Read The Devil's Dust Online

Authors: C.B. Forrest

The Devil's Dust

BOOK: The Devil's Dust
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Praise for Slow Recoil

“An excellent sequel … a solid plot and excellent use of Toronto's famed ethnic diversity.”

— Globe and Mail

“Brimming with explosive twists and fired by superior writing.”

— Hamilton Spectator


Slow Recoil
hits the mark …”

— Kanata Kourier-Standard

Praise for The Weight of Stones

“… an introspective, reflective and literate work that will resonate with readers.”

— Sherbrooke Record

“… eloquent and precise … a good piece of crime fiction.”

— London Free Press

“I couldn't put it down. It's a must-read …”

— Hamilton Spectator

Dedication

For Mom and Dad –

Thanks for the first typewriter.

Epigraph

In the end you don't even know yourself

only the hill you must climb;

but not even the hill; a bump on it, one hump of grass

a flint, a blade thin in the wind as you climb

each step, each breath taken in a dissimilar time.

— John Newlove

Prologue

H
e is neither a chemist nor a pharmacist, but he finds that by working slowly, methodically, following the instructions which he has printed out in neat block letters, he makes surprisingly good progress on his first try.

By the time he is onto the third batch, his hands move with the confidence of experience. It is as easy as he has come to understand from reading the news articles about what is taking place in the sheds and basements and trailers of small towns in the rural United States. It is labour-intensive but simple, and the ingredients are so readily available it is disturbing.

Easy, yes, but not without risk and danger. The slightest miscalculation or sloppiness in the combining of at least two of the main ingredients required for the cooking — lithium and anhydrous ammonia — can lead to disaster. The ammonia alone is sufficiently caustic to utterly dissolve flesh. He can smell and hear and watch the chemical reactions taking place in the large stainless steel container that is intended for agricultural or industrial purposes. The fizzing, boiling froth, the stench that makes him wrap an old T-shirt around his mouth and nose.

He feels like a kid conducting a science experiment. And he is, for this is precisely an experiment: to introduce a new element to a town which has carved its survival from the mining of another element. But this new element holds the power to destroy, or conversely offers the chance for redemption. The choice exists between darkness and light, good and evil.

The baker measures the three batches out into equal portions. He grinds the crystals to a powder as the reports and instructions have set out. He uses a spoon to measure roughly equal portions onto squares of foil, which he wraps and creases tightly. He weighs the packets on a mini scale and marks the gram weight on each in black felt marker.

When he is finished, he sits back and looks upon his work. The packets are set in rows, three high and eight across. Twenty-four lots. They are each marked in sequence with a number in black felt marker in the bottom right corner. He marvels at the simplicity of the production. There is something straightforward and methodical in the work that appeals to him. Orderly. This is the result of weeks of research, weeks of sourcing the raw materials, three days of production. In the end, he must trust that he has followed the recipe to the letter, for he has no appetite or even curiosity to sample his handiwork. His interest lies in what happens next. What happens when this element is introduced to a town already short on luck — will it be the breath to blow out the final light?

He gathers the packets into a canvas satchel and swings the bag over his shoulder. Outside the night is cool and smells of composting leaves, the rich and fecund earth of late fall. The ground, the air, everything is readying itself to accept the cold and the dark and the death that winter brings. He gets in the big black vehicle and sets the canvas bag on the passenger seat.

As he turns the engine, he considers once again the simplicity of the operation from concept to completion. It is no surprise that methamphetamine is destroying rural towns all over the United States, eating them from the inside out like a cancer. At least this is what he has read and come to understand. Now he will see for himself, firsthand. The choices to be had, the choices to be made.

He puts the black vehicle in motion.

One

S
te. Bernadette

January, 2003

On this Sunday morning sunshine glints off the hard-packed snow like blinding beams shot from a mirror. The azure sky is clean of clouds, as though swept by a painter's hand with a trowel. Constable Ed Nolan is parked and idling behind the hockey arena, just starting into his second doughnut of the day when the call about a disturbance at the Lacey household comes over the radio.

