The trial is thirty years in the past, and the only reason people still talk about the white girl Lana Thomas and my brother Danny is because of the business with the livestock. She’d been gone six nights in all, and in those same six nights Bill Akerson lost three ewes, five lambs, and a ram. The Fleet ranch, two miles up from Akerson’s place, found two calves dead that same week, so torn apart that Tom Fleet had first thought he’d lost at least three head. And Sue Hellard’s palomino showed up one morning with half its lower lip hanging off like fat from a steak. Pretty clear to everybody that knows a damn it was a cougar, but the old hens down at the Country Hearth like to drink their iced teas and say it had something to do with Lana and Danny, so the story’s carried on for thirty years now. Eagleville’s version of a ghost story, all mixed up with Paiute magic.
If you’re not from north California, here’s how it’s set up: the town of Gerlach is forty miles east into Nevada from the California line. Forty miles west is Eagleville, the only town I’ve ever called home, and another thirty miles north is the res at Fort Bidwell. In between Gerlach and Eagleville there’s Massacre Creek, maybe twenty miles on the near side of Eagleville, running up into the Warner Mountains. Twenty miles might seem like a lot, but up here it practically makes you neighbors.
Massacre Creek’s a thin stream coming down the east side of the Warners, the site of the last Indian massacre in the United States territory. There’s even a plaque on the side of the highway that says so. Happened just before the First World War—couple of Paiute ambushed and killed a Basque herder and his sheepdog five miles up the canyon from Eagleville. That’s all it took back then, a white man dying with an Indian in the neighborhood, and you had yourself a massacre. Those old boys shot the basco twice in the chest and took three of his twenty ewes. Killed the dog, too. Would’ve just been a rustle gone wrong if anyone else had done it, but since it was Indians they pulled together a posse and burned down the Indian’s camp at Bidwell, shot dead eighteen. Most of them old men and a handful of women that acted up, since most of the men were out on a hunt up towards the Sheldon.
Our father used to tell us that Sam Thursday, our grandfather, was in that posse. Said it like it was something to be proud of, the first Indian to roll over on his people. Like old Sam had a hand in setting up this valley we live in, which I guess he did. In some way, maybe that’s what landed Danny serving his life sentence in the penitentiary down in Susanville, and me the first Paiute deputy in Eagleville. Old Sam would’ve been proud of me, I guess. The last Indian to turn over on his people.
I was twelve years old when Lana Thomas went missing from her mom’s place just behind Bruno’s Casino in Gerlach. Calling it a casino makes it sound like more than it is, which is just a gas station with a bar, twenty feet of nickel slots and some antelope heads on the wall. Bruno himself found the bodies in the mobile home’s bathroom after Lana’s mom didn’t show up to tend bar one afternoon. The woman had been shot once in the chest, once through the cheek and out the back of the neck. She was dragged across the living room and dropped in the tub, the boyfriend stacked on top of her. He’d been shot once in the back of the head, probably while he was asleep, judging by the mess of bone and blood and hair on the bed. We heard all this from our old man over the dinner table; he’d heard it himself that afternoon from Russ Hanks, who was the investigating officer before the Staties took over.
“Big handgun,” our father had said, holding his forefinger an inch away from his thumb to show the size of the shell. “Something like a forty-five, or like that old thirty-eight of your grandfather’s. They haven’t pulled the round out from the dirt under the house yet.”
You’d think my mother would’ve told him to save it for after dinner, but she just gave herself another spoonful of summer squash. She was used to living around three men. Compared to the talk she’d grown up around in Eagleville, a little bit of bone on dirty linens wasn’t anything to get upset about.
But the story sure caught my attention. Even if I was twelve, I already knew what a forty-five did. Back before we hit middle school, before it mattered if an Indian kid and a white kid spent every afternoon together, TJ Stevens and I found a Remington forty-five in an old shoebox under his mother’s bed. We had been popping off at soup cans in the alfalfa field behind his place when his sister’s housecat came up through the bitterbrush, spooked by the report of the gun. TJ lifted the barrel of the revolver up to his lip to tell me to keep quiet. I knew what he was going to do, but I didn’t try to stop him. Show us a white man with a gun and we Thursdays agree to damn near anything.
“Was he dead?” Danny said. I remember he said it without even looking up from his plate of spaghetti, which was always his way. I guess they’d call it hyperactive now. But you’ve never met such a fidgety kid in your life.
My dad ran a brown hand over his short black and grey hair, as if the obviousness of the answer reminded him of something he’d been trying to keep from his mind. “The fuck you think, son? Course he was dead.”
