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FRESH KILLS, Tales from The Kill Zone
By James Scott Bell Michelle Gagnon John Gilstrap Clare Langley-Hawthorne Kathryn Lilley John Ramsey Miller Joe Moore Scribd Edition Copyright 2010 John Gilstrap All Rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental. "Laughing Matters" Copyright © 2010 by James Scott Bell "The Chicken Guy" Copyright © 2010 by Michelle Gagnon "In the After" Copyright © 2010 by John Gilstrap "The Angel in the Garden" Copyright © 2010 by Clare Langley-Hawthorne "Blood Remains" Copyright © 2010 by Kathryn Lilley "Family Again" Copyright © 2010 by John Ramsey Miller "Final Flight" Copyright © 2010 by Joe Moore This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the individual author's imagination and are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is coincidental. Cover design: Joe Moore
General editor: James Scott Bell Line editor: Cindy Bell
The Kill Zone blog (www.killzoneauthors.blogspot.com) features seven top suspense/mystery writers. Some time back we were discussing the e-book revolution and decided to jump into it with what we do best––killer stories. So here they are. Be sure to drop by the blog and leave us a comment. We'd love to hear what you think of this collection. But most of all, enjoy these brand new stories from––
The Kill Zone Authors
James Scott Bell is the national bestselling author of Deceived, Try Dying, Try Darkness, Try Fear, The Whole Truth, No Legal Grounds and several other thrillers. He served as fiction columnist for Writers Digest magazine and has written three craft books for Writers Digest Books: Plot & Structure, Revision & Self-Editing and The Art of War for Writers. Jim has taught writing at Pepperdine University and numerous writers conferences. A former trial lawyer, he now writes and speaks full time, occasionally leaving his hometown of Los Angeles. www.jamesscottbell.com. Michelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, bartender, dog walker, model, personal trainer, and Russian supper club performer. Her thrillers The Tunnels, Boneyard, and The Gatekeeper have been published in North America, France, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Australia. All were IMBA top ten bestsellers. Michelle lives in San Francisco with her family. In her free time, she runs errands and engages in endless online Scrabble games. www.michellegagnon.com. John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of No Mercy, Six Minutes to Freedom, Scott Free, Even Steven, At All Costs and Nathan’s Run. His second Jonathan Grave thriller, Hostage Zero, will be released in July. His novels have been translated into more than 20 languages. John has also adapted four bestselling novels for the big screen. He is currently writing and co-producing the film adaptation of his book Six Minutes to Freedom for Sesso Entertainment. A former firefighter and EMT, John holds a master’s degree in safety engineering and a bachelor’s degree in history. www.johngilstrap.com. Clare Langley-Hawthorne was raised in England and Australia. She was an attorney in Melbourne before moving to the United States, where she began her career as a writer. The first two novels in her Edwardian mystery series, Consequences of Sin and The Serpent and The Scorpion, introduced Ursula Marlow, Oxford graduate, militant suffragette and amateur sleuth. Her first novel, Consequences of Sin, was nominated for the 2008 Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery Macavity award and both Consequences of Sin and The Serpent and The Scorpion were IMBA bestsellers. Clare lives in Oakland, California with her family. www.clarelangleyhawthorne.com.
The Hades Project.com. have been published in 24 languages including Russian. His novels. www. Inside Out. Too Far Gone. Side By Side. She also wrote Young Adult detective mysteries under a nationally-known pseudonym. She serves on the board of directors of the Southern California chapter of the Mystery Writers Association.Kathryn Lilley is a crime writer and former journalist who pens the bestselling Fat City Mysteries (Dying to be Thin. www. and a Barry Award.com. His first novel. North Carolina. He writes full time from his home in South Florida. written in collaboration with Lynn Sholes. Makeovers can be Murder). The Last Family. 4 . He was one of fifteen thriller authors of the audio book. and he has been nominated for both an ITW Thriller Award. John Ramsey Miller is the New York Times bestselling author of seven thrillers including The Last Family. in audio format. Kathryn lives and writes in Hermosa Beach. which was the 2008 Audie Award Winner of Audiobook of the Year (Beating out Harry Potter and The Bible) and is now available in print. California. live outside Gold Hill.joe-moore. Upside Down. and The 731 Legacy. Susan. Joe serves on the International Thriller Writers board of directors as Co-President. Smoke & Mirrors and The Last Day. Greek and Chinese.kathrynlilley.com. The Chopin Manuscript. A Killer Workout. Kathryn is a graduate of Wellesley College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. His work has been published in twelve languages. He and his wife. www. The Last Secret. was a Literary Guild Main Selection. Joe Moore is the author of the international bestselling Cotten Stone thrillers including The Grail Conspiracy.johnramseymiller.
But he died just now." the guy said. This guy was big. "I can do something for you. what did Satan look like? Red with horns? He'd probably be a lot more subtle." the guy said. the bartender. he was there all right. I feel for you. then turned to the guy. he was handling three ladies at present. "But you got potential. He sucked. "The Harv" as he billed himself. man. "You interested?" Pete waited until Arianna refilled his glass. What if I told you I got a way for you to get your name out there with buzz like you've never experienced before? And what if. crowd at the Comedy Zone. Pete ignored him. and she was cool with that. Truth was.m. "Look.Laughing Matters James Scott Bell He died." Right. that's it . random mind flashes that popped and zinged across the wasteland of his brain: Career over? What now? Car wash management? Anything left? Will I ever make it? Sell my soul. on top of that. He'd even. maybe. . signaled Arianna for another. drained the Beam. Arianna. Then again. He'd given four months to the new stuff. as a good luck move. Pete said nothing. or at least some outright. The man who sat next to him did not look like Satan. Gee. right after I do the Golden Globes. too. he blew. For you. "But you just said I . "What?" "Five large. so sure was he that he could capitalize on this new way of doing comedy. Ready for the devil – the very devil. Satan himself – to come sit next to him and offer to buy his soul in exchange for getting him to the top.A. dressed sharply. He smiled into his glass. Yeah. . just flat out died in front of the 11 p. The new cutting edge material didn't work the way he was sure it would. I don't really—" "Hear me out. good looking. Jerk. I tell you that you can make five grand in one night?" Pete coughed. He did look serious. engaged him in a little conversation." "Right! Got it! And I'll host the Oscars next year. where do I sign?" "I'm serious. It was his final bid to break out of the huge ocean of sludge that is the stand-up scene in L. sustained laughter at some of his freaking jokes. and it was chewing away at his insides as he downed a bourbon at the bar. Now that I got me a job that pays great. including Arianna. Just what a comedian who bagged loves to hear. baby." Pete looked into the guy's cold blue eyes. the way it had to. and maybe that was sapping his comedy chops. he bit. About 35. "I know what it's like to struggle in this town. Had he ever thought of that? He was thinking a lot of things now. put it all on a CD first. He'd slept with her a few weeks ago and not since. doing what I like to do. was it?" the guy said. Pete Harvey. "Not exactly a good night for you. For one performance.
"Well." *** Okay. He parked in the space by the elevator. She nodded and moved to the other end of the bar. "Your shot at the big time.sucked. I've had hard nights. "Now get out." With his other hand the guy pulled his jacket back." Pete blinked a couple of times. "Let's go. Pete told himself. pulled him back on the stool and said." "No. This is going to be great story for the Tonight Show once he hit the big time. Pete thought. starting to get up. I'll drive." "When?" "Now. It was a big. Nutty things. The butt of a gun stuck out from the waistband of his pants. Don't use hit." "What the hell?" Pete said. Especially late at night. "Look. It's not rocket science. Everybody does. I said you had a hard night. "Dude." "Don't say shot. She came over. he thought." the guy said." Okay." "No way. Guy with gun gives order." the guy said. "I think he's had enough. Not with this guy sitting next to you. "Don't make me do what I do." "Yeah? Doing what?" "Killing people. walked with Pete to the elevator. This is what happens in this town. what is going on?" Pete asked." Pete swallowed. man?" "Keep your voice down. waved his finger at Arianna. "Man. The guy with the gun. "You need to be sharp for the performance. The guy said." "Look in my eyes." the guy said to Arianna. as in ex-linebacker size." Pete said. who seemed a lot bigger now." "You are nuts––" "Give us a minute. It's not even advanced algebra for a guy who almost didn't graduate from Canoga Park High School. so what? So he threatens to shoot you. into a secure garage of a high rise apartment building on Sunset. The doors opened." the guys aid. it's been nice. too. Ha ha. 6 . black Cadillac the guy drove." "What's going on." Pete whispered. hit the button. "So you come along with me and I don't have to do you. big deal." "Very good. This is L. So a guy's got a gun.A. And especially here on the Strip. You get five grand for one performance. "Where?" "Just down the street. He threw down his bourbon. Guy without gun follows. The guy put a hand on Pete's arm. Crazy things.
I'm doing you a favor. "You first." the guy said." the robe man said. "Tell me what this is about. I am someone who has the power to make you a star in your chosen profession. That's my handle." "Then all you have to do. And what a room it was. This was just on some new kind of gig." "All comedy is based on pain. "yeah." Pete said. "You should know that. The Donald Trump Story maybe. "You're gonna have to do better than that. "That's what you're doing here. Pete tried to stay cool but the robe guy's glare was like police lights in some old cop movie." All right. and Harv the school teacher." Pete said. Sure. Pete had done his act in clubs smaller than this place. there's Harv down the street. "Of course. "What am I doing here?" "This is your moment. pointing to a large chair in the center of the room. The tough guy said. isn't it?" "Well. "Of course. within the next half hour. "Nice crib. with a keypad beside it."Get in. But you are The Harv. "You mean the elevator?" Pete said." the guy said. and shoved Pete through the doors. That's what you want. A minute later a man in a red silk bathrobe entered. an insult fest? Pete started to stand but a rock hard hand pushed him back in the chair. yeah. You see." Pete said. The tough entered a code then opened the door for Pete. Finally the robe guy said." Tough said. "So you are The Harv.4 temblor? The elevator dinged at the top floor of the high rise." "Uh. my gimmick. Why the gun?" "You'll find out. "Do you have any idea who I am?" Pete shook his head slowly. Why should The Harv care about anyone else? Or anything else besides his precious career?" What was this going to be. There was a big door in front of them. It looked like a movie set." and Pete stepped off into an opulent corridor. There's Harv the basset hound and Harv the who-knows-what. I'm The Harv." Pete said. Why am I here?" The man in the robe stepped in front of the fireplace with no fire in it." "Okay. He'd almost forgotten about the linebacker with the gun. with a full head of brown hair. if the movie was about the extremely rich people who lived in fabulous penthouses. It was a lame attempt at humor and Pete knew it." . Pete said. The guy winced and shook his head. Your chance to rocket to the skies. Who—" "I mean. that's established. As they went up. scaring the crap out of me is not exactly the way to set me up for success. is make me laugh. He was about forty. So why was he shaking like a 6. The penthouse apartment must have taken up half the top floor. worn longish. trim. "Sit there. He kept his hands in the pockets of his robe and stood for a long moment staring at Pete." he said. He could do it. He could do anything. "Come on. man." "You know. man." "In order to distinguish you from all the other Harvs in this world?" "I guess.
who. They were clandestine photos of him in his car with . I didn't know she was married. eh?" Uh-oh. the kind just before the perfectly delivered punch line." Oh man! What was going on? One of those pregnant pauses. "Now? Here's what we do. unless it had hemorrhoids and sandpaper in the same sentence. and I will give you five thousand dollars and I will see to it that your comedy CD takes off and you become a household name. The Harv. Laugh. "So what do we do now?" Rockwell sat in the stuffed chair next to the fireplace. who? More than one occasion? How long ago? Someone from the club? "I honestly think there's been a mistake. which he tossed on Pete's lap. and the fake smile was gone. "You can level with me. Do you recall that. Harvey?" "Um. Come on. Pete swallowed hard. "Look."Make you laugh?" "That's it. A lot of action." "Ignorance of the law is no excuse. But if I fail to 8 ." "We're a couple of guys." "Even other men's wives. I really don't." He bobbed his eyebrows. "I do okay. Mr. So what's that got to do with anything? "Come on. isn't it?" "You know. Not smile. Robe nodded at the big guy. Do that." Robe said. he remembered her now. Harder. "I really think there's been a misunderstanding. descended on the room. With all kinds. what was her name again? Yes. "Excuse me?" "You're quite the ladies' man. . Robe's eyes were narrow now. huh?" "Sure. I'm good." Robe said. "Am I right?" Robe said again. You have thirty minutes to make me laugh. "The comedy thing is a chick magnet." Pete put his hands out. Are you any good at what you do or not?" "Yeah. "Bring back memories?" Robe said. Pete said." Okay. ." He tried to stand again. The one you have dishonored. The last name is the one I gave her. Think you can do it?" "I have no idea—" "Come on. There has not. I worked the last ten years to get good. Pete thought. yeah. having no idea if there had been. The big guy reached in his coat and pulled out some photographs. am I right?" Pete could not think of a more uncomfortable conversation. "No." Pete said. man. And neither is ignorance about another man's wife. you'll recall." "That's not all you worked on. a fake smile on his face. Finally Pete said. as if to say." "Melissa Rockwell. She never said she was. You slept with my wife." "Sure you do. Mr. got pushed down again. But she won't be needing it any more. Her name is Melissa. I don't know. What was this about? Had Pete had this guy's wife? Please no. level with me. On more than one occasion.
but I stopped when I saw what it did to my friends. The race of a lifetime." Pete said." Pete said." Pete's legs were shaking. Slowly. "What can you say? It's crazy. sir?" Rockwell said nothing. maybe some of the classics. Bud Werner decided to race the avalanche." "Hey. Pete's dad was a ski enthusiast. and Pete memorized the whole thing. and you better do it in—" he looked at a wall clock – "twenty-nine minutes. looked at Rockwell's face. I am a serious man. Okay." "Now you can stand up. Now he's doing my act." The sound of imaginary crickets chirped in Pete's head. The sort of thing a real performer or athlete lives for. nowhere to run. I used to do drugs." . He was skiing down a mountain when an avalanche happened." the big thug said. Pete told himself. and used to talk about an American skier named Bud Werner. "You'll never make it out alive. So what choice did Pete "The Harv" Harvey have now? There was nowhere to hide." Silence. He was like a mime doing a statue. Instead of taking safety behind a tree or rock. and was doing a ski film in the Alps. "Are you a gambler. "You on drugs? Because if you're on drugs that's unfair. If his own material wasn't working. He had to beat the avalanche. In the late 50's and early 60's Werner became the first world class skier America had ever produced. One he lost. "I got me a pit bull on Monday. well. and you better make me laugh. No response. "And what's the deal with dogs? You own a dog. die. and that's your challenge. he had to. what do you send to a sick florist?" "I went to see a psychiatrist." Nothing. His dad gave him a Henny Youngman joke book for Christmas when he was thirteen. The wall clock had ticked off three more minutes. Then retired.' I did. How's that happen?" He paused. I'd get high. "Tough living room. Pete reminded himself. after all. Werner died that day." A shudder like a drunk's cackle coursed through Pete's body. you just. as if he could read Pete's exact thoughts. 'Tell me everything." The clock ticked." Rockwell said. "Hey." Pete said. "Hey. Made the Olympic squad three times. "I don't know. death. He didn't even know if he could stand up. he knew it. Not even a twitch. I am. trying to get the timing down. this is the challenge of a lifetime. he stood. Rapid fire. "But I would never advocate the use of drugs." the thug said. "On Tuesday I got me a prosthetic arm. Because I'm not an athlete and can't get my hands on the good stuff. "You cannot be serious. "And don't try running.laugh. and they all looked weird to me. sir? Because I only gamble for laughs. "You're a stand up comedian. He had to make the guy in the robe laugh. I must be horizontally parked in a parallel universe. Let's go with this." "I'm waiting. Pete had to dig deep. You ever read the obituaries? People die in alphabetical order. It was made of pure granite." Pete said. maybe bolt from the room. He says. Hey." "Oh. But if he was going to get out of this sick joke. Last week I laughed away my car.
It was an automatic response. With one minute left Pete's heart was pounding. Pete had not even gotten a nose wrinkle. my ex. too. Then Pete started to laugh. Passed gas . It doesn't matter that it wasn't at your jokes. The avalanche was coming. what can I say? She should go into earthquake work. no twitch. huh? My ex-wife kept complaining she didn't feel wanted. who gets the word there's a pardon from the governor. Was that a crack in Rockwell's face? "Yeah. race jokes for three – channeling Don Rickles. well. He did some Seinfeld. So what had just happened? It was almost as if the guy had simply passed gas. Huh? Pete looked at the clock. "Hey. the best of the best. You couldn't park anywhere near the place. Pete tried sex jokes for two minutes. at the big thug. no smile. 10 . his mouth opening up with nothing coming out. finished. Thirteen minutes left. Maybe he could get a sardonic laugh out of Mr." Wait. Pete had been in front of audiences like that. She can find a fault quicker than anybody. unfunny. "Well. the crazy laugh of the man in the death chamber.Pete tossed out five more one liners. 'You're gonna have a what?'" Anything? Maybe–– "I met her in college. desperation and the crash after an adrenaline rush. there was a chance he'd just get angrier. spent. Five seconds left. "And what's the deal with wives. some Steven Wright. will you? I laughed. born of fatigue. Fifteen seconds. and at the clock. to be sure." Zip. where she was voted Most Likely to Succeed With Anybody. Fifteen minutes to go. did we just have some thunder from down under? Is somebody hunting ducks?" No laugh. slimy." Rockwell said. Dead. "I used to work in a fire hydrant factory. . Rockwell was Mount Rushmore. but nobody started the bidding. but never with death hanging over him. His mind was a blank now. It doesn't matter that I was laughing at your pitiful. closer. He was weak. the needle going into his arm." Did Rockwell's cheek just move? "I decided one day I wanted to get something for her. . And then Pete Harvey started to cry. Time to bring out the jokes about wives. He looked at Rockwell." Rockwell's eyes narrowed and his lips tightened. no mercy. Nothing but dead air in return. True. "Look at that. And Rockwell was still laughing. So I went down to the post office and put up her picture. And that's when the guy laughed. Rockwell. Was he trying hard not to laugh? "You know how I proposed to my wife? I said. Closer. But Pete wasn't exactly slaying him right now." Rockwell's face returned to its former stoic aspect.
