Perfidy 

 

by Christopher L. Malone 

 

 

The ground was soft, still muddy from the heavy rain that had come through in the two days prior, and a cold grey October sky hinted that there may be more to come. Short, rotted stalks littered the field, leftover long after the September mowers had done their job, and they offered a variety of hazards, like little terrors in hiding, waiting to trip the boy up and cut the distance that was already growing shorter by the second. 

His legs moved faster, but the man’s stride was longer. 

He was a child and did not know much about the heavier things in life, but he knew being in the room with the man was wrong, and he knew what the man was doing was wrong; the man’s dog must have known it was all wrong too, because he barked loudly and threw himself at the barricade that kept him away inside the kitchen. When he finally broke through, he held no loyalty for his master and sunk his teeth deep into the man’s ankle, pulling vigorously. The man did not yell, but only gave a hostile grunt of anger and pain, and turned his attention toward the dog for a moment, beating him viciously with the black leather belt. It was then that the boy seized the opportunity and ran, bursting through the home’s front screen door, crossing over the country road, and going into the great field, toward the tree line. 

His breathing was fast, and when he heard the screen door explode off of its hinges, a low whimper escaped his lips and his eyes grew wide with terror. A monster was chasing him like a wild animal, and the boy’s mind raced through his limited amount of experience, trying to decide the best course of action. He didn’t dare look behind him, but only listened for the sound of footprints slamming into the mud, making a sucking sound that was progressively getting louder with each step. It was then that the boy made a line for the briar patch on the outskirts of the forest, where he would hide behind their thorny protection. He was nearly there when he felt himself pitch forward; his left leg had failed him somehow, and the momentum carried him tumbling over onto his chest. He looked back and saw his shoe had come undone and was stuck in the mud. He hadn’t yet learned how to tie them properly.  

Now beyond the shoe was the man, closing the distance. The boy scrambled to his knees and crawled as quickly as he could into the briar patch. He threw himself into the thorns and they bit into his flesh, but he felt nothing outside of terror and the need to get away. He wriggled, over and under various stems, working his way to the thin trunk of a Holly tree when he finally allowed himself to turn around and look for what was behind him. It was at that moment that the man leapt over the mass of briars, and came down hard upon the boy. There was no chance to scream. Large hands wrapped around the boy’s slender neck, and the boy choked on his dying words, a phrase he repeated over and over like a mantra to ward off evil spirits. 

“I won’t tell,” he tried to say. “I won’t tell.” 

 

 

It had been a cold day, and when Lucy had walked in a few hours earlier with her mother from the bus stop, she was complaining about how cold and yucky it was outside.  

“It’s cold and yucky?” Billy asked, watching his wife strip off their daughter’s coat. 

“Yeah, Daddy!” she replied earnestly, eyes wide. She held up her little index finger and pointed at her face. “My nose is red and it’s runny!” 

“Oh my poor baby,” Billy said, and he rolled off of the couch and scooped her up into his arms with a big hug. “You know what’s good for runny noses?” 

Lucy shook her head bashfully, smiling at her father. 

“Chicken noodle soup,” he whispered, and Lucy could barely contain her excitement. 

“Grilled cheese and chicken noodle soup?” she asked. 

Her mother laughed softly and said, “Grilled cheese is for tomato soup, honey.” 

“Hey, now!” Billy replied, standing up with his daughter in his arms. “What my baby wants, my baby gets!” He began dancing with her, a mock jitterbug, as was their tradition, but it was short-lived when Darla cut in to take Lucy to the kitchen table. 

“Baby gets soup when baby gets her homework done,” she said, and whisked her away with backpack in tow. Billy wanted to say it should be a crime to have homework in the first grade, but he kept it to himself. He and his wife both agreed on creating good habits for their child, and jumping on school work immediately after coming home was an important one to practice. 

Since the start of school, it had become routine. Darla took Lucy from the bus, and the television stayed off until the homework was done. Whomever supervised homework was excused from cooking dinner, and the couple often swapped responsibilities. Tonight was Billy’s night to cook; a perfect way to end a relaxed day off from work, in which he stayed indoors, folded laundry while watching movies, and occasionally dozed off waiting for the dryer to finish its cycle. Once his wife and daughter were stationed at the table, he contented himself to get dinner started, slicing tomatoes at the kitchen countertop while a pot of chicken noodle soup warmed on the stove.  

