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J. E. Seymour
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hardlessons.jpg
Art by Jeff Fallow 2011

HARD LESSONS

 

 

J.E. Seymour

 

 

I saw the ad in the paper today where they’re auctioning off the old crutch factory up in New Hampton.  That led me to thinking of her again.  Mindy Fortier.  I was a sophomore at Plymouth State.  Plymouth State College it was then, never mind this high-minded university crap.  Mindy had to be in her thirties, or maybe she just looked older from a rough life.  Mindy worked at the crutch factory.  At least that’s what she told me.  Thinking back on it, I’m not so sure about any of what she said.

 

I met her in a bar.  Now before you start wondering what a sophomore was doing in a bar, you should know that I went to college late.  I was what they called a non-traditional student.  I had taken a few years off to earn some money, but I was still working as a computer cluster monitor and picking up odd jobs where I could.  So anyway, it was pretty late on a Friday night when I met Mindy. 

 

I don’t know which bar it was.  There were a lot of them in Plymouth, it being a college town and all.  I was sitting on a hard stool, drinking something, probably Rolling Rock, because it was cheap.  I was trying to work up the courage to go home.  It was the middle of the winter and had to be fifteen below out there.  Plymouth is pretty far north and surrounded by mountains.  It makes nice scenery, but it’s cold in the winter.

 

She sat down beside me, she must have been all of five five, maybe 105 pounds.  Built nice, the sort of girl you notice.

 

“Buy me a drink?”  Her voice had a bit of rasp to it, like she’d been up too long.

 

I looked harder in the dim light, trying to figure out her angle.  Everybody has an angle.  No ring that I could see.  Mousy brown hair, some pimples on her nose, chubby cheeks, like a chipmunk.  She smiled, without showing her teeth.

“Sure.  What are you having?”

 

“Whatever you’re having.”

 

I ordered another Rolling Rock and she drank it straight from the bottle.

 

“You come here often?”  She was just full of original pickup lines. 

 

“Yeah, I guess.”

 

“You a student?”

 

I looked down at my book.  The Ancient Mariner.  I was trying to catch up on some reading for my English course.  “Yeah.”

 

“Cool.  I was thinking about taking a course sometime, maybe start a degree.  What are you studying?”

 

“I’m undeclared.”

 

“Nice to meet you, undeclared.”  She shifted on the stool and stuck a hand out.  “I’m Mindy.”

 

I took her hand.  It was callused and rough.  “I’m Steve.”

 

“Now that we’re properly introduced, Steve, buy me another beer.”

 

I had to dig out my wallet to check on the amount of cash I had left, and then signaled the bartender for a second beer for her.  I was still working on my first.

 

“So what do you do, Mindy?”

 

“I work at the crutch factory.  You know, down to New Hampton?  Been there since high school.  Pays pretty good.”

 

“Really?”

 

“There’s not much around here, you know.  I mean I suppose I could have gone to the shoe tree factory, but they use that cedar wood, you know, and the smell gets to you after a while.”  She tapped the side of her head.  “Makes people nuts.”

 

“Really.”  I’d driven by the shoe tree factory, you could smell the cedar even out on the road.

 

“Yeah.  Then there’s the doll factory, but that’s got all that fabric floating around, that can’t be good for breathing.”  To punctuate her worries about her lungs, she took out a pack of Marlboros and lit one with a cheap plastic lighter.

 

I coughed, hoping she’d take the hint, but it was a different world back then.  You could smoke anywhere.

 

“So I work at the crutch factory.”

 

“And I study.”

 

“You look kind of old to be studying.”

 

“I’m a non-traditional student.”

 

She found this funny for some reason and laughed out loud, showing two rows of yellow teeth with two of the bottom front incisors missing.  She covered her mouth with her hand.  “So do you live in a dorm?”

 

“No.  I have an apartment in Bristol.”

 

“Why are you up here then?”

 

This was a fair question.  There were plenty of bars in Bristol.  “I just got off work.”

 

“What do you do?”

 

“I monitor the computers.”

 

She nodded.  “Okay.  So are you getting ready to go home?”

I shrugged.  “Sometime.”

 

“You have a girlfriend?”

 

“Not really.”

 

“I live in Ashland.  Lived there all my life.”

 

That didn’t surprise me.  “Nice town.  Geographical center of New Hampshire, isn’t it?”

 

She snorted.  “Right.  Teen pregnancy capital of the state.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Yeah.”  She looked down at the scarred wooden bar.  “Got pregnant when I was seventeen.”

