.Presenting our (almost) Edgar-nominated story:

Totaled

A Tyger Blake Mystery
by Clayton Emery


After its appearance in these pages in our Summer 2002 issue, this story was subsequently published in Undertow, a 2003 collection featuring New England-based writers, and in turn nominated for a 2004 Best Short Story Edgar Allan Poe Award by the Mystery Writers of America. However, since the story was actually published by us the previous year, it was rendered ineligible, and so Clay graciously withdrew his nomination. Which makes him not just a good writer, but a stand-up guy, and a winner in my book, nomination or not.
(Kevin Burton Smith)

As Thrilling Detective's Fiction Editor, I worked on "Totaled," and was neither surprised to see it anthologized or nominated, nor to hear of the author's graciousness.
(Gerald So)


......"Jesus. What happened to that?"

......"Draggin'." Manny slammed the truck door, stooped over his big gut, hoisted a tire from the weeds. Raspberry bushes snapped and popped. He pitched it behind a half-flattened yellow Volkswagen.

......"Kids on Powder Mill Road. That straight stretch." He climbed back into the cab and artfully backed the wreck into the slot. It settled with a groan.

......The mess had been a Pontiac Firebird, black with gold trim. The bird painted on the hood was now folded in half where the bumper, trunk, and finally the dashboard had hit a very large tree. The headlights were cross-eyed. The blue engine block sneered from the front seat. Every bit of glass had been blown away by the impact.

......"Did the tree survive?" I asked.

......"Oh, yeah. It's fine. Ready for next Friday night. The kid driving it's not too good. Legs in traction and tubes up his nose."

......Brown stains marked the front seat and dash. I could smell the blood in the warm summer sun. "He's lucky to be anywhere."

......"Yeah." Manny scratched his paunch through a hole in his T-shirt. I knew what he was thinking. Way back, he used to race stock cars and demo derbies. Before that were probably many Friday and Saturday nights drag-racing on backroads. He turned away. "You get them U-joints in Pierce's truck?"

......I pointed at the truck sitting in a "done" slot.

......"I did two, but he'll need the rest in a few months. We supposed to do anything with this wreck?"

......"Not till the insurance guy looks it over." He climbed in the cab to move the tow truck. "After that, I don't know."

......I looked at the former Firebird. "Maybe we can fill the front seat with dirt and plant tomatoes."

......"Oughta grow good with all the blood and bone to feed 'em."

***

......The insurance investigator looked surprised to see me, a woman, working in a shade-tree. He wrinkled his nose at everything. Me with my jigsaw face and hacked-off hair and baseball hat screwed on backwards, our three-bay cinder block garage, two rusty pumps, two mangy dogs behind chain link, wrecks on three weedy acres -- and a dozen shiny cars waiting for service. "You guys must be good, all these customers."

......He squinted, trying to sort out what was wrong with me. Scars ripple down my face like rivers running to the sea. They're invisible, I'm told, but my face just doesn't work right. He was dying to ask. I lied, "I went through a car windshield. The Firebird's yonder."

......"Uh, right."

......The guy clutched a clipboard to his chest like a Bible and winced as sharp grass jabbed his ankles through nylon socks. Without touching anything, he noted the car's mileage, position of the steering wheel, wear and tear on the seat belt, other factors.

......"How's the kid?" I rubbed my face. I don't mind dirt.

......"He's leaking blood out of every normal orifice and a few new ones. Three teams worked for eleven hours. They're not even sure he'll ever move his head again, let alone get out of bed. Boy, he sure isn't going to drive this thing anywhere." He made a check mark.

......"But the car's not totaled, is it?" I sniped.

......He squinted at me, then dusted his hands. "It's totaled."

***

......After lunch Police Chief Utmeyer came down and looked the car over. He never touched the wreck, just scribbled on a form. I stayed on my knees twisting and turning a catalytic converter trying to shake out a rattle. New Hampshire isn't noted for its summers, but in the sun the converter was getting too hot to hold.

......The chief ambled over, hitched his shiny black belt full of gadgets. "Morning, Sue."

......"Susan."

......"No. I'm Ron, you're Susan." He grinned. I didn't. The chief wanted to talk cop. I was a cop once, before. Now the state of New Hampshire says I'm a private investigator. He asked, "How's business?"

......"Busy as hell fixing cars. How's the kid doing?"

