"Fasten your seatbelts for one of the most mindblowing literary rides you've ever had!"
Reviewed by Lynn Cunningham
Posted June 24, 2014
David Malone and Jana Fletcher meet totally by chance on a
dark, rainy night because of a deer. First, the deer tries
to race David on the side of the road and then it leaps up
onto Jana's car, which is going in the opposite direction.
Being a gentleman, David helps Jana sort out the towing of
her car and then drives her to her home. There is definitely
something between these two that takes off in an instant.
They begin a heated affair that very same night. It is an
affair that lasts for ten days. On the tenth day, Jana is
brutally murdered in her little duplex. That's only the
beginning of this twisted tale.
Prior to Jana's murder, she tells David that she feels as if
someone is watching her. However, there is no proof of this
and no one is ever spotted. Neither one of them seems to
take it very seriously. The problem is that Jana is right.
Someone is watching her and waiting for just the right
moment to kill her.
When the police don't seem to be doing enough to find Jana's
killer, David takes it upon himself to start investigating
her death on his own. What he discovers along the way as
well as what the reader is privy to will make your jaw just
keep dropping. I seriously cannot count the number of times
that I said "Oh my god!" while reading THE LAST DEAD GIRL.
I can say with definite certainty that THE LAST DEAD GIRL is
one of the best books I have ever read in my life. Harry
Dolan has a way of giving away just enough but never too
much so that the story remains a compelling mystery from the
first page to the last. He also writes in a fashion that
holds the reader enthralled. I simply had to know what was
going to happen next, which kept me moving quickly from
chapter to chapter.
THE LAST DEAD GIRL is not a happy book, but it is very
satisfying and will stay with you long after that last page
is read. It is a book that I wanted to keep going and, even
now, I miss that I don't have another chapter to read in it.
David Malone is a character that you cheer for and encourage
along the way because you want him to get justice for Jana
as well as unravel the other mysteries that surround her.
In short, I loved THE LAST DEAD GIRL! It is much more than
just a book. It is an experience for all of your senses.
On a rainy night in April, a chance encounter on a lonely
road draws David into a romance with Jana Fletcher, a
beautiful young law student. Jana is an enigma: living in a
run-down apartment and sporting a bruise on her cheek that
she refuses to explain. David would like to know her
secrets, but he lets them lie—until it’s too late.
When Jana is brutally murdered, the police consider David
a prime suspect. But as he sets out to uncover the truth
about Jana, he begins to realize he’s treading a very
dangerous path—and that her killer is watching every move he
ExcerptRome, New York
The last night of April, 1998
They put me in a room with white tile on the walls and a
pair of long fluorescent lights glaring down from the
ceiling. The lights let out a slow, crackling hiss. I had a
cut on my temple. It had stopped bleeding, but now it
itched. I tried to ignore it.
They left me there alone. Nothing in the room but a wooden
table and two chairs with metal frames and padded seats. I
sat in a chair, held my hands above the surface of the
table. The right one trembled—faintly, but you could see it.
I thought about what could be causing it: more than one
thing, but I knew part of it was anger. I made a fist and
the trembling stopped.
An hour passed. There was no clock, but they had let me keep
my watch. They’d taken everything else—Swiss Army knife,
keys, everything I had in my pockets.
I got up and circled the table under the hiss of the
fluorescent lights. Reached for the cut on my temple. Dried
blood. I crossed to the door and tried the knob. Locked.
I returned to my chair and picked it up. Thought about
smashing something. Maybe the lights: they were glass, they
would break. Then I could be angry in the dark.
I walked another circuit of the room, dragging the chair
behind me this time. Slightly less childish. The metal legs
made a satisfying screech against the floor.
The door opened and a uniformed cop looked in at me and
frowned. I put the chair back where it belonged and sat. The
door closed. A few minutes later it opened again and a
different cop came in, one I hadn’t seen before. Dressed in
a gray suit, with a detective’s gold shield on a lanyard
around his neck.
He sat down across from me.
“Why’d you kill the girl?” he said.
His tone was mild, bored, bureaucratic. I studied his face.
He had dark hair cut short, a heavy brow, a long, fleshy
nose. His skin was olive and he had gone too long without a
shave. He must have been around fifty years old. His eyes
“Seriously?” I said.
“Does that ever work for you?”
