BLUE RIVER — Monday 02:00
The small mountain town of Blue River had seen better times. There had been a sawmill, and in the early sixties the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had built two dams near the town. The local school system had had eight hundred and fifty students and there were two busy taverns.
The dams were finished, the sawmill had closed, school population had halved, and the highway had been rerouted to bypass the town's main street. Only one quiet tavern remained, and Joe Flynn closed it down each night except when on a binge that led him to visit places he could never remember.
Joe was no bother. He was a fixture that sat at a corner table, usually alone, and there were lots of tables; it had been thirty years since they were all taken.
The establishment's closing hours were variable. If there were customers other than Joe, it was open until the two-thirty a.m. legal closing time. Otherwise it closed whenever the owner and only bartender decided the possibility of a paying customer had dropped to zero. This night he called it quits at ten minutes to two by banging an empty beer mug on the bar to get Joe's attention and nodding his head toward the door.
Joe left without a word. It had not been a good night. He hadn't been able to hustle a single drink, and had had to spend his own meager resources. So he was a little less drunk than usual, sober enough, even, to wonder if he had enough gas left to drive the ten miles from Blue River to McKenzie Bridge. He would have to ask his wife for money; he hated that. A real man would take it, not beg for it.
Joe entered his old Ford on the passenger's side. An encounter with a telephone pole a few months earlier had crumpled the driver's side door into a permanently closed position. As he slid behind the wheel, the passenger side door again opened and a stranger slipped into the right seat. Joe didn't realize he was not alone, getting the key in the ignition was absorbing all his remaining abilities, but he did feel something painful pressing into his ribs. He looked at his right side and saw the blade of a long, large knife. Behind the knife was a foreigner, like maybe a Jap or a Chink.
“I ... I don't have no money,” Joe said.
“We don't want your money. We want you.”
The old Ford ran out of gas one mile short of McKenzie Bridge and Larry Tanner cursed himself for not having a siphoning hose, but they did have rope, and they towed the car to within a hundred yards of Dolores and Joe Flynn's house and then pushed it by hand to its parking place alongside Dolores's car. There was no traffic, and the few homes they passed were dark. Joe Flynn remained trussed up in the back of Larry and Richard's van.
An hour later, the van's headlights picked up a ramshackle cabin in the middle of a clearing, the place to which Duncan had given them directions. A small decrepit log barn stood alongside the cabin.
Larry inspected the inside of both cabin and barn with a flashlight. The barn was cleaner, but Larry opted for the cabin; its single room had a floor if you were careful where you stepped. The remains of an inner spring mattress on a rotting frame sat along a wall, a few rotten tatters of padding clinging to the rusty wires.
At Larry's call, Richard led the gagged and blindfolded Joe Flynn into the cabin. Larry shoved him down onto the bare springs and took off the handcuffs. They spread-eagled him on his back and tied hands and ankles to the wire coils.
“What do you think?” Larry asked. “Should we do it now or later?”
“Later, after it gets light. I want to see the blood,” Richard joined the charade.
“Yeah.” Larry stretched the word, putting as much anticipation in his voice as he could. “Besides it would be hard to do by flashlight,” he said seriously. “We might miss and cut off more than his pecker.”
“Well, that might not be so bad. I think anyone who abuses his wife should have his balls cut off, don't you?”
“You're right, maybe we should slip on purpose. Just get everything at once ... let's go hide the car, we should put it at least a mile away.”
Once outside, Richard went to the van. He made a point of gunning the engine after starting it, and started rolling in an accelerated turn, throwing gravel from underneath the wheels.
Larry stayed just outside the open cabin doorway. As soon as the sound of Richard's departure abated, Joe Flynn's struggles began: attempts to cry out, wild and violent tossing against the springs, the moan of pain as rusty wire surfaces wore through clothing and contacted skin ... and wore into the skin. His struggling would cease for a while and then begin again. Finally he stopped trying and only the muted moaning remained.
Larry switched his flashlight to a red beam and used it to check Joe's condition. Duncan's instructions were to terrorize the man, but not do permanent harm. Larry became concerned about the rust on the springs. He would make sure Joe got a tetanus shot when this was over.
