HUNTED - BRIAN M. CAMPBELL
A damp November dusk had settled on the Deer Run Trailer Park drawing from the windows an orange-yellow glow where women could be seen heating up food in the small spaces that doubled as kitchens.
Only one trailer was still dark. It was the doublewide, standing at the back of the park looking out over the fallow field and, with one of its windows boarded up, it looked almost abandoned.
But Marc Bommel was inside.
He was sitting perfectly still listening for any sound outside. By now he could identify each of his neighbors’ cars from the sound their tires made on the gravel or by the setting of the carburetors and when he heard the storm door slam a couple of trailers down, he didn’t need to look at the clock to know it was gone five and Rhonda Ramos was taking her three kids to the diner on route 7a for the early-bird special.
When silence returned to the park, he turned on the small lamp, opened the table drawer and took out the envelope addressed to the insurance company. It was dirty now, over the past year he’d spilt coffee on it and there was a grease stain on the back he hadn’t noticed before.
He’d told himself to wait a year before filing the claim but now the day had come he still hesitated. He took the form out of the envelope and studied the empty black boxes then opened the drawer, took out a pen and wrote his first and last name on the form. He was about to fill out the address when he heard a noise outside; it sounded like somebody had bumped into the garbage can he’d put in the middle of the walkway leading up to his trailer.
He reached across the table and turned off the light then walked over to the window where he pulled aside the blind. He looked to the left and then the right until he was sure there was nobody there, until he was certain that it was only the wind looking for pieces of paper and plastic bags to toss into the night sky.
As he stood looking out the window, he thought back to that day exactly a year ago when he was standing in the same spot watching the Sheriff hitching up his pants and settling his holster on his left hip before thrusting his hands deep into the side pockets of his jacket and walking toward the trailer.
He could even hear the Sheriff’s knock on the door, the initial low rattle until he got the measure of the light aluminum frame and then the hard thump, thump, thump with the side of his fist.
The Sheriff was a big man in his late fifties, his face set in a permanent scowl from the scar that ran from below his left eye to his jaw line.
“Marc,” he said with a nod of his head when Bommel opened the door. “You best let me in, son.”
When the Sheriff walked into the trailer he filled it with his authority, and Bommel felt as if it didn’t belong to him anymore. Bommel stood by the door uncertain of what to do, wondering if he should offer the Sheriff a drink from the bottle of whiskey sitting on the kitchen counter but thought better of it, thought the Sheriff would probably say no, say that he didn’t drink on duty and say it like those cops did on TV; so Bommel stood mute, waiting for the Sheriff.
The Sheriff told him to sit down, even pointed to the chair he should use but sitting there he didn’t know what to do with his hands, so he lay them flat on the cool Formica surface.
“I’ve got bad news, son,” the Sheriff said. He was still standing but he was facing Bommel now, looking down on him, the scar pushing into the white of the eye, twisting the features of his face until Bommel couldn’t make out what he was thinking.
“We found her out there in the forest,” he said but stopped and turned away looking, Bommel thought, at the bottle of whiskey. “She was over there by Forster’s Creek.” He turned back and looked Bommel in the eye. “Looks like some kind of accident.”
Bommel felt he should say something but when he opened his mouth all he could feel was a tight knot in his throat, so he looked at his hands pressing down on the Formica.
“Probably some damn fool from the city, usually is,” the Sheriff said and once again Bommel thought he was looking at the whiskey. “You know how it is with them.”
A couple of years back, Sally MaCalister was out in her backyard playing with her older sister when she was shot clean through the head and even though her sister got a good look at the hunter, could describe his clothes, said he had a beard and brown hair, nothing was ever done because the hunters from the city brought a lot of money into the county.
That’s how it was with them.
“Well I’ll be getting along, give you some time,” the Sheriff said. He seemed uncomfortable now and Bommel thought he could feel a nervousness in the edge of his voice.
“You know Marc, the city cops’ll be down—always do when something like this happens. I’ll wait a few days before putting in the papers, give you some time to get yourself together, think about what you want to say.”
He looked at the door but didn’t move; he looked down at Bommel: “Is there anything you want me to do? Phone somebody? Drive you some place?”
Bommel shook his head.
“Well, I’ll be getting along, give you…” He stood silent again and Bommel could feel him getting smaller, shrinking away from him. “It’s a hell of a thing, son, I’m just, well I’m just so god damn sorry.”
He put his hand on Bommel’s shoulder but it didn’t stay there long and again Bommel looked up at him but this time he knew he didn’t need to say anything.
