Showing posts with label libby cudmore. Show all posts
Showing posts with label libby cudmore. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Beyond Belief, fiction by Libby Cudmore

 

I wasn’t sure whether the knock I heard was in my head or at the door. It took me a second to figure out where I was, a small cabin with a fireplace and a kitchenette, a table and an armchair and not much else. I was sweating and shivering; when I sat up I coughed until my chest hurt. I dragged myself out of bed and wrapped myself in the fleece blanket folded in the chair. How long had I been here, and where was here? There were no cabins like this in Perrine.

            The knocking continued. I took a brief survey of the room. No bottles, no needles, no empty bags or tin foil. So I wasn’t hungover or cranked or going through withdrawal. There was an itch of a memory kicking around inside my skull. I ignored it while I answered the door.

            The woman knocking on the door was a little older than me, in a fleece vest and hiking boots, short blonde hair turning the last corner to full-on grey. “Wanted to check in on you,” she said. “I haven’t seen any movement in since you got here. You okay?”

            I turned away and coughed into my elbow. I was in critical need of a shower. “I guess not,” I said.

            “Do you need me to call a doctor?”

            I shook my head, too afraid of coughing again if I spoke. She peered past me into the cabin. “Look, I don’t mean to sound suspicious, but if you’re up here trying to shake some habit….”

            “Just a cold,” I insisted. “Worked myself to exhaustion, that’s all.”

            That softened her some. “I got some meds in the house, if you want,” she offered. “It’s just the drugstore brand, but it might help.”

            I coughed so hard I couldn’t answer. I coughed so hard I got woozy, leaning against the doorframe for support. I nodded with the last of my strength.

            “I’ll leave them on the porch,” she said. “You rest up and call if you need anything. The house number’s in the binder on the table.”

            I gave her a hoarse thank you and closed the door. The brief glimpse of the orange and red peaks that I got out my window told me I was either in the Catskills or the Adirondacks, possibly the Berkshires. Somewhere quiet and mountainous, somewhere a man could hide out and pay cash. I couldn’t even check to see if I had service; my phone was dead. I had a charger in my car, but that would require me to go outside. I wasn’t ready to face that yet.

            I found a can of coffee in the kitchenette and started the five-cup coffeemaker. I took a long hot shower and inhaled slow hits of steam, trying to clear my lungs. I hated putting back on the clothes I fell asleep in, but did so long enough to go to my car and get my go-bag. I felt better when I had on a clean shirt and fresh socks. I smelled better too.

            Over coffee I leafed through a binder of brochures for white water rafting and cave tours. I was in Fair Forrest, nearly three hours north of Perrine. Another hour or so and I would have been in Canada. I had only a vague memory of stopping for gas, of drinking coffee that curdled in my stomach. But I had driven here deliberately. I was on the run. Not from the cops – although I’m sure they wanted to talk to me too.

            I was on the run from myself.

            It was a simple tail, that’s all. A woman who wanted to know why her husband suddenly started staying late at work. We all knew the answer, but she needed that confirmation, needed the details to take to her lawyer. I got the pictures and took them back to her, Valerie took the check to the bank and closed out the file. No different than any other case we’d handled. Hell, it was almost easier. Sometimes you have to wait a couple of days for the khaki-wearing Romeos to make their amorous moves.

            But four days later the wife called me screaming, saying he’d left with his gun and she was worried he was going to do something drastic. And he did. Three hours later Valerie and I were standing with Captain Hollander and his pack of blues at a two-body crime scene in the same bedroom I had dirty pictures of. The husband shot the girlfriend and then he shot himself, blood and misery everywhere. And everyone at the scene knew that I was the strip on the back of the matchbook. The only thing that kept me from grabbing the bottle of vodka on the nightstand and swallowing it all right there was that there wasn’t enough left to get a teenager drunk for the first time.

            So I got in my car and I drove, drove to outrun my anger, drove to outrun my cravings, drove until dawn when I found the Pleasant Pines cabins, paid for three days with all the cash I had in my wallet and collapsed into bed. I came here because I wouldn’t know how to score when I wanted to more than anything, it was too early when I arrived to find an open liquor store or some barstool to park myself on and drink until I blacked out why I’d come here in the first place. That much, I realized, I had spared myself.

            My phone began to buzz back to life. I only had a few bars, not enough to make a call but enough to get my text messages and alerts for the four voicemails I had. Three were from Valerie. One was from Hollander. I’d listen to those later. I sent Valerie a text telling her I was safe and that I’d call her soon. If she never forgave me for the time she spent worrying whether I was dead somewhere, I’d accept that. But she didn’t need to worry one second more than she already had. I’d get another day or so of rest, shake this cold and head back to Perrine to face what I had fled. It was the only real option left on the table.

*

            Every town, no matter how small, has a diner. The Lucky was at the end of the main drag, a six-booth with a Formica counter and one teenage waitress doing homework on the last stool. There was only one other pair of diners in the place, an old man reading a local paper and a young woman on her phone. I sat in the last booth so as not to disturb them. They had the air of regulars.

            I ordered runny eggs and burnt toast and orange juice for my cold. My coffee came in a mug from a local auto repair shop. My waitress had a thick blonde braid and a nametag that read Jess and when she asked where I was from she didn’t seem to recognize the city. She asked where I was staying and I told her. “Sorry there’s not more to do here,” she said. “Once Labor Day comes, this town quiets right down.”

            “I’m in the mood for peace and quiet,” I replied.

            “Then you’ve come to the right place,” she said. “Stick around long enough, you’ll get sick of it.”

            She brought me my plate and refilled my coffee. I stuck my nose back in the paperback I’d grabbed off the cabin bookshelf to keep my mind from wandering while I ate. I heard the bell above the door ring as the old man and his companion left.

“Hey!” Jess cried after them, bolting out the door before it even had a chance to close behind them. “Hey, you forgot to pay!”

I could hear her yelling on the sidewalk. I got up and glanced out the window. Now the man’s companion was yelling too, gripping him like he would crumple to the ground if she didn’t. After a few more heated words and the glimpse of a police badge, she grabbed a wallet out of his pocket, took out a single bill, crumpled it in one fist and threw it in Jess’s face.

“You okay?” I asked when she came back inside.

“Not the first time it’s happened,” she said. “Guy’s the old police chief – he’s got dementia, I think he remembers when cops used to eat for free here. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if his niece wasn’t such a raging bitch. She’s a cop too. If you can call part-time traffic enforcement a cop. Daphne walks around here like a four-star general.”

