I cooled off. I got cold.
Still angry, though. A cold anger.
I remembered that night in December when Lynnie and I went through Devon’s emails and texts. When we skimmed through Devon’s emails and texts. That night we were only looking for what we were looking for—dick pics from Fred or Ted, anything that might place Courtney at Devon’s house on the night of Devon’s death.
And when we found what we were looking for, we stopped looking.
We weren’t snoops, after all.
What did we miss?
I kept thinking—Devon was pregnant? Devon had sex the night she died?
The night she died, I assumed she probably had sex with Ted, and I assumed it wasn’t voluntary.
But she was three months pregnant, too. She couldn’t have been fucking Ted all that time.
Poor Devon. I felt kind of sick about what happened to her—and maybe part of that was sick jealousy, hurt feelings that she’d been fucking somebody other than me back in August or so. But part of it too was just—sadness. Devon had been in trouble with no one to talk to—not even me.
I got out Devon’s iPad. We’d stopped searching it when we found the text from Courtney. But what was going on with her three months earlier—in July, in August? Devon had been alone in Weirton the back part of the summer—Lynnie had been doing mining research at Montana Tech in Butte, Montana, and I’d been hiking in New Mexico. Devon didn’t have anywhere to go. She stayed in desolate Weirton teaching an online class and trying to do some writing.
And I scrolled through her texts, and I found a boyfriend—Shawn Cudahy.
Pretty little punkass know-it-all Shawn Cudahy. Fuck me.
It started in early July with a text from Devon.
Hey! thanks for the help with blackboard
Blackboard—our course management software. I guess maybe Shawn helped her set up her online class.
Innocent enough, I guess. And the next four texts were innocent, too, about school stuff, and then, from Shawn
Let’s drive over to Joplin and go to the craft beer festival
And then I was jealous again. I got up from the couch and went and looked out my front door for a moment. Nothing out there—not even a cow. Just grass. Trees, A road. Edges. Fuck. The craft beer festival! I would have liked going to the craft beer festival with Devon. And dumbass Shawn got to go.
After a while I sat back down with the iPad. I guess they started sleeping together or whatever. Shawn texted
Woke up thinking about you today!
Bleh. Devon answered
You’re so sweet!
Also bleh. There were more sappy texts like that, and then one from Devon, in September, just after school started.
Don’t talk to me at work any more
Then, two hours later
In fact don’t talk to me at all
You don’t understand!!!!
If you come by my house one more time I will call the cops on your ass
Then—nothing for six weeks, until October. From Devon
I’m guessing that’s when she found out she was pregnant.
Jesus. Poor Devon.
And me—I sat there pulled one way by stupid jealousy and another by a deservedly guilty conscience. I didn’t suss out what had happened, and I didn’t do anything to help her.
And Shawn Cudahy. I thought about him. He was the kind of insecure but cocky young guy who would have a need to tell everyone he’d gotten laid—the kind of weasel who would be especially eager to tell everyone that he nailed a professor.
Maybe he was writing about Devon in his poems. I was supposed to be reading Shawn’s poems for his thesis, but of course I was putting that off. Now, though, I went to my computer and looked at a file he’d sent me.
I Am Thinking About You
by Shawn Cudahy
I think about that time I
First saw you naked, and
I think about that time when
I first touched you, and I
Think about that time when
Your nipples stood hard and
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
Was that a Devon poem? I had no way of knowing but I hoped to fuck it wasn’t—and at the same time I was pretty sure it was. Jesus. Poor Devon. I went through the half-dozen poems Shawn sent me in that attachment and they were all like that—sticky, sluggish, low-viscosity sex poems addressed to a mysterious older lover. Damn.
So. If he was writing poems about Devon, he was probably talking, too. Other people would have known.
I started going through Devon’s dick pic emails. And—yeah, there were a few from Ted that more or less referenced Shawn. One of them rhymed:
Fucking a student can’t be fun
Come and taste a real man’s gun
And I remembered Tee saying once, “I wouldn’t go putting a halo around Devon’s head.”
She knew. I bet they all knew.
I remembered Courtney saying once, “Devon wasn’t as pure as you think.”
Shit, I remembered poor Frankie saying once, “I don’t like it when people say bad things about Devon.”
Bastards. I hated so many people.
It was time to do something.
I texted both Lynnie and Sally.
Let’s get together tomorrow after work and figure things out
Forest park? 5pm?
