October 28, 2002
In the pre-dawn darkness around 6 a.m., Michael Cornelius, a bloody knife in his right hand, crouched behind the Lithia Park restroom, his back against the rough cinderblock wall. Known as Corndog ever since age six when he’d refused to eat anything else for an entire month, Cornelius was no stranger to darkness. Darkness was solid and more remarkable than just an absence of light. It fell over his exposed skin with a cool touch far softer than sunlight. Inside it he felt invisible and safe.
As the minutes passed, something niggled at him and when he closed his eyes, he could see brief snatches of images. They flickered as fast as hummingbird wings then faded to black, and he couldn’t remember what had forced him into hiding. An uneasy awareness seeped into him. The muscles in his thighs ached. How long had he been crouching here?
Hiding. He was always hiding. Hiding was his way of life. After the terrible things happened, hiding became meditation, his daily prayer, and his hopes for the wife and daughter he still loved. Hiding was the only god he could believe in now.
Ever since the war he’d had blackouts, long gaps in his memory where he’d lost time—sometimes hours, sometimes days. The shrinks at the VA told him they’d go away with time. But they were wrong.
In 1980, more than twenty years ago, Corndog, a police officer in Cottage Grove, Oregon, had shot and killed a fourteen-year-old boy. He and his partner were called to a breaking and entering at a downtown pharmacy. The boy, Lan Duong, was so dirty and unkempt, wearing layers of filthy clothes, they’d mistaken him for a grown man. Corndog thought Lan had pulled a gun and was about to kill his partner.
Or maybe it was his ink-black hair and Asian features. Maybe Corndog had one of his flashbacks and thought Lan was a Vietnamese soldier—the one who’d killed his best friend. Turned out the boy who’d robbed the pharmacy held only a cap pistol.
Corndog closed his eyes and tried hard to remember last night. But the only image he could bring to the surface was Tadeas Phan’s dark eyes, open and unseeing. And then the flash of his own hand jerking a knife from Tadeas’s chest.
Oh, my God. Have I done it again? Have I killed another boy?