I’ve given that moment a lot of thought in the years since Lana Thomas went missing. About how Danny asked after the man without looking up from his dinner plate. Since I can remember, people have been using words like “slow,” or “dense,” or even “jackrabbit dumb,” for the way that he’d freeze up at a direct question like a rabbit in front of a truck’s headlight. If you had the chance to talk to him you might say the same thing. But I guess I know him better than anyone else in this world, my mother and father included. Nearly spent more time with him than I did with myself my first twelve years on this earth, and “jackrabbit dumb” isn’t the word for him. I spent my first twelve years on this earth with the old boy, and to this day I can’t tell how much he ever knew. If he was jackrabbit dumb or jackrabbit smart.
The girl had been missing from Gerlach for three days when Danny took me up Massacre Creek to the camp. Russ Hanks said most law enforcement figured they’d find her body somewhere out on the playa of the Black Rock or jammed into a hole in the bluffs up in High Rock Canyon, if they found it at all. But they did their job as if she might still be alive someplace. They came out to the nearest towns, to Eagleville and Cedarville and over the Warner mountains to Alturas, asking questions and taping up posters all over the high desert, on mailboxes and on all five light posts in Eagleville. They would’ve taped them to the sagebrush along the highway if the tape would have stuck. “Missing since July 12,” the poster said along the top, and then there was a picture of Lana Thomas. You could tell it was a school picture; she was up against a dark blue fabric backdrop, and you could almost imagine the photographer trying to get her to smile without showing too much of the sideways canine on her left side. There was something off about the girl just from looking at that picture, and then you realized her eyes were different colors from one another. One mahogany brown, the other a light green the color of a mayfly’s wing.
“Don’t see what all the worry is about,” my mother said as we filled our packs with cans of tuna fish and dried Chinese noodles for our trip. “It’s not like there’s any family to bring a body back to. Her mom’s dead. Paper in Gerlach said they can’t find a father. I hate to say it—hate how it sounds, but it’s true.”
Danny was skittish as always when we were getting ready for a trip, even if it was only for a night or two like this one. He never seemed to calm down until he had a pack on his back and his boots on the trail. Our mother liked to say it was the Indian in him, eager to get back to the hills, but it drove our dad crazy how he’d be running from room to room, talking a mile a minute and emptying the refrigerator into his old aluminum frame camp pack.
“How long’re you two going out for, Daniel?” my father asked irritably. “You’re packing enough food for a week.”
“Just a night,” Danny said. “Maybe two. OK if we take the International?” Danny had turned sixteen a month before, but he’d been driving for years by then. My father had been working on the engine of an old chainsaw on the kitchen table, the snapped recoil rope laid out on a sheet of newspaper next to a blackened air filter. He set down a hex wrench and picked up a small length of wire to clean the fuel jets.
“No,” he said, rotating the engine a quarter turn on the newspaper. “I’m going up to Alturas tomorrow. No reason you can’t take the quad.”
Danny looked like he was about to say something, but instead he just stood there with that jackrabbit dumb look. He licked his lips, which was a habit of his, and then, like he was snapped from a trance his scrawny legs were carrying him out the kitchen door, his pack slung over a shoulder.
When I caught up with him outside, the thunderheads that had gathered over the Warner Mountains with the late afternoon heat had just begun to break. The rain brought up the deep smell of the sagebrush and Danny turned to me with a look that I can only describe now as the closest thing to pure happiness I’d ever seen on my brother. His black hair was wetted down, and the rain seemed to darken his already brown skin. There was a wildness about him, so that he looked more like the old pictures of the Paiute and Shoshone taken by the first settlers in the valley—pictures you can still see hung up at the BIA office in Redding—than he looked like my own brother. He dropped the tailgate of the International and loaded his bag in.
“Come on Charles,” he said. “We’re already late. Load up and let’s go.”
I put my pack on the ground and looked toward the house, then back to Danny. He was already in the driver’s seat.
“It’s fine,” he said. “I promise. I’ll talk to Dad when we get back. I’ll tell him it was my idea.”
I had always been afraid of my father; he didn’t have a quick temper, but when it arrived it was something worth being afraid of. But that fear was outweighed by my desire to make my older brother happy. Always has been. I lifted my pack onto the tailgate and slid it under the back shell. The back seat of the International had been loaded up with blankets, a couple blue tarps, and a cooler. The rain had already let up, and while we pulled away I turned back toward home—expecting to see our father come bursting out of the house at any moment—and I watched the tires of the truck cut a trail in the dark dust.
