The Bornless - Book I

CHAPTER 1

  “Damn jackrabbit!” yelled Denzel swerving the Dodge, its lights directing their thin beams into the woods. He turned hard, bumping back from the ditch onto the road. Cold hands on the thin wheel.
  “Man, you’re jumpy tonight, Denzel!” Harry laughed, flicking a cigarette butt out of the window.
  “Shut the friggin’ window! That rain’s lashing down,” replied Denzel. The couple of beers in Charlottesville hadn’t settled his mood at all.
  Splashing on through the dark evening, the wipers slapped back and forth, whining as they went. Denzel pulled up his collar and pressed down on the gas.
  “Yeah, man, I need a drink. That freakin’ new desk sergeant, jeez. Where they got him from in this dead-dog town I don’t know. He wouldn’t recognize a crime if it posted itself in a big, fat envelope right to the station door. How many more murdering shitheads do we have to nail before it’s safe to walk the streets, and I’ve got the freakin’ Smith tribe trying to sell their freakin’ baby for God’s sake. Sick bastards. I don’t know why we still do this goddamn job, Harry. This town is fucked. We should go east, man.”
  The rain was curling its way down the inside of the windscreen now in a sorry series of drips.
  “Come on, it isn’t that bad; we still get the creeps. We nailed those bastard Russians didn’t we? Vicious little fucks. At least we’re pretty much on our own. I mean they let us go our own way.”   Harry leaned over and put on the radio, twisting the big old knob with a load of crackling and a bit of distant jazz screeching from the speaker. He didn’t want the news, he didn’t want to hear about Charlottesville, he didn’t want a press release. Most of all he didn’t want to hear the victims’ mothers talking and crying, and him knowing that there were ten more bastards out there thinking about doing the same, and he’d have to catch them.
  They turned off sharply into town where a few dim streetlamps lit up the sidewalks; plain wooden houses merged into smarter streets. Dolly’s Diner was dripping with yellow light and misted windows as they passed by. A few hungry workmen in for their lonely dinner. The stores were shutting; young guys were locking up and heading home on bikes, heads down in the wet. The bank was lit and locked; they cast their eyes over it out of instinct. Old Jerry emerged from Dale’s Hotel, staggered into a drunken puddle, turned round and walked straight back into the bar.
  “What I really mean is, we can’t do this shit forever. What the fuck are we doing here? We could be in New York, man. We could just go to goddamn New York and see some life.”
  “Well …,” said Harry, stretching a bit, “Mary said it’s gonna be meatloaf tonight, so I’m all set. You know I can’t go, Denzel. I just couldn’t leave her.”
  Denzel nodded. He knew Harry would never leave Mary. Harry was lucky that way. He had hooked up with her pretty quick after he’d got posted to this depressing, back of the woods little place.
  Denzel was lucky to get Harry as a partner. He’d been new in town, young and eager and Harry had a gutful of experience to share with him. Close as brothers now. You’d have thought they’d have been able to sit back a bit in this nowhere town. But idle folk find plenty of ways to be bastards and they were in the business of catching bastards, so that’s what they did. They’d found more sick and imaginative ways of being evil bastards and Denzel and Harry had to keep up. The scum crawled out of the woodwork, committed their worst and they tracked them down and caught them, then went home for their meatloaf.
  At least Harry had Mary to go home to. Now, she was a woman. You could picture dew on the spring grass, you could imagine leaves floating from the trees in the fall, and hear the creek bubbling along when you spoke to Mary. Somehow she made the place pretty. She made this ugly town pretty. She saw the good in people. Somehow that little lady made a powerful difference to everyone she knew.
  It wasn’t that Mary was noisy or tried to make an impression. She wasn’t vain. She was just natural. She spoke in a soft voice and sometimes you had to lean right in to hear her, and then you could tell that she had that soft-as-cobwebs, fine, fine hair, just pouring down beside her little, tender shoulders. So clever she was too, she made all those dresses and made nice stuff for the older folk in the town, the ones who were poor. They’d got married in church and she looked so sweet, but man, Harry just couldn’t go to church with her. Like when you go down to that morgue and you have to face the parents, sisters, grannies, the whole bunch, and tell ’em that you didn’t think their kid suffered.
