Hudson greeted Bo with a nod of his big, hairless head. “You wanna see the body?”
“Has everyone else looked at it?” asked Bo.
“Yeah, some of us a couple times,” said Hudson. “Nikolai’s looked a couple times.”
“Yep,” said Nikolai, the only Chippertwig security guard with a cowboy hat instead of a cap. “Why not? Wouldn’t you?”
“No,” said Hudson. “I’m here and I haven’t looked more than once, so obviously I wouldn’t.”
“My wife told me not to look more than once, and even then only briefly,” said Ambrose. “She doesn’t want unwanted memories of the dead body to interfere with family time.” Ambrose’s toddler daughter had scribbled on his face with purple marker while he was asleep over a week ago and it still hadn’t quite faded away. “Like, she doesn’t want one of the girls to be opening birthday presents and then right when I should be happy and filled with love and hope, instead I’m staring off into nowhere and thinking about the dead body.”
“I probably won’t look,” said Bo.
“Go look,” said Nikolai. “You don’t have to look at the face, but you should see the wound, at least.”
“I’ve seen wounds,” said Bo.
“Fatal ones?” asked Nikolai. “You’ve seen fatal wounds before?”
“Is this why you guys woke me up?” asked Bo. “To look at a dead body? I’m working tonight, guys, this is when I’m supposed to be asleep.”
“We thought you’d want to be involved,” said Hudson. “It’s pretty crazy, right? A murder’s a big deal. We didn’t think you’d want to miss it.”
“I’m gonna go look again,” said Nikolai. “See if I notice anything different this time.” He stepped up into the RV and disappeared down the hall to the left, toward the bedroom.
“Has anyone called the cops?” asked Bo.
“No,” said Ambrose. “Why?”
Bo was struggling to come up with a way to explain something so obvious when he saw Hudson look past him toward the road. “Great,” he said. “Gray Truck.” He stuck his head inside the RV and shouted, “Nikolai, get out, quick, Gray Truck’s here! Come on!”
Nikolai came clambering down out of the RV just as the Gray Truck skidded to a stop behind the other security trucks and Jim and Francine jumped out.
“What are you guys doing?” shouted Francine. “Why are you inside the RV? What have you guys touched?”
“I just got here,” said Bo as Francince stalked toward him with Jim close on her heels. “I don’t even know what’s going on.”
Jim and Francine were not wearing Chippertwig Security polo shirts like everyone else. Instead, they wore t-shirts and jeans. Francine wore flip-flops. They were dressed like a couple willfully visiting a local arts festival but without the intention of purchasing anything unless they ran across something by coincidence that held amusing personal significance for them in which case they’d feel obligated to buy it unless it was just absurdly expensive.
“We saw you coming out of the RV,” said Jim. “What were you doing in there? Did you touch anything?”
“I literally just got here,” said Bo.
“I was investigating,” said Nikolai. “While the crime scene is still fresh.”
Francine, too exasperated to argue, pushed Nikolai aside and stepped up into the RV.
“It’s gruesome,” Ambrose called after her. “Fair warning.”
“It’s not your job to investigate,” said Jim, pointing first at Nikolai and then gesturing to include the rest of the security guards. “Your job is to disperse these campers.” He pointed at the twenty or so people standing and watching from the road. Many of them had exposed, red shoulders. Hudson glared at Jim with undisguised resentment. Bo hoped he wouldn’t say anything inflammatory. Hudson hadn’t been a security guard for Chippertwig Campground for very long, but his hatred of Gray Truck was well known.
“I’ll ask the campers if they saw anything,” said Nikolai. “To help with the investigation.”
“No,” said Jim. “If any of them had seen anything, they’d be practically jumping up and down and screaming it at us. These people have nothing to offer. Get rid of them.” He turned and stepped up into the RV.
As soon as Jim was out of sight, Hudson went straight for his truck and drove off while Nikolai and Ambrose headed for the gawking campers. Ambrose dutifully tried to shoo them away, but Nikolai appeared to be trying to pump them for information despite Jim’s instructions. Bo walked back across the road to his truck, climbed in, and drove to lot 557, his home. He doubted that he’d be able to get back to sleep, but he had to try.
Bo lived alone on lot 557 in a small trailer house. His wife and son had decided to stay at the house in Multioak this summer, a decision which had taken Bo by surprise, and enough had happened since then that Bo suspected he might need to stay in the campground through the winter. He’d have to carry his water in jugs from the main office, put plastic wrap on the inside of the windows, all that stuff. He’d known Ginger hadn’t liked spending the previous two summers in Chippertwig, but Bo had always assumed Xander loved it. Xander’s decision to not join Bo at the campground had been the one that really stung. But that had been months ago, the pain had dulled and faded, and Bo didn’t feel much different when Ginger all but told him he wasn’t welcome back at the house once Chippertwig’s summer season ended. Bo didn’t know if Chippertwig would keep him on staff through the off-season, and if they chose not to, he didn’t know what he’d do. He had other debts to pay, and the free lot rental for security guards was a major benefit that would become a necessary benefit if he had no other lodging options. Even paying off-season rates would quickly eat through Bo’s savings, especially if he couldn’t find another job for the winter like last year when the family had been forced to subsist on Ginger’s income alone from October to May.
Bo went into his bedroom, stripped back down to his boxer shorts and his undershirt, and climbed back into bed. His blankets smelled stale but in a comforting way. The old window air conditioner chilled the bedroom and its gentle thrum blotted out the sounds of campers going past outside, on foot or in golf carts. Bo was glad he hadn’t looked at the dead body. He was also glad the other guys had thought to include him, even though his presence at the crime scene had been pointless. Bo considered himself a good security guard, but a murder investigation was way beyond his ability, and probably beyond the ability of all the other guys too, even Gray Truck. He wondered when the cops would get involved. And then he realized, to his foggy, dopey, happy surprise, that he was falling asleep. And then he fell asleep.
When Bo woke up late in the evening, a lot had changed. Word of the murder had spread through the campers and many of them had packed up and left, leaving Chippertwig Campground eerily deserted but for a brave, foolish, or uninformed few. At the office, Marla, who usually worked the overnight shift at the front desk, told Bo that the cops had been out to the scene of the murder and questioned a few people, including most of the other security guards and even Gray Truck, who were maybe in some kind of trouble. Marla didn’t know many specific details. She’d slept through most of the excitement like Bo would have done if the guys hadn’t called him up to come check out the body.
Later, out on his rounds, Bo eased his truck along the narrow gravel roads through the campground, passing empty lots and deserted trailers and a scant few hangers-on sitting drowsily around fading fires in brick firepits. As Bo went past Nikolai’s trailer, in which one faint light shone in the bedroom window, Nikolai stepped out of the shadows and flagged Bo down, scurrying into the headlights and around to Bo’s side of the truck, leaning in through the open window, the brim of his cowboy hat uncomfortably close to Bo’s face.
“What are you doing up at this hour?” asked Bo.
“Waiting for you to come by,” said Nikolai. “Have you talked to the cops yet?”
“No,” said Bo. “I didn’t even know they’d been here until Marla told me.”
“Yeah, they were here,” said Nikolai. “I told them you probably wouldn’t have anything to add, but I think they’ll get in touch with you anyway. They’re all fired up.”
“Well, yeah,” said Bo. “There was a murder.”
“But it happened here,” said Nikolai. “This is our jurisdiction. I mean, not technically, but they usually let us handle our own business.”
“But we’re not really equipped to solve a murder,” said Bo. “I mean, we’re not trained. We don’t have forensics or whatever.”
“But we don’t need all that,” said Nikolai. “We can crack this case without that stuff. We know this place, we’ve got connections. We can solve it before the cops do. Think about how good that would look. Think about this, Bo: if you and I solve the murder before the cops or anyone else, who do you think they’re going to give the off-season security slots to? You and I are definitely going to be on the short list, right?”
“So you’re saying we’d team up on this?” asked Bo. “Like, partners, sort of?”
