Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Clearing - Chapter 40

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CHAPTER 40

May 30, 1979
Acouple of days later, with Jenny staying at her grandma’s, Dean was in the station, the Billy Nimitz file on his desk. The hospital search had turned up nothing, which meant Billy had not stopped for treatment after being beaten by factory workers or the hospital people had not recognized the photo. Either resulted in a dead end.
With the Grim Devils untouchable until the FBI and DEA gave Zion PD the all-clear, which might be months at best, that path of investigation was limited. And so with all the dead ends facing him, Dean flipped open the file and started looking. He pulled out the photos. The gruesome ones and the ones provided by Billy’s parents. He reviewed the coroner’s report and the crime-scene report. Everything he knew about the death of Billy Nimitz summarized and ordered on sheets of paper and tucked into a folder. He pulled up the report on the gun. The Remington M1911A1 found at the scene, buried under some snow.
Purchased by Dennis Kowlowski in 1952. He died the same day JFK was shot in Dallas. And the trail stops. Dean looked at the report. Guthrie had signed his name at the bottom. Dean was already convinced his fellow detective was corrupt, handing information over to the Grim Devils, derailing investigations where he could, even helping in an ambush of police. And now, knowing that, Dean doubted every bit of Guthrie’s part of the investigation. Had Guthrie done the necessary work on confirming the history of the gun?
Dean walked to the Carnegie Zion Library, a two-story brick building, five blocks from the station. Lisa Munadi smiled at him as he walked through the double-glass door entrance. She had graduated two years before Dean and washed out of SUNY-Buffalo while he was heading to Vietnam. During school, she had acted as if she were better than everyone else except for the jocks she threw herself after. Now she worked as a librarian in the town she had said she was going to abandon. Wasn’t that the American reality?
“Hey Dean,” she said. “What can we do for you?”
He smiled at her. “You keep archives of the paper, right?”
“Yeah. We keep it on microfilm.”
“I need to see the Zion Beacon for 1963. November 22nd, 23rd, and 24th. Start with those.”
“Doing research on Kennedy?” She walked from behind the counter toward the stairs leading upward.
“No. But a fellow in a nearby town died the same day. I want to see his obituary.”
“Sure. Sure.” She led him up the stairs to the single microfilm machine, patted him on the shoulder, and said she would return a few minutes later. She did with two square boxes. She turned on the machine and pulled out the tray, lifting the glass covering. She inserted the reel of film on the spindle, unspooled a bit of the film, and slipped it beneath the roller and into the uptake reel, which she rolled a few times. She set the glass down and pushed the tray in, revealing the Zion Beacon’s front page of the November 22, 1963. She adjusted the rotation knob to flip the image upright. “There you go.”
He heard her footsteps fade away and looked at the screen. The headline for that day was, “Kennedy Shot. Johnson Sworn In.” A photo of the dead president and new president alongside the article. Dean fast forwarded to the obituary section. He did not find one for Dennis, so he moved on to November 23rd. More JFK assassination coverage, including a prominent “Marxist Accused of Murder” headline.
On the bottom half of the page, a photo of Zion’s mayor and Eric Wallace. Dean paused and lingered over the image. Despite his dad wearing the dress campaign hat, Dean could see that his father had grayed significantly since then. He had also gained some weight around the middle, but the image reminded him of how vigorous his dad had been. And then he thought how active and strong his dad was yet and hoped that he remained so in his later years.
He moved on to the obituaries and found one for Dennis that day. From there, Dean learned Dennis was survived by a brother and a son: Jacob and Curtis. Dean rewound the microfilm. Handed the boxes back to Lisa and walked back to the station. He had Laura call into the state dispatcher to pull the license information for both Jacob and Curtis Kowlowski.
While she did that, Dean smoked a cigarette and pulled up the day’s memo on any changes to the laws and guidelines. He stuffed them into a manila folder and shoved that into a desk drawer. He walked back over to Laura, who put her hand over the mouthpiece. “I don’t have the information yet.”
He nodded. “My question was, ‘Where’s Guthrie?’”
