Benito then crushed his cigarette out on the pavement. I noticed it was half lit and still smoking. "When someone steals my property, I get very agitated. I can't sleep, break out in a rash and then I am uncomfortable. When I become uncomfortable I become unreasonable and you don't want me to be unreasonable." "No, I don't." I said. "Good just let me know what State he is in and I will find him. You will be off the hook. I know he is your friend but he is a rat and a low life. Now what State is he in!" He was now digging his hand into my left shoulder. I felt his grip, he was very strong. I loved Cliff like a brother but this was not my battle. "He is in New Jersey" I screeched. "Okay let's go Dobbs, have a nice day kid." I watched them walk across the street and get into a gray Corvette. As they drove away I felt my hands sweating. I got off easy. It wasn't me they wanted but I was the weak link. I also tried to convince myself that I didn't give up Cliff because I didn't pinpoint his location. I really did not know where he was and I think they knew that. They knew Cliff was smart. I told them he was in New Jersey but New Jersey is a big state. I must admit I was still frightened but I was more frightened for Cliff. I did not want anything to happen to him. I really believed these guys would hurt him.
"Hey Johnny, this is my only phone call so listen up. I have been arrested. I have killed Dobbs and Marquez." "What!" I said. "Yeah they came after me like you said they would. They worked me over pretty good. They beat me up but I was able to crawl over to my truck as they were leaving and pulled my dad's rifle out of the truck. I shot and killed them both as they were walking away."
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Sophie continued to ask around town about the previous owners of her house. She then found out that about fifty years ago, a woman that lived in her house vanished without a trace. What is even worse is that she was nine months pregnant! She was still missing, and the mystery was never solved. Sophie wanted to find out even more about the house after she heard that unsettling news.
Sophie was told that they searched and searched for the missing woman years ago. They dragged all the local ponds and questioned everyone in the neighborhood. Her husband had passed a lie detector test, so he was dropped as a suspect. A search party of over one hundred people searched nonstop for the missing woman during a twenty-four hour period. The police were dumbfounded by the lack of evidence. There were no clues and the case eventually became a cold case. Even though the husband passed a lie detector test, many people still believed that the husband was responsible for the disappearance of his wife. For the first year after his wife's disappearance, he was under scrutiny from the whole town every time he left his house and was seen out and about the town.
Many years later, the husband was diagnosed with flesh-eating bacteria in his hands. The doctor believed that he got it from working in his garden. His doctor treated him for the bacteria, but it continued to get worse. The flesh-eating bacteria spread throughout his entire body, and it was literally eating him alive! He had a major stroke and not too long after that, he had a massive heart attack and died.
The ship anchored beyond the wide mouth of the fjord as sailors lowered a native canoe filled with supplies. Reggie gazed down at the small craft and shuddered. The tiny craft bobbed alongside the schooner, which already rocked too much to suit him. A heavy woolen coat hung to his knees but it barely kept him warm against the icy breeze. How would he manage to camp inside the glacial straits of the fjord?
“We’ll return in two weeks, sir,” the captain said and broke Reggie’s reverie. “We can’t afford to set here with them icebergs floatin’ past.”
“Yes, I understand.” He stiffened his shoulders and held out his gloved hand. “Thank you, Captain Jefferies. I appreciate your taking on this commission.”
Reggie winced under the vice-like grip of Jefferies and the captain grinned. “Your financial inducement was substantial, sir. I’d hate to lose my best customer so take a care! If you’re not here upon our return, we’ll launch a rescue party to search you out.”
Laughter erupted from behind Reggie. He turned to see a grinning native face surrounded by shaggy black hair. “No need to risk lives of crew, Captain Jeffries. We come back when moon is full and wait for ship.” Scottie, a Tlingit guide from the village of Hoonah, scampered down the rope ladder and jumped into the rocking canoe.
“He’s a highly recommended guide, and I’m certain we’ll be here on time,” Reggie said, more to reassure himself than the captain.
“We’ll collect supplies in Skagway, so the ship will be ready for the next stop on your excursion.”
“Mind that you collect my new shipment of paint and canvas.” Reggie peered down into the canoe. “I’m keen to get that shipment as I’ll run out of proper supplies soon enough.”