“Sure,” said Nikolai. “I mean, not openly, but we’ll share information with each other, talk through our theories, stuff like that. Put our heads together. All in secret.”
“What about the other guys?” asked Bo. “Are they working on this too?”
“Well, Gray Truck is,” said Nikolai. “And they said any information we come across, we’re supposed to bring it straight to them. But I’m saying, why should everything run through them? So they can take all the credit? They don’t have to worry about finding work in the off-season. You and me do.”
“Is this illegal?” asked Bo.
“No, no,” said Nikolai. “It’s just like we’re private investigators. Which is totally legal. And we’re security guards and solving this murder will improve security around here.”
“I don’t know what to do, though,” said Bo. “Where do we begin?”
Nikolai shrugged and stood up straight, clapping Bo on the shoulder. “Keep your eyes open. Talk to people. Who do you know who knows stuff?”
“All right,” said Bo. “Good night, Nikolai.”
Nikolai walked back through Bo’s headlights, across the small lawn, up the creaking, wrought-iron steps, and disappeared into his trailer.
April and Ferdinand had not left lot 989 in Chippertwig Campground when they heard about the murder. “Why would we?” asked April. “No one wants to murder us.” It was almost 2:30 in the morning and Bo sat in the tiny trailer-home kitchen drinking coffee with April while Ferdinand watched TV on the couch in the living room. Ferdinand, a gaunt man in his late thirties, enjoyed the aroma of coffee but not the taste, sight, or feeling of it, nor any sounds one could reasonably attribute to coffee.
“I think it just makes people uncomfortable,” said Bo. “Knowing someone got killed in the campground kind of ruins the vacation mood, even when it’s just an accident. And it’s even worse when it’s murder, especially when the killer hasn’t been caught. It’s unnerving, I guess.”
“Not for us,” said April. “Things happen all around you all the time. You can see them happen without letting them touch you.” She was in her mid-60s with hair dyed black and a green knee-length dress.
“So does that mean you saw something?” asked Bo.
“I knew there was a reason you dropped by tonight,” said April, smiling.
“I would have stopped anyway,” said Bo. “I always stop when your lights are on.”
“Yes,” said April. “Ferdinand won’t sleep tonight. I tried all the soothing songs and none of them worked.”
“But, yeah, I’ll be honest,” said Bo. “I was wondering if maybe either of you saw or heard or knew something. Don’t let this get out, but me and Nikolai are trying to solve the murder before the cops or…anyone else.” Bo wasn’t sure how much April knew about Gray Truck. Probably a lot. But it was still smarter not to talk about them too much.
“Well, I don’t have any information for you,” said April. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if Ferdinand does, if you want to try. You’ll have to help me sing, though.”
“I don’t know any of the songs,” said Bo.
“They’re always simple,” said April. “I’ll make it very simple. Just join in once you’ve got it figured out. More voices are more persuasive for him.”
Bo leaned back in his chair to look at Ferdinand seated on the couch in the living room, wearing a cap and jacket and shoes tied tightly as if he might get up to leave at any second. Ferdinand didn’t take his eyes from the TV screen, which Bo couldn’t see from his angle.
“Don’t look at him,” said April. “Just keep your attention in here and sing along with me once you figure out how the song goes.”
Bo nodded, rotating his empty coffee mug between his hands on the scratched, wooden table top.
Then April began to sing in a thin, mournful voice.
Oh, Ferdinand, did you see?
Who, oh, who might the killer be?
Oh, Ferdinand, did you see?
Who, oh, who might the killer be?
The song was easier than Bo had anticipated and he joined in on the third time through.
Oh, Ferdinand, did you see?
Who, oh, who might the killer be?
Oh, Ferdinand, did you see?
Who, oh, who might the killer be?
Bo and April sang the same two lines again and again. Bo glanced at Ferdinand. The song didn’t seem to be having any effect. Bo would have given up, but April didn’t seem discouraged. She just kept singing so Bo kept singing too. Then, suddenly, Ferdinand got to his feet and came into the kitchen. April and Bo finished singing the second line of the couplet and then stopped.
“Hey, Bo,” said Ferdinand. “How’s it going?”
“Pretty good,” said Bo. “All things considered.”
“Yeah, I heard about your troubles at home,” said Ferdinand.
“Well, what can you do?” asked Bo. “When you’re a bad husband and a bad father, your wife and kid aren’t gonna be too excited to have you around.”
“I guess that’s true,” said Ferdinand. “So I hear you’re looking for the person who murdered that man?”
“Yeah, you heard right, Ferdinand. You know anything?”
“I don’t know what I know,” said Ferdinand. “But I noticed some interesting things.”
“What were they?” asked Bo. “Were they connected to the murder?”
“You could notice them too,” said Ferdinand. “And then decide for yourself how connected to the murder they are. It wouldn’t surprise me if they’re connected. But I think they’re interesting, if nothing else.”
“Where are they?” asked Bo.
“Oh, they’re not in one particular place,” said Ferdinand. “They’re just wherever you notice them. You’re a night security guard, Bo. You should really be more observant, especially if you’re trying to solve this murder.”
Bo looked at April for help but she just smiled and shrugged with her eyebrows.
“I’m helping you,” said Ferdinand. “I know you think it seems like I’m not, but I am. Let me ask you a provocative question. How many different colors of truck are there?”
“Wait,” said Bo. “What do you mean? What about truck colors? Are you talking about Gray Truck?” Bo wasn’t supposed to talk about Gray Truck with campers, but Ferdinand was not an average camper and he was the one who had brought it up, or at least seemed to.
“I’m gonna watch some more TV,” said Ferdinand. “I’m just in that kind of a mood.” He turned and walked back to the living room, returning to his seat on the couch.
“Wait,” said Bo, standing up from the kitchen table. He felt something flickering inside the back of his head, like a tiny, repeating spasm.
“It’s too late,” said April. “Once he’s sitting we’d have to try another song to get through to him again.”
“Do you know any songs that would make him clarify what his provocative question meant?”
“Well, I could make one up,” said April. “But I can’t guarantee it’d work. If I’m being honest, it probably wouldn’t. The songs only work if he wants them to work.”
Bo sighed. “I should probably get back to my rounds anyway,” he said. “Thanks for the coffee.”
“Any time,” said April. She shook Bo’s hand with a light grip, the lightness of which was clearly a conscious decision on her part. Then she stood in the doorway, a small, energetic silhouette, and waved at Bo as he backed his blue security truck onto the gravel road and drove slowly away in search of answers or, barring that, in search of kids vandalizing chintzy yard decorations, and as he drove, he was nagged by the fizzling tremors in his mind provoked by Ferdinand’s provocative question.
And then, an hour later, Bo began to notice some interesting things: a dark figure darting around the corner of a public bathroom, a golf cart sitting motionless and abandoned on an empty lot with its lights on and its radio playing softly, a man reading something by the light of a lantern in front of a tent who then switched the lantern off as Bo drove past, a dim red light blinking for just a few seconds out on the moonlit water of Lake Banquist, a bush rustling as if blown by the wind though the night was dead calm, a mysterious, angular symbol etched into the side of a pop machine, a golf cart driven by a woman who steered with her knees while using both arms to hold something wrapped in something white close to her chest, a pair of shredded swimming trunks lying in the middle of the road next to a half-eaten ear of corn, and on and on.
But which things were important? Which things were clues? When Bo stopped to examine some of the interesting things, his pulse quickened, his adrenaline spiked, he felt goosebumps rise on the back of his neck, and that was it. He did not recognize a key piece of evidence, he was not stricken with inspiration, he did not make any connections, helpful or otherwise. Instead, he did his best to file it all away in his mind for future reference. He’d write down what he could remember of the interesting things he’d noticed when he got home. Maybe with the passage of time, or after talking with Nikolai, something would click into place and Bo would realize the significance of one or some or all of his observations. For now, he would take it all in and hope for sense to emerge in time for him to use it to his advantage. Getting an off-season security guard slot at the campground would be nice, but Bo couldn’t help but imagine how good it would feel to solve the murder before the cops or Gray Truck or anyone else, how good it would feel to know that Ginger and Xander were seeing him interviewed on Channel 2 or reading about his subtle genius in The Interpreter Tribune. The sky was turning gray in the East. Bo’s shift would be over in a couple hours. He drove on, gravel crunching under the tires of his truck, left arm dangling out the window, eyes open. There was more to notice.