It was only a little after 6pm when they set the table and sat down to eat, but the dying light outside of the window, indicating that the days were getting shorter, gave the impression of things being later than they should’ve been. Billy had just finished doling out portions of the soup and was picking up his own spoon when the phone rang.  

“Don’t answer it, Bill,” his wife said. “You can set aside time for dinner.” 

“I won’t answer it,” he replied, picking up the phone. “I just want to check the number and see who’s calling. It might be the office.” 

Darla rolled her eyes at her husband, and then felt a momentary pang of guilt when she saw the expression on her husband’s face change. “What is it?” she asked. 

“It’s a call from the parents’ phone tree,” Billy answered, and both he and his wife shared a reaction, but for different reasons. A call from the tree was never good news. For Darla, it meant the possibility of a virus, or worse, lice, which also meant special shampoo treatments, not to mention having to wash all of the bedding in the house. For Billy, though, it called to mind the first time they received a call from the phone tree, about how a brown Cadillac had been pulling up to unaccompanied children, offering candy in return for help finding a lost puppy.  

He had always known of stories about those kinds of things happening in the world, but for the longest time was unaffected by them because they simply didn’t apply to him. It was a sort of social numbness; bad people existed doing bad things, usually in the unseen corners of the country where they were seldom caught. The world kept turning despite their transgressions and the universe remained indifferent. Why couldn’t he? 

But that viewpoint changed once he had a daughter. Suddenly, he could no longer empathize with the numbness of the universe. Instead, a somber awareness of what was possible made him vigilant, and he took the role of parent very seriously. Since that first call, he regarded anything from the phone tree with apprehension, and it could not be ignored. 

He pressed the answer key and held the receiver up to his ear, walking away from the table. “Hello,” he said, “Travers residence – Billy Travers speaking.” 

“Hey, Billy,” a low voice said on the other line. It was Mel Sumpter; Billy knew it, because the phone tree worked alphabetically, alleviating just one person from having to make all the phone calls. Sumpter called Travers, Travers called Tyson, Tyson called Underwood, and so on. The small private school they sent their daughter to could afford a lot of things, but automated phone systems were not one of them; besides that fact, phone trees were more personal, and therefore harder to ignore. 

“What do you say there, Mel?” Billy replied, loud enough for his wife to hear. She perked up and listened to the one half of the conversation, which consisted mainly of grunts of confirmation from her husband, sprinkled with the occasional curse word that wasn’t said quite low enough for their daughter to miss. 

“Well, shit…” Darla heard her husband say, followed by, “No, no… I get it. I can get over there in ten minutes. I’ll make the call and get right on it. Yep. See you soon.” 

“Billy, what’s going on?” Darla asked, but she got no response from her husband. Instead, he immediately scanned the phone tree list they had affixed to the side of their refrigerator, found the number he was looking for, and dialed. When he spoke, he spoke clearly so that his wife would catch on. 

“Hey, buddy!” he said in a friendly tone, “Is your mom or dad home?” 

He paused for a response. “Awesome! Could you go ahead and put her on?” 

He waited for another second, still keeping his shoulders turned to his wife. “Hi, Beth,” Billy continued. “Yeah, it’s Bill. Listen, I don’t know if you’ve got any time, but the Ringwald’s say their little boy never made it off of the school bus from the aftercare program. They called the school, thinking he’d missed it and was still waiting there, but they said he wasn’t there, and that they have him listed as getting on the bus. Bus company says a substitute driver was working that route, and it’s possible the kid got off on the wrong stop.” 

He paused, and Darla could just make out the murmur of Beth Tyson’s heightened response. Whatever it was, Billy responded:  

“Police are already on it. Some of the local cops are helping to coordinate search parties where all of the route’s stops are between the school and their house. I’m leaving now to go meet up with a search party at the McCardell farm by Linwood Road. An old woman in a nearby trailer says she thought she saw two people running around. Can you or Al swing by and help? I know you live close enough.” 

Billy turned to look at his wife, and she was staring down at their child with a look of consternation, as their daughter pulled her sandwich apart to pick off the tomatoes, oblivious to the conversation. 

“Thanks a lot,” he replied, having heard the response. “Just remember to pass the message through the phone tree. Tell Al I’ll see him in ten. Bye, now.” 

When Billy put the phone back on the receiver, he turned to his family and walked over to the table, resolute.  

“I heard everything,” Darla said to him. “Just be sure to grab a jacket. It’s supposed to rain soon.” 

