Spring in Minnesota is a bad blind date: Late in arriving. Disappointingly cold. Sloppy and frenetic and loud and foul–smelling. Beneath all of that, glimmers of something dangerous yet desirable.
In the skies above the Mississippi River, bald eagles glide and dip as they search for dead fish and the animal carcasses that become visible each spring, when the white cover is pulled back. Dogs bolt from their yards and head for the woods or the road, lured by the scents released by the receding snow. Before it finally surrenders, the ice on the lakes groans and cracks and moves. The winds blow hard and long, rattling the trees and drying up the puddles. The skunk cabbage pokes through the mud, emitting an odor that’s a cross between garlic and a skunk’s stink. Turkeys rev up their gobbling and put on a show to get the attention of the other birds. The sun rises earlier and loiters like it might stay all the way through dinner.
The teenager stood at his back stoop. He could smell dinner—pot roast and new potatoes—but he couldn’t eat until the dog was kenneled. “Gunner! Here, boy! Gunner!” He clapped his hands together twice. “Come on, boy!”
His father walked out the back door and stood behind him. “You should’ve put the collar on him.”
The boy frowned and shoved his hands in his jacket pockets. “Don't like shocking him.”
“Better than watching him run across the highway and get flattened.”
“He’ll come.” The boy went down the steps, put the middle and index fingers of both hands in his mouth, and blew. The whistle did the trick. A German wire–haired pointer came loping out of the pines behind the house. “Good boy, Gunner.”
The father squinted into the low sun as the dog galloped toward them. “What’s he got in his mouth?”
The boy shrugged. “Something dead. Another squirrel.”
The dog stopped at the bottom of the steps, wagged his stubby tail, and dropped his prize at the feet of the younger master. The boy jumped back and almost fell backward on the steps behind him.
His father thumped down and stood next to him. Crouching over, he touched the bloody thing with the tips of his fingers. Without looking up, he said to his son: “Go in the house. Call the sheriff. Call 911.”
The boy didn’t move. “Dad!”
“Do what I say! Now!” The boy turned and ran up the steps, yanked open the screen door, and went inside. The door slammed behind him. “Sweet Jesus,” the father muttered as he stared at the object on the ground.
The mother came out, stood on the stoop, and wiped her hands on her apron. “Food’s getting cold.” She looked down at her husband’s bent back. “What is it?” She took a step down and then another.
She saw what he was hunkered over and gasped. Her eyes went past the yard and into the woods, where the sun was starting to slip behind the tallest trees. “Who? What do you think happened? How?”
“Should we take the truck? Go look?”
The man stood up but kept his eyes locked on the object at his feet. The dog darted forward and bent his head down, making a move to retrieve his find. “No!” yelled the man. “Sit!” The dog backed away, sat down, and panted. A spot of blood dotted the wiry hairs of the animal’s muzzle.
His wife repeated: “Should we take the truck and go look?” She paused. “What if whoever lost it …” Her voice trailed off.
The man shook his head. “Poor bastard who lost this has gotta be dead.” He looked up and into the woods. “Sun will be down by the time the sheriff gets here.”
The woman turned her head to the side. Her next question was a woman’s question: “Is there a wedding ring?”
He looked back down. “It's the right hand.”
He regained consciousness before dark. Every inch of him ached, waves of agony washing over him and burning him like scalding bathwater. His lips were split and swollen. The taste of his own blood salted the inside of his mouth. He swallowed once. Something small and hard went down his throat, and he almost gagged on his own front tooth. In the midst of the pain and nausea, another sensation pushed to the surface. Confusion. Where was he? The woods. He sat on the ground with his back against a tree, an evergreen. He could smell the pine and feel the needles under him. He shivered. He was cold, and his pants were wet. He’d urinated on himself; he didn’t know when. He tried to move and realized he was tied to the tree. Rope coiled around him from his shoulders down to his waist. He looked at his legs in front of him. Rope bound them from his knees down to his ankles. A realization. His vision. One eye was swollen shut, but out of the other he could see. Hardwoods and evergreens were turning into shadows. Lacy patches of twilight spotted the ground. Why could he see? During the beating, his glasses had been knocked off, and he was blind without them. Who’d put them back on his face? He struggled against the ropes, and the intensity of the pain increased. Boiled over. “Oh God!” he moaned to the darkening sky.
The pain was worse one place in particular. He turned his head to the right and looked at his arm, bound to his side. A shaft of fading sun poked through the canopy of pine boughs above him and illuminated the horror perfectly, as if someone held a flashlight there for him. See that? His moans contorted into a sob. His right hand was gone. His assailant had taken it off. The fiend had made sure he’d be able to see the stump—by placing his glasses back on his face.
