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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The Hanging Tree: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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“Are you crazy? Are you fucking crazy? Some of these people-they would-fucking Jarek Vend is-you don’t realize.” He was halfway out of his chair, sputtering, spittle whitening the corners of his mouth.

Gilbert lifted his head to watch. He looked fascinated, as if he’d never seen this particular client before.

“If I see Vend, I’ll be sure to tell him you said hello. Maybe he’ll give me the documents. What do you think?”

“Wait.” Haskell rushed around the table. He took me by an arm. I could smell the sweat on him. “Wait. Please, Gus, think about this.”

“You already offered all that stuff to the cops. Right? But they’re not playing, are they?” I pulled my arm away. “They’re taking you down, Mr. Haskell. Or Vend will take you down. Either way’s fine with me.”

“What-what did I ever do to you? I didn’t return your fucking phone calls, so you just hang me out to dry?”

I turned to Gilbert. “Thanks, Parm.”

“Feel free to call if you have follow-up questions,” he said.

“Follow-up questions?” Haskell said. “You don’t even have a story.”

“Well,” I said, “you did say you have all these ledgers and credit card slips that could bring down the biggest names in Michigan. Including Vend. What did you call him? A twisted pervert? I mean, I’d love to have the documents, but the quotes I got are pretty good.”

“We were off the record.”

“I never agreed to that.”

Haskell turned to Gilbert. The attorney looked at me, then at his client.

“It is customary,” Gilbert said, “to make those sorts of agreements explicit at the beginning of an interview.”

“Son of a bitch,” Haskell said. He turned back to me. “Come on, Gus. For old times’ sake. There must be some middle ground here.”

I looked at him. His silver hair was mussed. The second-to-last button on his shirt was undone. His eyes were sunken with fear and weariness. I could have put him in front of a mirror and he never would have seen it. He would never see anything but smiling Laird Haskell, scourge of the auto industry, friend of the victim, doting husband, father of a future NHL goaltender.

“Yeah, sure, Laird,” I said. “The middle ground is like this: You could have hung Gracie in that tree yourself. But you didn’t. That’s all.”

I could still hear him shouting, What in God’s good heaven does that mean? as I trudged up his driveway, ignored Kepsel and Sally and Mrs. Ford begging me to tell them what was going on, climbed into my pickup, and pulled away.

I never did write a story on that conversation.

Two days later, Parmelee Gilbert resigned as Laird Haskell’s attorney. By the end of the week, he had closed his office, put his house up for sale, and left Starvation Lake for good.


We took Mrs. B’s rowboat about fifty yards out from Mom’s beach. A Clorox bottle chained to an old sump pump on the lake bottom marked the spot. Our dive raft would float there once the water warmed up enough for me to paddle the thing out from shore.

My mother slowly stood between the bench seats in the bow of the boat.

“Careful, Bea,” Mrs. B said.

“I’m all right.”

Mom removed the lid from the tin containing Gracie’s ashes. Mrs. B and I watched as Mom stood waiting for the boat to drift around until it was pointing downwind. Streaks of lavender and pink glimmered on the water, mirroring the early evening clouds.

Mom lifted the tin. “This was Gracie’s favorite place,” she said. “That I have not forgotten.” She wanted to cry but she made herself smile. “May it give her peace for all eternity.”

“Amen,” Mrs. B said.

“Amen,” I said.

Mom shook the tin. The spring breeze floated Gracie over the lake. She disappeared on the silver ripples.

“Stay here,” Mom said. “I’ll make tea.”

I was pulling the boat up onto the damp sand. Mrs. B stood on a section of dock stacked on the beach, pulling her sweater close against the twilight chill. I dropped the bow rope and waited for Mom to go into the house.

“Darlene couldn’t make it?” I said.

Mrs. B kept her gaze on the lake. “She had to work.”


I didn’t mention that I had seen Darlene’s car outside Audrey’s, but the look on my face must have given me away.

“She’s going to need some time, Gussy. You’ll have to trust her.”

“Is the divorce going through?”

“Ask Jason. Now that he’s in jail, he has even more reasons to procrastinate.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“No. No, I’m sorry.”

“Cream? Sugar? Lemon?” my mother called out.

“Please be patient, son,” Mrs. B said.

I looked up at my mother. The wail of a loon came from somewhere out on the lake. I remembered I had to get the swing out of the garage that weekend.

“Nothing for me, Mom,” I said. “Got to get somewhere.”

I hugged Mrs. B as I left. “Tell Darl I said hi.”

“Of course.”

The violet stripes were fading in the western sky by the time I ascended to the highest branch that would bear my weight.

It wasn’t as high as Gracie had climbed all those years ago while her boyfriend gaped from below. But it would have to do.

From where I stood with my left arm hugging the trunk of the shoe tree, I could see all the way to Main Street. A light came on in Darlene’s apartment window. I watched it for a few seconds, then looked away, past town to the lakeshore. I turned and saw the steel frame of the rink bathed in the yellow glow of safety lights. I looked up into the tree, and I thought of Gracie perched up there as a girl, asking the sheriff’s deputy, “Didn’t you ever do anything for love?”

I reached into my coat pocket. I tied the shoes together and looped them over a bough as high over my head as I could reach: A high-top sneaker dyed again to a brilliant pink, and a white baby shoe laced with blue satin ribbon.

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