and Big Jimmy drove through the night; their daughter had called and they were coming and
God himself would be hard pressed to stop them. Their old Cadillac whistled across the
prairie while Mother watched the grease of light grow into full daylight in the
windshield. They drove out from underneath the rain of St. Paul and went deep into the
temperate autumn of South Dakota, the air seeming to have no temperature, warm or cool, as
far as Mother could tell.
They took turns driving. When Mother drove, Big Jimmy
smoked Pall Malls one after another and it made their eyes burn redwhich was
an appropriate thing, Mother thought, under the circumstance. Mother knitted while Big
Jimmy drove, her skinny arms knotted hard as axe handles, her sharp needles clicking and
going too deep, ham-fisted, into the shroud she was making. Neither of them slept. They only stopped for fuel in South
Dakota. The speed limit was 85 in Montana. They made Billings by early evening.
They stopped in front of their daughters house, the
Cadillac clicking and popping as it cooled. Big Jimmy pried himself out of the car and
opened the passenger door for Mother. They went together up the short concrete walk. Big
Jimmy rang the bell, a buzzer that sounded like a jolt of electricity let loose in the
air. At first they waited without any sign of emotion, as if they were just stopping by
for no reason at all, really. Just stopping by to say hello.
No one answered. They listened for footsteps, creaking
floors, opening doors. Mother looked at Big Jimmy. That was all it took, only a flash of
worry from her dark eyes, and Big Jimmy opened the screen door and pounded on the
hollow-cored door behind it. They waited again, their faces impassive, their eyes
stinging. They waited like cops who had just pulled a graveyard shift and then been called
to a domestic dispute. They waited like cops and it was ironic because for many years, all
their lives really, they had been on the other side of the law.
Mother tried the door herself, turning the knob to see
if it was unlocked and then knocking with her sharp knuckles. Nothing happened. A dog
barked from behind a fence. A Cessna chugged low across the sky. Mother moved away from
the door and Big Jimmy put his right hand against it, arm straight out as if taking a measurement. He ran his other hand
through his gray hair, as if to make himself presentable, and then he kicked the door off
They entered the house and shouted their daughters name, Angela!
At first they shouted in unison; Mothers soprano rode high over Big Jimmys
bass, but then their voices slipped out of synch and their calls alternated and overlapped
with no discernible rhythm. They went from room to room, Big Jimmy holding a cocked .45 in
close so that nobody could take it away without getting shot full of holes first. Mother
held a knitting needle in her fist, using it like a rudder as she navigated the empty
They didnt move like cops, quick and jerky, but
swept through the house like hunting lions. Mother noticed two cups of coffee, half-empty,
on the dining room table. She noticed the overflowing ashtray, and saw that most of the
cigarette butts were smeared with lipstick. She noticed that the white telephone receiver
was striped where a bloody hand had held it.
They moved around the overturned furniture, a torn
fabric couch, a wooden rocking chair with slats missing, a burst bean bag chair. Someone
had hurled a plate of food against the living room wall and it was eggs and bacon so
Mother guessed that the fight had taken place in the morning. There was a blood trail
leading from the bedroom to the hallway and out the back door. The bloody smear was
heaviest along the wooden floor of the hallway and then it diminished to thick spatters
down the back steps. They searched the rest of the house, but nobody was home, alive or
dead. The driveway was empty. Angela's old Blazer wasn't in the garage.
Big Jimmy safed the .45 and slipped it back into his
waistband. He set the couch upright. Mother and Big Jimmy sat close together, man and
wife. Mother was small and whippet-thin, with bony hands and curly black hair. Her dark
eyes still had plenty of love-worry in them, even though this wasnt the first time,
by far, that her daughter had been in trouble.
Mother put her hand on Big Jimmys leg. Her
husband was a huge man who could move with deceptive speed. She rubbed the thick muscles
beneath her hand. Big Jimmy sighed. There was no telling what hed do now, she
thought, but if it came down to it, hed do OK in prison. Even the gangbangers would
know better than to give him too much trouble. But Mother also knew that he would miss her
and their Angela something fierce. She knew there was a chance that her husband would
decide not to be taken alive.
Mother sat and let her mind start to work up a course
of action. The first part of it was obvious. They didnt have a choice. They had to
get involved in this, right up to the felony level. They sighed in unison.
"Well, shes in for it, now," Big Jimmy
"All of us are in for it, now," said Mother.
