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Authors: Creston Mapes

Poison Town (7 page)

BOOK: Poison Town
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“You know what you remind me of? You remind me of
me
, right after he first broke in and I wanted to get a gun. I was so furious I couldn’t think straight. I wanted to take matters into my own hands. That’s how you’re acting. And your temper is always right there, ready to blow at the drop of a hat. You were never this way before.”

Jack lowered his head and slumped his shoulders. “I’m the husband, Pam. Okay? The protector.”

“I was in denial about who was in control,” she said. “
You
were the one who asked
me
if I thought God wanted us to have a gun, if He was big enough to protect us. Thanks to you, I took a hard look at myself. Remember? I realized I needed to give all my rage to Him.”

Pamela caught a chill from a cool breeze that swept through the restaurant. The voices and laughter of other dinner guests and the sound of clattering dishes filled the stillness between them.

“Maybe I’m the voice you need to hear right now,” she said, “just like you were the voice I needed to hear.”

“I don’t see why you can’t understand my feelings toward the guy. I’m not ready to be his friend. After what happened, doesn’t it make sense that I want to be a little … vigilant?”

“Vigilant is one thing.” She paused, praying she would come across as humble. “But there’s hate in your heart, honey. I can see it. It consumes you sometimes.”

Jack’s head swayed.

She hesitated but decided there would never be a better time to lay it on the line. “I haven’t seen you do your quiet time lately. What’s going on?”

“Since when do you monitor my quiet time?” He squinted at her. “You don’t know what I do and don’t do.”

A myriad of emotions rushed up and warmed Pamela’s face. “See? You get angry about everything! You can’t take any criticism. Listen to yourself.”

“The guy kidnaps you, and you want me to celebrate that he got a minimum-wage job someplace? Nope. Can’t do it. Sorry.”

Rebecca had stopped coloring and was staring at them.

“We’re having an adult conversation,” Jack said to Rebecca. “Just keep doing what you’re doing and try not to listen.”

“This isn’t the place,” Pamela said softly.

“I’m not the one who brought it up.”

Pamela shook her head and tried to rise above the tears that threatened to gush over.

“I’m going to say something, and I’ll be done.” She held her napkin beneath her left eye for a few seconds, then her right, then stuffed it in her lap.

“Mommy, are you crying?” Rebecca said.

Faye stopped coloring and stared as well, her mouth open.

“Girls,” Jack said. “We’ll be done talking in a minute.”

Bella, their favorite waitress, showed up just then. “Hey, Jack. Your pizzas are almost up.”

When she was out of earshot, Pamela whispered. “All I’m asking you to do is consider what I’m saying. Pray about it. See if there’s anything God wants you to deal with. This affects all of us.”

Jack stared at her, mouth sealed.

“I’m done,” she said.

He locked his fingers under his chin, elbows on the table, and turned his head ninety degrees, staring out the window as if he wished he could disappear.

It was time for Pamela to flip on her happy switch. She dug into her purse, opened her compact, fixed herself up, and put it away, along with the conversation. “Let me see what you’ve colored.” She reached for the girls’ drawings.

Bella whirled around the corner with arms held high, a pizza tin in each mitted hand. “These are hot, hot.” She slid them onto the table. “The Crittendon special. One extra cheese. One kitchen sink with extra BOs. Remember girls, hot trays, don’t touch.”

Jack asked Rebecca to say grace. He always asked someone else when he was in a bad mood.

Pamela slid Faye’s plate in front of her. “Let me cut that for you so it cools off.”

“I’ll cut my own,” Rebecca said. “Mm-mmm, yumalicious.”

“Yumalicious,” Faye echoed.

“That’s
him.”
Jack shoved the table toward the girls with a loud scrape. Faye let out a scream. Everything flicked to slow motion as each head turned toward their booth—and Jack dashed from the restaurant.

The girls cried aloud, and Pamela quickly slid around to their side of the booth and took them in her arms.

Bella was there in an instant. “What’s wrong, Pamela? What’s happening?”

As Pamela held the girls, she leaned around Faye to look out the window where Jack had been gazing. Could he have seen Granger Meade? Her heart thundered, and her pulse pounded at her temples. She could not muster an answer for Bella or even look up at her, but simply squeezed the girls, closed her eyes, and prayed for Jack to come back.

Chapter 7

Once Jack came back inside, he and Pam ended up taking the girls and pizzas home. He’d seen Granger Meade driving slowly past Campolo’s in a small dark pickup truck.

Jack had sprinted three blocks to catch up, but his ankle holster came loose.

What he would have done if he had caught up with Granger, he didn’t know.

“We haven’t seen him for a year and a half,” Pam said, back at the house. “Surely he looks different now—somehow. Are you positive it was him?”

Jack knew it was. He would never forget that face, no matter how fat or skinny, young or old, no matter what length the dirty orange hair. It was Granger.

“We’re bound to see him around town,” Pam said. “We might as well prepare for it, mentally. The thing to do is ignore him.”

Jack was dumbfounded at the way she had handled the whole thing, from the night she was kidnapped right up to that moment. Pam’s mother would have had to be medicated. But Pam had steadily managed to sever those generational traits of fear and paranoia. She had long fought those wars and had overcome, connecting with God in a way Jack only used to know.

He knew she was right about his own waning faith.

It was the weirdest thing, because he
saw
what was happening to him. He was spending less and less time reading his Bible, praying—the things he used to do with such zeal. He was like an apathetic bystander, watching his own demise, unable or unwilling to do anything about it. His venomous attitude toward Granger seemed to be creeping into other parts of his heart and mind, causing him to be outspokenly negative at some times and just plain dead at others.

He’d left Pam and the girls at home, and now was riding toward the hospital with Derrick in hopes of speaking with Galen.

