David A. Schwinghammer
· Soldier's Gap
· Mengele's Double, Chapter 9
· Seminary Boy, a memoir
· Fisher of Men, Chapter Nine
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter Three
· Honest Thief, Tender Murderer, Chapter Nine
· Fisher of Men, Chapter 8
· Honest Thief, Tender Murderer, Chapter Eight
· Mengele's Double, Chapter Eight
· Bereavement Blues
· Fisher of Men, Chapter 7
· Flights of Passage, book review
· The Lusitania, book review
· The Wilderness of Ruin, book review
· A Beautiful Mind, book review
· Another Planet, book review
· The Three Stooges, book review
· The God Particle
· Empire of Sin, book review
· Science at the Edge, book review
· Obama, a Modern Caesar?
· Widow's Peak
· Alumni Game
· Girls Who Wear Glasses
· The Do Drop Inn
· Ode to Neve Campbell
· Jacks or Better 101
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Will wakes up in the hospital; Ned prepares to take the bulldozer to the Dakotas to sell at auction.
"Which of us has known his brother? . . . . Which
of us is not forever a stranger and alone?"
–- Thomas Wolfe
Will looked dead. White as a corpse, his head wrapped in gauze, he lay with his right arm in a cast, an IV protruding from his left. But the chart at the foot of his bed said "stable."
Ned squirmed on a straight-backed chair next to the open window. He could see the sheriff's office and the firehouse, and the intersection of Highway 21 and Trapper Road. The smell of medicine made him queasy, and he was ready to bolt at the slightest provocation.
Will's wife, Lila, held the Indian's hand, whispering consoling words in his ear. Ned watched the two sisters: Lila, whose thick plait rivaled a ship's hawser, and Loretta, whose boyish bob made her look like a cancer patient growing into her own hair–-not the woman in the red silk pajamas.
On the other side of the bed, Sonny and Sheriff Tibbetts, for once without his Folger's coffee can, were discussing Jamie Zwald down the hall in Room 322. "Zwald says Bradshaw was angry about the drug bust," the sheriff said. "Apparently Will roughed him up some."
Will's eyes blinked open, and he turned his head,
the tractor beam eyes locking on the sheriff's. "You know your pal Voigt was behind this!" he said, his voice cracking. "Just like he ordered Howie Schmidtgap killed."
The sheriff drew back as though he'd been slapped. "Schmidtgap; there's no evidence that body is–-"
"I talked to Cornelius before he . . . left. Caught him red-handed with a shitload of pot he was bringing to the Bradshaw kid at Karnowski's. He fingered Uncle Art."
"I've had my eye on Corny for quite awhile now. He–-"
Will sniggered like a dirty old man paging through the bra section in the Monkey Ward catalogue. "That's a good one."
A dart of pain flickered across Will's forehead.
"Honey, that's enough," Lila said. "You need to lie quiet."
"I won't rest until you and your pal Voigt are behind bars."
"If I'd wanted you dead, would I've shown up so soon when you called for backup?"
"Grandma Woods would've wanted to know why if you hadn't."
The sheriff's eyes darted from face to face, then back to Will's. "You keep those crazy notions to yourself or you'll be drawin' unemployment."
Will's laugh turned to a cough. "Go ahead, fire me. I'll run against you and beat your ass. If the state cops don't nail you first."
"Please leave," Lila said. "You're upsetting him."
The sheriff stood, reached in his front pocket, bit off a chunk of chew. "Andy'll be needing me anyways."
When he was gone, Sonny said, "I wouldn't give a plug nickel for Jamie Zwald's chances of recovery. Probably die of blood poisoning overnight."
After they left the hospital, Loretta had to hurry to catch her plane back to California. Ned walked her to her car. "Horrible, just horrible," she said. "Do you really think Uncle Art was behind this? He was always such a sweet man."
"As sure as I am Minnegasco'll send my bill on time."
They held hands and he played with her wedding ring, turning it in circles, the jasmine smell making his head spin. "You sure you don't want me to talk to Blake before Christmas?"
"I'll need to get him used to the idea first. Who's this Peggy person I've been hearing about?"
Sweat began to gather on Ned's upper lip. "Who told you about her?"
"My sister. Not that I have any reason to be jealous."
"She's just a roll in the hay; keeps telling me I'm only a one-night stand."
"How many one night stands have there been?"
He stared down at her open-toed pumps. "Only . . . three. There could never be any future between us; she's just too strange. Would you believe she slept with Mr. Daley's son?"
