The silver pair of Armani sunglasses were not supposed to be in this world. Carl had them in his car when it hit black ice last November on Long Island. The mortuary gave Jon some of Carl’s belongings, but not everything in the car or on his person. Until the sunglasses turned up for sale at the Salvage Senter, they had been lost and forgotten. There was no question the glasses once belonged to Carl. The giveaway was a pattern of tiny chew marks on the right temple tip of the frame. Sybil made these marks when she was a puppy.
When Jon found the sunglasses on an old mannequin, he saw the faceless figure superimposed with Carl’s features, his sanguine complexion, his pale scar over the left eye, his dark hair that smelled like white grapes. At the cash register, Jon paid for the sunglasses with a credit card since the store didn’t accept cash. As he left the building, he walked like someone just waking up from a dream. The big blue warehouse behind him had only one window in addition to the glass doors on the front wall, where the name of the business appeared in white letters, Salvage Senter. In the misty drizzle of an April afternoon, outdoor tables were heaped with sun-bleached plastic toys now growing mold. Near the front entrance stood another sign, something salvaged from an old carnival ride. On a semi-circular base, red metal letters spelled out The Big Dipper.
“You must be kidding,” said Bronwyn, smiling in spite of herself because she had already finished two glasses of Chianti. “How could your dead partner’s sunglasses show up here in Maine? And what would be the chances that you’d be the one to find them?”
Jon shrugged. “It’s impossible.” He stood beside the island in the kitchen of the empty Victorian he had inherited. He came here to escape his life in New York and to find a link back to Carl, who grew up in this house, but there was no trace of him, perhaps because the house had been rented too many times.
“The Salvage Senter,” said Bronwyn, “I can’t imagine what possessed you to go to such a disgusting place.”
“I have a confession to make,” said John. “I’ve been there before. First time was when I moved here and needed batteries. I was surprised to find some good antiques mixed in the ocean of junk, but it was something else kept me coming back, a mystery, and now it’s solved. Carl’s sunglasses were pulling me back, except I don’t know what the hell that means.”
“It used to be a slaughterhouse. McGillicuddy’s, it’s on old maps of Meridian from the 1840s,” said Bronwyn, who was a realtor helping Jon sell Carl’s house. He refilled her glass. “The slaughterhouse was torn down sometime in the 1960s, and the Salvage Senter came up later when I was still a girl. The funny thing is that they put it on pretty much the exact footprint of the original building, down by the Access Road, where nobody goes anymore, instead of putting it up on the ridge in the back, which overlooks I-95 and has amazing visibility.”
“Who owns the place?” asked Jon.
“I don’t know, but I can find out.”
When he returned to the Salvage Senter, it was closed. For a few seconds, he stared stubbornly at the signboard that listed the hours of operation. After the irritation passed, Jon found himself baffled by the randomness. How could this place stay in business when it opened only on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, from 1:00 to 3:00, then closed arbitrarily with no notice.
Through one of the glass doors, he looked inside at the cluttered aisles, the bins and shelves so shaded by darkness they dissolved into black, and he wondered what else was in here from Carl’s car. Jon tried to remember all the things in the vehicle, the pens and roadmaps, the floor mats, the stainless steel coffee mug, even the keychain to the doomed Mustang. Were they on sale now?
As he peered through the front door into the unlit showroom, Jon felt overcome by a sense of dread that brought on a new thought.
Carl, are you in there?
Jon tried to imagine Carl’s spirit inside the Salvage Senter, a phantom waiting for him in the aisles, a willpower drawing him back for a final confrontation, but that didn’t make any sense. Why would he appear here and not in the house where he grew up, or the condominium he shared with Jon, or even the antique store they owned in the Hamptons? There was something even more incongruous, though, because the eerie feeling had to do with all the merchandise, not with Carl in any particular way. In fact, something menacing imbued every single object for sale. It was unmistakable, the threat triggered by the assortment of flower pots, the bin of paperbacks, the shelf of die-cast model cars, not to mention the Edwardian coat tree.
When he turned around to leave, Jon bumped into The Big Dipper, the red metal sign propped up near the entrance, and instinctively he recoiled. His reaction was so severe that he looked up the name of the carnival sign on his phone as soon as he got back to his car. It didn’t take long for his search to uncover an accident that took place at the Battersea Park Funfair in London. A wooden rollercoaster named The Big Dipper caught fire in 1970, but the flames were extinguished. A couple years later one of the cables snapped, causing two cars to collide. Five people were killed, thirteen others were injured, and The Big Dipper shut down for good.