He tipped his head to the side. “Sometimes.”
“A cold open like that—‘Why’d you kill the girl?’—and then
they just confess?”
“You’d be surprised what works.”
He turned his chair so he could rest an elbow on the table.
Drew a thumb over the stubble along his jaw.
He said, “Why don’t you tell me how you think this should
I gestured at the tiled walls. “You could leave me waiting
here for another hour.”
“You’re not going to get all wounded on me, are you?” he
said, his lip curling in a ghost of a smile. “I don’t think
you’re that delicate. And I’ve been a little busy.”
“You could give me your name.”
He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “That’s fair,” he said.
“I’m Frank Moretti. You’re Darrell Malone, but you go by
your middle name, David. The girl was Jana Fletcher.
Somebody strangled her. She was twenty-five, a law student
at Bellamy University. How long did you know her?”
I shrugged. “That’s how long it was.”
“Ten days,” he repeated. “That’s fast.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“Nothing, really. Just that you got close to her in a short
“Is that a question?”
“It’s an observation. How did you meet her?”
“It was an accident.”
He gave me the lip curl again. “Isn’t that the way it goes.
Sometimes I think life is just one long string of
“She was in a car accident,” I said. “A minor one. I came
along and helped her. Gave her a ride home.”
“And that was the beginning of your relationship?”
“When did you start sleeping with her?”
The question made me frown. “I’m not sure I want to tell
“Because it’s none of your business.”
“Actually, it is,” Frank Moretti said. “You could say my
business is finding out things that are none of my business.
Shall I tell you what I found out tonight before I came in
I leaned back in my chair. “Go ahead.”
“I found out that you started sleeping with Jana Fletcher
ten nights ago. That’s an intimate bit of knowledge, but the
walls of Jana’s apartment are very thin, and her landlady,
who lives next door, is very observant.”
“Meaning she likes to spy on people.”
“She told me you’ve been there every night since, and you
have your own key. That’s a minor detail, but it interests
“It made things easier,” I said. “Jana tended to leave early
in the morning. I tend to sleep late. She wanted me to be
able to lock up when I left.”
Moretti nodded. “I also learned, from a different source,
that you’re engaged to be married—but not to Jana Fletcher.”
“What source told you that?”
“I know a reporter at the Sentinel. He looked you up in the
archives. They ran the announcement in the local section.
Quite a write-up. A lot of fanfare. It got me thinking about
the name Malone. There’s a library on the campus of the
university with the name Austin Malone on it. Also a science
lab, and a hospital wing. A relative of yours?”
“How did he make enough money to get his name on so many
“Exploiting the masses. What does this have to do with
“I wonder about the contrast,” Moretti said. “I was in her
apartment tonight. It’s nothing much. Nobody in her family
ever got their name on anything.”
“What’s your point?”
“My point is, she was from the wrong side of the tracks.”
I heard myself laugh. A grim little thing, more like a
“‘The wrong side of the tracks’? Do people even say that
“My point is, maybe that was part of the attraction,” said
Moretti. “Here’s a girl you can impress with your money.
She’s not like the women you’re used to. Maybe she’s willing
to do things your fiancée won’t do. Maybe she likes it
rough. Did she ask you to choke her?”
I felt the skin flush along my arms and on the back of my
neck. Something sour twisted in the pit of my stomach.
“You’re way off.”
“Maybe I am,” Moretti said, and then went quiet. His tired
eyes stared at me. I returned the stare. The fluorescent
lights crackled above us. The fingers of my left hand found
the cut on my temple and traced it gently.
“You want me to get someone in here?” Moretti said.
His voice was tired like his eyes, and bland. I didn’t
“Someone to look at that cut,” he said. “A team of surgeons
maybe? You don’t want a scar. It might ruin your looks.”
I brought my hand down to the table. “You’re wasting your
He let out a long breath. “I’m trying to understand your
relationship with Jana Fletcher. I don’t think that’s a
waste of time.”
“You’re chasing down the wrong trail. I’m not the one who
Moretti nodded once to acknowledge my denial.
“Did you ever hit her?”
The thing in my stomach twisted again. “Why would you ask me
“That’s not an answer.”
“I never hit her.”
“But someone did.”
No trace of doubt in his tone. He was stating a fact.
“How do you know about that?” I said. But then it came to
me: the landlady.
