‹‹ Run Don't Run, an excerpt
Glimpsed through one of the lodge’s heavy, arching doorframes, the forest is exquisite. The door is propped open to the sun’s final rays–slanted almost sideways and filtered through the trees.
I am supposed to be making my way to the ballroom, but the light is fine and golden, and the scent is a thousand fallen, sun baked pine needles, and I walk out through the doorway. I ought to glide down the few slate stairs like a queen to her subjects, but the stone jumps up to meet my heels and I lurch down to the swatch of mossy grass. I have drunk more than I should. I right myself and walk more carefully across the grass, on my toes so my pointed heels don’t stake me to a stop.
A few more steps and I reach the woods that embrace the lodge on all sides, stretching up to meet Mt. Dwyer’s peak, barren, now in late August, and down to meet the valley which we drove through this afternoon. Through the wide, old trunks, I see the sun darting down here and there to meet the forest floor–otherwise it is dark and calm.
I step out of my glossy heels; the ground is spongy, cool. I drain the rest of my wine and let the glass drop beside the shoes. I extend my arms and let my fingertips brush the rough trunks. The breath I take is deep enough to make me realize I have been close to panting for days. I breath in again, and I am breathing everything in: the late august sun that already gives something of fall away in its heartbreaking brilliance, the smells of pine and fern and cold water, a white braid of mountain stream somewhere close? I listen for its flow and hear birdcall and the endless little clicks and pulses of some things growing while others rot.
I want to lie down on the forgiving ground and maybe I am about to, there is a shiver to my knees, but a voice calls out from behind me.
“Lil! What are you doing out here? I’m about to speak.”
I turn slowly. My husband is standing just on the edge of the grass; the sun makes him brilliant–white shirt, white teeth, silver-steaked hair.
“This is the forest they’re going to rip up to get their energy?” I call to him, waving my hand towards the trees.
He looks away. “No, the spot they are going to explore is down there, beyond the dam, and it’s not their energy, it’s everyone’s.” He bends and hooks up my shoes with his fingers, notices the wine glass, walks towards me. “Are you drunk?”
“Drunk?” Now I laugh. “Of course not.”
“Then why are you standing barefoot in the woods” he glances at the watch I bought him when he was elected governor, “three minutes before you are due to be standing by my side in the ballroom?”
“Being drunk might not be the only explanation for not wanting to stand by your side smiling,” I say, forming my words carefully. I do not want to slur.
I have been married to this man for fifteen years, and have learned that he can keep his face smooth and easy, even when that’s not how he’s feeling. But I have also learned to interpret the tiniest signs, like the blacks of his eyes snapping open now, and I know that if he could, he would grab my arm and march me back across the grass to where he believes I belong.
Instead he speaks in a tone lower and sweeter than the one he was using. “Honey, come on. We’ll get through this together, I promise.” And he does reach out and take my arm, but very lightly.
“No,” I say. “It won’t work this time Cy.” I wrench my arm from his grasp, which tightens as I pull away.
For a moment he just stands and looks at me, and I think that’s it’s unusual to see him still. “You’re different,” is all he says.
“Oh, Cy,” I say. “I’m just so tired of pretending.
“What are you going to do instead?”
“I don’t know Cy. I don’t know. Right now I’m going to walk into that ballroom with you, because I said I would, and I don’t know what else I can do. Give me my shoes.”
He hands them to me and I place them carefully side by side in the grass and step into them. I smooth the satin of my gown down my thighs and draw my body up tall, throwing my shoulders back and raising my chin. I do not take his arm, but this time I am the queen sweeping up the stairs, smile fixed, eyebrows arched. And if I am a little drunk, my consciousness sloshing back and forth inside my taut exterior, it will help me later, after the speech; these men–the developers and petty-politicians–like me better when I drink, when I can throw them a flirtatious smile, when I’m not the cold, quiet wife.
Down the hall and into the ballroom, my husband’s even footsteps sharp behind me. And here are the candles and flowers and bright lights on a little stage, the sweat sheen domes of balding heads, the hundreds of glasses of wine, half-emptied, shining deep red and buttery yellow.
Look side to side and smile, pause and let my husband catch me, take my arm, gently this time, and walk me smiling to the front of the room. The buzz of voices raising as we enter, then quieting as we approach the steps. Here is my daughter, cued to stand when we approach: Abby, so substantial suddenly, almost as tall as me, and pained but proud in her first strapless dress. I see her quick glance, from her father’s face to mine, wondering where we were, if all is well, and it pierces my heart and I tell myself I will never have another sip of wine, that I will find a way to extract her from this mess.