            So some things weren’t just city problems. “Did they cover their bill, at least?” I said.

            “Barely,” she said. “Nice tip. A whole buck. More than she usually gives me.”

            She went back to her history textbook. I finished my breakfast and left a $20 on a $9 check. It was the least I could do.

*

            I wasn’t ready to go back to the cabin, so I took a stroll through the downtown. At least that’s what I told myself I was doing. I wondered if I would see Guy and Daphne harassing other shop owners. I wondered if I was just avoiding calling Valerie.

I stopped at a tiny department store and bought a shirt and a pair of pajama pants and some extra socks. My go-bag had one change of clothes, but the nights were colder than I expected. I got another cup of coffee at the shop on the corner and drank it in the park, watching a handful of other late-season tourists in fleece vests and hiking boots stroll by. When I was done with my coffee I went back to my car and explored the other streets, found the grocery store and the laundromat and a bar called Taylor’s that I drove by like I was stalking an ex. I could convince myself of a lot of things, but being able to handle a drink was not one of them. I kept driving.

I pulled over in the parking lot of the school. My phone was charged and I had decent service. Valerie answered on the second ring. “Jesus Christ, Martin, where the hell have you been?” she spat. “I’ve been freaking out here.”

“I know, I know, I’m sorry,” I said. Even pissed at me, it was good to hear her voice. She’d only been my assistant for three months, but I’d come to rely on her in a way I hadn’t relied on anyone since the French Letters broke up. I was surprised she was actually worried, that she gave a damn whether or not I came home and in what shape. I’d been on my own for so long that wasn’t used to that.

“Where are you?”

“Fair Forrest,” I said. “Somewhere in the Adirondacks.”

“Tell me next time you’re going to take a vacation,” she said. “I was about to file a missing persons report. You seemed pretty rattled when you left. You okay?”

            “I’m better than I was,” I said. “How are things there?”

            “Mr. LaGuarde is still dead,” she said. “But the papers seem to have moved on. Hollander wants to interview you, but he said no rush. No one to take to trial, after all.”

            It was of little comfort. There was always the chance the widow could sue me, but seeing as how she’s the one who hired me, it’d be little more than an inconvenience to everyone involved. “Do me a favor and set up the interview,” I said. “If Friday works for him. And get Vinny on the books too; I don’t want to talk to anyone without my lawyer.”

            “Can do,” she said. “Does this mean you’re headed back?”

            “Not yet,” I said. “But soon.”



*

            When I got back to my cabin, my bed had been made and my dishes had been washed and there was a small bag on the table; cold tablets and tissues and tea and a note that said there was soup in the fridge, two bags of frozen chicken noodle and a pot set up on the hot plate when I was ready. I made the tea and took my book out to the porch to sit in the sunshine. For the first time in three days, I felt all right.

            Susan came by with a cord of firewood. I thanked her for the gift bag. “I hope I didn’t offend you this morning,” she said. “Every so often some city kid comes up here to try and dry out and it never goes well. Fresh air is great and all, but it can’t cure the DTs. I know from experience.”

            “So do I.”

            She smiled at me. I nodded towards the other chair and she set down the firewood and sat. “22 years,” she said. “You?”

            “Just crossed 18.”

            “I go to a meeting in town,” she said. “If you feel like you want to join me.”

            “I might,” I said. I’m never quite as touched as when someone invites me to their meeting. It’s a reminder that people do care, that they are kind if given a chance. In my line of work, it’s easy to forget that. But my temptation was starting to wane, I had confidence again in my sobriety. Hearing Valerie’s voice helped more than she would ever know.

            “So what do you do?” she asked.

            “I’m a private investigator,” I replied.

            She lowered her voice. “Are you on a case right now?” she asked. “Something going on with one of the other guests?”

            I laughed. Even if I was working someone over, it would be against the PI’s code to tell her. “No,” I replied. “Just needed a place to relax for a few days. It’s a stressful job.”

            “I’ll bet,” she said. She stood up and pointed to the white house up the driveway. “If you need anything, even just someone to talk to, I’m up there,” she said. “Day or night, you just ring the bell. I’ll answer no matter what.”

            “Do you always take such good care of your guests?”

            She smiled and picked up the wood. “Sometimes,” she said. “Enjoy the rest of your stay.”

*

            I woke up to someone banging on a door somewhere in the distance. It took me another minute to realize where I was, that it wasn’t my door. I got up and peered out the window to see a shadowy figure on the porch of the empty cabin next to mine. I put on my shoes and my jacket and went outside to see what was happening.

            In the dim light from the road I could see Guy, feeble and frail, pounding on the door with all the strength he had left. If he was trying to yell, his voice was little more than a crude whisper, a barely-audible rasp. “Guy,” I said, approaching cautiously. “Is everything all right?”

            “Claire’s in there,” he grumbled. “I need to see Claire.”

            “There’s no one in there,” I said. The only other people I’d seen were a young couple with a dog and an SUV, another few cabins down the line.

            He ignored me. I wondered who I should call, Susan or the cops or just let him dotter away when lucidity kicked in. I was on vacation. I didn’t need this. I was just about to turn back when I saw Susan advancing in her robe and a pair of hastily-tied hiking boots. “Not again, Guy,” she said, reaching for his arm. “Claire’s not here tonight. C’mon, let me call Daphne, she’s probably worried about you.”

            He muttered something both of us pretended not to hear. “I can stay with him,” I offered. “If you want to go call someone.”

            Before she could take me up on it, a second car roared up the driveway, lighting us up like fugitives. Daphne stormed towards us. “I was just about to call you,” Susan said. “You need to hide his keys better.”

            Daphne seized him roughly. “Again with this?” she snapped. “There’s no Claire here.”

            “Easy,” I cautioned. “Don’t want to make things worse with a fall.”

            “I don’t need advice from another one of Susan’s joyriders,” she sneered. “So mind your own goddamn business.”

            “Get out,” Susan barked. “Both of you. Now. Next time I see him here, I’m calling the cops. The real ones.”

            Denise yanked her uncle back towards the car. There was a brown Buick parked crookedly in the lot. “Get that junker off my property by daybreak,” she continued. “Or you’ll find it in the tow yard.”

            Daphne cursed us both out until she got in her car, scattering gravel as she sped off into the night. “I’m sorry about that,” Susan said. “He’s old, he has dementia.”

