Read Dark Coulee Online

Authors: Mary Logue

Tags: #Mystery

Dark Coulee (5 page)

She was surprised her father wasn’t up yet. He never slept in, not like Jenny, who tried to sleep in every morning. Then Dad and she would fight. Nora hated their fights. She often went and hid in her room when they fought.

Nora went upstairs and walked down the hallway to her father’s room. The door wasn’t shut all the way, so she gently pushed it open. No one. Empty bed. Hadn’t even been slept in. Maybe he had gone to stay at that woman’s house. He had a couple times before. But usually Lola stayed at their house.

That Lola. Lola had bought Nora a Barbie doll for her birthday. The doll sat on the top of her bookshelf now. Nora had never really played with dolls. Besides, she’d rather read or run around outside. Nora got the feeling that Lola would like to make her her own little girl.

Sitting on the edge of her dad’s bed, she waited for something to happen. As if on command Jenny’s door opened, and she came stumbling down the hall.

When Jenny glanced into their father’s room, she let out a scream. Nora glanced around and wondered what she had seen.

“Jenny, it’s me.” She ran out to her.

Jenny grabbed her into her arms and said, “Thank God. It’s only you.”

 

I do have moments of happiness. You asked me, and I do.

My roses, blooms so heavy they lean toward the earth. Hawk soaring off the bluff.My daughter running up the hill. She can never walk.

It’s as if I forget for that moment.

Their deaths leave me. They are not in my sight, in my presence. I no longer carry them.

They are heavy?

Intolerably.

What can you do about that?

I don’t like these questions where you know the answer and I’m wandering around in the dark.

I just want to forget.

The deaths to have never happened. It all to go away. A good wind, that’s what we need is a good wind to blow it all away.

Where would that leave you?

I would be the rose, heavy with only my own beauty, the hawk soaring over the land, my daughter.

I would be like my daughter again, running up every hill.

Has she forgotten what has happened?

No. I know she hasn’t.

Is there another way?

I hope so.

8

S
UNDAY mornings the sheriff’s department was as quiet as a morgue. Tonya was answering the phones, a couple of the squad cars were out, but no one else was around the office. There just wasn’t a lot of call for the police on Sunday mornings in this small county. Claire could hear the bells from the Lutheran church down the street chiming a hymn. Ten o’clock. Time for service. She almost felt like she knew the words to the hymn, but they stayed a vague memory.

As Claire typed his full name into the computer, Leonard Lundgren, she tried to remember him and his manner last night. He was a big man, over six feet tall, broad through the shoulders and chest. He probably had done a lot of heavy work in his time. Much bigger man than Jed Spitzler. But last night he hadn’t seemed particularly belligerent. When Lola had pushed him away, he had backed off and left her alone. Maybe he had been aware of all the eyes on him.

Their computer was hooked into all the important databases in the state, and she wanted to see what would come up for Leonard. Information started to appear on her screen, and she read through it, sifting it in her mind.

He was in his late forties, born July 9, 1952.

Graduated from high school.

Never married.

In jail once. Drunk driving. Before they did much about it. He was just given a warning and a night’s stay.

Three speeding tickets, but spread out over nearly thirty years of driving. That wasn’t bad.

Sued someone over a damage deposit on an apartment. Lost.

No children.

No surprises.

She printed it out for her file, but didn’t think it held any information worth keeping. Obviously the man whose car he had driven into the lake hadn’t pressed charges. And the shooting incident wasn’t on his record. Claire knew it was the way it should be, but it frustrated her that she wouldn’t even know of these incidents if it weren’t for Rich. She would have had a much less complete picture of Leonard.

But she did know. She was going to keep checking into him. She had a feeling he had been up to no good. From what she had heard from Rich, it was obvious that his relationship with Lola was volatile.

Claire wanted to get a look at his truck, at his house. Whoever stabbed Jed Spitzler must have gotten sprayed with blood. There would be traces, and she wanted to find them before it was too late.

If she wanted to get a search warrant on Leonard Lundgren, she would need a little more ammo. The judge didn’t hand them out easily. Claire would need to go in with a good probable cause—at least motive and opportunity, preferably an eyewitness.

She sat back in her chair and looked over what she had printed out, but her mind started to wander back to last night with Rich. He had surprised her as a lover. Maybe because he was awkward and quiet moving through the world, she had thought he would be the same in bed. Not the case. He was a thoughtful, thorough lover with just enough of an edge to be very interesting.

“Hey, Claire.” Steve Walker, the other deputy who had shown up at the dance last night, poked his head into her cubicle. “What’re you doing in here?”

She felt herself blushing as if Steve could read her mind. To give herself a chance to recover, she showed him the file she had printed out. “Checking on the Spitzler case. What about you? You on duty again?” she asked him.

“Just getting off.”

