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And There He Kept Her

 Chapter One

4:30 a.m.

Rain lashed the boy as he ran from his car back to the old man’s house. It was cold enough that he could see his breath. Water dripped from the ends of his shaggy hair, ran down his scalp and under his shirt. At least the clouds had hidden the moon. The news had called it a supermoon. All night it had followed everywhere he went, an ivory face watching him, reading his mind.

The road was gravel and getting muddier by the minute. Jesse tried running along the edge, but the ground was soft and soon his feet were as wet as his hooded sweatshirt.

On his left, houses faced the lake. He ran by a mailbox that said miller in faded letters and then by another mailbox that said madis n, this one pitched forward with its door hanging open like it was about to be sick. He stopped in front of the small gray house set back from the road and realized he was looking right through a hole where the door should have been and out the other side at the water beyond. He looked back at the miller house and noticed it was missing most of its roof and all of its windows.

Jesse ran on, already wet to the skin. He turned off the road and followed two muddy ruts past a stand-­alone garage. The house ahead of him was a dark-­brown rectangle without a straight line or a sharp corner. A wooden staircase went up the front to a sliding glass door and small windows with the blinds drawn.

Jesse stopped to catch his breath. In the dark, the house looked like it had climbed out of the mud or was sinking back into it. No part of him wanted to be here, to have to pay back his debt like this.

“In and out. Get it over with,” he muttered.

He bypassed the staircase, pulling up his hood as he skidded down a muddy set of uneven steps alongside the house.

The lower level of the house was cement block. A narrow yard widened in the direction of rusty metal chairs overturned around a fire pit before gradually descending to the lake. The house had another deck on the back. Underneath were the remnants of a depleted woodpile and a battered storm door with access to the basement.

Jesse pulled open the storm door and set the clip that propped it open. The back door had individual glass panes set in a crosshatch pattern. Jesse hit the window closest to the dead bolt with his elbow. The sound of breaking glass made his breath catch in his throat. He counted to ten, waiting for lights to come on. Nothing happened. He reached inside, undid the bolt and the twist lock on the doorknob. Thunder rolled overhead as he pushed the door open and stepped over the broken glass.

It was pitch-­dark inside. A clock radio on a shelf flashed red numbers 12:00…12:00…12:00. It smelled like cigarettes and garbage and wet, rotten things. Jesse took a penlight from his back pocket and used it to sweep over a workbench on his left littered with scattered tools and boxes of nails and spools of wire and plastic grocery bags. A telephone with a tortured, twisted cord hung on the wall. On his right an old refrigerator droned. He pulled open the door hard enough to make the beer cans inside dance on their wire racks. The light reached all but the basement’s darkest corners. He left the door open.

Shelves made from concrete blocks and long sagging planks split the room in half lengthwise. In front of the shelves he saw a rocking chair with cracked leather on the seat and on the back. A sawed-­off section of tree trunk was being used as a side table. He saw an enormous ceramic ashtray filled with cigarette butts and a garbage can overflowing with beer cans and crushed cigarette packs and boxes from microwave meals. On the floor behind the chair, a damp cardboard box had split its seams and let slide an avalanche of magazines. Nearly nude women stared up from the covers. Jesse picked up one closest to his foot—­a moldy Penthouse from August 1981. More than twenty years before he was born.

He circled behind the shelves, past a wall-­mounted sink and an open toilet in one corner. The other corner of the basement was built out into a small room with a metal door. It could have been for storage, but his gut told him it was something else. Jesse shivered at the threshold, his skin clammy and prickling with a million hairs. He made a sideways fist around the door’s sliding bolt and pulled it backward, stepping out of the way as the heavy door swung open on silent hinges.

He thumbed the penlight again. He wasn’t sure but he thought the walls were painted…pink. The color had peeled away in places, leaving discolored spots that looked like scabs. He saw a thin mattress covered in dark stains on a metal frame. A heavy chain hung limply through a steel ring bolted on the wall at the head of the bed.

Nothing about the scene in front of him made sense. He wasn’t sure what he was looking at, but he knew the last thing he’d ever want was to be left alone in this room, in the dark, with the door shut. He blindly reached for the inside door handle to pull it shut again and found there wasn’t one. He shined the penlight on it just to make sure.

This was a prison cell of some kind. A cage. How else to explain a door with no handle, no way to get out from the inside?

He shined the weak penlight across the blistered pink walls again. He felt like he was staring into the mouth of something that wanted to swallow him. When he killed the light, the darkness inside seemed to go down and down to a place that had never known the sun.

