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