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'The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man' Chapters 9 & 10


spinner image illustration of a man driving a vehicle and seeing the shape of a hitchhiker standing in the snow on the side of the road
Illustration by Steve Vance

 

9

To Swipe or Not to Swipe

Alan and I spent the half-hour drive from Suttons Bay to Traverse City with me trying to bring Alan up to speed on all the events of the past eight years—not easy to do when you’re from Kalkaska, where nothing ever really changes, pretty much cut off from the rest of the world, where everything does.

As I pulled up in front of Maureen’s bank, he was saying, “This explains why my house wasn’t there, and my office. Don’t you see, Ruddy? I’m not crazy!”

“Oh, don’t worry, Alan. Of all the possible explanations for what is going on, it never once occurred to me that you might be crazy,” I assured him. I gazed at the bank. Jake sat up and looked around, then eased back down with a “You handle this one, I’m going to nap” expression.

I stroked Jake’s back and he gave me an encouraging moan. I stayed silent until Alan calmed down, my eyes on the bank so he’d know I was in the mood for a change of subject.

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“So what’s your plan here, more veiled threats?” Alan finally inquired.

“Thanks for your support, Alan.”

“Did you see how she reacted when you talked about Jimmy? Why don’t you try appealing to her maternal nature again; that seemed to work better than anything.”

“Excuse me, did I ask for your help, here? Do I poke my nose into your business? Do I tell you how to be a ghost?” I opened windows for Jake.

Alan was still muttering as I entered the bank and asked for Maureen. I was escorted back to her office. Her face darkened a little when she saw me standing in her doorway. She finished her telephone conversation and hung up, motioning me in. “Hello, Mr. McCann.”

“Call me Ruddy,” I beamed, oozing charm.

She was shaking her head, opening drawers to indicate how busy she was. “I told you on the phone I can’t help you further. There’s nothing more I can tell you.”

“Poor Jimmy, this is going to ruin him,” I said mournfully.

She wouldn’t meet my eyes. “Well, I’m sorry,” she stated in clipped tones. She half rose in her chair, as if to indicate the meeting was over. So much for her maternal instincts.

I was opening my mouth to say something about going to the newspapers, because that’s what always seems to work for people on television shows, when Alan interrupted me. “Ask her why she is afraid.”

I bit back my irritation. “Maureen.”

She finally looked at me.

“Why are you afraid?”

Her gaze turned inward for a moment, and then she sat back down in her chair, heavily, as if the burden of it all was just too much. Very slowly, watching her hand as if it belonged to another person, Maureen opened a drawer and pulled out a card. “This is an invitation to a party next month. It is at Mr. Blanchard’s house. He’s the president of the bank.” She handed it to me. I opened it and saw what Maureen had seen.

It’s the same handwriting,” Alan observed excitedly.

The signature was much more legible but obviously from the same hand as what I’d seen deliberately smudged on the starter checks. “Please be our guest,” the invitation began. It was signed, “Alice Blanchard.”

“She worked here over Christmas when one of the gals was having a baby. She signed up new accounts. She issued the starter checks.”

“And took some for her own use, voiding them out.”

“It appears so.”

“And sent them to Jimmy Growe.”

Maureen was silent.

“Why?” I asked aloud, but I could see she had no idea. Alan was quiet, probably pondering the same question.

“Sooner or later you would have found out,” Maureen finally suggested. She leaned forward. “I mean, you would have gone to court and demanded we turn over our records anyway, right? I just saved us the trouble of going through that.”

“Of course.”

“Ruddy, you won’t tell Mr. Blanchard how you found out, will you?”

“Never, Maureen. You have my word. Absolutely not,” I told her, meaning it. “May I keep this card?”

She nodded wordlessly. I assured her again that I would never betray her confidence and left.

“This is really bizarre. The bank president’s wife? What’s going on?”

“I don’t know, why don’t we go ask her?” I suggested, sliding into my truck and starting the engine.

The Blanchards’ house was exactly what I would have expected for a bank president in a small town: very nice, not too flashy, and well kept, with a large front porch that creaked when I walked across it to the thick oak door. I liked the place, but Jake seemed unimpressed, though he did consent to follow me to ring the bell, which chimed but summoned no one.

