“CASH!” I TURN TO SEE IF HE heard me, but he doesn’t respond.
He’s slumped in the back seat, bloody, the seatbelt the only thing holding him in place. My shoulder aches and I can feel my own blood slide down my armpit. I hold tight to the steering wheel and urge the crappy Camaro faster. The blown out back window brings the sounds of the
outside in, but does little for the smell.
“Cash! Open your eyes man. Just open your eyes, please.” Nothing.
I reach a stop sign and blow through it. Luckily it’s late. Just a couple more miles. I floor it.
We come to a red light. I flash my brights, pound on the broken horn and fly through the intersection. A car stops just in time and we narrowly avoid colliding.
“Cash, buddy. Cash, look at me. I’m so fucking sorry man.” He coughs weakly. A driver pulls into my lane and slows to make a turn, I swerve around the car at the last second. I hear the screech of brakes as I narrowly avoid clipping another car. A hand juts out the open window with middle finger extended as we race past. Yeah, fuck you too.
Finally a road sign with a blue “H” and an arrow to the right. So close, but I take the turn too fast and the car fish tails. The left rear tire slams into the curb and hops on the median. After the side of the car smacks a road sign I manage to right it and keep going. The tire didn’t blow, but the car is pulling hard to the left and is almost impossible to keep straight. As we get to the top of a small hill the hospital becomes visible, the only light on this dark stretch of mountain road.
I keep the pedal floored and fly into the parking lot, gravel spitting on the parked cars. The ER sign just a couple hundred yards away. I pull up to the entrance and slam on my brakes. I open my door and tumble out.
I look up at the sound of the automatic doors of the ER opening, but no one is coming. A man stands behind the front desk, cranes his neck to see.
I yell: “Help! I need some fucking help!”
I get Cash’s door open and work on the seat belt that’s jammed under him. His clothes are squishy and wet with blood.
“Come on Cash, almost there man. Just hold on.” At last I unfasten his seatbelt and get him out of the car. I grab him under both shoulders and pull his unconscious body towards the entrance. It’s like dragging a dead deer.
I get him halfway across the sidewalk and slip. I’m able to get my body under his before we hit the ground, cushioning his fall. A half dozen nurses and other hospital employees rush to us. Two of them push a stretcher on wheels. Cash’s weight is lifted off me and they put him on the bed and place an oxygen mask on his face. They yell things back and forth and I get up and follow them through the doors, trying to keep up. Before I make it to the next set of doors a nurse notices my bloody arm and pulls me to the side and looks for the source. I try to yank myself free. “I need to go with him. I need to be with him.”
She grabs my good arm firmly, holding me in place. “He’s in good hands. Right now we need to take care of you.”
The last thing I see as the doors close is Cash’s bloody arm slip off the side of the bed.
I drove as fast as I could, but I don’t think it was fast enough.
FOUR WEEKS EARLIER
FOR TWO DAYS I'VE BEEN STARING AT this mugshot of Alex Finn and it still scares the shit out of me. Even without the swastika tattooed across the
front of his neck he'd be terrifying. The shaved head, the scar under his right eye. It's not long, but it's deep—more like a stab than a cut. He was twenty-two when this photo was taken. He’d be twenty-four if he was still alive.
My phone rings, I find it buried under the papers scattered across my bed. It’s Cash calling on video. He's been on a ‘run’ with his dad the past two days and got back late last night. Cash’s full name is Johnny Cash McDermid, but everyone calls him Cash. His dad wanted to call him Cash from the start, but his mom wasn’t having it, so he started life as Johnny. The moment his mom died, Johnny became Cash full time. She overdosed when he was three and he doesn’t remember her at all.
I answer and Cash immediately jumps in with: “Dude. Grams didn’t kill me. She’s losing it, though.” He sits on the edge of his bed, a cigarette in his mouth and a book on his lap. He’s so tall he needs to bend his head to the side so it doesn’t hit the bunk bed above. His red hair covers one eye, but I can tell he’s tired.
“About time you got up. I’m coming over. I found something hidden in my dad’s study,” I tell him.
“Weed?” He jokes holding his cigarette like a joint.
“I think your dad has us covered on that. No, a file. One of his patients. Remember Alex Finn?”
“Well, apparently my dad was his therapist at County.” “Did he try to set your dad on fire too?”
“Thankfully no. But I think the f ile has something to do
with my dad’s disappearance.” “You shitting me?”
“I am not. And don’t laugh, but get this, in the file Finn said he found the Raubgold.”
Cash laughs, doubles over even. Once he gets it under control he says: “Sure he did. I always thought it was Rob’s Gold anyway.”
“No dumbass, it’s German. Raubgold, it means stolen gold.”
Most everyone who grows up in this town hears the rumors about the Black Forest Inn having been some kind of secret headquarters for German spies in the 40’s. The spies apparently hid a bunch of Nazi gold at the Inn to help finance the eventual German invasion of America. I always thought it was ridiculous. What the fuck would a bunch of Nazis be doing in our tiny mountain town in the middle of America? Most people older than about twelve feel the same. Most, but not all. There’s a group of local white supremacists who believe the rumors with a vengeance and they’ve turned the search for the Raubgold into something like a religion. Alex Finn was the most obsessed of all.
“Finn’s been dead for what, two years? He finds the gold and no one’s heard about it?”
“He got arrested right after and the only person he told was my dad.”
“Okay, so where’s all the gold then?”
“According to the file, it’s still at the Inn. Hidden in the same place it’s been for seventy something years.”
“You’re high.” Cash shakes his head.
