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Authors: Linwood Barclay

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Suspense

Lone Wolf (9 page)

BOOK: Lone Wolf
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“Zachary,” Dad said, “would you stop being an ass? Orville’s just doing his job.”

“I’ve got work to do,” I said, lifting up the bucket of fish guts.

Dad pointed into the woods beyond the fifth cabin. “Back in there. You’ll see a mound of dirt, a shovel, and a board. An old cottage shutter. Make sure you cover it up with lots of dirt. That’s really important.” He paused, and smiled. “Okay, chum?” He started laughing. He turned to Orville. “You get it? Chum?”

“No,” said Orville.

The scene was just as Dad described it. I set the pail down and hooked my fingers under the shutter that lay on the ground. It revealed a round hole, about two feet across and two feet deep. I’d expected to see maggots feasting on guts, but there was nothing visible in the hole but dirt. I dumped in the bucket’s contents, which slid out with a gag-inducing
sloosh
. Then I grabbed the shovel, buried the guts with an inch of dirt, and slid the shutter back over the hole.

Orville was nowhere in sight but Dad was still perched on the tractor seat as I did my return route with the empty bucket. “You got it, right?” he asked. “Chum?”

I was thinking, he better get well soon, before I kill him.

11

I
T WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN
a long walk up to the Wickens place, but with Dad on crutches, it wasn’t hard to talk him into letting me drive us up there. I got him into the passenger seat of my Virtue, the hybrid car I’d bought at an auction some months ago, and even though we weren’t traveling more than a couple of hundred yards on a gravel driveway, and wouldn’t even get anywhere near the main road, Dad buckled his seatbelt.

“Are you kidding me?” I said.

“It doesn’t seem to offer the same kind of protection as my truck,” he said.

“Your tractor can outrun a Porsche and it doesn’t have a seatbelt.”

When we got to the gate of warning signs, I got out and waved at the Wickens house, figuring someone would probably be watching for us. One of the Wickens boys came running down and unlocked the gate, blond-haired, shorter than the one I’d seen when I’d walked up here with Orville and Bob.

“Wendell,” Dad said. “The less stupid one.”

As we pulled in, Dad cast a disapproving eye at the abandoned appliances, bits of furniture, bits and pieces of junk. “If I ever get them out of this house, there’s going to be one hell of a cleanup to do.” I glanced over to make sure his window was up, not eager for any of the Wickenses to hear that kind of talk.

Timmy strode out onto the porch, took the two steps down, and opened the car door for Dad, even reaching into the backseat to grab his crutches. Dad handed him a six-pack of Bud we’d brought along as a gift.

“That was a nasty fall you must of took,” Wickens said, handing Dad his crutches.

“Yeah, it was pretty stupid,” Dad said. I came around, took Wickens’s hand when he extended it. He introduced me to the boy—not a boy really, but a young man in his twenties—who’d opened the gate for us. He was broad shouldered, with blunt, angular facial features. “This is Wendell. His brother, Dougie, is around here somewhere.”

I shook Wendell’s hand, which, while huge, was strangely limp and doughy in mine, like he couldn’t be bothered to squeeze. “Hi,” I said. Wendell only nodded.

Timmy led us inside. I was looking around nervously beyond the open door, and Timmy sensed something was troubling me. “What’s the problem?”

“Well,” I said, “I’m just a little worried about the dogs.”

“Gristle and Bone?” Timmy grinned. “They’re just playful, is all. They’re in the kitchen. They spend most of their time in there, waiting for scraps when they’re not snoozing.”

I laughed nervously. “They, uh, gave me a bit of a scare yesterday.”

“Tell ya what,” Timmy said. “I want you to be able to relax, so I’ll have the dogs put out in the barn.”

“I’d be most grateful,” I said.

“Wendell,” Timmy said, “take the pups out, okay?”

“Sure thing, Timmy,” he said, and disappeared toward the back of the house.

A heavyset woman, about Timmy’s age I guessed, appeared. She was dressed in a dark T-shirt and stretch slacks, her graying hair pulled back with pins. Her neck was jowly, her nose red and splotchy. “I’m Timmy’s wife, Charlene,” she said, motioning for us to take a seat in the living room, which was littered with mismatched chairs, plaid couches, coffee and end tables buried in car and sporting and gun magazines.

Dad settled into a chair and I was about to take a spot on the couch when I was distracted by something.

Hanging above the fireplace mantel, slipped into a cheap black frame, was a military dress photograph of Timothy McVeigh. The Oklahoma City bomber. The man convicted, and ultimately put to death, for murdering 168 people when his rental truck, loaded with explosives, destroyed one side of a federal government building on April 19, 1995. I instantly recalled that less formal shot of McVeigh, in his orange prison jumpsuit, being paraded before the press on his way to a police van while an angry mob screamed out what they wanted to do with him.

