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All persons, places, and events in works of fiction are the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Names and places in non-fiction works have been changed.
First Time Publication
First Time Publication
Read by me at Fran’s Open Mic
Originally posted on my blog The Salem Author from Bennington
Originally posted on my blog: The Salem Author from Bennington
Read by me for Nathanielle’s Bed Time Stories
Originally posted on my blog: The Salem Author from Bennington
Read by me for Nathanielle’s Bed Time Stories
First Time Publication
Hello Faithful Reader,
How much thought went into picking up a blunt object and killing everything in sight before our primitive apelike ancestor said, “Hey, I can dominate the rest of my species!” Thus paving the way for the future of humanity. The answer? Probably not a lot.
Growing up in a similarly hostile environment, coping with not-so-apelike, yet somehow more primitive barbarians gave me a lot of time on my hands to explore such ideas. Ideas like, how long would the human race last if octopuses lived longer and figured out how to make shivs from the pieces of their tanks.
The problem with sharing such ideas openly is that people draw conclusions about your mental health, so I learned to store them in a big vault, deep within the recess of my mind. (If Sherlock Holmes has a memory palace then I have the memory house from Hoarders) The upshot of this is that I have a vast pool to draw from and this is where the ideas in my head begin.
If you’re reading this in e-book format (and I know you are) you may be wondering why I gave readers the option to pay what they want. The main reason is that some of the stories in this collection were first available on my blog, or were read at open mics (which you can also view on my Youtube channel) and I’ve had such a mix of responses to these stories that I thought, “What if someone wanted to show their support for the story but didn’t think it was worth five dollars? What if they could pay what they thought that particular story was worth and the rest was considered a bonus?”
The other thing I want to mention is that in lieu of a full acknowledgments section, I prefer to show my thanks by inserting family, friends, and the people and places I’m fond of into the flow of the story. I do this by making them characters in the book, or naming an important location after them. But there are still a few who deserve a special mention.
Crystal, Dave, Lauren, Sandra, Patrick, and Operalover who were the first people to buy my book or contribute to my book cover fund. Your friendship and support from day one has been invaluable.
Mollie, Imogen Dent, John, thank you for feedback on previous works, including reviews and for your assistance in the preparation of this book.
I also wish to acknowledge the comedian Michael McIntyre. The title for this book came from a line in one of his routines and I whole heartedly thank him for his influence.
And a big thank you to Mary Sage Nguyen for a truly out of this world cover.
Nathanielle Sean Crawford
September 22, 2016
Joni Mitchel wasn’t wrong. But sometimes you know exactly what you’ve got, which makes it hurt even more when it’s gone. The frame remained on the wall where it had been since the day it was mounted. Inside the frame was the same dark blue wall that surrounded it. My friend would have made some smart ass remark about how the artist was trying to capture the emptiness and futility of consumerism, or that the museum must have really loved that frame. With a sad smile, my eyes drifted to the card on the wall beside the frame.
Sailors of the Red Sea. Oil on canvas. Painted by Declan Maximus in the fifteenth century.
“Why did they leave the frame up all these years?”
“To preserve the crime scene,” I said. “Same with the others.”
“Oh.” Kyle sounded impressed.
Anyone could have found that out by looking at one of the binders sitting on the little tables throughout the museum. There were four of them in this room and more in the galleries where the other paintings had been taken on that same night, thirty years ago. The information was available to anyone who might take an interest in one of the biggest art heists in the nation’s history, either here at the museum, or on microfiche at the library, or at any of the hundred or so websites for conspiracy theorists and amateur detectives. But if Kyle wanted to believe that I just had it filed away in my head somewhere, I wasn’t going to correct him.
We left the Barbra Gill Room, passing a family, some elderly couples, and a school group with matching green t-shirts, on our way downstairs to the main floor. Security guards patrolled the hall and stood at every corner. A curator verbally reproached a young girl whose hand was about to touch a Mexican lady, who had been frozen, mid-dance, to the accompaniment of a mariachi band that was so lively that I imagined real musical notes captured by the brushwork. I couldn’t blame the little girl for being curious, but I fully supported the watchful curator.
Admission was free today, so the museum was especially packed with locals who would only have to plan for transportation and lunch.
“Maybe we should have brought the kids,” Kyle said. “It seems like Patrick would have fun.”
Some of the children, who were closer to Patrick’s age, were participating in a scavenger hunt in the hopes of winning some art supplies. Others tested their artistic skills by making copies of the paintings with materials provided by the museum (one or two Picassos-in-training caught my eye).
“Patrick doesn’t really have the attention span for paintings. He’s a hands-on little boy.”
“Thank goodness for Uncle Nick, then.”
Nicodemus Dean was a godsend for more than one reason. In addition to being instrumental in the capture of my first husband’s killer, he was also the one who introduced me to Kyle. Now he was providing us with much needed alone time by taking care of our kids, Patrick and Justin.
I gave Kyle a peck on the cheek, and we walked hand in hand, through the glass corridor that connected the museum to the administrative building.
The Lauren-McKenna Function Hall was also open to the public. A round table covered in an elegant gray cloth was set up beside the bay windows, which allowed the room to be filled with natural light and gave a spectacular view of the botanical garden. At a longer table, near the diorama of the Durkee Mansion, was an improvised open bar, where a cafe employee was handling the mixing and distribution of alcoholic beverages. People were free to help themselves to soda, juice, and water, as well as a piece of the very sizable cake at one end.
Thank You For 30 Years of Ser–––, the blue-green lettering was cut off by a sheer wall of marble cake.
“Of sermons? 30 Years of Sermons?”
I rolled my eyes. Two credits on IMDB wasn’t all that Kyle got from working with Nick. While he made up for his bad joke by getting in line for drinks, I made my way over to see the guest of honor.
