternoon?" Clemente had
strong arms. He could suffocate a man. Or a woman. The mangle -- it
could be done with any tool. But this one. It's almost like pieces of
her were missing. Had the others looked like that? Jerome had the
least blood, but even in his crushed spine, his body had born those
"Don't tell me."
"Clemente where were you?"
"Don't tell me, man, please."
"You need to tell me where
"I was at the Heck mansion."
"Okay. Doing what?"
"Stonework with the
decorative concrete guys."
"So concrete. Stamps. Stains.
"Oh God, no, abuela. Oh Jesus
"Can you get to the
walkways?" He always worked the walkways. He could have been
here. He was on his way here. He might already be here.
"Which one? I'm up near the
top of the hill right now."
"Down by Mudstreet."
He was there quickly. He stared
and stared at Ingrid's body. Had he been the killer, he'd want to
return to the scene anyways. And had he been the killer, he couldn't
do anything worse to her, could he? Ebur called Ali.
"On my way."
"I didn't tell you where,"
She said, "Well wherever it
is I'm on my way."
"Walkway by Mudstreet. I'm
leaving Clemente here."
"Good," she said. "I
want to talk to him. Stay there."
"I got a lead," he said.
"I'm taking it."
G.G. called as he pulled out his
truck with the curled lip. "I need you to watch Peter tonight. I
have to run some errands."
"I can't," he said.
"What? You never tell me no.
Not to taking Peter to work."
That was true. He hardly saw the
"Don't you want to see your
"It's not safe," he
"Oh don't tell me she roped
you back into detective work."
"It's not like that."
"Oh that's just great. You're
going in the wrong direction, Woodham."
He didn't want the boy along for
safety reasons, but it was
one of the best things for a son to experience work with his father.
That's the way apprenticeships and walkabouts used to go. Kids in
history died for less in route to manhood. And the ones that lived
carried on strong and vibrant lives. It would be the best way for him
to teach the boy. A savage and fierce training, but a training
nonetheless. "I'll take him."
"He's staying here."
"No. He's not."
She was silent.
He was silent.
"Okay," she said.
"Please be careful with him."
And for the first time ever, that
"Where we going, papa?"
"Pete, we're going to work,"
Ebur said, shifting down to keep the truck from fishtailing off the
mountainside in the black ice.
"Did a horse get loose?"
"No. Not that work."
"The one momma doesn't like?"
"Oh boy. This will be just
He looked over at his son, eyebrow
"Delightful means something
we like. Full of the like."
"Ah," he said. "Did
you learn that from your mom?"
He bit his lip and focused on the
"Are people dead?"
"Do you know what that is?"
"Somebody doesn't have them
in it anymore."
That was one way of putting it.
"Does that scare you?"
Peter said. "Happens to
everybody like getting born or growing up."
He didn't object that some kids
didn't get to grow up because they died, kids like Peter put in
situations like Ebur's, but the kid's point struck true anyways.
"Yes. Yes it does. But we don't want it to happen to you too
soon so we need to keep you back, okay? You stay behind me."
"And you run if I tell you to
run. You do what I say."
"You got it papa, just like
with the horses."
"Just like with the horses,
"Cause otherwise the horses
might buck me off."
"Who we after?"
"The Cat Lady?"
"The Cat Lady, yes."
"She did something bad?"
"I think so, Pete. I think
"She's got a day that can fit
a lot of things into it and the problem I'm trying to solve needs
someone that can be there at just about any time of the day. And she
has big things that crush people and animal claws. And she carries
around a scalpel that--"
"What's a scalpel?"
"The sort of knife the
doctors used when they cut out your tonsils."
"Okay. Does she carry ice
"No. She uses it for bad
things. Cutting things that don't need cutting. That's why you need
to do what I say, in case she's dangerous."
"Ms. Kallie would never hurt
"Maybe not," he said.
"But just in case."
"Just in case."
He threw the phone to his son.
"Answer that, would you Pete?"
Peter used his little thumb to
slide the thing and answer the call.