Colin McMillan sat in the car outside the flat and stared at the window. More than once he started to get out and changed his mind. The light was on. She was there; he’d seen the curtain move an hour ago. Since then there had been nothing. For two months he had tried and failed to have a conversation with his estranged wife. Joyce didn’t want to speak to him and hung up as soon as she heard his voice.
Without her, the house in Bearsden where they had lived for fifteen years, was just bricks and mortar; rooms filled only with memories of them as Colin and Joyce: The McMillans.
On their last night together they’d made love in the dark. And in the dark, Joyce was more demanding than he had ever known her. She devoured him, scratching his back and beating her fists on his chest, like a trapped animal trying to escape. When it was over she turned away, sobbing quietly into the pillow. Because she had known.
The following evening, McMillan returned to find his wife gone, leaving him confused and unhappy and alone to wonder what he had done wrong.
Since then, he had drifted through days that became weeks then months, paralysed with sorrow; unable to come to terms with it. He had been here on other nights, hoping she would talk to him and at least tell him why.
The edge of the curtain drew back a fraction. For a couple of seconds, a face peered down at him. Or did it? He couldn’t be sure. It had been a long and difficult day in theatre dealing with a series of complicated deliveries; the surgeon was exhausted. Seeing what he wanted to see, maybe. So he waited, afraid of causing a scene, knowing it wouldn’t help. After twenty minutes, he came to a decision. Whatever the problem was it could be put right. He had to have one last go at saving his marriage.
McMillan got out of the car.
His footsteps echoed in the stairwell. A lonely sound. At the top he stopped. The door of the flat was open. He called. ‘Joyce! Joyce! Joyce it’s me!’
McMillan went inside, along the hall and into the lounge at the end. There was no sign of his wife. He tried a bedroom. Nobody there. Not in the kitchen either. In the second bedroom he found her and his world fell apart.
Joyce was hanging from a cupboard door. She had cut an electrical cable off something and used it as a makeshift noose. Her features were distorted by the agony endured in the minutes before she died. Saliva trickled from her mouth and a viscous strand of mucous hung from her chin, like the beginning of a spider’s web. The tip of her tongue poked from between her teeth below bulging eyes that didn’t see.
The books she’d been standing on lay scattered on the floor and her arms were by her side, pushed tight inside the belt she had been wearing so she wouldn’t be able change her mind. Joyce McMillan hadn’t wanted to save herself.
Colin McMillan ran to his wife and threw himself around her waist, sobbing like a child. He eased her lifeless body off the door and carried it into the lounge. On the couch he placed a pillow beneath her head and ran his fingers tenderly through her hair.
What kind of hell had she been in to do this?
The answer was on the coffee table. Three crisp pages slipped under a half-finished cup of tea, still warm. Joyce’s small unhurried hand explained all her husband hadn’t understood, and more.
At the end she had written ‘I’m so sorry. Forgive me. Please.’
Reading it broke McMillan’s heart. It hadn’t been passion that final night – it was despair. When he finished, he was crying. He turned off the light and sat staring into the darkness, drained of every emotion except hate. Joyce’s face, horribly twisted in her final moments, would be with him for as long as he lived. He loosened his tie with a trembling hand. Eventually, he folded the sheets of paper and put them in his jacket pocket, reached for the telephone and dialed 999.
'An exciting new voice in Glasgow's crime fiction genre - it will have you hooked from page one!'
I have a very pleasurable problem with Owen Mullen's books - after I have finished reading them, I am spoilt for anything else until I come down off my 'Charlie high'.
Goodreads Top 100 Reviewer
This is a cracking read, fast-paced and well plotted. More please!
Other books in this genre:
Big Mo nodded his head slowly, his eyes rolling. “That’s right, Shooter, me old mucka,” he said. “You’ve finally got it... have a gold star.” He gave a mirthless chuckle, pausing before delivering the punch line with perfect comic timing. “Strange, though, because the way you’ve been acting I can only assume you believe my head buttons up the back.”
