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Restless ghost haunts darkened city: Second Saturday Stories

“I heard stories, bad ones, about you. Something about how you locked yourself away up there,” He nods his head in the general direction of town. I take it to mean my apartment. “Hear you’re drinking and waiting for the reaper. I tell a woman to go see you, now the city is burned and here you are. I want to know who’s hiring me. Percy Slate who I went to war with, or the man who drinks and waits for death.” 
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Second Saturday Stories Title Image

If you missed the first part of the finale, catch up here 

I’m dead tired, but I have one last stop to make. I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that there’s more to this. It’s like an itch I can’t scratch and I’ve worn my nails to nubs trying. The city, my city, seems unfamiliar to me now as I walk towards the shores of Lake Nipissing, a scattering of clapboard cottages dashed across the shore like bits of a ship run aground. 

There’s a faint orange light flickering in the window of the one furthest back from the road. I think maybe Ernie left it on and dozed off because when I knock there’s silence. I knock harder and hear shuffling beyond the door, the creak of cot springs. I can almost see him lying with his back to the door looking over his shoulder wondering if he actually heard what he heard. 

“You heard right Ern, open up.” 

“whossat?” he calls, his voice thick with sleep. 

“It’s Percy Slate Ern open the door before I catch pneumonia out here.” My comment is met with the silence of hesitation before he calls out another question. 

“whadda you want?” 

At this point my head feels like it’s got a railroad spike through it. I can just about feel the rusty tip breaking through my molars. I’m stuck on that poindexter looking after the Doc so I’m not so nice when I call out that I want to hire Ernie. “I got work for you, so open the door god damn it!” 

Again he hesitates. “You got no credit here.” he called out.

I pace a circle on the tiny front porch, lacing my hands behind my head to do something with them so I don’t beat the door down. I think about leaving. Beyond the cottage the waves slam against the shore in grey slabs. They reflect the darkness of the clouds above and I feel a wave of claustrophobia. 

I could leave, but who else would I trust with this. I mean hell if I didn’t see it with my own eyes I would have thought the Doc incorruptible, an educated man like that. No. This has to be Ernie or I have to let it lay. I take some of Violet’s money and slide it into the mailbox. 

“There's a ten note in your mailbox. You’ve got the time it takes me to finish my smoke before I walk and give the rest to someone more welcoming.” I retreat to the side of the cottage that blocks the wind. To his credit Ernie holds out longer than I give him credit for. I’m about halfway through my Chesterfield when I hear his door open, and the mail box lid clang. I take that as my cue and pitch the butt into some wet underbrush. When I walk back around the house the door is open but Ernie has retreated back into the lamplit shadows, it’s as much of an invitation as I’m going to get. 

When my eyes adjust to the dim light I see he’s moved to the small metal desk beside his cot and at least pulled his suspenders back on. He rubs the sleep from his eyes but does nothing to get rid of the expectation in them. I launch right into it. I place a significant portion of the cash Violet gave me on the tabletop between us. The lamplight flickers as it bathes the wad in a warm orange glow. Ernie’s dark eyes linger on the pile and then meet mine. I can’t read much in them but his mouth stays a firm flat line and I suddenly feel like a schoolboy caught in a principal’s reproach. I find the words tumbling out in awkward bunches before I get some confidence behind them. 

“So ah- a woman hired me, few days ago, said you referred her.” 

“The lost husband.” 

“Right. Well. turns out I found him.”

I tell the story, trying to be brief. By the time I finish Ernie at least looks mildly interested. I try to wrap up everything in a neat bow, deciding to leave out my trip to the hospital. When I finish Ernie spies the cash again but can’t follow the thread. 

“You want me to go look at a burned building?” 

“I do.” the words sound pathetic as soon as I speak them, like some worry wart jumping at shadows. 

“What do you think I’m gunna find?” It’s a great question. What do I hope to prove having him sift through the bones of the Palace Arms? It’s burned to the ground, nothing left. But I can’t shake the feeling that, like Roger, there is more to it than meets the eye. 

“You’ve been doing this a long time Ernie. You’ve got the eye. Anything you find there that rubs you the wrong way, just be careful. Don’t let your guard down.” 

He fixes me with a look then and it deepens the feeling of being scrutinized by a schoolmarm. He cocks his head to the side and almost grimaces at me. His brows knit together and then, unless I’m imagining it, they relax.

“What’s on your mind Ernie.” I say trying to keep the heat out of my voice. 

“You been drinkin?”

“What the hell kind of question is that?” 