It was a couple of hours later that her mom and dad came over. He was still sitting at the table where the Sheriff had left him but he’d poured himself a drink.
He stood up and shook hands with her dad then her mom wrapped him in a tight embrace where he suffocated in the sweet smell of her perfume. When she let go of him, she took off her coat and put on one of his wife’s aprons then busied herself in the kitchen with the breakfast dishes before taking three ready-made meals from the freezer and heating them up.
His father-in-law helped himself to a drink and walked around the room, his body tight with a restless anger.
“God-damned fucking city assholes,” he thundered and Bommel thought he should join in but again he couldn’t find the right words so as her dad’s anger beat on the walls of the trailer, he listened to the cracking of the ice as it melted in his glass.
Her mom and dad planned the funeral.
The long black cars pulled up outside the trailer under a slate grey sky that held them hostage to a storm that had broken higher up the valley.
He sat in the back of the second car between his brother and his wife wearing a borrowed black suit that was tight about the shoulders. When the car started off, he saw the storm reflected in the eyes standing outside the neighboring trailers; eyes staring in at him ignoring the show of the man in the black top hat who walked slowly toward the buck antlers that marked the entrance to the park.
The storm broke when they got to the church making the tarmac slick with rain and he stumbled under the weight of the coffin but when he steadied himself he let her bite into his shoulder and was sorry to put her down on the trestles standing in front of the altar. The pews were filled with people, it was as if the entire valley had turned out to stare at him standing there among the swirling smoke of the incense that the priest waved over the coffin.
There were speeches at the reception.
Her dad said what a good daughter she’d been then stopped and people started to clap thinking that he was too overcome with grief to read from the piece of paper he held in his hand but he crumpled the piece of paper and threw it on the floor then snarled and cursed about the arrogance of the city.
Bommel’s brother spoke next, said how happy the family had been when she married Marc, and that was true. Then Suzie Mitchelson stood up and talked about the charity work she’d done in the valley, the food bank, the winter clothing drive, the walk for the cure.
Others said this and that but he didn’t remember much of what was said—he knew people were waiting for him to say something, waiting as if words from him would bring the story to an end and let them go on their way but all he could come up with were a few scraps about how she kept a clean home, how happy they’d been that time in Atlantic City but he knew that wasn’t the ending they were looking for.
After the speeches he stood in the middle of the room but nobody said much to him. The women would hug him, tell him what a good wife he’d had, say how sorry they were, and the men with somber faces would silently shake his hand and look him straight in the eye as they gave him another drink.
He didn’t remember much of what happened over the weeks following the funeral. He lay on the sofa half awake, desperate to escape the nagging headache gnawing at the back of his eyes but every time he managed to fall asleep there was a man on the TV shouting about the moon and he would wake up in a sweat and begin the search for sleep all over again.
His brother woke him up one night, standing over him dressed in a white shirt and a clean pair of jeans. He brewed a pot of black coffee and made Bommel get off the sofa, shower, shave and get dressed before taking him out to Cody’s Roadhouse.
Cody’s was a barn of a place but it was always filled with people dancing, drinking, having themselves a high time, and that night was no different.
The bartender kept putting drinks in front of him, telling him who had bought them and he would look over and nod his head in thanks. Even the Sheriff bought him a round. He saw the Sheriff sitting at a table next to dance floor and Bommel knew there was something he had to ask the Sheriff, something that had kept him tossing and turning on the sofa but he couldn’t remember what it was and the not knowing filled his mind, closing out the music, the dancing girls, even the drinks in front of him.
When his brother slapped him on the back, he turned away from the Sheriff and saw the girl. She was sitting on the stool next to him but she didn’t stare like the others, she didn’t look at him at all, she looked down at the bar and fidgeted in her seat, twisting her hair around her fingers, smoking one cigarette after another.
When they were dancing, she put her hands on his shoulders and he thought again about the Sheriff and that day in the trailer but her hands stayed on him longer so he pulled her close and kissed her.
The rooms were upstairs.
She sucked and stroked his dick until she got it hard enough then straddled him, leaned back to hold onto his ankles and rocked gently back and forth.
He tried to get excited.
He looked at the arch of her body, the hard nipples that topped the firm small breasts but no matter what he did or thought about his mind was filled with the Sheriff.
After a while, the girl sat up and looked at him.
“Maybe you’re not in the mood tonight, sugar,” she said and kissed him on the forehead. “I’m real sorry about your wife.”
He watched her getting dressed in the shadows of the room and when she settled the thick brown belt on her hips, he remembered that he wanted to ask the Sheriff about the city cops and when they were going to come.
