House for Sale

I see Jane Mullen’s silver Toyota parked at the side of the curb and glance at the clock. It’s only four now, so I’m right on time. The overcast sky makes it seem later than it really is.

She gets out of her car smiling. “I’m afraid Denise is running a little late. She said to go on and look at the house without her,” she says. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

The brick Georgian rises up three stories against the darkening sky surrounded by stately oak trees and well cut hedges. A winding slate path leads to the front door, which is painted a cheerful welcoming red. It sits atop the hill alone in the cul de sac, though neighboring houses are close by.

Robert will like that. Neighbors close, but not too close. The houses here are all different from one another, not “another cookie cutter development”. I notice a woman peering out of the window of the house closest to the Georgian on the left side. She must be the neighborhood snoop. Well, there isn’t much to see. Robert, the kids, and I live a quiet life.

Jane clears her throat. “Shall we go in?” She pulls the key from the lock box and wrestles with the front door. “Damn. I wonder if this is the right key,” she mutters, twisting and turning and pushing. The door doesn’t budge until she gives it a good shove, and then it springs open and she practically falls through the opening.

“Oh, my, I guess I pushed to hard,” she says and gives a little laugh. Uneasily, I think.

It seems quite dark now, and she flips on the lights. They’re dim, but they work. The house itself has a closed in feeling as if it has been empty for a while. We walk into the living room first. It’s spacious with a lovely brick fireplace and wide curving front window. The parquet floors need a polishing, but they are lovely. Beyond the living room is an office, and I’m surprised to see a large mahogany desk still sitting there. It matches the built in bookcases. Boxes of papers stand on the desk and files litter the floor.

“Looks like someone forgot to pack up,” Jane says in a forced cheerful voice.

“I hope we can get a hold of them,” I say.

We inspect the powder room then walk through a family room with a high ceiling to the kitchen and stop in horror. Someone has taken a hammer to the to the kitchen. Giant chunks of black granite lie on the floor, the cabinets are smashed through, and bits of broken china and glass glisten on the floor.

“Oh,” Jane says.

When we walk into the dining room, we can see that someone has smashed a hole through the ceiling. We exchange a look.

“Do you want to go upstairs?” Jane asks.

I don’t, but I do. I don’t understand if vandals have broken in and deliberately destroyed this beautiful house, but I need to look.

“I think we should. Maybe this just happened.”

We walk up the stairs, and I hear Jane’s heavy breathing. It matches my own. I wonder why my hands are so cold.

We look in the hall bath. It has been tiled in the largest, most beautiful, green glass tiles I have ever seen. They are almost translucent, and they have, for the most part, been smashed. The pale bathtub door has been shattered.

The master bedroom, which takes up the left side of the house and has two walk in closets, has it’s own bathroom with the same glass tiles in an opalescent white. I can see the dining room below through the smashed floor.

Two other bedrooms share a bath and are intact. A smaller room on the far end of the hall smells damp. The walls are covered with symbols. Stars and moons. Pentacles and suns.

We look at each other before we head up to the third floor. To our right is a storage room, filled with boxes. We hear the rustling of something, and close the door before we find out what. To the left are two bedrooms and a bath. One bedroom is empty, the walls painted white. The second has dark blue walls covered with collages. One is of faces in the throes of all kinds of emotion—fear, joy, anger. There is a collage meant to convey the horrors of war. Another collage features syringes and pills and people. A single photograph of a woman with a cat. The single bed is unmade and smells of old body odor. The room is thick with dust and the pall of sorrow.

I am shaking with cold.

“Hallo. Hallo. Sorry I’m late.” A cheerful voice calls.

Jane and I both jump. We are down the stairs in a minute to face Denise, a plump, smiling woman in a vivid red dress, who seems so terribly out of place in this horrible house.

“What happened here?” I ask.

“Oh. You mean the holes,” Denise says. “It wasn’t burglars, and the family is ready to make repairs.”