......The chief pulled off his hat, wiped his bald head, tugged the hat back on. I turned and swore and upended and swore. The rattle sounded merrier all the time. "He's still alive. Looks like a spaceship hanging in mid-air. He'll be thirty pounds heavier with artificial knees and hips and whatnot. Maybe they'll use him in a seat belt ad. Claims he swerved to avoid a dog. Chuck St. Amour. Know him?"

......"I don't know anyone in town." Rattle rattle. "C'mon out, you motherfuckin' whore!"

......"Join the Library Committee. Good way to meet people." He rubbed his head again. "Poor Chuck. I don't wish that disaster on anyone, but on the other hand, there'll be a lot less drag-racin' and hell-raisin' for a while."

......A final rattle, then a plop. A hickory nut bounced in the dirt.

......"Squirrels," said the chief. And ambled off.

***

I was drinking coffee and trickling transmission fluid into a LeSabre and trying not to confuse the two when a guy blocked out the light of the bay. Extra-large all over, hands like baseball gloves, out of high school a few years, clothes NBA-approved, eyes clear red across. He stank of cigarettes and hospital fluids.

......"Hey, I want that car towed to my house. What'ya charge?"

......"I don't charge anything. Manny does the towing. You talkin' about the Firebird?"

......"Yeah." He shifted from foot to foot. "I want it done today."

......I didn't look up from my trickling. "It's not going anywhere. Not till the investigation's done."

......"What?" He kept looking around as if expecting a tiger to leap through a window. "Didn't the guy come by to look? What's to see?"

......"What's your hurry?"

......That brought his chin up. "Hey. I'm Terry Sullivan."

......I glugged cold coffee. A fat fly buzzed against a window. "Susan Blake. Pleased to meet you."

......Too preoccupied to rise to bait, he bounced in place. "I need that car now."

......"What for? Even the tire valve covers are cracked."

......"The truck's right there. How come you can't do the towing?"

......"Because Manny doesn't want anyone driving his truck."

......His look said, No women, you mean. Turning on the charm, he said, "I never saw a girl working in a garage before."

......I fired the empty fluid can into the corner, a bankshot into the trash. "I'm really a secretary. I just fool with the engines when the phones aren't ringing."

......"Right." He turned up the cool. "Okay, so what would it really take to get that thing towed today?"

......"A court order."

......Sterling qualities exhausted, he swore at me long and hard.

......I cut him off with, "Isn't Terry a girl's name?"

......That stopped the bobbing and weaving, anyway. He stepped up alongside the car hood. I dropped both hands as if helpless before his machismo, grabbed the handle of a thirteen-inch crescent wrench in my leg pocket. In the corner, Bruno woke up and growled, then Fido. The three threats froze him.

......Everyone waited. Then Terry turned and stomped off, eclipsing the sun for a second.

......The black dog came up and snuffled my shaking hand. "That Firebird gets more visitors than we do, hunh, Bruno?" He wagged his tail at his name.

......I'd forgotten to ask about the kid.

***

......Visiting hours were over at eight. I went at seven-thirty so there'd be fewer people to meet. I don't like bright places or crowds.

......My sneakers squeaked along the floor. Late evening sunlight turned white walls toast-gold.

......Visitors talked and joked quietly, as in funeral homes. They did double-takes as I swung by.

......The hospital smelled more of cinnamon and coffee than disinfectant. Almost a homesick smell. There was a time when disinfectant ran thicker in me than blood.

......Charles St. Amour was in Intensive Care. Only immediate family members were allowed past the glass walls, I was told.

......I pressed a finger against the glass wall and pointed to his bed. Chuck looked like Frankenstein's monster still in the shop. He was white from head to toe, with only a slot of pale face showing, and tubes running into that. Beside the bed sat a girl maybe sixteen years old and eighty pounds, ten of that dark piled hair. Her face was blotched red, her fists trapped between her knees. "Who's that? His wife?"

......The nurse, in a blue-flowered pullover top, was undiggable. "His girlfriend. Not exactly family, but it's good therapy." She studied my face with professional curiosity. I was dirty and running cold sweat like a junkie. A real charmer.

......"I was in a train wreck," I told her.

......"Ah." She didn't believe it. "Are you family?"

......"No. I just like to visit people in hospitals."

......Light was blotted out at my side. Terry Sullivan filled the alcove. He frowned at me. The look he shot at the girlfriend inside was murderous.

......He raised a paw and banged the glass hard enough to turn the head of every conscious patient and visitor. The nurse jumped. "Sir!"

......But the girlfriend got the message. She hopped up, all four feet of her, planted a kiss on her fingertips and then Chuck's bandages, and skipped to meet her ride.