 

I blinked. 

 

“Married the guy.  He's the one knocked out my teeth.”

 

“Oh.”  The conversation was getting a little personal.

 

“Take me home?”

 

I almost fell off my stool.  Maybe I misinterpreted her.  Maybe she just needed a ride back to her place.  “Okay.”

 

She wobbled beside me out to my car.  It was an old Bronco II, rusty and beat up.  I opened the door for her, shut it behind her and walked around to the other side.  When I got in, she was crying. 

 

“You're so nice, such a gentleman.  Ted never opened a door for me.”

 

I hesitated before I turned the key.  “You're not still married to Ted, are you?”

 

“We're separated.”

Great.  I cranked the old beater, surprised that it started, and backed out of the parking spot. 

 

Somewhere in the tears she convinced me to drive her to my place, persuaded me to let her stay the night, told me how he beat her, how she was stuck in this hellhole of a trailer in a small town, how she wanted to get out.  I guess she saw me as her ticket, somehow, although I wasn’t sure at first how a poor college student could help her.

 

I was embarrassed to open the door to my two-room apartment, decorated in early milk crate.  No place to sleep but the old hide-a-bed, and the hinges protested as I folded it out.  She insisted on turning the lights out.

 

“He beats her too, you know.”

 

“What?”  I sat up in the hide-a-bed, the springs protesting now. 

 

“My husband.  He beats our little girl.  She’s only five.  She wets the bed sometimes.  He hates that.”

 

I took a swig from the bottle of wine on the nightstand, feeling suddenly angry at this man, not sure of what to say.

 

“He works the early shift, seven to three.  I work three to eleven.”  She sighed and rolled over.  “I watch Tiffany while he works.  He watches her while I work.  He won’t give me enough money.  I can’t go out, ‘cause he thinks I’m always screwing around.”

 

I considered what we were doing, here in my little apartment and thought that maybe Ted had a reason for thinking that way.  But I had no sympathy for him, a man who would beat his wife and his little girl. 

 

“I wish he was dead.”

 

“Why don’t you just kill him then?”

 

She looked at me.  “What?”

 

“Make it self-defense.  He drinks too much, he goes nuts, he comes after you, you defend yourself.”  I don’t know what made me say that, or even think of that.  Maybe it was the cheap wine.

 

“And how would I kill him?”

 

I chose that moment to roll over, turn on the light, and grab the old Ruger from the drawer in my end table.  “With this.”

 

She stared at it. 

 

“You know how to use one?”

 

“No.”

 

“It’s easy, really.  This is a revolver, see?”  I showed her the cylinder, fully loaded with .357 semi-jacketed slugs.  “You just pull the trigger.”

 

“Why do you have it?”

 

“I live alone.  I’m out late at night.  It’s for protection.”

 

“Don’t you think I’d get in trouble, even if he was threatening me?”

 

“Self defense.  You tell the cops you bought the gun because you were afraid of him.  Rile him up, get him angry, let him come at you, then shoot him.”

 

She shook her head.  “I don’t know.”

 

“Listen, I’ll take you out this weekend and we can shoot some targets.  Let you get used to the thing, okay?”

 

She nodded and snuggled into me.  “You’re so different.  So strong.”

 

Nobody had ever accused me, the classic computer nerd, of being strong.  I should have seen it coming right then and there, but I didn’t.

 

She took off around six-thirty to take over kid duty for her soon-to-be ex-husband.  I watched her walk out the door, wondering how she was going to get from Bristol to Ashland, since I had driven her down here.  She stuck out a thumb and her chest and I watched as she got a ride in a matter of minutes. 

 

We went out shooting that weekend, just like I promised.  She wasn’t getting the hang of the gun.  She didn’t seem quite strong enough to pull the trigger without cocking it first, and she couldn’t get the hang of cocking it.  Revolvers are easy.  That’s why so many cops carried them for so long.  Anyway, I was beginning to have my doubts about the grand plan.  Mindy wasn’t going to be able to shoot her husband.  She could barely hit the huge plywood target I had set ten yards away.  Every time she pulled the trigger, the gun would travel a bit up, and she’d be pointing it at the sky before I’d stop her from pulling the trigger again. 

 

“That’s enough for today.”  It was cold, anyway, and I was getting tired of recocking the gun each time.  I’d rather go back to my apartment with her instead of freezing to death out here.

 

“He beat her last night.”

 

I had to clench my teeth.  I was starting to hate this guy and I’d never even met him.

 

“You have to help me.”