She stood and put her hands on her skinny hips and
examined the blood. She had always been able to read the stories that were told by the
evidence of things. The evidence told her that their daughter had stabbed her boyfriend
when they were in the bedroom. Shed walked to the kitchen phone to call them, and
Mother was relieved and slightly ashamed when she saw only the bloody footprints and drops
of blood from the knife in her daughters right hand, and no signs of bleeding from
Angela herself. All of the blood was dark, arterial, and that meant it wasnt
Angelas blood, because people with arterial bleeding dont breathe evenly in
and out when they call their mothers. After the phone call, Angela had dragged her
boyfriend through the hallway and out to her Blazer. Now she was on the road, taking Billy
for his last ride.
Big Jimmy came up behind Mother and hugged her with
his tree-trunk arms.
"Shes OK," Mother said. Big Jimmy
looked at the blood.
"Yep. That girl doesnt look to have a
scratch on her."
Big Jimmy leaned down and kissed the crown of Mother's
head and she leaned into him and then pulled away.
"Weve got work to do, old man."
She went to the kitchen. She found a garbage bag and
cleaned up the splattered food and the broken plate, then she found a bucket and a bath
towel. She soaked up the blood, quietly grateful that it bore no relation to the blood
that ran in her own veins. She found some bleach in the laundry room and started to scrub.
Big Jimmy rolled up his shirtsleeves and they worked
together, breathing steadily in and out like old runners, like spent lovers stubbornly
going another round. There was time to think about things while they worked, and Mother
could see that Big Jimmy's face was red. She knew it wasn't a good sign. They hadnt
ever cleaned up a mess quite this gruesome, but they had cleaned up plenty of lesser
messes for their Angela. Their fallen angel. Their only begotten monster.
In two hours they had the house tidied up. Big Jimmy made a
half-assed repair to the damage hed done to the front door. Mother nodded her
approval, knowing that plenty of houses with real families living in them get their doors
kicked in, every now and again. They didnt clean the house perfectly; they were
careful to make it look as if someone still lived there, but there were no longer any
obvious signs of what the cops liked to call foul play. In the bedroom, Mother
couldnt help making the bed. She made hospital corners and pulled the blankets tight
enough to bounce a quarter. Big Jimmy watched and shook his head, but Mother had a set to
her jaw that hed seen before. He let her indulge herself.
Mother didn't have to say it, but she knew that the
truth could come out sooner or later because of the new forensic techniques the cops had.
There were DNA tests and ultraviolet lights and electron microscopes and gas
spectrometers. Crime had been their livelihood and so they kept up on these things. It was
getting very difficult to hide a murder these days, but that's just what they had to try
They took the evidence with them, a garbage bag filled
with blood-soaked towels and the broken plate and the spoiled remains of Billy's last
breakfast. They were back on the road by 7:00 p.m., the Cadillac rolling across what
remained of Montana at an easy 95 miles-per-hour. They had a good idea of where to look
for Angela. They didnt discuss their parental response, but Mother started to
develop likely scenarios, and a few unlikely ones, too. They had to catch up with Angela,
now. They would have a body to dispose of, and a fugitive to conceal.
They drove up into the Rockies, headed for their old
place in the hills above Coeur dAlene. Mother drove, fast, the old Cadillac drifting
across both lanes of the two-lane blacktop. She turned the low-slung car up a dirt road,
bottoming every now and then, running like the moonshiners used to drive. It was dark and
she was still trying to figure out what to do. Big Jimmy lit a new cigarette from the one
he'd smoked to a nub. He looked over at Mother and thumped the old leather seatback with
his big knuckles. "One thing's for sure. When we catch up with her, that girls
"Just for starters," Mother said. She had
always hoped that Angela would settle down into adulthood, that she wouldnt be a
wildcat all her life. In high school, Angela had gotten into countless fights, sending her
classmates to the emergency room, girls and boys in equal proportion. She was on probation
now for beating a bartender senseless with his own billy club when hed tried, with
good reason, to throw her out of his bar.
But it hadnt always been that way. There were
the long-ago baby days, nursing and snuggling, Mother and swaddled daughter going
rock-a-by. Those had been days of a quiet, wild love that had driven the violence and
thirst for danger straight out of Mother. Long nights of sighs and smiles, cries and care,
caused Mother to pawn her guns and take up knitting. She quit smoking. She convinced Big
Jimmy to invest their money. She made plans that only a mother could believe were
So deep was Mother in the love trance that she
didnt know exactly when it started, her sweet baby girl getting meaner every day of
her life. No matter how much Mother held and kissed and rocked and sang to her, the bad
changes came, even as Mother became someone else. She and Big Jimmy scaled down their
robberies and burglaries until the time came when they retired altogether, living cheaply,
with only the slightest nostalgia for their wild days.
Mother held Angela almost constantly in the early
years. Later she wondered if her own sinful ways had flowed straight out of her arms and
into her nursing daughter. She wondered if crime was a living thing, always looking for a
new place to take root.