Eoin Barrow sat comfortably in a high backed leather chair, receiving well-wishers and colleagues both young and old. He was attentive and gracious, ready with a pen to sign a book or article with his name on it. Though he had probably been sitting there most of the morning, there was nothing forced or exhausted about his demeanor.
There were at least six people in front of me when Eoin finally saw me.
Eoin got up, bypassing the line entirely to throw his arms around me. I returned the hug, enjoying the strong smell of peppermint that signaled his entrance to a room for as long as I could remember. His embrace was gentle, even with the arms of a man who once lifted statues and heavy artwork to pay his tuition. Aside from the salt-and-peppering of his brown hair, there was nothing to suggest that this man just turned seventy.
He pulled away and apologized to his guests.
“This is Larissa Winter. She was one of my most promising students and continues to be my best success story. She is now the director of her own theater company in Bennington, Vermont and a talented actress in her own right.”
There was a polite round of applause, which I accepted with a gracious amount of blushing. I turned to see Kyle, who also clapped until the server handed him two flutes of champagne. He joined us when the fanfare died down.
When I introduced them, Eoin shook Kyle’s hand as he gave him the full scan.
“Oooh,” he squealed in delight. “What a grip. Larissa tells me you were a wrestler?”
“That’s right,” Kyle said. Standing at almost six feet tall with wide shoulders and large biceps, Kyle had a well-rehearsed smile that fell somewhere between bashful and modest. “Wrestling and football in high school, but I stuck with wrestling in college to keep my dad happy.”
“Well, you’re making this old man happy, too.”
“Hey,” I stepped between them. “I saw him first.”
Eoin put his hands up, feigning innocence, and giving Kyle an over-the-top conspiratorial wink, that earned a light chuckle. Then the light dimmed as Eoin glanced at the chair, and nodded to the people who were still in line, waiting.
“I really want to catch up,” he said. “But I have this to attend to. Can we get together sometime this week?”
“Absolutely. This is the first week we’ve had to ourselves since the baby arrived. We’re staying at the Sheraton in Boston. Why don’t you join us for dinner, tonight?”
“Nothing would give me greater pleasure. But I’m afraid after all of this, I’m going to be too exhausted for much else. Could we do breakfast instead?”
“Sure, what’s your number?”
We pulled our phones out at the same time, to Eoin’s delight. He made a show of saving my number and promised to find a snow motif to use for my image. Then, Eoin returned to his chair and continued celebrating the end of a career that had made him so happy.
We remained long enough to finish our drinks. People asked questions about the theater, what productions were coming up, what hotels and restaurants would I recommend if someone wanted to plan a weekend in Southern Vermont. Mostly they asked me about my connection with Eoin, which I was more than happy to answer.
“He taught me how to cut through the bullshit,” I told Kyle later that evening as we sat near the window of a tavern by the waterfront. Over burgers, fries, a basket of chicken tenders, and a pitcher of beer, Kyle listened intently as I reminisced about my days at Boston University, where Eoin was teaching a business management course.
“You’ve gotta cut through the bullshit, Ms. Pacer!” He addressed all of his students this way, initially, leaving it up to us to invite him to use our given names. “But you can’t be afraid of the bullshit either, because that’s where the mushrooms grow. That’s the secret of success. Deal with the bullshit long enough to find those precious mushrooms that will make you successful.”
I took a bite of the burger. It was medium rare, with bacon and barbecue sauce, and I chased it with a long pull of beer. Kyle asked, “How could a guy like that ever retire? He seems to love the place.”
“Hmm, trust me, he’s kicking and screaming––he just makes it look like ballet. The board tried to get him to leave sooner, but he kept buying more time with every exhibition; first with the DaVinchi sketches, the Statue of David, Munch. Then someone had to go and make a movie about the stolen paintings, and I think the board just found a way to make it all his fault.”
It was hard to say exactly who opened the old wound. After Scorsese’s The Departed, there was this sudden demand for movies featuring Boston’s history of crime. After Whitey Bulger was arrested, that demand only increased, which I suspect is what caused someone in Hollywood to sit up and go, “Hey, you remember those paintings that got stolen and how they never caught the guys?”
Shortly after the film was released, the FBI made a new series of press releases requesting information about the stolen paintings. Among them was Sailors of the Red Sea, the only Declan Maximus painting ever sold to an American museum. At least the FBI was doing their job, taking advantage of the reawakened interest.
“Do you remember that painting you saw in that movie with Ben Affleck? If you see it in your grandmother’s living room and it’s not a reprint, call us right away.”
You can’t blame the writers and the filmmakers though. Not when their only crime is trying to eat three meals a day doing what they love. If you can write the award winning script, which becomes the award winning movie, with the award winning cast, then you can have desert, too.
But it couldn’t have been easy for Eoin, knowing that it all happened on his watch, barely a week into the beginning of his career. Those thefts hung above him like a baby grand piano on a thin wire, and all of the recent publicity must have been the pair of scissors the board was waiting for.
After dinner we went for a walk beside the harbor. It was relaxing up until the air became saturated with dead fish, rotting wood from the remnants of old piers, and all of the other wonderful fragrances of low tide. For the sake of our land lubber stomachs, we traded the romantic walk for an early evening in our hotel room, watching The Martian. The next morning, I got up early and went down to the weight room to put last night’s calories to good use.
Nicodemus was training me on the broad sword, but I didn’t think it was a good idea to bring it with us to Boston. We drove down, but there were reasons to get stopped and fewer reasons to be traveling with a medieval weapon in the trunk. Even the wooden one might raise an eyebrow or two. So we settled for conventional exercise––Boring weights, ordinary treadmills, etc.
Then Kyle came down and we sparred on the mat; trading blows and high kicks, practicing our sweeps until a housekeeper looked in and called security, afraid that some kind of domestic disturbance was taking place. It took a few minutes to convince the guard, who was obviously coming to the end of a night shift, that I was not beating up my husband. He asked us to be careful and that if anyone else wanted to use the weight room, it might be best for us to take our activities anywhere else but here.