......While we waited, Terry asked me, "What are you doing here?"

......I offered him a box of chocolates. "Here. You're a tough guy. Give Chuck the creams. You can chew the ones with hard centers."

......Flicking his wrist, he almost whapped the box out of my hand.

......The girlfriend slid out the door and squinted at us with stoplight eyes. Me, a scrambled stranger, facing off against the butthead confused her. "Let's go, Terry," she sniffed, crying again. She clutched the boy's hand. He squeezed hard enough to make her squeak, but she didn't pull it back.

......The nurse invited me to leave. I gave her the candy and left.

......Maybe I should have given blood.

***

......In the summer, I drive a 1942 Ford (not Willy's) Jeep. I'm never in a hurry and have no place important to go, and besides, I work in a garage.

......I rattled down Powder Mill Road. It was shrouded by trees on both sides. There were few houses, and those set back from the road. Only mailboxes and yellow reflectors and black lanes marked some.

......I found the spot easily. The longest straight stretch. Even by headlights I could see rubber patches where two cars had blasted off, rubber where they'd shifted to high gear, long wiggly skid marks where Chuck lost control of the Firebird -- for whatever reason -- and stopped against a maple tree.

......In its time, this monster tree had survived farm-clearing, sugar tapping, barb wire, musket balls, .22s, snow plows, and car wrecks. It had lost a patch of bark big as a trash can lid. White heartwood streaked with black and gold showed like meat on a roast chicken.

......"But you'll be all right," I told the tree.

......As I swung by the garage, I heard the dogs yelping. Bruno and Fido spend their nights in the garage to guard the parts cupboard. Now they signaled like mad.

......A light flickered among the wrecks down by the Firebird.

......I hammered mechanical brakes and coasted well past the gates.

......Holding the chain taut so it wouldn't clank, I popped the lock and snuck into the yard. I padded through the dark. A hooded light showed at the passenger's side of the Firebird. I hunkered behind the nose of another wreck and watched.

......The guy doing the searching was very big. I couldn't see his face because the flashlight was shielded in a meaty hand. He poked and prodded, ripped rubber floor mats, tugged at the blood-soaked seats.

......Mosquitoes chewed my ears, wrists, and ankles. I'd had enough of being bit, and he couldn't find what he wanted. I stepped within ten feet of the car, wrench in hand. "No luck, hunh?"

......The guy jumped, then aimed the damned flashlight full in my face. Feet thumped. Blinded, I hopped to one side, but he slammed my shoulder. I spun and went down.

......I rolled, but not fast enough. He kicked me in the side hard enough to stove in ribs. I rolled some more, got halfway to my feet. Something swished by my head. His sneaker after my skull. He huffed and growled like a boiler ready to explode. He was mad, out of control.

......But so was I. Wrench held across both hands, I blocked the next kick. It raked his shin, peeling skin to the bone. He howled.

......I scrambled up and went for him, swinging the wrench like a baseball bat. I'd have killed him if I could. Shattered his skull and beat him bloody and kicked his brains all over the junkyard. I hit something, probably his shoulder.

......A fist dimmed my lights. My back slammed the ground. Another fist tried to drive my head into the dirt like a tent peg, but only sheared my cheek. I jerked aside and the next missed. But he was on top of me and I couldn't get clear. I shot my fingers like claws and he walked right into them, a digit in the eye socket. Then he was gone.

......So was I.

......I woke up, came to, whatever, to find mosquitoes drilling in my torn cheek.

......Everything was quiet.

......I stumbled to the Firebird, leaned a hand on the cold hood with its crinkled paint.

......"What is it," I asked the mosquitoes, "about this car?"

***

......My apartment is downtown over a hardware store. I walked straight to the bathroom, stripped my work clothes into the hamper, showered, and smeared cream on my red, white, and blue face. Scar tissue felt like furrows under my bruised fingers.

......I fed my fish, gerbils, turtle, and canary, and went to bed.

......After a double slug of blackberry brandy. Venturing into a hospital, with its white walls and smiling nurses and bags of blood and shining scalpels, would have me drinking myself to sleep for a week.

......Anything to get past the dreams.

***

......A week went by.

......The police chief pulled in, yelled from inside the cruiser's air-conditioning, "You can release the Pontiac! The insurance company's done with it!"

......"Release it where?" Manny lowered his head from the frame of a Mustang. "It wouldn't even make good landfill!"

......"How's the boy doing?" I called.