EUGENE — Monday 10:00
Duncan stood looking out the window at the airport's executive terminal as the Gulfstream taxied in. Gulfstreams were the largest aircraft model manufactured exclusively for use as business jets—brain wagons some called them. Sam Devlin had called Duncan from this aircraft two hours earlier, which meant he had already been in the air for an hour when the call was made. Sam wanted to talk. He had said there was a problem and that he was making a special trip to see Duncan. The ETA was 1700Z.
If Sam Devlin wanted to talk to a pilot, the pilot was brought to Houston. Sam didn't go to see pilots. Would he risk flying all the way to Eugene if he didn't know I was home? No, Duncan thought, he had to know I was home ... and the DEA is the only one keeping track of my movements. He wondered if the call would have come had he stayed at his father's home for the night instead of returning to his own home.
“Captain Harris is requested to board Air Cargo One,” the public address system announced, relaying the radioed request from the arriving aircraft.
Duncan shook his head sadly, “Sam, you are one pompous asshole.” he said aloud, addressing the absent Devlin. Duncan was reacting to the use of Air Cargo One as the aircraft's call sign. Just as U.S. Air Force planes carrying the President of the United States were referred to as Air Force One only when the President was aboard, Air Cargo International's aircraft used Air Cargo One only when Sam Devlin was aboard.
A Gulfstream sits high off the ground for a business jet, so instead of the boarding stairs being embedded in a downward opening door, a collapsible stairway folds out from the airplane after the door is open. Duncan reached the aircraft as the stair extension cycle completed, stepping on the first step at the moment the stair contacted the ground. Sam Devlin was at the top, motioning him upward, and the two went to Devlin's partitioned compartment at the rear. A comely young woman hovered nearby. Duncan had heard her name was Linda. When the two men were seated, Sam called for a cigarette. It and a light were immediately offered; Linda had anticipated him. She disappeared to the front of the aircraft after lighting the cigarette for her chain smoking boss.
Devlin began by offering standard condolences on the deaths of Duncan's wife and father. He then got down to business.
“I'm not going to shit you, Dunk. You know me and you know I really don't give a flying fuck about anything except this airline.” He broke eye contact with Duncan, leaned back and paused for a few puffs on the cigarette, appearing to have to compose his next words.
Duncan knew the truth of Sam's statement. The airline was his life, and he devoted all his energy to it seven days out of every week. Duncan admired Sam as he admired anyone who had a goal and was willing to work for it, but Sam's tactics had often bothered Duncan even when the two men were on the same side. Are we on the same side now, Sam? Duncan kept silent, waiting, his eyes on Sam.
“The Company came to see me yesterday. They're not happy,” Sam continued. He used the standard euphemism for the CIA.
So we're not on the same side. Not this time. Duncan still said nothing, and Sam still avoided his eyes. Damn it, Sam, at least look at me when you put the knife in.
“They've given me an ultimatum. If you don't stop, there will be no more Company work. I can't allow that. You keep it up, I'll fire you. It's that simple.”
“They murdered my family, Sam, and they're trying to cover it up. I know exactly what happened. I know who did what and when.”
“So? Since when does the truth mean anything? The truth is irrelevant.”
“Why is the CIA helping the DEA?”
“They didn't say, and I know better than to ask.”
“You know, Sam, you're a real asshole.”
“I know.” Sam finally looked again at Duncan. “Look, come back to work, fly a trip, get back to normal, think about it. I'll put them off for a couple of weeks; you don't move against them for a couple of weeks. Let things cool down. If you decide to go after them after that, I'll cover my ass by firing you. If you decide to let it lie, we'll forget we ever had this conversation. They tell me you've been offered a lot of money. Take my advice, Dunk, go for the money.”
LEABURG — Monday 20:00
For the second day in a row Duncan sat alongside the McKenzie River dealing with his deepest emotions. Yesterday it had been while committing his wife's and father's ashes to the waters. Today it was dealing with the competition between his love of flying and giving meaning to his family's death. The place had changed. Yesterday it had been the rock in front of his father's house. Today it was a much larger rock, a small island really, in the middle of the river opposite his house. The rock even had a name, Belknap Rock, and the story was that the water Duncan was staring into had been one of Herbert Hoover's favorite fishing holes. Duncan wondered if the former President had ever come here just to think.