After scrolling through images, Jon eventually found a picture of the sign for the rollercoaster, and it was the same, the same as the sign standing helter-skelter at the front door. In the place he’d found Carl’s sunglasses, a place standing on the site of a former slaughterhouse, he’d come across a relic from a disaster. What if all the salvage here came from scenes of carnage and human misery?
All through May and June, Jon went back. He hoped to find evidence to support his theory, but the task was harder than he envisioned. Should he stick to accidents or include murder, manslaughter, and suicide? The store was a cavernous showroom with rows upon rows of shelves crammed with dusty goods. Only a small pool of natural light spilled in at the front entrance, while some scattered fluorescent bulbs sufficed for the rest of the place. Throughout it all, the rumbling of the ventilation system drowned out all happy thoughts.
In his travels, Jon came across a number of suspicious items, but nothing he could confirm. There was a Seventies blazer with a small bloodstain. There was a blow dryer with water damage. There was a dented army helmet with a bullet hole. Jon didn’t have to look far to find tools of human destruction, cases of old firearms and knives, shelves of rat poison and other toxic chemicals, plus tables of rope and choking hazards.
His biggest find was the Kelvinator. This refrigerator from the 1940s had a latch that could be opened only from the outside of the door. It was illegal to dispose of a refrigerator like this without taking off the door. Otherwise, these big old appliances became deathtraps for children who found them outside and used them as playhouses. This refrigerator had obviously been exposed to the elements for years because the white enamel had completely rusted. It took all Jon’s willpower that day to open up the refrigerator and inspect the interior. Sure enough, he found what he was looking for, scratches from fingernails on the inside of the door.
“Attention, shoppers, the Salvage Senter will be closing in ten minutes.”
Even without the announcement ringing on the intercom, Jon would have left. He saw too much already and had to restrain himself to walk instead of run. Even so, he made a small purchase to avoid suspicion. He came here too often to leave empty-handed again, so he grabbed a roll of duct tape and a spool of rope from a display near the counter.
The next week, Bronwyn accompanied Jon to the Salvage Senter. A few shoppers were milling through the dimly lit interior, and Jon recognized some, like the skater boy with the leather jacket and the middle-aged housewife with curlers in her hair. Now he hoped to find someone new, the owner.
When Bronwyn had called yesterday, she had said, “I got the information you were looking for, thanks to small-town gossip and the Registry of Deeds. Roz and Norman Winthrop own the Salvage Senter. He had a bad stroke years ago, which left him a vegetable, so it’s Roz who runs the place even though she has some kind of a respiratory disease. They come from away, never have mixed. Their house is behind the store on the ridge.”
“How will I recognize her?” Jon asked.
“Look for tall and thin, silver hair, and a portable oxygen tank.”
Jon told Bronwyn about the Kelvinator and the rollercoaster sign before launching into his theory about the rest of the merchandise.
“All right,” she said, “I’ve got to check this place out for myself.”
Now that she was inside the Salvage Senter, she looked around and whispered, “It’s awful.”
For the first time, Jon noticed the security cameras. Bronwyn pointed them out. The cameras were up in the steel rafters, more than would be expected, or needed, and it occurred to Jon they were the eyes of Roz. He purchased two things that day, evidence to build a case. A textbook that was stamped Columbine High School had the copyright 1999, the year of the massacre. A sign that said Brausebad meant showers in German, but no one used that word anymore because it was what Nazis had written over the gas chambers. Jon paid for these items while a security camera recorded the transaction.
Since he couldn’t cope with the Kelvinator again, Bronwyn went off to find it, leaving Jon alone at a kiosk of keychains. He expected to find Carl’s and asked himself how he would know for sure. He decided to buy every Maltese cross for sale, but he never found a single one even though there were hundreds of old keychains. Perhaps Carl’s had been here once, and now it hung from the ignition of someone else’s car. Jon would never know. The disappointment felt keener than he expected, washing over him without warning, the current so strong he felt stranded here, like a time traveler, in exile from his own life, like a refugee.
A tap on the shoulder made Jon swing around. His friend stood behind him, pale and shaken, but she managed to ask, “Are you alright?”
In spite of himself, Jon smiled. “I look that bad?”
“Let’s get out of here.”
