There are woods
in northeast Connecticut where you can step off the trail
and disappear till a hunter trips over your body a year later.
Locals call this the Forgotten Corner and love to spiel about
the land that time passed by. In New Jersey, with a 7-Eleven
at every corner, we call those places graveyards.
Sam Dexter is the chief of
police up there in Branford. He’ll be out of a job
in a year, replaced by state police troopers if the town
can’t raise the money to pay him.
told me on the phone, “I don’t mean to beg, but
I’d like you to come up and see what you make of a
case I have. It’ll be the last straw if the state takes
over this case.”
I needed to get away from Newark,
which is becoming Murder City, U.S.A. Fortunately, the captain
gave me a paid leave to recover from the last killings. I’d
been five minutes too late to save a kid from the projects
who was shot by his despondent father. Dad wouldn’t
give up the gun and I didn’t feel so hot after murdering
Next day I was in my car headed
up the Parkway.
“Dr. Bone is one of two
doctors here, Mike,” Sam explained when we were settled
on his patio with a couple of cold beers. “Yeah, Dr.
Neville Bone. That’s his real name. His wife went missing
a week ago, along with the guy who runs a chili and hotdog
stand at the edge of town. Put two and two together and you
have a runaway couple. Bone believes they were having an
“Happens all the time, Sam.
Easy enough to track them. Cell phone calls, credit cards,
His beefy face crinkled up
in concern. “Jesus, that’s obvious, but it hasn’t happened.
Yeah, they took their wallets and purse and some clothes.
The owner of the chili dog shack—guy name of Nathan Crutchfield—he’s
single. No one’s looking for him.”
“What about the doctor’s family?”
“Got a boy about 11 years old.
Doc’s a nice guy who came down here from Mass General Hospital
in Boston last year. Wanted to bring up the family wholesome
like. Wholesome we got a lot of.”
I tipped down the last of my
beer and looked invitingly at Sam for another. “You want
me to see him, this doctor? Tell him Connecticut has to import
“Christ, Mikey, you owe me
from when we were partners patrolling the Ironbound Section!
Tell him you’re a private investigator hired by the wife’s
“I think that’s against the
law, Sam. And I’d need some background on the wife.”
“I’m the law in Branford! His
wife Andrea came from Brookline. Some money there, Ithink.
Her sister Amelia’s disturbed enough to hire a P.I.”
The doc’s house was down a
street off the county road. The street turned into a one-laner
with no yellow line. That became a dirt road. I get the willies
when the sidewalk ends, and this was the woods out of some
fairytale. Forgotten is right, and I swore as I slammed on
my brakes. The car skidded to a stop three feet from a little
girl standing in the road. Kid was barefoot wearing a skimpy
blouse and cutoff jeans, neither of which would look good
covered in blood.
“Jesus, kid, you could get
killed playing in traffic.”
She looked startled, but didn’t
flinch. Just clutched a handful of flowers harder before
scampering off into the brush. The feral figure disappeared
into the trees with her long hair waving goodbye.
Doc’s house was a hundred yards
up around the next bend—one of those contemporary places
that look like an explosion in a geometry class.
“I just heard from Chief Dexter
in town,” the man said opening the door. “Said my sister-in-law
Amelia had hired a detective. Well, I welcome every attempt
to find Andrea and that bum she ran off with. Imagine a mother
running away from her little boy!”
The doc was TV handsome—Hollywood
casting for an intern to walk around with a stethoscope.
“What makes you think your
wife and this Nathan took off together, Neville?” I asked.
He recoiled like a bug had
bit him. Doctors do that when you don’t call them Doctor. “Because
they’re both gone. Left on the same day. No goodbyes or go-to-hells.”
“You and your wife have any
problems? Marital troubles? Or any enemies?”
He opened his arms wide as
if to say “Who could have problems with a wife like mine?” and
pointed to a framed photo of Andrea. The woman was stop-the-train
beautiful, with a face carved out of ivory, a promising hint
of cleavage and hair the color of cedar shingles on a Jersey
He answered my routine questions,
then I asked him to show me the house—their bedroom, the
kid’s room, the basement they’d fixed up like a classy bar
with paneling, mirrors and a shelf of booze.
“You a smoker, Neville?” I
pointed to an overflowing ashtray in the basement playroom. “Gauloises
cigarettes, and you a doctor. I’m shocked.”
“Andrea. I could never make
her quit, so I banished her smoking to the basement.” He
rubbed his face. “I miss her. God, how I miss her.”
That’s what they all say. It’s
the standard response, maybe with a little choke in the voice.
“Where’s your son?”
“Alexander’s out playing in
the yard or the woods, I think. I saw him there a while ago.”
“Who’s the little girl I nearly
ran over driving up?”
He shook his head. “There’re
no little girls here.”
The sound of a howling animal
shredded the air. We both swiveled to gawk out the living
room window. “What the hell is that?” I asked. “Last time
I heard shrieks like that was when a broad saw her homeboy
go down in a pool of blood.”
“Dog, I guess. We also get
coyotes, and some people say the wolves are coming back.” He
chuckled. “Maybe the Black Dog.”
“You live in a
weird part of the world, Sam.” I tossed myself into the chair
in his office. “Roads that look like cow paths, howling dogs,
little ghost girls.”
“That’s why you’re here, Mike.
A different point of view.”
“You said the Doc has a little
“Alexander. Nice kid. The kind
with his nose in a book all the time.”
“Daughter? Straw-colored hair,
and maybe 10 or 12 years old?