He looked upstream to where the river tumbled around a shallow bend, white water there, sure to elicit screams from novice rafters fearing being thrown into the cold, fast flow. Before reaching the rock, the channel deepened, the water slowed, its surface becoming glassy—little wind blew here.
The rock divided the water. Most of it flowed toward the bank opposite Duncan's house. The channel between the rock and Duncan's shore was narrower and nearly blocked by a natural dam at the downstream end of the rock. Duncan had walked across the dam, getting wet only to mid-calf. Before reaching the dam, the water was deep and undisturbed, deeper by far than the main channel. Duncan turned his gaze back to this depth. In the depths, a moving white patch caught his eye. Looking harder he could see the rest of the salmon. It was a soreback; the white patch was rotting flesh covering the fish's head to midway along its back. Duncan was looking at a fellow creature nearing its end.
Was Duncan nearing his end? He was bothered by not knowing what the future held ... and that was a new experience for him ... and it bothered him that he was bothered. Before he had always accepted future uncertainty as a normal element of life. The last few years with Ellie had changed that ... or was it that he was getting older ... or was it that he had wanted to be a father. It was confusing, and life had lost its meaning.
Did flying really matter any more? He and Ellie had agreed that when their son arrived, he would stop flying. Pilot fathers were absentee fathers, and he had decided not to sacrifice his family to his love of flying. He had told no one but Ellie of his decision. But now Ellie was gone—his family was gone.
Duncan's emotions cried out for a meaning to their death, but his reason said proceed with caution, keep your options open.
When Venus became visible in the western sky, Duncan left the rock, wading across the natural dam to the darkness of the trees surrounding his home. He called Air Cargo International crew scheduling and told them to schedule him for a trip, any trip, as soon as possible. He just wanted to fly. One last trip to be savored to its fullest, and then I tell Sam Devlin to go to hell. The decision had been made.
For the second time in four days Duncan went to bed for the benefit of those watching him. This time he set no alarm, lying for only twenty minutes before rising in the darkness and donning the black running clothes. He left the house by the same route he had used before, but this time he went downstream after reaching the river.
When clear of his property by a quarter of a mile, he left the river bank for the gravel road running along his side of the river and took up a steady jog. He stopped after crossing a single-track wooden bridge and switched on his flashlight, looking for the path that was all that was left of the abandoned road to the old hermit's place.
The instructions he had given Larry and Richard for reaching the deserted homestead had taken them on logging roads and a power line right-of-way. It had brought them in from the opposite direction from which Duncan was approaching. His route was far more direct.
When Joe Flynn had awakened, he realized he could see; the blindfold was gone and so was the gag, but he was still tied. No one else was in the cabin. He strained against the bonds, but stopped when he felt the pain from the abrasions in his skin. Slowly the events of the night came back to him in detail, and he used all his lung capacity to give one desperate, drawn out call for help ... it exhausted him and left him gritting his teeth from the pain it caused.
“Relax, Joe, there's no one around but me.” The voice came from outside the cabin, the voice that had had the knife, the Chink or the Jap. “But if it makes you feel good to try, be my guest.”
Joe started to sob.
“Hang in there, Joe. When my partner gets back, we'll have something to eat. Be good and you can have some ... be real good and you may get to keep your dick, or at least we'll untie one hand so you can have a last little bit of fun. Are you right handed or left handed?”
Joe stopped sobbing ... but he had to bite his lip to do it, and tears flowed from his eyes. He closed his eyes and prayed ... and finally slept again.
His next awakening was as he was being untied. The other voice, the deep one was telling him to get up. He looked at the man for the first time and was filled with fear. The man was huge, clad in black leather, and with a shaved head. His arms were the size of most men's thighs.
“Get up,” he said again.
Slowly, painfully, Joe rose from the bed. The man had stepped back from him and waited with folded arms. As Joe stood up, the other voice came through the door. He was young and muscular, but he wasn't big. He seemed kinder.
