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