She shrugged so he walked outside, smoked another cigarette, and walked back in. She gave him a slip of note paper. Jacob did not have a license on file. The last one issued was in 1968. Curtis’s address was in Monrovia, a smaller town than Zion and to the west on Route 11 toward Chateaugay. He looked at his watch. Too early to go. Curtis was probably at work already, and Dean did not want to waste the day in Monrovia. He looked back at the reports awaiting his attention and knew he would not be able to focus on them. His mind was too hungry for an answer. So he told Laura he would be back later and drove to his mom’s house and absconded with Jenny. He drove her to Montreal, where they bought tickets for the Expos-Phillies game. While downing a hot dog bathed in mustard, they watched Gary Carter hit a two-run homer in the second from their left field seats. Dean bought Jenny a hat and mitt. Carter’s home run was the only score of the game. After watching the Expos, Dean thought they, perhaps, had a winning team that season. He dropped his daughter off with his mom before heading over to Monrovia. The day Jenny’s dad played hooky from work and took her to a baseball game—to a foreign country even—would long remain precious and special to her.
The short drive to Monrovia along a tree-lined and farm field highway passed by with few other cars. He pulled to a stop on the street outside the home listed as Curtis’s address, a split-level minimal Tudor cottage style house with olive wood siding and black shutters in need of painting. Dean walked up the driveway and the sidewalk, which was framed in a flower bed of begonias and marigolds. Standing beneath the small covered porch, he rang the bell. He started to ring again, when he noticed movement behind the lace curtain covering the front door’s window.
A finger moved the lace curtain, exposing a bald head. The finger disappeared and the curtain fell back in place. A dead bolt clicked and the door swung open.
A thin, frail man stood at the entrance. An oxygen tube hung from his nostrils to a small silver tank with a red valve he had on wheels behind him. Even though he was a couple of inches shorter than Dean, the man’s frailness made him seem much smaller, diminutive. Silver stubble dusted his face and he had no eyebrows above his blue-green eyes. “Hello?” he asked.
Dean flipped open his badge. “Detective Dean Wallace from Zion PD. I’m looking for Curtis Kowlowski.”
“Well, you found him.” He turned and slowly walked down the hallway. “Close the door behind you, please.”
Dean stepped into the house and closed the door. He caught up with Curtis as he was turning into a dining room with a dark, brilliant table surrounded by six chairs. An ivory, lace table runner a foot wide cut across the length of the table, and two crystal candle holders with virgin white candles sat in the center. He started to pull out one of the end chairs with armrests and a floral cushion pattern. Dean grabbed the chair and pulled it out. Curtis sat down and breathed deeply. “Thank you.”
Dean pulled out a chair next to him and sat down. Across from him stood a large china cabinet in a darker wood but also much older than the table. However, the cabinet seemed to hold only a few mugs and not much else.
“I’d get you something,” said Curtis, “but….” He gestured to the tank and held up the tube.
“That’s okay. I don’t think it’ll take much time.”
“Mm. Francis, my wife, should be back soon.”
“Sure.”
“She’s been good to me since. Well—”
“Can I get you something?”
“No.” Curtis shook his head. “So how can I help?”
“I’m here about a gun your father purchased. It was used in a homicide in Zion. The records indicate he bought it, but nothing after that.”
“My dad had several. Which gun?”
“It was a pistol. A Remington M1911A1.”
A car pulled into the driveway.
“Dad had a number of rifles, but he had only one pistol. I don’t like guns. Ah.” The garage door was opened. “Francis is home now.”
They waited in silence as the car was pulled in, the garage door closed, and the door to the house from the garage was opened. “Curt, I’m home.” Keys landing on a counter.
“In here, Francis. We’ve a visitor.”
“I wondered about the car in the driveway.” She walked into the kitchen, the sounds of her shoes hitting the floor changing as she walked from carpet to linoleum. “Hello,” she said when she saw Dean.
Dean stood up. “Hello ma’am. Sorry to disturb you. I’m Detective Dean Wallace with the Zion police.”
Her smile faded. She wore a brown business suit with a large, silk tan scarf. Gold hoop earrings dangled along her neck. “I’ll make some coffee.”
“That’s not necessary,” said Dean.
“Maybe not for you, but after the day I’ve had, I need it.” She pulled open a cabinet.
“Do you remember Dad’s guns?” asked Curtis.
“Oh yes. I hated those.”
“Me too. This detective’s here about the pistol. What we’d do with that?”
As she measured Folger’s into a paper filter, she tapped her right foot. “Let’s see. We sold a couple of the rifles to Stephen—Stephen what’s his name—Mc or something.”
“McHugh. Stephen McHugh. Has the kid, Joey, who’s a heck of a winger. Used to be at least, years ago.”
“Right. Yep, that’s him.” She filled the carafe and started pouring it into the coffee maker.
“The pistol. Oh that’s right. We sold it to that fella from the FBI. Remember?”
