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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“McCarthy,” she said.


There was a pause. “Yes, Gus, it’s Joanie. I’m sleeping.”

“At the office?”

“I forwarded my calls. What do you want?”

“Dingus. You need to call him first thing.”


“Sheriff Aho. Ask him about the snowmobile that washed up on Walleye Lake. Or at least I think it was a snowmobile. He wouldn’t say. Might be nothing, but he was acting pretty weird.”

“You spoke with him?”

“I went out there.”

Another pause. “Well,” she said, “I have a bunch of stuff on my plate.”

“Uh-huh. But I need you to check with Dingus first thing.”

“OK, boss,” she said, enunciating it so as to remind me that she wasn’t in love with my being her boss. She was young and smart and bent on getting out of Starvation Lake as fast as possible. Like I’d once been. I remembered that feeling of impatience for what would come next, and how soon, and whether it would come at all, whether you’d get stuck at some small-town rag writing about drain commission meetings while everyone else went to big cities and big stories.

I finished the water and put the jar in the sink. Outside, Soupy’s truck was gone. Next to Enright’s, the backlit sign in the window of Boynton Realty glowed dully. Soupy and Teddy Boynton and I had all played together for Jack Blackburn. I shivered in the darkness. Was Coach back now? I wondered. Had Dingus seen his ghost on the shore of Walleye Lake?


A narrow inner stairway descended conveniently from my apartment to the Pilot newsroom, but I rarely used it. I preferred to take the outside stairs to the parking lot out back and walk a block to Estelle Street, turn up to Main, and double back to the Pilot ’s front door. It got me some fresh morning air and helped me sustain the illusion that I had a life separate from work.

Walking up Estelle, I heard the staccato drip of melting ice in the rain gutters of Pine County State Bank. I turned onto Main, and the heart of the town opened before me. Two-story brick-and-clapboard buildings flanked the two-lane street, which ran flat between angled parking spaces to the lake. Down my side of Main stood the Pilot and the shuttered Avalon Cinema. Beyond lay Kepsel’s Ace Hardware, the law office of Parmelee Gilbert, a Dairy Queen, and, at the edge of the beach, Jordan Bait and Tackle, where Main veered west and disappeared. Across from the bait shop, Soupy’s marina squatted where the Hungry River spilled into Starvation. Coming back toward me along Main was Teddy Boynton’s office, Enright’s, Sally’s Dry Cleaning and Floral, Audrey’s Diner, and Fortune Drug.

The lake was named for a drought that had nearly dried it up in the 1930s until the Civilian Conservation Corps built a dam to divert the nearby Hungry River. From the sidewalk outside the Pilot, I could see clearly down to the lake, silent and white, a seven-mile-long crescent encircled by hills, palatial summer cottages, and smaller year-round homes snugged beneath the pines, oaks, and birches. Starvation’s population could more than triple with the vacationers who drove hundreds of miles from Detroit and Chicago to boat, swim, fish, ski, hunt, snowmobile, and party. Tourist dollars had built Starvation’s new schools and paved its roads and helped put its children through college. But the town had seen better days. In the past decade, roughly since Coach Blackburn died, more and more tourists had defected to the bigger resort towns on Lake Michigan and to Sandy Cove, a town seventeen miles east that had spent boatloads of money advertising its own clear blue lake in travel magazines and on billboards along I-75. Teddy Boynton had a big idea for fixing Starvation, which was why he was coming to see me this morning.

The front door to the Pilot jangled shut behind me. Like just about every door on Main Street, the Pilot ’s was equipped with little toy bells.

“Morning, Till,” I said.

“Good morning,” Tillie Spaulding said. “Did you bring me tea and croissants?”

“Gosh,” I said. “Forgot again.” This was our morning ritual. Tillie asked and I apologized. I supposed that someday I might actually bring in tea and croissants, though first I’d have to find croissants in Starvation Lake.

Matilda Spaulding had been Miss Michigan as a lissome blond teenager, the pride of Starvation Lake in 1963. Two hours after a Main Street parade in her honor, she left to make movies in Hollywood. She made a TV commercial for foot powder, met a producer, got married, got pregnant, got an abortion, got divorced, and came home. There was no parade upon her return. Since 1971 she’d been society columnist, occasional news reporter, and unofficial receptionist for the Pilot. She had dated virtually every eligible bachelor within thirty miles of town, and a few who weren’t bachelors anymore, while developing a fondness for whiskey, rocks, with a maraschino cherry. She leaned on an elbow at the front counter, a cigarette crooked in her long fingers. She pointed it at my chin.

“What happened to you?”

I instinctively touched the stitches on my jaw. They stung. “Boynton ran me over last night,” I said.

“Ted Boynton?” Her voice hadn’t yet lost its morning croak.

“Just about beheaded me,” I said. I grabbed a Pilot off the counter.

“Oh, pshaw, Gus. You boys have known each other forever.”

“Maybe that’s the problem.” Checking the front page, I noticed we had used the wrong photograph for the local youngster who had speared a six-pound bass on Blue Lake. “Anyway, he’s coming in this morning.”

She stubbed out her half-smoked cigarette. “Should I get doughnuts?”

“No. This is a business meeting, and I think Teddy convened it last night.” I started back to the newsroom.

“Hold on. You owe me a quarter.”

NLP Newspapers Inc., the company that three years before had purchased the Pilot from its original owners, Nelson P. and Gertrude X. Selby, had started making employees pay for their paper.

“Put it on my tab,” I said.


I walked back and slapped two dimes and a nickel on the counter.

At ten o’clock, Tillie ushered Teddy Boynton and another man toting a briefcase back to the Pilot newsroom.

Buzzing fluorescent lamps lit the windowless room. It was just big enough for a watercooler, a knee-high refrigerator, a combination copier and fax, and four gray steel desks. The air tasted of stale coffee and copier ink. I cleared one swivel chair of grease-spattered chili-dog wrappers, another of a pile of newspapers. Teddy approached me with his big hand outstretched, flashing the smile I knew well from high school. These days it adorned refrigerator magnets advertising his real estate company. His eyes flicked over my bandaged jaw. “Hell of a game last night,” he said.

“Really? I don’t remember much. Must’ve hit my head on the crossbar.”

“It’ll sneak up on you. Meet Arthur Fleming.”

Fleming, a short, pear-shaped man in thick glasses, was an attorney from Sandy Cove. He had represented the town the summer before when a movie-theater chain was deciding whether to close the theater there or the Avalon in Starvation Lake. Sandy Cove prevailed after offering twenty thousand dollars to rebuild its theater’s balcony. I shook his hand. “You’re not representing Sandy Cove?”

His eyes wandered disapprovingly around the room. “Not on this matter.”

Boynton grinned again. “He’s all mine,” he said.

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