In the fall of 1977, a Viet Nam veteran called Harry Maddox arrived in Jasper, where he met with a local player called Wesley who was looking to consolidate his power in the town. Maddox was a self-styled security expert who hired out as a private investigator; he was known to do some shadier work if the price was right.

He stayed in a guest house on the Wesley estate, snorting cocaine and listening to his host rumble through his plans between sips of whiskey. They invented a cover story about Maddox being an auditor, investigating Wesley’s holdings. In truth, Maddox was there to dig up dirt on Wesley’s enemies and allies alike.

It wasn’t hard, in most cases. Maddox almost felt bad about how quickly he accumulated enough incriminating information to shame or imprison half the chamber of commerce. Then Wesley would order one of his girlfriends to fuck Maddox while he watched, and Maddox figured another day or two of the easy life couldn’t hurt.

His conscience nagged at him enough that he made a show of reviewing his papers, marking up a map of the town, making a summary of findings for the boss. It seemed only fair. He figured maybe Wesley had friends who needed similar work done, in other jerked-off towns.

It was the map that put the idea in his head. He looked at the businesses arranged around the junction of Jasper’s two main streets, and saw one where he had very little information. Every license, every inspection, everything was in meticulous order. It was strange, and it made his gut itch.

Maddox made a policy of listening to his gut.

Three weeks later, an old man answered the door to his home on Sunday morning and squinted at the stranger on his porch. The old man had a distinctive right eye due to a childhood injury; it was ice blue, except for a black wedge of colour in the upper left of the retina. “Can I help you?” The old man’s voice trembled a little.

“Mister Becker?” The visitor was a man in his late twenties, his hair damp with the day’s humidity, dressed in a rumpled suit and borrowed shoes. “Ambrose Becker?”

“Ambroos,” the old man corrected. “What you want?”

“Just a moment of your time, if you can spare it,” said Harry Maddox, using a voice he figured made him sound official. “My name is Sutton. Frank Sutton. I’m with the county, doing a survey for the tourism people. I understand you rent a lot of boats.”

“I rent them to others,” Becker corrected again. “I own the boats.”

Maddox smiled thinly, satisfied that his fish was on the hook. “Of course.” The old man grunted and motioned for him to come inside.

“I make lunch,” Becker wheezed as he led the younger man through a cool, dark parlour to a small kitchen where a few long, thin sausages were sizzling in a cast iron pan. “You want?”

Maddox shrugged. “I don’t want to put you out. Smells good, though, I must admit.”

Becker jerked the cast iron pan by the handle, rolling the sausages. He placed it back on the stove and motioned toward a chair at the far end of a small round table. “Sit, sit.”

Sutton doffed an invisible cap and said he was much obliged. Becker got another plate and glass of water for his guest and pulled a bowl of shredded cabbage and leftover potatoes from the refrigerator. He divided the sausages and other food and set the plates down as he sat.

“Thank you again,” Maddox said. “Very kind of you.”

Becker grunted again, already chewing a mouthful of food.

“Yes indeed,” Maddox continued. “Most generous. It makes me optimistic that you might be interested in what brings me here.”

The old man didn’t seem to share his optimism, but Maddox pressed on. “You see, Mr. Becker, I recently did some research on the area, as I mentioned, and it turned up some interesting information.

“I was looking at an old photo of you, sir – snapped by somebody on one of those fishing trips you run. You don’t ordinarily let people take your photo, do you, Mr. Becker? More than one person has mentioned that to me.”

Becker looked as if he was trying to remember why Maddox was there. “I like privacy,” he shrugged.

Maddox smiled tightly, hungrily. “Don’t we all.” He speared a sausage and ran it through the cabbage. “This is splendid,” he nodded at the plate. “It reminds me of my Oma’s food back in the old country.”

Becker grunted again, drinking some water.

“Not far from your home, I think,” Maddox pressed. “Nuremberg.”

Becker set his glass down and swallowed, his pale and scarred eyes meeting Maddox’s. “What you want?” he demanded again.

“Why, to help you,” Maddox beamed. “You’ve worked hard to build a life and a business here, Mr. Becker. You’ve become friendly old Dutch since you moved here in the fifties, renting and selling boats to half the county. But you’re not Dutch at all, are you, Mr. Becker?”

“You confuse me with someone else.” Becker coughed and got up with his plate to get a second helping.

“That’s possible,” Maddox shrugged, looking down to cut another piece of sausage. “Easy enough to check. All I have to do is call my friend at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and tell him I found the guy with the funny coloured eye that he showed me a picture of once.” He glanced at the stove and saw Becker’s shoulders droop a little. He’s on the line, he told himself; now to reel him in.