  “If there is a friggin’ God, Denzel, he sure ain’t almighty. Not with all this shit in the world. I mean, Mary likes the idea of God but what the fuck has God done for this town?”
  “He sure ain’t watching over this dump.” Denzel sighed.
  They drove past the town hall and schoolhouse, the library and the drugstore. Everything was shut now and Harry hoped that Mary hadn’t got too wet on the way home; her car was busted. Harry had got her a nice little car that was sitting out back. He didn’t like to think of her rushing home to get his dinner. Boy, was she a good cook. And funny! She was so funny! He could get in from a mean stakeout and be dead with weariness and hunger; then she’d lain her gentle hand on him, and warm him and feed him and make him smile when the sunshine looked like it would never come out again.
  The sun always came out with Mary. In the loving arms of Mary.
  Denzel hauled the handbrake on outside Harry’s place. Glancing toward the house Denzel could see the pale kitchen light on and the drapes shut. For a moment Denzel slumped, tired in the seat. It was just another bad day, he thought to himself.
  “You wanna come in, Denzel? You know Mary will have cooked enough for both of us if you like.” Denzel was always welcome. They’d been through stuff together. Sometimes a meal with Mary was what made them come out the other side. A few beers and the radio playing. They’d got a proper little parlor too. Sometimes they’d just all go in there after dinner, put the lamp on, open up the grate and let the fire roar up, and listen to the funnies on the radio. Mary could play too; she’d sit right down at that piano and sing some bright song and make ’em laugh. He’d get her some nice music when Christmas came. She loved that. Denzel could hit a note too. He had that silky deep voice; man, that voice could roll.
  He’d definitely get Mary some music for Christmas. He’d go right down to the general store and ask if they had any of the latest tunes. She was so clever, she could play by just reading that music. It was like magic to him. He wasn’t that way at all. He was all big hands, made for fighting and rough work. Strong, healthy, nothing wrong with him. He could make most things and fix the car. He’d always been able to fight; he’d known that since he was a kid. And run, boy, was he a runner.
  Mary loved that her Harry was clever. Not many could hide their nasty secrets from him. A proper detective. She admired him so much. She was so proud walking round that old town talking about her Harry.
  The guys kind of went together as a pair, partners at work since Denzel arrived. They looked out for each other. Denzel and Harry sure went back a long way. Maybe Denzel had a point that they should jack it all in. But Mary had work here, and she loved it; her family were here and if they should have a baby, like Mary wanted, she’d need her family.
  “Yeah, I gotta stay here for Mary,” he thought.
  “No thanks, Harry. I got a bottle of bourbon calling to me. See you tomorrow. It’s court at ten, Jamison case.”
  Denzel waved without looking, ground the gears and stuck his face closer to the misted-up windscreen. He had to go pretty slowly now because of the rain. He peered into the empty space ahead, hoping that no creatures had come into town from the forest.
  “Yeah, I’ll remember,” said Harry, sighing as he’d stuck his head out into the pelting rain. He pulled his coat over his head and dashed for the door. With a quick wave back at the car Harry fumbled for his key; he turned a bit to get some light on it and noticed the little green gate to next door was open. Maybe Mrs. Stanley was jawing with Mary. He got in and shook his heavy coat out the door before sticking it on the hook. The fire crackled in the sitting room and smelled of beechwood. The kitchen light poured into the dark hall and it all smelled of meatloaf and cabbage.
  “Hey, baby, what room you in?”
  No reply. Guess she’s next door, he thought, kicked off his shoes, peeled off wet socks. Harry rummaged in his coat pockets for his cigarettes and storm lighter. He stuck on a pair of loafers and went into the warm kitchen. The radio was tuned out and making no sense; he turned it off and slumped into a chair at the table. Pulling deeply on his cigarette he sighed and stretched his feet toward the fire.
  The cozy kitchen enveloped him with all of its homely love, the green cupboards he’d done himself, the curtains Mary had made. They’d made it nice, this little house of theirs. Mary’s little tablecloth was spread out ready and a bottle of bourbon for him. He stared into space over the stove and relaxed enough to unknot his guts.
  The homicide entered his mind one side and walked straight out the other. The Smith’s ill-fated baby floated in and floated out. Denzel’s sorry face in the car, in the rain, in the dark, came in and went out. Tomorrow was another day. Maybe a better day. You always had to think so in this game. The creeps would always be there but you always had to believe that tomorrow would be a better day.
  He pressed his cigarette hard into the ashtray.
  Christ was it howling outside. Thank God he wasn’t out working in this. He briefly caught sight of the heavy black phone in the hallway and dared it not to ring. The gale might keep the bastards in too, he thought. Even the goddamn lowlife didn’t like getting drenched.
  Harry hoped it would clear up on the Saturday; then he could look at Mary’s car. Probably check the plugs and oil first; he pictured the engine and hoped it’d be something simple. The boss had given him a week off next month; he wanted to take Mary up to the falls. Do a bit of fishing and get a little cabin. Maybe make that baby she wanted! He chewed this idea over for a time.
  Harry drifted into a little dream of him and Mary by the river, a happy faraway dream. It was meant to be dry this season, so far not so much. Mountains, woods, a great river for fishing. A snug cabin wouldn’t put him back too much. He’d try and get Mary’s car fixed up for the trip, being a bit smaller for those valley tracks. Boy, would she love it there. He’d been promising her for ages.
  It felt like days away since breakfast this morning. He’d been offhand when she wanted a new coat. He’d cut her dead and she’d looked so sad and sorry. He hated it that he’d made her cross and sad. He just wanted her to drop it because he’d saved enough to get her that coat she’d seen in Maisie’s. He knew she really wanted it. Mary loved the outdoors. She was a real nature girl. She knew all the forest mushrooms and berries. He didn’t know anything about that kind of stuff but she was right on it; it was amazing. She could make this sweet pie by just looking at a hedgerow. And birds, she knew all their names and how they sounded. He swore they came right down to the garden to talk to her when she hung the washing.
  He must fix up that arch she wanted. Maybe Denzel would come over for beef one Sunday and they could build it together. Then when the baby comes they could sit under it together with roses all around them.
  Harry was lost in a world of fantasy when Jamison entered his consciousness again. Who the fuck kills their grandmother? He was on top of the case but he’d better go in early tomorrow before they saw the judge. Taking out his pen and damp notebook he made a few tightly written notes. He wrote real neat. He always had, neat right from when he was a kid. He liked things just right. Be clear; everything means something so do it properly. That’s why he was a good cop. He was thorough. Real thorough, he never forgot anything. He never forgot a face, he never forgot what they said and he never forgot what they did.
  Jamison was gonna wish he’d never been born by the time he got to jail. And Harry was going to make sure he got put away. Harry was fair; he knew when he’d caught a bastard or not. He’d been around long enough.
  His feet thawed out a bit now. He downed a tumbler of bourbon fast then went up to fasten that draughty window before Mary came back.
  “Hope she’s quick,” he thought. “I’m damn hungry.”
  The rain was smacking against the north wall and not much heat was coming up from downstairs.
  “Better build the fire up in the parlor,” he thought. Glad he’d hauled all that wood in a couple of days ago, he didn’t want to go out in this.
  Coming down two at a time and thinking the meatloaf smelled funny, he stopped and looked at the hooks in the hall. His wet coat dangled heavily and beside it Mary’s coat. Mary’s green coat. Her usual, everyday green coat.
  Swiftly going to the log basket he banked up the fire. Why Mary hadn’t made the fire up he didn’t know. Seemed to be his job sometimes. Pack it tight and it’ll last all night. The flames were coming up again, thin orange and tall going red and crackling and spitting as they got going. He shoved the ashes to the side underneath and shut up the grate. He poked around in the chimney for the hook of the back boiler and opened it up.
  “Get the water nice and hot for a bath tonight,” he thought. “Better look clean for court tomorrow.”
  Stretching out his back as he rose he placed the poker back by the fender and looked around, just for a second or two. He could smell something.
  Smoke was now coming out into the hall but Harry just stared at the green coat and he didn’t really know why. Suddenly he came to and dashed into the kitchen.
  “Damn it!”
  “Come on, girl, stop your chattering and get home!”
  Grabbing the towel, he plucked the burned meatloaf out of the stove and threw it into the sink. He blasted open the window, flapping it wildly then with a struggle against the wind he jammed it shut.
  He sat down and phased out for a while.
  He sweated. Suddenly he found himself downing another bourbon. What the fuck was this feeling? He grabbed some socks from the fireguard and shoved on his boots from the hall as he stared at her green coat.
  “Always have shoes on in case of emergency,” his ma used to say.
  He stared around in the hall. She wasn’t here was she? The green coat was there. Something must be wrong. He felt instinctively that something was wrong. His nerve endings felt it. His guts felt it.
  “You’re just tired, you dope!” he said to himself. “She wasn’t that angry this morning was she?”
  This was weird. This was call-the-police weird. That coat was all wrong. The burned meatloaf was all wrong.
  The time was all wrong. Time had gone weird, like when something happens. When bad shit happens. Everything had gone slow. Was it really raining? Had the sun set already? His hand shook as he picked up the black phone. Wishing the damn thing dialed faster, round and round slowly the dial went, his finger shakily sticking in each hole. Half picking it up he heard the dangling voice of Mary’s mom.
  “Hello, Harry, how lovely to hear you. Is everything alright?” her mom asked when his voice trembled.
  “Yeah fine, Helen, I just dropped the phone by accident!” He paused and tried to get a grip; he drew in a deep breath and spoke slowly.
  “I was just wondering if you know what sort of size Mary is if I get her that nice coat she’s had her eye on? Bit of a surprise you know so I thought I’d ask you.”
  He fell back a bit against the wall and a bead of sweat reached his chin. He was aimlessly tapping his fingers on the windowsill really fast.
  “Oh dear, you are so lovely. What a sweet boy he is, Henry! Henry!” she shouted, “did you hear that Harry’s going to buy our Mary a new coat. He’s such a dear. I think you’d better get a size ten, dear, then, what do you think—”
  Harry interrupted her.
  “OOOH, gotta go, have a good evening, all the best.” He slammed the phone down and booted the wall opposite.
  He knew if Mary was with her that her mom would have said. He didn’t want to worry her so he didn’t ask. The garage door smacked back against the wall. He grabbed the torch, rushed out, peered in and slammed it shut, driving the bolt home. The bushes and trees were swaying wildly and he felt a huge burst of adrenaline staring around into the wild night, down the street and around the garden.
  “Get your fucking head together,” he shouted at himself.
  Racing upstairs, not knowing how he’d moved that fast, he scanned the bedroom. Grabbing open the wardrobe, he didn’t know what he was really looking for. Her clothes were there. She hadn’t upped and left him. What the fuck was happening? No note? Usually she left a note. Why hadn’t she left a note? Maybe he just hadn’t seen it.
  He raced around the house looking in all the usual places. The bathroom mirror, the bedside table, his pillow. Almost falling down the stairs: the hall, the mantlepiece; maybe he’d missed one in the kitchen. He started shoving things aside, messing things up.
  “What the fuck’s wrong with you!” he shouted out loud. “She’s fucking fine. You fucking idiot. Well where the fuck is she then?”
  He kind of knew she wasn’t next door.
  “It was only a friggin’ coat for fuck sake!”
  “Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! She’d never done this before. She’d never just not left a note.”
  The fire in the parlor did a crazy roar up the chimney. He dashed in and smashed the logs down with the poker, pulled in the back burner and shoved the fireguard in front. The hall was still smoky from the meatloaf.
  He groped around in the shoe box. No boots; her boots were gone.
  Stuffing his arms into a raincoat, Harry grabs the torch. It falters and he fumbles around with batteries. He put the door on the latch and headed out in the wind for the green gate. It’s been banging and broken off one hinge; he kicks it back and heads for Annie’s porch. Keeping his finger on the bell he hears Annie shout from the kitchen.
  “Won’t be a minute.” Harry can hear her scrape back her kitchen chair. “Come on!” he thinks, kicking the step. Finally and slowly removing her apron, Annie welcomes Harry joyfully. “Hey, Harry. What you doing out on such a crazy night?” Smiling.
  He’s frantic now. Why’s he the only one who’s frantic? His face is lined with stress. He gulped.
