There's a storm of reckoning brewing in 'big sky country'. The innocent have nothing to fear. El Glasgow knows she better head for the cellar...But first there's a lot of questions that need to be answered...Finally.
While investigating a brutal murder in a shantytown, reporter El Glasgow comes to the aid of an undocumented immigrant couple with a desperately ill baby. With her maternal instinct awakened, El is plagued by intensifying nightmares of her own lost child and haunting memories of a high school socialite murdered years before.
Tyler winced and lowered the sun visor. “At least it’s a nice day. Except for the wind,” he said.
And he was right. If not for the wind, the morning was shaping up to be one of those…what do you call it?...Indian summer…yeah, one of those Indian summer days.
But the wind, like the rain in other places, has the habit of ruining things around here. Things like picnics, and recess, and outdoor weddings. It also has a habit of revealing hidden stuff stowed away in the earth like antique coins, prehistoric fossils, jewelry—costume and otherwise—and, on occasion, shallow graves and the bones interred there.
It was blowin’ that morning too, back in 1980, when Shell Rusk—we called him Shelly— our scanner guy, heard somethin’ was going on in the oil patch. We were having coffee at the truck stop when he picked it up.
I remember ole’ Johnny Simon—a hard bitten, been-there-seen it all photographer with a belly out ta’ Crane—was in the middle of one of his filthy stories when Shelly hissed at him to be quiet and pressed his ear to the radio. The dispatcher was callin’ in a 187 in the oilfield, which, unfortunately, wasn’t all that earth shattering and still isn’t, for that matter.
“Morning shift must’a found it,” Johnny surmised, speaking of the oilfield crew.
“Yep,” we all agreed gulpin’ down the rest of our coffees and brushin’ off donut crumbs before piling into the company van.
“Where we goin’?” I remember asking Shelly who was driving.
When he said Gremyer field I felt like there was a clenched fist in my stomach.
“Hope it’s not some kid,” Johnny remarked, saying what I was thinking, knowing what I and every other reporter, cop and paramedic did—that teenagers congregated in the spider web of oilfields that stretched for miles and miles behind the ballpark.
That’s one of the things that bothered me; you have to know your way around that spider web to find what the kids call the crater—a sudden drop off in the expanse of cliché where they’d park their pickup trucks and 4-wheel-drive contraptions, build mesquite bonfires and carouse till curfew.
The crater is where they found her.
It happened on a Thursday evening. He’d been watching her, shadowing her as she went about her after school errands and routine.
He was prepared, having assembled a kill kit (e.g., a pellet gun with a bored out barrel, a hunting knife, nylon strings from some old windbreakers) in case an opportunity should present itself—and it did, when she stayed late and alone, after tennis practice with her coach, hitting balls from the ball machine at the public courts adjacent to the college. It is reasonable to presume she felt safe—there were other people on the courts.
Nobody saw anything. There were no surveillance cameras back then.
He called to her as she walked to her car. He was parked in a dark corner of the lot. Incredibly she approached him. He pounced immediately, catching her off guard. As his hand clasped tightly over her mouth, only the slightest cry escaped; like a mouse caught in a cat’s claw.
He dragged her into his car—the driver’s seat— and was surprised at the lack of resistance. She was an athlete. He thought she’d be stronger.
He put the pellet gun to her head, forcing her to drive. She asked him why he was doing this. He told her to shut up. She asked him where they were going. He told her the crater.
She’s a beautiful child: thick, wavy blonde hair, deep set indigo eyes, porcelain skin. She looks nothing like me. Instead she looks just like my husband—not Smitty but my first husband, my ex, Jerry the Marine.
Jerry’s got her. She’s sitting on his lap and I’m on my knees in front of them, grasping at her dangling legs. They’re playin’ ‘giddy up horsey' and she’s oblivious to me. When I touch her flaying legs my hand goes right through the flesh, like it's transparent—like she’s a ghost, which she is. She haunts me in my dreams. I am dreaming...That’s when I wake up in a cold sweat, hair stuck to the back of my neck, my gown damp and my pulse racin’ about a hundred thirty beats a minute.
I sat bolt up in the bed, not knowing where I was, which kicked my pulse into an even higher gear. The room was dark except for the flickering TV. It was quiet except for the occasional swoosh from a vehicle on the highway and the low murmur of an infomercial.
Mercifully the fog begins to lift and my brain connects with my surroundings. I’m in a motel room. Los Padres, I remember. It is a cinder block strip of rooms—non-descript except for its cleanliness, inside and out—independent and American owned. Cash accepted. No questions asked.
I stumbled into the bathroom and leaned over the sink, face to face with my reflection in the vanity. It’s pale—not porcelain—except for the hollows of the eyes where it’s dark, almost black even, and drawn around the mouth like a prune. I open my mouth and stick out my tongue, inspecting it for swelling, discoloration, fuzz and no tellin’ what all. When I do black ooze dribbles out the corners of my mouth and streams like tears down my nightgown.
I sat bolt up again, but it’s my scream that awakens me. It pierces the silence and bounces off the walls. I clutch frantically at the covers beside me, feeling for Smitty, but of course he’s not there.
A moment later I hear banging and voice calling to me, “El? Are you all right? El?”
I flung on my robe and practically ran to the door connecting our rooms, yanking it open. There stood Tyler, wild-eyed and disheveled (more than usual, even), in boxer shorts and a T-shirt. Instinctively I threw my arms around him. (I know. I know. I was desperate—with fear.)
“What’s wrong?” he croaked.
“It’s okay,” I gasped. “I was dreamin’. Nightmare.”
He was swelled up, kind'a like a toad, looking a little bigger than his normal runty self. He pushed his way through the doorway and stalked around the room a bit. After satisfying himself that we were alone he asked,
"You sure you’re okay?”
“I’m all right,” I lied.
Of course I wasn’t okay. I was a shiverin’, nervous wreck.
I watched his spine retreat into the shell of his slouching shoulders.
“Well..I’m going back into my room then," he said, looking relieved but skeptical. "You sure?..."
“I’m all right...Really.” I tried to smile. “Sorry about all that.”