April, 1987 — near Addison, Michigan
Gravel crunches under the car’s tires as Leonard slows to a stop in the Devil’s Lake Golf Course parking lot.
“You called, right?” Geisler asks with some concern, looking around at the empty lot.
“Yes, William, I called,” Leonard answers. “He said he would be here. Let’s at least go knock on the door. The manager’s name is Matthew Rollin. I got the feeling he’s the owner as well, but I did not ask.”
“Did he sound—OK?” Bill asks. “You think he doesn’t mind seeing us?”
“Well, he was kind of quiet. You know, his boy was one of the—drowning victims, or whatever. I don’t think he was medicated like Harold last night. But yeah, he’s OK with us. I think he wants to talk to somebody.”
The clubhouse is a modest building with cedar shake siding that needs to be replaced, and a new green metal roof. The first tee is visible beyond some bushes to the north. The sky is low and leaden, featureless except for swales of darker gray where the cloud layer thickens. Even without a breeze, the moist air is chill.
Bill winces at how loud their car doors sound, closing.
“So where’s the lake?” he asks, keeping his voice quiet to avoid further disturbing the morning silence.
Patrick looks around with the same instantly-concentrated expression he gets at the onset of any interesting question or problem, but there’s something in his expression that Bill realizes he has not seen before. Underneath his habitual seriousness, Patrick is worried. He, also, is feeling the silence here. Even their footsteps on the gravel seem loud.
“Must be through those trees,” the older man says, gesturing across the road to the southwest. “It’s actually bigger than Wampler’s, but it’s not as built up around it.”
They reach the building’s door, and Leonard knocks. The door is half window, but with a blind pulled down over it that says Closed through the glass. Nothing happens for long enough that Bill turns around to see whether there might be any sign of a car coming, but then the handle rattles and a heavyset, dark-haired man opens it inward.
“Detective Leonard?” the man asks quietly.
“Yes sir, and this is my partner Detective Geisler.”
“Hi. Matt Rollin,” the man says quietly as he shakes hands with both of them. He has a powerful grip and reminds Bill of a football player halfway gone to fat. He looks like he’s used to being confident, certain of himself and of his place in the world, but he holds his grip on Bill’s hand a little too long, like a man afraid of sinking.
“Come on in,” he says after another moment, and closes the door behind them.
All of the windows in the place have blinds drawn down like the door. The only light turned on is a small one on his desk at the back of the room. There are clubs, bags and golf hand-carts for sale against one wall, while the rest of the space is occupied by half a dozen tables for golfers who need a beer after coming off the back nine.
There is what looks like a bar at the far wall behind the tables. It has a mirror with shelves in front of it that look like they should be full of liquor bottles, but the shelves are empty.
Rollin takes his place behind the desk and gestures his two visitors to chairs he has already set up for them.
“Mr. Rollin,” Patrick says, “I want to emphasize that Detective Geisler and I are here strictly in an unofficial capacity. Our jurisdiction—”
“You said that on the phone,” Rollin interrupts. He raises his gaze from the desktop to look at Leonard. “You think I forgot?”
“No sir, not at all. Please excuse me,” Leonard says, when it becomes apparent that the man is actually waiting for an answer.
“You’re here on your own, because you talked to Harold last night, and you were having a few drinks.” He looks down at the desktop again. “Alcohol can get people into trouble,” he says quietly. “I guess I won’t be serving it anymore.”
He studies the wooden surface of his desk for some seconds, his face immobile.
“I’m not heartless,” the big man says looking up at them. “Maybe you expect me to be crying and going crazy. Well, then you’ll be disappointed. I just don’t—show things like some people do. But you shouldn’t think I’m heartless.”
“No sir, absolutely not,” Leonard responds. “We know what you’ve been through.”
The man looks at him with eyes like pieces of stone.
“You have a son?” he says.
Leonard blinks. “No sir, I don’t have any children.”