 

No, I don’t, I started to say.  But I thought again about the little girl, maybe with a black eye.  Telling her grandma she fell off the swings.  I paused on my way back to my car.  “I can do it for you.”

 

“Do what?”

 

“Kill him.”  In that simple sentence, I realized I’d crossed the line. 

 

“I can’t let you do that.”

 

“If he’s drunk and angry at you, and I stand there and tell him you’re sleeping with me, he’ll come after me.  Right?”

 

“I guess.” 

 

And then what?  I realized I had no clue.  No plans.  Nothing.  What do you do after you’ve shot somebody?

 

She voiced my concerns, as if she was reading my mind.  “But what then?”

 

I forged ahead.  “We call the police, of course.  Tell them he came after me, it was self-defense.”

 

“When?”

 

“When what?”  I didn’t understand what she was asking, didn’t understand her urgency.

 

“When can we do it?”

 

“What’s a good time for you?”  As if I was setting up some sort of appointment.  When would you like me to kill your husband?

 

“Why don’t you come home with me right after I get off work Monday night?”

 

“Will he be drunk then?”

 

“He passes out in front of the television every night.”

 

I nodded as I opened the car door for her.  “Monday night.”

 

It didn’t work out quite the way we’d planned it.  He was passed out in the chair all right, to the point where she could hardly wake him up. 

 

“Come on, Ted, this is the guy I’ve been sleeping with.  Don’t you want to beat him up?”

 

Ted opened one eye, swaying in the middle of the room.  “Hell no, I want to shake his hand.  Thanks, buddy.  Thanks for taking this Albacore off my neck.”

 

I wasn’t sure what he meant.  Tuna?  Mindy was behind him, miming a gun, pointing her finger at him and pulling an imaginary trigger.

 

Ted stepped towards me, smelling of beer, holding out a hand.  I took out the revolver, aimed it in his direction, looking at Mindy.  Ted stopped. 

 

“What’s this?”

 

“Will you just shoot him, for chrissake?”  Mindy sounded shrill, too loud. 

 

I hesitated, studying Ted.  He wasn’t going to hit me.  Ted was just going to stand there, swaying, with his hands spread as though he wanted to give me a hug.  I had it wrong.  He wasn’t going to hurt her.  He wasn’t even angry.  She was setting me up.  I shifted my gaze to her and saw the rage in her eyes as she moved towards me.  She grabbed for my arm.  I had already cocked the hammer, already fitted my finger to the trigger, and somehow, when she grabbed at my arm, that was all it took.  I squeezed the trigger without meaning to, without trying to. 

 

That’s what I told the police when they arrived, first the locals, then the state troopers.  That’s what I told the judge, too.  It was an accident.  I never would have killed her.  I loved her.

 

“Done with the paper, Steve?”

 

I look up.  Ryan is waiting outside my cell with his cart of books.  I hand him the paper and sit back to stare at the concrete walls.

 

 

 

 


cabinfever.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2013

CABIN FEVER

by

J.E. Seymour

 

When this kind of thing happens, it’s easy to second-guess it, play Monday morning quarterback.  “Oh yeah, I saw the signs, I knew this was going to happen.”  Well, no.  Nobody knew it was going to happen.  If we had, we would have stopped it.

I’m the chief of police in Liberty, New Hampshire.  Population 1,500 or so, give or take a few summer folks.  I worked hard to get where I am, one of very few female police chiefs in this state.  I think I’m a pretty good cop.  But I didn’t see this coming.

Let me start at the beginning.  Roger Benson lived up to the far side of Mount Winston.  It was tough getting in and out of there even in the summer, and he would pretty much hole up for the winter, coming out maybe every couple of weeks or so.  He’d stock up on supplies then drive his old four wheel drive truck back up to his cabin.  When I say cabin, don’t get the wrong idea.  Roger’s cabin was made of logs, but it was a pretty nice log house, with plenty of space, indoor plumbing and everything.  Now Roger had been here for years, long before I became chief, and he was getting up there in age.  In all that time, nobody knew anything about him having any family.  So when his younger sister showed up, we were all a bit surprised.

I was having lunch at my desk, as usual.  My administrative assistant leaned in through the open door.

“Chief, Eleana Morrill is here to see you.”

I swallowed too big a chunk of peanut butter on whole wheat and coughed. 

Betty laughed.  “You want me to send her in?”

I took a big gulp of water and nodded.  “Sure, sorry.”

Eleana Morrell is the town gossip.  Everybody knows that, including her.  But she’ll deny it if you ask her.  I got to my feet, shook her hand, directed her to the other chair. 