“We could slice up one of our small sails to make canvas. No need to waste gold shipping it from Europe when there’s plenty of sailcloth right here. A vigorous wash would make it clean enough to slap paint on.”
Indulgently Reggie smiled, having heard the offer before. “Don’t cut up your sails, Captain. My supplies will be waiting in Skagway. I’m sure of it.”
His stiff boots slipped on a wet rung of the rope ladder as he descended toward the deep blue water. He tightened his grip on the ropes and sucked in a breath to calm his nerves.
“Come on, boss. It’s just a few more steps!” Scottie shouted.
Reggie inched closer to the water and stretched his foot out to touch the canoe. A firm hand steadied his boot until he connected with the canoe bottom. The small craft teetered. “Got you, boss,” Scottie said, and the Hoonah propelled him toward a solid bench. “You sit safe here.”
Feeling grateful to avoid the icy-black water, Reggie sighed as his butt plopped onto the flat board stretched across the canoe. He stretched his arms out to grip both sides of the craft as a wave crashed against the boat. Water penetrated the fingertips of his thick gloves. As Reggie shivered Scottie untied the canoe and scrambled over bundles to reach his own perch. Soon the native paddled the homebuilt craft toward rocky cliffs jutting above the mouth of the inlet. Droplets from the paddles pelted Reggie’s face.
He saw a paddle resting against his right foot. “Should I help you row?” he shouted.
“Not yet! First you watch, see how I make strokes. We reach smooth water and then you help,” Scottie shouted back.
Relief washed over Reggie, since he feared releasing his death-grip on the canoe. The streamlined craft rolled over ocean waves that moved toward the mouth of the fjord. Sea water mixed with fresh water as the river current flowed steadily out to sea. Large chunks of ice floated past, and Reggie wondered how long it might take to reach the glacier.
When the canoe entered the mouth of the fjord, the water calmed and Scottie’s paddle strokes slowed. He cheerfully announced, “Eagle totem help us cross into Raven territory.” Scottie stroked the stylized eagle pendant hanging from his neck.
Tlingit natives divided themselves into two clans, and apparently Scottie belonged to the Eagle clan. “Does the Raven clan claim this fjord?” Reggie asked.
Scottie nodded. “In long time past, Raven clan live at foot of big ice wall. Foolish woman make glacier much angry by singing too loud. It push Raven clan out of canyon into ocean. Be much quiet so we don’t make glacier angry.”
“I plan to be very careful of the glacier.” Reggie stared at the steep rock walls of the fjord and marveled at the glacial force needed to carve through solid granite. Before the trip he studied scientific writings and knew the ice gouged out the valley over thousands of years. Greenish blue water filled the valley floor in a flood of pure glacier water that melded with brackish ocean tidewater.
With an artist’s eye, he studied the color and wondered how to mix that particular shade. His fingers itched to open his paint satchel and search through the oils, but fright kept his fingers clamped to the canoe’s sides. He mentally painted the picture. Dark brown rock and emerald green trees rose in a near vertical slant from the jade green water. No. It was not jade green. He must combine blue, green, and brown pigments until he matched the true color.
An icy breeze brushed his cheek. He glanced up just as the boat rounded a bend and gasped with delight. High in the V of the shaded canyon walls, a vision of brilliant white gleamed in the sunshine. Excited, Reggie nearly stood to get a better view. The canoe rocked and he froze, clutching the canoe tighter. As he enjoyed the tantalizing glimpse of ice, the canoe skimmed silently across the water. Reggie kept quiet, almost afraid to break the spell of the glacier. He understood why natives believed the glacier was alive. It snaked down the canyon like a living thing that waited for them to approach in their tiny craft.
They live among us. We know they are there. No government can control them; no authority can stop them. Some are evil. Some are good. All are powerful. They inhabit our myths and fairy tales. But what if they were real, the witches, wizards, and fairy godmothers? What if they were called "adepts" and were organized into guilds for mutual protection and benefit? And what if they started mucking around with the affairs of "lessers" (that is, those humans not able to match their powers)? During the height of the Cold War, Michael Vaughan is a rogue without a guild. He survives by working for the CIA as NOC (Non-Official Cover). Shortly after the funeral of President Joe Kennedy, Jr., he is sent to Cuba to assassinate Castro. There he finds himself in a cat-and-mouse game with adepts working for Fidel.
