Authors: Kent Harrington
|Market Street Books (2015)|
Table of Contents
MARKET STREET BOOKS
Copyright © 2015 Kent Harrington
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
COVER ART BY
FIRST EBOOK EDITION
SEPTEMBER 16, 2015
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014916771
For more information about Kent Harrington please visit:
Other Books by Kent Harrington
Dark Ride (1996)
Dia De Los Muertos (1997)
The American Boys (2000)
The Tattooed Muse (2001)
Red Jungle (2005)
The Good Physician (2008)
The Rat Machine (2012)
Tabloid Circus (French Edition 2014)
Lola Knows Best (2015)
Dedicated to the children of Fukushima Prefecture.
“It’s unreasonable to make such a big deal over the death of a fisherman.”
Teller, father of the Hydrogen bomb—
on hearing that a Japanese fisherman had died as a result of America’s first live-fire test of the Hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific.
Elevation 7,000 feet
Six a.m. Willis Good, on the cusp of madness and still wearing the bloodstained clothes he’d been arrested in, picked up a pencil stub he’d found on the floor. On suicide watch, the jail cell’s dim light had been kept on throughout the night; he’d not slept or even tried to. The pencil’s blunt tip made a scratching music as he wrote on the wall, just under a small window with a second-story view of Timberline’s Main Street.
Willis—slight, sandy-haired, father, lawyer, son of the town drunk, Cambridge scholar, and the boy that no one thought would make good—wrote deliberately, something he remembered from his Latin classes at Cambridge:
In hac lacrimarum valle
In this valley of tears. Under it, he wrote his name:
Willis Good, Year of Our Lord, 2014,
in a firm hand. Then he threw the pencil violently across the cell, afraid that if he started to write down what had happened to him he might not be able to stop—that he would tell his terrifying story to the cell wall.
And if he did
, it would surely mean he
Willis stepped back to the window and stared out at the multi-colored Christmas lights strung across Main Street, kept up by the “city fathers” until the end of February. He’d done the same as a child when his mother’s alcoholism had proven too much to bear. He would escape their poverty-and-alcohol-wrecked life and walk the streets of the mountain town at midnight in winter, wearing only a thin secondhand jacket. On those spectacularly beautiful nights, the town seemed like a great empty cathedral, with lamp-stars hung above it, perhaps hung by some benevolent god of the Sierra Madre. He’d felt then, as a small boy, completely protected. He’d grown to love Timberline and the Sierra Madre. No matter where he’d traveled in the world, this town was his home. Of course he’d come back.
He watched dawn break over the snow-bound high Sierra town. A sad platinum light reached into the granite-block jail, which dated back to the Gold Rush. His second day in hell would start with this weak and struggling-against-the-snow dawn. It made him feel sick.
Despite himself, he once again prayed that this was all just a terrible nightmare. He put both palms on the cell’s cold wall and tried to will himself awake.
If only I could just wake up!
He lowered his forehead onto the wall and closed his eyes.
In his mind’s eye, he saw his young wife lying asleep in their bed and very much alive.
If only I could wake up.
Without realizing it, he yelled his wife’s name. The two deputies downstairs heard him yelling, but ignored it.
Willis had been arrested the day before for murdering his wife and their two little boys in cold blood. The irony was that he had stood in this very jail cell many times with clients, advising them in his capacity as their defense lawyer.
“Tell the truth. Be honest. Lying will only hurt your chances of a successful conclusion,” he’d warn them in his distant but earnest manner, pulling off his gold wire-rim glasses to look at them, searching their faces for the truth. At 32, Good was remarkably youthful looking, which put some clients off. Usually the client—a miner, or truck driver, or waitress—would lie to him anyway, incapable of anything but the most childish and pathetic defense for their crimes, which were serious if they were seeing him and not the county’s public defender. He was the only good—and perhaps more importantly, the only sober—lawyer within fifty miles of Reno.
Willis would polish his glasses in the same studied way each time and begin the process of categorizing the client to himself: honest victim of passion, career criminal, charming sociopath, or dim-witted fool? He’d learned over time that the list of types was depressingly short. Because he came from their world, was born to lies and small-town poverty, it was almost impossible to fool him, or elicit the easy sympathy city people dole out for almost any hard-luck story if it’s told out on a country road. By the time Willis Good put his glasses back on, more likely than not, he understood you better than your mother did.
