Loons

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
A love triangle, a dead dog and a late night of drinking leads to murder in the backwoods of Maine.

Submitted: June 15, 2016

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Submitted: June 15, 2016

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He wasn’t driving very fast.  Definitely not fast enough to roll into the lake.  And probably not fast enough to die.  But he was driving drunk and going ten miles over the limit, so damn it if doing forty instead of thirty made a bit of difference to the dog that appeared out of nowhere.

“I’m telling you,” Jim swore later that night, “that fucking dog just jumped out of the woods in front of me.  How was I supposed to know?”  He shook his head, a mop of brown hair shaking from left to right.  Under the dim light I could see oil on the strands.  

We didn’t answer Jim because we knew there was more coming. So we just sort of sat and waited.  He made careful not to look at us in the eye, not directly.  “I guess I’m gonna have to head on over to John’s tomorrow and do my apologies. Damn dog.” 

We were quiet.  Outside, the loons started making a racket out over the lake.  Janey turned her head to the porch door.  She was lost for a moment, listening to them.  Watching her, I wanted to take her up in my arms, squeeze her, hold her so close the way I used to. 

“Baby, honey,” she said to Jim, “you’ve had a hard day.  Why don’t you go on to bed?”

Jim said, “Janey, Lord, I still have to tell you the story.  There’s more to this whole thing.” 

Janey nodded.  “Okay, Jim, we’re still listening.”

And we were, sort of.  But you know, it was past midnight and the day starts early around here. Janey was wringing her hands together and I realized mine were clenched in fists.  Never knew I did that before Janey pointed it out to me one day back when we were together.  Lying in my bed with her cuddled in the nook of my arm, my hand resting on her thigh, she said, “What’re you all anxious about?”  That’s when she pointed out my clenched fists.  She said, “You need a woman to relax you.”  I said, “I’ve got you, don’t I?”  And she said, “Oh now you know how it is.  You don’t have me just as much as I don’t have you.”  And then she rolled over on top of me, ready to go. 

I still have anxiety, it seems, and I’m still without a woman.  Jim has Janey.

Jim rocked back and forth and sipped his drink.  “I’m driving over there—” he gestured to the opposite side of the lake “--you know, in the stretch between Macabe’s and Hollister’s--and I’m doing the limit, or just about--you know the spot? Just plain straight the whole way, so it’s real easy to jack up the speed a little.”

Janey said, “Right, we know.”

“And I guess that’s when the dog jumped in front of the Chevy, because one minute I’m driving, the next I go and hit this thing that sounds as heavy as a moose.  The old bastard’s lying in the road, blood coming on out of his mouth.  He’s doing this whimpering thing, then he just goes real quiet.  What was I supposed to do? Tell me why the Christ this dog was even there? The farm’s a good mile in the woods.”

I said, “Lord knows.”

Jim looked up at the ceiling.  “Yep, thank the Lord He does.  Because I’m telling you, I did just nothing wrong.  Could’ve been either of you.”

We nodded. 

Jim said, “So here I am, sitting in the fucking mud with this dog on my lap, and I’m thinking what to do, when the dog opens his eyes and just stares at me, sort of all foggy-like.”

“He wasn’t dead?” Janey asked. 

“Bet your ass not dead,” Jim said.  “Scared the livin’ shit out of me, if God knows the truth.”

“What’d you do?” I asked.

Jim looked at me real long and steady.  His eyes were sort of glistening with excitement or drunkenness or something like that.  I couldn’t tell.  

He doesn’t know about me and Janey.  Sometimes I wish he did, like when he’s bitchin’ to her about this or that and she gets all sad.  I’d take her down to my place for a while, give her some peace for a time.  I’d try and replicate the days when we’d spend all day in bed, getting up only for her homemade pancakes and fresh brewed coffee.  Mmm, yeah, I still remember those pancakes.  

Jim said, “Made me think he was all okay, the dog.  He got to his feet all shaky.  Then he barked and ran off into the woods.  I thought I was off the hook, you know, because he seemed just fine all the sudden. I had no fucking clue he’d drop dead on John’s porch, Christ.  That’s how I was found out, you know, because he went and called Sheriff Jasper. That’s how they found me---my truck’s bumper being bent and all.  Matched the paint on the dog’s fur to my truck. Good thing I didn’t go and get arrested.  John’s an understanding guy.  Our families go way back in these parts.  Still, I have to do and do my apologies, being the right and just thing to do.”

“Sheriff Jasper is a good man,” I said.  “Not arresting you.”