"I trust you. down. So what if the guy didn't laugh because of his jokes? He was five thousand dollars richer. He would see about that later. success is suddenly his. "Hey!" Pete tried to fight him. ironically. "You said I could trust you!" Pete screamed. Wish I had a joke. will you?" Pete stuffed the envelope in the back pocket of his jeans. give him the money. Rockwell said. which he opened." he managed to say. Rockwell met them at the balcony door. Bobby took Pete's arm and started him toward the penthouse balcony. I said I'd give you five large. who has shot more comedians to superstardom than anyone else. lifting him." declared Bill Bronstein. who committed suicide last week by jumping off the roof of the Archwood Arms apartments on Sunset Boulevard." What? This whole bizarre thing wasn't just a bad dream? Apparently not. And it was clear where he'd be going next." . You can. get in bed – alone – and stay there. "He may have been an undiscovered genius. I'm a man of my word. flying over Sunset Boulevard with its red and gold and green lights. Bobby. And so I'll say good-night. Maybe it will for somebody else. The Harv could have gone to great heights. but the thug was too strong.worthless self. It can't buy me success as a comedian. And a deal's a deal. Bobby pushed Pete out into the night. Now. Harvey." "Good. "You can. Pete just wanted to get out of there. And then Pete was flying. show The Harv out. And the guy had said something about making his CD take off and him being a household name and all that. Now it was time to get home. Curiosity about his comedy has fueled a demand for his only known CD. New Life for Tragic Comedian Pete "The Harv" Harvey's CD and iTunes sales continue to climb. "You want to count it?" Rockwell said. And I will. because the big thug tapped Pete on the shoulder and handed him a thick envelope. which was produced by an anonymous benefactor. Show over. but I'm all out. But instead of heading toward the door. Down. In his possession when he died was an envelope with five thousand dollars and a typed note that said Money means nothing to me. *** A week later. down. flying over the city he once thought he would conquer. "No." Pete felt the bear trap hands of the thug grabbing his clothes. was despondent over his lack of success in the world of standup comedy. Bobby. and get great buzz for your material. I laughed. "A real tragedy. Bobby brought Variety to his boss and showed him the story. From inside the penthouse.
And laughed." 12 ." Rockwell said to Bobby."Or fallen from them. "Now that's funny.
she reminded herself. saying it was related to the Chicken Guy case. The call had come in as she was leaving for the day. As the saw spun. The mass of buildings that had once swallowed and regurgitated workers in endless shifts now sat silent and empty. But as soon as she spotted the dim light illuminating a window at the far end of the building. and the sitter’s frantic call was routed to Kelly’s task force at 5AM. which raised the question of how the killer got there. Crap. but the conveyor belt remained. FBI Special Agent Kelly Jones’s legs ached from maintaining the same position. Meaty shoulders worked up and down like pistons. set in an abandoned industrial zone in Trenton. She’d called for backup. If she was right. which involved. She’d vanished on her way home from work four nights ago. Kelly thought. She’d entered through a back door and crept for a hundred feet along the dark corridor where chickens once lined up to have their throats mechanically slit. an anonymous voice on a blocked number. tightening her grip on the Glock. one character makes an oblique reference to FBI Special Agent Kelly Jones’s previous case. probably sold for scrap. Several diner customers remembered a guy staying at her station until nearly closing. shrugging it off in favor of a hot shower and a night in front of her motel room TV. she’d known in her gut that this was the place. and dark stains marred the floor. the pale figure on the table was victim number four. “the Chicken Guy. It was the perfect location for a kill room. Kelly hadn’t passed a single car on her approach. But when the shriek of a circular saw pierced the night. and one customer thought she saw her slip him a phone number. The coppery tang of blood still scented the air.The Chicken Guy by Michelle Gagnon In my debut thriller The Tunnels. she’d opted to check it out alone.G. – M. The caller had only provided an address. Another witness saw a dark car pull up at the bus stop later that evening. A trace of Patty’s cell phone had led them to a dumpster a few blocks . She should have guessed that this was a good tip. Based on their killer’s MO they only had seventy-two hours to save Patty. But the killer she hunted was responsible for far worse. clearly relieved to avoid the forty-five minute wait for the M49. and hers was the only one in the lot. she felt compelled to enter. No time to think about that now. And then. Where the hell is my backup? she wondered again as the sawing noise resumed. Kelly spotted something pale laid out on the table before him. nothing. flecks of matter sprayed around him. A day or two after that her body would turn up boned and parceled out in neat wrappers like a carved bird. He was close now. The assembly line had been partially dismantled. She risked a peek around the corner of the machine. a local waitress and mother of three named Patty Gill. The door at the rear of the building was ajar.” This story details how she barely survived the encounter. Apparently Patty grinned as she got in. shifting back and forth in the shadows of the building as she waited. Patty had been observed flirting with him. Kelly had nearly dismissed it as a prank. A man was silhouetted by the light of a portable fluorescent lantern. less than fifty yards away. but she didn’t dare shift for fear of making noise. As it was. a chain with a broken padlock still dangled from it. As he shifted to one side. The search for Patty had initially been promising. Even from this distance he appeared enormous. Kelly was in an abandoned processing plant in New Jersey that for years had served as the last stop for poultry.
Kelly steeled herself for the confrontation. Over the next two days. Her wallet had been intact. and a search of the nearby area had elicited no new information. Kelly glanced at her watch again. She could claim that he charged her. The moniker was doubly ironic considering the place he’d chosen to dismember his victims. although perhaps that was why he’d selected it. that of a lonely woman who found comfort in the arms of strangers and left her kids to fend for themselves. they were all alone here. But the sound of metal slicing through bone was becoming unbearable. There would be no witnesses. shifting her finger back. She closed the distance between them to ten feet. “Where I can see them!” She wouldn’t be able to explain how later. every lead had dried up. They were supposed to approach silently. three of them side by side on the couch. “I said hands in the air!” She repeated. it wasn’t like they harbored a host of Pulitzer nominees. everyone deserved some dignity in death. but he didn’t turn to face her. It had been nearly fifteen minutes since she’d called for backup. hoping the noise from the saw would cover her movement. She tightened her grip on the Glock and eased forward. Her task force had been looking for someone with a background in butchering. Kelly had met her kids. A grim portrait of Patty’s life had quickly emerged. The press had dubbed him. but with remarkable speed 14 . not to mention eliminating the slim chance that he might walk on a technicality. In life. Based on what Kelly could see from her vantage point. she was already too late to save her.” Not terribly original. It would spare the state the cost of a trial. Kelly landed hard on her side and struggled to level the gun. The saw whirred. No sign of a struggle in or around the dumpster. Kelly aimed her gun squarely at the broadest part of his back. But at least she had the killer in her sights. and could picture her puzzled brown eyes gazing up from a stringy mass of poorly-dyed hair. But then. where they found it still securely tucked in her purse. refusing to drop his weapon. and killers frequently chose kill sites that held some personal meaning for them. then took a deep breath to steady herself. Kelly waited. The man stayed bent over his work. slicing the space where her head had just been. feet planted apart to brace her against the gun’s recoil. The dark figure suddenly straightened. Kelly froze and held her breath. He glanced back over his left shoulder. seemingly oblivious to her approach. but she sensed what was about to happen and reacted a moment before he swiveled. The saw fell silent. as if sensing the weight of her eyes. She couldn’t just sit there while this guy carved Patty up like a turkey. momentarily overwhelmed by the thought of how easy it would be. darkness shielding his face. or even accurate.from the bus stop. After a minute he turned back to what he was doing. He paused. Kelly glanced at her watch. she thought. Kelly probably wouldn’t have been able to stand her. Kelly sighed. Kelly thought. But still. She eased her finger over the trigger. She’d been staring at the woman’s photo for three days. this was Trenton. she was going in. eyes firmly focused on the floor as they answered questions with terse one-word responses. Bureau policy be damned. lights and sirens off. Perhaps he’d worked in this plant. The butcher knife somersaulted through the air. “The Chicken Killer. Ninety-eight hours had passed since Patty disappeared. and had returned to satisfy a grisly need in familiar surroundings. “FBI! Hands in the air!” She shouted. the victims’ families the pain of facing the man who wreaked such havoc on their lives. to avoid spooking the suspect.
she yelped. Another loud “crack. Yet even as she thought it. trying to keep her mind clear and calm despite the alarm bells ringing in her ears. Shadows seemed to lunge for her as she crossed the warehouse.the killer vanished into the depths of the factory. again annoyed by the delay. hoping to fool him into thinking she’d passed out. If this guy got away. and she’d been promised that all local resources would be made available. She gouged at his eyes with her fingers. Hard to believe that something more important had come up that night. The table was set in the center of the room. She probably should have waited for backup. Kelly made her way toward the door quickly but stealthily. An arm locked around her throat. enveloped in the arms of a madman. and she eased behind a large metal vat—God only knew what it once contained. It sounded like a pipe had clattered across the floor. landing with a clatter. then slammed them both down at the same time. lifting her off her feet. Her eyes gazed blankly at the ceiling.” and the hands around her throat went slack. Kelly continued fighting as she struggled for air. and Kelly experienced a flash of pity for Patty’s kids before regaining her focus. she wondered if this was how she was destined to die. She’d been in worse situations. She peered through the murk. He’d already carved through her arms. already puddling white and distant. and there was only one road out of here. she’d catch hell for going in alone. The hairs stood up on the back of her neck. Kelly dropped to the floor. and backup should be arriving any minute. With her pale skin she looked like a disassembled mannequin. as did her left leg. She managed to stay upright through the first few blows. the size of two football fields. slamming her hard against the cold metal side of the vat. Stars popped in her eyes. What was taking them so long? This was the biggest case to hit the area in years. Flexing her neck muscles she launched backward with as much force as she could muster. but it smelled foul.” The breath in her ear was hot and reeked of garlic and something stale. still stiff from crouching. they lay slightly apart from her body. and she fought to keep her breathing steady. flailed at his legs with her heels…but he was too strong. Kelly tried to spin out of his grip. blood clotted where the joints used to meet. panning her gun in a constant arc. It was an enormous space. but the fourth one nearly knocked her unconscious and the Glock slipped from her grasp. same as the other three victims. stumbling and landing hard on one knee before . If the killer had his wits about him he’d try to escape. When the hand clamped down on her shoulder. Her lips pursed and she allowed herself a quick glance at her watch. Kelly could cover it while she waited for backup. Kelly went limp. and none of her self-defense training had any effect. She battled panic. at least then he’d be fenced in. Splayed across it were the remains of Patty Gill. and his grip loosened just enough for her head to lower forward. with multiple levels and offices on the upper floors. Kelly heard a noise off to her right and reflexively swung her gun in that direction. Kelly gritted her teeth and drew her knees in to her chest. Another metallic ping. But there was nothing she could do about that now. She cursed and got to her feet. exploding through the gloom. but he propelled her forward. willing her eyes to adjust. The killer could have stashed weapons anywhere in the factory. It was a sad end to a sad life. conveyor belts circling the lower interior. one of the former stations where in the past inspectors examined samples from the line. closer this time. He yelped. “I’ve been waiting for you. She heard a “snap” as her heels connected with kneecaps. but he didn’t fall for it. There were marks on her neck consistent with strangulation. The smart move would be to head back outside.
but even that was better than nothing. Kelly pressed harder. For most. waiting for an opportunity to finish what he’d started. she could call for help. She couldn’t stop shaking. Deciding. She was so focused on escape.regaining her footing. Fifty yards past that lay the exit to the parking lot. but could overtake her while she was distracted. And she’d have a Sig Sauer to keep her company while she waited. The door was chained shut on the outside. There was only silence. Kelly kicked herself. slowly so as to minimize the sound. Adrenaline coursed through her veins. stashed in the trunk of the rental car along with her backup weapon. and the spot where he had briefly overwhelmed her. Kelly took a deep shuddering breath to calm herself. She could leave this way and double back to her car. She tried to organize her thoughts. there was nothing they loved more than a good game of cat and mouse. She pushed on the bar to open it. Aside from a steady drip of water 16 . a gleam of light on the ceiling marked the spot where the lantern illuminated Patty’s corpse. The alternative was to cross the length of the warehouse. it would take several tries to get the door open. she could make another run for her rental car. This time she stuck to the periphery. it took a few minutes to realize he wasn’t pursuing her. She’d dealt with this type of psycho before. It opened an inch. And by that point. She was at the far end of the factory. hoping that at some point reinforcements arrived. Kelly reviewed her options. Kelly picked her way through a jumble of equipment until she reached the rear wall. steering clear of larger pieces of machinery he could be lurking behind. In a fight against someone the killer’s size it would provide a negligible advantage. listening for any other movement. A building this size had to have at least one another exit. then stopped with a rattle. skirting the outside wall. But if Kelly could just reach her car. She moved quickly but silently. those meaty arms closing around her throat. All she had to do was find it. hands brushing the polished metal side of a storage tank. she’d gotten sloppy. she realized it had been jarred loose during the attack. groping along her waist. She reached for the radio hooked to her belt loop. Clearly she hadn’t spent enough time in the field these past few cases. Kelly heaved a sigh of relief. She ran as hard as she could. It was cold to the touch. Carefully scrambling over a stack of packing crates. the killer would not only be alerted to her position. opposite where she had entered. careful to avoid the pools of light filtering from the center of the room. She scanned the darkness. and try to retrieve her sidearm. all she had to fend him off was a length of rusty pipe. Dead center in the room. She could wait here. she needed to know the status of her backup. He’d easily overpowered her once. And her cell phone was still in her purse. grabbing it without breaking stride. back to where he jumped her. He was probably huddled in the dark. But if he came after her again. It was tempting to just stay put. With a sinking feeling. she shifted her grip on the pipe and said a silent prayer. The thought of traversing the factory gloom unarmed made her shudder. Spying a long metal bar on the floor she ducked low. She looked around for something to break the chain. Barring that. As she retreated she kept expecting to feel that horrible breath on the back of her neck. First and foremost. weaving to avoid equipment. she spotted a set of double doors. then realized that even if she found anything. Kelly paused. she reasoned. hands outstretched to maintain her balance. it was all about the hunt. Now she had no way of determining if help was even on the way. but it wouldn’t budge. straining to hear above her own panting gasps. and there was an excellent chance he’d do it again.
but she wasn’t about to be fooled by that again. A black chasm yawned open in front of her: the conveyor line. After five minutes she was standing next to the vat he had slammed her against. Kelly spun the gun toward it. looking for her Glock. Kelly moved toward the open space in the center of a snarl of equipment. But the hallway was filled with a tangle of hooks. coming to rest against the bottom of the table. another few hundred yards away. she noted with grim satisfaction. To retrieve it. Grabbing it with her left hand Kelly spun quickly.” he said. At least with that in her hand. When she reached the bench she dropped to a crouch. it had skidded all the way underneath. She edged slowly back into the interior. and she knelt to examine them: blood. It remained just beyond her grasp. Hopefully enough to prevent him sneaking up on her.” As she spoke. Of course there was always the chance that he’d managed to retrieve her Glock. “Come on out. “You should surrender yourself. It was hard to tell. And this time she had no qualms about pulling the trigger. Glancing to the right. knocking the gun sideways. She groped along the floor.” Kelly bit her lower lip and tried to stay calm. keeping your hands where I can see them. It felt like forever before her fingers fumbled across the handgrip. but she had to be near the spot where he’d jumped her. and low hanging splatter tarps that provided perfect hiding places. the top of her head jamming against the metal crossbeam. and was waiting to use it against her.from the depths of the building. The narrow passage led to the exit. fifteen rounds. staying in the shadows. it was still. Kelly kept her gun steady. But if that was the case. she felt naked without it. she had a fighting chance of making it out alive. She could barely make out the outline of her weapon. her senses hyper-attuned to the slightest sound and movement. “It’s just you and me tonight. “Backup is almost here. parallel to where she was standing now. There was a sharp clatter about ten feet to her right. Kelly’s heart caught in her throat. It sounded like he was behind a tank that rested on its side about fifteen feet away. There were some dark spots on the floor. Hopefully enough to get her the hell out of here. arm outstretched. As quickly as possible she scooted forward. She needed her gun. It skidded a few inches closer. Kelly straightened and scanned her surroundings. make it easy on both of us. then dropped down. barely audible. She debated whether or not to press forward. waiting for him to make the next move. rough concrete scraping her palm. Even if what he was saying was true. almost a growl. She’d have at least eight feet clear on every side of her.” She called out. easy to mistake for a whisper of breeze.” There was another throaty laugh. She stood slowly. A shuffle off to her left at ten o’clock. The exit was so tantalizingly close. So she’d done some damage to the bastard after all. As she aimed at that . there was a low chuckling noise behind her. Kelly repressed a shudder before spinning in a slow circle. Rushing in unarmed would be foolhardy. she was still armed. She couldn’t see anything. between two vats. There was a gap there. kitten. gutting equipment. she had to fight an overwhelming urge to bolt for it. Kelly had a full clip. she spied a darker shadow under an overturned workbench ten feet away. even if it meant shooting this bastard in the back. As she struggled to reach it. she’d have to crawl on her belly. leaving her exposed. she was screwed no matter what. trying to reassert control over the situation. knocking her head against the crossbeam. It was probably fifteen yards toward the center of the room. smart enough to keep her from getting a fix on his location. “Big riots downtown. Kelly eased around a large vat and scanned the darkness. She closed the distance. Kelly tried to get her bearings. She made a sweeping motion. He didn’t respond. the whole place is burning.
