To Hemlock Run, the mystery novel by James Boyle
The sequel to Deception Island brings Jason Reynolds and his friends against a new and even more powerful enemy: a corrupt and powerful legal system that takes no prisoners. This powerful mystery novel is one of James Boyle's most powerful works. A new example of his good mystery novels.
Read the opening scenes below:
The green and white highway sign said they were eight miles from Bosque, thirty-seven from Genoa, and a hundred-forty from Aberdeen.
They were almost there.
“This really is the middle of nowhere,” Lisa murmured, peering out the passenger window. “Isn’t it?”
They had climbed out of the Puget Sound Basin about an hour ago and were now driving through the heavily-forested southern foothills of the Olympic Mountains. Gone were the shopping malls, the housing developments, and the maddening traffic. Now they followed a narrow two-lane highway as it wound between dark masses of cedar and hemlock that threatened to swallow the patched asphalt. Even the occasional farm or ranch house seemed to be slowly losing its fight with the forest.
There was hardly any traffic. Most travelers to the coast took Hwy 12 farther south.
“You sure you want to do this?” Jason asked.
“We’ve already talked about this.”
Something appeared ahead on the side of the road. Jason slowed, eased left to go around the body of a doe lying halfway into the right lane.
Someone had tied a Mylar balloon to one of its feet. It read “Get Well Soon!”
Bosque, like many small towns in the timber lands of western Washington, was dying. It was slowly and steadily starving to death as its young people moved to the cities to find work and stayed there and their parents and grandparents grew old and died. There had been a time when Bosque’s businesses thrived, when traffic flowed thick on Main Street, but now only some of its older residents remembered those days. They had ended with the demise of the timber industry in the early 1980’s.
A carved wooden sign at the city limits called it “Gateway to The Olympics” in faded, peeling paint. Behind it, like a single tombstone, an old rusted wigwam burner was all that remained of an abandoned mill.
Jason slowed down to the posted speed limit and eased into town. He didn’t think a speed limit was even necessary. There wasn’t any traffic to speak of.
They passed through an area of mixed residential homes, some older, slightly worn frame houses, along with a few newer manufactured homes. The lots all seemed to be large. Chain-link fence was a common motif.
The business district was just sad. Three blocks of crumbling, red-brick buildings faced each other over the street, like monuments of a lost civilization. Nearly half the windows were soaped up, old signs fading away in the elements. Jason saw one for “Bosque Antiques,” another simply “Quiltshop.”
Weeds grew tall along the edges of vacant buildings.
“Nice place,” Lisa said, mostly to herself.
Jason couldn’t think of a worthwhile response.
A few businesses had hung on. They passed a small bank, a co-op grocery, a hardware store, and a saw shop. None seemed terribly busy for a Saturday afternoon.
A tavern called The Bent Nickel had a handful of cars parked in front and a neon Bud sign burning bright red in a dark window.
Midway down the next block a sign hung over the sidewalk on their left: City Center Café.
“There it is,” Lisa said.
“Good thing, too. We were about to run out of town.”
Jason pulled a U-turn at the next intersection and parked at the curb in front of the café. A late model Camry was parked in front of them. Beyond that, was a battered blue Ford F150.
They were the only cars parked on the block.
“Check out the window,” Lisa said.
One of the café’s two bay windows had been replaced with a sheet of plywood. The patch wasn’t brand new, but hadn’t been there long enough to weather. It was a week old, maybe two.
“Coincidence?” she asked.
He shrugged. It was possible, he supposed.
“How do you want to play this?” he asked as he shut the engine off.
Lisa frowned at him. “What do you mean?”
“What if she isn’t okay? What happens if something is very wrong?”
“Then we try to help her.”
“If we can.”
“Well, let’s do it then,” Jason said and climbed out of the car.
Jason walked around to meet Lisa on the sidewalk in front of the café. It was pleasantly warm in the sunshine, a slight breeze stirring the air. The Olympic Mountains loomed ghostly blue over the buildings across the street.
