Ted let out a little mewling moan.
“Thank Jesus!” Lynnie said.
Sally turned around and looked at Ted in the back seat. “He’s a piece of shit.”
A death sentence for Ted.
A life sentence for us, maybe? I still don’t know when we decided to kill Ted. I put duct tape and the rope in the car. I brought along my pistol. We never mentioned what we were going to do after we found Ted, we just thought that we would find him, and talk to him, and then--whatever. We’d do something. I had a sudden brief little chilling notion of getting caught. That wouldn’t be good. Then I thought—Well, that's just too fucking bad. I’d just have to make a life in prison. Shit, I was in a prison now. Gulag fucking State. Ted was going to die.
Sally said, “We need to take him somewhere.”
I grasped the steering wheel. Shrugged. Yeah. Where do you take someone to—execute them?
Ted mewled again.
“Shut up, asshole,” Sally said. She settled back into her seat.
“The Schwable boys,” Lynnie said suddenly. “They have those abandoned mines on their property.”
I said, “Tell me where.”
I started the car and put it in drive and we headed on up into the darkness. Silence in the car at first—there was nothing too much to say about Ted. I drove and I tried to imagine Devon’s last night—Devon under pressure but stubborn, honorable as always, not wanting to give in to Courtney’s bullshit, just wanting to be left alone. Then feeling sleepy, feeling woozy, feeling suddenly scarily weirdly loaded the way I felt loaded when they dosed me. Did she have a moment of lucidity when she knew she was being killed? Probably not. Just passing out, a dreamless nothing blackness, and of course she was dead or almost dead when Ted raped her. I twisted the mirror around and looked into the back seat. I could see the outline of Lynnie’s head. No sign of rapist Ted. No idea what he was thinking—if he could think. Fuck Ted.
“Just keep going straight,” Lynnie said.
Which in a couple of miles would take us across the state line into Missouri. Which might put us in a nice federal prison if we got caught.
We weren’t going to get caught.
A town called Bolair was just ahead, another mile past the border. I’d driven through it a few times during the daytime, an ugly scabby little place of collapsing wooden houses and shuttered stores. Now, though, coming up to it at night, it was just—blank. A light inside a closed gas station. A flashing yellow light at the town’s one intersection.
“Turn left at the light,” Lynnie said. She was up leaning over Sally’s shoulder.
I made the left and we drove north through downtown Bolair—what had been downtown Bolair a hundred years ago, before the mines played out. Now there was nothing but dirty-looking gloominess and a beer joint with a couple of pickups parked in front.
“It’s not far,” Lynnie said. “About four miles? Then make a right. I’ll tell you when.”
I have bad dreams sometimes. Nightmares. Devon was haunted by prison and torture dreams, I’m haunted by fighting dreams, dreams where I get attacked. Sometimes I’m stalked and attacked by monsters, sometimes I’m ambushed and attacked by brutish men, and the monsters or men are all bigger than me and more powerful and implacable than me. It’s fucking scary. Sometimes I try to run away. Sometimes I fight them with a sword, sometimes with a pistol, often with my bare hands, and there is real fear as the dream creatures chase me and grapple with me and try to kill me. And yet—sometimes as I’m fighting, cornered and the brutes coming at me, an odd thought will enter my mind—and—I’ll step back and jolt awake in my bed, bathed in sweat with my fists clenched and the thought will be there--
What if I’m the bad guy?
What if I’m the one oppressing the—apparent—monsters and brutish men?
Lynnie knew where she was going. A right in the dark. Then a left. Across a cattle guard. A gate. Sally got out and opened the gate, then closed it and got back in the car once I drove through. Ted kicked the back of my seat once or twice. Lynnie punched him the face a couple of times. Ted mewled like a sick cat. Crying. I had the windows down and we breathed warm damp spring air. I drove around a rolling rise—no hills here on the prairie—and then in the headlights I spotted a couple of shadowy collapsing buildings.
