- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
The beavers inhabiting Turtle Creek Basin had jury-rigged a cedar-stick dam across the flow, creating a still pond that the big man hadn't counted on. He had to step high to avoid being splinter-pricked in the caboose, and when he finally had navigated the beaver dam, he then had to wade the shallow pond it had created to get where he was going—a dam bigger than any damn troop of beavers had ever dreamed of, if beavers dream. His galoshes slogging through the pond exactly matched in rhythm and cadence the thumping sound of Bobby Beaver's flat tail. The big man peered through stingy moonlight and eventually spied Bobby, hunched over a cedar stump whose flesh he had gnawed into a pencil-point peak, whose trunk had been felled for the sake of the little beaver industry. Humph, thought the big man tromping the pond. You wanna see a dam? Follow me, Bobby Beaver, and I'll show you what fer.
Over the bald, dry ridge lay an attenuated coulee that the big man had to cross to reach his destination three miles distant. A moldy yellow moon with a toothless, gaping sneer shed thin light across the barren mountaintops and poured down along the coulee's granite walls onto the flat valley floor, where, eons past, raging glacier melt had carved a zigzag pattern that made the big man think of an Indian rug. He lifted his mud-soaked boots out of the pond, tightened the straps of his bulging backpack, and climbed a knobby knoll, where he stood on the brink of the rise, his black shadow throwing a light-starved void across the coulee. And he thought of Darla.
A man about to commit an especially heinouscrime ought to stay focused on the present moment, but all the big guy could think about was Darla. She lived in Astoria, below the great winding steel bridge that soared up and over the mouth of the Columbia River, connecting Oregon to Washington. Darla worked at Astoria First National Bank, where he had discovered her one prodigious day at her little desk beside the bank's safe. She had bachelor button eyes and hair the shade of cedar bark. She loved a good margarita and loved to fool around. She had perfect breasts, passable waist and hips, a magnificent fanny, a GED diploma, and enough experience to use them all to her advantage and his supreme satisfaction. He couldn't wait to see Darla, have a good long do, and pay a brief visit to her bank vault. He'd do it, too, and he'd do something even more exceptional over Easter vacation.
Good Friday. Forty-four days from today. Today was Ash Wednesday, and the big guy could honestly say that he missed the familiar ritual of the priest smudging the black ashes on his forehead. From his Patagonia vest, he fished out a crumpled pack of Big Chiefs, lit one up, smoked, allowing the ash to build up, and carefully tapped the ashes off into the palm of his hand. When they had cooled, he stood on that rise overlooking the coulee and, with the middle finger of his right hand dipped into the ashes, he intoned, "From ash you came, to ash you shall return," then reached up and smudged a fat blotch on his forehead. He wasn't a religious man, just fixated on burnt ashes and other remnants of fire. Releasing a coil of rope from his hip belt, he wrapped one end around Bobby Beaver's stump and rappelled down the coulee wall.
Hours later, the resplendent moon now barely visible, he had traversed the coulee's dry creek-bed floor and had pickaxed his way up the far wall. Now he stood on the opposite ridge and looked back from whence he had come. If he squinted, he could almost make out the silhouette of Bob Beaver up on that other ridge; then the moon slipped behind the mountain and the shadows succumbed to blackness. He turned and faced the low rim of concrete bulkhead on the western edge of Rocky Reach Dam, where its concrete wall choked off the Columbia River at a narrows, half a mile across.