Everything was still, silent for a moment, the only sound that of laboured snorts coming from the prisoner, who was trying to clear the blood from his airwaves.
“Wh... what sh’you mean?” Shooter stuttered eventually.
“Ripping me off,” said Mo. “I know what you took away from that Holland Park raid. You owe me a lot more – a couple of grand, I reckon – and it’s a bloody cheek you’ve held out on me after I tipped you off to the opportunity. Don’t you know there’s a recession on? I got a wife and kid to feed, with another on the way. I’m sorry Shooter, truly. You always seemed a loyal soldier and a good mate, but now I’ve got to make an example of you. I can’t afford people thinking I’m a soft touch. Seems no one can be trusted these days. Handsome? Keep hold of him. Cozza, get Reg, would you?”
“Oh shit. No!” pleaded Shooter. “Not Reg. Look, I’ll make it up to you. Pay you extra, if that’s what you want. Do another job especially for you. It wasn’t on purpose, honest, I’d never do that to you, Mo, you know that. I must have miscalculated is all I can think. I’ve always been useless at maths...”
Chuck let out a whimper. He didn’t know what it was all about but he didn’t like seeing his daddy so cross. Big Mo looked at him and winked as if to say, “It’s all right son, none of this is real”. Chuck told himself what he was seeing was a magic trick, the red stuff on Shooter’s face not blood but tomato sauce, like he had at home on his chips.
HOURS later Chuck was in bed, crying himself to sleep. Big Mo told his wife the youngster was overtired. They had popped into the pub after their ‘bit of business’, just to take the edge off things, and Chuck had fallen asleep. Beryl Dolan looked at her husband.
“You’ve made him a part of it, haven’t you?” she said. “I asked you, even begged you, but you couldn’t help it. You had to ‘toughen him up’. I can only guess what you’ve been up to. You took that... thing... with you. I can see the blood. There’s a stain on my carpet and a trail on the tiles in the hall.”
Big Mo looked out from beneath his thick, black, caterpillar eyebrows, pushing his hand wearily through the bristles on his head. He didn’t feel like justifying his actions. It had been a long day. He had done what he had done, and in his mind he had made the right call. A row with the missus was the last thing he needed.
Lifting himself from his favourite armchair, Mo reached over and switched on the television, turning up the volume to dissuade his wife from carrying on with the conversation. A well-dressed man was standing in front of a weather map pointing at various areas of the country, but Mo wasn’t interested.
Bending down slowly, he picked up the three-foot length of wood he had propped beside him on the sofa. Noting the dark stains for the first time, he vowed to rub it down with a hot, damp cloth in the morning to get rid of any ‘evidence’. Shame. To his way of thinking it just added to the character, like when you had a champion conker as a kid and the more messed up it looked, the more scars it had, the more you knew it had done its job. Walking out through the sliding glass-partition doors, he swung the sawn-off curtain pole at his side, the spherical ball on the end reflecting the light. Resting it gently against the wall in the corner of the small parlour room, he patted it affectionately.
“Night, Reg,” he said.
Why read 7 short stories?
7 is a special number for people all over the world. There are 7 days in a week; 7 deadly sins, 7 virtues; 7 colours of the rainbow; 7 Wonders of the Ancient World – and, of course, the 7 year itch!
These 7 stories are special, like the number itself.
Why an extra ½?
We all like a little extra and this extra comes with a bonus.
You get to decide how the last story ends. ‘The Night Before Christmas’ leaves Emily with a choice – and it’s not an easy one! Read her story and go for what you want to happen. Wonder what you’ll decide.
Grimly he shuffled forward a decisive five centimetres. Nothing was ever going to change the world or his place in it. Just one second of courage,then it would be over. He would be over, on his way to the pavement and certain death.
Gary sat alone in a cell. He could hear others shouting insults through the bars at each other, a mixture of Welsh and Cockney voices. The custody sergeant and one of the arresting officers had been swapping stories of how it had kicked off big time after the match, with fighting all the way from Upton Park to Paddington. Those arrested represented the tip of the iceberg.
