Chapter 7 – Investigation
I hauled ass back to Doug's as fast as the boat would carry me. By the time I got there, I had already convinced myself that I had imagined the whole thing. Maybe I just didn't want to believe it. On the other hand, I'm not sure what was worse. The feeling of losing your mind is pretty terrifying. Ultimately, of course, what happened was worse.
I wish I had just been losing my mind.
I fairly ran back to his camp. As luck would have it, he was right where I left him. In fact, he was at the door with his pistol.
“What the fuck, man?” he said when I was within earshot. “I thought the DEA was coming for me. Only the police would make such a noisy-ass entrance.”
“I'm going crazy,” I said, panting. “I think I need some sedatives or something.”
“Shit, man. You only been awake twenty-four hours. Talk to me when you hit five days. Or three weeks. Then you'll know what crazy is. What happened?”
“I saw something. I think I'm hallucinating.”
“Not after one night, you're not. What did you see?”
“You goofy bastard. You were fucking deer hunting. Was it Old Buck?”
“No. I mean yes. I saw him. Sort of. But this was...”
“Fucking what, man? Just spit it out. Was it shadow people?”
“Sometimes I've encountered other-worldly things. Dark shapes. They're invisible. But dark. Blacker than the darkest black. They can put a scare in you, for sure. I don't think they're malevolent, as such. But your fear of them can make them seem so.”
“No. It was just a deer. It...attacked an alligator.”
Doug started laughing. “I think you've got that backwards. It happens. The really big ones will pull a deer into the water. Drag it under a log to rot for a few days. Consider yourself blessed. I've never witnessed such a thing myself.”
I shook my head. “No. The buck, little five pointer, at its eye.”
“Oh, bullshit. Deer are herbivores. Timid ones, at that.”
“Swear to fucking God. I think it was the gas.”
“I hit a pipeline. Something was coming out of it.”
“Ain't nothin' in those pipes that could cause something like that.”
“Then I imagined it.”
“I'm not saying that. I just find it unlikely. I also find the idea of a deer fighting a gator to be highly unlikely. I'm not saying it couldn't have happened.”
“It ate its eyeball.”
“That's what I saw.”
“Then maybe you did imagine it. But...”
“Neither scenario is impossible, as such. You seem pretty lucid, now. In my experience, once things like this start happening, delusions, I mean, it doesn't end until you sleep for a while, at the very least. But I don't like the implications. Do you know what Sherlock Holmes said?”
“I haven't read a lot of the classics.”
“Well, it was actually Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But he said, 'When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however implausible, is the solution'.”
“What should I do? Sleep?”
“Yeah, of course. But let's do a little investigation, first. I'm thinkin' it's rabies, maybe.”
“That makes sense. I never thought of that.”
“If it happened at all, that's the best explanation.”
We took the boat back to the spot, and tied off to the platform at the valve station. If the wind hadn't been in our favor, I probably wouldn't be alive today.
We saw the arrow sticking out of the pipeline, and Doug said, “Well, that part checks out, at least. Yellow smoke, too. Gas, I mean. Must be some really old pipe, or something like schedule ten. Which is odd.”
He bent down to smell the pipe near the arrow, and I stopped him.
“Don't. Just in case it was the gas after all...”
“Prudent. Good call.”
We went down the steps, and checked out the riverbank. The deer tracks were right where the deer would have been. Was.
“They're deep. Could be soft mud, could be a deer bent down and bit an alligator's eyeball,” he said with a twinkle.
I pointed to a spot to the right of the tracks. “Is that blood?”
Doug pressed his finger to it, and then stuck it in his mouth.
“Tastes like it.”
He stood and stared at the river for a little while, looking contemplative. I thought he was just thinking. Then he said, “There,” and pointed across the canal.
We got back in the boat and paddled across. Floating belly up near the bank was a nice six-foot alligator carcass. Doug rolled it over, and it was missing an eye.
“Well, I'll be fucked,” he said.
“Why would it have died?” I asked him. “It was just an eye.”
He shrugged. “It might have gone into shock and drowned or something. I'm no herpetologist.”
“So what do we do now?”
“Just rethink everything we know, is all. I propose we run some tests. The scientific method.”
“Sounds good. I'll write the research paper.”
“Kid,” Doug said. “If this turns out to be true, the gas, I mean, writing about it would get you killed.”
“I know so.”
“Then why do it?”
“The unadulterated thrill of scientific discovery. Let's go back to the shack. We need a few things. Mainly to cover our tracks.”
“What about Tommy and Shannon?”
“My phone's at the camp.”
“Alright. We'll pass by Chinquapin and you can use the phone at the store.”
I left Tommy a voicemail telling him I would see them in a day or two, and then we headed toward Lake Maurepas. Instead of going back where I had found Doug, we went to his other house.
“Two minutes,” he said, and ran inside.
When he came out, he had a flat white package, and a toolbox.
“Hazmat suit,” he explained. “Every smart cook has one. Although I should point out that there are very few smart meth cooks.”
“Isn't that a dead giveaway?”
“Not as long as it's not on the same property as the precursors. No one can prove either of these places are mine, either. Owning a hazmat suit is not illegal.”
Within twenty minutes, we were back at the pipeline. Doug got a respirator, hacksaw, and a roll of metallic tape out of the toolbox, and then said, “Got your blaster?”
I nodded. The bayou blaster was a plastic jug, sort of, with a picture of an alligator smoking a joint on it. You put the lit end of one into it and squeezed, then a thick stream of smoke came out of the top. Sort of like someone giving you a shotgun. We always used it when we went fishing, for some reason. Again, tradition. Sometimes you do things because that's what you did in the past.
“Not really the time and place for that, is it?”
“Just gimme the damn thing.”
I pulled it from my tacklebox, and he suited up. When he was protected, he said, “Upwind,” and indicated I should get on the other end of the platform. Only a few wisps of smoke escaped the hole the arrowhead had made, at random intervals. But it pooled up in the depressions in the mud below the deck where the wind couldn't get to it.
Doug leaned the arrow to one side, and squeezed the blaster, letting it fill with gas. Then he taped the top and side shut. Finally, he sawed the arrow off flush with the insulation, and wrapped that up, too.
He put it in his toolbox, and got back out of his suit.
“The perfect crime,” he said. I have to admit, it was a pretty convincing repair.
We took off in the boat again, and I said, “Now what?” over the whine of the engine.
“Did I ever tell you I was raising rabbits?” he yelled back.