Authors: Kevin Hardcastle
“It's the son,” she said.
The cop looked to Bob and he just clamped his lips together and shook his head but once.
“The last anyone saw him he was banged up in Moosejaw and then supposedly put in hospital out west. Even then they were petty charges,” said the cop.
“It's known pretty well that he did things he didn't catch a charge for,” she said. “Even a young man like you has to have heard it.”
“I've heard a lot of things,” the cop said. “And I know the elder Campbell was a murderous son of a bitch but there just isn't anything to say that it carried in the genes.”
Emily got up from the table and took the cop's huge forearm in both hands through his jacket. Looked long into his eyes.
“I hope that's the truth. 'Cause I was in school with the father.”
McGuire stared back at her for a few moments and then down at the counter. Cleared his throat.
“You got my card to call me,” the cop said. “I'm not kiddin' when I say you can get me on the horn anytime if something's up.”
“Okay,” she said.
McGuire took his hat up off the counter and put it on. He stood high enough that his elbow sent a rack of hung pans rattling. He stopped them one by one. Then he went out with a nod and set about bashing his mud-caked boots together in the yard.
Two weeks later another girl
was found half-eaten by a fertilizer slurry pit, this on a soy farm not ten miles away from Emily and Bob's place. The cops came out to collect her body. The girl had been lost after a bush party, left out walking down the county road with her friend, both of them sixteen years old. The friend still hadn't turned up. This time there were news trucks at the site and special investigators down from the city. There were floodlights ablaze on those grounds until after midnight and the farmer who lived there was kept under watch until the cops cleared him of any part in it and went back to guesswork and conjecture.
The next morning two squad cars pulled up outside while Emily was frying eggs. Four cops came to the door and they were all bruisers, but none as big as McGuire. He stood front and centre when Emily opened up for them.
“There any way to get to that shack in a vehicle?” he asked her.
“Not with what you've got,” she said. “But you can drive out across the rocky part a' those fields if you want. Save you all but the trail-hike.”
McGuire tipped his hat to her and all of the cops went back to their cruisers. They rolled up over the curb and carried on through the highgrass, bucked hard as they made for the treeline.
That evening after dinner Bob
lay slumped in his armchair with his belt unbuckled and his thumbs hooked into the strapleather. Emily shook him by the shoulder. He stared at her wide-eyed. He was the kind that woke up all at once and she'd always been impressed by it.
“What is it, Em?” he said.
“I think I'd like to go to mass.”
She wore a red blouse and a long skirt that swam about her ankles. Her hair was pulled back tight to a ponytail.
“Well, alright,” Bob said, and set about putting his pants on proper.
They'd gone to the old church
on the hill. It had a lookout tower at the height of the grounds that saw over the entire county, the big inland river and the sea that it came from. Emily lit a five-dollar candle before mass. Candles set in three rows of glass tubes with the most of them aflame. The rows went upward to a plateau where the bones of Jesuit priests were kept in cases of wood and gold. Finger bones of the one. Part of a pelvis. Sheared-off shortribs. An entire skull sat on a narrow cushion in the largest encasement, a rectangular hole punched into it above one aural canal. Upon the darkwood walls of the church were pegs full with old crutches, canes, bracings. After the mass they were quick to get out of their pew, but Emily stopped and came back to the candles and lit three more and then she went out. She'd not paid for any of those and Bob didn't bring it up.
There were leaves and baubles
of knotted wildgrass in the entryway when they got home, the front door open and drifting. Bob started to go inside and Emily grabbed a fistful of his shirtcloth.
“You don't go in like that,” she said.
“Are you kidding me, Bob?”
The old man stared into the dim-lit house and he was breathing very hard. He shook his head and stepped out. Took hold of Emily at the elbow and moved her ahead of him. Walked back to the truck. There he asked Emily to get inside but she would only wait on the liner-step while he called the police. She tried to see into the almost pure dark on the property flanks. She could not see a damn thing. Bob got off the phone and they both climbed into the truck and locked the doors and then Bob backed out quick and drove to the concession fork where they would see the cops clear on the approach.
Waiting there they watched him come out into the road in a hunch, stepping nimbly between over the middle line of a barbed-wire fence, perhaps fifty yards from where they idled. He stood tall and full and looked all around. Emily nearly ducked but froze halfway. The Campbell boy had a short, dark beard and a good head of hair and decent clothes. He wore a backpack and seemed to be cinching it tighter. He loped across the road and in five strides he was gone. Bob started to put the truck in gear.
“My God,” Emily said. “Do we run him over?”
That caused Bob to switch his foot back to the brake and hold the truck. After a long, long minute the driver-side mirror lit in colours. Bob shifted into park again and waited with his one leg dancing on the floormatting. Emily reached over and steadied it by the kneecap. She spoke to him softly until they were not in the road alone anymore.
The police could not locate
Campbell and over the months to come they searched the cabin and the grounds so many times they were forced to move on. Sightings were called in from highway rest stops, diners, officers in other small towns as far as ten hours' drive away. No new bodies turned up that could be attributed to the killer, and those he'd already made were buried in the town cemetery according to which side of the fence a Lutheran, or Presbyterian, or Catholic Jesus lived on. Emily and Bob paid out of pocket so that a small stone stood for the first girl, who nobody had come to collect or shed a tear over. When the snows came that stone became awful hard to find.