The cops were not interested in what Bo might have to offer their murder investigation which was, admittedly, nothing. Or rather, nothing yet. Who knew what he knew without knowing it? But even if it did turn out that Bo knew something useful, he certainly wasn’t going to share it with the cops. Anyway, It felt like they had questioned him as a mere formality. Two cops had been waiting for Bo when he got back to the main office at the end of his shift, one with some kind of European accent, one in a uniform that was far too big for him. They’d pulled Bo aside into the far corner of the room away from Marla dozing at the front desk, asked him a few general questions, opened the floor for anything Bo may have wanted to tell them of his own volition, and, when Bo just said “um” and pretended to rack his brain for something useful to say, the cops had left without saying goodbye.
Bo had just gotten a cup of coffee from the break room when Hudson came in looking pensive. “There you are,” said Hudson.
“Here I am,” said Bo. “What’s going on?” He reminded himself to stay on guard, to not let anything that might be useful for solving the murder slip to Hudson either.
“Listen,” said Hudson, his voice dropping to a conspiratorial level. “I need to ask you something. Just to see where you stand.”
“All right,” said Bo. “Shoot.”
“What do you think of Gray Truck?” asked Hudson. “Be totally honest with me.”
“It depends what you mean,” said Bo. He had to be cautious.
“I mean anything,” said Hudson. “Do you like them? Do you think they’re good at their job? Do you think they make Chippertwig Campground more secure?”
Bo’s mind went back to Ferdinand’s provocative question about truck colors. Was this connected to that? Was Bo being tested?
“You’re scared to answer,” said Hudson. “Really, that tells me all I need to know. I mean, if your security guards don’t even feel secure having a private conversation, how secure can your campground really be? You see what I mean, Bo? Gray Truck keeps us on edge. All the time. And a security guard who’s on edge is more likely to miss something, more likely to overreact in a situation if things get ugly, more likely to have a bad rapport with the campers. You see what I mean, don’t you, Bo?”
“Your argument makes sense,” said Bo, but even that felt like too much agreement.
“And if there was a way to limit their power, to knock them down a peg, you’d be for that? You’d support something like that?”
“It would depend,” said Bo.
“On a lot of things,” said Bo. “A variety of, uh, factors.”
“I gotcha,” said Hudson, squeezing Bo’s shoulder. “Playing it safe. You don’t want to go off half-cocked. I get it. But you agree in principle. So if something concrete develops, we’ll talk again.”
“OK,” said Bo. It wasn’t until he’d gotten back to his trailer on lot 557 that he remembered he’d left his full cup of coffee sitting on top of the microwave in the office break room. He hoped it hadn’t spilled on someone and scalded his or her skin off.
Nikolai came to visit Bo shortly after one in the afternoon. “You’re not in bed yet?”
“No, it’s fine,” said Bo. “Come on in, I usually don’t hit the sack until 2 or so.” He sat down on the recliner.
Nikolai took his cowboy hat off and held it in both hands as he peered out the front window between the blinds and then sat down on the couch, which creaked and shifted. “Am I gonna be OK on this thing?”
Bo was embarrassed by the decrepitude of his couch. “Yeah, it’s just noisy, sorry.”
“So,” said Nikolai. “About our investigation. You have anything? Hear anything, see anything?”
“Yes,” said Bo. “Well, maybe. Maybe not. Not really, no.”
“You just ran the whole spectrum there, Bo. What’s going on? Tell me what you’ve got.”
“I’m not sure where to start,” said Bo. “OK, one thing I noticed, at about 3:45 in the morning I went past the East Swimming Pool and there was a ghostly mist hanging just over the water. But when I went past again an hour later, the mist was gone.”
“Is that it?” asked Nikolai. “What does that have to do with the murder?”
“I’m not sure yet,” said Bo. “Maybe nothing.”
“Definitely nothing!” said Nikolai.
“But how do you know that?” asked Bo.
“Because!” said Nikolai, his voice rising. “It’s mist on water! Who cares? Why would anyone think that has anything to do with the murder?”
“I don’t know!” said Bo, struggling to keep his temper in check. “You’re the one who told me to keep my eyes open! That’s what I did!”
“But you can’t just put everything on the same level, Bo. You have to, like, think about it and narrow it down and figure out what’s important. I mean, come on.”
“But how do we know what’s important?” asked Bo. “We don’t know anything! What if we eliminate the key to solving the whole thing? Then we’ll be out of jobs all winter and I’ll probably be living out of my car and calling Ginger every day promising to be a better husband, which we both know I’m not capable of, so even if she lets me come back, how long before I’m back out again? Two days?”
“All right, Bo, calm down.” Nikolai reached out as if to pat Bo on the knee, but they were too far apart for him to reach, so he patted the air between them as if it were Bo’s knee. “What else did you see? Try to think of relevant stuff. I mean stuff with a possible connection to the murder.”
Bo sat back in his recliner and closed his eyes, thinking really hard. “I noticed a raccoon go into a garbage can. I stopped the truck and looked into the garbage can and there was only one light bag of trash inside. No raccoon. So I lifted up the bag of trash and noticed that the garbage can had no bottom and there was a tunnel just wide enough for a raccoon dug into the ground although I have no idea where it leads, of course.”
Nikolai stood up. “So this is all on me, then? I mean, if you’re not going to be any help, Bo, I don’t see why I should mention you at all if I solve the murder.”
“Are you ending the partnership?” asked Bo. “Is that what I’m hearing?”
“I just don’t think we’re pointed in the same direction,” said Nikolai. “No hard feelings, but I find your unconventional methods stupid.”
After Niolai left, Bo stripped down to his boxer shorts and got into bed. He went through the notes he’d taken cataloging the previous night’s observations and looked for even one that he could declare irrelevant and discard, but there were none. Each observation seemed as pertinent to the case as every other observation, which was to say not pertinent at all but also not clearly not pertinent at all either. Bo dropped his notebook on the floor beside his bed, rolled onto his side, and beneath the soothing blast of the window air conditioner, he went to sleep wishing to awaken with a robust sense of discernment, but he knew he wouldn’t and, sure enough, he didn’t.
It was only a little after 11, but the trailer-home on lot 989 was dark and still, although April and Ferdinand’s car was still parked beside it. Bo had known it would be a long shot that they’d stay up all night two nights in a row so he’d driven straight to their lot when he started his shift, but he still hadn’t been early enough, apparently. Why hadn’t he just gotten up a little earlier and visited them before clocking in for work? Because he was stupid, that’s why, and he lacked discernment. He was about to move along when he noticed a tiny, orange glow in the shadows of the trailer’s porch. He shifted the truck back into park and watched for the glow to reappear. Was this observation relevant to the murder? He really tried to determine if it was or if it wasn’t. The glow returned. Maybe if Bo looked closer, he would have a better idea if this was an observation to which it was worth devoting valuable thinking time. He left his truck idling in the road and walked toward the dark porch. There was the glow again, and this time it seemed almost certainly connected to the murder. But then, as Bo made his way across the lawn of lot 989, he saw a shape begin to emerge from the shadows on the porch and then he saw that the shape was Ferdinand and then the glow came and went again and Bo saw that it had only ever been the lit tip of Ferdinand’s cigarette.
“Ferdinand,” said Bo, standing at the foot of the porch steps with his hand on the railing. “I thought you were a clue.”
Ferdinand did not look down at Bo and said nothing.
“I was actually hoping to stop by and see you and April again tonight, so I’m glad I caught you here.”
Ferdinand did not acknowledge Bo in any way.