The very idea that someone would frame that man’s picture and put it on a wall left me numb.

For a moment, I didn’t realize Timmy was attempting to make another introduction. “I want you to meet May,” Timmy said, and I turned around to see, standing shyly next to him, the young woman who’d fallen, weeping, into his arms the day before. If it weren’t for her tired and vacant look, she would have been a lovely woman. Her dirty blonde hair half hung over her eyes, which probably suited her at that moment, since she didn’t seem to want to look me or Dad in the eye. She tried to force a smile as she was introduced.

“I’m very sorry,” I said. “I understand you and Mr. Dewart were close. He was your boyfriend?”

Her smile cracked. “We were friends,” she said.

“Awful, awful thing,” said Charlene, and Timmy nodded along with her. “Just awful. Terrible for his family.”

“Daddy says he was looking for a bear,” May said, without, it seemed, much conviction. “It just, it just doesn’t seem possible.”

Timmy Wickens slid an arm around his daughter’s shoulder. “Honey, why don’t you go help Mom with dinner.”

She turned obediently and sleepwalked her way to the kitchen, Charlene following her.

“She’s very upset,” Timmy said, once the women were out of earshot.

“I can imagine,” said Dad.

I was about to sit down on the couch for a second time when another man, the one Timmy had referred to as Dougie the day before, strode into the room with a young boy.

“Well, now you can meet everyone,” Timmy said. “Charlene’s son Dougie, and May is my daughter, and this here is my grandson Jeffrey, May’s boy.”

Dougie nodded and continued on to the kitchen, but Jeffrey approached with his arm extended. He was holding, in his left hand, a TIE fighter, a model spaceship with two hexagonal wings connected to a round pod, from the
Star Wars
movies.

“Pleased to meet you,” he said, shaking my hand and then Dad’s.

He was a handsome young boy, shiny blond hair swept to one side, a look of innocence in his eyes.

“Hello,” I said. “Nice TIE fighter. You got an Imperial soldier inside the cockpit there?”

Jeffrey brightened. Imagine an adult knowing such a thing. “Wow. No, I haven’t got one of those yet. You like
Star Wars
?”

“I love
Star Wars
,” I said. “I love all sorts of science fiction. I’ve even written a few science fiction books.”

“No kidding? Were they made into movies?”

“No,” I said.

“But they were optioned, at least, weren’t they, son?” Dad asked.

“No, Dad, none of them were optioned.” To Jeffrey, I said, “My whole office at home is filled with sci-fi toys.
Star Trek, Lost in Space
, all kinds of stuff. I’ve never really grown up.”

Jeffrey giggled at that. “I haven’t seen you around very much,” he said. He nodded toward my dad. “I’ve seen Mr. Walker down by the cabins, but not you. Are you renting a cabin?”

“I’m borrowing one. I’m Zack Walker. That’s my dad.”

Jeffrey nodded, then frowned. “I guess you heard about Morton.”

“Yes,” I said. “We have.”

“He was looking for a bear and it killed him. That’s what happened.” He said it with conviction.

“How old are you, Jeffrey?” I asked.

“I’m ten,” he said. “I don’t go to school. I learn right here at home. My mom teaches me, and Grandpa helps prepare lessons for me.”

“Isn’t that great,” I said.

Jeffrey said he had to go and ran off after Dougie. Timmy smiled proudly as I sat down on the couch. “He’s a great kid.”

“Who’s that?” Dad said, pointing to the McVeigh portrait.
Jesus, Dad, don’t go there
, I thought.

Timmy smiled reverently. “That’s Timothy McVeigh, a famous fighter for freedom. You must have heard of him.”

Dad, who’s never been quite as plugged into the news as I, might not have recognized the picture, but he had no trouble with the name. “Christ, he’s the one blew up that building, isn’t he?”

Timmy shook his head sadly. “That’s what they’d have you believe, but there are a lot of interesting questions about that day. Did you know that?”

We shook our heads.

“Well, one big question is, why did some federal employees who did FBI work not come to the Alfred P. Murrah Building that day? Huh? Did you know that a lot of them didn’t report for work? Pretended to be sick? Do you know why? It’s because they knew something was going to happen, that’s why.”

I leaned forward on the couch. This was not something I’d heard before. “What are you getting at, Timmy?”

“What I’m saying is, they had to have been tipped off by the military. You see, the amount of damage done to the building could never have been accomplished with the kind of bomb they say Mr. McVeigh had in that cube van. Absolutely impossible. Had to be something much bigger, something that detonated either instead of, or in addition to, that rental truck.”