putting some distance between them. “Last chance. It was like a giant flock of dark birds descending on her. She heard retreating footsteps. She had to have hit him at least once. he suddenly keeled forward. 18 . A pool of blood was expanding around him. Each time she only caught a glimpse of him before he vanished behind the next wall of black canvas. aiming. Kelly experienced a visceral wave of fear. then another. It took a second for her eyes to adjust from the barrel flash. The dark folds see-sawed toward the center of the tunnel. This guy was leaving the building tonight handcuffed. She jogged forward. a gulp of air.spot. The passage stretched out before her. and Kelly detected a trace of something else in the air. she knew which she’d prefer. In the distance. She was out of ammunition. She was thirty feet from the end. The killer could be lurking in any of the shadows. As Kelly braced for the attack. She inhaled deeply and felt the tension leave her body. the night outside glaringly bright in comparison to the dank tunnel.” Kelly said. Kelly started firing off rounds. emptying the clip. Kelly sucked in a deep breath and held it. She heard a muted yelp. hopefully injured him badly.” When the attack came. He was headed for the exit. it was impossible to tell whether or not he was still breathing. the tunnel flashing white with each percussive blast. something flashed across the divide between them. Kelly paused at the entrance. No movement. Her heart pounded. gun still grasped firmly in both hands. She hesitated. on a gurney. it was swift. he dashed along the wall. sticking to the center of the passage. the deafening noise shattering the stillness. carefully picking her way along. “Trust me. When they did. The tarp flapped outward. or in a bodybag. the last few shots had practically been at point blank range. then twentyfive. Kelly squinted: the tarp up ahead on her left hung further from the wall than its twin on the opposite side. hands still clenching the Glock in a death grip. She sensed something behind her and spun quickly. There was a trail of blood on the floor: she’d hit him. Kelly eased forward. Kelly jumped back. She sniffed again: garlic. In this light. And given a choice. As she watched. There were no windows. Kelly squeezed off two rounds in succession. Kelly took one step forward. until her finger clicked the trigger impotently. only ten feet across. and the walls were covered by dark flaps stiff with generations of avian offal. The door at the far end was still propped open the way she’d left it. He remained motionless. and the little outside light that filtered in dissipated after ten feet. her resolve steeled. Metal hooks hung in a row along the ceiling. but instead of moving into the center of the passage as she’d expected. Earlier. arms by his sides. closer and closer to where she stood. legs bent. Kelly took a step forward and nudged him with her toe. it shifted ever so slightly. The killer barreled to a halt a foot away. down the conveyor belt passage. blotting out the light from the door beyond. staying behind each successive tarp. listening hard. She kept firing. the space between the vats was empty. The flap closest to her swung out as he lunged at her. She fell back a step. but there was no one there. The blood trail vanished into the dark matting on the floor. His bulk loomed over her. The stench of old blood was stronger here. He was waiting for her. It was narrow. she had made her way through by touch alone. there’s nothing I’d like better than shooting you. This might just be another trap. She judged it to be about ten feet away from the entrance. the sound of sirens. Her ears had caught a stray sound.
his breath a raspy gurgle. kitten. grabbing hold of one of the hooks dangling from the conveyor belt. Four uniformed cops were stationed behind open car doors. In the parking lot. His blood. Kelly landed hard. dripped onto her face. He rose up above her. As she fell backwards she flung her hand out. She gripped it hard. switching her grip. Kelly staggered to her feet.“Finally. gasping for air. She shifted it. dropping her hands. but after a suspended moment it broke free. knocking her upper body to the floor. Something sharp pierced her thigh. Their red lights strobed across the back of his head.” Kelly tried to kick free but he wrenched her leg sideways. something clamped down on her ankle. “I’ve always hated that name.” She muttered aloud. pressing her into the floor. She stumbled to the open doorway. As he reached for her throat.” She said. Blood dribbled from his mouth as he said. She tried to scramble back but his grip was steel. trying to keep herself upright. “Federal Agent!” “Special Agent Jones?” One of them asked. “Not so fast. His mouth gaped open like a fish as he collapsed to the side. I’m unarmed!” She called out. Kelly heard cars screeching to a stop in the parking lot outside. Kelly summoned all her remaining strength. She squinted against the sudden glare of headlights. hand over hand. hot and wet. As she circled his body. Kelly looked down.” . The weight of him on her lower body was crushing. horrified. The killer was crawling up her legs. two black and whites were parked at odd angles. Kelly could only manage a nod. She swung her arm forward. raising her arms as she crossed the threshold. making her cry out in pain. Kelly felt the hook biting into her palm. “The Chicken Guy in there?” “You know. “Don’t shoot. A leering face peered up at her. and drew her arm back. guns drawn. digging the hook into his temple.
It was an animal sound. Tony was beat—ready for a short scotch and a long nap. Ellie?” Somehow he knew that if he surrendered to the panic. Her neighbors seem delightful. “If dropping her off at college is this hard. “Trust me.” Finding friends had always been easy for their daughter. and in a world where things made sense. Perhaps it had been a mistake to take the trip up from Chapel Hill in one long gulp like this.” She found his hand in the dark. 20 . Whoever this guy was. “I’m not hurting her. Tony pushed the button for the garage door and pulled into the rightmost bay of the fourcar garage. he looked right at the severed telephone line. the intruder led his captives to the dining room. He walked them out to the trash bin. so would Ellie.” the intruder said.” The next few moments passed in a kind of dazed blur. His chiseled jaw and thick neck spoke of someone who labored hard. “She’s okay. As adrenalin flooded his body. When the engine stopped.” He tightened his grip on Ellie and brought his mouth close to her ear. don’t even talk about that. pure fear. Tony jumped back and yelled when he saw them. “You’re going to just die when you hear the answers. he tried to look calm. “I don’t think I can feel my legs anymore.” Ellie insisted. either at work or at the gym. how am I going to cope with her getting married one day?” Ellie gave a dramatic shiver. “Is Amber all settled in?” the intruder asked. I bet she’s already found a brand new best friend. Ellie. just let him steal whatever he wanted and get the hell out. He felt a rumbling in his gut that made him think he might soil himself.” she quipped. “He’s hurting my neck. “Easy. violence would follow. Ellie made a beeline for the house while Tony policed the four empty water bottles and too many snack wrappers. Carrying an oversized black gym bag in one hand and his pistol in the other. *** The intruder held a gun to Ellie’s head. “Are you all right. across the center console. He was a young man—a kid really. the crook of his elbow tucked under her chin. okay? Who are you? What do you want?” The intruder smiled broadly. Ellie’s eyes bulged with terror.” Ellie gasped. This is not pain. giant circles. “God. He instructed Tony to sit in the massive master’s chair that dominated the north end of the inlaid mahogany table. calm would beget calm. certainly not twenty-five—and on a different night under different circumstances.” Tony raised his hands as if to ward off an angry dog. I know how to hurt people. On his way inside. If Tony could stay calm. “She’ll be fine. red with tears. but he never saw it. Dark eyes and dark hair complemented an olive complexion. he might have been handsome. “Two very fine questions. The man smiled without humor. Eleanor—Ellie—his wife of twenty-one years yawned noisily and stretched in the seat next to him.” “Yes you are.In The After John Gilstrap Tony Emerson piloted the Mercedes up the long driveway toward the twelve thousand square feet of colonial grandeur that he called home.
and right away it’s somehow your fault. and started the boot-up procedure. Do I sense a blackmail pitch coming?” . “Ah!” he proclaimed as he finished. “That’s right. he paused and glared. opened it. but in the end. You tell her. Sorry. “Don’t consider any of my questions to be rhetorical. “I’m sure she was taken out of context. “I-I don’t know what to say. “Oh. so what do you need me for?” The humor evaporated from the intruder’s face. That was the second time this lunatic had mentioned her. the intruder felt it safe to finish the job by binding Ellie’s remaining wrist.” Tony said. A wonderful husband. the intruder forced Ellie to secure her own ankles and one wrist to the matching chair at the south end of the table.” “The truth will do. El. ‘Your father continues to think that he’s king of the world. After a few seconds. The intruder never broke eye contact with Ellie. “You’ve clearly determined the right answers. He recited from memory: “Ellie to Amber. Tony saw the tears on her eyelids and was surprised by the anger he felt toward her.” Ellie begged.” He spun the computer back to face him and started typing again. With Tony thoroughly trussed. that’s your bride talking.” The intruder laughed. “He’s a brilliant man.” “You spied on my email?” Ellie gasped.” he said.Tony followed directions and allowed Ellie to use the intruder’s duct tape to bind his ankles.” he threatened. it didn’t matter. not me. The intruder dropped his gym bag heavily on the table and opened it. Tone. He stood to his full height. “Don’t give him the satisfaction. “What’s the point?” Despite his galloping heart and fiery stomach.” Tony made a puffing sound that was supposed to be a bitter laugh. he managed not to sound terrified. Such an ass. In fact. wrists and elbows to the heavy wooden frame. Should I pull those up. “Isn’t that just like a wife. I ask questions because I want answers. he turned the screen to display what clearly was an email.” The intruder scowled as he clacked the computer keys. “I think you’ve made your point. A terrific writer. “How do you do it. “I’ll give you the same warning that I gave to Hubby. When he didn’t get an answer to his question.” Ellie stammered.” He returned his gaze to his computer screen. God I love that tough talk. Tone? You catch ’em redhanded in the act of doing wrong. “From two days ago. she wrote essentially the same things to her friends Sharon. Tone?” He pulled out a laptop computer. He appreciated his wife’s efforts to keep the tape loose. “You’re pretty tough with words. “Everybody comfy?” “Please don’t do this. too?” Tony rolled his eyes.” he said. You spied on us and found embarrassing things. no she wasn’t. When she was three-quarters restrained. The man with the gun insisted that she wrap each point of attachment so many times that there was no such thing as loose by the time she was done. Melissa and Sam. “Don’t you find him to be such an ass sometimes?” “No!” she exclaimed. Ellie? How do you process such genius day after day?” Tony’s ears went hot as his wife shot him a pleading look. I can only imagine how safe Amber must have felt growing up with a tough-guy writer as a father. aren’t you. “Who are you?” The intruder laughed too loudly. Tone. “Don’t beg.’ Those are the very words you used. He can be such an ass.” Tony’s stomach tensed. “I expect answers.
The intruder remained focused on the screen. “This isn’t about money, Tone. This is about retribution. If it was about money and blackmail, I’d have threatened to tell Ellie about Marcie.” The words landed like a fist in Tony’s gut. This was not possible. The look he shot to Ellie was supposed to scream innocence, but clearly it missed its mark. “Oh, Ellie,” the intruder said. “You don’t know about Marcie? I could show you pictures, text messages, emails, or credit card receipts. Which would you like?” Ellie stared, her face blank. Overwhelmed. “Marcie McLean?” she asked. “It’s not like he says,” Tony tried. “Oh, it’s exactly like I say,” the intruder said. “Jesus, Tone, this is a critical moment in your spiritual journey. One of you’s going to be dead in a few minutes. You don’t want to shed this mortal coil with a lie on your soul, do you?” Tony felt his world closing, strangling him. Somehow this man had accomplished a surveillance miracle. He knew things that no one could know, and he’d somehow obtained proof to back it all up. Tony’s mind raced. If he tried to deny, the man would make a fool of him. If he owned up . . . “It was only physical,” Tony said, finally. “It was never love.” Even as he spoke the words he knew how awful they sounded. Ellie’s face had hardened into something poisonous. “Marcie McLean.” The intruder made a clicking sound with his tongue. “If it helps, Ellie, I have no idea what he sees in her. You look way better naked than she does. Although I think you might want to have that mole on your tummy looked at.” “Stop!” shouted Ellie. The man finished making a connection in cyberspace and seemed pleased with himself. “Isn’t it remarkable how quickly a happy family can transform into something ugly? It’s almost like watching a smile turn to cancer, isn’t it?” Tony flexed his wrists, testing the strength of his bonds. They remained impossibly secure. “Why are you doing this?” The intruder looked to Ellie, his eyes wide. “Did you hear that? Did you hear that change in his voice? Did you hear the whine in Tone’s tone? I’m doing it because I can, Tony. I’m doing it to hurt you. To ruin things. Same reason a man brings a baseball bat into a china shop. I want to make pretty things ugly.” He spun the computer around again so they could see it. At first, it appeared to be a smear of black and gray, indiscernible. Then the angle shifted, and as the picture resolved, Tony’s insides dissolved. The intruder looked so proud. “So you see it,” he said. “You were quicker than I thought. Amber’s pretty while she sleeps, isn’t she?” Tony gaped, his mouth dry and his brain numb with fear. “What have you done?” “I haven’t done anything. At least not yet. Certainly nothing as terrible as what you’ve done.” The intruder leaned in closer. “I haven’t killed anyone. That’s more than you can say.” Tony reared back in his chair. “What are you talking about? I’m a writer, for God’s sake.” “A famous one at that,” the intruder agreed. He removed a phone from his pocket—the kind that doubles as a walkie-talkie—and pressed the button. “Okay, Max, we’re online now and I have their attention. Move the camera in closer so that our new friends can see just how close you are to lovely Amber.”
The image on the screen jiggled and jerked as the camera moved closer to the sleeping teen. Ellie gasped, “Jesus, Tony, what have you done?” “What?” How could she ask such a thing. “What have I done? Don’t listen to him. I never killed anyone.” “Always listen to me,” the intruder corrected. Into the radio, he said, “Pull the covers down so we can see her pretty nightie.” Tony shouted, “No! Stop! Please stop!” A man’s hand appeared in the screen, and with just two fingers it pulled down the blanket and sheet far enough to reveal the girl’s bare shoulder and pink teddy. “For God’s sake, stop! Just tell me what you want and I’ll do it. Please leave her alone.” The intruder regarded Tony for a moment, then keyed his microphone. “You can stop now, Max.” The hand retreated, but the cover remained down. “She’s drugged, of course,” the intruder explained. “What with all that money you’ve got, I know you thought you were doing her a favor by getting her an apartment to herself, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am. You made all of this much easier for my brother and me.” He looked to Ellie. “He should have listened to you, Ellie.” Tony felt light-headed. How did this madman know these things? He and Ellie had argued repeatedly over Amber’s safety while living alone, but it had always been in private. Jesus, they’d bugged his house! “You said I killed someone,” Tony said, hoping that something would make sense. “Who did I allegedly kill?” “Whom,” the intruder mocked, leaning on the M. “Whom did you allegedly kill?” He shook his head sadly, as if dealing with a dim-witted child. “There’s no alleged about it, Tone. You killed my father.” Ellie gasped. “I did no such thing! Ellie, he’s lying.” The intruder turned his attention back to the gym bag and withdrew a bag of fluid in a sealed plastic container, followed by a coil of intravenous tubing. “I’m hurt that you don’t remember, Tony. It sure was a momentous day for us. Maybe even for history. On that day, you proved literally that the pen is mightier than the sword. How can you not remember? It’s only been eighteen years. Do you really kill that many people that they run together?” Eighteen years. Something stirred in Tony’s memory. Something about a bad source. “My name is Frederick Reasoner,” the intruder said. He spelled it out for them, letter by letter, enunciating carefully. “Freddy to my friends and to people I’m going to kill. My father was Chad Reasoner. Ring a bell?” Oh, God yes. That was the guy. Tony felt the blood leaving his head. Ellie saw it in his face. “Did you kill his father?” “Of course not,” Tony snapped. But he knew the words had come too quickly; that he’d sounded dismissive. Disrespectful. Still, there was a larger point to be made. “The man committed suicide.” Freddy froze, his eyes hot. “You drove him to it,” he seethed. A long moment passed before he turned his attention back to the IV bag. “You reporters amaze me,” he said, inserting the tubing into port on the bottom of the bag. “Everyone else is accountable to you, yet you’re accountable only to yourself. You’re free to slander anyone—free to ruin anyone—so long as
unnamed sources tell you the lies you want to hear. Facts don’t matter so long as you get to see your name in the byline.” “That’s not what happened,” Tony insisted. His mind screamed at him to do something, but what? This madman was going to poison him to death! “What did happen?” Ellie asked him. Tony closed his eyes. If he enveloped himself in darkness, maybe he could make it all go away. “Tony?” “It was a long time ago, El.” He opened his eyes to look at his wife, praying that her look of betrayal and sadness would not be the one that he took with him into death. He tried to ignore Freddy’s ongoing preparations. “This man, Chase Reasoner—” “Chad Reasoner,” Freddy corrected. “Chad Reasoner, then. He was a high-ranking civilian with the Army, as I recall.” Freddy corrected again: “A civilian after twenty-seven years of active duty and retiring as a colonel.” “I’d be happy to let you tell the story,” Tony offered. “I’m sure you know it better than I.” “What are you doing?” Ellie snapped. Freddy’s eyes rolled up from the tangle of IV tubing to glare at Tony. He brought his phone to his lips and keyed the mike. “Hey, Max, Tony’s being a smart ass. How about you let us see Amber’s nipples?” Ellie gasped, “Oh, my God, no.” Freddy swiveled the computer so that they could see again. The hand eased the strap of the teddy down the girl’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” Tony said. “Please, God, I’m—” A finger hooked the fabric of Amber’s nightie and gently pulled it straight down. “—sorry. I was just—” When the fabric was down far enough, the hand touched her. “—frustrated by the question. It’s been—” “Stop it!” Ellie bellowed, making them all jump. “For heaven’s sake, she’s just a girl. She’s done nothing to you.” Freddy stopped her with a raised forefinger. “No,” he said. “That’s where you have it wrong. That’s what you’re not understanding. Amber is not just a girl. She’s Tony Emerson’s daughter.” He pointed the forefinger like a gun at Tony. “Daughter of the same man who taught me at age seven that innocence can’t buy justice. Not when a reporter is out to do damage.” He gathered up the mess of tubing into both hands. “Isn’t that right, Tony?” He moved carefully to keep track of the dangling ends as he edged over to Tony’s side of the table. “Tell Ellie what really happened.” On the verge of tears, she waited for it, her eyes pleading. Tony wracked his mind, trying to come up with the right thing to say. It’s hard to focus on details when a psychopath is readying a needle for your arm. Freddy seemed particularly interested in the bulging veins on the back of Tony’s hand, made even more pronounced by the tight binding of the duct tape. “I did a story,” he said. “It was a piece on government corruption. We got tipped by a source that Chad Reasoner was guilty of taking bribes and we printed it.” He winced as the needle found its mark and Freddy slid it into the vein.
jiggling the needle and extracting a yelp of pain. doesn’t he? You and your paper didn’t cause any of that. He remained quiet as he inserted the IV tube into the catheter and rolled the valve to get a drip going.” he said. and we did it responsibly. Isn’t that right. He hadn’t thought about any of this in years. “They lied because of a personal vendetta. Tony?” . I’m beginning to change my mind here. and it was an election year. “Perfectly harmless. “The sources were from the President’s opposition party.” He moved the needle closer still. He picked up the discarded needle from the table. but he knew it was useless.” “It wasn’t a mistake!” Freddy bellowed. “Tell all of it. “We had two corroborating sources. Tone. “It was an election year and you and your paper were backing the other guy. give him what he wants!” Tony locked his jaw. Ellie made an animal sound. He opened his mouth to deny it. “The sources were lying!” he blurted. hard enough for Tony to smell blood. he repeated.” Ellie offered.” Tony said.” Freddy said. Tony?” Tony wanted to lie. for God’s sake. isn’t it.“Don’t stop there. Looked through Tony. “I don’t remember how much money was involved. and the other side conspired to make him the scapegoat for taking bribes. “Maybe I shouldn’t kill you.” Freddy slapped him again. Chad Reasoner was an easy take-down because he was new to the political system. We published a retraction. but you printed a lie. “Don’t you dare call it a mistake! It was your duty to print the truth. “Personal vendetta!” Tony yelled. “I should have known better. “And the fact that a man commits suicide and leaves his family without a father is just so much collateral damage. fought the fear. The next blow Freddy delivered hit harder than the others. Freddy looked at Tony. but it was substantial.” “And it told the story that you wanted to tell. Maybe I should just blind you and leave you here. “Just saline for now. leaving the flexible catheter in the vein.” “I am telling all of it! We did our jobs to inform the public. was it.” “Mistakes are going to happen. “Except it wasn’t a mistake. igniting a flash of agony through his teeth. There. right? Any man whose sense of honor drives him to take his own life to protect his family from shame just has to be unstable.” Freddy slapped him in the face. Procurement was a hot issue at the time. “What are you putting in him?” Ellie demanded. We made a mistake. One stab each of this needle in your eyes and then in Ellie’s. but stopped himself. When Freddy didn’t retreat.” He steadied Tony’s head by grabbing a fistful of hair and brought the needle to within an inch of his face. It wasn’t your fault.” he said. and it nailed him in front of his ear. “Stop! Good God. “You know. This story played right into the theme of your editorial page.” Freddy helped. when in fact no bribes were ever taken. “I wrote a perfectly good story that turned out to be wrong. He could hear the defensiveness in his voice. Sure would put a new spin on the phrase eyewitness. ever the peacemaker. Why did your sources lie?” “Why does anyone lie?” Freddy drew back to deliver another slap. and the facts were all a little too convenient. didn’t it?” Tony closed his eyes and hung his head. what could be worth this? Tony. is that what you’re looking for?” Freddy steadied the IV connection with one hand while he withdrew the needle and tossed it onto the table. pure anguish.