Lynnie texted back
Sally texted back
530 better for me, I’ll be there
The next evening I sat in my car at Forest Park Preserve—Weirton’s biggest park, a forest mainly only in name, a partially-reclaimed and overgrown strip mine set on the edge of the dog food factory, with graveled trails leading through the thick tangled brush and sickly bent trees. I was parked next to Lynnie’s car—Lynnie nowhere in sight. I sat waiting, and then Sally’s car pulled into the lot and parked. I got out and walked over to her.
“Hey,” Sally said. She had Bear with her, and the little dog sat calmly at the end of his leash.
“Lynnie’s already here.” I pointed at her car. “She’s probably off running laps or something.”
“Tee was having a meeting with Courtney and Ted when I left,” Sally said. “I think they’re doing the job search without you.”
“Good!” I said. “Won’t hurt them to do some work.”
We walked on down the tail into the woods, the twisted trees around us just beginning to bud. It was a warm spring afternoon with a hot wind blowing from the southwest. After a while the trail crossed over a small stream and we stopped on the bridge, the water below a vile luminous industrial green.
“That water comes out of the dog food factory,” Sally said. “Who knows what’s in it.”
We went further down the trail and stopped so that Bear could sniff around a tree.
“I had a student,” I said. “She said her father got killed at the dog food factory? She said he fell into the grinder or something?”
“Oh, yeah—that was terrible,” Sally said. “Neil was working there then. He said they were only able to pull half the guy out of the grinder, and the rest of him went into cans—body, shoes, clothes, bones.”
“The dumbass was up on the scaffolding without a safety harness. Neil was an assistant manager then—in charge of safety, if you can believe that—and he was off in his office shooting up or whatever. Passed out. It was all stupid and terrible.”
I asked, “Did the family sue?”
“They settled for about eight thousand bucks.”
“No way,” I said.
“It’s Kansas, Holt,” Sally said. “Everything’s fucked up. People in power get away with all the shit and nobody can do anything about it. Nobody cares. Look at our English Department.”
We walked along quietly, and after a while Lynnie came around a bend up ahead, running toward us. Her white dog Sugar was with her. Sally and I waited while Lynnie pounded up, red-faced and sweaty. We sat on a bench while Lynnie paced up and down, cooling off. The dogs sniffed each other’s butts.
“So,” I said. “I think Devon’s boyfriend was this kid named Shawn Cudahy, he’s a grad student.”
“What?” Sally asked. “That little twerp?”
Lynnie just shrugged and looked blank.
“Yeah, it looks like they had a fling or whatever for about six weeks last summer.” I thought about them going to the craft beer fest together. For some reason that really, really bugged me. But you never knew what was going on in someone’s heart. In someone’s life. I said, “And I guess he got Devon—pregnant.”
“Wow,” Sally said. “Poor Devon.”
“And she never told anybody,” Lynnie said.
“She was embarrassed,” Sally said. “I would be!”
I looked at Lynnie. “I guess we’ll have to talk to Shawn at some point and tell him to shut up.”
Lynnie said, “We can kick his ass….”
Sally shook her head. “He’s not that important.”
I said, “No….” I mean—I knew that. Shawn wasn’t important—he was nothing compared to the others. But thinking about him still bothered me. Devon pregnant. The fucking craft beer fest! Devon ended up fucking him because she’d been lonely and horny, or whatever, and I understood that. I sure knew what it was like to be lonely and horny. But still it bothered me.
Lynnie was still walking in circles. “We can deal with him later, if we have to.”
We were silent. Above us the wind was blustering through those almost-bare branches.
“Okay, here’s something,” Sally said. She shifted on the bench to face me. “I got hold of the coroner’s report, and Tee didn’t lie about the pneumonia part.”
“Pneumonia,” Lynnie said. “Fuck me.”
“Yeah—but here’s the thing,” Sally said. “Coroners say that a lot around here with opioid deaths—it keeps the stats down, all these little Kansas towns can say they don’t have drug problems. The report says that there was Fentanyl in her system? That’s what really killed her.”
Lynnie picked up a stick and threw it for Sugar to chase. Sugar just looked at her like she was crazy.
“So,” Sally said. “What’re we going to do?”
“I don’t know,” Lynnie said. “I guess it’s time to make a move. We need to talk to one of them alone—on our terms.”
“Courtney or Ted?” Sally asked me. “Or Tee?”
“I’m thinking Ted,” I said. “He’s a big wuss, and he’s already afraid of Lynnie. And—it looks like he raped Devon, and he needs to answer for that.”
“Good,” Sally said. “No more dick pics.”