They went to Founder’s Park, where they watched the swans. The day was hot and sunny, early July, but the Salvage Senter loomed over them like the onset of a winter’s night. Bronwyn had seen the scratches inside the Kelvinator, and she also noticed scuff marks on the bottom of the door, as if it had been kicked repeatedly by someone wearing little shoes. In another part of the store, she found groceries salvaged from a Dillons supermarket. Recently, tornados ripped a path through Kansas, in one instance killing forty-seven people in a Dillons supermarket.
“Yet these things don’t prove anything,” she said.
“It can’t be a coincidence,” said Jon, “the groceries, the sunglasses, the sign from the rollercoaster, the sign from the concentration camp, the textbook from Columbine.”
“Did you notice the place sticks to you? I mean I feel like I’ve been dipped in something.”
Jon rubbed his forearm, suddenly conscious of a dusty film on the skin. “Let’s just say everything there has a bad history. Why would anyone go through all the trouble? Why collect all these bad things only to sell them at rock-bottom prices?”
“If this is happening, and I have my doubts, then money’s got to be the answer. There’s probably a market out there for just this sort of thing, a network selling salvage from scenes of disaster. Someone gets the stuff for free because it’s going to be thrown out, a part of the clean-up. From that point any price will make a profit.”
Jon spoke like he didn’t hear her. “What if there’s more to it than the all-holy dollar? Maybe the Salvage Senter’s not just profiting from misfortune, but creating it, passing it forward. Maybe bad things happen because they’re connected to bad things that happened already. What if evil works like a chain letter?”
The empty Victorian loomed at the end of the driveway. In the car’s high beams, the house looked so stark white against the black sky that Jon was startled. When he got to the door, he could sense his dog Sybil on the other side, waiting for him patiently. He let her out and walked with her to the edge of a meadow so he could see the moon, which was full. He thought about the Salvage Senter and all the records it must contain, the names of the suppliers, the brokers, the people who peddle the darkness. He thought about the paper trail, the chain letter, and the owner, Roz Winthrop, who could see through the eyes of a hundred cameras. Across the meadow, a bank of maple trees tossed and turned in the night wind, roiling their foliage like the heaving seas, like a secret rising up to the surface.
When he got inside, Jon remembered the pasty film on his skin. The dust of menacing things, he was coated in it. Here was one undeniable effect of the Salvage Senter. After he stripped off his clothes and threw them in the wash, he stepped into the shower and scrubbed himself clean. As he walked into the master bedroom to get dressed, he stopped in his tracks. Carl’s sunglasses were propped up on the nightstand where Jon had left them.
Did the sunglasses contain a negative element? Could they harm him? Were they a means of transferring misfortune? He didn’t have any definite answers, but the glasses resembled the rest of the merchandise at the Salvage Senter. A nameless menace, some kind of darkness infused the material like an electrical charge. Holding his breath, he picked up the sunglasses. For precaution, he washed them off and decided to store them downstairs in the microwave. An hour later, just after he turned out the lights to go to bed, he flung back the covers and returned to the kitchen, where he peered in the window of the microwave, wanting but not daring to retrieve the sunglasses.
Because the night was warm, Jon fell asleep with the windows open. At three o’clock in the morning, he woke up. While he lay in bed for a few minutes trying to slip back to sleep, he realized something was missing inside him. It was the content of Carl. The name was uprooted from anything concrete, any association or recollection, except for a few bare facts overlaid with panic. Jon tried to remember how Carl looked, how his voice sounded, where they first met, but the only answer Jon received was silence.
A week later, Jon lost sight of Bronwyn. They had just left the Salvage Senter when she realized she didn’t have her phone. She turned to go back inside.
“Let me come with you,” he said.
“No, I’ll be right back. It must be at the counter.”
Jon waited a few minutes, and when she didn’t reappear, he returned to the store. She wasn’t in the front. Looking for Bronwyn meant walking the aisles, re-experiencing the bad things now familiar, plus encountering new horrors like a black chainsaw and a corroded pair of forceps. The collection of terrible histories assembled here made a literal impression in the dusty film building up on his hair and skin. He rang her phone again, but she didn’t answer. As he rounded the endcap of an aisle, he hit redial and almost bumped into her, coming the other way.
“Jon, oh thank goodness! You have to see this.”
She led him to the back of the store. “My phone wasn’t at the counter, but I remembered using it in the gardening section. As I was headed that way, I found this.”
She stopped in front of a side door and turned the handle. The door was unlocked, and it led to a utility room, where the store’s heating and ventilation system was kept. The machinery was grotesquely oversized. Gigantic metal ducts extended like tentacles from a blower chamber big enough to hold two people. One dying fluorescent light illuminated the room with an intermittent strobe while all the rumbling of the machinery could not drown out the furious whisper of wind in the vents.