Squeezed into a police van, Gary had been denied the return of his walking stick by the arresting officer, who just laughed. “So you can use it on me? Not likely mate, that’s an offensive weapon, that is.” At the station Gary was booked in by the custody sergeant, who made jibes about his “hardness” and asked him if he had anything to say. He was going to protest his innocence, but figured it would fall on deaf ears.
As time passed he sensed his situation was becoming more serious. Scenes of Crimes officers wandered around and he noticed one had his walking stick in a protective plastic covering. Bit late for that, he thought, remembering the way it had been manhandled from him by the cop at the scene. At one stage he heard a couple of thick Welsh accents shout a word that sent a chill through his bones. “Murderers!”
What could they mean? Had someone been killed? Who? Every week there were battles between warring fans but rarely were they fatal. Gary had always considering football rucks a laugh. You could end up with a few war wounds but they earned you extra kudos when you showed them off in the pub later. A life lost, though? A loved one not returning to their parents, wife or kids? That was going too far.
Finally a key rattled in the lock and two police officers came in, roughly hauled him up and dragged him, limping, to an interview room. A tall, stern-looking man with thick black hair was waiting, a tape recorder at his side. Gary was pushed down in the chair opposite and waited for the man to finish reading the papers in front of him. He felt edgy, as if he was being deliberately kept in the dark about something. He rubbed the troublesome knee, which had been throbbing constantly ever since the fight. The officer looked up. “You OK?”
“I’ve got a busted knee. It can be a bit painful.”
“Perhaps you shouldn’t be running around the streets of east London fighting Welshmen, then,” suggested his interrogator. Gary ignored the jibe. “My name’s Detective Inspector Ashley Wilburn. This initial interview is beginning at 8.30pm. Your name is?”
“Gary… uh, Gary Marshall. Do I need a solicitor?”
“We’ll get to that. This is just a preliminary chat. You’re one of the Boxer Boys?”
“Um, no. Not really.”
“You don’t seem sure. You live on the Boxers Estate though?”
“Well… yeah, but…”
“I think you qualify as a Boxer Boy then, don’t you? Care to tell me what happened after the match today, Gary?”
“Hammers won 2-0.”
“It was three actually, but I wouldn’t expect you to know that. Too busy looking for trouble…”
“That’s unfair,” said Gary. “I was heading home with my mates when we were attacked and chased by Cardiff fans. I can’t run because of the leg and they caught me and gave me a good kickin’. End of story.”
“Hmmm,” said Inspector Wilburn. He leafed again through the papers. “Wasn’t quite the end of the story though, was it?” he said, removing a picture and placing it in front of Gary. “Recognise him?”
The face was battered and bruised and splattered with blood, a nasty gash spreading across the forehead. The eyes were closed. Their owner could have been asleep, resting peacefully, though the pillow was tarmac and the blanket made of black plastic.
“No,” said Gary. “One of those Cardiff yobs I guess…”
“He’s dead, Mr Marshall,” interrupted the Inspector. From beneath the desk he lifted Gary’s walking stick, still enshrined in the plastic evidence bag. Gary’s heartbeat quickened, but he said nothing. “Your ‘crutch’, I do believe and, look here,” his finger pointed at the bottom where a dark smear was clearly visible. “That, Mr Marshall, is blood; this man’s blood,” he tapped the picture. “Now I’m no Cluedo expert but I believe I’ve found the body and the murder weapon. All I need to do now is find out who our Professor Scum is. That shouldn’t be a problem either because we’ve some pretty good CCTV footage from one of the local shops. They show a man in a West Ham shirt… come to think of it a shirt exactly like that one you’re wearing – a No 10 on the back – bashing this poor bloke over the head with this stick. Refresh your memory, Mr Marshall?”
Gary looked back into the earnest, unblinking eyes. “Can I have a solicitor now?” he asked.
Frank Armstrong had lain down on the dining room table before, but in the past he'd always been either sound asleep or dead drunk. Now he was just dead.