Back in the room, I showered and checked messages while Kyle took his. The first one was a text message from Nicodemus. He wanted us to know that the kids were doing just fine, but that he had a couple of appointments that he couldn’t afford to cancel. He wanted my permission to train students (he even gave me their names and contact information) with Patrick and Justin close by. Of course he would be careful, but if I didn’t feel comfortable with that, then his mother offered to take care of the kids for a couple of hours, and did I feel comfortable with that, as well?
“Of course, whatever works,” I replied. “Tell Myra I said hi.”
A voice message came from a Massachusetts number I wasn’t familiar with. I hit call.
“Eoin! Good morning. I got your message.”
“Oh, Larissa,” Eoin said. “I’m so sorry. I hope you and Kyle can forgive me.”
He sounded ragged and upset. I didn’t think he would appreciate my telling him that I didn’t actually listen to his message, so I hastily replied, “Um, yeah, of course we can. So… you’re not feeling well?”
“It’s such a terrible way to begin a retirement. I feel like my whole world is falling apart.”
There was a muffled sound, like he was holding the receiver away to let out a sob. It broke my heart to think of him alone and upset.
“Eoin, are you okay?” I asked. “Eoin, if this is because of retirement, please let us help if we can.”
“No, it’s not that. I’m sorry Larissa; I’m ruining your vacation.” After another long pause, I was about to run out of the room and start for Eoin’s house. Then, in a voice that was as cheerful as it was forced, Eoin said, “You won’t be able to hide that wrestler from me. I’ll give you a call when it’s a good time to stop by.”
He hung up and I played back the actual message. Kyle came out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist.
“Is everything all right?” He asked.
I held up one hand to let him know I was listening to something. When the message was over, I lowered the phone and shrugged. “Eoin couldn’t go out to breakfast. He didn’t really go into detail.”
I told him about the brief conversation. Kyle noticed my hesitation.
“Do you think he’s okay to be alone?”
“I think so. This didn’t sound like a ‘cry for help’ call.”
Kyle didn’t seem so sure, but then I wasn’t convincing myself, either.
“How long have you known him?” he asked, sitting on the edge of the bed. “I mean, I know he was your teacher. I know he donated some art pieces to the theater’s gallery. But people are ice bergs, babe. Eoin just had the biggest thing in his life taken away from him, so if you’re sure he’s fine, I believe you. But if you think we should stop by his house just to see if he’s all right, then I’m all for that, too.”
I sat next to Kyle, running my hand along his forearm, feeling the moisture of his rough skin. Sexy and smart was a rare combination. Sweet was a bonus. I pulled my hand away and started to pace, gathering my thoughts.
Finally I said, “Let’s give him a couple of hours. I’ll call him again, later, and if he doesn’t answer we’ll go down to his house.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
I sat back down and rested my head on Kyle’s shoulder.
“Thank you for being awesome about all this.”
“You’ve lost too many people,” Kyle said. “I don’t want you to be hurt anymore.”
Some of the vendors at Haymarket Station’s indoor market were still setting up their areas. Wine dealers, soap makers, and small companies that sold handcrafted kitchenware weren’t expecting many shoppers this early in the day. Grocers who sold fresh produce and farm raised beef, chickens, ducks, and eggs were signing off on deliveries, arranging bins and checking their products for freshness. A couple of places sold seafood, including a place that promised one dollar oysters on weekends.
We tried a few samples, chatted with some of the owners, and eventually decided on a place that sold organic smoothies, hot oatmeal, and coffee.
It was a late morning crowd––Parents with their children, eating pastries and fruit, commuters stopping on their way to work for breakfast, an elderly couple taking advantage of the safe, air conditioned environment to get some exercise, a student listening to music, reading from a large text book and taking notes.
As much as possible, I tried to keep my mind off Eoin. Kyle helped by suggesting we go for a bike ride along the Charles River. I added that the gardens at MIT should be very nice to look at. We traded ideas about where to go for lunch, deciding on the Prudential Center. If the weather was nice enough we would go for a jog along the Watertown bike path.
Eoin was still on my mind. Kyle was right. He was someone I cared about very much, and the idea of him being so upset and not knowing why was just too hard to dismiss. It’s probably why I broke a long standing rule that had been established while I was married to Allen, just before Patrick came along. Later, when Kyle first came to the house, Patrick dutifully acted in his capacity as lord of the manner by informing him that there were no exceptions to this rule; no Internet devices at the table. No laptops or games. Newspapers and casual reading was acceptable, at breakfast or lunch, but otherwise the main point of meals was to interact with each other.
Two tables away from us, someone with a cup of coffee was taking advantage of the free Wifi, and watching something on an iPad without using headphones. There was enough noise in the marketplace that I could have just tuned it out, but a familiar name caught my ear spoken by, what sounded like, a news reporter’s voice.
To Kyle’s surprise, I got up and went over to the table. I motioned for him to stay seated.
“Excuse me, what are you watching?”
The man looked up at me, startled.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Was I being too loud?”
“No,” I lied. “Its fine, I just wanted to know if that was the news.”
He nodded. I asked him for the website and I returned to our table. Just as I was pulling out my cellphone, I saw the guy get up and leave without his coffee.
“Sorry,” I said to Kyle. “I know I’m being such a hypocrite right now.”
“It’s okay.” Kyle pulled out his own phone. “I have the ringer on mine, just in case.”
The call would come through whether we were online or not. But it was good to know that he was on the same page anyway.
I found the news site and flipped through the latest clips. Finally I typed the name I thought I heard into the search engine.
“Benita Benjamin,” I said out loud, for Kyle’s benefit.