He shook his head. “Just the
“They have a pet dog? What’s
this about a black dog in the woods?”
Sam leaned back. “Oh, Christ,
the locals will tell you this legend about a black dog roaming
around. See it when you’re hiking and you or a loved one
will die soon.”
“Must play hell with your real
“Mike, listen, I got to check
out a kitchen fire down the road. C’mon over for dinner tonight.
I’ll ask the wife to do it up special.’
I waved Sam off to chase his
fire and wandered down Main Street looking at the two-story
buildings and dusty store windows. No need for surveillance
cams in this town, there were a dozen eyes on the back of
my neck as I sauntered up one side and back the next until
I got to the chili and dog shack.
“Nathan Crutchfield?” I asked.
The high-school-aged kid in the parking lot was leaning over
the engine of a Honda Civic.
“Nathan ain’t here. Took off.”
“Fishing?” My joke. Isn’t that
what the yokels did when the sun came out?
“Ran off with the doctor’s
wife.” He wiped imaginary grease off his hands. “She was
some looker. Guess she liked his brand of hot dog.”
The shack had a Closed sign
in the door and stood like a defiant skeleton who’s owner
had gone to Heaven.
“He got any relatives hereabouts?
We’re old friends and I want to pay him back the fifty bucks
I owe him.”
“Hell, might’s well give it
to me ‘cause he got no one I know about.” High School Harry
stuck his head back under the hood and made believe I was
Driving out of town I passed
rusted cars in front yards, scrawny dogs—none of them black—lying
in the weeds, residents riding little mowers and watching
me over their shoulders. The sign at the edge of town said
it all: Founded 1794, Pop. 4,265. I wanted to add a line:
Fuggedaboutit. Instead, I drove back to Doc Bone’s geometric
pile of glass and shingles.
No one answered my knock on
the door, so I strolled around back. The kid—Alexander—was
lying in an aluminum recliner.
“Hey, Alexander, your dad at
He put his book down and stared
back through thick glasses. “Who’re you?” The book was an
inch thick—a hardcover and no evident pictures. The kid could
have stepped out of the 1950s, with his crew cut hair, khaki
shorts and a tee that said Black Dog Martha’s Vineyard.
“Name’s Michael Mullally. Your
Aunt Amelia in Boston asked me to talk to your dad. We’re
trying to find your mom.”
“Aunt Amelia lives in Brookline,
for god’s sake, and Dad’s in town seeing a patient.”
“Can you tell me about the
last time you saw your mom?” I pulled up another chair.
“She kissed me goodbye so I
could go catch the bus. I forgot my lunchbox, so she ran
“Was she home when you got
back from school?”
He shook his head. “She made
me peanut butter and jelly, and everyone knows schools don’t
allow peanuts. Dad said she went off with Mr. Crutchfield.”
“Oh, by the way, Alex—can I
call you that?—I almost ran over your friend coming up here
earlier. Nice girl. I forget her name.”
“That’s not my friend. That’s
Angelica, my sister. Can’t you get anything right?” The book
kept drifting up toward Alexander’s glassy eyes. Every time
I asked him a question he had to force it down into his lap.
“I didn’t know you had a sister.”
“Angelica’s my twin. Identical,
“Your dad said you’re an only
child, Alex. Why’d he say a thing like that?”
The boy did an exaggerated
shrug of two skinny shoulders. “Maybe he doesn’t want to
admit that he tried to kill Angelica. He’s in denial.” The
book floated up to cover his face.
“But that’s terrible!” Here’s
one for the shrinks, I thought, wondering if the county had
any psychiatrists. “Why would he want to do that?”
The shrug returned from his
limited repertory of gestures. “Same reason he killed Mr.
Crutchfield and Mom. They saw the Black Dog—and that’s Dad.
Angelica says she may be next, and that’s why she’s afraid
to come home.”
“Can I chat with Angelica?
I have a question for her.”
“She’s playing in the woods.
Angelica!” he called. “C’mere!”
We both waited, Alexander calmly
and me with chills crawling like insects up my back.
“She lives in a tent, down
the path there between the hemlocks. I bring her food and
Cokes and comics.”
“Think I could find it? Down
I went back to my car for a
bottle of water, pack of Camels and my .40 Glock automatic.
Alexander pointed silently to the path to set my course.
The path must have been invented
by a drunken cow back in 1794. It went over hillocks and
into gullies, through mossy swamps and around rocks. Half
an hour later, I sat down on a flat rock and pulled out my
phone to call Sam. I was going to be late.
I should have known there’d
be no signal. AT&T had forgotten this place, too.
A squeaky voice floated down
over my head. I looked up to a ledge ten feet high to see
a girl staring back—the one I’d almost run over. She could
have been Andrea minus 25 years, with a sunburned face framed
by a haystack of hair. A second later, I realized I was looking
at Alexander playing dress-up in a wig and skimpy tank top.
Of course she—he—knew my name.
“Are you Angelica? Alexander
told me where to find you.”
“Why?” She stretched the word
into two syllables that went down a hill and up again. “You
won’t tell my dad, will you?”
“Angelica, what happened to
your mom? I think you have a pretty good idea.”
“She’s gone to Heaven. Mr.
Crutchfield’s gone too. They tried to tell people Daddy was
the Black Dog, and nobody listened, so he got ‘em good.”
“Where are the bodies—Angelica?”
“I told you! In Heaven with
the angels. Don’t you ever listen?”
(continued on page 2)