Monday, September 11, 2023

Harborville, fiction by Robert Lopresti

“Where’s the harbor?”

Loney was forking hot dogs off the rollers in what passed for the kitchen of the Tumble Inn Tavern. He turned to face the bar. “’Scuse me?”

“Where’s the harbor?” The newcomer was a big man, built like a bear, with a lot of dark curly hair and a week’s worth of beard. “That little lake down there barely rates a pier. So if this is Harborville, where is it?”

Loney grinned, showing some missing teeth. “In the cemetery.”

The Bear frowned. “The what?”

“Our town was founded by Josiah Tiberius Harbor in 1893. He’s gone to his reward, so the Harbor—”

“Yeah, I get it. You just love that joke, don’t you?”

“It’s a good one!”

“It’s a peach.” With a visible effort the Bear dragged up a new facial expression. It bore some resemblance to a friendly smile. “Well. Nice little town you’ve got here.”

“Thanks! We like it. Can I get you something to eat? Or drink?”

The Bear looked around the little tavern, casting a dubious eye at the plastic-wrapped sandwiches on the counter and the wieners rotating on the warmer. One grubby customer huddled at a dusty table at the far end of the room. “A beer would be good.”

“We got two choices on tap—”

“I’ll take anything in a bottle. Or a can.”

Loney fetched up a bottle and a glass.

The Bear ignored the glass and carefully wiped off the bottle top and neck with a paper napkin before opening it.

“This town’s a bit off the beaten path, isn’t it? I drove almost two hours after I got off the highway.”

“Yep,” said Loney. “Keeps things nice and quiet, mostly.”

“I bet.” He swallowed beer. “Guess you get a lot of skiers this time of year, though.”

“Nope. Hills ‘round here just ain’t steep enough. People have tried that country club skiing—”

“Cross country skiing? Jeez.” The Bear shook his head.

“Right! But those hills are tricky. Few years ago a nice couple from Denver went through a sinkhole. Ever since then the state tourist agency has been warning people away from these parts.”

“What happened to the people from Denver?’ asked the Bear, sipping beer. “Did they fall hard enough to die?”

Nah.” Loney grinned again. “Just broke some bones.”

“Well, that’s not—”

“It was the wolves that got ‘em.”


“Coulda been mountain lions, but they usually stay up higher. Scared of the rattlesnakes.”

The Bear had finished his beer. “Friendly little place.”

“We like it. You ready for another one?”

“Why not? Say, this is so interesting I almost forgot why I’m here.” He opened the messenger bag over his shoulder and pulled out a photograph. “Have you seen this guy around?”

Loney gave it a careful look. “Hey, you know what? This look like one a them, whatcha call it, espresso shots.”

The Bear stared. “Excuse me?”

“You know. Coffee cups. Like the cops use.”

“Mug shots?” The Bear shook his head. “Coffee cups, jeez. Okay, take a look at this espresso shot. You ever see this guy?”

Loney squinted at the picture. He held it close to his face, and then at arm’s length. “Nope. Can’t say I have.”

“You sure?”

“Sure as rain in July.”

“Do you—” The Bear blinked. “You get a lot of rain in July here?”

“Clear through summer, most years.”

“Hell of a town.”

“We like it.”

“Who else could I ask about a stranger passing through? You got a police station or something?”

“Sheriff’s got a substation in Glamour. That’s over the hill yonder.”

“Let me guess. This Glamour is in the cemetery too.”

“Nope. Nobody knows why they named the place that. Ain’t no glamour about it at all. It’s a dumpy little place, not like Harborville.”

“I suppose I’ll give it a miss then.”

“But I’ll tell you, mister. The fella you oughta see about—”

“Lemme take a look at that picture,” said the only other customer in the place. He was a short guy with a crew-cut and a Van Dyke beard. He wore a lumberjack shirt and on it, he wore some of his lunch.

“We haven’t seen this guy, Mace,” said Loney.

“Maybe you haven’t,” said Mace. “You wouldn’t see your socks if they climbed up your chin. Gimme.”

He scowled at the photo. “Yup. He was here, lemme think, two days ago. Three? What’s today anyway?”

“Friday,” said the Bear. He was all attention now.

“Then it would have been Tuesday. I saw this guy in the Mercantile buying camping supplies.” He looked up. “He drove a Jeep. Does that sound right?”

“Could be!” said the Bear.

“Mace thinks ever car is a Jeep or a Beetle,” said Loney, scowling. “He ain’t what they call a reliable lie witness.”

The Bear ignored him. “What else do you remember?”

“That’s easy,” said Mace. “This guy rented one of Hogan Carball’s cabins.”