            “So I’ve heard,” I said. “They pulled a similar scene at the Lucky earlier.”

            “He really needs to be in a home,” she said. “Or have a full-time nurse. But Daphne won’t allow it. Probably because she’s been dipping into Uncle Pennybags’ account.”

            She started to walk away. Before I could stop myself, I heard the words slip out of my mouth. “Who’s Claire?” I asked.

            She turned back. “No one,” she said. “No one of any importance.”


*

            Cold-wise, I felt better the next morning. I took half a dose of cold medicine and called Valerie, gave her the name of the motel, of Claire, of Guy and Daphne and Susan. Maybe she’d find nothing at all. Maybe she’d find an old girlfriend. But more curious than an old love affair, was that Daphne had called me a “joyrider.” There had to be a reason for that.

            Susan came by with firewood around 11. “Sorry about last night,” she said.

            “Does that happen often?” I asked. “Him showing up like that?”

            “First time it’s happened here,” she said. “But like you saw at the diner, he’ll show up places and make a scene. Only been in the last six months or so. Should have guessed he’d find his way here eventually.”

            “What did she mean when she called me a joyrider?”

            She hesitated. “I’m a PI,” I reminded her. “I can ask around, but I’d like to hear it from you.”

            She set down the wood carrier. I offered her a seat on the porch, but she didn’t take it. “I thought I was doing the right thing,” she started. “We had really bad drug problems up here, same as everywhere. But they closed all the clinics, hospitals can’t take them to dry out and the closest in-patient is three hours from here. So I offered my place in the off-season for people who might not have anyplace else to go. A lot of these guys have burned through their family, and the only friends they have are still using.”

            I was lucky. My sister Sandy took me in after I completed rehab. Hell, I had rehab to complete; a bed, a gym, counselors, green space to stroll and food to eat. I couldn’t have done it otherwise. My cravings, even 18 years later, told me that much.

            “A lot of people got clean,” she said. “I’d take them to meetings, talk with them, all the stuff my sponsor did for me. Some of them helped around the camp, splitting firewood, raking leaves, simple stuff. Some of them still send me Christmas cards. But I had a rule – you only got one chance. You screwed up, you got kicked out. There were too many people who needed a place to stay and I didn’t have time to screw around. But I got a reputation. Someone started saying I was feeding them junk so I could keep cashing county checks. The cops would roll by and give me a fake name, just to let us all know they were watching.”

            Sounds like cops all right. I wondered if one of them was Denise.

            She continued. “I got this one kid, Kyle. Sweet kid, very nervous, really struggling. I’d make him dinner, bring him books, try and talk with him. But one night, while I was at my meeting…”

            I knew where this story was going. It was a story that had been told a thousand times, in every city and town across the country, always with the same sad ending. “He broke into the other cabins,” she said. “He stole their tapers. He went into town and shoplifted some allergy meds and a six-pack. I don’t know if he had a seizure or an OD or if he choked on his own vomit, but he was dead the next morning. I told them to stop sending me people after that. His parents tried to sue me, but the judge threw it out. There were less than 10 of us at his funeral. His parents weren’t among us.”

            I had one last question. “What cabin was he staying in?”

            She looked at me like she’d just realized her mistake too late. “This one,” she said.


*

            I didn’t need Susan to move me. I didn’t believe in ghosts, but something had me unsettled enough to want to get out for awhile. I went into town for lunch. “Saw Guy again last night,” I told Jess. “Banging on the door of Cabin 8 at the Peaceful Pines.”

            She snorted. “Sounds about right,” she said. “My grandma said that place was a whorehouse back in the day.”

            A waitress, like a bartender, is an invaluable source of information. They’ll never give a name or the full story, but they hear and retain stories like a tape recorder. Ask the right questions and they’ll playback anything you want to know – within reason. They had codes like priests when it came to the identifying details. She clapped her hand over her mouth as soon as the words were out. “I’ve heard worse,” I assured her. “Tell me more.”

            She was blushing. “She said the girls would come into town once a week or so to shop,” she continued. “And they’d come to her beauty parlor to get their hair set, all at the same time. She would block off Wednesday from two to close just to do those girls’ hair. She said they tipped better than any of the ladies in church.”

            “Susan was telling me it was a crash pad for people in outpatient rehab,” I said “But you were probably too young to remember that.”

            “I heard stories,” she said.

            “Any of them about a girl named Claire?”

            She shook her head. But before she could say anything, my phone rang with Valerie’s number. I muttered an excuse me and took the call outside. “What did you find?” I asked.

            “There was a woman named Claire Londner who was found strangled in a roadside cabin in 1977,” she said. “They never arrested anyone in her death.”

            If what Jess had told me was true about the locals, I doubted they looked too hard for her killer. Probably considered it an occupational hazard. “Who was the cop assigned to the case?”

            I could hear her flipping pages. I imagined her at her desk in my office, the scent of coffee and ink. “The paper quotes a Detective Guy McDuff,” she said. “What’s this about?”

            “Not sure yet,” I said. “But I’ll let you know when I find out.”

*

            The library was the only place I could get a reliable internet connection. I found the same scans of old newspapers that Valerie must have; Claire Londner, 28, was found strangled in her cabin on Oct. 28, 1977. Back then the cabins were called The Alpine, their logo showed a cheerful girl in a short dirndl and high-heeled clogs. How very Gil Elvgren.

            “Excuse me,” I asked the librarian. “Is there a local historian? A museum, maybe?”

            She brightened. “You want to talk to Dana Hale,” she said. “He knows everything.”

*

            The librarian gave me Hale’s number and he agreed to meet me at the museum on the edge of town. I told him I was working on a book about the area. He believed me.

            Hale was short and bald like a high school science teacher nearing retirement. “I’m looking for anything you had on the girl who got murdered at the Alpine in the 70s,” I said. “Claire Londner.”

            “Pretty grim subject for a book,” he grumbled. “What brought you to that?”

            “Research,” I said. “Do you have anything from that? A phone book, a property listing?” I didn’t know yet what I was looking for, but someone in this town had to know something that would connect me to why the former police chief was looking for a murdered girl by her first name in the middle of the night.

            “It’s a chapter this town would rather forget,” he said. “And most of them don’t want to admit that the johns spent a lot of money in this town.”

            “Until one of them murdered one of the girls,” I said. “What’s the prevailing theory in her death?”