“Then you don’t know,” Rollin says.
Leonard takes control for a while, asking general questions about Rollin’s business that Geisler realizes are designed mostly to calm the man down. When it becomes apparent that Rollin wants to talk again, Leonard smoothly backs off. Geisler has always been impressed with how Leonard handles witnesses. It always strikes him that the man could have been a trial lawyer or something along those lines. Whatever you think of the profession, it certainly would have paid better.
“I still have a daughter,” Rollin says, looking at the door as though he might see through it. Or maybe he’s looking into the recent past. “Martha took her up to Saginaw. I don’t think she’s coming back.”
He breathes for a few seconds.
“I can still take care of them, though.”
“Sir,” Bill speaks up after another pause. “What exactly happened? What did you see?”
“Didn’t Harold tell you?” the big man says. “The kids were partying. You know,” he says. “Boys. And I guess they went outside. I was,” he takes a slow breath, “I was up by the house. I knew what was going on, and I thought, you know. Let them be boys.”
He’s breathing more deeply now, as though some words require more air than others.
“But Martha didn’t like it, so I said OK, goddammit, I’ll go down there. And I—walked down here. And I got down here, and I—” His face contorts. “I heard them. Screaming.”
The man’s jaw muscles bunch. He closes his eyes for a moment and tears spring down his face.
“And I ran,” he says, calming down again just as suddenly. “I ran pretty good.”
After some time, Leonard takes a breath but doesn’t speak.
“Sir, what did you see?” Geisler asks.
Eventually the man looks up at Bill as though noticing him for the first time.
“Here,” he says. He opens the top drawer of his desk and takes out a thin stack of Polaroid photographs. Leaning forward to take them, Bill feels a chill travel through his soul.
The pictures were taken with a flash. Looking at them, Bill’s breath catches. After looking twice, he hands them to Patrick.
“Oh, Christ,” Patrick says quietly after a few seconds.
The photographs are mostly of Rollin’s son, but in several of them one of the other boys are visible. They are not the kind of quality Bill is used to seeing: soft-focused and poorly lit. But they make it perfectly obvious that the boys’ throats have been torn out.
“Did you,” Leonard begins uncertainly. “Did you, uh, call—”
“Call the cops?” Rollin finishes for him. “Yes. For all the good it did.” His eyes look dead. “And then they put that article in the paper about the boys drowning. And that’s funny. No reporter ever talked to me. They didn’t even come out here.” The big man looks at Patrick, then Bill. “Why do you suppose that would be?”
“But,” he continues, “you officers came out here, and I thank you for that. I should stop complaining and tell you what happened.”
“Mr. Rollin,” Patrick says, frowning, “is it possible that someone else talked to a reporter? Perhaps someone you had spoken to yourself? I assume you found the boys in the water? Maybe whoever talked to the reporter just assumed that the boys drowned?”
Rollin favors Leonard with a slight, pitying smile. “And is that why the Sheriff won’t come back, too? Is that why he won’t so much as send a deputy out again, with four boys dead here?” Rollin’s voice breaks a little and he stops to force himself back under control.
“Sir,” Patrick takes the chance to ask another question, “when you found the boys in the water, is there any chance at all that—”
Rollin looks up from his dimly lit desktop so quickly that Leonard stops talking.
“So Harold didn’t tell you.” Rollin states. “He sent you over here but he didn’t tell you anything.”
“He said he did not believe the boys had drowned, sir,” Bill volunteers.
“This,” the big man gestures at the photographs, “didn’t happen in the water, Detective,” he says to Leonard. “I saw him dragging the boys into the water.”
“Him?” Leonard asks. “You saw him? Sir, did you see a man?”
Rollin looks down at the desktop again, and something in his face makes Bill shiver. Bill realizes again how dark Rollin has kept it in the clubhouse here. The day outside, just visible through cracks between the blinds and the window frames, is gloomy enough. But Rollin has kept it like night in here. And there wasn’t a car in the parking lot. Is he living in here? Is he still stuck in time, in the night when he saw his son die?