The Bear put his forgotten bottle down on the bar. “Can you show me where the cabin is?”

“Oh, it’s a ways out of town, up in the hills.”

“Can you tell me how to get there?”

‘Sure,” said Mace. “You go up past White Ridge, and travel two, maybe three miles over the bald there. You pass the fields where Missy Shrover used to graze her cattle, back before she caught the fever. Then you come to a sort of ravine. Well, more of a gulch. Loney, would you call it a gulch or a ravine?”

The bartender looked disgusted. “I’d call it a waste of time.”

“Wait a minute,” said the Bear. He was shuffling through his messenger bag. “I’ve got a topographic map of the area. “Can you show me where the cabins are?”

Mace gave the big page a good look. “Wrong map, mister. This is mostly west of Harborville and you need east. You got one of them smartphones? You could download the right one.”

“I can’t get a signal in this godforsaken—” The Bear shook his head. He dredged up another smile. “I don’t suppose there’s a place around that sells topos?”

“Course there is,” said Mace. He looked at Loney. “What kind of dump would Harborville be if we didn’t have an outdoor equipment store?”

“A pitiful place,” said Loney. “Like Glamour. All they got there is a five and dime. And you can’t buy anything in it for a dime, so it’s fraud, if you ask me. But mister, I don’t care how many maps you buy. You’d be crazy to go up in them hills when they’re covered with snow like now. I told you about the sinkholes. Them poor folks from Denver--

“Yeah.” The Bear frowned. “Could I hire a guide?”

“No tourist guides around Harborville,” said Mace. “Don’t get enough visitors to make it worth the bother. ‘Sides, everyone who lives here knows the hills, so it’s not like anybody needs no fancy training--”

“Stop,” said the Bear. His grin was real now. “Could you lead me to the cabin?”

Mace looked surprised. “Well. I could, but this time of year, that would take a couple of days. You said it’s Friday?”

“That’s right.”

“We couldn’t get back before Sunday night. I’d miss church.”

Loney snorted.

“I’ll make it worth your while,” said the Bear.

“Why the heck do you want to find this guy?” asked Loney. “You some kinda county hunter?”

“Bounty hunter, jeez. Yes, I am.”

“So, there’s a reward for this guy,” said Mace. “Why should I take you up to find him? I could just go get him and collect the reward myself.”

The Bear stayed cool. “You don’t want to do that. He’s a dangerous man. That’s why there’s a reward for him.”

Mace scowled. “If he’s so dangerous, why should I go anywhere near him?”

“Because I’m dangerous too.” The Bear opened his wool coat and showed a shoulder holster. It was full to the brim with something nasty.

Loney let out a whistle.

Mace nodded, all business now. “You know how to use snowshoes?”

“What? No.”

“There we need snowmobiles. You can rent two at Percy’s Go-Snow. You got a tent? Sleeping bag?”

“No tent. One bag.”

“Well, I ain’t sharing yours. I’ll make up a list of the other supplies we need.” He slapped his hands together. “Let’s get on the stick!”

The Bear followed him out the door, leaving a single dollar tip.

As soon as they were gone Loney picked up his phone.

“We got trouble, Mr. Mayor. Get over here.”

Five minutes later Sam Tyler walked in. The mayor of Harborville was a sweet-faced old codger with a droopy moustache. “What’s wrong?”

“We had a bounty hunter in here looking for David Wayne Esterhaze.”

Tyler frowned. “So? What’s the problem?”

“So Mace was here. He identified the picture.”

“Shoot.” The old man scratched his chin. “It’s Frank’s turn, isn’t it?”

“Supposed to be. Frank ain’t gonna be happy.” Loney tossed his towel on the bar. “But it’s worse. Mace said he was gonna take the guy out to Hogan’s cabins.”

“Son of a gun. Isn’t that where Augie took the last one?”

“Yeah.” Loney made a face. “He’s still out there with him, hunting around for the bad guy. We don’t want those two visitors to meet and compare notes.”

Sam nodded. “You better tell Frank to go warn Augie.”

Loney took off his apron. “Will do. Mace said he was taking the White Ridge route, so Augie will have to bring his man home by Spider Creek.”

“Good. And tell Frank to say Esterhaze was seen—”



“Angie’s hunter came looking for Winthrop Bayweather.”

Sam Tyler frowned. “How many wanted men have we sent out tips on?”

“This month?” Loney pondered. “Just the two.”

“Well, Frank can tell ‘em Bayweather was seen out by the Smithson Ranch. Smitty could use some rental money.” He sighed. “I did some calculating last week. On average, by the time a bounty hunter gets fed up and goes away he has spent nearly two grand on equipment, rentals, and guides. Harborville needs that cash.”