“Why do we have all this stuff,” I asked.
“It’s a surprise,” Danny said back. He slapped the dash of the truck with excitement, like our father would do when we left the house before sunup on the first day of deer season. “You’re good for a surprise, aren’t you?”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to either. Danny knew I’d do whatever he asked me to. That’s why he took me along on the trip in the first place. Not because he wanted me to, but because he needed me. That’s why I say there’s nothing dumb about him. People always think that if you’re not running your mouth you’re not thinking anything at all, but that isn’t hardly ever the case.
“Sure you are, Charles,” he said as the truck pulled up to the stop sign at Country Route Four and the highway. He clapped his hand on my shoulder a couple times, like he had the dash a couple minutes before. “Sure you are.”
Recollecting about it now, I like to imagine that even then I knew the surprise would be Lana Thomas with her crooked tooth and off-color eyes, that even at twelve I at least had an inclination that this wasn’t a surprise I wanted any part of. But that’s just me putting what I know now over what happened thirty years ago. More likely, I was just glad to be with Danny, to be a part of whatever he had got himself into. But I can tell you it was strange, even then, when he stopped at Paige’s Market and came out five minutes later with nothing more than two tins of Skoal and a half-gallon of strawberry ice cream.
“Ice cream’ll melt in an hour on the trail,” I said. It was a five-mile hike up Massacre Creek before the camp at Massacre Lake.
“We’re not taking the trail,” Danny said. “We’re going to take the fire road, drive up to the lake from the backside. That’s part of the surprise, Charles.”
The fire road hadn’t been graded in four or five seasons, and the runoff from the winter snowpack had cut deep channels into the International’s path. After thirty minutes, Danny had me get out and turn the front hubs to put the truck in four, and we kept on our way. Another forty minutes later we began to pass swatches of dirty snow in the shaded areas of the junipers as we continued to climb. The whole while, Danny was twitching around in his seat like a wild animal, until finally we came around a bend in the road and the junipers and lodgepoles opened up to the black stretch of water, and there in front of it was Lana Thomas.
She was standing ankle deep in the water, which was all snow runoff, and if she was scared or happy to see us she didn’t show it either way. She was wearing jeans cut off so high you could see the whites of her pockets against her legs, and when I stepped down from the International she hiked them up a little higher still. Danny was still fumbling around in the back of the truck when she came up to where I was standing. I stared at her like she was a ghost. She looked different than the picture on the posters. Different but the same. She still had her sideways tooth, and her eyes were even more noticeably different colored in the last of the afternoon sun. But she seemed miles older than me, even though she was barely thirteen. Hardly a year more than me, and just about the same height, but miles older.
“You’re Charlie,” she said. She walked over to where I stood with the pack at my feet, the box of ice cream that Danny had handed me held dumbly in my arms. She glanced back to where Danny was still rustling in the back of the truck, then leaned in close and put her lips on my neck, just below my ear. It was my first kiss, if you were wondering.
Danny came out of the truck with his hand behind his back. He came over to Lana and kissed her the same way our parents would kiss after my father came home from a day of work.
“You met Charles?” he asked. Before she could answer, he brought out his hand from behind his back. He held his hand palm out to her, one of our mother’s kitchen spoons in his hand. “Brought you something.”
Lana Thomas let out something like a laugh, and picked the ice cream from out of my hands. She sat down right there in the dirt and broken pine needles, leaned her head against Danny’s leg, and dug the spoon into the melted pink ice cream.
“This is Lana Thomas,” Daniel said. I nodded my head. “You remember her from the posters, right?”
I nodded again, watching the girl lick slowly at the ice cream on our mother’s spoon.
“Isn’t she something else?” he said.
Danny had already set up a rough tent from a couple old drop cloths that I recognized from our father’s garage, but now he set up our three-man dome tent just at the water’s edge. He smiled as he bent and arched the poles through the loops in the tent, staked the corners and secured the rain fly. All the while the girl Lana Thomas sat with her feet in the water, one eye on Danny and another one, the green eye, it seemed, watching me.
Then again, maybe that isn’t true either, but just me looking back on that first afternoon with the girl, knowing now how things would end for my brother. Maybe all that business about the girl’s eyes watching me isn’t true at all. I remind myself, even all these years later, that Lana Thomas was a girl not even fourteen years old, and if I’m going to say that Danny was just a kid, I’ve got to say the same about Lana Thomas.