Levi Garret is a holdover fro a forgotten time. Found frozen in suspended animation he was revived with no memory. Discovering a knack for finding trouble and a love of investigation he roams around shaking trees and solving crimes.
Ladies love him, bad guys fear him, and the police tolerate him.
Ellie folded her arms over her chest. She watched Charlie grab a long, fat vial from her med kit. Charlie held it up, turning it this way and that. Staring at the clear, slightly viscose liquid inside, she flicked it. Edward padded into the kitchen on bare feet. His shoulder length, blond hair was stringy. He’d simply pulled it back into a messy ponytail at the nape of his neck. Long wisps of bangs fell loose curving over his square jaw. It had been a few days since he saw a shower. He was dressed in the same gray sweatpants he’d been wearing since the day Ellie and her boys got there last week. The stubble on his chin was getting thick. He sat down on the stool in front of the massive kitchen island and batted exotic blue eyes at her.
Science shouldn’t try to play with magic. That didn’t stop them from trying, though. A ring of violet ringed Edward’s irises. It gradated to a softer shade with spikes of a blue so pale it almost looked white ringing his pupils like the rays of the sun. Ellie missed his human eyes. She missed rather a lot from when her brother was human. Ellie tried flashing him a smile. It was weak. She was more than just a little worried about him. It was like he’d just given up. This wasn’t her Edward.
Charlie drew out thirty lines into the syringe. Edward held his arm out, pumping his fist. Charlie flashed him a small, reassuring smile, and handed him a solid piece of plastic. Edward lifted it to his teeth and bit down on the thing. Charlie slid the needle slowly into the vein at the crux of his arm, pressing the plunger down.
Edward’s jaw tightened. His entire body went rigid with the pain it caused. Like broken glass swimming through his bloodstream, it tore him in half. He shuddered. His screams were wretched. Ellie reached up quickly to wipe at the tear that fell down her cheek. She took in a shuddering breath. Ellie decided in that moment that bitch Bennet's death wasn’t nearly as bloody as it should have been. Charlie pulled the needle free and went about cleaning up the small mess she’d made.
Ellie threw her arms around her big brother from behind. Her hands wrapped around his muscular arms. “I’m sorry, Eddy,” Ellie whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
“For what?” he said through gritted teeth. Edward couldn’t stop the shudders, couldn’t quiet the agony that roared through him. It took an eternity for the fire to begin to die down. Edward forced himself to relax against her. He concentrated hard on her embrace.
“That you have to go through this.” Ellie touched the side of his face, smoothed the hair back from his sweat-drenched forehead. “That I didn’t get there in time to save you.”
“You came, little Lottey.” Edward breathed in slow, just to blow it free. “I’ve had worse.”
Ellie sniffed and laid a kiss on his bristly cheek. “Liar,” she said with a pouting lip. She worked hard to give him a smile. “I love you, Edward.”
Edward sat up, leaning back far enough to put his arm around his kid sister’s back. He pulled her into his lap without any effort and ruffled her silky hair. “You going to stay a while this time, Squirt?” Ellie had a hard time ignoring the lilt of hope in his voice.
Her eyebrows drew together and her mouth dropped open. Ellie had a lead on another one of Bennet’s crazies. But after watching that, she couldn’t bear to tell him no. “A little while.” Ellie nodded and sniffed.
Charlie zipped her small med-kit closed and slipped it into the cupboard on the end. She walked back to the dining room table. Her fussing caught Ellie’s attention. Charlie closed down a program on her laptop. Ellie stared at the small black rectangle Charlie had jacked into one of the USB ports. The external hard-drive had all of Susan Bennet’s research on it.
“How’s the science going?” The moment the words left her lips, Ellie regretted asking in front of Edward.