Jason held the door for Lisa, followed her into the café.
His first impression was surprise. For a town so obviously in decline, the interior was remarkably clean and modern. Booths upholstered in denim and blond wood lined the walls to either side, with framed historic photos spaced above. At the far end, he could see a stainless steel pass-through into the kitchen.
The air smelled of fried onions and bacon. Country music played softly in the background.
It was the middle of the afternoon, after lunch, but before dinner. Only two tables in the restaurant were occupied. A man in jeans and work boots read a paper at the table to the left of the door, under the remaining bay window. An elderly couple shared a slice of pie in a booth against the wall to the right.
“Hi.” A dark-haired young woman in jeans and tee shirt slid out of the booth nearest the kitchen. “Pick a place. Like some coffee?”
“Sure,” Jason said.
Helen clearly hadn’t recognized them. After all, they were probably the last people she’d expected to see today.
Neither he nor Lisa moved toward a booth. Lisa wouldn’t take her eyes off the young woman as she gathered menus, cups and a pot of coffee. Jason had only met Helen a few times, but this was clearly her. She was the same slender young woman with long, dark hair, who’d come over to Lisa’s for coffee or help on a paper.
He’d always thought she looked like a soccer player.
The man to their left noisily folded his newspaper.
Helen turned back to them. “Anyplace is fine—.”
The look on her face was the nearest thing to terror Jason had ever seen.
“Hi, Helen,” Lisa said.
“What are you doing here?”
Jason shrugged, smiled. “Road trip.”
“Yeah,” Lisa agreed. “I wanted to see how you were.”
“I’m okay,” Helen said. Her eyes darted to the man with the newspaper, then back. “Please, sit down.”
She directed them toward one of the booths closest to the kitchen—and farthest from the other customers—and urged them again to sit down. They did. It seemed important to her. Lisa took the side facing the kitchen; Jason slid in facing the door. The man with the newspaper was talking into a cell phone now.
Helen poured each of them a cup of coffee.
“It’s sweet of you to worry about me, but really I’m fine. I just need to help my parents for a while. I’ll probably be back next semester.”
“It was so sudden,” Lisa said.
“It was a quick decision.” Again, she glanced toward the man with the newspaper.
Jason did too. The man had put away his cell and again seemed intent on his newspaper.
“Friend of yours?” Jason asked.
Helen made a face. “I’d better warm up some coffees. Be right back.”
She left, tending to the elderly pie-eaters first.
“Something’s wrong,” Lisa whispered to Jason.
Jason nodded and made a show of picking up and examining his menu. Yeah, something was definitely wrong in Helen’s world, unless she was normally terrified at the sight of visiting friends. He watched now as she exchanged a few words with the newspaper guy as she filled his coffee.
Her body language was—strained.
“What do we do?” Lisa asked.
He didn’t know. They could hardly help someone who didn’t want their help. Or was too afraid to ask for it.
A few moments later, Helen returned to their table, sliding a ticket book out of her apron. “Decide on something? Mom makes the best burgers in town.”
Jason refrained from pointing out that they were probably the only burgers in town.
“We’d like to split a club sandwich,” Lisa told her.
Helen jotted this down.
Jason turned to glance back at the kitchen. He couldn’t see anyone beyond the narrow pass-through window. “Your folks do all the cooking?”
Helen all but winced. “Dad did until he broke his arm. It’s why I needed to come back. Mom needed help until he can cook again.”
“What happened to your dad?” Lisa asked. “Is he okay?”
“Yeah, but he’s—“
The street door opened and a man in the tan and brown uniform of a sheriff’s deputy stepped into the café and slid his sunglasses off. He was tall and built like a pro linebacker, with a powerful chest and biceps that strained the short sleeves of his uniform shirt.
Helen’s eyes dropped to her ticket book. “I’ll get Mom working on this.”
Without looking at the deputy, she turned, walked over to the pass-through and hung the ticket on the cook’s wheel. “Order up!”
