Saturday, July 26, 2008

Family Man - Wayne Scheer

Family Man

Whenever my life seems to be getting back to normal, things get screwed up. That's my story, short and simple. I finally got myself to admit I had a drinking problem and I went to my first AA meeting. So what happened? I got into a fight at a bar while drinking club soda.

I went to the meeting because I felt my life had gotten away from me. I was going through the motions, like I was sleepwalking or something--waking up, going to work and drinking until I passed out. I had just lost my girlfriend. And my family, especially my mother, seemed to be tugging at me like some kind of marionette. Mom was in her own hell with my sister into crack the way some people get into Jesus. I had to act strong, but what I really wanted to do was find a quiet place to hide and lick my wounds.

It was Arnie Caruso, from the old neighborhood in Brooklyn, who got me to go to an AA meeting. I ran into him a while back as I staggered out of an East New York bar on New Lots Avenue. He suggested we get some coffee and catch up on old times.

We talked about the old days for a while. Then he said, "Paulie, you and me go way back. What happened to you? When we were kids, you had plans."

"Life is what happened to me."

"Bullshit," he said, making a face like he just smelled a fart. "Where'd you get that crap?"

I laughed. "Probably from some movie."

"You're becoming a drunk, Paulie. Hell, you are a drunk."

I almost took a swing at him. But something in his voice said he wasn't making fun of me. "I got responsibilities, you know?"

He didn't say anything for a while. We just sipped our coffees. Finally, he asked, "How's your sister doing?"

"Not too good. You know how it is with drugs. But I'm trying to help her."

"Make sure she doesn't drag you down, Paulie. You can't help her if she doesn't want to be helped."

"Where'd you hear that? Maybe you're watching the same movies I am."

"No. I go to the same meetings you should go to."

That's when he told me about AA and gave me a printed list of meetings in the area, along with his cell phone number. "Call me if you need to. Anytime"

I folded the list and put it in my wallet, and didn't think much about it. A few days ago, hungover so bad I hardly knew my name, I happened to find the paper and decided to go to a meeting just for the hell of it.

It was corny. They really say, "Hello. My name is So and So, and I'm an alcoholic," but it was kind of interesting, too. It had me thinking about what I could be doing to get out of my mess instead of just going along with it. People had much worse stories than mine, but they seemed to be doing all right. Even if it was just one day at a time.

After the meeting, everyone wanted to talk to me, like I was fresh meat or something. I told them I needed to be alone to think about what I had heard, so I went to Manny's Tavern, where I always go when I want to think. I figured I'd get a couple of club sodas. Really. I didn't want to go home and I couldn't think of any other place to just sit and mull over what they talked about at the meeting, especially the part about giving yourself over to a higher power. I hadn't been in a church since I was a kid.

I probably would have had two sodas and left, if not for this fool drinking next to me. I didn't like the things he was saying about a black dude minding his own business at the other end of the bar. I could have walked away, I know, but if I walked it would have eaten me up inside for days. I hate that feeling even more than a broken nose.

So I told him to shut up. "The guy ain't bothering nobody, which is more than I can say for you." I can usually get away with saying stuff like that because I weigh about two fifty and I'm over six feet. I used to get extra work as a bouncer. Most guys take one look at my hands, that a Polish friend told me looks like I've been making sausage all my life, and they back down.

But he kept on talking, and not just about the black guy. He was going on about gays and Arabs and Jews. Then he said only fags drink club soda.

So what could I do? I popped him one. I heard his nose crack and he'll probably need to see his dentist, too. But I got to give it to him, he came back at me like a champ dead set on keeping his title. Got in some good shots to my face before he went down.

Anyhow, the guy finally collapsed. The bartender was a friend, so no big deal. But somebody called the cops and they show up like there was some kind of riot taking place. You want to laugh? I think it was the black dude that made the call.

I knew one of the cops and he talked to the loudmouth with a broken nose, who wasn't happy when he came to and saw the police. He decided not to press charges and got out of there so quick he didn't even pay his bill.

The cop I knew talked to me about how I should clean myself up. I told him I went to an AA meeting and that I'm going to be all right.

"Then what the hell you doing here?"

"No booze for me," I said. "From now on I'm walking the straight and narrow."

He looked at me like he knew I was full of it, but he told me to pay my bill and the loudmouth's, and go home. He even offered me a ride, but I told him I wanted to walk and clear my head.

Now that should have ended it. Right? My eye was swollen almost shut and my head felt like something was rattling around inside it. I don't know what came over me, but I stopped at a liquor store and bought a bottle of Old Granddad. I started drinking it before I even got home.

The next morning I was in no shape to go to work so I called in sick. I'd only been working at this body shop since Ted closed his place. I worked with Ted for almost four years. He was an older guy and he watched out for me. But he liked the ponies too much and lost his shop. And I lost my job.

My new boss said, "I'll give you an hour to show up sober, or don't show up at all."

I thought of all the banging and clanging in the shop and in my head. I said, "I choose the second option."

So I spent the day feeling sorry for myself. I was entitled. Hung over with no job and no woman. All I needed was to run over my dog with my truck, and I'd be ready for Nashville.

I would have laughed, but my face hurt too bad.

When I was with Joanna I hardly drank. That's also when I started working for Ted. He even sent me to school to work on transmissions. Paid for it and all. "The guy does my transmission work is dumber than a water pump," Ted told me. "If he could do the job, you can."

And Joanna worked as a waitress and went to school at night taking art classes. She sure could draw. What she really wanted to do was design clothing. We paid our bills, even saved a little money, and made plans for the future. I talked to Ted about buying part of the shop and Joanna worked on her portfolio.

But, like I said, whenever my life gets normal, that's when I can count on it getting screwed up. Usually, it involves my family.

At first, Joanna liked that I was so good to my mother and my sister. "A man that's good to his mother makes a good husband," she said. I liked that she thought I was a good man. But Mom kept calling for me to do this for her or that and then Polly hooked up with Raphael and lost her freaking mind. I tried explaining I had my own life, but Mom said, "First you got your family. Then you got your life."

When Joanna left, she said she still loved me but my family was too much for her. She even wanted us to move. She had friends in Arizona, she said. But I couldn't do that. "I'm no cowboy," I told her. "My family's here."

"I know," she said. "You want to keep your family and I want to keep my sanity." She packed up and left.

I knew she'd be staying with her friend, Gloria, until she finished at the college. She only had two semesters left. But I didn't stop her because she deserves a normal life. And she sure won't get that with me.

She left just about the time Ted lost his shop. I was feeling about as low as I thought I could feel, but I didn't give up. I got work at a body shop in Canarsie and thought maybe I could start over. But it's rough coming home to an empty apartment when you've been sharing it with someone you love. I started drinking myself stupid every night. Working in a body shop with a hangover is no picnic, believe me.

The morning after my bar fight, I looked in the mirror and I saw my eye all swollen and purple. I felt a stinging in the back of my throat, like I wanted to cry. I thought maybe this was rock bottom, like the guy at the meeting said. Maybe now I could start picking myself up off the ground. It almost made me feel good. So what happened? Mom called, saying she was worried about Polly and it was my responsibility as her big brother to make sure she was safe.

So instead of begging for my job back, I did some asking around and found Polly turning tricks for Raphael. She was standing by a bus stop, her tits hanging out through her top like she was offering them for some kind of two-for-one special. When I went to talk with her, she could hardly focus on who I was. I told her to go sit in my car. She was so strung out, she did what I said.

Then I went to find her asshole-pimp-crackhead-boyfriend, Raphael. I knew he wasn't far away. I found him in an alley down the street, a cigarette hanging from his lips like some tough guy he'd seen on TV. The punk cried like a baby after I banged him around a little and showed him my knife. But I wasn't about to cut him. As much as I hate him for what he did to Polly, I sure as hell won't do hard time over him. Instead, while I had my size 13 on his chest, I pulled out my dick and pissed all over his face. When I was done, I gave him a goodbye kick in the balls and left him there in the alley, squirming and stinking and spitting piss.

Meanwhile, Polly was in my car waiting for me. I think that was the saddest thing. Polly always had a mind of her own, real independent. Now she just sat there like a dog waiting to be told what trick to do next. I couldn't take her home to Mom looking like that, so I took her back to my place. I took off her clothes, this mesh top and short skirt, but kept on her underpants, and I washed her with a towel. She smelled like puke, some was crusted on her face. I got her as clean as I could. I even washed her hair in the sink. I put her in an old pair of jeans Joanna had left and one of my shirts. The clothes were big on her, but she looked more like the Polly I used to walk to elementary school than the whore who did blow jobs to feed her and her crackhead boyfriend's habit.

She slept in my bed and I slept on the couch. The next day, I made her toast with jelly and peanut butter, the way I did when she was a kid. After she ate a little and drank some coffee, she started screaming at me and cursing, like I was holding her prisoner. When she screams, her voice gets almost squeaky. I hate that sound.

I slammed my fist on the table and made her toast jump off the plate. "Shut the fuck up!" I shouted.

She got real quiet. She looked at me, expecting me to hit her or something. And then we laughed. I think I started it, but for like the next few minutes we laughed so hard snot dripped from our noses. It was disgusting, but it was also about the best damn time I could remember in a long while.

Polly wasn't even mad about what I had done to Raphael. She made me tell over and over the part about me pissing on him. She laughed the way she did when she was a kid, with her eyes bulging like they were about to pop out.

Later that day, I took her back to Mom, and Polly even thanked me. I felt so damn good about what I had done, I stayed late and we played Monopoly, just like in the old days. But soon after I left, Mom called and said that Polly was gone. She took whatever money she could find. She even took Mom's diamond ring, the one she got from Polly's Daddy.

Now Mom was mad at me for bringing Polly to her place. She was cursing at me like I was the one who took her stuff. Cursing and crying. She also started in repeating her story about how my father walked out on her when she was pregnant and how Polly's father did the same. "Men are no good," she said. "I raised you to be different. I raised you to take care of your family. But when you got with Joanna you abandoned us, just like your father. Look at what you let happen to your sister."

That did it. It took thirty-two years, but blaming me for Polly set me off. "Hold on one goddamn second," I shouted into the phone. "Don't blame me for Polly. She's a crack whore and she'll be a crack whore until she decides not to be. And you're a booze whore and you'll be a booze whore until you decide not to be. And I'm an alcoholic. And I'll be an alcoholic until I decide to change." I slammed down the phone so hard the receiver cracked.

My hands were shaking. I had never spoken like that to Mom. I knew what she was since I was a boy, but I always figured this was my family, and I had to make the best of it. For the first time in my life, I didn't feel like I was holding back the whole fucking ocean. I let it go. I also felt something I had never admitted before. I felt scared. I was shaking like a crazy man and crying like a baby.

I wanted a drink so bad I even looked through the medicine cabinet for something with alcohol in it.

I called Arnie Caruso and told him my story. He said he was proud of me for not drinking and for standing up to my mother. He also said he had friends who could try to talk with Polly, if she was ready to listen. He told me about a meeting on Linden Boulevard and said I should meet him there in an hour or he'd tear me a new one.

"You and what army?" We laughed like it was old times and we were back in high school.

So I figure I'm off the hook for the time being, but I know Mom's gonna call again and Arnie can't save me from her. She's my mother, no matter what. I have to deal with her.

I think of Joanna and me going off to Arizona. It sounds wonderful going out west and starting all over with her, but I still can't see myself as a cowboy. I want to call her, just to hear her voice. But I don't want to complicate her life until I get mine in order. Instead of cowboy boots, I put on an old pair of sneakers, make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and get ready to go to a meeting.

BIO: Wayne Scheer retired after twenty-five years of teaching writing and literature in college to follow his own advice and write. He's been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net. His work has appeared in a number of print and online publications, such as Notre Dame Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, Pedestal Magazine, flashquake, Flash Me Magazine, The Internet Review of Books, Pindeldyboz and Eclectica. Wayne lives in Atlanta with his wife and can be contacted at

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Neighborhood - Kevin Michaels


Freddie Burnett died some time past midnight. He was cool in life, but dead was dead; nothing about that kept him alive. Cool didn't mean shit once somebody wanted him gone.

His death was violent and brutal but it didn't rate much space in the late editions of the Press. Just three paragraphs in Section Four, halfway down the page, near the quarter page ads for Storybook Land and Brigantine Castle. Back then, in the summer of '77, there were more important stories than the death of a nobody black kid and his whore. Even before the first casino opened there had been a buzz in town; Atlantic City was going to be the Las Vegas of the East. Maybe bigger. Freddie's death was nothing. Even in his own neighborhood his death would soon be forgotten.

The only person who might remember it in detail was the first cop on the scene – but only because he was left to file the incident report long after everyone else had packed up.

"Only gonna' get worse," one of the detectives said on his way out the door. "Ain't seen nothing yet. Not once the casinos come around."

The cop poked a shoe into one of the rigid corpses and shook his head.

