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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

80_ym_switchbacksforgottencorner_dblanch.jpg
Art by Darren Blanch 2020

Switchbacks in the Forgotten Corner

 

Walter Giersbach

 

There are woods in northeast Connecticut where you can step off the trail and disappear till a hunter trips over your bones a year later. Locals call this the Forgotten Corner and spiel about the land that time passed by. Back in New Jersey, with a 7-Eleven at every corner, we call those places graveyards.

That’s where I found Sam Dexter, the chief of police up in Putnam. He’ll be out of a job in a year, replaced by the state police if the town can’t raise the money to pay him. 

“Mikey,” he told me over the phone, “I don’t mean to call in favors, but I need you to come up and see what you make of a case I have. It’ll be the last straw if the state takes over.”

I needed to get away from Newark, fast becoming Murder City, U.S.A.  Fortunately, the captain gave me a compassionate leave to recover from the last killings. I’d been five minutes too late to save a kid from the projects who was shot by his crack head father. Dad wouldn’t give up the gun and I didn’t feel so hot after murdering a murderer. 

Next day I headed up the Parkway.

“Dr. Bone is one of two doctors here, Mike,” Sam explained when we were settled on his patio sucking on a couple of cold beers. “Yeah, Dr. Neville Bone.  That’s his real name. His wife went missing a week ago, along with the guy who runs a chili and hotdog stand at the edge of town. Put two and two together and you have a runaway couple. Doc believes they were having an affair.”

“Happens all the time, Sam. Easy enough to track them. Cell phone calls, credit cards.”

His beefy face crinkled in concern. “Jesus, that’s obvious. Think we didn’t check that? They took their wallets and purse and some clothes. The owner of the chili dog shack — guy name of Nathan Crutchfield — he’s single. No one’s looking for him.”

“Doctor have a family?”

“Got a boy about eleven years old. Doc’s a nice guy who came down here from Mass General Hospital in Boston last year. Wanted to bring up the family wholesome like. Wholesome we got a lot of.”

I tipped down the last of my beer. “You want me to see him, this doctor?  Tell him Connecticut has to import detectives?”

“Christ, Mikey, you owe me from when we were partners patrolling Newark’s Ironbound Section! Tell him you’re a private investigator hired by the wife’s sister.”

“That’s against the law, Sam. And I’d need some background on the wife.”

I’m the law in Putnam!” He slammed his arthritic hand on the chair. “His wife Celia came from Brookline, Massachusetts. Some money there, I think. Her sister Amelia’s concerned enough to hire a P.I.”

*  *  *

The doc’s house was down a street off Five Mile River Road. That street turned into a one-laner buried in a forest. I get goosebumps when the sidewalk ends, and this was the woods out of some fairytale. Sam called this the Quiet Corner, but tourist books refer to it as the Forgotten Corner. Forgotten is right, and I swore as I slammed on my brakes. The car skidded to a stop three feet from a little girl standing in the road. Kid was barefoot wearing a skimpy blouse and cutoff jeans. 

“Jesus, kid, you could get killed playing in traffic.”         

She looked startled, clutching a handful of flowers harder before scampering off into the brush. The feral figure disappeared with her long hair waving goodbye.

Doc’s house was a hundred yards around the next bend — one of those contemporary places that look like an explosion in a geometry class.

“I just heard from Chief Dexter in town,” the man said opening the door.  “Said my sister-in-law Amelia had hired a detective. Well, I welcome every attempt to find Celia and that bum she ran off with. Imagine a mother running away from her little boy!” 

The doc was TV handsome — Hollywood casting for an elegant doctor to walk around with a stethoscope.

“What makes you think your wife and this Nathan took off together, Neville?” I asked. He recoiled. Doctors do that when you don’t call them Doctor. 

“Because they’re both gone. Left on the same day. No goodbyes or go-to-hells.”

“You and your wife have any problems? Marital troubles? Any enemies?”

He opened his arms wide as if to say “Who could have problems with a wife like mine?” and pointed to a framed photo of Celia. Celia was stop-the-train beautiful, with a face carved out of ivory, a promising hint of cleavage and hair the color of weathered shingles on a Jersey shore bungalow. 

He answered my routine questions, then I asked him to show me the house — their bedroom, the kid’s room, the basement they’d fixed up like a classy bar with paneling, mirrors and a shelf of booze. 

“You a smoker, Neville?” I pointed to an overflowing ashtray in the basement. “Gauloises cigarettes. And you a doctor. I’m shocked.” 

“Celia. I could never make her quit, so I banished her smoking to the basement.” He rubbed his face. “I miss her. God, how I miss her.”

That’s what they all say. It’s the standard response, maybe with a little choke in the voice.

 “Where’s your son?”

“Alexander’s probably out playing in the yard or the woods.”

