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David McGrath decorative flourish Where to Go

DuPree did not feel a need to take his gun, which he left on the kitchen table, covered by a pink dish towel. He’d had a notion to go for a jog after smelling rain and warm sand in the night breeze; but he decided, instead, to walk the German shepherd, which was probably the right choice when it’s dark and the neighborhood is unfamiliar.

As the dog, panting, padded down the steps, DuPree felt the outside of his left pants pocket for the hard edge of the house key. He was alone here, his wife and six-year-old daughter not due for another two weeks. He had come ahead to this, their new house, to get it ready for moving in—a dignified, solid building, facing the highway and all alone in a clearing against a wall of woods. He had made up his mind to buy it before they walked through the front door, but he didn’t say so right away. Instead, he waited for Rita to be persuaded—not by the realtor, but by the attitude of the building.

Just under a hundred years old, it was a classic farmhouse with white, eighteen inch diameter pillars holding up the dormer over the front porch. The two stories above the basement held three thousand square feet of living space, a fireplace and kitchen with bath fixtures that appeared to be among the first manufactured after the invention of indoor plumbing—a porcelain kitchen sink and side drainboard on legs with clawed feet. Upstairs were two bedrooms and two additional crudely finished rooms in which it was rumored that prisoners were temporarily housed by the county while waiting for the prison in Chicago to be built.

It was the only building along a two mile stretch of highway between the woods and an old forest preserve cemetery in an unincorporated southwest section of the county. A pastoral, quiet site save for the occasional whoosh of passing cars.

His wife’s friend, Patti, asked why. Or who, as in who on earth would trade a cozy bedroom community where you could count on the neighbors to keep an eye open while you went rollerblading at the nearby park, in order to live, instead, in an ancient, quaking structure in need of paint and a new roof, and where you had to have your own septic tank and well, not to mention a security system wired into the windows and doors because there was no municipal police force?

Rita’s explanation to Patti was unnecessary for most of their other friends, police families looking to do the same thing since the city residency requirement had been lifted. Cops who wore Kevlar through the inner city neighborhoods, who heard every car horn and gunshot, understood the desire for the sound of a bird singing or for an unobstructed view across a placid pond covered with duckweed.

Unlike his pals, though, DuPree was looking for more than a peaceful place to come home to every day; he wanted a permanent change. His partner didn’t know it yet. Rita didn’t even know it. Likely the only one besides himself who may have known it was the acne-faced addict who had seemed fascinated with the look of fear in DuPree’s eyes. It had been one of those careless, avoidable situations: DuPree behind the dry cleaners, his weapon holstered, unconcerned. He had recognized him as the same homeless slug to whom he once had given a ride. Name of Duncan. Duncan Boykin.

But as DuPree called to him, Duncan Boykin had unfurled from his sweatshirt a large, chrome-plated revolver with a black handle that he’d probably stolen, had made DuPree kneel and undo his belt and holster. The bug eyes, the two hands holding the gun, and the fact they were alone in alley made it feel to DuPree as though this was his time to die. He tried to remind Boykin who he was, but nothing seemed to register. Instead, Boykin’s chest started heaving, and he smiled as though a triumph was percolating in his brain.

“You see that?” said Boykin, twitching the barrel in his face. “You feel that?”

DuPree had spoken slowly, trying to make him remember the ride he gave him to the shelter, hoping for the numbness in his legs to recede so that he might spring away.

Tonight the dog nudged DuPree’s knee with its nose, and the two set out south of the new house, away from the glare of the halogen yard light. The dog kept an insistent pressure on the leash as its nose vacuumed ahead of him along a roadside path, assaying this new kingdom of coons and skunks and mice. To their right was a drainage ditch, then the highway. Coming up on their left was a resumption of the trees, which were starting to blend together like a curtain in the enveloping darkness. No moon, no stars, and a sky of black smudges.

He probably should have waited till morning to see the way, but he had been consciously plowing through every reluctance since the thing behind the dry cleaners. Those first days he avoided the streets, avoided standing straight up in a clearing. It seemed stupid when he thought about it, but the gun in his face was also illogical, and he was teaching himself that everything was thus, and that no one was to be trusted. He learned quickly that being overcautious was driving him insane, and that it was healthier to face everything head on. Healthier to be dead than worried.