The search turned up a list of clips. The most recent one was from this morning’s news broadcast. I pushed play and held it sideways so Kyle could see.
“A woman was found dead in her car early this morning. Police responded to a reports of a vehicle parked near the Nahant Causeway in Lynn at around three this morning and found 86 year-old Benita Benjamin, a world renowned sculptor residing in Revere, sitting behind the wheel with the windows rolled down. Responding officers reported the strong presence of alcohol on approaching the vehicle and found a half-empty bottle of whiskey on the floor of the passenger side. The county medical examiner has not released a statement, but the presence of an open bottle of the prescription pain killer––,” I paused just as the video switched to an aerial view of the beach, showing the old Volkswagen with the driver’s side door wide open.
“Benita Benjamin.” I shook my head, still not believing it. “No wonder Eoin was so upset. He must have seen the news before he called me.”
“Who’s Benita?” Kyle asked.
“Do you know that statue in the main gallery at Ainsley-Court?”
“The one with the woman holding the apple?”
“Pomegranate,” I corrected him, gently. “It’s Persephone eating the pomegranate. That was done by Benita Benjamin way back in the 70’s. I was only volunteering at the time, but when I wrote to Eoin to tell him how I was doing and to thank him for all of his advice, I told him about the gallery and he got in touch with our director to arrange a special showing of Benita’s work. The night was so successful that she actually donated the statue and the theater director hired me right after graduation the following year.”
Without me having to ask, Kyle cleared the table and took care of the trash. Then we went to the garage where our car was parked and started for Marblehead.
In my lap was the envelope from Eoin’s last letter. It still carried the strong peppermint scent that even the postal worker commented on when we received it two weeks ago. Like the paper, the envelope was made from quality stock, probably from the same stationary store. The green wax seal with his custom made letter E––with the lines ending in little arrows––was still attacked to the upper half of the envelope. I followed the GPS instructions on my phone, using the return address Eoin wrote in the upper right hand corner.
Eoin’s colonial style house, painted robin’s egg blue, with black shutters in the front windows, sat at the top of a steep embankment, somewhere along a winding street crammed with other properties. Nothing out here was generic or factory made, and the newest house in the neighborhood was maybe fifty years old tops. Some of the properties were wide and spacious, with smaller houses that might have once belonged to servants or extended families of the original owners. But even with the size of the properties, there was still a feeling of clutter amidst the trees and formations of natural rock.
I wondered how many people moved out here, originally thinking they’d be the first to try and make a home.
We paused at the foot of the driveway, which ended in what looked like a parking space that could barely fit one car, let alone two. Eoin’s car was missing.
“Could he have gone to the beach?” Kyle wondered. “Maybe to see if the police would tell him anything?”
I gazed up at the porch thoughtfully, clenching my fists as old memories surfaced. The house I shared with Allen was different, but also located at the top of a nice mountain road, as far from civilization as you could get without living in the sky.
Banishing those thoughts to the past, I said, “Eoin wouldn’t want to remember her like that.”
A door swung open. Kyle and I watched as a young man appeared on the porch, looking down at us thoughtfully. He wore a black, long-sleeved shirt and dark gray khakis that couldn’t have been too comfortable in the warm weather.
I stepped out of the car.
“Hi there. Is Eoin home?”
“I’m sorry, no,” he said. “He went out to see a couple of friends. Are you, Larissa?”
“Yes, that’s me. You must be…,” I searched my memory. Eoin kept his personal life out of the classroom, and in his letters he seemed to still think of me as a student. A couple of names surfaced and I took a shot, “Dillan?”
“That’s okay.” He came down the driveway, with his hands thrust deep in his pockets. A little bit of stubble on his recently shaved face kept him from looking too boyish. I would have been surprised if he wasn’t in his early twenties.
Not wanting to make him uncomfortable, I stayed by the car and asked, “I just came by to see if Eoin was okay. A mutual friend passed away recently.”
Derrick frowned, thoughtfully. He looked at me, past my shoulder to Kyle who was still in the car, back to the house and over my shoulder at the street. I didn’t blame him for being nervous.
“Do you mean Benita?”
I nodded. “Yeah. We heard about it in the news.”
“They were blaring it on all of the local stations,” he said, sighing. “We were watching the morning forecast and there she was. Eoin went off to Nick and Mattie’s house.”
He seemed genuinely upset, although whether it was over Benita’s passing, Eoin’s finding it out in the news, or being left behind, I couldn’t say.
“Would you guys like to come in and wait for him?” he asked. “Eoin will probably be back soon. I could make coffee.”
I bent slightly, looking to Kyle.
“It’s up to you,” he whispered.
“If it’s not too much trouble,” I said to Derrick.
“No trouble at all.”
I went to the porch while Derrick guided Kyle up the driveway, into a position that would make it easy for us to return to the street, without blocking Eoin. Then Kyle got out and Derrick’s eyes nearly popped.
“Pleased to meet you.” The guarded pretense went out the window as Derrick shook Kyle’s hand, giving him a not-so-subtle once over. Then, with a blush he said to me, “Both of you. I’m pleased to meet you both.”
He held the door open, inviting us to go in through a narrow hallway, past a staircase, into the living room. The furniture was as aesthetically pleasing as it was cozy and the walls were done in bright pastel shades. Derrick led us into a kitchen, separated from the dining area by a counter.
Kyle pulled out a stool for me, waiting until I was seated before pulling his own out. Derrick placed a wicker basket before us.
“Pick a K-cup, any K-cup. I’d love to say that I’m a five-star barista, but Keurig coffee is one of the few things I can’t screw up.”
Derrick became a different person, navigating the small kitchen space, pulling mugs from one cupboard, coasters from a drawer, a bowl of cream pods (pilfered from various restaurants and hotels) and another bowl of sugar packets (also “borrowed”) and setting the space in front of us so quickly that I felt I was watching a choreographed performance.