“FBI?” Dean could not hide the perplexity from his question.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“When was this?” asked Dean.
“So Dad died in sixty-three.” Curtis looked at Dean. “Same day as Kennedy. And we took all of it. Except the guns and a few things, which my uncle took. He used them on his farm and he went turkey hunting every fall. And then he passed. Oh, last year some time. Lived to be ninety-two. Imagine that. I won’t get there.”
“Don’t think that way,” said Francis, out of Dean’s sight now but in the kitchen.
Curtis mouthed “cancer” to Dean. “Yeah, yeah. Anyways, we got the stuff and we knew some people that still farm around here and asked if they wanted the guns. A few did and took them. But I knew a young man, worked down at the Webster’s restaurant downtown. Good fried chicken if you’re interested. He said—Taylor Parker is his name—he knew someone who was interested in the pistol. I said, ‘Have him give me a call.’ A couple of days later, he did. He drove out here. He’s not from Monrovia. From out in your parts or more east, I think. He bought it. Gave us a hundred cash. I have no idea if it was worth that or not, but I got more out of the cash than I would’ve out of the gun.”
The coffee maker started to drip. “That’s right,” said Francis, who appeared in the dining room and took a seat across from Dean. She patted Curtis’s hand and smiled at him.
“Do you know his name? The one who bought the pistol,” asked Dean.
Francis wagged her finger. “You know what? Since I didn’t know him, I wrote his name down.” She stood up and walked to the cabinet behind Dean. She pulled open a drawer, from which she pulled out a small box, the kind of which his mother stored recipes on index cards. Francis said she forgot her glasses, disappeared, and returned a few minutes later with them sitting low on her nose. She asked if he wanted sugar or cream, and he said no. He was anxious to find out who this FBI agent was that had purchased the gun, but he could not bring himself to be rude to Curtis and Francis. She pulled some mugs down.
Curtis leaned over. “She loves to have any company. So she’s excited to be able to serve coffee,” he whispered.
A few minutes later, each had a coffee adjusted to their liking. Francis, who splashed a bit of cream into hers, opened the box on the table and started flipping through pieces of paper.
Curtis started into a lengthy foray into his chemotherapy treatments for lung cancer. The prognosis did not look good, but Francis told him to be positive, that that was as important as the chemo. They responded to each other’s cues, which Dean could not see but knew were there nonetheless. His parents had them. He and Cindy had had them.
“Ah, here it is.” She pulled out a piece of paper. “That’s right. He was a handsome fellow.”
“Hey, now,” said Curtis.
“You’ve nothing to be jealous of.” She smiled at Curtis. To Dean, she said, “His name was Anthony Wallace.”
“Is that any relation?” asked Curtis.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Clearing - Chapter 39

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CHAPTER 39

April 8 - May 28, 1979
At ten the next morning, Pryce called into the station. Laura put the phone to her shoulder and shouted, “Special Agent Pryce calling you Dean.”
Dean nodded and waved to have her transfer him to the line. They spoke briefly as they had arranged, with Dean saying “Yeah,” “Uh-huh,” and “Thank you.” He hung up the phone and walked to Guthrie’s desk, who looked up from the typewriter, tapped his cigarette in the brown-glass ashtray. “So?”
“They’ve got all the evidence processing now. The guns will be the quickest, but even they’ll be a couple of weeks at best. Sam’ll be cooperative, but nothing’s going to happen until all the evidence is sewn up tight. The good news is they’ve arrested him for drug possession and distribution, so he’ll be waiting in jail.”
Guthrie grabbed his cigarette and inhaled deeply. Through the smoke coming out of his mouth, he said, “Why not just test the M16 first? That’s the gun.”
Ballsy fucker, thought Dean. He shrugged. “I don’t know. Being thorough I guess. Hell, they’re the Feds. They’ve got plenty of money for tests. Maybe they don’t believe me that it was an M16. Or they want to see if they get any hits on the other guns.”
“Sure.”
“Look, we spent yesterday calling hospitals. Let’s hit a few today and flash Billy’s picture around. See if anyone recognizes him. And did you call George Littlefield?”
“I did. He moved to Boston in November. Hasn’t been back since.”
“He provide alibis to prove he was in Boston the night Billy walked into those woods?”
Guthrie nodded and handed the handwritten list with phone numbers to Dean, who handed them to Zach and asked if he could call the numbers and verify Littlefield’s alibi.