The noon whistle erupted, and it took a few seconds before she could respond. "The art teacher?"
"Does she do drugs, Neddie?"
"Pot. I'm not sure what else."
"Aren't you worried you might catch something?"
"I'm a guy; I think with my dick."
There was that cute little embarrassed laugh she always gave when he cussed. "I was just worried about you," she said. She put her arms around his neck and kissed him, his head swirling in a kaleidoscope of high-kicking June Taylor dancers.
Sonny and Ned had a habit of motoring out to Mercer's mud flat when either of them had a problem. The water seemed even choppier than it had the day he'd worked the wallpaper job at Mrs. Robideaux's, and a crazy tern swooped down at them as if they were a fishing boat with ready chum.
"Guess we won't be doing any duck hunting?" Sonny said, after anchoring the boat.
"It wouldn't be fun without Will anyway."
"How long did the doctor say he'd be laid up?"
Ned attached a leech to his line and cast it out into the lake. "Oh, I doubt they'll be able to keep him for more than a day or so, it's just that–-"
"Yeah, I imagine he'll be obsessed with collaring Voigt. Hear what he said about Howie Schmidtgap?"
"Makes sense to me. He and Bradshaw and Zwald were buddies." Would pick him to get into a fistfight with.
"Think they'll try again?"
"Not after what Will said to Tibbetts. I don't think they'll be able to touch Uncle Art until they get something concrete on the son of a bitch. Nobody'd ever believe he's a drug czar. I'd imagine that trial would be rather like O.J.'s, especially if it was tried here in White Tail."
The sun broke through the clouds for the first time in what seemed like a month; the sunshine stirring a haze of gnats, which Ned tried to swat away, almost upsetting the boat.
"If only we could drive a wedge between Voigt and the sheriff," Sonny said. He set a shiner on his hook, the sun reflecting off his bald spot as he pitched his line high above the waves.
"You still running for mayor? I heard the chairman of the school board filed. She could use your little dalliance with that home ec. teacher."
"I don't think dirty politics works in a small town."
"Especially in a small town. The family values thing, y'know."
The boat rocked again and Ned was afraid Sonny was about to stand. Neither wore the orange Mae Wests and Ned couldn't swim. "I'd end it if I could," Sonny said. "I've tried actually. It's just that Liz and I aren't exactly hitting it off in the sack; whereas, Pete and I are going gangbusters."
"What about your kids?"
"At least my kids'll live in the same state." Ned felt that one rip at his lower intestines. Sonny touched his lips as if trying to take back what he'd said. "Nobody seems to have his act together these days," he said. "Know anybody who's truly happy?"
"Maybe Henry. He's got those two Rubens-sized beauties.
Wanna hear something really stupid?"
"What did you do now?"
"Know that Caterpillar that was stolen?"
This time Sonny did stand, almost doing a header into the lake. "A Goddamn D7R. I should've known."
"The guy I was gonna get to sell it for me is in jail."
Sonny reached over and caught hold of Ned's arm. "Take it back where you found it!"
"I'll do that. If you promise to ditch your girl Pete."
To Sheriff Tibbetts, the painting looked like somebody had vomited vegetable beef soup on the canvas. He guessed it belonged to Voigt's daughter. Had a number of complaints about her. Usually put those in the circular file, although he had to talk to her this time because one of the complainants had gone to that pain in the ass Merkle at the Chronicle. Fucker thought he was Joseph Pulitzer.
The six o'clock news droned from the speaker in the corner above Voigt's head: "The Dow Jones rose fifty-points today; the NASDAQ down thirteen."
Voigt hung up the phone. "You should have known better than to send those idiots after the Indian," he said. Tibbetts reached in his pocket for his tobacco. "Don't even think of it," Voigt said. "You get any juice on my carpet and you'll be the one hooked to an I.V."
Tibbetts bit his tongue so hard he drew blood. One of these days he'd take that self-satisfied peacock by the neck and wring it for him. Voigt smoothed down the stray hairs on his fag hairdo, then put his feet up on his desk. "How much does the Zwald kid know?"
"Just that Bradshaw was angry about being railroaded."
Voigt took a cigar out of the humidor on his desk, lit it with his hand-grenade lighter. "Help yourself," he said. "Zwald ever deal pot for you?"
Tibbetts bit the end off of the Havana and touched a match to it. "Not unless Bradshaw sublet to him."
"He wouldn't know anything about us then?"
