Nate’s house wasn’t as bad as Logan thought it’d be–sure, it was cluttered and smelled like old soup, but it wasn’t the rat’s nest he’d expected.
Everything was old, though, from the wood-paneled RCA console TV to the sunken, afghan-draped couch that looked as if it had been sold at three different garage sales by three different grandmothers.
There were cutesy little ceramic dolls and glass turtles and other assorted knickknacks all over the place–a lot of decorative plates on stands with doilies underneath of them. It all looked like stuff a woman would’ve collected… or at least a less grumpy old man. Either a widower, or this is his likely deceased mother’s house.
“Can’t offer you much in the way of refreshments,” said Nate, “but I got a couple Coronas in the fridge.” He shrugged, as if apologizing. “That’s the only beer I drink. Got limes, though. On special for a quarter apiece down at Gary’s.”
“Thanks for the tip,” said Logan. “I’ll keep that in mind. Sure, yeah, I’ll take a beer. Why not? I’m my own boss and I’ll drink on the job if I want, right?”
Nate laughed and shuffled off to fetch the beers. While he was gone, Logan had another look around the room, taking as many mental snapshots as he could.
There were no pictures of a wife or kids in sight. He subscribed to Popular Mechanics, or at least he had in… 2007? Lots of VHS tapes were strewn about–‘80s action flicks like Iron Eagle II, Delta Force, Cobra, Rambo III, etcetera.
“Can’t fault your taste in movies,” Logan said when Nate returned with a sweaty Corona in each hand.
“Oh,” said Nate, “those’re are just some ol’ tapes I had lyin’ around forever. Don’t watch much of anything these days.”
“I hear ya,” said Logan as Nate handed him the beer. “Thanks.”
Nate sat down on the couch, and Logan on an old rocking chair that creaked in protest as it felt the weight of a human being upon it for the first time in months, according to the undisturbed layer of dust coating its seat.
“So tell me,” said Logan, taking a sip of his beer, “what got you all riled up back at the diner? You’ve been sitting on something huge for years, and I can tell it’s been eating away at you.”
Nate hesitated. “Now don’t go thinkin’ I’m one of these UFO nuts. I never bought into any of that hogwash.”
Logan’s eyebrow shot up. “You saying you believe there’s some sort of extraterrestrial connection to what’s going on here?”
“No, no. Well, I don’t know. I told you I ain’t one of these UFO nuts, but your mind gets to wanderin’ sometimes, y’know? Wonderin’ what they put in them canisters. Can’t be anything good, whatever it is.”
“Okay,” said Logan, leaning forward and setting his beer on a coaster on the coffee table. “Back up a little bit. What canisters? Start at the beginning.”
Nate sighed. “Alright. So I’m thirteen years old, right? Early seventies, back before your time. Anyhow, I’m out in the woods lookin’ for stuff to shoot–birds, squirrels, possums–whatever. That’s what we did in them days. Kids. We shot guns and rode bicycles and played football and got in fights. Sometimes we’d sneak a beer or two, smoke some cigarettes. Had a cousin used to give us weed.” He laughed.
Easily sidetracked. Steer him back to the subject at hand.
“So you’re out in the woods, you say–and you found canisters of some kind?”
“Hold on, I’m getting to that. So like I said I’s out there shootin’ at things and it’s gettin’ late, startin’ to get a little dark. Figured if I stayed around a lil’ bit longer I might get an owl. There’s owls all over the place around here, did you know that?”
“No,” said Logan. “I didn’t.”
“Yeah, big ones, too. Great Horned owls, they’re called. Anyhow, it got dark and I seen this bright light comin’ from the woods, kinda like from headlights.
“I got up closer and seen it was comin’ from all these lamps on stands, kind they use for roadwork at night on the highway.
“There was all these men in space suits–least, that’s what they looked like to me at the time, bein’ a kid. Some kinda radiation suits or somethin’. They had dug a big ol’ hole in the ground, size of a swimming pool. Used a crane. Then they put these canisters in there, ’bout twelve of ’em, yay high.” He raised his hand about four feet from the floor.
“Did they open any of them? Did you see what was inside?
Nate shook his head. “Nah, I got a feeling it woulda been dangerous. They wanted to get rid of them things. So they covered ’em up, put that big fence around it and called it a protected area. Couldn’t go in that part of the woods no more, government owned it. That was that.”
“Except that wasn’t that, was it?”
“No,” breathed the old man. “Sure wasn’t.”
“What happened? What’ve you seen?”
He sighed. “I hate to badmouth my country like this, but I think whatever they put down there got out somehow. Got in the water or somethin’. Hell, I dunno. Makin’ people screwy.”
“Interesting theory,” said Logan.
“Damn it, I knew you wouldn’t believe me!”
“On the contrary,” said Logan, Remaining calm, “I’m intrigued. Water contamination can lead to a multitude of neurological issues. This isn’t far-fetched, what you’re saying.”
He wondered, in the back of his mind, if his buddy Franz at the Bureau had any files on Axton. He’d have to give him a call.
“So you do believe me.”
“I neither believe nor disbelieve anything without proof one way or the other,” said Logan. “It’s the detective in me.”
“Understood,” said Nate. “Y’know, my pa did two tours in ‘Nam. Came back and got called a babykiller and whatnot. Didn’t get spit on, like some of ’em, but in some kinda way it was worse because it was true. He did kill babies. Kids, whatever. Now he knew in his heart that it wasn’t his fault, but that don’t make it no easier to deal with, y’know?”
“Yeah,” said Logan. “I can imagine.”
“He saw men die. Saw kids die. Burnt up, shot, blowed up with land mines. Did all that for his country because he was called, and he was glad to go, ’cause he never woulda believed that his government would put them boys in harm’s way without a damn good reason.”
He stopped, took a swig of his beer. “Still waiting to hear what it was when he passed. That agent orange shit got him, even though they won’t own up to it.”
Logan didn’t know what to say, so he said what anyone else would’ve said. “I’m sorry.”
Nate waved dismissively. “Eh,” he grunted, “past is a bucket of ashes. I’m old, got no friends, wife is dead, never had kids… Little shits who live around here egg my house and call me a crazy old man. I got nothin’.”
Logan leaned forward and put a hand on the old man’s shoulder; gave him a warm smile. “You’re wrong,” he said. “You do have a friend.”