The Mortal Groove

Jane Lawless Mysteries (Volume 15)

Ellen Hart

Minotaur Books


Three young men in a northern Iowa field. They could be college kids home for the summer or farmhands taking a break on a hot August afternoon, but they aren’t. All three are outwardly good boys. They love their mothers. They don’t swear in front of children. They know how to behave appropriately. But one, though he still has the face of sweet youth, is a time bomb—a bomb that has gone off once already, and threatens to do so again.

Within the last four months, all of these boys, now men, have come home from a tour in Vietnam. One is standing, smoking a joint; the other two sit with their backs against the trunk of an oak. All are wearing battered boots, army field pants, and T-shirts. The one standing, Larry Wilton, is watching a crow perched at the top of the tree. The two men on the ground pass a fifth of rum between them.

“I am so totally stoked,” says the one called Larry. “The jury acquitted him. We’re all in the clear.”

Randy, the blond curly haired kid, the one who invited his two best buddies up to visit him on the vast, flat, Iowa prairie because he doesn’t feel comfortable around his old high school friends anymore, shakes his head. “We’ll never be in the clear.”

“Don’t be such a pessimist,” says Larry. “Your brother’s a free man and so are we. I think that calls for some fireworks.” He leans over, reaches into his duffel bag, and comes out with a semiautomatic pistol, a new purchase. He tells anyone who’s interested that he needs it because he just don’t feel right if he ain’t got no firepower. After a year in hell, a gun is as much a part of his body as his lungs. He fires several rounds into the air, then begins to dance his rendition of an Irish jig. He looks ridiculous and stoned, which he is.

Randy stares at him, takes another hit off the bottle, then hands it to Delavon. Delavon is a black man from Detroit. The biggest human being Randy had ever seen—before Vietnam. Randy believes that his life will forever be defined by two acronyms—B.N. and A.N. Before Nam and After Nam.

Larry lands on his knees in the dirt in front of Randy, grinning like a gargoyle. “Man, I love this life,” he says, taking a deep breath. “I purely do.”

“Nothin’ pure about us,” says Delavon.

“You guys fry me. We took care of business, right?”

With his eyes half lowered, Randy considers Larry’s hair. Each man’s hair is still short, not quite army issue, but Larry has been out the longest, so his has grown the most. Randy tries to decide what color it is. He comes to the conclusion that it has no color. It’s anticolor. Like dust.

“That cunt deserved to die,” says Larry.

Randy erupts at him, arm cocked, hand balled into a fist. He wants to annihilate him for saying that.

Delavon just watches from his position by the tree. He wishes he had a cigarette. When Larry and Randy have both rolled on their backs, grunting and sweating like hogs in a pen, Delavon, who fancies himself a preacher of sorts, offers his take on the matter.

“We gotta stop fighting like little kids, you understand me? We gotta become the brothers we always say we are. Like, maybe we do some serious voodoo shit. Cut our fingers and blend the blood in a cup. Or butcher ourselves a snake and swear an oath over it in a graveyard. ’Cause brothers, hear me well. If one of us ever talks, we be dead men.”

Copyright © 2007 by Ellen Hart. All rights reserved.