I texted Lynnie from Joplin and she was waiting for me when I got to her house. She saw me drive up and she came out onto the steps.
“Damn, Tommy! I don’t know what happened.”
“Well,” I said. “We’ll figure it out.”
Inside, Sugar the crazy dog jumped up on me again and again until I finally held her down and hugged her. I looked up at Lynnie. I asked, “So—what happened?”
“I don’t know for sure,” Lynnie said. Not the usual fun sarcastic Lynnie. Tense and angry—but calm, too. Chill. “But I’m guessing Anthony hit your girl Nancy with my bat.”
“My softball bat,” Lynnie said. “I had it in the back of my car and—”
“Where is it now?”
“I threw it out in the backyard.”
I let Sugar up from my embrace and she started to lick my face. We all went through the house and out the back door. It was full-night and windy and blustery with ice crystals in the air.
“I threw it out there,” Lynnie said. She turned on the yard light and I could see dog toys scattered across the yard—probably dog poops, too. Lynnie said, “It’s my favorite bat—it’s an Easton.”
I went down the steps and across the yard and there was the bat. I nudged it with my toe.
“I think Sugar’s been licking on it,” Lynnie said.
Yeah, well. I’d been thinking about this all day—all across Oklahoma. What had happened. I mean, I was in the clear. I hated fucking Nancy, but I was two states away when she got clobbered. But Lynnie? She was involved. Even now. I didn’t know the all the details—just her bat—but she was involved. We could go to the stupid Weirton cops and blame it on Anthony—but Lynnie’s career would still be damaged. Maybe ruined. It was her bat. She was there. Or--or—we could cover it up. We—that would involve me. I’d been thinking about the situation all day with no real knowledge of what had happened. Now I had some knowledge, a little bit, and I was thinking—how do we get out safe? We.
I asked, “You have a trash bag? A big one?”
“Sure.” Lynnie trotted back to the house and returned with a big black 39-gallon lawn and leaf bag.
“Perfect,” I said. I pulled my jacket sleeve down over my hand and picked the bat up by its handle.
“Like I said,” Lynnie said. “I think Sugar licked most of the blood and shit off it.”
“Sugar’s a good dog,” I said. I slipped the bat into the bag and wrapped the plastic around it.
Lynnie asked, “Now what?”
I’d been thinking about that, too, driving across Oklahoma.
“Let’s go to the liquor store,” I said. “I don’t have any beer at the house, and it’s been an exhausting couple of days.”
“Oh, yeah!” Lynnie brightened. “Your job interview! How’d that go?”
“It was real good,” I said. “Let’s go.”
I stuck the bat in the back seat of my car and we got in and drove north, to the other side of town. After a couple of blocks I looked over at Lynnie and she was sitting still, stiff, mad, thinking about stuff.
“So, tell me what happened,” I said.
“Well, it was the damnedest thing,” Lynnie said. “I drove over by Devon’s house to check on Anthony and he was just finished packing and ready to go, so I said he ought to eat something first.”
“Yeah, so we went to the Tri-State, and we had that casserole special they make with Spam and Tater-Tots—”
“Yuck,” I said.
“Yeah, but I like that thing—and so did Anthony, and then after we ate—I don’t know, I said something about if he wanted to see Courtney’s big fucking mansion before he left, so we went driving down there—”
Courtney has a video camera on her porch, I remembered. Shit.
“—but before we got there I saw that bitch Nancy power-walking down the sidewalk. It was just after dark, but I recognized her.”
I thought, Jesus.
“And I said—there’s that bitch, Nancy. And Anthony got really excited and he said—Pull over around the corner. And so I did.”
I asked, “And…?”
“And so Anthony looked around and he saw my bat in the back seat and he grabbed it, and he got out and—disappeared? Like, I was pulled over around the corner? So I didn’t see what happened. And then Anthony was back and he tossed the bat in the back seat and said—Let’s go.”
“And?” I looked over at Lynnie.
“And I took him back to Devon’s house, and gave me a big hug and he got in his truck and he drove off. I saw him make a left turn, headed for Missouri.”
“Damn,” I said.