I stared at his half-open mouth and washed-out face, and marvelled at the way his body seemed to barely inhabit the crappy suit he always wore. If I were the sort to feel guilty, I might wonder if it had been my fault, him being dead, I mean. But I wasn't.
Behind me, the blonde coughed like she needed attention.
'Why'd you call me?' I said.
'I just...' She shrugged. 'Wanted someone here, y'know? And you were his friend. I thought ye'd want to know.' She pouted at me, then seemed to remember she was supposed to be the grieving widow and turned it into a whimper.
'You call an ambulance?'
I expect they'll send one, but what's the point? He's stone cold.' She sniffed. 'Doctor's on his way.'
Her face was conspicuously free of tears, and even though it was only eight in the morning and she'd probably only been home an hour, I could see she'd taken time to tart herself up before receiving visitors. Only the wonky hairdo and excess luggage under her eyes, showed she'd been shagging all night.
'You think it was..?' I hesitated. 'I mean..?'
'I know what ye mean, bonny lad. Ye mean was it natural causes or did I smack him over the head once too often for being a boring shit?' She sniffed again and dabbed her nose with a hanky. 'No. I expect his heart packed in. Bound to, sooner or later.'
I nodded and wondered if she realised there'd be an autopsy.
Lizzy glanced out the window and made a face. 'Tch, look at that nosy cow. I should've left the nets up.'
I turned to look. A woman across the road was standing at her front door, watching. With two pairs of eyes on her, the offender backed inside and shut the door. As we stood watching, I noticed Frank's car wasn't outside. I didn't say anything to his wife. She had enough to deal with just now.
There was a pause while Lizzy brushed unseen fluff from her blouse. She fiddled with the curtains and wiped a finger through the dust on the windowsill. I got the feeling there was something else in the pipeline.
Eventually, in an oh-I've-just-remembered sort of way, she said, 'You wouldn't be goin past Ronnie's, by any chance?'
When I looked her full in the face, she dropped her gaze to the carpet.
'Wondered if ye wouldn't mind callin at the office? Tellin the lads, an that?' She bit her lower lip the way she always did when she was pushing her luck. 'I made a couple of phone calls, ye know, family an that, but I'm not up to talking to anyone else yet.'
Of course. That's why she'd called me. Not because she felt in need of a friend, bit of moral support, which'd be fair enough, you might think. No, she wanted someone to take the crap that Frank's boss would be dishing up with a hot spoon. Or more to the point, when the brown stuff hit the proverbial and Big Ronnie went ballistic, she didn't want to be in the firing line. The fact of Frank being dead wouldn't get in the way of Ronnie taking back what was his.
'Aye, of course.' I shuffled my feet. 'I should go.'
'I was at Dave's place last night.' She showed me her 'sorry' face. 'I could tell you were wonderin, like.'
She threw her hands up as if the frustration of it all was truly overwhelming. 'I mean how was I supposed to know? Never told me where he was going or nothin.'
'He was at work, wasn't he? So ye did know where he was, pretty much.'
'I knew he was drivin a bloody taxi. Course I did, but...' She ran out of steam and excuses at the same time.
Relenting a little, I allowed her a small slice of benefit-of-the-doubt pie. 'So you weren't here when he died. It wouldn't have made any difference.' I glanced at Frank. 'Not to him.' I started for the door.
'I'll let you know when the funeral is.' She touched my hand. 'Ye'll come?'
It was only then, in that few seconds of human contact, that I felt the tears start. Not for her, mind, not that selfish, money-grabbing bitch. I looked back at the body on the table. 'I'll be there, Lizzy,' I said. And I would be - for Frank.
Prison, a time in my life that I want to forget. So why am here now after all of these years? Even though the prison has long since gone…..
I remember the fear when I’d been caught, used as a scape goat while the others got away. I thought I was hard, hanging out with the older boys, doing the dirty work for them just so I could be part of the gang. Then when they got away with all of that money, with me as the look out, I didn’t even know they’d left me. There I was caught red handed with that family tied up in the bedroom terrified, and the kids screaming blue murder. I felt so guilty I wanted to cry, but that would have looked weak so I put on a stony face and let the police lead me away.