Behind him, the furnace made a loud ticking sound, then whoomped to life. Jesse turned away and shook off the bad thoughts. He stuck the light in his pocket and headed for the stairs that went up to the main floor. At the bottom, he stared at the closed door above him. He’d been told the old man would be drunk, at least. Passed out, if Jesse was lucky.

He labored up the first three steps, pausing on each one to talk himself out of turning around and making a run for it.

He turned one last time toward the dark room in the corner and thought about the stained mattress and the door with no handle.

Someone stepped on the broken glass by the basement door.

Jesse crouched and froze like a rabbit with no cover. The refrigerator door was still open, spilling light into the room. Behind it he saw a dark silhouette through the window in the basement door. The shape paused with one foot on the broken glass, then took another step into the room.


“What the fuck are you doing here?” Jesse hissed. He took out the penlight and flashed it at her so she could see where he was standing against the wall on the stairs.

“I got worried,” she whispered.

Jenny was much less wet than Jesse was, thanks to the oversize letter jacket with sleeves that went down past her fingertips and made her look like she had no shoulders. In the dark he couldn’t see her freckles, or her green eyes, or the eye tooth with the twist to it, the imperfection that made every one of her smiles perfect.

“Where’s the car?”

“I moved it a little closer. I have the keys.”

She came over and stood by his side at the bottom of the stairs. They both looked up at the door overhead. “We shouldn’t be here,” she said.

“I don’t have any choice. He’s threatening my family.”

“We can figure out something else.”

“No, we can’t. He doesn’t want money. It’s this or something bad happens to my sister.”

“Jesse, come on. He’s messing with you. If you go back and say—­”

The floor creaked over their heads.

They stared at each other, wide-­eyed, frozen. One second passed. Another. There was only the sound of the furnace blower and the drum of the rain, coming down hard again at the open basement door.

Jenny put a hand on Jesse’s arm and eased him a step backward.

The door at the top of the stairs crashed inward with enough force that it hit the wall and tried to bang shut again. The double-­barreled shotgun leveled down at them kept it from closing all the way.

Jenny screamed and ducked behind Jesse. Jesse raised his hands in a pleading gesture. He waved the penlight at the fat, naked man standing above them with the shotgun and an oxygen mask over his mouth.

“Hold on, hold on! We made a mistake. We were just leaving,” Jesse pleaded. He felt Jenny’s body small and hard against his back, her hand tight around his arm.

The shotgun boomed like the end of the world. The light went out and fell from Jesse’s hand. Jenny screamed again when Jesse crumpled without a sound, all his weight falling back against her. They went backward down the steps, Jesse on top of her. Jenny hit her head on the concrete with the bright crack of a glass jar breaking.

The fat, naked man stepped down through the cloud of burning gunpowder and fired the second barrel.


Chapter Two

7:00 a.m.

The call about the bear came over the radio as Ben Packard was on his way to see the sheriff. He listened as dispatch directed it to another deputy on duty. “Caller says she and her husband were walking their dog when a large black bear came out of the trees and charged their animal. Her husband grabbed the bear around the neck to make it let go of the dog. The husband has a bite or a scratch on his belly. He’s bleeding but not seriously wounded.”

Packard picked up the mic. “This is 217.”

Dispatch came back. “Go ahead, 217.”

“I’m 10–­8. I can take the bear.”

“You’re not on the schedule, 217.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m suited up and nearby. Let me take it.”

“Copy, 217.”

The bear was gone by the time Packard arrived at the address. The house was a boxy, manufactured home on a grassy lot with a ring of ornamental grass surrounding a flagpole. Packard stood with an elderly man and his wife in a kitchen that smelled like lemon dish soap and coffee, waiting for the ambulance to arrive. The old man had taken his shirt off and was holding a wet paper towel to his wound.

The wife looked in the fridge and asked Packard, “Can I make you a breakfast sandwich? Eggs and bacon on a biscuit. I could wrap it up and you could take it with.”

Packard said, “No thank you. That’s very kind of you to offer.”

“You can make me a breakfast sandwich,” the old man said.

“Hush. You’ll get your sandwich after the ambulance looks at you.”

“They better not think they’re taking me to the hospital.” The old man pulled the pink paper towel away from his sunken chest to look, then put it back. “There’s nothing wrong with me. They’ll do a bunch of tests and send in three doctors to ask me questions so each one can bill me. That’s how they fund Obamacare. Charging guys like me three times.”

Packard hmmed, trying to sound sympathetic. “How’s your dog?”