Dean—acting his very best as if nothing was different and wishing he had participated in the high school drama club—and Guthrie drove south to Plattsburgh and traced threads of possible return routes to Zion, pausing at the hospitals, and speaking to emergency room staff. They left their cards and photos of Billy with every hospital, asking that if anyone recognized him to call the Zion PD. Then they would see what came about.
Over cheeseburgers and fries at a place in West Chazy, Guthrie expounded on his theories of the Nimitz murder. To avoid talking, Dean let him. Guthrie liked the upset girlfriend or jealous Alex line of reasoning. Sarah Esposito was angry that Billy could not buy her everything she wanted—even though she seemed to get everything she wanted. They argued. She shot him.
Guthrie’s other theory was that Alex Smith was jealous. All the talk about Alex and Billy having a falling out was true and it was around Sarah. They knew it. Alex and Sarah had slept together. Two boys liked one girl. One boy shot the other.
What troubled Dean about those two theories had remained unchanged. The money in the closet. To him, that was the central fact of importance in the case. Unless the theory of the crime could explain that money, the theory had too big of a hole. He could dismiss The Communist Manifesto except for the new information from Billy’s cousin, Tim. Was the murder of Billy politically motivated? But the cash?
For the first time, Dean wondered if Billy’s murder would go unsolved. It would not be the first time in his career. Several of his old NYPD homicides were still open. Straight up whodunits with evidence but no person to tie it to. In 1977, his last year working in New York, there had been almost two thousand murders, leaving several hundred open cases. But the idea of having this single homicide remain open was a devastating thought. He could not untangle whether he felt this way because he was less drunk than he had been in New York, because Zion had so few murders compared to the much larger city south of them, or if age and remembering Stitch and the open question of who killed him—knowing that it will never be solved.
They paid and continued their path back to Zion, leaving photos and cards and questions behind. Once back in Zion, they waited.
* * *
The Pratts celebrated every Memorial Day as if it were the biggest holiday of the year. In reality, they believed too much in the sanctity of Christmas and Easter to treat them other than the religious observances they had once started out being. Memorial Day, however, was the start of summer and deserved a grand party of a kick off. This year, Cindy, Jenny, and Spencer drove up to the Pratt farm to spend the weekend, have a cookout, and do some fishing in the stream that ran through their property.
Cindy called a week ahead and invited Dean, who was shocked. He knew he would be keeping Jenny for the week, but being invited to the cookout was unexpected. When she recommended he bring his mother and father along, he was flabbergasted. For the entire week, he contemplated if he should expect some major news. Cindy had sounded normal, but it had been years since she had asked him—let alone his parents—to do anything social with her or her family.
Eric drove them to the farm in the late afternoon. As the chief was fond of reminding everyone, summer officially would begin a few weeks later in June. As if acceding to his technical demands, the air was pleasant, still spring. But the sky was clear and that soft blue associated with delightful photos featuring the sky. Wayne Pratt had the grill already cranking at the front of the house on the lawn under the big oak tree, whose leaves had yet to reach full maturity for the season.
Smoke poured out the grill’s vents. The smell of charcoal and hickory wafting over the yard. Two picnic tables covered with red-and-white checkered tablecloths, one of which was piled with paper plates, utensils, and baskets of breads, fruits, vegetables, bags of potato chips and pretzels, and containers of potato and macaroni salads. A blue ten-gallon cooler sat next to the table, full of ice and soda and beer.
As Dean stepped out of the car, Jenny ran up to him, screaming “Daddy,” and they hugged. The jeans that had touched the tops of her ankles in January were now capris. She hugged her grandparents and then grabbed Dean’s hand and dragged him to play a game of yard darts. The badminton net and croquet field were set up for later that day.
Spencer and Wayne worked the grill. The former, dressed in dark blue jeans and a long-sleeved yellow button up shirt, leaning in and pointing and nodding to the latter’s queries. Dot hung nearby, panting and looking between the spatula in Wayne’s hand and the grill. The Pratt boys played basketball in the driveway while Cindy, Dean’s parents, and Eileen sat on lawn chairs, each with a can of Budweiser in their hands or on the ground beside them.
After three games of yard darts, Jenny ran off to play with the boys, and Dean walked up to the grill. Spencer nodded his hello, and Wayne asked him how he thought the burgers looked. Dean looked down. They looked too crisp for his taste, but he said they looked delicious.
Spencer stepped away from the grill when Dean did and walked alongside him toward Dean’s parents and Cindy. Spencer put his hand on Dean’s lower arm and stopped. “She’s really growing up, isn’t she?”