It was early March, a mild, windless night, perfect for shenanigans. A man does what he must to assuage his conscience, to rationalize his motives, and now the big guy allowed all the bitter gall churning in his stale gut to rise to the occasion. A gush of yellow anger hottened his throat and spurred him on. He set down his backpack and began unloading the explosives. Because he was seasoned in the art and science of anarchy, and because he had assiduously studied the contours of Rocky Reach Dam, including its pair of fish ladders and hatchery ponds, he thought he knew just where and how to place the dynamite and plastic explosives in order to achieve the desired effect. He worked for nearly two hours, careful to avoid detection by the power company's security force. He was still young enough to possess agile legs, and yet old enough to have finely honed his intuitive senses. He could smell danger a mile away, and now he felt confident that he and his tiny-big packages had so far gone undetected. As he worked, he could hear the swoosh of the river below the dam's concrete wall, where, after it spilled over in tightly controlled measure, the water pooled around great granite boulders, regaining its natural manic rhythm. Downriver, it was again choked by Rock Island Dam, then Wanapum, Priest Rapids, McNary, and John Day dams, The Dalles, and Bonneville dams, until finally the Columbia's once-wild, free-raging waters flowed passively under the Astoria Bridge. From Astoria, the river swirled gently past the lighthouse at Cape Disappointment. Gagged and harnessed by its concrete shackles, it just whimpered out to the raging sea. Not what Nature had intended, but what evildoing technocrats had devised. The big guy would fix all that, given time, wherewithal, and a pinch of weed to heighten the whole experience.
By the time he had finished priming the dam's west-side fish ladder, the moon had completely abandoned eastern Washington. The glabrous mountains and parched coulees lay in wretched darkness, waiting on the next pass of the sun. The big man checked one last time and found everything in order, everything just as it should be, everything going according to plan. One last time, he checked the remote timing devices, then scrambled over the ridge and down into the coulee, where in the darkness waited his getaway vehicle. He had parked the old Jeep behind a clump of scrubby trees alongside the dried-up, diverted riverbed. He had a hiding place underneath the trees, where he had dug a hole, and now he placed the backpack down in the hole and covered it over with a plastic tarp that he kept in the Jeep. He covered that over with rocky soil, then covered the soil with a camouflage of dried-up tree leaves. He dragged a snatch of tumbleweed across his footprints, eradicating them, and climbed in behind the Jeep's steering wheel. He lay the remote-control device on the passenger seat, removed his muddy boots, slipped on a pair of sneakers, lit up a joint, blew out smoke, and pondered the dark sky. When the weed had burned down to his stained fingertips, he crumbled it on the Jeep's banged-up door and flicked the skimpy butt into the darkness before he reached over and pressed the button on the remote control.
The explosion lit the sky bright as a morning sun ball and the noise made him think of volcanic force. Damn, he was good. He turned the key in the Jeep's ignition, revved the engine, and, just as the sky turned crimson and smoke, roared off down the coulee in the opposite direction of Rocky Reach Dam.
When he reached Astoria, Darla was sitting up in bed watching CNN.
"Didja see the news, honey?" Darla asked the big man.
He said no, he hadn't seen the news.
"Well, apparently some terrorists blew up Rocky Reach Dam. Ka-blewee. It made havoc. God, what will they do next?"
He didn't bother asking Darla whom she meant by "they."
Darla said, "And just this morning, they announced that President Benson's coming to campaign on the Columbia River. Cripes, can you picture if that bomb had gone off on the president of the United States?"
He said nothing, just grunted. He peeled off his shoes and trousers, went into the bathroom, then came back and crawled up beside Darla in bed. She was munching a Dunkin' Donut and nursing a Red Hook. She couldn't take her blue-button eyes off the television screen, and who could blame her? Havoc reigned up along the Columbia River. Chaos and mayhem prevailed. Rocky Reach Dam had burst its seam and dumped a couple billion gallons of freshwater that flooded the riverbanks, the overspill making mash of Wenatchee's apple orchards and floating three corpses to the surface: one was a cougar, one was a deer, and one was Bobby Beaver's Uncle Fred.
Darla glanced over at the big man. "Why, honey," she remarked upon noticing the smudge on his forehead, "looks like you've been to church." She laughed, then kissed him, her deft hand crossing the Rubicon on the first grope.
Often when asleep, Darla would mumble incoherent phrases in her own private language, with her own made-up words. On this night, beside the big guy, a dreaming Darla spoke words he understood, each one clearly enunciated. "If you're my mother," Darla mumbled into her pillow, "why don't I look like you?"
The big guy opened his eyes and stared at sleeping Darla. She looked so pure and innocent. Wrapping his strong fingers around the soft white skin of her neck, he stroked her throat, gently, wondering what it would feel like to strangle her. She didn't flinch in her sleep, but mumbled something about swans, then lapsed into her private language.