They never found the rest of them so it was all taken out on me. I didn’t deserve such a harsh sentence but they obviously decided they needed to blame somebody so I would do. I was a wreck, even thought about ending it at one point, probably would have in fact if it hadn’t been for my family. They visited me as often as they could and the fear and sadness I saw in mum’s eyes, the unconditional love that poured out of her even though I was now classed as criminal, saved me. I couldn’t have done that to her she’d have been destroyed so I forced myself to keep going, look to the future when I would eventually walk out of those gates a free man.
I look around now at this peaceful garden and remember when the innocent looking fences were topped with barbed wire, when the gate was fitted with a huge padlock…..and I didn’t have a key. When the dogs on the other side of the fence weren’t pets but angry vicious enemy’s trained to attack at the slightest sign of an attempted escape.
The alarm sensors that picked up the tiniest steps outside of the perimeter fence, screaming shrilly, alerting all. The times I was awakened in the night, with my heart pounding in my chest as I heard guards shouting…..gunfire popping, cries of anguish, then silence.
As I stand here the memories assaulting me, I notice the left over evidence of times gone by. Bullet holes in the fence. The bare soil where no grass grew, because of the constant trailing backwards and forwards of the guard dogs and their handlers.
Looking at this sad and quiet place a memory of the past that haunts me, I can see us now, myself and the other inmates huddled in a group in a corner of the prison yard sharing a sneaky cigarette. Always on the alert in case a warden came along.
I remember the patch of grass where the sun always shone, everyone battling to get to it first so they could soak it up and feel the warmth on their skin before being returned to the cold cells, shut in, locked away.
When I was eventually released and free of the confines of this place I swore I’d never go anywhere near again. I even left the county for a while. But then I heard it had been closed down. Rumour had it the guards were as dodgy as the prisoners and there weren’t enough honest ones to keep it open, how ironic is that?
However I knew the only way that I could believe it no longer existed was to see for myself. Now I have, the fear and weight that has always been on my shoulders is already lifting. I can finally push the memories aside sure in the knowledge that I’ll never have to go through that again. I’ve been on the straight and narrow ever since and I intend to stay that way.
With a sigh of pure relief, I turn my back on this outdoor space, now a place of tranquillity but once hiding so much sadness, and walk away. I’ve laid my demons to rest.
Alex and Oliver live in worlds, poles apart; new worlds shaped by a terrible world war and the emerging freedoms of the Sixties. A killer stalks, and five people are drawn into the intrigue surrounding a serial murderer; a series of events set in the Seventies, influenced by the past… a string of events—a daisy chain.
Daisy Chain; an erotic thriller from the masterly pen of Mark Montgomery.
It has been years since Sebastian has visited any type of fitness or training facility,and even then by invitation from the Olympic Coach, so he looks more than a little awkward with his coat bunched in one hand and a walking stick, in the other.Just to top it off, a jacket and tie aren't exactly perfect gym attire either.Small details like these never really deter Sebastian as his thoughts are solidly focused on the job at hand.Even though he has mellowed and has become a little less self-conscious in recent times,his early, embedded beliefs still linger.His issue with the cane is more about being told what he must do rather than how he looks. How others perceive him is irrelevant; he contemplates such thinking as shallow conceptions of an idle mind; his own head is so occupied with other things there's no room for what he sees as wasted thoughts.
Sebastian is surprised by the enormity of the interior. The receptionist sits at a semi-circular desk directly across from the entrance and to the right and left,small booths sell gym equipment,health food and sports drinks. He informs the receptionist that has an appointment with the manager, Max Martin and she rings through to his office at the rear of the building and then points Sebastian in that direction.
The path to his office leads Sebastian directly through the workout area and his senses fill with an overpowering smell of liniment, the sound of clanging metal and muffled voices of patrons and instructors.He eyes everything around him in a desultory manner, as he strives to familiarize himself with the scene.