Dean looked at his daughter defending Cole, who towered over her. But she had, indeed, grown and was growing up. “She is.”
“This is probably the last year she’ll be able to spend weeks with you up here, so far from home.”
Dean looked down, stuffed his hands in his pockets, and toed the grass with his shoe. And thus the reason for the invitation, with parents as a stand-by to keep him calm.
“Cindy didn’t want to tell you, but with Jenny’s friends and stuff, she’s spending more and more time with them. Next year, she probably won’t want to spend time with any adults.” A thin smile crept across Spencer’s face.
Dean nodded slowly. “Maybe. Maybe. Eventually for certain. I figure when Jenny doesn’t want to visit, she’ll let me know.”
“Well, she might not. That’s why I’m alerting you.”
“I see. Well, thanks for the public service announcement.”
Spencer patted Dean’s shoulder. “Ah, don’t take it like that. Just prepping you for the future.”
“Sure. Sure.” Desperate to change the subject, Dean said, “So you been up here all weekend?”
Spencer started walking toward the cooler. “Not all, no. Came up on Saturday afternoon. We’ll leave tomorrow morning. Took the day off from the office.”
After all these years, Dean still could not remember what Spencer did for a living. Something that paid well he knew. He thought about asking, but he did not care enough to ask, so he walked past him, opened the cooler, pulled out two Budweisers, and gave one to Spencer. They both raised the can and saluted it in the air.
Dean ate a hot dog and burger, which ended up tasting better than their appearance might have suggested, and a substantial volume of mustard potato salad and carrots. The adults played croquet. Eric mastered the field the quickest and won handily, which true to form he gloated over the other players. Then the kids took on the adults in a badminton tournament. Mike, the middle Pratt boy, won in the end, beating Cindy in a sibling duel.
The kids returned to the basketball goal and the adults to their chairs and beer. Somewhere along the way, Wayne had started a fire in the fire pit, which they huddled around. Fireflies blinked away along the edge of the woods. The crackle of wood in the fire, the sound of the basketball hitting the pavement or the goal, and occasional cheers or claps from the kids wafted in and out of the conversation. The evening transitioned to night without any particular notice. During one of Spencer’s trips to the house’s bathroom, Cindy caught Dean’s eye and gestured with a head nod to the darkness and woods away from the house—a gesture Dean understood immediately to be a request for him to walk with her.
They strolled in silence across the grassy hill to the edge of the woods. She wore tight blue jeans and a button-up blouse that hugged her figure. He wondered how she had been able to keep so trim while the rest of the world aged around her. She showed her years only at the edges of her eyes. As their vision adjusted to the darkness, the edges of the leaves caught what little moonlight there was. Dean slapped a mosquito biting into the back of his neck, breaking the silence.
Cindy slipped her hands into her pockets. “I wanted to talk to you about Jenny.”
“I think Spencer already did.”
“Oh?”
“Yeah, something about her not wanting to be around adults much longer and probably not wanting to visit me so much anymore.”
“Yeah, that’s the gist. I just wanted to prepare you. To let you know, it’s not about not wanting to visit you. It’s about wanting to be with her friends.”
Dean smiled though Cindy did not see it in the darkness. “I know that. We were kids one time a long time ago.”
“Ass.” Cindy laughed. “Not that long ago.”
But to Dean it felt like lifetimes. They walked in silence along the very edge of the woods. Cindy reached out her hand and grabbed the leaves.
“Look,” said Dean, “I get it with Jenny. But over the past few months, I’ve realized—well—I always realized I think but not like now. So—”
“Spit it out,” said Cindy in a kind tone that Dean long ago understood to be her form of encouragement.
“Well, I’m sorry about what happened to us. I’m sorry I couldn’t give you the life you wanted.”
The pause was so long, Dean wondered if she was going to ignore him. She said, “You don’t have to apologize. I don’t know what happened over there—not really. But I do know it changed you. Changed us in ways we can’t and won’t understand. In ways we couldn’t have predicted. How could it not? You needed a better wife.” He was going to interject, but she raised her hand. “Hold on. And I needed a different husband. At that time. We were both so young. We didn’t know what to do. I just wanted a corner of life. I wasn’t ambitious. Just a space, a place to call mine.”
Dean hesitated in saying anything, fearing he would cut her off. So he waited and when it was clear she was not going to say anything more, he said, “I’m glad you found that space.”
She stopped and looked at him. Fireflies flashed behind her. One landed on her shoulder. “Oh Dean.” She stepped up and embraced him. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help you. I’m so sorry.”
