By Michael Koryta
Hardcover, 368 pages
Little, Brown and Company
List Price: $24.99
Blade ridge road lay in the western reaches of the county, a twenty-minute drive from Whitman, though Roy did it in fifteen as dusk fell over the wooded countryside. It wasn't so much of a road — just a rutted gravel lane that broke away from County Road 200 in the foothills that had once been home to coal-mining country, making a straight line toward the Marshall River, which marked Sawyer County's western border. County Road 200 bent sharply to the left at this point, but if you missed that curve and continued straight, you'd end up on Blade Ridge, which would deliver you to the realization that you'd made a mistake and then to a sudden wall of trees.
For some people — Roy's parents among them — it was a very bad mistake. The narrow, twisting lane was treacherous, particularly in the winter, particularly in the dark. When Roy's parents died, the county was inspired to replace the original dead-end sign with two larger ones and add a warning that traffic was for residents only. Not that there were many of them. Just a lighthouse, where once a trailer had stood. And, now, a cat zoo.
Ahead of the spot where the gravel road reached its end, directly across from the fresh fencing and cages that had now been built into the woods to house a rescue center for tigers, cougars, lions, and leopards, there was a track that cut off to the right. This was the driveway to Wyatt French's lighthouse. It came in from the north side at a harsh angle and began to climb immediately. Roy made the turn, loose gravel sliding under the tires, and heard the pitch of the Pilot's engine turn harsh as it strained up the incline. It was like driving through a tunnel because the trees hung so dense and so close to the road. Then it broke to a crest and there were a few gaps that allowed you to see between the mountains and out to the Marshall River and an ancient railroad trestle.
A long fence protected the lighthouse property. The gate was padlocked; Wyatt French didn't care for visitors. Built at the base of the lighthouse was a structure that looked no bigger than a shed. It was there that the old man lived.
"Crazy bastard," Roy muttered, staring at the lighthouse as he parked the Honda in the weeds beside the fence. He hit the horn, three taps.
Nothing. He gave it a minute and laid on the horn again, longer this time, figuring the blaring noise would raise Wyatt's ire and call him forth.
It didn't, though. Roy shut the car off and climbed out into the rain. The fence was there, but fences could be climbed. Wyatt French hadn't added razor wire and guard towers to the property, though they were probably on his list.
There was not a sound except for the rain, but the light was flashing steadily against the gathering dusk.
I'm getting scared of what I could do in the dark.
"Just go knock on the damn door," he muttered to himself, and then he went forward. The fence was simple, six-foot chain link, and Roy was still in decent shape, cleared it easily. There was only one door. A piece of paper fluttered on it, secured with two large thumbtacks. Roy used the side of his hand to flatten the paper against the wind so he could read the message, hoping it was instructions for FedEx or a note for a neighbor.
For purposes of investigation, the handwritten note read, please contact Kevin W. Kimble of the Sawyer County Sheriff 's Department.
Roy took his hand away from the note, and the breeze slid under the paper again, rustling it against the wood. He was afraid now, plain and simple.
For purposes of investigation ...
Kimble was the chief deputy, a man who'd taken a bullet in the back a few years ago and still returned to the job. He was, anyone in the county would probably agree, the man you'd want on a difficult case.
But what was Wyatt's case?
Roy knocked. Nothing. He cupped his hands and shouted Wyatt's name. The rain was streaming down his neck and under his shirt collar to his spine. He tried the knob, then swore when it turned.
Unlocked. Shit. Why couldn't it have been locked? Why were the doors you knew you shouldn't open always the ones that were unlocked?
He pushed the door open and peered into the darkness. The living quarters seemed larger than they should have, but they still weren't much to speak of. There was a small bed in one corner, a desk beside it, some shelves, a kitchen table in the middle of the room. Refrigerator and range and sink. A bathroom blocked off by an old-fashioned accordion-style door.
"Wyatt? Mr. French? It's Roy Darmus."
By now he'd given up on getting an answer. He stepped into the room, and in the nickel-colored light of the rainy afternoon he could see that the walls were lined with maps. Topographic maps of Sawyer County. As he walked farther in, he saw that each map had a different year written on it in bold black marker: 1966, 1958, 1984 ...
Across the room was another door, also closed. This would lead to the lighthouse steps. Maybe this one would be locked. That would be nice.
It wasn't. Opened outward and revealed the base of the spiral stairs that curled up and away. Roy began to climb, one hand on the railing.
"Wyatt?" he called.
There were more steps than he'd have thought. He climbed for a long time, into progressive darkness, and then finally the top showed itself in a gray glare of daylight.
By then Roy didn't need to go any farther. The smell assured him of that — warm, fresh copper tinged the air.
Excerpted from The Ridge by Michael Koryta. Copyright 2011 by Michael Koryta. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company.