From the woods, two men watched Lisa and her nephew. Lisa raked the leaves and pulled weeds. Little Louis was in a playpen, which kept him safe while Lisa worked. He had toys which included a truck from the Sears catalog.
Soon Louis would be in school. Lisa thought how she would miss them.
Then Louis tried to climb out of the playpen. Lisa lifted him from the playpen. Louis ran around her, sometimes helping and sometimes getting in the way. Lisa asked him to pick strawberries and gave him a small bucket. That should keep him busy.
“Hide and seek,” he said.
“Not now,” she smiled at the child.
While Lisa worked, the two men watched. They were careful that she not see them. That would spook her. Once before they had spooked her and then she had hidden all day in the house with the door locked. It had been days before she came back out even though the plants needed weeding and the chickens needed feed. Vonnie had fed the animals when she came home, so they hadn’t gone hungry.
Lisa was a strange girl.
“Don’t know why we don’t pick her.” Miles said. “We aren’t going to pin the killings on her brother anyway.”
“Don’t be so sure about that. Anyway I got a better idea.”
They kept watching.
Lisa had to go to the bathroom. “You stay where I can see you,” she said to Louis. “Don’t go wondering off where I have to try and find you.”
Louis stopped only for a moment to look at her, and then went back to picking strawberries. Lisa decided to take no chances. There was no telling how much mischief he could get into in the minute or two she was in the outhouse. She picked him up and placed him back in the playpen. Louis whined and then sat down with a big frown. “Me scared,” he said.
“There’s nothing to be scared of,” Lisa didn’t believe her own words, but she had to pee. “I’ll be right back. Stay right there, and you’ll be safe.”
Years later, she would remember how she had a premonition. Something was not right. Something stirred in the bushes. She would be be forever haunted by the little boy’s words and her own sense that something was wrong that morning.
“Me scared.” Louis repeated. Lisa was scared to.
She went to the outhouse, looked around one last time and glanced at little Louis to make sure he were all right. Then she went inside.
“Let’s have some fun,” Sonny said. He ran over to the outhouse and placed a heavy board against the outside. “Wish I had a great big rattlesnake to put in there.” He was giggling so hard, he could barely talk.
Lisa heard the plank hit the door. She stood quiet for a second. She heard the giggling. “Who’s out there?” Lisa started pushing at the door. “Let me out,” she called.
Miles just laughed and backed away from the door. He sat down and decided to enjoy her frustration.
When he looked around to see what his friend was doing, he didn’t see Sonny. Nor did he see the child. “Sonny,” he called. “Sonny.”
Lisa yelled . “Let me out.” Then the screams were just screams. Lisa wailed as the walls of the outhouse closed in on her and the darkness terrified her. She never stayed in the outhouse for more than a few minutes. She was always too afraid. Now she imagined hanged men dangling above her head or just outside the door. She imagined snakes on the floor.
“Stupid bitch.” Miles wanted to take out his gun and start shooting into the outhouse. That might attract too much attention. Dennis Cheney’s farm was just the other side of those trees. And to that side, Cheney Creek lay silent and glistening in the sun as it ran toward the Menominee River.
Where was Sonny?
A scream came from the direction of the creek.
“Damn,” Miles ran toward the creek. The ground was uneven in the woods. A recent rain storm had scattered branches. A log lay in his path, and he tripped over it. His fall was cushioned by a bed of pine needles. He got up and kept running.
When he came out of the woods, he ran right into the creek. Sonny and the boy were perhaps a hundred feet to his right. Sonny was holding the child’s head under water. Louis had stopped struggling and his wet clothing floated above the waters. He looked fat and bloated like an over stuffed little scarecrow.
Miles tackled his friend. He pushed Sonny aside and tried to grab for the child, but Sonny got up and pushed Miles aside. The two men struggled with Miles trying desperately to get to the the little boy and Sonny fighting him off. Little Louis’ body flopped to the side like a rag doll. In the distance, Lisa’s screams were a movie soundtrack from Hell.
“Too late, man. Too late,” Sonny said. He lay exhausted on the bank while Miles struggled to get up and get to the child. Even before Miles dragged the wet form from the water, he knew it was indeed too late. Little Louis was dead.
“You stupid idiot. What makes you think you can get away with that?”
Sonny slowly got up and walked away. His wet clothing hanging to him. “We can hide the body.”
“Don’t you think he’ll be reported missing? This ain’t like a woman walking away because she can’t stand Mommy and Daddy and the farm anymore.
There’ll be a hunt for the child. The tunnels will ll be searched like they ain’t never been searched before.”
Sonny shrugged. “So leave the body here. Blame the crazy.”
“She’s locked in the outhouse,” Miles reminded his friend. “When we leave her out, she’ll see us.”
“I ain’t leavin’ her out.” With that Sonny walked away.
Lisa was scared. This was her second night in jail. She disliked the dark because scary drowned things floated in the dark. She imagined that she awoke in a sunken ship or a downed airplane. Wreckage surrounded her.
She was hungry. She hadn’t eaten. If she ate, they would drug her. Who were they? The jailers. Miles Olson.