The killer had walked in, surprising Freddie and shooting him three times in the neck and throat. Death was immediate and without negotiation. His whore had tried running but barely made it out of bed before more bullets cut her down. Tall and thin, her face was streaked with blood from a small hole in her cheek. Probably caught one of the bullet fragments that had torn into Freddie, the cops figured. Another slug caught her in the back of the shoulder, spinning her around, and the next shot blew apart her chest, leaving only a gaping hole and a flap of white skin covering it. Freddie's dark hands clutched what remained of the flesh, bone, and tissue where his chin met his throat. His eyes were opened wide and his body was slumped backwards, dried blood splattered around him and smeared across the wall.

The cop wiped a hand across his forehead and took a hard drag on his Marlboro, pissed about being left alone.

"Always knew there'd be trouble," a lady in curlers was saying at the door. "Boy like that - always coming and going - just a matter of time before it happened."

Her elderly neighbor nodded. "Boy was trouble."

"Just a matter of time," the first one repeated.

The uniform paid little attention to either of them. His eyes were cold and emotionless, as lifeless as the naked corpses on the floor. Veteran beat cops talked about the detachment that came with the job and how you'd get used to anything, no matter what it was, but it wasn't until his fourth summer in the neighborhood that he found a handle on what that meant. Now it was just another day and another body. Another shift that would go on too long. More hours that needed to be filled.

He moved through the hallway shadows, wondering how he could stretch another hour out of the crime scene.

"Ain't nothing to see in there," he told the crowd gathered on the downstairs steps.


Calvin Dunn watched from a cool spot on the front steps across the street as Freddie's body was taken away in the black coroner's wagon. It was morning and the neighborhood was alive with sound. Disco blasted from radios in apartment windows and from cars parked at the curb, bus engines whined as gears ground and clashed together, and a dozen voices talked trash up and down the street. Passer-bys slowed, taking quick glances through the open doorway, then continued about their business. Calvin crushed a Camel under the toe of a Converse sneaker and leaned back to watch kids dancing in the spray of an open fire hydrant.

Booker took a hard swallow from his bottle. Tired, bloodshot eyes looked down the street. "I liked that kid, you know?"

Calvin stared a hole into his Cons.

"I know you and him were close. Kind of like brothers, huh?"

Whatever Calvin could say about their friendship was kept inside. He stayed quiet.

"Ain't no surprise, though," Booker said. "Kind of expected it."

Calvin shrugged.

After a while Booker said, "Things different around here. Can't get used to how this neighborhood's changed."

You got used to anything, Calvin was thinking. It only took time.

Every neighborhood had somebody like Booker. The mayor of the street corner – an old guy who had been around forever and had something to say about everything. He had watched the neighborhood change. Knew your mom when she was a kid and could tell you something about your daddy if you had one. Hit you up for a cigarette and loose change to help pay for the bottle he pulled on throughout the day. Hadn't held a job in twenty years and didn't know what was going on outside the neighborhood, but he was an authority on all things up and down the street.

"A man got enemies and a price on his head, but it still takes someone to pull the trigger, don't it?" he wondered. "Who you think gonna' do that to Freddie?"

"Enemies don't mean nothing," Calvin answered.

There was no conviction and no emotion in his voice. "Money makes you do things you don't got the balls to do."


Hot July nights in Atlantic City were the worst. Tempers were short, tension heavy, and the heat put everyone on edge. Your face was wet with sweat, the stench of two days' worth of garbage collecting on the curb was overpowering, and there was too much time to fill. When the breeze off the ocean died the heat became unbearable. Freddie and Calvin would sit on the steps and talk, trying to hold on to the cool air when it blew down the street. Calvin never had enough money to do more than dream about what it would be like if his neighborhood was a Philadelphia suburb instead of an Atlantic City skeleton. All he could talk about was what it would be like to live someplace else.

"You got to do more than dream and talk about what you want," Freddie used to say.

"If you don't got dreams all you got is nightmares," Calvin answered.

Freddie just stared at him. "You some kind of street corner philosopher?"

"Dreams give you something," Calvin said, "if you ain't got nothing else."

"So get a plan," Freddie said. "Make something happen."

"What good is that?"

"You don't go nowhere without a plan," he said. "And if you don't go nowhere, you just another part of the street. Be twenty years later and you still be talking about your dreams."

Freddie Burnett shook another cigarette out of his pack. "Dreams don't do no good if you can't leave."

Freddie's plan was always about an easy score. Two, sometimes three other guys would jack a car from one of the Boardwalk parking lots, clip on a set of forged plates, and cross the bridge to the mainland. Calvin would slip behind the wheel while the others jockeyed for spots in the back seat. Always in the front, Freddie would spark a joint with one hand, talking and rapping along with whatever was on the radio. The ride up the Black Horse Pike was fueled by a handful of joints, a quart of Jack Daniels, and scattered lines of coke laid out in fat lines across a mirror in the back seat.

The whiskey was usually too warm and the coke too weak, but it was enough to crank up their courage.

"These highways like a yellow brick road," Freddie once said, "and the suburbs be like fucking Oz."

"And I guess we supposed to be the fucking Munchkins or those goddamned flying monkeys?" Calvin asked.

Freddie shook his head. "Be like that lion. Just need to find your heart."

"Thought it was courage?"

"Whatever. You missing the point."

Freddie's scores were always more profitable than rolling senior citizens walking the boardwalk late at night with their pockets full of change. Safer than hitting liquor stores in Ventnor or 7-11's in Margate. Driven with determination and sometimes desperation, targets were chosen randomly. Many times Freddie would steer them off the street for reasons that mattered only to him. Armed with joints and coke, thirty-eights and twenty-two's, they peeled off the road when the feeling was right.

"Easy money," Freddie always said.

And never any trouble, Calvin remembered.

It got cash to buy new jewelry for their women, bottles for the guys on the street, and Cons and Nikes for the basketball courts.

Freddie spread his take around the neighborhood. There were always a few dollars for the guy at the pool hall on Baltic Avenue, a couple of bucks for the two room apartment he called home, and the rest to spend at the liquor store. He'd leave some money with Fat Tony, placing bets and playing the dice in one of the after hours games behind Snake Alley – just pushing his luck a little while looking for a smile. Then gave his baby's momma what he could to make sure the boy he barely knew had what was needed. And sometimes Freddie would find a decent whore to spend the night with, then give her a couple of extra bucks - just because he could and not because she asked.

"Just supporting people," he told Calvin. "You know they too proud to take charity."

"Noticed they ain't too proud to take your fucking money with no hesitation."

"Things like that even out in the end," Freddie said. "Got to help however you can."

Calvin would just shrug. The man played by his own set of rules that he could never quite understand.

The night time raids had become routine, like the walk to the Korean deli down the street or a two on two game at the courts for ten dollars a point. You knew what you wanted and there was never any second thoughts about what you were doing or how you were going to do it – you just did it. Freddie had done it more often than anyone else and that experience gave him something nobody else had. It gave him importance and made him special, especially to somebody like Calvin.

"You guys look at him like some kind of hero," Booker once said. "Make him something different."

Calvin thought about that for a while. "He ain't no hero who runs into a burning building and saves peoples," he finally said. "But he's got something we all want. He's cool in ways we want to be-"

Barely out of his teens, a few years younger than Freddie, Calvin needed something and someone to believe in. There were no certainties and no guarantees but in Calvin's world Freddie was close to a sure thing.

Tall and thin, almost gaunt, Freddie spoke in a quiet, evenly tempered voice that sometimes got lost in the sounds of the street. His afro would sway and bob as he pushed the bottle to his lips, swallowing hard. With his long braids water falling past his shoulders, swaying with vivid gestures, Freddie dominated the stairs. He didn't look out of the ordinary with the thick stubble on his chin, dark glasses hiding bloodshot eyes, or the tan, weathered chinos tucked into high top Timberland boots.

"Conviction and belief – that's what he's got," Booker said. "Life ain't just surviving from day to day for him. It's about pushing ahead and making things better."

Calvin popped open a Bud. "Making everything better, huh?"

"That's what it's all about. Finding a way to make things better –"

"All you can do is believe in yourself," Freddie once told him on the steps. "That's the most important thing in life."

"How do I believe in myself," Calvin replied, "when I ain't done nothing yet?"

There was a long silence.

For a moment Calvin thought Freddie was going to backhand him across the sidewalk. There was a look in his expression – like contempt or disgust. "You're here, right?" Freddie finally spit back.
“I ain’t never left here. Where else would I be?"

"In a morgue," Freddie snapped. "You made it this far, didn't you? It takes a lot of effort to stay alive in this place – that's something to build on."

But Calvin knew there was a big difference between staying alive and getting ahead. The neighborhood was filled with people who stayed alive but had nothing else. He wanted more than that. Wanted to find a way to get ahead and matter.

"First person you got to believe in is you," Freddie told him. "Nobody else matters but you and what you need."

There was a lesson there. Calvin tried to remember that.


It was a neighborhood of liars, braggers, and thieves – nothing that different from any other part of town. And only Boo Pittman got the same kind of respect as Freddie, although it was an uneasy respect that came from fear.

If it was narcotics, Boo Pittman was in the middle between the Philly mobs and the local gangs who put it on the street. After hours gambling got his personal touch, just like loan sharking and numbers did. He'd give you two points less than the Guinea mobsters would, but he'd chop off your thumbs quicker then they would when you fell too far behind. If somebody wound up on a mattress in a brownstone basement with a cheap Pacific Avenue hooker, Boo figured to take twenty five out of the fifty stuffed in her panties. There were rumors that he owned a chunk of real estate near the inlet and was trying to ransom the land parcels to Harrah's for one of the first casino projects.

The kids in the neighborhood watched from fire escapes as Boo slowly made his rounds, walking the streets fearlessly. Bulging neck, thick hands, and meaty fingers encased in gold rings that covered skin up to each knuckle. Nobody messed with Boo - not the gangs, the pimps and hustlers, or the junkies shooting smack on the corners. He had a gold capped smile that could make a dozen hearts stop beating when he looked in that direction.

"Man got power," Booker said. "Power let's you do whatever the fuck you want. Let's you call the shots."

It was on this last night of Freddie Burnett's life that he was with Boo Pittman's sixteen year old nephew, Sammy. Except for the new forty-five tucked in the waistband of his jeans, nothing else was different. It wasn't by choice. Freddie's prominence in the neighborhood hadn't escaped Boo's attention. With no time to teach his sister's son about life, he decided Freddie could do it for him.

"Teach him a thing or two," Boo said. "The kid ain't never been nowhere the bus didn't take him. Show him stuff."

"What am I supposed to show him?" Freddie wondered.

"It don't matter," Boo shrugged. "Just give him an education."

"I ain't much of a teacher – "

Boo shrugged but his smile never wavered. "Teach him what you know."

"What I know is that a sixteen year old kid shouldn't be tagging along with us," Freddie grumbled. "Ain't no place for a cherry."

What they did took patience, timing, and a world of cool to pull off successfully. There was a certain amount of risk just cruising in the car – the word around the street was that the Boo's nephew was an animal; hot and uncontrollable. "Bringing a kid into this is asking for trouble," Freddie told Boo.

"I know you'll do what's right," were the big man's parting words.

The sun was setting slowly over the bay as Freddie, Calvin, Boo Pittman's nephew, and another hot-headed neighborhood kid named Trolly Long slid into a Caddy. "Feeling like a babysitter," Freddie muttered, bearing a weary smile to Calvin.

"This ain't no fucking joyride-"

"He wants him to see beyond Atlantic City. Guess with the casinos coming in here he thinks this'll help."

"Everybody's out to make a score."

"The man thinks it'll teach the kid character," Freddie said with a laugh, shaking his head as Calvin edged behind the wheel. "This tough little shit ain't gonna' learn enough tonight to help him cross the street."

Freddie checked the clip in his forty-five, swept the braids from his eyes, and pulled a crumpled joint from his pocket. A blast of Tina Turner on the stereo greeted him as he slammed the car door shut. He tipped the Ray Bans off his nose and immediately lost himself in thought. Booker sat on the steps and watched the Caddy disappeared down the street, melting into a wall of tail lights and traffic signals.


The Old Duck Inn was a crumbling cinderblock and brick building on the White Horse Pike, the last oasis in a desert of strip malls, motels, and all night gas stations. Weeds cracked through the parking lot, paint flaked off walls, cardboard covered a few broken window panes, and rust had eaten away chunks of the metal sign over the doorway. A succession of owners had done little to stimulate business, and it was only a matter of time before the Old Duck would be sold to make way for an industrial park, car lot, or another motel. The blinking neon sign still brought in a weekend customer on their way to AC, but customers were limited to a few hardcore regulars.

"Neon. That's the problem," a guy was muttering over a bourbon. "It ain't like the old billboards. Can't tell no story with neon-"

"Been around for thirty years. You see neon all over the place."

"That don't mean it works," he sneered. "Know what I mean?"