When Jon opened the front of the blower chamber, he saw a magnitude of dust, so much it had become densely compacted, covering the walls and filling in the corners, hard-packed dust windswept into waves and festoons. Comprised of particles from everything ever collected here, the dust was not just building up in the ducts but circulating through every part of the store. At the time, he was speechless, but later, when driving away with Bronwyn down the Access Road, he felt enraged. “No wonder Roz Winthrop wears an oxygen mask! The ventilation system must amp up the negative charge, coating everything, everyone, in the sum of that place. It’s just like I thought. They’re not just profiting from misfortune. They’re passing it on.”
“Now you’re jumping to conclusions,” she said in a voice so low it sounded faraway.
He plunged on. “We can’t keep anything from the Salvage Senter close by. It’s too risky! We’ve got to store it someplace safe, and then we’ve got to shower and wash our clothes to get the residue off since we were inside the ventilation system.”
“I do feel strange.”
In a storage unit he rented as soon as they got to Meridian, she wordlessly set the textbook from Columbine along with the sign from the concentration camp onto a pallet in the middle of the cement floor. Jon placed Carl’s sunglasses on top of the pile. Then he added the rope and duct tape.
On the drive back to Jon’s house, Bronwyn seemed wrapped in a cloud of indifference.
“I’m worried about you,” he said.
She never replied.
Into the next week all calls to Bronwyn went directly to voicemail. Then her mailbox was full. When he finally stopped by the realtor’s office, he learned that she was reported missing. Thoughts of what happened occupied Jon’s mind the whole ride home, and the not-knowing was the worst of all.
As the summer rolled into the fall, “The Disappearance of Bronwyn Miller” became a refrain in the local media. Jon attended a candlelight vigil in Founder’s Park, and that’s when it hit him that he had always known he would end up alone, that anyone he cared about would eventually bring him down, that all attachments yield is pain. After Carl died, Jon had given up all their old friends, and now had he lost his one new friend. The message was clear enough. Even his faithful dog Sybil had disappeared. He let her out one night, and she never came back, nor did anyone respond to the posters he put up.
A plan was coming into formation, although he didn’t know it at the time because he was so consumed by the spirit of retribution. If there was any justice in this world, the Winthrops must pay for the damage they inflicted. Jon didn’t have the answers to Bronwyn’s disappearance, but of one thing he was certain. The Salvage Senter was to blame. Its lethal darkness triggered something. The dust of misfortune must have attached itself to her so powerfully it brought on some terrifying thing unseen. But why hasn’t it affected me? he wondered.
All throughout the day, questions without answers crowded his mind, but that evening while he stood in the meadow listening to a distant rumbling in the sky, he knew what he had to do.
It took a couple trips to the Salvage Senter to get prepared. Although the utility room was locked, he still found everything he needed. When the day finally came to put his plan in action, he drove to the Salvage Senter but went into the woods instead of the store. Through the foliage he watched the windows of the store’s office, located on the second floor and accessible to an outside staircase. As luck would have it, he waited less than twenty minutes before he saw a figure pass the windows, an elderly woman wearing an oxygen mask.
Jon threaded his way through the trees till he could walk without risk of being seen on a dirt road that led the way to the ridge. He carried a small backpack and was prepared to step from the road back into the woods at a moment’s notice. After five minutes he came to a low, ranch-style house with an empty garage. No sign of an alarm system was near the front door. No guard dog appeared through the sidelights when Jon knocked. He walked around the house, looking in the windows. One room had a hospital bed with an old man, Norman Winthrop, no doubt. Mounted on the wall of the room was a surveillance camera, which explained how Roz could watch her husband while she was tending the store. Braindead and all alone, Norman stared up at the blank expanse of the ceiling. His face was twisted and monstrous, but his eyes were completely expressionless.
Jon needed an entry less conspicuous than the front door. A kitchen door behind the house suited his purposes. From the back pocket of his jeans, he pulled out a small pick and tension wrench. He inserted the tension wrench in the bottom hole of the lock, and in the top he placed the pick, which he maneuvered till the pins inside lined up and released the mechanism. With a turn of the handle, Jon opened the door and stepped into the house.