What I can say for sure is that we cooked hotdogs on straightened coat hangers over our little camp stove, and after that Danny and Lana Thomas kept taking pinches of Skoal and spitting into the fire. I took my bag and a tarp and walked around the lake to a small peninsula. The afternoon breeze had died away entirely, and the lake was so flat that I could see the reflection of the stars on its surface. I laid my bag out under the night sky and tried to make sense of what had happened that day, what I ought to do. If I could go back to that night, put myself back in that sleeping bag with everything I know now about Danny getting put away for the killing of Lana’s mother and the boyfriend and for the kidnapping of Lana Thomas herself, I don’t think I’d have any better idea of what to do than I did at twelve years old. Across the lake I could hear their grunting and Lana’s moans, and then after that the sounds of water splashing. In the dim starlight I could see Danny’s head bobbing in the middle of the lake. Behind him was Lana Thomas, her white tits hanging clear as day as she walked naked into the lake. I stared and stared and imagined that green eye was staring back through the dark.
I woke the next morning to Danny shaking me in my bag. It was before sunrise, the horizon just beginning to lighten to an ashy gray. He was shivering, his thin dark frame covered only by a white pair of underwear briefs, his teeth clattering underneath the light down of his moustache.
“She’s not here,” he said.
I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to say, what there was to say, and so I didn’t say anything at all. I sat up in my bag and looked around the lake, towards the camp across the water where they had slept the night before. The coals from the fire were still visible in the dark of the morning, and the entrance to the dome tent hung open and empty.
“Did you see her?” he asked. “Have you seen her this morning?”
I shook my head no. Danny stood over me, and when I moved to put on my shirt and pants he pushed me back down onto the tarp and held his hand over my throat. I’d been in plenty of fights at school—comes with being one of three Indian kids in Eagleville—and my father wasn’t ever against a little physical discipline. But this was the first time in my life that my brother had put a hand on me in anger, and it scared hell into me.
“Goddamn it, Charles,” he hissed into my face. “Tell me where she is.”
I shook my head again, and he let his hand off and stood up.
“I don’t know where she is,” I managed to get out, trying to hold back from crying. That picture still comes to me sometimes, of his thin face and long Indian nose, no real look of recognition at all.
“I’m sorry, Charles,” he said. “I shouldn’t have done that. I really shouldn’t have done that. But you have to help me find her. Will you do that?”
“Sure,” I said.
She had disappeared in the middle of the night. Danny had heard her unzip the tent and guessed she went out to the bathroom. When he had woken up in the morning she still hadn’t returned.
We spent the next two hours searching the area around the lake, our yells echoing across the canyon of the creek and up into the crags above us. Danny was frantic, near tears, stumbling across pitches of scree. By the time the sun was fully up we’d searched the entire lake basin and climbed the nearest peak to get a better view of the area. We sat for a moment on a crumpled basalt outcropping. I tried to think of where the girl might be, but another question kept coming in until finally I asked it out loud.
“What happened to her parents?” I asked. Danny continued to scan the slopes on the south side of the lake, and I thought that maybe he hadn’t heard me.
“Is it like Russ Hanks said?” I asked again. “That the man was shot when he was asleep?”
“Yeah,” He said it like I’d asked him if he’d fed the dog that morning. He kept searching the pines and scrub brush around the lake. “The old man was asleep.”
Lana Thomas was stretched out on a sleeping bag outside the dome tent, asleep, when we got back to the camp. When Danny shook her awake she looked at him like he was crazy, said she couldn’t sleep and had gone out for a walk. She kissed him once with that crooked tooth and that was that.
We drove back home late that afternoon, just Danny and I, neither of us saying much. We’d left Lana Thomas with the dome tent, our mother’s winter blankets, and all the extra food we’d brought along.
Our father gave us hell for taking the International when we got home, just like I expected. He took his belt to Danny until our mother told him to stop, but Danny was good to his word. He took the belt and when it was over he went into his room and locked the door. None of us saw him until after noon the next day, and I wonder still if he didn’t find a way back out to Massacre Creek during the night.
It was around then that we began to get news of the lion that had come into Bill Akerson’s place. There were plenty of mountain lions in the Warners, and farmers were used to losing a lamb or two if the winter had been especially harsh. But something like this was unusual, nine head killed in a single night and none of it seemed to be eaten at all, as if they were killed for sport. Some of the older ranchers remembered similar slaughters, and speculated that it was a mother lion teaching its cubs to hunt. Whether out of true fear or just out of boredom, some of the older women pointed at the plaque at the base of Massacre Creek, and then at the posters of the girl with the different colored eyes, and said that was the spirit of the old Paiutes killed at Bidwell or some other nonsense about Indian hobgoblins. Of course the Staties had already been up to Bidwell to harass every male Indian on the res about the last time they were in Gerlach, or if they knew anything about the whereabouts of the girl Lana Thomas, so I guess if there was such thing as Paiute ghosts maybe they would have killed a couple sheep just for the sport of it.
