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In the dead of a Michigan winter, pieces of a snowmobile wash up near the crumbling, small town of Starvation Lake -- the same snowmobile that went down with Starvation's legendary hockey coach years earlier. But everybody knows Coach Blackburn's accident happened five miles away on a different lake. As rumors buzz about mysterious underground tunnels, the evidence from the snowmobile says one thing: murder.
Gus Carpenter, editor of the local newspaper, has recently returned to Starvation after a failed attempt to make it big at the Detroit Times. In his youth, Gus was the goalie who let a state championship get away, crushing Coach's dreams and earning the town's enmity. Now he's investigating the murder of his former coach. But even more unsettling to Gus are the holes in the town's past and the gnawing suspicion that those holes may conceal some dark and disturbing secrets secrets that some of the people closest to him may have killed to keep.
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The cast-iron railing wobbled in his hand as he climbed the porch steps. He nearly fell over. After three tries, he decided the doorbell didn't work. The screen door wouldn't give, so he stripped off a glove and rapped on the aluminum frame. Paint the color of pea soup was peeling off the face of the inside door.
A cold drop of rain leaked through the awning over his head and splatted on the back of his neck. He put a hand to his neck and looked up as another drop splashed on his cheek. "Shit," he said, taking a step back and pulling his camouflage jacket tight around the package tucked within.
He looked down the street. Not a person in sight. Two Fords, a Chrysler, and his Chevy pickup truck waited at the curb. A single porch light flickered wanly in the dusk. Two doors down, charring from a fire blackened one side of the house, and wind ruffled the drapes where a windowpane had once been. He looked down. Brown stains pocked the concrete porch, down the three steps, and along the walk to the street. The stains seemed to grow bigger as they neared the curb. He hoped they weren't blood.
He rapped again. Dammit, he thought, I knew I should have just sent it the usual way. Four hours down to this shithole city and now I gotta wait around? How the hell does the guy work in this dump? There's a darkroom in there? He looked at his watch. If he could get this done in the next hour he would still have time to visit one of the Windsor clubs before heading home.
He heard something moving inside, then footsteps on the other side of the door. He swallowed hard and took another step back. Just a delivery, he thought. Just leave the thing and go.
The door eased open a crack. He smelled cabbage and cigarettes. A woman's pale round face appeared above the hand holding the door. She seemed to be wearing nothing but a flannel shirt that drooped to her knees.
"What?" she said.
"Riddle. Got something for Charley."
He slipped the manila envelope out from under his coat.
"Riddle? You a joker?"
She had an accent he didn't recognize. Jesus Christ, he thought, is she going to understand a word I say?
"It's my name. Is Charley here?"
The envelope was wrapped in tape and rubber bands. She looked at it with contempt.
"No Charley. We don't want no delivery."
"This is the address he gave me." He glanced at the address plate nailed to the brick. "Cecil Avenue, right?"
A man's voice called out from inside. "Magda!"
She yelled at him in her language. He barked something else, sounding closer now, and she stormed away, leaving the inside door ajar.
The man swung the door open wide. He stood barefoot in a pair of paint-stained sweatpants and a gray T-shirt that said Property of Detroit Lions. A single brow overhung his dark, sunken eyes. He held the door with one hand and kept the other behind his back.
"What you want?"
"I was supposed to bring this for Charley."
"Charley?" The man almost smiled, then decided against it. "Jarek."
"Jarek?" Riddle chuckled nervously. "Jarek, Charley. Got it. Can I leave this for him?"
The man shifted his weight from his left foot to his right, keeping his one hand hidden. Riddle tried not to look at it.
"You are from up north?" the man said.
"Yes, sir. About four hours."
The man stared at Riddle for a moment. "Why do you wear army jacket?" he said. "Are you in military?"
Riddle glanced self-consciously at his camouflage jacket. "Oh, no sir. This is for hunting. Deer, rabbits, you know."
"Aha. You are a killer then. Did you bring gun?"
"My gun? Oh, no sir. That's locked up at home, yes sir."
The man tilted his head slightly. "Would you like to come in?"
"Thank you, but no,...
Starvation LakeBy: Bryan Gruley