In the weeks after the tragedy, as he accumulates pieces of information, he continues to replay that morning in his mind. More times than he can count, more ways than he can remember, he juggles the elements. He imagines details. Changes details. Struggles desperately to alter the outcome. It never works. The end is always the same, so abysmally far beyond his control. Usually it goes something like this:
She waits alone outside the hotel in the early gray of a cloudy dawn. Her suitcase is beside her. In her hand is a disposable cup half-filled with bad coffee. A tumbleweed rolls across the parking lot, pushed by a cold November wind coming off the High Plains.
This is one of the details that changes. Sometimes he imagines an empty plastic bag or a loose page of newspaper drifting across the asphalt. They’re all cliches, but that’s how he sees it.
She stares down the hill toward Casper, Wyoming, a dismal little city spread across the base of a dark mountain like debris swept up by the wind and dumped there. As she watches, a tongue of dirty-looking cloud descends from the overcast to lick the stone face of the mountain.
She thinks, I should have called him. She thinks, I should have told him I’m sorry.
She sips from her hotel coffee, wishing, as she sometimes does when she’s stressed or troubled, that she still smoked.
George LeDuc pushes out through the hotel door. He’s wearing a jean jacket with sheepskin lining that he bought in a store in downtown Casper the day before. “Makes me look like a cowboy,” he’d said with an ironic grin. LeDuc is full-blood Ojibwe. He’s seventy, with long white hair. He rolls his suitcase to where she stands and parks it beside hers.
“You look like you didn’t sleep too good,” he says. “Did you call him?”
She stares at the bleak city, the black mountain, the gray sky. “No.”
“Call him, Jo. It’ll save you both a whole lot of heartache.”
“He’s gone by now.”
“Leave him a message. You’ll feel better.”
“He could have called me,” she points out.
“Could have. Didn’t. Mexican standoff. Is it making you happy?” He rests those warm brown Anishinaabe eyes on her. “Call Cork,” he says.
Behind them the others stumble out the hotel doorway, four men looking sleepy, appraising the low gray sky with concern.