But the world was different. It couldn’t have been only because of the trauma behind the dry cleaners. For sixteen years he’d been chasing teenage gangsters, collecting weapons, rounding up ring leaders, warning recruits, jailing both, and watching impotently when their mothers and grandmothers wailed over their lifeless bodies. The sense of purpose he’d had when he joined the force had been obliterated, overwhelmed by violence and his own concern for survival.

On the other side, the apathy and even scorn that the majority seemed to have for the hidden war he patrolled pretty much guaranteed its perpetuity.

While he had, at one time, wanted to shake some sense into the sixteen-year-old vice lord, and then shake some awareness and compassion into his neighbor the LaSalle street banker, he now realized he was the one who had been in need of shaking.

“Hey, easy now, Mannix,” he said to the dog, who stopped and looked back at him, wagged its tail, then plowed ahead. Mannix had been a police canine candidate who didn’t make the cut. Its insistence at the end of the leash had turned into a kind of four-legged towing. Probably the scent of another dog or a rabbit. Or a deer. DuPree had seen large hoof prints behind the garage yesterday.

The path slanted left and down a slope and was obscured by a large elm, its branches barely visible in the fast fading glow of the distant yard light.

The dog had again lost control, steaming, panting, shouldering forward. And that’s when DuPree saw it. First, he thought it might be a rock. Or a bush. And then it registered: a man on the ground.

He leaned back, nearly flipping the shepherd on its back.

“Hold, hold,” he said. If the dog didn’t know the meaning of the words, it heard at least the alarm in the man’s voice and stood quietly trembling. DuPree looked around him. Behind him. Above him in the trees. Then he stared at the figure lying on its back. Studied for movement. He let the dog move forward but did not unlock his elbow.

As they got closer, he could see, even in recline, that this was a big man. There was a black leather jacket and engineer boots. The dog’s tail was wagging and whirling like a propeller as it sniffed at the boots.

The man was dead—that he knew. A bullet hole in his left cheek. Another, apparently, in his blood soaked chest. But you don’t have to feel a man’s pulse when the thing that’s alive in you senses no reciprocal life force on the ground. Cops argued about it, whether it was a smell or pheromones or lack of a force field or the gray hue of the skin that signaled death. All they knew for sure was that you didn’t need a medical degree.

As a cop of sixteen years, he’d seen his share. But maybe not as much as some of the vets who no longer seemed affected. The ones who could sip their coffee, eat a hot dog while staring at the maggots furrowing through skin.

He looked over this two hundred pound man, dumped here (again, something he couldn’t explain now but would sort through later told him that the man was not shot at this scene) after dark in the mud. Left alone all night and into forever. Civilians read about murders every day, about bodies found dumped, floating, hanging, buried, burned. But he knew that it wasn’t until you come upon one yourself, a fellow human being—skin, teeth, fingers with rings, face against the dirt—that you feel the indignity. Nobody deserves to die this way. Nobody.

They jogged back to the house and he called 911. He told the dispatcher what he found, gave his name, address, and read the number off of the phone. He waited by the front window for five, then ten more minutes, and the county police still hadn’t shown up. Cook County was big, the police force small. But he thought a report of a gunshot man would have had them rushing out here.

He got his jacket to go back out. What if the body was somehow gone before they came? What if the killer returned to dispose of it? There could be coyotes and dog packs tearing into the corpse. He would go back to the scene and wait for the police. He pulled his service weapon from the beneath a towel (he hadn’t yet determined a hiding place for it in this new house), a 9mm Smith and Wesson Luber, and went out the door and back toward the path.

Careful not to trample over evidence, he stayed ten feet back from the body and facing in the direction of the highway. It was quiet enough in the country night to hear the chattering of insects—some kind of raspy cricket or cicada—and the water-running sound of wind through the treetops. Ordinary sounds that now seemed like camouflage for a threat.