Only a few strides along, there is disharmony between a middle-aged pair. She is trying to encourage her partner to stay close and he is making it overtly obvious that he's there against his will. Sebastian slows his pace and continues to observe them.
He will often challenge himself to understand what others communicate with their bodies rather than orally and walking through the gym gives him an opportunity to hone his already exceptional skills. The woman consistently pulls at her jacket in an attempt to prevent it creeping upwards means she is carrying more weight than she would like. As the fellow is quite muscular and lean, Sebastian muses, she may have dragged him along because of her own insecurities. She flutters from one machine to the next in her matching pink tracksuit and joggers like a bee in a floral heaven. In contrast, her partners outfit camouflaged cargo pants and sleeveless checked-shirt isn't your regular gym attire but that of a woodsman, hunter or laborer.
Sebastian is soon bored with these two. Spying a spritely young woman about to board a treadmill,his mood soon changes to one of being inspired, as he ponders the thought of buying one for home. He murmurs to himself, "Mmm. That would certainly save me being late to breakfast again!"
Now Sebastian the 'real deal'; one rather solidly built fellow lays flat on a slab and above him sits a set of gigantic weights, held together with a bar surely way to lean for the enormous discs. A muscular friend, or perhaps trainer, is arched over, ready to take the torturous weight from its racks and lower the bar carefully down. There's no doubt in Sebastian's mind that these to are gym enthusiasts, disciplined and dedicated, something that he admires, even if he has no interest in the activity.
On he goes until his eyes abruptly shift to the right "Well,well, there's hope for me yet!" he exclaims as he catches sight of a massive form of a man trying to keep rhythm with his overlapping stomach on yet another treadmill.Sebastian is so enthralled he doesn't see a rather plump, middle=aged woman cross his path.As they collide, his had flies out and accidentally grabs hold of her ample breast."Sorry, sorry!"
She stands there smiling at him, glances down at the hand that has yet to disconnect from her bosom. Sebastian also glances down then back up. His mouth opens; his forehead wrinkles and he gives an involuntary smile before releasing the object like a red hot ember.To make matters worse he's so flustered he begins brushing down her breast in a reflex action.
"It's fine.You can stop now". She says smiling warmly and gently nodding her head.
Sebastian hesitantly smiles back and then leaves as quickly as he can, no longer interested in anything except his destination.
When billionaire Virginia Ann "Peep" Holler dies, a battle for her estate begins. However, she leaves all of her wealth and Jodi’s Place – a popular Oklahoma ranch dedicated to helping wayward kids – to Abigail Brennan. Abby, a young single mother and favored protege, is elated. But her enthusiasm does not match her experience. After a few bad choices, the ranch becomes embroiled in financial turmoil causing some board members to vie for its ownership. In the meantime, Abby discovers a plot by a local oil baron who wants to seize control of Jodi’s Place, for its rich oil reserves, and end its usefulness to troubled youth. Just when she thinks the inevitable is about to happen, Abby meets an attractive newcomer in town who may hold the key to saving the ranch and helping her out of her dilemma...but not without a price. In spite of the cost, can Abby trust this newcomer to aid her in saving Jodi's Place? Or will Peep's fortune and good name be ruined by forces she cannot control or tame?
Half-way through the matinee at the Theatre Royal, North London, the audience gasp in horror when Hamlet drags the corpse of Polonius on to the stage from behind a curtain. For the head of the famous 76-year-old actor playing Polonius, Sir Roger Nutley, is lolling at a bizarre angle that can only mean he has REALLY been killed. The touring production had been a sensational comeback for Sir Roger, two years after a high-profile court case in which the jury failed to convict him of sex crimes in the 1960s. Is his murder connected to the trial? Detective Inspector Keith Warren and Detective Sergeant Philippa Myers soon learn that the superstar's life had other secret, dark sides. Meanwhile, an outbreak of kidnappings of valuable dogs gives rookie Detective Constable Marion Everitt a chance to prove her mettle against a gang of heartless thugs. Resources at Norton Hill Police Station are also stretched by a series of armed robberies of designer handbags worth hundreds of thousands of pounds from exclusive boutiques.