“Forgive me.”
“I forgive us.”
He returned her embrace and cried for the first time in a long time.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Clearing - Chapter 38

Start with Chapter 1

CHAPTER 38

Tony patted his shoulder. Dean was far down a bottle of Wild Turkey, sitting on the lawn chair on his front porch. Tony’s Oldsmobile popped and clicked as the engine cooled.
Tony sat in the chair next to him. The evening had slipped into night. The warmth of the day lingered, but it was fading as rapidly as the visibility of the trees sinking into the dark. Tony pulled the bottle from Dean, took a drink, and handed it back to him. “What’s up?”
Dean let the question sit unanswered for a while. Why had he called Tony? Why not go directly to their dad, who would know soon enough? It was not about protecting the chief. He did not need or want that. When Dean started telling Tony about the missing M16 and Zorn’s source of information, the words came out fast and quick, like he were vomiting. His body cleansing himself of disease. All the little things over the months, every word Guthrie had said, every action he had taken loomed ever larger, ever more significant. And he wrestled coming to terms, accepting that Guthrie had led him, Reggie, and Etheridge into a trap. Had walked them in and expected them to not return.
Tony took another drink and handed the bottle back to Dean. “That’s messed up. They may lose leverage on Sam. Probably have. Well, they have. It’s just a matter if Sam knows it or not.”
“And that protects Zorn.”
Tony nodded once. “Yup.”
“I should’ve seen it.”
“That’s the booze and hindsight talking. Sounds like Guthrie was real careful. It’s not like Dad noticed it either. Zorn’s been slipping through his fingers for years. Some of that had to be Guthrie’s work.”
“But we’ve got nothing solid on him. He probably has an explanation for the M16. An explanation for everything.”
Tony leaned forward and clasped his hands together. “Thing is, now you know your target. All of that stuff he was doing was in the shadows. Now you’ve got the flashlight.”
Dean nodded.
Tony looked at his brother and then to the night sky. Only the brightest stars burnt through the haze of street and living room lights. “I know something about redemption. What it means to live with shame and to find a way, to claw your way back to something like respect. You. You are not in need of that. What Guthrie did, you didn’t give him that power to do. So you can’t reclaim it. You can arrest him. You can find justice for what he’s done, for Reggie. But you—you do not need redemption.”
Dean let a long silence rest between them. “Do you think Pryce will work with me?”
“How so?”
“Keep the missing M16 quiet for now. Help me nab Guthrie.”
“I’ve worked with him a couple of times. He’s a good agent. He’s pissed as hell, I’m sure. He’ll want justice, so yeah, I think he’d listen to what you have to say.”
Dean nodded. “I need to talk to him.”
“I’ll call him. I’ll tell him you’ll talk to him tomorrow.” Tony stood up and walked into the house.
Dean watched the Straithorn’s Buick LeSabre drive past his house and into their driveway. Their daughter, Lilly, jumped out of the back seat and ran to their front door. Two years older than Jenny, she seemed a lifetime more mature. Boys meant something to her and she meant something to the boys, at least a number of them. High school was sooner rather than later. And Dean saw Jenny so infrequently, that every time he did so very much seemed to have changed. She had grown or altered her hair style or found a new favorite band. It was impossible to keep pace with her. Impossible to understand and accept what he was missing. He swirled the whiskey in the bottle and took a drink.
The screen door closed behind Tony as he took back the seat he had abandoned a few minutes before. “Pryce says he’ll keep it quiet. Call him tomorrow with your plan.”
“Thanks.”
“Sure.”
“Did I ever tell you about Stitch?”
Tony smiled. “Yes. A couple of months ago. One of your buddies that didn’t make it out of Vietnam.”
“Mmmm.” Dean sighed. “Yep. Quang Ho. Hill 425. Lost a lot of good men there.”
“Yep. Sounds familiar.”
“Did I tell you I killed Stitch, that I’m the reason Stitch left in a body bag?”
Tony sat silent in the chair. He had grabbed a Pabst when he was inside.
“I take it I didn’t mention that part.”
“No. You did not.”
“It was when we were fighting bunker to bunker. Fucking NVA knew how to build bunkers. You could drop bombs on them all day and night and those goddamned bunkers would hold together. Unless it was a direct hit, which almost never happened. Anyways, we were crawling our way up this hill. Machine guns sweeping the routes of our advance. Those assholes could set up interlacing fire as well. Don’t ever believe them, when they say the NVA wasn’t a good army. They were well trained. Professional. Deadly.”
