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Authors: Steve Thayer

Tags: #Mystery, #Crime, #Suspense, #Thriller

The Weatherman (53 page)

BOOK: The Weatherman
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My other dream is of home. If I could walk out of this prison tomorrow free and innocent, I’d run home to Vicksburg. I’d run home in a minute. I’d take a job at the local TV station and I’d tell the folks how hot and humid it’s going to get, or I’d warn them about thunderheads piling miles high in the Delta sky. I’d buy one of those antebellum mansions over the river and I’d fix it up real nice, turn it into a bed and breakfast where Yankees could discover for themselves they don’t need shots to visit the South. And on those suffering hot and humid, lazy Mississippi days I’d sit out on the front porch, suck the sugar from the ice of my mint julep and watch the muddy river roll by. Friends and neighbors would stop up. We’d talk about nothing in particular, mostly the weather. More serious topics would be banned. Once in a while I’d politely correct their sweet ignorance.

“Do you miss it up there in Milwaukee, Dixon?”

“Minnesota. I lived in Minnesota. Yes, I miss it.”

Will you do something for me, Su? Will you pray for me? Will you get down on your knees, close your eyes and talk to God about me? Tell him of the good I did. Ask him to forgive the bad. He never put a more tortured soul on this earth.

I have asked that my remains be cremated. Finish what the state began. I want them to take my ashes down to St. Paul and spread them over the Mississippi, that mean, unappeasing river. The river will take me home.

Falling temps tomorrow. Increasing winds. Snow flurries. Long winter ahead. Carol the guard is yelling at me. I hear doors opening. Death squad coming.

Live a good life, Little Girl.

Dixon Bell

Rick Beanblossom took the photocopy of the Weatherman’s last letter and rolled the pages into a scroll. He held the letter in his scarred hands as if it had been found in a cave off the Dead Sea. So much love, so much hatred in such a gifted man.

The man without a face stood beneath a stone cross where St. Paul’s Summit Avenue came to an abrupt end at a park on Mississippi River Boulevard. Winter was in the wind. A cold front was sweeping across the land. The setting sun was hidden behind a mountain of black and white clouds up from the end of the earth. Below him the mighty river went on its mean, unappeasing way, while over its steep banks of naked trees on the west side the skyscrapers of Minneapolis stood like icicles in the colorless twilight. A flashing white light caught his eye. It was the warning light atop the
IDS
Tower, where from the newsroom below, Dixon Bell had foretold of the coming storm.

The outcry over the botched electrocution was deafening. Up and down the state editorial pages raged with indignation. TV news hired sketch artists to re-create the fiery last minutes in the Death House. Out of a sense of honor and principle Warden Oliver J. Johnson submitted his resignation to the governor. Democrats wanted the governor’s resignation too. Others called for a special session of the legislature to abolish the death penalty. Instead, Per Ellefson issued a moratorium on executions, even though no one else in Minnesota had been sentenced to death.

A preliminary investigation into the execution of Dixon Graham Bell has uncovered two human errors and a mechanical failure. The failure of maintenance personnel to line the headset with an appropriate sponge. The mechanical failure of the automatic electrical cycle. And the failure of the volunteer executioner to override the electrical cycle. Despite these failures the prisoner died during the first application of current. All breathing and muscular activity was involuntary, a motion undertaken by the prisoner’s nervous system after his death. However, all executions are suspended pending the results of an independent investigation.

Arthur Svenson

Spokesman for Per Ellefson

Office of the Governor of the

State of Minnesota

But Rick Beanblossom believed in his heart the malfunction was at the beginning of the process, when the state said it would kill killers to show that killing people is wrong.

In a ghostly tree above him sat a bird’s nest, but the birds were gone. Barges were pushing downstream before the river froze. Behind him Summit Avenue ran east like a decorated ribbon through the charmed neighborhoods of old St. Paul, while out before him Minneapolis and its snowy-white suburbs were pushing farther and farther west, the Los Angelization of a dying prairie. The memorial cross towering over him was dedicated to the men who sacrificed their lives in World War II. “Greater love hath no man than this,” read the inscription. But the veteran of Vietnam wondered if the war was really how they would be remembered, or would they more likely go down in history as the generation that brought the world television?