“I know. So we gotta do something about Mace.”

“Yeah.” Tyler ruffled his moustache. “When I ran for mayor and proposed this scheme, you remember what Mace suggested? He said instead of sending anonymous emails to bounty hunters we ought to send invitations to the criminals.”

Loney snorted.

Tyler slumped on a bar stool. “”I had to point out that criminals are even more dangerous than the hunters, plus they don’t generally have email accounts.”

“Mace ain’t the sharpest ax in the shed.”

The mayor snorted. “More like the handle of a butter knife.”

He’s gonna have to split his fee with Frank.”


Loney frowned. “What if he won’t behave himself? We can’t exactly kick him out of town.”

The mayor grinned. “I suppose we can threaten to send him to the Harbor.”

Robert Lopresti is a retired librarian who lives in the Pacific Northwest. His novel GREENFELLAS is a comic caper about the mob trying to save the environment. “Harborville” is his 99th published short story. He blogs regularly at SleuthSayers and Little Big Crimes.

Monday, August 28, 2023

This Is Where I Buried my Wives, fiction by Debra H. Goldstein

 Reprint: Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2015

This is where I buried my wives,” Biff said. He stared beyond the two marked graves down the hill at the orchard and lush pasture that divided the land between a few worn chicken houses and the newly fenced horse ring that abutted the main house.

Present company excepted, I hope.”

I certainly hope so.” He drew Julie closer to him with the arm that wasn’t carrying their picnic basket. “To me, this is the prettiest spot on the farm. I know it may seem morbid, but I come up here when I need to think or bounce an idea off someone. There aren’t a lot of people in these parts and sometimes I just need to talk things out.”

Julie raised her head and kissed his rough cheek. “You won’t have to talk to the dead anymore. You’ve got me now.”

She took the picnic basket from his hand and bent down to smooth out their blanket, positioning it so their backs would be to the graves. She pulled some flowers from the basket and arranged them on the side of the blanket. As Julie set out napkins and utensils, she paused and looked up at the sky. “It feels like there should be a big tree shading this hill.”

There used to be a giant elm back there. Some disease got it right around the time Margie died.” Biff plopped onto the blanket. He accommodated his six-foot frame by extending his booted legs onto the grass. Julie snuggled against him.

Margie brought me up here shortly after we met.” Biff hesitated. “It was her favorite place in the world, so it seemed only right to bury her on the hill. Besides, if it hadn’t been for her leaving me all the land you can see between here and the main house,” he said, pointing, “I’d still be living by those egg houses.”

Julie’s eyes followed his finger to the small parcel on which the chicken houses sat. It was definitely a tiny space compared with the rest of the farmland. She put her hand on his arm. “Was that the land your family owned?”

No, we squatted on that small patch and were tenant farmers to Margie’s grand-parents on the rest of it.” He watched Julie’s face. “Like I told you, Margie was married and lost her husband and daughter well before I came to work for her. She may have been getting on in years, but somehow we clicked. I like to think I made those last few years of her life happy.”

You’re making my life pretty happy.” Julie handed him a sandwich. “Turkey and parsnip.” He mad

e a face, but took the sandwich and bit into it.

I want you to know everything,” Biff said. “You’re going to hear people say some mean things like Margie was old enough to be my mother and …”

Julie hushed him by pressing her hand against his lips. “I won’t listen to them as long as you don’t pay attention if someone talks about me being eighteen years younger than you.”

Heck, I’m proud to have a trophy wife.” Biff grinned and hugged her. “Just so you know, I never asked for this farm. I was as shocked as anyone when I found out Margie left it to me. “He glanced behind him. “I buried her up here because she loved this place.”

It probably also reminds you of how far you’ve come.” Julie noticed that the smile lingered on Biff’s lips, but was no longer in his eyes. She quickly added, “Not to mention how lonely having this big a farm must have been without someone to share it with. I’m so glad you decided to take another chance on FarmDatesR4U.”

Me, too.” He raised his shoulders and turned his head toward the second grave marker. “I almost didn’t. After Annie and I got together, I didn’t think I could ever be happier. I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I was to find a city slicker willing to give up the big city for life on my farm. When our time together turned out to be so short, I was scared to try again.” He finished his sandwich and sidled closer to Julie.

You don’t ever have to worry,” she said. “I may only have spent a few summers on my grandparents’ farm, but the experience ruined me from ever being a pure city dweller. I can remember riding my granddad’s tractor as he did the planting, feeding slop to the pigs, rocking on the porch at night with granny, and best of all climbing a tree like the elm you told me was here. I’d sit in the crook of that tree, looking out as far as I could see, unaware of how perfect my world was.” She kissed him again. “Thank you for giving me my farm life back.”