“Try it again,” Alan suggested, so instead I lifted the brass door knocker, heavy as the clapper on the Liberty Bell, and let it fall several times, loud booms echoing throughout the empty house. When I turned to leave Jake gave me a “you woke me up for this?” expression. “Sorry, buddy,” I told him.

“You’ve got the wife of the bank president stealing starter packets of checks and sending them payable to Jimmy for a thousand dollars each,” Alan reflected as we got back into the truck.

“She didn’t exactly steal them. She lined them out in the log.” I pulled away from the curb.

“Right, okay, but the point I’m making is that she took them and now she’s sending them to Jimmy.”

“I get that, Alan.”

“I’m just reviewing the facts of the case,” he huffed, sounding offended.

I didn’t bother to tell him that repo men don’t have “cases.” “Don’t get your shorts in a wad, I’m just saying I know this. I just don’t have any idea why someone would do something like that.”

“In a ‘wad’? What a vile expression.”

“Okay, fine. Right.”

We drove in silence for a bit, and then I felt him leave, like shutting off a lamp. “You asleep, Alan?” I asked softly. He didn’t respond. I decided I was thankful he didn’t snore.

I dropped Jake off at home and then, putting my health at risk in order to demonstrate my loyalty to sister Becky, I had lunch at the Black Bear. She put a tuna sandwich down in front of me and then cocked her head at me. “What?” she asked. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“You just seem different. Are those new glasses or something?”

“No,” she responded scornfully.

I stared at her until she blushed. “Like a haircut or something? Tattoo? Boob job?”

“Ruddy.” She slapped her dish towel in the air as if to whip me with it.

“Well, anyway. Thanks for the maid service; you didn’t have to do that. Place looks great.”

 She turned and surveyed the bar, her face puzzled.

“Not here, you goof. My living room,” I teased.

“What do you mean?” she asked innocently.

I smiled at her. It’s against Becky’s nature to take credit for anything— she could win the Nobel Peace Prize and she’d decline to accept it because she’d insist there were other people more deserving.

“I’ve never seen your sister with makeup; she looks nice,” Alan observed, coming awake.

“Makeup!” I shouted triumphantly.

Becky’s expression turned cold for some reason.

“I mean, you look great, Becky. I like your makeup.”

“I wear makeup all the time,” she declared frostily. She spun on her heel.

“Wonderful. Thanks a lot, Alan,” I muttered.

“What did I do?”

I didn’t respond because I wasn’t actually sure. “How come you keep falling asleep?” I inquired, switching subjects. “You’re like a loose lightbulb, always flickering on and off.”

“I don’t know, it just happens. It’s not like falling asleep in a bed, where you make a conscious decision to lie down. It just overtakes me whether I want it to or not.”

“Maybe you’re depressed,” I speculated.

“I am not depressed.”

“You sure? I know I’d be depressed if I didn’t have a body or any proof that I’d ever existed except as the paranoid inner voice of a repo man.”

Alan made an exasperated noise. I noticed Becky watching me from across the room and realized that though she couldn’t hear me, she could see my lips moving, so I stood up and nodded at her before leaving the Black Bear. Outside it was cold; my breath a frosty cloud. I shoved my hands in my coat pockets. “Are we going to do spring this year? Like, ever?”

With no repo business on hand, I let Alan talk me into driving back to East Jordan to revisit the issue of his past, now that he was claiming he’d been dead eight years. I agreed with him that yes, houses and office buildings can be torn down in that amount of time, though it seemed pretty coincidental for it to have happened.

“So where have you been all this time, Alan? Eight years.”

“I don’t know.”

“I mean, what happened? You died, you were murdered, and then what?”

“I don’t know.”

“How could you forget something like that?” I fretted.

“I didn’t forget, I mean I don’t know. It’s like there’s a big blank. I have no sense of the passage of time.”

“But you must have gone somewhere,” I argued. “Did you see God? Other ghosts? Other Realtors? I’m serious—if this is true, you hold the answer to the most important question in the history of our species!”

“If what is true?” he demanded suspiciously. “You mean, me? You still have doubts?”

“Come on, Alan, you want me to believe you’ve been asleep for eight years? Nobody’s that depressed.”