Charlie turned to them. Her hazel eyes first met Edward’s pleading gaze, and then bashfully, she looked at Ellie. “I’m doing my best to make something of it.” Charlie hated lying. She’d developed a skill for it married to her EX husband. And she needed every ounce of it to get past the searching stare of Ellie. Charlie didn’t get the need for this secret. But it wasn’t exactly hers to tell.
“That’s all I can ask,” Ellie said with a nod. She wiped at her nose and slipped her arms around her brother’s neck. “Can you make a list of some of the stuff you’ll need?”
Charlie’s mouth dropped open to answer but Edward beat her to it. “What for, Squirt? How exactly do you plan on getting any of it?”
“We’ll steal it,” Ellie answered simply.
Edward frowned. He hated the idea that Ellie happily embraced being an outlaw only a tiny bit more than she did being a murderer. Ellie could tell by the look on his face there was a fight on the horizon. She just couldn’t deal with it. She loved Edward more than life itself. But living with him was proving harder every day. Ellie leaned in and kissed him between the eyes. Cupping his face between her tiny hands, she smirked.
“I’m going to make you better, Edward.”
He let the love shining in her pretty green eyes draw a smile across his mouth. “Never had a doubt in my mind, Squirt.” Edward tried hard to keep his face neutral. His vision blurred with stinging tears.
Ellie took in a deep breath and laid her head against the side of his. Her eyes cast to the floor. She was lost here. Ellie was the first to admit this life took some getting used to. But Edward just couldn’t handle it, and it was getting harder to ignore. Ellie spent her whole life thinking nothing could come between them. Now, she worried she was wrong. The only thought in her head for the longest time was of him. Now that he was free, Ellie just couldn’t shake the feeling he was spinning away from her.
When Dragon woke, he felt weak and puny, diminished in body and strength. He struggled to his feet and stared down at the naked human form he inhabited. The cozy cavern that had been his home looked immense and his body felt tiny.
He remembered the witch’s curse and groaned in abject misery. “What has the blasted witch done to me?” he shouted. The sound of his human voice echoed through the cavern, sounding like a person jeering at him. “I speak with a human voice?” He grasped his neck with spindly fingers and turned to search the cavern with weak human eyes. “Where is that blasted witch, Bellatrix?” He found her body slumped onto the floor. Bellatrix lay in a pool of blood, clutching the golden knife she’d plunged into her own heart.
With human hands, Dragon extracted the knife from the witch’s corpse. The weapon sparkled with jewels that most dragons would covet, but the metal felt hot and vibrated with supernatural power. Fear shot through his chest. Dragon quickly sheathed the bloody knife in a scabbard that lay next to the witch’s body.
“What am I to do?” he asked, pacing the length of the cavern, vacillating between anger and sorrow. He stopped and considered everything the witch had told him about her vile curse. Feeling resigned to the situation, he said, “I must find that young sorceress and get her to remove this dreadful curse.”
A cold breeze licked his naked skin, raising goose bumps across the frail flesh. He shivered and raised the puny arm to look at the appendage. “I’d better cover this pathetic body with human clothing.”
Dragon remembered the body of a human knight, one who recently tried to kill him, lying in a nearby cavern. That human wore clothing that might suffice for my purpose. He trudged through tunnels littered with bones, crying in pain as his bare feet stepped on the sharp objects. He limped forward until he found the knight’s body next to a pool of crystal clear water.
Dragon stared down at the body of the knight. He was a large man by human standards with dark hair and runes drawn down one side of his face. Humans often tried to use magical runes to protect themselves when they confronted a fierce dragon. It never worked. He touched the human face he now wore and wondered what it looked like. Turning to the still pool of water, he gazed into a familiar-looking face. Strange. Dragon pushed human fingers through the unruly mop of hair and peered down at the dead knight lying at his feet.
He gasped, “I look just like this knight. Did the witch copy the form of this human when she changed me into a knight?”
Lightning ripped across the northern California sky, then splintered down through the rain and disappeared behind our neighbor’s house. Letting the door slam shut behind me, I ran away from the warmth of our porch light into the darkness of our backyard. My mom would’ve killed me if she’d caught me outside that late at night. Especially in a thunderstorm, and on the night before my fifteenth birthday, with the big party she had planned for tomorrow. But I had to get out of the house before I fell asleep and they came for me. And they were coming!