“I heard stories, bad ones, about you. Something about how you locked yourself away up there,” He nods his head in the general direction of town. I take it to mean my apartment. “Hear you’re drinking and waiting for the reaper. I tell a woman to go see you, now the city is burned and here you are. I want to know who’s hiring me. Percy Slate who I went to war with, or the man who drinks and waits for death.” 

I want to be mad. I want to storm out of the shitty clapboard cottage and tell him to forget the whole thing. But Ernie’s a good man, someone I called a friend at one time in my life. He’s been through the ringer and if there’s anyone I can’t be sore with for calling it straight, it’s him. So instead I look him dead in his eye, push the envelope closer and tell him. 

“you’ve got nothing to worry about. I’m straight Ern, and I'm asking you to help me out, please.” 

He looks at me for a few more seconds before giving the smallest nod. twice up and down. “Toss a couple hunks of maple in the stove on your way out.” 

I’m to the iron stove in a few strides and I give him three logs for good measure trying to tamp down the memory of the hulking woodstove in the middle of that grubby apartment that stunk like gasoline. I get an idea then and I turn back to Ern who’s still sitting there looking at the money. I grab a stub of a pencil from his desk and scrawl directions on the back of the envelope. 

“What's this?” he asked. 

“Directions to my car.” I answered. I jot some notes underneath teh directions and he looks at me again like he’s going to ask me if I’ve been hitting the hooch. I stare him down and this time it’s my turn to nod. 

“you sure?” he asked

“As sure as I've ever been.” I answered. I turn around and head for the door before he can reconsider.

I hear the chair legs squeak against his wood floor and the door is locked as soon as it closes behind me. I look back once but the gas lamp has been extinguished and Ernie Feltzer’s cottage is dark. 


By the time I get to the train station I feel like I need another cup of coffee just to keep my eyes open. My shoes feel two sizes too small and I keep transferring my suitcase from one hand to the other as my arms cramp.

I find Harry underneath the clock in the station house. He stops scanning the crowd when he spots me and turns away slightly trying to hide the look of relief that passes across his face. 

We stow our luggage and find our seats as the conductor gives anyone leaving the city one last call to climb aboard the train. We start to move, slowly at first. The city outside my window is bathed in darkness and it makes me wonder how many secrets are hiding in the dark, how many more men like Roger Carson are out there? We roll through the darkened yards. Any evidence of police has been swept away like fingerprint dust. I think about Joe cooling in the morgue, and the secrets he took with him. I shudder thinking of the bones of the Palace Arms. I don’t know if it’ll make me feel better to know if Ernie finds something or nothing, but at least I’ll know. The city slips away and I fight to keep my eyelids open. 

“You want a drink?” Harry’s question startles me awake and I look at him in the seat across from me. He’s giving me a look on the level of how Ernie eyed me up and I suddenly wonder at how long the bad stories he mentioned have been around. and how far they’ve travelled. 

“Ah- nothing for me Harry, but you go ahead.” 

“You sure? Don’t feel like having a nightcap?” again Harry’s eyeing me up like he’s evaluating a patient. 

“I said I’m fine Harry, you need an excuse to get in your cups you’re gunna have to look elsewhere.” I know I’m snappy, but god damn it I was almost asleep. As soon as I say it I feel like an indolent toddler, so I add: 

“I’ll dry out for a little while Harry. The Doc’s having a bit of a hard time getting whatever they were feeding him out of his system. Figure maybe I should quit while I’m ahead.” 

My answer seems to confirm something for Harry and he settles back in his seat satisfied. I cross my arms over my chest and wait for sleep to take me, but suddenly I’m wide awake. The lights around us bathe the car in warm light and I hear the rhythmic melody of the wheels on rails lull a few people into bouts of soft snoring. Harry leans across the expanse between us, his hands on his knees, and surprises me with a question. 

“I spent a lot of time angry with you Percy. downright furious, actually. But I want you to know I didn’t go to Nancy’s to intentionally clean your clock. And to tell you the truth I felt guilty about it ever since. That was half the reason why I came after you. I admit placing you in a cell was short sighted. The things I saw, what I heard about you, before the train yards, well, I feel like  you’ve told me most of the story, but not all of it. So if you’re up to it, would you fill me in on the rest?” 

I sit in silence for a moment listening to the train hum down the track. Speeding me further away from the city I didn’t think I would ever leave toward one I’ve never been to. The expectation from Harry that I find his daughter weighs heavy on me. My work is far from over, and it’s only going to get harder. 

Harry knows the story from here, so I decide to fill him in on the details he missed, starting with the full story on how Louise died. Maybe by the time I'm done we’ll be where we need to be. Maybe not in Peterborough, but at least a little closer to the friendship we used to have.