“I’m not saying that. I’m saying I don’t know.”

“If you really are Alan Lottner, if you really have come back from the dead, it proves once and for all what millions of people have believed—that there’s life after real estate.”

“I do not understand your persistent refusal to acknowledge my existence,” Alan said coldly, speaking over my laughter.

I shook my head in dismay. How do you convince your split personality that he’s not real?

“Well, there’s something I didn’t expect to see.” I slowed down a little. Kermit Kramer was walking along the opposite side of the county highway, kicking at the piles of snow. His thumb was raised in a pathetic bid to hitch a ride, too lazy to turn around and face traffic the way you were supposed to. He lifted his eyes and stared at me as I drove past. I stared back. “Now what the heck is he doing fifteen miles north of Kalkaska, hitchhiking?”

I flipped the truck around and drove back. Kermit had resumed his trudge, but turned at the sound of my approach. I stopped and he seemed to hesitate, as if afraid to get in the truck.

I rolled down the window. “I know you’re not supposed to accept rides from strangers, but you’ll be safe, I promise.”

He slouched onto the seat, his hand resting on the door’s handle after he pulled it closed. I steered back onto the highway and headed toward Kalkaska.

“We’re still going to East Jordan though, right?” Alan demanded. I ignored him.

“So what are you doing out here, Kermit?” I asked curiously.

Kermit looked really unhappy with my question. “I had to hitch back from outside Mancelona. I couldn’t get any cell phone signal.”

Mancelona is a tiny town midway between Kalkaska and East Jordan. “You’re kidding! You walked what, two miles in this cold? What were you doing in Mancelona?”

Kermit sighed. “My uncle Milt dropped me off up in

East Jordan to drive a repo back to Kalkaska.”

“Yeah? It break down or something?”

“No. The guy took it.”

“What guy? What are you talking about?”

Kermit looked sightlessly out the window. “The customer. He was following me with some guys. When I stopped at the light, he came up and opened the door and pulled me out.”

“He stole it? Wait a minute, the customer ... it wasn’t Einstein Croft, was it?” I shouted.

Kermit looked miserable. “He said not to bother calling the cops because it was legal for him to take his own truck back.”

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“Is that true?” Alan asked.

I slapped the dashboard in frustration. “Kermit, how could you let this happen?”

He didn’t have a response to that one.

“He must have spotted the unit at the shop having the gas tank dried out, and then just followed you when you drove off,” I seethed. “Didn’t you bother to even look behind you to see if you were being followed?”

 “Well, who would do that?” Alan snorted.

“It’s basic repo man procedure!” I stormed. “It’s in the manual.” Or at least it would be if there were a manual.

“How do we know it was Einstein?” Alan wanted to know.

“He told me his name,” Kermit said, as if he’d heard the question.

“Wait, what? Did you hear a voice ask you how you knew who it was?” I demanded, agitated.

“Huh?” Kermit looked worried. “A voice?”

“Never mind,” I stormed. I glared over at Kermit, who appeared ready to fling himself from the truck to get away from me. “Okay, look, this happens sometimes.” Actually, it had never happened, but I didn’t think that would cheer him up. “We’ll just take it again. We know where he works, where he lives. We’ll do it. Okay? We’ll put him back on his feet, Kermit. There’s no better feeling than outsmarting a guy like this and repoing his vehicle.”

“No better feeling,” Alan repeated. “Not winning a million dollars. Not making love to a woman.” I slapped the dashboard again, signaling him to shut up.

Kermit perked up a little, straightening in his seat and nodding, seeing himself driving off in Einstein’s truck, probably giving the guy the finger on the way past.

Apparently he felt that we had bonded somehow, because a few minutes later he lightly punched me on the arm like we were old pals. “Listen, I was talking to Becky last night.”

“Becky,” I repeated. The friendly smile dropped from my face.

“Right.” He swallowed, but it was too late to back out now. “Becky. I was talking to her last night about this deal I have. See, you can run nonswipe transactions for your charge cards. So what I told her—” 

“What you told Becky,” I interrupted.

A full thirty seconds passed by while Kermit contemplated the fact that he was hurtling down the highway with a man at the wheel known to have voices in his head. “Right. Becky.”

