Authors: T. J. Brearton
T. J. Brearton
First published 2015
Joffe Books, London
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental. The spelling used is American English except where fidelity to the author’s rendering of accent or dialect supersedes this.
©T. J. Brearton
Follow T.J. Brearton on twitter @BreartonTJ
Further novels by Brearton are scheduled for release in 2015 by Joffe Books
OTHER BOOKS AVAILABLE NOW BY T.J. BREARTON
a #1 best-selling thriller that you won’t be able to put down
A young woman, Rebecca Heilshorn, lies stabbed to death in her bed in a remote farmhouse. Rookie detective Brendan Healy is called in to investigate. All hell breaks loose when her brother bursts onto the scene. Rebecca turns out to have many secrets and connections to a sordid network mixing power, wealth, and sex. Detective Brendan Healy, trying to put a tragic past behind him, pursues a dangerous investigation that will risk both his life and his sanity. Habit is a compelling thriller which will appeal to all fans of crime fiction. T.J. Brearton amps up the tension at every step, until the shocking and gripping conclusion.
the second novel in the Titan Trilogy
Sitting in the cab of his plow truck, Lenny Duso lit the half-smoked cigar. The mug of coffee Mary had made fifteen minutes before sat steaming in the cup holder on the dashboard. The truck rumbled and the heaters blasted, but it was still cold. Lenny wore the full Carhartt jumpsuit and a large floppy hat Mary told him made him look Russian. The stogie lit, he clamped it between his teeth and rubbed his bare hands together for warmth. It was a cold night. Three a.m., and only a couple of degrees out. The snow was falling straight down — that granular, sugary kind of snow which piled up quick.
Lenny had twelve residential clients in the small town of New Brighton deep in the Adirondack Mountains. He plowed them out for twenty-five bucks a pop. Most of them were older people; all the young ones either had their own plows or shoveled out by hand.
He dropped the gear shift into drive and the big Ford started rumbling down his driveway. He watched his nice little modular home recede in the mirrors. In the warmer seasons you could hear the river burbling through the trees. Now the water was mostly sheathed in ice.
He reached the end of the driveway and made the turn onto Bluff Lane, a short street that fed into River Street. From there he took River over to the main route, 9N, hung a left and was on the way toward his customers.
Lenny puffed on his cigar as the old Ford got up to speed. His first customer was just a mile and a half down the road. The state plows had been out, but the conditions were already worsening; that sugar-snow kept stacking up, and those big boys would be working until morning.
He reached over and grabbed the mug of coffee. It was a travel mug, stainless steel, a present from his daughter this past Christmas, when she was home from college. He took a sip, relishing the flavor, silently thanking his wife for getting up so early to make it. Mary knew how to make coffee. They’d been married for almost forty years.
Their eldest was a son, Francis. Francis went by the name Frank. Frank was older than Shalene, the college student, by three years. Aside from these basic facts, Lenny didn’t like to think about his son all that much. At least he knew where the boy was. County Jail was only a few miles away.
Lenny was trying to avoid thinking about Frank any further — holding the coffee in one hand, the smoldering cigar in his teeth, windshield wipers drifting back and forth to sluice away that grainy snow — when he saw the shape in the middle of the road.
He set the coffee in the holder and immediately began to slow down. Up ahead, smack in the center of 9N, near one of the few street lamps, a dark lump lay in his path.
Lenny’s gaze shifted to the rear view mirror. No one was behind him. He looked out the driver’s-side window and saw only darkness. Few people lived on this stretch of 9N. Street lights were staggered here and there as you neared the intersection of Pike and Main in the small town proper, but that was it.
He came to a complete stop. He set the cigar in the ashtray, thought better of it, and then stubbed it out. He kept his eyes on the lump. A fresh eddy of snow and wind churned up 9N toward the truck, dusting the shape on the road.
Someone hit a deer
, he figured.
They hit it and just moved on.
It happened all the time.
The storm was supposed to continue into the next day.
The Farmer’s Almanac
had predicted a cold winter, and it had been, with the temperature hovering around zero or below for weeks at a time. The woodstove in Lenny’s home had been crackling non-stop since December, and it was now mid-February. Lenny was proud to have heeded the
and bought two extra cords of firewood. Other folks were running out already, but he had enough to last until spring. Whatever it was lying there in the road would soon be frozen rock-solid, if it wasn’t already. Someone could slam right into it, sending them swerving off the road and into the trees.
“Dammit,” he swore. The truck was just starting to get warm and now he had to go out into the cold. He reached around in the seat beside him and found his gloves. He pulled them on and tried to ignore his escalating pulse. Not much riled Lenny, but something about the way that shape looked, now that he was closer to it, moiled the coffee in his stomach.
He didn’t think it was a deer. Not really.
He opened the door and lowered himself out of the Ford, grunting as he went. He slammed the door shut. The sound was swallowed up by the blanket of snow. To his right, an impenetrable tree line of pines and spruce. To his left, an empty field with trees set far back. Wild forests covered a lot of this region.