“But what happened?”

Denise sighed. “Look this house has been on the market for almost two years. It was the Evensham place. Dr. Sam Evesham, the psychiatrist? His oldest son was killed in that terrible car accident on the turnpike a few years back and his daughter ended up killing herself.” Denise shook her head. “It was too much for him. He went crazy one night. Took a hammer and started smashing away at the house then put a gun to his own head. Now nobody wants to even look at the place. It should be going for well over a million, but it probably won’t come close to that.”

“Was there a wife? Other kids?”

“The family just wants to be rid of this place. If they can’t find a buyer, they’ll probably sell to a developer. Shame really.”

“His wife?”

Denise’s eyes flicked to Jane. “He killed his wife and the remaining three kids.”

“Oh.” I looked at Jane. I was still freezing, but she looked calmer now. A little annoyed.

“I guess that means you aren’t interested,” Denise said.

I shook my head. “Sorry.”

“Maybe you wouldn’t mind waiting a minute til I lock up,” Denise said. She exchanged a look with Jane. “This place at night gives me the creeps.”

Loose Ends

I slump in the plastic seat, staring at my feet encased in high, gorgeous Jimmy Choos. Look great hurt like hell. I probably should have worn running shoes, but that would have been too obvious. In the early morning, the train is empty, and I listen to the sound of its wheels clicking over the rails.

“Ya almost made it,” a voice from behind me says.

I never heard him come in. That’s what happens when you spend the night moving from subway to subway. By morning, you’re so tired you get sloppy.

“Detective Moore,” I say. “This is a surprise.”

“Sure it is.”

“I don’t suppose I could interest you in getting off at the next stop and letting me go on alone.”

“Don’t suppose you could. You’re a person of interest.”

“Only to Donald.”

“That’s enough.”

The brakes squeal and the train slows as I shoot him in the face with the .38 I carry in my left pocket. I walk to the door without looking back. Donald didn’t warn him that I’m left handed. Too bad for Detective Moore. And to think I was ready to get out for good.

Now I have to tie up that final loose end.

Listen to Mother

You were warned.

Decades ago when the temperatures began to creep up in the summers and winters became extreme, you were told to protect me, and you laughed. All those people shouting about the environment were nut cases, you said. What do they know? Who cares?

You laughed until the oceans swallowed your beachfront homes, and the rivers turned to streams then trickles. And soon water was rationed into little jugs. But you created big plants to desalinate the oceans and slowly the seas began to dry up because people needed water. More and more water. But there was never enough. So the plagues and hunger came. Then the looting. And death. So much death.

Now your homes belong to me. My winds sigh through the shattered windows as sand pours into the rooms. To see your homes now, you would never realize they were once palaces built to honor your vanity.

Did you think I would endure your wanton recklessness forever?

You were warned: Honor your Mother.

The Mission

Winds ripped at his furs; great boulders forced him to walk beside his horse rather than ride, but Lord Malachy knew his mission was urgent. Troops gathered on the borders of his land, separated only by the Anon River.

 

 

He smiled a little. “They’ll have a hard time crossing the river won’t they?” he said to the yellow dog that accompanied him.

 

 

He came alone not wishing to put anyone of his house in danger. Should the jackals find a way to cross into his lands, best to let them think he’d fled like a coward.

 

 

He wished he left before the autumn wind whipped the mountainsides, but he couldn’t go back.

 

 

The dog growled and returned to his side. Horses. He heard the thunder of their hooves and stood, half blinded by their armor in the sunlight. Malachy pulled out his broad sword. If he were to die in these godforsaken mountains, he would do so as a man.

 

 

“Old fool,” a familiar voice said. “You should have come a month ago.”

 

 

He bowed. “My Lady, you grow more lovely each day, but war is upon us. We must prepare.”

 

She shrugged. “You rode all this way. You may as well ride to war with me.”