“My sister.”

“Your sister,” Kermit responded as if hypnotized.

“Who, if anybody ever hurt her, I would break his face into fragments.”

“Why don’t you let up on the guy, Ruddy?” Alan demanded.

“Yeah. Right,” Kermit said after a moment.

“Okay. So you were telling Becky ...”

“Right.” He took a breath. “See, the Black Bear has what you call a merchant account, which I used to sell before I ran into some unfortunates and had to rehabilitate up here to the north with my uncle. That means that when someone hands you a credit card you can accept it and run it through your machine and the bank will credit your account.”

“Sounds good.”

“Right. So, if you run the actual card through itself, you get what is called a swipe account. But, if you don’t have the card, you can still punch the numbers into the machine and you’ll get credit for the transaction anyway. That’s called a nonswipe. And you can do both!”

“Hot dog!” I said enthusiastically.

“So I got this client who can’t get a merchant account. So you could, like, run his business through your machine, pay him his money, but you keep thirteen percent. Pay your three percent to your bank, and you’re keeping ten percent of everything he sends you.”

“Ten percent,” I repeated dutifully, vacillating between not understanding and not caring.

“Right. He does credit card business, sends you the account numbers. You run them through your nonswipe account, and keep ten percent. Ten percent of a thousand dollars is one hundred. He can send you three thousand a day. You’ll make twenty-one hundred dollars a week,” Kermit advised, as if reciting a catechism.

“Kermit.”

He looked at me.

“Is there something printed on the sign at the Black Bear that tells every person in the world with a get-rich scheme to stop in?”

“No, see, Becky thought it sounded like a great idea.”

“She did.”

“Yeah, honest.”

“Becky.”

“Uh- huh.”

“My sister.”

Kermit looked out his window in disgust. “She said you guys have had problems paying the bills. I thought this would help.”

“Becky said that?” I asked incredulously.

 “Yeah, Becky. Your sister.”

I hid my smile behind my hand. So maybe the guy wasn’t a total idiot.

I expected him to ask me to drop him at his uncle’s lot, but he said the Black Bear would be fine. He said it nervously, the way a boy acts when a girl’s father wants to know where they’re going on prom night.

I liked that.

The snow was falling steadily as I headed back to East Jordan. Twenty-seven degrees: a fifteen-degree drop in a couple of hours. “I’m joining the Witness Protection Club and moving to Florida,” I announced.

Alan wanted to visit the East Jordan cemetery first, which surprised me. “I want to see if I’m buried there. I purchased a family plot when Kathy was born.”

“Then why wouldn’t you be buried there, if you paid for it?” I asked curiously.

“Let’s just see,” Alan responded evasively.

“What aren’t you telling me, Alan?”

“Oh, my God! Kathy! She’s not a little girl anymore, she’s ... she’s twenty-four. She’s a grown woman.”

Alan began making an odd noise. I frowned, concentrating, then realized he was crying. “Hey, Alan, hey, you okay? Talk to me.”

“I’ll never see my little girl again. She’s all grown up. She grew up without me. I wasn’t there, Ruddy. I’m her daddy and I wasn’t there for her.”

I tried to imagine what he was going through. I thought about how I felt when I got the call from Becky telling me Dad was dead, how frustrated I’d felt that I had seen so little of him those three years. Mom was even worse, coming just six months later. “I’m sorry, Alan. Jesus, I’m really sorry.”

Alan directed me to the cemetery, going quiet as I pulled up to a heavy-gauge chain-link fence. There was not a headstone in sight. “I don’t understand,” he said finally. “This was the graveyard.”

I got out of the truck, the snowflakes landing on my face and melting. I walked up to the fence and grabbed it—it felt pretty new, coated with some sort of rubberized layer to prevent rust. From here I could gaze right down into the parking lot of the factory where Einstein worked. I scanned the area, looking for his truck.

“This makes no sense. This was the cemetery, I swear. The funeral home was about fifty feet from where we are standing, and the headstones went all the way down the hill.”

“Well, it’s not here now, Alan. There’s a factory, instead,” I sighed. Another indication that Alan was a figment of my imagination.

“What’s happening?” Alan shouted in frustration. “My house, my office, even the town cemetery, they’re all gone, just like the past eight years!”

