Bryan Gruley: The Hanging Tree

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Bryan Gruley The Hanging Tree
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    The Hanging Tree
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    Триллер / на английском языке
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The Hanging Tree: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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“How have I not given him a fair shot?” I said. “He doesn’t return my calls.”

“Have you spoken with his lawyer?”

“I thought you read my stories. The lawyer’s quoted: ‘No comment.’”

Philo rubbed his eyes. He slid his glasses back on.

“‘No comment’ just isn’t good enough,” he said.

“You want me to put a gun to his head?” I said.

“Come on, Gus. I think we both agree that this rink-that any new building around here that employs actual people-would be beneficial. But Mr. Haskell has now halted construction because of your stories.”

Laird Haskell was the rich guy building the rink. I knew why he was dodging me. He and I had a past Philo didn’t know about.

“Bullshit,” I said. “He stopped building because he didn’t have the money, because he was taking cash from Peter to pay Paul and his subcontractors walked.”

Philo sighed. He looked up at the ceiling. The poor kid was doing his best. I doubted Columbia had prepared him for this, especially the amoebic water stain he must have seen blackening the ceiling panel over his head.

“Haskell,” he said, “would like to meet with you.”

“News to me. When?”

I got up out of my chair and pulled out my cell phone. No wonder I hadn’t gotten a call from Darlene. I had left the phone off. I kind of liked the thing but I was still getting used to it.

“Today,” Philo said. “I’m waiting to hear the precise time.”

“He called you?”

“Not exactly. But I’ll get back to you.”

“Happy to meet with him. Why didn’t you just say so in the first place?”

Philo walked back to his desk and, standing, punched a few computer keys. He didn’t say so in the first place because he’d wanted me to hear about that ad opportunity first.

“Time still not certain,” he said. “But it’ll be at his house. Someone else will be with him. His lawyer, I assume.”


“You know the house?”

“I’ve seen it once or twice.”

You could step outside the Pilot and see it from Main Street, the biggest house on the lake, peering out from the northeastern shore.

“Thank you,” Philo said. He looked up from the keyboard. “Would you mind bringing me a coffee? No cream, four sugars?” He reached into his pocket.

“I got it,” I said. “Back in a few.”

As I started out of the room, Philo called after me, “Hey, Gus.”

I stopped and turned to face him.


“Hockey’s really a big deal here, isn’t it?”

“You’re catching on.”

“Where I grew up, we play lacrosse.”

“Tough game. You never saw hockey?”

“Well, not in Annapolis, but they had it in D.C., I guess, but it wasn’t… I don’t know… it wasn’t like it seems to be here.”

“No, not like here. Here, it’s everything.”

Outside on the sidewalk, I turned my cell phone on. There was indeed a message. Waiting for it, I felt the dry morning cold rush down the open neck of my coat and thought of Darlene asleep the night before, the warmth of her bare shoulder blades against my chest.

“Hey,” I heard her say. She wasn’t quite whispering, but she was trying to keep her voice down. “I’m guessing you’ll be at Audrey’s. Don’t believe everything you hear, OK? I’ll try you later. Love you.”

“Me, too,” I said, dialing her back. I watched Audrey’s as I listened to three rings and a click followed by her voice.

“You’ve almost reached Pine County sheriff’s deputy Darlene Esper. Please leave a message, keeping in mind this is not Books on Tape.”

I’d heard the message plenty of times but still it made me smile. The phone beeped. “Darl,” I said. “Got your message. Don’t worry. I hope you’re doing all right. I’m thinking about you.”

The little bells on the door at Audrey’s Diner jangled when I walked in, and every head in the place turned. The smells of bacon grease and maple syrup washed over me.

“Morning,” I said, as friendly as I could without making eye contact with anyone. I went straight to the counter across from where Audrey DeYonghe was bent over the griddle in a crisp white apron over a smock embroidered with yellow and orange flowers, her hair tied back in a walnut bun wrapped in a hairnet. She glanced over a shoulder at me, smiled, turned back to the pancakes she was flipping. “Good morning, Gussy,” she said. “What’ll you be needing today?”

“A vacation is what he needs,” came the voice from the back of the restaurant. Elvis Bontrager, squeezed behind his usual table, spoke through a mouthful of half-chewed egg and sausage. “A nice long vacation,” he said, “so we can get our damned rink built.”

Elvis was my personal Greek chorus. Whatever I wrote in the Pilot, from a few grafs on the upcoming Rotary Club lunch to a half page on the school board spending a thousand dollars on a “fact-finding” trip to Chicago, I could count on Elvis to let me know, in front of everyone at Audrey’s, what he didn’t care for. That turned out to be pretty much every word I wrote-or failed to write, if he thought there was something I should have written. It wasn’t because Elvis didn’t like the Pilot; he just didn’t like me. Hadn’t liked me since I let that goal in that cost the Rats the state title. Liked me even less when, instead of marrying his niece, one Darlene Bontrager-now Esper-I took off to make my name as a big-time reporter in Detroit. And I had heard he wasn’t too pleased that I was now fooling around with Darlene, even though, at least on paper, she was still married.

“How are you today, Elvis?” I said. There was no sense in arguing; his ears might as well have been filled with cement. I pointed at a spot just below his shirt pocket, where a chunk of cheese-covered sausage had fetched up on the roof of his potbelly. “You’re missing the best part.”

Elvis kept his eyes on me while his wife, blushing, reached across the table and plucked the scrap off of his shirt.

“You got the scoop yet on the McBride girl, boy?” he said. “I’m thinking not.”

“Why do you have to talk about this here?” Elvis’s wife said.

My eyes swept the room. The music of forks and knives on china kept playing. Everyone kept their eyes on their raisin French toast and American fries. But nobody was talking because they were all listening. They must have been so grateful that Elvis was willing to be a loudmouth. It was hard to get the really tough questions answered talking behind people’s backs.

“Gracie?” I said. “What happened?”

“You know what happened, son,” he said.

“Gussy,” Audrey said. “What would you like?”

“Thanks, Mrs. DeYonghe. Two large coffees, one cream only, one no cream, four sugars.”

“Nothing to eat?”

Audrey glanced sideways at Elvis to keep him shut up. He was shoveling potatoes into his face, his red suspenders straining against his girth. I would have loved to sit down and savor one of her Swiss-and-mushroom omelets, but I hadn’t time nor did I want the hassle.

“Uh, sure, how about some rye bread, grilled?”

“Coming right up. With blackberry jam? I made fresh.”

“That would be great.”

She leaned over the counter and touched one of my hands. The aroma of lemon wafted off of her face. “I’m so sorry about Gracie,” she said.


“How’s Darlene? And your mother?”

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