“Yeah,” Lynnie said.
“He didn’t say anything?”
“Yeah, he said something about how he taught that bitch a lesson. So—I sort of knew something bad happened, but I didn’t really know? Not until I got home and looked at my bat and saw all that blood and shit. Maybe then I didn’t want to know.”
“Yeah,” I said. I wouldn’t want to know, either. I thought—What to do?
“And I didn’t really really know anything until I saw somebody mention it on Twitter, and that’s when I texted you.”
“Damn,” I said again. “That was a really shitty thing for Anthony to do, involving you in this.”
“I know,” Lynnie said. “I’m pissed. It’s a disappointment. I thought he was a good guy.”
“We can’t have anything to do with him anymore,” I said. “We’ll probably have to block him on Facebook, even.”
“It’s a disappointment,” Lynnie said. “But at least your job interview went well!”
I pulled up to the drive-thru window of Mocol’s Liquor Store. My former student, Dan, was on duty again.
“Hey, Dr. Holt,” Dan said. “What can I get you?”
I got my usual 12-pack of Boulevard. I looked over at Lynnie.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Lynnie said. She peered around Dan into the store. “I guess I’ll get a 40-ounce of Core Strawberry Ale.”
“Coming up,” Dan said. He disappeared.
I asked, “Strawberry ale?”
“I like it,” Lynnie said. “And I like that little wiener dog on the label.”
Dan came back with the beer. He asked, “You heard what happened to Dr. Buckley, right?”
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s fucking sad.”
“Total coma,” Dan said.
“I’ve been on the road all day,” I said. “I just got back to town, so I don’t know the details. Do they know who did it?”
“Gangs is what I’ve heard,” Dan said. “Black guys from Kansas City—gang initiation.”
“Jesus,” Lynnie said.
“No kidding,” Dan said. “It happens a lot.” He handed me the credit card receipt and I signed it and passed it back, and then he handed over our beer. “Have a good night, Dr. Holt!”
I drove off into the dark cold neighborhood.
“Gangs,” Lynnie said.
“What bullshit,” I said. “But, who knows—if we’re lucky, the cops might actually believe it.”
Which didn’t say much about Weirton.
I drove on past the Strip Pit, and spotted Ted’s green Volvo parked out front. His buddy was in the hospital in a coma and Ted and his beard and his herpes were off looking at grayish tits. Ted all over. Then the bar was behind us and we crossed the railroad tracks and Lynnie opened her strawberry ale.
“We have to make a decision,” I said. “Go to the cops, or hunker down.”
“Oh—hunker,” Lynnie said. “But you don’t have to hunker—you were in Texas when it happened.”
“I’ve got the fucking bat in my back seat,” I said.
“Just take me and the bat back to my place and you’re out of it.”
“We’re in this together,” I said. “Let’s get rid of the bat.”
I drove past the HEAL THIS LAND billboard and past the high school and I made a right on the street where I lived and went past my house—where poor lonely Fuzzhead was waiting for me—and made a left onto a muddy half-frozen graveled road, past dark pastures and through a stand of trees, to a strip pit—a real strip pit, the one where the geese lived and the coyotes hunted.
I parked the car. High school kids would come out here to smoke joints and do kid things, but on this cold night no one was around.
“We get rid of the bat,” I said. “We’re in this together—forever.”
“Soul mates!” Lynnie said.
We bumped fists.
I got out of the car and put on a pair of gloves. Lynnie got out, too, and stood watching me across the roof of the car. Cold blustering wind, bits of ice, the smell of coming snow. I’d been thinking about this all across Oklahoma, all across Weirton—how to get Lynnie out of trouble.
This was going to work.
I pulled the bat from the bag and walked down to the water’s edge. All these pits were deep—40 feet, 60 feet, big long narrow gouges ripped from the land. You could see them on maps—when people out in civilization asked where I lived in Kansas, I told them I lived in the Lake Region.
“Hurry up, Tommy—I’m freezing.”
“You’re always cold.”
I wound up and flung the bat out into the darkness, and I heard a splash. It was gone. I stood there a moment—cold too.