            He didn’t say anything. He disappeared into the back room and was gone so long I thought he might have escaped out the back. When he did return he had a grey box in his hands. “I came across these while cataloging some property for an exhibit we had a few years back,” he said. “But I never knew who to tell, so I didn’t say anything. I think you’ll understand why.”

            Inside was a priest’s collar, a small gold cross with a broken chain, some photos and a leather-bound Bible. I picked up the Bible and a flattened matchbook fell out onto the table.

            The Alpine Motel.

*

            The Bible belonged to Father Curtis Franklin, a priest at St. Mary’s from 1965 until the early 80s. “This guy was practically the Pope,” Valerie said. “When he retired in 1991, the newspaper dedicated their entire front section to him. He oversaw the opening of the food pantry, personally made the corned beef for the annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner, all that sort of small-town shit.”

            I had managed to find Chinese takeout and a spot in my cabin that got halfway decent cell phone reception. I put Valerie on speaker and kicked my feet up on the table, like we would have if we were chewing over a case in the office. I just wished I had enough bandwidth to put her on video. I was starting to miss seeing her face. I imagined there was a lot of eye-rolling I was missing out on. “Any police record?” I asked.

            She snorted. “Of course not,” she said. “And none of the records of getting bounced around the way pervs do. He was here for 20 years and beloved in every single one of those.”

            “All the better reason to cover up a crime,” I muttered.

            “You think he murdered Claire?” she said. “My money was on the police chief.”

            “I think Guy helped bury it,” I said. “And I think in his confusion, he’s going back to the scene of the crime. The director of the history center gave me the name of the madam’s daughter, Jeannine Dorne, thought she might have something.”

            “What are you going to do if you solve it?” she asked. “Franklin’s been dead for 20 years and no judge will find McDuff fit for trial.”

            I hadn’t thought that far ahead. Hell, I don’t even know how I got involved except for my own goddamn curiosity. All that got me last time was two dead bodies with my photos at the crime scene.

            I let Valerie go with a promise to be home soon and finished my takeout. I wished I had some music; I was 200 miles away from my piano and my signal wasn’t strong enough to stream anything. For the first time in three days, my cabin felt very lonely. I tried whistling The Mighty Lemon Drops, “Inside Out.” The only problem was that I wasn’t very good at whistling.

*

            Jeannie lived on the road that wound along the lake, on property that would sell for triple what she likely paid for it when the time came to move. “I thought about giving this to the police years ago,” she said, handing me a large brown ledger. “But I knew they’d just destroy it. Half their names are probably in it, but I’d never know. They’re all coded and Mama never told me what the patron code was. She had it memorized.”

            “No surprise there,” I said. “Was there ever anyone your mom was really scared of? Worried about?”

            “Not locally,” she said. “Occasionally she’d get some bad vibes from an out-of-town client, but she would have never put him in with Claire. She saved those guys for Ramona, she knew kung-fu or some shit. No one messed with Ramona. Claire was more the girl-next-door type, played that pretty and shy routine, like she was a virgin 10 times a night.”

            “You remember her?”

            “Sure I do,” she said. “She used to give me a little spritz of her perfume if I came by. She said it was from France, she kept it in one of those fancy atomizers with the feather and the pump. Years later I found out it came from Sears, but still, it was sweet of her to do.”

            She got out a photo album. “Mama had a code for each girl too,” she said. “Claire was #24,” she said.

            “24?”

            “V for virgin,” she said. “24th letter of the alphabet. #4 would be dominatrix, that sort of thing.”

When The French Letters were in Amsterdam on tour, my guitar player Ron and our bass player Vic tried to get me to go with them to a brothel, but I wasn’t interested. Instead I smoked a couple Gladstone cigarettes in the bathtub and ran up an international phone bill that infuriated our management. I never wanted any woman but Cecelia, back home in LA. Her voice was all the pleasure I needed right then.

            Jeannie pulled Claire’s photo out and passed it to me. She was pretty, a redhead in a lace-trimmed nightgown, with those too-trusting eyes. She wore a small gold cross around her neck. I wondered if it was for real or a prop for her good-girl routine.

            Or her murder weapon.

*

            My family was Methodist, but growing up, my best friend Rudy was Catholic, so on weekends I spent over at his house, I’d go to mass with his family. I liked the ritual of it even if I had to stay seated while they took communion. Later on, I liked that I got to sit next to his sister Lucy, who wore Love’s Baby Soft and was tall enough that her skirts were a little shorter than they had been a year ago. At 13, I would have nailed myself to the cross just to touch her hand. Years later, when I was back in Duluth for my mom’s funeral, she showed up with her two sons, as beautiful as ever, kissed my cheek and told me how good I looked, that Rudy had moved to North Carolina to become a basketball coach and he was sorry he couldn’t get away. She smelled like cucumber melon when she hugged me and she had a much better husband than an ex-junkie rock star could have ever hoped to be.

            But I wasn’t here to confess the lustful heart I’d had for Lucy Archer 40 years ago. I wasn’t even here for prayerful reflection. I was here because Guy’s car was in the parking lot, because he was alone in the third pew, clutching a rosary he wasn’t counting. I sat behind him and leaned forward so I was practically whispering in his ear. “I heard nice things about Claire,” I said.

            He looked back at me. He smiled. “She used to sit right here,” he said, pointing to the pew across from him. “She never missed a Sunday mass.”

            “I bet Father Franklin liked that,” I said. “Good looking girl in the pews.”

            “He saw her soul,” he said. “Her devotion to the Lord. He wanted to save her.”

            “None of us are without sin,” I said. “Not even a priest.”

            He didn’t respond, so I kept talking. “He killed her,” I said. “And you helped cover it up. You had to. Because he knew all your secrets. He knew who drank too much, who hit their wife, who sent their daughter to stay with relatives when she started to show. All the little sins you unburdened yourself with, week after week. If he was revealed, you all would be. And none of you could take that chance.”

            I expected him to get up and leave, to respond with fight, to speak in tongues, to drop dead of a heart attack. I expected him to do anything but smile and sigh. “Yes,” he said. “He went to her. More than once. He called me from her phone, said she needed help. He was gone when we arrived. All of us did. They never caught her killer. But we all knew.”

            “How come the Madam never said anything?”

            “Because we threatened her,” he said. “She saw what happened to Claire. She closed up shop pretty quickly after that.”