“We’ve got half the county looking for a dead girl, and the other half looking for a ghost cougar,” my father said a few nights later, over the top of a Coors. “Russ Hanks says he hasn’t hardly slept in four days. Going to be up here in Eagleville tomorrow,” he said towards the kitchen. “Wants to stop by for dinner, Shawna.”
“Sure,” my mother said from the other room. “Think I ought to de-thaw that lamb leg for him?”
My father laughed his old Indian laugh, as my mother liked to say. He handed me his empty can and sent me into the kitchen for another. “Don’t think so. Sounds like with the Akerson ranch he’s been dealing with enough lamb to last him ‘til Easter.”
Danny had been different since the day we left Lana Thomas with the tent up at the top of Massacre Creek. I’d say it was the whipping, but he’d become suddenly quiet, less jumpy since the morning when Lana had reappeared at the lake. I still don’t think his change in temperament was from the whipping so much as it was from the fact that Lana had disappeared the night before. In fact, he never once mentioned the belt, or our father for that matter, in those few days after we’d returned from Massacre Creek. But one night he cornered me in the space between the garage and the house and held me up against the wall as if he was going to nail me to it.
“That night at the camp. The night when Lana took off,” he said, not bothering to lower his voice. I looked at him like he was crazy, which I guess he might have been by then. “Did she come to you? Did she come to you when you were in your bag?”
“No, Danny,” I said, shaking my head, expecting him at any moment to bring a fist down against my temple, onto my eye. “She never came over.”
“Did you hear anything that night? Did you hear a truck engine, or see any lights? Tell me, damn it, before I beat your ass, Charles. I swear I’ll do it.”
“No, I didn’t hear any damn truck,” I yelled back, pushing at his hands on my collar. “Don’t you think I would’ve said something when we were looking for her?”
He let go of me and leaned back against the house to think.
“Maybe you are jackrabbit dumb, like everybody says,” I said.
“What did you say to me?”
I didn’t know who this boy was, this crazed Indian that had me cornered against the garage. He didn’t seem a bit like my brother Danny. I didn’t say anything back, just pushed past him and out towards the house.
“It’s not true, Charles,” he said after me. “What they say. They don’t have a fucking clue.”
Danny took off back to the camp that night, the same night that Sue Hellard’s mare was mauled by the cougar—something the old hens in Eagleville still like to point out when they talk about the great Paiute demon Danny Thursday. I heard his window slide open, and then the creak of the International’s door shutting, and finally the firing of the engine and my father’s swearing from behind my parents’ dark bedroom door. I’d never seen my parents so upset, my mother worried and my father sweating with anger, but the whole time Danny was gone I found myself thinking not about Danny, but about Lana Thomas. I had taken one of the posters from the light post in front of Paige’s Grocery the day we came back from Massacre Creek, and in my room with the door closed I’d unfold the poster and think about Lana Thomas’ lips just under my ear, the way she’d walked naked into the lake, the single light eye that seemed to be always on me.
When Danny came back the next day he didn’t try to offer any sort of apology or explanation. I expect my father would have taken the belt to him until his arm fell off if he didn’t know Russ Hanks was due over for dinner an hour later. I was setting the table for my mother when Danny pulled me out of the kitchen and into his room. When he closed the door behind him I noticed that he’d packed up his camp pack again, and that his dresser drawers were open and mostly emptied out. Danny sat down on the bed and began tugging at the back of his hair, another of his nervous tics.
“We’re going to go, Charles,” he said, not looking me in the eye. “Tomorrow night. I’m not supposed to tell you where.”
There wasn’t much to say to that. I never even thought to talk him out of it. Rather, the only thing I could think of was a question.
“You going to take me with you?” I asked. I couldn’t picture a day without Danny. Still can’t, even though I haven’t seen him fifteen times in the last thirty years.
He shook his head. “No, Charles. Can’t take you with us. Wouldn’t be a good idea for you.”
I sat down on the floor and began to pick at the shag carpet, looking at the row of broken arrowheads that lined the bottom rack of a bookshelf.
“But I need you to do something for me,” he said, looking at me straight. “Tonight. They’re not going to let me out of their sight,” he said, nodding towards the kitchen. “I need you to take a couple things up to the camp, Charles.”