Jim said, “Just a fine.  Five hundred.  Eh, it’s high, but better than jail, you know?  Not during this season.  Lumbering’s too important for me to get put into jail for a goddamn DUI.”

I got to my feet.  “Well, Jim, that’s some story.  Good to know the outcome’s just fine.”

Jim grunted and fell silent.  

I stood, watching him.  

Then he said, “It’s kinda fucked up…if you think about it.”

“What do you mean, Jim?” 

He shrugged.  “I go and hit John Nasbeth’s dog, I think it’s okay, but then the goddamn dog goes and gets back at me by dropping dead on Nasbeth’s porch.  It’s like he wanted to get me in trouble, you know? Even though I wasn’t arrested, I was still found out.  It’s weird, if you ask me.”

We didn’t say anything to that.  Finally, Janey said, “Well, it’s over now, anyway, and the fact is, you didn’t get into much trouble.  It could’ve been a lot worse.”

Jim said, “Hell, yeah, Janey.  Could’ve been a person.”

A cool tension sort of filled the room just then.  Janey’s eyes went pale and her little hands began to wring out of nervousness again.  

I said, “Christ, Jim, don’t go thinking like that.  It’ll do no good, no good at all.”  I swallowed hard and glanced at Janey.  “Good night to you, there, and Jimmy, I’ll see you around tomorrow.”

Jim said, “Hey, hey, don’t be going yet, Jack.  Christ, I don’t know sometimes…the things I say...Have one more drink with us.  It’s late enough that there’s no point in sleeping now.”

Janey forced a smile.  “You’ll be a wreck tomorrow, Jim.  You sure you don’t want to try and sleep?  I bet once you lay down you’ll fall to sleep straight away.”

“One more.” Jim went to the bottle on the coffee table and poured another drink.  Then he held his hand out to mine and I reluctantly handed it over.  Janey declined another one.  She settled in the chair next to the couch and curled her legs up under her behind.  She was wearing this thin little sundress, kind of pinkish with purple flowers on it.  Her skin looked so soft and beautiful.  I wish I’d never taken for granted those times when I had her body all to myself and didn’t take the time to enjoy that skin of hers. 

Jim sat back down in his recliner.  I chose the end of the couch closest to Janey.  

Jim stared into his drink, long and steady.  Then he took a deep drink, let out a loud “ahhh” before placing the empty glass onto the table beside him.  Janey pursed her lips and tucked strands of hair behind her ears to keep her hands occupied.  Looking closely, I thought I saw them tremble before she grasped them and wrung them together like a wet towel.  

Jim furrowed his brow.  “Janey, what’s into you, there? You’re a little bird, all nervous-like.  What’re you worryin’ over?”

Janey’s face flushed.  “I don’t know.  I can’t explain it, not really, but maybe I’m just sad, you know, about John Nasbeth’s dog.”

Jim said, “Oh now I hope you’re not saying I could’ve prevented hitting that damn dog, because I’m telling you---”

“Jim,” Janey said, “I know you didn’t mean to hit the dog--he came out of nowhere.” She paused.  “Any one of us could’ve hit that dog, or worse, like you said.”  

Jim poured another drink and placed it before him.  “Now there, sweetie, don’t go worrying your head over what I said before.  I was just talking crazy.”

A loon let out a long wailing cry over the lake.  It echoed throughout the house, as though it were in the house for just a second.  And, pride aside, it actually scared me a little.  Don’t understand how, but that loon crying made the hairs on my arms stand up straight.  I wished I hadn’t finished my drink. 

Janey, too, looked fearful.  Her eyes were wide and dark as she stared out the porch door and into the blackness.  She whispered, so low that I barely caught it, “What is it? What is it?” She spoke it to no one, to everyone, to the loons, to the breeze.  And, as though in reply, the loon repeated its cry, louder and longer this time.

I jerked in my seat and grasped my empty glass tighter. 

Janey moved from the couch to the porch door.  She had her hand on the doorknob, as though contemplating going out to see those loons herself, to find out why they carried on so much. 

Out of all of this, Jim didn’t flinch.  

I said, “You’d think those birds are scared of something, crying out like that.”

Janey nodded.  “I wonder.”

Jim said, “They’re just crazy birds, those loons.” He stopped, shook his head. “This whole day…Jack, don’t you think this day has just been, well, goddamn loony?” And he burst out with a drunken, loud, obnoxious laugh. 

”For you, hell yeah, Jim,” I said. 