“Is, uh, April around?” asked Bo. He waited. “She’s probably asleep, huh?” Still nothing. “See, this is part of my problem, the fact that I thought your cigarette might be a murder clue. Ever since you asked me that provocative question, I’ve been noticing all kinds of interesting things but I can’t use any of it because I don’t know if it’s a clue or not and I don’t know how to find out. Do you ever have that problem?” Silence. And now it occurred to Bo that he was going to have to sing. Did the lyrics have to rhyme? He wasn’t sure. He should probably make sure they did, just to be on the safe side. He took a few minutes to mentally compose his song, and then began to sing in a low, self-conscious voice:
Hey there, Ferdinand, I just have to –
“Look,” said Ferdinand, flicking his cigarette butt over Bo’s head. “A provocative question, even one as provocative as the one I asked you last night, is only going to get you so far. Provocative questions have a very low ceiling in terms of actual helpfulness.”
“I’m starting to understand that,” said Bo.
“All that said,” Ferdinand continued, “you really should be doing better.”
“It did something,” said Bo. “I know it did. I noticed all kinds of weird stuff that I’ve never noticed before. Interesting things, all of them.”
“That’s fine,” said Ferdinand. He turned and looked down at Bo for the first time, his eyes still seeming to reflect the glow of the since-flicked cigarette. “But how many different colors of truck are there?” And then, as Bo felt the provocative question again pass through him and stir the fluttering in his head back to life, Ferdinand lit another cigarette and Bo knew that his audience with Ferdinand was over.
Back in his truck, making his rounds, it didn’t take Bo long to again begin noticing interesting things. Almost everywhere he looked, he saw something interesting. A somewhat large branch lying in the grass, for example, or that RV with the out-of-state license plate, or that car with the out-of-state license plate parked next to the RV with the out-of-state license plate. It was then, to Bo’s horror, that he realized that many of the things he was noticing were not interesting in themselves, but that he was actually finding uninteresting things interesting. Not only could he no longer distinguish interesting things that might be related to the murder from interesting things that probably weren’t related to the murder, he couldn’t even distinguish between interesting things and uninteresting things, not to mention how much any of it might relate to the murder. For instance, that somewhat large branch could have just fallen there in the grass, blown out of a nearby tree by the wind, but it could also have been knocked out of the tree when the murderer scaled it in order to get a bird’s eye view of the campground to make sure the coast was clear so he could do his murder. Ferdinand’s provocative question, asked for the second time, had opened Bo’s power of perception so wide that now anything could get in and he had no way of expelling it.
Bo was sinking into despair when he saw, driving toward him with its headlights off, a black truck. As it came closer, Bo saw the driver through the windshield and was startled to realize that it was Ambrose’s wife, Bernadette. She saw Bo staring at her and a look of shock appeared on her face and stayed there as the two trucks, headed in opposite directions, slowly passed each other, both drivers turning their heads to their respective lefts to maintain their confused eye contact, both windows open but neither driver saying a word. When Bernadette had passed him by in her black truck, Bo looked in his rearview mirror and saw her brake lights flare, heard the skid of tires on loose gravel, and stopped his truck too, parking and waiting. After a few moments, Bernadette got out of her truck. Bo watched as she paused, looking at the back of his truck, struggling to compose herself. Then she came striding up to his open window and said, “Bo? You noticed me driving?”
“Just now?” asked Bo.
“Yes, just now. You noticed me driving?”
“Well, I noticed the truck,” said Bo. “And then I noticed it was you. Why are you out so late? Is something wrong?”
“You noticed the truck? Even right now?”
Bo stuck his head out the window and looked back at Bernadette’s truck. “Yeah, I notice it now. The black one, right back over there.”
“What’s going on?” asked Bernadette. “Are you just borrowing this blue truck? Are you actually Sea Foam Green Truck? I thought there was only one Sea Foam Green Truck.”
“Borrowing?” asked Bo. “No, this is my truck. Well, it’s the campground’s truck, but I use it for work, yeah. Just like your husband.” He paused, and then said, “Your husband, Ambrose,” before he could stop himself. Bo was completely lost, but the fluttering in his head had evolved into a rapid, painless throb. He could not make sense of Bernadette’s line of questioning, but it seemed like there was a chance it was related to Ferdinand’s provocative question. Like, colors of trucks seemed to be the main subject of what she was saying. That much Bo had gathered.
“Were you searching for me?” asked Bernadette.
“No,” said Bo. “I’m on my rounds right now. I’m third shift.”
“Something’s going on,” said Bernadette, pointing at Bo as she stepped back from his truck. “Something’s wrong. Everything’s falling apart.” She turned and hurried back to her truck, climbing in and driving away at what Bo considered an unsafe speed. When Bernadette’s truck was no longer visible in his rearview mirror, Bo shifted back into drive and continued on his rounds, but something had changed. He no longer felt like he was at the mercy of everything he noticed. His interaction with Bernadette had forged a link with Ferdinand’s provocative question and created a clear hierarchy of priorities for his thoughts. That is to say, he knew he needed to think about trucks and how many colors of them there were. In retrospect, Bo wasn’t sure why he’d needed to talk to Bernadette to understand that considering that was the explicit focus of Ferdinand’s provocative question, but now that he had seen the proverbial light, the heaps of mental clutter he’d accumulated over the last 20-some hours faded mercifully into the background.
And then, as he drove past the RV still parked on lot 335, the site of the murder, he noticed a truck in the lot’s dirt parking space. Bo turned his truck so his headlights shown right on the truck in lot 335 and he saw that it was a fine, deep burgundy color. Bo parked his truck along the edge of the road and got out. The burgundy truck was dark and empty, as was the RV, from what Bo could tell. He walked over to the truck and placed his hand on the hood, finding it cool to the touch. He walked around behind the truck and knelt to feel the exhaust pipe, which was also cold. He wasn’t one hundred percent sure this meant anything, but he thought it might mean that the truck hadn’t been driven recently. Not within the last hour, at least, maybe. He knew he was just making that up, but it seemed logical. He stood up and walked around to the driver’s side, trying the door and finding it unlocked. The dome light did not come on when Bo opened the door and the cab of the truck smelled strange, but not in a bad way. It just smelled like someone else’s truck, which Bo found exhilarating. The cab of the truck was empty except for a small notepad on the passenger’s seat, which Bo picked up and opened. He could see that there was writing on the pages, but it was too dark to read any of it, so he closed the door as quietly as he could and returned to his truck with the notepad in hand. Sitting in the driver’s seat of his truck, Bo turned on the dome light and opened the notepad again.
The pages were covered in words that Bo couldn’t read. It might have been a different language, but it seemed more like a code. Bo flipped through the notepad until he came to a page near the end that he could read. At the top left corner of the page was the word “blue” followed by a short arrow pointing directly to its right at the word “gray.” “Gray” was followed by an arrow pointing to the word “black,” which was followed by an arrow pointing to “sea foam green,” which was followed by “silver,” which was followed by “white,” followed by “peach” followed by “yellow,” then “lavender,” then “emerald green,” and then, after “emerald green,” there were ellipses, then a question mark, then more ellipses, then the word “maroon” followed by an arrow pointing to “royal blue,” and then more ellipses and a question mark and more ellipses and more colors and ellipses and question marks and eventually there was another short series of five colors, then the word “burgundy,” and then the word “fuchsia” and that was it. Beyond “fuchsia,” there was nothing, just blank, white paper. Bo stared at the page, the colors and the ellipses and the question marks, and he grappled with what he was noticing, tried to wrangle it, tried to impose his will upon it. Because this was something interesting.
Back at the office to clock out at the end of his shift, Bo was in the break room when Hudson cornered him again. “It’s gotta be soon,” said Hudson. “You’re staying ready, right?”
“I don’t know,” said Bo. He lowered his voice. “You’re still talking about doing something about Gray Truck, right?”
“Who else would I be talking about?” asked Hudson.
“I don’t know,” said Bo. “But are you sure this is the best time? Ever since the murder, everything’s been all shaken up. Maybe we should let things settle.”