            Maybe it wasn’t fair, confronting a confused old man with his crimes. Guy might be gone in another six months. Father Franklin was dead. But so was Claire. Maybe that only meant something to Jeannie, the only woman who remembered her, who lit a candle for her wandering spirit. I knew a few things about the ghosts that linger, about leaving lights on so someone can find their way home to rest. I’d light a candle for Cecelia on the way out, the same way Rudy had taught me. Hell, I’d light one for Valerie and Susan too, a prayer in the darkness for the people who might need it.

            Guy seemed lighter, somehow. Confession cleared your head, saying your sins out loud held you accountable. I never understood what that meant until I got to rehab, until I had to spell out my own weaknesses week after week, until they disappeared like vapor. I remembered that weight being lifted, the relief I felt when it was all given up to some higher power.

            I squeezed his shoulder as I stood up. He lifted his eyes to meet mine. “Thank you,” he said. “The peace of God be with you.”

            “And also,” I said. “With you.”

*

            I let Hale make the call to the village police. They interviewed me at the museum; we showed them the cross and the matchbook, all circumstantial. They interviewed Jeannie too, and picked up Guy for questioning the next day. Daphne screamed at the cops who came to get her uncle. I watched from my car across the street as she followed them out. I wondered if she believed his innocence, if she kept up the family business of secrets or if she was pissed because her meal ticket was gone. There might be elder abuse charges waiting for her, or she could empty his accounts and take off, have the pension checks forwarded to some other small town with a police force she could bully her way into. Guy would never see the inside of a court room other than the day of his arraignment, but none of it was my problem anymore. None of it was my problem to begin with

            I was drinking coffee on my front porch when a cab pulled up and Valerie got out. She didn’t have any luggage. “I thought you could use some company on the ride back,” she said as she approached.

“Maybe I’ve decided to stay,” I joked. “Set up shop here. I’ve already solved one case.”

            “All your music is back in Perrine,” she said. “Your French press and your piano and all your suits.”

            She had me there. “Let me finish my coffee,” I said. “My bag is all packed anyways.”

            We sat on the porch without saying a word. There’d be plenty to talk about on the ride home. When we’d finished I rinsed out the cups and the coffee pot, put my bag in the car and went up to the white house to pay the remainder of my bill. Susan gave me a hug and said thanks and that everyone was talking about what happened. That was my cue to ride off into the sunset.


LIBBY CUDMORE is the author of THE BIG REWIND (William Morrow 2016), and previous Martin Wade stories have appeared in ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE and the Anthony Award nominated anthology LAWYERS, GUNS & MONEY: CRIME FICTION INSPIRED BY THE MUSIC OF WARREN ZEVON (co-edited with Art Taylor). Her short stories have been published in MONKEYBICYCLE, SMOKELONG QUARTERLY, HAD, THE NORMAL SCHOOL, THE COACHELLA REVIEW, BLEED ERROR and others, and she is the co-host of the OST PARTY, MISBEHAVIN' and SHATTERED SHIELD podcasts. This is her second contribution to TOUGH; her story "The Covenant" was published in October 2019.


Monday, October 21, 2019

The Covenant, fiction by LIbby Cudmore

Excerpt From The Book of Common Practice, Chapter 13: The eve before the wedding, the bridegroom’s brother must unbury the caskets of no fewer than five relations and place them outside the church. The back pew must be left empty, with a bouquet of magnolias tied to the ends so that the wandering souls may find their way to the ceremony.

At the conclusion of the marriage ceremony, one casket is buried in front of the new homestead, while the others are returned to the ground. In place of the departed casket, the lilies are buried beneath the headstone.


***
“Isn’t it romantic?” Amy gushed, turning her tablet and pointing to a stock photo of bride and groom skeletons that Buzzfeed had helpfully placed under the heading “Weird Wedding Traditions.” “In Covenant, Kentucky, they unbury their dead,” she read aloud. “This way, the dearly departed can enjoy the ceremony, and one casket is buried in the yard of the couple’s new home to protect them from thieves and misfortune.”

“That’s just fine,” said Cyrus. “Except last I checked, we were in Covenant, Florida, where people leave the dead buried in their graves.”

It had not been Cyrus’ idea to return to his hometown for their wedding. His fiancĂ©e, Amy had insisted, bolstered by glossy brochures of sunny soft-focus weddings, too worried that her Perfect Day might be ruined by a traffic jam or a hurricane. He tried to explain that they had traffic and hurricanes here too, but she didn’t buy it. Born and raised in Miami, she saw Covenant as a charming, panhandle town where everything was cute and perfect and precise, a 1950s vision of American Life, preserved like peach slices in glass jars. But it had changed. Cyrus barely recognized the home of his childhood. What were once empty fields were now strip malls and retirement communities, old single-pump gas stations razed and turned into scarf boutiques and Korean nail salons. They didn’t need to dig up any bodies. There were still plenty of ghosts who trod the soil of Covenant. There were still plenty of secrets buried, never to be unearthed.

“Oh, come on,” Amy said. “Any basic bitch can have mason jars and chalkboards at her wedding, but if we put caskets outside the church, we’d make the front page of Offbeat Bride in a heartbeat. Hell, we might make HuffPo Weddings. We would be a viral sensation. Trend-setters.”

“I don’t want to be a trend-setter,” he said. “And I have no need to make the front page of Offbeat Bride.” He leaned in and kissed her forehead. “All I want is to be married to you, darlin’.”

She saw right through his ruse. She slapped him playfully on the arm. “You never let me have any fun,” she said.

***


Cyrus didn’t know if it was nerves or a hangover, but he felt like one lone black fly was buzzing around in his empty skull. The sticky scent of magnolias was turning his stomach enough, but underneath them, he swore he smelled dread and decay. He knew he shouldn’t have had that last round, not the one at the Lucky Horse Saloon with his cousin Kyle and Amy’s dumbshit brother Tyler, but the late-night raid on the minibar to calm his nerves when the other drinks kept him jittery and awake. He pinched his temples and hoped he made it through the ceremony without throwing up.

Kyle and Tyler were still a little drunk, chortling behind their hands as they waited on the dais for the processional to begin. And when the music started–a three piece quartet’s rendition of Shania Twain’s “From This Moment On”–Amy drifted up the aisle on a cloud of lace and tulle. He didn’t even mind that she was wearing glittery cowboy boots under her dress. She was more beautiful than he’d ever imagined any woman would be, and it wasn’t the whiskey that brought tears to his eyes. All her petty annoyances went away in the moment she got up to the altar and placed her manicured hands in his.