“Who’s the little girl I nearly ran over driving up?”

He shook his head. “There’re no little girls here.”

The sound of a howling animal shredded the air. We both swiveled to gawk out the living room window. “What the hell is that?” I asked. “Last time I heard shrieks like that a broad saw her homeboy go down in a pool of blood.” 

“Dog, I guess. We also get coyotes, and some people say the wolves are coming back.” He chuckled. “Maybe it’s the Black Dog, the sign of death.”

*  *  *

“You live in a weird part of the world, Sam.” I tossed myself into the chair in his office. “Roads that look like cow paths, howling dogs, little ghost girls.”

“That’s why you’re here, Mike. A fresh point of view.”

“You said the Doc has a little boy?” 

“Alexander. Nice kid. The kind with his nose in a book all the time.”

“Daughter? Straw-colored hair. Maybe ten or twelve years old?

He shook his head. “Just the boy.”

“They have a pet dog? What’s this about a black dog in the woods?”

Sam leaned back. “Oh, Christ, the locals will tell you this legend about a black dog roaming around. See it when you’re hiking and you or a loved one will die soon.”

“Must play hell with your real estate values.”

“Mike, listen, I got to check out a kitchen fire down the road. C’mon over for dinner tonight. I’ll ask my wife to do it up special.”

I waved Sam off to chase his fire and wandered down Main Street looking at the two-story buildings and dusty store windows. No need for surveillance cams in this town. I felt a dozen eyes on the back of my neck as I sauntered up one side and back the next until I got to the chili and dog shack.

“Nathan Crutchfield?” I asked a high-school-aged kid in Crutchfield’s parking lot. Kid was leaning over the engine of a Honda Civic.

“Nathan ain’t here. Took off.”

“Fishing?” My joke. 

“Ran off with the doctor’s wife.” He wiped imaginary grease off his hands.  “She was some looker. Guess she liked his brand of hot dog.”

The shack had a Closed sign in the door.

“He got any relatives here? We’re old friends and I want to pay him back the fifty bucks I owe him.”

“Hell, might’s well give it to me ’cause he got no one I know about.” High School Harry stuck his head back under the hood and made believe I was gone.

I drove out of town past rusted cars in front yards, scrawny dogs — none of them black — lying in the weeds, residents riding little mowers and watching me over their shoulders. The sign at the edge of town said it all: Founded sometime in the 18th century, population 5,000. I wanted to add a line: Fuhgeddaboutit.  Instead, I drove back to Doc Bone’s pile of glass and shingles.

No one answered my knock on the door, so I strolled around back. The kid — Alexander — was lying in an aluminum recliner. 

“Hey, Alexander, your dad at home?”

He put his book down and stared back through thick glasses. “Who’re you?”  The book was an inch thick — a hardcover and no evident pictures. The kid could have stepped out of the 1950s, with his crew cut hair, khaki shorts and a tee that said Black Dog - Martha’s Vineyard.

“Name’s Michael Mullally. Your Aunt Amelia in Boston asked me to talk to your dad. We’re trying to find your mom.”

“Aunt Amelia lives in Brookline, for god’s sake, and Dad’s in town seeing a patient.”

“Can you tell me about the last time you saw your mom?” I pulled up another chair.

“She kissed me goodbye so I could go catch the bus. I forgot my lunchbox, so she ran after me.”

“Was she home when you got back from school?” 

He shook his head. “She made me peanut butter and jelly, and everyone knows our school doesn’t allow peanuts. Dad said she went off with Mr. Crutchfield.”

“Oh, by the way, Alex — can I call you that? — I almost ran over your friend coming up here earlier. Nice girl. I forget her name.”

“That’s not my friend. That’s Angelica, my sister. Can’t you get anything right?” The book kept drifting up toward Alexander’s glassy eyes. 

“I didn’t know you had a sister.”

“Angelica’s my twin. Identical, not fraternal.”

“Your dad said you’re an only child, Alex. Why’d he say a thing like that?”

The boy gave an exaggerated shrug of two skinny shoulders. “Maybe he doesn’t want to admit that he tried to kill Angelica. He’s in denial.” The book floated up to cover his face.

“But that’s terrible!” Here’s one for the shrinks, I thought, wondering if the county had any psychiatrists. “Why would he want to do that?”

The shrug returned from his limited repertory of gestures. “Same reason he killed Mr. Crutchfield and Mom. They saw the Black Dog — and that’s Dad.  Angelica says she may be next. That’s why she’s afraid to come home.”

“Can I chat with Angelica? I have a question for her.”

“She’s playing in the woods. Angelica!” he called. “C’mere!”

We both waited, Alexander calmly and me with chills crawling up my back.

“She lives in a tent, down the path there between the hemlocks. I bring her food and Cokes and comics.”