Tibbetts puffed on the stogie, the blue cloud of smoke rising toward the ceiling like incense during high mass at St. Christopher's. "The only one who knew about us was Cornelius, and he's on his way to Florida. Told him that if I ever saw him again we'd put the blame for the whole shebang on him."
"How much you give him?"
"Five thousand. Just enough to get settled."
Voigt pointed his cigar at Tibbetts. "Doesn't seem enough. You know where in Florida he's settling?"
Tibbetts scratched his mustache. Wasn't much chance of Cornelius haunting anybody, unless you believed in ghosts, but let Voigt have his little fantasies. "Thought it was best for me not to know, in case I woke up homicidal one morning and decided I didn't want to leave any loose ends."
"None of that, now. He was my best man at my wedding."
"What about Kneebone? The boy's like a rat terrier; he threatened me when he came to."
"Any chance you can plant some drugs on him? We could make it look like he's the one behind the drug scourge."
"You have anything to do with the body in the woods?"
"Thought that was you."
"Sometimes I wonder why I let you get me involved."
"Too much money to ignore."
Voigt pushed back on his executive's chair, the expensive leather creaking, and gazed up at a framed photograph of him shaking hands with the governor. "Think it was worth it?"
"I don't think about it."
"Do you ever think about anything?"
Tibbetts bunched his fists. One day he'd show the asshole how much he thought about things.#
Arriving at The Gates of Gehena, Ned stood on the sidewalk, watching the amber streetlights blink on, as if a magician had tapped his wand and said, "Let there be light." In concert, the neon signs catty-corner across the street flickered to life, reflecting blue on the water puddles, and the stoplight at Main Street and Trailer Park Road winked red. The street was deserted, everyone gone home for supper. He lit a cigarette and pushed through the door.
"Guess who was just in here?" Peggy June said, dabbing at a more conventional version of his NASCAR cap with a smudge of brown.
"I didn't know you could paint like that," he said. "That could be a photograph."
"Any shithead can paint this kind of crap," she said. "If you're not careful, I'll bore you with my dadaism lecture."
"I'll bet you think I don't know what that is."
She gave him the raised eyebrow. "Enlighten me."
He sat on the ratty maroon loveseat they'd made love on, sank down into the upholstery, watching the solitary goldfish swim back and forth. "Nude Descending a Staircase. That sort of thing. Doesn't look anything like a nekked lady. Dadaism was the answer to a crossword question I had once."
She put the brush down, came and sat on his knee, the one he'd dislocated that time he'd hit a petrified stump and Baby had thrown him out of the cab. The pain was fierce, but he couldn't let on that it hurt. "You didn't guess," she said.
"Guess what? Oh, right, who was it?"
"Fucking Sheriff Tibbetts. Dropped by to warn me about renting videos to underage boys. Anyways, while he was here, he mentioned the painting my old man's got in his office, how much he liked it and all that shit, the phony bastard."
"Thought you hated him."
She jumped up, took up the brush again, applied a little shadow under his eyes. He massaged his knee. "Who, Tibbetts?" she said. "He's just one of Arthur's flunkies."
"Meant your dad. What you doing giving him one of your paintings if you hate him so much?"
She slammed the brush down, splashing paint on the portrait.
"I didn't give him my fucking painting!"
"How'd he get it then?"
"Hell if I know. Sold a few down in Dinkytown when I was too dumb to know how bad I sucked. You and me are gonna break into his office and get it."
"Why don't you ask him for it?"
"I figure while we're at it, we can go through his files and maybe find out where he buried that loot out there in the woods. I mean, if there's a will or something."
"Oh yeah, I meant to tell you. My construction pal thinks he can sell the Cat at auction. They're so damn expensive these days that contractors don't ask too many questions. Trouble is, he wants me to deliver the thing."
"Can't you borrow that rig again?"
"I doubt it; Bud needs it to make a living. I'm working on it, though. There's this guy I did a job for who hasn't paid me yet, and he owns a big rig. All I need is a trailer."
She poured some turpentine on a rag and rubbed at the splashed paint. "Who's that chick I saw you with, coming out of the hospital?"
He coughed. "Ah . . . that was Loretta. She's having some problems with the boy and she wanted me to–-"
"You lying sack of shit!" This time she kicked the tripod out from under the painting and it landed face down with a plop.
"I saw you kissing her!"
He jumped up and grabbed hold of her wrists before she could get hold of something sharp. "She's my wife. You read the letter, you know how much I still care for her. You told me I didn't mean anything to you."