The deputy didn’t seem to notice. He exchanged a few words with the newspaper guy as he passed, then the pie-eating couple, who looked up at him with smiles. The friendly neighborhood cop.
He nodded at Jason too as he slid into the booth across from them. He wasn’t smiling. “Passing through?”
Jason smiled. “What gave us away?”
“Don’t get many strangers in these parts. Not this time of year.”
Jason sipped his coffee. There didn’t seem to be anything to say in reply to that. Lisa was pointedly staring straight ahead.
Helen brought a cup to the deputy and poured him some coffee. She was so tense, Jason thought she’d pull a muscle. The deputy said something but was too quiet to hear.
“It’s nothing,” Helen told him. “I promise.”
He grabbed her arm at the wrist. Helen tried to pull her arm away, but there wasn’t much of an effort there, not that she’d be able to overpower him anyway. He outweighed her by probably a hundred pounds, all of it muscle. Again, he said something to her too quietly to be heard, but the tone made the hair on Jason’s neck stand on end.
Lisa looked at Jason like she thought he should be doing something.
Like what, Jason wondered, challenge him to a duel?
Stoneware clattered in the pass-through and a bell pierced the air.
Helen pulled away from the deputy, avoided Jason and Lisa’s gaze altogether, and hurried to pick up the sandwich. She set the platter down between them, along with a caddy of ketchup and mustard. The scent of hot French fries welled up between them.
“Can I get you anything else?”
Jason shook his head. “I think we’re good.”
Lisa was going to say something, but the pleading expression on Helen’s face stopped her. Instead, she just shook her head.
They ate their sandwich in silence. There wasn’t a lot to say, particularly with Deputy Friendly sitting in the next booth, lingering over his coffee. Helen busied herself, wiping off counters, filling backups, and tending to her customers’ coffee cups. Occasionally, she’d exchange a few quiet words through the pass-through with the woman cooking—her mother.
There was no sign of her father.
“It doesn’t feel right,” Lisa whispered to Jason. “Leaving her like this.” Her eyes flicked sideways toward the deputy.
Jason knew what she meant. But what could they do?
As they were about halfway through the sandwich, the elderly couple finished their pie and tottered over to the cash register. Helen met them there. She took their money, chatted a little, and then held the door for them as they left.
“What brings you to Bosque?” the deputy asked Jason. “It’s not exactly a tourist hotspot.”
“Just exploring,” Jason smiled. “We like to see the real country, not just the tourist one.”
“Well, it’s real here, that’s for sure. It can get very real here.”
Jason and Lisa exchanged a look. What did that mean?
“You ought to go over to Genoa though. That’s the next town south of here. It’s got the County museum and a real nice boardwalk down by the marina. There ain’t much to see around here.”
“Thanks,” Jason said. “We’ll probably do that.”
Lisa was mesmerized by the process of dipping a French fry into a pool of ketchup.
Nothing more was said until the sandwich was reduced to crumbs and they were getting ready to go.
“Let me get it,” Lisa told Jason as she dug her wallet out of her purse. She spoke quietly enough to not be overheard. “It will give me a chance to talk to her.”
“What are you going to say?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “‘Call me. Let me help.’ Something like that.”
Across the way, the deputy had spread some paperwork across his table. He seemed to be ignoring them. But he hadn’t left.
An idea struck her. Jason clearly saw it move across her face.
“Do you have any business cards on you?”
Silly question. He was a reporter; he always carried business cards. She knew that.
“Give me one.”
Jason did and watched Lisa scribble a short note on the back, along with her cell number. She then slipped the card between a ten and five dollar bill and set them on the lunch ticket. The sandwich and drinks came to just over twelve dollars. Helen would have to see the card when she made change.
“Nice,” Jason told her.
When Helen met them at the cash register, Lisa merely handed her the entire package. “The change is for you.”
Helen paused, barely met their eyes. “You don’t have to do that.”
“Just don’t share it with anyone else,” Lisa told her.
Jason smiled and followed Lisa out the door.