Biff leaned back on his hands. “What happened to your grandparents’ farm? Did they sell it?”

Julie turned to rummage in the picnic basket. She pulled out a tin with dessert in it. “Apple pie?” She cut Biff a large slice.

You didn’t answer me,” he said, gobbling down the pie.

Oh, there isn’t much to tell. Like her mother before her, my mom had me when she was sixteen. Dad enlisted to pay their bills. Until she died when I was seven, we lived wherever the Army assigned him. After her death, Dad sent me to spend a few summers with my grandparents, but once he remarried, I went to boarding schools and camps. My grandfather died and somewhere along the way, my grandmother gave away the farm.”

Julie brushed a crumb off Biff’s shirt. “Like I’ve told you, try as I might, I wasn’t meant for the bar scene, concrete sidewalks, and cars and people everywhere. A friend told me about I debated it for a few months, but as a twenty-sixth birthday present to myself I signed up for a two-week trial subscription. Your profile popped up on the thirteenth day.” She waved her hand all around her. “And, as they say, the rest is history.”

Biff tried to kiss her again, but she blocked his efforts by putting both hands on his chest. He sat back. “Biff, one thing we never talked about. Our relationship and marriage happened so quickly. I mean, it was only a matter of months between our first messages, your proposal and my moving out here for good.” She paused before the words rushed out. “Your profile was online for a lot longer time than mine. Were there any other girls you dated?”

A few.”

She swallowed. “Were you serious with any of them? Did you bring any of them to this hill?”

He looked away from her toward a pile of rocks near the bottom of the hill. “You don’t really want to go there.”

I do. I want to know.” She moved away from him.

Biff ran his hand through his hair. “That’s what Annie said. Why can’t we simply be happy as we are?”

Julie pulled her knees close to her and put her arms around them. She tried to wait him out and finally said, “Biff, I need to know.”

Biff again glanced at the pile of rocks and back at Julie. “A few came to the farm, but they weren’t like Annie or you. Oh, they said the right things about being willing to try farm life. And, at first, they admired the wide-open spaces, the crops and animals, and the stream running through our property, but then they started complaining. They refused to help with the chores and couldn’t appreciate the songs of the coyotes. One didn’t like the smell of the egg houses, another refused to throw slop in the pig trough, and a third said planting in the sun wasn’t good for her delicate skin. I realized pretty quickly that none of them would ever be able to earn a place on the top of this hill.”

So, they had to stay at the bottom?”

That’s right. I thought you were going to be different.”

Oh, I am,” Julie said. “I’m not going to end up at the bottom of the hill.”

No, you’re not.” Biff stood and took a step toward her, but stumbled. He sat back down on the blanket and held his head. Julie inched a little further away from him as he attempted to stand again. He tried to focus his gaze on her. “Julie, what’s going on?”

Nothing a farm boy can’t understand. You should have looked at the parsnip a little more closely. We city slickers sometimes confuse parsnip and hemlock. Sorry.”

He reached for her, but missed. “You might want to lie still,” Julie said, as he grabbed his stomach and doubled up from a wave of pain. Turning away from him, Julie took the cut flowers she had left on the blanket and walked up the hill toward the two graves. She placed all but one on Annie’s grave before moving on to Margie’s spot at the top of the hill.

Carefully, Julie knelt and put the remaining single white rose in front of the simple white marker. She ignored the sounds behind her, but spoke loudly enough that her words carried downhill. “I never stopped loving this farm or you, Granny. When Dad took me away, I told you I’d come home one day. I’m sorry I was too late, but I’m making up for it now. You don’t have to worry, I’ve made sure the farm is back in the family.”

Debra H. Goldstein writes Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series. Her novels and short stories have been named Agatha, Anthony, Derringer, Claymore, and Silver Falchion finalists and won IPPY, AWC, Silver Falchion, and BWR awards. Debra served on the national boards of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, was president of the Guppy and SEMWA chapters, and was recently re-elected to the national SinC board. Find out more about Debra at 

Monday, August 21, 2023

Nowhere, Going Somewhere Else, fiction by Stephen D. Rogers

I wasn't home but ten minutes when she poured two fingers of whiskey into a chipped mug and slid it across the kitchen table.

            I pushed it back, my fingertips flushed. "My drinking days are over."

            "You're finally out of that cesspool. You can stop pretending."

            "No, Mom, I'm serious. Clean and sober. Four hundred and ninety-two days. It wasn't easy, even inside, but I found the necessary strength."

            She took a pull from the bottle. "Trust me. What we need to do, you're going to want to be blackout drunk."

            Shaking my head, I made sure my gaze never settled on that mug, on the chip that I had made trying to wash dishes on my tiptoes. "I don't want to go back."

