Bryan Gruley: Starvation lake

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Bryan Gruley Starvation lake
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    Starvation lake
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Starvation lake: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Bryan Gruley

Starvation lake


The cast-iron railing wobbled in his hand as he climbed the porch steps. He nearly fell over. After three tries, he decided the doorbell didn’t work. The screen door wouldn’t give, so he stripped off a glove and rapped on the aluminum frame. Paint the color of pea soup was peeling off the face of the inside door.

A cold drop of rain leaked through the awning over his head and splatted on the back of his neck. He put a hand to his neck and looked up as another drop splashed on his cheek. “Shit,” he said, taking a step back and pulling his camouflage jacket tight around the package tucked within.

He looked down the street. Not a person in sight. Two Fords, a Chrysler, and his Chevy pickup truck waited at the curb. A single porch light flickered wanly in the dusk. Two doors down, charring from a fire blackened one side of the house, and wind ruffled the drapes where a windowpane had once been. He looked down. Brown stains pocked the concrete porch, down the three steps, and along the walk to the street. The stains seemed to grow bigger as they neared the curb. He hoped they weren’t blood.

He rapped again. Dammit, he thought, I knew I should have just sent it the usual way. Four hours down to this shithole city and now I gotta wait around? How the hell does the guy work in this dump? There’s a darkroom in there? He looked at his watch. If he could get this done in the next hour he would still have time to visit one of the Windsor clubs before heading home.

He heard something moving inside, then footsteps on the other side of the door. He swallowed hard and took another step back. Just a delivery, he thought. Just leave the thing and go.

The door eased open a crack. He smelled cabbage and cigarettes. A woman’s pale round face appeared above the hand holding the door. She seemed to be wearing nothing but a flannel shirt that drooped to her knees.

“What?” she said.

“Riddle. Got something for Charley.”

He slipped the manila envelope out from under his coat.

“Riddle? You a joker?”

She had an accent he didn’t recognize. Jesus Christ, he thought, is she going to understand a word I say?

“It’s my name. Is Charley here?”

The envelope was wrapped in tape and rubber bands. She looked at it with contempt.

“No Charley. We don’t want no delivery.”

“This is the address he gave me.” He glanced at the address plate nailed to the brick. “Cecil Avenue, right?”

A man’s voice called out from inside. “Magda!”

She yelled at him in her language. He barked something else, sounding closer now, and she stormed away, leaving the inside door ajar.

The man swung the door open wide. He stood barefoot in a pair of paint-stained sweatpants and a gray T-shirt that said Property of Detroit Lions. A single brow overhung his dark, sunken eyes. He held the door with one hand and kept the other behind his back.

“What you want?”

“I was supposed to bring this for Charley.”

“Charley?” The man almost smiled, then decided against it. “Jarek.”

“Jarek?” Riddle chuckled nervously. “Jarek, Charley. Got it. Can I leave this for him?”

The man shifted his weight from his left foot to his right, keeping his one hand hidden. Riddle tried not to look at it.

“You are from up north?” the man said.

“Yes, sir. About four hours.”

The man stared at Riddle for a moment. “Why do you wear army jacket?” he said. “Are you in military?”

Riddle glanced self-consciously at his camouflage jacket. “Oh, no sir. This is for hunting. Deer, rabbits, you know.”

“Aha. You are a killer then. Did you bring gun?”

“My gun? Oh, no sir. That’s locked up at home, yes sir.”

The man tilted his head slightly. “Would you like to come in?”

“Thank you, but no, I really have to be going. Got a long haul back. Got other deliveries to make, you know. Sorry.”

“Other deliveries?” The man leaned forward. “What other deliveries?”

Riddle glanced down the street again. Still not a soul. The last light of afternoon was nearly gone. “Nothing,” he said. “I just have to get back.”

“Jarek is not here.”


“No. Not here anymore.”

“I see. Well.” Riddle tried on what he imagined to be a businesslike smile. “Do you know where I can find him?” He wished he hadn’t asked the question the second it left his lips.

“Jarek will not be back. You can leave it with me.”

The man pushed open the screen door with his hidden hand. The hand held an unlit cigarette. Riddle gave the man the envelope.

“OK, then,” Riddle said. “You’ll send it back to the usual place?”

The man slammed the door without another word.

february 1998


You can never look into their eyes. Not once. Not for a second. Not if you’re a goaltender, like me. Because the guy shooting the puck wants you to look there. Then he’ll glance one way and shoot the other, or he’ll draw your eyes up just as he snaps the puck between your legs. Or he’ll lock on you just long enough to remind you that he knows exactly what he’s about to do and you don’t, that you’re just wishing and hoping that you’ll guess right. That you’re not at all in control.

Then you’re dead.

It was nearly midnight. I was tending the hockey goal at the south end of the John D. Blackburn Memorial Ice Arena. And I was yelling for help. Soupy backpedaled across the rink to give me some. It looked like he’d make it just in time to cut off the other team’s winger when his skate blade caught a gash in the ice and he went flying. His helmet, an old three-piece Cooper held together by skate laces and friction tape, bounced off of his head and went skittering into the boards.

“Fuck me!” he shouted.

Boynton sidestepped Soupy and the helmet and veered to the center of the ice, heading my way, alone. He was tall and lean, dressed all in black, and he kept his head up as he crossed the blue line, looking for my eyes. I focused on the puck as he slid it back and forth, from the back of his stick to the front. My team was up, 2–1. Less than a minute remained in the game. My left hand, steamy inside my catching glove, whacked once against my belly, involuntarily, and shot out to my side, open and ready. My right arm pressed the bottom edge of my goalie stick against the sandpaper ice. I dropped my squat an inch, dug the inner toe of my right skate into the ice, and glided back six inches, a foot. I tucked my head into my neck. The thin slick of sweat beneath my mask stung my cheeks. I blinked, hard.

I didn’t want to be there. In a drafty hockey rink reeking of refrigerant. Late. In a two-stoplight town clinging to the southeastern tip of a frozen lake in northern lower Michigan. I’d left the place years before, a failure, intending never to return. Now I was back, against my weak will, after failing miserably someplace else. By day, I was the associate editor of the Pine County Pilot, circulation 4,733, published every day but Sunday. By night I tended goal in the Midnight Hour Men’s League, surrounded by men I’d known as boys. In between I waited for something to change my life, to get me out of Starvation Lake again. That’s what goalies do. They wait.

When Boynton had closed to fifteen feet, I felt him drop his right shoulder as if to shoot. Just then, the puck bounced on something-a shaving of ice, a sliver of wood-and tottered on an edge. I glimpsed the chipped scarlet paint of a logo on the underside. I dropped to one knee and flung my stick forward, catching just enough of the wobbling puck to flop it back over Boynton’s stick blade. It trickled behind him, and Soupy, bareheaded, swooped in and golfed it clear.

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