Read Thief River Falls Online

Authors: Brian Freeman

Thief River Falls (4 page)

BOOK: Thief River Falls
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What she noticed most about him was his serious face. He looked as if he was always thinking about things and trying to figure out their
meaning. When he went into a room, his gaze moved around to every piece of furniture, every picture on the wall, every book on the shelves. He didn’t say much, but he seemed endlessly curious. Lisa could relate to that, because she’d been the same way as a girl, an introvert who noticed everything around her, like a silent spy.

She walked into the den. The boy heard her footsteps, and his head flew around, as frightened and alert as a startled rabbit on the lawn. She worried that he scared so easily, because it seemed out of character with everything else about him.

Lisa gave him a reassuring little wave. “It’s just me.”

She joined him on the deep rug and crossed her legs. She put out her hands, warming them near the fire. The boy studied her with that deep, intense stare that was full of questions.

“So can we talk a little bit?” she asked.

The boy shrugged. “Sure.”

“How’s your head? Does it hurt?”

“No.”

“I’m washing your clothes. They’ll be clean soon.”

“Okay.”

“Do you remember anything about what happened to you?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head with his mouth squeezed into a frown, as if he didn’t like disappointing her. “I don’t.”

“That’s okay. Let’s not worry about that yet. What about your name? Do you remember what your name is?”

“No. I don’t know that, either.”

“Hmm. So you’re a mystery boy, huh? Well, we need to do something about that, because everybody needs a name. You don’t want me to be saying ‘hey you’ all the time, right? Let’s give you sort of a secret agent name, at least until we find out who you really are. Okay? How about I call you Purdue?”

“Purdue,” the boy murmured. “Why would you call me that?”

“It’s from a French word that means ‘lost.’ And right now, you’re sort of a lost boy, aren’t you?”

“I guess.”

“Well, the name
Purdue
is very special to me. I wrote a book about a little boy who was lost, sort of like you. And his name was Purdue.”

“What happened to him?”

Lisa thought,
He was buried alive
.

“He was rescued by a very brave woman and lived happily ever after,” she replied. “Of course, he had a lot of adventures along the way. That’s the way my books go. But the main thing is, he ended up figuring out who he was and where he was supposed to be. I’m going to make sure that happens for you, too. Okay?”

“Okay.” The boy’s face had that same serious expression again. “Do I look like this other Purdue? The one you wrote about?”

“No, you don’t look like him at all. The boy in my book had dark hair and came from Missouri and had a southern accent. Y’all don’t talk like a boy from Missouri, now do y’all?”

This time the boy smiled. “No.”

“No, you don’t. But I don’t think my Purdue would mind if you shared his name for a little while.”

He nodded. “Okay.”

“Very good. You are now officially Secret Agent Purdue. And our mission is to figure out who you are and where you came from and where you’re supposed to be. Got it? You say you don’t remember what your name is or how you got hurt, so I guess we need to start somewhere else. The first question is, What
do
you remember?”

Purdue sucked in his lips and held his breath, as if he were trying to get rid of hiccups. When he finally exhaled with a loud whoosh, he shook his head in frustration and looked upset with himself. “Nothing. I can’t remember anything.”

“Well, let’s start a little closer to home and see if we can’t jog something loose. When I saw you and you saw me, you were standing in the middle of my yard. How’d you get there?”

“A truck,” Purdue answered immediately. His eyes widened, as if he’d surprised himself with the answer.

“A truck. That’s great. See, you’re remembering things already.” Lisa cocked her head. “Was it
my
truck? I have a pickup, and I drove home from Thief River Falls earlier this evening. Were you hiding in the back of my pickup?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Are you sure?”

“After I was in the truck, I walked a long way before I got here,” Purdue explained.

“You walked? From where?”

“I don’t know. I was in this truck, and we drove for a while. I’m not sure how long. I think I fell asleep. Then I woke up, and the truck was stopped. I got out, and nobody else was around. So I started walking.”

“Were you alone?”

“Yes.”

“Why were you in the truck?”

“I don’t know.”

“Who was driving it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did you get into it yourself, or did someone put you there?”