And there was the smell: leather from the jacket and boots, and a slight musty scent that children have when playing outside all day. But there was something else, too, something incongruous: the smell of aloe.

Duncan Boykin had been the white, thirty-one-year-old high school dropout, a burglar and convicted drug felon, who had loaded the stolen .45 magnum pistol with some degraded ammo that had apparently had gotten wet in the box and then dried out. When he was stoned enough to use it, the gun bearing a round intended for DuPree’s brain exploded in his hand. A few molecules of moisture saved DuPree’s life and put Boykin behind bars for life on the basis of previous convictions and the three strikes law for capital crimes. Boykin’s public defender asked for mercy with a claim of fetal alcohol syndrome, but the judge said the law gave him little choice in the matter.

Trying to get to sleep in the third floor bedroom of the new farmhouse, DuPree thought he heard shouting outside. He rose from the bed and walked to the window. Below, bathed in the yard light, the group of officers was standing in a circle by the spot where the body had been. It was closer than he had thought—right down below the house. But the body was gone. There was a large, oval shaped wet spot on the ground. The men were laughing. One man was out of uniform—the tallest of them. He wore a black leather jacket and high-topped boots with silver buckles and spurs. And he had a small black hole in his cheek.

Then DuPree comprehended that he was looking up at the ceiling and the phone was ringing and he had never really left the bed. It was pitch black, but he followed the sound to where the phone must have been resting on the floor. It was still the previous owner’s line, and his own answering machine had yet to be unpacked, so it kept on ringing till he picked it up.

“Mr. DuPree?” A man’s voice. Casual tone. The digital clock radio on the dresser said 1:11 a.m.

“This is Sheriff’s Detective Brainerd. We have a report that you called 911 yesterday evening?”

“No. Tonight. Well, I guess it was yesterday. Yes.”

“If you could tell us what happened?”

DuPree went through it all. Walking the dog. The time. Where he stood. What he saw and what he thought. He went on seven or eight minutes. Related his conversation with the first police who arrived on the scene after he had called.

“Did you see anyone out there yesterday?”

“Uh, no.”

“Nothing out of the ordinary?”

“No. Well, wait. There was a car pulled up on the wrong side of the highway around dusk, facing south. You know there is a forest preserve entrance across the highway, so folks are always turning around or backing up after they miss it. Of course, this car was, what, maybe fifty yards from where the victim lay.”

“Do you remember what kind of car?”

“A station wagon. Green. Older. Nineteen-ninety maybe. A GM, you know, a Buick or Oldsmobile. It wasn’t strange enough for me to take a license plate. I just moved here, so I don’t know what’s normal.”

“Anything else you think of, please call, Officer.”

He went back to the bed and lay with his eyes open. Whoever did the shooting could still be somewhere in the woods. They might even think that DuPree had seen it happen.

An hour and a half later, there was another call from another county detective. Same questions. And then from the Illinois State police who also logged the call. Same story all over again.

It was nearly 4 a.m. He might as well wait for the light. The body ought to have been moved. He saw at the window that a lone squad car was parked where the body had been. No lights. The crime scene business was mostly over. And then the phone rang again.

“Sir, are you the one who found the body?”

He slid into the chair he had pulled over for the state police interrogation. He wished he had made coffee before this one.

“Yes. Officer Michael DuPree of the Chicago Police Department. 5444 West Ridgeland Avenue.”

“And you found him … what time did you find the dead victim?”

“Uh, huh. At approximately seven-thirty.”

A breath. A space. Then a dead phone line.

“Son of a bitch,” said DuPree.

No caller I.D. yet, either. He dialed *69. Three rings. Four rings.

“Hello?”

“You just called me. Miss, you just called my house and asked about finding the body.”

Silence.

“Who are you? I have your number right here, ma’am.”

She did not speak. But she did not hang up. He waited. Finally she said something with a sob but must have turned away from the mouthpiece.

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

“I … we heard it on the police scanner. We listen in, and it was close by. We’re just curious.”

“Yes. But why did you call here? How did you know to call here?”

“Your name and everything. We heard that, too.”

“Miss … ”

She hung up. He tried again, but there was no answer. He tried once more and the line was busy.