            "Then let's not get caught." She winked before taking another pull. "I'll drive."

            I needed to slow this down, give myself time to think, to breath. "How about you make me something to eat first."

            "Don't think this isn't your fault." She scraped her chair. "If you were here when I needed you, we wouldn't be in this mess. Now you got to do what's right."

            My mother stood and crossed to the refrigerator, her housecoat flaring.

            She pulled open the door and just stood there looking inside as though expecting to see something different.

            Either she had eggs or she didn't. I'd never known her to cook anything else.

            Speaking into the abyss, "I talked to your aunt last month."

            Her younger sister. "How is Aunt Ruthie doing?"


            "Didn't you tell me one time that Uncle Walter had some kind of procedure?"

            "Probably just for the anesthesia, a break from having to listen to her." Mom tossed a carton of eggs onto the counter. Continued looking into the refrigerator.

            I could feel the cold air emanating, could smell the rugged aroma of whisky it blew towards me.

            Four hundred and ninety-two days.

            "You haven't asked what it was like for me in prison."

            "You're weren't at home with your mother."

            "It wasn't all bad, actually."

            "Neither is a car wreck." She closed the refrigerator door and pushed the egg carton closer to the stove. "Scrambled or fried?"

            "Fried would be a nice change of pace."

            "Mister Fancy." She moved the pan from a back burner to the front. "I hope it's okay if I don't cook the egg in organic avocado oil. And I can't attest to whether these eggs are free range or not."

            "I'm sure they'll be great, Mom."

            "Who do you think mowed the lawn while you away?"

            Instead of simply pushing the mug, I should have knocked it to the floor, finishing the job I started when I was just a kid. "I don't know who mowed the lawn."

            "You wouldn't, would you?" She turned to flash that smirk of hers. She'd proved her point. She'd won.

            Mom cracked an egg into the pan before snapping on the heat. "You know what's wrong with you? You think it's all about you. All the time. All about you."

            I could lose four hundred and ninety-two days simply by raising that mug to my lips.

            This was the downside of learning patience inside. A younger me would have stormed out as soon as my mother started in. A drunker me might have raised a hand before storming out, allowing her to jeer that I'd become my own father, a father I hardly remembered.

            Mom scoured the pan with the tines of a fork.

            I focused on my hands. "This thing we need to do?"

            "What about it?"

            "Can you share any details?"

            "I thought you wanted to eat first. That's what you said, anyway. Who do you think I'm making this egg for?"

            Always a pleasure, talking with my mother. "I can still listen."

            "You never listened. Maybe if you had, we wouldn't be in this mess."

            "Maybe I learned some things while I had time to reflect."

            She stepped over to the table and pointed at the mug with the fork, yolk dripping. "You gonna let this get stale?"

            "Help yourself."

            Mom raised the mug and emptied it in one go.

            Behind her, smoke filled the room.

            I jumped up, pushed past my mother, and shoved the pan into the sink.

            She laughed. "I guess you weren't so hungry after all."

            I placed my hands on the counter, feeling the scarred Formica bow under my weight. "I guess I wasn't."

            "I'll just get my purse."

            As my mother opened and slammed one cabinet after another, I lifted my head to stare out the kitchen window.

            The woods behind the house went all the way to the county line. It was junk forest, no use as timber, the rot too deep to support any kind of development.

            According to my mother, she owned most of it, or at least she would once my aunt went home to Jesus. Whether my mother had any paperwork to that effect, I had no idea, but I'd never known her to have any kind of official document.

            She was driving today. She was driving drunk. She was driving an unregistered vehicle without a license.

            Insurance? Why should she make rich people richer?

            I turned my back to the forest that might or might not belong to the family. The opened bottle of whiskey on the kitchen table contained about seven shots. Three healthy doubles.

            More than enough to drown four hundred and ninety-two days.

            Mom was cursing now, railing about not being able to locate her purse as if somebody else had hidden it to confound her.

            "I don't think your anger is very helpful."

            She froze. Took two steps at me. "What did you say?"

            Too much. "The negative energy. One of the things they say inside is anger doesn't help."

            Poking my chest to mark each syllable, she said, "I'm not some jailbird. This is your mother you're talking to."

            "I know that."

            She sniffed. "You don't know anything. You and your aunt both, all superior although I can't for the life of me imagine why. You come into my house, and you disrespect me."

            "I just asked—"

            "No, you didn't ask anything. You proclaimed. You said what I was doing was wrong."

            I winced. "Pretend I didn't even open my mouth."

            "Oh, so now you're not man enough to own your own words."

            "I thought there was something we had to get done today."