The next time he woke up on the sofa the only thing he could hear was the buzzing of a black fly as it flew around the empty cans and bottles that littered the floor. When he sat up the headache had lifted; he walked over to the kitchen sink and drew a glass of water that he drank down in one, then refilled the glass and drank again.
He opened the front door and sat on the top step looking at the sunshine bouncing off the chrome of his fourteen-month-old bright-red Ford F150 four-by-four. He walked around the truck, trailing his hand along its smooth lines then went back inside and opened all the windows and blinds.
It took him nearly six hours to clean the trailer from top to bottom. The only room he didn’t touch was the bedroom because he didn’t know what to do with her things, the clothes, the make-up, the bits and pieces of jewelry; he thought he’d ask her mom to clean it all out one day while he was at work.
He took the vases they’d gotten for their wedding and cleaned them until he could see his face in the silver then went out into the woods and picked flowers to put in them.
The next day, he put the box filled with bottles of booze and cans of beer into the back of the truck, drove to the dump and threw it in a skip; then he drove to the car dealership to return the truck.
Jon Thone didn’t ask any questions. He gave Bommel a couple forms to fill out and when they were complete said how sorry he was that he couldn’t give him a better deal but the market for used trucks being what it was, well, he’d done the best he could.
As Bommel was taking the last of his things out the truck, a few CDs, an old work shirt, he thought back to the day he bought the truck and the argument they’d had. She’d said they couldn’t afford it, said they should buy something smaller, said something about a Toyota Corolla but he told her that no one in his family had ever ridden in no God-damn foreign car, and he wasn’t going to start now.
She waited outside in the parking lot while he signed the papers and picked up the keys but she’d ruined the day for him, taken the edge off what he’d looked forward to for so long—buying a brand-new truck, a truck that had never been ridden by anyone else.
They drove home in silence. She sat there in the leather upholstery, among the quad stereo system with her arms folded staring out the window. After a couple of miles, he turned on the lite FM radio station and sang along with the songs as loud as he could.
He was happy during those first few months with the truck.
When he arrived at work in the morning, when he drove into the parking lot he could feel everyone looking at him. At lunch times he allowed them to take turns driving around the l parking lot, and it filled him with such a sense of pride, a feeling that he was somehow unique, that he was better than they were.
Everyone who drove it asked him the same question: how do you get to afford such a fine truck? And that was the problem.
Before buying the truck, he’d calculated how much overtime he would need to pay off the loan. There was always overtime, there were even times when the boss begged men to stay after working overtime. It had been that way for the past five years, and he couldn’t imagine it ever changing.
But it did.
When the recession hit, orders for the high-end finished stone that the factory produced fell to the point where it was him who was begging for overtime but no matter how much he asked and how long he waited around after his shift, the days of endless overtime were gone. He could make some extra money by covering for guys who called out but when the boss canceled the late shift, he knew he was in trouble.
All he thought about was how he was going to afford the truck. He looked for a second job down at the mall but there weren’t any and besides they didn’t pay enough to keep a kid in gas money.
Then the fights started.
He accused her of wasting money, buying things they didn’t need just so he would have to get rid of his truck; she said that if they’d bought a smaller car like she wanted to, they wouldn’t be in such a mess.
It didn’t take him long to get behind on the payments. He made sure to pay something every month but by July he was a full payment behind and a woman from the finance company phoned to ask if anything were wrong.
What angered him most was that he didn’t need that much more each month, a few hundred dollars and if he were careful with mileage and how often he went out with his brother, he could make it.
He started to think about where he could get the extra cash.
His brother didn’t have a steady job but always had money so one night when they were at Cody’s watching the girls dancing around the steel poles, he said:
“I need to make some extra money, what with the slowdown at the factory and all.”
His brother didn’t say anything, kept looking at the girls, smiling at one that was looking his way, so Bommel repeated what he’d said.
“You serious?” his brother asked.
“I gotta make more cash or I’m gonna lose the truck.”
His brother loosened a cigarette from the pack and sat back in his chair.
“I know this guy,” he said as he was lighting the cigarette. “He needs someone to drive up north for him. I’ve been thinking about helping out myself, only…” he stopped to stare at the tall skinny girl with the blue eyes and schoolgirl freckles who was grinding her body against the pole as she stared back at him.
“Well, he’s Russian,” his brother said still staring at the girl. “Goes by the name of Mr. Smith, and it’s said that Mr. Smith is one bad dude.”
“How much will he pay?” Bommel asked.
“Starts out at ten grand, if you prove yourself, it can go as high as thirty.”