I didn’t say anything.

“You’re thinking that this is just more proof that I never existed,” Alan accused.

“Well yeah, Alan, I am.”

The noise he made in response was full of defeat.

“What do you want to do now, Alan? Got any more ideas?”

“Let’s just go.”

I detoured down Main Street in case Katie was standing there with a dead battery. No such luck, though everything else about the day was pretty much the same. I swung the truck into the exact same parking slot and let a pleasant feeling akin to nostalgia wash over me. “I think I’ll have a cup of java,” I remarked. “That okay with you, Mr. Lottner?”

“Sure,” Alan responded listlessly.

I indulged myself by sitting at a small table and picturing what it would have been like if Katie had accepted my offer of coffee that day. Again, I was almost impossibly witty, and she laughed and laughed.

Alan winked out on me, off on one of his catnaps, and I took this as a sign that I should be impossibly witty on the telephone while I had some privacy. The woman who ran the coffee shop told me to help myself to her phone. I was pretty calm as I dialed, fully aware that Katie was most likely still at work. I’m in East Jordan; before I leave, I want to make sure your battery is still ... 

I heard five rings, and then a click. “Hello, this is Katie

Lottner. I can’t take your phone call right now ...”

What? What? I hung up, my heart pounding.

Katie Lottner?

10

I’m Not Dead

Could this really be happening? How could she have the same last name as Alan? Was she Kathy, his daughter?

What was my mind doing to me? Or was it God, trying to teach me some lesson I hadn’t any hope of comprehending?

I’d met Katie before I heard any voices in my head. Had she mentioned her last name then? I tried to recall. Maybe she told me, and I forgot, but it was trapped there in my subconscious. Mix in a little location—East Jordan, where I met her and where Alan claimed to have lived and died—and the whole story was revealed to be nothing more than a rather mundane creation by an imagination too lazy to go very far for the ingredients of its hallucinations.

Shaken, I drove down to the little park located where the Jordan River empties into Lake Charlevoix. For most of its length, the Jordan isn’t so much a river as a clear, cold brook. As it approaches the lake, though, it widens, slows, and forms what in other waters might be termed a bayou. The water here looks still, deep, and dark.

I felt Alan come awake, but I didn’t say anything. The very fact of first name Katie, last name Lottner, was rendering me mute.

I turned my back on the river and gazed out at the lake. The water was the same shade of gray as the sky. We were both silent, contemplating. A long way out a boat broke from shore and headed north—I could see its wake flashing white in the frigid water, but the wind carried off the noise from the motor before it could reach my ears. d,“It’s best for me like this, when you are looking long distance and not moving your eyes so much. When you’re focused on something close it makes me nauseated,” Alan finally said.

“Well, do me a favor and don’t throw up in there.”

“I remember coming down the Jordan River in a canoe with my daughter. We’d fish for trout. When you get down here to the end where the river flattens out, the current sort of dies, and you have to paddle pretty hard. She’d get tired. We’d pull up right about here. Then we’d sit and fish some more from the shore.”

“Your daughter, what was her name, again?”

“Kathy.”

“Kathy, what is that, a nickname for Katherine or something?”

“Actually it’s ‘Katrine.’ Marget insisted we name her something Swedish. I called her Kathy, Marget called her Katrine.”

“Katrine. Katie,” I said. Alan didn’t comment. I sighed. “I’ve done that. Canoed down the Jordan River before,” I told him, returning to the original subject. Which was probably why Alan had the same recollection—we were both drawing from the same memory bank.

“Yeah?” He pondered this for a few moments. “It was near the Jordan where I was killed.”

I sat down, careful to keep my eyes on the horizon so he wouldn’t get sick. Time to see what my imagination could come up with. I had a feeling Alan’s murder would exactly match the circumstances from a T. Jefferson

Parker novel I’d just finished. “Tell me about that.”

