A gray wool blanket covering everything but her head, Sarah huddled knees up on the plank floor next to an orange-glowing kerosene heater. A hissing gas lantern nearby gave off a strange light that seemed a mix of fierce white with vague greenish-bluish tints. The odd color spectrum played theatrically on her face, adding to the intensity of the stare she'd fixed on Blow with a feral vigilance.
She looked to be trembling under the blanket. Her hands were out of sight, hugging her knees it seemed by the blanket's drape, although he'd no doubt she could reach the shotgun next to her on the floor in an instant.
He'd not moved into the room after closing the door; just stood there letting the rain drip off him, pool around his boots. Despite the warmth from the heater he felt a sudden chill and began shivering violently. Part of his discomfort was psychological, he knew, but guessed that evaporation in the warmer air was also to blame.
“I should get out of these clothes. I'm freezing.” He said this as if to himself but was watching Sarah's face for a reaction. She remained motionless, her stare not wavering. He tried a different tack: “Sarah, could you tell me where I might find another blanket, like yours? I really do need to get warm. That heater's evaporating the water in my clothes. You know how that--”
She laughed. Her auburn curls danced as she shook her head. “I know. I'm pretty smart in science. You're freezing your ass off.”
“See that door behind me? There's blankets and stuff in there. Some old clothes too. You can hang your wet stuff on those chairs.” She nodded toward what appeared to be straight-backed wooden chairs around a crude table barely visible in shadows against the wall to her right. “You can take 'em off by the heater. I won't look.” She laughed again. Her voice, flat and dismissive, more cynical than friendly. He'd gotten around the heater and behind her when she spoke again. “See that door on your left? Just before you get to the bedroom? That's the bathroom. There's some towels in there. You can dry off if you want.”
“Where's Mr. Salzwedel?”
The voice sounded more vulnerable now, fragile even, as if from a different girl. She had not spoken or moved, that he could tell, while he poked around in the bedroom, thankful he hadn't lost the little Fenix flashlight on the way to the house. Its beam revealed the rapid departure of a large brown wolf spider when he tugged at a heavy, musty, wool blanket piled at the foot of the mattress on the floor. After shaking it out the to ensure it harbored no friends or relatives of the scuttling creature, he decided to forgo hunting for any garments to wear while his clothes dried in the front room. A filthy coverall hanging from a nail on the inside of the bedroom door smelled so rank he tried to avoid touching or even thinking about wearing it.
Sarah's question startled him as, barefoot and blanketed, he dragged one of the wooden chairs over to the kerosene heater. He set it down across from her, with the heater between them. He peered into her eyes, mere black discs. The pale blue irises were obscured by fully dilated pupils.
“Mr. Salzwedel and Mr. Rust are taking Donnie to the hospital,” he said.
Her face crinkled in confusion. “Frank is out there?”
“Yes, Sarah. He was.”
“With Mr. Salzwedel?”
“We came together, Sarah. Your mother is worried about you.”
“Mother? She's here too?”
“Sarah, your mother's at home. She sent us to find you. You know, maybe now that I'm here it would be a good time to take a nap. What do you think? Aren't you a little tired now?”
“Nap? Are you crazy? I'm not gonna sleep with that fucker Donnie out there. No way! That fucker tried to rape me!” Blow saw the blanket rustle. A hand reached out and grabbed the shotgun stock. Blow wished he'd thought to slide the weapon away from her when he'd had the chance.
“Sarah, there's no need for that now. Donnie's gone. Frank and Mr. Salzwedel are taking him to the hospital. In fact I should call ahead and let them know, so they can have an ambulance waiting at the boat ramp.”
“Mister...what's your name?”
“Joe. Joe Stone. We met this morning. Went to your grandpa's store, remember?”
“Oh, yeah. Gramps's store. The lawyer. So why are you here now? How come you came along with...them?”
“Your mother hired me to represent the family. In case anybody tries to cause you any trouble.”
She laughed. It was the hard, cynical laugh. “You mean because I shot Donnie? He tried to rape me, Donnie did. Fucker's been in prison, you know. Rapes people.”
“I understand, Sarah. I'll represent you for that, too. But your mother's worried about...the old gun, the musket. She--”
“Oh shit, they think I killed Mister Gunther with it! It was on the news. That's a goddam laugh. I don't even know how to make that goddam Yankee piece of trash shoot!”
“That's OK, Sarah, I believe you. You don't think your grandpa did it, do you? I mean he was pretty angry about that, wasn't he?”
“Gramps? Shoot Mister Gunther?” The callous laugh. “No way, Mister ...lawyer. No fucking way. Gramps hated that old piece of Yankee trash.”
“Do you know where it is? I mean, the police can have it tested and that would prove nobody fired it. Then they would have to look somewhere else for the killer.”
“Yeah. Well, it wasn't me and it sure as hell wasn't Gramps.”
“So do you know where it is? The musket?”
“Yeah, but you ain't gonna find it. Ain't nobody gonna find it.”
“Why is that, Sarah?”
“Because it's gone. It's at the bottom of the channel. I dropped it in on my way over here. It's gone, Mister lawyer. Gone for good.”
Stunned, Blow sat motionless awhile staring at the orange glow of the heater. He flicked his glance up a couple of times at the girl seated across from him. It disturbed him that her black disc eyes seemed to be staring straight through him. She'd formed her lips into a little smirk that looked as if it was there to stay. He started to rise.
“Where you going?” Her voice was harsh. She pulled the shotgun closer.
“My cellphone's on the chair over there, Sarah. I need to call ahead. Frank and Mr. Salzwedel might need help getting across the channel. Storm's pretty bad out there.”
The laugh. “Ain't no bars on Turtle Island, Mister lawyer. You ain't callin' nowhere.”
“Well, it wouldn't hurt to try. Sometimes a storm can actually help with reception.”
“Good luck.” Said dismissively.
Sarah was right. Soon as he flipped the phone open he saw there were no signal bars. He walked to the front door. Still nothing. A room to the right of the door, a small kitchen. Nothing. He flipped the Fenix on and check around in the kitchen, suddenly aware of hunger pangs. A few cans on the counter. An old refrigerator he was afraid to open because without electricity anything still in it was likely to spoil his appetite for a long long time. The stove was wood-burning, but he didn't see any wood or charcoal.
Re-entering the main room he saw no sign of Sarah, until he'd taken a few steps. She lay on the floor, curled up in the blanket. He moved closer and saw that she was asleep. Damned teenagers can sleep anywhere, he thought, knowing that tired as he was he could no longer handle a bare floor.
He saw an old couch against the wall opposite the table and chairs. Soiled, tattered and reeking of the same foulness as the coveralls in the bedroom, it offered no invitation beyond respite from the bone-aching weariness that had seized him the moment he laid eyes on it, and he accepted.