I picked one of the obsidian points from the bookshelf and turned it over a few times, scratching the jagged glass tip along the palm of my hand.
“Will you do it, Charles?” he asked. “Will you do this one thing?”
I didn’t answer back.
“Good, Charles,” he said. “Good.”
He took something out from under his bed, wrapped in an old kitchen cloth. Before he unwrapped it I knew what it was, even then, at twelve years old. In the years since I got hired on as the First Paiute Deputy in Modoc County, I’ve had a couple days here and there where I sit in for Frank McGee at the evidence locker over in Alturas. And every time, first thing I do is go back to the locker marked “1981” and pull out the box labeled “State v. Thursday.” Inside a big zip-lock, the kind you’d freeze three or four steaks in, there’s still that same green kitchen cloth wrapped around our grandfather’s old .38 revolver. The bag’s marked “State’s Exhibit B-18,” and I take the gun, still wrapped in the cloth, and hold it in my hand just like I did that day when Danny handed it to me in his room, just as Russ Hanks knocked at the front door.
“You’ll take these up to her tonight, right?”
“Sure, Danny,” I said. I felt the folded poster inside my pants pocket and thought of Lana Thomas naked in the lake.
“You’ll push the quad out to the highway. They’ll never know you left.”
From the kitchen our mother called Danny to come out. “Take my pack to your room now. Tell Lana to be ready by noon tomorrow, OK?”
Before I could answer, he had already opened the door and walked out across the living room towards the kitchen. He didn’t have to wait; we both knew the answer I’d give. Yes, Danny. Yes. Yes. Yes.
We never ate the dinner my mother cooked up that night. It was a roasted chicken and a green bean casserole that sat uneaten in our refrigerator for the next week, until finally my father scraped the whole dinner into the garbage. Instead, Russ Hanks talked to Danny and my father in the kitchen for nearly three hours. I sat with my mother on the front porch as she smoked one cigarette after the other and I threw a blackened old tennis ball for my father’s German wirehair. From behind the kitchen door we couldn’t hear many of the words, just Russ’s inflection as he asked Danny question after question. When Russ left it was well past dark and my mother had finished the last of her cigarettes an hour before; he nodded to both of us before climbing in his squad car and driving back south on the highway towards Gerlach.
Inside, Danny and my father were exactly where we had left them at the kitchen table, but it was as if they’d each been dragged around the world in that last three hours. It was obvious that Danny had been crying, and my father sat with a drawn look, his face wrinkled up like an old paper bag.
“Go to bed, Charles,” he said. Neither of the two men looked up at me as I passed. When I arrived at the doorway to my bedroom I turned back towards the kitchen. My father had drawn his chair next to Danny’s, and he had his arms around my brother’s slim shoulders, pulling him close. My mother’s face was in her hands behind them, and my father was kissing the top of Danny’s head. That was the last time we were all together without a set of bars between us.
I lay awake in bed for an hour after the last light in the house went out, and then I dressed and shouldered Danny’s pack. I took the revolver, still wrapped in the kitchen cloth, and zipped it into the top pocket of the pack, then carried my boots until I was behind the garage. As Danny had told me to, I pushed the machine out the quarter mile to the highway before jumping the engine.
The trip up the fire road to the Massacre Creek campground went much quicker on the quad than it had a few days before, even though I was traveling at night. The moon was close to full, and the quad dipped quickly into the cracks and ditches where the International had bogged down. For the hour it took me to get to the camp my mind was between two places, at one time down in the dark house where my brother slept, while at the same time up at the camp I was riding towards. I imagined Lana, somehow still naked as I had seen her that first night with Danny, her eyes glowing brown and green at the edge of the lake. I imagined her surrounded by animals, by a pair of cougars, the limbs of lambs and cattle and men scattered at her feet, and behind her I imagined the ghost of the basco that was killed by the Paiutes a hundred years before, his sheepdog dead at his feet. All this I imagined as I climbed the fire road, up and up until finally I reached the crest that looked down onto the lake, and there was only dark.
I parked the quad next to the tent by the lake, and shouted her name a couple times. But the mountains at night made my voice small, made me uncomfortable, and so I built up a small fire in the fire ring, just to keep busy. I wondered if the cat that had taken Bill Akeson’s sheep might have taken Lana Thomas too, and part of me wanted that to be the case. That if she was only gone then nothing would happen to my brother. I still find myself thinking that, even though I know it’s not the case. Once a ball like that is set in motion there’s no way to stop it. It’s not a whole lot different than it was in the old days, when old Sam Thursday and the white men got their posse together to burn down the village at Bidwell. The law won’t allow something like that to just stop on its own; they’ve got to fire a couple guns, get their teeth wet too.