“I got a phone call from this guy who’d seen an ad for a listing in our office. There was this cabin out in the Jordan Valley, ten acres of land. Man who owned it used to hunt out of it. Then he died and his wife let it fall apart. Kids broke into it, and then somebody got careless and it burned down. When she died it went to her niece, I think it was. She put it up for sale, but she was from California and wouldn’t believe me when I told her how little it was worth. It was a pretty little piece, about five hundred feet of riverfront, lots of hardwood. We went through the motions but nobody was interested at the price she wanted. So then this guy calls me, says he might make an offer, wants to take a look at it. I arrange to meet him and his wife, but driving out, I think I saw something I wasn’t supposed to.”

“What do you mean?”

“Two guys. I think it must have been a drug deal, the way they reacted. I drove on past them to up where I had my listing, and a couple of minutes later I heard them coming up from behind. I turned and one of them had a shovel ...”

“A what?” I demanded sharply.

“A shovel. He had this look on his face I’ll never forget.”

I stood abruptly. “Can you show me? Show me where this happened?”

“Sure.”

Alan directed me back down Highway 66 toward Mancelona. Even with the forest still looking dead from winter and snow puddled in the shadows, the Jordan Valley is a spectacular remnant of glacial action, heavily wooded and hilly. We turned once, then again, bumping down a mucky dirt road that was doing its best to turn back into untracked forest. I dropped my truck into four-wheel drive and powered over some small trees that had been felled during recent storms. My heart was pounding now, and I felt a little sick. We topped a rise and I eased to a stop.

“What? What is it?” Alan demanded anxiously.

“Here.” I stared without blinking at a small clearing off to the right. “This is where you saw the two guys, standing next to a truck. One of them you knew from somewhere before, but the one with the shovel was a stranger.”

“The one I knew had a toupee,” Alan whispered.

“Exactly.” I pressed on the accelerator and shot forward. Without the autumn leaves it really didn’t look much like the same place until the road ended at the remains of a burned cabin strewn across the forest floor. I slid out of the cab and walked up to where the front door had been, kicking at some loose bricks. “You were standing right about here.”

“How do you know this, Ruddy?”

“The other one, the stranger, husky with a tan. Green eyes. He walked right up and swung the shovel without even slowing down.” I rubbed my arm.

“Hit me between the elbow and the wrist. Broke the bone, I think,” Alan murmured.

I pictured the guy with the shovel, the expression on his face. “Yes.” I turned and looked down the road. “So you ran back this way.”

“I was running forty miles a week at that point. Once I got twenty yards ahead, I knew they would never catch me. I could hear them panting, even after that short distance. And then the sound faded away.”

I found myself trotting back down the road, acting it out. “Didn’t even notice their truck when you passed it,” I said as I huffed past the clearing where it had been parked. I slid and almost fell in the snow-covered mud but didn’t stop.

“I was too busy thinking, trying to figure out why they had done it. Maybe if I had seen the truck it would have occurred to me to get off the road.”

“Because you didn’t.” I stopped, peering around. “If you’d made it into the woods, they never would have caught up with you.”

“It was up here farther, I heard the truck.”

I began moving. “I’m not sure we’ll be able to tell exactly where; the woods look so different this time of year.”

“Tell me how you know all this, Ruddy.”

“I had a dream several days ago. Except it felt more like a memory, more like waking up and remembering something that had really happened.”

“A dream.”

“Don’t start getting skeptical on me, Alan. Not you, of all people.” I slowed down, panting with the exertion. “Here’s where you heard the truck, right?” I began watching the side of the road. “So right along here somewhere ...”

We saw it together, the place where he’d jumped the ditch and fled into the woods. “There,” we said in unison. Without hesitating, I stepped into the trees.

“Right along here. I’d just started running, I fell, and then just up here ...”

“Yes. He must have had a rifle. Even then, a pretty good shot, caught you right in the leg.”

“I don’t know that he was aiming for the leg,” Alan argued, as if it made a difference. “And he might have shot five times; I never heard the rifle.”

I turned around in a full circle. “I’m looking for a big old tree. An oak,” I stated.

The tree was there, but was no longer upright. Same large cavity in the huge trunk, but the massive oak had been toppled by nature, lying indignantly on its side.

It didn’t go down without a fight, though—it clung to an enormous ball of earth with its gnarled roots, exposing a huge crater that had filled with brown meltwater.

“Right here.”

“Yes.”

“This is where you died.”

