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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Robb White: The Parcel

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Art by Cynthia Fawcett © 2024

The Parcel

Robb White

Vinnie Delmonte stared at the thick letter the postal clerk handed him. “Next,” the clerk said. Vinnie took his time moving aside despite the impatient tongue clicking of the woman next in line.

His grandmother from Bangor sent it. He hadn’t seen her since his altar boy days at St. Luke’s. He’d spent half a miserable summer at her cabin in the woods when he was sixteen, staying out there in the boonies with her while his friends back home in Portland were reveling in summer vacation. They sent him their selfies with their grabby hands innocently touching the undersides of the girls’ breasts. He vaguely recalled his depression from that long-ago wasted vacation when he wandered in the woods chucking rocks at blue jays and masturbating behind a stand of pitch pine trees.

Smirking at the spidery handwriting on the envelope, he tore it open. Forget cell phones, she never heard of texting. Anxious about his soul, the fanatical old bat. He wished she sent him money like a normal grandmother. The temptation to drop it in the wastebasket on his way out the door tugged at him.

At the same time, he didn’t want his mother bugging him about whatever her mother sent. Even at 27, he wasn’t free from the apron strings owing to his failure to hold down a job longer than eight months. She always handed it over, rarely complained about his failure to pay it back. Once she compared his excuses for being short to some cartoon character named Wimpy whose catchphrase was “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” If only it was hamburgers he was short of instead of bourbon and beer with the occasional blunt, not that high-impact shit but dope you could reason with. He was a boozer, not a druggie.

He opened the letter in his car and read the first page before he let out a whoop that made the woman in the car beside his open stare at him.

“Yee-haw,” he burbled, gaping at his grin staring back at him in the rearview mirror. It was genuine excitement in contrast to the repertoire of studied looks and poses he mastered for the public, depending on where he was at the moment.

“The old girl’s finally done right by you, Vin.”

Talking to himself was a lifelong habit. He skipped through the rest of her letter, careened past her stage-4 pancreatic cancer, her new residence in a hospice facility in Bangor, blew past her hopes for his redemption and her own hope of “receiving angel wings,” and skip-hopped to the end where the deed was folded in with the letter.

Vinnie perused the deed’s legal mumbo-jumbo to settle on her jerky signature at the bottom of the page.  “Don’t hold your breath on that visit,” he mumbled, envisioning the medicinal smells, the odor of elderly people, and the tear-wringing farewell his elderly grandmother would certainly inflict on him.

“No way, no how, Grammy,” he said to the rearview mirror while adjusting his hair.

He wadded the pages and tossed them over his shoulder to the back seat. He kept only the deed. Vinnie Delmonte—thanks to his frugal grandmother—who doted on him was now the proud owner of a cabin in the woods he had loathed visiting as a boy, not to mention the surrounding one-hundred-sixty acres of woodland.

The word money rippled throughout his neocortex like a white rock at the bottom of a shimmering pool. The big question: How much was it all worth, cabin and land?  First things first: Vinnie had to get out there and check out what he was calling “my estate.”

If anything, the intervening years had aggravated his disdain for nature and anything that smacked of camping or hiking. Leaving the concrete skyscrapers, foul smells, and harsh sounds of the city behind was like leaving Paradise for that other place his grandmother quaintly referred to as “H—e—double toothpicks.”

“Only one way to find out, Vin, old boy.” Spoken with the confidence of the newly rich while fluffing his hair and throwing a wink at the face in the rearview.

* * *

The old girl hadn’t renovated the place much. The same boring landscapes, family photos, and ceramic bric-à-brac on the shelves he remembered from his youth. He’d worked the internet to get a baseline estimate and $90,000 didn’t seem unreasonable. Add in the value of land and prime timber, and yessirree Bob, Vinnie D. was holding a ticket to Easy Street.

He brought along a sleeping bag for the upstairs loft. Vinnie was superstitious and believed sleeping in her bed downstairs was bad luck. He had five six-packs, a bottle of 90-proof vodka, and a bottle of Hornitos to help pass the time, although he had no intention of staying one hour longer than necessary. He didn’t bring gas for the generator, however, and didn’t think of it until he flicked a light switch. He cursed himself for stopping at that roadside juke joint off State Route 9 to check out the ladies and quench his thirst on the ride from Portland. If he’d stayed on the road, he could have walked his property line before it got dark. Too late now, even with his flashlight and his father’s old pump shotgun in the trunk to take along. He didn’t like the woods in the daytime. White-tail deer, bobcats, and raccoons were one thing, black bears, rattlesnakes, and moose were another.  After sundown, every cry or shriek from the forest had an ominous ring to it in the forest.  

An hour of rummaging among her things helped pass the time. He grabbed fistfuls of her clothes off the closet poles, stuffed them into garbage bags, half-gagging on the sachet bags she placed in with them. Frilly things like doilies and samplers with homey sayings stitched into them went straight into the trash can. The night was long and he was bored. Cell service out here was sketchy and didn’t last long enough for sex conversations with two girls he was dating. Both had turned down his invitation to accompany him “to the great outdoors.”