“Take off your clothes, all of them,” the big man said.
Joe assumed the worst and fell to his knees begging. “Please, please, dear God, don't do this to me.” He clasped his hands in prayer to the big man. “I'll never hit her again, never, I promise. I swear to God, never, never.”
The big man said nothing, and there was no kindness in his face.
Joe swiveled on his knees, crawled to the young man, and grasped the shoes on his feet. “Please, I promise, and I'll never take her money again, and I'll never yell at her again. Please don't hurt me. Please.” The young man backed away, leaving Joe on all fours, sobbing.
“Joe, you have to get ready to meet the man who is paying us“, the young man said. “You stink. You pissed in your pants and you smell. Get undressed and wash yourself. Here's what you need and a change of clothes. The water's cold, out of the creek, but you'll survive”
Joe looked up. He hadn't noticed the bucket the young man was carrying in one hand or the bundle under his other arm.
“Wash?” Joe asked, looking first at the young man and then, for permission, at the big man, who nodded slightly.
“Yes, wash, now. Later I'll put antiseptic on the scrapes on your back, and then you'll eat,” the young man said.
The big man stopped looking at Joe. He drew a large knife and ran his thumb across the blade. “I need to sharpen this for later,” he said.
Joe's heart sank again.
An hour and a few minutes after leaving his home, Duncan caught sight of a dim light showing out a window of the cabin. Larry's voice came softly from the darkness to Duncan's left when he was a hundred yards from the cabin.
“He's well prepared for you. He thinks you're going to cut off his dick. Richard just gave him some more food. He's playing the good guy; I'm the bad guy. I'll watch your back trail.”
Duncan said nothing but smiled in the darkness. Larry's flavor of practical joking hadn't changed.
Joe was still eating when Duncan entered the cabin and stood inside the doorway. He put the fork down, straightened in the chair, and looked toward Duncan with pleading in his eyes.
“I ... I haven't hit her. Not once since ...”
“I know that, Joe.” Duncan said. “But the reason you haven't is because you knew that if you hurt her, I would hurt you.”
“Please, I beg you not to do it. I ... I couldn't live that way. Better to kill me.” Joe became silent. He tried to keep looking at Duncan, but couldn't, and turned his head downward, placing his hands on his thighs.
“You're a problem, Joe. If I leave and don't return, you'll do what you did when my father died. You'll start abusing Dolores again. I can't allow that to happen.”
Duncan paused, reluctant to proceed. He crossed to the table and looked down at Joe, who kept his eyes in his lap. Duncan sat down opposite him and resumed talking.
“You're also a lucky man.”
“Yes, I think I should kill you.” Joe's adrenal gland started pumping,“But my father has ... had another solution. He left me instructions to make you a rich man.”
Joe looked up. “I... I don't understand. You're not going to ... cut off ...”
“No, of course not. I have no problem killing, but I don't maim.”
“But the big man, he said ...”
“He would do such a thing. Keep that in mind. You don't want to have to deal with him. He is truly dangerous. But for now you don't have to worry about that.”
“I don't understand.”
“Alright, the first thing you need to know is that in his will my father left Dolores his home and the river property on which it sets. He realized, though, that would be a waste as long as you were her husband, and he also knew that she would never throw you out. Wise man that he was, he also knew that my solution would be to kill you. So instead of letting me do that, he decided to reform you.” Duncan's manner was one of resignation.
“Yes, reform you. He understood that if both he and you were gone, Dolores would be deprived of the thing that means the most to her, taking care of someone she loves. So the solution is to change you from a drunken, abusive, irresponsible, ingrate into the exact opposite.”
Joe looked down again. He knew he could never change.
“Is that too tall an order?” Duncan asked.
“I can't change. I've tried. Nothing works.”
“It's do or die time, Joe. You will try because my father established a trust fund that will pay you a generous monthly stipend to once again become Dolores's loving husband. You will pay the bills, you will give her spending money, you will take care of the property. If you abuse her or otherwise become a threat to her well being, I will know of it. You will die, and she will receive the trust fund. You will die because these men will come again; they won't be pretending; they will kill you—after the big man has had his fun.”