15.3 The Miner's Tale - Continued

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Whatever part of Carl Rascoe that had played the storyteller eroded then once and for all. The calm, lucid voice beneath the bed dissolved into gibberish and moans. "Soon, soon, screaming, the scream, the soon scream, the soon scream . . ."

Billy was still clenching his father's hand through the oven mitt. The carbide lamp coated his face in sickly yellow. He stared at us.

A low, choppy sound began on my left.

Nip was laughing.

Billy flinched. "What?"

"Your dad doesn't read much, does he?"

"What does that matter?"

Nip laughed harder. I thought back to that day at my aunt's house, Nip losing it over that joke I told about the Bear Pie when what was really on his mind was the Newport he had found on the bleachers. He shook his head, his chest huffing, his eyes squinted like he was holding back tears. "There's a hole in the yarn."

"A hole?" Billy's hand tightened on his father's. The gibberish beneath the bed stuttered and fell off and started again.

"Soon soon soon soon soon—"

"Yeah, a plot hole. And around it all the little strands come falling apart." Nip fluttered his fingers, smiling. "Your father's crew. His three men. They weren't reported missing. They weren't reported period. Which means they're still alive and looking for a new job, like all the other miners laid off."

The room went silent except for the quickening mutter of, "soon soon soon soon."

"See?" said Nip, looking from Billy to me to Ash, who was sitting with her cross clutched in her hand and her eyes wide, looking into herself instead of out. "Nothing holds together. If your dad's crew isn't dead, they weren't down there. And if they weren't down there, your dad didn't steal what's-his-name's backpack. And if that didn't happen, he didn't get caught loading the backpack and didn't smash that guy's face up either."

I spoke without meaning to. "Mike is dead."

Nip turned to me.

"Mike Richards and Gabriel Vasquez. Both of them are dead. It was in the papers." There was something else, too. Something in the back of my brain, a memory that twisted and moaned beneath white sheets but refused to show its face.

Nip gave a twitchy, almost desperate nod. "Sure they're dead. They were down on Level Whatever when his dad blew up the place, and that sucks. But at least he didn't kill them himself, personally. That's good news. That's something to be thankful for, isn't it?" He looked back at Billy as he finished, and I could see him wanting Billy to agree almost as much as Billy wanted us to believe.

"Soon soon soon soon soon it screams soon it screams screams . . ."

"You're wrong," Billy said. "There's no plot hole. You just don't have the whole story. Block and Cricket and Mancini, my dad used to talk about them. Complain about them. Every night it was Cricket fucking up this, or Mancini shitting all over that. He told me where they came from, how they got to be down there in the basement doing the work nobody was willing to do. They were drifters before Blackstone, all three of them. They didn't have families. They didn't have anyone. Dad doubted they were even on payroll." Billy paused to catch his breath. "Blackstone was paying them under the table, and when all this happened, that's exactly where they got swept."

"Bull." Nip's laugh made a brief reappearance. "Blackstone couldn't do that."

"Blackstone didn't."

"Who did then?"

Both of them were talking louder, raising their voices to be heard over the voice under the bed.

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