“Eighteen Murray Street. Neighbours called in, something about their son going wild,” says Shirley Murdoch, who works the dispatch from her home. Calls get routed to her via the main line, and for some reason Ed Nolan often wonders what the woman is wearing as she dispatches official police business. It is conceivable that she could be in a nightgown or perhaps even naked, though the thought gives him a shiver. Shirley Murdoch is not the sort of woman you want to picture naked as she talks to you over the two-way police radio.

“Ten-four. On my way,” Nolan says. “Over and out.”

He drops the cruller that tastes like cigarette smoke from sitting out at the Coffee Time, and he swings the cruiser around. The Ste. Bernadette force is small, with two full-time cops and a chief; but at least they get to drive nice wheels — Nissan Pathfinders — thanks to the fact the mayor's brother runs the only dealership within a fifty-kilometre radius. The cruisers are painted midnight black with the Saint B town crest emblazoned in white on each door. When he slides behind the wheel each morning, smells the leather, and looks at the dashboard and the two-way radio controls, Ed Nolan feels that he might be a real cop after all.

Now Nolan hits the lights, but he doesn't bother with the siren. In fact, he can't recall the last time he employed the sirens on his way to a call. The cops of Saint B deal in accidents out on the highway, drunken arguments at the Station Hotel tavern on a Friday night, tussles between lovers the day after the welfare cheques have arrived, teenagers wrecking town property out of boredom. Most of the time the local cops drive around in their cruisers or they sit at the little station on Main, reading magazines and drinking coffee and trying to rationalize the boredom against the fact they draw decent and steady pay with the promise of a municipal pension at the end of the long row of uneventful days.

Nolan is a local, or what the locals call a “townie,” was raised here but left in his late teens for a decade, a short stint in the armed forces, a failed year living in Edmonton with a wife in a turbulent marriage that was ruled a youthful mistake by both parties. He believes he returned home not because he couldn't make it in the greater world, but because this is the place where he wants and needs to be. He tries to remind himself that this is his choice — the highway leading south waits out there at the town limits; he can take it any time he wants. He is a rookie himself, but Pete Younger, the other full-time cop on the force, is the greenest at just twenty-three years old. The oldest of four strapping boys, Younger took the Law and Security program down at the community college in Sudbury, and was hired before he had even graduated. His father, a town councillor, put forth a motion to effectively double the size of the force from one to two full-time officers — his rationale being that the further decline of the Carver Company mining operations would necessitate a reinvestment in the town, the attraction of new industry, and these men of business would want assurances they weren't dealing with some frontier backwoods. The notion of “conflict of interest” was never so much as broached. It made Ed Nolan smile sometimes to think how things weren't really so different in small towns and big cities. They were just easier to see in small towns. People didn't use fancy terms like “influence peddling” or “corruption.” He was quite sure the always-smiling mayor, Danny Marko, couldn't spell
nepotism
if he had a gun to his head.

“Unit two to base.” Nolan speaks into the radio as he pulls into the driveway at the Lacey house on Murray Street. The home is a three-bedroom bungalow with a stand-alone garage. He parks behind a GMC minivan with a blue and white Toronto Maple Leafs sticker pasted on the back window. He thinks perhaps this alone could be grounds for arrest. “Just heading in,” he says. “Over.”

“Have fun,” Shirley responds. “It's a full moon night, sweetie. Over and out.”

Nolan hooks the receiver back on its cradle on the dash. He knows Bob and Margaret Lacey by name and to see them around town, but this is his first interaction with them as the law. They have a son and a daughter, he knows, but he believes they are good students or at least never in trouble. The list of diehard troublemakers, those kids born to the toughest families and seemingly hell-bent on a path to the penitentiary, runs about a dozen in a town this size. He steps out of the cruiser and walks up to the front door. He adjusts the wool toque coiled on his head, fixes his belt that holds the handheld radio, sidearm holster, cuffs and flashlight, and knocks loudly on the door. He hears hollering from inside, muffled voices. Furniture being moved about. A loud crash.

