Read Thief River Falls Online

Authors: Brian Freeman

Thief River Falls (7 page)

Lisa shook her head. “That’s not an option.”

“When did you last talk to him?”

“Not since he left. You know that.”

“So more than a year ago?”


“Has he left messages for you?”

Lisa shrugged. “When he does, I delete them.”

“But you still have his number, don’t you?”

“Assuming he hasn’t changed it. Look, Laurel, I don’t even know where Noah is now, and I don’t care. He bailed on me. He couldn’t deal with it, and he left, and all he did was leave me a note. He didn’t even have the guts to say it to my face. He left me to handle everything myself. He’s a coward. I never want to see him or talk to him again. Ever!”

Even a year later, her anger was never far away. It was buried below the surface, but not so deep that it couldn’t escape.

Laurel was patient and let Lisa’s anger soften before she went on. “I’m not excusing what Noah did by leaving. Not at all. But people deal with loss in different ways. Not always healthy ways. Sometimes it’s just too much for one person to handle, and they snap. All I’m saying is, you may want to give him another chance. He might surprise you this time. He’s still your twin brother. And he was Danny’s best friend. I think you should tell him what’s going on with you.”

Lisa heard a roaring in her head again, as if she might faint. She didn’t want to have this conversation about her brother. Not now. Not when she was worried about Purdue. She got up and went to the sink and poured a glass of cold water for herself, and then she stared out the window at the empty darkness. “There’s nothing Noah can do for me.”

Her friend sighed with resignation. “Okay.”

“I’m sorry, Laurel. That’s how I feel.”

“I know, and I don’t blame you for that. I’m just trying to help.”

“Thank you.”

Laurel got up from the table. “Look, it’ll be daylight soon. I’ll make a few phone calls and see if I can figure out the best way to deal with this situation. In the meantime, why don’t you lay low until I call, okay? The best thing to do is just stay home and stay out of sight.”

Lisa came away from the window and gave her friend another long hug. She could feel Laurel hesitate about hugging her back. Her friend didn’t deal well with expressions of emotion. “I don’t know what I’d do without you,” Lisa said.

Laurel separated herself and responded with a tentative smile. “I’ll talk to you soon.”

“Okay.” Lisa took Laurel’s arm and held her back before she could leave. “Hey, one more thing.”

“What is it?”

“If you’re asking questions about Purdue, be careful,” Lisa told her. “Don’t say too much to anyone else about what’s going on. I know you may think I’m crazy, but I really don’t know who we can trust.”


When Lisa went upstairs again, she discovered that Purdue wasn’t in bed.

The blankets were rumpled, and his clothes were gone. She checked the bathroom and closet, but there was no sign of him anywhere. She realized that the boy must have slipped downstairs while she and Laurel were talking in the kitchen, and he was so light of foot that they hadn’t heard a thing. He was an escape artist who’d escaped again.

Lisa ran back to the first floor. In the foyer, she felt the slightest draft in the hallway that led to the rear of the house. The cool air led her to the back door, which opened onto the empty land stretching for miles behind her property. The door was closed, but the lock was undone, and she could feel a breath of wind through the frame. She opened the door and went outside, trembling in the chill. The breeze swirled her brown hair.

All she could see around her were the barren fields and the craggy trees dotting the landscape like soldiers. Somewhere back there were rivers and roads, parks and railroad tracks, leading as far as Canada. Purdue could be anywhere. There were no footprints this time to give her a clue about where he’d gone. She shouted for him over and over, but got no answer. He’d run away.

In a fog, Lisa went back inside the house. She returned to the kitchen with a heavy heart and made more tea, but she still didn’t turn
the lights on. There was an emptiness around her now that she hated, and it felt as if it would never go away.

Part of it was losing the boy. Part of it was Laurel’s mention of Noah.

Her twin, born six minutes after her. Her brother who, like Purdue, had run away from home and left her behind.

She fished her wallet out of her pocket and took out the handwritten note that was folded inside. She still kept it there. She’d read it a thousand times, and every time it made her angry. She went back and forth between screaming and crying whenever she saw it again.

