Lucky Day

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Lucky Day Page 6

by Barry Lyga

  G. William shrugged. “It grows back.”

  “For now. If the pictures of my momma’s daddy are any indication, I’m looking at losing it all sooner or later.”

  “There are worse fates.”

  G. William said it lightly, but as soon as the words were out of his mouth, they took on heft and density. They thudded into the center of the table and lay there, leaden and unmoving.

  Maribeth brought another round. G. William was on his way to being drunk now, and that was just fine.

  There are worse fates.

  Fucking hell.

  “Two girls dead,” G. William whispered. “Two of my girls. My people, Billy. Dead. And I got nothing.”

  Billy leaned forward. Jesus, but his eyes were intense! G. William felt like someone was giving his soul a root canal. “Listen to me, Gareth William Tanner. Fate comes in and sweeps us all like a big broom, you hear? And the dust goes flyin’ and it lands where it lands, and we get no say in the matter.”

  “Sweep in the new, eh?”

  Billy pshawed. “That idiot from Calverton? He’s no lawman. Not like you. He’s a…a…he’s a—what’s the word I’m looking for?” Billy snapped his fingers repeatedly with disproportionate urgency. “What’s the word? Starts with D.”




  Billy guffawed, but the humor never touched his eyes. “No. Come on.”

  “Dickhead,” G. William growled, and it felt good to say it out loud.

  “Dilettante!” Billy shouted, so loud that the word carried above the bar’s sound system and folks paused to glance their way for a moment. He slapped a triumphant palm on the table. Fortunately, their drinks were nearly empty. “Dilettante! He’s a goddamn dilettante. Sheriff is just one more bullet point on his résumé. Stepping-stone to something bigger. Not like you, Sheriff. You’re dedicated. This office means something to you.”

  G. William was feeling blurry at this point, and Billy’s words hit him harder than he would have imagined possible. “Thanks, Billy,” he said quietly. “I just wish I could have…”

  Dead Girl One and Dead Girl Two swam before his eyes for a moment. Somewhere in the current, Maribeth delivered another beer, and G. William lunged for it.

  “Wish I could have…”

  Leaning in some more, Billy said—in a conspiratorial tone—“My daddy used to say something to me, back when he was still with us. Used to say: ‘Ain’t no shame in losing to a better man.’”

  “You think Mr. Sweep-in-the-New is a better man?”

  Billy paused just long enough that G. William began to wonder what was going on. Then Billy cackled, “Hell, no!” and they clinked glasses again.

  “Glad someone’s still got faith in me,” G. William said.

  “This sick SOB can’t avoid you forever,” Billy said with verve. “You got more than my faith, Sheriff. You’ve got my vote.”

  Chapter 8

  G. William awoke the next day on his sofa, which was better than the bathtub, but most disturbing of all was that he couldn’t remember how he’d gotten home. His car was missing from the driveway, so at least he hadn’t risked killing someone on his way home. His head throbbed with hangover excellence, and his eyes wanted to scrub themselves clean.

  A note on the end table told the tale, written in a scrawl that was not G. William’s own.

  “Sleep well, Sheriff,” Billy Dent had written. “PS: Your secret’s safe with me.”

  “Good for me,” G. William muttered, and headed for the shower.

  As if the hangover weren’t enough, the day also dawned with Weathers’s blog finally getting some traction. As G. William shaved and dressed for the day with CNN on, he heard the unmistakable voice of Doug Weathers. Peering out from the bathroom, he beheld Weathers blathering over a chyron that blared TERROR IN A TINY TOWN!


  No one in the office—no one in town—would have gainsaid G. William if, less than a week before the election, he’d taken the day off. But he was damned if he would slink off into the night. No, if he was going away, he would do so on his own terms. And he would leave the incoming sheriff with every possible scrap of information about the murders in Lobo’s Nod.