“What have you done for me lately?”

“That’s my line. How goes the writing life?”

“My publisher wants a book about the case, incorporating his diary. I meet with the editors tomorrow.”

“Who’d want to read a book about a TV weatherman ? ”

“I think a lot of people would, if it’s done right.”

“And in this book you would of course argue his innocence ? ”

“Not necessarily.”

“There was a woman strangled in a parking ramp in Des Moines last night … during a thunderstorm…. A coincidence, I’m sure.”

“I saw that on the wire. I’ll check it out. I could use your help on the book.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that. Winter is coming on. I’m leaving the state. Retiring for good this time, to where it’s sunny and warm.”

“My God, I don’t know what to say. I wouldn’t have had a career without you.”

‘No, you would have had a career, it just wouldn’t have been as colorful. You’re on your own now. Goodbye, Masked Man.”

And here may well end the story of the Weatherman, but for a note he had slipped to Rick Beanblossom in the Stillwater prison the last time they talked.

Those news instincts of yours were no match for a woman’s intuition. Or the gut feeling of an old cop. You see, Andrea was right about me all along, as was Angelbeck. But you? When you pulled that cotton mask over your face you also pulled the wool over your eyes. I believe that the monster that lay inside of me for so many years lies inside of you. It lies in all men. Your obsessive love for Andrea was no different than mine. When she at first said no to you,’ you chose to take your own life. I chose to take the lives of others. Nothing but boiling temperatures await me. I will roast in hell for what I’ve done. If I remember right, you have sources there. Check with them once in a while, just to see how I’m doing.

Perhaps in the end each of them had found what they were looking for; maybe they were only looking for one another. Rick Beanblossom found a pretty face. Andrea Labore found a good man. Les Angelbeck found his last case. Dixon Bell found death.

The November sun sank into the prairie. Barometric pressure began falling, ever so slightly. The black and white clouds were melting together the way a pure stream melts into a polluted river. An arctic wind set him to shivering. The man in the mask checked his watch. If he left now, he could get home in time to watch his wife read the six o’clock news. He’d catch the forecast, grab a bite to eat, then go to bed. Rick needed the rest. He would be a father soon. He had another book to write. Tomorrow he would board a plane for New York. He stuffed Dixon Bell’s last letter into his coat pocket and took a long last look at the polar sky over the Sky High newsroom. Life in Minnesota would go on, but the quality had slipped away with the autumn wind, as if the Weatherman had taken it with him.

The temperature dropped below the freezing point. Snow flurries circled the black leather nose of his blue cotton face. The north wind chilled him to the bone. Rick Beanblossom took a deep breath.

Yes, it would be a good day to fly.

If the weather holds.

THE
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

To research The Weatherman I took a job in the newsroom at
WCCO-TV
in Minneapolis. I worked there for three years. Special thanks are owed to the people at
WCCO
who took the time to teach me television news, especially John Lindsay, Trish Van Pilsum, Julie Kramer, Peter Molenda, Bill Enderson, Dale Dobesh, Pat Kess-ler, Darcy Pohland, Bill Kruskop, and Sandra Lindquist.

To my friends Paul Moore, at
WCCO
, and Judy Nelsen, formerly at
KARE-TV
, for their critiques along the way.

To my friends in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Gordon Cotton, curator of the Old Court House Museum, and Cliff and Bettye Whitney, resident owners of the Comers Bed & Breakfast Mansion.

To Frank W. Wood, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Corrections, Retired Commissioner Orville B. Pung, and Warden Robert A. Erickson for their tour of and information on the Stillwater Correctional Facility.

To Deputy Rick Horst for his tour of and information on the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center.

To Amnesty International
USA
for their wealth of material on capital punishment.

And to Dr. Ronald J. Glasser, former Major, United States Army Medical Corps, now in private practice in Minneapolis. Author of 365 Days.

I began writing The Weatherman in the summer of 1988. It was completed in February of 1993. A special thank-you to author and historian Albert Eisele, Viking Penguin editor Al Silverman, and Washington, D.C., attorney Robert B. Barnett, who made publication possible.

S.T.

BOOK: The Weatherman
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