Tony jumped as the intruder pierced the needle through the rubber cap. now it’s time for consequences.” Freddy positioned the needle against an injection port in the tubing. between the first and second fingers of Ellie’s left hand. “Please don’t. Max can do whatever he likes. Tony? This is murder. “What you see here is enough sedative to make you sleep forever. he picks someone at random and has a little fun. “I’m so. all on the front page.” he said. he tried not to see the disappointment in Ellie’s face.” With the chair and its occupant tipped back slightly more than forty-five degrees. Then the real guilty parties get to live their lives without consequence because they are protected sources. Tone.” Freddy mocked. This is what your husband calls ethics. “But don’t worry. so sorry. El. then gets to hide from the consequences because he was—” Freddy used finger quotes in the air. “We’re going on a little trip. Isn’t that what you call it when only the innocent die?” Ellie jumped reflexively as Freddy tipped her chair backward until its front legs were in the air. Isn’t that enough? Please don’t do this. “You make it sound simple. “So.When Tony opened his eyes and looked at the intruder. This isn’t collateral damage.” “Please don’t do this. It was anything but.” He leaned in till he was nose-to-nose with Ellie. You’ve hurt our daughter.” Tony was working very hard now not to throw up. “Nothing happened to them. Then.” Ellie begged.” He placed the barrel of the syringe. He knew where this was going.” Freddy turned to Ellie. Tony. when he feels a little randy. Freddy. but he was powerless to stop it. chilling his body and making it hard to breathe.” Freddy said. Fear enveloped him like a wet rubber shroud. Way to stand up.” He pointed back to the computer screen. “That’s not love. “For God’s sake. He attached one more length of IV tubing to the rig already taped to Tony’s arm.” Freddie said. And why is that?” “Because we never reveal our sources. She closed her fist to be 26 . Freddy stood to his full height again. “—only reporting what he had been told. cut-and-dried.” “Aha. Tone. “Sorry to startle you. is it. Please don’t do this. She only got a tenth of what we’re going to give you. “In fact.” He held the syringe up against the light so they all could see the liquid level. it’s the same drug we gave to Amber to make her so cooperative.” Tony started to tremble. One man drives another to suicide. That incident triggered a massive internal review. “You’ve made your point. and then loaded up a hypodermic syringe from a small vial of medicine.” Freddy moved behind Ellie and rested his hands on the back of her chair. connected to the IV tubing. So I guess by Tony’s standard. “Can’t you people come up with your own lines? Tell you what I’ll do.” “Navel gazing. what happened to those sources who lied to you after you revealed their names?” Tony’s heart hammered at a deadly rate and his breathing chugged. until she was elbow-to-elbow with her husband. he dragged her down the length of the table.” he said. “After five straight days of incisive investigative journalism that caused a good man to kill himself.” he said. “We never released their names. and then hides from the consequences. “Do you now see what your husband does? He gets paid to fabricate stories. you printed a three hundred word mea culpa three weeks later on page A5. please don’t do this. It was never love. “So. either. “This is what we’ve come to. You’ve humiliated him. though.
He stared at the syringe. This couldn’t be all there was.” Tony’s head screamed. “You only get one chance. You only get one chance. He knew what the noble father was supposed to do.” “No.” Tony’s stomach cramped hard. though. I’m going to give you complete control over the plunger. too. You just have to say please. I’m sure Tony has insurance. God. Ellie? Life is about choices. We have our baseline.” he whispered. Tony. your wife can be spared from killing you. think about what you’re doing.” He moved the computer monitor closer to Ellie and angled it so that Tony could not see the image.rid of it. what do you say. God. You’re running out of time.” Freddy said. It couldn’t be this easy.” “Ellie.” Freddy warned. Ellie. sweet Jesus.” she moaned. Amber is all about the future. that’s good. “God. Nice little body. “There you go. Let me put this in your hand. Tony. Tony knew what the right decision was. You can ruin one or end another. You can’t change your mind. It wasn’t fair.” She closed her eyes. no. filled with love and security. please. It’ll take thirty seconds or so. At any time. This seemed to be what he had been expecting. “Of course not. Ellie. Come on. “So. Be a man. But think of the suffering you could save. How often will you get a chance to prove your loyalty to your child?” Tony saw something change behind his wife’s eyes. all you have to do is say stop and push the plunger. Be careful. and Tony dies. his mouth screamed. Let’s see what it’ll take. “What do you say. He had an unfinished column due in .” Into his radio-phone Freddy said. but he didn’t dare look. “I’m sorry. Wetness spread on his trousers and chair. “Okay. He’s a pig. Ellie.” she whispered. Freddy shifted his gaze. and then it could all be taken away on the whim of a crazy man? That wasn’t right. You know. Give it thirty seconds. Jesus. This is almost over. “Don’t say it unless you mean it. though.” Tony said nothing. “Ellie. Step up.” Freddy smiled. you can stop it at any time.” Tony begged. “Oh. Your daughter won’t have to be raped. look at the screen. and Ellie and I will push the plunger and make it stop.” “But he’s a bad man. “Congratulations. too.” The poison felt warm as it hit his blood stream. Press that plunger in. “He doesn’t respect you. Hell. For all he knew. You can be a rich woman and save your daughter’s virtue at the same time. no!” Tony yelled.” He slid the syringe between her fingers again. he watched the movies and read books just like everyone else. “Oh. Her thumb depressed the plunger. “Oh. He watched the horror on Ellie’s face blossom and darken. Ellie? Want to kill him for what he’s done?” “No!” she insisted. “Don’t fight me. don’t. “Nicely done. “Start having fun with the girl. but there’ll be no going back. She shifted her grip on the syringe to put her thumb on the plunger. Say hi to Satan for me when you see him. Tony. You start the morning just like any other.” “Good looking girl. “Oh. Make it all go away. He cheated on you. He had things he had to do for crying out loud.
” Freddy clarified. He loves his own sorry life more than he does the future of his own daughter. no liquid remaining in the tube.” Tony opened his mouth to say something. I needed to teach you a lesson. Ellie honey. Tony felt his body flush hotter. He could see the blunt black rubber flat against the stop. Think about all we’ve learned in the last half hour. Jesus.” He left the IV line connected. “You had me worried. and whatever reaction he saw in Tony’s face made him throw back his head and laugh. If it was going to happen.” Tony struggled to make sense of it. almost convulsively. Yeah. You needed to know how quickly life can change. With his bag re-packed. It’s all in the after. she got the real stuff. but she wouldn’t make eye contact. I’m not sure what we would have done. want to trade? Thirty seconds. “Well. We know that Tony cares less about you. “Hardly. When they do. Freddy shrugged and started cleaning up his toys. He stood there. “It’s not poison. A hundred degrees. Nothing changed. He wasn’t ready to leave the world. “A lesson about destroying lives. Hey. the question on her face obvious. then. She was sobbing and pleading with Freddy to make the pain go away. 28 . How long could thirty seconds last? Tony gasped for air. Ellie’s gaze shot to the computer screen. I got your pain right here. As long as you held out.two days.” he said.” Tony threatened. As the panic diluted to mere terror.” Another laugh. Who was this nutjob to think that he had the right to make it happen? But the plunger had fallen. Two hundred. Ellie. And you’re willing to kill him outright if the circumstances fit. but not enough to hurt her. Tony. I worried that I was going to run out of bluff. I think we learned a whole lot. “I’m not a killer. and I’m not a rapist. What the hell? “It’s just more saline. he bounced it lightly in his hand. “A bluff? All this was a bluff?” Freddy continued cleaning. my God. breathing rapidly. but words wouldn’t come. one loving image to take with him. It would all be over in thirty seconds. He looked to Ellie for one last glance. and everything terrible that has happened to me in my life is your fault.” Tony felt himself breathing heavily again. Once we had her naked. smug with his arms crossed while Ellie’s head bobbed with wracking sobs. But it didn’t happen. He was almost finished cleaning up. I’m a teacher with a lesson plan. Tony realized that Freddy was smiling at him. “Oh. Want to trade? At least you get a tomorrow. You needed to understand that death racks up an enormous debt that can only be paid by the survivors. I’ve arranged for a delivery to the house tomorrow morning that will require your signature. You’re insane. as if to stockpile oxygen and stave off the inevitable. it hurt. Burning up. Collateral damage. please God let it happen soon. That’s where the real pain is. I’m sure they’ll hear you. Tony was going to die trussed to a chair and soaked in his own piss. than he does about his libido.” “This was a lesson?” Ellie mused aloud. “Okay.” “You’re going to prison. Ellie. That’s what Freddy had said. That was the word she used. He felt hot. I’m a pissed off orphan. babe. Pain. they can cut you free. If you shout loud enough.
“It doesn’t have to be. It’s gone. too. Tony told himself there had to be something left to salvage. It’s over.” Tony’s mind raced. You can try. They could make this work. but surely there was a way.” she snapped.” He left. “Don’t. “Don’t say a word.” Tony felt pressure behind his eyes.“No I’m not. In the real world. I’m sorry. the Emersons sat in silence for a long while. forget it. and there’s been no physical harm done to her.” He started walking toward the front door then stopped. and it might take counseling.” . There had to be justice. A word. unable to move. I sure would love to hear what you two talk about after I’m gone. Homicidal. Then he remembered the surveillance. “Ellie. That would be the key— “And if you’re thinking of tracking me down by the surveillance I’ve done on you. We can get counsel—” Her eyes turned hot. It couldn’t end like this. but I think you’ll be frustrated. “That’s a shame. It might take time. Amber will have no memory of any of this. If we—” “No. but in the shared trauma of the evening. I’ve got unnamed sources who will swear that I was with them tonight. you need evidence. Alone now. Say. Damage was done.
but. set against the earth. So bloody what. a particularly rotund specimen of the breed. he’s dead now. Tom’s once fiery blue eyes gazed vacantly now and his blond hair was matted green with pond scum. He couldn’t stand how the townspeople slapped his back and feigned their smiles as if they needed reassurance that one of their own. wrapped like a present in a pink silk dressing gown. As he examined the body. No escaping that.” he said. his spectacles slipping down his nose in the heat. The coroner. flute in hand. So he’d survived.The Angel in the Garden Clare Langley-Hawthorne Wyndham. Vera’s sister Alice stood a couple of feet from her. There was no medal for that. While the cold marble Pan was caught mid-dance. The heat he could endure – he’d dreamed about it enough standing waist deep in mud in the bitter cold of France – but it was the torpor that hung heavy over his life that sapped the remaining strength from him. one of the few of their own to return. Even the gardener. Pants that would have once been considered risqué now seemed little more than a shabby reminder of ‘women’s work’ during the war and no one gave a toss about that anymore. recognizing his childhood friend. There would be few tears shed in Wyndham for one who had refused to heed the Empire’s call to fight. Victoria. Duff looked down at the cracked. The dirt road that led to the Manley property shimmered in the heat. was still wearing her gardening clothes – khaki flared pants and short sleeved white shirt. Across the way the two sisters stood. Duff turned away as Alice began to sob. Her pale blond hair hung limp around her tiny. dove-like face. The edge of his dark blue uniform jacket now flapped uselessly against his side – like a disused flag no one had bothered to bring down. A week before Christmas – his first Christmas home in five years – and all he could think about was how much he hated being here. The hat was tied with a ratty white ribbon and there were grass stains on her shirt. It was nearly four o’clock and still no relief. her straw hat perched on her head concealing her eyes. the taller and older of the two. looked embarrassed by all the excitement. Ten minutes was all it took before the coroner stood up and declared: “Poor 30 . December 1919 A cheer went up as the body finally emerged from the reed-tangled depths of the Manley sisters’ ornamental pond. dry ground. Duff thought. Even in death Tom looked like a hard-nosed battler – a typical trade union man full of brawn and bluster. Duff unbuttoned his police uniform jacket with his one good hand and stepped forward as the body was dragged and turned over. Vera. the scorching late afternoon sun rendered the sisters dark. He winced as his eyes adjusted to the ferocious glare of the sun. Duff rubbed the stump where his left hand once poked from his sleeve. Well. shadow images behind the stone statue that graced the center of the pond. “It's Tom Renton. leaning against his rake at the rear of the house. he did not need to witness any more. Constable Duff McManus remained stony faced. as far as Duff was concerned. crouched over the body. There was also no medal for the poor sod who had drowned in the Manley’s pond. He’d seen too many corpses sink into the mud to triumph over the piddling efforts of the local firemen to pull one unknown man from the water. immobile effigies. next to the sandstone wall. having lost both his job at the local foundry and having spent six months in prison with hard labor for associating with members of the International Workers of the World. Tom had already paid dearly for his anti-conscription beliefs. The world had a surfeit of tears. remained unscathed.
placing it on the stones to dry.” “Never heard of it. Muddy and water damaged he could hardly make any of it out but it looked like a page from a book. “Still doesn’t answer why Tom was here or why he was carrying a page from whatever the bloody hell you called it. When he blinked the illusion vanished.” he said.” the coroner advised as some shards of brown glass fell. but you’d have to ask the sisters.sod drowned. Duff gingerly dropped the handkerchief in the brown paper bag.” the coroner observed “What the hell was Tom doing here in the first place?” Duff asked. “Better get the autopsy over and done with right away. It was a habit he’d developed as his stomach succumbed to the forces of his wife’s cooking as well as gravity. The coroner leaned over his shoulder. you know the Sarge will kill us both if we balls this one up. Did the Manley sisters not realize the futility of keeping an ornamental pond in the height of an Australian summer? His eye caught sight of a piece of paper caught beneath the algae. The old guy would go on and on about it after he’d had a few beers.” Duff said. “You what?” Duff answered blankly. for a moment. “Suicide?” It would certainly make his life easier. It was he who had left them the Wyndham property. he fancied he heard the sound of machine gun fire in the distance. “Looks like glass from a medicinal bottle. “But the wife was planning a nice cold tongue salad for dinner.” A flash of reflected sunlight on the watch face made him feel disoriented and.” the coroner protested.” Duff walked to the edge of the pond and looked down at the brown sludge that passed for water this time of year.” “I didn’t even know they had a brother. “Tell her to keep it on ice – Come on. torn from the book.” “Debrett’s…” The coroner squinted as he tried to read the text. “Must be an old edition though…see here.” . “Not unless he managed to whack himself on the backside. “Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage – you know the one that lists all the best families in England.” The old guy he was referring to was the Manley sisters’ uncle. The coroner continued examining the body. The coroner shrugged as he hitched up his trousers.” “Accident?” Duff asked. but he’s dead. On cue his stomach rumbled. The Manley sisters are true ladies back in England you know – father’s the Earl of something or other. He rolled the body onto its side and pulled back the top of the trousers to reveal the mottled purple and blue skin beneath. Duff flipped open his pocket watch awkwardly. says the heir apparent is William Manley. He hung over the edge and pulled it free.” Duff muttered. “I reckon he’s been in the water about ten hours – give or take. “Careful. which he handed to Duff to place in an evidence bag. He checked but there was nothing in Tom’s pockets except a sodden white handkerchief. Duff thought of the empty table that awaited him – another silent meal over a chipped mug of tea and a stale bread roll with tinned ham just depressed him further. “Debrett’s. Passchendaele I think it was.” the coroner added. “That places time of death sometime in the early hours of this morning. A verdict of suicide and he could be home by tea. “Looks like a listing for the Manley family.” the coroner said.
but I need your report as soon as practicable. “Who told you that?” Duff demanded. He’d seen enough of the same drifting down the hallways of Stoneyhurst convalescent home. but the bruising could have been easily made by something like a shovel. determined to stay alive even if it meant stamping out all feeling. Ghosts of men. Vera turned. all grief. The younger woman was still leaning against Vera’s shoulder. but he’ll probably deny it. He noticed Vera starting to lead Alice away. incoherent and strange. “You probably don’t need look too much further than those two for your answers.” The coroner signaled to his men and the body of Tom Renton was carried off by stretcher.” “What do you mean?” Duff asked. “I mean our little young pink puff over there is not averse to a little morphine in the morning.” Duff stared back across to where Vera stood next to her sister Alice. still” – the coroner sniffed – “There’s no accounting for taste – not these days. The only difference between Duff and the likes of Billy was that his mind still marched on. People avoided him in the streets but Duff recognized him for what he was. “Yes. if you get my drift. Everyone in Wyndham considered Billy to be a bit of a half-wit.” Duff’s eyes followed the coroner’s gaze to the garden shed and then moved quickly to where the gardener stood.” “Nonetheless. and he hurried over. his face starting to flush as it always did when something unsavory about women was concerned. No good me bandying about allegations of drug orgies if it turns out drugs had nothing to do with Tom’s death. and all semblance of the past. “I’ll have to examine the body more thoroughly of course. but her cries had subsided to an occasional hiccup. “I’ll talk to them. Vera’s mask of self-control slipped for just a moment. Billy’s dark hair sagged over the husk of his gaunt face. neither my sister nor I heard or saw anything. On the rare occasions that he ever spoke. One look at her eyes told me all I needed to know. “Tom was a burly bloke but a blow from behind could have easily sent him head first into the pond. “Maybe it was the gardener who whacked him with a shovel. The gardener may have even held his head down –” “And the motive to do all this would be what? Anger that Tom had trampled his petunias?” Duff’s patience had worn thin. I’ll have to speak to you both – and the gardener too. “Could have been knocked unconscious and drowned.” “And then what?” Duff demanded. The coroner was at his most irritating when he tried to play detective. Though I find it hard to believe either sister would associate with the likes of Tom Renton. what is it constable?” Beneath the petulance in Vera’s well-to-do pommy voice Duff detected a tremor. Perhaps our Tommy here was her delivery boy.” The coroner pointed meaningfully to the glass fragments. everything came out stammered.” “Is that really necessary? I assure you.“Who dares speak of the past anymore… though –” the coroner paused as he cast a trenchant glance in the Manley sisters’ direction. her straw hat still concealing her expression. “Wait up!” Duff called out. Shellshocked men.” the coroner mused. of course. “I need to ask you all a few questions. The coroner walked to the lorry to accompany the body back to the morgue still muttering theories under his breath.” 32 . “You can ask Doctor Fisher.
