Nature Noir

Nature Noir by Jordan Fisher Smith

Book: Nature Noir by Jordan Fisher Smith Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jordan Fisher Smith
the usual summer disturbances: loud parties at midnight in the campgrounds, car wrecks, random gunfire, petty theft, the occasional swimmer swept away in the river. The wooly sunflowers that had covered the road banks in May and June were gone now, as were the
Brodiaea
lilies that had gone off like violet fireworks above our meadows just as the grass turned from green to brown. By August the meadows bleached pale blond in the overwhelming brightness of the summer sun. Nashville warblers, Pacific Slope flycatchers, Bewick's wrens, black-headed grosbeaks, and the other birds whose exuberance filled the forests of early summer raised their fledglings and flew away.
    After Labor Day the park settled down. At ten o'clock in the evening on the Thursday after the holiday, Finch and I were bumping down Yankee Jims Road on patrol. Our headlights swept the dark cliffs, and the cloud of dust behind us was lit by the lurid glow of our brake lights. Just inside our boundary I saw something sparkle in the woods below the road. We stopped and got out to have a look.
    From the edge of the road, our flashlight beams fell on a beige Chevrolet compact upside down below us, leaning against a tree. As we picked our way down the embankment, I steeled myself for what we might find inside. But there were no bodies or splashes of blood, just crumbs of safety glass, a scattering of personal items, and a woman's handbag. We climbed back up to the road and went through the handbag. Inside was a clutch purse containing the driver's license of a Mary Elaine Murphy of Colfax. I radioed Roberta at the dispatch office and asked her to check on that name and license and send a tow truck. When the wrecker arrived we had the car winched up the bank and taken to an impound yard for investigation. Then we drove on to the river to look for witnesses.

    It was close to midnight when we got to the bridge. The river sounded louder than usual in the darkness below us. On the far side we found an older pickup with a camper on the back, parked along the shoulder. We lit it up with our spotlights and rapped on the quilted aluminum door of the camper. The door opened and a blond man in his late twenties squinted into the glare. I recognized him from another, unrelated incident. He mumbled that sure, he knew all about the wreck up the road. A miner named Ricky Marks had driven the car off the cliff, he had heard. I said the name sounded familiar.
    "You oughta know him, Smith—you took his shotgun," the tousled man said, rubbing one crusty eye. "Anyway, like I was saying, Ricky was drunk, and after the wreck he stayed with me and Kenny down here by the bridge insteada going back up to his cabin. Middle of the night there was a bunch of noise and we all woke up. Ricky was lying in his sleeping bag, surrounded by men with guns—serious guns. One of them grabbed him by his hair and shined a flashlight in his face, holding a gun to his forehead. They had some woman with them. 'Is this him? Is this him?' the one who had ahold of Ricky kept yelling. She didn't answer. They kept yelling at her and finally she said yes, it was him. Then they kicked the shit out of Ricky, and when they were finished they told us not to say anything about it or they'd come back and kill us. Then they all got in their trucks and left. I couldn't sleep for the rest of the night. Ricky was lying there bleeding and crying. He didn't want to go to the hospital. Anyway, what was I supposed to do? They had guns."
    "Is he dead?" Finch asked matter-of-factly.
    "Nah. But he was one sore miner in the morning. He looked horrible, face all fucked up," the blond man answered.
    We got a name and the usual general-delivery miner's address from our witness, thanked him, and started back up the road. On the way home Roberta called on the radio. Using the address on Mary Murphy's driver's license, she had found the woman's ex-husband in the directory and phoned him. Evidently he hadn't seen Mary for months. To

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