Not long before my mother died, she told me a story I’d never heard before. It was 1965, the year before she married my father. Spring had come to the Northeast nearly a season ahead of itself. By May, the fields rippled with thigh deep, green-gold grasses: sweet timothy, birdsfoot trefoil, clovers, reed canarygrass, ryegrass, and tall fescue. All the kids along Sweet Milk Road knew the species names; they were weaned on the sweat of haying, and my mother and her brother Morgan were no different.
It was a clear, bright Sunday morning—a perfect day for the first cut of the season. The fields around the farm were filled with the buzz and clang of sicklebar mowers and balers while my mother and Morgan stood toe-to-toe in a field of egg-yolk colored mustard blooms. They scrapped with one another on the strip of land between their farm and the Deitman property where no one could hear them. At first my mother laughed at her brother’s suggestion, like a late-comer for Sunday dinner who asks for the platter of fried chicken to be passed, only the plate is empty and the laughter trickles into awkward silence. She pleaded with Morgan, but he was of no mind to hear her. His decision, he claimed, was best for the family: She would marry Michael Deitman on her eighteenth birthday, and their families and land would be united, an isthmus to wealth and stability.
All of that changed when a bullet ripped through the leaves, shearing the air. Before either of them heard the sound of the report, it shattered Morgan’s breastbone and sprayed bright red blood onto my mother Lydia’s face and hair. Morgan looked at her, his eyes filled with terror, as he fell dead into the yellow mustard blossoms.
“Who did this?” I asked.
“Well.” She stammered, of course it was an accident. You have to know that, Joss. Someone was in the high birch grove shooting at the birds . . .”
I didn’t challenge her, but I wondered how she came to believe this. And who could have fired from nearly a quarter of a mile and struck down Morgan with such precision?
During those first three days before anyone else knew what had happened, my adrenaline-driven mother dragged Morgan’s body to the cottage in back of the farmhouse, and hid him in a macabre game of hide and seek—first in the closet, then under the stairwell to the cottage, and finally behind the old woodstove—all their favorite childhood hiding places. While the crows sat in the trees above and watched. On the third day she carried him to the river and washed him in the cool running water, then laid him in the tall grass.
Even when the coroner came to take him later that afternoon, she still refused to believe he was dead. She sat on the back porch all that summer rocking, worrying the floorboards for days that lingered into weeks. She did not cry or speak for months and only bathed in the river.
I think about this story as an April wind blows my red Mini Cooper along I-84 West, then tracks north along the Taconic Parkway. I try to distract myself, turning up the radio, flipping through the FM stations, but still I hear her voice.
“I had no one,” my mother told me. “My brother was the only one left, and then he was gone, too. I convinced myself that he was sitting on Heaven’s back porch. That if I waited on our rear balcony, he’d be back. I don’t know why, but I washed and ironed all of his pajamas and packed them in a suitcase. You do crazy things when you lose someone. I think that suitcase is still in one of the upstairs’ closets.”
She said she’d look for it but never did. I wonder if it’s still there. I try to push away these thoughts by doing what I always do: measure the day by road signs, or how many times I pass the same truck. An attachment from girlhood and those hopscotch counting rhymes from my school days—one-ery, two-ery, zigger-zoll, zan. . . . But on this morning I gauge my time, tapping out the minutes by heartbeat, dropped lanes, or the whirl of the car’s cozy heater and classic rock tunes buzzing in my heart like a lullaby.
It’s what my dad always did back when we all lived in the city—crank up the radio while he drove. He’d holler, “Hey, Paulie-girl! Get in the van.” With my mother scolding, “Paul! Her name is Joss Ellen—not ‘Paulie-girl!’ Not ‘Boy-o’ either!” But that name, ‘Paulie-girl,’ was lassoed around everything I knew myself to be. As a six year old, I was always ready for an adventure with my father, Big Paul.
We’d fly in that rattletrap van with the tunes blaring. He’d bring me to his tailor shop on East Forty Second between Lexington and Third. I’d jump out before the vehicle stopped, and ran through the jangling back door, hollering, “Liam, where are you?”
