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Noir Thriller concludes in two part finale: Second Saturday Stories

“Killing Roger, even the perception that you’ve killed him, is bound to make you a few enemies. Not to mention Salvatore Colisetta. In his eyes you’re a loose end that needs to be tied up and buried. Face it Perce, Your life expectancy doubles if you disappear.” I smoke in silence for a beat, considering his points. Harry suddenly leans across the table.
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In the dying light Harry almost blends in with the stone angels around him and I realise how much weight he’s lost. I can’t picture how I could ever see him as the man who towered over me in Nancy’s Diner. I cup a match against the wind and give him some privacy, smoking slowly and trying to piece together what I’ll say when it’s my turn to pay respect. 

Harry drifts away, heading to the wrought iron fence separating the cemetery from the lives of the living on the other side. I replace him in front of the gravestone. It’s not my first time here, but it’s been a long while since I was sober. The words that used to flow so freely in a rush of bourbon and beer seem to stop up and catch in my throat. The tears flow just as freely though. I drive my palm into my cheek and rub it on the leg of my trousers. My back teeth are clenched so hard I'm liable to break a filling. I inhale thickly and swallow. 

“You didn’t deserve this.” I start, but the words feel obligatory and meaningless. I take a breath and, finally, try to vocalise my grief. 

“Hiya sweety. I- well I hope you’re ok. Wherever you are I- I just hope it doesn't hurt anymore.” I scratch the back of my neck and make sure Harry’s out of earshot. I heard him muttering to the gravestone. I know it’s what people do here, but it always makes me a little self-conscious. “I wish we had more time together. I wish I could wake up, even just one more time, to see your smile. At least then, knowing it was the last time we were together, I could make peace with that. I miss you every day Louise, and somehow I think you know that. I don’t know if you can hear me, if you’re here, somewhere, listening. If you are, I want you to know I am so sorry. I want you to know I think about our lives every day and I curse myself for losing what could have been. It consumed everything else. I drank myself sick trying to block it out. But ah- but I have to make peace with it. I feel like you would want that. Hell, sweetie, I would want it for you. So that’s it. No more wallowing-poor-schmuck-me routine. In one way or another, you’ll be with me every day. And, for now, anyway, that’s something I can take comfort in. I love you Louise, I won’t ever stop.” 

I can’t think of anything more to say. The grey afternoon light blurs and I surrender to the silent sobs that wrack my body, aching through my fatigue. 

I don’t know how much time passes but eventually, I wipe my eyes and stifle the sniffles. I bend down and break away some of the yellowed petals from a flower arrangement and light the candle. It won’t last long in the October night but for now, I take some solace in its warm flicker. 

After talking to Louise I feel like I can finally lay some of my guilt to rest. A weight lifts from my heart as part of my shame evaporates like mist; a skeleton unburdened from my closet. I have her with me in my heart as I choose to remember her: her smile, the sound of her laughter, the way she could be so frustratingly stubborn but so loving in the same instant. I think about the morning Violet came to hire me, how I felt like Louise was there urging me to help, reminding me of how powerful a wife’s love can be. My wife wanted me to help people. She wasn’t a wraith hellbent on haunting me. That was a horror cooked up from Roger’s conditioning. I start to whistle as I make my way towards Harry. 

Harry and I find a greasy spoon that’s still open and true to his word he buys the first round of coffee. Over a plate of steak and eggs he fills in the gaps of tracking me down, and I fill him in on what I remember from the Palace Arms. Afterward we’re both silent. Harry stirs more cream into his coffee and I smoke a third cigarette down to the filter. It takes another refill and half a slice of pecan pie before the penny finally drops. 

“It’s Hazel.” Harry says flatly, the colour leaking from his cheeks and eyes at the same time. “She ah- She ran away.” he spit the sentence out like a killer making a death row confession. He hangs his head like he’s waiting for the executioner’s axe. Hell, who was I to judge? “I had a few leads. Looked through a few back alleys, some convent houses for wayward but-” His throat works and I slide my napkin over to him. He only holds it in his hand as he finishes. His voice trembles, but not by much. “The few leads I had dried up. My cash flow dried up too. I was stuck.” 

“So you called on me for help.” It was an easy conclusion to jump to. 

“I needed- I need- someone who knows how to talk to people. People of less, well, repute.” 

“Drunks, madams, and crooks you mean,” I said flatly. “I don’t know if I should be flattered or furious.” 

“Come off it Percy. Tell me I’m wrong.” I can tell from the way his voice hardened I’ve got one more, maybe two more cracks before Harry loses his temper, so I let it drop. The last thing I need is to work backwards. I light another smoke and mull over what he said. I remember the blind panic I felt when I woke up and convinced myself I needed to skip town before Harry found me.  I was adamant that I would not go with him, but for the life of me now I can’t remember why. Harry mistakes my silence for resistance, so he pushes on. 

“Killing Roger, even the perception that you’ve killed him, is bound to make you a few enemies. Not to mention Salvatore Colisetta. In his eyes you’re a loose end that needs to be tied up and buried. Face it Perce, Your life expectancy doubles if you disappear.” I smoke in silence for a beat, considering his points. Harry suddenly leans across the table.

“C’mon Percy this is my daughter for Christ Sake, what do you want me to do beg? you want me to give you a price so you know how much to piss away on a bottle. That’s it eh?” I’m surprised to feel a sting from Harry’s barb. Heat flushes through my cheeks and I feel my temper start to boil. I take a breath and remind myself Harry probably doesn’t want to work backwards either. Not to mention I tried fighting Harry as a means to solve our issues before and it worked about as well as gasoline puts out a house fire. 