            "Listen to him, all of a sudden in a rush. First he wants to eat. Then he wants to criticize his mother. But if I want to speak my mind, sorry, but there isn't time."


            "Don't 'Mom' me."

            "What am I supposed to call you, Cheryl?"

            "Don't be fresh. Is this what you're like when you don't drink? Because if it is, I'm pouring you another mug and we're not leaving until you finish it."

            "I told you. My drinking days are over."

            "Don't talk back to your mother."

            I raised my hands. "Whatever. You win. Let's just go and get this over with."

            "I still haven't found my purse."

            "Would you like my assistance?"

            "You just think about where you went wrong here." Mom resumed opening and slamming cupboards.

            "Got it." Crowing as she slung the purse over her shoulder.

            As I followed her out of the kitchen, the aroma of whiskey followed me. It wasn't until we were outside when I realized I wasn't being haunted by the open bottle behind me, but my mother in front of me.

            She yanked open her car door, the squeal masking whatever she said.

            Was it safe to ask her to repeat it? "I didn't get that."

            "Don't just stand there. Maybe when you were locked up you had all the time in the world, but I don't."

            I could just turn around and go back inside. Instead, I walked toward her, dry grass crackling under my feet.

            "So, Mom, when are you planning on telling me what this is all about?"

            She grinded the starter. "How long did you make me wait?"

            "I caught a ride here as soon as I was released."

            "But your time inside. That was me waiting on you. Don't think it wasn't."


            "You should be."

            Five minutes later, I could no longer smell the whiskey, although I could taste it every time I opened my mouth. I could taste it on my tongue, at the back of my throat. The air in the car was saturated enough I could almost swallow my fill.

            I cracked my window.

            "What'd you do that for?"

            "I can't seem to get enough fresh air."

            "Well it's loud."

            "Sorry." Up the window went.

            I had liked the loud since it covered the silence, and silence made my mother nervous, causing her to fill it with complaints.

            Exhaling through my teeth, I studied the array of cigarette burns on the dashboard. Some people looked through photographs, while I had to make do with my father's ability to use anything as an ashtray. That pockmark there? The day we spent a weed-choked lake.

            "Mom, remember that time we drove to the lake? I must have been around three or four."


            "There were leeches on my legs when I came out of the water. I thought I was going to die."

            "I told you I didn't remember."

            For some reason, I felt the need to convince her I luxuriated in the memories of that day, just to counter her refusal to even make an effort. "It's really stuck with me through the years. The three of us didn't have many shared adventures before dad left."

            "Your father wasn't fit for the job. That's all I'm going to say about him."

            Conversation with my mother meant negotiating a maze of dead-end streets, Mom throwing up roadblocks as fast as I could adjust my route. Not unsurprisingly, I often ran out of gas long before I reached any kind of satisfying destination.

            Maybe not often, come to think of it. Maybe always.

            "There are some things you should know."

            Words my mother had never before uttered. "Yes?"

            "What you call this thing we're doing? You should have drunk that whiskey."

            "You mentioned that."

            Mom's sigh rattled in her chest. "About a year ago, I saw a report on the news about the EPA cleaning up a hazardous site. We're just lucky the government is so slow."

            "How does this involve us?"

            "You've got to move the body."

            I turned so quickly the seat-belt friction-burned my neck. "What?"

            She nodded. "We can't get just leave it there. They're digging up the whole area."

            "Whose body?" Had my father killed someone? Was that why he took off?

            "It doesn't matter. We just have to make sure they don't find it."

            Doesn't matter? I tried to recall every morsel my mother had ever doled out, tried to remember names, grievances. There seemed so little to work with. I didn't know anything about his family, his friends, or his job. He was my father, and that was about the extent of my knowledge.

            He was my father, and he abandoned me.

            Abandoned us, actually.

            It was strange how unnatural it felt to think of him as my mother's husband. Mom never referred to him as anything but my father. My aunt instead of her sister. I wondered for a second how she described her relationship to me.

            The one who went away when she needed him most.

            The one who wasn't available when she needed to move a body.

            I rubbed where the seatbelt burned my neck.

            Whomever my father killed, the discovery of a body would stir up a mess, would threaten my mother's beloved privacy, would cause people to talk.

            What was I thinking? If my father had killed someone, that person deserved justice. Their family deserved answers. Maybe after I helped move the body I should make an anonymous tip about its whereabouts.

            Of course the wisdom of that decision depended on whether the murder could traced back to us. How careful had my father been? How careful would my mother be?

            I glanced through the windshield. She was straddling the middle line. Glanced at the speedometer. Twenty over the speed limit. Unlicensed, unregistered, uninsured.