The wife turned from the fridge, put the tips of her fingers over her mouth, and shook her head. The old man stared out the window over the sink and kept blinking.

“I’m sorry,” Packard said. “I know how hard it is to lose your dog.”

After that, the wife continued her verbal inventory of the fridge. He politely declined a slice of pie, a piece of fruit, and a cup of coffee to go—­she had real cream if that’s how he took it.

When the EMTs arrived, Packard excused himself and left to find the bear. He drove slowly with the window down, watching the trees and the ditches for the animal. There had been a full moon the night before, followed by a fair amount of rain. The bear’s tracks were easy to follow in the soft ground on either side of the road.

A half mile later—­thin, shrubby trees on one side, small homes spread far apart on the other—­he came upon two men standing at the end of a driveway. One had a bloody rag wrapped around a hand he was holding against his chest. A blue pickup was backed into the driveway next to a chop saw and a pair of sawhorses set up outside a partially sided garage.

“Is that from the bear or the saw?” Packard asked as he rolled to a stop.

“Bear,” the bleeding guy said. “We were just getting started. I was up on the ladder when the bear come across the road. I yelled but Jim was running the saw and had his ear protection on. I came down and tried to chase the bear away. Got too close and got raked across the back of my hand.”

“Where did the bear go?”

“It’s in the garage,” said Jim.

Packard could see a boat on a trailer, a four-­wheeler, and a riding mower packed into the two-­car garage. “What’s in there that a bear would want?”

“Fifty-­pound bags of dog food and birdseed.”

Packard parked the county SUV. There was no chance of making it to the sheriff’s house by 7:00 a.m. He texted the sheriff’s wife to let her know he was running late, then asked dispatch to have the ambulance at the old man’s house sent to his current location when they were done. He had the number for the county conservation officer in his phone. He called her to confirm what he should do about the bear.

“Any idea if it’s a male or female?” Theresa Whitaker asked.

“Haven’t got that close yet,” Packard said, keeping an eye on the garage, watching for any sign of movement.


“Not that I’ve seen.”

“You have to put it down,” Theresa told him. “It’s attacked two people. I’ll call the university and have someone come pick up the carcass. They’ll test it and see if they can find a reason for the aggressiveness.”

Packard gave her the address and then got out of the vehicle, taking the twelve-­gauge shotgun from the rack behind his seat. He asked the men if there was anyone else on the property. Both shook their heads. Packard told them to stay where they were. “Where’s the dog food?”

“Back right, behind the boat,” Jim said.

“Is there a garage door opener in that truck?”


“Let’s get it.”

The guy with the bloody hand followed Packard to the truck in the driveway and unclipped the opener from the visor. Packard asked him to shut the garage door once he was inside.

“Try not to shoot my boat,” the guy said.

Packard approached the open garage with the shotgun raised. He stepped inside, nodded back at the man behind him, and waited as the door lowered. In twelve years as a police officer in Minneapolis, he’d fired his service weapon once. In the last eighteen months with the sheriff’s department in Sandy Lake, he’d already shot two deer and a moose, all mortally wounded after being struck by cars. A bear was another first.

The weak light on the overhead garage door unit stayed lit. Packard hugged the wall to his left, skirting the four-­wheeler and the riding mower, since he didn’t know exactly where the bear was. The trailered fishing boat was a red Lund with a 60-­horse Johnson tilted over the stern.

He could hear the sounds of plastic being dragged and the crunch of dry dog food. Near the back wall, he got his first glimpse of the bear—­its snout buried in a torn bag—­pinned in the far corner by the boat’s motor. Packard pegged its weight somewhere north of three hundred pounds. Its fur was deeply black and glossy. It smelled musky.

As soon as the bear realized he was there, it rose up on its hind legs, taller than Packard, who was six four. Packard kept the gun up but paused to marvel at the size of the animal. It moved its pale snout this way and that, sniffing the air. Nothing in its shiny black eyes gave any hint of what it was thinking. In such an enclosed space, they could have been in an interrogation room back at the station. Packard had a ridiculous urge to try to negotiate a deal with the bear. Let it off with a warning if it promised not to attack little dogs or cranky old men again.

The bear dropped its front paws on the motor’s lower unit, hard enough to bounce the front end of the trailer, then rose up tall again.

Packard took two quick steps forward and pulled the trigger.