“I’m sorry Perce.” Harry said, retreating back into his bench seat. “That wasn’t fair. I’m just. I’m worried is all, the things I saw there.” His eyes are distant and it dawns on me then the gravity of his loss. At least with Louise being gone, I knew where to find her.

“It’s alright Harry.” I relent “let me tie up a few loose ends of my own. I’ll meet you at the train station in three hours.” 

 The hospital always smells the same; a mixture of bleach and infection. Everything looks rheumy and yellow to me, even the white sheets have been overwashed to an off-yellow. I hold the theatrics this time and tell the skirt behind the reception desk exactly who I am and why I'm standing there soaking her welcome mat. It takes my assurance that I won’t make trouble before she gives me a room number. 

Violet Carruthers stands when I walk through the door. She dries her eyes self consciously but it doesn’t do a thing to mask the emotion brimming in them. It’s a lover’s sorrow, one I know too well. 

“Oh. Mr. Slate. I thought you might be one of Jonathan’s doctors.” 

“No such luck Ma’am.” The question I want to ask sticks to my lips so instead of talking an uneasy silence spreads through the room like an infection while both of us stare at the bed. In the silence of the room I can hear the distant howling of an inpatient raving for anyone within earshot. The Doc’s sheets are thrashed about and the bed rail has thick leather cuffs attached to the sides. 

Violet breaks the silence by snapping out of her thoughts and grabbing her handbag. without looking up from it she speaks to me. 

“I was on my way to you, after seeing Jonathan. but since you’re here, save me a trip.” She’s speaking offhandedly, her thoughts distant and I suddenly get the feeling she’d rather I be a million miles from this place. She holds out an envelope stuffed with cash. The other half of my fee, I’d damn near forgotten about it. There’s a small bedside table with a pitcher of water, the ice long melted waiting to be drunk. I move it and crowd under the electric bulb to count out the bills. 

“it’s all there, I can assure you.” Her voice is flat, void of any insult that should be there in other circumstances. 

Sure enough, she’s right. I count out twenty-five dollars and hand it back to her. She steps back like I’ve offered her my Webley instead. confusion knits her brows together and It’s this, The perception of charity, that brings the insult blazing into her eyes. 

“How dare you? that’s-” 

“I know what it is, and I know what I need. Finding your husband has cost enough. Don’t call it charity. That’s not what it is. I’m giving you back what I owe you. So just do me the favour and take it ok?” To her credit Violet Carruthers doesn’t need to be told twice. She snaps the cash up and makes it disappear almost as fast as I can blink. 

Suddenly the inpatient rambling grows louder as if coming towards us. I catch snatches of words as they draw closer. My heart starts racing. Violet takes a step toward the door. Her hand moves to her necklace, fingering the links anxiously. I recognize John’s voice spitting vitriol at the doctors, spraying them with racial slurs and demanding to be placed in the care of someone competent. That’s all I catch before the sound is cut of like someone lifted the needle off a record.  

They’ve got him in a wheelchair, his head lolled to the side. His ear is bandaged and the white collar of his hospital issue is stained with food spittle. I look to his right hand and realise in a wave of guilt that it’s also wrapped in thick gauze. It’s curled in his lap like an owl’s talon and I wonder if he’ll get full use of it back. His eyes are glassy and he stares at nothing as the attendant's manhandle him back into bed. Violet stares out the window at the frozen dead garden outside the window while the attendants wrap the leather cuffs around the Doc’s wrists and cinch them to his sides. 

Something in those restraints riles me up. They’re too close to captivity. For a moment my vision doubles and I wonder if he’s any better off here than in his cell at the Palace Arms. Of course, I know the answer to that, but I’ve got a splitting headache that the coffee hasn’t touched. 

“Are those necessary?” I ask the doctor. The egghead just eyes me over his wire-rim glasses before sharing a look with his grunts in white pajamas. 

“Mister Carruthers’ mental state is still quite fragile. He’s proven to be a risk not only to himself but to the staff here as well. As I explained to his wife, the best thing for his recovery now is medication and rest, even if he needs assistance with the latter. 


“hmm?” The pipsqueak in a lab coat had gone back to his notes and thought I was addressing him. 

“He’s a Doctor.” I corrected “you called him Mister Carruthers.” 

John’s doctor just about snorts, making me want to deck him even more than I already do.  

“Designation hardly seems relevant now. It’s sure to be revoked soon enough” He said, finishing his notes in a flurry and clicking his pen closed. “I’ve my rounds to attend to. I don’t expect to see you when I check in on Mister Carruthers. I’m sure you can find your way to the exit, or shall I have you escorted?” For Violet’s sake I turn on my heel. She’s looking at the two of us with mounting horror and I don’t think her heart can take more conflict. I put a cigarette in my mouth. Violet’s eyes plead with anyone for her life to make sense. I know the feeling. She has her husband back, but it’s not the closure she expected. 

I shake her hand. It’s the only act of solace I can think of. “I’ll write you in a few days. I want to know if he improves.” I told her. I light my smoke as I walk back into the hallway, earning the stink eye from the secretary. Violet doesn’t take her eyes off her husband. She just nods numbly before pulling a chair closer to his bed and picking up a dog eared copy of Hoof And Claw. 

Chapter concluded today at 3 pm, don't miss "Restless ghost haunts darkened city: Second Saturday Stories"