Three a.m. and breaking into the house on Cheyenne
Trail was even easier than Chief Warrant Officer Nick
Cash thought it would be. There were no sounds from above,
no lights throwing shadows, no floorboards whining, no water
running or the snicker of late-night TV laugh tracks. The
basement window, his point of entry, was open. The screws
were rusted, but Nick had come prepared with his Gerber
knife and WD-40; got the screws and the window out in five
minutes flat. He stretched onto his stomach in the dew-wet
grass and inched his legs through the opening, then pushed
his torso backward until his toes grazed the cardboard boxes
in the basement below, full of old shoes and college textbooks,
which held his weight.
He had planned this mission the way the army would expect him to, the way only a soldier or a hunter or a neurotic could, considering every detail that ordinary people didn't even think about. He mapped out the route, calculating the minutes it would take for each task, considering the placement of streetlamps, the kind of vegetation in front, and how to avoid walking past houses with dogs. He figured out whether the moon would be new or full and what time the sprinkler system went off. He staged this as carefully as any other surveillance mission he had created and briefed to soldiers before.
Except this time the target was his own home.
. . .
He should have been relieved that he was inside, unseen, that
all was going according to plan. But as he screwed the window
back into place, he could feel his lungs clench with rage
instead of adrenaline.
How many times had he warned his wife to lock the window? It didn't matter how often he told her about Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, who had gained access to his victims through open basement windows. Trish argued that the open window helped air out the basement. A theory that would have been sound if she actually closed the window every once in a while. Instead she left it open until a rare and thundering storm would remind her, then she'd jump up from the couch, run down the steps, and slam it shut after it had let in more water than a month of searing-weather-open-window- days could possibly dry.
Before he left for Iraq, Nick had wanted to install an alarm system but his wife said no.
"Christ, Trish," he had replied. "You can leave the windows and all the doors open while I am home to protect you. But what about when I'm gone?"
She glanced up at him from chopping tomatoes, narrowed her eyes in a way he hadn't seen before, and said flatly, "We've already survived two deployments. I think we can take care of ourselves."
Take care of this, Nick thought now, twisting the screw so violently that the knife slipped and almost split open his palm, the scrape of metal on metal squealing like an assaulted chalkboard. He hesitated, waiting for the neighbor's dog to start barking or a porch light to go on. Again nothing. Nick could be any lunatic loose in the night, close to his unprotected daughter in her room with the safari animals on her wall, close to his wife in their marital bed.
Trish should have listened to him.
. . .
This particular reconnaissance mission had started with a
seemingly harmless e-mail. Six months ago, Nick had been
deployed to an outlying suburb of Baghdad, in what his battalion
commander jovially referred to as "a shitty little base in a
shitty little town in a shitty little country." One of his buddies
back in Killeen had offered to check on Trish every month or
so, to make sure she didn't need anything hammered or lifted
or drilled while Nick was away.
His friend wrote:
Stopped by to see Trish. Mark Rodell was there. Just thought you should know.
That was it. That hint, that whisper.
Reprinted from You Know When the Men are Gone by Siobhan Fallon by arrangement with Amy Einhorn Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright © 2011 by Siobhan Fallon.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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