He bent down and kissed his wife on the lips, and then went over to Lucy and kissed the top of her head. “Hey,” the little girl said when she saw her father walking to the door, “It’s dinnertime, mister! Where do you think you’re going?” She was parroting a similar expression that was often thrown her way when she attempted to leave the table before finishing her plate. Billy smiled warmly at his daughter, trying not to think about how he’d feel if it had been his child. 

“I’m running out to the store,” he told her. “If you eat your tomatoes, and Mom says you’ve been good, maybe I’ll have something for you when I get back.” 

His daughter turned to her mother with an absolute look of excitement on her face, with her eyebrows raised and her hand clapped to her mouth. Darla reciprocated her daughter’s look and whispered, “Let’s get our dinner finished before Daddy comes home!” and Billy left with the image of his daughter taking an oversized bite of her sandwich, tomato and all. 

 

 

When Billy pulled up to the old woman’s trailer near the McCardell’s field, a line of clouds were rolling in from the east, and the sky seemed to split. Off to the west, the sun was setting behind the trees, as though it was retreating from the impending storm, and a cold wind began to lift and swirl the scant few leaves that had fallen at the onset of autumn, like slow-moving cyclones in miniature. Billy got out of his car and was greeted by Mel Sumpter and Al Tyson. Behind them was the old woman who owned the trailer, explaining to a police officer what she saw. Standing off to the side, apart from everyone else, was a man roughly Billy’s age who looked vaguely familiar, but couldn’t be placed. 

The officer was young, well-built, and listened intently to what the woman was saying. She told him about how her husband used to be an EMT and that they still kept the scanner on in the kitchen, just to keep tabs on what went on in the neighborhood. When the call came over the radio about a boy gone missing, the old woman recalled seeing two figures running in the field, but she didn’t have her glasses on and couldn’t make out what they had looked like; she only knew that the little one must’ve been “it”, because the bigger one was chasing him. 

“I can’t say if they were carrying on loudly or not,” she told the officer. “Sounded to me like the little one was shouting. I only saw them the one time though, then didn’t think nothing of it til I heard the call come over the line. That’s when I called you boys.” 

 

“Well, we do appreciate it, ma’am,” the officer replied, and he turned his attention to the four men gathered around him. “Gentlemen,” he said, “I assume you’re here through the school?” 

The three fathers nodded, but the fourth man, standing off to the side, stepped forward on a slight limp. “I live just off on the other side of the road,” he told the officer, and nodded toward a small shack that stood on the opposite side of Linwood, facing the field. “I seen your car pull up to Miss Mary’s trailer and I got worried. Now that I know what you all are here for, I figure I can help out, if need be.” 

“Just a basic search effort,” the officer said. “We’re a bit short staffed, as you can see, so we’ll take all the help we can get.” He looked at the old woman and said, “Miss Mary, that includes you if you’re feeling up to it.” 

“Of course,” she replied earnestly. “We country folk know how to care for each other,” she said, and she nodded to the man, her neighbor, standing off on his own. He gave her a low, slight nod in return, but seemed preoccupied and did not bring his eyes up to meet hers. 

 

The officer handed out his business card to each person standing around, and laid out the game plan. “There’s not much daylight left, so we’ve got to get a move on. It’s an open field, but you’ll still want to keep your eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary. We’ll fan out in pairs along the edge, and walk slowly. Call out loudly, be sure to listen close for a response, and try to work your way as far as you can into the tree line, although I know it’s still pretty dense back there.” 

“I’ll stick closest to home, if you don’t mind, officer. I want to be able to get to cover when the storm hits,” the old woman said. 

“I was just thinkin’ the same thing, Miss Mary,” the stranger said. “I’m gonna stick close to my place, too. That sky’s startin’ to look real nasty.”  

The officer looked at the darkening clouds, pressing ever further west. The blowing wind made it cold enough for the men to stuff their hands in their pockets, and the old woman to cross her arms tightly at the chest. Only the officer seemed to not notice the cold, as though he’d been there before, and no longer needed to brace himself. 

“Pair up, then.” he said succinctly. “I’ll walk with Miss Mary. Everyone else, let’s fan out and start searching.” 

Mel Sumpter and Al Tyson walked ahead, side by side, along the edge where the road butted up against the field. In front of them was the man who never really introduced himself, and in spite of a limp that was more pronounced with the full gait of his walk, still moved at a speedy pace. Billy broke into a light jog to meet up with him, and they finished their walk in silence, Billy to his left, until they placed themselves at the corner of the field, closest to the man’s home. 