  He drove his county-issued sedan to the office, making a mental note to pick up his car from Roscoe’s later, then spent a good part of the morning typing up his notes, translating his chicken scratch into the computer so that someone else could use them. Then he wrote up a carefully detailed and annotated description of how he’d come to the realization that both Dead Girl One and Dead Girl Two had been killed by the same man. He would not announce this information before the election. Not out of a sense of self-preservation—his loss was foreordained, barring a miracle—but rather so that the new sheriff could make the discovery public and begin his term at a running start. It was the least G. William could do for the community, he felt.

  By noon, he was feeling less hungover, slightly more alert. On a whim, he decided to log into the FBI’s ViCAP computer system. It was out of a sense of completeness, more than anything else. When Sweep-in-the-New swept into office and asked, smugly, “And did you run it by the feds?” G. William wanted to be able to say, “Yes. Yes, I did.”

  He spent the better part of the afternoon meticulously filling out the questionnaire in between the usual interruptions from his deputies and support staff.

  Never expecting the three words that eventually popped up on his screen and changed his life.


  G. William blanched when he saw the words.

  The Hand-in-Glove Killer. Famous from a few years back. Killed his way through part of the Midwest before disappearing. He’d murdered some way back, then went away for a little while, then came back to do more.

  Usually, when serial killers vanish, it’s because they’ve been arrested for something else—the caesura in their depredations is enforced by the coincidence of their incarceration. The world assumed Hand-in-Glove had been locked up somewhere and rotted in a prison cell in Kansas.

  But he’s here. He’s here in the Nod.

  The details of the cases had slipped from G. William’s memory over the years, though the killer’s odd name had not. But reading through the ViCAP report, he found himself recalling them easily.

  Hand-in-Glove liked blonds, with six of his seven victims being blonds not much older than the dead girls of Lobo’s Nod. One had been younger—only fifteen years old.

  And he had switched the undergarments.

  The bra from Victim Two found on Victim Six. The panties from Victim Seven on Victim One. He’d killed them, hidden some of the bodies, no doubt revisiting them to reexperience his crimes. They’d been recovered out of order—years, in some cases—and it had taken the FBI months to reconstruct the chronology of the murders. There was a note in the ViCAP file that an FBI agent named J. Morales was to be contacted with any new information.

  G. William’s hand trembled on the computer mouse. Did he have new information? Was Hand-in-Glove really stalking the Nod?

  He didn’t want to believe it. He wanted to believe it was a copycat. But the swapping of undergarments had apparently not been released to the public. A copycat wouldn’t know to do that.

  What are the odds of two perverts killing the same kind of girl and swapping their skivvies? For real.

  It boggled the mind. The idea that a serial killer—and one who’d gotten some national exposure, too—could be living in the Nod. Somewhere, the spirit of old Étienne LeBeau was no doubt looking up from hell and cackling with approval.

  So, what now, Gareth?

  The answer was as obvious as it was impossible: He should contact this Special Agent Morales. He should notify the state police and start up a task force.

  And how do you suppose that’s gonna look? Right before the election? You suddenly tell everyone you have a lead and the cases are linked and the killer happens to be the bogeyman of the Midwe
st. It’s gonna look like you’re trying to grab the election at the last minute. Like you’re desperate to hold on to this chair, this desk.

  By the same token, though, he couldn’t do nothing. That was a complete abrogation of his duty, of his sworn oath.

  What did he have to go on, anyway? Panties. Panties and blond hair and three words.


  He would call Special Agent Morales. That was what he would do. He would call Morales, and the man would either laugh his ass off at the hick from the sticks or maybe it would be something more. Then let the FBI announce it. Let them handle the press.

  His hand was halfway to the phone when a knock at the door distracted him. Hanson poked his head in.

  “Sheriff? You wanted me to give you a lift when I was off duty?”

  Right. He’d asked Hanson to drive him to Roscoe’s to retrieve his car.

  Special Agent Morales could wait a half hour, he decided. “Let’s go.”

  His car was in the parking lot at Roscoe’s, right where he’d left it the night before. He thanked Hanson for the ride, then went to unlock the driver’s side. As he did so, Maribeth slipped outside for a smoke break.