They arrived at dawn. Smoke rose from the river-rock
chimney. Angelas Blazer was parked in front of the cabin. Seeing the stout cabin
made Mother feel like she used to feel when she saw it. Safe. It was a place she and Big
Jimmy had bought back in the days. Angela had been conceived there in 1972 when Mother and
Big Jimmy were young and hot and on the run when life was fast, and danger and
rebellion were forms of communication, and sex was like a grinning vandal let loose in the
Mother knew that Angela had to stay there now, maybe
forever. She and Big Jimmy walked side by side to the front door. Big Jimmy swung it open
and it banged against the wall of the cabin. Angela was standing by the woodstove. Mother
went to her. They stood face to face, not a foot apart.
Angela wasnt looking any younger. Mother held
back some heat that mightve been tears, but mightve been something else
because she wasnt sure if she remembered what tears felt like. She put her palms
against her daughters cheeks and then ran her fingers across Angelas shoulders
and down her arms, checking for injuries.
"Wheres Billy?" Big Jimmy said.
"And the knife. Lets take care of that business right off."
Angela nodded, but her eyes had a dark fire in them.
She pointed in the general direction of the Blazer and then she started to cry, her wide
shoulders hunched to look smaller. Mother saw that Angela had no tears. She didnt
have any remorse for what she'd done, and so they had no choice but to cage her up like
the animal shed become, or to control her in some other way. A glimmer of an idea
came to Mother. It grew in her head, and she put a mental bookmark next to it.
Angela hugged Mother with her strong arms and said all
the right things, "Don't worry, mom. I'll stay until its safe. Maybe Ill
go down to Mexico after that. I promise to be good, from here on in."
She used her sweetest voice, but even Mother
couldnt buy what she was selling.
Big Jimmy shook his head and said, "Youll
be good, all right," and then he took Angela's keys from her purse and went outside
to take care of Billy. Mother heard her husband rummaging in the work shed and then she
heard him start to dig. It was nearly noon when she heard the ringing sound of a shovel
smacking down the bulge of a freshly filled hole.
They stayed in the mountains through the winter. When
the snow came, Big Jimmy put tire chains on all four wheels of Angela's Blazer and drove
to Coeur dAlene every two weeks for supplies. Angelas penitence lasted much
longer than Mother had expected it to. The three of them played Scrabble and watched the
news on TV. They took turns with the dishes. They agreed upon a list of chores to perform
each day, and they didnt try to find ways to avoid the work.
In the downtime Mother knitted, converting the shroud
she had started into several smaller projects. Angela dug out their rusty cast iron
skillets, and sanded and carbonized them on the stove until they were shiny and black. Big
Jimmy went into the woods on show shoes. He was very quiet for a big man and he stalked
deer close up and shot them with his .45, so they had fresh venison through the winter.
The thaw came all at once, the icy streams creaking
and leaking into the dark underbrush and then breaking free with a roar. The icicles
played treble keys as they fell and everything was dripping and soft to the touch. Mother
sat in a rocking chair on the cabin's porch while the world melted. She watched the
underbrush begin to reassert itself: vine maple and nettles and wild blackberries and
strawberries. Tender buds grew swollen and then pushed their trembling life into the sky.
Mother watched Angela grow more and more restless,
doing pushups and sit-ups by firelight late at night, going into the woods with no
supplies and coming back with sourgrass and fat trout and quail with heads hanging beneath
their broken necks.
She knew it was only a matter of time before
everything went to hell. At night she listened to her daughter sleeping, and then suddenly
not sleeping. Angela wasn't used to living without a man. Ever since she first ran away at
age 14, she'd been able to get what she wanted, in that department.
In the week that Angela began to watch male
bodybuilding shows on TV, followed by professional wrestling and then an entire Baywatch
marathon, Mother started to knit a mans sweater. It was a young mans sweater,
black with jagged white lines that to Mother represented mystery. She wondered briefly how
her glorious, parent-with-newborn dreams had fallen to something so crass, but that Sunday
she took the Cadillac down the hardening mud road and drove into town, alone.
Mother steered clear of the bars, though some of them
appeared to be occupied even at that hour of the morning. She drove past a boarded up
lumber mill and an open-for-business funeral home and then she stopped in front of a store
that had heavy bars on its windows.
She didnt think twice about going into the
police supply store, any more than she would worry about going into a bakery. Two on-duty
cops were in the store, shooting the breeze with the owner, and they turned from their
banter to look at her. They were stiff in their body armor. Mother could smell their
aftershave and leather and gun oil. She bought a pair of handcuffs and a set of leg
shackles and she pretended not to notice the amused look the cops gave her.
