By Barry Lyga
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Format:ebook (Digital original) $1.99 $2.99 CAD
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It all started with Dead Girl #1 and Dead Girl #2, the first killings in the sleepy town of Lobo’s Nod in decades. Two murders: just a coincidence, or something more sinister? One thing’s for sure–it was definitely inconvenient in a year when Sheriff G. William Tanner, a mourning widower, had to run for reelection.
With a trail gone cold, it’s only luck that links the murders to the most notorious serial killer in memory. And in a town like Lobo’s Nod, the killer must be someone Tanner already knows….
The children of Lobo’s Nod are taught a certain tale about the founding of their hometown and the origin of its name, and by the time they are old enough for the truth, no one cares to teach it. Few, in any event, are the residents of Lobo’s Nod (affectionately dubbed “the Nod” by the locals) who can remember the truth. Most of the Nod grew up in the Nod, after all, and learned the soothing lie at Lobo’s Nod Municipal Elementary, and did not pay attention later at Lobo’s Nod High School when they were supposed to be taught the reality behind the falsehood. Then again, most of the history teachers didn’t bother. After all, they had grown up in the Nod, too, and the lie seemed harmless enough. It savored of the bland comfort of chicken broth on flu days. And chicken broth—regardless of the provability of its medicinal properties—never hurt anyone.
Few people knew the truth of the origins of the Nod.
Even fewer cared.
Stop an adult on the sidewalk on a random day in the Nod and ask for the story of how the town got its name, and you will most likely hear this story:
In 1787, before statehood, when this part of the country was merely a territory, a French trapper and hunter named Étienne LeBeau came west through one of the new United States. LeBeau had—so legend goes—fought bravely on the side of the Americans during their War for Independence, and for his bravery had been promised a spot of land “west of Carolina.”
With his comrades in tow, LeBeau chopped and hacked and rammed his way through undergrowth and overgrowth. On a warm day in September 1787, he and his party broke through a high wall of brush and beheld, in the shallow valley below them, a flat and green dell with ready access to a nearby river (since gone dammed and dry) and the spoor of plentiful game. LeBeau stood on the ridge overlooking the spot, and when his traveling party clamored for him to say something—anything—that would mean an end to their journey west, he remained silent.
Instead, he smiled. And nodded.
The place was thus named LeBeau’s Nod, which—over years of corrosive verbal miscommunication and nonstandard spelling—became Lobo’s Nod.
That is the lie.
The reality of the founding of Lobo’s Nod is closely allied with the lie; the very best lies share bed space with the truth, taking on their scent and their mannerisms, becoming indistinguishable from each other.
Étienne LeBeau was, in fact, a fighter in the War for Independence. A French soldier sent from the court of Louis XVI to wage war against the hated British on the American continent, following the Americans’ inspired victory at Saratoga.
LeBeau’s history in France is lost to the ravenous fog that eventually consumes all of time, but it is known that he deserted early upon reaching the shores of the New World and sold his services to whichever side would have him. After the war, he disappeared with a gang of similar-minded thugs into the woods of the Carolinas, where—it is true—he survived through his prowess at hunting and trapping, but also made a name for himself as a pillager, thief, rapist, and murderer.
In 1787, LeBeau finally pushed his luck too far, and it dropped over a cliff. With half his gang dead under militia bullets and bayonets, he fled far west of Carolina before being captured with his fellows. In an act that could have been grim retribution or rare, softhearted mercy, LeBeau and his gang were sentenced to exile from the new United States, to be cast out into the “Territories where the Sauvages & Beastes rage.”
With an armed detachment herding their shackled charges into the wild, LeBeau and his men marched for weeks before they came upon a brown-dead gully, overflowed with river effluvia, its few flat arable surfaces studded with heavy, plow-throwing rocks. It was here that the leader of the escort force left LeBeau and his malcontents, out of the civilized world, quoting the Good Book:
“‘And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod.’
“This,” the leader is reputed to have said, “is the penalty for murderers.”
“Nod,” LeBeau is said to have retorted, “was east of Eden, espèce de con.”
The word nod in the original Hebrew refers to wandering, but LeBeau—perhaps out of age or exhaustion, but more likely due to the bullet wound in his leg he’d suffered when trying to escape—wandered not at all, settling instead in the reeking, rancid vale where the Americans had left him and his compatriots, in the land thenceforth known as LeBeau’s Nod.
Until years and ignorance corrupted it, as they corrupt all things.
One of the people in Lobo’s Nod who knew this truth was G. William Tanner. He’d learned it from his late wife, a Nod native and a schoolteacher. She’d told it to him one night early in their marriage, when the sex was nightly and the laughter had yet to deepen into the familiar tones of hard-fought love. It was a small story, but Tanner remembered it.
It wasn’t an important history, Tanner was well aware.