 

Fountain of Change

 

When it first happened, uproar ensued. Tommy Gulliver just went for a drink of water at the old fountain and came with fangs and claws. But it was almost Halloween, and the teachers thought he was playing a prank. After all, Tommy was a bit of a goblin. When he didn’t change back people began to worry.

 

Before the Thanksgiving holidays Virginia Regent returned with a nose six inches longer and a long floppy tongue. Now people were scared.Virgina was a noted tattletale and snoop.

People said weird things happened to people who drank from the fountain. Sometimes good things. Jimmy Stone who had a face full of acne scars suddenly had a complexion smooth as a baby’s. Ashley Grant lost forty pounds, but Becca Bartkowski’s hair fell out in clumps and her nose turned up just like a pig’s, and Jerry D’Giacamo grew ears like a jackass.

 

By Christmas, Principal Haley said he’d prove the fountain was fine. He took a big slurp and immediately began to shrink. His eyes grew beady, and black and white fur covered his body until he turned into a skunk.

 

Little Mrs. Berryman came from the front desk. She regarded the fountain then placed an X of tape on the front and turned to the on-lookers. She shook her head and sighed.

“I don’t know how this got here, but it needs to be handled with extreme caution. Stay away from the fountain, unless ye want to find out who ye really are.”

 

 

 

The Champion

They hanged Rudy in the morning. Strung him up and took turns shooting at him long after he was dead.  Poor Rudy was too sick to care; he barely whimpered when they dragged him out to the big old tree by the dried up well and put the rope around his neck. They dumped his body in the well.

At least he was free.

Jack moved slowly over to the edge of the cell and put his mouth against the corner. It rained last night and a trickle of water continued to drip into the dark box. With the downpour last night, they’d gotten a kind of reprieve when the water poured through a crack in the cement and they were able to satisfy their terrible thirst. He didn’t know if it was a mercy or not. In the end, they were all going to the same place.

A few of the smaller ones looked like they’d only last a day or two more at best. Flies settled on them, and they were too weak to knock them off. They labored to breathe. Jack nudged one over to the corner to drink some of the healing water. He should have let him go, but it wasn’t in Jack’s nature.

That’s what made him a champion for so long, but even champions wore out eventually. He couldn’t last much longer. His bones ached and his empty belly rumbled. Sores covered his body.

He heard footsteps and drunken laughter. “Let’s get the big bastard.”

“I don’t know. He’s still got some fight in him.“

“Don’t worry. How much fight could have left? Anyway, it’ll make it more fun. That last one went too easy.”

“Idiot. He’s got teeth.”

“So what?”

The voices came closer, and Jack moved to the back of the cell. They wouldn’t get him without a fight.

He hated the men, especially the short, skinny one with the black hair. He smelled like blood and evil.

For a while he used to dream of breaking free, of running away, and no one would catch him. He’d be Lord Jackson again, the king of the track, fastest of the fast.

A rumbling sound in the distance made Jack’s ears prick up. A storm rolling in, maybe? At least the others would have another day of water.

“Oh shit!” The men stopped coming and started to run.

Cars came roaring into the compound, and voices shouted. When the cell door opened, Jack’s body trembled, and he felt himself fall.

Two women and a man came inside. “Oh God,” the one woman said. “It’s worse than I thought. Look at them, Marcia.”

The second woman was already picking up Daisy and brushing away the flies, “Poor baby, we’ll take care of you.” Daisy tried to raise her head. “Shh, girl. We’re here to help.”

The man approached Jack. “Hey, big fella,” he said softy. “Look at you. I won’t hurt you.”

Jack wanted to bite this human, but he had no strength. The man ran his hand down Jack’s side. “You’ve been here a while haven’t you?” He waited for the man to hit him, but he continued to pet him, his hands gentle. He pulled something out of his pocket a black rubbery thing that attached to his ears and had a silver bottom. He placed it against Jack’s chest. After a minute he looked up.