He wanted to scream but didn’t have the strength. All he managed was a noise. A hoarse, guttural growl. Dying–animal sound. He shut his mouth and his eyes and took a breath. He worked up some saliva inside his mouth and swallowed, tasting more blood than spit. “God help me,” he whispered. His shoulders shook with sobs. “I’m sorry. Help me.” As he wept, he remembered his assailant’s tears; the bastard had cried even as he beat him. Why? The monster’s words throbbed inside his head like a heartbeat. Life for life. Life for life. Life for life.
He passed out again, this time for good. His head fell forward, but the glasses stayed on his face. His killer had tied them to his head.
A month later and a hundred miles south, two brothers stood on the sandy banks of the Mississippi as they fished at Hidden Falls in St. Paul. The park winds along the shoreline at the bend in the Mississippi, near its confluence with the Minnesota River. Though in the middle of an urban area, the boys were surrounded by limestone rock outcroppings and forest land. Across the river from the pair, atop the bluffs, were perched the stone buildings of Fort Snelling, an 1820s military outpost restored as a tourist site.
The pair repeatedly cast their lines out into the middle of the band of water and reeled them back in with disgust. “Anything?” one would yell. “Nothin’,” the other would respond. On their hooks was the bait most preferred by Minnesota kids: night crawlers coaxed from the soil with the help of a running hose. Though they talked big talk about catching record sunnies and crappies, they’d take anything that fit in a frying pan—or almost anything.
The ten–year–old started reeling in his line again. There was something on it, but it wasn’t fighting like a fish. What was it? The line stopped coming in, jerking to a halt. He cranked the reel hard and it whined. Must have snagged another stick, he figured. The river was high, and there was a lot of junk floating in it. The boy wiggled the tip of the rod up and down a few times, then pulled hard toward his right shoulder. He felt the line loosen, and he resumed his reeling. He stepped closer to the water’s edge and stopped cranking. He lifted the tip of his pole into the air. A tangled bundle emerged from the water and swung toward him. His line was wrapped around a branch—and something else. He looked at it and blinked twice. “Lee!” he yelled to his older brother. He dropped the rod on the ground and took a step backward. He tripped over a rock and fell on his butt. “Lee!”
The older boy held on to his own pole and stared out at the river. “I’m not untangling your line again. You’ve got to learn sometime, you lazy shit.”
The teenager sighed, reeled in his line, and set his rod on the ground. He looked at his younger brother with disgust. “Stupid stick ain’t gonna bite you.”
“Not a stick!” The boy rolled onto his knees, wrapped one arm around his gut, and vomited. He started coughing and crying.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” The older boy glanced at the pole his brother had dropped along the shore. He jogged over to it. His eyes followed the line. The end of it led to the river’s edge. A speedboat had just zoomed past and kicked up a wave. Water curled over the catch so the older boy couldn’t see it clearly. He bent over, picked up the rod, and stared at the mess. “Crap!” He dropped the pole and backed away from it. He ran his eyes up and down the shoreline and saw no one. He looked across the river. A wall of trees. With trembling hands, he patted the pockets of his jeans. Empty. Ramming his hands into his jacket pockets, he pulled out his keys. He wrapped his fist around them and went over to his brother, still kneeling on the ground and crying. He pulled the boy up by the collar of his jacket and lifted him to his feet. “Move! To the car.” He pushed his brother ahead of him as they crawled up a steep, sandy incline. They both lost their footing and started sliding down. The younger boy grabbed a dried–up vine and pulled himself up to the grassy ledge. His older brother did the same. They ran across an open, mowed area dotted with picnic tables. A tar trail cut across the green expanse. The older boy scanned the black ribbon as they ran but saw no hikers or bikers, no one to help them. He eyed the woods on his left with suspicion and silently cursed himself for picking such a quiet fishing spot.
“Lee!” wailed the younger boy as he ran ahead of his brother.
“Keep moving!” The parking lot was just ahead of them. The teenager’s mind was racing. Was his cell phone in the car or sitting on the kitchen table? He tried to visualize the inside of his car and couldn’t. All he could see was the thing at the end of his brother’s line.
Just upriver, in the shady wooded bottomlands next to the Mississippi, a man lay facedown. He turned his head to the right and spat out a mouthful of grit and blood. He tried to draw his knees up under him and couldn’t. His legs were tied together, from knees to ankles. His left arm was tied behind his back with more coils of rope. He used his free arm to raise himself a few inches. He couldn’t stay up; the pain was too great. He groaned and collapsed back in the dirt. He released one last breath and died with his eyes wide open, locked on the bleeding stump at the end of his right wrist.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Blind Spot by Terri Persons. Copyright © 2007 by Terri Persons. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.