Scene of the crime?

Gabe’s shack seemed to draw all the shadows of the trees to it, owning its own darkness.  For a while it had seemed less menacing, with Marty and Monty hotboxing inside, but now my friends were gone.  I shivered as I drew nearer and caught the scent of mold on the air.  The door was splintered and unstained, although still fixed to sturdy hinges.  I pulled it open and stepped inside and moved to stand in the middle of the shack and began to inspect the walls and ceiling, still uncertain of what I was looking for.  The unstained plywood walls were beginning to peel away under the new maze of red and black paint, and the ceiling beams didn’t look like they’d be able to bear the wait for much longer.  The corners were abscesses of rot and mildew layered in cobwebs.  Who would choose to live in such a place?  I shivered, overcome with the impression that someone was watching me.  I sat down on Monty’s nest, recalling my last conversation with Gabe.  He seemed so willing to talk murder, despite my protests.  Something told me that if I could find Peter, I could also find Gabe, and no doubt together they would know my father’s whereabouts.

I looked at the wall and struggled with the facts.  My father was missing.   I had been the last person on record to see him.  For all I knew he was dead, and he might as well have died with that look on his face, the mask of desperation he’d shown me through his living room window right before I drove off.  Did he regret his past that afternoon, a specter rising from the scrawl of Clyde King’s pen?  Did he try to wish it away, to change the past?  Did it even fucking matter?

I was still eying the peeling walls when a voice startled me from back in the woods.

‘Jackson?’

A pulse of surprise jolted me upright before I recognized the voice.

‘Kingston.  You scared me.’  Kingston came out of the shadows.  He loomed over me as big as one of the oaks, wearing a Southern U. t-shirt.

‘Sorry.’

‘What are you doing out here, Kingston?’

‘Bout to ask you the same thing.’

‘Just looking at things.  But I live out here.  You’re miles from home.’

‘I know.  But you see, you gotta know what I’m doing.  You doing the same thing.’

‘Oh yeah?  What’s that?’

‘Jackson,’  Kingston leaned forward, bearing a secret of great urgency.  ‘You know just as well as me Gabe’s out in those woods.’  He looked over me into the thick trees like he expected to see my cousin at any moment.  ‘I seen him.’  Kingston hunched down, speaking in a soft voice.  ‘I seen him more than once.’

‘Where?’  I was engrossed.

‘Outside your house was the first time.’

‘When?’

‘I was coming over cause I wanted ta tell you something.  It was nighttime but I’d been driving by and I’d been meaning to show ya something, so I stopped and when I saw the lights on I walked down the drive, up towards the house, and I saw somebody up by the house, and when I got close he turned cause he heard me coming and it was Gabe.’

‘Are you sure it was him?’

‘Just like him,’ Kingston said, nodding.  ‘Make us all think he’s wandered off when he’s still creeping.  Outside your house he was lurking, looking in a window.  So I chased him off into the woods and followed him for a while.  Lost him close to the road and it was late then and figured I’d chased him off for the night.’

‘When was this?’

‘Two nights ago.  But I’ve been meaning to talk to you.’  We started back toward the road.

‘About what?’

‘About that, and about Mr. Bingham seeing him too.’

The name quickened my pulse.  ‘What?’

‘Mr. Peter Bingham came and gave me this.’  He reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded scrap of paper.  I took it from him and unfolded it and recognized Clyde King’s neat penmanship.  ‘He said he saw Gabe, and Gabe was after him, and he had to go,’ Kingston explained.

‘Wait a minute wait a minute.’  My mind was racing.  ‘So…what…Peter gave you this?  And where did he get it?’

‘Dunno.  Mr. Bingham said he needed to disappear for a long time.  He said I was supposed to give this to you.  Then he left.’

It was one of the pages that detailed the treatment Clyde King had received at the hands of my father and his tall friend: a page with the potency to smear.

‘Why?’ I said.  ‘Did he say why?’

‘Don’t make no sense to me, neither.  Can’t say it’s true, just that’s what he told me.’

My first thought was that Kingston had lost it.  But then we were talking about Peter Bingham, who said one thing and meant another

‘Why the hell did you wait so long to tell me this?’

‘But I been trying to talk to you.  Only been a few days.  You been hard to talk to lately.’

‘Have I been?’

‘Little.  But now you know, and we can catch that Gabe.’

‘Catch him?’

‘I got some traps for him.’

‘Jesus, Kingston, we’re not dogging for raccoons here.’

‘Find a place where we can watch,’ Kingston said.  ‘That’s where it’s best to see.’

‘How could you tell it was Gabe?’ I said as we left the shack and pressed back into the woods.

‘Saw him with my own eyes—that’s how sure.’

‘But from a distance.’

‘I seen that fella creeping for years and know how he looks.’

We passed back into the trees.  I felt like a fool sloothing about the house I’d been living for the last several.  We hid behind a fallen tree, peering through rows of treetrunks at my aunt’s house.  The house sat squat, wishing for something as interesting as a prowler.

‘I don’t see anything,’ I said to Kingston in a speaking voice.  He held a finger to his lips.

‘Just you wait,’ he hissed.  ‘Real soon.’  I waited.  The countryside buzzed around us.  Kingston huddled behind the fallen tree with eyes wide and trained on the house, unwavering.  I kept trying to get comfortable or at least get into the waiting but there were twigs poking into my ass and I was sweaty and wanting a bath.  I wondered what Helen would do if she found me out here.

‘Wouldn’t Gabe be back by his shack?’ I asked.

‘Naw he goes prowlin’ here.  Just you wait.’

We waited for an hour and there was no sign of anything, either from the house or from the woods around the house.  Kingston’s hands gripped the log, ready to pounce.  I wondered, if Gabe did appear, would Kingston run him down like a wolf chasing a sick caribou?

‘He coming,’ Kingston hissed.  ‘He coming any second.  I can feel it.’

‘I’m not so sure,’ I said, more to myself than to Kingston.  I was beginning to think Kingston was stoned.

‘Oh yeah.  Any second.  I can feel it.’

I squinted at the house, at this point more out of courtesy to Kingston, who’d after all been a good friend to me.

‘When’d you see Peter Bingham?’ I said.

‘Six days,’ he said.  ‘Monday last.’

I hadn’t tried contacting Peter, not since returning from Mud City.  Six days later I might already have lost my window of opportunity.

‘You should have told me sooner,’ I said.

‘I tried to get you to talk, but you kept saying not now not now.’

I remembered a telephone call where I may have said something along those lines.

‘Did he say where he was going?’ I said.

‘Mr. Bingham?  He didn’t say but he seemed scared.’

‘He’s gone.  He probably expects me to go after him.’

‘Why you say that?’  Kingston’s voice was raised above the requisite whisper.  I shook my head.  The more I thought about it the more this seemed like some sort of game.  Why would Peter talk to Kingston about Gabe?  Why would he give Kingston that letter?  It was so indirect and made so little sense—unless the delivery method was somehow important.   I sat in silence as a mosquito began to burrow into the right side of my neck.

‘He’s coming,’ Kingston said.  ‘He’s coming fast.’

‘I don’t think so, Kingston,’ I said, abandoning my quiet voice.  I stood up, stretched.  ‘I’m going inside.  You can come too if you want, or you can stay out here.  If Gabe comes by you let me know.’  Kingston seemed disappointed but no less intent.

‘I’m staying here.’

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