A gust of wind blew my hair against my face. I swiped it out of my eyes just in time to see a plastic lawn chair tumbling through the air. I covered my head with both arms, but a leg of the chair smashed against my elbow. Ouch!
I dropped onto the wet grass, pulled my knees into my chest, and rocked nervously back and forth. Water soaked up through my nightgown and my underwear, making me shiver.
None of these things mattered, though. Because something far worse was happening inside my head. A memory of me as a little girl, on the night my grandpa Dahlen disappeared from his cottage, was trying to claw its way into my consciousness. And I didn’t want to think about that night. Ever.
Still, I couldn’t stop it, which didn’t make sense. I was awake, and outside, where I was supposed to be safe, yet the aliens from my dreams were somehow messing with my thoughts, rearranging things, trying to make me think about that night! But how?
And why? It happened eight years ago, and my grandpa was dead now.
Although, before he disappeared, he’d—
No! Stop, Courtney! I yelled at myself.
I bit my fingernail and took a deep breath, hoping to calm down.
No luck. I was remembering the musty old-books smell from my grandpa’s bookcase. Butterflies rushed into my stomach and I sprang to my feet.
“All right. Is that what you want me to do?” I shouted into the rainy darkness. “Remember my grandpa? What happened that night? If I do that, then will you leave me alone?”
I wiped the rain from my eyes, and suddenly it was like I was right there, in the cottage. His notebook sat on the plaid couch, opened to a map he’d drawn of the ancient wormholes linking the alien world to our own.
I stumbled backward over a tree root and my butt hit the ground; my head clunked against an even bigger root. Oww! I started to sit up. But suddenly the memory I’d been running from took over the screen in my mind. I fell back into the wet grass and watched the scene unfold as if I were seven years old again, right there in the cottage.
It was raining outside, and the air smelled like old, musty books and burnt hamburgers. I glanced over at my grandpa Dahlen. He was busy in the kitchen, forking ears of corn out of a pot of boiling water. Standing tiptoe on the comfy reading chair, I reached up to the bookcase and ran my fingers along the dials of what he called his ham-radio/alien-transport machine.
“Courtney!” Grandpa stared at me over his steamed-up glasses.
“Fine.” I plopped down on the reading chair and crossed my arms over my chest. Then I lowered my eyes. Blood was seeping through my shirt again from earlier in the day, when my grandpa’s nun friend had stopped by with a guy with a tattoo gun. They’d come to give me a tattoo. I hadn’t wanted a tattoo! But my grandpa had told me it was important, and the way he’d said it, I’d believed him. So now I had a blue mark on my rib cage that looked like four dead bugs arranged in a square.
“So tell me this, Grandpa,” I said. “If these aliens who visit you are really your friends, then why do they make you keep everything secret?”
He turned away from the steaming pot and eyed me with suspicion. “Because people are frightened of what they don’t understand. And frightened people can be dangerous, Courtney,” he said. “Now come sit down for dinner.”
I slipped into a wobbly kitchen chair, rested my elbows on the wooden table, and stared down at my burnt ham- burger. “Mom doesn’t believe in aliens, so does that make her dangerous?” I asked.
Grandpa chuckled. “Your mother is only interested in facts and evidence. Even when she was a child, she had no tolerance for intangibles. Or even comic books, for that matter. Can you imagine?” He set a plate of corn on the cob in the center of the table, then sat down across from me. “But dangerous? No. I think we’re safe from her.” He flashed me a wink.
I winked back. People always told me that I shared his silvery-blue eyes. Hearing someone say it would make my mom cringe, though, because she thought Grandpa was crazy. And the last thing she wanted was for me to turn out like him. But she and my dad were spending the weekend with their old law school friends on Lake Tahoe, so they’d dropped me off with Grandpa on their way.
“Well, if these alien things are real living creatures, then did God make them?” I asked. “Or are they just imaginary?”
I smiled proudly. I was about to finally get the truth from him.
“How’s your burger?” he asked.
“But you didn’t answer—”I started to protest, when a bang on the front door made me jump.
My grandpa ran over and covered his ham-radio/alien-transport machine with an afghan.