The big man watched the moon drift across the window shade and thought about where he had been, and where he was going. Reaching up, he felt his forehead. A trace of ashes remained. He sighed, shut his eyes, and felt himself skate across the thin membrane between awareness and repose.
A week later, on a dank, spiritless morning, Darla woke up in bed and saw that the big guy was gone. Cursing men in general, she placed her feet against the hardwood floor and stood up. "Yowser," she said aloud. "It's effing cold."
Darla's spaniel heard her mistress's sultry voice, shook in place at the living room heat register, stood on all fours, and padded into the bedroom to see what "Yowser" was all about. By now, Darla was in the bathroom, and when the spaniel finally located her, Darla purred, "C'mere, Pussy, you effing creep."
Pussy, the spaniel, comprehended the gentle tone of Darla's voice and skittered into the bathroom, bent on love. Darla stroked Pussy's spotted coat, all the while staring out the bathroom window at the morning light.
There wasn't a sky in the clouds.
"Oh hell," Darla complained to Pussy. "Another Pacific Northwest morning."
She had her shower and instant oatmeal, her thyroid tablets and herbal tea. She let Pussy out for a stroll through the rhododendrons, then locked the spaniel in the house and drove away in her classic 1978 Thunderbird, powder blue, with white leather upholstery and a white canvas convertible top. It was 7:35, and Darla always arrived at work before eight o'clock, when Mr. Owens, the branch manager of Astoria First National Bank, stopped by on his way to breakfast, just to see which employees cared enough to be early birds. Darla had worked at Astoria First National for only six months, hadn't yet completed her one-year probation period. She arrived early every day to show she was up to snuff. Rounding the corner of Lewis and Clark streets, Darla noticed that the block of Clark on which the bank was located had been cordoned off with that yellow plastic tape she'd seen at crime scenes on television. Police cars, emergency aid vehicles, ambulances, and fire trucks choked off Clark Street, flashing red and amber lights. Darla slowed the T-bird to a crawl behind a Volvo and craned her neck to see what fer.
A helicopter clamored overhead, and when Darla poked her head out the window, she honestly felt the churning air. She couldn't see everything, but she saw enough to know that the bank was the point of interest, uniformed officers and firefighters rushing to and fro, and then she saw the gaping hole in the bank's old brick wall, the wall with the freshly painted salmon mural. The hole in the wall poked out of a salmon's belly, and Darla strained to see inside the bank, her first thoughts being related to the left-hand top drawer of her desk, which contained a small cosmetics bag, which contained a tiny pill box in which resided a small collection of ecstasy. Her guilty fears were somewhat diminished when she saw that whatever had blasted the hole in the bank wall had also obliterated most of the bank's interior, including the area beside the safe, where Darla usually sat at her desk. Possibly the blast had obliterated Darla's desk, the left-hand drawer, the cosmetics bag, and the pillbox therein. Darla chewed her lip.
A television news reporter was kind enough to pause at Darla's window and describe the situation. "Bomb went off inside the bank this morning just before daylight. Blew out the wall there." He pointed. "Blew into the safe. Bank robbers."
"Holy bananas," said Darla, and she whistled, all the while sweating over the ecstasy. "What's it look like inside?"
"Chaos. And in case you're interested, no one was killed."
The reporter went away, leaving Darla to brood over the ecstasy. She turned on the car radio and tuned in to KAST-AM. Sure enough, the local station was broadcasting the story. Darla fine-tuned and bent her ear down to the speaker so she could hear over the din.
A security guard had been slightly injured. Darla's boss, Mr. Owens, and Darla's pal, Leelee Thuc Dien Phu, had witnessed the blast from the Chick's Nest Cafe, across Clark Street from the bank. They were sharing a predawn repast, following a hot night of adultery (the media didn't report this, but Darla knew about Leelee and Mr. Owens), and, seated at the front window, they saw the whole thing. There were other witnesses, though not many at 5:00 A.M., when the bomb blew. KAST wasn't permitted to interview Mr. Owens until the police finished with him, but Leelee Thuc Dien Phu went on radio to describe the shocking event.
"Just like Mount Saint Helens," Leelee told listeners. "Only smaller, and there was no ash, but I vomited anyway, just out of fright." Typical Leelee.