“Thank you for seeing me, Chris.”

I didn’t like being on a first name basis with this woman, but it was part of the job.  I nodded in an encouraging way and waited.

“I was having lunch at The Diner when a middle-aged woman came in asking how to find an address.  Said it wasn’t in her GPS.  She was obviously from away.  All fancy clothes and high heels in the middle of winter.”  Eleana snorted.  “Anyway, the address she was looking for is Roger Benson’s place.”

“So?”

“So who would be going up there?”

“What difference does it make?”  I wanted to ask her what business it was of hers, but that would have been too rude even for me.

“You don’t find that suspicious, or worrisome?”

“Nope.”

Eleana got up from the chair.  “I don’t know how she thinks she’s going to get up there, the car she had didn’t have four wheel drive.”  She moved to the door.  “Thanks for your input.”

I nodded.  I knew she wanted more input, but I didn’t want to encourage her snooping. 

I’m not sure if the strange woman made it up to Roger’s place that day or not, but the next I heard of it was a couple of weeks later when Courtney Reynolds came in.  She’s the manager of The Foothills Savings and Loan, one of the last of the small banks in the area.  They’ve been hanging on despite buyout offers from a half dozen national chains.  Courtney is one of the reasons they’ve hung on.  She loves her job, loves working for a small bank in a small town, and knows all her customers by their first names. 

She came in and sat down, at least I was finished with lunch this time. 

“I have some concerns about Roger Benson.” She looked out the window, at the bank across the street. “He came into the bank yesterday with this woman.”

“Now, Courtney, you know Roger’s a grownup.”

She frowned at me. “It’s not like that. She claims to be his sister.  Robyn MacIntire.  She’s apparently moved in with him, and he added her to his account.  He gets his veteran’s benefits and his social security deposited directly into that account. Now she has access to that.”

“Was her identification all in order?”

“Yes, but…”

“I don’t think there’s anything we can do. Like I said, he’s a grownup.”

“He seemed, I don’t know, a bit confused. Out of it, maybe.”

“In what way?”

“She did all the talking. He just kind of stood next to her, and signed where he needed to sign. When I asked him if this was what he wanted, he just nodded.”

“You want me to drive up and do a welfare check?”

“Could you? That would be fabulous. I’m so worried about him.”

“I think I can get away with that.” This is a small town, after all, and I am the police chief, and spending the taxpayer’s money on a little bit of gas for the old Excursion didn’t seem like such a bad thing. I headed on up there that afternoon. 

The roads leading to his place had been plowed at some point, the gray snowbanks on either side were testament to that, but there was still ice in the ruts. The Excursion has pretty good tires on it, with four wheel drive, but I had to put it in low and crawl the last half mile or so. I had no clue how the little Honda in his driveway had even gotten there, but it was sitting there in the turnaround, covered in mud, there just the same. Roger’s old Blazer was there too, also covered in mud. 

I opened the car door to more mud, the squishy brown kind you don’t want to get on your shoes. Luckily, I had brought my muckers, and I took off my cross trainers and put on my tall boots, then tromped up to his house.  I knocked on the heavy wooden front door and waited. 

A woman I didn’t recognize opened the door. “Yes?”

“Morning, ma’am. I’m Chris Powell, chief of police. Can I speak to Mr. Benson?”

“He’s not feeling well.”

“And who would you be, ma’am?”

“I’m his sister, Robyn.”

I nodded. “Well ma’am, I’d really like to come in and speak to Mr. Benson. Is he sick in bed?”

Her face turned almost purple. “No, but…”

“Can I come in?”

She stood in the door as if she was going to shut it on me, but then backed up a step. “Okay, I guess so.”  

I walked into the cabin and took a quick look around. Roger was sitting on the couch, staring into space. It was like he was watching TV, but the TV was off. I walked over. “Hey Roger, how you doing?” 

He looked at me, and his eyes were blank. I’d known Roger for years, but it was as if he didn’t know me. “Who are you?”

His sister interrupted. “This is the police chief, Roger. She’s here to see you.” She used that voice some people use with little children.

He looked at her as if he didn’t know who she was, then back at me again. “Police?”

I sat down across from him and leaned forward. “How you doing, Roger? Going to do some turkey hunting this spring?”

“Turkey?”

I glanced over at Robyn. “What’s up with him?”