while Duff. “Why?” Vera said.” Vera replied coolly. No one had been waiting to help him pick up the pieces of his shattered life when he returned from the war. my sister is in shock. Duff felt his face redden again. he’d had little experience of women.” Reginald puffed. her dressing gown crumpling around her like a discarded ribbon. there now. His own mother moved to Melbourne just so she didn’t have to face him – though no doubt she kept the photograph of Harry. with his missing limb and scarred body was little more than an uncomfortable reminder of the reality of war which no one wished to see. smoothing his moustache down repeatedly as if he was stroking a cat. Owens. Barely twenty when he left for the war.” Duff said coldly. “Can you not come back tomorrow morning?” Her tone was the crisp upper-class way people spoke to their servants. You know Tom Renton was considered a coward and a traitor. petal. A yell from beyond the gardens caused them both to turn round. It was only a matter of time before something like this would happen… Memories are long round here…These ladies could not possibly be involved. Duff’s older brother. on the mantel above the fireplace. “I think . Mr. Out of the corner of his eye Duff observed Billy. Vera led Duff inside the cool dark interior of the house. “Thank God you’re here! What an awful. rather than more.” He adjusted his wingtip collar and fancy knotted tie as he continued to catch his breath. Reginald flushed. awful.“Then you’d better come inside.” Vera said. No one in Wyndham thought to question why the sisters brought their gardener out with them from England. “Alice and I have nothing to hide. told Reginald in a tiny voice that he’d best come back later. “I’m here now – there’s nothing to worry about. angered by his own embarrassment. Reginald walked around as a living tribute to those who fought for King and Country. hand still poised over his diamond-encrusted tie pin.” “Then they won’t mind answering a few questions will they. “It was good of you to come. Duff noticed with petty satisfaction that the heat had caused a rash to form beneath Reginald’s collar. “Reggie!” Alice cried. still standing by the sandstone wall. Constable. approaching above the hedgerows.” Reginald replied. “Constable. sympathetic towards them.” Vera said. “As you can see. “Don’t you think you should have a lawyer with you?” he asked. Wyndham’s resident barrister and war hero. His eyes stared blankly at the ground. The entrance hall to the Manley house was wallpapered in opulent green and gold stripes. The son of a wealthy sheep farmer and product of a prestigious Melbourne boarding school. next to the telegram she still refused to open. Duff saw the wellproportioned torso of Reginald Owens. Alice leaned against the balustrade before sinking to the bottom step of the staircase. “I think it’s obvious that neither of these fine young women could have had anything whatsoever to do with this unfortunate incident. Duff ignored Reginald as he followed Vera. trailing behind them both. the gardener. but I think we had best handle this on our own. business…” She flung an outstretched arm toward him.” Duff answered. “There. Reginald’s face was flushed beneath his tan as he hastened toward them. Duff guessed they just couldn’t bear to abandon a broken man and it made him less. thinking that Tom knew exactly what to call Reginald – a capitalist boil on the arse of the proletariat. “A man’s been murdered. while Alice.” Vera walked away leaving Reginald standing on the path. confronting him with pale blue eyes.
Soft and rubicund in her silk dressing gown.” she sobbed. Her eyes were closed and her lips parted.that’s reason enough for urgency. As he entered she gestured for him to sit.” she insisted sharply. “You keep thinking the worst of him but I swear he wouldn’t have told…” “Wouldn’t have told what?” Duff asked in confusion. as if thinking of some far off land. The pencil in Duff’s hand hovered in mid air. “Oh Vera. a place yearned for but almost forgotten. her head propped up on a silk cushion. “That’s what I’m here to find out. Her gaze then returned to him. They were renowned across Western Victoria. “I thought Reginald Owens”– he began but Vera’s expression stopped him short. darling…” She fluffed up the pillow behind Alice’s head. “Why?” Duff asked. Vera got to her feet and crossed to Alice. Duff gave her a respectful head start. disoriented as if her internal map. She tucked the strands back. “He wanted to marry me…” Alice said. The ornamental pond in which Tom Renton’s body had been dredged was. suddenly looking much younger and more vulnerable. darker. how could you think such a thing?!” 34 . more burnished than her sister’s was coming loose from the chignon that had been coiled at the nape of her neck. “That’s just the drugs talking. not just for being a ridiculously inappropriate replica of an English manor garden but also for the museum worthy sculpture collection (most of which were considered ‘lewd and distasteful’ by the local Women’s Temperance Union). “Because Tom was working class?” “Oh.” She didn’t wait for his response before escorting Alice down the corridor. He felt uncomfortable perching on such a finely carved chair – like a bear at a circus trying to balance on a foot stool. that was never it…never it at all!” Alice exclaimed. she looked like a migratory bird blown off course. “You can come in now.” she said in a small. but Alice shook her head.” Vera interjected. now displaced. “Constable. “Let me at least get Alice settled and comfortable. “I think Alice is merely referring to the morphine. You can then follow us into the front parlor and ask your questions. in Duff’s mind. Alice was lying on a green and yellow upholstered chaise longue. Her hair. “He never meant any harm. “Marriage was totally out of the question.” Vera’s chin quivered as she pulled off her straw hat. his harsh words clearly hitting home. gazing out of window at the gardens once more. “Who could do such a vile thing to poor Tommy?” Duff sat down next to Alice and took out his notebook and pencil. childish voice. algae choked cesspool that smelt almost as bad as a newly dug trench but which bred mosquitoes rather than rats by the thousands. During the summer it turned into little more than a muddy. had been lost forever. She looked up at him as he entered the room and her red-rimmed eyes momentarily lost focus. the greatest folly. “I can’t bear people thinking that Tom was the sort who would hurt our family in anyway – Oh.” Vera called from the doorway. Vera…Vera.” “He…he…” Alice’s eyes filled with tears.” “Excuse me?” Duff said.
“Tom just couldn’t understand.” “And left?” A small nervous pink tongue emerged from between her lips and licked the corners of her mouth. “I think.” Duff answered.” “She seems lucid enough to me. “I think I’d better take Alice upstairs to lie down.er…relationship with Tom?” Duff asked. Alice nodded. Alice leaned over and grasped him by the shoulder. That’s why he tore that page out – said our kind could go to hell for all he cared…” “So tell me. “Alice could never have harmed Tom. this line of questioning is absurd!” Vera protested. “Reggie had no idea. What struck him as he paced the room was the total absence of photographs or family mementos. Alice?” Alice’s face turned to her sister horror.” Alice answered.” Alice said weakly. “Why should he? Alice’s infatuation was bound to pass. Tom couldn’t understand that there was no way I could marry him. “Must you be so cruel?” Vera hovered on the edge of a reply but remained silent. “Oh Vera. That’s why we fought. He saw no signs of violence in here at least – though given the estimated time of Tom’s death at least a couple of hours had passed before the Manley sisters reported the discovery of the body – time enough for any physical evidence to have been cleaned or removed. moving her hand away.” “How did Reginald Owens feel about your. “I’m sure the Constable has no more interest in your love life than I do. “We had a terrible row.” Vera said quickly.” “Oh Vera. yet alone use it to kill. “It’s clear she’s in no fit state to answer any further questions. “What about Billy. the gardener?” Duff asked. still puzzled. Most families in mourning had at least some form of reminder – even his own mother kept a . “Constable. “We should continue this conversation later.. “It’ all right Alice. “So you and Tom fought the last time you saw each other?” Duff probed further. struggling to untangle some of the many possible strands of motive. that’s all.” Duff opened his mouth to object but as he saw Alice’s limp frame collapsed against the cushions he knew she was right.” she said slowly. For a family that kept a copy of Debrett’s there was no evidence of their heritage or estates in England.” she whispered.Vera’s expression remained inscrutable. past the dining room and billiard room. “Vera?” she queried. What little strength remained in Alice had been exhausted.” Vera said swiftly. “Did he think Tom was trying to hurt you when you were fighting.” “Just before five.. While Vera accompanied Alice to her bedroom Duff took the opportunity to scrutinize the room more closely.” One look at Alice’s tiny frame confirmed that. Where were the grandiose family portraits? Where were the nostalgic images of their English home and gardens? There was not even a photograph of the brother who died in the war. He doubted Alice could even lift a shovel. “When did you last see Tom?” “He arrived about midnight. He wandered down the hallway. after the effects of the morphine have worn off.” Vera said.” Duff asked. “He didn’t see did he?” She fell back against the pillows in a pale faint.
signed by Reginald Owens.photograph of him taken in uniform before he left for war. Written along the band of white at the bottom was Captain William Manley. Perhaps it was the row of small miniatures along one wall of watercolor rendered flower fairies and elves. you mean? Well. “Then why don’t you explain why you feel the need to protect them both?” “Alice and Billy. she was close to hysteria. before stepping into a small study at the back of the house. “I can easily obtain a search warrant if that’s what you want. You’ve seen Billy – he’s barely capable of tying his shoelaces. The room reminded him of his own abandoned childhood. Soft strains of music filtered down from above as Vera turned on the gramophone to soothe her sister upstairs. “You have to let me talk to Billy!” she cried. “No photographs anywhere in the house and yet she appears with this…” The photograph was of a young man dressed in khaki. Arthur Conan Doyle.” “Oh. pupils dilated. Duff looked up.” Duff said. “Don’t deny your sister this happiness. Duff wandered further along the hallway. you are thinking I am covering up for either of them you are mistaken. Alice abruptly appeared in the doorway. Edgar Rice Burroughs. brandishing a photograph in her hands as if it was a weapon. who would?” Duff’s throat constricted. Whatever I have to do I will” – There were no other fragments of the letter to be found.” Vera said quietly. or maybe it was the choice of literature he noted as he scanned the bookshelves.” Vera said. His reaction caught him by surprise. He knew instantly that this was Vera’s domain. He could never murder a man. On the floor was a crumpled letter that had not quite made it into the waste paper basket. I think we both know he’d be quite capable of doing what needs to be done. though he was hard-pressed to explain why. when his body was still whole and innocent. Billy was clearly suffering shell-shock but was he dangerous enough to require incarceration in a mental hospital? Duff rummaged in the waste paper basket for any sign of Vera’s reply but all he found was a torn corner of a letter in Tom Renton’s handwriting.” “No. collar bones protruding.” Duff wasn’t sure whether to interpret this as a warning or a consolation. “If. Eyes wide. released from Alice’s grasp floated like a sepia and white feather to the floor. Miss Manley. The sheer simplicity of her loyalty was touching. Duff bent over and picked it up. “You must think me very dense. Having shed her pink dressing gown she stood in a flimsy white cotton nightgown. “Do you always go through people’s rubbish?” Vera asked from the doorway. was a handwritten note saying “It’s the only way. It was a typed letter from a specialist at an asylum in Melbourne. He recognized the sprawling script from his schooldays. if I didn’t. Duff bent over and picked it up. “If you don’t let me see him. Henry Rider Haggard. Duff could see the fresh red needlepricks on white flesh of her inner arms. The photograph. “It’s nothing. I swear I’ll tell! He has to know that I loved Tom…I loved him…” Vera caught hold of Alice’s hand but Duff had already seen the flash of panic as it flared white across her face. however. Royal West Kent Regiment but there was no mistaking who it was. It’s what they trained us to do. if you think I can’t see the bleeding 36 . There was something sadly wistful about everything he observed. Across it.
of the noise of machine gun fire .” Vera continued.obvious. Duff saw a flock of squawking sulphurcrested cockatoos arise from the top of a gum tree and he envied their ability to flee. He only joined up because father insisted” –– there was a sudden flash of anguish in her eyes –– “but father was quick to disown him afterwards. “It’s alright. We have to protect Billy’s secret.” Duff replied. would soon be trapped in his own nightmare of guts and barbed-wire. when he saw what Billy had become. he went to speak with Billy for a final time. “I know. His interview with Billy yielded nothing either – poor sod’s mind was addled enough as it was. Billy shook his head as soon as he saw Duff approach. “What would be the point of that?” As he was leaving the Manley gardens. She was hardly the sort to fall apart. no one would have been any the wiser as to Billy’s true identity.” Duff answered.” As he walked with Billy along the garden path. as they stood on the steps leading up to the house. “There’s not enough evidence. “Bearing the burdens of man?” *** A thorough search of the house and gardens the next morning failed to reveal the implement used to hit Tom in the back.” “They keep coming you know. He knew tonight he. Duff was not surprised.” Vera reached out and steadied herself in the doorway. you know. If it hadn’t been for Alice’s love for Tom. Thought he was just a coward. There was no sign of blood.” Billy rocked back and forth on his heels. of grave-like trenches filled with limbs and skulls beneath the mud. “Did Tom find out your little family secret? Was that what the row was really about this morning? Did Billy overhear? You really cannot protect him any longer. Duff could hear her anguished sobs even as she stumbled along the hallway. “Isn’t that what we women are good at?” she said quietly. no sign of anything to explain how Tom came to drown in the ornamental pond. “They never stop. mate. “I know mate.” Billy repeated. “We had to bring our brother with us. The noise never stops. “They just keep coming.” Billy said bleakly. Duff shook his head. well. “No trouble now. her grief at his death.” Duff shifted his weight uneasily.” “Are you going to expose who he really is?” Duff shrugged. Morphine’s all that keeps her going. “Billy would have been shot if he was discovered and you can see the state he’s in…That’s why none of us can ever marry. “No need to worry. As for Alice. A family used to secrets would find covering this up no different. rhythmically. “Don’t you think you’ve carried both their burdens long enough?” Duff asked. even now. Compassion was something he thought he had left behind on the battlefield. Alice rushed from the room.” Duff recognized the sounds of his own nightmares. like Billy. she never recovered from the death of her fiancée in 1915. “We knew we had to get out of England. Vera and he remained transfixed. “Are you going to arrest him?” Vera asked.” Duff replied.” Duff could have sworn he saw her blinking back tears but Vera’s self-restraint kept them in check. Billy was a deserter.
and artillery that never ceased. Before he left he took one last look at the house. Vera was standing at the window watching. The sun blazed above, turning the sandstone white against the blue of the sky. Billy shielded his eyes against the glare. “I saw her once,” he whispered. “Above no-man’s land. She glowed like an angel.” Duff grunted. He’d heard the stories of course – the Angel of Mons was a myth they had all longed to believe – but he’d never seen any bloody angels over his battlefields. He envied Billy his woman in white, the sister who protected him and Alice. But as the fierce midday sun beat down, as Vera remained standing in the window, he finally understood the truth of what had happened to Tom. He may have recognized the burden she had borne but until now, he realized, he had never understood what women were capable of after all.
Kathryn Lilley Dreaming of birth causes death. From an old wives’ tale The letter arrived on the morning of my baby shower, via snail mail. It was from my mother (who didn’t have a computer and refused to pick up a phone). A crisis involving my sister, her scrawled note announced. As usual, Mother’s communication was short on details. I had my own dibs on crises—eight months into a complicated pregnancy, unemployed, with a husband serving overseas—but her letter short-shrifted those details, too. Bottom line: Mother wanted me home. Technically, Six Mile was no longer my home. Spiritually, it never had been. I’d escaped —for good, I’d thought—the week after high school graduation. Clutching a promise of a paid internship in one hand and a scholarship to Duke in the other, I hadn’t looked back in seven years. Most small towns seem changed when ex-patriots return after long absences; Six Mile, South Carolina wasn’t one of those places. Recumbent in the shadow of its namesake mountain, my childhood hometown seemed just as small, just as unevolved as I remembered it. After the second stoplight and the Baptist Church the hamlet tapered off quickly into rural depression. King Cotton had disappeared overseas after the Big War, replaced by a succession of crop trials, none of which had taken root. Most of the local farmers had changed livelihoods or given up, judging by the number of frame houses and barns that were weathering from neglect. At the end of its long, packed-clay driveway, my family’s home resembled those failed enterprises—not yet abandoned, but resonating defeat. The rambling tin roof had a tracery of rust, and showed no sign of the replacement that was to have been funded with a check I’d mailed a few months back. I sensed, but couldn’t see, my sister Audrey. As always, she’d be crouched by the window of her second-floor bedroom, watching as I parked the spleen-shaped Prius next to the family pickup. My mother, Beryl, opened the door as I raised my fist to knock. She bounced a glance off my shoulder to scan the highway, then brought it back to rest on my humongous belly. “Shouldn’t be driving at eight months.” “It was the only way I could get here. Hi Mother.” As we air-brushed cheeks she said, “The roofers are coming next month, in case you were wondering what happened to your check money.” As she led the way inside, more words drifted over her shoulder: “I can’t deal with her anymore, Lucy,” she said. “It’s too much. I’m going to send her away unless you do something.” Send my sister Audrey away, she meant. The front parlor smelled like lemon oil, with a sour undernote of feline. Pushed against the wall, the rattan furniture and fringe of desiccated palmettos suggested a cheap remake of Casablanca. Everything was frayed at the edges, like the battered Oriental rug with its constellation of white pick marks: the legacy of claws. My mother bred Persian cats. Through the archway that opened onto the hall, I could see Audrey’s bare feet resting on the stairs. She’d moved her perch. “Audrey,” Mother called to her. “You ignoring your sister? Come say hello to Lucy.”