When everyone was in position, the officer called out in a commanding voice, “Call out loudly and listen close, everyone. Let’s move.” 

 

And so they began their search, unsure of what they might find, but looking all the same. Their eyes were kept downward, sweeping the earth in front of them, and when they called out, “Mika! Mika Ringwald!” it looked as though they were coming up for oxygen, throwing their heads skyward and shouting the child’s name as loudly as they could into the air, hoping it would fall back down onto the boy’s ears. The field was muddy, and occasionally Billy felt like his shoe was becoming dangerously close to getting stuck. 

“I don’t know how you’re walking through this with that limp,” he said to the stranger. The man looked at him, almost frowning. 

“I manage,” he told him. 

“You hurt your ankle recently?” Billy asked. 

“Mika,” the man hollered in response, “Mika Ringwald!” 

Billy felt momentarily shamed. The man’s dismissal of the question made it clear that this wasn’t the time for small talk. He continued searching the field, following along with everyone else, scanning below and shouting above. The imagery was constant; the sucking sound of the mud pulling at his feet made Billy adopt an awkward walk through the field, lifting his knees higher than he might normally, and his eyes scanned the same rotted stalks, jutting up here and there in a field that seemed to stretch farther on the longer they walked.  

By the time they covered the vast majority of the ground, what little sunlight existed had been smothered by the horizon and the darkened clouds. Now there was only a weak period of dusk that would eventually give way to an even weaker twilight, and the full darkness of night would soon be overhead. Billy edged further and further toward the tree line when the man grabbed him firmly by the elbow, and yanked him backward. Billy stumbled, and felt a momentary sense of aggression; he could not recall ever having been grabbed up like that as a man – perhaps as a child, mainly, but never as an adult. He gave the man a sharp look of rebuke, but the man was unfazed, and looked at Billy as though he were thoughtless. 

“Wastin’ time lookin’ over there,” he told him, curtly. “Ain’t nothing but sticker bushes over there, and ain’t no little boys playin’ over by sticker bushes.” The stranger looked above him, as if he were making an evaluation of what little time they had left, and then to Billy. “The woods are more open this way,” and he nodded off to his right side. “Come on, before it gets too dark and we can’t see shit.” 

Twice now, Billy had felt shamed by a man he didn’t even have a name for, and followed in the wake of the stranger’s lopsided gait. He tried to reason with his own incredulity; the man’s treatment was out of the same concern they both had for the missing boy, and Billy continued to search in silence, save for the times he called out the child’s name, loud and clear. 

They searched the open woods, and the ground had become firmer beneath their feet. The dead leaves, however, were still wet and lacked the crisp sound they made when trod on dry. A dense, musty smell hung in the air, like mildew, and sooner than anyone liked, it was too dark to see without a flashlight. 

The officer gave out a sharp whistle from down field, and Billy followed the stranger toward the sound, until they reconvened with the rest of the search party. The six of them stood in a semicircle outside of the old woman’s trailer, and the officer addressed them all. 

“I’m calling it for tonight,” he told them. “Even if we all had flashlights, this storm coming is going to make it miserable. We’ll assess the situation tomorrow and hope for some good news in the meantime. Should you have any questions or if you come across anything, use my card and give me a call. Thanks for your time, everyone.” 

They all shook hands with the officer and each other; Mel, Al, and Billy got into their cars while the old woman continued to make small talk with the officer. The stranger cut through the field, back to his shack. Billy thought about offering him a ride, but it was a relatively short distance, and he didn’t exactly feel receptive to the man. Instead, he settled into his vehicle, took a deep breath, and started the car. After Mel and Al pulled out of the drive way, and just as the officer was getting into his own squad car, Billy drove off in the opposite direction of his home, toward a local gas station that he knew was close by.  

As he went, he kept the radio off and tried not to think. He told himself he would stop at the store, buy his daughter something sweet, maybe something with a harder edge for himself, and get home in time to enjoy the company of his family before the day’s end. If he was lucky, he could still read Lucy a story before her kiss goodnight. 

But what if the Ringwald’s never get to have that again? 

The thought had snuck its way into his consciousness and he knew he was in danger of being overwhelmed by a torrent of emotions. He worked hard, trying to suppress the weight of it, but when he pulled up to the gas station, infrequent drops of rain were starting to pelt his windshield, and he felt himself slipping into a tailspin. 