“I don’t remember. I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have anything to be sorry about. This isn’t your fault. You said you got out of the truck, and nobody else was around. Where were you? Were there buildings nearby?”

“A house, I think.”

“This house? My house?”

He shook his head. “No. It was somewhere else.”

“Was anyone home? Did you ring the doorbell?”

“No. I was scared. I didn’t know what was going on. My head hurt. I just felt like—I just felt like I had to get away. I had to run. If I didn’t run, something bad was going to happen to me.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Something bad.”

“Okay, so you started walking. Where did you walk? Were you on a road?”

“No. I went through the fields. The rain was pouring down, so it was all muddy. I walked for a long time, and I was really cold. It was dark so I couldn’t see where I was going. Then I saw lights, so I went that way. It was your house. And there you were in the window.”

“That’s all you remember?”

“Yes.”

Lisa sat back, trying to make sense of it, but there was no sense to be made. This boy had sprung from nowhere. He was truly
perdu
. She saw no deception in his face to suggest that he was lying or hiding the truth. His life had begun on a truck, with no past that he could remember, and he’d wandered through the rain in the middle of the night until he found himself at the home of Lisa Power. Amid the cold remoteness out here, he was lucky to be alive.

“You’ve done really well, Purdue,” she reassured him. “You already remember a lot more than you thought you did. With time, I’m sure more will come back. You’ve got a life. You came from somewhere. We’ll figure it out.”

Purdue surprised her by reaching out and hugging her tightly with his skinny arms around her neck. He was warm from the fire, and he smelled of the lavender aroma of her soap and shampoo. “Thank you, Lisa.”

“You’re welcome, Purdue.”

He sat back, cuddled up in the quilt again. “What happens now?”

“Well, I’ve cleaned up that wound on your head, and it doesn’t look too bad, but I’m worried about the fact that you don’t remember
anything. You’re okay on the outside, but I want to make sure there’s nothing wrong on the inside, too. So what I’d like to do is take you to the hospital so they can run some tests and make one hundred percent sure that you’re okay.”

Purdue’s hand shot out and squeezed her wrist. He shook his head frantically.
“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to go to the hospital. People die there.”

“Well, sure, but people get better there, too. I was a nurse for years before I started writing books, and I worked with some great people at a hospital about an hour south of here. I’d like to take you there.”

The boy shook his head again, even more firmly than before. “
No.
No, we can’t. Please don’t take me there. Please. You can take care of me! I’m safe here with you.”

Lisa sighed. She didn’t want to agitate the boy any more than he was. “Tell you what, you’ve had a long day. You must be really tired. Your clothes are probably dry by now, so I’ll go get them, and then you can sleep for a little while and get your strength back. I’ve got a friend who can help us decide what to do next, and we can talk about it in the morning. Okay?”

Relief flooded across his face. “Yes. Thank you!”

“I’ll be right back with your clothes,” she said.

Lisa pushed herself to her feet. She could feel that her face was flushed from the heat in the room. She left the boy by the fire and headed back to the doorway that led to the rest of the house, where the air was cooler. Before she left, however, she thought of another question and turned back.

“Hey, Purdue?”

He looked up at her with big eyes. “Yes?”

“I know you may not remember, but can you think of any reason why the police might be looking for you? I mean, is it possible that
someone took you who wasn’t supposed to do that? Like maybe the person who was driving the truck?”

She saw a shadow flicker across his face. “I don’t know.”

“It’s just that the police came to my house earlier,” she said. “I didn’t know why, but now I wonder if it could be because of you.”

“The police were
here
?”

“Yes. They left, but they’ll be back in the morning. I can talk to them and find out what’s going on.”

Purdue said nothing. The shadow returned to his face, and this time it stayed.

“Anyway, I’ll be right back,” Lisa said.

She gave the boy another smile and then wandered through the house to the wrought iron stairs and climbed to the laundry room adjacent to her bedroom. She opened the dryer door and bundled up the boy’s clothes in her arms. She brought them back to the den, but when she came through the doorway, she saw that the quilt had been left in a crumpled pile on the floor. The fire still crackled, but no one sat in front of it. The boy was gone.

