The big corner spot at street level was vacant, which is never a good sign.I sat in the car drinking Americanos I fetched from a Seattle's Best across the way.It would survive — even this dead zone needed somewhere to host a Les Schwab and make up the national Burger King quota — but it was unlikely to make anyone rich again. I picked one up, looked it over, put it in a pocket. Took a right to follow 82 down through the sprawl that became Union Gap, then buildings by a road, and then just a road.If that was what you had in mind, you'd go up to Seattle, or down to Portland. When John Zandt arrived he was driving a big red GMC, dirty and none too new. At Toppenish he took 97's abrupt swerve to the south west.The barman was Native American but had short blond hair spiked like a 1980s pop star, and was wearing quite a lot of make-up. It looked like it had spent a long time in pockets and grimy hands. I should note that his appearance suggests Joseph drinks a great deal on a regular basis. But he was definite about where he'd been.' 'Why didn't he tell the regular law? I looked away before he could see the expression on my face. No trees; only sharp hills and shallow canyons and small shrubs and grasses pale amongst the remnants of last week's snow.A small cross had been marked in the centre of a big empty patch, near a wandering blue line called Dry Creek. ' 'A call logged on one of the Rat-On-A-Friend lines. Joseph was visiting family and took a walk in the wilds here a week ago. ' 'I don't think he's had a good time with the local police. And I haven't even ripping the piss out of it.' 'Nina likes it.' 'Probably likes leather purses, too. —«»—«»—«»— Half an hour out of Toppenish we could indeed have been on another planet. The rocks were grey and flat brown and looked like an icy watercolour hung in someone else's hallway. After another ten miles he started driving more slowly and watching along the side.I knew that the place called Union Gap had once been called Yakima instead, until the rail company forced the Indians to move their capital a few miles north, reluctance worn down by the offer of free land, bribes dividing the tribe in a way hunger or cold winters never had.
I could almost hear the sound of a mayor sitting behind a big shiny desk, drumming his fingers, quietly losing his mind as he felt the town snooze around him. 'Should've got them to spray 'Not From Around Here' across the hood.' 'You're unbelievably late,' I said. 'So let's go.' I got out of my car, leaving the keys in the ignition. When I climbed in the pickup I saw two handguns lying on the floor. 'And then we have to walk.' He pulled out of the lot and down the Avenue, past the grey new mall which had helped put the curse on the one I'd been watching without looking any too prosperous itself.
We didn't seem to be making much progress but I didn't say anything. I could hear the sound of his jacket flapping in the wind. He had been tied to it, his body held upright in a way that happened to make him look like he was walking.
In time the body would fall and the clothes fade, and the pole would rust away. Zandt just nodded, apparently fresh out of other points of view. Zandt took only two pictures, then logged the position. 'Let's get out of here.' I followed him as he walked away from the woman.
And in the background, as ever, are the shadowy Straw Men, exerting a mysterious and sinister influence on both individuals and historic events.
Publisher's synopsis: A guilty man walks alone into the cold mountain forests of Washington State, aiming never to return.