No News is Bad News

S&H Publishing, June 2016

Opening scene of No News is Bad News:



Saturday morning, November 7, 2009


Guy Gagne was ready to give up and head home when he saw the blood.

There was just a little on some leaves. It looked fresh, though it was drying in the crisp morning air. Guy was deer hunting and his first thought was deer, wounded, maybe now dead. But he’d seen enough in the Maine woods in his seventy years to know it could be something else entirely, something less innocent than a wounded deer during hunting season. Later, when the police asked, he couldn’t put his finger on it, but when he saw the blood, he had to find out what it was.

The silver-dollar size drops were close together, then got farther apart, smaller, the way they do when something that’s bleeding is fleeing. The deer—had to be what it was—had stayed on the tote road Guy had been crossing all morning. His heart pounded as he followed the trail. He was excited, tingly, weak in the knees—the way he felt when he jumped a deer. It wasn’t really the same. Either he’d either find one dead or worse, wounded, and he’d have to put it down. Or he’d find something else.

The drops had gotten smaller, hard to see on the dried leaves in the dim light of the woods. Dim light of my old eyes, he admitted. He thought he’d lost it, was almost ready to give up, when he saw a drop where the weedy brush at the trailside was crushed, a copper spot on a green frond, then more beyond, in the woods. That one was dark and thick. Not a dollop, really, more like it was poured from a gravy boat.

A crow beyond the brush gave a sharp warning caw, circled around. There were three or four crows, circling, diving. He pushed broken branches aside, sidestepping the tacky puddle of blood. A woodpecker’s rattle echoed somewhere.

A few feet off the trail the crows dive-bombed and hopped around a couple mounds, bright red, some with traces of brown or gray. He let out his breath, let go, for just a second, of that fear this was something else. The crows were attacking a fresh deer gut pile picked over and scattered by critters, but new enough to still be mostly intact.

Guy had been out since six-thirty, just after sunrise, and hadn’t heard shots out this way, or triumphant shouts. Hadn’t seen a group of happy hunters loading their trophy into a truck. But, like his eyes, his ears weren’t what they used to be. The leaves were disturbed, he could see that now, two parallel lines in the spongy ground that could be drag marks. The feeling was back. Yeah, drag marks, but not like what you left when you dragged a deer.

There was more blood, broken branches. Now that he looked closely, it seemed to be everywhere.

Someone had field-dressed the deer and dragged it out. That’s what Guy kept telling himself, even though the mounds of gut, the blood, the drag marks, weren’t right.

Guy had seen plenty of gut piles from deer of all sizes in the decades he’d been hunting. There was a sameness to them. This one was different, smaller. There was something else different, small and shriveled, centered on top, like it had been placed there on purpose. More gray than pink.

Guy hadn’t only been hunting for most of his life, but he was a Maine guide. He wrote about hunting in his newspaper column. He was probably more of an expert on hunting and everything that came with it than anyone else in town. Still, it took a minute of staring, more than a minute, to figure out what he was looking at. It finally registered. It didn’t belong to a deer. It was pathetically, obviously human.

Guy fumbled for his cellphone—stupid, he thought, even as he did, it won’t work back here—the full force of what he was looking at connecting with his brain, then his stomach.

He plunged back to the trail, only slowing to vomit, the coffee and eggs he’d had hours earlier soaking his camouflage pants. He barely noticed. All he wanted was to get to fresh air and to unsee what he had just seen.