The twelve gauge thundered. The bear curled like a question mark, then collapsed, boneless, to the floor. Packard waited for a few seconds, then hit a button on the back wall to raise the garage door. Daylight raced across the floor like a sunrise at high speed. He squatted next to the dead bear, his ears ringing. The animal already looked diminished in death. Packard put his hand on top of its head. “I’m sorry,” he said.

Packard was hours late by the time he turned into the sheriff’s driveway. A decorative split-­rail fence ran a short way on either side, then ended abruptly, keeping nothing in or out. The house was a brick rambler with green shutters that backed up against acres of thick woods five miles outside of town.

Marilyn Shaw answered the door. Early sixties. Hair dyed red with gray roots. Wearing blue slacks and a cardigan sweater over a green shirt. She had a dish towel over one shoulder that she used to finish drying her hands before she took Packard’s between hers and stood on her toes to kiss his cheek. “You get taller and more handsome every time I see you.”

Packard towered over her. He had dark hair that had started to recede at the temples in his twenties, then decided to hold its ground, leaving him with a slightly irregular hairline in the front. He kept it short, just this side of a military cut. He wore a trimmed beard almost year-­round now that beards on men were the style again. Eyes blue or gray, depending on the light. Women were drawn to the size and shape of him. Men were intimidated by it. He was an imposing figure in uniform, even the brown one worn by the sheriff’s department.

Packard followed Marilyn inside. “How’s he feeling?” he asked, keeping his voice low.

Marilyn shrugged a bit and waved her flat hand side to side. Packard nodded and followed her to the kitchen.

“Can I get you a cup of coffee?”

“If it’s not any trouble,” Packard said. Waiting with the old man and his wife at the scene of the bear attack had taught him it was easier to accept the first offer than decline ten more.

“No trouble at all. Go on in. He’s watching TV.”

The family room was on the back of the house. The Shaws’ decor was classic country. Varnished beadboard. A wallpaper border of chickens and checker­board hearts that circled the ceiling. The family room was heavily carpeted, with bookshelves and an overstuffed sectional and framed wildlife prints. Scented candles in glass jars perfumed the air. Packard had to duck to avoid hitting a low bulkhead. Stan was lying back in a recliner, television remote on his belly, looking drowsy. He slowly turned his head. When he saw Packard, his face lit up. He struggled for a moment to right himself in the recliner. “Hey, you giant sonofabitch.”

“Hey, yourself.”

The sheriff had been a walking bull of a man. Only five foot nine but broad shouldered and wide through the chest, shaped like a potato on toothpick legs. Before the chemo, he had thick dark hair, gray just over the ears, that he kept swept back with pomade in a tamed pompadour. He was a foul-­mouthed bullshit artist with men, a gentleman to the ladies, and a hard-ass on criminals. He and Marilyn taught Sunday school and marriage preparation classes at the Catholic church. The people of Sandy Lake loved him. He could have run for sheriff and won, uncontested or not, until the sun burned out.

Stan sat up in the recliner, a blanket over his legs. He looked more diminished every time Packard came by. A February snowman in March. His hair had come back thin and white. His scalp had spots and odd scaly patches crusted with blood.

Packard took a seat on the end of the sectional. A bass fishing show was on the flat-­screen TV in front of them.

“You just missed that guy in the orange hat pull up a seven-­pounder,” Stan said.

“Where they at?”

“Uh… Hell, I don’t know. I thought it was Minnesota. Could be anywhere.”

They watched TV for a couple of minutes; then Stan pointed the remote at the TV, turned down the volume, and asked what was new.

Packard told him about the budget review with the city council. They were underspent in overtime and fuel costs. “Warmer temps forced the ice fishing festival to be canceled, which helped keep overtime down. We’ve been so fiscally responsible I thought it was a good time to pitch the idea of hiring two new deputies. I assume they’ll approve only one. You all right with that?”

Stan shrugged. “You’re the one who has to be all right with it,” he said.

Packard had been hired by Stan Shaw eighteen months earlier as an investigator for the Sandy Lake County Sheriff’s Department, but for the last four months he’d been serving as acting sheriff, covering as many of Stan’s duties as possible while the sheriff went through a second round of treatment for colon cancer.

Shaw’s decision to appoint Packard came as a surprise to the county board of directors. Off the record, Shaw had told them his deputy with the most seniority was six months from retirement and didn’t want the job. The one with the second most seniority wasn’t fit to plan the holiday party let alone run the whole department. Shaw liked Packard for the job because he worked hard and came with no baggage. The sheriff, or the acting sheriff, had to be unpopular at times. Packard had no alliances, no grudges, no debts. He hardly knew anyone. Shaw told the board its options were Packard or no acting sheriff at all.