Willis spotted Dr. Poole outside on Main Street, the doctor’s black face shrouded by a heavy winter coat, edged in white sheep’s wool. Poole came out of Gloria’s Organic Cafe and walked toward his office. He’d always liked the doctor; always saw him as some great Moorish caliph. It had been Doctor Poole, when Willis was a teenager, who had come to his house and given his mother—a notorious town drunk—the B12 shots that helped her beat the disease at last. And he’d done it for free. More importantly, the doctor was someone Willis could look up to after seeing so many failures troop through his mother’s bedroom. As a young man, he’d wanted to be like Poole: cool, intelligent, kind, and emotionally steady.
Willis put his hand on the thick Plexiglas window of his cell, which had been scribbled on by a thousand drunks. Perhaps, he thought, the doctor would believe him. How could he warn people of the danger if he was locked up in here? Willis watched Dr. Poole make his way along the snow-plowed street.
A long way from Granada
, Willis said to himself. The doctor’s blackness stood out against the snow that caked the tops and hoods of cars. With a finality that Willis couldn’t postpone, Poole disappeared into his office.
The Christmas lights strung over the street below, swaying slightly in the wind, brought back his lonely nights of wandering. He could picture himself as a child, seeing the lights twinkling joyous and hopeful at Christmas time, reminders that families, and Christmas, and normalcy, were out there and that he would have his own family someday. His future family would be like those he saw on TV: perfect.
The town’s Christmas lights had reassured him that he only had to wait for that day to come. He would go to Timberline’s Catholic church and sit in the empty pew, in the early morning, after his peregrinations. And later, during the nine-o’clock mass, Willis, along with old ladies bundled against the cold, would kneel for the beginning of the service.
“This is the body and blood of Christ,” the old red-faced priest would say, holding up the chalice at the center of the little mountain church, built small and low to withstand all that God could throw at them in winter.
Willis would walk back afterward through the snowy streets to his mother, who would meet him in the hallways of her alcoholism, her face soft and pale from crying in fear that he had frozen to death. They would not speak more than necessary, neither wanting to hurt the other on Christmas day. There would be no presents. The house was violated by vodka bottles. His mother tossed those miscreant things out into the snow, somewhere. Their labels were garish, red and silver, and sad like his fatherless life. His mother thought that the snow would, and could, hide them forever. But by spring, the bottles surfaced in the backyard like bad memories, necks exposed by Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday was his favorite holiday; it was when Willis, proud to be a Catholic, would go and get the black cross painted on his forehead so the townspeople could see that he was pious, and not at all like his damaged mother.
Willis heard loud coughing and spitting sounds from the next cell. He wished to God that someone would wake him from his nightmare.
This is, after all, the year of our Lord 2014. How could it happen?
Because of his success, he’d thought he had beaten the odds poor people face.
I almost escaped
, he thought, staring down onto Main Street that was coming alive now. But in the end, Fate had won. Where was his childhood God when Willis had needed him yesterday? No. God didn’t exist. There was no God. What Supreme Being would allow what had befallen him and his family?
There is no God
Willis was alone and knew it. He heard the next prisoner over shout for the jailer, still drunk and confused as to where he was. He too was lost.
* * *
The falling snow was tinted blue by headlights as the sheriff deputy’s patrol car drove down the pre-dawn mountain road. The asphalt looked black and new, the falling snow mysterious as it blew onto the road. It seemed to Sheriff’s Deputy T.C. McCauley as if the two materials, asphalt and snow, were somehow meant to be together; to embrace, to resolve some riddle of nature and meet at last, snow rushing through space.
Out of nothingness, to nothingness,
Man’s fate was decided in winter, Deputy McCauley guessed, driving alone. He took a sip of 7-Eleven coffee he’d bought fifteen minutes before on highway 50, hot and tasteless. He was taking a Philosophy class at the junior college in Nevada City. The class had freed his imagination, giving him the confidence to plot an idea, for no other reason than because it came to him. The teacher had told the class of housewives, policeman, and shoe salesmen—all trying to better themselves—that every man was a philosopher.
It was winter that must have brought man to the high places
, the deputy thought.
It must have been a winter day when he ripped the skin from that first animal and wrapped its bloody, warm fur around his naked shoulders in the falling snow in some godforsaken forest. That day was our bright beginning, the first technology. Blood, fur, and guts would lead to all the rest of it—to this smartphone-wielding place. We, all of us, carry that day with us, stamped in the darkest part of our cerebellum—our wet computer chip. The dark code is written there, whether we like it or not. It is a very simple line of code: kill or be killed.