We three mount the stairs together, we have done this before, and as we turn to face the guests I find Abby’s hand and give it a small squeeze and feel her gently squeeze back.
Cy steps toward the podium. There is no microphone or notes; this is a small audience and he does not need to persuade them of anything, only thank them, and then wait for their thanks to roll in: small favors, large donations.
He hasn't been elected Governor for nothing though, he is a good speaker and so he smiles and begins in a conversational tone. “You know, when I was a boy, growing up in Portland, we used to call Mount Dwyer, The Other Mountain.” He pauses here, for the small swell of laughter which he knows will come, and does. “You all know what I mean, as in: not Mt. Hood. No skiing, no little town, not even much hiking. Mt. Hood’s poor little sister, as the Indian legend goes.”
For a moment I’m shocked that he has used Indian instead of Native American, but then I remember his listeners and know that he has done this intentionally.
“Not much up here but this old lodge. A reminder that years ago, there were hopes and dreams for Mt. Dwyer.”
I let me eyes lose focus, and listen to his voice. Even know I am caught up in the easy, masculine ebb and flow. This is the voice that wooed me.
“And now, now, those hopes and dreams are about to be realized. With some help from our friends at Bertram Energy,” he pauses again here, for the spatter of applause, “Mt Dwyer is poised to become…”
There is a popping noise, but very loud. Then there are screams and shouts. I hear Cy yelling, “Abby, down, down!” and watch him tackle our daughter to the ground beneath him. He looks up at me and yells again. “Get down!“
I scan the room, all around me people are diving to the floor, and somehow I am floating above them all. This is the moment we have all been trained to dread.
In the woods I wanted to fold, but now I stay upright, despite hearing my husband saying in a tight voice, “For god’s sakes Lil, get down!”
There are two men moving through the room towards the stage. One of them is holding a short, black gun, and waving it around him. They are both yelling, but there words are garbled, not coming to me clearly. Each is wearing a ski mask. One is short and stocky, the other taller and slim. I know they are coming for us, and I watch them.
They rush to the stage, and then they are on it, close to me, and they are looking back and forth, like frantic birds, and the one with the gun is gesturing too wildly with it. It is too close to my daughter. Now their words become understandable.
“That’s him, down there. She’s under him.”
“Get him up, get him off, grab her.”
The one without the gun is reaching down to Cy, the other one is talking still, “Get him off of her, we got to get out of here. Hurry, just grab her.”
They want my daughter, I realize. They want to take her. There is the one who has my husband’s shoulder and is trying to push him off of Abby, and the other one, who is talking at him, telling him what to do, the gun jittering in his hands, down towards Cy and Abby. I can just see Abby’s eyes, wide and white, over her father’s shoulder.
I step in front of the one with the gun. I feel the metal bush the satin of my dress. His face jerks up to mine, hidden by the black ski mask except for his eyes, which gleam out. This is the short one, we are eye to eye.
“What are you doing? Get out of the way!” he yells.
I shake my head. “No. I won’t let you take her.” My voice astonishes me. It is firm and clear.
“What the fuck, lady? Do you see this?” He jerks the gun up. “Do you want to get shot?”
There is something in his voice. It is panicky, on the edge of control. The kind of voice that is ragged from losing all peace and lashing out into anger. Whoever it is that owns this voice cannot have my daughter. Not my Abby. Not the girl quietly reading in the car on the way to the lodge this afternoon. I don’t think she has ever kissed a boy. This man cannot have her. He needs to know this.
I take a step towards him. Around us the room is quiet, baited, about to explode. My entire body is agitated to the point of shaking, but my voice is a quiet hiss. “You cannot take my daughter. Do you hear me? You cannot have her. You will have to kill me first. Do you know who I am? I am the governor’s wife. If you kill me you will be fucked forever. I will not let you get to her. Take me. You can have me. I will walk out of here with you right now. Walk right out, but I will not let you take her.” By the end of my words my face is close to him and I can see that his eyes are a clear, light blue. “Take me,” I say. “I’m just as good.”
He looks at me, I can see the thoughts behind the eyes, frantic, but quick. He glances to my face, looks me up and down, glances down behind me where I hear grunting and struggling and my daughter’s breathing, like a small trapped animal.
“Bird,” he says then, “Bird.”
The noises stop and I half turn to see Abby, Cy, and the other man looking up. Cy is red faced, Abby is terrified.
“Come on,” the man with the gun says. “We’re taking her instead.”
The man looks up to me from is position on the floor. “We’re supposed to get the girl.”
