Authors: Steve Hamilton
Tags: #Private Investigators, #Upper Peninsula (Mich.), #Mystery & Detective, #Michigan, #Private Investigators - Michigan - Upper Peninsula, #General, #Mystery Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #McKnight; Alex (Fictitious Character), #Fiction, #Upper Peninsula
“Vinnie, I swear to God…”
“I’m starting right after breakfast. With or without you watching.”
I finally got myself out of the bed. “You’re serious.”
“Then give me a little more time,” I said. “It’ll take me at least an hour just to get dressed.”
* * *
I insisted on being the one to actually open the door. This was the cabin I had helped build myself, all those years ago, my father and I working side by side. Now there was a sad, stale odor in the air as I took my first step back into the place. I had moved out everything I could carry. The bed was unmade. The table was empty. The refrigerator and stove unplugged. The woodstove needed cleaning.
There on the floor. The stain.
“What first?” Vinnie said, stepping in right behind me.
I couldn’t help thinking of Chief Maven, and everything he had done to reclaim his own house after what had happened.
“Only one place to start,” I said. “The floor.”
“How are we going to clean it?”
“We’re not. We’re gonna burn it.”
A few hours later, we had about a hundred square feet of floor torn out. When I say we, I mean Vinnie. He pulled it out, slat by slat, and stacked it outside. When that entire section of the house was stripped down to the subflooring, we piled up the slats into a big teepee and filled the interior with wadded-up newspaper. Vinnie put some sage in with the paper. I didn’t have to ask him why. I knew it was one of the four Ojibwa medicines.
Before I lit the match, I took one of the slats of wood and I rubbed the spot where the blood had seeped in forever. I said good-bye to Natalie Reynaud one more time. I kissed the wood once and then put it back on the pile. I lit the match and stood back to watch it all burn. I could smell the sage mixed in with the paper and the pine.
When it was all done, I stood there watching the embers for a long time. Vinnie came up to me finally and stood next to me.
“Feel better?” he said.
“It helps, yes. Thank you.”
“You know what you really need?”
I looked at him.
“Tonight,” he said. “As soon as the sun goes down.”
“Can I bring somebody else? Somebody who needs it even more than I do?”
“I’ll see you at sunset.”
* * *
I probably wasn’t supposed to be driving yet, but what the hell. I drove to Sault Ste. Marie, all the way to the river, to the City-County Building. I parked outside the front door and went in. The receptionist tried to say something to me, but I walked right by her. Down the hall, to the one office in the middle of the building with no windows. I opened the door without knocking.
“McKnight!” he said, the phone in his hand. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
That look on his face, it was just like old times.
“Hang up the phone,” I said. “Get your coat.”
“Have you lost your mind? Can’t you see I’m working here?”
“I’m still recovering, Chief, so I can’t pick you up and carry you. Get your ass out of that chair and let’s get out of here.”
“Not until you tell me where you think we’re going.”
“You’ll see when you get there. For once in your life, will you just trust me?”
He sat there looking at me. He still had the phone in his hand.
“Please,” I said. “Come with me.”
He put the phone down, put on his coat, and followed me out the door.
* * *
“You want me to do what?”
“I want you to take your clothes off. Down to your underwear.”
We were standing in Vinnie’s cousin Buck’s yard, with a half dozen of Vinnie’s other relatives. Quiet men with long black hair hanging down their backs. All stripping down to their underwear. The sun had gone down. It was just below freezing.
lost your mind,” Maven said. “I knew it was only a matter of time.”
“Just shut up and disrobe, Chief.”
Buck’s was the only yard on the reservation that had a permanent sweat lodge. He had lashed some saplings together into a half circle about ten feet in diameter, then covered the saplings with canvas and every old rug he could find. Tonight he had a healthy fire going in the pit outside the lodge, and he was heating several rocks in the middle of it. When everything else was ready, he lifted the rocks one by one with a shovel and placed them inside the lodge.
“I feel ridiculous,” Maven said, standing there shivering. “Not to mention how freakin’ cold it is.”
“But look at you. You’re like some sort of glorious Greek sculpture.”
“McKnight, so help me God, I’m going to smack you right in the face. I don’t care how many bullets you took for me.”
Buck lifted the flap and we all bent down to go inside. We took our places around the fire and Buck dipped a great iron ladle into a bucket of water and poured it onto the hot rocks. Then he tossed on a few sprigs of sage.
We all sat there in the dark as the steam surrounded us. I felt my muscles starting to unwind. Everything that had happened to me, I started to let go of it. Buck put more water onto the rocks. I was sweating now. The steam was filling my lungs.
The last time I had done this, I had opened my eyes and I had seen Natalie in the steam. I swear to God, I did. On this night, I didn’t see anything, but then maybe this night wasn’t about me at all. I knew Maven was right next to me, but I couldn’t make out if his eyes were open or closed. I didn’t know what this experience was doing for him.
About thirty minutes later, we all came back out of the sweat lodge, into the sudden shock of cold air. It was like plunging into an icy lake, but it felt good. I knew I’d be okay now. I knew my injuries would heal and everything would go back to the way it was.
Well, maybe not everything.
“How did that feel, Chief?”
“It was good, Alex.” He was putting his clothes on. “I admit it. That was exactly what I needed. I had no idea.”
“What’s it going to be like now?” I said. “I mean, who are you going to yell at?”
“I’ve got plenty of people to yell at, believe me.”
“Yeah, but I was always your favorite.”
“Just keep being yourself,” he said. “We won’t have to change a thing.”
When he was finished dressing, we both got back in my truck and I took him back to the Soo. Neither of us said a thing on the way.
I pulled into the parking lot. We sat there for a moment, and then he opened his door. He didn’t get out.
“Thank you for dragging me to that place,” he said.
“My pleasure,” I said. “I heard what you said there, by the way.”
“What did I say?”
“You said, and I quote, ‘I don’t care how many bullets you took for me.’”
“Yeah, well. We both know I was next. We’ve already covered that.”
Another moment of silence.
“Your daughter’s okay?”
“She’s okay. She’ll be going back to work next week.”
One more silence. The last one.
“We made a good team,” I said. “Don’t you think?”
“Put it this way,” he said. “If we ever have to do it again, I wouldn’t want to be the guy on the other side of the ball.”
“Have a good night, Chief.”
“You, too. I’ll see you around.”
He got out and closed the door. Then I drove back home to Paradise.
Also by Steve Hamilton
The Lock Artist
A Stolen Season
Blood Is the Sky
North of Nowhere
The Hunting Wind
Winter of the Wolf Moon
A Cold Day in Paradise
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A THOMAS DUNNE BOOK FOR MINOTAUR BOOKS.
An imprint of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.
. Copyright © 2011 by Steve Hamilton. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hamilton, Steve, 1961–
Misery bay: an Alex McKnight novel / Steve Hamilton.—1st ed.
“A Thomas Dunne book.”
1. McKnight, Alex (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Private investigators—Michigan—Upper Peninsula—Fiction. 3. Upper Peninsula (Mich.)—Fiction. I. Title.
First Edition: June 2011
First Minotaur Books eBook Edition: June 2011