Read The Ridge Online

Authors: Michael Koryta

Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense, #Thrillers, #Horror, #Occult & Supernatural, #Horror fiction, #Supernatural, #Lighthouses, #Lighthouses - Kentucky, #Kentucky

The Ridge (6 page)

BOOK: The Ridge
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He wanted to see it all better now, but it was dark inside and the light switch by the door did no good. He thought of the popping sound he’d heard when he broke the bulb, that harsh snap. He’d taken the power out. Question was whether it was a blown fuse or a circuit breaker.

The positive side of Wyatt’s sparse home was that it was hard for anything to hide. Roy found the electrical panel easily enough—its metal door stood just over the head of the narrow cot Wyatt had used for a bed, almost as if he’d wanted it as close by as possible while he slept. Roy opened the door and saw that several of the breakers had snapped down. He reset them, and when he tried the light switch at the door again, it worked.

He wandered, studying the old photographs and the maps with the names in red ink, wondering what they meant, wondering what had happened to the police car down below and whether he should head out and take a look, wondering if he’d seriously damaged his hand, wondering why the dead man upstairs had pulled the trigger and why, above all else, he’d had to call Roy before he did it.

To keep the light on. And you broke it. Somewhere, his ghost is shaking his head at you now, Darmus.

His mind was like that, uneasy and adrift, until his eyes focused on a map tacked up just above the small kitchen table.
The year was 1965, and there were two names written in red: Joseph Darmus; Lillian Darmus.

The blood seeping from his palm no longer felt warm as it met the damp towel.

It was then that Roy understood the significance of the names written in red ink.

Red was for the dead.

7
 

T
HERE WAS A TOUCH OF ICE
in the rain by the time Kimble got to Blade Ridge, just enough to sting even as it soaked him. He was hardly the first responder: there was a volunteer fire unit and an ambulance already there, along with what remained of one of the department’s cars. It wasn’t much. Kimble, who’d heard the radio traffic as he neared the scene, knew that Shipley had wrecked but was awake and uninjured. He hadn’t been expecting so much damage.

He paused at the accident scene, watching as they strapped one of his best deputies into a backboard, then went over and put his hand in Shipley’s and squeezed it.

“You all right, brother? You coming back to fight another day with us?”

“Fine,” Shipley said. “Just fine.” But he was clearly shaken by the wreck, his typically cool blue eyes darting all around, taking in the cats on one side of the road and the lighthouse on the other. Bad wrecks were terrifying things, and one in a place like this? Had to be distressing, to say the least.

“Thought there was somebody here,” Shipley told him. “Right in the road. He didn’t move out of my way, so I swerved.”

One of the paramedics caught Kimble’s eye with a little hand motion, then shook his head. There’d been no one in the road. Kimble turned his attention back to Shipley, thinking that he didn’t like the look of the man’s face and eyes now, and when the paramedics told him they had to get on the road, he wasn’t disappointed. He wanted Shipley out of here.

“Make sure he gets a full round of concussion tests,” Kimble said. “He seems out of it.”

“We’ve got good doctors waiting.”

He nodded. “You take care, Nathan,” he called as they slid the deputy into the ambulance. “I’ll be in touch soon.”

Shipley didn’t respond before they swung the doors shut.

Kimble paused briefly at the wreck scene, where a tow truck was arriving, but he didn’t want to get caught in the mill of taking statements about the accident when his interest was in the lighthouse. Another car was responding to the wreck, and he’d let them deal with it. For now, he needed to focus on Wyatt French.

The entire drive out here the phone conversation had played on repeat in his mind, growing darker and more disturbing with each recalled word. He should have done more than just offer up the suicide toll-free line. If he’d done that much, then he’d clearly heard enough to be concerned, and he shouldn’t have settled for so little effort. But there’d been that odd remark about Jacqueline… the knowledge, first of all, that he’d been on his way to see her, and then the warning to be careful with her. After that, he hadn’t wanted to call anyone about Wyatt French. Hadn’t wanted to
think
about Wyatt French.