Joyce Howard nodded and sipped a Dewar's and water from her bar stool. An ex-husband had bought the Old Duck Inn years earlier and it was all she got from the divorce. Twenty miles west of Atlantic City on the outskirts of Hammonton, it was nothing more than a beer and a shot place. It didn't bring in as much anymore, but the bills got paid, and that was all that mattered to Joyce.

"They're too bright. And they block the view. You can't see nothing with those signs cluttering the road."

"What the hell do you want to see?" one of the other customers asked. "Ain't nothing to see but ten miles of nothing."

"That ain't the point."

"What can you do?" Joyce shrugged. "It's technology."

It had been a quiet evening. She had picked up her daughter after school, gone to a ceramics class, then shared a quick meal at Burger King with a friend from class. There were only a handful of people in the bar: a young couple at the other end of the bar, two middle-aged county road workers who'd been there since four, and a long haired kid pondering life over a flat Schlitz. Barbara McCauley was her lone employee, pouring an occasional beer and flirting with the road crew guys between songs on the juke box.

Joyce would have flirted too if she were twenty-six and needed both the tips and the thrills. But flirting didn't work for her. She was twice Barbara's age, and each morning brought new wrinkles and unexpected gray hairs. Nobody was buying her a drink and the tips didn't go as far as they once did. Not anymore.

It was around eight when the young Black kid entered the bar, cautiously eyeing his surroundings. He was too clean shaven and too youthful, and Barbara pulled herself away from the Phillies game on TV and the idle conversation with the road crew.

"Bud?" the kid asked. "Got Bud?"

Barbara nodded slowly.

"Make it a six to go," he said more confidently.

Barbara flipped a wave of blonde hair from her eyes. "Need some ID."

The kid placed both palms squarely on the countertop and leaned forward. "I ain't got none. I lost it."

"I can't serve you without it."

"That's bullshit."

"I can't help it. That's the law."

"I said I ain't got it."

Joyce Howard sized up the kid from head to toe, taking in the high top Converse, faded Levi's, and sleeveless yellow t-shirt.

"Get out of here, boy," she ordered. "Go find your ID."

Sammy Pittman maintained a hard stare as he backed to the door while the people turned slowly on their stools. With the cool of a professional he stopped, using the time to measure the crowd like Freddie had instructed. Only the guys hunched over their beers at the bar looked mildly threatening. Nothing to worry about from any of them.

A cinch, he told himself. In and out, just like Freddie said.

He drew a cigarette from his pocket and lit it with a shaky hand that signaled the gang in the Caddie.

"Hey boy," one of the road crew started. "You hear the lady?"

"I ain't deaf-"

"Then get the fuck out."

"This don't concern you, white man."

Joyce Howard rose off her stool. "Out of here! Go some place else, nigger, to get your six pack!"

Whatever else she could have said was lost when Trolly stormed into the bar behind Sammy, waving his twenty-two. Sammy pulled out his own piece and pointed it at Joyce Howard's head, stopping her in mid-sentence. In that split second she felt her heart skip a beat. Seeing both kids aiming guns, side by side in the doorway, Barbara McCauley panicked and dove for protection behind the bar. Trolly was across the room in three steps, leaping on top of the bar and pointing the gun at her.

"Off that floor, bitch!" he yelled, baring a mouthful of yellowed, cigarette-stained teeth. "Off that fucking floor or I'll blow your brains out."

"There's not much money," Joyce said from across the bar, shaking as she lifted her glass to her lips. "But –"

Sammy came across the floor quickly and easily. A cruel smile crossed his face as he slapped the glass out of her hands with the butt of his gun. "Won't serve niggers, huh? Let's not serve nobody," he sneered. "Let's just kill you-"

"Please," Joyce begged, feeling sweat on her forehead and a dryness in her mouth. "There's not much, but it's yours-"

"Do the bitch!" Trolly yelled.

Sammy laughed and waved the gun in her face. "You fucking right, it's mine!"

The road worker edged off his seat. "Why don't you just haul ass out of here?"

Trolly spun around on the bar and rammed his foot into the man's jaw, sending him reeling to the floor, while freezing the man's buddy in place with his twenty-two. The man rolled to his knees, holding a hand to his mouth while the blood spilled between his lips and broken teeth.

"Shut the fuck up," he said.

It was then that Freddie strode into the bar. He glanced at the couple wrapped in each other's arms, shook some braids to one side, and kept his forty-five leveled at the room. The neighborhood kids were tense and edgy, their fingers fidgeting on triggers while music pulsated from a corner juke box and the Phillies came to bat in the bottom of the third inning on a silent TV screen.

"Let's do this quick," he said.

"Off that fucking floor," Trolly hollered at Barbara.

Freddie moved behind the bar, helping Barbara McCauley to her feet and said, "We ain't gonna hurt you. We only want your money."

Her words stuck in her throat.

"You're okay," he said reassuringly. "Don't be stupid."

Joyce was forced to the floor, face down with her hands spread eagle on the cold linoleum. The floor was cold and dirty and smelled like stale beer and grime. She was terrified and frightened, and she could feel her heart pounding heavily in her throat as tears inched down her cheeks, streaking her mascara. I don't want to die, she was thinking. Not here and not like this.

In that instant it all came at her. She thought about her daughter and the things she had always meant to say to her and do with her. Dreams that had died. Hope and ambition that had faded away.

So much life unfinished.

Sammy's voice rang out. "How's that feel, motherfucker?"

She saw a foot lash out at the man who had been next to her, kicking his ribs twice before a pair of tan boots hurried over and pushed the high tops away. A pair of ebony hands took the wallet from the man's pocket, then his watch and rings, along with a gold cross from his neck. The boots came near, pausing for a moment at the body of the road worker who was still twitching on the floor. The man groaned, rasping out mumbled words, only to be quieted by a hand clamping loosely across his mouth.

"You'll be fine," Freddie said matter-of-factly.

Freddie stepped around the bodies. He took two gold rings from Joyce's fingers, a watch from one wrist and a bracelet from another, and then yanked off the heart chain she wore around her neck. As he turned away Sammy buried a foot in her ribs this time.

"Boy, huh?" he sneered as the bolts of pain ripped through her side. "Ain't no boy does this-"

"No!" Freddie barked. "That's not the way it's done."

Sammy shot Freddie a stare.

"You heard me," Freddie said, this time stronger.

"She called me 'boy'. And 'nigger'. Ain't nobody calling me that -"

"You gonna be called worse," Freddie said firmly. "Ain't the time or the place to deal with it."

"I'm gonna' blow the bitch's brains out!" Sammy said, cocking his twenty-two and aiming it at Joyce.

"Plug her," Trolly echoed from across the bar. "Do her."

"Shut up," Freddie said to him. "Get the money from the register and keep your mouth shut."

Freddie shook his head. "You ain't doing shit I don't tell you to do."

Freddie shot him a glare and shook his head again.

"Don't push me. I said no."

Sammy's mouth was open, but Freddie's ice cold stare snuffed out his response and the words died in silence. On the floor Joyce Howard started shaking uncontrollably.

As Freddie rifled the pockets of the couple across the bar then opened the cash register and Trolly ransacked the liquor shelves for bottles he could share with his basketball buddies, Sammy stormed around the bar. He found Barbara McCauley trembling on the floor and yanked her up. She was shaking so badly she could barely stand alone. Sammy steadied her with the butt of his gun, then dragged her into a hallway leading to the kitchen.

"Move bitch."

"Don't hurt me," she sobbed. "Please don't."

"Shut up. Just shut up and move!"

He was going to make someone pay for that, he swore, grabbing a handful of Barbara's hair and yanking her through the darkness.

He shoved her forward, thinking that maybe he needed to flex a little muscle with Freddie Burnett when this was done. Show him that he wasn't no kid like Trolly or some of those other basketball boys from the neighborhood. Make him understand that he deserved respect. Make him see that, he thought. Get him to remember that it was his uncle who put him with Freddie, and that it was his uncle who called the shots and made things happen. Freddie was just the hired help, Sammy thought.

Barbara's voice cracked as tears rolled down her cheeks. "Please don't hurt me."

Sammy slammed the barrel of the gun into her temple with lightning speed. "I said, shut up, bitch," he growled.

The blow knocked Barbara off balance. Sammy jerked her upright, this time banging the gun hard against her ear. Her knees stiffened as she lurched sideways against the wall, trying to dig her fingers into plaster and sheetrock for support. There was a gash across her forehead and the blood ran into her eyes and trickled down her face.

"You don't want to do this," she tried again, trying to find her feet beneath her.

"Talking won't do you no good."

Sammy pulled her into the kitchen, using the cold steel of the gun to guide her. He shoved her against the refrigerator with a quick thrust and Barbara bounced into it and fell backwards to the floor. Sammy caught her by an elbow, spun her around, and rammed her face into the white enamel of the refrigerator again. He tried working his hand inside her blouse but she pulled away at his touch. He was clumsy and awkward and his fingers ripped through the fabric, and his nails left bloody scratches across her chest.

"Don't say nothing," he said.

Still holding her arm he threw her to the floor, tearing again at her blouse and then yanking at his own zipper. Barbara landed on her back. She looked up for only a second to see him straddling her, and then turned her gaze sideways to the floor. She felt him reaching beneath her skirt and grabbing for her panties, and instinctively she struggled to get free. She tried squirming away through a puddle of soapy water, thinking that if she could get out of the kitchen and make it to the parking lot she had a chance. There were cars passing on the White Horse Pike. Someone would stop if they saw her, and someone could come to help – she was sure of it.

There was a loud snap that sounded like the kid's belt buckle unclasping and the sudden, sickening realization that she wasn't going to escape set in.

Her body trembled and quaked. "Oh God," she wailed.

The moment erupted in an explosion of sound.

There were screams in the bar, and a sudden loud thud in the soapy water beside her. There was absolutely no pain; she'd always thought there would be pain but there was nothing to fill the silence from the explosion. Nothing but a numbing chill that swept quickly through her body. Trembling, she turned after a moment, slowly propping herself up on one elbow to see the crumpled body of Sammy Pittman on his knees. Behind him a solitary figure was slowly lowering a forty-five through haze of blue smoke.

"Kid should've listened," Freddie Burnett said. His voice offered no emotion and no trace of remorse.

The bullet had ripped through the small of Sammy's back, dropping him quickly to his knees. His pants were wrapped around his ankles, the shirt tail tangling from beneath the windbreaker in the puddle as he stared expressionlessly at Barbara. There was none of the pain that she would have expected to see etched in his expression. Just surprise. He clawed at the burning pain in his chest as the back of his shirt reddened. He opened his mouth to speak but could only manage to spit out a thick, dark clot of blood that drooled over his bottom lip.

There were no final words and no last gasp for life. Just a look of surprise as his hands dropped away and Sammy fell into a crumpled heap on the floor.

Later, Barbara would remember Freddie's expression. There was little difference between his face and the resigned looks of the road crew workers when they came in every afternoon. She searched the Ray Bans for some sign of feeling but there was nothing. He paused for a moment, looking first at Sammy Pittman's body shuddering one final time and then at Barbara.

Calvin was still in the Caddie, nervously gunning the engine, getting edgier as the minutes ticked away. With a tired, reluctant sigh, Freddie Burnett turned and went back to finishing the rest of his business.


"Nothing to talk about," Freddie had said during the quiet ride home. "It's done."

"Shit," Trolly muttered. "Wasn't no big deal. He just having fun. Besides, he's just a kid, just like me."

"He was man enough to know what he was doing."

"What about his uncle?"

Freddie Burnett offered a quiet shrug and said nothing else the rest of the ride home.

Word spread quickly about what had happened even before the Caddie's engine had cooled. As Freddie and Calvin sat quietly on the steps later that night, blood specking Freddie's tan boots, he seemed tired and resigned.

"I did what I thought was right," he said softly. "Somebody else gonna' judge it differently. Can't change that."

"You can try."

"Some times it don't matter."

"Gonna' be issues about this-"

Freddie nodded. "Gonna' need to explain myself," he said. "Boo gonna' want answers. Even when he gets them, ain't gonna' be no guarantees about what happens next."

"He ain't gonna' like what you got to say."

"I'll tell him the truth," Freddie said. "That's the only thing I know. Only thing I got."

"No time for excuses," he added. "What Boo does with it is up to him."

"It's tough, huh?" Calvin noted grimly.

Freddie nodded again. "You want to be a man, you got to make choices. Do what you think is the right thing," he said. "Do that, you can expect to get judged by your actions and face the consequences if someone else don't like what you did."

"Unless you just do what you're told," Calvin said.

Freddie looked off into the night and shrugged. "Don't think I can live like that."

"I guess not," Calvin agreed solemnly, looking away. "Not everybody can."


It might have been fitting if Freddie had been killed for something others might have understood, Calvin thought the next morning. But Freddie's death was meaningless, just like his principles. He was dead, and it wouldn't mean anything more or less, no matter what his intentions were or what value he tried to place on his actions.

