Excerpt

Lost River

J. Todd Scott

The following is an exclusive excerpt from Lost River, by J. Todd Scott. When the most infamous crime family in Angel, Kentucky is found murdered, the consequences have enormous effects on three different people struggling with the town's opioid problem: a young medic-in-training, a DEA agent, and a former police chief.

A few hours before . . .

Little Paris Glasser stares right into the dead man’s eyes and tries to see himself in them.

Danny, or maybe slow, stupid Ricky, once told him such a thing was possible, but this dead Mexican’s eyes are flat and black, reflecting nothing at all.

Truth be told, they’re downright creepy, like they’re painted right on the wetback’s skull.

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A dead doll’s eyes.

Little Paris almost reaches out a hand to rub over one of ’em; to wipe that dead man’s coal-black stare right off his skeleton smiling face, smear it on his fingers like fresh paint, like fresh blood, but thinks better of it and instead takes another hit instead from his little homemade pipe, a GE sixty-watt bulb, and lets that hot taste of crank and CRC Bee Blast Wasp and Hornet Killer mule-kick him hard in the chest.

He flickers and flames, blood catching chemical fire.

He holds a mouthful of acid smoke, and it’s like he’s done swallowed a whole nest of pissed-off yellowjackets, buzzing around now inside his heart and head and behind his own dark eyes.

Goddamn, he finally breathes out.

Goddamn.

The sun’s barely up, just peeking over Crown Hill and hardly casting any shadows yet, but last night still hangs on stubbornly beneath the shingle oaks and cockspurs like a drunk not quite ready to leave the party.

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Little Paris ain’t sober yet either, has barely slept a wink in three days, with that crank coursing through him and Danny’s ghost and all them others calling out his name and his daddy forever pissing and moaning about this and Jamie always whining about that and Hardy at his too-young-to-know-better age playing the damn fool lately and raising a ruckus.

Everyone looking for a piece of him and a taste of their own, including these here damn wetbacks.

Well, less one, anyway.

When he was older than Hardy is now, but still just a boy all the same, he used to steal a little peace of mind at the family plot beneath Lower Wolf’s black cherry trees. Lay himself down on them cool, cracked gravestones, where it was quiet and calm and still, where all them old skeletons and ghosts didn’t seem intent on bothering anyone, to watch the bluing sky slow to a stop between the leaves and dream about everything and nothing at all.

Not a care in the world.

But it’s never quiet now and the world never stops spinning and even the dead can’t seem to keep their goddamn mouths shut anymore.

They talk to him all the time.

He hears ’em calling his name.

Like the Good Book says, there just ain’t no goddamn peace for the wicked.

Little Paris can’t even count on his fingers the last time he slept peaceful the whole night through, and though he ain’t dead yet, no gravestone pillow for him, he can’t help but wonder what someone might see now if they looked hard and straight into his goddamn sleepless eyes.

Imagines it ain’t no pretty sight anyway—

Maybe a bunch of yellowjackets, big as your thumb, circling and circling and circling.

Angry as hell.

Trying to fly free of his goddamn skull.

This wetback here sure didn’t see much of anything when Little Paris blew his fucking brains out four days ago now.

Never even saw it coming.

He and Jamie drove him back here wrapped in some Cabela’s camo tarp and he has a vague memory of telling Jamie afterward to toss the whole fucking mess into Rockhouse Fork or even Yatesville Lake, but Jamie’s now standing by Little Paris’s Mustang, staring down at the dead man like he’s never seen one before.

Like this one just fucking magically appeared here flat on its back with two bullets in its skull, turning autumn Kentucky colors and going soft, setting off a mighty righteous stink, where his amigos will soon smell him all the way down in ole Me-hi-co or wherever the hell it is they breed ’em.

If Jamie wasn’t already his Glasser blood, weak and thin as it might be on his side of the family, Little Paris might find himself inclined to shoot this sonofabitch too.

“What’d I say?” Little Paris asks, toeing the gassy body with one of his boots, but gently, so it don’t rip like an overripe Granny Smith and explode shit and pus everywhere.

A sweet, crisp Granny Smith is one of Hardy’s favorite things.

“What the fuck did I say about this?”

Jamie shrugs but won’t quite look at him ’cause maybe he really can see all them angry yellowjackets behind his eyes.

“I know, coz. I know. Just ain’t seen to it yet.” Jamie goes to light a Marlboro, that dumb-ass silver ring of his catching fire with the first of the morning sun. “It ain’t like we ain’t been busy. That last batch this boy brought is moving. I’m still cleanin’ up with that.”

That last batch . . . the white powder H the dead wetback brought them.

DOA, motherfucker.

Everyone around three states wants a taste of it, but no matter how pure or good it is, smack has never really been Little Paris’s thing. It makes him too soft, too fuzzy at the edges. The dope sex is good and all, sweet as pure cane sugar or honey, but he likes the way crank sharpens him right up, a whetstone to a knife, and that sex ain’t half bad, either.

Rough, angry, although sometimes just a little too much of both.

“If Danny were here . . .” But Jamie stops sudden, wise enough, or sober enough, anyway, not to hold Danny’s name in his mouth for too long. Little Paris has already done heard it a thousand times if he’s heard it once—from Daddy out loud and damn everyone else just under their breath—how he ain’t like Danny at all.