“You’re sure quiet,” Derrick said.

“It hasn’t been the best day.”

“Why would Granger pick Trenton City, of all the places he could live? That’s crazy.”

Derrick wheeled the FJ Cruiser into visitor parking at the hospital, which was lit up like a baseball stadium, making the patches of snow on the ground look neon.

“I know,” Jack said. “Part of it has to do with the fact that he’s been meeting with Evan McDaniel ever since the whole thing happened. Evan thought it would be a good idea if they were close when Granger got out.”

“Dang, that would tick me off.” Derrick found an open space and parked. “Are you worried about Pam and the girls?”

“You saw my gun. I didn’t want to leave them tonight; I never do. A guy like that? He’s messed up in the head. He could’ve been meeting with Evan all this time just to make it look good, so he could get out early. I don’t care what Evan says—the guy is sick.”

They got out. It was biting cold. The rock salt crunched beneath their feet as they hurried across the breezeway and through the automatic sliding glass doors into the warmth of the hospital lobby.

“His folks were some real wing nuts, weren’t they?”

Jack paused at the welcome desk and asked the white-haired volunteer lady to confirm Galen’s room number: 356.

“Oh, yeah.” Jack led them to the elevators and hit the up button. “Heavy mind games, mental abuse.”

The elevator doors opened. They got on, and Jack hit 3.

“Who knows,” Derrick said. “Maybe Evan really did help him.”

Jack rejected the possibility. Gone. Wouldn’t even consider it.

They got off on the third floor and followed the signs to Galen’s room.

Jack felt he owed Derrick a response. “The dude is a bad seed
.
Guys like that are evil to the core. Birth to death. It’s not gonna change.”

“Hold up. You think God
makes
people like that?”

They stopped outside Galen’s room, and Jack lowered his voice.

“Look at Pharoah. Look at Judas. The Bible says God made everything for its own purpose—even the wicked for the day of evil.”

“But people can change, dude. I’m not saying he has, but it’s possible.”

“Okay.” Jack held up a hand. “We need to shift gears. We can talk theology later. You got a pad and pen? We both take notes.”

Once ready, they nodded at each other, and Jack knocked on the door.

After a moment he knocked louder.

Finally LJ opened the door, adjusting his eye patch. The TV blared from within. “Hey Jack, come in.” He nodded at Derrick and went back into the room with a bounce in his long stride, as if he was welcoming them to a New Year’s Eve bash. “We got the race on, and Daddy’s feeling spunky as ever.”

“Hey, Jack.” Travis got out of his chair and shook hands with both men. “And it was—”

“Derrick,” Jack reminded them. “Hey, Galen.” Jack crossed to the bed where Galen sat fully upright, glasses on, glued to the roaring TV. When Galen didn’t look at Jack, he rested a hand on the older man’s shoulder.

Galen looked up. “Oh, hey, young man.”

“Jack Crittendon.”

“I know that.”

“And this is my buddy from the
Dispatch
, Derrick Whittaker.”

Galen gave him the up-and-down and shook hands. “Good to meet you. Who you pullin’ fer?” His eyes went back to the colorful race cars blowing around the brightly lit track. Galen had an oxygen tube hooked to his nose and an IV in his arm, but he looked like he could get out of bed and walk five miles. A small, worn-out brown leather Bible sat on the nightstand next to the bed.

Derrick gave Jack a quick shake of the head.

Jack looked up at the screen and figured out it was NASCAR.

“I’m not really too up on it myself,” Jack said. “Jimmie Johnson?”

“Crashed in the second lap,” LJ said.

“Dale Earnhardt Junior?”

“Mountain Dew car. Number eighty-eight. Back of the pack,” LJ said. “You like the old-timers, Jack.”

“Hasn’t won anything in three years.” Galen’s watery eyes were fixed on the screen. “Shadow of the driver his daddy was.”

“That old Impala don’t help things none,” LJ said. “He needs a faster car.”

“Who’s driving the Target car?” Derrick asked. “My fiancée loves Target.”

All three Randalls turned to Derrick, then back to the screen.

“That’s Montoya,” Travis said. “He’s got the same problem as Earnhardt. What he needs is that new Dodge Charger just got announced for the Sprint Cup Series. That thing is a rocket.”

“What race is this?” Derrick asked.

Even though the noise was mind-blowing and all three of the Randalls had their eyes fixed on the TV, when Derrick said that, it was if a skunk had just let off its spray. All heads and eyes locked on Derrick.

Then they all burst out laughing.

“Daytona, for crying out loud.” LJ turned to Jack as if wondering who Jack had brought with him.

“Oh, the 500?” Derrick said.

That brought even more knee slaps and howls.

After several minutes more of education about Fords, Chevys, and various drivers, Jack finally got up the nerve to ask if they could turn the TV off for ten minutes to talk about Demler-Vargus.

LJ and Galen scowled, but Travis went for the remote. “They’re just drivin’ to work this early in the race, anyway,” Travis said. “Real action comes later.”

The TV flicked off, and Travis pushed the only two chairs in the room close to Galen’s bed. LJ went to sit down, but Travis shooed him away, making room for the reporters.

“Jack and Derrick want to ask you some questions, Daddy, ’bout Demler-Vargus and all that,” Travis said.

Galen started the interview. “Who busted up the house?” he demanded, his sharp chin jutting out.

“That’s what we want to find out.” Jack spoke loudly so Galen could hear him. “Who do you think did it? You know that all they took were your notes on Demler-Vargus?”

Galen fidgeted with the sheets and didn’t make eye contact. “My lawyer, Ralston Coon, has copies of those notes, so we’re good.”

“What was in the notes, exactly?”

“Names, mainly,” Galen said. “Neighbors. Employees. People I learned were more than likely suffering and sick because of that dirty operation.”

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