Inside the gas station, the fluorescent lights were obnoxiously bright, as though they were mocking the darkness outside. The cleanliness of the store’s bleached white floors stood out in sharp contrast to the mud on Billy’s feet, and a lemon fragrance hung in the air – nothing like the mildew stink of the woods he had just searched. He tried harder, studying the labels of the candy aisle as though he were searching for the perfect sweet for his daughter, but could no longer resist. 

“It could’ve been Lucy,” he heard himself say out loud, and he left the store, almost as if he weren’t in control of his own body, got into his car, and sped back to the spot of land they had just searched. He pulled over on the side of the road, between the old lady’s trailer and the stranger’s shack, got out of his car, and walked around to the trunk. He popped the latch, threw the hatch open, and rummaged around.  

The remnants of a summer outing were still there; amongst the odds and ends were two sleeping bags, a rolled tent, the folded blue ground tarp that went with it, a coil of rope, and small metal stakes with an accompanying ball-peen hammer. Billy sifted through these things until he finally found what he was looking for – a small LED flashlight. It was a tiny instrument, no bigger than the palm of his hand, but it possessed a powerful beam, and with it, he walked into the field, unsure of what he was doing, knowing only that he was attempting to satisfy the urge to try harder. 

He wandered aimlessly around the field, scanning wildly with the light, caught up in his own unique case of vertigo. He moved sometimes in straight lines, sometimes in zigzags, and sometimes in large, arcing circles. He did not call out the boy’s name, but moved in silence. The air grew steadily colder, and what started as a few errant drops was becoming a steady patter of rain. Billy felt lost and near to the point of giving up when the edge of the LED beam caught the sliver of a neon green shoelace, lying soiled, forlorn, and inert. The flashlight followed the lace to a child’s shoe, half encased in mud. 

Billy stared at it in disbelief. The implications of a child’s shoe stuck in the mud were nearly incomprehensible, and all emotion seemed to drain out of him. What was once a frenzy of thoughts fighting for recognition became a singular notion that gave Billy direction: 

Follow the trail. 

The toe of the child’s shoe pointed directly to the tree line, and Billy followed it to a thick patch of vegetation. The closer he got, the more he observed it had been disturbed, with certain areas being unnaturally flattened and crushed. He took two big steps into the woods, wading into the thicket of undergrowth, and scanned the area with his flashlight. Within a few sweeps of the LED, he came across the other shoe, still tied firmly to a little boy’s right foot. 

It was a confirmation of everything, and an unsettling objectivity came over Billy. He assessed the body from the feet, to the boy’s muddied blue jeans, to his torn t-shirt and disheveled, unzipped hooded sweater, to the thin neck that looked slightly kinked at an odd angle, and finally to the little boy’s face. His cheeks were an unnatural color, and his eyes were open. They were milky white, staring at nothing in particular. 

Billy felt sick, but approached the child cautiously, stooping low, as though he were ready to drop to one knee beside him. He reached out, and his hand hovered over the boy’s lifeless body. He wanted so much to pick him up and cradle him as he might cradle his own child and provide some kind of comfort, if not for the boy then for himself, but he held the urge in check. The boy had been defiled once; to disturb the evidence of that would be to defile him again. 

The light rain coming down was slowly becoming steadier and angrier, as though the heart of the storm above was close to breaking open. Billy knew that the rain threatened to wash away somebody’s sins, and he acted quickly against it. He left the boy’s side and sprinted to the trunk of his car for the second time, fetching the blue ground tarp that had been used for his family’s camping trip. When he rushed back to where Mika Ringwald lay, he threw the tarp over as much of the area as he could cover, and as he did so a thorny stem reached out and snagged him by the elbow, as if to beckon him. He dropped the tarp, and when he pulled the briars out, a thought had occurred to him. He stepped away from the scene, out of the tree line, into the field, and assessed the area. 

This is where the man had grabbed him by the elbow.  

“…ain’t no little boys playin’ over by sticker bushes,” he had said to him. He’d been keeping Billy away from Mika’s body. He must have known. 

Billy looked over to the stranger’s house, wide-eyed. The front of the shack looked cloaked in darkness, but a light glow could be seen from behind. Billy fished his hand into his pocket, felt the cell phone there, and fingered the police officer’s business card next to it. The desire to call now was strong, but the need to know first-hand was stronger. This time he walked back to his trunk, and on this third visit, grabbed the ball-peen hammer. With the tool clutched tightly in his hand, he walked noiselessly up the road, where the mud and dying stalks of the McCardell’s field could not give him away, and moved toward the man’s porch. 