“How long have you been living with Eoin?” I asked, when he handed me my mug.
“Almost two years.” Derrick opened the refrigerator. “Of the cold fixings we have milk, chocolate milk, almond milk, half-and-half?”
“I’ll take almond milk,” Kyle said.
“I like mine black.”
Derrick pulled out a carton of almond milk, before retrieving the second mug from the Keurig and placing them in Kyle’s reach. While his own coffee was brewing, he took shy, bashful glances at Kyle, being sure to smile at me. When his cup was ready, he added almond milk before returning it to the refrigerator. When he sat down, he asked, “I’m sorry if this sounds weird, but were you in a movie, recently?”
“Yeah, I was in Empire of Ashes. It was part of the Survive by the Sword Trilogy.”
“That’s awesome. I have a photo of you and Nicodemus Dean’s swordfight on my desktop, upstairs. It’s from the second movie, the one that never made it to screen.”
“Yup, that was my first acting job. I was way younger then, but––,”
I cleared my throat.
“S-sorry,” Derrick stammered, looking at me. “Eoin told me you were friends with Nicodemus. I didn’t know you were married to Kyle Winter, too, which would be like if I went to the same school as Adrian Paul and married Peter Wingfield. I didn’t mean to be rude, earlier.”
“You weren’t,” I took a sip to assure him. “Hmm, good stuff. Does Eoin know what happened to Benita?”
Derrick shrugged. “If he knows more than what they said in the news, he didn’t tell me.”
He looked down at his coffee, creating a tiny whirlpool with a plastic stirrer (McDonalds) as he seemed to be fighting the urge to say more. Kyle saved the awkward atmosphere, turning the conversation towards favorite films. Derrick had no shortage of technical questions and opinions about story and character, but when I asked him what he did for a living, his replies were vague. He had a high school diploma, but college never worked out for him and he was still making payments for time he attended. He quickly changed the subject, asking me about my work at the theater. I told him about the statue of Persephone, but otherwise we didn’t dwell on the topic of Benita. Eventually the conversation turned back to Kyle’s work with Nicodemus, and I gave up.
“I was one of the backers for the third film,” Derrick said. “Only five bucks. I wish it could have been more.”
“Did you see your name in the credits?” Kyle asked. “I know Nick was sure to include everyone, but it’s a huge block of text, so you have to pause it to read through the names.”
“I haven’t seen it yet. It’s on my list, but I was just glad to help out. And I’m getting to talk to you in person, so that’s like an added perk.”
As the mugs got emptier, I thought about asking Derrick for a pen to write Eoin a note. Then a car pulled up and a few seconds later, the door opened.
“We’re in here, Eoin.”
Eoin appeared in the kitchen.
“Hello!” He drew me into a tight hug, then turned to Kyle. “It was so nice of you to drop in.”
“It was no problem.”
“I know it’s no problem, because you’re such a sweety.”
Before he could protest, Eoin hugged Kyle, squeezing him tightly. Kyle bore it through gritted teeth, which became a smile that could in elections once Eoin let go. I was uncomfortable for him, but not so distracted that I didn’t see an equally uncomfortable glare on Derrick’s face. Just as he was about to leave the room Eoin said, “I’m so glad you got a chance to meet each other. I so wanted to introduce you all at breakfast. Derrick here is a very talented artist in his own right. Would you two like to see his work?”
“This probably isn’t the best time for––,”
“It’s the perfect time,” Eoin insisted. “What do you kids think?”
Although he was clearly ready to bolt, Kyle still seemed willing to let me make the call. Derrick was no more thrilled, but with no one else speaking up, I couldn’t find any good reason to say no. We were here to see Eoin in the first place, and if this took his mind off of Benita…
“Sure,” I said.
Eoin took us back through the living room, opening a door to a staircase that went down into the basement. It was surprisingly cool, but not uncomfortable. Eoin turned on another light, which revealed a large floor space covered in green gym mats. Two walls were painted teal blue, with splashes of white and gray, creating a pleasing cloud effect. Across from the bottom of the stairs, a mirror covered the wall, running lengthwise across the room, making the rec area seem much larger than it was.
Neoprene weights sat on the floor beside an old, La-Z-Boy recliner.
“Very nice,” Kyle said. “Much nicer than the one at the hotel.”
I explained to Eoin about our attempt to work out this morning.
“Feel free to come here anytime you like,” he said, chuckling. “It’s not much, but you really don’t need all of that heavy machinery anyway.”
“True.” I thought of the number of times I settled for heavy bags of groceries, staircases, and jogging for my daily workout. And I never had to pay a membership fee, either.
The fourth wall was wear Eoin kept his paintings. Some I recognized; old magazine ads, popular images from the 60’s and 70’s, an attempt to emulate Andy Warhol. His signature was the same stylized letter E that he used for his wax seals.
Derrick’s work shared the same wall and the difference in skill was obvious. Derrick had no formal training, but his work was very straight forward and visual. Walking from one end of the room to the other, I could see where he was just starting out, and then follow his progress over the years, picking up new techniques as he kept at it. Derrick stood by the stairs, leaning against the rail, staring out into space. I could tell from his posture that he wasn’t expecting high praise, which was sad because he actually wasn’t that bad. Art is subjective. And I had seen far worst examples from people who had their training from major universities.
There was a digital alarm clock sitting on a dresser, a cat leaning over the arm of a chair to lap up beer, a man staring into a camp fire––
“I really like this one,” Kyle said, laughing.
I joined him at an easel in the corner, where the art wall met the giant mirror, right beside the thermostat. The canvas was painted with a surreal blue and green background, with flowers on what might have been the grass. But the thing that caught Kyle’s attention, which also made me laugh, was the massive toilet and the clamshell model cellphone “sitting” on the toilet. No arms, no legs, no face on the blank screen, just a cellphone in the open position. The keypad was multicolored, but the numbers and letters were easy to read. Of all the paintings here, this is what I would later think of as Derrick’s style.