  “Evenin’, Sheriff.” She blew a cool ring into the darkling air.

  With a scowl, G. William leaned against his car’s roof. “You better get a grip on your customers, Maribeth.”

  Shocked, she almost forgot to exhale. “What do you mean?”

  “You had no business lettin’ Billy Dent get behind a wheel last night. You can bet I’m gonna talk to Roscoe about—”

  “What are you talking about?” Maribeth’s lower lip trembled, but G. William had seen better criers in his line of work.

  “A customer gets lit up like he did, like I did, you don’t let ’em behind the wheel. Just common sense, Maribeth. For God’s sake.”

  She flicked ash from the cigarette, her hand shaking just a bit. “But…but Billy wasn’t drunk! He was stone-cold sober! I swear.”

  “Don’t give me that. I outweigh him by a hundred pounds, and the man matched me drink for drink.”

  “Right.” Her head bobbed in eager agreement. “His usual. All Billy has is tonic with a spritz of cola and some grenadine. That’s all he ever has.”

  G. William stared into the middle distance for so long that he didn’t even realize Maribeth was openly weeping now. “I need this job, Sheriff. Please, I didn’t mean to do anything wrong. He was sober and he said—”

  Abashed, G. William harrumphed and came around the car to take her hands in his own. He cooed apologies and reassurances to her until she’d settled down, then shifted his frame behind the wheel of his car.

  Billy had been sober last night.

  Why did that surprise him so much? Why did it matter?

  He kept ordering rounds for us. It was like—


  It was like he was trying to get me drunk.

  Men get women drunk to get into their pants. Why would a man get another man drunk?

  “Ain’t no shame in losing to a better man.”

  It floated up from the previous evening’s (half-)drunken confab.

  “Ain’t no shame in losing to a better man.”

  Why did he even say that? Billy had said he didn’t think Mr. Sweep-in-the-New was a better man. He’d called him a dilettante. Why had he said…

  Unless he wasn’t talking about my opponent.

  “Ain’t no shame in losing to a better man.”

  Why had he said it? And why was it bothering G. William so much? He sat in the car, the door still ajar, his hands gripping the steering wheel as he focused mightily.


  G. William swallowed hard. No. It was impossible. Not Billy Dent. Not the goddamned father of the year, aw-poor-single-dad, oh-my-look-at-him-ladies Billy Dent!

  He gunned the engine and drove back to the sheriff’s office. By the time he arrived, he’d convinced himself how wrong he was. Dead-dog wrong, his father used to say. As in, “You think that dead dog can hunt? You ain’t just wrong, boy—you’re dead-dog wrong.”

  Billy Dent could not be the Hand-in-Glove Killer.

  He sat in his office, the door closed, the only light coming from the ancient desk lamp. Other than Loralynn out at the reception desk, he was alone. Everyone else was on patrol or on a call.

  So he said it out loud: “Billy Dent cannot be the Hand-in-Glove Killer.”

  He felt ashamed when he heard the words, the suspicion. He thought of how he’d had Hanson dig into Henry Reed, how they both now knew the man was an alcoholic. It wasn’t his job to know that about an innocent man, but he did.

  And he thought of his own secret investigation of Doug Weathers. Pulling strings and skulking around. Plotting every damn grocery trip the man made with that GPS bug on his car.

  You’ve crossed the line too many times already. And you can’t even say you did it with pure intentions because admit it, old man—you would have cackled yourself into a coronary if Doug Weathers had killed those girls.

  And now he was suspecting Billy Dent! Billy! The patron saint of Lobo’s Nod! It would make more sense to go with the old theory that Étienne LeBeau had come back from the dead.

  He glared at the corkboard, with its accusatory photos. The girls screamed, You failed us. You can’t get the job done.

  And he remembered…

  He remembered Billy Dent looking at that same corkboard. Calling it a goddamn shame.

  Meaningless. Yeah, some serial killers like to scope out the investigation, but he was just dropping off a cruller. Would have been weird if he hadn’t looked at the board. It’s right there, out in the open.

