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Tuesday, July 9.

"I've killed Duke Morgan."

I'll never forget where I was or what I was doing when I was first told.

Sure, people say that all the time about tragic events and horrific news items and such. Like when JFK was shot. Or when Diana was killed. But, hell, I wasn't even born when Kennedy flew to Dallas, and I was too young to care when Diana was driven into that concrete pylon in Paris. Although I remember my mother cried a lot when she watched the funeral on TV, I was at an age when things like that just didn't bother me.

But I remember this.

I remember exactly where I was.

I was in the trailer. Raven's trailer. I'd just walked in and it was 5:37pm Tuesday evening, July 9. That's almost six months ago now, but I remember it as if it only just happened. That's how clear it is to me in my mind's eye. I'll never forget it.

Raven had that look in her eyes. That powerful, hypnotic stare she got sometimes when she knew she was in control. All powerful. I'd seen her like this before, but only rarely.

As soon as I walked in I knew something was wrong, something was different.

She usually asked me how my visit went. She always wanted to know what my father had said and if he was alright. But, more importantly, she would ask how I felt and whether I was coping okay. And it wasn't that fake concern you sometimes get from some friends, when they ask only because they know it's their duty to do so. No, Raven always asked because Raven cared. She was a true friend, no matter what.

But she didn't ask this time. I walked up the two steps from outside and let the door swing shut behind me. She was standing over by the sink, just staring at the door, as if she was waiting for me to arrive.

"Sit down," she said.

I didn't ask any questions, I just stood by the table and stared back at her.

That is when she told me.

And really, when I think about it now, I should've turned right around and walked straight out of that place and never returned.

But I couldn't. I didn't. In fact, I don't know if that option ever entered my mind. It was not something I could do. And while I now think I should've packed my stuff and said adios, I know deep inside I would never have done that anyway.

She was a true friend to me and I was a true friend to her. Friends don't turn their backs on each other. True friends are friends for life. That's how it should work, anyway. That's why I stayed.

And I guess the rest really is history.

But this tale isn't about me, in case you're wondering. It's about Raven and what she did. And this is probably the best way I can tell my side of the story, just in case it's ever needed. I've got to get this written down, so people will know my side, and know what really happened. I've been debating with myself as to whether I should leave some hard evidence behind, by writing this journal, but I guess first and foremost I'm writing this for me. So I can remember the events in the order they happened, exactly as they happened, so my mind doesn't play tricks on me in the future.

If others find this and read it, well, I guess, they'll have to make up their own minds about Raven and what she did. I'll enter everything exactly as it happened, from what I knew then and what I know now. I won't lie about anything. I mean, what's the point writing it all down if I'm going to make things up and lie about things, you know? Hell, all this writing may be even therapeutical for me. You never know.

I found this notebook down by the campgrounds. Don't know whose it is. Doesn't really matter anyway, I guess. The first few pages had sketch after sketch of trees and mountains and different plants and streams. All small and thumbnail size. Whoever did them has some talent, they were all mighty fine sketches, incredibly detailed and lifelike, but they're no use to me. So I tore out those pages and threw them away. That way, my journal can start on page one, line one. I just hope I don't run out of pages before I finish the complete story. If I do, I'll have to find another notebook somewhere.

But first, I guess, I should tell you about me. After all, I'm the one who'll be leading you through all the events of those couple of weeks.

I'm Amber. Amber Hamilton. Nice to meet you. Come here often? You're kinda sexy, you know. Wanta come back to my place?

Okay, sorry about that. Just trying to lighten the mood. You know, make you feel at home and comfortable and everything. Hmm, maybe I should just stick to the facts…

Stick to the facts, ma'am. Didn't some old cop on some old cop show used to say that? Damned if I can remember who it was now. It was a long time ago and I'm sure it was filmed in black and white.

Anyway, I'm Amber Hamilton.