“Think I could find it? Down that path?”

He nodded.

I went back to my car for a bottle of water, pack of Camels and my .40 Glock automatic. Alexander pointed silently to the path to set my course.

The path must have been created by a drunken cow. It staggered over hillocks and into gullies, through mossy swamps and around rocks. Half an hour later, I sat down on a flat rock and pulled out my phone to call Sam. I was going to be late. 

I should have known there’d be no signal. AT&T had forgotten this place too.

“Mr. Mullally?”

A squeaky voice floated down over my head. I looked up to a ledge ten feet high to see a girl — the one I’d almost run over. She could have been Celia minus 25 years, with a sunburned face framed by a haystack of hair. A second later, I realized I was looking at Alexander playing dress-up in a wig and skimpy tank top.  Of course she — he — knew my name.

“Are you Angelica? Alexander told me where to find you.” 

“Why?” She stretched the word into two syllables that went down a hill and up again. “You won’t tell my dad, will you?”

“Angelica, what happened to your mom? I think you have a pretty good idea.”

“She’s gone to Heaven. Mr. Crutchfield’s gone too. They tried to tell people Daddy was the Black Dog. Nobody listened, so he got ’em good.”

“Where are the bodies — Angelica?”

“I told you! In Heaven with the angels. Don’t you ever listen?” Then she turned and melted into the woods.

*  *  *

Sam didn’t dispute my report of the chat I had with Alexander and his alter-ego.  I guess it confirmed his expectations. “Neville Bone killed his wife,” I said.  “I think the kid could be called to testify. The couple may be buried out in the woods.” I flung my hand out in the general area of the hills. “Someone’ll trip over them in the fall – or never.”

“So Alexander invented a sister? To deal with the trauma?”

“Celia had a wig that Alexander puts on. I went back to the doc’s empty house and found other hairpieces in Celia’s closet. Girl’s clothes are easy enough to pull off someone’s clothesline. But it wasn’t entirely his imagination. I ran a check on Neville Bone, M.D. There was a twin sister who disappeared in a boating accident last fall. The doc lost her when the family was vacationing on Cape Cod.  Celia was hysterical and accused him of ‘manifest indifference to the welfare of a child.’ The Hyannis P.D. put it down as accidental drowning — body not recovered.” 

“I guess that wraps it.” Sam didn’t smile a lot, but I was rewarded with a nod of appreciation. “I’ll send it all up to the District Attorney. Family Services will pick the kid up for counseling. I’ll go out and collar Doc Bone.”

“Well, I can’t say my vacation wasn’t interesting, Sam, but give me a shootout in Newark any day over weird crap like you got up here.”

*  *  *

“You were in the Forgotten Corner?” the barman at Foxwoods Casino said as he put a cold one in front of me. “Weird part of the state.”

Everyone comes down the funnel of Interstate 95 to Foxwoods sooner or later, dropping their dreams in the slots and on the blackjack tables. The casino had a gas station where I filled the tank and I was a sucker for a beer and half an hour on the one-armed bandits. Cold beer makes me wake up the way it puts other people to sleep. Who could sleep anyway with the ching-ching-ching of the slots?

“Basically,” he continued, “they got no rules up there. Cabin-in-the-woods mentality.”

“Explains the rust buckets and porch potatoes out on the county road.” 

“They pretty much stay under control using common sense.” 

I pulled out a pack of smokes and reached for the ashtray. State smoking ban hadn’t reached the casinos yet, but there ought to be a law against people sucking Gauloises. I picked the cigarette butt out of the ashtray. They’ll kill you twice as fast as a Camel, but they’re not the only thing that’ll kill people. Take Celia, for example.  I saw her coming out of the ladies’ room looking like the queen of Boston’s Beacon Hill. I grabbed her arm as she passed me.

“Hold it, Celia. Let’s have a drink and a little chat.”

“Let go of me! Bartender!” Her voice sounded like a swallow of 12-year-old cognac. She was a wonderful sight with her translucent skin and eyes that glittered like blue sapphires. 

The barman stared at us, looking for Security and wiping a glass so furiously I thought it would break.

“I’m a police detective.” I pulled out my badge. “If you’re here and the doc’s going into the slammer, where’s that leave Nathan? Under a pile of rocks?”  My Glock was an inch away from my hand.

“How did you know my name?” Confusion began to fill those brilliant sapphires that stared back.

“Sam Dexter, the police chief, asked me to come up to Putnam and look around. I admired your picture in the rumpus room, but not your taste in cigarettes.”

“You have to listen.” She sat down on a barstool. “Yes, I had an affair and my husband tried to kill us. He stabbed Nathan. He was totally insane! I managed to get away with just a bruised rib.” 

“You took off and left your kid to go crazy? Face the situation alone?”