......"Still in the hospital, eating solid food, last I heard! I gotta go!"

......I asked Manny, "Where do the St. Amour's live?"

......"What? Dinsmore Street."

......I laid a carburetor out neatly on the bench, flipped through the phone book with black fingers, pushed blackened numbers. No, Mrs. St. Amour certainly didn't want the damned car back. It had been nothing but trouble since the day Chuckie got it. He'd paid twice for it with speeding tickets. I asked how he was faring, and she sighed, wrung out. Chuckie had response in four toes, should be able to walk in six months. How nice, I said, and hung up.

......"Where's the welding mask?"

......Manny's voice echoed under the car. "What are you welding?"

......"Cutting." I racked the cutting torch, tilted the oxygen bottles on their handcart, and wrestled the whole magilla out of the shop. It was a bitch dragging it through the sandy dirt, but I got it propped up by the Firebird.

......The baby powder I'd sprinkled on the car each evening was unmarked except for a raccoon's footprints.

......I hooked on the mask, tugged on horsehide gloves, and sparked the torch. I wicked off the passenger-side door and tossed it against the fence. I cut through the seat, making vinyl flare and smoke. I cut through the dashboard, the plastic stinking. I sliced wires by the handful and yanked them out. I cut out the heater core so it leaked green blood. I cut out floor panels. I licked through steel with a white flame the way a dragon would dismember a knight.

......Chuck St. Amour took good care of his car. No potato chip bags, no beer cans, no cigarette butts. Everything shiny and clean. Until he hit a tree.

......I cut to the firewall and kept going. I cut the last engine mount and the block dropped to the ground. I stepped around and cut loose the hood and levered it aside. I cut through the air vents below the missing windshield.

......And found something. A glint of silver, almost impossible to see through the black glass of the welding mask, deep inside the air vent. I turned off the torch, dragged off a glove, tested the metal, fished it out.

......It was a beaten silver earring like a lumpy dime on a silver loop. With a jot of brown inside the loop.

......I buttoned the earring in my shirt pocket. I tore the rest of the car apart, leaving no piece larger than a toaster, but didn't find anything else.

......Manny wandered out, scratched his curly Amish beard, looked at the parts on the ground. "What's this for?"

......"It's like a jigsaw puzzle, only in reverse."

......Manny sniffed and shook his head. "You leave any oxygen?"

......"Plenty."

\***

......Fortified by a blackberry brandy from Pat's Cafe, I went back to the hospital just before visiting hours. Chuck was cranked up, still swaddled in bandages, but more of his face showed. It looked as bad as mine, but his would heal. Beside the bed sat the thin girl with the mass of hair.

......When I rapped on the door frame, the boy screwed his head around slowly. I called, "How ya feeling?"

......Peering over a broken nose, he croaked, "Better, thanks. Lots better." But he wondered who I was.

......"Great. Glad to hear it." I crooked a finger at the girl. "Out here, honey."

......The girl looked to Chuck. He tried to hold her back, but I interrupted. "He needs some private tests, hon. We'll wait out here." Confused, the girl caught her pocketbook and followed me into the hall.

......"What's your name, honey?"

......"Sh-sherri."

......"Sherri what?"

......"Normandon."

......"You're Chuckie's girlfriend?"

......"Y-yes."

......"Or Terry's?"

......"Um..."

......Neither yes nor no.

......I held up the silver earring like a pounded dime. Puzzled, tired, she had trouble focusing on it. She was strung tight as a piano with fear or worry or guilt or something.

......"Yours?" I asked.

......"Um, yeah."

......"Know where I found it?"

......A nurse came out of her station, looked at us, went away.

......"In the car?"

......I nodded.

......"Oh. Yeah, it's mine."

......"You lost it in the accident?"

......She hesitated. Even she understood that if she'd survived the accident, she'd be in pieces in a bed beside Chuck. I felt lousy battling wits with an unarmed opponent.

......"I musta lost it earlier."

......"Nope." I closed my fist over the earring. "If it were yours, you'd have said so right away. So whose is it?"

......"Oh. Well..." She looked around for Terry or Chuck to make a decision. "It must be Linda's."

......"Linda who?"

......"Linda... Ruggieri. She was Chuck's girlfriend."

......"Was?"

......"Yeah. She rode with him a lot. But she ran away. Left town."

......"When?"

......"I -- I don't know. Who are you?"

......Finally, she'd learned not to answer questions. "A friend."

......Light was eclipsed. Terry Sullivan filled the alcove again. He shot both of us a look of pure murder. He snagged the girl's hand so hard she bleated.

