Bryan Gruley: Starvation lake

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Bryan Gruley Starvation lake
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    Starvation lake
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    Криминальный детектив / на английском языке
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Starvation lake: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Boynton kept coming, though. I was trying to get to my feet when his stick cracked me under the left ear, below the edge of the mask. A shock of pain tore through my jawbone and rippled down my neck. Boynton’s knee speared my chest and I toppled over backward, my head bouncing on the ice as he fell on me. The smells of snuff and hops and sweat and tape filled my nostrils. I could hear a whistle shrieking, again and again. I opened my eyes. Boynton’s face was two inches away, a grin beneath dark eyes. “Lucky fuck,” he spat before I blacked out.

My wait was over.

The needle punctured the skin along my jawbone and I dug my fingernails into the soft wood of Leo’s workbench as he stitched me. I had tried to numb the left side of my face with a fistful of snow, but the pinpricks stung anyway. The cut took six stitches to close.

“Thanks, Leo,” I said. The air in the big steel shed behind Blackburn Arena was sweet with gasoline. I sipped a beer in a circle of light spread by a bulb hanging from the high ceiling. Leo moved out of the light to toss his stitching needle into a wastebasket. It ping ed on one of his empty 7-Up bottles.

“Try to be more careful,” Leo said, emerging into the light again. “You boys aren’t boys anymore.”

For something like thirty years, Leo Redpath had maintained the rink’s compressors and ice scrapers and Zamboni machine. He performed the odd carpentry and plumbing chores that kept the dressing rooms, snack bar, and restrooms in working order. Mostly he kept to himself, content to tinker in his shed and tend to the Zamboni he affectionately called Ethel. And although Leo was no doctor, his workbench sometimes doubled as an operating table for players who didn’t want to bother with the local clinic. Leo had been doing it so long that he barely left scars anymore.

“See the game tonight?” I said.

“I never watch,” Leo said.

I smiled at his lie. The stitches tugged at my chin. I could make out his wide, hunched-over shape shuffling around in the shadows surrounding Ethel. “You don’t see hockey like that too often in Starvation Lake.”

“I’m sure no truer words were ever spoken,” he said.

“It’s that deceptive speed, eh, Trap?” The voice came from the other end of the shed. Soupy walked in with a beer in one hand and two more dangling from a plastic six-pack holder. “We’re even slower than we look.”

It was one of his favorite lines, and he laughed at it, by himself.

Leo stepped out from behind Ethel. “Well, if it isn’t Sonja Henie,” he said. “Was that a triple salchow that landed you on your derriere?”

“Derriere?” Soupy said. “Derri-fucking-aire? Haven’t we told you like eight million times to speak English around here? I think the word you’re looking for is ‘ass,’ my friend. And who the hell is Sonja Henie?”

“Leo didn’t watch,” I said. Talking hurt.

“True,” Leo said. “But I did catch a glimpse while carrying a box of Junior Mints to the snack bar.”

I jumped down from the workbench. My teeth rattled when I landed. “Well, then, maybe you noticed whether Soupy punched Boynton’s ticket on his way past?”

“Blow me, Trap,” Soupy said. He stood a head taller than me, long and lanky in a blue denim overcoat with the words “Starvation Lake Marina” encircling an anchor embroidered over the left breast. Thick blond curls furled out from under his red woolen cap. “Gave you a chance to shine. You ought to thank me.”

“I would have but I was unconscious.”

I finished my beer, tossed the can at the wastebasket, missed, and motioned for one of Soupy’s beers. Leo picked up the empty.

“Ultimate Teddy Boynton assault and battery,” Soupy said. “You poke-check him, he runs you over.” While I was out cold, as Soupy explained, Boynton threatened to punch a referee, who threw him out of the game. “The bastard probably didn’t mean to knock you out. Or who knows, maybe he did.” Soupy took a long pull on his beer. “He probably didn’t like your editorial.”

I had no idea Soupy read editorials. “Probably not.” I looked around the shed. Leo had disappeared behind Ethel again. “We have a meeting tomorrow.”

“With Teddy boy?” Soupy asked.

“And his lawyer.”

“His asshole lawyer, Trap.”

“Of course.”

Soupy touched his beer to the side of his head. “Try to keep your head up this time, huh?”

“Quiet, please.” Leo was trying to listen to the police scanner. It sat on a stack of milk crates, keeping him company on slow nights. We heard some crackling and some beeps, then the voice of the dispatcher, Darlene Esper. She was talking with a deputy on his way to Walleye Lake. A snowmobile had washed up onshore.

“Christ,” I said. It was probably nothing. But every local over the age of fifty had a police scanner next to the bed, on the garage workbench, or on the shelf over the washing machine, and they’d all be talking about that snowmobile on Walleye Lake at Audrey’s Diner the next morning. I grabbed Leo’s rotary phone and dialed the sheriff’s department. One of the perks of being associate editor of the Pilot was knowing that number by heart. Darlene answered.

“Deputy Esper,” I said. “Gus Carpenter.” I hoped for a chuckle. Darlene and I had grown up next door to each other. Our mothers had finally given up trying to marry us. So had Darlene.

“Gussy,” she said. “You hear about the sled?”


“You better get out there. Sheriff’s out there.”

“Dingus? Why, is there an all-you-can-eat buffet?”

“Just go, Gus.”

I lingered on the phone-her voice always got me that way-but she’d already hung up. I zipped up my parka, fished out my truck keys. “Leo, thanks for the embroidery,” I said. He didn’t answer.

“Can’t keep away from her, can you?” Soupy said.

“Good skate, Soup,” was all I said.

As I stepped into the night, I heard him call out: “Mrs. Darlene Esper-sweetest ta-tas in Starvation Lake.”


My pickup nosed down the icy two-track road that wound between the pines to Walleye Lake. I’d often wondered why it was called that. No one had ever caught a walleye in its mucky, weed-clogged water. A carp maybe, or a sucker trout. Never a walleye.

I grew up a few miles away, on Starvation Lake. My dad died of colon cancer when I was seven, so it was just Mom and me in our yellow clapboard house on the southern shore of the lake. We had a rickety dock, a dive raft, and a fishing boat with a ten-horsepower outboard motor, everything a kid needed to love summers on a clear blue lake. Over the long winters, I played goalie, the little guy barely taller than the net, for the town’s youth hockey team, the River Rats. I was the goalie for the greatest of the Rat squads, the one that for the first time beat the mighty teams from Detroit, when no one thought it could be done. And I was the goalie who allowed the overtime goal that cost us our one and only chance to win the town a state championship.

It was a shot I should have stopped, a fluke really, a stupid lapse, that cost us the state title in our very own rink, right there in town in front of just about everybody who lived within fifty miles. I couldn’t really blame them for not forgiving me, for looking at me out of the sides of their eyes and shaking their heads, for calling me “sieve” and “funnel” and “pylon” behind my back, sometimes even to my face, if they’d had enough to drink. I’d replayed my mistake in my mind a million times. I had trouble forgiving me, too.

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