The smell of fir overpowered him. There must be some kind of air freshener on overdrive because the place reeked of scented oil. Everything was white, so white he had to leave his boots on the doormat. In stocking feet he crept from the kitchen into the living room, and it was all the same, the walls, the ceiling, the floor, the furniture. Even the cats were white. He could see five of them, and he sensed others watching him from hidden places. A steady dose of white noise came from air filters sucking up any particles carried here from the Salvage Senter. There was no TV, no pictures hanging on the walls, no books, magazines, or knick-knacks of any kind. Stark white and humming with the sound of machinery, the house was like a spaceship on autopilot.
What did he think he would find? A reason? A purpose? A temple to Moloch? All he could gather was a mindless blank, this house, a shell, gutted and swept clean of anything personal.
When Jon found the room where Roz slept, he took off his backpack. He dismantled the bedding, took off the mattress, and turned over the box-spring. With a box cutter he removed the gauze that covered the rows of coil springs, revealing plenty of small hiding places, into which he wedged or wired most of the contents of his backpack. Some things came from the storage unit he had rented like the textbook from Columbine and the sign from the concentration camp. Other things he’d picked up recently from the Salvage Senter, including the army helmet with the bullet hole, the Seventies blazer with the bloodstain, and the forceps. Originally, Jon planned to add Carl’s sunglasses to the collection, but at the last minute he couldn’t go through with his intention, so he left them up in a tree behind his house.
When Jon had packed the box-spring full of those terrible things, he straightened out the gauze and stapled it back on. He reassembled the mattress, remade the bed, but before he put on the coverlet, he took one of the pillows and made a small opening with his box cutter. From the pocket of his jacket, he pulled out a respirator and placed it over his mouth and nose. He had a Ziploc bag filled with clumps of dust he had collected at the Salvage Senter. All these he emptied into the hole he had made in the pillow. With a needle already threaded, he sewed the pillow shut.
Suddenly conscious of the passage of time, Jon tried to ignore his heart racing faster. The Salvage Senter was open only two hours, and Roz was likely to be back at three o’clock or soon after. Only thirty minutes had passed since his breaking into the house, but it seemed like twice the time. He quickly packed his belongings and checked to make sure had hadn’t left anything behind. In the hallway he almost stepped on a Persian cat sitting directly outside the door.
Although Jon knew he should leave immediately, he couldn’t stop himself from carrying out yet another task. In the kitchen, he replaced the sugar in the sugar bowl with some that came from a Dillons supermarket. As careful as he was, granules dusted the white stovetop, and he was just sweeping them up with his hand when he heard a car in the driveway. Like a flash, he put his boots back on, and with laces still untied, he dashed out the kitchen door.
He crouched down in an opening between two trees. Roz got out of the car and headed to the house. She wasn’t carting along any oxygen tank. In fact, she didn’t appear disabled by any kind of respiratory disease, yet she looked just like he’d imagined she would, soulless, as blank as her colorless house. After he heard the front door shut, he waited a little while to make sure she wasn’t going to reappear. In the stillness he was struck by the sound of cars rushing on the interstate below.
He circled back through the woods till he could see the dirt road, and then he followed it back to the Salvage Senter. Before stepping into the parking lot, he brushed himself off, straightened his hair, and realized he was still wearing the respirator.
The death of Roz and Norman Winthrop appeared in Monday’s paper. The couple died at home of asphyxiation from a gas leak. All the white cats must be dead too, but the paper never mentioned them. What surprised Jon the most was how rapidly the disaster struck, less than twenty-four hours after he sabotaged their house. Was the asphyxiation an unfortunate accident, or had Roz turned on the gas intentionally? Murder and suicide for the price of one? Whatever the case, they got what they deserved.
The second surprise came when Jon looked in the obituaries to see if the Winthrops were listed there. They weren’t, but the bottom corner of the page contained a picture of a teenage boy from Scarborough, Maine, who had died last weekend in a car crash. Jon recognized the face. It belonged to the skater boy he’d seen numerous times shopping at the Salvage Senter.
Not another one, Jon thought. This place is killing people!
The winter was dark and long, and Jon spent most of it in Meridian, whitewashing the inside of Carl’s house. He had relisted the house with another agency and hoped to sell it in the summer. In the meantime, he sold his business and condominium on Long Island. His days were comprised of unbroken solitude.
Even though the Salvage Senter had shut down, its shadow kept growing in his life. When the property went on the auction block late in the spring, Jon made the winning bid. He planned to burn the place down, to break the cycle, but not before he uncovered the names of the suppliers, not till he breached the market for darkness. His work would entail every precaution. He would limit his time in there, no more than two hours and never two days in a row. He planned to install air filters to run perpetually till the flames engulf the walls, and the whole building collapses in a shower of bright sparks and a plume of black smoke.