“Neville doesn’t hate Alexander. Only me. I’ll come back to my son. And I’ll see the police — but in a few days. I’ll do anything if you’ll let me handle things on my own terms. Just another day to get over this and I’ll go back and testify against Neville.”

I flashed on the kid I couldn’t save in Newark. Some things deserve protection at any cost. Kids and abused wives rank high on my list. Alexander needed help his mom might deliver. Call me a middle-aged fool, but I felt no rush to collar Celia. The doc was in custody. The kid in Protective Services would be questioned by the prosecuting attorney. I’d call Sam shortly to tell him the babe was hanging out at the casino and he could do what he wanted.

“I’ll buy you that drink now, Celia, then I’m going to hit the highway. I’m a Newark cop and this isn’t my jurisdiction.”

“God, I love you — and I don’t even know your name.” She leaned over and dropped a wet one on my cheek.

*  *  *

Summer hung over the Connecticut hills like a fighter on the ropes as I waited for the valet to bring up my car. Newark would be frying too, but it was home. And then I saw Alexander strolling by a concession stand, a preoccupied pre-teen tourist in a wig and cutie-pie dress. Everybody comes to Foxwoods, they say 

“How’d you skip out of Protective Services, Alexander?” I shot my hand around his neck to get his attention.

He shrieked and my hand realized that was no boy’s body. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Celia’s punch coming a second before it connected with my nose.  Then she was all over me with claws and teeth.

“How dare you!” she spit out.

“I dare because your kid and I had a long talk.” I was on my knees holding off the wildcat. “I figured him for a loony — until just now when a dead kid came to life. Is this the daughter that drowned?” 

Run, Angie,” she shouted, kicking me in the knee. 

The Glock jumped into my fist. “Don’t move, Celia. I shot a street punk last week. I can pull the trigger on a woman just as well.”

*  *  *

Neville’s the one with the big money — not Celia,” I told Sam back in his office. “I called her sister in Brookline an hour ago. She’s frantic that her mortgage will put her out in the street. My take on this is that Celia wanted the doc charged with Angelica’s drowning so she could put him away. After that didn’t work, she tried a kidnapping and murder angle.”

Celia was in a cell. Angelica had fallen asleep in an office next door.  Tomorrow, one would be transferred to the Windham County jail and the other would go home to a “wholesome” family life with dad and brother. A matter of time and someone would trip over the hot dog man’s body.

“Where was the little girl all this time?” Sam Dexter had a hard time digesting my story. 

“Hidden by a friend nearby, believing Celia’s cockamamie excuse. She embroidered the plan with her own apparent murder of the kid when the drowning charge didn’t work. The chili dog guy was the schlemiel.”

“Just crazy what people come up with,” Sam said. “Thanks, Mike.” This time I got a smile.

“Look at it this way, Sam. You only have half as many bodies to look for now.” 

*  *  *

I whistled my way down Main Street, happy to be driving back to Newark.  But a mosquito bite still itched in the back of my mind. Something wasn’t right.  The setup was just too complicated. I pulled a brody in the middle of the street and headed back up to Doc Bone’s house in the woods.

The place was still empty, unchanged from the day I’d left Alexander. His book still anchored the lawn chair. A big fat book called One Hundred Best Murder Plots. 

Alexander had done his research, underlining page 247 about a case that cast blame on an innocent man by faking his child’s drowning. Celia had been Alexander’s best student. 

My first question to the kid should have been, “Are you the good twin or the evil twin?”

 

#  #  #

Walt bounces between writing genres, from mystery to humor, speculative fiction to romance, with a little historical nonfiction thrown in, for good measure. His work has appeared in print and online in over two dozen publications. including Yellow Mama. He’s also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts, and from homes in eight states and to a couple of Asian countries. He now lives in New Jersey, a nice place to visit, but he doesn’t want to die there.

Darren Blanch, Aussie creator of visions which tell you a tale long after first glimpses have teased your peepers. With early influence from America's Norman Rockwell to show life as life, Blanch has branched out mere art form to impact multi-dimensions of color and connotation. People as people, emotions speaking their greater glory. Visual illusions expanding the ways and means of any story.

Digital arts mastery provides what Darren wishes a reader or viewer to take away in how their own minds are moved. His evocative stylistics are an ongoing process which sync intrinsically to the expression of the nearby written or implied word he has been called upon to render.

View the vivid energy of IVSMA (Darren Blanch) works at: www.facebook.com/ivsma3Dart, YELLOW MAMA, Sympatico Studio - www.facebook.com/SympaticoStudio, DeviantArt - www.deviantart.com/ivsma and launching in 2019, as Art Director for suspense author / intrigue promoter Kate Pilarcik's line of books and publishing promotion - SeaHaven Intrigue Publishing-Promotion.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2020