She got back on the road, driving until she found the
Baptist church. She waited until the service let out at 1:27 p.m. It was late, according
to the schedule on the sign out front. The Rev. Skip Worthy had no doubt gotten carried
away. But at 1:27, Pastor Skippy himself appeared at the door, smiling and shaking hands
and patting backs and trying to convince his mortal flock that everything would turn out
just fine, in the end.
The families with kids came out first, the women
chatting about Sunday dinner, the men looking eager to curl up in front of their
televisions, the kids happy to be free to run. The teens were next, frowning despite the
fact that the sermon was nothing but a fading memory, and they were outside in the clean,
guilt-free air. And then the young adults came, paired off two-by-two as nature intended,
except for the inevitable singles. Bachelors. Yes, and a nice crop of them, too.
Mother waited until the last of the physically
challenged and elderly worshippers were clear of the door, and the pastor had allowed
himself to look slightly relieved. She got out of the Caddy and walked an arrow-straight
line to him. He had turned back into the stale foyer when mother laid a hand on his
shoulder. He faced her and gave her a practiced, welcoming smile. He asked how he could be
"Im new here," Mother said, smiling in
return, "and I believe you can help me."
Mother followed the directions the pastor had given her. The
house was small, but freshly painted. The concrete walk gleamed like polished bone. A
young man was mowing the lawn. He saw Mother coming through the gate and he switched off
the engine of his lawnmower. The man looked very strong, but he had the depth of
intelligence in his eyes. A bit of deviltry, but not too much. Mother thought that he just
might be big and smart enough to handle most of the things that Angela might try.
"Samuel Burnside? I got your name from Pastor
Worthy," Mother said. "I understand you build cabins?"
"Call me Sam."
They shook hands and mother smelled cut grass and man
sweat and gasoline. They talked about the job Mother had created for him, about the
weather, and Mother scanned him with her parental radar, trying to make sure that he was
unattached, straight, didnt prefer the company of sheep. She told him that she
needed him to build a very strong cabin. A cabin that would last many winters. She offered
generous pay and he said, "Hell, lady, you got your man." Mother listened to
herself say, "Yes. It looks like I do."
Mother and Big Jimmy dug up the last of the money theyd
stashed from their days of bank robbery. The statute of limitations had run out, but they
had hidden this part of the stash. They had intended to leave it to Angela when they were
gone, but Mother decided to spend it now, on this, and Big Jimmy agreed. They counted out
the bills together, old tens and twenties with non-consecutive serial numbers, and mother
washed her hands afterward.
Sam Burnside arrived the next day. It was clear and
warm and he wore a tight Smith & Wesson T-shirt. When Angela saw him she didnt
seem to be able to catch her breath. She licked her lips. Mother turned back into the
cabin to hide her smile.
Big Jimmy nodded and showed Mother his best poker
face. He explained to Sam what it was they wanted, a new cabin across the clearing from
the original. They wanted the cabin to be identical to the old one. "Like a mirror
imageonly newer," said Big Jimmy, playing the dumb act he liked to play
with new people, just to see how they were.
Sam nodded and sized up the old cabin while Big Jimmy
searched him for any hint of guile or derision, but Big Jimmy didnt seem to detect
any. Sam went to work immediately. He took the measurements of the old cabin, and set
about clearing the ground for a new one. He worked shirtless in the new sun, all
work-hardened muscles, tall and lean and sweating slightly. Mother knew there was no way
that Angelapoor, bored, predatory Angelacould stay away from him.
Two days after the project began, Angela took Sam into the woods.
Mother saw them leave the worksite, separately. Sam followed Angela at a distance, but he
walked as if he was in a hurry to bring about world peace, or something.
Mother gave them a few minutes, then she turned back
into the cabin. She searched through Angelas belongings until she found what she was
looking for. Angela had had the foresight, after she killed Billypoor Billy
with his now pointless vasectomy to buy a large box of condoms. Five of them
Mother sat on the floor and used one of her sewing
needles to puncture the remaining packets. Big Jimmy stood above her.
"I still say we should shackle the girl
uplet her stay alone with her conscience. Let her come around on her
Mother gave him her dark-eyed look.
"Trust me, big man. Im betting we
wont need the shackles. Babies bring the strongest guilt in all the world."
"Yeah, maybe." Big Jimmy broke out his
widest grin. "But not necessarily for the grandparents."
Mother couldnt fight down her own smile.
"Isnt victory just a nasty, old bitch?"
She hummed an old Joan Baez tune as she finished her
task, replacing everything exactly as it had been. Shed been a careful criminal and
an observant mother. She had always
had a knack for walking into a room and cataloguing it in her mind, memorizing the angles
that things form in their relationship to everything else, knowing that the slightest
variation could leave enough evidence to make all the difference in the world