'Coop Lugmor.' The name in my mouth tasted like sickness.

'The man's got a great sense of timing. I wonder what the hell he wants here?'

'I'm afraid we're about to find out.'

Lugmor was over six feet, almost as tall as my brother. He was lanky, with arms too long for his torso and hands too small for his arms. His greasy black hair was long for Nebraska, and hung in strings around his long, pinched face. The smell of rotgut whiskey hovered about him like poison gas. I could feel tension spring from the group behind me, almost as palpable as a prod in the back.

Lugmor nodded sheepishly in the direction of my family, then fell into step beside me. His eyes darted nervously, slyly, all around, as if searching for hidden enemies, but never quite met my gaze. 'Hello, Robby. Garth.'

Garth and I said nothing.

'I sure am awful sorry about what happened.'

We kept walking.

'Robby, can I talk to you?'

'Call my office for an appointment the next time you're in New York, Coop. My number's in the Manhattan directory.'

A hand jerked into the air like a broken bird; grimy fingers with black nails gripped my shoulder. 'Robby, I gotta talk to you!'

Lugmor's hand on my shoulder had much the same effect as a steep shot of liquor on an empty stomach; heat flashed across my face. I had a sudden, immensely gratifying vision of the man writhing on the ground with a broken kneecap. Then I remembered my mother and father walking behind me, my sister and brother-in-law with their grief, Tommy's corpse in the ground. I said quietly: 'If you don't take your hand off me, Coop, I'll break something in you.'

Lugmor laughed nervously and quickly snatched his hand away. 'From what I hear tell about you, I actually think you could.'

'Believe it,' Garth said evenly.

'Robby? Please?'

He wasn't going to leave, and the palpable force of discomfort pushing on my back was growing stronger; I decided that the least I could do was remove Coop Lugmor from the immediate vicinity. I nodded toward a nearby copse of ragged fir trees and stepped off the path.


'It's all right, Garth, I'll handle it.'

'I'll wait for you in the car,' Garth replied as he slowed his pace in order to walk with the rest of the family.

'They really do call you 'Mongo,'' Lugmor said nervously as we reached the chiaroscuro shade of the trees. 'Just like it says in the papers and newsmagazines.'

'Some of my friends call me that,' I said pointedly. 'Not you.'

Lugmor slipped his hands into the torn pockets of his baggy overalls and looked down at the tops of his stained rubber boots. 'You're still mad at me even after all these years, aren't you, Robby?'

'For heaven's sake, Coop, whatever gave you that impression?'

He winced as if my words had been a physical blow, stared at me with brown, bloodshot eyes. 'We were just kids, Robby, and you were the only dwarf anyone around here had ever seen outside the county fair freak show.'

My first instinct was to hit him, my second to laugh. I laughed. Coop Lugmor, one of the two great monsters caged in my memory, was beginning to seem a very small and pathetic beastie indeed. It made me wonder how much I had distorted all the other memories; it occurred to me that, if I stayed around Peru County long enough, I might find all the monsters rolling belly-up in the surf like Lugmor, and I would go back to New York a paragon of mental health. 'You always had such a way with words, Coop,' I said evenly.

'I'm trying to say I'm sorry.'

'Why don't you try saying why you want to talk to me?'

Lugmor slowly drew his hands out of his overalls. He balled one hand into a fist, punched his opposite palm. 'Your nephew and my little brother weren't having any fag love affair, Robby, and they didn't have any suicide agreement.'

'How do you know?'

Lugmor stared hard at me, frowned. 'Because Rod wasn't a fag.'

'Tommy was?'

'I don't know, Robby,' Lugmor said evasively.'I'm not accusing Tommy of anything; I'm just saying Rod wasn't a fag.'

'Coop,' I sighed, suddenly very tired and very sad, 'what difference does it make?'

He flushed, thrust out his lower lip. 'It makes a difference!'

'They're dead, Coop. How they felt about, and what they did with, each other isn't important.'

Lugmor shook his head like a dog trying to rid itself of fleas.

'Don't you care that people are saying they were fags and that they had a suicide agreement?'


'Well, I do! Rod was my brother.''

'That's your problem.'

He smacked his lips in frustration, worked his mouth about, finally forced some words out. 'Robby, I'm telling you Rod wasn't a fag; if he wasn't a fag, then he and Tommy weren't having a love affair; if they weren't having a love affair, then Rod didn't shoot Tommy and then kill himself.'

'The county sheriff and coroner say he did.'

Lugmor hawked and spat; that made me wince. 'The coroner ain't no doctor, and he's a bigger drunk than me. Jake Bolesh may be county sheriff, but he's on the take. He does and says whatever that big Goddamn company wants him to.'

'I thought Jake Bolesh was a friend of yours. I seem to remember the two of you as being inseparable, especially when you were beating up on me.'

'He's no friend of mine anymore, Robby. I tell you he's lying!'

'As far as I know, nobody else thinks so.'

'Horseshit! What does anyone around here know?! They're a bunch of farmers who'll believe anything a guy with a badge and a uniform tells them to! This ain't New York City, Robby. We don't have many murders around these parts.'

'Or homosexuals?'

'Everybody just wants to forget about it as quick as possible, Robby! They want to forget it for personal reasons, and they want to forget it because the company wants them to! Nobody cares!'

'There were letters.'

'Phony letters! That was a lot of crap they printed in the newspapers. Those letters were typed, and there were no signatures!'

'They were typed on your brother's typewriter.'

'No!' It was an anguished howl.

'Coop, you think somebody else killed them?'


'Who would want to kill two fourteen-year-old boys?'

He shrugged, shuffled his feet.

'Why would anyone want to kill them?'

Another shrug, and then he mumbled something I couldn't quite catch. I asked him to repeat it.

Lugmor swallowed hard. 'I said, that's what I'd like you to find out.'


'Yeah!' Now his words came quickly, bumping into each other. 'There's always a lot about you in the local

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