There would be no more sleeping now.

He walked east of his new house along the gravel road shoulder, moving with traffic. But there was no traffic. It was Saturday morning, a forest of maples to his immediate right, and across the highway a one acre pond visible through several trees. A red-winged blackbird was clatter-whistling atop a cluster of brown reeds, and a murmur of frogs was audible from wetlands further in. He could have been in Iowa, except for the side street and the beginning of a housing subdivision just ahead.

He turned right on the side street and walked about an eighth of a mile to where he found the correct mailbox jutting out from the privet hedges into the street: 6717/ The Carsons—vinyl numbers and letters glued to the box—the address he’d gotten from the dispatcher that he’d called with the anonymous caller’s phone number. And later he had read the same address over the phone to Jim Booth, a friendly detective whom he knew, and had asked him to find out what he could from his county and suburban contacts about the victim.

He went through the opening and down the front walk to a brown brick ranch with an attached garage. A green and yellow Buick station wagon was parked on the apron. An older, puffy faced woman in curlers and a pink, flowered housedress answered.

“Ma’am, did you call about the shooting last night?”

“Do you have some identification?” she said. She closed the storm door and waited. She had a white bandage over her left eye and eyeglasses over that. She opened the door a crack and leaned forward so she could see his police badge more clearly.

“It was my daughter what called. Yes, come in.”

The living room, dining room, and kitchen were all one. Maroon draperies on the small windows darkened everything. A silver dream catcher with black and red feathers hung from the center of one of the drapery poles. He smelled cats. And then the girl came out.

Her eyes a pale blue, her hair a sand blonde. He felt a welcomeness from the way she looked up and held her shoulders.

“You don’t look like police,” she said. He’d not heard that one before.

There was a slight gap between her front two teeth, and he thought of Lauren Hutton. He supposed it was possible that Lauren Hutton had come from a dark and musty box of a house like this.

She had on tight white corduroy pants The informal ensemble looked stylish on her, made her even softer. She brushed a strand of hair off her forehead.

“You don’t look like a killer,” he said.

The smile stayed. The only change was a slight shift of her weight to her heels.

Sometimes people look at you and it feels like they know what you’re thinking. He felt that now, the way it was with Rita back when they were new, like she had known him before he was born.

“Is that why you’re here, Officer … ”

“Excuse me?”

“What did you say your name was?” she pursued.

“I didn’t. But it’s DuPree.”

“My water is boiling, Officer DuPree. Would you like some tea?”

“I’m not a tea man,” he said. He heard himself being un-police-like. They stared at each other. Sometimes there seems to be a match between you and another person whose height, or maybe the angle at which she holds her head, is the one in one million perfect reciprocal to your own.

She left for the kitchen without asking if there was something besides tea that she could get him, an omission possibly significant. Something might be distracting her. And if you think there might be something, assume there is something.

She called him into the kitchen. She said it was more comfortable there, which, he thought, really meant she didn’t want her mother to hear their conversation.

“So why are you here, exactly?” she said.

“Your voice,” he said. Her voice was soft and slightly hoarse, and she left the ends of her sentences unsure, inviting response. She also arched her eyebrows, her head turned a degree or two for placation. “I mean, when you called me last night, or this morning, to ask if I had found the dead man.”

“Like I said, we were curious.”

“You and your mom. Right. But I don’t hear any scanner.”

She blinked, but then held her eyes steady on his.

“Look, I drove by, you know. The crime scene—last night. Maybe a couple of times. If there’re sirens and lights in your neighborhood, you go and look.” She thrust her face towards his, as though she were the accuser. It made her lips pouty. He smelled the tea on her breath.

“But you asked about the dead man,” he said. “How did you know he was dead?”

“I didn’t. I don’t know.” She widened her eyes at him and bunched her lips as if this imbued her words with logic.

He didn’t flinch. He stared back at her. He had learned to resist replying immediately. Saying nothing for a ten seconds is often the best way to pry more information out of someone.

After five seconds, she looked down into her tea. He could see her scalp, pink, where the hair was parted down the middle of her head. It made him feel tender and then a little guilty.