“Long shift. How’d it go last night at the dance?”

“You know about what I know.” He perched on the edge of her desk. “We found nada. No knife, no bloody clothes. No one seemed to have seen it. Pretty strange.”

“I’m glad you think it is. I’m having a hard time believing it. Even his kids, who found him, didn’t see anyone.”

“It was dark. There was a band. I suppose that can explain some of it.”

“What do you know about Leonard Lundgren?” Claire asked him. “Do you know where he works?”

“I think I heard he’s working at that new sand pit that opened up past Maiden Rock. Other than that I don’t know much. Big guy. But not so bad as he looks. I caught him speeding once, barreling down Thirty-five. It was about two in the morning. I pulled him over. He had been going seventy. He was actually pretty agreeable about it. Didn’t seem to have been drinking. Said he deserved the ticket. I sent him on his way.”

“He had been drinking last night. I wonder if he’s one of those people who become Mr. Hyde when they drink.”

“Who’s Mr. Hyde?”

Claire looked up at him to see if he really didn’t know. He waited for her answer. “The side of us we want no one to see.”

“Brad, wake up. I think someone’s here.”

Brad had been having a very bad dream, and he woke feeling like all the muscles in his body were clenched, as if he were fighting hard against something immovable. When he opened his eyes, Nora was staring down at him.

“Who?” he asked her.

“I don’t know. I don’t recognize the car. A guy.”

Brad scrambled out of bed. He hadn’t even taken his clothes off from the night before. He and Jenny hadn’t gotten to sleep until around five in the morning. “What time is it?”

“After noon.”

“Where’s Jenny?”

“She went back to bed.” Nora was wearing a white T-shirt and a pair of polka dot shorts. Her hair was a mass of curls. He sat up in bed and reached over and tousled her hair.

“Is it true about Dad?” Nora asked him.

“Did Jenny tell you?”

Nora nodded.

“It’s true,” he said. He remembered seeing Dad stretched out in the operating room, pale as a ghost. The blood had flowed out of him.

“Who’s going to take care of us?” Nora asked.

“We’ll take care of each other.”

“What about when I go to school? You and Jenny are already gone. I’ll be by myself.”

“But you’re a big girl.”

She ran her hands down her T-shirt and said, “Yeah, I guess I am. I’m in the top grade now in my school.”

“We’ll figure it out.”

“I wish Dad didn’t die,” Nora said, and she started to cry.

Brad rubbed her shoulders and said, “Don’t cry. Let’s go fix some lunch.”

“We’re orphans now,” Nora said as she walked out of the room with him.

What a weird thought. No parents, all alone in the world except for each other. He was glad he had two sisters.

A banging came from the front door. The doorbell hadn’t worked for a few years. Dad never had felt like fixing it. Brad went to see who it was, and Nora tagged along.

A thin man in a clerical collar and black jacket stood at the door with a casserole dish in his hands. “Are you the Spitzler children?” he asked.

Brad said yes.

“I’m Pastor Wilkins from the Calvary Covenant Church. I don’t know if you remember me. I haven’t seen you in church in a while. Probably since your mother died. Anyway, your mother is buried in our church, and I know you have another plot there, so I thought you might want to use it for your father.”

Brad felt like he should introduce himself. “I’m Brad, and this is my sister Nora. Our other sister is still sleeping.”

Brad let him into the living room. It wasn’t in too bad shape.

“May I sit down?” the man asked. “Oh, and my wife made this for you children.” He handed Brad the casserole. “It’s tuna hot dish. Should still be warm.”

Brad thanked him and took the casserole dish, setting it on the coffee table on an old pile of newspapers.

“I’m here to talk to you about the funeral. Do you have any relatives that can come and stay with you?”

“No,” Brad told him. “Mom was an only child. Her folks died a while ago. Dad’s family I don’t know too much about. We’ve never kept in touch with them.”

“Are you the oldest?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Then let’s go over the arrangements.”

Brad pretty much agreed to everything the pastor suggested. A short service on Wednesday. A luncheon served in the church basement made by the Ladies’ Club.

“And then I think your father had purchased two plots when your mother died. So we can just bury him next to her.”

“No.” The word popped out of him before he had time to think. He wished Jenny were there to help him.

The pastor looked at him in surprise. “Do you have another plot?”

“No, but we can buy another. Can’t we? Is there another one for sale in your cemetery?”

“Yes, I’m sure there is. But why don’t you want him in the plot you already have?”

Brad thought fast. “Because Dad promised Jenny that she could be buried next to our mother. And I know he wouldn’t want to break his promise.”

Claire knew that Bridget and Meg would be along any minute. Once she had gotten home to her empty house, she had missed Meg. They were hardly ever apart.