“This is a mine?” I asked. I was expecting something like I’d seen in old pictures of West Virginia—dark tunnels disappearing into a hillside.
I turned on a flashlight and looked around into the back seat. Lynnie squinted. Ted sat breathing heavily with his eyes closed—closed, swollen shut, too. And the thought came—what if I’m the bad guy? After all—I’d abducted Ted and was planning on killing him—what if killing him was wrong? What if everything that had happened in the English Department was somehow my fault? What if I really was the fuckup they all thought I was? What if Courtney and Tee and Nancy and Ted were the good guys? What if--
I took a breath and shook my head. No. No. That was just my subconscious, gaslighted, sympathizing with oppression, Stockholm-syndromed. No.
I asked Sally, “Can you watch him while I check this out?”
“I guess—for a little while.”
I handed Sally the Walther. I got out of the car, and so did Lynnie. The warm wind felt good. Lynnie led the way over to the closest old building—the size, maybe, of a small barn, with a roof that was half-caved-in. The front door was hanging open.
“I was going to do a chapter on this place in my mining book,” Lynnie said. “But I guess I can’t, now. We don’t want to draw attention to it.”
“History erased,” I said.
“Yeah. The Schwable boys would like to sell it but they can’t,” Lynnie said. “It should be a Super-Fund site, but it’s not. If the Schwables ever get hold of some money they’ll knock all this down and fill in the mine shafts—and whatever’s down there is going to stay down there.”
I followed her inside. A dark dryness all around me. Rubble on the floor—rocks, bricks, coils of ancient wire, bits of broken machinery. Ahead of us a wooden platform and a—hole, a square hole, maybe eight feet on all sides. Black.
“Be careful,” Lynnie said. She found a rock and tossed it into the darkness. There was a splash—pretty far below, it sounded like.
“I have the plans and engineering reports for this back at my house,” Lynnie said. “The main shaft’s eighty feet deep, then there’s tunnels that go out in different directions. The water level is at about twenty feet down. So everything down there is flooded.”
“We’ll have to tie him to something so he sinks,” I said.
“The water down there’s like all full of acids and heavy metals,” Lynnie said. “I don’t know. It might dissolve him—but it might turn him into a pickle or a mummy, too.”
I almost laughed. This was just—a problem to be solved. Ted wasn’t a person anymore, just a problem. A potential pickle.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s do this.”
Outside we found Sally standing in the dark, aiming the pistol at the car.
“He wanted me to let him go,” Sally said. “I didn’t want to listen to his bullshit.”
I opened the back door and Ted sort of ineffectually kicked at me. I grabbed his foot and dragged him out of the car and dumped him on the ground. In the flashlight beam I saw that Lynnie had duct-taped his wrists and had wrapped lengths of rope around his arms and torso. It’s difficult, I guess, to tie someone up in the backseat of a moving car, but Lynnie had done a pretty good job.
That last kick at me was about all the fight Ted had left. He looked up at me, dazed. A distantly familiar look: I’d seen a few videos from the Syrian civil war—people being executed, and they always looked sort of dazed, looking around at their surroundings with disbelief and also what seemed like a weird curiosity. That was Ted: dazed, curious, disbelieving.
“You don’t have to point the gun at us,” I said to Sally. She lowered the pistol.
Lynnie came over and helped me stand Ted up, and we led him shuffling half-hopping into the building. Sally followed us with the pistol. We threw Ted to the ground and I took my flashlight and went looking for something to tie him to and sink him, when I heard a clicking, grinding noise. I turned and saw Sally standing on Ted’s face, balancing on his cheek, grinding his broken jaw.
Lynnie found an old car wheel and rolled it out of the dirt.
“Perfect,” I said.
Sally got off Ted’s face. He was oozing blood and snot—I wondered if he might die, choke to death, before I had a chance to shoot him. We worked quickly and tied his legs to the wheel. I went through Ted’s pockets—keys, a wallet, a big wad of cash for lap dances at the Strip Pit.
