Tarot’s head was spinning. He wasn’t sure if it was the second glass of wine or what Lankin had just told him. Maybe it was a combination of both.
He could remember his dad taking him camping once, when he was six. It was in the forests just below tree-line on a clear day during High Summer. They were not too far from the Death’s Head and Hell’s Watchtower. Tarot remembered staring quite intently at the two features as his dad set up the tent.
“Can we go up one of those, Dad?” He asked.
“This is the closest I’ll ever take you to either of them,” Donavan replied, upon recollection, there was bitterness in that answer.
“Why not?” The younger Tarot was hurt his dad didn’t want to take him on such a grand adventure. “Doesn’t Lankin go up there all the time?”
“He does,” Donovan said coldly. “But Lankin has nine lives. You and I don’t.”
“That’s the end of it,” Donavan stated firmly.
“I said the end, James!!”
They never went hiking or camping again. Although he didn’t know the details, he knew his father’s problems with the Death’s Head and Hell’s Watchtower had to do with his mom. Lankin was tangled in there too. In the years to come, Tarot would watch his dad drink more and more, slowly committing suicide with every sip.
“It’s not fair,” Tarot muttered, sipping his wine.
“Fair?!?” Lankin snorted. “Fair?!? I’ve recovered the bodies of hikers that make me look like an amateur because of a simple misstep or because that day their heart decided to just stop working. Once, I came across a man from New York coming down off the Death’s Head in shorts, a tank-top, and flip-flops, acting like it was a stroll through Central Park and looking at all the other trekkers like they were stupid for having their gear.” He poured himself another glass and slowly brought it to his mouth. “Fair…there’s no such thing.”
“When I saw Grizz, he said my dad had been drowning,” Tarot mused. “Ira said something like that too.”
“Pretty much,” Lankin said absently. “Grizz would talk about throwing Donnie a rope, and I think anybody who cared about him did once or twice.”
“Obviously, he didn’t take them,” Tarot muttered.
“Oh, he might dry out on occasion for a month or two. You probably saw that.” Lankin replied. “But he was pretty bent on being in that bottle.”
“Well, he finally did it. He finally killed himself.”
Tarot’s eyes widened. Lankin leaned forward, his eyes narrowed. A slight scowl formed on his lips.
“I was going to come and find you if you hadn’t come over,” he started. “It would appear there was antifreeze in your dad’s system when he died.”
“Yes, antifreeze,” Lankin repeated. “Neither a pleasant or particularly quick way to die, and it wouldn’t have fit your dad anyway; he was pacing himself on his suicide.”
“You think my dad was murdered?”
“It seems pretty likely.”
“Who do you think would do that?”
“It hardly matters,” Lankin replied in an almost off-handed manner. “Almost everyone in this county has wanted him dead at one time or another. That includes the distinguished Ira Milligan and even myself.”
“Well, I want to know who did it!” Tarot exclaimed.
“I’ll help you, Jimmy,” Lankin said calmly.
“I thought you said it doesn’t matter who did it,” Tarot’s voice carried sarcasm and desperation.
“It doesn’t” Lankin said as he sat back and sipped his wine. Then, his gaze hardened into an expression of predatory concentration. “But why matters quite a bit. And that’s what I want to know.”