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The Night Sky

Duncan parked just inside the door of his father’s old barn. It was early evening just before dusk. It had been an incredibly tiring day. Time to be alone. He couldn't face the press anymore and he certainly couldn't face his family.

He had come out on his old snowmobile. He was wearing shades and an ex-Russian army fur hat. He’d pulled an un-Mayoral high–vis workman’s vest over his arctic, padded jacket. He was pretty sure he wouldn’t have been followed as he cut straight across country. It didn't really matter anymore anyway.

In one hand Duncan clutched a bottle of 2010 Jack Daniels, which his father had once given him for a special occasion. In the other hand he clutched a small trowel and a mysterious letter, which he hadn’t felt like opening, when it arrived, yesterday.

He took out a nearly extinct old garden chair from beside the tractor, leaned it up against the still warm south wall. He fetched the solar-battery powered heat lamp kept there to prevent the tractors diesel from freezing. Tried it. Miraculously it was still working.

Then he took long look at the bourbon. It felt a sacrilege to turn something so old and expensive into urine. At least he didn't have a gun with him, so he felt reasonably safe with the idea of getting drunk. No consequences this time and no responsibility.

Through the open door, Duncan watched the red sun edge irrevocably down, to the frozen horizon. It hovered, then plunged. The barn owl screeched in celebration. He pulled out his glass tumbler from his pocket. He inspected the inscription:

‘For the bourbon and the bourbon alone. Happy twenty first birthday. Your father.’

Duncan opened the bottle slowly and smelled it. It smelt sweet it should have been fossilised.

“To my Pop,” he raised his glass. “Thanks for the drink and sorry about the timing.”

It tasted glorious. Like sweet honey with a kick.

He examined the letter. It had been posted in New Zealand. He didn't know anyone in New Zealand. All he knew about it was they once used to have a lot of sheep.

A standard small padded envelope. No customs declaration. Child’s writing: biro, thin, loopy, wobbly and uneven. Or was someone using their left hand as a disguise?

Something small and light enclosed. He opened it cautiously, from the side. First, a Chrismas card: sheep and shepherds dressed like Sheiks. Then, a note. Same writing. No address. No date. Just headed:

Dear Duncan Anderton

This is the most unprofessional thing I have ever done in my life.

Hope I don't get whacked for it.

Retired now. Lots of fishing. We have that in common. Makes you more human. Really on same side.

V sorry collaterals. You not the only one to get fucked. Enclose amends. Video stick. Missing evidence. Proof your integrity. For Christmas.

Your Dad right. Tip your dad right. Tipped off by old platoon. Washington livid. I let him do shoes. So insistent. Couldn’t fathom it. Instruction, clue or religion? Shoes point east, souls heavenwards.

Don’t fish too deep too long. Guilty out of net now. Don’t know all myself. Hope they don’t reel me in. There’s a fine line between going in for fishy business and getting hooked. Cut and run. Do something else now. And watch out. Epiphany soon.

Wise men look at eastern sky.

Yours sincerely, A New Zealand Angler.

Taped inside the card, tucked inside a chewing gum wrapper, a memory stick.

Duncan sighed and poured himself another drink. The whiskey flowed like a lazy river into his glass.

He didn't know what any of it meant really. Except a few things. Pop hadn't committed suicide and he'd been murdered. Secondly someone for reasons of their own had been engineering things. He couldn't quite see the connections now and the alcohol would do it for him, or not. One thing was for sure: his instincts had been right.

It was growing dark outside now and he felt a shiver run down his spine.

Duncan watched the gathering gloom for an hour until it cloaked around him. Maybe that was why he liked Iowa so much. The sky always felt huge, bigger than in any other state.

It was not until the bottle was half gone that he noticed the glow in the sky to the East. A huge glow in the sky bigger than any night light that Hertferd threw into the heavens.

He suddenly knew what it was. He began to understand a few things. It didn't make the pain go away, in fact it made it worse but at least he thought he understood. It all had a perverse symmetry.

The orange glow was refracted by the snow. The whole landscape became rainbow indigo. Duncan started to sing Beethoven.
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