Moretti didn’t bother to answer me. “Someone hit Jana
Fletcher ten days ago,” he said. “Left a mark on her cheek.
Ten days. Does that sound familiar?”
“She had that mark the night I met her. I didn’t give it to
“Who did? Did you ask her?”
“She wouldn’t tell me.”
“It’s the truth.”
I watched Moretti drum his fingers on the table.
“Here’s what I think,” he said. “The two of you met and
something clicked right away. You fell into bed together. It
got a little crazy that first night. You hit her. Maybe you
were just playing around, but you hit her harder than you
meant to. Hard enough to leave a mark. A woman can forgive
something like that, if it happens in the heat of the
moment. Or as I said, maybe she liked it rough.”
The drumming stopped. “Then tonight, you got carried away,”
he said. “You put your hands on her throat. You thought
she’d like it. Some women do. But you’re a strong guy, you
went too far. Too much pressure. I’m not saying you did it
on purpose. If you tell me it was an accident—”
I felt the muscles of my shoulders tense. Found myself
shaking my head.
“I didn’t do it. Stop playing games.”
“Have I been playing games?”
“You know it wasn’t an accident,” I said. “I found her. I
called 911. I saw what she looked like. No one did that by
accident.” The memory made me shudder. “You don’t really
believe I killed her.”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“Whoever killed her broke the door in. Why would I do that?
I have a key.”
“Sometimes people stage crime scenes,” Moretti said with a
shrug. “They go in with a key. They do something they
shouldn’t. Then they go back out, lock up, kick the door in.
They pretend they found it that way.”
The sour thing in my stomach threatened to rise up into my
throat. I tried to relax, tried to settle it back down. The
room seemed suddenly warm, the white walls sickly.
“No,” I said. “I can understand why you’d think that, but
you’re wrong. You’re wasting your time.”
“You said that before,” he said mildly. “So tell me, how
should I be spending my time?”
I closed my eyes, tried to think. I did my best to block
everything out, make it all fade away, even the hiss of the
“Someone hit her,” I said eventually. “That’s the place to
start. You need to find him. And there’s something else.”
I opened my eyes. “You’re going to think I’m making it up.
But I’m not. If I were making it up, I’d have a better
Something passed over his face. A flicker of amusement.
“Why don’t you tell me the story you’ve got.”
“There may have been someone watching her,” I said. “A week
ago. That’s what she thought anyway. We never saw anyone. I
didn’t take it seriously. Not seriously enough.”
Moretti drew away from me, skeptical. “So I should be
looking for someone you never saw? Someone who may not
“I think he exists. Probably he’s the same one who hit her.
You said you went to her apartment tonight.”
“In back of the house, there are woods. He might have been
watching her from there. I think he might have left
“I went looking,” I said. “In the woods. I found it near a
fallen tree. But I left it there. Because how could I know
if it was his? And what would I have done with it anyway?”
My voice was speeding up. I made an effort to slow it down.
“But you could look for it. It’s bound to be there still.
Maybe it would tell you something.”
“What are we talking about?” Moretti asked.
“It’s a long shot, but maybe it was his and maybe there’s
something on it. A fingerprint or DNA—”
“What did you find?”
“A stick? You’re telling me you found a stick in the woods?”
“A popsicle stick.”
One week earlier
Jana Fletcher had the dream again, the one where she was
trapped in a dark place underground. There were noises in
the dream—small animals scurrying—and a damp smell. And
there was a door she could never quite reach. A plain door
with a knob made of black metal, vaguely old-fashioned. A
door you wouldn’t want to turn your back on, because you
couldn’t trust it, because it didn’t belong underground. If
you turned your back on it, it might open.
She woke in the night and sat up. Heard the sound of her own
breathing and the bedsprings squeaking with her movement.
David stirred beside her. She felt his hand on the small of
“What’s the matter?” Sleepy voice.
“Nothing,” she said.
Moonlight in her window. She waited for David to fall back
asleep, then slipped out of bed and found his button-down
shirt. She put it on and walked barefoot to the bathroom.
The dream had faded from her mind. It used to make her heart
race, make the air rasp through her lungs; sometimes she’d
need an hour to come down from it. But now the details
drifted away from her like wisps of fog.