The deputy drove, one hand on the wheel, the radio turned low, its chatter a white noise, not unpleasant. He’d learned that truth long ago in Iraq—kill or be killed. He watched the dawn break with satisfaction, a dawn much different from the 710 dawns he’d seen over there. Those dust-red blood dawns were part of his past now, part of his personal diary, and he cherished them. The idea that he’d lived through all those nights—walks down the middle of hut-clad, IED-hiding, sudden-death roads—cheered him up now as it had every morning since he’d gotten back. Life was good. He had a wife he loved, two daughters and a son, a house he would never finish paying for! You had to be on the cusp of losing your life to remember that simple fact. You had to see the face of the slaughtered to remember it forever:
Life, no matter how terrible, was better than death.
“Damn, take one class and you turn into a fucking preacher,” T.C. said out loud.
T.C. saw Sheriff Quentin Collier’s familiar white Jeep Cherokee coming toward him on the otherwise empty road. McCauley slowed his patrol car down and flashed his headlights. The two cars, bristling with antennae, pulled alongside one another. The deputy rolled down his window. Dawn was breaking, changing everything by the second, exposing the snow-bound pine forest around them.
“Quentin,” McCauley said. “You’re out early.” A white breath-vapor shot out of the deputy’s mouth from the cold as if he were some kind of engine. T.C. had a calm but tough countenance, reassuring in a lawman. His war experience showed in his eyes; their hooded quality seemed to reflect the savagery he’d witnessed and been forced to inflict on others. McCauley was only 27, but strangers he encountered on the job thought he was much older.
“Good morning, T.C.” Quentin looked away for a moment. It was the first time they’d seen each other since the horrible murders up at Willis Good’s place.
Quentin was older than McCauley. He had just turned forty, his face still handsome and lean. People in town said he looked like an old-fashioned lawman, right out of a Louis L’Amour novel.
“It’s a damn shame, is what it is,” the sheriff said. “Why did Willis do it? I don’t understand. His wife and the two boys? I don’t understand, T.C. What makes people go off and do things like that? The kid had it all. He’d come so far.” It was as if they were still standing there, looking at Willis’s murdered wife and two small boys.
T.C. had seen a lot of cruelty in Iraq, the worst kind of wanton butchery. What he’d seen up at the Goods’ place was no easier to understand. T.C. looked out the window at his good friend, and beyond the sheriff at the wall of pine trees, their tops caked in snow, the snow painted by the morning’s first moments of light.
T.C. had known Quentin all his life. Quentin had chased him around the county when T.C. and his friends were teenagers. He’d always liked Quentin; seeing him always made him feel a little better about the world.
Quentin, he thought, should run for Congress.
We should send him to Washington instead of the jack-holes up there now.
“I don’t know, Quentin,” T.C. said finally. They looked at each other blankly.
“They’re going to blow that snow bench this morning. Out at Emigrant Gap,” Quentin said. “I’m glad it’s you taking Willis to Sacramento—someone who knows him.”
“Yeah,” T.C. said. “I’m on the way to pick him up now. I promised his mother I’d be the one to take him.”
“The judge was right to send him for evaluation before the inquest,” Quentin said. “He’s crazy, if any human being ever was. Seven-Eleven coffee still as bad as ever?”
“I think it’s getting worse,” T.C. said, looking down at his cup. It started to snow harder. The small chink of red in the sky had closed as quickly as it had appeared. The mountains above Timberline had emerged, steel grey and ominous. The dawn had come and gone already.
“I’ll see you back at the office, then,” Quentin said. They couldn’t small-talk the murders away and they both knew it. It was preferable to move on than to think about it anymore.
“Say hi to the girls,” T.C. said, absent-mindedly. He almost mentioned that he’d seen Sharon, Quentin’s youngest daughter, out the night before with a known ex-felon and member of a white street gang who had moved up to town that summer and were suspected of cooking and selling crank. But he decided that it wasn’t the right time. Quentin nodded and said he would.
The men rolled up their windows. They glanced at each other one last time through the falling snow and the glass, as if they were looking at each other in a different light, wearing the expressions of great sadness grown men can wear when they confront the ugliness in life straight on.
Quentin drove off. T.C. sat contemplating the snow and the coldness of the landscape as if nature could deliver an answer to Willis’ crime. He shook his head, punched the gas pedal and drove faster than he should have into a morning that promised more bad weather.