Rollin looks up at Leonard and there are tears in his eyes.
“I think it was a man,” he says, his voice shaking. “It used to be. Christ help me, I think it used to be a man.” He covers his eyes with one hand. Leonard and Geisler sit perfectly still in their wooden chairs.
After some time Rollin calms down, rubs his face, and puts his hands on the desk. He looks to his right at the door to the parking lot.
“There was blood,” he says quietly, “all over the floor there. And there was—there was some—” His face muscles clench and he takes several deep breaths before going on. “There was some hand prints, on the door jamb there.” He stops again. After a few seconds Patrick takes the opportunity to speak up.
“Sir,” he says gently, “have there been any wolf or bear sightings nearby? Anything that might have—”
“Oh, I saw him,” Rollin says, looking up. He speaks dreamily. “I thought of something like that, too. A bear or whatever. You know, when you see something like all that blood, your mind just kind of goes blank. But these ideas come into your head, like pictures. Maybe it’s a bear, a bear has my boy. So I ran across the road, towards the lake. It was real windy, but there was some moon, and I could see the—blood on the ground. So I got through the trees.”
Rollin stops talking and blinks, looking at the door, seeing through it to the events of that night a week ago.
“And I saw him.” His eyes flicker, but he takes a breath and continues. “His skin was black.”
“He was black?” Bill asks, and immediately regrets interrupting. But he knows there are very few blacks in this area. If the murderer was black, it shouldn’t be hard to find witnesses who will remember having seen him earlier in the day. But then why wouldn’t the Sheriff in this county have been down here asking about such an obvious lead?
“No,” Rollin says. “I don’t mean black like—a black man, you know? If he used to be a man,” Rollin’s voice sinks to a whisper, “it was a long time ago.” He moves his hands on the desk so they can grip each other.
“His skin was black like—I don’t know. Soot, or something. Perfect black, like if you—made it that way on purpose. No gleam at all, you know? No reflection anywhere, like not even any sweat. Not like a man’s skin. I only saw him at first because of the moon on the water. He was like a silhouette. He was just finishing putting the bodies in the water. He dragged all four at once, just like they were nothing. Although he wasn’t any bigger than you,” he gestures with his eyes at Bill. “That’s why he didn’t hear me, I think. The dragging. But then he looked at me.”
Rollin’s hands let go of each other and he dries his cheeks with his left hand with an absent gesture. He’s become accustomed to it.
“His eyes were yellow, like an animal. And he had the,” he gestures to his mouth, “the big teeth. Canines. And I could see that his mouth was—wet. It was blood.”
Rollin raises one hand to cover his eyes.
They are all silent for a long minute. Bill sees the shuttered and gloomy clubhouse now as a kind of mausoleum: its bar empty for mourning and its gleaming clubs arrayed to accompany its owner over the water to the back nine of the underworld.
“Mr. Rollin,” Patrick starts again, as gently as if he were talking to a bereaved child, “you know how easy it is to make mistakes in the dark, and when something terrible has happened.”
Rollin looks up at him again, and smiles.
“No, detective,” he says. “I wasn’t hallucinating, or out of my mind with grief, or whatever other bullshit you would like to tell yourself from your comfortable chair there. I wish you were right. I was trying to make it into a bear, or anything. Jesus, anything.”
The big man holds Leonard’s gaze. “It wasn’t a bear, and it wasn’t a wolf, detective. It was a fucking vampire.”
“You know,” he smiles again, “it didn’t even occur to me until a couple days ago. The lake. It’s called Devil’s Lake, right? How long’s it been called that? Did the Indians call it that? I’ll tell you,” Rollin looks past the wall again, “I think he’s a been here a long time. A real long time.”