“I don’t want his bullshit money,” Sally said.
Ted was watching me, gasping wetly through his broken jaw. Choking.
“It spends,” I said. I stuck the wad in my pants pocket. The wallet, too. And the keys—keys to Reeb Hall and his house but also the electronic key fob to his Volvo. I was going to have to do something about Ted’s car. What, though?
I decided to think about it later.
“Well?” Lynnie asked.
I held out my hand and Sally handed me the Walther. I guess we were doing this. We were doing this. I was doing this.
“Stand back in case there’s a ricochet,” I said.
Lynnie and Sally took a few steps back.
I thought of Devon. She once asked me, “Could you kill a person?” We were at Chrissy’s having dinner—Devon was having a burger, I was having a chicken-fried steak—and somehow killing animals came up.
“I don’t think I could kill an animal,” Devon said. She pointed at her plate. “I mean, eat one, yeah—but I don’t think I could kill one.”
“I’ve killed animals,” I said. I shrugged. “I used to go hunting when I was a kid—I don’t now, but I used to.”
Devon nodded, chewed a bite. She swallowed and said, “So, could you kill a person?”
I thought about that. “Yeah,” I said. “Sure, I guess—some people.”
Devon nodded again, and we finished dinner and went back to her place and watched a movie and did some grading—but now I was standing over Ted Shuey—and, yeah, he was definitely a person I could kill.
There was already a round in the chamber. I thumbed off the safety and shot Ted in his soft belly. Ted jerked—gasped. I’d never shot anyone before. I guess it was like shooting at a target. Shooting an animal. He was close enough that I didn’t miss.
Ted gasped again and opened his eyes to look at me. I quickly shot him twice more in the belly and once in the chest.
I said, “That’s enough.”
“He’s still alive,” Sally said.
“Not for long,” I said. “C’mon.”
Together we dragged Ted a few feet and dumped him down the mineshaft—into the darkness. There was a huge echoing splash, and then the sound of our own breathing.
We shined flashlights down into the pit. Just distant reflections. Bubbles, maybe. A ripple.
“If he snags on something just under the surface,” I said to Lynnie, “you have to go down there and fish him out.”
“Fair enough,” Lynnie said. “You hold the rope and I’ll go.”
I picked up the brass shell casings and stuck them in my pocket. We scuffed around in the loose dry dirt to make it look—scuffed up. Then we left the mine, and Ted.
Not one of us looked back.
Outside the warm damp wind was still blowing. There was more lightning across the horizon. Smell of grass. A beautiful night, really. We all got into the car.
Sally was looking at her phone. She said, “There was a tornado in Stillwater.”
“Ouch,” I said. I had a friend from grad school who was teaching at Oklahoma State, in Stillwater.
“Another in Sedan,” Sally said.
“Sedan,” Lynnie said. “Isn’t that where that creepy clown museum’s at?”
I said, “Fuck any state that has a clown museum.”
I wanted to get away before the storm hit and we got mudded in. I drove out the way we’d come in—Sally again opening and closing the gate—and when we were going through Bolair, Lynnie wanted to stop at the beer joint and pee.
“No!” Sally said. “You’re all covered in blood—we’re all covered in blood.”
“Yeah, I bet that’s not too unusual around here,” Lynnie said.
I went on through Bolair and kept going south on a road that paralleled the Kansas-Missouri border. After a few miles, I came to another wildlife area—again, a former strip mine. This one had filled with water and made for a good-sized lake. There was a boat ramp and a filthy outhouse.
Lynnie ran to the outhouse and Sally followed her and waited by the door. I walked down to the water and tossed in the brass shell casings—plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk. If someone found them, they wouldn’t attract any attention—rednecks were always shooting guns out here. I stood there smelling the water and the mud, feeling the wind, looking up into the dark night clouds.