How did he know that?
he thought as he drove up the steep, slippery drive.
How did an unemployed alcoholic know that I was going to see Jacqueline?

He parked outside the fence, and when he got out of the cruiser he saw Roy Darmus, the newspaper reporter, standing in the yard on the other side of the fence. This was the true first responder, the man who’d found the body.

“Interesting that the gate is locked but you’re on the other side, Darmus.”

“I climbed over. Be glad I did, and not some kids. He’s a mess.”

“Yeah?” Kimble studied the padlock, then returned to the cruiser, rooted in the trunk, and came out with a pair of bolt cutters. The gate would need to be opened at some point, and Kimble’s back didn’t make climbing fences any easy task. He snipped through the chain that held the padlock, then swung open the gate.

Below them, the trees were lit with flashing lights from the accident. Darmus, a guy of middling size with salt-and-pepper hair and perpetually intense eyes, waved a hand in their direction.

“What happened down there? I was going to go check, but they’d told me to stay here until someone showed up. Took a while.”

“One of my deputies had a little trouble navigating the road. He’s all right. Now what exactly brought you out here, Darmus? And don’t tell me you’re working on a story. Aren’t any stories left.”

“There are always stories left. I just don’t have a place to tell them at the moment.”

“You think that qualifies as an answer?”

“I was closing up shop at the office today when I got a call from him,” Darmus said. “From Wyatt French. I’d written about the lighthouse when he first built it. I took it at face value, quoted him accurately, didn’t make a joke of it. He said he was building it because the place was dangerous, and I just put that in and let it sit there. I got a lot of eye rolls for that story, but I guess Wyatt appreciated the way I treated it. Him. He started
calling me with tips, time to time. Once in a while there was actually some decent information. Most of the time there wasn’t. But today… today he was just frightening. Talking in riddles, breathing hard, saying that he was scared of himself, of what he could do. I wasn’t sure if he was suicidal or homicidal or just drunk. I drove out to see.”

“You wanted to
see
if he was homicidal?”

“I wanted to see if anyone needed to be worried about him. The answer, clearly, is no. Not anymore.”

“What time was this?”

“Maybe an hour ago.”

So Wyatt had still been alive, and working the phones, long after he’d called Kimble. He’d seen it through almost another day. Hadn’t been willing to let the sun go down, though, hadn’t seen it through another night.

“He talked about my parents,” Darmus said. “I didn’t exactly appreciate that. Then I walk in there and I see he’s got their names on a map. He’s got a lot of names on maps, a lot of old photographs.”

Kimble frowned. “Your parents?”

Darmus nodded, and the usually friendly eyes had a hard sheen to them now. “Yes. The old tosspot suggested that they killed themselves out here. Wanted me to know how
brave
they were, making a decision like that and leaving a child behind.”

“Out here?”

Darmus waved a hand down at the flashing lights in the trees below them. “Right about where your deputy wrecked, I’d assume. They missed the curve on the county road back in ’65, ended up on Blade Ridge, and ended up in the trees. I was fourteen years old.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It was a long time ago,” Darmus said, trying without success to be dismissive. Then he took a deep breath, nodded, and said,
“Thanks, Kimble. I’m not going to let the guy get in my head. He was not a well man. And he’s in mighty worse shape now.”

Kimble said, “I’ll go have myself a look.”

“There’s blood up there,” Darmus said, “and it’s mine.” He held up his hand, which was wrapped in a towel but still showing blood.

“How’d that happen?”

“Wyatt doesn’t look good. Looks pretty ghastly, in fact. When I saw him, it scared me. I fell and put my hand through the bulb.”

“The wound serious?”

“Not too bad. But I’m glad that you ended up here, because—”

“Because you broke the law by trespassing and then proceeded to bleed all over the death scene?”

“The door was open.”

