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As their hardscrabble lives intertwine in a small, corrupt Montana town, Grace, a scheming runaway, JJ, her drifty fostercare sister, and Mick, the son of a petty thief, discover the body of a young woman. Afraid to come forward, the teens try to hide their knowledge of the crime, because they believe the murderer is one of the corrupt officials and businessmen who rule their town. But after a series of false moves and dumb mistakes, the teens are soon suspects themselves in a murder...
As their hardscrabble lives intertwine in a small, corrupt Montana town, Grace, a scheming runaway, JJ, her drifty fostercare sister, and Mick, the son of a petty thief, discover the body of a young woman. Afraid to come forward, the teens try to hide their knowledge of the crime, because they believe the murderer is one of the corrupt officials and businessmen who rule their town. But after a series of false moves and dumb mistakes, the teens are soon suspects themselves in a murder investigation threatening their freedom—and maybe their lives.
“Three teens, variously abandoned and abused, become involved in a small-town murder that exposes their own exploitation in revealing ways . . . [A] heartbreaking . . . picture of how our society fails adolescents as they come of age.” —Kirkus Reviews
"Readers who sweat bullets through Price’s Desert Angel will grab this right up." - BCCB
AT THREE IN THE MORNING, when everyone else is asleep, you can hear your brother’s lungs expanding. You can smell the rum and cola on his breath. If your eyes are used to the dark, it’s surprising how well you can see. The crinkles in his ear. Sideburns, acne lumps on his cheeks. The edge of his hairline where you’re going to plant the hammer. How hard will you have to swing it to break through and still pull it out again?
Grace lowered it to her side and let it move back and forth to get a sense of its momentum, raised it shoulder high and rotated her wrist in a short arc to gauge its heft. Calculated. A medium-hard swing and the weight of the tool should mash through the bone into the goo. He was passed out on his favorites: booze and Oxy. He wouldn’t wake. Wouldn’t make a sound.
The second brother would be harder to kill. She’d probably have to get him in the bathroom. Before too long he would come home stoned and go in to pee before he went to bed. So Grace would hide behind the door. Smash him in the back of the head, low, base of the skull. Even if he lived, he’d be a zucchini.
And then? No more gang rapes in the Canby house. No more two-on-one late at night when the parents were blitzed and snoring. And, when Mom and Dad were gone for hours taking Caitlin to a soccer match, no more bringing the buds in to play wrestlemania. Caitlin? She’d never have to fight and lose and feel … she’d never have to go through what was making Grace a murderer.
Two-handed, she was thinking. Didn’t want the thing to slip. She raised both arms. Hesitated. A breath to get ready. Found herself looking at the world map on his far wall. Lowered the hammer. What if she just left? Just left for good. Took all the cash in the house. Her brother’s stash in his sock drawer, her mom’s folding money in the purse on the breakfast counter. Emptied her dad’s wallet that was sitting on the top of his dresser. Left and never came back.
It was a good idea.
Starting in sixth grade, her older brothers, eighth and ninth graders, got on her and wouldn’t get off. Nights after her folks went to bed. The boys told her they’d hurt Caitlin if she said anything. Grace stayed quiet, fought them. The more she fought, the better they liked it. Finally she told her mom.
Her mother, several drinks into the evening and tired from another day’s pressure cooker at the advertising agency, went in and gave the boys a lecture. A lecture! And then forgot about it. Thanks, huh? When the boys reached high school, they began bringing their friends into the mix.
If she killed her brothers, she knew what would happen. Her mother would blame her. Grace would go to jail. Exchange one maggot life for another.
* * *
After you ease the screen door shut, it’s easy to walk out of the neighborhood at four in the morning. Dark clothes. Stay near the trees and shadows if anyone drives by. But don’t run into some insomniac doofus walking his poodle. Main streets are harder, more police cruising, so use the alleys when you can. The freeway ramp? Find one a few blocks south near the warehouses where trucks will be rolling. Got to wait near the entrance, near cover, so you don’t get surprised by a patrol car. Thank god for the bushy oleanders. Cover blond hair with a ball cap. Jeans and denim jacket. Tennies. A boy? Right? Flip the brim to the back and you’re ready.
* * *
Grace thumbed a refrigerator rig before dawn.
The guy was eager for company, talked nonstop. Wife problems. Didn’t make Grace for a girl.
Grace could feel her energy draining but the guy took an exit. Roused her, surprised her. Highway 37. Grace relaxed again. He was going north to 5. She didn’t want her voice to give her away. Made it deep. “Sacramento?”
“Citrus to a bunch of independents,” he says, eyes on the road. “Redding in about four hours, Weed—other side of Mount Shasta—in six.”
Weed. That made Grace smile. Majorette, B student, gone to Weed. Off the grid. They’d never find her.
* * *
By the time they pulled into the docking bay at Bounty Food in Weed she wasn’t so sure. The police would check bus stations, put out a bulletin north and south on 5 figuring she might be hitching. The grocery store was on an intersection: Business 5 and Highway 97 north. She caught a ride with a younger guy driving a flat rig up 97 into Oregon.
He tipped to her early on. “Pretty risky. A girl on the road.” He sized her up while they climbed the long grade out of town.
Grace shifted a little so he couldn’t get such a clear profile.
“How old are you?”
Don’t ask her how she knows, but she knows where this is going. Reached for her pack between her feet. Put it in her lap.
“I got time,” he says, “and fifty bucks for a little affection.”
Grace ignored him.
He slowed and took a turnout bordered by fir, brought the truck to a stop. Undid his seat belt.
Grace found the door handle. When he leaned toward her, she jerked the hammer out of her pack. Watched his eyes widen. She was out the door before he could move.
Before dark she was on another refrigerator truck. This one going nonstop to 395 and Spokane, Washington. The driver, a quiet older man with a picture of his middle-aged wife and six or seven kids magnet-stuck to his dash. He doesn’t say two words the whole trip. Pulls off for a nap outside of Pasco. Grace slept like she was in a coma.
Copyright © 2012 by Charlie Price