“Cellphone on the Potty,” Derrick said, joining us. “I kind of juggled with the symbolism. I got tired of all of the personal crap people would talk about in public. Then I thought, if you give your kid a cellphone, that’s kind of where the money goes. And remember, this was back before some ten year-old could buy and maintain a phone with his allowance money.”
“I agree on all accounts. It’s why ours aren’t getting a cellphone until they’re in college.”
Derrick smiled and went over to Eoin, who was sitting in the recliner, looking at an iPad on his lap.
“I have to head down to the Poverty Bells. They need an extra set of hands at the food pantry.”
They kissed, and then Derrick added, “I’m sorry you got such bad news this morning. I wish you could have heard about it some other way.”
“Oh, aren’t you just the sweetest?”
“It was great meeting you,” Derrick said, to us. Blushing, “Both of you, I mean.”
We thanked him for the coffee, before he disappeared up the stairs and left the house.
“Is the Poverty Bells in Marblehead?” I asked.
“Well their food pantry is actually in Beverly,” Eoin said, rolling his eyes. “I don’t bother offering him a ride anymore, because he’ll go all the way down to Watertown just to prove he doesn’t need help.”
“That’s good exercise,” Kyle said. “But I can’t imagine walking all that way and not being too exhausted to work. And the walk back?”
“One time he got so pissed, I woke up and found a note on the kitchen table,” Eoin pointed to the ceiling, in case we were wondering where the kitchen was. “I found him halfway over the New Hampshire border. State trooper almost picked him up as a hitch hiker.”
“Wow.” I didn’t know what else to say.
Eoin ended the subject with a wave of his hand. He got up and pulled out two folding chairs from under the staircase, inviting us to sit down.
“I knew Benita was depressed,” he said. “I just didn’t think she’d take her own life. And she couldn’t have chosen a worst time to do it.”
“That’s actually why we came,” I said. “The way you sounded on the phone this morning, we were both worried. I’m just sorry we didn’t come sooner.”
“Oh pshaw,” Eoin said, waving his hand again. “Have you kids had lunch yet?”
Whereas the front yard was just a steep hill with a fence around the edge, the back was like a picture out of Better Homes and Gardens. We sat around a table with a glass top and umbrella, on a well-manicured lawn, surrounded by colorful flower beds that attracted butterflies and hummingbirds. Another one of Benita’s statues, depicting Apollo as he placed the curse on Cassandra, stood proudly at the center of the garden. No trace of chipping or weather damage, showing the great care Eoin had taken.
While we waited for the Chinese food to arrive, Eoin told me about Benita’s apartment, stealing sly glances at Kyle every couple of seconds. I was half distracted, not wanting to appear rude to my old teacher, but waiting for Kyle to give me any sign that he was ready to clear out. Kyle just sat there, hands clasped, close-lipped smile, and pretending to take an interest in the garden.
“I’m going to have to spend all week cleaning it out. I couldn’t get a hold of any of her family, so that leaves it to me to sort everything out.”
Before I could even think about what I said, I asked,
“Could you use an extra pair of arms?”
“How are you feeling?”
“A little better. I think I should stay as close to the bathroom as possible, today.”
Kyle was sitting at the foot of the bed, wearing a clean shirt and shorts, barefoot. His hair was still wet from a shower and he wasn’t as feverish as he had been most of the night. But his stomach was apparently tender as he continued to nurse it with one hand, holding a near empty bottle of ginger ale in the other.
I placed a grocery bag and my iced coffee on the table, liberating the extra cup that I had cleverly pilfered from the 7-11. The mini-grocery run was as much out of a desire to let the bathroom air out as it was to honor my part in the whole sickness and health aspect of our relationship. I took out the two liter bottle of ginger ale and filled the cup about halfway, then I opened up the travel sized Imodium and freed the pills from the blister pack.
“You’re an angel,” Kyle said, taking the soda and pills like they were communion.
“Don’t you forget it,” I said, plopping down beside him.
The television was on mute.
Kyle shrugged. “Patrick turned me on to it.”
“Patrick thinks anything on PBS is for any kid younger than him by a day and Justin can’t count yet. Want to try again?”
“Okay, I watched it with Nick and James one morning after a training session. They got me hooked.”
James was a detective in Bennington County. He was the one who investigated Allen’s murder and the one who convinced Nicodemus Dean to get close to me, just in case there was something I was holding back that might crack the case wide open. Now he was a good friend and the second of Patrick and Justin’s honorary uncles.
“Whatever you boys get up to is your own business,” I ruffled his hair. “Are you sure you don’t want to go home?”
“No, I’m sure I’ll be fine in a couple of hours.”
“Do you need me to stick around?”
Kyle gave me a tight hug and insisted he would be fine on his own.
“Besides,” he said, grinning sheepishly. “I don’t want you to get jealous of all the time I spend with the toilet.”
I put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door. When I found a housekeeper, I informed her of the situation and asked her to knock on the door, just in case he was enough that she could sneak in to clean the bathroom.
On my way through the lobby, I called Eoin and got him on the first ring.
“How’s Boo’s belly?
With everything on his plate, it didn’t seem right to tell Eoin that his pet name was one of many things making us uncomfortable.
“He’s fine,” I said. “He’s just going to take it easy today.”
“I’ve ordered from the place hundreds of times. If Boo caught something from them, I’ll be so––,”
I cut him off. “No, it’s nothing like that. I think it was just a bit richer than we’re used to.”
That was the diplomatic answer. I couldn’t fault Kyle for being a good sport, but I had no doubt that it was a combination of being poked in the arm, squeezed at odd times, and generally treated like a piece of meat by a guy who had been slowly draining a bottle of sake with each mouthful of pork fried rice and spare ribs.