Once the fire kicked up I threw on a couple of the larger splits that Danny had stacked up—seemed like the stack had hardly been touched since we’d been there last—and when the heat of the fire and the summer night air got to me I took off my shirt and jeans and waded out into the lake. The water was all runoff, melted down from the little cirque at the top of Massacre Peak by that afternoon’s sun, and the cold tightened my calves and tingled the tips of my fingers. I can’t recall what exactly I was thinking about as I floated out in that little lake in the mountains. Some place I probably knew something was going to happen to my brother—either Russ Hanks or Lana Thomas—either one meant losing him.
I heard the sound of the tent’s door unzipping and then zipping, and in the light of the fire and the moon I saw the small, purposeful figure of Lana Thomas, still wearing those cut off jeans and one of my father’s old T-shirts. She moved like an insect over to the quad, opening the drawstring on Danny’s camp pack and setting the contents out in the grass and pine needles. The last thing she took out was the gun wrapped in kitchen cloth, which she placed on the seat of the quad. Strange, thinking about it now, the way that girl held the gun that killed her mother, as if it were nothing more than metal wrapped in cotton.
“That you out there, Danny?” she said.
I didn’t say anything back, just stood shivering in the black mountain water. She stood at the water’s edge, pulled my father’s shirt over her head, and then slid down out of her jean shorts. The flickering camp light made her pale body a topography of shadows, and I stared as hard as I could into each one. She slid into the water without so much as flinching at the cold, and in a couple of strokes was out next to me in the chest deep water.
“Hi Charles,” she said. She was close enough that our legs touched as we both treaded there in the lake. She pushed herself up even closer, so that her tits grazed up against my chest. She reached her small hand down my side, then slid it under the elastic band of my briefs. “I knew it was you, you know,” she said. The whole time she was talking she was running her hand over me, back and forth under the black surface of the lake. “I was watching you from the other side of the lake.”
She leaned in further, took my hand in hers and pushed it down between her legs, kissed the place just under my ear again. Her wet hair gave off the smell of sage and wild onions, and she breathed low and rolling as I went off into the lake. She was more than my first kiss, you see. Lana Thomas was the beginning and the end of everything.
That’s not something I ever told Russ Hanks when he came to interview me the next day, or that I told the Staties or the DA when they talked to me after that. I’ve looked through a whole copy of the investigation file that they keep down in the evidence locker in Alturas, too, next to the boxes of plastic bags containing our grandfather Sam Thursday’s .38 wrapped in our kitchen towel, empty brass casings recovered from the trailer in Gerlach where Lana Thomas’s mother and her boyfriend were shot, envelopes with pictures of their bed sheets all tangled up in dried blood. I’ve read through the transcripts of all four interviews the investigators conducted with Lana Thomas, where she tells them that it was Danny’s idea to shoot her mother and the man, that it was Danny that fired the .38, that Danny had forced her to the camp up in Massacre Creek. And only once does she mention me, in all those pages of transcript. Just that I came up to drop off some food the night before Danny was arrested and I led them to Massacre Creek.
“They’re talking to Danny,” I said as I followed her out of the lake, back towards the fire. If I was afraid of Lana Thomas before I came to the camp, I was terrified of her now. I felt guilty each time I stole a look at her drying her pale body off in the smoke of the campfire, and I wanted nothing more than to be away from that place, to be back in the house in Eagleville with my parents and my brother. She gave me a look like I had told her something of no importance at all, as if I’d told her that the Giants had beat the Dodgers in extra innings that afternoon. “I have to go back home,” I tried again. “Danny said to be ready by noon tomorrow.”
She had pulled one of our winter blankets from the tent and stretched out to full length on it, little embers popping from the fire and burning grain-sized holed down into the batting.
“See you later then, Charles,” she said, before rolling towards the fire and closing her eyes sleepily.
Russ Hanks and the rest of the Modoc County Sheriff’s Department showed up for Danny at seven the next morning, after they’d made a match on the fingerprints lifted from the trailer in Gerlach. My father had made Danny sleep on the floor of my parents’ bedroom, but when we heard the knock at the door he made a run out the back window. I was still in my underwear when I ran out to the front porch and found a dozen officers, all with their side arms drawn. He made it a hundred yards out into the alfalfa pasture before they caught up to him, his brown shirtless body running for all hell towards Massacre Creek, as far as I could tell.