......"Shut up, Sherri." To me, he snarled, "What are you doing here?"

......"Selling Girl Scout cookies. Chuckie's on solid food. He'll be out soon."

......Terry growled, yanked and almost dislocated the girl's arm. The two clattered off down the hallway, Sherri protesting, but not much.

......The nurse invited me to leave. I left.

***

......The Ruggieri house reeked of cigarettes and dope. The woman who opened the door was already at half-mast. She had to tilt her head back to look at me.

......"Yeah? Christ! What's wrong with your face?"

......"Hunting accident. Are you Mrs. Ruggieri?"

......"Yeah." But she had to think it over. She was ten years into middle age and still fighting. Her slacks cut into her thighs, her blouse needed buttoning, her stack of hair trended south. The television shrilled in the living room like a chain saw. "Are you here for Linda?"

......"Are you expecting someone for Linda?"

......"Not really. She hasn't been gone long enough."

......With the door open, mosquitoes droned into the house. Neither of us cared, it seemed. "Gone long enough for what?"

......"To call for money. Or a ride home -- Why the hell am I telling you this?"

......"Has Linda taken off before this?"

......"Oh, hell, all the time." She waved a hand, looked into the living room as if she'd forgotten something. "It's just to get my goat. I ignore it."

......"How do you know she's gone? Did she take a bag? A suitcase? Money?"

......"All of the above."

......"May I see her room?"

......She stared at me hard, trying to get past her blurred vision. "I don't get it. Who are you?"

......"Just someone asking questions."

......"I can see that."

......"Someone who cares about Linda."

......"Well." She leaned against the doorjamb. "We all care about Linda."

......"Then may I see her room?"

......"I guess so." It was easier not to argue. She squinted at my filthy clothes. "Are your shoes clean?"

......"Very."

......I followed her past the blaring television, a sloppy kitchen, up a flight of stairs with dirty clothes and junk on the risers. Linda's room was a worse mess than the rest of the house. Everything was on the floor, including the bedclothes. "What's missing?"

......The mother crunched stuff underfoot and yanked open a closet door. The uppermost shelf was bare. "That's where her suitcase should be. And a week's supply of panties and bras are gone. And some of her clothes. She could never take them all. And her bear, Mister Bear. She still sleeps with him. When she's not sleeping with someone fleshier, that is."

......"She's sexually active?"

......"What a quaint way to put it. Yeah, she is. I find packs of condoms in her jeans. When I do the laundry."

......"Who was she going with lately?"

......"I don't know. She's popular with all the boys." Again she peered at me. "Are you from the school? You're not one of the guidance counselors."

......"No, ma'am."

......She jerked at the "ma'am". Her voice turned frosty. "Well, I'll guess you'll have to go."

......"All right. Thank you for your help. When did she leave?"

......Stumbling back to the door, she said, "Why do you -- Hell, Sunday afternoon. I had a date. There was a note on the table when I got back."

......I followed her down the stairwell. "May I see the note?"

......"Jesus, you're a nosy thing. I suppose." She veered into the kitchen, fished in a basket atop the refrigerator.

......The paper was torn from a school notebook. Dated Sunday, in a girl's tiny neat handwriting, the "i"s with circles for dots. It stated that she was leaving for a while, would call soon, and not to worry. As if a mother would worry when her daughter ran away.

......I gave back the note. Friday night had been the accident. The following Sunday Linda moved out --

......"When was the last time you saw your daughter?"

......"Oh, god." She opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of beer. I had to twist the top off. "Friday morning. I ate the last muffin and she bitched about it."

......"Ah."

......She swigged beer and burped. "Didn't I ask you to leave?"

......"I'm gone."

***

......I swung by the garage, picked up Bruno and Fido. They bounded around the inside of my Jeep so much we almost had our own accident. They seldom got to ride.

......I parked by the scarred maple on Powder Mill Road. The dogs peed and galumped around the car, jumped over stone walls and back, slobbered against my legs. In the late evening sun, I looked for the most open path into the woods on either side. At one spot, the stone wall had tumbled and taken poison ivy with it. I went that way, whistling up the dogs.

......Within a minute they found a small clearing that excited them.

......I let them dig until they uncovered her face.

......Linda's left earlobe was torn. The other held a silver earring like a beaten dime.

***

......Police reports took half the night. Nobody in blue or green thanked me for doing their job. Chief Utmeyer buttonholed me on the way out. "You used to be a cop. Why'd you make us look bad?"

......"I was curious. I found an earring and wondered what happened to the rest of the girl."

......"Curiosity killed the cat."

......"And women get chewed up and spit out every day of the week, and nobody cares."

......"That's what the police are for."

......"Which part?"

......When that sank in, he stiffened. "Hit the road."

***

......I was so tired when I reached my apartment I didn't notice the lock was busted. As I touched the knob, the door whipped open. A huge hand snagged my shirt and doubled my spine snatching me inside.

......I grabbed the jamb as I went by, half-spun. Terry squeezed my middle, a backwards bear hug. He lifted me off the ground. To crush me, I guess. He imagined he was strong enough.

......I lifted my feet and kicked the wall. Both of us shot backwards into the kitchen. He fetched up against the stove with a bong. I kicked at the kitchen table, hard, and drove him halfway up the burners. I grabbed for anything, caught the wire dish rack, whapped it behind my head, bent it around his face. He let go. I hopped and rolled right over the cockeyed table, putting it between him and me.

......The apartment was dark except for the light over the sink that I leave on. My canary shrilled in the dark. He hunted for a weapon, same as me. But he had a choice of iron skillets and other utensils, and I had the telephone. I ripped open a closet and snatched out a dry mop.

......The weapon he found put me in a cold sweat. The only knife in the house. Four inches of stainless steel. I wouldn't even own a knife, but you need something to cut carrots.

......I lie, but it was a knife took my face apart.

......I couldn't breathe. My knees shook. I wet myself. I had four feet of wooden pole on him, I could have popped his eye out, but the handle just rattled on the tabletop.

......"I'll kill you," he grunted. Blood ran down his forehead.

......I barely heard him. The blade filled my vision, blinded me. My voice quavered like a child suffering a nightmare. "T-too late for th-that. You can't -- p-punch your way out. They found her -- body."

......The air whooshed out of him. "Oh, man..."

......I plowed on. "It was all -- Chuck's idea, right? The cover-up? Y-you were draggin' side by side. Chuck went off the road -- and hit the tree -- and Linda went through the windshield. Right? So you buried her."

......"It was all Chuck's idea!" The knife almost flew out of his hand. "He's all blood, screaming, just pieces, blood bubbling out his nose, but he's going on and on, `You gotta hide Linda's body! You gotta hide Linda's body!' So like a dummy, I do it!"

......"But you missed the earring."

......"Man, I never should have gone near that wreck! But Chuck kept bugging me about it!"

......"You tried to get the wreck towed home, but that didn't work, so you snuck in at night. But you couldn't find the earring. It was on the outside of the car, down in the air vent, where no girl could drop it. Unless she went through the windshield and it tore out of her ear."

......"She probably caused the accident! She probably grabbed his dick! She was always doing shit like that..." He sounded exhausted, as if he hadn't slept since the smash-up. Maybe he hadn't. "I can't believe what I did for that guy..."

......"Was it Chuck's idea to make Linda run away? Sherri snuck into the house when Mrs. Ruggieri was out, or passed out. She packed Linda's suitcase, even her teddy bear, and left a note. One girl's handwriting looks like another's, especially if Mom is stoned. This way Linda just runs off and never comes home. Poor old Chuck was just unlucky, not guilty of negligent homicide or manslaughter."

......"Yeah, right. Then poor ol' Chuck takes Sherri and I can't bitch. He'll claim he didn't know about buryin' Linda, that he was knocked out. He'd get sympathy and I'd get the shaft. Like I'm his slave all of a sudden."

......"He hooked me too, Terry. But I wondered why you were so angry. Scared or worried I could understand, but angry... Chuck's a real sweetheart, but it's in the open now. Put down the knife, will you?"

......It clattered in the far corner and my heart started again. Terry swore. "That bastard. I hope his back stays broken. Sherri was willing anyway. Girls love to mother a guy who's all busted up."

......"But never the other way around."

......"Hunh?"

......"Nothing."

Copyright (c) 2002 by Clayton Emery.


Clayton Emery has been a blacksmith, dishwasher, schoolteacher in Australia, carpenter, zoo keeper, farm hand, land surveyor, volunteer firefighter, and an award-winning technical writer.  His novels include a dozen fantasy-adventure novels, the "Robin & Marian" and "Joseph Fisher" mysteries in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and other fiction.  He lives in New Hampshire with his doctor wife and foster kids, and spends his spare time restoring a 1763 house and 1942 Jeep.  Read more of his stories at www.claytonemery.com

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