“I’m just telling you what I read. There’s more, but it’ll be easier if I show you.”
“Then get your ass over here. I got a gift from Grams.” “Oh, really? What’s that?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“On my way.” Without waiting for a reply, I hang up and
drop my phone in my pocket. I slide the mugshot, the file and the other papers and maps I’ve been scouring through for the past two days into my backpack and hop out of bed. I search my room for clothes and grab a clean-enough shirt, a pair of jeans, and my Converse. I run my hands through my hair and decide it’s still short enough that I can leave it alone.
I make my way past my mom’s room as quietly as I can — she works overnights and sleeps during the day. There's a post-it on the front door of our apartment she must have left before going to bed. It reads: Jack, my love, have a great day! The exclamation point has a circle at the bottom instead of a dot, like an unfinished smiley face.
Some people say my mom looks like Jackie O. I just think she looks distant. I feel closer to my dad, who I haven't seen in two years, than I do my mom, who I saw yesterday. Because even when she's here, she's not here.
At first I thought when she would disappear behind her eyes it was because she was on something. Like pills, Xanax probably. I searched through her purse and her medicine cabinet and nightstand and car and everywhere I could think of, but never found anything. So now I don’t think so.
Most of the time, I just think she's depressed. Actually, most of the time I don’t think about it at all.
My mom and dad got together when I was a year old. I’ve never met my biological dad, he left the minute he found out my mom was pregnant. I’m told that move was pretty consistent with his personality. My actual dad leaving though, the one that has been here my entire life, that’s a whole different story.
I doubt Mom knows anything more than I do about what happened or why. Or where he is. All we know for certain is that he got in his car one morning, drove off and never came back. But I’m convinced she thinks he’s dead.
In the beginning, every time I heard a car drive by I’d turn in hopes it was him, but she never did. Same with when I’d hear the chime from a message arriving on my phone, I’d pray it was something from him like, “Hey bud, sorry, f inally on my way home, you'll never believe what happened to me.” The message never came, but I always scrambled to check. I never saw her do that.
I got my first phone when I was ten, about three years before he went missing. I must have sent him a hundred messages a day back then. Smiley faces. Frowny faces. What are you doing? What are you doing now? Now? How about now? Here’s a picture of my hand. Of my foot. Of the grass. And he always wrote back. He never got annoyed, never told me to stop. One night we were at a neighbor’s house for dinner and they made this vegetable casserole thing. It was not good. My dad texted me Gross right at the dinner table. I busted out laughing. God I miss him.
He’d been suspended from work and things were going on I didn’t know about, but they were all still within the range of normal.
The cops came and asked some questions. They looked for a couple of weeks, or said they did. I overheard them tell my mom that sometimes people just leave.
My Uncle Mike gave me some weak-ass talk a week or so after and said, “Adults are complicated. Life gets hard, people fall off the wagon, and all bets are off,” and some other shit. Don’t get me started on that guy. My dad quit drinking before I was born and minus a three week period when I was nine, he’s been sober my entire life.
For most of those three weeks he drank just fine. Then he got drunk one evening before he picked me up from soccer practice. He didn't mean to. He was just gonna have one beer. He walked toward me from the parking lot, not stumbling, but not steady. I smelled the beer on his breath as he helped me pack up my bag. As we walked back to the car he told me to pass him the ball. I did and he took a shot on goal and completely missed. Not just the goal, the ball. He laughed, but I could tell he was embarrassed.
He took back roads home. Just past The Black Forest Inn he turned on Jackpine. It’s a dirt road and the f irst curve is deceiving, the shoulder makes it look more gradual than it is. He took it too fast and we went off the side. Brakes locked and we slid down the embankment into the forest. It’s pretty crazy how far we made it before hitting anything. But all good things must end, and we slammed into a tree. We were going pretty slow by that time, and if we had another twenty feet or so the car might have stopped on its own, but we hit the tree with enough force to shatter the passenger window and send it into the side of my head. It didn’t hurt, but blood got in my eye and I saw the world through a red kaleidoscope. I went to the emergency room, no stitches though. Just two small butterfly bandages. My dad managed to avoid his second DUI because by the time he talked to the cops, too much time had passed to give him a breathalyzer.
My dad never drank again. Pretty much devoted his life
to staying sober and helping other people get sober after that. On occasion, out of the corner of my eye, I would catch him looking at the two small scars on the right side of my forehead. The few times I made eye contact with him before he turned, I saw his eyes go shiny.
Contrary to Uncle Mike’s vast knowledge of all things human nature, I don’t think my dad is all that complicated. He likes football. He likes working in the yard. He loves my mom. He’s funny. He’s never made me feel like shit, or small.
I’m not saying my dad was perfect. He’d lose his patience with me on occasion, and there was the relapse of course, but those are just examples of things that are still him—just further from the usual him.
To me it’s like this: let’s say you have a dog. And you’ve had that dog since he was a puppy, nine years now. And sure, that dog might surprise you here and there — he might pee in the house when he didn’t usually. He might chew up your baseball mitt. He might even bite your cousin Pete on the arm and break the skin if Pete tripped and fell on top of him while he was sleeping. So no, you can’t predict everything, but even the things you can’t predict fall into some kind of normal. But my dad just abandoning us? It’s like that dog coming up to the table where the family is eating breakfast, going up to your little sister, like he wants a Cheerio or something, like he’s done a million times, but instead he attacks her throat. Then, that same dog takes a seat at the table, and with blood and spit and bits of esophagus stuck in his teeth he screams, in actual human words: “I fucking hate all of you!” Then he jumps up and takes off through the dog door.