“You’re way off,” said Hudson. “We want to act while everything’s shaken up, right? We have to hit them when they’re off balance.”
“But what are you actually going to do to them?” asked Bo.
“We’re gonna act,” said Hudson. “Not just talk about it.” He kept his eyes locked on Bo’s as he backed out of the break room and then disappeared around the corner. A moment later, Bo heard the front door of the office swing open and swing closed. He turned to look through the cabinets for sugar packets for his coffee and, as he did, Ambrose sidled into the room, his contorted face suspended in mid-yawn.
“Hey, Ambrose,” said Bo.
Ambrose pointed at his own yawn to indicate his reason for not responding right away.
“It’s fine,” said Bo. “Take your time.” It was a dumb thing to say about a yawn, but this particular yawn defied one’s ability to not say dumb things about it. Finally, the yawn concluded.
“How is it?” asked Ambrose.
Bo didn’t know what Ambrose meant by “it” so he ignored Ambrose’s question and asked the question that was on his mind. “Hey, Ambrose, what kind of car does your wife drive?”
“You mean Bernadette?”
“Yeah,” said Bo. “What kind of car does she drive?”
Ambrose shrugged. “You know, just a regular car.”
“You’re sure it’s a car?” asked Bo. “Not a truck?”
“Well, I was using ‘car’ in the general sense,” said Ambrose. “Like, ‘vehicle.’”
“So does she drive a truck?” asked Bo.
Ambrose waved his hand dismissively. “Oh, Bernadette does her own thing. My daughters too. I never know what they’re up to.”
“Do you know what color your wife’s car is?” asked Bo,
“Whose car?” asked Ambrose. “Bernadette’s? I guess I’ve never really noticed.”
“All right,” said Bo. “Have a good shift, Ambrose.”
“Get some sleep,” said Ambrose, and though he struggled mightily, the same yawn from before returned in force and triumphantly reclaimed the territory of his face.
The black pickup truck was parked in the space in front of Ambrose and Bernadette’s impressive trailer home. Their daughters were playing with bubble wands in the trailer’s small, freshly-cut lawn.
“Hey, girls,” said Bo as he parked his truck next to the black truck and got out. “Is your mom inside?”
The girls didn’t speak, but they gave Bo one giant, grinning nod a piece. He smiled back and trotted up the sturdy steps to the front door and knocked. Bernadette opened the door immediately and pulled Bo into the living room. “Don’t stand on the porch, Bo, for goodness’ sake.” She sounded angry as she closed the door behind him and then darted into the kitchen to peer out the window at the road.
“Are you going to explain anything?” asked Bo. “Anything?”
“Are you?” asked Bernadette, turning to face him.
“I have nothing to explain,” said Bo. “I don’t understand what’s going on.”
“You noticed my truck,” said Bernadette. “That’s not supposed to happen. You’re two levels down from me. Sea Foam Green Truck told me there was a rumor of a potential threat on Blue Truck level who could notice trucks he shouldn’t notice. That’s you, isn’t it? What do you want, Bo? Tell me and I’ll pass it along to Sea Foam Green Truck. You don’t…please, don’t hurt me.”
“What? Hurt you? I don’t want to hurt you, Bernadette. I don’t…who’s Sea Foam Green Truck? What is that?”
“That’s my direct boss,” said Bernadette. “Well, bosses, there might be two of them. They’re the highest level of Chippertwig Campground Security. You don’t have to fight them, Bo. I mean, there’s no reason to fight them, it won’t accomplish anything. The system works, doesn’t it?”
“I thought Gray Truck was the highest,” said Bo. “That’s who hired me.”
“I’m not saying anymore,” said Bernadette. “Please, get out of here, Bo.”
“There are trucks after Sea Foam Green,” said Bo. “Different colors, lots of them. I’ve seen some. I’ve seen a list. A partial list.”
“No, there aren’t,” said Bernadette, without hesitation. “I’m the second highest, Sea Foam Green is the highest. Please go.”
“I’ve got the list in my truck,” said Bo. “I’ll show it to you. I’ll prove it.”
“A list of colors proves nothing, Bo. I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish, but I know the hierarchy. Blue, Gray, Black, Sea Foam Green, the end.” She grabbed Bo’s shoulder and turned him toward the front door, opening it with her other hand, and guiding Bo out onto the trailer’s front steps. Ambrose and Bernadette’s daughters were still playing with the bubble wands in the yard, but they stopped when they saw Bo emerge from the trailer accompanied by their mother. “Don’t talk to them,” said Bernadette in a low voice. “Just go.”
“Bye, girls,” said Bo. He added a friendly wave as he descended the steps. As he drove back to his trailer on lot 557, he wondered if the whole visit had been a mistake, or if the goodbye to the girls had been a mistake, or if just the wave had been a mistake.
It was just after 9 p.m. when Bo woke to the sound of someone pounding on his front door. He got out of bed, pulled on a pair of sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt, and stumbled through his dark trailer to the living room. When he opened the door, he did not recognize the burly man standing on his front steps. Bo looked past the man where he saw, parked just off the road in his yard, an orange pickup truck.
“Yeah,” said the man. “You see it, don’t you. I thought so. Let me in.” He wore a cap with a shoe company logo on it and a simple ash-colored t-shirt tucked into a pair of many-pocketed pants. He looked like a man who was still getting used to life without a beard.
“Why should I let you in?” asked Bo. “Why are you here?”
“You know why I’m here,” said the man. “This can go several ways, but all of the good ways it can go start with you letting me in.”
Bo wasn’t impressed with the man’s contrived manner of speech, but he stepped aside and let him enter the trailer.
The man looked around Bo’s dark living room and kitchen area in silence for a few moments, then closed the front door and stood with his back to it, facing Bo. “You’re here alone?”
“Yeah,” said Bo. “My family lives in town.”
“I don’t mean your family,” said the man. “I meant accomplices. Like the one you sent after me. The one I killed.”
Bo was starting to wonder if there were, in fact, some better ways this could have gone without letting the man inside. “There’s no one else here,” said Bo. “And I didn’t send anyone to kill you.”
“I know it was you,” said the man. “This is the Götterdämmerung we were warned about. This is the beginning.”
“Götterdämmerung!” shouted the man. “Twilight of the gods! A catastrophic collapse of a regime marked by violence and disorder! You’re the one who’s calling it that! I had to look it up!”
“I’ve never heard that word before,” said Bo.
“Listen,” said the man. “You noticed my truck, I saw you notice it. The anonymous warning said someone in the lowest ranks was going to attempt to subvert the Hierarchy of Colored Trucks and that, despite his low station, he would be capable of noticing all of the Colored Trucks, all the way up to Blood Red Truck.”
“Where’s Blood Red truck in the hierarchy?” asked Bo. “Wait, let me guess. Right above you?”
“You condemn yourself with your own words. How could you know that unless you’re the one who can notice all the trucks?”
“Because,” said Bo. “I’m figuring some stuff out. Everyone in the hierarchy thinks they’re in the second highest position.”
“Exactly,” said the man. “They only notice the trucks below them and the one right above them. All other trucks beyond the one directly above them are also beyond their ability to notice. Of course, in my case, I really am the second highest. Blood Red Truck is the highest authority.”
“Well, you’re somewhere in the middle of the list I got out of the that burgundy-colored truck parked outside the RV where you killed that guy,” said Bo.
The man laughed. “Then the list is false. And there is no truck parked outside of my RV, trust me. I secretly moved back in as soon as the police took the body. I’ve been keeping my truck stashed in a secret garage so you wouldn’t see it back at the RV and attempt to send another assassin after me. But I know for certain that my lot’s parking area is empty.”
“Well, it’s not,” said Bo. “You just don’t see it because Burgundy Truck is higher than you and, I’m guessing, you unwittingly killed Burgundy Truck’s driver when he came to pay you a visit, probably motivated by the same warning you heard.”
“There is no Burgundy Truck,” said the man with an ugly, barely-tolerant smile. “The man who came to my RV came on foot and he never once claimed to belong to the Hierarchy of Colored Trucks. I knew he was an assassin almost immediately and dealt with him accordingly, as you saw.”