Bank operations were temporarily moved to a mobile unit parked in the Safeway lot. Bank customers were already flooding the phone lines, demanding to know if their safe-deposit boxes and hard-earned cash had blown up, and if so, what then? Darla could almost hear Mr. Owens's hands wringing.
No use hanging at the scene just to gawk. Darla wasn't a gawker. She had better things to do with her time. Darla maneuvered out of line and drove home. Pussy was puzzled, even slightly irritated, to see her mistress come home early. Darla removed her panty hose, her black polyester business suit, and her white Dacron blouse. She slid into a pair of men's pajama bottoms, pulled a T-shirt over her two friends, grabbed a Red Hook, and reclined on the bed to watch television's version of the event. She could hardly wait to tell the big guy. Speak of the devil, here he comes now.
But the big guy didn't want to talk. He wanted something else. Darla had no problem with that, but Pussy grew snarly when the big guy dragged her out of the bedroom and shut the door. Pussy could hear Darla's moans and cries and knew full well that her mistress was having a ball, but Pussy wasn't, so she howled and yowled, until the big guy came out of the bedroom, grabbed her by the scruff, and tossed her outdoors, where a mean mist fell over the yard, scotching Pussy's flower garden plans. She stayed up on the porch, where, through the bolted door, she could hear Darla's ecstatic whinnies. After awhile, the big guy appeared on the porch. He made a swipe at Pussy, but Pussy shrank back, and he missed. The big man cursed at Pussy and strode deliberately down the garden path. Pussy watched him climb into his van and drive away. When the van had disappeared, Pussy began scratching at the front door and whimpering. Eventually, Darla opened the door and let the soggy spaniel inside. Then Darla bathed and napped while Pussy licked her paws.
When he returned that night, a looming shadow in the doorway, the full moon backlighting his broad chest, haloing his head, his bulk threw a dark shadow across the candlelit room. Darla, in place on the love seat, made a come-hither circle with her big toe. He stepped inside, shutting the cold moon out, and bolted the door. He set his boots where he usually did, beside the front door, and approached the temptress.
The only things she had on were toenail polish and a ruby rhinestone necklace that showed off her soft white neck but, unfortunately, drew attention to her one flaw, a receding chin. She rotated the talented toe, and he walked over and stared down at her. He was hungry and still chilled from the night air, but he could see what Darla wanted so desperately, so he gave it to her, not so much out of generosity as out of expediency. When she finally settled down, they shared a joint and a Tab. Darla showered, and now she wore a towel wrap and a terry-cloth turban. He was rolling a second joint when Darla flicked on the eleven o'clock news and through the waning candlelight came images of the Astoria First National Bank building, the destroyed salmon mural, and the tumult of earlier that day. Darla, curled on the love seat, wiggled her toes at the screen.
"There I am, see? Behind that Volvo. See? There I am."
He lit the joint, inhaled, then passed it on to Darla, but she waved it away.
"I have to work tomorrow," she said. "At least I think I do."
He persisted. "It'll help you sleep."
Darla shook her pretty head. "I don't need it. I can fall asleep anywhere, anytime. You'll learn that about me, when you get to know me better. When I'm stressed? I automatically drop to sleep. Even in the middle of havoc. I'm just that way. When Mount Saint Helens blew? I slept through the whole thing and woke up with ash all over my face and everything. Even way up in Kettle Falls, we got ash. We really did, honest."
They watched the news report of the bank blast, or at least he did. He was pretty sure Darla had lapsed into one of her trances. He glanced over and saw her hands resting on her knees, fingers and thumbs kissing. Maybe she didn't care that her workplace had gotten blown to smithereens. Maybe she didn't care about anything much, or much about anything. He smoked and listened to the broadcast. When it ended—telling him nothing he didn't already know—he clicked off the tube and went into Darla's bedroom and lay down on her bed. In less than a minute, he was asleep. He slept so soundly that he didn't notice Darla crawl into bed beside him, or hear her whisper, "I hope they catch those bastards." In the living room, Pussy slept fitfully, bothered by a field mouse playing in the wall.