“Purdue?” Lisa called. She dropped the clothes on the rug and crossed the room to the glass door that led to her back porch. It was ajar, with cold wind rushing in. She headed onto the deck under the moonlight and called again. “Purdue, where are you? What’s wrong?”

At first, she heard nothing to tell her where he was. Then, under the murmur of the wind in the fields, her ears honed in on a low, desperate whimper. He was crying. The noise came from behind her. She turned around and squinted into the farthest shadows of the deck, which was crowded by patio furniture and the square body of an outdoor spa. She spotted Purdue huddled next to the wall of her house, his hands wrapped around his knees. He was barely visible, naked and cold in the darkness.

When she got closer to him and reached out her hand, he cringed, as if he was afraid of her now, too.

“Purdue,” she murmured. “What’s wrong? Why did you run?”

Tears dripped from his eyes, and mucus dripped from his nose. “Don’t give me to the police, Lisa. Please.”

“Why not?”

His hair fell across his face, and his low voice gurgled from the back of his throat when he tried to speak. “Kill the boy.”

“What?”

“I heard men talking,” Purdue told her. “They were policemen, and that’s what they said.
Kill the boy.

4

Purdue slept.

Lisa put the boy in her own bed, rather than in one of the smaller bedrooms downstairs, and she tucked him under the down comforter. His head sank into the mountain of pillows. She turned off the lights but stayed in the bedroom where she could watch him. She pulled a cushioned chair near the windows so she could keep an eye on the front yard, and she draped her mother’s quilt over her knees.

She knew she wouldn’t sleep herself.

Her fingers caressed the squares that were sewn together on the small satin quilt. Her mother had made it for her a decade earlier. All the patterns were in different shades of blue, decorated with whimsical cartoon animals. A whale. A unicorn. A pelican. A giraffe. Her mother had been quirky and artsy when it came to crafts, and Lisa attributed her own love of creating things to her mother’s genes.

Madeleine Power. Her mother, born in France in a small coastal town outside Marseille, pretty, religious, spirited. She’d met Lisa’s father when they were both teenagers and he was an American traveling through Europe with a church choir group. They’d fallen in love, and she’d followed him home to this barren part of the world without a look backward. Sometimes Lisa tried to imagine the courage it had taken for an eighteen-year-old French girl to uproot herself and marry a young Minnesota factory worker thousands of miles from home. But that was
her mother—utterly fearless. She’d filled her loneliness by having a large family. First Lisa and her twin brother entered the world, then three more boys over the course of the next eight years, all of them squeezed together in a matchbox house on Conley Avenue in Thief River Falls.

As the only two women in the family, Lisa and her mother had been so close as to be inseparable. She’d lived at home with her parents until she was almost thirty. Even when she’d finally moved out, it was to a rental house right next door, where she could still talk to her mother through the open windows and hear Madeleine singing French songs as she baked.

It was Madeleine who’d read her daughter’s stories at age five and told her that one day she would be a writer.

It was Madeleine who’d been seated next to her at the Grand Hyatt in New York, cheering and whistling when Lisa’s book was named the thriller of the year.

It was Madeleine who’d cradled her when the call came about Danny, who’d held Lisa as she cried inconsolably, who’d whispered that even in the wake of terrible grief, life would go on.
La vie continue. Il doit.

It was strange how Lisa’s life had always changed with phone calls.

A phone call from the fire chief in Kern County, California, to break the news about Danny.

A phone call from Reese Witherspoon to make her book into a movie.

A phone call from the police in Crookston, Minnesota, to let her know that there had been an accident on a slippery, snow-swept road, that a semi had gone through a stop sign on the rural highway, that we are very sorry but your mother, Madeleine Power, was killed in the collision.

So began the chain of events that would pick apart Lisa’s whole world, like loose threads unraveling.

The Dark Star.

The quilt slipped from her knees. She got out of the chair, because she couldn’t sit still anymore. Her eyes were teary. She stared out the bedroom windows, watching the flat, empty earth that went on forever in the darkness. Maybe leaving her hometown and buying a place here,
away from people she knew, had been a mistake, but at the time, she’d felt as if she needed to escape.

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