I know, I know, with a name like that you probably think I'm some sexy young girl about to tell you my wild and amazing adventure. Well, first off, I'm not sexy. I'm pretty plain actually. "No, no, don't think that," you're thinking. Very polite of you, but trust me, I know these things and I'm not fooling myself anyway. Guys really don't show much interest in me, so I know I'm pretty plain. Hey, but don't get the wrong idea of anything, I'm no dog. I just don't have a face that could launch a thousand ships, if you get my meaning. I could probably launch a couple of tugboats, but that's about it.

Really, it's my name that trips me up every time. I think I need a nice, boring name like Alice Jenkins or Sue Johnson or something like that. Then I'd suit my name much better. You get a mental picture of what an Alice Jenkins should look like, and it's vastly different to the picture you get when you hear the name Amber Hamilton. It's the kinda name you'd expect for a famous P.I. in those trashy novels that sell so well.

"Amber Hamilton, P.I."

I knew the gig was up the moment I entered the trailer. She was standing there, see, and she had a look about her. The dame was trouble from the get-go and I knew it the first time I laid eyes on her. She was a dame with death on her mind, and I was just the raw kinda bait she was lookin' for.

Hey, it's pretty easy to write those P.I. novels. Maybe I'll do that when I finish telling my story. Maybe it could be a bestseller and I'd get a stack of money and the cash could help me move on out of here. Maybe. You never know your luck.

I don't really know what more I should tell you about me. I guess it's important to know something about my past, just in case it's ever needed. So you know it's me and not some other unfortunate sap whose name is the same as mine and who got caught up with all this. In the end, you may not believe what's written here anyway, but that's your problem, not mine. I'm not writing this for you, I'm writing it for me. Already I feel a whole lot better about everything. Looks like this writing will help me get all this stuff that's been building up inside me off my chest and out in the open. That's gotta be a good thing. Has to be.

Anyway, I'm 20 years of age now (but I was 19 when all this happened) and I have short cropped, black hair. You'd know the style if you saw it. It's all the rage with those actresses in Hollywood and I bet they pay an absolute fortune to get it done. Me, I just do it myself. Cheaper that way. I used to have longer hair, but it always took me way too long to get it right, so one day about a year ago I just decided to cut it all back so that when I wake up in the mornings all I have to do is run my fingers through my hair and it's ready to go. I did a fine job with it too. Maybe I should've been a hair stylist as well as a P.I.

Sometimes if it gets wet it starts to go curly, but I fix that by borrowing Raven's hair straightening iron. A few minutes under that baby and my hair doesn't stand a chance. Isn't modern technology wonderful? I don't like curly hair and it sure doesn't look good on me, so I keep mine nice and straight at all times.

I'm five foot eight inches tall and I'm average weight for my height. I'm not fat, don't be thinking that. But I'm not about to appear on the cover of Vogue anytime soon. I don't have a problem with my weight, never have. Well, that's not true, but I haven't really worried about it for years. With a face like mine, the guys aren't interested anyway, so I'm damned if I'm going to starve myself to look all Kate Moss-ish when they're not interested in me anyway. Not worth worrying about. I learnt that the hard way a long time ago.

That's me. Amber Hamilton. See? I told you the name was wrong and you agree now, don't you?

Just think plain and boring. I do.

But enough about me. I sound like I'm on some dating video or something. Not that I've ever done anything like that. I'd die of embarrassment if I ever had to do one of those things. But I know how those things work. I've seen movies and stuff.

"Hi, I'm Amber, I'm 19, single and downright plain. I live in a trailer with my best friend and she's just killed Duke Morgan. My hobbies are reading, writing my life story in notebooks, cooking, washing, and accessorizing after the fact. I'd like a guy who could see past my plain face and boring looks and find my inner beauty, because pearls really are made out of oysters. If you're interested, please call me on 555-DESPERATE."

Yeah, drek. I wouldn't date me either.

As you know by now, I live with Raven. Before all this started we both lived in her trailer at the Pine Hills Trailer Park, about 25 miles west of Lake Mountain.

It was a nice, peaceful place to live. The trailer park was close to where Raven worked, so it suited her perfectly. It suited me too because no one knew I was living there. No one who mattered at least, so I was more than happy to stay there with her.