Toward Christmas Bob took ill and had fever dreams and delirium that scared Emily. In the early days of it the only symptom of sickness he had was that he kept feeling like he had to crap even when he'd just emptied his bowels. They'd not thought much of it until he was cold always, weak by his legs. Soon he had two lumps form in his asscrack just below the tailbone and in three days it got to where he couldn't walk or sit and Emily drove him to the emergency room in the town hospital. He'd been taking her leftover hysterectomy pills behind slugs of whiskey but still he had to lay sideways on the benchseat with his head in her lap.
“This is stupid,” he said to her.
“I don't think so,” she said.
The tires bucked on the snowpack and busted roadways and when they did Bob snarled and knuckled the flooring.
“Can't you drive any smoother?” he said.
“I can stomp the brake and see if that don't put you to sleep until we get there.”
“Sweet Jesus,” he said. “Come on now.”
He got in to triage and gave his information standing, went through to an examination room at a hobble and lay face-down on the bed, his jeans pulled clear for his ass to show. There he shooed Emily but she wouldn't leave him.
“I've seen parts of you that you ain't ever gonna see,” she said. “What more is there?”
“I don't like you seein' me sick like this.”
“Hell it is,” he said. The words were part-muffled by the pillow. He kept his face there until the doctor came in. The doc knew the name of Bob's malady within seconds and it would have been called boils when they were younger but medicine called it a cyst now. It bothered Emily to hear it. She stood and squeezed Bob's hand and he just looked at her. Then she did leave.
She gathered him clean
underwear and folded it neatly on the bed. Made up a small bag with his toothbrush in it along with other necessaries. She came out to the kitchen and looked at the clock. Went for the cupboard and pulled a bottle of the good whiskey and poured a small glass. The little house interior showed strange in the haphazard lighting that she'd made by flicking whatever switches caught her eye on the way through. The kitchen was almost entirely dark and Emily was dark inside it when the Campbell boy passed by the sliding doors and could be seen plain through the vertical blinds by the glow of the full and low-hanging moon. Emily stopped where she stood and so did her drink and so did her heart. She waited a minute after he'd gone before she went to the bedroom and dug under their bed for the rifle.
He was quarterway across the field toward the woods when she stepped out onto the cold concrete and sighted him in the lunar pale. The killer Campbell made his way slowly with the snow high on his shins. Emily had no coat on and his shape started to shake against the sight. She cussed herself out and went back into the house and came back with a toque pulled over her ears and with her coat unfastened and drifting on a gentle easterly. Nobody was out there anymore. Emily looked and looked and then she pulled off her hat and pitched it into the snow.
When her husband was discharged
home Emily tried to tend to him as he lay sideways watching nature shows on the television. He wore just boxer shorts and a T-shirt and his legs were patchy with grey hair but otherwise had muscle that seemed younger than the rest of him by decades. He'd often get up and shuffle over to the bathroom or to the kitchen for another beer. Bob had been run through with saline and antibiotics and had colour in his face again and part of his appetite back. Every few hours he had to settle in a sitz bath of warm water and salt to keep the lanced skin of his asscrack from any chance of re-infection. Emily never had to bother him once to do it. He'd have the plastic basin rinsed and filled and sat over the toilet and rinsed afterward before she could tell him anything. He kept the clock by it and Emily knew that he must have been in a great deal of pain in the days before if he were so hell-bent on making sure he didn't forget them.
In the small hours before dawn
Emily left the house and walked the fields. She had no flashlight but she saw the tracks clearly and trod in them to her knee. Every step felt unnatural to her and she thought about branching off through the snowpack but she did not want snow in her boots to wet her socks. She carried a leather shoulder bag and had the rifle slung high so that the butt wouldn't drub the white. The new sun was but a sliver when she broke the treeline and travelled on through the pine-row corridor.
She'd enough layers to last the day through and had to loose one to stop herself from sweating as she sat on a stump above the clearing. The sun could not reach the cabin yet and the building sat there in its crooked way, dark and weird and without life. When sunlight finally hit the hollow Emily backed off into thicker cover and shook pins and needles out of her feet. She took up a handful of snow and ate it in bites. It was then that she heard a dry pop, what she thought might be a tree limb that broke loose somewhere in the wood behind her. But the sound had not come from there. She got down low and edged out toward the shortcliff.
There she watched as a patch of ground behind the shack rose, only visible by the fir needles in the snow and by two perpendicular black lines that widened as the cellar hatch was lifted in fits by a man likely moving up a set of steps. Emily lay down on her front slowly. She had the rifle in both hands and readied and she drew the stock to her armpit. She dragged the shoulder bag in front of her as a rest. Her heart thumped and she tried to slow it. The hatch rose enough that she could see Campbell's face and the length of his arms raising the trapdoor. She pulled. Crack of riflefire in the hollow. The door fell shut again.
Bob hauled a barrowful of paving
stones and cement-mix from the truck to the garage. When he wheeled his way back he came upon a cruiser idling at the roadside. He eased the barrow down. The cop McGuire sat in the driver seat with no partner. The sidepanels were thick with claymud dried hard by the warm spring sun. The tires were filthy with runoff from the farmhouse lawn.
“Mornin',” Bob said.
“You all doin' okay out here?” McGuire said.
“We are,” he said. “How're things with you?”
“Quiet,” McGuire said. He raised his huge hand and put the car into gear and drove off down the county road.
In the house Emily slept late. She'd woken just once in the night and had hustled to the bathroom blind and by the memory of her footsoles and then came back to bed. Her dreams were many and each started strange on the heels of the one before. She dreamt of waters and blackwoods and a barn foundering and collapsing on itself while a lone dog scattered not fast enough in the sidefields. She dreamt of driving in a car with no roofcovers. She dreamt of the dead girls, daughters all and none of them hers.