She knew what his dad had done; she would tell. She knew what he had done. But would anyone believe her? They hadn’t in the past.
They would kill her.
She must be very careful.
The lights went off at ten. At first she was too afraid of the dark to sleep. She lay staring into the blackness until her eyes adjusted. She could see shades of gray and the black cell bars. After a long time she slept.
When she awoke, it was still dark, but a faint light shown from some where, like someone had dropped a flashlight that was still on. Something hung from the ceiling of her jail cell.
She remembered. The hanging. His feet dangled in the air. His face was purple and the eyes looked right at her. And. And.
And wet sea weed. That’s what hung from her jail jell. Lisa started screaming.
Vonnie had a bad cold, and she was feeling anxious to be home. Her chores were caught up and though Lucinda was having a difficult pregnancy, Vonnie knew she was needed at home.
“Go,” Lucinda urged. “There’s nothing more you can do here.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’d rather be alone. I hate to have anyone with me when I vomit.”
Vonnie smiled at that. She remembered her own pregnancy, and how she often needed to be by herself as nausea and cramps raked her.
“Honey, I can always be outside the door. Always there for you.”
Lucinda clutched her stomach and smiled. She was so big she could have swallowed a pickle barrel.
“Maybe you’re having twins.”
“One baby will be enough,“ Lucinda insisted. But she knew her husband’s mistress was expecting a baby, and Brad planned to pawn it off as their offspring. How would Brad explain two babies? Would he say they were twins? Lucinda didn’t feel well enough to think about that. It would be enough to just get through this pregnancy. She wished Jack could be with her.
“Go. Go home,” she told Vonnie. “If I need anything, my father’s here.”
Vonnie drove slowly home. At every bend in the road she expected to see some terror.
She knew she was letting her imagination get away for her. But since Ezekiel ’s death she felt vulnerable. Of course, she missed him. But it was more than that. Ezekiel had protected her. But surely she wasn’t in danger.
She felt as fearful as Lisa. She was imagining the things Lisa might imagine. A hanged man might dangle from a tree branch, his tongue purple; his red face horribly blotched and swollen; his eyes bulging.
A deer might lay at the side of the road, shot, its intestines dripping onto the dirt.
Why did she think some terror awaited her? She hardly remembered her real father and didn’t know how she felt about his disappearance. Yes, he was probably dead. Maybe he had been murdered like Jack and Lisa said he had been. Still a part of her held out hope that he might come back to them some day.
Ezekiel hadn’t taken the place of her real father. Ezekiel had been a friend, a father-figure and a needed influence in her life.
Ezekiel had been kind and patient. Thanks to him she had a Civil War widow’s pension which helped make ends meet. She owned a house, five acres and a small garden. Lisa had a place to stay and so did Jack when he came north. She had a son, and she loved little Louis more than anything.
Life had been good to her, she decided. So why this feeling of impending doom? It was like there might be a bad car wreck around the next bend in the road. Or perhaps an airplane might fall right out of the sky and destroy her home, her sister, and her son.
Vonnie drove her car into her driveway and parked as she always did behind the house.
Jack met with Abe Bernstein at the restaurant. They ordered steaks and whiskey. “I remember when this stuff was hard to get,” Abe said as he sipped his drink.
“You managed.” Jack reminded him. He didn’t believe for a minute that any of the Bernsteins had ever been so poor he couldn’t afford the best.
“So how is the private detective business,” Abe wanted to know.
“It’s not how I make my money,” Jack reminded him. “But it’s good to have an office and rub shoulders with real business men. They give me ideas.”
“Jackie, you are a real business man. So am I.”
“The cops asked me what I knew about the Michigan highway killings.” Jack said. “They ask from time to time. Some might think I was involved.”
“They figure you’re from the Upper Peninsula. You’ve been in prison there. You got connections. You have ways of finding out things.”
“I could be the killer.”
“You can’t be. You ain’t been back there.”
Actually Jack went back often. He needed to keep track of his sisters and Lucinda was expecting his baby though no one else knew that.
Vonnie saw the board wedged against the outside of the the toilet shed. Who had put that there? Why was it there? Had a snake crawled inside? There had been a huge pine snake in the back yard, but Dennis had killed it. Perhaps there was another snake.
As she neared the outhouse, she heard soft weeping. Someone was in there. Lisa? Little Louis? Lisa would not lock the child in here. Yet the crying sounded like that of a baby.
Vonnie tore the board away and swung the door open.
The weeping continued. It sounded like a small lost puppy. Lisa sat in the corner hugging her knees and sobbing uncontrollably.
“Who did this too you?”
Lisa didn’t answer. Instead she crawled out like a wounded animal might crawl after a severe beating. She crawled away from the stench; her fear followed her. It had been too complete, too overpowering to dismiss in a ray of sunlight.
“Lisa,” Vonnie made her voice as soft as she could despite her own mounting terror. “Where is Little Louis?”
Lisa stopped crawling, turned her thin body around and sat bug eyed for a minute staring into the trees. “He wouldn’t come. I begged him to let me out. After the men went away. When I couldn’t hear their voices anymore. I told him to come and sit by the door and we would wait. But then I remembered. He’s in the playpen. See over there.” Lisa looked over at the empty playpen.
