Mortgages, interest rates? “There’s where Mitch Yardman’s
expertise kicks in.”
“Yes. I have questions.” Leonard’s voice quavered; his mouth had gone dry. For a moment his mind had gone blank. Then, pointing: “Those hills over there? Is that area
being . . . developed? On the way in I saw some bulldozers . . .”
Yardman scowled, shading his eyes. As if he’d never seen such a sight before, he said, shrugging, “Seems there might be something going on there, that ridge. But the rest of the
valley through here, and your own sweet li’l creek that your boy will be crazy for wading in, running through it, see?—that’s in pristine shape.”
Yardman swatted Leonard’s shoulder companionably as he turned to lead his credulous client back to the driveway. It was that touch, that suggestion of brotherly solicitude, that made
Leonard recoil. A thrill of pure loathing, revulsion, hit him like adrenaline.
Swiftly it happened: the pitchfork was in Leonard’s hands, leather gloves gripping tight. So this was why he’d taken care to wear leather gloves! Without so much as grunting with the
effort, Leonard had managed to wrench the heavy pronged implement out of the hardened manure pile, and in the next instant, as the garrulous man was about to step outside, Leonard came up behind
him and shoved the prongs against his lower back, knocking him violently forward, off-balance; and as Yardman turned in astonishment, desperate to grab hold of the thrusting prongs, Leonard shoved
the pitchfork a second time, and a third, at the man’s unprotected throat.
How quickly then what happened, happened. Afterward Leonard would have but a dazed and fragmented memory, as of a fever dream.
Yardman on his knees, terror shining in his eyes, and perplexity—what was happening to him? And why? Now fallen and flailing on the dirt floor, straw and bits of manure floating in swirls
of dark blood. Leonard thought, Earth is dark, blood is dark — it will soak in, it won’t be noticed. As Leonard circled Yardman, striking at him with the pitchfork, the
wounded man was fighting to live, bleeding from numerous wounds, now pleading for his life. Yet Leonard had no mercy—he hadn’t come thousands of miles to exact mercy! With the
unexpected strength of his shoulders, he drove the prongs into Yardman’s bleeding chest, Yardman’s forearms raised to protect his face. Several feet away the leather cowboy hat lay,
Leonard stood over the dying man, panting. So strange that his fury hadn’t abated but seemed to have burst from him into the very air: “Laugh now! Make a joke now! What’s funny
The man’s name was flung from his mouth, like spittle.
Emerging then from the barn. Uncertain of his surroundings, and he was very tired, arms like lead. Where was this? He’d last slept—couldn’t remember; on the
plane? Jolting and unsatisfying sleep. And when he’d called home, the phone had rung in the empty house in Salthill Landing, and when he’d called Valerie’s cell phone, there had
been no answer, not even a ring.
There in the driveway was the Suburban, parked where Yardman had left it. At the rear window the Airedale barked frantically. The heavy pitchfork was still in Leonard’s hands; he’d
seemed to know that there was more effort to be made. Once begun, such an effort was not easily stopped. Though his hands in the blood-splashed leather gloves ached as if the bones had cracked, he
had no choice; Yardman’s dog was a witness, could identify him. Slowly he approached the Suburban. The Airedale barked louder, slobbering against the window. Leonard cautiously opened one of
the rear doors, speaking to the dog in Yardman’s commanding/cajoling way, but the vehicle was built so high off the ground it was awkward for Leonard to lean inside, virtually impossible for
him to maneuver the pitchfork, to stab at the dog. Leonard glanced down at himself and saw in horror that his