She got up abruptly and went to the bathroom.

A woman’s magazine was open on the table. On the right hand page the beginning of an article, “Couples Who Re-Marry,” and the left side a purple and green travel ad that said Spain. He could hear the stove clock ticking. Water running. The doorknob turned—there had been no toilet flush—and then she was out. She smiled through red eyes, massaging her hands with some kind of lotion. Aloe.

She sat back down and stared at him as if deciding. Her mouth was closed, but then her lips parted as she exhaled and he saw the tips of her top teeth. Saw a brief flicker of tongue slide down the gap.

“When I drove by last night, I thought it looked like Sonny lying there.”

Here it comes, he thought.

“I dated him a few times. A long while ago.”

She was warming her hands on the cup. He watched her finger poke through the handle. Like a trigger.

“And I … I just wanted to talk to you. To whoever was with him, you know. Can you … understand that, Officer … DuPree?”

Now she was crying. Now wasn’t the time, which made it the most strategic time, the right time.

“No car like yours drove by after the police arrived.”

Her head was down.

“In fact, that wagon you have in your driveway was spotted at the scene yesterday afternoon.”

This time she looked up. Her eyes, squinting through tears, signaled either that she knew he was lying or that he had struck paydirt. Her head wasn’t all the way raised, and he could almost feel her weariness. He could see himself as another in the line of those badgering her, picking at her, crowding her. He felt for her. He liked her. But this was working too well to quit.

“I am police, but not on this case. I’m out of Chicago. Just moved into the farmhouse by the cemetery. I’m your neighbor, in fact. Maybe I can help you. Angela? Angela.”

She stopped crying. She was hugging her arms, staring at the cup. Then she began talking, her eyes locked on the same place, as if a replay of yesterday was being projected on the cup’s side.

“He came here yesterday,” she said. “He made me go with him. I had to because of my mother. He handcuffed me with plastic things. They’re ties or fasteners you buy at the hardware store.”

She unclutched her arms to look at her wrists. He thought he saw what looked like bracelet indents on her wrists. Her hands were like a child’s, with bitten nails. A few tiny golden hairs glittered in the light from the window.

“And then what?” he said.

“It wasn’t the first time. He is very smart and I was afraid,” she said, turning towards DuPree. “And he could sense I was afraid. He’s like a wolf that way. Even before I told him I couldn’t stay with him. And that’s when he got all abusive. I knew he wasn’t going to let me go.”

“Abusive?”

“He was fast.” She held her hand to her cheek. “He hit me before this. I mean, my face would be stinging, and I wouldn’t even see him swing his hand or anything. He said he learned boxing when, well, whenever.”

“When he was in prison.”

“I guess. And then while he was gone with his pals, some place in Indiana for whatever, I sent him a letter. I said I wouldn’t say anything about what he had done, but that he had to stay away. And that if he ever hurt me again, I’d call the police.

“What had he done?”

She hesitated, as if judging whether to trust him. Or maybe if his interest went beyond policing.

“Whatever you want to imagine. He did it.”

For the first time, her eyes were cold. And they made him think of her being in that dark place by the woods under the oppression of the man in leather. And he felt that warm, sour clutching in his gut, the same as behind the dry cleaners. But this girl was not part of that. She couldn’t be. She was like him.

“Then there wasn’t anything for a long time. I thought the police must have scared him off. Things seemed to be going good. I even had a date with a new guy for next week. A normal date. And then like a bad dream he shows up here yesterday. With a gun. I wanted to get him away from Momma, so I went with him straight away in my car.”

She was very small, and he tried to picture her in the seat next to Sonny.

“He’s got me driving around and he’s drinking and holding the gun, and we stopped in the forest preserve and he’s getting careless and loose and even lovey dovey, so I try to get out, like it’s no big deal, but he must not be that drunk and he pounces. He’s got me pressed against the door, and that’s when puts those plastic things on and then he rapes me. Just like that. He turns me over on the back seat and I almost suffocated.”

DuPree says nothing. She is looking directly at him now, words pouring freely. He tries to fix his gaze back, but it’s easier to look past and at the tiny darker spot on her earlobe where she had removed her earring.