They all sit in silence again. He said ‘vampire’, Bill thinks. But OK, so what did he really see? Did he murder the kids himself and make it look like a mystery? He killed them all, including his own son, because he found them all in the middle of a gay love-fest? Or how about: his son committed suicide, for whatever reason, and now Rollin decided to hide it. And so … he murdered the other three boys, too? Geisler is looking forward to hearing Leonard’s take on it.
But, looking at the man, Bill has to admit that Matthew Rollin looks very much like someone who recently saw—exactly what he just described seeing.
After a meaningful glance at Geisler, Leonard grimaces momentarily and turns back to the bereaved man.
“Well, as I said, Mr. Rollin,” Leonard tells him, “our jurisdiction doesn’t extend outside of Washtenaw County. But we certainly hope that you and your wife—”
“She won’t be coming back,” Rollin just talks over Patrick, and Patrick lets him. “But he will.”
Bill looks at the man and finds that Rollin is now staring directly at him, instead of at Leonard. Seeing the look on the man’s face, a chill courses through Bill Geisler’s bones. What Rollin has prepared this place for is his own death. That’s what he sitting in here waiting for.
“He’s coming back for me,” Rollin says quietly. “He didn’t like being seen. That’s how I’m gonna get him. And I’ll leave something for you, Detective.”
Geisler blinks and the man looks away from him, through the door again.
“When he saw me, I ran. I just turned around and ran. I left my Daniel there. With him.” A muscle in Rollin’s jaw tightens and a flicker of pain touches his face. “I won’t be running away again.”
He doesn’t rise when they get up to go. They leave him sitting behind his desk, his vision still locked on the past and the future.
When Leonard opens the door to the parking lot for him, Geisler can see traces of blood still embedded in the wood grain of the door trim.
Leonard turns the car right onto 223, opting for a longer but easier drive back to Wampler’s Lake. He glances at Geisler with unconcealed ire. “What the hell, man? You dragged me down here and then you let me do all the talking?”
“You were doing fine!” Bill protests, grinning.
It’s a relief to be out of the funereal atmosphere of Rollin’s pro shop. Even the heavy overcast of the cold April morning seems cheering by comparison.
“But—what do you think happened? He sure seemed messed up by it, whatever it was.”
“Possibility number one,” Leonard taps the steering wheel with one finger. “Our friend Mr. Rollin, ex-football jock—”
“Was he?” Geisler interrupts. “I thought he might be!”
“You gotta look at people’s rings, man. Lenawee Christian, class of 1967, varsity ring. Where our friend used to be a hipster and a tripster.” Leonard grins at Geisler, and simultaneously at some private joke that he is not prepared to share. “I’m making that part up, probably. But can’t you just see him fifty pounds lighter, with hair down to his shoulders?”
“Anyway, look,” Leonard continues, glancing at Geisler again. He’s not worrying much about watching the road. Even at ten in the morning, the little two-lane highway, winding around to find its way through the Irish Hills, isn’t at all busy. They see no more than a car every minute or two coming in the opposite direction.
“Look, the man has been through a tragedy. I’m not making light of that. He’s lost a son. His wife couldn’t take it—and I don’t blame her—so she takes his daughter and leaves. This guy’s whole world has come apart in the space of a week. I can’t imagine what that would be like, and neither can you. What I can believe is that a man might turn to any source of consolation he knows, including what he knew twenty years ago. So when one of his old football buddies comes over to offer his condolences—when the guy finds him staying by himself in that damn clubhouse, when he offers his old buddy Matt a joint, Matt takes it. Maybe the old buddy gives him a couple hits of acid. You don’t know what they might have been into.”
“And then,” Leonard’s face becomes thoughtful, “then maybe a black bear turns into a vampire.”
“Are you serious?” Geisler asks. “You know, I had some, ah—friends who used to do drugs, too.”
Leonard grins. “The sixties were hard on a lot of people, man.”