G. William Tanner—“G. William” to one and all, including his sainted wife—liked knowing the truth. Whatever it was.
That was one reason why—at the age of sixty-two and after burying his wife of thirty-seven years—he was once again running for election as the sheriff of the county that was home to Lobo’s Nod.
A dead girl.
When he thought the words over and over, they became meaningless to G. William Tanner. You could do that with any words, he knew, via thorough and unrelenting repetition, but somehow turning a dead girl into a hash of syllables seemed profane. Still, he couldn’t stop the words from repeating in his head over and over, and he couldn’t stop them from disintegrating into a mishmash.
The words became meaningless, but the idea and the fear never did.
There was no body, but there was an excellent chance Lobo’s Nod had had its first murder in recent memory.
In his office, G. William had a large corkboard mounted to one wall. Usually, its pushpin-pocked surface revealed nothing more exciting than the week’s duty roster, photos of the latest DUI stops, a court schedule, and the menu from whichever of the three decent-to-middling local take-out joints would get the sheriff’s business that day. But for a week now, the corkboard had held the meager evidence in the case of Cara Swinton, most likely A Dead Girl.
It wasn’t definite, but all the signs pointed in that direction. G. William couldn’t stop thinking of Cara Swinton, and he couldn’t stop thinking of old Étienne LeBeau, either. If this had been 1787 and not the twenty-first century, Monsieur LeBeau would have been the sheriff’s prime suspect. According to legend, Étienne liked them young and pretty, and G. William had a suspicion the old boy had a habit of discarding them, too, when he was done with them. He reached for the phone on his desk to call Joyce and get her thoughts on the matter; he was halfway to his face with the receiver when he remembered—again—that Joyce was dead. Was fifty-nine too old to be called a girl? Because she’d been G. William’s girl, that was for sure, and now she, too, was A Dead Girl.
Too. He had to stop that. Cara’s death wasn’t proven; it wasn’t a fact. Not yet. There was still a chance she’d run off or was being held somewhere. How perverse was life that he was hoping she was suffering somewhere in a dungeon?
The receiver hovered in the space between the desk and his ear.
Clearing his throat, G. William replaced the receiver. He wasn’t sure how long Deputy Hanson had been standing in his doorway watching the old man vacillate between call and no call. He thought he could trust Hanson to keep it to himself, though. The last thing he needed was some story about him losing his mind getting out there during the election.
“You wanted me to remind you to eat lunch?”
Hanson’s uncertain, questioning tone made him a terrible lawman, but a decent mother hen. G. William scrubbed his hands down his face; his mustache felt bushy and prickly. Joyce used to nudge him when it was time to trim it. His considerable gut cared not for memory, and it rumbled at the notion of food. “Yeah, sure. What did I do yesterday?”
“Right, right. Let’s do Grasser’s today. Cheeser with fries, and get yourself whatever. Put it on the county.”
As Hanson retreated, G. William heard Joyce’s tongue clucking. Something green won’t kill you, you know.
“Hanson!” he shouted, and when the deputy poked his head back in, said, “Kill the fries. Do me one of those side salad things.”
There, are you happy now?
Happier if you’d lose a few pounds. I managed.
Her teasing voice. She’d been plump her whole life—God, he loved that!—but in the last year of her life, all that weight had dropped away. Ovarian cancer, she joked, turned out to be the diet she’d spent her whole life looking for.
Not an option for me, sweetheart.
His eyes misted, and he pressed his lips together and shook his head violently. There was no time for this. Not now. She was gone. Gone and in the ground a good month now, and there was a missing girl—please, God, don’t let her turn out to be A Dead Girl—to deal with. A murder would be the first in Lobo’s Nod since…since he wasn’t sure when. Maybe back to old Étienne himself. Maybe…just maybe…poor old Cara Swinton had come upon the ghost of LeBeau, and he’d done her in.
That scenario was as likely as any other, for all the evidence G. William had. He stood and lumbered over to the corkboard. He wasn’t pudgy or big-boned or overweight or “carrying a few extra pounds” or whatever other euphemism of the moment one could elect to use. No, he was fat. Obese, in fact. Five-ten-and-a-half, with a broad frame hauling north of three hundred pounds. Some of it was muscle. Some of it, he liked to growl to deputies, was just pure mean.
You’re going to keel over from a heart attack, she’d said. In the hospice. Last days. Last breaths, and she used them to reproach him for his weight.
You spent your life taking care of yourself, and look where that got you, he’d retorted. Lightly.
Making plans is the surest way to tickle God’s funny bone, she’d said.
He’d only had one plan, and it had had two simple components: Be the sheriff and live a long life with Joyce.
God had guffawed and taken away one. Now He was fixing to take away the other.
- On Sale
- Apr 1, 2014
- Page Count
- 100 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers