Big Pulp - the magazine of fantasy | mystery | adventure | horror | science fiction | romance


Crime, Mystery, Suspense

Walter Giersbach’s fiction has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Every Day Fiction, Everyday Weirdness, Lunch Hour Stories, Mouth Full of Bullets, Mystery Authors, OG Short Fiction, Northwoods Journal, Paradigm Journal, Short Fiction World, Southern Fried Weirdness, Written Word and Big Pulp. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, have been published by Wild Child Publishing.


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The Boneyard

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.

“Mikey,” he’d 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 a murderer.

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 affair.”

“Happens all the time, Sam. Easy enough to track them. Cell phone calls, credit cards, Social Security.”

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 detectives?”

“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 sister.”

“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 shore bungalow.

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 boy?”

“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 little boy.”

“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 estate values.”

“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 gone.

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 home?”

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 after me.”

“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, not fraternal.”

“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 that path?”

He nodded.

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.

“Mr. Mullally?”

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)


The Boneyard by Walter Giersbach 1 2
originally published August 18, 2008

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