I’m sorry, Lis. It’s too much for me. Too much death. Too much grief. I can’t deal with the Dark Star anymore. I hate to leave you, but I have to get away from this place. If I don’t, I think I’ll lose myself completely. Don’t hate me, okay?


Her brother. A selfish man-child who made everything about him. Not a thought to what it meant to her to go through it all alone. No, she never wanted to hear Noah’s voice again. Her family was gone.

“Hey, Lisa.”

Her head snapped up. She saw a small figure standing among the shadows in the kitchen doorway. It was Purdue. He was back. She felt a warm rush of emotion, like sunshine pushing away the white clouds.

“Oh my God!” She hurried to him and swept him into her arms. Then she knelt on the floor in front of him and took his hands. “Where were you? Where did you go? I was so worried about you!”

“I hid. I’m sorry.”

“I looked everywhere and couldn’t find you!”

“I went into that little cottage outside with all the books. I waited there until I saw the other lady leave.”

“But why did you hide?”

“She scared me,” Purdue said.

“Scared you? No, no, Laurel’s my friend. You can trust her. She’s one of the good guys.”

He frowned. “I was awake when she came upstairs. I pretended to be asleep. I didn’t like the way she looked at me.”

“How did she look at you?”

“Like she knew who I was.”

Lisa’s brow furrowed with the tiniest pang of worry. “No, that’s impossible. There’s no way that Laurel could know who you are. And if she recognized you, she would have told me.”

“She knew me, Lisa,” Purdue repeated. “I could tell.”

“Did she talk to you? Did she say anything?”


“Well, did you know
? Did she look familiar to you at all?”


Lisa shook her head. “Then believe me—you don’t have any reason to be scared of Laurel. She’s always trying to figure people out, and that may be why you felt the way you did. That’s just how she is. The fact is, she would do anything to help me, and there aren’t many people like that in the world. She wants to help you, too.”

“She wants to take me away from you. I heard her. She thinks you should give me to the police. I told you, the police want to kill me.”

“Yes, I know what you said. Don’t worry, I’ll stay with you until we get to the bottom of this. The main thing is to keep you safe. We need to find out what happened to you, and then we need to figure out where you come from and get you back to your family.”

“I don’t have a family,” the boy announced.

He said it so simply and quietly that it broke her heart.

“Why do you say that?” she asked.

“Because it’s true.”

“Did you remember something about who you are?”

“No, I’m just pretty sure my family is gone. That’s why I left.”

“Left where?”

“Wherever I was.”

He was talking in riddles, and Lisa couldn’t understand him. But that didn’t matter to her. He was back, which was the only thing that was important. She picked up the boy—he felt light as a feather—and put him down in one of the kitchen chairs. Outside the windows, the pink of dawn had begun to wake up the world. She could hear the morning chorus of the birds, all squawking their greetings to the day.

“Do you want some breakfast?” she asked.

“I’m not very hungry.”

“Well, I’m going to make bacon and eggs, and I’ll bet you get hungry when you smell them.”

Lisa puttered in the kitchen, humming as she put breakfast together. Purdue sat in the chair and watched her with the same quiet seriousness he always did. He had his hands folded neatly together in front of him. He didn’t say anything at all until the sizzle of bacon had already filled the room.

“I heard you tell that lady that
don’t have any family, either,” Purdue said.

Lisa kept her voice light. “Yes, that’s right.”

“Why not?”

She flipped the bacon with tongs and cracked eggs directly into a skillet. “Oh, a lot of things happened. It’s a long story.”

“Was it sad?”

She broke the yolks with a plastic spoon and stirred around the eggs. “Yes, it was very sad.”

He nodded intently, processing this information. Breakfast was ready, and Lisa put the meal onto two plates that she deposited on the table. She sat down in her chair and picked up a fork and knife, but she noticed that Purdue wasn’t eating at all. She didn’t like the fact that he had no appetite. “My eggs are world famous, Special Agent Purdue.
You better try them. And bacon’s best when it’s crispy, right? I like my bacon almost black.”