            My mother, who would probably spit on the body to prove her displeasure at being so inconvenienced, didn't exactly exude the principle of taking care.

            I didn't need to decide now. So much depended on the state of the remains, on where she intended to dump them.

            "Mom, can I ask you a question?"

            "That's all you ever do."

            "Do you have any idea how many people I met in prison whose plan was, 'Let's not get caught' and then did?"

            "Don't use my words against me. It's cowardly."

            I wasn't sure how she figured that, but okay. "Moving a body is risky. Maybe more risky than letting it be discovered."

            "It ain't."

            So maybe my father was the obvious prime suspect. Maybe he'd been investigated when whomever he killed went missing. Maybe my father hadn't abandoned me as much as saved us the humiliation of a public trial. Like a toddler would have cared, like losing a father wasn't worse.

            Mom pulled onto an unmarked road.

            That was reassuring at least. That she didn't expect me to dig up a body while a crowd formed to watch what we were doing. With my mother, you could never be sure. One minute nothing she did was anybody's business, and the next minute she was demanding an audience. Didn't matter what she was doing. Could have been the same thing both times.

            She turned onto a dirt road that curved toward the woods.

            Remote and out of sight. We might actually get away with this. Or at least this part of the transfer. She hadn't yet said where we were moving it to.

            Mom slowed as the potholes worsened. Better this than a well-worn path. I hadn't liked the idea of someone being in the area ahead or us, or, worse, coming up from behind.

            Then we were entering the woods, branches scraping the sides of the car, sweeping the roof.

            Potholes now alternated with exposed roots, the car lurching as Mom drove deeper into the darkness.

            I stopped worrying about possible witnesses and started worrying that we might bust an axle and die out here.

            "You've driven this, right?"

            "Just the once."

            I sighed. "And that was many, many years ago."

            She turned to look at me. "How do you know?"

            "If dad went on the run afterwards, I can do the math." I pointed forward. "Can you do me a favor and watch the trees?"

            Mom snorted. "I was driving before you were born."

            "I'd just rather we be able to drive out of here on our own. Especially once we have a body in the trunk. Not an ideal time to call for a tow."

            "My son the expert. Goes into prison a fool, comes out knowing everything."

            "Everybody in there has a story, mostly about what went wrong."

            "And what was the story you told?"

            "I blamed it on a woman."

            Mom threw back her head and laughed.

            As the growth thinned, she pulled off what was now barely a path, crashing through bushes and then braking at water's edge. An abandoned factory, three bricked stories of shattered windows, loomed over a shiny-green pond.

            "Who builds a factory in the middle of nowhere?"

            "According to the EPA, people who manufacture poison."

            I hadn't realized I'd asked the question aloud. But even if you're manufacturing poison, you still need to truck in supplies, truck out product. Employees need access. This place was so remote I'd never even heard rumors.

            The access road and parking lot must have been on the other side of building.

            Mom squeaked open her door. "We don't have all day."

            Sighing, I climbed out of the car and stood there for a moment, taking in the scene. Something clicked, maybe that half-submerged rock. "Whoa. Wait."


            I studied the terrain, overlaid on my memories. "This is that lake I asked you about."

            "What lake?"

            "We came here to swim. The leeches on my legs when I came out of the water. Wait. Did you bring me here scouting for a burial site?"

            "We came here to have fun that day." Her tone oddly flat.

            Sure. So only later, after my father killed someone and they needed to get rid of the body, did they decide to turn the site where I'd experienced the best day of my young life into a crime scene.

            But Mom said she only came here the once. Maybe my father came back here when it was time to dig a grave on his way out of town. So how did she know where he buried the body? Unless she came this far with him before returning home.

            Maybe it would be easier for me to get my head around this if my mother just told me the whole story instead of forcing me to extract it one scrap at a time. Everything a mystery with her.

            She popped the trunk and retrieved a shovel, folded blue tarp, and large black trash bag, tossing them one at a time onto the ground. She slammed the trunk using both hands before picking up her equipment and heading into the woods.

            I listened to the shot echo off the brick building.

            As it seemed pointless to just wait here until she screamed for me to hurry up, I trudged into the woods after her, searching until I found her, wandering aimlessly.

            She nearly spat me at me. "I don't remember, okay?"

            "Where you buried it?"

            My mother motioned with her free hand. "Things grew."

            "They do that."

            "And you were no help, such a distraction."

            "What? I was a distraction? You brought me along while you were burying a body?"

            "I couldn't very well ask your aunt for help." Mom chuckled as she continued searching.

            "Wait. I'm confused." I rubbed my temples. "We came here that day to go swimming, right? We didn't come here to dump a body. We came here to swim. It was just the three of us, trying to have a good time."