When they dragged him back to the cruisers parked in front of our place he had dirt and twigs mixed up in his black hair, and the left side of his face was scraped up pretty good. My father was standing on the porch with his hands on his head, trying to figure out what had gone wrong with his boy, and my mother sat on the front step smoking.
Russ let us say goodbye before they packed him into the back of the cruiser. My dad just went back into the house without saying anything at all.
“Tell your brother you love him, Charles,” my mother said. I don’t think I’d ever told him that before in my life, and I don’t believe I’ve said it since.
“It’ll be fine,” he said. “Just don’t say anything, Charles.”
But I did say something. I said plenty. As soon as the squad car pulled away I told Russ Hanks about the two trips up to Massacre Creek, about how the girl Lana Thomas was there with our winter blankets and with Sam Thursday’s revolver. An hour later I was riding between my father and Russ in a county truck, leading a string of police up the fire road to the camp at Massacre Creek. Even thirty years later I’m not sure why I took them up there. Whether it was because I was worried about my own hide, or whether it was because they had Danny now and it was all over anyway, or even if it was just because I wanted to see Lana Thomas one more time, to come over that last rise and see her naked at the water’s edge.
When we arrived at the camp she was just where I’d left her the night before, curled into the blanket next to the fire circle. If she was surprised to see a half dozen police cars she didn’t show it; an officer and a paramedic rushed over to her, and the officer put his jacket around her small shoulders.
I didn’t see her after that for another twelve years, until my third year as a deputy. I looked her up in the database, saw she’d had a record of petty thefts and a couple paraphernalia charges, that she was living two hours north in Redding. On a slow afternoon I drove the hundred miles up the Five to the address listed on the database. I sat in my squad car outside a run down blue company home for almost an hour, until I saw a car pull up with a Mexican woman and three kids, and in the seat next to her was Lana Thomas. I watched her walk into the house, tried to see those two colored eyes.
After ten minutes I drove the squad car down the block in front of the house that held Lana Thomas. When I knocked on the door I saw the blinds in the living room part, and then a minute later Lana Thomas opened the door. There was a cigarette leaning off that same crooked canine, and for a moment it was like we were standing back out in the lake at Massacre Creek.
“Something I can help you with, Officer?” She was careful to keep the door wedged shut, so that I could see little of the room behind her. The Mexican woman held one of the children in her lap on the couch and watched us.
“I’m looking,” I started. I hadn’t planned what I would say, and so I used the first name that came to mind. “I’m looking for Bob Packard, ma’am.”
She regarded me carefully, said nothing.
“Does a Robert Packard live here, ma’am?”
She shook her head no, dragged from her cigarette. She looked past me, out towards the squad car with its Modoc County emblem on the doors, and then seemed to study my face more carefully.
“Yeah, I thought it might have been you,” she said. She dragged again from the cigarette and let the door swing open a little wider. Children’s toys were littered across the floor, and the television was playing a cooking channel. “How’s your brother?”
She said it just like that, like we’d all gone to high school together.
“In prison,” I said.
She nodded her head. “Something I can help you with, then?”
“No,” I said. I took a step back from the house. “I guess not.”
She began to close the door when I stopped her.
“Where were you going to go?” I said. “Danny said that you two had a plan. Where were you and Danny planning on running off to?”
She exhaled smoke from her nose in a way that could have been part laugh.
“Go?” she said. “Shit, Charlie. I wasn’t going any place with your brother. Only place I was trying to get to was out of Gerlach.”
Five years ago I got the news that Danny had died in prison from an infection that made its way into his blood. There was a small article in the Eagleville Weekly about his death, recounting the murders in Gerlach and how the authorities had been led to the kidnapped girl by his brother, Charles Thursday.
We buried him out at the Eagleville Cemetery. It’s a small plot, and Danny ended up next to my dad’s dad, old Sam Thursday. Only a couple of my mother’s friends showed up, and my dad and I each tried to say a couple nice things about Danny, but neither of us are great talkers. Afterword, a few folks, including old Russ Hanks, stopped by the house to have a beer or try a couple of the dishes my mother had put out, but by five that evening everyone had gone and the three of us were left alone in the house again.
For a few days after the funeral the women at the Country Hearth dusted off their old legends about Danny. The ranchers might have even watched their animals a little more closely, half-expecting Danny’s ghost to come back in the form of a cat to tear into their livestock. But the days passed, and no animals were found dead, and eventually the memory of my brother Danny and the girl Lana Thomas faded off again.