Freddie screwed up and it cost him. Dead was dead. Boo Pittman didn't even give him a chance to come up with answers or explanations before sending the shooter to his apartment.

There was a finality in death that made all the answers meaningless any way, Calvin thought. He knew some day it might happen to him, no matter how hard he tried covering the angles so he could get ahead.

"Calvin!" a voice called from down the block. "You playing?"

"In a minute," he returned with a wave. "Got plenty of time."

Calvin picked up the basketball from the stoop, tied the red bandanna a little tighter around his head, and headed towards the basketball courts to finish yesterday's game of one on one. Double E. was playing him for a dollar a point – spotting his three to start. Everything had a price, Calvin thought. His had been one thousand dollars and a thirty-eight that Calvin made sure to wipe clean before dropping it down a sewer when he came out of Freddie's apartment that morning, just like Boo told him. He was about seven dollars behind to Double E, but he was going to play the game through to the end because you never know how it would end if you don't go all the way.

Even if you couldn't win, you take what they give you and you go with it as far as you can. Get what you need.

Freddie had said that once, Calvin remembered as he trotted off towards the courts with the basketball tucked under his arm.

It was a good lesson to remember.

BIO: Kevin Michaels is everything New Jersey (attitude -edginess - Bruce Springsteen - Tony Soprano but not Bon Jovi). He is a writer and a surfer who lives at the Jersey Shore when he's not in California. He has been previously published in Word Riot, Six Sentences, The Literary Review, and, and I can be contacted at

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Jack Corella - Darell M. Diedrich

Jack Corella awoke to the sound of his alarm. He hit the off button and rolled over to go back to sleep, but then thought better of it. He vaguely remembered hitting the snooze button once before. He looked at the time. It was seven o’clock. He sat up and swung his legs over the bed. Jack rubbed his eyes and stretched his back before reaching for a pack of smokes. He opened the flip-top box to retrieve one—it was empty. “Oh yea.” He thought. He was supposed to be quitting. He crumpled up the empty pack and threw it at the trashcan, missing it by several feet. Jack got up and went to the shower.

He was finally dressed and ready to go. It was a quarter to eight, he better hurry. He strapped on his gun and ran out the door and almost ran into one of his neighbors. “Oh! Sorry,” Jack said.

“That’s okay,” she said. It was Shawna. She lived upstairs above Jack She was a tall red head with a fabulous figure, and the tight red shirt and blue jeans only added to her appeal. Her blue eyes sparkled even in the dimmest of light. A nice woman too.

“Are you just getting in?” Jack said.

“Yes, it was a busy day at the club,” she said.

“Well, I uh . . . I need to go” Jack said, jabbing his thumb towards the door.

“Oh, I’m sorry. You must be going to work.”

“Yep, another day fighting crime. But I’ll see ya around.”

She said good bye and walked up the stairs to her apartment. He watched her until she was out of sight then let out a sigh. He never knew what to say to her. One of these days he would ask her out. How is it he can chase a drug dealer down an alley, but was afraid to ask a beautiful woman to dinner? Jack shook his head. He spun on his heel and left the apartment building.

Pulling his keys from his pocket he slid one into the door of his car, then realized the window was broken. “Crap!” he said. “Not again.” He brushed the broken glass off the seat and jumped in. The radio was missing. He started the car and sped off to work, cutting someone off. They cursed and swore at him, honking their horn. He paid no attention. Stopping at a gas station he picked up some more smokes. He was late for work.

“Screw it. They should be used to it by now. If they fire me it will be a blessing.”

Jack had been on the force for ten years, but lately it didn’t have the same appeal to him as it did in the beginning. He was tired of busting the same criminals over and over again just so they could be let free a few days later.

Jack pulled into the station and went inside.

“Corella! You’re late again damn it!” Said the Chief.

“Sorry Chief.” He really wasn’t.

“Sorry my ass! One more time and your on traffic duty! The FBI is here. Their gonna help with your case and they need to see your report. They’ve been waiting since seven. You got ten minutes to get it together and be in my office.” The Chief stormed back to his office and slammed the door, rattling the glass in its frame.

Jack went back to his desk and began gathering his reports. There had been two bank robberies in L. A. in the past week. Now the Feds were going to get involved and Corella was supposed to assist them. He cursed himself again for forgetting about the meeting.

“Hey, Corella, you look like shit.” Jack looked up to see Billy. He and Jack were good friends, joined the academy together. They used to be partners, but Billy took a bullet in the leg and it never healed right. He walked with a slight limp and was now stuck at a desk. Billy ran his fingers through his short brown hair, and took a seat on the corner of Jack’s desk. “And that’s a compliment.” He continued. “What the hell did you do last night anyway?”

“Drank myself sick,” Jack said. “I’m tired of this B.S., Billy. I gotta find a new job.”

“You need to get a girl friend. What happened to that red head you told me about?”

“Nothing, I haven’t asked her out yet.”

“Wuss. You better do it before someone else does. Here comes the Chief, I’ll talk to you later.” Billy hopped up and walked to his own desk.

“Corella! Times up, get in here!” Said the Chief.

Jack grabbed the rest of his stuff and went to the Chief’s office. Two Fed’s were in there waiting. They were both of average height with short brown hair, and both wore black suits. The only difference between the two was their faces. One had a round face with a slightly squished nose, the other with an oval face with a long nose and pointed chin. The Chief started as soon as Jack closed the door behind him.

“This is agent Jefferson,” the one with a pointed chin nodded, “and agent Doyle. Gentlemen this is Jack Corella. He’s been following the case since it started. Show them what you got Corella.”

“Not much really. The first robbery was one week ago, the other four days ago. There are four of them, three males and one female. They wear black clothes and masks.
One caries a shotgun and the others carry pistols, one of which is a 9mm. We found bullet casings for the 9mm at both robberies, all came from the same weapon.”

“How long were they in the banks?” Doyle asked.

“No more than two minutes,” answered Jack. “They only robbed the tellers, leaving the vault alone.”

Jefferson spoke for the first time. “The FBI will take it from here. Thank you Mr. Corella that will be all for now.”

“Just like that I’m off the case?” Jack said.

“The FBI handles bank robberies, Mr. Corella. If we need your assistance we’ll ask you for it,” Jefferson said.

Jack was about to protest, but the look the Chief gave him made him think better of it. He turned and left the office.

Jack sat at his desk, going over the file of the robberies. There was no report of a getaway car. “That was strange,” he thought. “Maybe that’s how they got away so easily. There are more places to hide in this city if you’re on foot rather than in a car.” Still, it was strange. Jack decided to check back records for any similar robberies. It took most of the day and he came up with nothing.

“Hey, Corella?” Jack turned to see a female officer approach him. It was Joann Flemming. A great gal, but married. Her blonde hair was in a ponytail and bobbed up and down as she walked. Joann always had a bounce in her step that cheered up anyone in the room. She was taller that most women and slender. A lot of guys on the force teased her when she first arrived. They thought her slender frame would hold her back. But within her first week on the job she took down a 300-pound man by herself. The teasing stopped. “I got a report on a stolen vehicle,” she continued. “Want to go?”

Jack looked at the paper work on his desk, then looked back at her. “Sure, what the hell.”

A half -hour later they arrived at the address, an old rundown house just outside central L. A. Jack knocked on the door. The door opened a little, and a round, bearded face peered through. “Yea? What do ya want?”

“I’m detective Flemming and this is detective Corella from the L. A. P. D. You reported a car stolen?”

“It was a van. What the hell took you so long? I reported it this morning.”

“Sorry, but your van is not the only vehicle stolen in this city,” said Flemming. “Do you want us to come in and take a report or not?”

“All right.” The man opened the door the rest of the way, revealing his large beer gut, covered only by a sweaty T-shirt and boxers that didn’t cover as much flesh as they should. He sat down in an old chair and finished off a beer.

“At what time was your vehicle stolen?” Said Flemming

“I think it was last night. I heard noises outside about nine-thirty, but I didn’t think anything about it. I went outside this morning to get the paper and my van was gone.” He let out a long, noisy burp then cracked open another beer.

“What’s the color, make and year?”

“It’s a blue, seventy-nine chevy. I just put new tires on the damn thing.”

“Is there anything else you can tell us?”

The man finished another beer. “No, that’s all.”

“We’ll keep an eye out for it and let you know if we find it.”

The detectives left the house. Joann asked Jack if he wanted to get something to eat, but he declined. It was five o’clock and he was tired. She dropped him off at the station so he could get his car. From there he drove to the liquor store and picked up a six pack, then drove home. He was going to lock the car door, then remembered he had no window. He went into the apartment building and stopped at the mailboxes, opening his up—all bills. The door to the apartment building opened and he turned to see Shawna coming in. Behind her walked a woman and two men. The woman was blonde and, despite wearing too much blue eye makeup, was attractive. Her shirt fit tightly, pushing her breasts up and covering very little. The first guy had long black hair that hung past his shoulders and a teardrop tattooed under his right eye. The second guy lifted his right hand and ran his fingers through his hair as he walked past, so Jack didn’t get a good look at his face. He dressed well and had short dark brown hair combed straight back. A gold ring adorned his middle finger.

Jack said “Hi” to Shawna, but she ignored him and went up the stairs to her apartment. One of the men must be her boyfriend. “Figures,” he thought “Billy was right, I waited too long.” He went into his own apartment, a bit depressed now. Jack put the beers in the fridge and took off his firearm, hanging it on the back of a chair. He made himself a sandwich and took a beer out of the fridge, then sat in front of the television. An old movie was on. He’d seen it a million times, but figured one more time wouldn’t hurt. He finished his sandwich, then pulled a cigarette from his pocket, lighting it with a match. He was only half watching the movie. His mind was on Shawna. In all the time he had known her, he had never seen her bring a man home. It’s too bad he missed his chance. He was still thinking about her when he went to bed.

Jack entered the station at seven o’clock the next morning. The Chief threatening to put him on traffic duty worked. He went straight to his desk to finish the paper work from the night before. He wanted to get everything out of the way in case some leads came in about the robberies. Just before lunch he got his check, it’s a good thing, his rent was due. He decided to stop at the bank and cash his check before getting something to eat.

The line in front of the teller was long and he hoped he would have time to get some lunch before he went back to the station. He thought about coming back later and turned to leave. As he turned around four people dressed in black and wearing masks entered the bank.

“This is a robbery! Everyone on the floor!” One of them said, firing two shots into the air.

Everyone lay flat on the ground, including Jack. There were too many people in
the bank for him to draw his weapon, someone might get hurt. Two of the robbers were men and the other two were women. One of the women and one of the men jumped behind the counter, instructing the tellers to open the drawers. The remaining two watched over the rest of the people in the bank. Jack was looking at the woman. He could tell she was nervous. When she looked back at him, her eyes widened ever so slightly. She stared at him for just a moment, then turned her attention back to the other two robbers. They got their loot and were heading for the door. “Let’s go!” shouted one of the men. They all backed out of the bank. As soon as they were out the door Jack jumped to his feet and drew his gun. He ran out the door after them. Just down the street they were running for a van.

“Police, stop or I’ll shoot!” shouted Jack

One of the robbers turned and started shooting. Jack flung the door of the nearest car open and jumped inside it. Bullets slammed into the car’s door and hood and shattered the windshield. Jack returned fire, hitting the robber in the chest. He fell to the ground, letting off two more shots into the air as he fell. The other crooks jumped into the van and sped off. Several seconds later the police showed up. Jack went over to the crook he shot and pulled off the mask. He jumped back at seeing who it was. The man had long black hair and a teardrop tattoo under his right eye. He thought back to last night, when Shawna came home. This man was with her. Could she be involved? No, that had to be a coincidence.

“You know this man?” Agent Jefferson had come up behind him.

“Uh, no . . .no I don’t,” said Jack. “I haven’t checked for ID.”

Jefferson stared at him for a moment. Then said, “I want a report about what happened here in one hour.”

Jack nodded his head and turned back to the bank. There was a man yelling about his car. Jack looked at the car he had dove into during the shoot out. What once was a beautiful red corvette was now littered with bullet holes and had a shattered windshield. Jack turned to go back to his car when he kicked something. Looking down he saw a book of matches. The front cover was facing up and read: “Kitty Cat Club” in bright pink letters. Jack picked it up with a tissue. Under the cover was written a phone number.

“What’s that?” asked Jefferson

“A book of matches. It may have fallen from the dead guy.”

“That’s ridiculous. This man doesn’t smoke.”

“How do you know?”

“He doesn’t have any cigarettes. Why would he carry matches if he doesn’t smoke?”

“It was laying right next to him it may…”

“Corella, this is not your investigation.” Jefferson snatched the matches from Jack with a gloved hand. “Quit screwing around and get me that report I asked for. And get out of the way before I tell your chief your hindering an investigation!” Jefferson stalked off, throwing the matches into a trashcan.