The boy made no effort to pick up his fork. “What happened?”

“What do you mean?”

“What happened to your family?”

Lisa took a bite of bacon. She picked up a forkful of eggs and then put it back down. “Do you know what it means when somebody dies?”


“Well, that’s what happened. They all died.”


“Different ways. The how isn’t really important. They’re gone.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Yes, it hurts very much.”

“How did they die?” he asked again.

She stared at her plate and found that her own appetite had vanished, too. “This isn’t something I talk about, Purdue.”


“Why is it important to you?”

“Because I like you.”

She mustered a smile, but it was hollow. “I like you, too.”

“Was your family big?”

“Pretty big. I had four younger brothers, plus my parents. We were all very close. All of us squeezed into one little house in Thief River Falls.” She took a deep breath, feeling the Dark Star arrive like a cloud over the sun. “My mom . . . my mom was killed in a car accident two years ago. That was hard enough on all of us, but it turned out to be just the beginning. My father was so sad without my mother that he couldn’t handle it. He couldn’t live without her. A month later, he—well, he killed himself. Then my youngest brother died in his sleep. He had what doctors call a stroke, which is like a heart attack in the brain. I’m sure it was caused by the stress of losing both of our parents. And three months after that, my two other brothers were driving home in
a thunderstorm, and they tried to make it across a flooded road. Their car was washed away, and they both drowned. That was all in the space of six months. Six months took away my whole family.”

She heard herself reciting the facts as if the words were coming from someone else. She felt far away, looking down on the room, detached from her body. Oddly, she felt nothing. She’d cried about it so many times that she’d cried herself out and had nothing left but a numbness that never went away.

“I heard you say you still had a twin brother,” Purdue murmured.

“Yes. Noah. He left.”

“After everybody died?”

“Yes. I bought this house, because I couldn’t live in Thief River Falls anymore. Noah lived here with me for a while, but it became too much for him. I think seeing me every day was too much of a reminder of the Dark Star.”

“What’s that?”

“Oh, that’s what he and I called that year. The Dark Star. You know what an eclipse is, when a shadow blocks out the sun? That year was like an eclipse that erased our entire family.”

Purdue sat at the table with a little crinkle in his forehead. He seemed to think about everything she said. “So I guess you’re lost, too, huh? Like me.”

“I guess so.”

“I don’t like it. Being lost, I mean. I feel like I’ve forgotten everything important.”

“I don’t like it, either. The difference is, you won’t always be lost, Purdue. You and me, we’re going to figure out who you are and where you’re supposed to be.”

“I don’t have any place to be,” the boy said.

“You do. Trust me. We all do.”

“If we’re both lost, Lisa, why can’t I just stay here with you? You don’t have a family; I don’t have a family. I could live here.”

He said it earnestly, as if it were the most natural solution in the world. They both needed someone, and they’d found each other. End of problem. Lisa didn’t know how to answer him.

“Well, first let’s find out who you really are. Right now, you’ve forgotten everything, but when you remember, you’ll probably discover that you have a family who misses you and is going crazy trying to find you.”

Purdue shook his head firmly. “No, I think it’ll be worse if I remember things. I’m better off forgetting.”

“Why do you say that?”

The boy didn’t answer. He chewed a fingernail and looked scared.

“Purdue? Did you remember something?”

His blue eyes opened wide, and then he nodded.

“What is it?” she asked. “What do you remember?”


“What did they say?”

Purdue closed his eyes. He put his hands over his ears, as if he were trying to block out the noise from somewhere.
“You saw what he did to her. Make him scream.”

Lisa shivered. “Who were they talking about?”

“I don’t know.” He opened his eyes again, and his gaze pleaded with her to help him.

Lisa reached into her pocket and removed the spent cartridge she’d found in the boy’s jeans. She put it on the table where he could see it. “This was in your pocket. It came from a gun. It came from somebody firing a bullet. Do you remember where you got this?”

He stared at the brass, and she could feel the fear rising in his body.

“Is that really true? Or are you just too scared to tell me?”

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