“I won’t.”
“I can’t remember which bunker it was, but it was a few in. We darted from outcropping to outcropping. Wherever we could find cover. But we moved. Had to. You stopped for too long you died. Who wants to die in Vietnam?” Dean took a drink. “Shit. Anyways, it was my turn to flank this bunker and drop some grenades in it while a couple of guys provided the covering fire. I get up there. I pull the pin. I drop the grenade in. And a gook pops up on my right. I don’t think. I spray the guy with my gun. The grenade goes poof. The NVA in front of me falls. He looked surprised.” He rubbed the armrest’s plastic. After a while, he continued. “The battle’s over and we’re trying to find the guys that didn’t make it. I found Stitch. He was downhill from that NVA guy I killed. I shot a bunch of bullets and it killed the enemy. And it may have killed Stitch. I didn’t think too much about it at the time. Just a fleeting thought. The kind like, ‘Did one of my bullets kill Stitch?’ But over time, over time, that begins to weigh. And then you get home. And you can’t tell anyone this. No one understands except other Marines. And you can’t tell them you think you killed one of your own, even if you know you aren’t the first to do so because you’re sitting at home on your ass drinking beer and he’s dead.”
They sat there in silence, watching the lights of the nearby houses turning off one by one.
“You end up hating yourself. You hate yourself for what you’ve done, and you wonder if there’s a way to claw your way back to humanity, to even liking yourself.”

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Clearing - Chapter 37

Start with Chapter 1

CHAPTER 37

April 7, 1979
Dean drove to the station the next morning and had Laura look up both Julie Darwish and Tim Upton. He had slept poorly and had not bothered to shave after he woke up. As he waited for the information about the niece or her boyfriend, he sat at his desk, shuffled the piled reports and memos, but barely registered their titles or purpose. Etheridge walked in after a while and sat down at his desk, tendering a wave as a hello. Dean nodded his hello.
Laura walked up to the desk and handed him a piece of notepad paper with addresses and phone numbers. “That’s what we can get on those two. No arrests. Upton has a couple of speeding tickets is all.”
“Thanks.” Tim’s address was on the south side of town, amongst the largely residential section that had built up after World War II around the now defunct piping factory. As he walked out of the station to his car, he passed Guthrie without saying a word.
The house at the address was a ranch, all brick house with white molding around the windows and a black-gray roof. The white wooden garage door needed a coat of paint.
He pulled the car to a stop in the driveway, half of which consisted of a white gravel and the other cement. He stepped out and walked up the gravel with the grass rising up in spots. When he got to the sidewalk bordered by evergreen shrubs, the front door opened. Through the screen door, Dean could make out a woman dressed in blue jeans and a Coca-Cola t-shirt. “Hello?” she asked.
“Hello.” Dean stopped. “I’m Detective Dean Wallace. Is Tim Upton home?”
“He’s getting ready for work. What’s this about?”
“Billy Nimitz.”
“Ah, I was wondering if you’d ever show up.” She pushed open the screen door as her invitation to step in.
Dean walked into the entry way, where a set of light jackets hung from the wall directly across from the door. An off-white wallpaper with brown stripes and small flowers covered the walls.
She pointed to the right. “He’s in the kitchen getting breakfast.”
Dean walked down the hallway. It opened to a family room with the same wallpaper, a sofa, lounge chair, coffee table covered with magazines, a TV, and a basket of more magazines. To the back of the family room, the kitchen sat with a built-in table, counters, appliances, and a pantry. The small window looked out onto the driveway.
“You’re looking at it like Julie does,” said the man with blond hair with a part on the far left and combed over with a looping bang hanging down. He had the rudiments of a mustache. He was dressed in the blue and white uniform of the Gorman Transmission Company. They had a manufacturing center just about in Plattsburgh.
Dean held out his hand. “Detective Dean Wallace.”
“Tim Upton.” He took his hand and shook firmly. “That’s my girlfriend Julie.”
“Hi,” she said as she left the room.
Dean nodded. Unmarried but living together. He rubbed his nose. He was certain they were at least the talk of their neighbors.
“Coffee?” asked Tim.
Dean said yes, and Tim poured him a cup. The detective turned down cream and sugar.
“Here about Billy? I heard you at the door.”
“Yeah. I was talking to your uncle yesterday. Sam.”
Tim smiled. “Talking. I get you.”
“Anyway, he said you had spoken to Billy a bit. Claimed you called Billy a communist.”