“I actually didn’t see,” said Bo. “I didn’t want to see a dead body.”
“Of course,” said the man. “That’s why you hired another man to do your dirty work.”
“You didn’t kill a hired assassin,” said Bo. “You killed your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss. Well, actually, he was higher than that, but you get the idea. I’d have to check the list again. He didn’t tell you that ‘cause he was trying to maintain the status quo, which means you believing you’re the second in command when you’re actually, like, well, who knows? ‘Cause Burgundy Truck thought he was second in command too, according to his list, but why should it stop there?”
“It has to stop somewhere,” said the man. “There has to be a highest authority. And the highest authority in the Hierarchy of Colored Trucks is Blood Red Truck.”
“You’re so convinced,” said Bo. “Even though you know whoever’s directly below you believes you to be the highest authority, you can’t fathom that you’d be deceived in the same way.”
The man smirked and nodded to himself. “I see what you’re doing. This is all part of your Götterdämmerung. You’re sowing dissension and doubt, trying to make us turn on each other, weakening the foundation so that the whole hierarchy collapses under its own weight. I see right through you.”
“You’re wrong,” said Bo.
“But you notice the trucks,” said the man. “You notice all of them.”
Bo nodded and shrugged. “I can’t explain it. My friend asked me a provocative question on two separate occasions and now here we are.”
“That’s all I need to know,” said the man. “That’s the proof, right there.”
“So now what?” asked Bo.
“Now we go outside and you get in your truck and I get in mine,” said the man. “And you follow me.”
“What if I refuse?”
“Blood Red Truck told me to deal with this however I could, to do whatever it took. I know where your family lives.”
Bo knew that a better father and husband, upon hearing such a threat, would have felt an immediate surge of fear or anger or something. Bo didn’t, but his guilt about not having an appropriate emotional reaction persuaded him to say, “All right, well, let me put some real clothes on and get my keys.”
“Get the keys,” said the man. “But no more clothes. It’s time to go.” His voice had gone hollow again as if he were delivering lines from a script he himself had written the previous night under the influence of dubious inspiration brought about through dim lighting and “mood music.”
Bo stepped sockless into the shoes he’d left by the couch when he’d gone to bed and he didn’t bother to lock the door of his trailer behind him as he followed the man outside and down the steps. The night was chilly and the moon was of the kind where you can tell it’s a full circle even though only half of it is reflecting the light of the sun. “Come to my truck first,” said the man. “Then you’re going to get into your truck and follow me from a distance of around twenty yards, OK? Oh, also, give me your phone.”
Bo handed the man his phone and then followed him across the patchy, wet grass to the orange pickup truck. The man opened the passenger’s side door and put on a pair of latex gloves that had been sitting on the seat. Then he rooted around under the seat and pulled out a ball peen hammer. “Here,” he said, holding it out to Bo. “Hold this for a second.”
Bo took the hammer, holding it by the grip in his bare hand. “What is this on the head? Is this blood?”
The man snatched the hammer out of Bo’s hand and dropped it into a big Ziploc bag before stuffing it back under the seat. “OK,” he said. “Follow me in your truck. Stay within twenty yards. Remember, Bo, I know where your family lives, and if anything happens to me, I’ve made arrangements so my immediate subordinates in Purple Truck know too. And they’ll know what to do with that information.”
As Bo walked over to his blue Chippertwig Security truck and climbed inside, he tried to think of a plan or plans. Ideally, he would come up with one solid plan and then have one or two or three respectable backup plans. He started the truck and, as the man slowly drove past in his orange truck, Bo pulled onto the road and followed him from a distance that he thought seemed roughly the distance one would have to cover in order to achieve two first downs in a football game. The orange truck’s tail lights glowed with a subdued intensity. So many of the lots that Bo drove past were barren, the trailers and modular homes were dark, the parking spaces were empty, the road was devoid of golf-cart traffic, the firepits contained nothing but the remains of cold ash not yet scattered by the wind. Bo needed to focus. It would be better if he came up with the main plan first, but it would also be fine to start with a couple of inferior plans and then build up to the main plan. As long as he had at least three potentially viable plans in mind by the time they got to wherever the man was leading him, which, based on the direction they were heading, seemed like it was going to be out of the campground. Bo felt like he could overpower the man if he had the element of surprise, but that stuff about other higher-ranking Colored Trucks finding out where his family lived was cause for concern. If he took action to protect himself and it ended up hurting his family, would anyone ever know that it was his fault? “Now that’s a provocative question,” Bo said out loud in the cab of his truck.
And then, as the man in the orange truck came to a “T” in the road and began to make a lefthand turn, a blue Chippertwig Security truck traveling at a high rate of speed and without its headlights on slammed into the orange truck’s right side with such force that it spun 180 degrees so that, when it came to a stop with smoke leaking out from under its hood, both of its shattered headlights were pointed at Bo, who stamped on his brakes and tried to process what had just happened. In the beams of his headlights, Bo saw the man in the orange truck slumped forward against the steering wheel. Then he saw Hudson leap out of the blue truck, the front end of which was all smashed in. Hudson ran over to Bo as Bo began to climb out of his truck and pushed Bo back into his seat, saying, “No, no, you have to go to the main office and tell Marla there was an accident. Tell her…something happened, I don’t even know. I’ll stay here with my truck in case anyone else comes along.” He turned away, his eyes sweeping the scene, but always gliding right past the battered, orange truck.
“What did you hit?” asked Bo. “I couldn’t tell, it happened so fast.”
“I know,” said Hudson, without looking at Bo. “I didn’t notice anything in my way. Did you?”
Bo knew he might be the only person in the campground at the moment who could notice the man’s wrecked truck and, therefore, also notice the injured or dead man inside of it, but he was not feeling very charitable toward the man who had probably been planning on killing him in the next hour or so. “When I go to the office,” said Bo. “Should I tell them to hurry?”
Hudson and Bo exchanged a long look that was fraught with inscrutable meaning.
“I don’t know,” Hudson finally said. “I don’t know what’s going on. But, if nothing else, I need someone to tow my truck out of the road, there’s no way it’s drivable now.”
“Right,” said Bo.
“And my neck is pretty sore,” said Hudson. “I could probably use a ride to the emergency room.”
As Bo edged his truck around the orange truck and then accelerated up the road, he looked in the rearview mirror and saw Hudson hurry over to the orange truck’s passenger-side door and open it. And that was a whole new level of interesting, but then Bo had to drive around a corner and the accident scene disappeared from view.
When Bo arrived at the main office, there was a cream-colored pickup truck parked out front. Inside the office, a middle-aged woman with red hair and eyeglasses that looked like a reluctant affectation stood chatting with Marla, who was seated behind the front desk in her usual place. Both women looked over at Bo as he came inside and stopped just beyond the threshold of the door.
“You’re a little early, Bo,” said Marla. “Are those your pajamas?”
“Yeah, I’m not here for my shift,” said Bo. He locked eyes with the other woman for a moment before returning his attention to Marla. “Something happened. Hudson got in a wreck. It’s pretty bad. Someone’s going to need to tow his truck and he says his neck hurts.”
“Hudson got in a wreck?” asked Marla. “In the campground? How?”
“He hit something,” said Bo. “Well, it seems like he hit something. We don’t really know.”
“What do you mean?” asked the other woman. “How can you not know if he hit something? Did you witness the accident?”
“I was there,” said Bo. “I saw something happen, but I didn’t see what he hit. I don’t know how to explain it.” He was using a tone of voice that he hoped sound flabbergasted.
The woman nodded. “I might be able to help,” she said. “Show me on the campground map where the accident occurred. Then go back and get Hudson and take him to the emergency room.”
Bo didn’t know if he should pretend to find this woman’s assumption of his acceptance of her authority confusing. “OK,” he said, and he walked over to the large Chippertwig Campground map tacked to the wall and pointed out the location of the accident to the woman.