But when Kyle passed him Amy’s ring, Cyrus noticed dirt under his fingernails. He didn’t give it much thought until he noticed that Tyler had dirt on his hands too. And then all he could stare at was the empty back pew of the church.

***


“It was supposed to be a joke!” Amy said.

“A joke?” Cyrus yelled back. “Amy, that is a real casket with a real body buried on our front lawn! Do you have any idea how many kinds of illegal that is?”

They had gotten home late Sunday night and Cyrus had all but fallen asleep in his clothes. They had both taken Monday off to recover from the weekend, but he had still woken up early, his mouth dry. Staring out the kitchen window while the coffee brewed, he had noticed a swatch of freshly-dug ground. And when he’d gone out to investigate, he kicked aside the dirt to find an old oak casket buried just a few feet down.

“We don’t know that it wasn’t here when we bought the place,” she said. “Maybe we just didn’t notice it until now.”

“It’s a freshly-dug grave!” he said, his voice rising in pitch. “I can guarantee you they left that out the sale listings!”

Amy's eyes started to fill with tears, but he wasn't in the mood for any of it. "Call Tyler," he said. "Borrow his truck. If we leave now, we can get back to Covenant late this afternoon and get this taken care of."

She went back inside, but he could still hear her yelling at Tyler. He went back to the grave, still uncovered from the dirt he dug up. There was a small brass plaque, tarnished with dirt and age. He pulled his jacket cuff over his hand and rubbed one clean enough to see the inscription.

Oh shit.

***


“Orthwina was the matriarch of the Beckerman family,” Cyrus explained. “During the Civil War, the Beckerman whores would sleep with sleep with soldiers from both sides, sometimes on the same night, and sell the secrets to the highest bidder. They were bootleggers in the 20s, union goons up through the 50s, ran dope through the 80s and last I knew, meth. Orthwina’s been gone for awhile and when she died, the whole town turned out for her funeral. I remember my father taking me, but when the little Korean ladies at Nail Palace didn’t attend—they didn’t know—the next day, their windows were shot up. The Beckermans do not screw around.”

Rike and Sawyer Beckerman, Orthwina’s grandsons, had been classmates of his. He wasn’t surprised they were running meth. They were a couple of ugly kids, thieves of Ninja Turtles and baseball cards, but no one ever dared to try and take them back. Orthwina had rules, she had honor even in her brutality, but her son, Weston Beckerman, did not, and he had no intention of passing that on to his boys. Cyrus always had a secret crush on their sister, Malloy, a year ahead in school, beautiful and unfalteringly kind, seemingly removed from all of it like a cool breeze on a hot day. He wondered if she was still in Covenant, if she fell into her family’s trap or if she got away clean.

Amy looked like she was about to throw up. Tyler just scoffed. “So we just re-bury the casket,” he said. “No big deal. I doubt they’ll even notice it missing. It was in, like, in the woods at the back of the cemetery.”

“That’s the family plot, idiot,” Cyrus said. “They’ll notice that their grandmother has been exhumed.”

“Can’t we just explain that we thought we were following a tradition?” Amy said.

He wanted to yell at her. He knew he couldn’t. “I highly doubt they’ll be swayed by a tradition you read about on a website where you can take a quiz about what sort of cheese awakened you sexually,” he said through gritted teeth. “And even if it was a real thing, which I doubt, you’re supposed to take from your side of the family, not someone else’s relatives.”

“So what do we do?” Amy bleated.

He sighed. “We don’t have a choice,” he said. “We’ll have to rebury them, and hope the boys have fallen short in their visitation.”

***


Amy stayed behind. Cyrus fought the feeling that he might never see her again. The ride back to Covenant was quiet; every speed trap felt like it was laid just for him. Even the toll operators seemed sinister. For the first few hours, Tyler tried to make conversation. Cyrus wasn’t having any of it. He wished Kyle was here, at least. Then he might feel like he had someone on his side.

It was nearing dark when they arrived. Tyler offered to let Cyrus stay in his place, but he declined. He’d rather sleep in the Dumpster behind the needle exchange than at whatever solo frat house Tyler currently kept. He’d spent enough nights sleeping on Tyler’s couch in his 20s, when he was new in town, before Tyler introduced him to Amy.

“How long are you going to be pissed at me about this?” Tyler said as he pulled up in front of the Embassy hotel. “It was a stupid prank, man. You didn’t used to be this uptight.”

He grabbed his bag out of the back of the cab. “I’ll stop being pissed when we both come out of this alive,” he said. “Pick me up at midnight; we’ll see if we can’t get it in then.”

***


Midnight seemed like it might have been days from now. Cyrus took a shower, he watched some TV, he called Amy to tell her they had a plan. And finally, when he ran out of options, he went down to the hotel bar. Maybe a $10 well whiskey would calm his nerves.

The bar was filled with businessmen, near-identical in their cheap suits, drinking hard on company cards. There was a bartender who wore the smile of the chronically under-tipped, a couple of young women who kept leaning their tits on the bar when they were sure the men were looking, and, in the corner, one woman, all in black, drinking bourbon with a bored expression.

Malloy Beckerman.

He turned to take his drink upstairs, but she spotted him and gestured him over with one perfectly manicured red finger. “I know you,” she said. “We went to school together. I’m sure of it.”

“Cyrus,” he said. “Cyrus Greene.”

She smiled. “Of course,” she said. “We were in choir. I always thought you were cute. What are you doing here?”

He knew he should have made an excuse to leave. He knew he should have told her he was someone else, pretended not to remember her. But in his gut he was still 17, and to be invited to sit anywhere near Malloy Beckerman was a dream come true. “Just back for a visit,” he said, settling into the chair across from her. “You?”

“Getting a drink after work,” she said. “Same as these clowns.”

“You work with some of them?”

“God, no,” she said. She gestured to the blonde in the red satin tube dress, trying to dance to the thin tunes coming over the bar’s sound system. “I’ve seen her a couple times. Talks too loud, carries three different phones. I always assumed she worked outcall. Must be a big trade show in town.”

“What are you, a madam?” he joked.

She actually laughed. “A hairdresser, actually.” she said. “What about you? Heard you just got married.”

That took him by surprise. How did she know? She must have seen the shock splattered across his face because she pointed at his left hand. “Your ring, dummy,” she teased. “And I saw the announcement in the paper. You should have called. I would have done up your bride’s hair.”