“What’s wrong with that bastard?” thought Jack. He waited until the agent wasn’t looking and retrieved the matches from the trash, putting them into his pocket. A report came back that the getaway vehicle had been found abandoned several blocks away in an
alley. Jack went to confirm that it was the same van. Sure enough, it was. The van matched the description of the stolen van given to him and Joann the night before. An officer was checking the plates to be sure.

The robbers had gotten away so there was nothing else for Jack to do but go back to the station and make out his report. He made sure it was complete, leaving out the part about the woman robber looking at and him recognizing the dead guy, and turned it in to the Chief.

He had enough for one day. It was late and he wanted to go home, but he had to do one more thing. He took the matches out of his pocket and wrote down the number off the inside cover. Then he took it to the crime lab to have it tested for prints. It was a long shot, but you never knew what could happen. He left the station and hopped into his car. He decided to make a stop before going home.

The Kitty Cat Club was a strip joint on the west side of L. A. The same place where Shawna worked. It was ten o’clock when he pulled into the parking lot. He paid the cover charge and went in, taking a seat towards the back near the bar. The place was pretty crowded and it took a while for his drink to arrive. About that time Shawna was up on stage. She was a good dancer and Jack was mesmerized by her. “Damn she’s incredible.” He thought. Apparently everyone else did too, when she was done she got a standing ovation. Jack thought he might buy her a drink as soon as she came out to mingle with the customers. He spotted her a few minutes later, but she was talking to some guy at the other end of the room. He sat and watched them. The conversation was getting very heated. He couldn’t hear what they said, but the guy had a hold of her arm and she was shaking her head. Jack recognized the man as one of the two he saw last
night with Shawna. She nodded her head once and yanked her arm away from him, then turned and stormed out of the room.

Jack waited a couple more hours, but she never came back. He was tired so he left, thinking he would ask her some questions later. Jack got back into his car and headed home.

The next morning Jack was late again. But the chief must not have noticed because he didn’t say anything. A set of fingerprints was found in the van from the robbery last night. The Fed’s were nowhere to be found so Jack decided to follow up on the lead. The prints belonged to a woman named Salena Jackson. As of yet she wasn’t a suspect, just wanted for questioning. Jack got her address from the police files and went to her last known address. She lived about three blocks away from where the van was stolen.

Jack walked up to the door and knocked, the door opened a little at the force from his knuckles. “Hello? Anybody home?” He asked. No answer, he pushed the door open the rest of the way so he could see inside. The house looked ransacked. Jack drew his weapon. “Hello?” he shouted. “L. A. P. D. anybody home?” Jack went in. The house was trashed, the table was turned over, pictures on the floor and cushions torn open. He checked each room, finding them empty, then moved to the master bedroom. The door was open only a crack and it looked like it had been kicked in. Jack took a deep breath, and pushed the door open. This room was trashed too and on the bed lay a woman, the sheets stained red. Her blonde hair was soaked red and her blue eye makeup was smudged, as if she had cried and wiped her eyes. He checked her pulse even though he knew she was dead. Jack went into the living room and called the station. Homicide arrived in minutes, along with the Feds.

“What the hell are you doing here, Corella?” Said Jefferson. “This is a federal case, your not supposed to be here.”

“I got the report about the prints and you weren’t around so I came to ask her a few questions,” said Jack.

“Why didn’t you call for back up?” asked Jefferson

“I don’t need back up to ask a woman questions.”

“From what I been hearing about you, I think you do.”

“You son of a…!” Jack punched Jefferson in the jaw, knocking him to the ground. A couple officers grabbed Jack and pulled him back.

“Back off Corella!” shouted agent Doyle.

“Your in a heap of shit now, Corella!” shouted Jefferson, getting up off the floor holding his sore jaw. “You can be sure your Chief is going to hear about this! Kiss your job goodbye!”

Jack turned and left the house. He was right; the Chief would probably suspend him. Maybe he could get out of here before the Chief got word. It would buy him some time on the case. He pulled his keys from his pocket, and just as he slid the key into the ignition an officer stepped out of his vehicle, radio still in his hand.

“Hey, Corella!” shouted an officer. “The Chief wants you back at the station, pronto!”

Jack started his car and went back to the station. The Chief was waiting for him. “In my office, Corella.” Once in his office the Chief slammed the door shut behind them. The glass rattled in its frame.

“One of these days that glass is going to fall out,” said Jack.

The Chief got right to the point. “What the hell gives you the right to strike another officer, and not just an officer, a federal agent!”

“He deserved it, Chief. The guy’s a jerk.”

“So are you, Corella. But nobody has knocked you on your ass—yet! As of now you are on suspension until further notice. Turn over your badge and side arm and get the hell out of my office.”

Jack placed his pistol and badge on the Chiefs desk and left. He could use the time off, but now wasn’t the right time. He had to find out how Shawna was mixed up in this whole mess. He stopped at his locker and got his spare pistol, a .45 magnum, and left the station. He was going to visit Shawna; it was time he asked her some questions.

Jack arrived at his apartment building and went straight to Shawna’s door. He was about to knock when he noticed that the door had been forced open. His heart pounded in his chest. He pulled out his pistol and loaded a bullet in the chamber, then put his ear to the door and listened. He could hear sounds coming from inside. Slowly he pushed the door open. The noise was coming from a back bedroom. Jack quietly walked over to the doorway and peeked in. He could see a figure moving around. “Don’t move, police!” he shouted, pointing his gun at the intruder. The intruder shot a few rounds as Jack jumped behind a wall. Plaster scattered with each hit. Jack returned fire at the intruder, but missed. The intruder jumped out the window onto the fire escape, firing at Jack again. The bullets slammed into the wall again. Jack ran to the fire escape. The intruder was nowhere to be seen. Jack cursed himself for letting him get away. He looked
around the apartment. Shawna wasn’t there. That was a relief, he was afraid he would find her dead.

Jack went back to his own apartment to think things through. There was no point in calling the police, he would just get into more trouble. He pulled his keys from his pocket and slid one into the lock. The door opened without much force. Someone was in his apartment too! He slowly pushed the door open and listened, nothing. He slowly walked over to the bedroom and when he got closer he could hear someone in his bathroom. He stood next to the door against the wall. Suddenly the door flung open and someone stepped out. “Freeze!” shouted Jack, pointing his gut at their head. The woman screamed and leaped back. Jack quickly put down his weapon when he saw who it was. Shawna stood against the wall in a towel, her hair dripping wet. “Shawna! What are you doing here?”

“I’m sorry Jack, I had nowhere else to go.” She put her face in her hands and began to sob. “Please help me, Jack.”

“All right, all right. I will, just calm down. Come sit down and I’ll get you some thing to drink.” After a few minutes, and a few drinks, he got her to calm down. Then she told him her story.

“It started about three months ago. A friend and I borrowed some money from this guy, Greg Wellings. He’s the owner of the Kitty Cat Club. We needed it for a real-estate deal.”

“How much did you barrow?” Said Jack.

“One hundred and fifty thousand. But the deal fell through and we couldn’t pay it back. Greg let us dance at the club to pay it off, that’s why I was dancing there. But apparently Greg borrowed the money from someone else and that guy wanted his money back. Greg thought of a plan to get the money.”

“Robbing banks.”

“Right. Greg said he would kill us if we didn’t help. I swear we had no choice. When the third robbery went bad and Tony got killed…”

“Tony?” Said Jack.

“Yea. Tony was the one you shot. He was a friend of Greg’s. After he got killed, Salena and I told Greg we weren’t going to help him rob banks anymore. He said he would kill us but we didn’t care, we could get killed anyway. Salena and I split. It was getting way too crazy. I think she is dead, because I can’t get a hold of her, and when I got home someone was in my apartment. This was the only place I could think to hide.”

“Salena is dead,” said Jack. “I found her earlier today.”

“Oh God.” Shawna buried her face in her palms and cried again. Jack gave her a few minutes before continuing. He felt for Shawna, but had to get some answers if he was going to help her.

“Who was this friend of Greg’s that loaned him the money?”

“I don’t know, I never saw him, but Greg said he must be some kind of government employee. He told Greg what banks to hit and when to do it.” She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “Now that I think of it, I remember Greg talking to him on the phone once. He called the guy “Jay”. I think it was a nickname.”

Jack thought for a moment, trying to think of anybody it might be. How could this guy know where to strike? Unless he was an employee of one of the banks, but then how did he get information about the other banks? The only agency that had anything to do with all the banks was the FBI, and that was only …robberies! It hit Jack all at once, he knew who Greg’s connection was. It was Jefferson! That’s why Jefferson had an attitude about Jack being on the case. Without Jack snooping around he could control every aspect of the investigation. He could get any information on any bank he wanted. Jay was actually “J” for Jefferson. “I think I know who Greg’s connection is,” said Jack. “You stay here, I gotta go back to the station.” Jack got up and walked to the door.

“Jack?” said Shawna. Jack turned around. “Thanks, I owe you one.”

“How about dinner when this is all over?”

Shawna smiled. “I thought you would never ask.” Jack smiled back at her and went out the door.

Jack arrived at the station and went over to Billy’s desk. Billy was sitting there as usual. “Billy, I need you to do me a favor,” said Jack.

“Hey, Jack, I heard you got suspended?” asked Billy.

“Yea, I did, that’s why I need a favor.”

“Sure, anything to get away from this desk.”

“Go down to the lab and pick-up the results on a match book, I had it tested for prints, and meet me at the chiefs office.”

“You got it.” Billy left for the lab and Jack went to the Chief’s office.

Jack knocked on the Chief’s door and walked in. The Chief looked up. “Jack, I was just getting ready to call you. Billy tells me you have a neighbor who dances at the Kitty Cat Club. It turns out the dead dancer is a friend of hers. We tried to call her but there was no answer. Do you know where she might be?”

“She’s at my place, chief, but she’s not the one you want. She told me everything she knew and I know who is behind the robberies. It’s agent Jefferson.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Shawna told me that her boss, Greg, threatened to kill her and Salena Jackson if they didn’t help him get the money. He owed the money to some other guy who told him what banks to hit and when. Who else could know that but a federal agent.”

“How can you prove this?”

“Billy is bringing me a report on a set of prints. I found a book of matches by the bank robber I shot. Agent Jefferson didn’t want me to have those matches, he threw them away. This explains why he has been pushing me out of this case.”

“Jack, agent Jefferson didn’t push you off the case, it was agent Doyle. And he couldn’t have been apart of the robberies. He has been a guest at my house since he arrived. And, furthermore, he’s not here anymore. He flew back to Washington this after noon to begin work on another case.”

“Shawna told me this guy goes by the nickname “Jay”. It’s the first letter of Jefferson’s name. It has to be him.”

Billy came in the office and handed Jack the report. Jack opened it up and looked at it.

“Well, who’s prints are they?” asked the chief, impatiently. “Are they Jefferson’s?”

“No,” said Jack. “They belong to a J. S. Doyle. The photo is screwed up. What’s agent Doyle’s first name?”

The Chief searched threw the pile of papers on his desk until he found the one he was looking for. “His first name is Jason. Jay is short for Jason.”

“Where is agent Doyle now?” asked Jack.

“He went over to the Kitty Cat Club to look for your dancer,” said the Chief. “Billy, get a couple black-and-whites over to the Kitty Cat Club and meet me out front, we’re gon'na have a talk with agent Doyle.”

“You got it Chief.” Billy left to do as he was ordered, excited to do some real police work for a change.

“Jack, get back to your apartment and keep an eye on that dancer of yours. We may need her as a witness.” The Chief went to meet Billy out front and Jack went back to his apartment.

He walked in and closed the door behind him. “Shawna, are you still here?” he yelled.

“I’m right here, Jack.” Shawna stood in the kitchen doorway. There was fear in her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” said Jack.

Shawna was pushed forward and Doyle stepped out of the kitchen, a gun at Shawna’s back. Jack reached for his gun.

“Don’t even think about it, Jack! Throw your gun to the floor,” said Doyle.

Jack paused for a moment, not wanting to give up his weapon.

“Do it and I put a bullet into her back!” He shoved the muzzle of the pistol in Shawna’s back and she winced in pain. Jack threw his gun down and kicked it across the floor.

“So, how much did she tell you, Jack? Did she tell you everything? I was this close to being rich, but you couldn’t keep your nose out of federal business. No, you had to keep prying.”

The phone rang and everyone jumped. It rang three times, then the answering machine picked it up. A voice came over the speaker. “Jack, it’s the chief. We just found Greg Wellings dead. Doyle is nowhere to be found. You better bring Shawna to the station as soon as you get in.” The chief hung up.

“Everyone’s on to you, Doyle. Give it up,” said Jack.

Doyle laughed. “They don’t know where I am. Now I just get rid of you two and they won’t have a case.” Doyle pulled back the hammer on his pistol and pointed it at Jack. “Good-bye, sucker.”

Shawna grabbed a hold of Doyle’s arm and bit into it. Doyle screamed and dropped the pistol. He grabbed her hair with his other hand yanked her back, then smacked her across the face, knocking her to the ground. He bent down to pick up his gun, but Jack was already there. He kicked the gun away and kneed Doyle in the face. He tried to punch him in the gut, but Doyle blocked it and punched Jack instead. Jack keeled over and Doyle kicked him. Jack caught his foot and tripped Doyle. Doyle kicked Jack, knocking him into a chair, and got to his feet. Jack ran over and tackled him. They both fell to the floor. They exchanged a few punches, and then Doyle kneed Jack in the groin and pushed him off of him. Doyle searched on the floor for his gun. Both men got to their feet at the same time. When Doyle turned to face Jack he was holding his revolver.

“It’s all over, Jack!”

Jack jumped behind his couch just as Doyle pulled the trigger. The bullet struck Jack in the left shoulder and he hit the floor hard. Jack pulled himself across the floor to get to where he last saw his gun, between the couch and the chair. He got there just as Doyle moved around the couch. The gun was gone!

“Tough break, Corella.” Mocked Doyle.

He pointed his gun at Jack. A shot rang out and Doyle flew back against the wall. Another shot and Doyle slid to the floor. Jack turned too see Shawna lowering the gun. She dropped it and ran to Jack.

“Are you O.K.?” Shawna said.

Jack winced as Shawna helped him sit up.

“Yea, I’m O.K.” Jack couldn’t help but glance at Doyle, half expecting him to get up again like in a movie. But Doyle lay against the wall not breathing and Jack relaxed.

“You better be all right, now you owe me dinner,” said Shawna.

She kissed him before he could reply.

The door slammed open. Billy stood in the doorway, his gun pointed in front of him.

“Just us three,” said Jack. “I think he is dead.”

Billy walked over to Doyle and checked his pulse. The Chief and several other officers walked in behind him.

“He’s gone.” Said Billy. He looked back at Doyle. “Nice shooting, Jack.”

“It wasn’t me. Shawna shot him,” said Jack. “She saved my life.”

“Send the paramedics up,” said the Chief. “Ma’am, you’re going to have to come down to the station to make a statement. Just to fill in some gaps.”

“Am I going to jail for the robberies?” Said Shawna.

“I don’t think so. You were an unwilling participant. I am sure the Feds will cut you a deal.”

The paramedics came in and put Jack on a stretcher. The Chief stopped them before they could take him out.

“Good work, Jack. I’ve reinstated you. As soon as you are released from the hospital you can get your badge and sidearm back.”

“Thanks, Chief, but as soon as I get out I have a date . . . then I’m taking a vacation.”

BIO: Darell Diedrich is a graduate student at Northern Arizona University, where he instructs students in English and Creative Writing courses.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Cochran Resolve - Tom Sheehan

Closing on forty-five years on the Saugus Police Department, all of it on the street it seemed except for the last few years of count-down to his retirement, Silas Tully owned up to a few things. If he were asked to give a thumbnail sketch of himself he would have replied simply, but very graphically, as follows: God-fearing, American to the absolute and final core, stiff believer in the Marine Corps and its heady history, a cop every day until his last day, and a detailer. That he loved, and lived by, details, was a paramount importance in all he did. So it was not odd in 1990, late in the year, leaves crisp and yellow as butter or red as lava flow, the stadium a full bandbox of sounds on Saturdays, dates and anniversaries and common events came piling across the back of his mind like some inner movie being run for the hundredth time.

Silas Tully always paid heed to such home movies. Now the old headlines grabbed at him, tossed their thick and tall blackness and page-wide shrieks into his mind, their gripping attention reaching out to him. MURDER they had screamed, VIOLENT MURDER, a girl, a nice neighborhood girl, some fifty years ago, garroted and strangled and fiercely and barbarously treated and then dumped off the side of a lonely road.

He’d been just a spanking brand new fifteen year older when the murder had taken place, and even now, after all the years on the force, after all he had seen and wished he hadn’t seen at times, the newer murders, the later crimes, the heinous deeds he had been sometimes witness to, it still came at him as if it had happened only yesterday.

It had happened almost fifty years ago, and Silas Tully found an old reproduction of a LYNN DAILY EVENING ITEM, one he had finally Xeroxed before it gave up the ghost, the cream of wheat texture of it, the aging yellowness falling away to near dust. He read again the lead paragraph, a paragraph some reporter had written when Silas was a mere fifteen years old, a paragraph hard enough to make any man sit up, even today: Twenty-four hours after the mutilated body of attractive Frances Cochran, nineteen year old bookkeeper, of 54 Water Street, was found in a thicket near the Salem-Lynn-Swampscott line police were seeking the driver of a ‘34 or ‘35 Chevie with yellow trimmings. The Chief of Police had reported that a mysterious caller to a local radio station had advised that a body could be found off Danvers Road. Frances Cochran had disappeared on July 17 and was the object of an intense search for three days before her body was discovered. After the tipster called, two Swampscott patrolmen had found her body.

Silas Tully could still feel the taste in his mouth, all these years later, which the story had induced. He found nothing as despicable as hurting the fair sex, and knew that much of his character and all of his police life had been painted by that distaste. Now and then he shook in anger at such doings. It made him work much harder than the guy next to him.

The girl’s body was found with her face and head bludgeoned into a pulp, her skull crushed and parts of her shoulders and torso burned in a crude attempt to burn the body. Her teeth were broken and her entire body maltreated. Her clothing was torn to shreds. “Absolute barbarism and the work of a crazed fiend or a maniac,” said the chief. A tree twig, about an inch in thickness, was found lodged deeply in Miss Cochran’s throat. The body was sprawled in a tangle of brush about thirty-five feet from the road.

The beastliness of it all came full charge at him, a horrible sense of the deed working on him as strong as it had when he was that mere boy. Over and over again he read the story, assimilating every detail, categorizing and filing each little item, each entity or bit of information, and slowly and surely, the way a glacier makes its way out of the mountains, a matter of resolve began to fill him. From every known source he gathered additional details, taking Xeroxes of everything in the files of THE LYNN DAILY EVENING ITEM and THE SALEM EVENING NEWS. In turn he was lead on to clippings from a number of Boston papers, the GLOBE and the HERALD and TRAVELER and the RECORD and AMERICAN and the old POST, and subsequently to an innumerable number of magazine articles and specialty features on one of the most brutal of crimes. Certainly, for those along the North Shore, from tightly-packed Winthrop under the sound of aircraft popping in and out of Boston’s Logan Airport to the water-world that was Gloucester and Rockport and Manchester-by-the-Sea, the crime was one for the century.

And for the fact that half of that century was about to pass, Officer Silas Tully, God-fearing, American, Corps’ man, cop forever, detailer (Ars Punctilio, as Chief Noel Rebenkern had so

often referred to him), sitting daily now in the soft chair easing him down the road to retirement, decided to have a go at it himself!

The chief wondered what the hell was keeping Silas so busy, reading and poring over notes and literature, copying newspaper and magazine clippings, burning both ends of the candle with retirement just over the hill. But he knew his man as well as any man, and if this bulldog of a cop had got his bite onto something, then someone someplace or somewhere should be wary. In his own way he pictured Si a long time in the past working behind the Japanese lines a mere two hundred yards off the beach of some now-quieted but memorable Pacific island. It could make the most alert man nervous.

“Si,’ he said, one day late in October, coming into work and the crisp air of the outside a cool and vivid memory on his face as he passed by Silas, “What the hell’s got you perked up? You’ve been poring over that material for a week now.” He hitched his belt up and pulled at it, as if to redistribute his bodily matter and to make himself taller, the textbook stuff. Halfheartedly he coughed and muffled it with an open hand, but felt clumsy and so readable. It was obvious to both of them he was about to make a dictate. With a shrug of the shoulder that said, Hell, you know what I’m up to, to Si, he offered the dictate: “Take it easy. You’ve earned your time. I don’t know of anything so goddamn important you’ve got to get all involved in it now. You must be driving Phyllis absolutely nuts. And she thought it was going to be easy!” An image of Si’s wife floated to him from a distant corner of the station. He could see her pale blue eyes looking inquisitively at both of them, her head shaking in either frustration or impatience, and finally, as it always had come about, the relenting smile which had become part of her make-up, had become part of her life as the wife of Ars Punctilio. It had to go with the territory.

“She still doesn’t like my truck, Noel. Thinks I think I’m still a kid.” The big red F350, a massive ball of power that Phyllis at times thought was right at the cutting edge of senility and a thought which she invariably let go from whence it came, was parked right outside the window of the office where Silas was working his way through the Cochran case for the umpteenth time. He held up the old ITEM headline and the chief had instant memory of the case, the classic and perfect crime of the century, still unsolved after fifty years. A flicker of passionate disgust passed through him as a few of the old details came into his mind. Most of all, as a man first, and then as a cop, it was the garroting that had inflamed him long ago, which came back on him so quickly and just as strong as it had previously been. The evil was liquid on him, crawling on his skin, his mouth foul and dry. He wished he could see into Silas’ head, to see how things stacked up in that fertile mind, to mark what he had marked, even so early in the game. They’d been through so much crap together, but the garroting was something by itself. He thought, as he had before, it was a maniac leaving some kind of clue to his identity, an aberrant signature of an aberrant mind. Silas nodded when the chief made that thought verbal; it registered with a big check mark because he too had had that same intuition. The cut of the cloth was evident in each.

“So,” continued the chief, “what are you up to?”

Silas looked up at his old partner. The jaw of Noel Rebenkern was still square, but the neck was thicker and somewhat softer, the hair thinner on top, and the steel blue of his eyes had watered a bit. Their thoughts could have been in unison: he’d been through a number of hells with this man, starting way out in the islands of the Pacific almost half a century ago when each was a mere boy, through the silent agonies and noisy carnage that had spawned themselves off Route One and its fast world, the speed lane that halved Saugus. Silas thought, My old pal won’t be long behind me when I leave this post.

“I’m going to give it a whirl, Noel,” he said, “one last swing through the hinterlands as they might say. There’s got to be something they didn’t pay attention to, some little idiosyncrasy left untouched , smoldering all these years, perhaps a piece of matter so small or so insignificant it didn’t appear to matter at all.”

His forehead V’d itself as if pointing right down his distinguished Roman nose, the flesh of his inquisitiveness furrowed deeply. It was evident to the chief that his old comrade was poring over every detail with the same old determination his whole career had been marked with, for he was a computer in himself, a forty-five year old filing system, and was possessed of a filter that caught at the most minute bit of slag and slush one could imagine. Whoever you are, my weird soul of souls, beware if you’re not dead, if you didn’t die out on the islands when we were there, if you didn’t join up after killing that poor girl and get wasted in the hell of Europe, if you’re still kicking around Lynn all these years later, I don’t give a shit how old you are now, you better beware!

Silas’ eyes had darkened, the skin on the lower part of his face tighter than it had been minutes ago, still wearing the russet cordage of the weather and the years, almost a sandpaper quality to
that organ. There was a lock about him, a fusion of all his parts coming into one feeling, one sense, one duty. He’d been that way ever since the chief had known him, a determination that seemed to take over every facet of his being, the bulldog cop taking a grip and never letting go until some kind of accomplishment had been made.

“Do you want some time away from here, Si?

“Don’t treat me special, Noel. I didn’t ask for that.” They were eye to eye, superior to subordinate, friend to friend.

The chief reddened a bit. “For Christ’s sake, Si, you are special! You’ve done your damn job better than any man could have, better than I could have. We both know that. I just got through the paper work a little easier, so don’t give me any of this happy horseshit you appear to be swinging around here. Take all the time you want. Take off the blue if you want. Go plain. Go where you want. Dig in where you want. We both know the cut-off date. So does Phyllis. If you
got to do this, do it.” He let his stomach sag back against his belt and let out a mouthful of breath, unmistakably a period at the end of a sentence.

It was settled then, cut and pasted; Silas Tully set about to solve a nearly fifty year old murder. The distaste was still in his mouth as he thought about the golden anniversary coming up in 1991. Frances Cochran, nineteen, pretty dark-haired bookkeeper from Lynn, bludgeoned, burned, beat to absolute hell by a fiendish madman, garroted finally in some grotesque measure he could not fathom in all of human kind, lay dead almost fifty years, and his own marker, his forty-fifth and final year on the Saugus Police Department, was also coming to its own celebration.