He’d forgotten how the pitch-black dark outside the cabin windows fell on everything like a black wall. Night sounds of screech owls, yips and cries of nocturnal animals that had once disturbed his youthful sleep now frazzled his nerves. He sipped vodka with beer chasers, and finished with three shots of tequila to dull every sense so that he wobbled climbing the ladder to the upstairs loft.

He swept the flashlight beam around the small space.  Two pairs of red eyes stared at him. He screamed, nearly falling off the ladder in his agitation. The raccoons scuttled noisily back through the hole under the eaves; he heard their nails on the roof.

Raccoons, Vinnie . . . Just raccoons.

The flashlight beam showed where the hole under the eaves where the raccoon had entered the loft. Vinnie wanted to laugh at his fright but his limbs were shaking so hard he could barely lift himself over to the floorboards. He stuffed the sleeping bag into the hole and fell backwards into a boozy sleep disturbed by nightmares. He sat upright at dawn, banging his head on the sloping rafters. His bladder ached. He dreamt huge snakes with tea-colored eyes and diamond patterns slithered over the floor below, some tangled in a ball just below the ladder. Tongues flicked out, probing the air, sensing his presence above them.

* * *

Cotton mouth and the hangover headache knocked his mood from sour to grim. One quick survey of his property, he told himself, and he’d hit the road. Escape this jungle and get back to civilization, which for Vinnie D. was chasing women and bar-hopping.

With his dad’s shotgun in a cradle-carry, he set out. After a half-mile, he felt himself a quarter of the way back to normal despite the morning sun burning his eyeballs before he saw it ahead on the path. Sunlight streaming through the forest glanced off its metal shape and scattered the light all around the clearing. No mirage, a 1960 model camper—one of those airstream jobs shaped like a silver tube.

Shit-on-a-shingle, what was this crap?

In front of a dead campfire surrounded by small rocks were four of those fold-out camper chairs. Empty beer cans, a bottle of Grey Goose with a half-shot left inside, and styrofoam cups lay scattered about.

Vinnie’s situational awareness improved a notch. His shotgun struck him as ineffective if a bunch of jacked-up criminals came charging out of the camper with high-powered weapons. Boyhood flashbacks of Sleepaway Camp and Jason Vorhees horror films fought with contemporary news accounts of illicit marijuana grows and cartel gang members armed to the teeth. That latter realization overrode his anger toward the trespassers.  

He approached the camper and called out in a quavering voice to anyone inside.

No response. Just nature sounds including a loon’s cry. Maybe they were off swimming or fishing in one of the small ponds dotting the forest.

The feeling of being an abused landlord returned and urged him to open the door and peek inside. He swiveled his head and saw four berths in the back, a tiny kitchenette, and the driver’s cabin—but no people.

He finished his walkaround and returned to the cabin, brooding dark thoughts about those invaders of his land. He wanted to go home but he couldn’t leave thinking about strangers taking advantage of him. He couldn’t get cell service to call the nearest Sheriff’s Office, wherever that might be. 

Instead, toward twilight, he paced inside and got hammered on his booze. He drained the last of the vodka, slugged down the last beer cans, and loaded with liquid courage, he grabbed his shotgun and marched out the door, a soldier heading into battle. Twice he tripped over a varmint hole and was lashed by brambles. Nearby wildlife scurried out of his path. Even the clicks and wing flicks of cicadas ceased and grasshoppers stopped in mid-buzz at his noisy approach.

Pushing low-hanging branches aside, Vinnie beheld a sight that stopped his breathing. There they were, sitting around a campfire drinking, not a care in the world. Two twenty-something females and two males. Shorts, tank tops, and Levi’s with fashionable rips in the fabric. Dumbass college kids, that’s all.

Get off my land, you sonsofbitches!

Vinnie did what he thought was a fairly good impression of a cowboy film from his pre-teen years. He strode out from the woods into the bright clearing, racking the shotgun as he went, a sound guaranteed to pucker the sphincter.

They spotted him at the same time. Then chaos. Yelling, screaming, running in all directions. Their terror at seeing him charge them kicked his own excitement into high gear with an additional adrenalin surge. He fired, racked another shotshell, fired again. BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM!

Too drunk to see straight, staggering on his legs, he fired without aiming while they scattered like fish. Deafened by the blasts, he stood alone in the clearing. Enough brain cells fired up to tell him what he had just done.

Oh God, what have I done?

He fled back to his cabin, dropping the shotgun as he stumbled, and falling every hundred yards like the clichéd scenes of fleeing females pursued by killers in every horror film he’d seen in the eighties.  Jumping into his grandmother’s bed, he pulled covers over his head and whimpered a mix of cursing and garbled prayer that ended in an appeal to his grandmother’s beloved Virgin Mary: “Holy Mother of God, Oh, Mother of God, save me,” over and over.

