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Carlton bursts through the door. He’s a little wild-eyed when he comes over and nudges me away from the crowd.
“Jake, I think I saw the big guy that Wilson Toliver and Gwen told you about.” He says the man was driving Lila’s Land Rover out on Simms Road, headed east.
“It was about two-thirty, so I got a good look. I never seen him before, but I could tell he was tall, even sitting down. And ugly—his face was put together at all the wrong angles.”
I hustle Carlton outside and walk him over to my bungalow, telling him on the way what I’d learned from Jeremy and about Ralston deputizing me.
“Well, Mr. Deputy, whenever you need my services for a posse, I’m available. I’d like to be the one that gets that son of a bitch. I’d like to get Buck Wallace, too. That guy has always given me a hard time. I could tell he was really upset when he realized I was getting into Lila’s riding breeches. He’d probably have tried to beat my ass if she hadn’t been his meal ticket.”
I give Carlton a drink—he likes Black Jack Daniel’s but can’t afford to buy it at the bars, so I keep a bottle for his visits. Next I call Ralston at home and tell him what Carlton saw.
“Hell of a time of night to be calling in, Jake. But that’s okay. I’ll have Barney look up the license number and put out an APB to pick him up. He’s probably hell-bent for Canada though.”
It’s nearly midnight. I pour Carlton another drink and tell him it’s the last one, then I call Gwen, though she hates to be awakened after she’s gone to bed. The phone rings four times, then the answering machine switches on.
“Gwen,” I say.
She picks up the phone.
“What the hell, Jake? I’ve got to work tomorrow, and, no, I’m not going to hump over to your place tonight.”
“Carlton saw that big ugly guy today on the way to Great Falls in Lila’s Land Rover. He’s around and God knows what he’s up to. You keep your eyes peeled for him tomorrow. If you see him, give me a call immediately. You’re one of the few people who’s seen him before.”
“Okay, sorry I flew off the handle. I missed you today. Eva Gertrude told me Ralston deputized you. I hope you’re not going to use your newly acquired power to abuse me.… On second thought—”
“Go back to sleep. I’m dead tired. I’m going to bed as soon as I can chase Carlton out of the house.”
Lying in bed, I try to form a mental picture of what this guy Bat looks like from the vague descriptions I’ve gotten from Gwen, Wilson, Carlton, and Jeremy, who compared him to the ugly guy in the James Bond flicks. In my weary mind, he begins to look like creatures from Night of the Living Dead. Then Nosferatu. Then he metamorphoses into Victor Frankenstein’s monster. Finally I see him leering at me from the bathroom mirror. I’m startled, wondering how that could be. But beneath the haphazard planes of his face, I see my eyes, my nose, my mouth. I get up and mix warmed milk with a big slug of Myers’s Rum and drink it all down before I go back to bed.
I’m happy to be out in the 4Runner by myself. Zipping along these Montana roads with almost no traffic gives me a chance to clear my head. I survey the brown and gray hills slumbering in the wan winter sunlight, conserving their energies, preparing for their springtime effusions in four or five months. I slip in a tape of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante and head down U.S. 287 until it intersects the interstate. Along the way I let Mozart’s logical clarity reorganize my brain and try to answer my growing list of questions:
Q) Where did Lila meet the ugly guy—this Goon?
A) With no facts, I have to guess: To satisfy her coke habit, she needed a contact, a source. Probably in Great Falls. When the dealer finds out Lila has access to a private airstrip, he negotiates an arrangement involving Lila and Goon.
Q) How did Goon get Carlton’s rifle?
A) Buck Wallace had been around Clark City long enough to hear all the hunting stories. Why would he want to steal the rifle? He’s jealous when he finds out Carlton is screwing Lila. Buck wants revenge on Carlton. One day he goes to the Bunkhouse when Carlton is out working at the ranch, then he slips into Carlton’s room and takes the gun. He has the gun in his quarters out at the Circle 9, so when he learns that Goon is going out to Golden Meadows with Lila and wants a gun, Buck lends him the .25-35 Winchester?
Q) Who fired the two rounds from a .32 out at Golden Meadows? And why?
A) Lila? Was she protecting herself from Goon? Was she trying to kill Goon because he was making big trouble for her? Did she shoot first and incite Goon to kill her?
Q) Finally, why am I so deeply involved in this fucking case?
A) One—I’m fascinated by Lila? Two—Fate: I found her body? Three—I’m too bloody stupid to kiss the case goodbye and let Ralston do his job?
About the Author
Keen Butterworth was born and raised in Tidewater Virginia, south of the James. He graduated from Randolph-Macon College, served three and a half years on board ship as a Navy officer, taught high school in Petersburg, Virginia, for three years, and then attended graduate school at the University of South Carolina. He taught in the English department at South Carolina from 1970 until 2009. He now divides his year between Columbia, South Carolina, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he and his wife, Nancy, bought a house in 2011.
Download an insightful interview with Keen about The Scourge
About the Book
Jake Battle is minding his own business, just fishing, when he follows the squawking of ravens and magpies to find the body of a beautiful woman, wife of a local ranch owner who is also one of the richest men in the country.
When the fatal slug is dug out of her, everyone in Clark City, Montana, knows there’s only one gun around that could have fired it, the rifle of Jake’s friend, Carlton Heavy-Eagle.
“Don’t get mixed up in this mess,” Jake’s girlfriend, Gwen, tells him. “You can’t tell what’s going on.” But Jake is too mixed up in it already. The path he follows to clear his friend leads to tales of gang violence, wanton sex, cocaine smuggling, and the mysterious Scourge—a man monstrous in size and ugliness.
In his debut novel, author Keen Butterworth has painted a vivid portrait of both man and nature as Jake—haunted by his past in Vietnam, soothed by the love he shares with Gwen—pursues a dangerous manhunt amid the rugged beauty of the northern Rockies.
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