Feet shuffled on wood. Audrey entered the parlor, head down, keeping her gaze focused on the rug’s design of blue diamonds. She navigated her feet carefully to avoid stepping on them. Two diamonds short of the chair where I’d taken a seat, her toes stopped. To greet her, I made a token butt-wiggle in lieu of heaving myself up from the chair again. Heading toward the kitchen, mother paused to grimace at my sister’s dirty toenails. “Put some damned shoes on,” she said. “Unless you liked picking out splinters last week.” Audrey was 30 years old to my 25, but she’d always seemed like my younger sister. By the time I knew enough about autism to know she needed special education, she’d seemed lost. After I left Six Mile for Duke, she’d disappeared inside herself, submerged beneath the bubbled surface of an unknowable realm. I felt guilty for leaving. Audrey continued staring at the floor; by the rapt stillness of her posture, I knew she was slowly building up to a sentence. I waited. Finally: “Sarabelle told me you shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t have come home, Lucy.” “Sarabelle? Who—what are you talking about?” But even as I asked the question, the answer came in slow progression, like a single, chill droplet that was trickling along the spine of something half-forgotten, something that brooded in silence deep inside my memory. It had been there all along, hidden; but now I felt its cambered haunches begin to stir. I knew. “Sarabelle told you I shouldn’t come home? She just told you that?” To her barely perceptible nod I said, “I don’t know about this, Audrey. When you say—.” My sister had already wheeled away, headed for the stairs. Audrey didn’t finish conversations she didn’t like—she simply dematerialized. The baby seemed to feel the sudden twist of apprehension in my gut. A defensive heel jabbed into my ribs, as if to escape. * ** Sarabelle. The name hadn’t crossed my mind in years. She’d been a fanciful creation of my childhood—a “haint,” the old-timers of Six Mile would say. When I was five years old, I’d been convinced that a strange creature named Sarabelle was living at the bottom of the old orchard well. I’d long since forgotten the silly phantasm of my youth, but obviously Audrey hadn’t. That was disturbing—even more disturbing was the idea of a haint telling me not to come home. Maybe I’d heard my sister wrong, or maybe this was her way of expressing resentment for my having left her behind. She was such an impossible read. When I joined Mother in the kitchen, I winced at the sight of a white Persian cat grooming herself on the counter; some of that floating dander would season our dinner plates later that evening, I knew from past experience. Mother didn’t look up from the carrots she was chopping with a chef’s knife at the counter. “People are coming next week from Clemson,” she said. “To evaluate Audrey for a group home. They better take her.” I cast a wary glance at the baseboard register, fully aware that conversations carried through the air ducts to the second floor. As children, Audrey and I had often huddled by an upstairs vent, listening in on grown-up talk. Audrey was sure to be hunched in the same old spot,
listening to mother and me discuss her future. “Let’s take this outside, okay, Mother?” “We won’t ‘take this’ anywhere,” she snapped. “Audrey knows what’s what. She’s not stupid, that one. The doctors say she’s autistic? I say she’s an overage brat. Bad luck of the draw she was.” Grabbing a carrot by its leafy end, she beheaded it with a firm chop. I felt a surge of the old resentment, the helpless rage that used to engulf me when I was growing up in this place. I had to escape. “I’ll be back in a minute.” I turned away and pushed belly-first through the screen door that gave onto the orchard. It yielded with a groan that was louder and rustier than I remembered. To get to the peach groves I had to pass the storage shed that housed my mother’s “good” car, an ancient brown Mercedes. Mother had always refused to drive it for some reason. It stayed in the shed, neglected, just like the orchard—and we—had been neglected. I’d hated the orchards when I was little. I’d developed a dark fear of them after watching The Wizard of Oz, began looking over my shoulder for the trees to sprout monster-faces, to start pelting me with peach stones. I didn’t like the way their rows seemed to narrow as I progressed; it felt as if I were being drawn into the suffocating point of a triangle. Anchoring the tip of the illusory triangle was the orchard well. It wasn’t much to look at: a three-foot wide circle of piled stones, covered by a wooden lid that had once been painted green but now weathered bare. According to local lore, the underground spring that fed the well was considered sacred by the Native Americans who had once populated the area. I got into big trouble over the well when I was five years old. Against strict orders one day I clambered onto the wide, round-cut board that covered the shaft; I sat cross-legged upon it, brushing my fingers along its woody-green rough until they caught splinters. Gradually I became bolder in my forays. One August afternoon I managed to struggle back the lid. Peering into the well shaft, I could just make out a crescent of mottled, light-gray stone, which quickly dissolved into deep. A whiff of something dank—not unpleasant—rose from the well’s core, perforated with citrus. It smelled like fermented peach juice. I used to drop pebbles into the well, then larger objects, trying to judge how far it was to the water below. Sometimes I’d hear noises—splashing sounds and odd murmurs—coming from deep within the well shaft. I’d hoot and holler into the void, trying to rouse an echo. One day I yodeled, “Hello-o-o-o…is anybody there?” Silence. Then, a reverberation began deep inside the well; it became lighter in pitch as it flickered upward through the shaft. A taut modulation sprang past me to the surface—it sounded like a whistling yo-yo being snapped back on a string. I got excited. Something was down there. Something amazing, like…like a critter, maybe! An older head would have suggested that what I’d heard was only the croaking of a frog or a bit of mud sliding into the water; but my five-year-old’s brain decided that I’d heard a well critter. Case closed. I developed a personality profile for my mysterious critter, complete with a name: Sarabelle. Instead of pebbles, I started dropping bits of my leftover lunch sandwiches into the well for her. I was sure I could hear a frenzy of her limbs as she went after the crumbs—peanut butter-and-jelly seemed to be her favorite. Audrey was terrified of Sarabelle. When I dragged her to the well one day to introduce her to my critter, Audrey bolted, screamed that Sarabelle was dangerous, that I should stay away from the well. I told Audrey she was being a baby. Eventually Sarabelle spoke to me. It happened only once, on my last-ever visit to the
mother had come screaming in from the back yard. I barely recognized our neighbor. not even when she was whipping Audrey with a forsythia branch—her standard punishment for “acting up. She stood in the shaded gap between two peach trees. No fear. Go back. and spilled out my fears about Sarabelle and the well. Be careful be careful be care—” The force of my mother’s scream hit my eardrum before the sound tore through it. hateful words. I envisioned him floating through the front door in a giant. And from then on. I’d never seen her face so angry. but she’d retreated into her private cave. My mother was bent low from the waist. I had my own suspicions about what was happening to the well cover (Sarabelle did it) but couldn’t voice them. the old woman. A patch of light drifted across her face. My sister’s reply reached across the dark void. staring at the flimsy wooden lid of the orchard well. I didn’t know my father—who’d deserted us before I was born—but I found myself desperately wishing for him to magically appear from wherever he was. When the same thing happened again the next week. worried-sounding voice.) *** I felt.” Sarabelle would kill me. hoping to become smaller. “Don’t tell mother about Sarabelle. She’ll kill you. locked in my room. As the newly designated household goat. She wore a fancy silk blouse tied with a floppy bow but nothing else underneath 42 .orchard well. She looked right and left. The worst thing was that I had to strip the leaves off the branches myself so that the wood would make better contact with the skin of my thighs. grizzled hanks fell about her shoulders. like a Good Witch Glinda. justified the forsythia-rages that had followed. In a clear. everything changed between mother and me. After that incident I was banned from the orchard. now. I crept down the hallway into Audrey’s room. I got two nights lockup in my room. In fact. though. for reasons I couldn’t fathom. just to have a distraction. her face looming close so we were practically nose-to-nose. She said my name. I was suddenly worse than Audrey had ever been. I rubbed my belly. sun-spotting disheveled features. (My first promise to you. Two days later. claiming that the well cover had been pushed back during the night. I was no longer the golden child. sharp understanding of the fear that must have gripped my mother when she found her five-yearold pirouetting on top of a death trap. Verna Mays. Lucy. Twenty years later. I felt a sudden. The sentence included my first taste of forsythia. plus lavish application of forsythia. I tried to stay under mother’s radar. “Go back Lucy. “Miss Verna?” I ventured. I willed my body’s cells to shrink. I turned. little one: I will never raise my hand in anger. Sarabelle said. rather than heard.” I spent the rest of that afternoon—and night—without supper. Verna had always worn her hair sleeked back in a neat ponytail. pink rescue-bubble. like a confused garden gnome. swaying uncertainly on her feet as if her ankles were loosely sprung. or my mother? I tried to pry the answer out of Audrey. the place where she dreamed and plotted. or the way they were always applied to the beat of vicious. disoriented. One night after final lights out.
Audrey. The noise came from behind us. Bell!” Verna stepped forward with a smile of recognition. It was a coincidence that the two names were alike. something had changed: The cover of the orchard well had shifted —slightly but distinctly—to one side. I was trying desperately to steer the conversation away from anything dark—dark. Beryl Poteet’s daughter. I thought. Sarah Bell. A new kitten for the new baby. the kind one might use with a slow person.” As her smile faltered I continued. The well cover hadn’t moved—couldn’t have moved —while I was talking to Verna.” she said. then. I think you’ve confused me with someone else. “Did you find a kitten?” “A kitten? No. You wanted to look at Beryl’s litter.” I said. It wasn’t until I’d returned from taking Verna home that the similarities of the names struck me: Mrs. When I looked back. I’m— ” “So you found Beryl Poteet’s farm. Miss Verna. I’m Lucy Poteet. Sarah? You got lost and knocked on my door. I heard a soft crunch. the lid had sat dead-center over the well shaft.” “I don’t know about that. I gave you directions to this farm.” Verna studied my face and belly. Bell. You were going to bring home a kitten. trees frowning down on us. Okay?” She didn’t reply. as in anything to do with Audrey’s future. I’m not Mrs. you said. logic overruled perception. the hairs lifted from the back of my neck. not Sarah Bell. “Remember. simply another optical illusion.” “Miss Verna. *** I didn’t mean to toss a grenade into the dinner conversation that night. Did you take the little girl kitten I mentioned? She has such beautiful copper eyes. “I live here. If I brought my sister back to live with me in Charleston—assuming she’d come—I’d . Quickly.” Verna blinked back tears—the pain of an old woman who’d gotten lost in place and time —which prompted me to reach for her arm. “Let me drive you home. I looked away. Sarah Claflin Bell. Mrs. I mean. As we tromped through the orchard. and I—consuming a delightful dish of Chicken con Cat-hair. Stupid—not possible. my old well critter. Her eyes were lit by an eldritch glow. She switched her gaze back and forth. as if someone had stepped on a patch of dried autumn leaves. “But…we just met a few hours ago. I used to live here. embarrassed. “You introduced yourself as Sarah Bell. she went on.except for a pair of pink nylon panties. “But I’m certain that my name is Lucy. random parallelisms.” “I don’t— ” In a patient voice. Miss Verna. of course—one of life’s weird. But for the heartbeat that it took for me to think it through. I’m so glad. Stop it. you mentioned. Sarabelle. It was like the orchard’s airless triangle of death. Sarah Claflin Bell. We were sitting at the wobbly kitchen table—mother. “My car’s parked in front of the house. Before Verna appeared. Your people are the Saint Augustine Claflins.” I said. brows knit as if she were pondering a difficult crossword clue. but allowed me to point her toward the driveway. Mrs. “I thought that was you. Think.
“It must be Alzheimer’s. They belonged to a man who was holding a badge flush against the window glass. I had to adjust my eyes to a flood of incandescent blue light that filled the tiny first-floor bedroom of my mother’s house. Behind him sat a white SUV with a green stripe down its side—the stripe said “Pickens County Sheriff. mother—another pregnant woman. I heard it slam. had told me to watch out for—the ones that could signal the onset of labor. The creaking footsteps stopped over the kitchen ceiling. Mrs. since there’d never been any allergic reaction to Verna’s name in the past. plus a sister with special needs. I felt reassured that I wasn’t in trouble. Verna kept calling me Sarah Bell. Then the rapping grew louder. Not yet. After a few minutes. My sister looked frightened. She focused her eyes on mine and cocked her head back from her neck. I was starting to feel sharp pains in my left side. She confused me with one of your old kitten customers. more urgent—Morse code from the Titanic on its way to the sea bottom—until it forced me to surface through multiple layers of slugged-out sleep. At first it was a series of ignorable taps. I leaned against the sink. painting the rose-patterned wallpaper neon blue. That damn fool!” “Who?” I said. so the effect was startling My sister rose from the table and scurried out of the kitchen. and counted between the spasms. As I blinked to awareness. A pair of focused eyes stared back at me.have a new infant to manage. Sarah Claflin Bell. the ones that my obstetrician. and—surprise!—no one was in the mood to hire a visibly pregnant software manager. then the engine of the Ford pickup kicking to life. (I’d been laid off from my job mid-way through the pregnancy. and craned my neck to peer through the window. “So. In the silence that followed. Selverstone. Miss Verna seemed completely out of it. Do you happen to remem—” There was a sudden clank of china on metal.” I said to the observing eyes. pivoted awkwardly around the Jupiter-sized center of gravity that was my stomach. pushed by a soughing breeze.” I said. where the air vent was. I threw back the sheets. plus uncertain finances. ever say that name again.” “Hang on. I heard her tread going up the stairs. We’d been subsisting since then on my unemployment and Ron’s Army salary. “Miss Verna or Sarah Bell?” “Don’t you ever. and Audrey pushed her chair back. Dr.” I had to assume mother meant I shouldn’t mention Sarah Bell. like dry branches scratching against a window pane.) These issues were weighing on my mind when I mentioned my run-in with the senile neighbor. feeling stupid. an amount that didn’t even cover the basics. Verna Mays. *** Noise invaded my sleep. Two things had happened simultaneously: my mother slammed her palm onto the table hard enough to rattle the plates and utensils. Mother scraped up her truck keys up from wall hook and disappeared in the direction of the front door. her old gesture for: Shut the hell up. I was left to clean up the dinner by myself. Audrey almost never made direct eye contact. inhaled the greasy air of dirty dishes. The light pulsed through the window and splashed up against the interior. Its heavy wheels churned up the rutted driveway as she drove away. 44 . “That damn fool.
I just saw Verna yesterday. May I come inside for a moment to speak with you?” “Oh. praying he’d pick up my message: Stay. not a prowler—I saw his badge. as far as I know. you said you are? What time did you see Verna Mays.” “I know who they are. The cop standing on the front porch was unusually tall—another inch and his Smokeythe-bear’s hat would have gotten seared by the bare bulb that illuminated the overhang.” “Don’t let him see a gun. like a Minuteman statue.” I said. adding that I’d given her a ride home around 5 p. dark profile of something she held in her arms. He’s got no business. opened the front door. he eyed my stomach. according to the luminous green dial of the bedside clock. from Charleston. I reached the central hall just as the domed light at the top of the stairway lit up.m. startled. Is everything okay here?” “Everything’s fine. Officer. “Why? What’s going on?” “There‘s a problem down the road at one of your neighbor’s houses. my mother and Audrey..” . “I was in school a year behind her.” “That a fact?” He pulled a notebook from a leather case that was attached to his utility belt.” “Oh my God. Mother. Is it okay if I step onto the porch instead? My mother gets nervous. Out. I fumbled my fingers along the wall to find a light switch. Which neighbor had a problem?” “Verna Mays. “This is the Poteet residence. isn’t it? Beryl Poteet’s?” As I nodded. we think. It was her shotgun. I had a vision of Mother and her shotgun in the darkness: the two of them frozen in position.” I said. he said. “Sorry to disturb you. I’m Lucy Poteet.I kicked my feet free of the bedclothes and flailed about for a robe. I recognized the long. “I can’t believe it. You didn’t hear anything last night around ten p.” he said.” Except for the woman inside who wants to blow your head off.m. reaching for a wicker chair to steady myself.. “Ah. she’s deceased. “Or anyone here at home with you?” “Just me. “It’s the police. “Was there anyone else around her house when you took her home?” When I shook my head he added. That cracker of a sheriff’s got no business coming to my house.” Glancing past me into the darkened house. Cochran looked up from his note-taking. on guard.” I said.m. next to his gun. did you?” “No. “Lucy Poteet. It was 5:30 a. “You her daughter?” “One of them. How?” “An intruder. Do you want to get killed?” The stairway light clicked off. She’s hacked up pretty bad. You know her?” “Yes—is she okay?” “No ma’am. ma’am—I’m Special Investigator Randy Cochran with the County Sheriff. “Put that away. Mother’s silhouette stood at the top of the stairs. as if that explained much. Lucy?” I recapped my encounter with Verna in the orchard of the day before.
On a whim. stir-fried with a side of fear. do you think?” “I don’t think there’s an immediate danger. “Have her call me. the next morning my laptop was able to pick up a wireless signal. nine black handles shined dully under the fluorescent light. would you?” “Of course. staging a fit over my story about Verna Mays and Sarah Bell. Protruding from their slots. South Carolina. and she cooked a mean lemon-pudding cake for the community pot lucks—those seemed to be the only notable things about her biography. I did a search for “Sarah Claflin Bell”—my doppelganger in Miss Mays’s mind—but no links to anyone with that name came up near Six Mile.” On his way to his patrol car. Mother and the shot gun had disappeared from the stairway landing when I went back inside. you know?” I had a memory flash: My mother at the dinner table. But I’d like to talk with your mother—is she home right now?” Visions of the shot gun jitterbugged through my head again. you say? How long you in town for?” Before I could answer: “Check in with me before you leave. *** Miraculously. The beam of light probed gently into the cab. Maybe it was time to head to the hospital. I will. And—say hallelujah!—the network was unsecured.” That didn’t go over well. I mean. Momentum carried me through the hallway into the kitchen. I’m sorry. I was about to give up when I scrolled to one more search page.“Did all three of you stay in the entire evening? Anyone leave?” “No. and saw an interesting link: Sarah Claflin Bell – National Center for Missing Adults (NCMA) 46 . Nothing appeared to have been disturbed since I’d finished cleaning the night before. lingered on the hardwood block that housed a set of kitchen knives. My gaze drifted over the tiled kitchen counter. like I said. it was weak. which my mother had used the night before to chop carrots. Something tightened in my chest—I felt a baseless sense of guilt about Verna’s death. The few links that appeared mostly led to church bulletins. He slapped his notebook shut.” I said to Cochran. but there. Miss Verna Mays had retired as town librarian of Six Miles twenty years earlier. yes—Mother went out for a little while after dinner. I did a search for references to Verna Mays near Six Mile. One slot was empty—the chef’s knife.” he said. and one community newspaper article. “Can we make an appointment to follow up with you? She’s nervous. “You’re from Charleston. Her bedroom door was closed. A strange pain was radiating up and down my left torso. using Boolean operators to narrow down the search. I flicked on the ceiling light and stood for a long minute. surveying the surfaces. then made several slow sweeps of the cargo bed. Cochran paused to shine his torch light into my Prius. “I don’t know. then into Mother’s pickup. He was looking for something. “Is it safe for us to stay here.” “Where’d your mother go.
