A gift among the flowers
The path leading out to the electrical wires seemed longer than it had eight days prior, when Tom had first come out here. This time Tom was alone and carried a shoe box dripping with blood, and his concealed pistol concealed held thirteen rounds instead of fifteen, the two missing rounds having helped facilitate the acquisition of one of the two contents of the box. The pylon rose out of the darkness in front of him, a twisted metal gravestone in the moonlight, scraping the domed night sky.
That afternoon eight days earlier haunted him:
It was a sunny Monday, an idyllic day in Suburbia USA. He'd been in his shop in the garage all day, finishing up the wooden carousel he'd spent the year constructing in secret, a present for Jessica, whose birthday was eight days subsequent. Jessica was late, provoking the tickle of unease parents feel when a child fails to return home at the expected time, and to which he responded with the usual rationalizations: she's fine, she's a smart girl, she's with friends, she has a good head on her shoulders for a thirteen-year-old, etc.
And finally two kids showed up in the mouth of the garage, and Tom could see that something was wrong, and when he asked what, he received in response: we have to show you something, spoken in such a way so as to wrench Tom's stomach into a knot. And he said what is it, what do you need to show me, and they said just come look, please just come look.
Fast forward forty-five minutes. Four people trudged through the woods toward the electrical lines. There was Tom and the two kids, and Tom's friend-on-the-force Sam Woodman.
They walked. The fog of dread oppressed Tom, choked him. He kept thinking to himself: I should have covered the carousel, because Jessica will come home and come looking for me, and if she sees it the surprise is ruined.
Then he saw it at the base of the pylon: a pale white shape. His mind had a sort of numbness to it, and his fingers were tingling, and his insides felt shaky.
They got closer and try as he might Tom couldn't block out reality. He knew what he was seeing: she was naked and propped up against the base of the pylon, and despite the bruises on her face he could see – No, no, no, oh God no – it was Jessica.
By the time Sam said No, Tom, you don't want to – he couldn't hear it, because he was running to Jessica. He fell to his knees and cradled her head, and it was limp and cold, lifeless, with empty glass eyes. He held her in his arms and screamed and screamed. Sam and Greg and the kids stood off to the side, bewildered, unsure what to do – what DO you do when you're watching a human being's world come apart? What do you say?
Sam showed up at Tom's house two days later – off-duty – and told him: some guy grabbed her while she was walking home from school and brought her out to the woods, and made her take off her clothes, and – Tom, buddy, you sure you want to hear this? Yeah Sam, just tell me what happened, tell me what that fuck did to my baby – well, Tom, he beat her up and strangled her. And yeah, he did do that to her too. No, we don't know for certain, but we do have a pretty good idea. No, I can't talk about an open case. I know we're friends, but everyone has rights, even people like, say, Carl Brigham. You hear that, Tom? Even old Carl has rights, so no, I can't talk about who may or may not have been around the day Jess disappeared. Try to feel better, buddy.
Tom spent the rest of the day in the garage, staring at the carousel, not hearing Jessica's TV in the other room, considering putting his gun in his mouth. Mostly he fantasized about what he'd do if he ever got a hold of Jessica's killer – he'd strangle, torture, electrocute, stomp, beat, cut him up into little pieces while he was still breathing.
Finally he packed up Jessica's carousel and went out to look for Carl Brigham. That was how he spent the next forty-eight hours. When he didn't find him, he slept in his car in the McDonalds parking lot for six hours and searched for another forty-eight.
Then, eight days after Jessica disappeared, Tom found Carl sleeping behind a dumpster. He kicked him awake.
The fuck, man?
You killed my baby.
I didn't kill no baby.
You killed my baby.
What are you talking about man?
You killed my baby girl.
I don't –
But that was it, because Tom drew his gun and shot Carl twice in the head.
He grabbed a knife from his truck, the one he used to gut deer, and with some effort chopped off Carl's hand (the hand with which he'd bruised Jessica's beautiful face?) and tucked it in the shoe box in which he'd stored the carousel.
And now he was here, at the base of the pylon on the night of Jessica's birthday. There were pink flowers growing where they'd found her body, flowers he'd never seen growing anywhere else.
He dropped to his knees, presented the box – I got him, baby, I got him – and placed Carl Brigham's hand near the flowers. And then he pulled out the carousel – I made this for you, I hope you like it – and set it next to the severed hand, using his thumb to wipe off some of the blood. I miss you, baby, I'm so sorry I let this happen, I miss you.
And he knelt there with the pink flowers for a while, the wind moving through the trees, the electrical wires buzzing overhead.