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