Holy Ghost - John Sandford


Wardell Holland, the mayor of Wheatfield, Minnesota, was sitting in the double-wide he rented from his mother, a Daisy Match Grade pellet rifle in his hands, shooting flies. His mother suspected he let the flies in on purpose so he could shoot at them. He denied it, but he was lying.

He was tracking a bull-sized bluebottle when the doorbell croaked. Like most other things in the place, there was something not quite right with it, but not quite wrong enough to fix. In this case, the bell probably indicated that the beer had arrived. The kid had taken his own sweet time about it; school had been out for an hour.

“Come in,” Holland shouted.

The fly tracked out of the bedroom and lazily circled through the living room and toward the kitchen. He picked it up with the sight, and the kid outside yelled, “Don’t go shooting—”

POP! A clear miss. The fly juked as the pellet whipped past, then circled around the sink and out of sight. The pellet ricocheted once and stuck in the fiberboard closet door by the entrance.

“Hey! Hey! You crazy fuckin’ pillhead, you’re gonna put my eye out.”

Holland shouted, “He’s gone, you can come in.”

John Jacob Skinner edged through the door, keeping an eye on Holland, who was sprawled on the couch, his prosthetic foot propped up on the arm, the rifle lying across his stomach. Skinner, who was seventeen, said, “Goddamnit, Wardell . . .”

“I won’t shoot, even if I see him . . . though he is a trophy-sized beast.”

Skinner eased into the room, carrying a six-pack of Coors Light. “You want one now or you want it in the refrigerator? They’re cold.”

“Now, of course. I shoot better with a little alcohol in me.”

“Right.” Skinner pulled loose two cans, tossed one to Holland, put four in the refrigerator, popped the top on the last one, and took a drink.

Skinner resembled his name: he was six foot three, skinny, with long red hair that never seemed overly clean, a razor-thin face, prominent Adam’s apple, and bony shoulders and hips. He had about a billion freckles.

He’d shown a minor talent for basketball in junior high but had quit the game when he’d went to high school. He’d told friends that he needed nonschool time to think since it was impossible to think when he was actually in school.

The coach had asked, “Now, what in the Sam Hill do you want to think for, Skinner? Where’s that gonna get you?”

He didn’t know the answer to that question, but he did know that being the second man on the lowest level, the 1-A Border Conference would get him nowhere at all. He’d thought at least that far ahead.

“One of these days,” Skinner said to Holland, “you’re gonna catch a ricochet in the dick. Then what? Army gonna give you a wooden cock?”

“Shut up,” Holland said.

* * *

Holland had been elected mayor as a gag played by the voters of Wheatfield on the town’s stuffed shirts. What made it even funnier was that after an unsuccessful first term, Holland was reelected in a landslide. He’d run for office on a variety of slogans his minions had spray-painted on walls around town: “No More Bullshit: We’re Fucked,” “Beer Sales on Sunday,” “I’ll Do What I Can.”

All of which outshone his opponent’s “A Bright Future for Wheatfield,” and “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

This, in a town whose population had fallen from 829 in 2000 to 721 in the last census, and now probably hovered around 650, leaving behind twenty or thirty empty houses and a bunch of empty apartments over the downtown stores. Half the stores were themselves shuttered, and some had been simply abandoned by their owners, eventually—and pointlessly—taken by the county due to lack of property tax payments.

This, in a town where fifteen years earlier the city council had purchased in a corrupt deal from the then mayor a forty-acre tract on the edge of town. The town had run water and an electric cable out to it, and advertised it on a lonely I-90 billboard as the “Wheatfield Industrial Park.” In fifteen years, it had not attracted a single business, and, in the estimation of voters, never would.

Therefore, Holland.

Holland, a former first lieutenant in the Army, had lost a foot in Afghanistan and lived on a military disability pension, which, in Wheatfield, was good enough. He’d refused the thirty-dollars-per-meeting mayor’s salary, and had rented out the industrial park to a local corn farmer, so the forty acres was finally producing