Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1
- Cut several fresh (bright green) dandelion leaves and put them in a clean glass or plastic container. Do not use a metal container.
- Make sure that the leaves, once cut, do not come in contact with sunlight.
- Urinate on the leaves until they are completely submerged.
- After 10 minutes, check for red bumps on the leaves.
They say that we hear music in the womb.
We hear voices.
We are designed this way.
The wet tympanic membranes, the yielding ossicles, the soft hard-wiring to the brain, these are created to convey to the womb the sweet vibrations of enveloping love. And so, swaddled in supportive sound, we grow.
What could go wrong?
Bad Axe County Sheriff Heidi Kick rolled and gasped beneath her sticky sheets.
What could go wrong?
She lurched up, still three-quarters asleep. Moonlight glistened on her forehead. Night sounds grated at the screen.
It was all too obvious what could go wrong.
We could hear all the wrong things. Anger. Stupidity. The subtracting silence of despair. The pitiless gnashing of time, the thunderous indifference of nature. Surely, along with Mozart and Mommy, we also hear the insanity of the whip-poor-will, the ghoulish wailing of coyotes, the death scream when the owl hits the rabbit.
Yes, she had heard a gunshot. Because now she heard another.
From where? Inside herself? Outside?
Two hard cracks echoed across the landscape mapped inside her sheriff’s brain, four hundred square miles of farm and forest, ridge and coulee.
She fell back upon the bed. As her dream resumed, the gunshots echoed. Womb became dirt became a tomb. The Bad Axe soil she had tried to cultivate—her de-thistled pasture, her expanding vegetable and flower gardens, her new acres of alfalfa—poured over her like rain.
Hot. Dry. Black. Rain.
Sheriff Kick groaned and lurched up again, desperate to fully awaken. She wrested over her head and flung away her sweaty T-shirt: BARN HAIR, DON’T CARE. Red-blond strands stuck across her mouth as she pitched onto her side and groped emptily for Harley. Help me!
But her husband the baseball hero was a hundred miles away representing the Bad Axe Rattlers at a Midwest League all-star event. He had won the home-run derby last night. Today was the game. Opie, help me!
But her oldest child, the family’s wise one, was away at summer camp. Ten-double-zero! Ten-double-zero! Officer down! All units respond!
The sheriff could not wake up.
Shovel by shovel, the dirt massed upon her. She arched under the weight. She clenched her sheets, drove her hip bones up. Her mouth gaped.
She contracted every muscle, exploded upward. Contracted and exploded, sucked air, spit dirt, kicked, clawed.
At last she breached.
Gasped for air.
Cried in jerks and gulps like a baby.
Caught her breath.
Turned on the little rawhide lamp beside her bed.
There it was. Before sleep, she had found her diary from high school, the summer she had turned sixteen, and she had found the page where she had written down the recipe. Cut several fresh (bright green) dandelion leaves and put them in a clean glass or plastic container…
“No,” she whispered, touching the clasp on the diary. “I can’t be. I’m careful. And we hardly ever even…”
But she was seventeen days late. The recipe for lassies
, her Grandma Heinz had advised her, who don’t dare go to the drugstore or the doctor.
At dawn she endured a stinging bladder as she searched the pantry for an empty Mason jar. When she found one, a pint that once contained strawberry-rhubarb jam, she dropped her cell phone into her robe pocket and hurried outside.
As she started barefoot across the dew-drenched yard, the nightmare clung to her. She tasted dirt. Her body felt sore all over. Her gut retained a sickish tickle of dread. And the dream’s special effects seemed to have warped her waking world. The normally clean breath of dawn smelled like kerosene and fish. Birdsong jangled and the sunrise hissed, dissolving shadows with a crackle. She recalled how seven years ago when she carried her twin boys, vanilla ice cream had tasted like socks. I can’t be. Please just let me be sick.
Overnight, two familiar signs—KICK HER OUT and BARRY HER—had appeared on her yard. The election was still three months away, but Barry Rickreiner had been trolling her and spreading rumors since around the Fourth of July. She wondered now, who was Oppo? What did Oppo mean: Kim Maybee’s suicide was a homicide?
Should she fight back with counter-rumors? Maybe. But as much as she loathed Rickreiner, this didn’t feel right. Her strategy had been to start campaigning on the first of September, at which time she meant to take the high road. Meanwhile, the heat wave had claimed all her attention. Hurry, Heidi, before you piss down your leg.
She hastened around the corner of the old farmhouse. So as not to cast a shadow, she sneaked beneath the curtained window of the guest room, where the kids’ Grammy Belle Kick slept whenever Harley was gone overnight. Belle had seemed hostile lately, suspicious, as if believing some new gossip.
The sheriff ducked under her clothesline, gave wide berth to the soggy septic drain field, and arrived upon the shady ground beneath the honeysuckle thicket. Cut several fresh dandelion leaves…
Several meant how many? She preferred exact numbers.
She packed nine bright-green leaves, serrated, oozing latex, into the jar. She was ready to cut her bladder loose when she felt the buzz of her phone.
“Sorry, Denise,” she blurted into it. “Family stuff. I gotta call you right back.”
Her dispatcher and friend Denise Halverson said, “I think we need you now, Heidi.”
She couldn’t even finish the sentence. She dropped to a squat, tossed her phone upon the wet lawn, reached beneath her robe, and aimed the jar against herself. Wow. Better.
“OK, go ahead.”
Denise spoke distantly from the grass.
“Do you remember that priest from La Crosse who told us homeless men are being picked off the street and never coming back? He was calling the counties a few weeks ago to put us on alert?”
She remembered appreciating the passionate good intentions of the call, but it had left her with questions. The priest had said that five men had disappeared—under suspicious circumstances, he was certain—from the streets of the nearest “big” city. But wasn’t the simplest explanation that transients tended to be transient? And why was he so convinced that there was foul play involved?
“Yes, I remember. He thinks someone’s offering them farm work. Denise, what happened?”
“A milk truck driver scared some turkey vultures off a body in the ditch on Liberty Hill Road. Deputy Luck just got there. It looks like a homicide. It looks like the victim might have been homeless.”
The jar grew warm and heavy in her hand. She heard the gunshot echoes from her dream.
“Sheriff? Are you there?”
“Let me guess,” she said. “Shot twice with a small-bore rifle, probably a .22.”
The phone went silent for moment.
“And the body’s caked in dirt.”
“What’s going on, Heidi?”
“Am I right?”
“Heidi, what the hell is going on?”
She pulled the jar away and finished into the grass. She raised her face toward the house and saw Grammy Belle staring back at her. The guest room curtain fell closed. She dumped the jar.
“I’m on my way,” she said.