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08. the sign of the break

In the foreground, Mickey -- on the left -- is looking at Jay -- on the right. The cell phone used to make the call to Victor Marsh is in Mickey's back right pocket. A cigarette hangs from Mickey's lips, and his expression is conspiratorial and self-pleased. Jay is bent forward with laughter. In the background, Gunny looks on with an expression of grave concern.
Jay burst into laughter he’d been suppressing since Mickey had silenced him. “Bitchin’! Bitchin’!” He kept repeating that over and over between spasms of wet, chuckling laughter. He coughed up some phlegm and spat it onto the ground. “Bitchin’!”

GUNNY MARSH

Gunny kept looking down at his wounded palm, and then toward the sign. His palm was still bleeding, bright red trickles going down his wrist and arm now. In places, his blood had already congealed a little bit — there were wiggly purplish blobs here and there on his skin that shone in the light and kind of looked like gelatin.

Jay folded up the gooey trash bag that had held the raccoon bodies. “You want me to wrap him up, Mick?” he asked.

Mickey nodded toward Jay. “Do that.” He reached into his jacket again, this time withdrawing a small pack of bandages and a little wheel of surgical tape. He threw both toward Jay, who caught them. “Vick’ll have enough to do without his son passing out at the crime scene.”

“He’s not the sheriff any more,” Gunny heard himself say. He felt really weird: to his ears, his voice sounded far away, and his vision kept blurring. Jay was at his side; he didn’t think he’d seen him approach. Mickey looked like he was moving around and then holding totally still in weird ways, like somebody was changing chapters back and forth on a DVD, really fast. Jay looked as though he was saying something to Gunny, but Jay’s voice was totally absent. He tried to ask Jay to repeat whatever had just been said, but he couldn’t make his mouth move.

And then, even the others’ voices faded, too — until the sounds around him blurred into a rushing roar, like water. And then even that roar quieted.

And that’s when he heard a voice call out “Help!”

Gunny felt the prickle of a fresh, cold sweat all over his body. “Help!” he heard again. It was the same voice he’d heard earlier that morning; the voice that had led him to Penny, the one that had sounded so much like her.  And kind of still did. But it also sounded all strange to Gunny; it was like the sounds were all broken and messed up, like when you talk to a friend with paper cups and string — close to your ear, but also audible from the other end of the yard.  Wrong.  And coming from too many places at once.

And the Gunny felt a hard smack across the right side of his face. “Wake UP, faggot!” Jay shouted at him. “Put you hand out so I can fix it.”

Gunny’s cheek stung, and he reached up to touch where Jay had slapped him.

“Great, Jay. Now he’s got blood on his face, too.”  Mickey groaned.  “I need to call Vick. Bandages. Now.” He pointed toward Gunny. “Jay, make him stop bleeding.”

Jay forcibly grabbed Gunny’s right hand in his own, having already opened the up the package of bandages. “Hold this,” he said, holding out the roll of surgical tape toward Gunny.

Gunny took the tape. “Did you hear … like, a girl?” His voice sounded really hoarse now. He looked toward Mickey, who was pulling a cell phone out of his right pants pocket. It looked like one of those generic phones you can buy at Sweet’s Drugs.  The ones behind the locked glass case.  “You didn’t hear a girl cry for help?”

Mickey shook his head. But Gunny couldn’t help noticing that something seemed different about Mickey. The older boy looked somehow tired and worn out to Gunny.  Like he was way older out of nowhere.  And it had somehow happened in the last few moments.

Gunny turned back toward Jay. “Did you hear that? A girl calling for help?”

“Only your mom,” Jay said.

Gunny shook his head, then winced — Jay was squeezing the bandages together over his hand. “Seriously — you didn’t hear it? I thought I heard a girl saying ‘help’ over and over.”

Jay narrowed his wide-spaced eyes at Gunny. “No?” He shrugged, clearly dismissing any concern on Gunny’s part. “I didn’t hear it. Prolly just peacocks,” Jay said, reaching out to take back the surgical tape and wrap it around the bandages.

“What?”

“Peacocks. When they wanna find another peacock, they make a noise like a bitch saying ‘help.’ I hear it all the time out by my house  I live near the Hiltrauds.”

“Seriously?” Mickey said.

“Really?” Gunny said, at the same time Mickey spoke. Gunny suddenly felt really stupid. He wondered to himself if that’s why the ‘voice’ had sounded so weird. But it really had sounded like Penny — each time; he was so sure of that.

“Yeah, reeeeeeee-leeeeeee,” Jay mocked, lowering his voice and letting his tongue hang out of his mouth. Then, in his regular voice, he added “You’re done, by the way. Check your hand.”

Gunny’s hand still hurt. It didn’t just hurt, though. There was a funny tingling all around the edges of where Mickey had cut him.

“You’re welcome. Now shut it. Mickey’s makin’ the call.”

Mickey was holding the cell phone to his ear with his left hand and gesturing to the others to be quiet by holding up his right. After a long silence, Mickey spoke into the telephone. “Hello. It’s me.  You know me.”  It sounded like Mickey was doing some kind of a voice for the call, like Gunny had figured he would.  Mickey was making his voice sound all low and gravelly, like a vigilante on TV. “Have you been enjoying your break?  I hope so. I’m calling you to report a murder. Five of them, this time.  Like before, only different.  Fell-Munch. Where the kid ride their bikes. The grave isn’t big, but you’ll find it. Don’t try to call me back. This phone will be gone as soon as I hang up. Don’t disappoint me, Vick.” He clicked off the phone and swung his right hand down to signal he was finished.

Jay burst into laughter he’d been suppressing since Mickey had silenced him. “Bitchin’! Bitchin’!” He kept repeating that over and over between spasms of wet, chuckling laughter. He coughed up some phlegm and spat it onto the ground. “Bitchin’!”

Mickey’s call gave Gunny the creeps — not just because of the content, or because of the fact that Mickey was calling Gunny’s father. There was more than that; it was Mickey’s voice. His voice made Gunny start to sweat all over again, because it sounded broken and all messed up again.  And this time Gunny was sure of it:  something was either seriously wrong with his hearing, or seriously wrong with Mickey Laddow.

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Published inpart 1

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