  “Hey, Annie. You seen Mary? She’s not home; I guess she’s forgotten to leave me a note. You seen her?” he repeated.
  “No, dear. She popped over at lunchtime before she went to do some errands. She had to catch up with some things.”
  “She finished early?”
  “She said she had to do some errands.”
  “But she hasn’t told you where she went or anything? I expect I just missed her note.”
  “She’ll be fine, dear. Probably helping some poor soul get their firewood in knowing her!”
  Then out of the kitchen came George. “Hello, Harry, what’s this?”
  “I just wondered if Mary was here because dinner’s ready; you know how it is?” Harry shivered for a moment. Shuffling his wet boots around.
  “Was she OK like?” he continued.
  “Because she looked a bit tired this morning?”
  “Well, Harry, she was a bit fed up; she said you’d had words this morning. But then she seemed so busy.”
  “Naw, that was nothing really, I’m trying to buy her this nice coat in secret you see and I just didn’t want to let on, but one thing led to another. It’ll blow over.”
  “Harry,” said George. “To be honest earlier on today I was a bit nervous about something.” Harry breathed slowly and listened. “Maybe I should have told someone, Harry.”
  “That’s OK George, just tell me slowly,” he said in his slow, calm, cop voice.
  “Well down by Armstrong’s house, not under the tree but just a bit along near the lamppost, I saw a man I haven’t seen round here before. I mean it was only a little bit odd at the time, but now, you know, maybe you should know.”
  “Yes, George, tell me about him. What was he like? What did he do?” Harry wanted to rush through this but he didn’t want to get George agitated, so he spoke real slow.
  He never forgot what people told him.
  “He was like this …,” and George described the fellow, and what he’d noticed.
  “Thanks a lot, you guys. I’m sure it’s fine. Thanks, and listen. If you see anyone around here again can you give me a call?”
  “Sure will, Harry; I’m sure it’s fine,” said Annie.
  “You get her to ring me when she gets home.” Harry had already turned and walked away.
  “Sure will do.”
  The door stuck a bit as Harry got back to the house. “Hey, Mary!” he shouted, but his voice was quaking. He didn’t really believe she would be there.
  Harry slammed the door shut and threw his dripping coat over a box. Muddy boots on, he thumped up the stairs and checked the whole house for that imaginary note.
  He knew he had to think, just for a minute. Standing, he lit a gasper and sloshed bourbon in the glass and threw it back. He sensed the glow in his chest; he felt the burn. The room went a little hazy, but the adrenaline was making him heat up. The booze was sending wild thoughts racing round his brain and his blood was pumping fast. He hadn’t eaten for hours so it was a raw blast of heat in his guts. It made him feel connected, real, somehow back in his body again.
  He stood by the sink. Wide legs, hands gripping the counter and bending over the sink. He wasn’t going to be sick; he just zoned out. The meatloaf sat there like sorry flesh.
  He bashed the flat of his hand down on the counter, to make it hurt, to make him come to. He grabbed a chair, thrust it by the fire and sat, his hands over the stove. He was shivering. Lighting the next cigarette from the first he got out his notebook.
  “Don’t write anything down,” he said to himself and shoved it back in his pocket. He spoke out loud, as if he was writing.
  “One, the house was empty. Two, she’d been there earlier, when had she cooked. Three, she hadn’t gone to her mom’s, or left me, clothes still there. No note. Four, not with the Stanleys.” Five, green coat. Question … Why had she taken her boots? Six, am I getting worked up over nothing? Just exhausted, crazy with the work and imagining things.”
  Harry dropped his cigarette and crushed it into the floor. He’d never do that if Mary was in the house. It was then that he knew deep down and categorically that she was not about to walk through the door.
  Lighting another, feeling queasy, he stuck it in the ashtray and spat into the sink. He splashed water over his face. He rubbed it dry roughly with her apron that he threw carelessly on the floor. He went to use the phone.
  Denzel answered after about what seemed like a year.
  “Denzel. I’m going to tell you something and I want you to take it seriously.” He used his “dead relative voice”: the voice he used when he had to tell someone their kid had died.
  Denzel got serious straight away. “Harry?”
  “Mary is missing and it’s serious. Get over here.”
  “I’m on my way.”

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