That's where it all started. And I remember it like it was yesterday…

Raven's been my best friend since I can't remember when. We grew up together. My mother went to school with her mother and they were always close. Our families lived just two blocks apart and I remember going over to Raven's parents house on weekends when I was small. While my mother talked and laughed with Raven's mom, I would play with Raven.

Raven was five years older than me, but she was always nice and we got on really well. She would let me play with her toys and she would chase me and push me on the swing. We'd play hide and seek together and we'd talk about stupid kids stuff and we never argued. I always liked her, almost as if she was an older sister I never had. No, scratch that, she was my older sister. We just weren't related. If that makes sense.

She didn't seem to get along with normal kids either, just like me, so I guess that kinda brought us together. Of course, she always dressed in black and listened to death metal bands no one had ever heard of, so that kept some other kids away. But I think Raven liked it that way. Some of the kids in the neighbourhood were scared of her. They said she did weird things to herself, and that her parents weren't her real parents, because they'd died mysteriously in a fire Raven had started when she was younger. But that was just rubbish, the product of too many late-night horror repeats on cable. You know how kids are. They didn't understand her, so they tried to destroy her.

Didn't work.

I've always wondered, though, if our moms weren't best friends, would we have been? Who knows. You can't change the past either way. I know that now. We were friends, and we were happy to spend time with each other. In the end, that's all that mattered.

So, the upshot of it all was that we were always together and she always looked after me. That's why she was my best friend in the whole world.

Now, I don't know if I'm painting the right picture of Raven here. She's totally different to me in almost every way. Make no mistake about that. She's just a touch over six feet tall and she's nice and thin, without looking like those models who starve themselves down to just bone.

In fact, in her profession she needs a little bit of flesh, the guys like it that way. She was 24 when all this started and she has long, flowing richly-dark brown hair that stretches all the way down her back. I don't know what her secrets were for keeping her hair looking so luscious and so beautiful. She never seemed to do much to it, but it was always perfect. I'd love to have hair just like hers, but it was never going to work on me.

Raven had two strands of hair on both sides of her head which she died purple to help her "stand out from the crowd." I mean, like she needed it! These died strands fell all the way down her back. If you looked real quick you might think she had a purple scarf wrapped around her head, but it was no scarf, it was her hair. And, damn it, if it didn't look really good on her.

Would look stupid on me, though.

When all this went down, she was working nights at Rawhide Gentlemen's Club down on Harrington Street. "Gentlemen's Club" is just a fancy name for a strip club, you know, and it doesn't fool anybody. Everyone knows exactly what goes on down there, but it seems it's okay as long as it's referred to as a "Gentlemen's Club." Don't ask me why.

Raven was a performer at Rawhide (that means she was a stripper) and provided exotic dancing (that means lap dances…you getting the hang of this?) for any patron (half-drunk guy) willing to pay for services (throw twenty bucks down her g-string.)

And believe me, guys went for her. They went for her in a big way. And it's not just because she's a stripper. It's because of who she is.

She's Raven.

She's one of a kind.

I've known her for so long, I know there's something about her. It's just so hard to describe on paper. But I'll do my best as we go along. You'll get the idea real quick, I'm sure.

But I'll tell you more about us both when I think of it. I know there'll be more to tell you, stuff I can't think of now. Stuff I don't want to think about now.

But I'll get around to it. That's the whole point of writing this story down, so I can capture it all before it slips from my memory. So the true facts will be written down and be testament to what happened and how.

So, that's who we were and where we came from.

And this is how it all started…

Anyway, I remember where I was. I can even still picture it in my mind. That whole scene. Life was so easy, so simple before that night.

Before she told me.

It was one of those ideal summer evenings. Not too hot, as the sun was setting, but the sky was clear and there was a soft breeze blowing in from the north. Even though walks home after visiting my father were always depressing, sad times, there was no arguing that this evening was beautiful, simply perfect. The day had been a hot one, just like the days before it, but tonight's breeze brought a drop in temperature and a muted aroma of rich earth and sun-drenched trees, the kind of smell that makes you glad to be alive. Even my dad couldn't ruin this for me tonight. It was simply too perfect an evening.
"I killed him," she whispered again.