How Little Paris is gonna be the one to finally let slip through his fingers these mountains that one Glasser or another has held on to with an iron fist for a hundred years or more.

Goddamn.

No, he ain’t got the business sense his older brother had, probably never will, but even Little Paris knows a silver dollar when it falls into his hands, so when Jamie told him Danny’s wetbacks had started sending their mules out alone, well, then only a damn fool could let that slip through his fingers.

Goddamn money for free.

Jamie’s since been telling this boy’s compadres he got paid and moved on down the highway, like always, but it ain’t clear they believe him, although Little Paris figures it might help everyone if they just spoke better fucking English.

It’s possible it don’t matter quite what they say or even do with him now, since pride all but dictates they gotta come looking for him anyway, but Little Paris don’t put too much stock in that.

One dead or missing Mexican ain’t worth anyone’s trouble, and no one comes calling uninvited on a Glasser in these mountains.

Not in Lower Wolf.

Not for a hundred fucking years.

Although the Big Sandy Power Plant no longer burns the black rock, coal is still in Lower Wolf’s bones.

The deep, rolling green of the surrounding hills are knife-cut right down to them old, dark seams. In some places, the land’s been blasted away altogether, woods leveled and whole mountains beheaded, hundreds of thousands of years blown sky-high, or so they say.

Strip mining’s done left everything raw and exposed, slag scabs and stitches in the hollers. Years back a slurry spill sent a whole mess of arsenic and mercury right into Coldwater Fork and damn near flooded Lower Wolf too.

Damn near poisoned everything, but folks picked up and moved on as they do.

Eastern Kentucky bears such trials and tribulations proudly, wears her scars openly, the way Little Paris shows off all his ink: colorful tats up and down his body that Daddy hates something fierce, so he gets more of ’em, just to piss the Old Man off.

To remind him he ain’t Danny and never will be.

Any day of the week Little Paris can run into a third-generation miner grabbing a cold one at the Crow Bar, men who know their way around a Caterpillar D11 or a Komatsu crawler dozer. Not his daddy, or even his daddy’s daddy before him, but his people all the same.

His land too . . . all cut up and forever bleeding and downright poisonous in some places.

When it rains hard, Lower Wolf’s colors come back to life.

These here surrounding hills run red and black like old blood.

Today’s gonna be a real corker later, hot as hell, and somewhere through them trees, tiny bugs are already dipping and dancing off the Coldwater.

Bugs like the ones working away on this dead Mexican.

Little Paris scratches at his naked torso, his latest ink still itching him something fierce, a wolf’s head all shot up with arrows.

Now he says, “Seems to me Danny’s got no say in it, so you better be cleanin’ this up. Today.”

And Jamie nods through pale cigarette smoke. “Awright, coz. I got it. I said I got it.”

“Damn straight you do,” Little Paris answers, as he takes another pull from the bulb, setting them yellowjackets buzzing angrily again, before realizing it’s just his goddamn cellphone.

When he checks the message, he can’t help but smile to himself, ’cause this shitty morning just be shining up already.

Jamie eyes the phone. “You comin’ on up to the Big House? We still got rest of that shit to deal with.”

They need to step on the last bit of the Mexican’s H, make it last as long as possible, since they don’t know when they’re gonna get more in . . . a problem with Little Paris shooting the messenger the way he did. But it helps this batch is so damn strong, damn near killing folks left and right.

A little goes a long fucking way, but they always come back for more.

“Yeah,” Little Paris says. “But toss me some of that new stuff, I gotta run up the way for a short bit. Just a little errand.”

Jamie smiles. Knows just the sort of errand that Little Paris likes to handle on his own, the only kind that really gets him out of Lower Wolf anymore. He reaches into his white Escalade, then tosses a bag to Little Paris, who catches it out of the air.

Little Paris roots around in it and pulls out a glassine bindle stamped with a skeleton dancing a jig.

DOA, all right, motherfucker.

And his next tat might just be a handful of those tiny skeletons on the side of his neck . . . a whole family of ’em.

He likes that idea a lot.

“You want me to take Hardy back with me?” Jamie asks, prompting Little Paris to turn to the Mustang’s backseat, where a little blond boy lies sleeping.

His own boy, Hardy.

Clutching that little toy six-shooter he’s so damn fond of.

A Glasser outlaw, just like his daddy.

Someday, all this will be his. These mountains, these woods and hills—all of Lower Wolf—as long as Little Paris don’t let it slip through his fingers.

And maybe someday too his boy will lay up on his daddy’s gravestone beneath them black cherry trees and let Little Paris whisper to him.

Little Paris leans through the window and puts the bag on the seat next to Hardy.

“Naw, no need to wake him. He can come on up the way with me. I won’t be long at all, and she’ll want to see him. Always does.”

Danny told him during one of his little Tamarack parties that pussy was gonna be the death of him, but Little Paris figures if that’s how he’s gonna go, he’s just fine with that.

Better than how Danny ended up.

Little Paris checks his own gun, a heavy Beretta slipped sideways in his jeans, and stares down at his boy and wonders what he’s dreaming and wishes he could sleep just one more day like that.

One last day.

Quiet.

Peaceful.

And not a goddamn care in the world.

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From Lost River by J. Todd Scott. Used with the permission of the publisher, Putnam. Copyright © 2020 by J. Todd Scott.




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