* * *
When Darla awoke, the big guy was gone, his satchel missing from the front hall. Darla knew that meant the big guy was going away for a while—on another one of his business trips. Darla was still unsure what he did for a living, but she assumed from all the secrecy and avoidance of the subject that he was in the pot-smuggling business. Darla's vivid imagination had conjured a picture of the big guy meeting a rogue band of Canadian reefer rats at the Astoria docks near the mouth of the Columbia River, where they off-loaded fish carcasses stuffed with potent BC weed. She saw him making his purchases, then heading upriver in the van, along the lower river road, peddling his wares at each little river town. She imagined that he stopped at Bonneville and The Dalles and that he sold pot to the power company employees who ran the dams all along the Columbia River. He'd move upriver, one dam town to the next, keeping the entire hydroelectric power system supplied with reefer. These power guys would make steady customers—anything to distract them from the tedium of dam work and river life.
Darla knew about a particular brand of upriver tedium, having been raised from the age of seven up at Kettle Falls, Washington, at the top of the state, where the Columbia flows out of Canada, where the vintners grow grapes to make icewine. You don't live fifteen years in a backwater without grasping the definition of tedium. Darla had experienced enough tedium for a whole village before she escaped Kettle Falls and headed southwest to Astoria. She loved the ocean breezes but despised the rain, so it was love-hate right off the bat between Darla and Astoria. Almost immediately, she landed a job interview at Astoria First. They had fingerprinted her, analyzed her urine, and checked her references umpteen times before they hired her on at the bank. They were shocked to learn she held Mensa membership, which Darla never bragged about but only listed in the job application under the category "Hobbies and Organization Memberships." Darla smoked pot, but seldom, and she never moved beyond reefer to the hard drugs. The ecstasy in her cosmetics bag in the desk drawer at the bank? It wasn't hers. It belonged to the big guy, and she never should have offered to stash it for him.
Until this fateful incident, Darla had possessed a kind of luck, or kismet, that a lot of girls back in K Falls had envied. Kismet happens when your destitute single mom lands a big fish like Albert Denny, the cattle rancher who owned more property than anyone else in eastern Washington, and Darla's mom, Sue Ann, and Darla herself being his only heirs. Darla got what she wanted, and she never had to work too hard for it. But life with Sue Ann and Albert didn't much suit Darla, didn't match her notion of how life ought to shake out for a pretty girl with adventure in her heart and romance constantly on her mind. So Darla had fled the backwater and come to Astoria, Oregon, where there were fewer Bible-thumpers and aging survivalists, where the bars served liquor seven days a week past midnight.
When she'd arrived in Astoria six months ago, she had fallen into this awesome Victorian cottage rental. Soon after that, she got hired on at Astoria First, and then her stepfather surprised her with the classic T-bird for a "new job" present. Soon after settling in, she adopted Pussy from the pound. After meeting Leelee Thuc Dien Phu at the bank and understanding from Leelee what it meant to have a college degree, Darla had enrolled in the community college, where she studied yoga and Pilates for college credit. All this in the first six months of her Astorian adventure. Under Leelee's maternal influence, she had vowed to graduate from college, and at Leelee's urging, she had just embarked upon a soul-searching self-actualization regime, guided by a lavishly illustrated edition of the Kama Sutra. But when the big guy came into her life, things just went topsy-turvy. A certain type of man can do that to the Darlas of the world.
One day at the bank, the big guy had walked up to Darla's desk and inquired about changing foreign currency. By foreign, he meant Canadian. He was large and rugged and reminded her of a lumberjack. He wore army fatigues and a Patagonia parka. He had a solid build, like he worked out with free weights, and he had short hair the shade of rich earth, and no beard or mustache. She wasn't used to clean-shaven men and decided that he must not be a lumberjack after all. He had soft brown eyes that seemed perpetually out of focus, so she had trouble reading them, but when he spoke, lordy, how she tingled in all the right spots. Not the words, but something in his tone and manner turned Darla on. She must have conveyed this sexual energy, because after she made the exchange from Canadian to U.S. currency, the man asked her out.
Excerpted from K FALLS by Skye Kathleen Moody. Copyright © 2001 by Skye Kathleen Moody. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.