“Thank you,” said the woman. “Don’t worry, we’ll get this all taken care of.”
“Who will?” asked Bo. He couldn’t resist. “Do you work for the campground?” It seemed like a question someone who knew nothing of the Hierarchy of Colored Trucks might ask. He thought it might seem more suspicious to not question her. “It’s just one smashed truck,” he said. “All we need is a tow.”
“Let her help,” said Marla from her seat behind the desk.
Bo looked at her and he noticed something in her voice, he noticed something in her eyes, something in the furrow of her brow and the tension lines around the corners of her mouth. He wondered if her truck was directly above or directly below Cream Truck.
When Bo got back to the scene of the accident, Hudson was leaning against the side of his smashed truck and squeezing the back of his neck with one hand. Orange Truck was still where it had been when Bo left and he could still see the dark shape of the man slumped against the steering wheel, although he only glanced at Orange Truck because he didn’t want Hudson to see him looking at it and wonder what he was noticing. Stopping his truck a few feet from Hudson, Bo’s headlights illuminated the mangled bumper, grill, and hood of Hudson’s truck. Bo got out of his truck, leaving it running, and walked over to Hudson.
“I talked to Marla at the main office,” said Bo. “They’re sending someone to deal with your truck. I’m supposed to take you to the emergency room.” As he spoke, Bo rested his hand on the crumpled hood of Hudson’s truck. He glanced down at his hand and in the light from his truck, he saw that the collision with Orange Truck had left several large scrapes in the paint on the hood of Hudson’s truck. Beneath the coat of familiar blue that identified the trucks of all the lowest-level security guards, Bo saw a shade of blue that was very, very slightly lighter. He ran his thumb along the edge of one of the more prominent scrapes, contemplating the barely-perceptible contrast between the two shades of blue, and then looked up and saw Hudson staring at him.
“You noticed that?” asked Hudson. “You noticed the lighter blue?”
Bo knew there was no use denying it now. “Yeah,” he said. “I noticed.”
“I knew you could see the other ones. Orange Truck, Black Truck, Burgundy Truck. But I didn’t think you’d be able to see the Subtle Variations.”
“There’s another one of you on the way,” said Bo. “A cream-colored truck.”
Hudson smiled. “Cream Truck? She’s above Orange Truck, she’ll be able to help him. Well, she’ll be able to notice him and get him out of the truck so someone else can help him. If he’s not beyond help.”
“I saw you opening the door to his truck as I was driving away,” said Bo.
“You’ll be glad I did,” said Hudson. “But my neck really does hurt. Let’s go to the emergency room.”
It wasn’t until they were out of Chippertwig Campground and a few miles down the road toward Multioak that Hudson began to explain himself. “I’m from way up the Hierarchy of Colored Trucks. Way up.”
“How far?” asked Bo. “How many colors are below you?”
“I don’t even know,” said Hudson. “At a certain point, even though the higher colors are capable of noticing the lower colors, we don’t bother and there’s no master list. No one has a complete picture of the entire Hierarchy. But I’m from so high up in the Hierarchy that we use shades of colors that have already been used, but the shades are so subtly different that they’re nearly impossible to notice. That’s why we’re called the Subtle Variations.”
“How many Subtle Variations are there?” asked Bo.
“I don’t know,” said Hudson. “A lot. Like I said, at our level we don’t keep track of the full list of who’s below us.”
“That’s why there were question marks in Burgundy Truck’s list,” said Bo.
“You took that notebook?” asked Hudson. “I left Burgundy Truck truck in Orange Truck’s RV’s parking space hoping to draw out a few higher Colored Trucks, and I left that notebook on the seat hoping it would stir up some suspicion that he was helping me, although they wouldn’t know who ‘me’ was, obviously.”
“I’m not as confused as I should be,” said Bo. “But I’m still a little confused.”
“This is the Götterdämmerung,” said Hudson. “The twilight of the gods. I’m chipping away at the foundation, I’m weakening the entire structure, and eventually it will collapse. Here’s your phone back, by the way.” Hudson handed Bo’s phone to him. “Orange Truck was going to use your phone to text Nikolai and confess to the murder so it would look like you were confessing. Then he was going to plant the murder weapon with your fingerprints on it under your trailer. But while you were going to the office for help, I took the murder weapon out of Orange Truck, wiped your prints off of it, left the blood on it, and planted it in Jim’s Gray Truck. He lives right near where I rammed Orange Truck, I chose that spot to ram him specifically for that purpose. Then I took the liberty of texting Nikolai to tell him Gray Truck were the murderers and to tell the cops to search their trucks. Nikolai will think you’re the one who figured it out since the text came from your phone and you’ll both get credit for solving the murder. Neat, right? Burgundy Truck, whatever his real name was, was here to try and sniff me out and stop the Götterdämmerung. He’d been asking Gray Truck all kinds of questions about Chippertwig Security. Any outside observer is gonna think Gray Truck thought he knew about their corruption and killed him to keep their corruption secret. I also fabricated and planted evidence of their corruption. I mean, they were corrupt, there just wasn’t any evidence. So I invented some. It’s all very neat, like I said. Oh, and Orange Truck tried to send a message to Purple Truck telling them where your family lives, but I intercepted it and forged a response from them so he’d think they got the message. It really couldn’t be neater. I mean ‘neat’ as in ‘tidy,’ you got that, right?”
Bo had to admit that it seemed pretty neat. “Why are you telling me all this?” asked Bo. “Why are you helping me?”
“I’m not helping you,” said Hudson. “I’m hurting them. I’m bringing down the Hierarchy of Colored Trucks. It’s the Götterdämmerung. I think I mentioned that. It’s a term that means “twilight of the gods.”
“Why?” asked Bo.
“Why am I starting a Götterdämmerung?” asked Hudson. “Because the Hierarchy of Colored Trucks is sick and bloated and needs to be put out of its misery. From Gray Truck up, no one cares about the security of anything except for maintaining the Hierarchy of Colored Trucks. Did you know that there are many Colored Trucks who have never even been to Chippertwig Campground? They live in other states, other countries. I’ve met some Colored Trucks who don’t think Chippertwig Campground even exists. Does that sound like an institution that should survive to you? Does that sound like a system that should be preserved? Meanwhile, the campground we’re all supposed to be keeping secure descends into chaos. One murder and the campers pack up and leave. Why? Because they don’t feel secure. They have no confidence in Chippertwig Security to protect them. Meanwhile, the Colored Trucks work to maintain our chain of command at all costs.”
“The campground isn’t that bad, though,” said Bo. “I think campers feel pretty secure. I think they have a good time, for the most part. I think we do a pretty good job, me and Ambrose and Nikolai and the rest.”
“Then why did all the campers leave when the murder happened?” asked Hudson.
“Well, it’s getting near the end of the season,” said Bo. “And, yeah, the murder probably freaked them out, but that wouldn’t have happened without your Götterdämmerung thing. Everything was fine before that.”
“No,” said Hudson. “It wasn’t fine. Trust me, the Hierarchy of Colored Trucks is rotten to the core.”
“I thought we were talking about the security of the campers,” said Bo.
“We are,” said Hudson.
“But it’s you making things less secure around here,” said Bo. “You’re bringing more Colored Trucks into the campground, they’re killing each other, trying to kill me me, you might’ve killed another one…I mean, what am I missing here?”
“It’s the Götterdämmerung!” shouted Hudson. “It’s the twilight of the gods! My plan is vast and complicated and ever-changing. I have to create chaos in the campground to lure them out, I have to make them feel that their positions are threatened, I have to make them feel insecure so that they panic and reveal themselves and turn on each other and implode. I’m pulling threads everywhere, stirring the pot, eroding the foundation slowly but surely, rocking the boat harder and harder until one day it will capsize and everyone will fall into the icy, black water, miles from shore, and there will be sharks in the water. It’s the Götterdämmerung, Bo, the twilight of the gods!”
“But you guys aren’t gods,” said Bo. “You’re forgetting that I can notice the trucks. All the trucks. You guys are just a bunch of idiots. Dangerous idiots.”