She lit a candle on the bathroom sink, looked at her face in
the mirror. Her skin was neither dark nor white—coffee with
cream, her mother used to say. Good, clear skin. It made the
bruise on her cheek stand out all the more. Jana appraised
it in the candlelight: a rough crescent around her left eye.
Deep purple, the color of plums.
A tough thing to explain, because it looked like the kind of
bruise you’d get if someone punched you in the face.
She left the candle burning and walked to the kitchen,
buttoning David’s shirt as she went. She turned the lock of
the back door, opened it, and slipped out, letting the
screen door close behind her with a soft clap.
She stood on her little brick patio and turned her face up
to the night sky—the moon high and half full behind thin
clouds. Cool air, maybe sixty degrees. She liked the feel of
it on her skin beneath the shirt. No rain for now, but
there’d been plenty in the last few days. She knew there
would be more.
The clouds drifted past the moon. One of them was shaped
like a crescent. Like her bruise.
She’d spent three days with it, and she was finding ways to
explain. Because people asked. They were tentative,
apologetic—but they asked. A woman in her constitutional law
class had asked her what happened, and Jana had blamed it on
a fall. Jogging in the park, a shoelace comes untied, and
the next thing you know you’re sprawling face-first on the
ground. Not very plausible, but the woman believed her.
Because that was the other thing. People wanted to believe.
They wanted a nice, reassuring explanation.
There’d been others. Like the guy behind the counter at the
shop where she bought coffee. For him she made up a story
about the child of a friend. A toddler. Toddlers play with
blocks—clunky wooden ones. They have tantrums, they throw
things. The tale told itself.
You should have ducked, the guy said. Jana laughed. Next
time she would.
Then there was the manager at the restaurant where she
waited tables: a motherly woman, though she wasn’t very many
years older than Jana. She asked the question with a bit
more concern than the others, and Jana answered her more
carefully. She invented a softball league, very informal,
one game a week. Jana played second base. Someone hit a
grounder and it took a bad hop and she didn’t get her glove
up in time. A softball’s not so soft, not really, not when
it hits you in the cheek.
A respectable lie, Jana thought. Her favorite part was the
bad hop. She had played on the softball team in high school
and the coach always warned her to watch out, to stay alert,
because sometimes the ball took a bad hop.
The restaurant manager listened with a grave expression.
“Is that the way you want to leave it?” she asked when Jana
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
The manager looked sad. “I mean you can trust me, hon. You
can say what really happened. You don’t have to tell me
And Jana nearly wavered, because of the kindness in the
woman’s voice. But in the end she said, “It’s not a story,
it’s what happened.” She smiled. “I don’t have any stories.”
The manager sighed and suggested that Jana take some time
off, that she come back later in the week, after the
swelling went down all the way. Then she could cover the
mark with makeup, for the sake of the customers. Bruises are
bad for business. It shouldn’t be hard to cover up; the
manager could show Jana how; she knew some tricks.
And now, in the moonlight, Jana remembered their
conversation. She hadn’t gone back to the restaurant since,
and she wasn’t sure if she would. But she didn’t regret the
lies she’d told. Not the one about the bad hop, or the one
about not having any stories.
Because that was a lie too. She had stories.
There was David, for instance. She had met him three nights
ago. In the rain, as it happened. She had brought him home
to her apartment, half a duplex on a dead-end street. And
she had slept with him that first night, something she never
did, but he was tall and she liked the shape of his jaw and
he had a voice that was just a bit husky, as if he were
getting over a cold.
He had strong hands too, but he was smart enough to let her
take control. He let her undress him the first time and laid
back, his heels hanging off the foot of her bed. His body
was lean; she explored it with her hands and her mouth. He
got hard, fast, and stayed hard, but he didn’t rush her.
Finally she kissed his chest and wrapped a hand around him,
straddled him, took him inside her, just the tip. Still he
waited, let her lead, and she sank herself onto him, all the
way, and then she felt those strong hands on her hips,
helping her move. And then the bedsprings and his voice
saying her name, and she came so hard she moaned, which
never happened either.
David. She didn’t know much about him, except that he was a
year older—twenty-six—and he’d grown up here, in Rome, New
York. He’d gone to college somewhere else and had a degree
in engineering. She thought he came from money, but she
wasn’t sure. There was something in the way he spoke, the
way he carried himself, a confidence. When he took her out,
he paid, no hesitation. On the other hand, his job was
inspecting houses for people who wanted to buy them. Not
what you’d call a high-powered occupation. He drove a pickup
truck—and not a new one, but one that was well broken in.