“I’m a bit confused,” I said. “You’re saying the military, the U.S. government, knew the bombing was going to happen, and got some of its people out of there, but let the rest die?”

“They didn’t just know about the bombing,” he said, and paused. “They’re the ones that did it.”

I was speechless for a few seconds. “The government bombed its own people?”

“It’s incredible, isn’t it?” Wickens said, as if sharing in my astonishment. “There are a lot of parallels between that event and what happened at the Twin Towers. You know how they pancaked down, one floor collapsing on top of another?”

The unforgettable images flashed in my mind. “Yeah,” I said.

“That was because there were already bombs in the buildings. That’s how they came down so perfectly, like when those demolition experts go in and drop a building, you know.”

I paused. “You noticed those two planes, right?”

Timmy smiled and waved his hand at me. “Anyway, with the Oklahoma City thing, it just shows you what lengths the government will go to.”

“To do what?” I asked. “What lengths?”

“To discredit honest, hardworking people, patriots, people like Timothy McVeigh, people like us and yourselves. You know,” he said, smiling, “I’ve always found it a curious coincidence that he and I share the same first name.”

“I’m still not sure I follow,” I said. “How did this discredit people like McVeigh, and you?”

Timmy Wickens nodded patiently, as though he’d had to explain this to others many times, and was willing to go through it as often as was necessary to get his message out there. “The government, when it becomes too powerful and strives to interfere too much in people’s lives, by tracking their movements, their financial transactions, by taking away their ability to defend themselves by bearing arms, will go to drastic measures to turn the public against those people who are fighting back to reclaim their constitutional rights and stop this country from slipping into moral bankruptcy and the watering down of the races.” He was jabbing a finger in the air at me to make his point. “What are we to make of a world that lets colored people run rampant and turn our cities into jungles, that lets faggots get their own TV shows and lets them live together without no shame at all? Did you know, right here in Braynor, the faggots want to put a float into the parade? And that the town, our white mayor, who is married to a colored, is probably going to let them? Can you imagine such a thing? They’ll probably build a huge purse and ride in it.” He chuckled at his own joke.

“So,” he continued, “they find people like Timothy McVeigh, who fight back against the government, who fight against the suppression of the truth, who fight to preserve decency and the family and preserve moral values, and frame them for monstrous acts like what happened at Oklahoma City. Mr. McVeigh was the kind of person with the courage of his convictions, who was willing to strike back at the government to let them know that they can’t get away with these kinds of things.”

“What you’re saying is,” I said slowly, “Timothy McVeigh didn’t do it, he was being framed, but it was the sort of statement he would have wanted to make, and if he had, that would have been okay?”

Timmy thought about that for a moment, pursed his lips out, and nodded. “I think you’re starting to get the idea.” He slapped the tops of his thighs as though congratulating all of us. “Some people, it takes them a lot longer to get their head around this. You got it right away.”

“Dinner!” shouted Charlene from the kitchen.

Timmy motioned for Dad and me to follow him. When Wickens’s back was turned, Dad sidled up next to me and twirled his index finger beside his head, the international “they’re crazy” gesture.

“Stop it,” I whispered.

There was a long wood table in the oversized kitchen, up close to an open window that looked out toward the barn. Everyone was gathered there, taking their seats.

Timmy glanced out the window, toward the barn. “Dougie,” he said, “is that the van I see sitting out there?”

Dougie craned his neck to look. “Appears to be.”

“Didn’t I ask you to back it into the barn?”

Dougie, in an exaggerated display, bounced his fist off his forehead. “I forgot.”

“Jesus, Dougie, you’d forget your ass if it wasn’t already in your pants.”

Charlene, at the stove, whirled around. “You leave him alone!”

“Fine, fine, whatever,” Timmy said. “Dougie, run out there, put away the van, and let the dogs out of the barn. We can toss them some dinner scraps out the window.”

Dougie excused himself, and a few minutes later I could hear Gristle and Bone charge toward the house, then gather under the open window, growling and snorting. Then there was scratching outside, as the dogs jumped up against the house, high enough that their slobbering snouts appeared briefly at the window, then disappeared.

“Down!” Wickens shouted, and the jumping stopped.

When Dougie came back in, we all took our seats, Wickens at one end, his wife at the other, her chair backed up to a pantry door with a lock on it. The rest of us filled in the spots between, May at one corner by her father, head down.

Wickens lowered his head. “Dear Lord, please bless us and lead us into righteousness, and welcome the guests at our table, and we thank you for this food, and ask that you say a special prayer for our friend Morton, who was taken by one of your creatures, and we trust that it is all part of your divine plan, amen.”

BOOK: Lone Wolf
12.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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