            "That's right."

            "But now you're talking as if you two buried the body that very day. Who could my father have killed out here in the middle of nowhere? Some vagrant living in the abandoned factory who came at you with a knife? What?"

            "You were tired. It was a long day, and you were very excited." Was she aggravated at how I'd behaved, or aggravated at having to explain to me now? "As soon as we put you in the car, you were out like a light. Your father took my hand and pulled me into the woods. We had sex up against a tree."

            "Maybe too much information, but okay."

            Mom closed her eyes. "Your father made the mistake of calling out your aunt's name."


            Mom nodded. "He told me they hooked up for the first time when I was eight months pregnant with you." She opened her eyes to glare at me. "All of this, it's your fault."

            I thought then of the leeches.

            For weeks, I was haunted by nightmares, leeches sucking me dry, hollowing me out. As soon as I woke up, shivering, sweaty, I'd stuff a fist in my mouth to keep from disturbing her rest.

            "Whoa. Wait just a minute. Are you telling me you killed my father that day and buried him here?"

            "What was I supposed to, bring the body home?"

            "He didn't abandon me. You told me he abandoned me."

            "No, he betrayed me, which is worse."

            "You lied. Again and again. Every time I ask you about him, about what happened, you lied."

            "Sorry I didn't tell you I killed your father with a rock. I'm sorry I protected you from that."

            "All these years, a part of me thought he would come back. I waited for him."

            "That's on you, believing in fairies."

            Right. She wasn't to blame for any of this. She wasn't to blame for anything at all. "I don't even know how we move on from this."

            "Simple. We find the site. We retrieve the remains. We move them. That's how we stay out of prison."

            I stumbled in circles. "I need time to process this."

            "We don't have time. We have now."

            "You don't even know where we're supposed to dig."

            "Maybe if you helped search instead of whining."

            "Whining? Seriously? You just told me you killed my father."

            I pointed in the general direction of the car. "While I was asleep in the back seat."

            "You don't know what he could be like."

            "No, you made sure of that." I took a deep breath. "Look, one day at a time. There's nothing we can do about what happened in the past. We just need to focus on getting through today. What do you remember about the burial site?"

            "I didn't know I was going to have to remember anything. I didn't exactly make notes. I was rushing in case you woke up."

            So again this was my fault. "Right. Well, you said you had sex up against a tree. The trees right here aren't thick enough for that. I also don't see any rocks. You said you used a rock." I reminded myself that anger didn't help, that thinking about the words I was saying wouldn't help.

            "We were sneaking off into the woods to fool around. Who pays attention?"

            "You buried him."


            "That means you went back to the car for the shovel, and then you were able to find him again. What did you use as guideposts?"

            "I don't understand what you're getting at. You're flustering me with all these questions."

            I rocked back on my heels. "You didn't bury him."

            "By the time I located the car, it was dark, and you were crying. That's how I found the car, eventually. I could hear you crying."

            I banished that image as soon as it arrived. "So we're not out here looking for a grave-site, Mom, we're looking for scattered bones."

            "We need to find and move them."

            I laughed, although it didn't feel that way. "Find them? Animals could have dragged them anywhere. We're talking two decades."

            "The EPA is going to be all over this place. The factory dumped chemicals for years, and it leached into the soil. Core samples half a mile out. Something about underground streams."

            "Were you ever intending on telling me the truth?"

            "Why do you make everything about you?"

            "I'm here, aren't I? I was here then. He's my father. You're my mother. In what way is this not about me?"

            "It's none of your business. Your aunt–"

            I stopped her. "See? 'My aunt.' You keep making this about me."

            "Your aunt was envious because she couldn't get pregnant, and I could."

            So the affair was doubly my fault. Yet this was none of my business. I had no right to ask questions, no right to have feelings. I was here only to dig up a body and move it elsewhere, although now I'd learned that the body was never buried. It was merely abandoned.

            Not "it." My father. I knew that and yet didn't know it, because to know it meant breaking in half, decades of pain spilling out on the ground.

            It. "We're never going to be able to find all those bones."

            My mother slammed the shovel against the ground and stormed off, still carrying the tarp and trash bag.

            My legs no longer capable of bearing the weight, I sunk to my knees, my haunches. I placed my hands on the poisoned earth, the soil made sacred by my father's blood.

            My mother had killed him. What did I do with that?

            I heard her start the car.

            I heard her drive away.

            The tears came as I struggled to my feet, dimming my sight as I headed off into the woods.

            I wasn't home but ten minutes only to learn it was nowhere, and now I was going somewhere else.

Stephen D. Rogers is the author of SHOT TO DEATH and more
than 800 shorter works. His website,,
includes a list of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely