It seems my whole boyhood could be summed up in one image, a boy in a red coat, drinking from a red cup. Why that image? Because that day my childhood ended. Looking back at the picture, I was far too young. The day my father died working on the rail in Charlesbourg, I took the red cup, given him for ten years of service, out to the woods for a drink. I’ll say to the innocent face of that boy that what was in it was hot chocolate. Because I wasn’t quite there yet, a boy not ready to admit I was stepping off a cliff. Inside was the warm whiskey dad hid in the back of the shed near the radiator, so mom couldn’t find it. I took it out for a drink. Dad always used to do that, when things went bad. He was right; soon it all felt better.
I slept the day away, and woke up in my bed. Mom must have found me. She never mentioned what I’d drunk. I guess when dad died, she just didn’t need the bother. I came down the stairs, hoping it was all a dream, but the absence of dad’s coat and the smell of pancakes cooking on a Sunday, was a sure sign it was real.
I found the cup on the counter and filled it with stale burned coffee, that had been sitting since the day before when dad filled his thermos to head off to work.
The farm wouldn’t run itself, eggs had to be gathered. My older sister had gone off to grandmothers or some friends house. I could hear mom crying in her room, I hesitated a minute, wondering if she’d want me to come in. If I did, no doubt she’d want me to cry. I wondered if I’d left any whiskey in the shed. Perhaps dad had another bottle somewhere? The nausea and headache were not bad enough to negate the warm ease it gave me.
I marched out sipping the horrid black liquid, before dumping the last of it on the shriveled mums that were discarded on the porch outside. As I did, a tiny shard of memory reared its ugly head, going out with dad and Margret, my older sister, to pick the mums for mom’s birthday. Tears threatened to seep from my eyes, wrecking my resolve. Crying was no use. Dad told me it was best to pick up your tools and work until you forgot. If that failed, I figured, I could drink it away. Dad never said that, but it seemed like a solution. It certainly worked the day before.
That was twenty years ago today. I held up the photo walking across my office, and pinned it to the bulletin board.
“Milton, this is car 6 we have a shoplifter in Arrow’s….”
I sighed, not bothering to answer. It was times like this, that I missed the whiskey. No doubt the shop lifter was some snotty city kid. They were coming in since the factory shut down in town. Many of them thought the countryside was a good retreat from angry parents. They would hang out in cabins in the woods. Unruly gangs of them would walk into shops, or head to cheap burger places, looking for companionship among the locals, or more often something to do. That something to do almost always led to trouble. Otherwise it might end in something useful, resembling hard work.
“Milton, this is…”
I rushed to the desk, picking it up before they finished. “I’m here. I’m on my way.”
I got into my cruiser, sweat pouring down my brow. The department could barely afford the gas, why would they bother fixing the air conditioner?
Arrow’s used to be old Willy’s shop. I walked through the door with red paint chipping off the ledge, revealing the metallic green of yesteryear. I could see myself at twelve and a half, stepping inside, demanding a job. At that time I thought I was quite the man, but I was hardly able to hide the fact that my heart was racing, my mind swirling. I told old Willy Roberts I was fifteen. He’d seen me every day, probably since I was no higher than my dad’s knee. He didn’t believe one word of it. He gave me a nod anyway. Whiskey wasn’t a cheap habit, on an allowance of twenty dollars, every couple of weeks.
“What seems to be the problem here, miss?” I looked to the register. The teen in her bright red uniform could easily have been the culprit, judging by her scowl.
A woman stood nearby, arms folded beside a scraggly dark-haired teen, looking every bit the future criminal. His hair hung down over bushy eyebrows, his face was pointed and his eyes were large and puppyish. In fact, he was all together like some scrappy stray dog, only uglier and without half the cause for sympathy.
The woman waved a hand over the pile of petty cigarettes and candy, that caused this mess. “He took them, then tried to run. I was glad my husband was in the lot. He grabbed him before he could get away.” She pointed to the window where Mr. Andrews stood outside, in the heat, finishing his smoke with sweat soaking the back of his gray Union-freight shirt.
“Well, it’s good he was.” The words came from my mouth automatically. It would have been no different to me if she hadn’t bothered. Insurance could pay for petty theft and save me the trouble.
“Come along son,” I ordered.
He walked to the front with me and I put him in the back of my cruiser, shutting the door, locking him in. I stood outside, catching the last spare bits of breeze, before ducking in myself.
The kid in the back was sweating and red faced by the time I started the car, but he said nothing. He at least could keep his mouth shut. It was a step up from most of the riff raff that blew through my station. This was usually the turning point for a kid, assuming it was a first offense. Scared witless, they would beg off, never to be seen by a cop again. Either that or they were some snot nosed and spoiled kid. Their parents would end up being called. Suddenly aware of what their kid was doing with their free time, they would leash them and take them home. In the end though it was usually up to the parents.
You could always tell the apologetic ones, embarrassed by their own flesh and blood, from the sardonic spoiled folks. The ones that made every excuse in the book for their angel. Those almost always ended up back in the stations, until they outgrew petty misdemeanors, graduating to full on prison terms or finding better things to do with their time.