“I did.” Tim took a drink of his coffee. “He was. He’d show up at the factory. We’re non-union there. So he’d show up and agitate. Tell us we should organize, unionize. Power to the people and that kind of crap. He was a red, pure and simple. Wouldn’t deny it.”
“I know lots of fellas who are pro-union that don’t consider—that I wouldn’t consider—communists.”
“Yep, I know some too. Me. Hell, the factory used to be union. But they shit-canned everyone three years ago and re-opened as a non-union plant. Most of us took the job. They can’t put these transmissions together anymore and be competitive. It was either that or the factory goes some place else. I’ll take the job, thank you very much. But I wish we were still union.”
Dean said, “So what made Billy a communist?”
“Because he said it. And he’d pass out The Communist Manifesto. He didn’t lead with that, but he got there pretty fast. And, boy, would he piss off some of those old-timers when he’d tell them unions were the consequence of communism. They did not like that.”
“How’d others react? You?”
Tim smiled and shook his head. “I told him to leave me alone. I wasn’t interested. I’m a patriot, you know, I believe in America. The communist crap can be flushed down the toilet as far as I’m concerned. I was the nice one, though.”
“Oh?”
“Yeah. I just barked. A number of guys bit. Some guys who fought in Korea and Vietnam, they didn’t take so kindly to him. I know a few of them beat him up one night. Told him to not come around anymore.”
“How bad?”
Tim shrugged. “Bad enough to let him know they were serious. They just told me after. Sometime last fall, I think it was.”
Dean took a large drink of coffee.
“And you know,” continued Tim, “that bastard showed up again. Black eye. Bandages. I’ll give him that. He was a tough son of a bitch.”
Until the bullet hit him. Dean nodded. He and Tim finished their coffee. Tim did not know anything else of relevance other than the guy who talked about beating Billy was George Littlefield. Shortly after, he and Julie walked him out, and Dean drove back to the station under a cloudy morning sky. Once there, he had Laura look up any information on George Littlefield she could find. She told him that Special Agent Pryce had called and wanted Dean to call back.
At his desk, Dean called Billy’s parents to ask who the family doctor was and if they recalled any injuries to their son. They said he had had an accident at the shop in October, but he had not seen a doctor. Just to be sure, Dean called the family doctor, who pulled up the files on Billy Nimitz and noted no visits regarding any accidents.
Guthrie walked up to Dean after he hung up. After updating Guthrie on his conversation with Tim, they split up the hospitals from Plattsburgh to Zion and started calling to see if Billy Nimitz sought medical treatment there.
He spent a couple of hours calling the hospitals on his list, most of the time on hold. As he hung up one call, his phone rang. He hoped it was St. Francis Hospital in Plattsburgh, who said someone would call him back, so he answered. “Yep. Detective Wallace here.”
“This is Special Agent Pryce.” When Dean did not respond, Pryce asked, “Detective?”
“Sorry. I was expecting someone else.”
“Yes. Anyways, I left a message for you.”
“Yeah. Haven’t had a chance to call you back.”
“Obviously. Look, we’ve got a problem.”
“What’s that?”
“When we got back to Plattsburgh last night, we were inventorying the evidence you loaded up for us. We noticed a discrepancy.”
“Sure. How can I clear that up for you?”
“It’s a serious one, detective. I’m not sure there is any clearing this up. It might blow our whole case.”
Dean sat up straight in his chair, pulling himself closer to the desk. “Excuse me?”
Pryce covered the phone and coughed. “Excuse me. Sorry about that. Yes. The photos of the weapons seized at Sam Darwish’s home and the weapons we have don’t correspond. Specifically, we’re missing the M16.”
Dean held the phone in his hand, his mind tracing the conversation the day prior with the FBI and DEA. They had not yet sent the M16 downstate for ballistics testing. The rifle should have gone with Pryce and Hayes.
“Detective?”
“Uh, yes? Is it listed in the seizure list?”
Pryce did not pause. “No. I’ve checked a half-dozen times. The paperwork doesn’t mention it. It’s not with the other weapons or any of the other evidence. It’s only in the picture. And you told me an M16 was used in the shooting. So do you have the M16 with an intact chain of evidence trail?”
Dean thought it over. Who had been in charge of gathering the physical evidence? Had he been and forgotten to do what he needed to do? Had the booze screwed him up again?
“Detective, do you have the M16?”
No. Dean was sure it was not him. But if not him…. He looked up and down the station floor. Guthrie was talking on the phone. “I don’t know. I’ll get back to you.” He hung up.

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