By now she was crying and the only thing he could think to do was to try to kiss away her salty tears. She seemed to like that.
When he let her go, she said, "Remember what I said about my old man cutting your nuts off?"
"Uh . . . that's something that kinda sticks in a person's memory."
"Well, if I ever see you with her again, I'm gonna be the one does the surgery."
For some reason, Will did his best thinking on the corner barstool just inside the door at Snow's, and he was the first person in there when the place opened that Saturday morning, studying his image in the mirror. He thought he looked like Frankenstein's monster. A row of stitches zigzagged across his forehead and a cut had practically severed his lower lip. It still hurt like a root canal, but he wasn't about to take the pain pills Dr. Benson had given him.
He sucked on his grape soda, careful not to reopen the wound. He'd been studying on the best way to nab Voigt. Merkle wasn't about to publish their expose' without Cornelius's corroboration. He thought his best bet was still probably the bastard's first wife. She knew a lot more than she'd let on.
Then there was that other matter. The dog bite. A dead dog out at the Caterpillar scene, and Ned shows up with his hand wrapped like a burn victim's. Sure, he'd been in a fight, but there was no way he'd hit Schmidtgap or Zwald that hard. According to the bartender, Ned had absorbed most of the damage.
And the description from the senior citizens who'd driven past that semi parked near the scene matched Ned. Would he be able to arrest Ned if he tracked the bulldozer? The man had introduced him to his wife, not that things were going that well between Lila and him. She had something on her mind. He'd begun to think she was having an affair.
Feeling rather light-headed, Will got in his Bronco–-had to use his own personal ride until they repaired the prowler, which amazingly hadn't been totaled.
He parked the Bronco in the hospital parking lot, walked across the street and let himself in the backdoor of the sheriff's office. The Zwald kid, dressed in an orange robe, was sitting on the edge of his bed, reading a comic book. Both of his legs were swathed in bandages.
"Hey, Jamie," Will said, struggling with the cell door because of his cast.
"What you want?" the boy demanded.
Will sat next to him, put an arm around one scrawny shoulder. "Hope there aren't any hard feelings. You had a Glock, you know. What did you expect me to do, kiss you?"
Jamie pushed his hand away. "Get your hands off me, fag!"
"You're gonna go down for attempted murder if you don't talk to me."
"I don't have to say shit, I want my lawyer."
"Your public defender you mean. Dyah know she took the bar exam four times before she finally passed. You're gonna be a regular Methuselah by the time you get out, if you don't cooperate."
The boy looked up at him. "You can get me a lighter sentence?"
"Depends. What can you give me?"
"They didn't tell me anything. I got a bag of weed from Brad every now and then to sell at the roller rink is all."
"Where'd you get the Glock?"
"Where'd he get it?"
"He got a phone call. The dude said for him to look in the glove compartment of this pickup parked in front of the Bowling Alley."
"That's all you've got for me?"
"You gotta help me get a lighter sentence?"
"I promise on my mother's grave." Will's mother wasn't dead, and when she did die, she wanted her organs donated and the rest cremated and spread over Plunder Lake, so Will figured he was pretty safe.
"Would the money Brad gave me help?"
"Possibly, if you didn't handle it too much."
"Never took it out of the envelope."
"Where's the money?"
"I want something in writing saying I'll get a lighter sentence."
"How about if I call Grandma Woods in here and say it in front of her?"
"Who's Grandma Woods?"
"She's the dispatcher. Started here when she turned sixty-five. She's got ten grown children and a passel of grandchildren. She'd never lie."
"Write it down on paper and sign it; the old lady can witness it."
"You're too clever for me, Jamie." He scrawled the agreement on a piece of notebook paper, had Grandma sign it, and handed it to Jamie.
"You got pretty good handwriting for an Indian," the kid said. He tucked the slip of paper in his shirt pocket. "In my room. In the top drawer of my dresser. Under the socks and underwear in there."
When Will served the warrant on Mrs. Zwald, she looked at him as if he were a bill collector. "What the hell is this?" she said. She had her hair in curlers and a Viceroy dangling from the corner of her mouth.
"Warrant to search Jamie's room."
"But he wasn't ever here."
"Says he was. I won't touch anything but his room. See here? It says I can't look anyplace other than his dresser."
"Oh, well, I guess that ain't too bad then." She looked up at his forehead, then down at his cast. "You the cop who was in the accident?"
"If you want to call it that," he said.
