Strait stepped out onto the sidewalk outside the Food Coop a short time later and began to walk down the side street through the east downtown residential section toward the Dove Unitarian Church. His spirits were high. He’d finally had landed a job. Just one week from now, he’d show up to the Coop, an employed man again.
Only a year before, it had seemed his life was over. Hospitalized after a fiery FBI SWAT raid on a doomsday cult with gunshot wounds that had ripped his leg apart, he started having mysterious episodes of dizziness. The attacks, which caused the room to spin furiously for ten hours, were worse than anything he’d ever experienced, worse even than the horrible things he’d witnessed in Afghanistan. After the fourth attack in a month, the doctors diagnosed him with a rare, disabling condition called Meniere’s Disease. He was told he’d gradually go deaf and would likely never hold a full time job again. His life as an FBI agent was finished.
But the FBI had been his life. It defined who he was. Leaving the bureau had seemed like death. Even after he had found a doctor whose treatments had enabled him to become functional again, his superiors had conspired to force him out. Everyone knew the real reason had nothing to do with his medical condition but with his inability to play along with their corrupt behavior. When he’d finally received the social security approval letter, he had, in front of Jessie’s startled face, torn it in half. At that instant, he felt freer than he’d ever felt, but he was left without an income.
Now, he had a real job again. Working at the Coop wouldn’t make him rich, but it would make him somehow…legitimate.
He ambled through the pleasant residential area toward the church. After a bitterly cold winter that had gone on too long, life was reawakening. In the tall elms and birches and oaks lining both sides of the street he could hear the lively chirping of baby birds in their nests. Bright green leaves were emerging on the branches. In the front yards of all the modest frame houses of downtown, fresh grass was sprouting and flowerbeds were coming alive with a rainbow-colored explosion of blossoms.
Life was looking up.
After a few blocks, he turned left on Birch Ave and headed south toward the center of town.
Another thing that had brought his life back was Jessie Brightwater. His relationship with the pastor of the Dove Unitarian Church had grown much closer since Christmas. It was as whirlwind a romance as could be, but it felt exactly right. They spent most of their evenings together, and many of the nights, mostly at her small brick house about a mile from the church. She had gotten him out of the Blue Rabbit, the fleabag hotel downtown the FBI had stowed him in and rented him a room at her church in exchange for doing maintenance and janitorial chores. Along with upkeep on the building, Strait had been assisting Jessie weekends on her feed-the-homeless project at The Meadows, a crime-infested park that was not only the place a lot of Pine River’s street people slept but also the town’s go-to destination for purchasers of meth and any other drug you could name.
They did have some serious differences between them. She was a vegetarian. He was a devoted meat-eater. She lived and breathed left-wing political causes, while he remained largely apolitical. But the way they bonded over so many other things made it easy to overlook the differences. They loved each other’s company and craved each other when they were apart.
Losing his career in the FBI had left him in a state of emotional pain that he thought he’d never recover from, but he’d gradually grown accustomed to living a quieter life. Part of the treatment prescribed by Dr. Watanabe, the quirky and cadaverous Meniere’s specialist at Pine River Hospital, was for him to take four-hour walks every day. To justify this, he had cited research from Waseda University that demonstrated sharp improvement of MD patients who did so. So Strait rose early each morning and dutifully put on his walking shoes and crossed Pine River City park all the way to the west edge, where Pine River cut across it. He followed the riverbank as it twisted back around itself to the east, as far he could go in two hours. This brought him to a point where he could climb up from the riverbank and follow a short trail through the pine forest, past an abandoned logging facility, and emerge onto Sawyer Road, which ran along the northern fringe of the town. He could then round out his four hours by following Sawyer to walk back into town to the church. It was on this road this morning that he had taken a small detour and stopped by the Food Coop to ask about a job.
These walks not only had reduced his symptoms to the point of disappearing, but they also provided him a sense of inner peace he had never known before. He’d come to appreciate his simple life with Jessie here in Pine River. Only months ago, he’d lived for the throttled action of being in FBI SWAT, of smashing down a door and bringing a criminal to his knees. But his experiences showed him that those in charge, the ones whose responsibility was to stop crime, were just as criminal. And the crimes themselves never changed no matter how many doors you smashed.
Strait had purchased an acoustic guitar and started teaching himself to play it.
He was finished with that life and he was embracing this new one with Jessie. No more navigating around corrupt superiors. No insomnia-inducing stress. No violence.
Except for those two guys this morning.
He smiled. The hapless look of astonishment on the face of that big bald fuck when he’d smacked him in the nose with his own broken camera. It sure had felt great to kick their asses. His new co-workers wouldn’t be bothered by them anymore.
A noise brought Strait out his thoughts. Somebody was yelling. He looked up and saw the reason. Thick black smoke was rising from a spot a few blocks down, snaking over the intervening houses and into the blue sky, chased by a hint of snapping red flame.
He started running toward the fire. Sirens were cascading in from several directions and the shouting voices were growing more numerous. After about two blocks, he could make out the origin of the smoke more certainly.
With a surge of anxiety, he remembered Children’s Hour was being held today. There were kids in the building. Sprinting as fast as he could, he reached the sidestreet intersection and was stunned by what he saw. Thick black smoke was churning upwards in uncoiling spools from the big front window of the church. Its pane was broken out. A fire engine had just stopped and a couple of guys in red uniforms were scrambling to draw out a hose and attach it to the hydrant on the corner. One of the firefighters saw him running up and stepped forward waving his hands to block him.
“Sir, step back…”
“There’re kids inside!”
“Sir, you can’t…”
Strait shoved the man aside and took a couple of running steps toward the building and a great sheering noise whipped into him with a blast of superheated wind. He instinctively threw his arm across his face as the explosion hurled him backwards into the air.
He opened his eyes and for a fraction of a second thought he was flying. In the sky, over the ocean. Blue stretched out underneath him in every direction. But it came to him that it wasn’t underneath him but above and the ocean was actually the cloudless blue sky.
He was on his back, the reek of melting plastic in his nose and heat crackling up and burning his chin.
He was on fire.
“The Rabbit Skinners by John Eidswick is fully comparable and sometimes superior to any Jack Reacher or Lucas Davenport novel on the market. Such comparison is meant to convey just how good this book is. Besides the meticulously satisfying plot, this deftly-paced mystery thriller checks every box included in the mythical Writer’s Guide to Writing. Namely, dialogue is pitched so finely tuned that one actually hears the characters speaking; these characters themselves are so well sketched, one thinks he must have met them somewhere before; and the myriad tiny details necessary to establish place are so lavishly but unobtrusively sprinkled throughout that one feels (and hears, and smells) himself to be fully there in person. And all of this precision writing skill is devoted to telling a marvelously plotted story about a 9-year-old missing girl…a truly exciting and highly enjoyable read.” – Joel R. Dennstedt, Readers’ Favorite