“Come on!” The man with the gun says louder. “This is his wife, look at her. They’re not going to let the girl go.”
Still, the one on the floor hesitates, looking from me to Abby and Cy. I see Cy tighten his arms around her.
“Come on man!” the one with the gun yells, “get the fuck up! We have to get out of here.”
The one called Bird stands then, and nods, and the other prods me in the stomach with the gun. “Come on, let’s go.”
I nod and get ready to move, and then hear Abby. “Mommy!” she calls. She has not called me mommy in years.
The gun veers towards her. “Shut up, little bitch,” the short one says.
“Abby be quiet!” I say. “Just be quiet. It will be fine.”
And then I am between the two of them, each with a hand on my arm, the gun pushing into my ribs, walking towards the back of the ballroom. There are people on the floor, cowering like animals, watching me leave. I pull myself up tall, again a queen, swept out of the room with an escort, except the tall one, Bird, drags us to a halt right before we are out of the room.
“What the fuck?” the other one says.
“The note. Did you leave the note?”
“Oh shit, no.” He rustles in the pocket of his wool jacket. “Here it is. We can’t go back though.” He pulls out a stiff white folded paper.
“Leave it here.” Bird grabs the note and puts it on one of the tables. Still set for dinner. “They’ll find it.”
As we leave the room, the shorter one raises the gun, and crack, crack it goes off close to my ear and there are some screams, and the short one yells something.
My ears are ringing from the gunshot and screams and we are out of the lodge’s wide front doors before I hear what he had yelled, “Your blood for our oil!”
The lodge is fronted with a gravel parking lot, dusty white with silt from melted snow. They pull me across it, and I stumble in my heels. They are headed towards a beat-up Subaru, it’s, and I feel a moment of sharp relief: if they are planning on driving out of here, we won’t get very far. The police are probably on the single, long winding rode up to the lodge already.
There are shouts and noises from behind me, and I crane by head to catch a glimpse of several men from the ballroom crowding out the door, red-faced and wild. The short one looks too, then arcs the gun around and shoots. He aims above their heads and the bullets rip into the old, wood of the lodge, but the men yell and duck down. The shooter gives a shrill laugh and shouts, “You want some more, motherfucker?”
“Fox!” the tall one barks, his fingers digging deeper in my arm and dragging us all forward. “Stop it, stop shooting, come on!”
Fox, I think, and watch him give one last look toward the crowd in the door, before turning and pulling me hard towards the car. “You wanted to go? Let’s go!”
Then all as shoving, shouting motion and the door is yanked open and I am thrown in the back between the two men–Fox and Bird they have already become to me.
The car careens and skids on the gravel before its wheels catch, and then there is the smooth of the asphalt road. I right myself and see that the car is being driven by a man with a shock of grey hair. He is watching the road, but yelling.
“Where’s the girl? Who is this?”
I see his eyes in the rearview, jumping from me to the road. His eyes are brown and set in a web of wrinkles.
“We couldn’t get the girl. The governor was on top of her. This is his wife,” Bird shouts.
The driver finds my eyes. “His wife?” he asks.
I nod. “The one and only.” I think that I should be scared, but I’m not. This can’t be real. Then I remember the gunshots and my daughter’s eyes.
“She’ll have to do,” the man says. “We’ll stick with the plan.”
The car veers wildly and I’m slammed against first one then the other man beside me. I can smell sweat, and cigarettes, and dirt.
“You gave him the letter?” the older man asks.
“Yeah,” Fox says quickly.
“Good,” the driver says, “Good.”
I’m thrown forwards this time, as he unexpectedly slams the breaks, stopping us in the middle of the road.
“Go,” he says, “Now. Now!”
Bird throws his door open, slides out, then turns and grabs my arm and pulls me after him. I feel Fox shoving from behind. They herd me off the road and into the woods and the Subaru accelerates down the road with a shriek.
“What are we doing?” I ask. “Where are we going?”
Fox pauses for a moment, he tightens his grip on my arm, digging his fingers in hard and then shakes me hard several times. “Shut up!” he says. “You don’t ask questions, do you hear me?” He raises the gun and shakes it at me.
“Come on!” Bird says, his voice urgent. “You heard him. We have to be quick!”
They march me straight into what seems to be thick, scrubby woods, but then I see that they are following a faint path through the trees. The sun is almost gone and the light is scanty. The trail is not wide enough to walk forward abreast, and I stumble along between them, Bird in front, Fox behind. The gun nudging my low back every few steps.
My shoes become a problem immediately. They have three inch heels, sleek and sharp, and I lurch like a drunken hooker, my ankles bending sideways.