“He lets me up and he’s holding the gun again. All of his love is gone, you know, so he’s all nasty, like he’s sobered up. And he’s waving this thing around and the look in his eyes, I’m getting really scared. If he doesn’t kill me on purpose, he might accidentally.

“So I try to, you know, calm him down. Stroking him and promising and touching him, and it doesn’t seem to work, but pretty soon he cools it a bit. And I take his hand and put it here, and he puts the gun down. And all this time, I can feel the gun under me so I reach for it with my right hand and get it turned around and close my eyes”—she closed her eyes—“and it, just, like a bomb or something. I open my eyes and see he is talking but I can’t hear anything. He is grabbing at me, at the gun, and I pull the trigger once more and his head bounces against the window and he slumps down. I can’t look at him. I can’t look at his face.

“So I got out and into the front seat and drove to the woods. I couldn’t get him all the way out of the car, so I had to let him hang out the door and drive until he kind of peeled off onto the ground. The whole time I couldn’t catch my breath and my hands were shaking so I sideswiped a tree, I guess. Then I came home to Momma and lay in her bed.”

Her voice had remained level but tears were again sliding down her cheeks. A tiny pink wing of lipstick had smeared just above the cleft of her chin, and thin line of darker eyeshadow ran towards her nose. As though a child had filched some of her mother’s makeup. DuPree wanted to touch her, but he was police. He wanted to squeeze her hand reassuringly. But when his hand touched hers, he could feel her fragileness, her whole life contained in her heat. The heat was filling him up and he didn!’t want to move.

“You’re … an extraordinary woman,” he said.

“I shot him. I don’t know if I meant to. I mean, I had to think about what happened. And I didn’t know about Sonny … if he was dead or what. So I got your phone number from the name on your mailbox.

“There was nothing else you could do. It was brave, actually.”

He could see she was trembling, so he knelt next to her chair to hold her. Briefly. As a humane gesture. She was not burning hot, and she smelled of salt and of aloe but with none of the mustiness he smelled on the dead man.

“You just have to tell the police, the county police, what you told me.”

“Can’t I … I don’t know.”

“Like I said, what choice did you have. He raped you. You make a statement and the police take you back home.”

She withdrew from him. She stroked the hair from her forehead and smoothed the front of her shirt. DuPree got up, walked back to the table and stood with his arms resting on the back of his chair. The space was a relief, but he realized he didn’t want the relief. She stood up and then sat back down, as she seemed to remember something. She got up again and went to the kitchen sink for water and spoke with her back to him.

“All right. I just need a little time. Time with my mother.” She turned towards him but looked at the clock on the opposite wall.

“Can you—I don’t know your name?”

“Michael. Michael’s fine.”

“I need a couple of hours, Michael, and then I’ll call them. I can drive in or they can come out here.”

“I can take you there.”

“Thank you. I’m fine now. Just give me till noon or so to get Momma set up, and then I’ll call them. The Cook County police. Can I call 9-1-1?”

As a cop, he could be suspended for knowing and not reporting. That was all he needed after the Boykin debacle. That could complicate his early retirement plans. He wanted to take her, but he wanted to let her go.

“Just, if you didn’t mention me. They would have expected, you know, for me to call it in.”

“Okay. I never saw you, then.”

“But you’ll go in.”

“Well, sure. It’s not like they wouldn’t eventually find their way to my door. You did.”

She walked through the hall and on the way to the front door looked back at him. He got up to follow. At the door, she turned to wait. She was smiling at him with her mouth, but her eyes still seemed uneasy.

“It’s a relief, it really is. Thank you. I had no idea what to do. Last night just kept playing over and over in my head. I was stuck in my head. Stuck in that nightmare. Michael, thank you,” she said, and she quietly sobbed against his chest.