More quick pounding! Grandpa shoved his notebook under the couch.
I tried to read his expression, to see if he was frightened or just cleaning up, but he wouldn’t look at me. He rushed to the door and glanced through the peephole, and I held my breath.
When he unlocked the door, three men barged into the cottage.
I immediately recognized them as professor friends of my grandpa’s from when he’d taught at Berkeley. But what were they doing out here at night? I mean, hadn’t they heard of cellphones?
They stared over at me. “Hello, Courtney,” said one, a tall man with a thick beard and black suitcoat.
I shot my grandpa a pleading look, like Make them go away. But he quickly shook his head. I stomped into the guest bedroom and slammed the door.
“They’re coming,” one of the men whispered, loud enough for me to hear. He sounded worried. Which made me worry. About what, though, I wasn’t quite sure.
I bit my thumbnail, and it tasted like wormy dirt from the woodpile. Gross! I wiped my mouth with the bottom of my shirt.
“She’s not safe,” another man said.
Not safe? I froze. “She”? As in me? My heart started racing, and suddenly I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs.
I grabbed the black metal latch of the window next to me and opened it. The chirr-chirr of crickets filled the bedroom, and I breathed in the smell of wet leaves. Pressing my face against the screen, I glanced up at my grandpa’s ham radio tower, standing tall along the side of the house. The siren on top of it glistened with rain under the silvery moon. It would sound off if any bad guys snuck into the backyard and tried to mess with my grandpa’s things. Or that’s what he’d told me, anyway.
Suddenly a familiar shiver trickled down my neck. Oh wow!
I turned away from the window and locked eyes with Astra. “Nice of you to show up,” I said.
She was a few years older than me. Like eleven, maybe. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor next to the closet; her eyes shone bright green against her pale skin and black hair. She bit into her plump bottom lip, which meant she was worried about me. “You think I’m going to climb out the window and run away?” I asked her.
She didn’t answer. For an imaginary friend, she wasn’t very talkative. But she seemed to show up whenever I was in trouble. And there was no getting rid of her; our minds were connected. My grandpa said she was probably a real person somewhere, and that we shared consciousness because we came from the same bloodline. As crazy as the idea seemed, I liked to think that there might be someone real out there who would understand me if we ever crossed paths. Most people just thought I was weird like my grandpa.
“I’m glad you’re here,” I told Astra.
Outside my door, I could hear the men pacing around on the creaky wooden floor boards.
“When?” my grandpa asked.
“We don’t know,” another man said.
I didn’t like the sound of that. My stomach tightened with nerves. I sat down on my bed and rocked back and forth, staring at Astra.
“You’re crying,” she said. Or I could hear her voice in my head, anyway.
“No I’m not.” I swiped my cheek. Then I looked down at the spot of blood on my shirt. “I got a tattoo,” I said, trying to change the subject.
A siren wailed outside. The alarm! I jumped up, turned toward the window. But the bedroom door burst open behind me. I spun back around, and my grandpa stood in the doorway.
“Grandpa! What’s happening?” I started toward him. He quickly shook his head and then pressed his finger to his lips: Stay quiet.
Grandpa looked scared. And he was never scared. My heart pounded against my rib cage. Astra was gone. This was bad.
Bright light lit up my grandpa’s face. It was coming through the window behind me. Oh no! I whipped around to see who was there, and someone grabbed me from inside the room.
I started to scream, but a hand covered my mouth. My feet lifted off the floor. Frantically I twisted my head around to see who it was, but I was being dragged backward, down the hall, into the bathroom. Kicking at the bathroom wall, I bit into the hand covering my mouth, and for a second my head was free. I whirled around to see my grandpa, his finger gushing blood from where my teeth had cut into his skin.
“Grandpa? What are you doing?”
He whispered something in my ear. Then he lifted me up, ignoring my flailing legs.
The next thing I knew, I was underwater. Screaming!
When Garry’s mother dies, he’s devastated. It’s not only her death, but her last words to him. He embarks on a search to uncover the truth. What follows is a dangerous journey. A journey full of unforeseen pitfalls, which could ultimately put both his life, and the lives of his whole family in jeopardy.
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.
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