Time and duty of the most inordinate order came at him and took hold of him. Into overdrive he went, calling on adrenaline when he needed it, rarely resting, and testing Phyllis to the limit. Through every resource available, he went back through the case. Police files, through a compassionate network of the brotherhood, found their way to him from Lynn and Swampscott and Salem, and from departments as far west as Idaho where one suspect had been apprehended, and Ohio where another man was once questioned, and also there came files from the district attorney’s office, and musty documentation from the coroners’ offices, for poor Frances had been exhumed and a second autopsy performed on August 8 of that eventful year of 1941. All the suspects, and there were a lot who had been questioned, were re-studied. He pored over those who had been recently released from prisons and were known to have been around the area at the time of Frances’ death. And there were musicians and cooks and students and street people and acquaintances and neighbors and cabbies that had been queried. There was the car, a square backed car spotted by at least two witnesses who had seen Frances get into it on a side street off Eastern Avenue....square-backed Chevie, ‘31-’35, with yellow wooden spokes on its wheels, perhaps with yellow trimming, and driven by a male whom she had obviously known.

In the first twenty-five years after the murder there had been more than twenty confessions, all fizzling out, falling off into the dream world that some people have to inhabit, or have to cook up for themselves. Rewards had been offered over the years, lots of them, from a variety of sources and for a variety of reasons. Silas was quite sure some of them had been offered because there really appeared to be no chance to solve the case. That disturbed him also. He could not stomach anybody making points on somebody else’s pain, let alone most atrocious murder. When the image of the garrote came on him again, he determined to find out what kind of a man would do that kind of act. Whenever he went away from the act, something brought him back to it. He paid attention to that fact, much as he did everything else. Nothing was going to escape him. Nothing at all!

An inch wide the stick had been. And lethal in its own right! It made him shiver. He remembered Joe Dixon and Joe Ditson long ago after the war and after they had come out of a Japanese POW camp. Their stories had made him shiver, too. Every now and then he’d catch himself in a weird and frightful reverie of their plight and of Frances’ plight. His skin would crawl with the known terrors. His resolve grew in proportion.

Phyllis began to relent. Her smile came up more readily.

December eventually came howling down out of the Maritimes, the snow drifting at times nearly five feet high across schoolyards and playgrounds and at other times shutting Route One down to a minor crawl. Silas Tully was like a ship on the lone sea of a month of storms, moving anywhere and everywhere in that redoubtable red truck of his, high slung, ground-clearing, ominous in its
power, red as a fire bomb, taking winter head on, as it had not been taken on before by a proximal retiree. On his way at times he remembered the awesome and orange Walter
Snowfighters of the Eastern Mass. Bus Company and how they had kept much of the North Shore roads clear of snow back there in the days when Frances could have seen them. He passed by places where clear-cut and exact pictures came back to him, full of details and all the background in place, places he had known, obviously places that Frances had known too. He felt driven. His recall was working in top order and damned if he wouldn’t show retirement itself a thing or two, if he had to die trying.

Before long every cop in Lynn and Salem intimately knew of him and his mission, and when he passed by their beats or their stations or dropped in again to get the name of a still-living retired cop who might have heard a word or two, they smiled and muttered small asides about senility and Alzheimer’s disease, but still held out one last long and thin line of hope for him. They shared the blue charge, and though he may have been against the windmills, they quietly acknowledged his mission and his drive.

One of them was a bright young cop from Lynn who had graduated from Salem State. His name was Rick Sanborn and he had read about the case and let much of it filter through his mind. Nothing showed itself to him, nothing that held any light, but after much thought, he came to a conclusion and called Silas Tully about it. What he offered was nothing more than what Noel Rebenkern had offered...the fact of the garroting.

“I know it might sound odd to you, Mr. Tully, but that thing with the stick really bothers me. I think it’s the most interesting thing there is to discuss. Nothing I can add, or discuss any more than this, but I swear it talks to me when I think about it. Something so apparent about it we can’t see it. I feel it in my bones. It’s dark and unnatural, as if the devil himself was in on it. You might think I’m crazy or something, but it really hangs on me. I know I’ve only been around a short time and you’re an old hand at all of this, but I just had to tell you how it bugs me all the time. Even when I was in school at Salem State, and I’d be thinking of old cases or tough cases you kind of hear about, this one kept coming at me.”

They had had a number of discussions about the case. The youngster was adamant, though quite unsure why he was so homed in on the awful stick. Silas Tully kept a track record of the garrote image. The way it continually reared its ugly head did not go unnoticed.

When the preponderance of his gathered facts began to tip itself sideways, threatened to spill itself all over itself, he plotted and laid out a graph. Everything he knew he put onto that graph, and after a hundred attempts of making verticals and horizontals show some attachment or connection, revising the very structure with each attempt, every revision becoming a little clearer, he began to see all the tangibles and intangibles in a different light. No one, he knew, had ever seen what he had seen; at least, not from this perspective. That it was merely a different view, a different focus, was not lost on him at first, because somewhere under his eyes, somewhere on the spread of the page, a single clue might leap out of darkness, one lone bulb or candle glow in the utter darkness of the mystery, one fallible and untested little item would come forward that would unscrew a murder now fifty years unsolved and still counting.

In January of that extra tough winter both Phyllis and the chief were on him to slow down, not to quit outright, but to slow down. “Fat chance I’ll have at Florida!” Phyllis said when he came late for supper for the third day in a row. “It’ll close on empty before we know it. You’ll fall over at that damn desk of yours or behind the wheel of that truck and it’ll be all over.” But even as she
said it, she tempered it and laid a soft hand across his shoulder, tapping home her love. One thing Silas Tully always noticed were the small signals left out in the air or in the corner of a room for the taking, a sigh, a tap, a look another soul might never catch a glimpse of, the huge and ponderous world and all of life beating its way at the smallest edge. He heard the microwave’s new-tech signal, electronic, radar-related, almost mystic in its new-age music, sounding as if something had been decoded, broken down, realized; she’d been watching for him all the while, as she always did. The warmth of the house slid around him like a favorite jacket taken down from an old nail in the back hallway.

Neil Rebenkern, always from some distance watching his old comrade and compatriot, at least understood the drive and the compulsion targeting Silas Tully. He’d spoken once to Reed Clanberry, as Reed rolled himself out from under a cruiser whose transmission had pissed the bed, hydraulic fluid a red stain over a good portion of his shirt and his hands as black as baked potatoes in a camp fire. “What the hell I’m afraid of is that he won’t get to his friggin’ retirement at all. He’ll just close shop one day and check his badge. It’ll be all done, and Phyllis will come down here and we’ll have a nice chat and she’ll go away from here red-eyed and he’ll be gone off with all the others.” Talking to Reed always helped him, for Reed was always on his back or on his butt while working on one of the cruisers in the police garage, down and dirty in his support
of brother officers, though his bent was machines, how they ran, what the theories said they should do.

“He’s a big boy, chief,” said the elongated and prone Reed, still laid back on the roller, the near seven feet of him hanging over the small roller like one of the Three Stooges on a child’s bed. “So let him have his way at this latest escapade. He ain’t been wrong but once I know of, and we didn’t want to celebrate that one too much. Just let old Jarhead go his way. If it’s there, if anything’s there, he’ll bring it home.”

Noel Rebenkern nodded and walked off. It was cut and pasted. Even the damn mechanic had the good-to-the-bone feeling about Silas. He walked off, pulling at his belt line for the second serious time in one day. The skinny, overly long mechanic had unsettled him. Damn, I ought to know better that that! In the corridor between the garage and his office his words had no hollowness to them. From then on he would keep his mouth shut. What the hell! His own retirement was not that far off either. Either one of them, Silas or him, could slide into oblivion on the greased skids, as long as nothing came out of the woodwork to scald the town manager or the board of selectmen, as long as nothing could screw up the works. Saugus was, normally, a quiet town split by the pike, having its own brand of politics, its own nirvana this side of Boston and that side of Manchester-by-the-sea and Prides Crossing and the dollar signs sitting behind stone walled estates.

The reveries were coming on him again. They were rather serious now, full-blown pictures of those other times, and the feelings that went with them. Such moments might have frightened
him if the anchor of Silas was not always a part of those reveries; good old Silas, jawed-down Silas, bulldog Silas, comrade. The old sentiments piled on top of one another and he realized Silas had made life most interesting, had colored it for him, and had drawn from him the highest comparisons every step of the way. Even as he walked away from the long mechanic those thoughts came on him again; he pictured Silas, for the umpteenth thousandth time, poring over details, his mind locked down to one microbial trail, pulling straight with him an array of genes and DNA’s, and the chief thought of being in the fourth row of Dodger Stadium the year before and Pavarotti, alone even with the other two tenors, locking on, getting ready to sing Nessum Dorma. In a quick moment of change he then compared his old friend to Denver’s John Elway
stepping up to the line, down six points, thirty-eight seconds to go, the ball on his own 38 yard line. Piece of cake!

Clarity and reality hit him as he thought of Frances Cochran and her crushed head and battered face and immolated body. An utter helplessness came over him. He thought all there was left for her was Silas Tully, like Pavarotti getting ready, Elway about to make something happen. A jolt of unnerving energy flushed through his body, carrying him away from comparisons. All there was left for her was Silas Tully!

Silas Tully, for all the thoughts and considerations and condemnations of his task, for all the small asides strewn in his path or beside it, for all the occasional almost-suppressed laughter that trickled in his passing wake like weak-kneed commentaries, kept at it. Again and again and again, for long days on end and weeks on end, he kept at it. And the terribly long winter passed and spring seeped onto the land. Freshness and a new eagerness not thought possible came on him just as the land swelled with newness of its own. On him had also come a few clarifications expressing themselves with all their own vigor: (1) whoever that foul murderer was, he must have at one time been in the wide and circuitous net which the police had cast out after the discovery of poor Frances’ body, a net which swung as wide as Idaho and Ohio, a net which had caught up fellow students and neighbors and itinerants and those usual suspects who had records or who had been recently released from prison and he had been let out of that net because of a perfected alibi or other reason; and (2) the act of the garroting itself which he could not shake. No matter how hard he tried, he could not dissuade himself that there was nothing insignificant about the employment of the horrible stick. If the stick had been used before she had been bludgeoned, he surmised, she would have been dead anyway, or close to it, and there would have been no reason for smashing her head open. If her head had been smashed first, there would have been no reason to garrote her. He made it that simple to himself. That the killer was maniacal did not say he was stupid, for he had eluded the police for half a century…if he was not dead…if he had not died out there on a Pacific beach…if he had not died in Marine garb in a Marine firefight. No way! Never a Marine!

Late April had come and the new smells were everywhere, and the chief’s boat, Just Too Blue, was in the water of the Saugus River, right near the penciled memorial stone erected for another police officer downed in his tracks. Silas had spent a lot of time over the years fishing on the craft with Noel or just beering-out out there on the Atlantic, away from phones and the traffic and the mayhem, aging themselves on the ageless sea. Now retirement was rearing its head for good and the dreadful punches of time came at him, coming brutal and bony and downhill all the way, punching their way into his abrupt consciousness at times, walking him to the edge. Retirement might be like a death sign.

Frances, gasping for air, choking, pain riding her body like a malevolent lover, was with him every second of his wakeful hours and had obviously been with him as he slept. Her grip was frightful and grew more ominous. Phyllis felt it, he felt it. Unknown sources in his body made demands on him, sometimes twisted him and he fought to maintain his equilibrium, his sense of purpose, his life-long effort of trying to be personally uninvolved with crime and its victims. In this case it did not work. There was something else.... he did not feel blameless and that bothered him.

Wanting a new perspective, a new lift to go along with new raw feelings, he borrowed Just Too Blue for a day and sat, anchor down, out near Egg Rock, the mound of granite rising from the bay off King’s Beach where he could look back at Lynn. The tide rolled under him. Time rolled
under him. The agony was no less and no clearer out on the cool surface. He wished he could look back omnisciently at one piece of a clue, a small piece of any clue...the single strand of red hair found on her body, the car with the yellow wheel spokes, a tire track left undetected, a footprint, a thumb print. If only he could look into the minds of the suspects, still believing that he had once been in the net.

And the garrote came back to him there on the wide sea.

Visibly, willfully, he turned from it, shunting it aside. His graph was spread out on the deck, the awfully intricate grid of lines seeming to go unconnected and crazily in every direction. But somehow the lines came plotted to him and a number of variables of their connections appeared readable. He wanted to tighten some screws, but futility came at him. On the high sea, the endless water spreading behind him as if going on to infinity, chances were slim to none at catching that blackguard murderer. They were like the chances of finding one wave in the unending series of waves rolling under him to be a special wave. Here Silas knew himself to be a very minor drop of matter in this vastness, as well as in the matter of this business of solution. For a moment he felt overwhelmed by his own tininess, one small wave among the thousands and thousands of waves, until the thought came to him that for Frances Cochran, fifty years dead, forgotten by so many, so many of her peers gone, her parents long gone, he was the only hope, the last hope of resolve.

From there on the face of the Atlantic, the continuity of life itself rising and falling underneath him, underneath the keel, he looked back over Lynn and the death of the girl and all the information which he had come across and which now lay in turmoil in his mind, though sketched and gridded on his pad of paper. He saw himself back at the station going over the matter, and at home probably driving poor Phyllis nuts, and plying his way through snow and rain and hail to get more information and wearing his welcome thin no matter where he went. He saw his tracks crossing and crisscrossing all the North Shore and points beyond. He saw the exodus of thousands of young men for the war of wars, and, unknown to him at the moment, with that exodus he would come to see one strange-eyed young man in the act of escape.