Outside, the clouds formed a thin gray blanket over the city. The sidewalk was damp, cars and vehicles glistened from the moisture of the heavy mist that promised to become full blown rain later. The Nathaniel Bowditch was unloading a boat full of passengers while another long line was waiting to climb aboard for the trip back to Salem.
“It looks like a terrible day for sightseeing,” I told Eoin. “Why don’t I meet you at Benita’s place a little earlier than we agreed?”
“You don’t need to waste your vacation on me. There are lots of indoor activities to choose from, too.”
“No, Benita was a friend to the theater, so if I can do this one small thing in her memory, I’ll be happy.”
Also, this might be the last time we talk to each other face-to-face, which I wasn’t going to tell him over the phone.
“Well, if you insist. I swear, I don’t know what I did in this life to deserve the angel that came to my class and became such a good friend.”
After he hung up, I got an e-mail with directions to the community living center where Benita had her apartment. He also included the number and the password for the keypad at the front entrance.
“This should let you through the doors, easy as you please. Then just take the elevator up and I should be there to let you in to her flat.” He ended the e-mail with a “Kiss for Boo.”
He was a great teacher, I reminded myself. He was an even better friend, at least from a distance, with the comfortable shield of a piece of paper and a wax seal. But Kyle was right when he said that people were like ice bergs. How appropriate when you consider what happens if you got too close to one.
I took the blue line to Wonderland station. From there it was a short walk to a tall, unremarkable building in the center of a mostly residential area, save a few smaller businesses––accountants, lawyers, salons––scattered about the neighborhood.
From the outside, each floor above the entrance looked as though the architect had copied and pasted the previous one. Two large windows, two smaller ones, presumably belonging to the different apartments which shared what looked like a balcony but was really a barred in, empty space of blank concrete that served no real purpose, done eight times, all the way to the top. The only real variation was a set of curtains here, a couple of window clingers that may have been out of season, a flower pot.
Some people milled about in front of the building in spite of the light sprinkling and the minimal shelter provided by an awning that hung over a wide ramp. A woman in a motorized wheel chair sat beside a bench, staring off into space. Someone sat on that same bench talking, either to her, or to themselves, or possibly to someone on an invisible Bluetooth. A short stocky man leaned against a railing, nodding as he exhaled a cloud of cigar smoke.
“Morning,” I said, covering my mouth and rushing past him.
An automatic door that was in desperate need of WD40 squealed open, allowing me into the foyer. Some of the numbers on the ancient keypad (a relic from the payphone era) were barely readable as I keyed in the number from Eoin’s e-mail: 6791.
A speaker switched on, followed by a dial tone, then a ring. After four rings, the speaker switched off. Confused, I tried opening the door. Locked.
The man and woman were still sitting outside. Through the glass door, I could see someone sitting in what looked like a lobby, flipping through magazines. I hesitated to knock on the door, or ask someone outside. With Benita’s death being in the news, I didn’t want to draw extra attention to her place. And, if it was me, I wouldn’t want someone letting a complete stranger into the building just because they knew the name of a friend.
Maybe there was something I missed. Maybe the keypad just didn’t work, and Eoin was hoping to be there before I was so he could let me in. I tried the keypad again. The speaker came on, followed by the ringtone, but this time someone picked up.
“Hi.” I leaned close to the speaker. “Is this Benita’s residence?”
“Who is this?”
“It’s Larissa. Is this Derrick?”
“Larissa?” His voice was muffled with static. “Are you in the lobby?”
“Yeah. Eoin asked me to come by to help clean out Benita’s apartment. Can you let me in? I’m having a hard time with this keypad.”
“Um, yeah, one second.”
The speaker turned off. Then I heard the buzzing sound that I couldn’t have missed. Eoin definitely left something out, but there was no point in dwelling on that as I rode the elevator up to the seventh floor. I followed the doors until I found one that was propped open, with the number in Eoin’s e-mail. Immediately I was struck by the vapor of stale urine, and fought the urge to gag.
Derrick appeared in the doorway.
“I didn’t think I’d see you again so soon,” On seeing my condition, he offered a sympathetic smile. His hair and face were covered in sweat and his clothes showed signs of wear. On his hand, he wore thick blue gloves. “I didn’t even expect you to be here.”
“Is Eoin here?” I asked.
“Oh, hell no. Eoin wouldn’t come near here, even in a Hazmat suit.”
Well great. I bit back a sharp curse, knowing it wasn’t Derrick’s fault.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what he said to get you to come over here, but I don’t blame you if you want to…,” Derrick trailed off, glancing in the direction of the elevator. Then he took a step back, as if to say he wouldn’t bar me from the apartment, either.
The urge to bolt was strong, before I remembered that a very prominent artist once lived here. Persephone and the Pomegranate and Apollo with Cassandra appeared at the front of my thoughts, and I imagined Benita sitting in this dank, isolated place, feeling her body betray her to the point where she only had enough strength to end her life.
I leaned inside and saw a kitchenette. The cupboards were wide open, empty. The refrigerator––covered in stickers, magnets, movie advertisements and other assorted novelties––was defrosting while the racks sat in the sink, recently cleaned and drying. Crisper bins were pushed off to one side of the floor, stacked one on top of the other, water dripping from the edges and forming little puddles. The floor itself was also swept and scrubbed so much so that it seemed like someone had just laid down new linoleum. Two bags bulging with trash (presumably spoiled food and who knew what else) were leaned against the cupboards, tied shut.
Derrick wasn’t just hanging out, not unless his sense of smell was severely damaged. I felt bad for making him uncomfortable, when he had done so much work on his own.
“Do you need any help?” I asked.
“I’d love to accept your offer, but I haven’t found all of the places where it’s possible for an uncovered needle to wind up.”