Mother?” “She was the bitch you came from.” From the other side of the door. There was a photo of Sarah Bell displayed next to her profile: her photo looked like me. Before I knew what had happened. could you?” “Who was she. Audrey. At the time she was eight months preg—” I felt the phone get knocked from my hand. That was a coincidence—we happened to have an old brown Mercedes in the shed out back. You just couldn’t leave it alone about Sarah Bell. but nothing made it past my clenched throat muscles. Miss Verna was killed last night. Not like anything I’d felt before—this pain was like a sledgehammer. The lock clicked. lowered myself to my knees onto all fours. she’d been roughly my age when she’d disappeared in 1985. Isn’t there an amazing resemblance to me? She was reported missing 25 years ago—on the day I was born. I was a prisoner inside the cramped little bedroom. Lucy?” “To make sure we’re all right. slammed shut the bedroom door. “Sarah Claflin Bell. Sarah could have been my twin sister—she resembled me much more than my actual sister. slapped my open palm against the locked bedroom door. *** According to Sarah Bell’s missing person profile. where the picture of Sarah Bell was displayed.” “Hmmph. I felt dazed. She was still cradling the shotgun. She looked almost exactly like me.There is No Such Thing as a “Cold Case”! According to the profile. as if a gigantic lobster claw had grabbed me by the mid-section.” . When last seen. trying to cut me in half. But that’s not what made me gasp. heard it clatter onto the wood floor. my mother had scooped up the phone from the floor. He say who did it?” Before I could reply she looked down at my handheld. Mother stood in the hallway. Speaking of Audrey—I realized I hadn’t seen her since Sheriff Cochran had arrived three hours earlier with news of Verna Mays’s death. hoisted me aloft and was waving me around in the air. Let me out. 1985—the day I’d been born. I think the baby’s coming. my mother said: “You just couldn’t leave it alone. the one she never drove. Sarah had been eight months pregnant. “What’d that Sheriff want. Pain hit my belly from all sides. Then a violent push sent me staggering into the rose-patterned wallpaper. Except for a cumulus cloud of 80s-style hair. I tried to catch my breath. It was Mother’s good car. I’d just taken a screenshot of Sarah Bell’s profile picture and sent it to my cell phone when I heard a knock on the bedroom door. I was about to pass out. This is her. I angled the phone screen for her to see. Sarah Claflin Bell had been reported missing by her husband on April 22. driving a tobacco-brown Mercedes. Her expression froze. “Mother? I’ve got to go to the hospital. I doubled over. trying to grasp the reality that my mother had pushed me—pushed her pregnant daughter—into a wall.
Only this time a real monster was closing in on me—not my real mother—a fiend. I recognized a new horror: that Beryl had killed Miss Verna too. knocking aside the cover. she leaped onto my mother’s back. She was aiming it at me. The vintage lock had resisted at first. to keep her quiet about having seen Sarah Bell all those years ago. *** I was outside: stumbling. I connected and punched in the officer’s number. Tell them to get the police. like the sigh of a ghost. listen. drawing me into a suffocating death. a splintering of glass. The blow landed squarely on her skull. gripping the shot gun in one hand. Putting my lips close to the baseboard I said. My mother had moved onto the porch. Mother managed to get a hand free—the one with the knife. It was my sister’s voice: Sarabelle is in the well…Sarabelle is in the well… I could see through the bedroom window. You were mine. 48 . My laptop was on the bed. She was here. clawing at her eyes. They grappled and fell across the top of the well. I’d flung my shoulder against the bedroom door in a final.” With a sick lurch. I screamed for Audrey again as I made my way toward the back. Mother reeled back. “Lie down. the chef’s knife was in her other. out the screen door. As Audrey rolled off Mother. and into the groves. You’ve got to get out of the house—Mother’s gone crazy. there was a crescendo. She was passing back and forth in front of the window. With shaking fingers.” No reply. Before anyone picked up. Audrey rushed into view from behind a line of trees. Mother had smashed the barrel of the shotgun through the window. I could make a call by using Skype. There was no time to aim and fire—I grabbed it by the barrel and swung it over my head and down on hers like a club. I scrambled to grab the shotgun. pregnant. “Where is Sarah Claflin Bell now? What did you do with her. bleeding and groaning. “Get down on the ground! I’m ready to become me a grandmother.” There was a strangled cry. “Audrey. I still had Sheriff Cochran’s card. fell with her spine against the well. and then I got you.“That I came from?” “I cut you out of her that day. She swung it in an arc to plunge the blade into my sister’s back. And then I was standing in front of the orchard well itself. Like a feral cat. then gave way.” she ordered. like a figure in one of those duck-shooting games at a carnival. Mother closed in on the other side of the well. desperate attempt to escape. Underneath the attacking Audrey. Get to the road and flag someone down. Lucy. head resting by my drawn-in knees near the furnace vent. I was plunging through a scene that was identical to my childhood nightmare—rows of trees closing in on me. I pulled myself into a fetal position. Violent ripcords of pain pulled me into a Gordian knot. Mother?” From the baseboard came a whispered moan. falling through the peach orchard.
you pull the trigger. They believe she killed the girls’ pregnant mothers years ago. and will be running DNA tests to link the daughters with two bodies that have been discovered on the property. and he dropped it into the ashtray–“you ever pull a gun and. Beryl Poteet—now deceased—is a suspect in the murder of a next-door neighbor. Then silence. was the valkyrie-like being that pulled Beryl to her drowning death. It would be weeks before DNA testing confirmed that I was Paul Bell’s biological daughter. but both women are in the hospital and expected to recover. a frenzy of limbs. a vision born of terror and pain. five and a half ounces. yesterday.” she said. I named her after her grandmother. But most bizarre of all. We may never know who Audrey’s real mother was. Audrey and Lucy Poteet. Gun up and you don’t say the first word. “The owner of the farm. He said he’d spent the last 25 years searching for Sarah—and for me—while trying to overcome a cloud of suspicion that he’d had something to do with Sarah’s disappearance. I’ll never leave my sister behind again. “Since the events of yesterday morning. Don’t ever let one of them know what you’re thinking. Audrey was down the hall in another room. whitish-blue arms rose from inside the well shaft. That’s all I know. Beryl Poteet. pulled. Sarah Bell. still recuperating from the knife attack. her real grandmother. as soon as the barrel is up and pointing where you need it. the Poteet farm has become the center of a major crime investigation. Both the daughters were attacked by their mother. Police are still investigating this unprecedented case. It turned out that he was a well-known architect. We’re alive. flipped his wrist hard to put out the match. but he’d sounded overjoyed to hear from me. Family Again John Ramsey Miller “What I’m saying to you is–” the old man paused to light an oil lamp. You just fire into the center of . My daughter was born in the peach orchard moments after Beryl fell into the well—she weighed eight pounds. It may all have been an illusion on my part. is their suspicion that Beryl Poteet may not have been the natural mother of her two daughters. Lock your expression in neutral. Audrey and I are about to embark on our new lives together. Had we been saved by a spirit? Had my real mother finally rescued me from the woman who was more evil than any stepmother in a Grimm’s fairy tale? I’ll never know.And that’s when I saw it: A pair of spectral. The ghost-arms grabbed my mother by her throat and hair. two vengeful fists wrapped around my mother’s neck. They dragged her into the well. Whatever else happens. the husband of Sarah Claflin Bell. There was a moment of screaming. according to police. And I may never know whether the well critter of my youth. I’d already been in touch by phone with Paul Bell. Verna Mays. with a deathly grip.” I was watching the report on TV from my hospital room in Clemson. Sarabelle. I heard Mother’s body fall into the shaft and hit the water below. You can practice that frozen expression in the mirror. *** The CNN reporter stared into the camera. in order to kidnap the babies and raise them as her own. He said he still had a picture of me at his home: my ultrasound photo.
Bobby. Used to be so many deer you had to shoo them away to walk through the woods. could see the heat rising into the air as she plodded to the table and put the tray down between him and the old man. “They burned up his church and took him away. Had he ever tasted anything like it? “Where did you come here from. Naked under the scratchy wool blanket.” he answered after he swallowed. how long it had been since he found the well-hidden door. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been in the structure. We don’t waste anything. “You ever shot a gun before?” the old man asked the boy.” “He’s my uncle.” Ernest growled.” “Don’t know no Burkes in Richfield. Amy?” The woman nodded and made a loud sucking sound that startled the boy. The boy could smell the soup cooking in a pot over the fire. “Sure you do.” Ernest said.” The boy stirred his soup. Olive Baptist. I got a bow so I can take game when there’s any to find. “It’s on account of this place is so far off the beaten path. She took a bowl and dipped soup into it before putting it back down in front of the boy. “We’re conservative with what we got. You know what a movie is.” she said. “Far as I know we’re among the last there are living around here. Ernest.” She said. He was rested and fed now and nowhere near starving to death. don’t we. What’s your family’s last name?” “Burke. You ever see one of those zombie movies?” The boy shook his head. “They were people who were dead but acted alive and would eat you unless you shot them in their heads and interrupted their central nervous system. Not any more. he could live to kill you. If you didn’t know we were back up in here.” he said. but older than anybody he’d seen in a long while. don’t you?” The boy nodded. “Richfield.” The boy smiled at the sound of his name. “My mama and Sissy called me Bobby. “He said his name is Robert. Headshot turns out their lights. “How do you get food?” Robert asked. “Allen Burke preached at Mt. “We know how dangerous it can be out there. The boy didn’t know how old they were. The old woman who lived there with the older man came into the room from the back carrying a tray in her hands. Robert nodded.the chest where the heart and lungs are. “That’s where I grew up. you couldn’t find us.” “So you and your sister ran away?” Ernest asked. “We never waste anything. we use every bit of a thing. He goes down and you put one between his eyes. Eat up.” The boy picked up the spoon and started on the bowl of soup.” Ernest said. which is where he had been when he’d stumbled onto the old couple’s hide out.” Ernest said. Why did the old man keep asking the same questions over and over 50 . “Better know it. the boy was finally warmed up. let the child eat his soup. She handed him a large spoon. Bobby?” Amy asked.” she said. There’s some left but they’re smart and skittish. The boy shook his head after swallowing the hot wonderful soup. Like the Indians. Do otherwise. that was for sure. There were cut vegetables and chunks of very tender meat. staring intently into the older man’s eyes that reminding him of wet marbles. “We got enough food and basic supplies to last us a long while.
I’m not good with time. or what you could see of it.” Robert said.” Ernest said. but the smell is something I can’t do away with. “I don’t think anybody still fights them much. and there’s no heat signature to amount to anything.” “And there’s the gangs.” Ernest’s words trailed off to just thought. I waited a long time. right?” Ernest asked. You’ll be fine now. acceptable living age range drops. I built into this hill twenty years ago.again? “We went to sleep under some dead trees two nights ago and when I woke up Sissy was gone.” “A lot do. etcetera.” “I wish we could go out and look for your sister. At first it looked like a regular hill. “We go out some in the evenings. people don’t want to work for no reward.” Amy said. Not as much. They moved us to the chicken farm compound after that.” “You were about dead. “The distribution station in Richfield is only open once a week now. age of reason.. “I smelled the smoke and I followed it. noting the old man’s suspiciousness.” the boy said.” Ernest said. thinking.” “Everything’s in cycles. food supplies are getting shorter. dark age. it never freezes in here.. smiling and showing his pink toothless gums. Everything valuable is going to other countries for compensation.” “Crops fail. I knocked and you opened it. There’s no gas. Bobby.” Robert said.” Amy said. All day and most of the next but she didn’t ever come back. “Well. “Look at the stars. Most of the gangs came in. He nodded. "Trees hide the door from about any angle.” Amy said.” “And you were just wandering around and stumbled into our house. remembering. since we’re sheltered all around by dirt and stone. then sixty-five and God knows what it is by now. You wouldn’t know the world was so screwed up.” Robert said. A lot of people are afraid to go see if there’s food because they might not get to go back home. Robert knew he was just playing it safe. “My mother was forty. “Dark age.” “You just stay in here all the time?” Robert asked. A lot of people are in the army now. Some get took in the army.” “It’s hard to get food. It seems so normal sometimes. age of enlightenment. So damned few of the bastards speak English. We’ve got plenty of food and endless fresh water and. “Some. I saw this coming years ago and started taking measures. First the cut off was seventy. The soldiers got most of it stopped. “To have found us.” “Yes. “The smoke stack is filtered so you can’t see smoke. “How long ago was that?” the old man asked. you’re one lucky young man.” “I’m surprised you understood what any soldier said. but when I got to the trees I saw the door. Sometimes they don’t have anything there. “But…” “We could get caught and they’d send us off because we’re too old to be useful as anything but fertilizer. Robert shrugged. “Sissy could tell you.” “They took her?” Amy asked.” Amy said.” . His own mother had told him over and over that trusting people was stupid and would get you killed. Ernest stared at him.
you about never saw guns. “Twelve. Except for what the soldiers had. Amy smiled. which is what it really was. “The main thing is we’re safe here and now so are you. The flannel shirt was warm. and the socks were thick and warm. And there was workspace with a steel sink and a thick table that had lots of knives and a cleaver on it. They’ll just put a drone on you.” Ernest said. pointing to the framed picture of a young man on the hearth.” “Who’s that in the picture?” Robert said. He knew the bathroom was on the left.” Ernest said. which had to be Amy’s because they weren’t all that large.” Ernest said. “He went north to fight with the guard. Played football starting with Pee Wee and varsity in high school. He closed the bedroom door and opened the third door and was stunned by what he saw.” Amy said. “You can go in the bathroom to put them on. carrying an oil lamp Amy had given him since there was no electricity. and jars packed with canned meats. hike. “American football. When he came into the room Ernest and Amy stopped talking and looked at him. smiling.” Amy said. Killed or captured. As long as powder burns I ain’t afraid.” “Well. “Twelve.” Robert said.” “Small for your age. but Robert thought she was nice. twenty-two. “One of these days they’ll stumble in here.” Ernest said.“I will. Robert wrapped the blanket around him and went through the door into the short hallway. but they’ll do until yours are dry. It looked like the distribution center.N. U. His heart beating wildly. gangs. The concrete walls were dry and unpainted. but he opened the door across from it and looked into the bedroom.” “How old are you. “For everything.” Amy said.” Amy came back in with some folded clothes and put them on the table.” “Thank you. And there was toilet paper and God knew what all else. he’d a come home. Bobby?” Amy asked. I can play soccer too. A few of her teeth were missing. “Sure I do. You know what that is. enough of that. Bunch of cowards. and it looked funny when she smiled.” “You’re welcome. soldiers. Tackle. Probably the same thing. He was alive.” Robert said. and there’ll be one hell of a fight. They had enough food to last for years. beans. “That was Bill. “They’re going to be big on you.” Robert said. One hell of a fight. There were hundreds.” “Not soccer. football?” Robert smiled. “I don’t really remember him.” Robert said. This room was two or three times larger than the other rooms combined. Robert closed the door and went into the bathroom and put on the clothes.” Robert said. maybe thousands of cans on shelves. “Bill was always big for his age. and tubs filled with vacuum-sealed bags of rice. That was eight years ago. Robert saw rifles and shotguns lined up along the wall and handguns on top of the boxes.” “I know that. “They fit pretty good. and he supposed there were bullets and shells in the steel boxes.” “My daddy was in the national guards. “I’ll look for them in 52 . Space was precious in the cave.” “They don’t hardly even have to fight. the pants stayed up thanks to the belt. Bobby. “I think I have a box of things that will fit you better. which except for a bed was stacked with boxes and plastic tubs.” Amy said. They come to tread on me and I’m going to show them. brigands of any sort. “Missiles and bombs. Ernest nodded.
Bobby has lived through it too. He shoved the memories aside. I don’t look forward to shooting it out with anybody.” Robert asked. “I mean you just sit in here all the time?” “It isn’t so bad. The whole world goes to hell. Probably still living like kings while everybody else fights to survive.” “And you go out sometimes at night. to fade into the scenery and survive. . and trying to get something else to eat days.the morning. “What do you mean?” Ernest asked.” “Thank you. He knew that when people got really mad. doing what they had to do to keep out of the sights of people who could hurt them.” Amy said.” “Amy owes me over a million dollars. Maybe. “Yeah. When he was older he would fight back. You’ll run up your blood pressure for nothing. He wondered if staying in a cave all the time like an animal. Corrupt bastards signing treaties and cutting trade agreements with the devils of the world. it was better to be dead than powerless. people who didn’t… He was pretty sure Ernest and Amy didn’t believe that. “Morals and ethics go and the animals win. right.” Ernest said. “Ernest. People with something to contribute earned their place. The truth was that there were too many people everywhere and the carbon scales demanded sacrifice. You ever heard the story about the frog in the pan of cold water on the stove?” Robert nodded even though he had no idea what Ernest was talking about. Provisional government is the same ass bites that ran things before.” Amy laughed and waved the air between her and Ernest. Robert knew how to stay out of the way. “What do you do all the time?” Robert asked. There were lots of people out there who were surviving just fine. like his sister said.” Amy said. Ernest can teach you how to play poker.” Robert sat down at the table. He didn’t remember any good old days. Even before things got like they are I was thinking of surviving. We can live the rest of our lives in here. and he knew if the soldiers knew about them they would come out here and take their stuff out and use it up like hogs. He wasn’t about to bring that up. don’t get into all that. Kids were just for work and to put in the army. and selling us down the river. “When it isn’t cold and rainy like now we can. “I doubt I’ll ever get it out of her. The government was cutting deals with tyrants.” Robert didn’t like it when people got mad and started talking about the good old days.” Ernest said. “We play board games. They would not share with people like Robert and his sister. and the other kids. bad things happened. I’m not young. He knew what the leader would say about Amy and Ernest. I put everything I had into figuring this out. but I’m not about to die without taking a bunch of the bastards out there with me. Robert had seen his sister pinned under soldiers. You were right. and Albert who ran the distribution center. and opening the door wide for them to walk in. the least likely we’ll have to fight. even if you had a full stomach and were warm was better than being outside. We have cards. “The more we stay in here. no longer smiling.” Ernest said. I guess I’ll have to take it out in trade. They’re exempt from everything. “It’s about survival. We’re off the radar and have been for fifteen years. And they were for other things. just never enough days. Robert had been forced to do things that made him want to vomit when he thought about them.