He laughed to cover the painful exhale of a breath held too tight in his chest. “Right,” he said, twisting the ring. “Guess I’m still getting used to it. You?”

“Divorced,” she said. “Two years now. He said we were ‘incompatible,’ but I don’t need to visit a strip-mall psychic to know what that means.”

“Divorced?” He couldn’t imagine anyone cheating on Malloy. She was somehow even more beautiful at 35 than she had been at 17, her dark hair worn in loose waves, her mouth heart-shaped and velvety with a dark red lipstick, curvy and leggy in a black dress that fit her like it was made of cling wrap. He killed the rest of his drink like he was trying to drench a fire, but before he could stop himself, he sputtered, “How? How could anyone leave you?”

She blushed. “You’re sweet,” she said. “No, I don’t blame him. Rike and Sawyer drove him off. I’m sure that comes as no surprise to you.”

“Not one bit,” he said.

“Yeah, well they’ve only gotten worse,” she said. “Dad died a few years ago and they took the family business in, shall we say, a different direction.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“Oh Cyrus,” she chided. “Don’t play coy. We’re both adults. You know what my family does.”

He wished he had another drink. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I do.”

She finished her own and pushed the glass aside. He noticed that she had little crystal gemstones on the nail of her index finger. “That’s not even the worst part,” she said. “The worst part is that with Dad gone, other organizations are trying to make a play. They see Rike and Swayer as weak, which they are, so we’re constantly on the brink of war. Last year we really had it out with the Hosten family out of Atlanta. I ended up brokering the truce, but not before there were a couple bodies dropped. I’ll spare you the details.”

He tried to pretend it was the whiskey that slapped him hard across the face, the dizzying rush of blood to his cheeks. “That’s…that’s awful,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”

“Yeah, well, it’s about to get a lot worse,” she said. “The Lyle organization just sent us a pretty hard-line message. They’ve been trying to get at our family for years, and now they might have the means. Rike and Sawyer are already prepping for war.”

Cyrus motioned to the bartender for two more drinks. His hands were shaking as he seized his; he inhaled half of it before he spoke. “What was the message?” he asked.

“They dug up my grandmother’s casket.”

***


Tyler’s apartment was a lot neater than Cyrus expected it to be. He imagined Amy’s mother coming over weekly to pick up after her baby; they had caught her in the kitchen at the wedding, pestering the catering staff to “just let her help tidy up.” Tyler had to come get him from the hotel after he said goodbye to Malloy; he was too anxious to drive over there. He blurted everything on the ride over.

“We’re dead,” he repeated for what felt like the tenth time. “We are so dead.”

“Maybe we can talk to Malloy,” said Tyler. “She seems like she hates her brothers, maybe she can help us.”

“Are you insane?” Cyrus said. “We can’t tell a soul. If this gets out, we’ll be killed, either by the Lyle family, who try to take the body from us, or by the Beckermans themselves.”

Tyler didn’t respond for a few minutes. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry I got us into this.”

Then suddenly, Cyrus knew what to do. “We’ll have to burn her,” he said. “If they think the Lyles are involved, they’ll keep fighting them until one side gives up. But we can’t risk getting caught with her body. It’s the only way.”

Tyler didn’t seem fazed by his suggestion, like Cyrus had suggested they go bowling instead of playing mini-golf. “My family’s got a cabin,” he said. “We can take it there.”

***


Cyrus drank in the car. He had to. He needed to be good and drunk before he opened that casket and took out Orthwina’s body to burn in fire pit at Tyler’s cabin. Tyler, somehow the more sober of the two of them, would be tasked with chopping up the casket. They would burn that separately. No sense in drawing too much attention with a bonfire made of death and varnish.

A fifth of cheap bourbon polished off, he started building a fire. The body, now wrapped in a sheet, was less than five feet away from him. On the other side of the house, he heard Tyler swinging the ax. He took a deep breath and apologized to Orthwina. He remembered how she gave out full-sized Butterfingers for Halloween, the trays of homemade cookies she brought to church pageants, how she always smelled like lavender. He lifted her onto the makeshift pyre and lit a match.

The stench of the fire nearly brought the whiskey back up. Chemicals and human decay; he staggered out of the direction of the wind and slumped against a tree, trying to stop his guts and the sky from spinning. This is love, he thought. No one will ever love a woman more than I do, right now, in this goddamn moment. And he laughed. He laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks. But he didn’t picture Amy; he imagined Malloy, her body tight against him, her mouth just brushing his as she whispered thank you.

A hand on his shoulder. No, not Malloy. Tyler. “You lightweight,” he said. “Fire’s almost burnt out. Want me to put in the rest?”

He had fallen asleep. The sun was starting to rise. “Yeah,” he said, weaving to his feet. “Yeah, put it on.”

They watched the fire until it was ashes. They poured water over everything, took the brass plaque with her name. Tyler promised he’d bury it somewhere else, somewhere they had no connection to. The war between the Beckermans and the Lyles and whoever else came for them would go on. He just wouldn’t be a part of it.

***


Even as an adult, the dread of being called down to the principal’s office never went away. Cyrus was just welcoming his kids back from lunch when Louise called him from the classroom phone. “Your wife called,” she said before he could even sit in the chair she offered. “Her brother was found dead this morning.”

“Tyler?” he breathed.

Louise nodded. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I’ve already called a substitute to take over your class for the day, if you need to go home….”

He didn’t remember leaving the school. He didn’t remember driving home. He didn’t remember what Amy said when she fell into his arms, wailing. He didn’t come back to his senses until he saw a message on his phone, from Malloy.

We need to talk.

***


“Please explain to me,” Malloy said as the waiter set down two tumblers of bourbon in front of them. The Embassy hotel bar was empty at this hour, waiting for the businessmen and the tourists and the hookers to fill it again. “Why the nameplate of my grandmother’s casket was found in your brother-in-law’s possession.”

Cyrus took a slow breath, a swallow of bourbon and counted to ten before he answered. “I have no idea,” he lied. “How did you come to find that he had it?”

“He offered to sell it back,” she said. “Told Rike that he had acquired it from the Lyles in exchange for some favors—he didn’t specify what—and would sell it back to us for a million dollars. When he went to the meetup, they killed him.”

“How?”

“Do you really want to know that?” He didn’t, but he felt he owed it to Tyler to hear the gruesome details. He nodded, weakly, and braced himself with bourbon.

“They burned him,” she said. “Alive. They doused the fire in time for him to suffer. He was in the hospital for six hours, all of it painful, before they called his mother to take him off the ventilator.”