Vinnie didn’t know how long he lay under the covers babbling incoherently. He thought of the vodka bottle, convinced he’d taken it up to the loft last night. He was halfway up the ladder when he remembered he’d finished it downstairs but in reversing course too abruptly, his foot missed a step and he fell backwards to the floor, landing on his back. He lay groaning, too hurt to get up. He must have passed out on the floor because, when he came to and his vision cleared, he was surrounded by pairs of legs.

They’ve come to kill me, Vinnie thought.

“Oh no, please don’t hurt me,” he wailed. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to shoot anyone!”

“Get up!” a deep male voice commanded.

Vinnie rolled over, tears spattering the boots of the stranger. Vinnie had bluffed and talked his way out of bar fights. Now, all he could think of was pleading for his life.

A girl in shorts leaned down to wipe tears from his cheeks. He stared at the vee of her crotch for the first time in his life without a sexual reaction while she gently wiped his face with a wet washcloth.

“Get up!” The same voice ordered from above. “You’re coming with us.”

He was holding Vinnie’s shotgun.

Standing on shaky legs, Vinnie looked at him and the other male beside the girl who had wiped his face. He implored mercy with his eyes. Both males were over six feet. He hadn’t noticed their size when he did his John Wayne impression back in the woods.

They escorted him with hard grips on his triceps. He couldn’t walk straight. They’re taking me into the woods to kill me. Animals will gnaw on my bones . . .

They hustled him to the camper, pointed to a hole in the skin of the door, then dragged him to over to the right wheel of the camper to see a bundled lump on the ground. Vinnie knew what it was before he saw it—a dead body.

She lay on her side covered in blood. The other girl he vaguely recalled before his charge. A massive wound to her pelvis and a hideous neck wound showed where two of the five slugs churned their way through her tender flesh. A pool of crimson blood, drying at the edges to rusty brown, drew corpse flies.

That did it. Vinnie whirled, doubled over, and vomited up a foul-smelling drool.

The other girl rushed to him, patted his back, and spoke soothing words. He wasn’t sure what she said. They gave him something to drink that calmed him; in fact, it almost turned him to stone but left his brain free to process the words they spoke. He could have wept with joy when he understood they weren’t going to murder him. They said they weren’t even going to turn him in. His pinwheeling brain couldn’t process his salvation. They made him understand he wasn’t going to spend the next twenty years in a steel cage inside violent Mountainview Correctional if he did the right thing.

“What . . . what is the right thing?”

The girl smiled at him and rubbed her thumb against the tips of her fingers. Vinnie knew that sign. Everyone knew that sign. He was going to have to pay for their collective silence. He murdered their friend in his drunken rage. They took cell-phone videos, pointed at the place where her dead body lay in the dirt. They told him they would bury her in the woods where no one would find her remains. They even made a recording of his confession. Vinnie asked her name.

“Angelica,” the girl said, weeping tears. “She was truly an angel.”

* * *

Vinnie told the male voice on the phone he had sold the cabin and the land. He would be getting his money.

“No mistakes, Vincent,” the voice said. “You know what’ll happen if you do.”

“I do,” Vinnie lamented. “I’m so sorry—”

He sent money to various Western Unions around the country. Finally, broke and drunk, he told them on the phone he couldn’t send another dime. He had no more to give. He was back to living at home under his parents’ scowls and constant complaints about his drinking. Every day, he waited for SWAT to come crashing through the door of his bedroom.

Eight weeks later, another parcel arrived, addressed to Mr. Vincent Delmonte. No return address. He thought it was another parcel from his grandmother.

His heart hammered as he tore it open with his fingers. Plastic tubes of makeup, rubber wounds—trauma makeup. He held the bleeding prosthetic of a gaping wound in the palm of his hand. Under the theater cosmetics, he found a photo. They smiled beneath the frond of a large palm tree. Aquamarine waters lapped the shoreline behind them. Sunshine made electric sparks on the water.

Not three. Four. The dead girl was there, too. No, not her, it can’t be!

She stood in the center. Bold and big as life. One hand on her cocked hip where the deadly wound had exposed bright bone against the stew meat of blasted muscle. Her right hand extended toward the camera, toward him, smiling with perfect teeth, her middle digit a throbbing arrow straight into his heart.

Vinnie Delmonte fell to his knees, a sob like a huge gas bubble climbed up his esophagus. He slithered along the carpeting of his old boyhood bedroom like those snakes in his dream.

-END-

Robb White is a Midwest writer of crime and hardboiled fiction mainly. Many of his stories and novels feature private investigators Thomas Haftmann or Raimo Jarvi. He was nominated for a Derringer for “God’s Own Avenger.” “Inside Man,” a crime story, was selected for inclusion in Best American Mystery Stories 2019. A collection of revenge tales in 2022, Betray Me Not, was selected for distinction by the Independent Fiction Alliance in 2022.

Cynthia Fawcett has been writing for fun or money since she was able to hold a pen. A Jersey Girl at heart, she got her journalism degree at Marquette University in Milwaukee and now writes mostly technical articles about hydraulics and an occasional short story or poem on any other subject.

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