The other investigator in the department, and Packard’s closest ally at work, was Detective Jill Thielen. She was one who told Packard about the other deputies, all of them male, claiming it wasn’t fair the single guy who worked all the time got the acting sheriff job. They couldn’t be expected to put in the same hours he did.

“Congratulations,” Thielen told them. “Now you know how every working mother feels.”

That shut ’em up.

Marilyn came in with his coffee. Stan said, “Sweetheart, I just thought of another positive thing about colon cancer. This guy has to review the budget with the board. Not me.”

Packard smiled, then tried to swallow it when Marilyn tsked and shook her head. “We heard you respond to the bear call this morning on the scanner,” she said, changing the subject.

“Yeah, damn. I forgot to ask about the bear,” Stan said.

Packard told them about the old man with the dog and the other guy with the bloody hand. “I cornered the bear in the guy’s garage and shot it,” he said, sipping his coffee.

“What did you use?” Stan asked.

“Twelve gauge.”

Stan nodded his approval.

“What I want to know is why you’re in uniform and responding to calls on your day off. I heard that on the radio, too,” Marilyn said.

“I was coming here so I thought I’d be ready just in case.”

“Benjamin, someone else could have responded to the bear. You need to take time off. You can’t work seven days a week.”

Oh, but he could. Not all of the work was as exciting as coming face-­to-­face with a seven-­foot black bear, but it was still work. It gave him a sense of purpose. The things he did in his time off—­working out and remodeling the house he’d bought—­were solitary activities. Too much time alone gave him too much time to ponder whether moving to Sandy Lake after Marcus was killed had been the right decision or not.

“You’ll never meet someone if you don’t take off the uniform and get to know people socially,” Marilyn said.

By meet someone she didn’t mean friends—­not that he had a lot of those either. She meant romantically. Packard shifted nervously in his seat. Stan did the same, but probably because of the cancer.

“Marilyn, don’t pester the man. He’s doing his job and my job. That’s a lot of responsibility.”

“All I’m saying—­”

“I hear you, Marilyn,” Packard interrupted, smiling. “I’ll work on it.”

He changed the subject by asking how her seedlings were doing. Marilyn was a master gardener who could put dirt in a shoe and grow a foot. She asked him if he’d started swimming yet.

“A week ago,” he said.

“What’s the water temperature?” Stan asked.

“Above forty-­five degrees. That’s the magic number.”

Marilyn crossed her arms, grabbed her elbows, and shivered. “Mother Mary and Joseph. I can’t even imagine. You must be blue as a berry coming out of that water.”

“I wear a wet suit. It keeps a layer of body-­temperature water next to your skin. Once you get going, you can stay warm for twenty minutes or so.”

“Benjamin, that sounds perfectly dreadful to me.”

Packard smiled and shrugged and visited with the Shaws for a while longer. The purpose of these visits had started out as a way to keep his boss informed about what was going on at work. Lately, he could sense Stan was less interested in work, and so the conversation wandered from town gossip to the weather to stories they’d heard from deer hunters or people ice fishing. Stan had another treatment scheduled for the next day. Packard didn’t ask how the chemo was going. He could see how hard it was on Stan. If they were still treating him, it meant they hadn’t given up. That’s all he needed to know.

When it was time to go, Packard handed Marilyn the empty coffee cup and shook the sheriff’s hand. “I’ll see you again soon. Let me know if you guys need anything.”

Back in the truck, Packard listened to the radio chatter as he tried to decide whether to go home or to the station. No one was expecting him to come in, and they wouldn’t be particularly thrilled to see him if he did. A day off for the boss was a day off from the boss. He could give them that at least.

His personal cell phone rang just as he was putting the truck into reverse.

“Ben, this is Susan Wheeler.”

The few times Susan had a reason to call him, she always introduced herself by her first and last name, like it was their first meeting. She could come off as humorless if you didn’t know her. Also, if you did. She and Packard were cousins.

“Hello, Susan Wheeler. What’s up?”

“Jenny is missing.”

“What do you mean, ‘missing’?”

“I mean she wasn’t in her bed this morning, and she didn’t go to school. No one has seen or heard from her since last night.”

The clock on the dashboard said it was just after 11:30 a.m. Packard already had questions but decided to hold them until he could meet Susan face-­to-­face.

“Do you want me to come to your house, or do you want to meet me at the station?”

“I’ll meet you.”

“I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

And There He Kept Her
by by Joshua Moehling