So, mixed signals. She had never seen where he lived.
She didn’t know what he thought of her, living in her cheap
apartment. Maybe that she came from money too, and was
slumming, trying to prove that she could make it on her own.
And he liked her body, her skin; that was part of it, she
thought. His own skin was pale; he would get off on the
novelty of sleeping with a black girl. Which was funny,
because she never thought of herself as a black girl. She
had a black father she had never met, and a white mother who
had raised her in Geneva, New York, a little town on the
shore of Lake Seneca.
David. He was a good story. Jana didn’t know how long he
would stay around, but he’d been back each night since they
met. And if they kept at it, she would have to do something
about the bedsprings, because her landlady lived in the
other half of the duplex—a respectable elderly woman—and
whenever Jana saw her now she got a disapproving look.
She wasn’t going to worry about her landlady.
Jana stepped off the bricks of the patio and into the grass.
The lawn ran down in a gentle slope until it came to the
edge of the woods in the distance. The wet ground yielded
beneath her bare feet. The slightest breeze, cool on her
body. She had nothing on but David’s shirt, and it was thin.
She might as well be naked.
A daring thought. Her fingers worked the buttons of the
shirt, one by one. She parted it, drew it down off her
shoulders, testing herself. Bold Jana. She felt goose bumps
on her stomach, her breasts; felt her nipples stiffen in the
David inside. So close. She could wake him and bring him out
here and lay him down on the grass. She closed her eyes, let
it play out in her mind.
Something shifted and she opened her eyes. She drew the
shirt up onto her shoulders and hugged it around her. She
had a feeling of being watched, a physical sensation, real
as the touch of the air on her skin. She thought of her
landlady, who had her own brick patio nearby, on the other
side of a woodpile and a forsythia bush, but when she went
to check there was no one there. She looked off across the
lawn, tried to see if there might be some figure in the
woods. But all she could see was dark between the trees.
You’re scaring yourself, she thought. It’s nothing. Too much
moonlight and night. Getting a little too daring. Rein it
I rolled onto my side and reached for Jana. Felt only the
rumpled sheets. I got up and stood naked in the dim of the
room. Looked around for my boxers and slipped them on.
Couldn’t find my shirt.
I drifted through the apartment, bare feet on old hardwood
floors. I didn’t worry about tripping over things because
the apartment was one of the sparest I had ever seen. No
clutter, no clothes strewn around. In fact, Jana Fletcher
owned fewer clothes than any other woman I knew: her
wardrobe fit easily into a tiny closet and a chest of
drawers. She owned precisely four pairs of shoes: sneakers,
hiking boots, loafers, heels.
Minimal furniture as well: the chest of drawers, her bed, a
night table. A desk in the living room; no sofa, no
television. No computer either. When she needed to do
research or write a paper, she went to one of the computer
labs at the university.
Her desk faced a blank wall. Nearby, there was a small wood-
burning fireplace with a shelf over it that served as a
mantel. On the shelf sat a long piece of two-by-four in
which someone had drilled four shallow holes, each one broad
enough to hold a tea-light candle.
The candles were burning now.
The only other object on the mantel was a clay bowl that
held a single coin: a quarter. The quarter was strange.
Imperfect. Part of it had been worn away so that in the
upper left quadrant—right around George Washington’s
forehead—it came to a point.
No other trinkets. No keepsakes, no vases. Jana had a few
books for her classes and a small but eclectic collection of
novels, from Alexandre Dumas to Stephen King. She had two
houseplants. I could see them now as I stepped through the
archway into the kitchen. A cactus and an African violet in
twin pots arranged like centerpieces on the kitchen table. A
faint glow fell on them from a light above the stove.
The back door of the apartment stood open. I looked through
the closed screen door and saw Jana standing outside on the
lawn. She wore my shirt, which came down to her knees. I
stepped closer to the screen, but I didn’t go out, and as I
watched she shrugged off the shirt, baring her shoulders and
her back. Her dark hair hung down between her shoulder
blades. Her body was a sculpture in the moonlight, a figure
of blacks and grays. And even though I had known her for
only three days, I thought I might be in love with her.