“How’re the others, Lisa?”

“Bad. Two are barely alive; this one is a little better. How’s the big guy?”

“I think he’ll be okay. He’s dehydrated and starving, but he’s a strong. I bet he was something in his day.”

“They all were once. All these beautiful dogs.”

Jack felt the man’s arms slide around him. “Okay, fella, I’m gonna pick you up and carry you to our ambulance. We’ll get some fluids and antibiotics in you, and you’ll feel a lot better.”

Jack whimpered in terror when the man wrapped him in something soft and lifted him, but the man was gentle as if he knew where all the cuts and sores were.

Blinking in the bright sunlight, Jack saw police cars and strange looking trucks. He saw other humans carrying greyhounds out of their cells and taking them to the trucks. Two men in uniforms stood with a third man by the well and stared down into it, their faces angry, but Jack didn’t see the men who killed his friends.

The man cradled his head against his chest so he couldn’t turn it.

The man said, “It’s okay, big guy. You’re safe now. No one will hurt you again.”

Jack wanted to tell the man he once was a champion, but he thought maybe the man already knew.

 

Put the Stick in Your Mouth and Take Your Beating Like A Man

“Come on then, let’s have some fun.”

“Jesus Christ, Junior, the kid’s not doin’ nuthin’ to you.”

“You turnin’ into a pussy, Kev? Last two weeks, the old man’s been kissin’ his ass cause he hit a paper target. Fuck that. Was probably pure luck those shots.”

“Maybe the kid can shoot.”

“Maybe you’re a pussy.”

“Take it back. I ain’t a pussy!” Kevin circled his brother. They were pretty evenly matched. Junior was taller, but he was heavier and and quick from football.

“Prove it then.”

They creaked up the stairs to their brother’s room. Kevin’s heart ratcheted up a beat with every step, but he clenched his fists. The old man always said you had to put the stick in your mouth and take your beating like a man, but Danny wasn’t a man. He was a boy and a small one at that.

Junior nudged him in the ribs. What was worse: being called a pussy by your big brother or sticking your baby brother’s head in a toilet filled with piss? Kevin wiped the sweat off his lip and knocked on Danny’s door.

“Danny, whatcha doin’ in there? You want some grub? Junior and I was gonna get some pizza. You could come if you wanted. We never did congratulate you right about being such a good shot.”

Would Danny buy it? There was a long silence before Kevin heard the floorboards squeak as his brother approached the door. Pizza beat peanut butter and jelly on stale bread. As soon as Danny stepped out, Junior grabbed him around the waist and swung him in the air like he was a feather.

“Lemme down, asshole!” Danny’s arms swung in useless punches, but he landed a solid kick in Junior’s face. Blood began to dribble from his nose.

“You asshole!” Junior tightened his grip around Danny’s waist and grabbed one arm. “Help me, Kevin. Get his legs.”

“No, Kevin. Don’t. Please!” Kevin heard the plea in his brother’s voice and hesitated for a second. Didn’t everyone horse around?

Kevin grabbed for the scissoring legs, but Danny was fast. Kevin caught only one leg just as the other smashed against the hall table. They all heard the shattering of crystal, and Kevin wanted to stop. But Junior was too angry now; between them, they hauled Danny into the bathroom and shoved his head into the avocado toilet that reeked of stale piss and mold.

“Let him up, Junior. He’s gonna drown!” Kevin pulled at his brother who kept jamming Danny’s head against the side of the bowl.

“I hope he does.” Junior had a wild look that scared Kevin. “My nose is bleeding!”

“Jesus Christ, you want to be a cop, Junior. They don’t hire murderers.”

“Tell that to the old man,” Junior said, but he hauled Danny up.

“You assholes!” Danny shook his head like a wet dog. spraying both Junior and Kevin with piss water.

Kevin pushed him towards the shower, putting his body between Danny and Junior. “Here, just rinse off. You’ll be okay. Be quick.”