“Thirty thousand dollars? Just for driving up north? I could do that in my sleep.”
“There’s things to think about,” his brother said.
“Well, shit can go wrong.”
“But it’s just driving, what could do wrong?”
“A lot,” his brother turned to face him. “Your truck might break down; the cops might stop you; the dudes up north might rip you off; you might get hijacked—there’s a lot to think about here, Marc.”
Bommel finished his beer and ordered two more.
“Why aren’t you doing it?”
“Me? I ain’t desperate for money.”
Over the next few days all he could think about was the thirty thousand dollars. He would think about as he was driving to work, while he was at working, even before going to sleep. With thirty thousand dollars, he could pay off the truck in one go, or he could put the money aside and keep making his regular payments, maybe take a vacation, go back to Atlantic City or perhaps even go to Las Vegas.
He met Mr. Smith at a diner out on the interstate. Mr. Smith was sitting in a booth looking out the window at the semis making their way cross-country; a tall thin man, going bald, wearing a leather jacket over a black T-shirt, with a habit of looking over his shoulder before he said anything.
He explained to Bommel what he wanted him to do then said:
“It’s easy job. You might ask why I pay such good money, to buy your loyalty. I tell you one very important thing,” he looked around to make sure no one was listening then said in a quieter voice: “Listen to me carefully now please: you make mistake and I kill your family. I ask you not to doubt this.”
Mr. Smith told him to take a week to think about it. Told him that if he didn’t want to help, there would be no hard feelings but when they parted in the wind-swept parking lot, he didn’t shake Bommel’s hand.
Over the next week he kept changing his mind. There were risks, he understood that but it would take him years to save thirty thousand dollars. He asked his brother what he should do but his brother said it was a decision only he could make. He wanted to ask his wife but he knew she would think him mad.
Everywhere he went that week he saw kids driving cars better than he’d ever owned before the truck and the thought of going back to driving used cars made him depressed.
But despite the feelings of depression that followed him everywhere that week, he knew he couldn’t drive for Mr. Smith. He knew it when he was at work and the fear of jail would overcome him; knew it when he was sitting at Cody’s and the thought of Mr. Smith sent an icy-cold shiver down his spine.
He realized he wasn’t a crook, he wasn’t some tough guy; he was just a working stiff who had to make do with the money he made from going to work every day, day-in day-out, six days a week.
There was nothing to be done but sell the truck.
It wasn’t all bad, he told himself. He could sell the truck and with the difference between what he sold it for and what he’d already paid off he might still have enough money to go to Vegas.
They kept all their important papers in a fireproof safety box that they’d gotten as a wedding present. It was at the back of the closet in the bedroom, behind his wife’s dresses and shoes. He was on hands and knees going through the box when his wife came into the room to get dressed to go to work.
“Where’s the truck registration?” he said.
“Why do you need that?”
“I’m gonna sell the truck.”
“What d’you wanna do? Lose us more money?”
She told him that new trucks lost their value as soon as they were driven off the lot and that he’d be lucky to get enough money to pay off the finance company.
He didn’t believe her and they got in to a fight about it; he followed her around the trailer as she was getting dressed until she got to the front door to leave.
“You’re too damn dumb to be alive,” she said before slamming the door in his face.
As he was driving to work, he reasoned that she was only saying it to annoy him, to get under his skin. On his break he talked to a guy who used to sell secondhand cars and he said that it was true; said that the only way not to lose money was to trade in for a new model.
The next day he opened the safety box and put the registration back inside. The papers in the box were a mess from where he rooted around the day before so he took them out one-by-one refolded them and stacked them carefully one on top of the other.
The last document he picked up he’d never seen before; he opened it up but at first couldn’t make out what it was. It had his wife’s name on it and the sum of one hundred thousand dollars and he remembered when they got married there was talk about her dad taking out a life insurance policy but he didn’t think her old man had done it.
One hundred thousand dollars, two birds one stone.
He tried not to think about it but it would creep up on him at different times of the day, random times when he was least expecting it—at the mall, at a traffic stop, while he was shaving.
Then he woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep and he knew he was going to do it, knew it like he knew the sun would rise that morning.
He waited until the crack of rifle fire filled the days before climbing up into the lookout about half a mile from the path she walked every day to work and back. It was a clear day with a sharp edge to the air that would turn icy once the sun set.
When she came into the clearing, he followed her through the telescope for a few yards then pulled the trigger; the bullet whistled through the distance between them and she fell.
It was a clean kill. He didn’t think she felt anything; didn’t see her twitching or flopping around or anything like that.