Out of town it’s lonely. Denzel puts his foot down; they stare ahead. They’ve done this a hundred times, and found a hundred women. Always too late. Harry’s smoking, somber, checking his weapon, click, click, and back in the holster.
Denzel drives deep into the woods. The Dodge slithers to a muddy halt. Harry’s out fast throwing his bag over his shoulder. Denzel grabs his stuff; they crunch and slip through uneven woodland. Gnarled shapes come toward their eyes in the narrow torch beams. Pine needles like a carpet make it easier; holes, burrows and roots don’t. They stumble and run. Ivy and tangled shit hang down like nets. Some branches are down. Thin beams flash side to side. They race on without a system. Running on instinct along tracks that wild beasts have made.
Spreading out they keep in shouting distance. Hailing each other, wild eyes scouring for clues. Panting, grunting, getting faster, then slowing down with blocked paths.
In a clearing Denzel shouted for Harry to come over. Harry’s heart leaped with hope and sudden nausea. He raced fast to Denzel who was poking something in the upturned roots of a beech. Out of a man-made pile of undergrowth stuck some sort of torso. Harry stared in; Denzel grabbed a huge stick, pushed stuff aside, jammed the stick around, dragged it about trying to move the thing, whatever it was. Harry let out some kind of primeval noise. A white owl flew fast sideways screeching through the irregular branches, crazy to have been disturbed. Surprised they both looked up for a second and at each other. Kicking, scratching, pulling, Denzel grabbed the thing.
Harry staggered back and tripped on a stump, landed in the wet. Relieved. Relieved and crazy in his head. It was a deer. A poacher had hidden a deer.
Denzel wasn’t going to think. He wanted clues, and Mary. He wanted to find Mary alive. Time meant everything and time was ticking like a damned ringing bell in his thumping head.
“You got spare batteries?”
Harry tried to make sense of stuff. They bent low trying to suck in air. Pelting rain had stopped and wind was pulling the living forest into crazy shapes. Hollow sounds, thrumming in the canopy, and sharp shrieks snaked around in all directions, sounds that they didn’t know.
“This wood ain’t the same in the dark. Never has been.”
Harry wouldn’t hear of it. Running again, cold sweats. His desperate mind saw her just beyond every dark tree, walking toward him, smiling. She wasn’t scared; she was telling him it was OK. He wanted to see her; he’d do anything to see her.
One side a bank dropped to a charging river, small, noisy. To the left the ground rose, a row of trees like sentinels along a rugged path. A brook sped down a stony gap pouring across in front of them. Everything smelled of leaf mold. The drip, drip of the last of the rain held by the trees joining the sorry trickles that led to the cold, cold river. Ahead they’d made it to an open track, banks of moss, roots like green-covered limbs and fungi spewing out from trunks, climbing and inhabiting them all the way up. There was no moonlight. As soon as they passed the thrashing trees the dark spread around them, enveloping them. Two men, two lights and some form of desolate hope.
Leaning against a comforting oak Denzel took out his compass. Wet hands and half a mind trying to locate itself.
Harry sat down heavily on a big stump, its roots like tentacles around his feet. The moss making him wetter. He grabbed his storm lighter and cradled his cigarette against the wind, his sorry face to the ground. Drips slid down his collar. Hunching, head bent, he raised his gaze into the track ahead. Again he wanted to see his Mary walking toward him.
He could see her plain as day in his mind’s eye. He heard the drip, drip, drip and was transported to their bedroom, so cozy in the dripping rain. Curled up under warm blankets and soft sheets with Mary. Rain was so loving when it came in rivulets slowly down your little window pane. In Mary’s arms the rain was part of their joy. He could have stayed there forever.
Her little cold feet on his legs, that was OK, just part of things, part of the way they were. He pulled her close, his whole body seemed to wrap around her little frame. Her soft murmurings and reassuring voice, always her reassuring voice. If you could bottle innocence it was in her soul. If soul’s existed, he didn’t know. But it sure felt like she had one. Her love was elastic; it just stretched and stretched out to everyone she knew. She had so much love to give. Every day his sad, sorry heart broke one more time on the job. One more victim, one more creep. Then Mary would hold him and all that love filled him right up. He could feel her love from the brush of her hand, from her smile, from her tender kisses, from her passionate body. Her love was like an element that he breathed in and filled up on every day. She mended him. She made him see beauty.
As they kept warm under the covers they chatted about things. She said some stuff and he asked a question. He thought her body got nervous. She turned and leaned the other way, hand out to get her glass of water, sitting up to drink and breaking the moment.