When Junior stalked out of the room, Kevin rocked back on his heels. “Danny, it’ll be okay now. We will get you pizza.” He reached out his hand.

Danny cringed away from him and turned on the water. “I don’t want it.”

“Jumpin’ Jesus Christ!”

Leaving Danny to clean himself, Kevin followed the sound of Junior’s voice. He stood in the hall, next to the overturned hall table staring at the crystal bowl lying in shards on the floor.

“Christ on a one legged crutch,” Kevin said. “Mom’s rose bowl.” The Waterford crystal rose bowl had sat on that table for years, like a shrine. It was one of the last bits of his mother left in the house, unless you counted Danny. He was the only one of them who took after her with his dark hair and slender build.

Junior looked a little sick. “Get a dust pan. If we’re lucky, the old man won’t notice. Get Gammy’s old bowl.”

“He’ll notice,” Kevin said. “The bowls don’t look alike.”

“They might if he’s drunk. I’ll buy another bowl tomorrow.”

“How?”

“You let me worry about it.”

Kevin ran down to fetch the dust pan and Gammy’s bowl. It was crystal, but the shape was wrong. It was bigger and curved out where Ma’s curved in like a ball.

He started towards the stairs when he heard the fumbling of keys in the front door and the cursing. Kevin slipped Gammy’s bowl back in the china closet and the dust pan in the kitchen. Just as he closed the kitchen cabinet the front door swung open.

“Are ya’ deaf? Didn’t ya’ hear me?”

Kevin bowed his head. “Sorry, sir.”

“Deaf and dumb.” His father’s gait was slightly unsteady, and Kevin wondered how many drinks he had down at the Shamrock. More than five and less than twelve, he gauged. He didn’t know where Junior was, but he hoped Danny had the good sense to hide.

His father unfastened his shoulder holster, then bent down to unstrap his backup from his ankle. After he unhooked the third holster from his belt he dumped everything on the dining room table. Thomas Patrick Ryan, Sr. was the most decorated cop in the city’s history, and its most deadly. Like a shark, he had a kind of sixth sense for blood, and no problem shooting to kill.

“Never aim for the legs,” he always said. “Too easy to miss. Go for the gut shot. Puts ‘em down every time.”

“How bout if I put these away for you, Dad?” Kevin said.

The old man grunted. “Get me a scotch,” he said.

Kevin took the grunt as a yes. After he poured a drink for his father, he collected the guns. He’d put them in the locking closet in the kitchen and keep the key away from his father no matter what.

“It’s been a long, shitty day,” the old man said. He downed the drink in one swallow. “I’m goin’ to bed.”

He listened to his father’s heavy footsteps on the stair, then the long pause. “What the living fuck?”

“It was an accident, Dad,” Junior spoke in his best bullshit voice. “Kevin and I were rough housing a bit with Danny and . . . well . . . it was an accident . . . Danny accidentally knocked over the table.”

Kevin let the key drop into his pocket and ran for the steps. “NO.”

It was too late.

He heard the sound of the old man’s fist against Junior’s face. It was enough to send Junior reeling back against the wall. Before Kevin was halfway up the stairs, the old man was throwing open doors like a crazy man. “Where are you, you little shit?”

“No, Dad, don’t.” Kevin tried to grab the old man’s arm. He shoved him off, and Kevin stumbled into the bathroom and went down on the floor. Where was Danny? The old man reached the big closet at the end of the hall where they kept the winter coats. He already had removed his belt.

“Get out here, you little shit!”

When the old man jerked open the door, Kevin smelled the moth balls. He pulled himself up from the bathroom floor. The little white balls had spilled out into the hall, and he watched as his father wrenched Danny from the closet. The kid, who two weeks ago had been sitting on the bar at the Shamrock getting sips of beer for hitting a paper target down at the shooting range, was being dragged by his skinny arm down the hall, fighting and kicking while the old man administered cracks with his thick leather belt.