The place was a pig sty. He had to go through the living room to get to the stairs leading to the second floor. Coffee cups and crusty dishes on the coffee table, beer cans crushed and dropped where they'd been emptied. Dust like penicillin mold on the furniture.
The money wasn't in the top drawer of Jamie's dresser. Nothing in the other drawers but a collection of Penthouses and Hustler magazines and a half-empty box of Trojans. He took a quick look in the closet. Nothing in there but a mound of clothes smelling worse than Grandfather Mad Bull's socks. Nothing under the bed or the mattress. He took the picture out of the frame of the only one in the room. Nothing.
"Mrs. Zwald," he said. "I've got a little problem you may be able to help me with."
Her robe was coming open and he couldn't help but notice the hooters fighting to be free. Wasn't all that old. Maybe thirty-five and she had a certain Joan Crawford kind of allure.
"What can I do for you?" she said. The woman actually winked. "You know I'm not like everybody else around here. I like Indians. I have a little Chippewa blood myself."
"You know anything about an envelope was supposed to be in Jamie's drawer upstairs? It's evidence. If we don't find it, Jamie'll probably do more time than he needs to."
She took a drag on her cigarette, cinched the cord on her robe tighter. "He didn't never pay no rent, you know."
"Did you touch the money in the envelope?"
"I just took a twenty cause I had a hair appointment." She went into the kitchen and returned with the envelope. "Can I get some kind of receipt? I can certainly use that two hundred dollars when you're through with it. I'm divorced you know, and the money I make at the Pizza Supply don't go all that far."
"We'll get it back to you as soon as possible, Mrs. Zwald."
"Actually the name is June Rudek. I took my maiden name. I'm in the book, you know."
Rain was slanting down in sheets when Ned and Peggy June arrived at the Gohl farm the next morning. When he parked the truck, he noticed muddy footprints leading to the shed where he'd stored Baby.
"I don't see any tire tracks," Peg said, unfurling an umbrella.
"Oh shit," he said as they followed the footprints to the shed. The lock on the door to the shed was broken.
"Looks like somebody else knows about the bulldozer," she said, all singsongy, like a little sister teasing her brother about his girlfriend.
That damn universal key! Anyone could just drive Baby away. He'd heard stories about kids starting the display models at John Deere headquarters in Moline, Illinois. But, the blue tarp hadn't been tampered with; whoever had been here had most likely assumed the machine belonged here.
"Who do you think it was?" she said.
"Kids. They love spooky places."
"Do you think they'll tell anyone?"
"Other kids. They weren't supposed to be here. We better get a move on it, though, just in case; I want to be on the road by tomorrow morning. I'd go tonight if I could get the semi earlier."
Thankfully, the rain quit and he spent the morning soldering the cab back on Baby, while Peggy June did some touch-up with yellow Caterpillar paint and worked on the stamping machine with which they'd replace the serial numbers.
Around noon, they hid Baby under a less glaring light-brown tarp, behind a rusting threshing machine in the windbreak. He'd be back tomorrow morning with Bud's semi. He'd run into a bit of luck; Bud and his family were spending a week with his wife's parents in Duluth. So he'd have lots of time to complete the transaction with Norb.
As they were finishing, blue-black clouds rolled in from the north, threatening more rain. "Hope this shit clears out by tomorrow," he said. "I don't want to be driving a semi on slippery roads."
"Tell me about this Norb person," she said, as he tied down the tarp with twine to keep it from flapping in the wind. "Do you trust him to live up to his end of the bargain? Norb needs money; he knows the dozer's hot. He could try to cheat you out of our share or dicker for a bigger percentage?"
"Think I should offer him more than five percent?"
"I better go with you. You'll sell the farm for a handful of beans."
"If I remember that story correctly, those beans grew into a bean stalk that led to a pot of gold."
She kicked at the Caterpillar tire, dislodging a grassy clump of dirt. "You're leaving out the giant. Fe Fi Fo Fum; I smell the blood of a Polack."
"Can't hardly blame Norb for wanting a bigger share, considering he's involving himself in interstate theft, a fucking federal rap."
"God it's cold out here." She pulled her knit cap down over her ears and zipped her leather jacket to the top. "What you gonna do with your cut? Not gonna give it to the bitch, are you?"
"Don't call her that. Have to figure a way to launder the money. Put it in trust for Blake."
"Good idea; never trust an eighteen-year-old with money. Believe me, I know."
Site: Mystery Writer
David A. Schwinghammer