On the night we met, I’d been out driving on a dark road
When people think of upstate New York, they think of
farmland and rolling hills. They think of roads that wind
like snakes and little towns that never change from one
decade to the next. The speed limit goes down to thirty and
there’s a gas station and a general store and a barn where
someone’s selling antiques. There’s an old lady rocking on a
porch and a roadside vegetable stand, and then the limit
goes back up to fifty-five and there’s nothing to see for
miles but fields and trees.
Rome isn’t one of those little towns. It’s a city. It has
good neighborhoods and bad ones. It has businesses that are
growing, and others that are dying. It has a history that
dates back to the American Revolution. It was the site of
the groundbreaking for the Erie Canal in 1817 and the home
of a major Air Force base all through the Cold War.
Rome is gray and sprawling like a city, and at night it
lights up like a city. On the night I met Jana, I wanted to
get away from it. I left my apartment and drove north with
no particular destination in mind. I got onto Route 46 and
followed it out past the city’s edge. After a while I took
some random turns and wound up heading west on Quaker Hill
Houses gave way to woods. Beyond the reach of the city
lights, the night turned purer. The scenery began to look a
little unreal, the way it does sometimes when you’re driving
through the dark. A light rain began to fall. Not a
dangerous rain: just enough to wet the road in front of me,
leaving it a sparkling black in the light of my truck’s high
beams. As if I were driving on obsidian.
There were oak trees along the roadside and when the light
washed over them the leaves glittered like gemstones. I
remember that. I remember having the thought that I was
traveling through a forest of emeralds.
The deer came out of nowhere.
It came bounding from the woods south of the road and it
didn’t try to cross in front of me; it didn’t even come into
my lane. I got one clear glimpse of it in the high-beam
light and then I overtook it and it was right next to me,
leaping along with me like a big friendly dog. It was there
beside me shadowy in the dark, and I swear if I had rolled
the window down I could have reached out and touched it.
I was driving slow for the rain, but not that slow: maybe
forty-five or fifty. I read somewhere once that a deer can
run forty miles an hour, but as the seconds ticked by this
one kept pace with me.
I never thought of speeding up or slowing down.
We came to a curve and something changed. Maybe the deer had
begun to feel the strain or maybe it had decided to let me
win. Either way, it slacked off. It was still gamboling
along, but it was in my rearview mirror now, a shadow
getting smaller until it was gone in the night.
I let out a breath I’d been holding in. The rain fell in
thin lines on the windshield and the wipers swept the lines
away. A half mile on, I saw headlights approaching. I
clicked the high beams down to low and a car rushed by in
the eastbound lane. It was nothing to look at, a beat-up
subcompact, but the driver was pushing it hard. I watched
the taillights receding in the rearview.
I wondered if the deer was still in the road. It probably
wasn’t. If it was, the driver would probably see it in time.
There was no reason to think something terrible was going to
happen, and nothing I could do about it anyway. I didn’t
need to touch the brakes. I didn’t need to start looking for
a place to turn around.
I found a little side road that led into some farmer’s
field. I pulled onto it and backed out again, swinging
around so I was heading east. The rain didn’t care; it kept
on falling. The view was much the same in this direction;
the leaves were the same sharp-edged emeralds.
Just when I thought I’d gone far enough and wasn’t going to
find anything, I rounded a bend and saw lights in the
distance. The solid red of taillights, and the lazy blink of
The subcompact was there on the roadside, unmoving. The deer
was there too. And Jana Fletcher.
I pulled onto the shoulder and stepped out into the rain. In
the glow of my headlights, Jana Fletcher walked back from
her car to the deer. She was dressed in black. There was
something dreamlike in the way she moved. I wondered if she
was in shock.
The deer—a white-tailed doe—looked smaller than it had
before, probably because it was lying on the ground. It was
on its side, with its head resting on the road as on a
pillow. Its eyes were open and staring.
Jana crouched beside it and touched the fur of its belly
with her fingertips. She didn’t look up when I approached.
“Are you all right?”
Her dark hair fell in curls, damp with beads of rain. I was
crouching now too, but she still didn’t look at me.
“I didn’t see it coming,” she said.
Her voice sounded soft. I got the sense she was talking to
“I didn’t see it, and then it was right there.”
“You were driving fast,” I said.
Finally she looked up. She had brown eyes. No sign of shock
in them; they were clear, intense. “It ran straight at me.