“NO! It wasn’t my fault!” Danny tried to slip out of the old man’s grasp, but it didn’t do him any good. The old man punched him so hard, Danny’s eye began to swell shut at once. It was like watching a horror movie unfold in slow motion.

“Dad, please,” Kevin said, “no more. It was my fault. Me and Junior–“

But the old man didn’t want to hear. He held Danny with one arm clamped around his neck. “You shut up or you’ll be next.”

Then the old man was howling and Danny was making a break for the stairs, heedless of the shards of crystal bloodying his feet. The old man caught him before he could make it. Grabbing Danny’s arm, he twisted, and Kevin heard a snap, like the crack of a hard pretzel. Danny’s face turned the color of ashes. Even Junior said, ”Dad, no.”

The old man slammed Danny against the wall, but at the sound of Junior’s voice he turned and swayed just enough for Danny fall out of his grasp and go rolling down the hardwood steps to smash up against the radiator directly below.

“Jesus Christ,” Junior said. “Jesus Christ. Is he dead?”

Kevin pushed past them both and took the stairs two at a time. Feeling for a pulse, he watched the blood pool around Danny’s head from the deep gash in his forehead. It looked as though his skull was dented.

“Call an ambulance,” he said. “For the love of God.”

He heard his father’s voice, but didn’t move, not when Junior came down and told him they had to get their story straight, not when the ambulance came, and the EMT’s slid a plastic board under Danny and encased his head in a plastic collar. He saw the one EMT’s stony face and realized he’d been here before. Kevin look away ashamed.

Ten minutes later Stan Witkowski showed up. He’d been the old man’s partner for twenty years, and he patted Kevin’s shoulder. “It’ll be all right, Kevin,” he said. “Danny had a fall. It happens.”

“He didn’t fall, Stan. You know it.”

Stan looked at him, his dark eyes unreadable. “He had a fall. He was running and slipped. That’s it, Kevin. There’s nothing you can do. You gonna turn on your own father?”

“My father deserves it.”

“Well, maybe, but your brother needs a man to take care of him. That’s gonna have to be you.”

“I don’t know if I can.”

“You need to decide what kind of man you want to be, Kevin.”

Stan was gone then. Stan, the old man, Junior. They left him behind to clean up. Kevin wanted to run after the cops and say, “My father did this.” But he didn’t because it wouldn’t matter. Nobody messed with his old man. He was the cop who saved the mayor’s life from some druggie-prowler by putting eleven rounds in his chest. A perfect cluster.

Everyone swore the guy had a gun. They even found one. It looked like one of his father’s old pieces, but no one even questioned it. The druggie was on the mayor’s front lawn on the wrong night and made the mistake of calling the mayor an “evil rat bastard” when the old man was in ear shot. When he reached into his pocket for his manifesto about the evils of the city administration, that was the end of him. The mayor gave the old man a medal and a citation.

Who was going to challenge that?

So who was going to care about a ten-year-old kid? All Kevin could do was clean up the mess and try to protect a brother who didn’t trust him.

He swept up the shards of crystal and began to scrub his brother’s blood. It had seeped into the cracks in the wood floor, and Kevin had to wash the boards with the Murphy’s Oil Soap. He watched the water turn pink. Later he went to the bathroom and dumped the pink water down the toilet. Adding some more Murphy’s Oil, he scrubbed at the toilet until the piss and mold smell was gone.

He washed his big hands and scrubbed them until they turned red. The sleeves of his yellow sweater were stained with Danny’s blood, but by now the blood had dried and started to turn turned brown. Kevin knew he’d never wear that sweater again.

He pulled off his clothes and took a long hot shower, but he still felt dirty.

He didn’t know if he’d ever feel clean again. All he knew was he’d never hurt his brother again. It didn’t matter what Junior called him or did to him.

He’d put the stick in his mouth and take his beating like a man.