“And the gate?”

Darmus was silent. Kimble said, “All right, let me go on up and have a look. There’s an ambulance on the way. They can look at your hand. If he’s as you say, isn’t going to be much need to hurry him out of here, is there?”

“No,” Darmus said. “There surely isn’t. But you didn’t let me finish. I called for you because, well… Wyatt French did, too. There’s a note on the door.”

“So I’ve been told.”

“What do you know about him?”

“Less than you, I expect,” Kimble said. “But he sent for you, too. Sent for both of us. And you know what that tells me?”

“What?”

“That even crazy men can read the papers.”

Kimble left Darmus standing in the rain and walked to the lighthouse. He stopped at the door and studied the note. A simple, oddly polite request to contact him
for purposes of investigation.
He read it, remembering the hiss of the tires on the pavement and
the look of the fog in his headlights as he’d answered Wyatt’s questions that morning.

Do you pursue the root causes of a suicide in the same manner that you would a homicide?

Kimble had told him that he pursued the truth. Always.

Now, in the freezing rain outside the dead man’s door, Kimble turned back to Darmus.

“I suppose I should wait for someone else now,” he said. “I’m probably a suspect, what with my name stamped on the damn door. And he called me this morning, too. Probably said about the same things he did with you. Maybe he called half the town, I don’t know. But since my deputy just flipped a cruiser on his way here, and I’m the only officer on scene, I guess I’ll count on Wyatt having taken himself out of this life nice and simply and leaving me no trouble. Did he do that much for me?”

“He did it thoroughly,” Darmus said. “That much I can assure you.”

Kimble went in. The room was small but functional, with unfinished walls and bare-bones furnishings, the look and feel of a hunting cabin except that the walls were lined with maps and old photographs. He gave them a brief glance, then turned to his left and walked up the steps. He didn’t cover his mouth or nose, just climbed to the top, high enough to see all that he needed to see. Wyatt’s unkempt gray beard was matted with blood, and his eyes—he’d always had good-natured eyes, you could tell even when he was drunk and you were putting him in handcuffs that he wasn’t likely to take a poke at you—were locked in a death stare, facing east, away from the fog-shrouded river and toward the high peaks.

“I’m sorry,” Kimble told the corpse softly.

Now what if,
Wyatt had said,
the suicide victim wasn’t entirely willing
.

What had been going on in this man’s life? So far as Kimble knew, his life was an empty one. There was never anyone who showed up to post his bond, never anyone who waited for him outside the jail when they kicked him loose on another public intox charge. He’d just been the sort who drifted along alone except for the booze, and you couldn’t help but feel sorry for such people, particularly when they weren’t hostile and when they didn’t stand to do much harm to anyone except themselves.

“Damn it,” Kimble said, and then he stepped away and went back down the stairs. He needed to get Darmus out of here, and the coroner on the way. It was time to begin processing the death scene, and he would, as he’d promised Wyatt, pursue the truth.

When he came back downstairs, he found that Darmus had stepped inside.

“Hit the road, Darmus. I’ll call you when I need to get an official statement. Go get that hand checked out, okay?”

“You see the other lamps he’s got in there?” Darmus said. “Those things pointed in every direction below the main light?”

“I did.”

“What in the hell are they?”

“Infrared illuminators. Security camera lights. But I’ve yet to see the cameras, so why he installed them, I have no damn idea.” Kimble looked at the steps and shook his head. “A
lighthouse
. Who builds something like that in the mountains? Though you can see the river from the top.”

“Right,” Darmus said. “I’m sure it has prevented dozens of shipwrecks down there. Why, I can’t recall the last time I had to report on a ship foundering at Blade Ridge. Any chance you can issue a posthumous medal of valor to him?”

The reporter was still plenty angry. His final exchange with Wyatt French had gotten under his skin, and that was understandable. It was a hell of a thing to hear suggested of your own parents.

BOOK: The Ridge
11.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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