“Wait,” I say. “My shoes!” For the first time I feel a tug of dread, but I stop walking, I can’t keep stumbling along like this.
I reach down and tug the heels off, my feet are swollen now and they don’t come off easy. “Ok.” I start to walk again.
“She can’t just leave them here,” Bird says.
“Pick them up,” Fox snaps, pushing the gun into my back hard.
I reach down and grab the shoes, hold one in each hand by their delicate heels, and follow Bird barefoot. For a moment I see myself in the mirror at the shoe store, swiveling this way and that.
Maybe five minutes later I hear sirens wailing from behind us, and picture a pack of police cars speeding up the road. I have to stop myself from screaming out for them, they wouldn’t hear me. We all pause and listen to them fade, then keep going.
The ground begins to slope down now, first gently, then more steeply. Bird turns to me. “Careful,” he says.
But there really is no way to be careful, I keep walking, every step down a question. The woods are quiet and I listen to the men’s rapid breathing–too rapid, I think, they are scared.
After a few more minutes of slithering down, Bird slows, then stops. “Just a minute,” he says in a low voice, he pauses, looks around slowly. It’s almost too dark to see anything. “Ok, come on,” he says and I follow him more slowly, feeling roots and rocks beneath my feet now. Then I realize I smell water. When I listen, I hear a flat silence.
When he says, “Stop. We’re here,” It takes me a moment to see that the forest is no longer before me, and I am looking out at a wide, almost-glowing, expanse of water.
“Where are we?” I ask.
From behind me, Fox makes a noise like a growl, and I feel his hand reach out and grab my arm again. “Shut up!” He says, “Shut up now! Stop talking. Where is it?” he asks to Bird.
“I’m looking,” Bird responds.
They are going to shoot me and leave me in the lake, I think. Then I think with horror that this was what they were planning on doing to Abby and a wave of hatred and relief takes me. But they need me, I think then, if they kill me, I’m no good to them.
“Here,” Bird says, he’s crouched down beside the water. “Get in, come on.”
I can make out a small boat right at the edge of the water, a row boat, and I get in, clumsily, my hands useless because of my shoes. The other two climb in and set the boat rocking.
Bird and takes up the oars, grunts as he digs them into the water, and we start away from the bank. Fox sits beside me. He rests the gun on his knee, and I can sense that his fingers are gripping the handle tightly.
Everything is grainy, black and white in the darkness of the early night. The lake is large and black, but the trees around it are even blacker, and the sky is nearly white with clouds. I try to picture where we are from above, trying to remember a lake on this side of the mountain, beneath the lodge somewhere. Then we row past a small finger of trees that has cut off the view on one side, and I can see a few lights strung out along the far side of the lake, and realize it must be a dam. It makes sense to me then, I’ve been here before, looked at the dam from the other side, where a small river spills out and winds down the mountain, had that eerie feeling in my stomach thinking about the enormous amount of still, black water waiting on the other side, covering the banks and trees it used to flow through. Suddenly I’m dizzy with the knowledge that now I am floating on the top of all that water.
It is very quiet and Bird rows steadily, until we are far from the land on all sides. I try to stay as still as I can; the boat is small and it feels full of the two men’s jangly energy. We are nearly in the center of the lake when Bird stops rowing. He pulls the oars safely into the boat.
“Here,” he reaches his hand out..
Straight, cold, fear hits me hard. The unconscious decision I must have reached, that Bird is the safer of the two must be wrong. He is going to shoot me here, and dump me overboard. My feet pedal on the bottom of the boat, and then I’m standing and the boat is set rocking. I need to get away now, but there is nowhere to go expect into that black water and I can’t because Fox has gripped my arm and yanked me down hard.
“What the fuck?” he says. “You’re going to tip us. Sit down.”
I sit down and I am trembling, and my only consolation is that it is me they are going to kill and not Abby, and I imagine her body falling slowly to the bottom of the water, where the spikes of tree trunks, long covered with water still extend upwards.
“Give me the shoes!” Bird says, and when I hear his words, I feel warm urine start down the inside of my legs and have to clench my thighs together to stop more from coming.
I will my hands to unclench and hand the shoes, one by one, to Bird.
He holds them for a moment, as if testing their weight. “How much did these cost?”
“What?” I say.
“How much did these shoes cost?” he asks me slowly.
“I don’t know,” I say, making my words as slow as his. “I never looked at the price tag.”
Everything is very still for a moment, my body tight sprung at the center, then Fox says, “Who gives a shit about the shoes, they're gone now,” and Bird starts to row again.