Robert went back into the main room.” Amy said.” Robert told them in a low voice. the sounds of the couple snoring dimming behind him. Robert lay in the dark. 54 . After Robert closed the door gently. but it was warm.” Robert nodded. There was no back door. “As wet and cold as you were when you showed up. Taking her cold hand. Few antibiotics. He heard what sounded like someone snapping their fingers and a gasp. There was a bit of white light that ricocheted from the hallway. After the old people went to bed. Crossing the room. Robert backed up and. He opened the door and led his sister to the bedroom door where Ernest and Amy slept. Robert crossed to the fireplace and found the key. The coals gave off just enough light so that when they passed the fireplace he could see the shape of her machete’s dull steel blade. you could get sick. He wasn’t sure what time it was. Sissy leaned down and kissed him on the cheek. and the snoring stopped all at once. long time. “We will be safe here for a long. “You’ll sleep on the couch there and we’ll go ahead and turn in. but that didn’t matter. He went to the clot of trembling children who hugged themselves to him for comfort and warmth. When he was sure his hosts were good and asleep. of course. bracing himself for the creaking the heavy steel hinges would make.” Amy said. The frightened kids smelled like wet animals. The fire was down to just coals. followed quickly by a half a dozen smaller shapes dripping chilled rainwater. The front door was made of steel and Ernest had padlocked it as soon as they’d brought Robert inside.“You ought to go on to sleep. along with a burst of cold air. getting away wasn’t going to happen. She took a flashlight from inside her poncho and held it so the light was filtered through her fingers and she could control the intensity. a tall thin figure wearing a slicker slipped silently into the room. He kept the key on the mantel. We have some medicines. but not nearly enough variety. he unlocked the door and opened it slowly. Robert led her to the door while the others stood waiting patiently. Ernest probably knew that if you got found.
” Murphy mumbled as he turned to Diaz.” While Murphy waited for the tower’s response. “How’d you get stuck flying in this pea soup. The plane began a slow. To hell with it. the lone crewman appeared as nothing more than a ghost operating the tractor that hoisted the oblong-shaped crate into the plane’s belly. you know the drill. Blond hair. Lit by the faint light spilling from the cargo bay. Murphy keyed his mic. First Lieutenant Angel Diaz. Murphy pushed the throttles to their stops and let go of the brakes. he thought. and a storm in which no pilot in his right mind would dare to fly. anyway?” “Somebody has to draw the short straw. almost as if it were hesitant to leave the safety of . that’s what I don’t understand.” “Gee. This was not going to go well. you’re cleared for takeoff. I got hit with the same ultimatum. dark bags under his eyes. A burst of static filled Murphy’s earphones. “Tower. Instead he got this: a lone C-47. first out. a last minute arrival for the flight.” Diaz said. “This is nuts.” “Yeah. Murphy closed his eyes. He needed some much deserved rest and peace. He turned to his copilot. Looks like this is the only welcoming reception you’re gonna get at your new assignment. he thought. he studied his copilot’s features.” “You gotta love ‘em. “Soon as we get off the ground. slightly curled-up mouth as if he were keeping a secret. The only bright side was a guarantee of extended R&R at the end of the mission. Major. This can't be happening. hair jutting out from under his cap in untidy thickets. After taxiing the plane to the end of the runway. thanks. lumbering roll. Let's just get it over with. I just arrived on base.” Diaz shrugged before going back to his pre-flight checklist. Makes no sense. Major Howard Murphy. Murphy focused on his reflection in the side cockpit window--too many lines on his face for a man his age. What could be so damn important that it had to get to its destination in the middle of the worst winter storm in years? He shifted in his seat and stared at the string of runway lights. Plus. a mystery cargo. Despite his protests over his safety and that of his copilot. the big guy gave me no choice. their dim glow came and went on white sheets of windblown snow. United States Army Air Corps frowned as he watched the fuel truck pull away and disappear behind the white curtain of the blizzard. traces of gray around the temples. fellas. Stay warm. and a round cherub face that would make him appear perpetually young. he had been ordered to fly the mission or face spending time in the brig. Last in.” Diaz’s smile revealed a full set of pearly whites. “Cargo nine-seven-three. You ready?” The copilot nodded. I’ll bet the rest of those fly boys will shut down Flight Ops and head for the watering hole. “They have such compassion. His shoulders sagged and he felt like a man with one foot in the grave.Final Flight Joe Moore The snow fell hard and the wind swirled around the Douglas C-47 like an angry white wraith. “Actually. this is cargo nine-seven-three requesting clearance for takeoff.” The C-47 sat poised with its two Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp engines rumbling.
clearing their roofs by only a few feet. he tried to ease back the yoke but was met with overpowering resistance. He remembered the terrain surrounding the airfield was flat with hardly any obstructions apart from a few farm houses and barns. Diaz said. He handed the paper to Diaz. He immediately did two things. Second. He watched the clouds stretch out in all directions. He let out a heavy breath as they reached 1000 feet. He prayed. When Murphy saw the marker approaching through the driving snow. It was followed by a numeric heading. Murphy knew he was about to run out of asphalt. and started tugging on the yoke with all his might.the ground. Normally he could lift off at about two-thirds the length of the runway.” “Those guys love to play their little spy games just to amuse themselves. He felt the wind buffet its metal skin. He heard the engines scream and felt a small shudder go through the plane as the wheels finally left the ground. The plane was painfully slow at gathering speed and taking way too long to get the tail up. “Good question. “Take the controls. The C-47 passed over the doghouses. Murphy felt the controls vibrate as he heard the engines roar. cruising altitude. “Well. braced himself. he put his feet up on the instrument panel.” “Never does. After a few moments.” “Always the cloak and dagger business. “Final Flight Plan”.” He reached inside his jacket and pulled out a brown envelope. but turning it over. Suddenly.” 56 . he saw written in a flowing script the heading. “The CO said not to open this until we were airborne. reminding him of a giant white blanket. “That was way too close for my liking. Nothing else. He exchanged a quick glance of concern with Diaz. The plane continued to shake and sway. throwing the aircraft around with a determination to prove who was boss. Major. he knew the end of the runway was getting nearer.” Five minutes later.” “Somebody’s watching out for you.” As the copilot complied. Diaz adjusted the throttles and kept them as far forward as possible while the two men labored to coax the plane up.” Murphy banked the C-47 while eyeing the altimeter as it crept past 1500 feet. wherever that was. As the aircraft picked up speed.” Diaz chuckled as he read the inscription. Visibility was next to zero. Hopefully. “Top Secret” was stamped across the front. Murphy managed to get the plane in a shallow climb. “I heard you’re some kind of a legend around the base. Murphy broke the seal on the envelope and pulled out a stiff piece of heavy paper similar to a formal invitation. He engaged the Sperry autopilot and settled into his seat. let’s climb out of this mess. the first was rare for him.” It always amazed Murphy how quickly he could go from hell to heaven in the span of a few thousand feet of altitude. and duration. The surface was blank.” He motioned to Diaz. he said. the storm will have let up by the time they get to their destination. Even though he couldn’t see it. Turning to Diaz. the C-47 broke through the top of the storm and into the light of a full moon. Murphy adjusted the plane’s heading and pulled back on the controls. “Okay. I guess we’ll know our destination in one hour. “Doesn’t look so bad once you get up here. the wind pummeled it like a punch-drunk boxer struggling to get off the mat. the red-and-white-striped doghouses marking the end of the runway appeared out of the blizzard and grew bigger by the second. speed. “What’s our flight plan?” Diaz asked. that’s definitely unique.
A few minutes past midnight. Come on. You see.” “What went wrong?” “Our actual bearing was one-hundred-fifty degrees from Benina. “So what really happened out there. we were already a long way to the southeast of Benina and heading straight into the Libyan Desert.” “Right again. he told us we were on a true bearing of three-hundred-thirty degrees from Benina. Major?” Murphy had to laugh. but not the whole story from the horse’s mouth.” Murphy let out a sigh. We were being pushed by an unexpectedly strong tailwind. Telling it one more time couldn’t hurt. That story is destined for the history books. The first omen of bad things to come was a driving sandstorm blowing north from the Sahara. When the tower radioed back. but what I found out later was that when we called for the fix. Major.” “Exactly.” . But we also got screwed by the radio fix itself. the conversation always turned to the final flight of the ‘Hell 2 Pay’. Diaz would change the subject and not ask what happened.” “Bits and pieces. We didn’t realize that the wind had veered to the northeast and increased in speed. No matter where he went. it was April. We took off from an airfield at Soluk on the coast south of Benghazi with a crew of eight. With the lousy equipment at the control tower. the desert sand was murder on those engines and the planes were constantly having problems. Dense cloud cover rolled in all across the North African coast and visibility went to hell. Just got lucky. 1943. Instead of being out in front of the base. There were two targets.” “So that’s why you were already heading into the desert. It seemed like he’d told his tale a million times. somewhere on a line extending northwestwards from the airfield. So he requested a radio fix. We took off at thirteen-thirty hours with the plan to arrive over the targets just after sunset. the exact opposite from the original bearing. “Things went according to plan until the return trip. Somehow we got separated from the rest of our group. We were to drop our bombs. I don’t know about that. The ‘Hell 2 Pay’ was one of twenty bombers in the group. “Sounds like you’ve already heard the story. make the return flight in darkness and get back to base around midnight.” “Did they send it?” “Yeah.“Oh. I was the pilot of the B-24 Liberator. the guys at Benina believed we were heading in from the Mediterranean. We couldn’t locate the home airfield and I was starting to get concerned about our fuel reserves. “The direction-finding signal sounds exactly the same coming from one-fifty as it does from three-thirty. we’ve got a boring hour to kill. I asked my copilot to contact the tower at Benina. It was ancient history and he wanted to move on. Let me tell you. some of the planes suffered flak damage and a few had engine trouble on the way back. With any luck.” “Of course. Our mission was to soften up enemy targets in Italy seven hundred miles away. By the time we finished the run. eleven bombers attacked the primary and the rest of us went for the secondary.” “I’d call it more than luck being the last man from the crew of the ‘Hell 2 Pay’.” Murphy shrugged. All our navigator had to do was to compensate for the magnetic variation along with the wind speed and velocity in order to bring us overhead so the guys on the ground could talk us down through the clouds. we had already flown right past it.” Diaz said with an understanding nod. it was the change in the weather that did us in. ‘Hell 2 Pay’. “Well.
After all. too. It had plenty of supplies and a radio that still worked.“Did you consider trying to make a landing?” “No. Once we were down to fumes in the tanks.” “Did you?” “No.” “I heard his parachute failed to open. I wound up on my back staring at the stars when I suddenly realized there was someone standing over me. But we figured it couldn’t be too far away.” “No kidding. not water. Shocked as hell. Everyone but our bombardier. We had walked seventy-eight miles and made it to the edge of the Calanscio Sand Sea. We trudged on thinking the base was just beyond them. I kept drifting in and out of consciousness. and wondered what it would be like to stay up there forever. The boys dehydrated fast.” “This is going faster than I thought.” Diaz glanced at his watch. They seemed so peaceful and serene. If I could get my hands on the formula. he had my head propped up and was feeding me more swallows. we had to move fast before the sun came up and started baking us. I could make a fortune.” “How long did you walk?” “Five days. Little did we know it was still hundreds of miles away. Plus it would have been shelter for us until the rescue party arrived. We called out his name into the night for over an hour but he was nowhere to be found. the nose gunner and I were the only ones left. He had an animal-skin bladder full of water and he knelt and dripped a few drops onto my parched lips. like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I thought for sure I was dreaming. And with little food or water. and yet somehow I 58 . By Friday. We never found our bombardier. Those dunes looked like mountains. that’s when we realized that we had missed the base. That salve felt like icy velvet.” “That’s what I heard. still awash in the light of the full moon. he thought. Halfway through the next day. you know. I figured we were only a few miles from the coast. We lost three men on the second day and two more on day three. Then he produced some sort of balm that he wiped onto my lips and face since my skin was covered with blisters and burns.” “You can say that again. Pretty soon. he was dead and I was on my own. The others had died such a horrible death. April 9th. It was unbelievably hot during the day with absolutely no shelter. “When did you meet the Arab?” “The night the nose gunner died. The reality was that we had over-flown the base by four hundred miles and were well into the desert. He was dressed in the typical Arab garb. I ordered everyone to bail out. I could almost feel my skin healing.” “Sounds like a miracle that he found you. And we figured that we’d probably find our missing man along the way. I never saw anyone else but him. He was missing. How beautiful. We gathered in the darkness glad to discover that everyone was okay.” “Must have been a surprise to hit sand. Amazing stuff. half out of my mind. “We’re past the halfway mark.” He looked down at the clouds. long robe and all. So we headed northwest in the direction we had come. If we’d only known that the ‘Hell 2 Pay’ had made a pretty decent belly landing on its own only ten miles to the south. Standing there in the desert.” “Was he alone?” “Far as I know. At that point I was delirious and imagining all sorts of things. but I still remember that the water tasted sweet. I thought we were over water and felt it was too risky.
So if I take a stroll back to the cargo bay. Empty except for the oblong crate resting in the center of the floor.” Murphy motioned with his head toward the rear of the cockpit. It’s nothing but a game with those guys. “Come on. Until we arrive at our destination.” He shot Diaz a crooked smile. I’m gonna have a look. Screw it. Major. What if it were some of that Nazi treasure he’d heard about. Sir.” Murphy hesitated. if the Arab man hadn’t come along I wouldn’t be flying this mission right now. was empty. He felt for the switch. I feel like stretching my legs. “You know. he just wanted a quick look.” he said as he checked the autopilot. There were always rumors floating around of captured loot being shipped back to the States.” “I really don’t think that’s a good idea. “I already know what it is. but it’s not my place to say. no one would ever know. He was the captain and Diaz’s superior officer. What harm would that be? And he’d like to know why he had to risk his life for this cockamamie mission. “Suit yourself.” Murphy slipped out of his safety harness and stood. you aren’t supposed to go back there. Sir. He figured it was about seven feet long. would they?” “There has to be a reason why we were ordered not to.” “More cloak and dagger. Please return to your seat. Sir. Murphy pulled on the door and stepped into the cargo bay. Rare pieces of art. if we went back and had a look. and a few feet high. some kind of secret agent or spy?” “Nothing quite that glamorous.” “Really? Then tell me. Three lights positioned overhead along the curved ceiling blinked on. They owed him that much. he’s a stickler for details. how would they know he took a look.” “Last warning.000 pounds of payload. What could it hurt to have a peek? “We’ve got nothing but smooth sailing here.” Murphy scratched his beard stubble. Unlike his obstructed view through the blizzard during the loading. He could do whatever he wanted.” “No sense of adventure. What if Diaz was right? But unless the copilot told anyone. he wondered for an instant if this was going to be a mistake. As he grabbed the knob. This was stupid. Sir. Major. The cargo area. Sir. Doesn’t Diaz want to know what’s in that mysterious crate? “I can’t believe you’re not curious. Lieutenant?” “It’s not that. My job is to see that the cargo gets to its final destination. he now realized the object wasn’t a .made it. what is it?” “Sorry.” “Your place? What are you. Suddenly.” What’s up with this guy? Murphy thought.” Diaz swung around to face Murphy. who’s to know?” “I will. what do you think that cargo is back there?” “All I know is the commander gave strict orders not to go near it.” With a huff. The guy really took care of me until the rescue party finally got there. “We don’t have that far to go. What’s back there is none of your concern. normally able to transport up to 6. what’s say we have a quick look. Of course.” Diaz glanced back at the instruments. Maybe it was gold or jewels. three feet wide. Murphy made his way to the bulkhead door. Even if it were some top secret weapon or the like. “Stay here if you want. It was dark and freezing cold. His expression turned hard. “Speaking of the mission. I must remind you that we’re under orders.
” “No. The corpse looked as if it were made of leather with dark papery skin like those Egyptian mummies he’d seen in the British Museum. Then the second and the third.” “I still don’t get it. The hands were crossed at the chest and the fingers stuck out from the Army Air Corp uniform sleeves like winter twigs. . I distinctly remember him--” “There was no Arab. He felt invigorated as he lifted the lid.” “I told you not to come back here. Sir. “Hey. Skin pulled tight against bone. tussled by an invisible wind. appeared as though it would turn to dust if touched. he felt his pulse quicken.” Was this a sick game this guy was playing? “And how long was it before they found the plane and you?” “Like I said.” Diaz shook his head in obvious frustration. The mystery had grown more interesting. Diaz!” 60 . There were three large latches securing the top. He saved my life. what year was the ‘Hell 2 Pay’ lost in the desert?” “I already told you. It would be so easy to just flip them. “What does this all mean?” He pointed to the dead man. His eyes wandered from the face to the name stitched on the breast of the uniform: Major Howard Murphy. . This was insane. A plain. Major. the kind in which the military shipped bodies. that can’t be.” “What are you talking about?” He glanced back at the corpse. I was found by an Arab man. I’m sorry. After all. it felt like a block of ice. Is this some kinda joke?” “No joke. eye sockets sunken and sullen. It was a box. Sir. How could he be standing here alive. I think five or six days .” Murphy became light-headed. When he looked back. dull-gray coffin. Even through his flight gloves. He had to know who was so important to warrant taking this risk. it was an oil survey expedition who accidently stumbled across the wreckage and eventually the bodies. who would know? He undid the first latch. His name! “You gotta be kidding me. . He was about to uncover a military secret and be an inside man on a classified mission. lift the lid and have a look. The hair. “I don’t understand. It wasn’t true. It was better than the adrenaline rush from barely clearing those marker buildings at the end of the runway.crate at all. whose was it? Curiosity ate at him.” He turned to see Diaz framed in the cockpit doorway. He felt his balance falter as his thoughts spun out of control. then reached to touch the smooth surface. Doing so has changed your final destination. . “Why does this guy have my name on his--” “All you had to do was follow orders and stay in the cockpit. it was twenty-three years later. If the cargo was a body. This was something he didn’t get to do every day. Major Murphy. And it wasn’t a rescue party. Murphy took a few tentative steps forward until he stood beside it. and yet . Major. All the bodies.” “Fact of the matter is. it was . . 1943. With each clank. the doorway was empty. “Major. . You would have completed your mission with no problems. Including yours.
He read the words aloud. Murphy braced himself on the back of his seat as he glared at the card in his trembling hand. Blackness enveloped the aircraft as the light of the full moon dissolved into eternal darkness. “You should have stayed in the cockpit. Flipping it over.” . “What the hell?” He stared at the two empty seats. he discovered that the once blank surface now contained writing. Angel Diaz was gone. Murphy snatched it up and started at the inscription. Lit only by the faint glow of the instruments. All that was left was the card with the flight plan lying on the copilot’s seat. Suddenly the plane dipped into the top of the clouds.Murphy felt the nose of the plane tilt down slightly. In a few quick steps he was through the bulkhead door into the cockpit. the turbulence shaking it to its core.
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