When he climbed the stairs, Billy flicked on the LED light and scanned the area; there was a screen door with a bottom hinge that looked completely broken, and the whole thing hung at an odd angle, not quite fitting its frame. Convinced that the front of the house was vacant, he turned off the light and crept quietly down the stairs of the front porch, moving stealthily toward the back of the house. 

As he traveled along its side, he came closer to the glowing light coming from the backyard. Before turning the corner, he took a deep breath, tried to make peace with the danger he was putting himself into, and moved ahead. There, several feet in front of him, stood the stranger with shovel in hand, muddied from the rain and his work. In spite of the downpour, he had amassed a decent pile of soil, and looked to be waist deep in a hole that he was digging. Next to it, Billy saw a large black dog, lying motionless on its side, and the entire scene was backlit by the high beams of a vehicle the man had parked behind the shack. Billy observed it, and could just barely make out that it was a brown Cadillac, with engine idling at a low hum. If the stranger was digging a grave, it looked to be too big for just one dog, and it was a confirmation of Billy’s worst suspicion. 

“You knew,” he hollered, and his voice was loud enough to carry over the car’s engine and the steady downfall of rain. The man turned around and looked sick with shock, scrambling out of the hole he had just dug. 

“This is private property,” he sputtered, as if it were his strongest defense, and brandished the shovel like a weapon when he saw Billy begin to approach him. 

“You knew,” Billy shouted, nearly howling, gripping the hammer tightly in his hand and possessed by anger he did not know himself capable of feeling. He spoke through gritted teeth, and the way in which he walked toward the man struck fear into the stranger’s heart. He raised the shovel up as if he made to protect himself. 

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” the man said, but the look on his face betrayed him, and Billy’s arm swung out in the absolute certainty of what had been deduced. The broad side of the hammer caught the man full on his left ear. The force of the blow made his bad ankle give out from underneath him, and he pitched backward, falling into the hole with a loud yelp as his shovel fell on top of him. Billy’s arm came up and then crashed back down wildly, striking the man’s knee. He heard a loud pop, and dropped the hammer beside him when the man started to scream. 

“You’ve got it all wrong,” the man pleaded. “It wasn’t me. Honest to God, it wasn’t me.” 

Billy looked at the man in the hole, and the thought of burying him alive crossed his mind. The man continued to plead with him. 

“I won’t tell anybody what you done,” he said to Billy, holding his knee and crying. “I don’t know you from Adam. You can go away right now, and I won’t tell.” 

He could’ve killed him right then and there. The hole was already dug. All he needed to do was pick up the hammer and finish the job, but then he thought about the boy and his family. He thought about two parents that would have to bury their child, and how terrible it would all be if it were compounded by a husband and father being imprisoned for murder. Two parents robbed of a son, and a daughter robbed of her father, all because of the deeds of this one man. 

 

Instead, Billy walked over to the dead dog, and pushed against it. Its weight was deceptive, and so Billy reached down into the hole, and grabbed the shovel off of the man. 

“What are you doing?” the man asked in his panic, and was answered when Billy used the shovel to pry under the dog and roll him forward, so that the dog fell into the hole and on top of the man. It landed with a thud, and Billy could hear the air escape the man’s lungs on impact. He peered down into the hole, watched the man struggle with the weight of the dead dog pinning him down, and listened to him call out, over and over. 

“God dammit I won’t tell. Just let me out and I swear I won’t tell.” 

Billy sunk to a seated position next to the hole, fished the phone out of his pocket, and read the business card. Under the officer’s name was a cell number imprinted in bold, and Billy dialed the number, waiting for a response, ignoring the man’s pleas. 

“Officer?” Billy asked when he heard a voice answer his call. “It’s Billy Travers. I went back to the McCardell field. I found Mika Ringwald, and I think I found the man who did it.” 

The conversation was brief. He hung up the phone and stayed seated by the hole, keeping guard over the man and the dead dog while he waited for the police to arrive. His heart pounded, as his mind worked to suppress the oncoming riot against reason. People weren’t supposed to act like this, and the story of a child’s life wasn’t supposed to end this way. He thought about what Mika looked like, lying face up in the rain; thought about his own daughter, waiting for him at home, and thought about the monster in the pit, bemoaning his innocence. He thought about all of these things, and it made Billy weep for the perfidy of Man.