Hudson didn’t say anything. He was clearly upset that Bo hadn’t been swept up by his apocalyptic energy.
“Just out of curiosity,” said Bo. “How far from the top are you?”
“I’m second in command,” said Hudson. “There’s only one truck above me.”
“That’s what I thought,” said Bo. He didn’t accompany Hudson inside when they got to the emergency room. He dropped him off at the curb, neither man said goodbye, and Bo drove back to Chippertwig Campground, his hands tightening on the steering wheel every time he crossed paths with another pickup truck. Were they Colored Trucks or just trucks of a certain color? There was a time in Bo’s life when he would have found this question uterrly inane. And then there was a much more recent time in Bo’s life when he would have found this question quite provocative indeed. But now, driving back to Chippertwig Campground from the emergency room, he found the question infuriating and only infuriating and it was all he could think about.
The lights were shining brightly in the trailer home on lot 989. April answered the door with a smile and invited Bo inside. “Ferdinand and I were just having some bad wine. Would you like some?” She wore a yellow robe and battered sandals that may have been homemade.
“No, thanks,” said Bo. He took a seat at the kitchen table across from Ferdinand, who did not acknowledge him. Ferdinand was wearing a tank top, sort of threadbare, sort of feminine. April returned to her seat next to Ferdinand. They were drinking their bad wine out of clear plastic cups, both of which were about one-third full.
“Are you just here to chat?” asked April. “It doesn’t seem like it.”
“I’ve got problems,” said Bo. “I’ll admit it.”
April nodded. “I’m not surprised. Can we help?”
“I don’t know,” said Bo. “What’s the opposite of a provocative question?”
“Ah,” said April. “That’s a question for Ferdinand.”
“Yeah, I thought so,” said Bo. “I was hoping that if there were such a thing as the opposite of a provocative question that he would ask me one. I don’t want to notice interesting things anymore.”
“We’re gonna have to sing to him, of course,” said April.
“I figured,” said Bo. “You’ll help me?”
“I’ll try,” said April. “Do you have a song in mind?”
“I thought of one on the way over here,” said Bo.
“All right,” said April. “Let’s try it. You start and I’ll join in.”
Bo nodded. He paused for a moment to recall the words and the melody of the song, singing through it under his breath a couple of times. Then, closing his eyes, he began to sing.
Oh, Ferdinand, I think I learned my lesson.
Ask me the opposite of a provocative question.
Oh, Ferdinand, I think I learned my lesson.
Ask me the opposite of a provocative question.
April joined her voice to Bo’s, fragile but tender, their song slowly filling the kitchen, enveloping the few appliances, slipping inside of the crooked cabinet doors. Ferdinand took occasional sips of his bad wine but otherwise did nothing but sit and look into space. Eventually his wine was gone. On and on Bo and April sang.
Oh, Ferdinand, I think I learned my lesson.
Ask me the opposite of a provocative question.
Oh, Ferdinand, I think I learned my lesson.
Ask me the opposite of a provocative question.
They’d been singing for over an hour when April stopped. “I’m going to bed,” she said. “It took me twenty minutes of singing to get him to drink the bad wine with me. I’m tapped out for the night.”
“All right,” said Bo. “Do you mind if I keep trying?”
“Go for it,” said April. “It won’t keep me up.” She stood up, patted Ferdinand on the shoulder, and disappeared down the hall and into the bedroom.
Bo sat in silence with Ferdinand for a few minutes. He heard a vehicle pull up and stop outside, the engine idling, and then it moved on. Ferdinand coughed and Bo leaned forward in anticipation, but Ferdinand did not speak. Bo sighed, cleared his throat, and began to sing again.
Oh, Ferdinand, I think I learned my lesson.
Ask me the opposite of a provocative question.
This went on for another hour. Bo began to lose his voice. Another hour passed and Bo’s voice was all but gone. He kept pausing to get drinks of water from the sink, but it wasn’t enough to sustain his faltering vocal cords. The song had lost all meaning, Bo heard each syllable in his hoarse, raspy voice as nothing but a nonsense sound. Ferdinand did not respond. Another hour passed and now Bo was basically just whispering the words of the song. Almost all traces of discernible melody had disappeared. Only the rhythm of the delivery remained the same. And now Bo’s eyelids were growing heavy, his back hurt from sitting in the same position in the stiff, wooden chair. He wondered if he should change the song or if starting over would undo whatever it was he’d accomplished in the last few hours. Maybe there was no such thing as the opposite of a provocative question, maybe that’s what Ferdinand was trying to tell him. Maybe Bo was doomed to notice interesting things forever. His voice, a shell of its already modest usual self, cracked, and Bo struggled to continue the song as his eyes filled with tears of frustration.
Oh, Ferdinand, I…I think I…
“Oh, hey, Bo,” said Ferdinand.
Bo jumped in surprise, banging his elbow on the edge of the table. “Ferdinand! Whoa, you scared me.” He launched into a prolonged coughing fit. His throat was very sore.
“Sorry,” said Ferdinand. “What’s going on?”
“I need you to undo the effect of your provocative question,” said Bo. “I need you to ask me the opposite of a provocative question.”
“Wow,” said Ferdinand. “Your voice sounds painful.”
Bo didn’t know if Ferdinand was mocking him or not. “Can you help me?”
“There is such thing as the opposite of a provocative question, but it won’t do anything for you,” said Ferdinand. “You’ll just recognize it as an asinine question and that’s it.”
Bo slumped in his chair, wrung out, spent. “I can’t go on like this.”
“I warned you about the limited helpfulness of provocative questions,” said Ferdinand. “I even took it easy on you.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Bo.
“Well, for example,” said Ferdinand, “I could have also asked you how many different colors of upholstery for the interiors of trucks there are. Or you know the radio antennas on trucks? I could have asked you how many different lengths of radio antenna for trucks there are. I could have asked you how many different ages of trucks there are, and I’m not talking about years, I’m talking about down to the second, down to the fraction of a second.”
“Stop,” said Bo. “I don’t want to hear this.”
“Colors of truck are nothing,” said Ferdinand, his words radiating heat. “The Hierarchy doesn’t stop there, it barely even begins there. How many different coffee spill patterns on the floormats of trucks are there? Have you ever thought about that? Forget trucks. How many different modes of transportation are there? How many colors of each of those are there? What about modes of transportation of which you’ve never even conceived? What about modes of transportation without drivers or passengers in any sense that we know, modes of transportation that exist on planes beyond our understanding? How many different colors of those are there and how many of those colors are beyond our ability to perceive?”
Bo had never thought of himself as someone who would hyperventilate in a moment of crisis, but he could tell he was on the verge.
“Do you see how it could be important to consider yourself the second in command?” asked Ferdinand. “When, with hundreds of people under you, you’re actually still scraping along the bottom of a barrel that may be infinitely tall?”
Bo’s phone rang in his pocket and he answered it with a croaked “Hello?”
It was Nikolai. “Where have you been? I’ve been trying to call you and it kept going straight to voicemail. The cops just arrested Gray Truck! Both of them! The murder weapon was right where you said it was! They’re gonna hire us on for the winter, I’m sure of it. I mean, they have to now, right?”
“I’ll talk to you later,” said Bo.
“What?” asked Nikolai. “Why are you whispering?”
Bo hung up.
“Listen,” said Ferdinand. “Do you notice that sound? The engines?” He stood up and walked to the front door, pulling it open. Bo followed Ferdinand and the two men stood side by side in the doorway, separated from the early morning darkness by only the thin screen door. On the gravel road just beyond the edge of lot 989, every couple of minutes a truck of a different color drove past. Sometimes they would pass each other headed in opposite directions, neither driver acknowledging the other. “Insekterdämmerung,” said Ferdinand. “Twilight of the insects.”
Bo said nothing.
“Germerdämmerung,” said Ferdinand. “Twilight of the germs.”
“That’s not really how you’d say that,” said Bo. “Is it?”
Ferdinand shrugged. “I don’t speak German.”