  But wait. Billy hadn’t come by just to drop off a cruller. He’d done that, sure, but he had actually been in the building to…


  The PBA donations. Hell.

  He told himself it was just to satisfy his curiosity. He told himself it was just one phone call. He told himself no one had to know and that he’d crossed the line already, so why not dance a jig on the other side?

  He called Hanson in his patrol car. “You remember when Billy came by to drop off the PBA donations?”

  “Sure, Sheriff.”

  “Doesn’t he usually just deposit it right in the bank account for you? We signed something a while back to let him make deposits, didn’t we?”

  Hanson hesitated before answering, as if weighing the pros and cons of his response. “Well, sure. I don’t get…he decided to drop by. What’s the big deal?”

  What’s the big deal? Ain’t no big deal, Hanson. Except that he decided to drop by to give you the donations, when you would just have to go deposit them, anyway.

  And he did this the day after we found Samantha Reed’s body.

  And he didn’t offer me the cruller when we were all jawing in the outer office. He waited until I came back in here.

  “No big deal at all,” G. William said, staring at the corkboard. “Just wondering.”

  “You sure?”

  “Yep,” G. William said as brightly as he could manage. He hung up and knew that he still had nothing even remotely approaching evidence, and he picked up the phone again.

  Chapter 9

  A few hours later, he pulled into Billy Dent’s driveway. It was fully dark now, but Billy had a series of lights along the driveway that allowed passersby to enjoy his perfectly manicured lawn even at night.

  G. William sat in the car as the engine cooled. A curtain had moved. Someone was in there and knew he was here.

  He didn’t want to knock on the door. Didn’t want to go inside.

  Now, Billy, I’m sure there’s an explanation for all of this.…

  No. Don’t start like that.

  He’d made some more calls. The coordinator of the Nod’s Little League. The folks who ran the FoodMobile. Other places.

  Billy had been unavailable each and every date matching the FBI’s dates for a Hand-in-Glove murder.

  No one could say
Billy was actually out of town. He was just “unavailable.” Maybe he was sitting at home, watching ESPN and drinking his nonalcoholic witches’ brew. That’s what G. William hoped. But whatever he’d been doing, he hadn’t been coaching a game or feeding the hungry. Not on those specific dates.

  Maybe he just didn’t feel good those days. Or he was on a date. Or he was taking care of his kid.

  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

  Maybe he was in Wichita, evading the FBI and raping a fifteen-year-old girl before murdering her.

  He wished he didn’t know these facts. He didn’t want to know them. Because if a town saint like Billy Dent could end up being a bad guy, what the hell kind of hope was there for anyone else?

  It couldn’t happen like this. It didn’t happen like this. You don’t catch someone like Hand-in-Glove on sheer dumb luck.

  Then again…criminals in general thought they were smarter than cops. And serial killers in particular were impressed with their own genius. And fascinated by their own legends. They were known to attach themselves to the investigations into their crimes.

  It had been no coincidence that Billy had been at Roscoe’s. He wondered how long Billy had been observing the investigation from afar, laughing his head off at G. William’s bumbling, until finally he had to sit across from him and spit in his face.

  It’s a good thing criminals are stupid, because cops ain’t very smart, an old boss of G. William’s had said once. But Hand-in-Glove was smart. You don’t go back to the scene of the crime ten years later and not get caught if you’re dumb.

  Or maybe he was just lucky, too. And the craps table has tilted, and the dice rolled in my direction for a change.

  The curtain in the front window had gone still and not moved since. He half expected Billy to come outside and ask what the hell the sheriff was doing loitering in his driveway.

  You gotta get out of this car and go into the house and talk to him. Man to man.

  His hand hovered near the radio. The sensible thing to do would be to notify Loralynn that he was at Billy’s house. Just in case. But then she’d want to know why and when he wouldn’t say, she would just blabber to people how wasn’t it mysterious that G. William was calling on Billy Dent for no reason and felt the need to radio it in? And the next thing you know…


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