“Yes”

I stood there for what must have been five minutes, staring at the tree, thinking of the life ebbing out of me, of wanting to live and knowing I wasn’t going to. Fixing my eyes on the sky and a tree and wishing I could have more time.

“You okay, Alan?”

“Yeah. I guess ... I guess I’m probably buried right here somewhere. That’s why I wanted to see the cemetery, see if I had a grave. I knew I wouldn’t.”

I turned and looked, kicking away the thin layer of melting snow. There was no mound, and whatever signs of digging that might have once marred the earth had been erased by eight years of active forest cycle.

“What do we do now, Ruddy?”

I jammed my hands in my pockets. The day was ending. The sun, which had been hidden behind a thick skin of gray all day, was fading rapidly away. “So one thing that could be happening is that I’ve been here before, forgot about it, and now, after my dream, I have created a split personality that ‘remembers’ a murder.”

“Back to the ‘I must be crazy because I have voices in my head’ theory,” Alan observed.

“Right. Repo Madness.”

“You don’t believe that, though,” he said evenly.

“No,” I admitted. “I don’t. Because I know I’ve never been here before. I had a dream about it, but I would not have been able to find this place if you hadn’t shown me.”

“So now what?”

“So now I have to follow this thing through,” I said grimly. “Because if you are a figment of my imagination, the fact that I believe your story means I really am crazy.”

We drove back to East Jordan with the light nearly gone from the sky. Some locals were already in the Rainbow Bar, not giving me much notice as I slid up and asked for a beer. I sat there looking friendly for a while, finally breaking into a conversation between two guys about what great times they had three years ago ice fishing. “I’m looking for a guy named Alan Lottner,” I told them.

They passed a doubtful look between them. I sipped my beer.

“Guy that ran off few years ago,” someone speculated from another table.

“I didn’t ‘run off,’ ” Alan objected.

There it was: confirmation that an Alan Lottner had really existed in East Jordan. Of course, I could have picked this up somehow, read his name off of a real estate sign, even met him at some point and just forgot.

Everyone was watching me curiously. I cleared my throat. “He ran off?”

“Oh, yeah,” one of the ice fishermen said, brightening.

“What happened to him? He wasn’t from around here.”

“Found him dead somewhere. I remember reading about it,” said the guy at the other table. “Funeral notice in the paper.”

“I still don’t know who you’re talking about,” the other ice fisherman groused.

“Dressed funny,” the guy at the other table recalled.

“Dressed funny?” Alan squawked.

“So ... he’s buried here in East Jordan?”

The man with all the information squinted his weathered eyes, trying to remember. “Yeah, think so.”

“I tried to find the cemetery, but it’s not where I remember it.”

The ice fishermen both snorted. “That’s because they moved the darn thing. Just dug everybody up and moved ’em all, so they could build the PlasMerc factory.”

“New cemetery is up north toward Boyne City way. About four miles.”

Alan was still upset as we drove north. “Where do they get that from? I didn’t run off.”

“It was a long time ago, Alan. That’s probably all they can remember.”

“And do you think they found my body in the woods, is that why I’m buried in the cemetery?”

“Let’s just take it one step at a time, Alan.”

“Dressed funny. This from a man in a Detroit Pistons jacket, a John Deere baseball cap, and a T-shirt with a picture of a duck on it.”

Grinning, I swung my truck into the parking lot of the cemetery, my lights sweeping past a funeral home that looked no more than a few years old. A shadow appeared briefly at the window, probably someone checking to see who had just pulled in. “I see somebody in there; let’s go ask him where we can find Alan Lottner’s grave.”

Rock salt crunched under my feet as I mounted the cement steps. I pushed open a polished wooden door and stepped cautiously into the entryway of the funeral parlor. Tasteful carpet and dark paneling gave the place a solemn feel. I poked my head around the corner, looking into a large room with shiny wooden pews.

“Can I help you?” inquired a voice from behind me.

I turned and started in surprise.

He was heavier than I remembered, and his scalp was so bald it gleamed. But take a few years off his face and put a toupee on him and I would recognize him anywhere. In my dream he was standing next to a pickup truck in the woods, talking to a green-eyed guy with a shovel, gazing at me with an unreadable expression as I drove past.

We’d found one of Alan’s killers.

NEXT: Chapters 11-12

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