On the first day he went alone to the Salvage Senter, its owner, he added one extra precaution. He brought along an oxygen tank and wore a mask. He planned to spend a couple hours sifting through old documents in the office, so there was a high chance of dust exposure. The outside staircase enabled him access to the office without walking through the store, and this was a huge relief, but it couldn’t keep him from knowing all those terrible things under him belonged to him. His heart was pounding as he unlocked the door and let it swing open.
The Salvage Senter always frightened him, but today especially, and Jon remained on the threshold, unable to go in or turn around and leave. He should have come earlier. Although the summer light was golden green, the colors bright and saturated, the hour was past six, and darkness was just around the horizon, like all the salvage just below the floorboards. The whole store felt so concentrated that it had become one single entity confronting him. In the end, Jon recognized himself as its master by the power of his reaction. He stepped into the office and quickly locked the inner door to the showroom as if that act alone could keep his fears at bay. His action didn’t seem so much defensive as entitled. His next step was to limit his thoughts to what must be retrieved. The computers up here were encrypted, but he was confident he would get someone to break through the barriers. Till then, there was plenty else to do. It would take weeks to sort through all the paperwork. Today he limited himself to one task, finding the invoice for Carl’s sunglasses.
The Salvage Senter must have purchased the sunglasses between November of the year Carl died, and the following April, when Jon found the glasses. The file drawers lining two walls of the office were labeled by the year, so his job started off easily enough. Jon was impressed with the management of the files. Nothing out of place, each invoice right side up, straightened out, set in chronological order, and stamped with the date paid. As meticulous as the bookkeeping in a German concentration camp, he thought.
February 27, that was the date on one invoice listing “sunglasses, 17 pair.” The shipment included knives, a child’s car seat, and a large quantity of “household items.” The company was Old Plantation, a wholesaler from Delaware. Jon pulled out the invoice but kept looking through the drawer in case Carl’s sunglasses had come in a different shipment. Sure enough, in the file for April he found another invoice from Old Plantation for more sunglasses and household items. Finding the invoices only drove him onward toward answers that still eluded him. In just the six months of billing he had seen, there were so many suppliers and distributors, so many charities, so many municipalities and federal organizations. And then there was Old Plantation, over and over again. Were they all parts of a vast conspiracy, or just some of them? Or had the Salvage Senter alone perfected the process of trading one bad history for another? Here it was, anyway, the chain letter, all these records of diabolical exchange.
Along the two other walls of the office, built-in file cabinets had drawers labeled by letter, not by year. Sometimes three drawers or more had the same letter, and many other drawers that followed Z were left unmarked, but all were locked. It didn’t take long for him to find the right key, and when he opened the first drawer, he found files for customers whose last names began with A. Among the receipts in each file were grainy photographs of that customer at the check-out counter. These were the accounts receivable, Jon realized, and they were souls. There must be a file for each and every customer.
Jon had the strongest impression that his fate was written out in one of those file cabinets. He strode over to the drawer labeled with the letter of his last name, unlocked it, and yanked it open. His hands were trembling by the time he found his file, which was thicker than he expected. Was this file waiting to be closed by some appalling outcome he would endure or senseless rampage he would commit? Among the credit card transactions were snapshots of him taken from the video surveillance cameras, in black and white, depicting every purchase he ever made. In the back of the file were newspaper clippings. As soon as he saw the first one, on the disappearance of Bronwyn Miller, Jon slumped to the floor, file in hand. Most of the clippings were about Bronwyn, but among them was another story about a young man from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, who went missing last winter. The final document in Jon’s file was a rain-splattered photocopy of Sybil staring at him under the header “Missing Dog. Reward.”
Shadows were filling in the office, but Jon wasn’t ready to leave. He sat there until his breathing returned to normal and his eyes had dried. Soundlessly, he got up and left the office by the outside staircase. He pulled off his mask and breathed deep, awash in the warm breeze of July.
To the faraway sound of fireworks from Meridian, he walked out behind his new house on the ridge behind the Salvage Senter. He had found what he was looking for—his file, his destiny, his life—but his face was expressionless. Although the sun had already set some time ago, the sky was still ablaze, and against it he stood a silhouette. After acquiring the property, he had the trees cut down in back so he could overlook the interstate. And there he dreamed, there, watching the lanes of traffic pouring in and out of the state, the strings of headlights sparkling in a never-ending stream.