It was exactly five minutes and ten seconds back to the station. I couldn’t help but count. Uncomfortable situations always made me count the length of time I’d be forced to endure them. Used to, it was an easy way to comfort: ‘Only ten more minutes of school then I can have a drink,’ or ‘Once I finish my shift, it’s 88 steps from the door to the car. I have 18 ounces of whiskey left, and only 24 hours of time before I get paid.’ Now I could only count the time until I was in the cool air, and able to pull a wad of big league chew out of my desk, for a bit of relief. Straight sweet sugar could give me a burst of energy. Sometimes it was enough to push me to get a frozen coffee, from the gas station. If not I had to endure the black molten lava I made each morning. Given my dislike of black coffee, the fact that I still made it only caused me to question my sanity.
“Come along son.” I marched him ahead into the station naturally empty, since my last partner married and moved to Fresno I had no desire for help nor was the town in financial straits to provide. “Well, do you have a name. I need to call your parents.”
The boy narrowed his eyes, but said nothing.
I chuckled. Silence was a unique tact. “Alright, if you won’t talk, I’ll have to book you.” I reached for my keys and started to the nearest cell.
“Matt Laur,” he squeaked out. His accent registered normal to me. City kids always had strange shortened words, with heavy Hollywood imitation accents. “I guess you’re from here, I’ll have to call your parents. Laur? Are you Mathew Laur’s son?”
He nodded, looking down at the floor.
“Sorry about your dad.”
“Could you not tell mom?” He looked up teary eyed, sympathy hung on him.
“That’s no good. Next time your mom goes into the store, she’ll know.” You don’t think old lady Andrews will keep her trap shut. She knows everyone, I’m surprised she didn’t say first thing who you are.”
“Me too. If she was going to say she would have just called mom, not you.”
“True. Still, well let me think about it. What’s with stealing candy and cigarettes? Your dad didn’t smoke?”
“Not when mom could see him. She always pretended she didn’t know. He’d come in smelling like tobacco and she’d blame the other guys.”
“Alright, I’m going to let you off with a warning. Do it again and I’ll…” I looked about the shabby office. If I wasn’t mistaken, I had at least a couple packs left. I pulled a box of cigarettes from the drawer. “If you tell your mother…” I hesitated, holding up the box.
“No thanks,” he groaned. They’re not the same kind. I wasn’t going to smoke them just burn them in the car, it… mom drove and she let the windows down. Now it smells like leather seats and hot mud. It used to smell like… well you know… Dad. He’d take me to get some pop over at the drug store when we’d pick up grandpa’s prescription.”
I shrugged. The sentiment was not unfamiliar. I couldn’t recall which of Laur’s boys Mathew was. The elder Laur was a sharp nosed, weasely looking man, but a good fellow. He did his service in the armed forces before he retired to be a minister. None of the boys would drink and smoke or so they let on. I knew the eldest had gone on a three-week vacation to the mountains in California. Around here that was code for going to rehab a few towns over.
“Well, if you want the truck to smell the same you best keep your mother out of it. How old are you?”
“Is your mother, Amy Laur?”
“No, she kept it Clay. Don’t know why. Laur’s a better name.”
I shrugged, he wasn’t far from it, the Clays were back bush hippies. “Amy Clay.” I squinted. I could see her face, vaguely from my muddled junior high memory, a sort of washed up flower child. She never deemed herself or her family as a local bunch, but more of the upper crust artsy types. Destined to live in high rises in Manhattan, they had somehow lost their way, and ended up in Hicksville. But my memory of her could have just as well been clouded, by the half pint of whiskey I had stashed in my backpack. It seemed all my youthful memories were tainted by clouds of hateful people. Everyone was worse or angrier, than they seemed now. It was the effects of alcohol poisoning, or so my new-found conscience told me.
“You can go, but if it happens again, I’m…”
“Hey, my dad had a cup like that.” He still does, he pointed to the picture on the board.
“Yeah, I pulled that picture out last night. After the railway explosion, it reminded me of my dad. I guess you and I are in the same boat, son. My dad died on the job as well.”
“He’s got a green one too… I guess. He had. I don’t know what happened to it.”
“Probably got rid of it. You don’t keep the five-year ones. They are bad luck.” I nodded at the vague memory of my uncle saying that, a month after dad died. He took the green cup off my dad’s high shelf and pitched it in the trash.
Matt left swiftly out the door. My day ended with nothing, but that clank, as I hung the cell keys back on my belt. I started for home in earnest. Mini would take the office overnight. She was a fair enough officer from what I had heard. I never waited around to meet her at the door. Leaving the coffee pot brewing and the station doors unlocked, I took my phone and picture and headed out.
Matt was just passed the parking lot as I came out. He stood with a gathering of three other kids. They were just off school, no doubt. They headed toward the town center. That’s where you found the local kids. They’d be in the street, eating candy, or drinking pop, while talking big, and pairing up for a Friday night.