Vonnie sat on the ground beside her. “Where is Little Louis?” she repeated. “Where is my son?”
Lisa looked around as if when she turned her head the child would be there. Then she started screaming.
Vonnie hurried into the house calling for Louis. No answer. She ran through every room. He had to be here someplace.
Then she grabbed the telephone. “Please help,” she cried. When the operator found Dennis’ number, Vonnie frantically told of Lisa’s imprisonment inside the outhouse and of the missing boy.
“Somebody locked her in there, and… and I can’t find Louis.”
“I’ll be right over,” Dennis promised.
“I’ll get the police.” the operator said. She had stayed on the line as operators often did.
At headquarters Miles Olson was waiting for the call.
It was Dennis who found Little Louis. He had Miles call Doc Tracie, so both Lisa and Vonnie could be sedated. Dancing Bear, Dennis’ girlfriend, served Camomile tea with some herbs including valerian.
Dennis didn’t want the women to know he had found little Louis until after Doc Tracie arrived. Miles had other plans. He said he wanted to get their reaction. Dennis pushed Miles away from the house. “You tell those two women they just lost that sweet little boy, and I’m going to break you in two, right here, right now.”
Miles backed away. Dennis was not quite six feet tall, but he was strong from farm work, and Miles believed that he could break a man in two. Anyway Miles saw his dad’s car come into the yard and decided now was not the time. He sure didn’t want a lecture from the old man on how to do police work.
Doc Tracie broke the news to the sisters as gently as he could. After an injection and some more tea. Vonnie settled down. She knew she had to be strong. Lisa sobbed uncontrollably.
“It looks like the little boy wandered over to the creek, and he may have fallen in.” Leo explained.
Lisa started talking in a calm almost hypnotic way. “The men did it,” she said.
Leo thought she had fresh information. Something that would help him find the pranksters who locked her in the outhouse. He had no idea what had really happened to the little boy. But if he caught the kids - it had to be kids - who pulled this prank and locked Lisa in the john - he planned keeping them in the jail on bread and water until they were old enough to get out of town. But surely kids had not killed the little boy.
“The men,” Lisa repeated.
“Who?” Leo asked.
Miles stood in the corner where he was thinking he should have killed her instead of just locking her in an outhouse. He knew he had to reign Sonny in. The man was too violent, and too unpredictable. At least this girl was a known crazy. Whatever she said would be dismissed as crazy ramblings.
Lisa spoke. “The men who wore bed sheets and hoods and they had torches. They did it.”
Leo sighed. Why had he even bothered to start questioning her? “What were they doing with torches in the daylight?” he asked. She could be feigning disorientation and shock. Maybe she had drowned the child herself. There was no telling what a crazy might do.
Lisa looked up at Leo; after a minute, she said, “You were there.”
He stumbled backward. He knew she was talking about that other time. The time her dad was killed. He had removed his hood, and he was sure she saw him. But she had been just a child. What did she remember?
Did she think he had anything to do with what happened to Vonnie’s son?
Doc Tracie said Lisa suffered from the worst case of shock he had ever seen. He considered placing her in a hospital.
“The men are in the yard.” she said.
Miles heart almost stopped. He was more spooked than his dad. Had she seen him and Sonny? She knew it was men, plural who had locked her in the outhouse. She knew some men had been in the yard. Was there a peep hole in the outhouse? What difference did it make? The girl was clearly crazy. She wasn’t making sense.
“What men?” asked Doc Tracie.
“I told you. They are wearing sheets and hoods and Pa said, ‘Don’t let her see.’ Then Pa was swinging and he is dead. They killed him. They came back for Louis. This time they didn’t let me see.”
“Enough,” snapped Leo. “Enough. She’s a lunatic. Always has been.”
Lisa inhaled loudly and stared at him. It was like she could see through Leo. Or she could see him wearing a sheet and pillow case. She saw him as he had looked and acted on a day long ago.
Dr. Tracie looked at the bruises on Lisa’s hands. “She’s been through a lot. The fingernails are clawed almost to the bone. Look in the outhouse. You can see where she clawed at the wood trying to get out.”
“Some kids playing a practical joke,” Miles insisted. “Maybe the drowned Brianka brat out there. Yeah. That’s must have happened. The dumb kid locked her in here and then drowned himself.”
Leo gave Miles a stare that shut him up.
“That was Ezekiel’s ’s little boy, and you will speak of the dead with respect.”
Miles frowned. Everyone knew that kid didn’t belong to the old man.
Leo continued. “Looks like the little boy wandered to the creak and drowned.”
“No.” Lisa shouted. “There were men outside. I heard them talking. And Louis was in his playpen. He couldn’t get out.”
“Get that crazy out of here,” Miles said.
“Accidental drowning,” Leo concluded.
The doctor led Lisa into the room where Vonnie was sleeping thanks to the sedative he had given her. Dancing Bear’s herbs had helped. “Can you stay with her?” Doc asked the Indian woman. He knew Dancing Bear was as dependable and as capable as the best registered nurse. If Vonnie needed care, Danni would know what to do.