How could he possibly have known that a seemingly throwaway comment would have such significant consequences? This was the question tormenting Lester Nygaard in his sweat-dewed hospital bed a bare week since that fateful Thursday. A humdrum, normal, not standing out in any particular way Thursday. Where did that day take a u-turn from small town, pedestrian, predictable workaday Thursday-ness into flat out, did someone slip something in my Cinnamon Grahams, darned gosh crazy Thursday? He took a few minutes to think that one through, turned on his side and awkwardly aware of the fact that his hospital gown was rucked all up under his hip and he was wearing less covering on his butt cheeks than any one who found themselves in a public building should wear. Nope, couldn’t fathom it. At 9am, he was heading into the office, watching his feet trudge through the snow, on the look out for hidden hazards that might make him lose his footing again. At 9.10am, he was face first in the snow with a nose full of blood and his pride hurt worse than his nose. At 10.30am, he had the darndest, oddest conversation with a total stranger in the ER,
“You know what, one time, he put me in an oil barrel and rolled me in the road.”
“Seriously? And now he tells you that he had relations with your wife. He bullies you again in front of his children. This is a man who doesn't deserve to draw breath.”
“Yeah, okay, but, uh - here's the thing.”
“No. That is the thing.”
“Well, heck! I mean, o..okay. Okay. But what am I supposed to do? Heck, you're so sure about it, maybe you should just kill him for me.”
At 2pm, the bully had an ice pick in his brain. At 5pm, Lester bludgeoned his wife to death with a hammer for sneering at him. At 7pm, the sheriff was all blown to pieces in his living room and Lester had a shotgun pellet shaped hole in his hand. And now here he was, sweatin’ and shiverin’ with a fever, because how in a month of Sundays do you explain to your doctor how you got shot in the hand by a house breaker when you wasn’t even s’posed to have been in the room. That sure was a tricky fix to be in.
Lester’s reverie was broken by the entry of another doctor.
“Hey, how you doin’ Lester? Feelin’ any better?” Lester shifted awkwardly onto his back. This was a new man. Not a Minnesota accent, more... Texas?
“Okay, I guess. Can I go home soon Doctor? Only, there’s a good deal I have to get done, owing to my personal circumstances and all.”
“Yeah, I heard about that, Lester. And I’m sorry about your wife, but I think we both know there’s a little more to that story than you’ve been telling, isn‘t there?”
“W..what d’you mean, Doctor?”
“Well, let me put it to you this way, there’s three fine officers from the police department asking after you at the front desk and I think you might already know that they’re not in need of any urgent insurance policies.” The doctor winked. Lester focused a little blearily on him and noticed for the first time a few... anomalies. Such as, he didn’t think doctors usually wore leather jackets and jewelry under their white coats.
“Officers? Looking for me?” Lester’s fever-addled brain took a moment to catch up. Then he sat bolt upright and swore as the IV was yanked part way out of his arm.
“God dang it! I have to get out of here!” He swung his legs out of his bed, steadied himself against the wall and gazed aimlessly about for his pants.
“No time for that buddy. Follow me and I can help you.” The doctor (doctor?) moved to the window and beckoned. Lester stared at him incredulously.
“This is the second floor!”
“I’d noticed. Get your butt over here, or do you want to be cozying up to a six foot mother named Chuck with a fancy for little guys come dinner time?” Lester took a step back and cocked his head quizically at the window.
‘Well...okay. Okay.” He stepped tentatively over to the window and inched his head out for a look see. Next thing he knew, two firm hands grabbed his thighs and he was tumbling headfirst out of the window with a surprised “whoop!” He landed awkwardly on his front and lay kind of stunned for a moment. Seconds later, his new friend, or so he hoped, landed neatly in a crouch next to him. Then there were the hands again, this time yanking him to his feet and urging him forwards. Lester jogged painfully after the man, in his bare feet and feeling pretty chilly and draughty. Plus, it really didn’t feel right running in no pants, things were flapping about that shouldn’t be so. He risked a look back over his shoulder and saw something waving gently in the breeze at the window of his erstwhile hospital room. Oh. That explained the draught then. Ah, nuts.
Hopping awkwardly in a change of direction round a corner into the parking lot, he cannoned into the back of his new harbinger of fate.
“Now what? And who are you anyways? Where are we going?”
“Hold fire, our ride should be along any second.” Sure enough, with a screech of tyres and a throaty roar, a black Chevy Impala swung out from behind a clump of hardy trees there in the middle of the lot and pulled up sharp in front of them. The good looking stranger (stop thinkin‘ like that Lester, that thinkin’ sure gets you in trouble) wrenched the passenger door open and bundled him unceremoniously in to the back of the car, following him in and saying “Go” sharply to the driver. The car left rubber behind as it accelerated out of the lot. A few moments’ silence. Then,
“Dean, are you aware he’s naked?”
“Yes, I’m aware, but we didn’t exactly have time to pick an outfit, Sam. I was about five minutes ahead of the sheriff’s department. This guy ain’t exactly the Moriarty of the crime world if you catch my drift.”
“Here.” Lester jumped as a voice spoke from the corner of the car; he hadn’t noticed anyone else in the back. He smiled tentatively at the man who was shrugging his way out of a tan trench coat and minded his manners with a polite “thank you Sir” when the coat was handed to him. Lord knows where these crazy people were taking him, but he saw no reason to get unfriendly, given his decidedly precarious position, naked in the back of their car.
“Um. Excuse me? Can I ask where we might be goin’? I mean, it’s not that I’m not grateful of course, you getting me out of a spot and all, but it sure would be nice to maybe make some introductions?”
“I’m Dean. This is Sam. That’s Cas. And you, fella, are in a whole lot of trouble. We need to get somewhere a bit quieter, have us a sit down and talk about the deal you did with the Dark Man.”
“With the what now?”
“Dark Man. Come on now, just under six feet, dark hair, mean looking, more than a passing resemblance to Billy Bob Thornton on a real bad day, made a deal to kill your enemy. What did you offer him? Ten years of your life? Your wife’s life?”
Lester stared at him wide-eyed.
“Look mister, I don’t mean to be awkward or ungrateful or nothin’ but I don’t rightly know what on God’s earth you are talkin’ about? Dark Man?”
The man called Cas leaned forward and turned Lester’s face toward him.
“Shhh.” Cas stared him full in the face for a long minute. Lester could feel his breath on his cheek. It felt chilled and smelled sweet, like the guy had been eating spun candy.
“He’s telling the truth, Dean.” Cas dropped his hand from Lester’s face.
“Well, that’s just darn tootin’ wonderful. Our only lead, and he doesn’t even know he made a deal with a Dark Man. Fantastic. This case just gets better and better. I’m cold, I’m damp, I’m in serious danger of getting arrested for saying “crap’ too many times in public, and we got ourselves a prime example of Minnesota naivety who probably knows damn all about where this thing is.”
“OK, let’s just get back to the motel, see what he can tell us and take it from there. We don’t really have much choice, Dean - this is all we have.”
Lester sank back into the car seat and closed his eyes. Just another normal Thursday. Well, heck.