Come on, Eddie
, he thinks.
Put your game on now
.

“Police,” he says in a voice deeper than his own — his cop's voice.

The front door swings open. Bob Lacey stands there, wild-eyed, his nose bloodied, the blood half-dried and dark around his nostrils, spatters of red across his light blue dress shirt. The buttons have been popped, exposing his grey, hairy chest and white belly paunch. Three large suitcases sit in the hallway. Nolan looks past Bob Lacey's shoulder and sees a tall teenage boy grappling with a woman in the dining room, hands wrapped around the woman's throat, bending her backward over the table.

Nolan pushes past the father, crosses the room in a few long strides. He gets behind the boy and locks an arm around his neck, a leg set against the teen's hip, and he pulls and twists at the same time, getting the boy's weight off balance. Travis is off his feet, sideways on the carpet, screaming in an otherworldly voice. Nolan can't make anything out. It's like squelch cracking across the radio. What he's got here is an MDP —
mentally disturbed person
. This is a first in his young career.

“Relax,” he commands, and uses his knee to hold the teen in his place.

The mother is crying and shaking, and Bob Lacey moves to comfort her, an arm around her shoulders.

“Are you all right, ma'am? Do you need medical assistance?” Nolan asks.

She rubs at her throat. Shakes her head. She is in shock, confused.

“Take her in the other room,” Nolan says to Bob Lacey.

“What's going to happen to Travis?” she says as her husband ushers her toward the hall. “You're not going to hurt him, are you? We just came home from a vacation down in Florida for the week. Our first vacation in eighteen years.”

“Who else is in the house?” Nolan asks.

“He said he's got a friend down there in the basement,” Bob Lacey says. “They must be on drugs. Jesus Christ, he's out of his mind. We just came in the door and he went wild at us.”

“You have a daughter,” Nolan says. “Where is she?”

“She went to stay with my sister,” the mother says. “Travis was supposed to be old enough to stay by himself. He lost our dog, too — my little Jenny.”

Travis Lacey jolts alive as though he has received a current of electricity straight from a transformer. He bucks and twists, and with a strength that belies his lanky hundred-and-thirty-pound frame, manages to throw the officer like a wild bronco bucking its rider. Travis scrambles free, hands clutching and swinging, clawing like a rabid animal. Nolan regains his footing and corners the teen behind the dining-room table.

“You made this happen!” Travis shouts and points a wavering finger. His eyes are bloodshot, huge and blank. He topples a chair in an attempt to form a barricade. “You don't even know what you're doing here; you're a tool for these guys. You're a spaceman with a laser for an eye. Don't even touch me with your light, dude!”

“Easy now,” Nolan says, and he thinks for an instant of calling for backup. Pete Younger is sleeping this morning, but he is on call. Shirley would rouse him from his slumber and have him here in, what, fifteen minutes? He decides it's not worth the effort, and certainly not worth the ribbing he will endure when the Chief hears that he has called for backup to handle a skinny teenager. There is, however, the matter of the unknown equation in the basement.

“Travis,” Nolan says, looking the teen in the eye, attempting here to connect and drive home some sense. Drugs or mental illness, he can't say which, though he knows for certain the boy is not of right mind. He read an article in
Psychology Today
just a few weeks back about teenage schizophrenia, how the onset can literally occur overnight as though a switch has been thrown. It can sneak in and destroy a family like an insidious fog. “You need to calm down, buddy. I want you to come and have a talk with me. Okay?”

Travis stops. The machine has ground to a sudden halt. Emptied of gas.

“I'm hungry,” Travis says in a monotone, as though he is reporting on the day's weather.

“All right,” Nolan says, hoping to capitalize on the opportunity. “We'll go for a drive and stop and get some doughnuts. But first we need to find out who you have downstairs, Travis.”