“What are the cops going to do?” he asked.

“Same as what they did when they found the Lyles’ two men with a bullet in his gut,” she said. “And the same as they did when they found Trey Lyle in the river. Nothing. The cops aren’t going to get involved in a mob war. Too many of them are on the take from either side.”

“Why are you telling me this?” he asked.

“Because you’re a good man,” she said. “Tyler’s an idiot. He got himself into trouble he didn’t understand. But you don’t deserve that blowback.”

No, he wasn’t, he the thought. It had been his suggestion to burn the body. He could have called the police. Could have made a different choice, could have come clean now. But he didn’t. And now the bill was coming due in overdraft.

She finally picked up her drink. “Your wife is lucky,” she said. “I’m sorry about her brother, but she’s got a man like you to protect her. I just wonder when they’re going to come for me, make me choose a side. And I don’t have a good man to protect me.”

***


Malloy told him where Rike and Sawyer would be. They plotted it carefully in his hotel room, and he fought off every urge to kiss her. She gave him a baseball bat for the first strike and a pistol to finish them off with. She would meet him with the car; they would dump the bodies in the quarry. She would negotiate peace with the Lyle family. “They can have it,” she said. “All of it. I just want out.”

He pulled into the parking lot of The Barrel Inn. He remembered drinking here with Tyler, before he introduced him to Amy. Now Tyler was dead, and his poor bride’s heart was broken. It seemed only right that it all ended here. Tonight.

He went inside and ordered a beer. He drank in the back corner, watching them play pool. He left before they did, got the bat out of the backseat and waited. He thought about baseball games in gym class. Rike had punched him once, out on the field, because he had caught a pop fly, and for the rest of the week he spent every waking moment anxious that Sawyer would finish the job. These two deserved what was coming to them. Not just for Tyler. Not just for Malloy.

He didn’t feel anything when he swung the bat into Rike’s head. Even less when he smashed Sawyer’s shoulders. He taped their hands, their feet, their mouths. He loaded them into the truck bed like a fresh kill. He drove out the quarry and cut the bindings. They were still unconscious when he rolled them into the quarry, breaking the majestic moonlight scene on the perfectly still water. They might find them, bloated and black, in a few days. Or maybe they wouldn’t. Rike and Sawyer Beckerman weren’t the first two bodies to vanish in the deep.

***


Malloy didn’t show at the hotel the next morning. She didn’t answer her phone either. His heart was in his throat. Had the Lyle family taken her when she called to negotiate that truce? Would the cops find her body, battered and used, on the floor of some cheap hotel room, an empty apartment, a cum-stained mattress in the back of the woods?

She finally called him at noon, just as he was getting ready to head back to Miami. She invited him to her home and poured him a drink even though he told her he wasn’t thirsty. “I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me,” she said.

“I didn’t want them to hurt you,” he replied. “I hope you’re safe now.” “Very,” she said, taking a sip of her own. “I’ve decided to take my family’s business in yet another new direction. Or rather, an old direction. Return to our roots, as it were.”

Now he wanted that drink. “I thought you said you wanted out.”

“Out of my life, certainly,” she said. “I was tired of being a hairdresser. Rike and Sawyer stood in the way of that. I’ve sold the meth portion of the organization to the Lyle family. I thought I’d bring back my family’s brothels. Those Korean girls do great nails and, from what I’m told, give great head.”

He looked at her manicure, wrapped around her heavy crystal tumbler. It was dark red this time, with black tips. Like a dragon. Like a serpent. Like he imagined Eve would have if they had manicurists in Paradise. “You…” he breathed. “You used me.”

She shrugged. “I’m not the one who burned my grandmother’s corpse,” she said. “And I am sorry about Tyler, that really was all Rike and Sawyer. I hope you understand that.”

He wasn’t really even listening, but she continued. “We’re a good team,” she said, reaching out and putting her hand on his. He was too numb to even recoil. “I didn’t use you so much as I auditioned you,” she said. “You’re a natural.”

“I can’t,” he said. “I’ve got a wife, I’ve got students back home, I don’t have the stomach for this…”

“Sure you do,” she said. “You beat two men unconscious and left them to drown. You burned a woman’s body. You’ve got more fortitude than most men.”

Now he wanted that drink more than ever. “And if I say no?” he said. “You gonna kill me? Silence me so I won’t go to the cops?”

“You won’t say a word,” she said. “You never do. You didn’t own up to having Orthwina’s body after your boys pulled a stupid, drunken prank. Didn’t come clean about burning her either. You spun me a story about Tyler making a deal and then you killed two more people to keep that secret. No, Cyrus, I trust you. More than I’ve ever trusted anyone, really. I don’t have to silence you. Your own guilt will do that. And if I’m wrong, well, I’m sure Marcus Lyle will be happy to help me out. I took care of my brothers, after all. An apology for the killing of his man. A blood sacrifice of old.”

She was right. Goddamn it, she was right, and she’d known it from the moment she set foot in the Embassy Bar. “The answer is still no,” he said.

He waited for her to pull out a revolver, to admit that there was poison in his glass, to ring a bell for a man who would come in and snap his neck. But she did none of those things. Instead, she stood, and he stood, and she kissed him on the cheek. “If that’s how you want it,” she said. “The offer will always stand. Give my love to your wife.”

He drove back to Miami. Amy was waiting for up for him when he arrived. “Anything?” she whispered. “Anything about Tyler?”

He held her, savoring the scent of her hair, wishing he could absorb her warmth into the permanent ice block in the middle of his chest. For a moment, he considered coming clean. Unburdening his soul, taking his chance that someone might hear him, believe him, take pity on him for trying to be a good man. But Malloy was right. He wasn’t a good man, in his heart. He was a quiet man. A coward.

“Nothing,” he finally said. “The cops say his case has gone cold.”

Libby Cudmore is the author of the critically acclaimed hipster mystery THE BIG REWIND (William Morrow, Feb 2016) which received a starred review from Kirkus, as well as praise from Publisher's Weekly and Booklist. Her short fiction has been published in The Big Click, the Stoneslide Corrective, PANK, Vinyl Me Please, The Writer and the anthologies HANZAI JAPAN, WELCOME HOME and MIXED UP, as well as the forthcoming anthology BUT THE HANGMAN ISN'T HANGIN': FICTION INSPIRED BY THE MUSIC OF STEELY DAN.