Liam Michaels was my father’s apprentice and an occasional guest at the farm. He’d drive upstate to play with my father’s jazz group that met there on Friday nights. I’d steal into the millhouse where they played to hear Liam’s melancholy Irish tunes flow across his fiddle strings. I used to beg him to bring his violin to the tailor shop, but he never would. He always said it wouldn’t be proper in a gent’s shop. I’d nod though I didn’t understand why, or what a ‘gents’ shop’ was.
“Liam!” I’d holler again.
“Is that you, Jossy?” he’d ask.
I could never answer fast enough. He’d scoop me up and lift me onto his shoulders, and then stand in front of the tall mirrors. I’d laugh and screech, terrified of being up so high, and hang onto his hair or squeeze my arms around his neck.
He’d cough and choke. “Tell the truth, girl! Are ya trying to kill me, or do you just like me that much?” He’d pull my hands away and grab me around my waist. “Oh my God!” he’d say. “Look at that two-headed thing in the mirror.
“It’s me, Liam,” I giggled, all the while reeling in woozy panic. My dark red curls, just like my mothers, bounced in the mirror images, and stared back at me with my father’s same grey eyes.
“There you are!” he’d point, with a goofy smile plastered across his face and a shock of black hair falling into his eyes. “How’s my girl? What are ya—on a ladder? Come down from there. I got a little bit of ribbon in my pocket I saved for ya.”
My father would barrel through the back door, yelling, “What’s going on in here? Paulie-girl, don’t bother the help!” He’d wink at me and disappear into his office.
He’d check his stock and special order sheets, and then we’d pile back into the van and charge off to the garment district. There my looming father, nearly six feet tall and wide in the shoulders, would haggle with some witless slob over the best gabardine. Daddy would reiterate his secret every time: Look them in the eye and smile, but walk away before you back down. Just be soft with every step. Once he’d get his price, he’d buy remnants of cerise or saffron taffeta to make my sister and me something for school. For Naomi, it would be a blouse with pearl buttons or a crinoline skirt, but for me he’d always fashion something man-tailored: a vest or jacket spit in my father’s image. “Stand still,” he’d say while he’d mark the fabric with chalk and pins that scratched my skin. Back then I never winced.
I’d turn slowly while my father stood, scrutinizing his work, commanding me to stop, or turn, or walk across the room as he’d watch the garment move in the swing of my arms. What emerged would be flawless: pale gray herringbone with pockets piped in apricot, a vivid lining at the pleat. In the mirror, I only saw my father’s eyes, his smile.
Back then, I thought I was special.
On Friday nights, we’d go to the Floridian on Flatbush Avenue for sweet fried smelts with lemony rémoulade sauce. The same diner he used to go to with his own Pops. “Here he comes,” some waitress named Dolores or Ronnie would shout above the din: “The dapper tailor dressed to the nines with his little one.” We’d sashay down the aisle between the tables, he in his striped shirt and red braces, a vest or jacket, shoe-shined and natty. Me in a replica—never a skirt or a bit of lace. Big Paul, square-jawed, with smoke-grey eyes that could darken instantly. would smile at the other diners as if they were his guests, always with the witty comments, tipping his fedora or porkpie, or whatever was perched on his head that evening.
We’d slip into a booth and order drinks: cherry soda for me and Cutty Sark straight up for Big Paul. Before the first sip, we’d clink our glasses while I stared in awe at the myth that was my father. And when our hot plates came out, we’d slather on that tart sauce and slide those sugary fish down our throats, barking like penguins for more. We were hungry. We were the boys out for all we could get.
Chat with Authors
As a boy I read Somerset Maugham... I imagined myself on a hill in the Mediterranean writing a great novel... I do write on a...
I started to write only recently. I had my nose in a book since I was a child, and whilst seeing my name in print...
When I was younger I was involved with gangs and a criminal lifestyle. When I received 37 years to life for 2nd degree murder I...