Janey didn’t turn from the window. “Jack, will you please pour out the rest of that bottle down the sink? Jim’s had enough, I’d say. I can’t stand that smell.” 

I glanced at Jim. “That okay with you? I don’t want to presume anything, being a guest and all.” 

Jim laughed. “Nah, doesn’t matter. I’m drunk enough for my liking.” He winked. “Janey, honey, I thought you liked me this way. Don’t you always say I’m not…what? Happy enough, or, or, what’s that word? Social enough?” He turned to me. “Not like Jack, here, huh?”

Janey gave him a sideways look. “You should go to bed." 

You should mind your own business,” he replied.

I didn’t throw the bottle away, like Janey asked. I left it on the table beside Jim, next to the filet knife he usually wore on his belt. 

“Done some fishing today?” I asked, gesturing to it. 

He leaned forward and slapped my knee a couple of times. “Well, see, that’s what I’m talking about, Jack. The whole thing with the dog. Come back from spending a good and decent day fishin’, and I go and kill this goddamn animal. Makes a man forget about the trout he caught, just about. You reminded me, Jack. Now, that’s a good man right there,” he said to Janey. 

I pretended I didn’t see her looking at me. “Hey, how many trout, Jim?” 

“A couple of two-pounders and one solid three-pounder.” 

I whistled. “That’s a good bunch, I’d say.” 

“Well, that’s what I like to think…but I have to do better to impress my wife here. Something stupid like killing a dog makes my wife think differently about me. I have to earn back my good name, don’t I, Janey, sweetie?” 

Janey’s eyes were filled with worry. “I would never ask you to do something like that. Nothing has changed.” She looked at the empty glass beside Jim. “You’re talking nonsense, Jim. Drunken nonsense.” 

Jim put up his hands in defense. “Well, look, I have to consider certain things, here…I’ve gone and killed a dog.” He turned to me. “Don’t you think it’s right to believe Janey’s changed her feelings for me?” 

Janey shook her head from side to side, back and forth, fast. Too fast. “Honey, why would I? I love you.” 

Jim was still looking at me. “We all know something changed after she found out about the dog. Hell, maybe something changed in me, a little. But no matter what she says, I do believe Janey’s stopped loving me just a teeny weeny bit. What do you say, there, Jack?” 

I shrugged. Janey was all wide-eyed, uncomfortable, sitting there. I mean, we both knew that Jim was right and everything, but we couldn’t actually say that out loud, because Lord, then what? 

“Nah, Jim," I said. "There’s a woman right there who loves you to pieces. Nothing in her has changed. Guarantee you that.” 

He chuckled. “Well, I know better, Jack, I know better. Actually, I can even safely bet that same woman you’re talkin’ about still has feelings for you, Jack—yep, you—and she’s probably wishin’ she was with you instead of some dog killer. That right, Janey?” 

Janey was pretty frantic now. “No, Jim, no. That’s just not true. I love you, baby, no one else.” Her eyes darted to my face and then back to Jim’s. I looked at the floor. It may have been a lie, but goddamn if it didn’t still hurt. 

“Well, that’s a good thing to say, Janey. That’s the right thing to say. But, sweetie, baby, I just know better.” He laughed. “Hell, yeah, I’m the smartest one here, it seems. Doesn’t make much difference, I guess, now does it? Janey’s married to me, that’s all that matters. Right, Jack?” He held up his empty glass to toast mine. 

I tipped my empty glass to his. “That’s right, Jim.” I cleared my throat. “Well, it’s time for me to get going. Day’s almost up.” 

Janey was pleading with me with her eyes not to leave. But, hell, I just couldn’t care about her, because truth was, she’d be going to bed tonight in Jim’s arms, not mine, so I just couldn’t care about her anymore. Hurt too damn much. 

“Good-night, Janey,” I said. “Jim, see you tomorrow.” I got to my feet. 

Jim stood, clasped my hand real good and firm, and said, “You’re a decent man, Jack. Thanks for having this drink with me.” 

I tipped my hat. “’Night to you both.” 

Janey’s voice caught. “Good-bye, Jack.” 

I avoided looking at her. I showed myself out. 

I pulled away from that house, I left Janey behind. She and Jim, they were in there together, and I was alone in my car, driving around the opposite side of the lake, down the same road where Jim killed that goddamn dog, and all of a sudden this ear-piercing, God-awful shriek let out over the lake, and it sounded so pained, like someone was dying, for Christ’s sakes. 

But I just thought it was the loons.


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