He saw the enormity of the sea and the task.

And he came back to the garrote again! Or it came to him! It would not go away.

The grid lines of his graph fell under his eyes. All the names of all the suspects fell under his eyes. Poring over each one, each one became a personality, and he sought a chink in the armor.
Then, on that wide and limitless sea, on that great expanse, like he was a thimble afloat on
eternity, he had a new idea. It burst upon him!

The engine cranked into life and the sound immediately seemed to be swallowed up by the enormity about him. But he headed for the Saugus River and Noel’s slip at the yacht club.

Mere hours later he was poring over old issues of the LYNN ITEM looking for photos. A few came to light of the type he was searching for. Here and there, at that time with war starting shortly after Frances’ death, lots of young men enlisted and photos were shown of neighborhood friends and teammates and other groups going off to war together. In one small photo of a dozen men, all of them exuberant and smiling in ignorance at the adventure waiting on them, one face was downcast, averting that intimate exchange of gazes that’s called for by the photographer. The young man could not have made himself any smaller, any darker, any more secretive.... and any more obvious! His name was not given, but that would pose no great problem, thought Silas. Most of them were French Basque. The Raiders from Boston Street where it abruptly found Flax Pond.

Whatever took him to the Boston Public Library to search for information on Basque witchcraft, until this day he cannot fully explain, except that the boy with the averted look, and the very act of garroting itself, had somehow been grounded in the reach of the Basque as it touched on him.

In his studied research he read about the bruxos and the xorguinos, Basque men and women who practiced witchcraft and black magic in the Province of Gupuzcoa along the Bay of Biscay, and in the mountain range of Amboto where they still talk about the Lady of the Caves, and her ointments of pulverized toads and a Basque herb called usainbelar. All about the witches he read, immersed for hours and hours in the spread of Iberia, the bays, the mountains, and he almost leapt up from his seat at a description of a Basque witch being killed. It was a vivid description of how she was first strangled with a stick thrust down her throat and then she was burned at the stake or thrust into a barrel of tar or pitch and if she got loose from the stake or got out the barrel, she was thrust back into the fire. And he found an old passage, so shockingly similar, about witches’ executions in the highlands of Scotland which made him leap once again in his seat...and thay was sticket in the throte with a garruote and thay wer brunt quick eftir sic
ane crewell maner, than sum of thame deit in desspair, renunce and blaspheme and; and utheris half brunt brake out of the fyre and wes cast quick in it agane, quhill thay wer brunt all thay daith.

Silas could picture all of it, and its horror charged over him. So many innocents had been executed this way in countless villages and towns of the Old World. And it had come to America, it had come to Salem right down the street, and, he was further convinced, it had come just down the road in Lynn to poor Frances Cochran.

The Red Raider with the averted eyes was not difficult to identify, nor was his military history, and three weeks later, after Silas’ request for information about the young man‘s basic outfit was printed in the LEGIONNAIRE’S MAGAZINE, he had a damn good picture of what Lamon L’Supprenant was all about. And he was still living. In Salem. A Basque. Into, well into, the occult, into sorcery, into black magic, and the bruxos, and the xorguinos. He wondered about the garrote. But, furthermore, L’Supprenant had been a redhead in his early days, and one of three redheads who were questioned.

His uncle, he also found out, had been a cop.

In the service, in a Division Headquarters Company of the U.S. 7th Infantry Division, a vital force in the Pacific war, a long time in the islands, brought out of there to Korea later on, L’Supprenant’d been a strange chicken, full of wild and woolly things, and he was remembered for his strangeness by some old comrades. Of the three who wrote back to Silas, not one questioned why information was being sought, and Silas interpreted that to mean each one of them might have thought, even after all these years, that Lamon L’Supprenant needed explaining.

Only one person could be approached with all this information, flimsy and outrageous as it was, and that was Noel Rebenkern, chief, comrade, and friend, though the last qualifier could certainly be strained by something as touchy as this case and the parameters it was at, fifty years of grayness and obliquiness. But chinks appearing!

He told Noel all he knew, all of the Basque’s history, as it had come revealed to him, and brought it right down to the single strand of red hair, and the picture of the Red Raiders going off to war.

Noel might have leaped on him. “You got to be crazy, Si! You can’t go anyplace with all that crap. Jesus, man, if Danvers State Hospital was still open you’d be there on the hill before you could blow your nose. They’d put you in a white jacket and take you down a long corridor. And they’d throw the friggin’ key away!” He kept shaking his head as if disbelief was all around him, and his eyes went opaque and then a queasy gray. More of his age showed, more than he wanted to show.

Gathering himself, he added, “There’s no legitimate way to present any of it. All the work you’ve done could go right down the tube. No!” he added vociferously, slamming his fist on the desk, “you haven’t got a chance in hell!” He looked at Silas’ face. It was not unnerved, not upset, not in any sort of quandary. His lifetime fiend, Silas Tully, was a kid again. “What the hell are you going to do with all of this?”

The soon-to-be-gone policeman looked him in the eye. “I’m going to smoke him out!” Something beyond affirmation was in his voice, beyond definition. By God, he had become younger! A sparkle was in his eyes. His skin had a tingle and a shine to it. His mouth was as firm as he could ever remember it.

“Si, he’s got to be about seventy years old now. He’ll probably have a heart attack if you go right at him. If he’s the right guy, that is. That’s like fish in the barrel.”

“You mean you don’t think we should go after him, that we shouldn’t have gone after the German war criminals no matter how old they were, time served being enough for killing six million Jews. You got to be kidding me, Noel!”

“What I mean, Si, is you can’t go lambasting after him with no hard proof. You’d get killed in court. He’s got rights and the burden’s on us.” He said us the only way he could, being a party to the whole thing. “One thing else I’ll say. There are a lot of guys our age who’ve been obsessed with this murder, who’ve been obsessed since the day it happened. It grates on them as much as anything else, and I’ll tell you why I think that’s so.”

Pausing, knowing the value of the caesura, trying to provide room for everything to sink into his determined, and obviously obsessed, comrade, he continued, his hair a bit grayer, his neck a bit thicker, his belt line, too: “You’ve got to look at the time period, Si. It was just before Pearl Harbor, and things were calm somewhat, even though Europe was in turmoil. It was a special time, especially for women, with things on the upswing all around; Prohibition gone, the New Deal at work, things getting better for the house. It was a special time indeed. Why, I’ve known a bunch of guys, a lot of them from the Brickyard in Lynn, who said their doors were never locked at night before the war. You just didn’t worry. All the big brothers were around and girls didn’t worry so much. When the war started, they tell me, especially the guys from the Brickyard, with all the big brothers off to war and a bunch of creeps around, they began to lock their doors. They had to. Times began to change. Right after Pearl Harbor, times began to change. All those guys from around here thought about Frances Cochran for a long time, out on the islands, in Europe, under the frigging waters of both oceans, like somebody had cut into their space and violated one of their own. It really pissed them off, like their kid sister had been grabbed. A lot of them told me, with all the advanced training they got, bayonet drills and all that stuff, they’d’ve killed the son of a bitch in a second if they’d’ve caught him. Even old Teddie BB in Cliftondale told me
once he couldn’t remember how many times he thought about Frances when he was alone on
guard duty way the hell up there in the goddamn Aleutians. He used to talk about it with Dashiel Hammet who was in his outfit, on Sitka I think. Said they used to come up with some great stories about it and how the son of a bitch could be caught and strung up by his you-know-whats. You know what, every now and then when we take a ride after church on Sunday or on the way to a ball game down that way, he’ll drive by the place. He still gets pissed, I tell you!”

Eventually, near talked out, both sides presented, they could have drawn a line in the sand, if there had been any sand in the chief’s office. Peace was made and Si was going to do it his way. He had bit it off and chewed it up.

Smoking him out, to Silas Tully, was not a strange and roundabout approach. First, for a few months, he got to know Lamon L’Supprenant from behind the windshield of the big red truck and now and then the little car he had got for Phyllis. Everywhere L’Supprenant went, Silas was right behind him; and sometimes, knowing the routine so well, he was in front of him. A smoky
and dark side of L’Supprenant became obvious. Not much of what he did was done openly, much of it behind locked doors in the company of likewise dark and furtive friends. That they practiced some kind of witchcraft or sorcery or black magic was evident, and that they took great profits in it showed as well, too. To Silas’ trained eye the access to any of the half dozen places where things happened, were strictly controlled and under guard. He could only hazard guesses as to what might take place behind such cover.

But guesswork did not have to wait long. On July 18, 1991, fifty years almost to the day that Frances Cochran was killed, the body of a girl was found in the tall grass alongside the Happy Valley Golf Course in Lynn. Her head had been crushed, her jaw smashed, her clothing torn from her mutilated body. Also, a small wooden stick similar to a tent peg had been stuck down her throat. She too had been garroted! And a single strand of red hair was found on her body. Laboratory DNA tests showed that it matched the strand of red hair found on Frances Cochran’s body fifty years earlier.

The city of Lynn went berserk. Police said there was not a single clue besides the strand of red hair; no witnesses to the deed, no sounds in the night, no suspicious activities along Lynnfield Street, and, this time, no car with yellow wheels. The connections were obvious and a sweeping terror started throughout the city.

Noel Rebenkern, in his office, faced Silas. “If you get him on this one, you’ve got him on the first. There’ll be no question. I just wished we’d’ve done something sooner. Now, don’t you feel
bad. I’m the one who put the reins on you.”

“I’m willing to bet that that poor kid knew this son of a bitch from some place. Maybe from one of those damn places I couldn’t get into. Or if she didn’t know him, she knew one of his young friends.”

“You mean like an acolyte or an apprentice getting some OJT! Jayzuz, what the hell have they got going?”

His head shook back and forth in disbelief. He felt a lot older than he had earlier in the day. “Well, Si, I guess it has to be your shot. How you want to call it. You know those guys from Lynn will be calling you, not a bit of doubt about that. They won’t have those silly little grins on their kissers now.” His face lit up a bit as he added, “Unless they think you’ve got something to do with it.” His guffaw filled the room.

“Thanks for the memories,” answered Si. Then he nodded, and looked a poser for a short time, then looked at the chief and said, “Some more smoking out, but this time with contact. “ And he explained what he was going to do to loosen Lamon L’Supprenant from his hold on life.

For four days in a row after the discovery of Angel Corkery’s body at the Happy Valley Golf Course, and after the Lynn chief asked him to come down to see him sometime, the following typewritten notes, each one on successive days, were mailed by Silas Tully to Lamon L’Supprenant at his Salem address:

1. I used to think Frances was the only one.
2. When you find out who I am, I’ll be waiting for you, but not at all as innocent as Frances or Angel. I’ll be a lot stronger and a lot meaner.
3. You ever try that stick on me, that sick garrote, I’ll put it to you where the sun don’t shine.
4. I don’t care how old you are, you are going to pay! Nothing is going to help you now, not the Lady of the Caves or your crushed toad skins or your usainbelar or any of your acolytes or apprentices. You, my evil one, are due, and Frances and Angel, God rest their sweet souls, may have some peace once again.

When Lamon L’Supprenant tried to bolt, in the middle of the night, a young man with him, and bags of mysterious goods piled onto the back seat and into the trunk, Silas Tully and Lynn police officer Rick Sanborn and two Salem cops were there to grab them. In one of the parcels confiscated from the L’Supprenant car, police found a decorative box with two X’s cut into the cover and eight more strands of red hair gathered inside, all the same source, all from Lamon L’Supprenant. They also found a ritual of avenge which detailed the garroting and murder of a L’Supprenant relative which had happened a hundred and fifty years earlier in France. Lila of the Caves had gotten the promise of revenge from her sons, from her descendants.

It was only a Saugus cop who had stood in the way of another four hundred years of sacrifices, one every fifty years.

BIO: Tom Sheehan’s Epic Cures (short stories), won a 2006 IPPY Award. A Collection of Friends, Pocol Press, was nominated for Albrend Memoir Award. He has nine Pushcart and three Million Writer nominations, a Noted Story nomination, a Silver Rose Award from ART and the Georges Simenon Award for Excellence in Fiction. He served in the 31st Infantry Regiment, Korea, 1951-52. He has published four novels, four books of poetry. In publication process are two short story collections, Brief Cases, Short Spans (due fall 2008,Press 53) and From the Quickening (due spring 2009, Pocol Press). He meets again soon for a lunch/gab session with pals, the ROMEOs, Retired Old Men Eating Out, (92/80/79/78). They’ve co-edited two books on their hometown of Saugus, MA, sold 3500 to date of 4500 printed and he can hardly wait to see them. His pals will each have one martini, he’ll have three beers, and the waitress will shine on them.