“No seriously, look,” Bill gestures from his place in the passenger seat. “My, uh—friends that took drugs, even acid, they never got their memories changed from a trip. Or do you think he was tripping when it happened?”
“Well, that would explain a lot of guilt, wouldn’t it?” Patrick replies. “Guilt can be a pretty powerful motivator.” He keeps his eyes on the road.
“But it doesn’t have to be like that,” he continues. “Maybe your, uh, friend,” Leonard grins at Geisler again, his gray eyes mischievous, “fancied himself a tripster back in the day. But he never tripped after going through something like what Matt Rollin just did. How can you say what might happen to your mind? He doesn’t even mind that his wife and daughter are gone, because he feels like he can’t protect them.”
Leonard shuts up and frowns at the highway up ahead for a few seconds.
“Huh,” he says. An 18-wheeler carrying a load of huge logs, each two feet in diameter and fifty feet long, passes them going the other way, its bow shock swaying their vehicle. But Leonard is still staring up the road, abstracted.
“What?” Bill asks.
“Some of your hippie friends in the sixties,” Patrick says slowly. “They dropped acid to look for a reason to live. I wonder if Mr. Rollin might do it—to look for a reason to die. You know, a businessman like him—he might have a pretty good life insurance policy.” Leonard glances at Bill again, serious now.
“Oh, fuck,” Bill says to his senior ex-partner. “He said he could still take care of them.”
They drive in silence for half a minute.
“Is there anything we should do?” Bill asks Patrick, after contemplating what they have most likely discovered.
“Well,” Patrick frowns in thought again. Up ahead are signs for the interchange with US-12 that will take them ten miles back east to Wampler’s Lake, and a date with a fishing boat. “I guess we know now why the sheriff isn’t interested. If a man wants to kill himself, whether it’s with a gun or a bear, you’re not gonna stop him. Sheriff Germond knows it isn’t his job, and I think we better remember that it sure as hell isn’t ours.”
“Yeah,” Bill says after a bit. He looks out the window at the rolling scenery. A big John Deere tractor discing a huge field, forty acres at least. Another farmer getting ready for another year. “You’re right.”
“Look,” Leonard says, “I’m glad we went. I’m glad you’re interested in hinky shit going on. That’s what this job is about, right? But let’s keep it in our own jurisdiction. You come over to the east side with me some time, and I’ll show you all the hinky you need to see, buddy.”
“OK, well I guess you owe me some,” Geisler smiles.
Geisler looks out his window again at the rolling fields.
What the hell kind of a bear kills four kids and then drags them into a lake? he thinks. Or for that matter, what the hell kind of a vampire? And if the newspaper people knew that it was a bear attack, what was that bullshit about drowning?
But Geisler knows he’s already pushed his luck with his old partner way too much, to say nothing of poor Rod and Dantonio waiting back at the Inn and wondering what the hell has happened to them.
Leonard’s obviously right, though. Whatever small-town nonsense might be going on here—it’s not his concern. There are tragedies in life. There are probably a hundred playing out today, inside the Ann Arbor city limits. Some of those will involve crimes. In his position with the AAPD, some of those will become his concern. Some will not. Whatever it was that happened a short time ago at Devil’s Lake to Matt Rollin and four young men—that will never become part of his worry.
The farmers’ fields out here are thickly interspersed with forest, unlike in Washtenaw County. More than half the land here is wild, the forested areas connecting to each other in meandering chains that might run uninterrupted for scores of miles.
Washtenaw County has a population of more than two hundred and fifty thousand people. Lenawee, with a quarter again more land, has less than a third of the population. Humans are spread pretty thin out here. And how many people really go exploring, in the wild places of the world? People get in their cars, they go to their jobs, they come home and watch TV.
There must be places out here, in the wild parts, that have not been stepped on by a human foot for a hundred years.
Out the window Geisler sees that the land is starting to leaf out, but the new traces of green are muted today. The wild and the tame places alike are under a sky that’s as cold and heavy as a shroud.