It jumped onto the hood of the car. Did you see?”
“Like it was trying to run right over the car. At first I
thought it did. I thought I’d come back here and it would be
gone. Into the woods. Do you think it’s dead?”
I thought it must be, but I didn’t want to say so. I
listened to the falling rain and the murmur of my truck’s
She turned her attention back to the deer, running her
fingers over the fur.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
She shifted her hand to the deer’s shoulder and the movement
put her off-balance. She steadied herself, resting one knee
on the ground. As I watched her, I saw things I hadn’t
noticed before. She had a red bruise on her cheek. It didn’t
look like something you’d get in a car accident. And her
blouse was wide open at the collar. I could see there were
two buttons missing.
“What’s your name?” I asked her.
She told me, and I told her mine.
“Are you hurt?” I said.
“What happened to your face?”
She touched the red mark on her cheek as if she had just
“It’s no big deal.”
“Maybe you should go to a hospital.”
She braced her hands on her thighs and stood. “I’m not
worried about me. I’m worried about the deer. What if it’s
I got up too. We faced each other across the body of the
“It’s not moving.”
“It doesn’t look injured,” she said. “There’s no blood.”
“It got hit by a car,” I said gently. “I think it’s hurt in
ways we can’t see. Internal injuries—”
Jana Fletcher shook her head stubbornly and rain fell from
“It didn’t get hit. I told you, it jumped onto the car.”
“I’m sure it seemed that way. Your car rides low to the
ground. You hit a deer, the momentum’s going to carry it up
over the hood.”
“I know what I saw.”
She looked away from me and stepped around the body of the
doe. Bending down, she laid a palm against the creature’s
I left her there and walked to the front of her car, a blue
Plymouth Sundance. No damage to the grille, the headlights
unbroken. But there were dents on the hood, and the
windshield was shattered on the passenger side—the kind of
damage that might well have been caused by a frightened
animal trying to scramble over a moving car. I could see
bits of safety glass strewn like diamonds over the dash.
When I returned to Jana I found her down on one knee again,
stroking the doe’s back. Her blouse was wet through from the
rain. She must have been feeling the chill of the night air.
I got an old nylon jacket from the truck and brought it to
her. She thanked me for it, slipped her arms through the
“Is there someone you can call?” I said.
“My mother lives in Geneva.”
“Maybe someone closer.”
“Could you help me?”
“Sure. I’ll take you wherever you need to go.”
“I meant with the deer,” she said. “Could you help me put it
in my car?”
I looked at the Plymouth. “You don’t want to drive that. Not
with the windshield broken.”
“In your truck then.”
“Where will we go?”
“I know an animal hospital. It’s open all night.”
She must have read the skepticism in my eyes. She went to
her car and came back with a plastic makeup case. Opened it
and held the mirror near the nostrils of the doe. A fine
mist appeared on the silver glass.
“You see?” she said. “She’s breathing. We have to do
something for her.”
Jana tucked the case away and looked to me to see if I would
come through for her. I smiled and shook my head, but I was
already making plans. The first step would be to move the
truck, get it facing in the other direction, back it up
close. Then find something to use as a stretcher. I thought
I had a tarp that would work. Move the deer onto the tarp,
then lift it into the truck bed.
Jana had her own ideas. She slipped her hands beneath the
shoulder of the doe, shifted her feet for leverage, tested
“Help me out here,” she said.
“She’s not that heavy. You’ll see.”
“Just give me a minute.”
She didn’t wait. She started to lift. I forgot my plans and
hurried to help. Dropping to one knee, I worked my hands
beneath the animal’s rib cage. Maybe we would have been able
to carry the thing that way. Maybe. But just then the doe’s
eyes blinked. The hind legs scrambled. I fell back in
surprise and toppled into the grass by the roadside. Jana
did better. She kept her balance.
The doe got her four legs underneath her and turned a
tangled circle, her hooves clipping out a drunken rhythm on
the wet black of the road. She skittered toward the broken
yellow centerline and lifted her nose up into the rain, then
bounded across with her white tail held high.
I watched her disappear into the woods on the other side.
Jana took a few steps into the road, as if she wanted to
follow. She stood at the yellow line in the rain until I
went to bring her back. When I touched her shoulder she spun
around. Her eyes bright.
“Beautiful,” she said. “Did you see? Beautiful.”
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