He wanted to hold her again. This was getting excessive. He was police. He was married. For an instant, the frail warmth against his body gave promise of something else. He imagined kissing her, tasting her salt and tea and aloe, inhaling whatever was inside. Thoughts raced, bunched through his head. But he kept his arms at his sides. Finally, she drew her head away, backed up to the doorjamb, looking down at her feet. She was trying to keep control, too, he thought. But he felt the two of them, strangers thirty minutes ago, were contained inside a membrane by this moment, by this awful and feverish sharing. They always would be.

He should go. He didn’t want it to end. He could sit with her. He knew about violence, he could say. But he’d better go. Inventory what was left in the garage and basement. Piling up everything that would be discarded. Checking the condition of the lawn tractor that was left; maybe starting it up.

Things would work out well here. He had a good feeling. He started to think he could even keep his job on the force as long as he could come back home here. He wouldn’t decide. He would stretch out the day.

He was at the workbench in the garage, holding two empty coffee cans. But he had been holding them for some time now and had forgotten what they were for. His mind kept going back to the body in the dark, damp grass. To those small hands with the nails bitten to the quick. The tiny pink star of scalp on the top of her head—what Sonny must have been looking at right before.

He went to the tractor for something that was specific, to get him to stop thinking about her. Rita and his daughter would not be here for two days. Maybe he would just go over there again. Maybe she could use a cop. Maybe she could use him.

The tractor was an older Craftsman which would not start. He tried for several minutes. He thought it might be flooded, but when he didn’t smell any gas, he unscrewed the tank lid and saw it was dry inside.

He let Mannix out into the yard and then called him back in. He locked the doors of the house. He walked back into the family room and turned on the television, and then he went back out, re-locking. On the way to the car, he heard the telephone behind him and got the keys out again.

“Hey, it’s Booth. Some welcome to the neighborhood you had, Mike.”

“Yeah. Some luck.”

“Well, that’s an unlucky spot. Seems the cemetery and the woods by your place is a pretty popular area. A lot of school kid stuff—vandalism, hazing, underage drinking. That sort of thing. But there have been stolen cars dumped there, too. This was the first dumped shooting victim, from what I could learn.”

DuPree was hot from working on the tractor. Out the window, the green, thick foliage of the forest preserve felt stifling.

“County picked up the dead guy’s partner, a real winner. Keith Parks. He’s got needle tracks all down his legs. His rap sheet is longer than that. Anyway, he gave them the shooter, says it was Sonny’s girlfriend, a prostitute from Gary. Angela Surrey, a.k.a. Angel Smith, a.k.a. Angelique Smith. She was the bookkeeper for their little drug business. Sonny’s last score was too good, or else Angela was too greedy. Anyway, this Keith says she bragged how in the back seat she was doing her boyfriend, and his eyes are closed and he’s loving it when she pops a slug into his skull. Said she did him a favor, that every guy should die so lucky. And she left happily ever after with the hundred grand. Only when the partner shows up to get his, she and her senile mother are gone.”

Spain.

“Are you still there?”

“Yes. When?”

“What?”

“When did she leave?”

“Don’t know. I’m just off the phone with County.”

The front door was open, the screen door unlocked. He found no one inside, of course.

The closets in her room were nearly empty except for some black slippers on the floor and a worn terrycloth robe on a hook on the door.

In the kitchen, the cup with teabag in it was next to the sink. A light smear of pink on the rim. He held it up to his nose—couldn’t distinguish between the tea and the aloe.

He walked out her front door and got into his car. He thought about their house and the place behind it in the weeds by the cemetery. He imagined the panic in his wife’s eyes tomorrow if he tells her he’s suspended.

And then he remembered the zombie eyes of Duncan Boykin and the yellow eyes of Sonny that he had never really seen. And the sad, fearful, sexual, killing eyes of Angela.

He put the key into the ignition lock and sat there. He could not think where to go.

<$author?> <$author?>

David McGrath divides his time between teaching English at College of DuPage in Illinois, and splitting wood and nightfishing on Moose Lake in Wisconsin. He is the author of a novel, Siege at Ojibwa, and his essays and stories have appeared in Artful Dodge, Sport Literate, Chicago Reader, Education Digest, Midwest Outdoors, Chicago Tribune, and Fourth Genre. He can be contacted at mcgrath@cdnet.cod.edu.