Free Dakota by Gwen Florio

Book: Dakota by Gwen Florio Read Free Book Online
Authors: Gwen Florio
Tags: Fiction, Mystery
triple-trailer varieties, too, along with the rare lone sedan moving low and squashable behind its high-riding cousins. That, she thought, was her horizon—not the indefinable line between snow and sky, but the river of trucks converging from all directions, ferrying oil and all of the things that went with it, the pipes and the gear and above all the manpower, across the rolling sea of prairie.

    N IGHT FELL fast and hard. Floodlights appeared beside the road, glaring above a series of roadside campgrounds with travel trailers and RVs and pickup campers sardined into spaces meant for a third their number. The man who’d spoken so crudely of Judith in the café had called her “one of the girls from the trailer.” Lola had thought she might end up knocking at the doors of a trailer park in Burnt Creek. Most towns had one. It hadn’t occurred to her there’d be too many to count. A painted plywood sign heralded the town itself. “Burnt Creek. Population 700. Home of the Dinosaurs. 1972 Class-C basketball champs.” Somebody had crossed out Dinosaurs and written in Drillers, sketching a hard hat with an oil company logo atop the cartoon T-Rex that balanced a basketball at the end of one of its tiny, useless arms. Lola thought it impossible that a town of seven hundred people would bring the profusion of neon that lit up the road into Burnt Creek like a Las Vegas boulevard. Lola crawled along with the traffic that backed up three blocks beyond what appeared to be the town’s only stoplight. Lola shielded her eyes against the oncoming headlights. Most of the neon signs turned out to be for motels and, just as Jorkki had warned her, every last one said, “No Vacancy.” There was a camper shell on the back of her pickup. Her tattered old sleeping bag that she’d used far too often in her travels around Afghanistan was back there, along with the newly purchased luxuries of a foam pad and a pillow and down comforter, as well as a plastic tub packed with a lantern and some canned goods—also, the can opener she’d belatedly added after a teasing reminder from Charlie—and a camp stove and toilet paper, standard equipment between September and May for every vehicle in Montana. She didn’t want to have to use any of those things, least of all the toilet paper. She imagined herself crouched by the side of the truck, buffeted by wind and snow, and decided that if nothing else, she’d park next to a twenty-four-hour fast-food place with bathrooms she could bogart. Even though, in her experience, towns of seven hundred people didn’t have twenty-four-hour anything. “But there’s more than seven hundred people here now,” she said to Bub. “A lot more.”
    She was already taking mental notes, years of habit kicking in, the frisson of a new place and a new story chasing the fatigue from her bones. People spilled from the door of a bar that looked a lot like a railroad car. Lola squinted. It was a railroad car. She belatedly took note of the name. “The Train,” it said. And, in smaller letters, “Pull One.” She worked it out in her mind and flinched. Pull a train. “Otherwise known as gang rape,” she told Bub. He whined at her tone. The Train had to be a strip bar. She wondered if Judith had ended up in a place like that. Tried to imagine the clientele. She reached below the seat, where she’d stashed the little revolver. “You’ll feel better having it,” Charlie had said. Suddenly she did.
    The lights grew brighter still, the street more crowded. She and Bub were in Burnt Creek proper now. Bars, bars and more bars. Lola had yet to see a church. There had to be one, if not several. The longer she lived in Montana, the more she marveled at the way even the most far-flung hamlets harbored a variety of congregations, sometimes all in a row, the Seventh-Day Adventists next to the Presbyterians next to the inevitable Catholic church that had begun as a mission guaranteed to try the faith of even the most

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