When I was a kid, I never had time for it. Dating and movies, it was a waste of money best used for drinks. The local track team held my attention for a little while. But I couldn’t run wasted, and I couldn’t get wasted while running. The adrenaline drew up unpleasant thoughts. I quit before I met any real competition. I headed the same direction as Matt briefly before veering to the left.
Margret had gone off to the city for more schooling. Mom died a few years after dad. Cancer was a grueling task master; it took her piece by piece. First her hair, then her weight, and finally, after days in hospice it came for the rest. If it hadn’t been for the whiskey I would have died alongside her.
My sister had the unfortunate kind of nature, that made her want to fix the world’s problems. When mom died, she decided she would someday cure the world of cancer, and every other ailment that came along. She threw herself into school after dad died. After mom died, she threw herself into medicine. I didn’t have the head or the moxie for that. When I got desperate enough after years of drinking and brute labor, making a farm run, I finally decided if I had managed this long to keep out of jail, or any kind of trouble, that the quietest and safest place on earth in a town, like this, was in the police station.
I did my training with as much ambition as I’d given my first job. A need for money led me to do just enough to keep on the up and up with management. With no desire for promotion, I set out on my career path in earnest.
I passed the rail station, still quartered off, with yellow tape. A large segment was in ruins. Three vans were parked close and a few cars scattered the makeshift parking area. FBI, CIA… It didn’t matter much to me. Out-of-towners were assigned to investigate. Only the sheriff had to put up with them. I could keep my head down and pass unnoticed.
If not for my uniform, I wouldn’t have felt obligated to look up. But I nodded their direction and started passing. No sooner had I tapped the gas than a slender, agent trotted my way, waving an arm to halt me. The woman tried to cross the grassy pasture, sank, and her heels made a slurping noise. The smell of wet, swampy mud met my nostrils. As I rolled down my window a bit more, she made her way up the ditch to the road. I glanced toward the tiny gravel bridge that would have saved her the muddy mess, that was stuck all the way up to her ankles.
“That’d be me, ma’am?” I nodded trying to be polite. I really didn’t want to look at the railway let alone be stopped here. The track butted against the end of my farm. I could recall being drunk on half a dozen occasions and wishing I was never born. I would stand on the rail waiting, just hoping a train was headed my way. I turned my eyes from the mangled remains of track and train and focused them on the matter at hand. Her ebony skin was dotted with greenish mud, and sweat was making her face-makeup run. The whole scene was a bit like looking at a movie, where the city goes from civility to barbarism. Where dressed up, business people, are doing things that you know they never would have worn a suit for.
“I’m Patricia Goil. The sheriff told me that your father started working for the railway around twenty years ago.”
I nodded. Thirty years ago was correct. I was ten when dad died, and the cup for ten years of working there was new. I pushed the thought away, it didn’t matter and saying that aloud seemed like a silly thing to do.
“I get the impression,” she continued, “that this is not the first time the railway was sabotaged, that a similar incident happened before.”
Two rail accidents in thirty years, if that warranted an investigation, I supposed I was correct in my assumption that joining law enforcement in Charlesbourg would be a cake walk. “Yes, it seems that way. Although I was under the impression the last time it was deemed an accident. Heavy rain washed out the rail and the inspectors got slapped with a lawsuit.”
“Where did you hear that?” She cocked her head.
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I was ten at the time.” I closed my eyes, unable to recall. I gave the most expedient answer I could think of. “My mom said that.” I nodded wishing I had driven on by, without a word.
“Well, I’m under the impression that there were no charges filed, but I do think that negligence was eventually considered the most probable cause. Someone switched the rail, getting the train on the wrong track.”
“I’d say that’s the most likely explanation.” I started to roll the window back up. She placed her hand on the door. If I could have a word, perhaps with some of the locals? Someone like your mom who would recall the events?”
“I… well, mom is dead. My sister was only a bit older than me, but there are plenty of locals to ask. Anyone here for that long would probably recall something about it. Why not try Mrs. Andrews? She works at the grocery.”
“Thank you.” She seemed somewhat grateful for the assistance. With a nod and a smile, she walked back down the hill.
I started my car forward, rolling up the window a little as I did and let the cool air blow across my face, turned the radio up full blast and headed for home. It would be a long night without anything to drink. I could at least allow the sounds of blues, and dry beer commercials to drown out the feeling of dread that came with every tick of the clock.
End Part 1.
M.G.D the author of Recipe For A Ghost, Hallowed Springs, and others, now brings readers to the world of Marcus. Born in Southern Indiana. A coffee drinker by day and an author by night. M.G.D lives for family, little pug dogs, and a desire to enwrap the reader in worlds of epic wonder. Launching a career in writing in 2014, M.G.D strives for literary excellence in the school of outstanding authors, such as C. S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien.
|Review: “With a sound writing voice the journey of a young man begins. By following the words, we are lead through intrigues and plots. Good read.”||A Collection of Short Stories and Flash Fiction: By MGD|
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