Travis nods and smiles, and suddenly the madness seems to be gone from his body as though evils spirits have simply tired and sought alternative hosts. He shrugs and puts his hands through his shaggy brown hair. He is dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt that says
NICKELBACK
with a silkscreen image of an electric guitar. He looks like any sixteen-year-old.

“What are those ones with the cream inside?” Travis asks, coming around the table. Nolan watches him, ready for sudden movement.

“Boston cream,” Nolan says. “Listen, Travis, who have you got downstairs?”

Travis only laughs. Nolan places a hand on the boy's shoulder. They walk together to the stairs leading to the basement. Nolan instantly smells the stale smoke, a choking residue that burns his eyes and settles on his tongue like a taste of metal and iodine. This is not the stink of marijuana's earthy funk; it is the result of chemistry. The stairway is dark. Nolan finds the switch on the wall but it does not work. He pauses at the top.

“Come on up,” Nolan calls down the stairs. “Party's over.”

“Just starting,” Travis says. “Never ended. Always is.”

Nolan gets his Maglite out and illuminates the stairs in a band of yellow candle-glow. He turns to Travis.

“Don't move. Stay right here,” he says, and then descends the stairs one at a time.

He feels like an explorer entering a cave, or perhaps this is what it is like to work in the mines. He has always wondered about that. The world revealed in increments by a narrow band of light, your steps tentative, toes searching for purchase or the end of the world. At the bottom of the stairs he turns and shines the light to the top, making sure Travis is still standing there. The spotlight paints Travis in a ghastly glow.

“Don't move,” Nolan repeats.

There is a door to the right. Nolan nudges it open with the fingers of his left hand. His light shines against a washer and dryer, clothes folded or piled on the floor, a shelving unit stacked with cans of apple juice, jars of jam, preserved vegetables. He turns and moves down the hall which opens up to a family room. There are two couches set out in an
L
-shape; a large TV sits in a corner. The floor is littered with pop cans, bowls of Cheezies and chips, candy wrappers, pillows and clothing, a few sleeping bags knotted and twisted. He spots a coffee table and steps closer with the light trained. The table is covered in squares of burnt foil, ink pens that have had their stylus removed in order to be used as pipes. Nolan reaches out and picks one up, turns it in his hand.
So this is how they do it.
The emptied pen is scorched at one end from the constant flame. He raises it to his nose, curious, and flinches at the strength of the caustic residue. He tries to conjure an image of Travis Lacey sitting in the darkness, smoking drugs around the clock; his parents in Florida, oblivious.

What makes a kid in a decent family do this, he wonders. The cause and effect of this fascinates him, truly. Is it the availability of drugs that make them desirable? Is it the forbidden fruit that tempts us? In the absence of evil and danger, what is it we shall seek for thrills?

Nolan sets the pen on the table and straightens up. He wipes the light across the rest of the room. His breath stops, his knees go weak. He hears himself emit a sound. There, in the far corner, hanging from an electrical cord, is what remains of a small dog. It appears to have been skinned. And on the wall behind the dead animal words and strange symbols are scrawled in what can only be blood. Circles and triangles, crosses and arrows. Nolan feels sick to his stomach, out of place in the semi-darkness, this strange basement. It is as though in this instant he forgets he is a cop, why he is here, witness to something that seems so private and closed. He squints in an attempt to decipher the writing as though he is truly an explorer who has discovered hieroglyphics on a cave wall. His mind floods with ideas of what he must do next.
Take the boy into custody, radio the Chief and Younger, get a psychological consult from Dr. Nichols up at the medical clinic …

So there is no friend in the basement after all. Travis has conjured an illusion with his drug-addled mind. Images, incantations, whispers in the darkness. Nolan hears footfalls and he swivels with the light, startled by Travis's sudden appearance — as though he simply appears from vapour. Nolan attempts to reconcile the youth standing before him with the hideous acts committed in this basement.

“You found Jenny,” Travis says in wonderment, and he points.

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