Maddox looked back at the plate as he cut another piece of sausage, a faint smirk lifting one end of his mouth. “But I don’t have to, of course. All that was a lifetime ago, before I was even born. You’re an old man now, trying to enjoy his retirement, trying to forget what the war required of you. That’s something else we have in common, you know. I’ve had my eye on a little place up North – if a new friend were to help me out with the down payment, well, I’d be in his debt-”

Maddox had just enough time to look up, his cocksure expression shifting to surprise as Becker turned and crossed the room with surprising speed, wielding the hot cast iron pan in both hands and slamming it against Maddox’s temple. Maddox made a sound between laughing and retching before the pan came down again and caved his skull in.

Cursing in German, Becker threw the pan in the sink and turned off the stove. He searched Maddox’s pockets while black blood spread out slowly and silently across the table. He found a hotel room key and a billfold with ten dollars and identification that looked fake. He spent the rest of the afternoon stripping and rolling the body into a tarpaulin weighted with bricks, scrubbing evidence of the stranger’s visit from his home. Then he took a nap, waking at midnight.

Becker drove Harry Maddox’s body out to one of his boats docked on Stockton Lake. He quietly paddled out to a deep spot under an overcast sky and pushed Maddox’s body over the side. Satisfied that it had sunk and joined the others, Becker paddled back to shore and drove home.


The Red Checkered Dress

Elizabeth purchased the red checkered dress while on a shopping trip in the summer of 1988. She was tired of wearing scrubs and lab coats and wanted to buy something that would signal to the world that she wasn’t just a doctor – she was a woman, too.

Well, it worked. The first time she wore the red checkered dress to run some errands the following weekend in Jasper, it seemed like every man in town turned their head for a second look, and some sneaked a third, much to the consternation of their wives.

That afternoon, she stopped at Red’s auto parts store to bring him a club sandwich from the diner. He smiled his sad smile as he saw his niece and reckoned that she was the prettiest thing to come through the door in at least a year, if not ever. She smiled back at the compliment and was about to reply when the bell above the door rang again.

Brad Wesley and one of his minions strolled in as if they owned the place. Elizabeth supposed they sort of did. “Red,” he nodded at her uncle, then turned his attention to her, his eyes taking in the dress. “Elizabeth,” he greeted warmly. “That’s a lovely dress. Is it new?”

Elizabeth tried to maintain a cool and professional demeanor with Wesley at all times so as not to encourage him, but it never quite seemed to discourage him either. She could feel her uncle’s irritation with Wesley radiating across the counter as she replied. “Thanks, Mr. Wesley. I just picked it up at the J.C. Penney in Kansas City.”

His eyes widened. “All the way up there?” He glanced at his associate, a rumpled looking man who looked like a disbarred lawyer. “It’s a pity that a fine looking woman should have to travel so far to find a dress.” He frowned, then his eyes brightened as he appeared to have an idea. “Let me make some calls,” he decided. “I bet I can interest them in opening a location here.”

Red started to make a sarcastic remark in reply but Elizabeth cut him off, hoping to prevent any further antipathy between the two men. “That’s really not necessary,” she said, trying to sound grateful but not indebted. “It’s nice to get away for the occasional weekend to visit old friends from med school and do a little shopping.”

Wesley waved it away, smiling broadly. “Of course, a woman like you should see the world. You should have whatever you want in life, Elizabeth. But you choose to practise here in Jasper, and speaking on behalf of the town, we appreciate it. Don’t we, Red?”

Her uncle’s expression darkened, but he had to grudgingly agree. “And besides,” Wesley continued, “you represent the kind of young professional people that we want to attract to this town. It’s not always convenient to travel for hours to do your shopping – you ought to be able to find whatever you need right here.” Wesley was no longer looking at her, lost in his vision of the town he would build up, but then he remembered himself and focused his cold blue eyes on hers again. “I guess you could say you’re our target market, Elizabeth” he said with a flourish of his hands. She knew he intended to be charming, but the statement chilled her as she thought of the dozens of firearms and hunting trophies in his home.

Elizabeth muttered an excuse about needing to check on something at the hospital and said goodbye to Red. Wesley tipped his hat to her as she passed and his henchman leered at the neckline of the dress. She climbed into her Jeep and drove home, where she changed into some shorts and a tank top to wear around the house. She put the red checkered dress away, and decided not to wear it again unless it was a special occasion.