She motioned for us to go in the other room. I stood up and followed her. She spoke under her breath, as if afraid he would hear. “He’s been like this ever since I got here. I was worried about him, living all alone in the middle of nowhere. I can see that my fears were justified. He seems to have severe Alzheimer’s. It’s a good thing I got here when I did.”

I glanced back into the living room at Roger, who looked as if he might be drooling. “He never showed any signs of senility before.”

“This seems to have come on pretty quick. As I said, it’s a good thing I was here. Sold my house in Lexington, Massachusetts and came up here to live with Roger. I’m sure you must have heard I’m helping him out.  Otherwise you wouldn’t have come out here.”   

I looked her in the eyes. “He was fine before you came up here. And yes, I am here to check up on him after some of his friends mentioned that you were here.”

“Are you suggesting that I have something to do with his condition?  Because that’s just ridiculous. I am a trained health care professional. I would never dream of doing anything to harm my brother.”

I looked back over at Roger. “No ma’am, no accusations.”

She went back into the living room and took Roger’s hand. “We’re looking into a nice facility for him.”

I was sure I saw something flash through Roger’s eyes, but it was gone in an instant. “Okay then. Thank you for your time.”

I sat in my car for a few minutes before I started it up and drove off.  Just before I turned the key I saw Roger part the curtains and look out at me.  His face looked different for a moment. As if he knew who I was. Then I saw her pull the curtain shut. 

I was puzzling on the drive back to the station. Roger didn’t have much. Just the house, the land, none of which was really worth all that much right now. 

It was a couple of days later that Sam Philman stopped in to see me.  Sam was one of Roger’s only real friends. He sat down in the chair across from the desk and pounded his cane on the floor. “That woman is doing something to Roger, I’m sure of it. Poisoning him or something. He won’t play cards with us.”

“Cards?”

“Soon as the roads are passable, Roger and Tommy and Ben and me get together to play poker once every couple of weeks.  I called old Roger up last night and he wouldn’t even talk to me.  I swear that sister of his is evil.  Says his Alzheimer’s is so bad he didn’t even know who I was.” 

“Hmm.”

“You have to put a stop to this.”

“There hasn’t been a crime.”

“There will be. Mark my words.” He got to his feet and stomped out of my office.

I hate it when people say things like that. I had various other reports, including Courtney saying that large amounts of money were being withdrawn from Roger’s account. Still, with her name on the account, we couldn’t stop it.

The call wasn’t unexpected at this point. It came in the middle of the afternoon.

I was in my office, working on some paperwork, when Betty leaned in. 

“Chris. Dispatch got a 911 hangup from Roger Benson’s house.”

I got to my feet too fast and knocked the chair over. “You know where Bill is?”

I wanted Bill Curry, my sergeant, up there with me this time. I was expecting to find Roger dead, maybe she pushed him down the stairs, or maybe she suffocated him in his sleep. The hangup bothered me though, that didn’t fit with her M.O. thus far. When we got there, the front door was standing open. Roger was on the porch, sitting in a rocking chair, holding an axe. I was glad I hadn’t had lunch.

“Afternoon, Chief.”

“You mind putting that weapon down, Roger?”

“Ayup.” He set it aside, and blood puddled under it.

As it turned out, Roger was having some symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but his sister was giving him some sort of drug to make him worse, and using those symptoms to take him for everything he had. He’d gotten sick and vomited up all the medication she’d given him, couldn’t keep anything down for a couple of days, and started to realize what was going on. After that, he took matters into his own hands. Can’t really blame him. After all, according to her, he was really out of it. Still, we had to arrest him, but he’ll do his time in the State Hospital instead of the prison. 


J.E. Seymour has been writing for more than 20 years. Her first novel, Lead Poisoning, was released by Mainly Murder Press in November of 2010.  She is under contract with Barking Rain Press for her second novel, Stress Fractures, to be released in May of 2014.  Barking Rain is also releasing a second edition of Lead Poisoning.  She has had short stories published in print in a NH pulp fiction anthology – Live Free or Die, Die, Die (Plaidswede Press,) in three anthologies of crime fiction by New England writers - Windchill, Deadfall, and Quarry; (Level Best Books) and in Thriller UK Magazine.  She has also had short stories published in numerous ezines.  Her short story “Blackbird,” was voted one of the top twenty mainstream short stories of 2006, in a Preditors’ and Editors’ readers poll, and her story “Brotherly Love” was number twelve in the 2009 poll.  In 2002, she was selected to attend the Bread Loaf writers’ conference on the strength of one of her short stories. She was a panelist at the Crime Bake Conference in 2011.

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