I didn't know what to say, so I just stared.

"Strangled him, right here in the trailer," she continued.

At first I didn't really know what she was talking about. I couldn't put it all together fast. Sometimes my brain doesn't work like it should. It had been a hard couple of hours for me and I was looking forward to coming home and just relaxing before going to bed. I really didn't have my thinking cap on and my brain was a bit sluggish as it got into gear.

But then it clicked into place.

Duke Morgan.

It made sense.

And I had to grab for the table and sit on the couch. No wonder she told me to sit down. News like this just turns your knees to jelly.

She'd killed him.

Really killed him.

Just like she'd threatened.

"And there's more," she added, as she slipped behind the table and onto the couch next to me, moving right next to me.

She was dressed in her red bathrobe. One of our towels was wrapped around her hair and tied tightly on the top of her head. A small snake of purple hair had escaped, curling across her brow and over her left eye. The robe was tied with the little cloth belt, but it hung loose on her. I could see the soft skin of her neck line and the top of her breasts.

From where I sat, I had a good view of her left breast and nipple, a glint of metal shining back at me. It was the barbell. Both nipples were pierced with those little metal barbell things. Personally, I don't know how she could stand all the pain of getting a needle plunged through two of the most sensitive parts on her body, but she said the guys go ape when they see she's pierced and that it helped her get more and more tips every night. So, I guess if it helps the money roll in, it was worth it.

I'd never do it though. No one would look at my breasts anyway. They're much smaller and less attractive than Raven's. She has these perfect breasts.

Perfect for what she has to do every night anyway. Mine just sort of sit there like they don't fit well on my body, like someone slapped them on as an afterthought. I'm pretty sure one's smaller than the other and a bit lower too, whereas Raven's are perfectly round and level, perfect in every way. While I was down at the five-and-dime picking out my breasts before I was born, Raven was shopping in Nieman Marcus for hers.

Raven pushed the table out of the way to give us more room, and as she did, her robe dropped away slightly and I could see her long, smooth, legs. They're those classic, beautiful legs that you see on billboards and ads and magazine covers all over the place. I'm sure she could've been a model if she tried, but she always said the money was better as an exotic dancer.

I never believed that though.

And, now I come to think of it, I don't think Raven did either.

Her leg touched mine and she reached out with her manicured hands, her fingernails all painted in red with the very tips painted in white, and she whispered, "He's still here."

I looked around the trailer, as I let Raven's words sink into my head.

I've killed Duke Morgan.

He's still here.

They swirled around my head as I turned from her and let my eyes sweep from left to right.

The trailer was small and cramped, but somehow we made do. It didn't worry us then and now, when I look back, I'm surprised at how small it really must have been.

Honestly, you could see everything and everywhere in the trailer by just turning your head around. That's how small it was.

But I couldn't see Duke Morgan anywhere. He just wasn't there.

But Raven said he was.

So he must have been.

Under the bed, maybe? It's true I didn't check there. Or maybe she meant he was in her car outside, or under the trailer?

He wasn't on the bed or on the floor, I could see every part of the place, but I couldn't see him.

My eyes jumped back to Raven, and the look on my face must've given me away. She smirked as she knew the question I was thinking.
She always knew what I was thinking.

"He's in the wardrobe," she said. Her head tilted, pointing across to it.

My eyes slowly swung to the wardrobe next to the kitchen.

The wardrobe.

Our wardrobe.

The door was shut. The little latch that all the cupboard doors had (a press-clip device to make sure the doors didn't swing open when the trailer was on the move) was shut firm and holding tight.

He was in there.

In the wardrobe.

I turned back to look at Raven.

She was looking at me. She nodded.

And I knew.

I felt my world drop away.

Nothing would be the same again.

LAKE MOUNTAIN was released in August 2005
in limited edition hardback in the U.S.
as part of the Bloodletting Press "Gerlach Library" series.

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