The land was passed down generation to generation. His mother had given birth to him sixty years ago in his parents’ home up on Rabideau Way, a sprawling fifty acre farm that his father had inherited from his own father. Granddad had come down from Canada as a young man and worked the woods by torchlight, alongside the Scots and Irish and Dutch who first logged the region in the late 1800s. This was how New Brighton was first settled; many properties were over a hundred acres apiece. That unholy cop John Swift had a sizeable plot too, not far away, handed down by his own grandfather.
Lenny looked further down 9N. He could see the first house there in the distance, a little white double-wide with smoke spewing from the chimney. Maybe two hundred yards away. The Hamiltons were an elderly couple in their seventies. He had some sort of dementia; she was a cat fanatic and into those little figurines you put everywhere in your home until it looked like you’d been invaded.
Lenny stepped in front of the Ford. The headlights beamed over the plow and into the falling snow. The shape was motionless, sprawled right across the center line. Dead. You just knew when something was dead. The stillness of it was unlike anything else, even a rock. It was more than stillness, it was an absence. It was something heavy, pressing on your chest.
He left the sanctuary of the plow truck and started walking towards the shape. He didn’t have a cell phone. His wife and daughter had been nagging him to get one for years now. He didn’t see the need. He knew just about everyone in town, how every street turned and curved, who grew up in which home. The only people he didn’t know were some of the newcomers. Each year, New Brighton had a few arrivals, young people working for the County, the social services, hospital, or jail, or up at the college in Plattsburgh. Some of them even worked from home on their computers, doing things he didn’t know much of anything about.
He had a CB in the truck. Channel 9 was reserved for emergency communications and traveler assistance and he could contact County Dispatch if need be. First he wanted a closer look. Lenny took a couple steps towards the shape in the road, the snow falling so thickly now that it was collecting in his bushy eyebrows and wetting his beard. He flexed his gloved hands and stopped again, just a few feet from the unmoving presence.
It was definitely not a deer or a moose. Something stuck out at an angle, and even covered in snow, there was no mistaking it. It was an arm. With a bare hand. There was a dead body in the middle of the road.
He looked at the hand. The snow on it was translucent, crystalline, as if the body still had some warmth and was melting it.
“Jesus,” Lenny said. He regretted taking the Lord’s name in vain, but he figured the Lord would forgive him this transgression, given the situation.
The body had to have been there only a short time. Judging by the accumulation, the last state plow had thundered through maybe fifteen minutes ago.
He took another step forward, and an alarm went off in the back of his mind — he shouldn’t contaminate the scene of a death, accidental or not.
So he squatted down, his knees popping like a couple of firecrackers, and got a better view of things, but from a safe distance.
Whoever it was, the head was turned away from him, as if looking back down the road. This was a small mercy. The body was on its side, the arm up and out at that weird angle. Had someone just walked out here and fall down dead? It was cold — the person didn’t have the right clothes on. It was hard to tell, but it looked like he or she was wearing pajamas. Could have succumbed to the weather. Really, though, there was no use in speculating. He stood back up, and was about to return to the truck and get on the radio, when he saw headlights appear along the road, coming from the direction of town.
Probably they would have a cell phone; he didn’t think the things worked out here anyway, another reason not to bother with getting his own, but he didn’t know for sure. He would wait and see, and then use the radio if need be.
He walked towards the oncoming vehicle, giving the body a wide berth. Once he passed the body he held up his hands and started waving. He didn’t want to chance the car hitting the body.
He glanced over at it. From this angle he could see part of the face. That same crystalline snow covered it, twinkling in the light of the single nearby street lamp. His heart thumped against his chest as he looked at the face. Its eyes were wide open, staring out through the mask of snow.
Lenny turned his gaze away. He didn’t like the anxiety he was feeling now. He wasn’t used to surprises. He had his routine, he had his home, his wife. He’d raised his children. Sometimes they didn’t turn out the way you wanted — Frank was a troubled young man — but Lenny had done his best to provide.
The oncoming car was starting to slow down, and Lenny gave his arms a fresh wave in the air. He walked, toward the vehicle, away from the body.
Still fifty yards away, the car came to a halt. Lenny squinted through the snow. It was a sporty, compact car. Sleek, dark blue, or maybe black — hard to tell under the light of the street lamp and the headlights blinding him. He considered who it might be. The County buildings were all in the other direction. The mental health facility, the hospital, the jail, were all back in the direction from which the car had come. The other way, 9N wound off into the night, with a full ten miles before the next town. Maybe they were coming home, then. Perhaps a nurse who’d finished her shift.
But the car just sat there in the distance, engine idling. Lenny raised a hand and shielded his eyes from the brilliance of the headlights.
The vehicle suddenly jerked forward. It made a turn in the road, drove to the far shoulder, stopped, and started backing up. It was going into a three-point-turn. Whoever it was, was leaving the scene.
“Hey!” Lenny shouted. He waved his arms again. The headlights had swept across his body and then plunged into the thick forest. The car continued backing up, stopped, and then turned and accelerated away in the other direction.
It was useless. He watched the red taillights shrink away in the swirling snowstorm.
Lenny lowered his arms and headed back to the plow truck. Time to get on the CB and call County Dispatch, get the cops and an ambulance out there.
As he moved back through the snow and darkness, he kept his eyes on the Ford, careful not to look at the face again, those lifeless eyes watching the taillights recede into the night. Then the overhead street lamp clicked off, enveloping the face in darkness.