He went back into the kitchen. It wasn’t a direct refusal and he didn’t close the door, so I took a tentative step inside.
“Usually she was good about putting them in a soda bottle, or an empty bottle of laundry detergent, like you’re supposed to,” Derrick pointed to the counter top. “But when I was making her tea one night, I got stuck on a little blue one that wound up behind a box of chamomile. She didn’t see the big deal.”
“She was diabetic?”
“Yeah, but this wasn’t for insulin. There were two drugs she had to take with a needle and I don’t know what this one was. But now I wear these,” Derrick held up his hands to emphasize the gloves.
“Do you have an extra pair?” I asked. “I’ve cleaned up worse, if that’s any consolation.”
He seemed doubtful at first. Then he picked up a box from the top of a pile of old magazines and offered it to me.
“Help yourself.” He went to the kitchen and tore another garbage bag from a roll on the counter, opened it, and handed it to me when I had pulled on the gloves. “I’m going to run down to the trash room, then I have to check on the laundry. All of the magazines on this table are going out.”
He picked up the two full bags and left the apartment, promising to return quickly and asking me to keep the door open. Since the only window in the living room was blocked off by old boxes, another table full of junk, milk crates and other obstacles, I didn’t argue with that.
I went through the magazines; volume after monthly volume of Antiques Monthly, going back to the eighties. How did this table hold up under such weight? Although he didn’t ask me to, I took out any loose pieces of paper, especially ones with writing, just in case they had important information. I considered flipping through each one to see if anything was stuck in the spines, but that would have taken ages.
Focusing on the table and occasionally looking up at the kitchenette kept me from thinking about the smell. When Derrick returned, I asked, “Is there another window?”
Derrick nodded towards the bedroom. From where I stood, I could see the natural light filling the room, but I could also see that there was less of a chance of getting to the window than in the living room. Another table, full of old clothes, and more boxes sat in the doorway. Piles of boxes on the floor, and huge masses of fabric and color surrounded two big armoires.
“A fan?” I asked, hopefully.
Derrick sighed. He pulled the sliding wooden door open to reveal the bathroom and pointed at the ceiling. “Broken. She had one that she kept by the bedside, but she must have tossed it at some point because I can’t find it.”
After about an hour of shoving magazines into the bag, the top of the table began to emerge. More loose paper came free of the volumes. E-mails printed out, scribbles and drawings, handwriting that might have been nothing. Derrick went into a bedroom and found me a box of empty folders to put the extra paper in, agreeing that it might be useful to go over later, before returning to work in the bathroom. Once I saw the full size of the table, I judged the space between that and the wall and wondered how easily someone could get out of here in an emergency. And that was without the boxes and piles at the foot of the table.
“How long did you know Benita?”
“I met her before I met Eoin,” he said. “Unofficially, I was kind of her live-in servant.”
“Before she lived here, you mean?” I looked around.
“Uh, no. She was living here for quite some time when I came along.”
Derrick poked his head out of the bathroom and gestured to the small bedroom.
“The floor is actually a lot more comfortable if you throw a comforter down on it. And the smell wasn’t as bad.”
There was no resentment, or much of any emotion, in his voice. I didn’t think he would be here cleaning her apartment if he didn’t at least care about her, or Eoin.
“So, you just made tea for her?” Another silly question.
“Not quite. But I don’t really want to get into it right now.”
Now, all I heard from the bathroom was the sound of a scouring pad against porcelain. Occasionally he ran the water. Scrub. Run. Scrub. I moved from the table to a pile of magazines on the floor. Then another pile. The closer I got to the other end of the counter, the stronger the smell. I finally realized that the piece of furniture pushed up to one side of the apartment was a hospital bed, and that the worst of it was coming from the heavily stained mattress.
I knew so very little about Benita. I now knew she could drive, but what else? Imagining her here, in this apartment, sleeping in that bed, I wondered how someone so talented could fall so far.
Granted, talent could only carry you so far. How much work did she sell? How many exhibitions were as successful as the ones Eoin arranged? I was working at the theater for about ten years, most of the time on a pro bono basis. Night shifts at Price Chopper paid for my bread and butter. Building sets, securing new props, rehearsing with the actors when someone was too sick or busy to show up, and sometimes having to do their part with little notice cost me more than a few nights of sleep. Then Allen came along and soon I was able to drop my cashier job and focus entirely on the theater. I was very lucky to find someone who supported me, both emotionally and financially. Who did Benita have, aside from Eoin?
“I have to get the laundry out of the dryer,” Derrick announced. “Do you want to take a break?”
“Please and thank you,” I said, jumping at the invitation. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. There’s a little reading room right down the hall, just before the elevators. It has a balcony and there’s a nice view of the ocean.”
Visit: http://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/667609 to purchase this book to continue reading. Show the author you appreciate their work!
The mind of Nathanielle Sean Crawford is a strange and wonderful place. After reading this collection, which includes two novellas, three shorts short stories, and a semi-autobiographical work of nonfiction, he certainly hopes to win you over as one of his beloved readers, but understands if you don't want to meet him for coffee. Here's a short description of each story you will read in this collection. The Perfect Cover ~ Set in the world of Nicodemus Dean, with Larissa Winters in the limelight. A visit to an old friend on the day of his retirement quickly becomes a twisted maze of unwanted mystery and intrigue. The Old Man's Birthday ~ The Messenger God shows no mercy to two men trapped on the planet nearest to the sun. Discovering Tilda ~ A series of movies with Tilda Swinton in the cast act as the chapters to Nathanielle's life from his late teens to his early thirties. The Seed She Was After ~ Demeter is forced to make a deal with Hades that will break her heart. Redemption ~ A chilling look at a world where government shows no mercy to those at the bottom of the ladder. Ashrose Tee ~ A modern retelling of Rapunzel.