It was such a lovely day, warm wind, in the low eighties, fluffy clouds floating overhead. She needed to be outside. She decided to go and work in her garden for a while. She would do what always needed doing in her garden—weed. The soil in this area of the state was dark and amazingly fertile. In one of her gardening books, Claire had read that nettles are an indicator plant for fertile soil. She had a fine crop of nettles on the back end of her lot.

Actually, some of the weeds that came up in her flower beds, she ate. Purslane and lamb’s-quarters were nice in salads, and sometimes she even cooked the lamb’s-quarters like spinach. She loved the idea that even the weeds in her garden were tasty and good for you.

She looked over the leaves of her roses. They got these nasty little green worms on them if she didn’t spray them every week or so. She used an organic spray that wasn’t toxic. If she used one of the more toxic sprays, she would probably not have to spray as often, but she didn’t mind the excuse for puttering around.

Her gardens were small and usually gathered around something. She had three beds next to the house, one around her clothesline, two next to a shed, and then one by the garage. She felt more comfortable working off an already established building. She read the books and knew this wasn’t the correct way to make gardens. They should be seen as pools of light in the lawns, beds that have their own shape and form. But she didn’t feel brave enough to start digging up the middle of her yard.

One of these years.

Her roses were blooming again. Landers, her neighbor, who had taught her much about gardening but had died early spring, would have been proud of her. She had done everything right this year. Deadheaded them vigilantly after they bloomed in the early summer, fertilized them, watered them although they had had nearly enough rain, and now most of their long waving wands of growth were festooned with clumps of lovely red-pink roses, a soft faded red color that she would love to find in old silk fabric and make into a blouse.

She picked a blown rose and smelled—the soft fragrance of nutmeg. Sleeping with Rich had stirred up dark feelings in her, her sense of vulnerability and danger. To love someone was very dangerous.

Two years ago her husband had been killed by a drug gang in the Twin Cities. It had blown her life up. So she moved down to Fort St. Antoine and started over. But the trouble followed her in the form of her old partner, Bruce Jacobs. She had discovered that he was behind everything. He had been the infamous “Hawk,” the leader of the drug gang, and he had been responsible for her husband’s death. Worst of all, she had loved him. In a showdown, she had killed him in self-defense and then, to save his reputation, concealed what he had been. No one knew she had killed him. She felt trapped in his death.

How could she even think of getting involved with another man, considering her track record?

She heard a car drive into her driveway and stood to watch Bridget’s car pull in. Meg bounced out of the car as soon as it had stopped. “Mom!” she shouted.

“Here, sweetie.” Claire waved at the two of them, glad to be pulled out of her dark thoughts.

Bridget extricated herself from the car with care. Another inch or two on her belly, and she would not be able to drive. She slowly walked behind Meg, rocking side to side.

Meg flung herself on Claire, and Claire grabbed her up and twirled her around. “Is Auntie Bridget tired of you?”

“I doubt it,” Meg said. “We had a blast. She let me stay up late and watch a scary movie. Frankenstein. Have you ever seen that? Totally cool. Kinda sad at the end, when they burn him to death. The monster, I mean. It’s really the doctor’s name that is Frankenstein, but everyone always gets that wrong.”

Bridget came up to them, smiling at Meg’s description of their night together. “I didn’t make it through the whole movie. Meg had to wake me at the end.”

“Hey, Mom, I tried to call you this morning, but you weren’t here. Did you stay over at Rich’s?”

Claire wasn’t quite ready for this. She didn’t believe in lying to her daughter, so in good splitting-hairs fashion she sidestepped the question. “I had to go into work for a while this morning. Sorry I missed your call.”

“Oh, I was kinda hoping you stayed at Rich’s. You know, that would show that you really liked him.”

Claire bent down to be Meg’s height and looked her in the face. “I do really like him.”

“Yeah, I know. But I’m waiting for you guys to get to the next step. The sleep-over step.”

“Where do you learn these things, Meg?”

“At school. TV. Books. Aunt Bridget and I had a good talk about you and Rich last night.”

Over Meg’s head, Bridget rolled her eyes. Claire would check in with her later.

“I’m glad you are so up on everything.”

“What’s for lunch? I’m hungry.”

Bridget chimed in. “So am I.”

“Tomato soup. Grilled cheese sandwiches. Meggy, you run in and start the soup. It’s sitting on the stove.”

Meg ran ahead of them, and Claire walked with Bridget. “I hope she didn’t wear you out.”

“Not at all. She is a constant stream of chatter, but she’s quite interesting. I need distraction right now. I feel like a whale. Actually, I feel bigger than that. Like the Titanic. I’m afraid that if I hit something, I would sink.”

“Not long now.” Claire reached over and wrapped an arm around her shoulder.

“That’s what I’m really afraid of. I can’t imagine this child trying to get out of me. Gives me the shakes.”

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