in the Forgotten Corner
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
“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.”
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
“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
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
“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.
“Alexander’s probably out playing in the
yard or the woods.”
“Who’s the little girl I nearly ran over
He shook his head. “There’re no little
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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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,
“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?”
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.
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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.
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?”
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.”
* * *
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 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
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?”
# # #
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