Authors: Neil S. Plakcy
Tags: #Mystery & Crime
I’d often come down to the canal as a kid. My parents’ house was on the other side of Stewart’s Crossing, in one of the first suburban developments to take over the farmlands that once blanketed Bucks County. I’d ride my bike into town, stopping at the five and dime for candy, buying my mother a single carnation at the florist, browsing for greeting cards at the drugstore in the shopping center in the heart of town. I loved the gingerbread Victorians with their peaked roofs and front porches, and the old stone houses that dated back to the Revolutionary War.
My grandparents would tell me stories of escaping from the Czar’s army, of wriggling on their bellies across battlefields, and then I’d go downtown and feel secure, like no one could ever chase me away from my home in Stewart’s Crossing. Maybe that’s why I came back.
I let Rochester off the leash and he ran back and forth along the towpath, sniffing the new flowers, chasing butterflies, and making his mark on trees and stones. When we came to one of the locks, I sat on a bench and thought about Edith.
Had Melissa and Menno been able to prey on her because she was old and alone? She had no children or grandchildren to help her manage her money, to fix her leaky faucet or clean the leaves out of her gutter. Needing help from others had made her vulnerable.
Would I end up that way? I was forty-two, divorced and childless. I might marry again, but I doubted at this stage in life I would ever be a new father. Perhaps there would be step-children involved—but what if I never married? Or had no one to look after me when I got old? I was an only child, like Caroline Kelly. If I died, who would survive me? I had a few cousins, a few friends.
Who would take care of Rochester if anything happened to me? I couldn’t trust to chance, the way Caroline had. I had seen death up close.
I was so engrossed in my own morbid speculations that I hardly noticed dusk falling. It had gotten cold, too. And where was Rochester? One minute he’d been lying at my feet, and then he’d gone off to explore again.
“Rochester! Here boy!” I stood up, rubbing my hands to restore their circulation, and called the dog again. I heard a woof! in the fields that ran to the river, and I started making my way through the new green growth, calling his name.
I caught up with him almost at the River Road. “Bad dog,” I said, grabbing his collar. “You come when Daddy calls.”
He jumped up and I knocked him down. “Come on, we’ve got to get home.”
We started walking up River Road toward Ferry Street, which would take us back over the canal toward River Bend. It was pitch dark by then, and only the river side of the road had a shoulder, so we walked up that way, cars coming up fast behind us and then zooming ahead into the night.
I never saw the car that hit me. I heard it, felt its headlights getting closer, but when I looked back I saw it on the roadbed. Rochester was nosing ahead of me, and I must have let go of his leash when I was launched into the air, sailing through the underbrush toward the fast-moving Delaware, just a few feet away.
Rick told me I was very lucky. A woman returning home from her shift at the exotic ice cream store in New Hope saw me go flying, and saw the car that hit me keep going. She pulled over and dialed 911.
She caught Rochester to keep him from running in the road. With a flashlight and his help, she found me lying in the underbrush at the water’s edge, though she didn’t touch me, just waited for the ambulance to arrive. The parallels between her finding me, and my finding Caroline, were spooky, and I was grateful my story hadn’t ended the way Caroline’s had.
I hadn’t been carrying any ID, but Rick heard the description of a Caucasian male and a wild Golden Retriever on the police radio, and he drove out to investigate.
I had a concussion, and a couple of fractured ribs, but other than that I got away pretty lucky. They kept me knocked out for about twenty-four hours, but on Tuesday evening Rick was at my bedside ready to ask me some questions, and though my head hurt like crazy I managed to sit up.
“Where’s Rochester?” I asked.
“Annie Abogato has him,” Rick said. “Don’t worry about Rochester. What happened to you?”
All I remembered was walking Rochester by the canal, night falling, and then walking back along the River Road. “That’s a dangerous stretch,” Rick said. “People go way too fast. Accidents happen all the time.”
“What if it wasn’t an accident?” I asked.
Rick looked up at me from the chair next to the bed. “Somebody got a grudge against you?”
“You got a pen and a piece of paper?” I asked. “Make a list.”
Tops on the list was Layton Zee. “You told the kid he was failing?” Rick asked.
“And he got violent. Started cursing, and I thought he was going to hit me.”
While Rick wrote the information down, I looked around. Hospital rooms had gotten nicer since the last time I was in one, with Mary. It was painted a soothing light green, with a lot of complicated electronics around, including a computer on the table next to the bed. Rick was sitting in an upholstered recliner, and two nice local landscapes hung on the wall. It still smelled like a hospital, though.
“I didn’t say anything to Melissa Macaretti in class,” I said, when he’d finished writing. “But she saw me taking Edith to the bank on Thursday, and maybe she or her boyfriend wanted to keep me away from Edith.”
I explained about Melissa’s work-study job. “So that’s how she’s connected to Edith,” he said. “You neglected to mention that when we talked on Sunday.”
“And how she got her boyfriend a job as Edith’s handyman.” I told Rick what I remembered from Menno’s essay on his father and how he’d been shunned by the Amish community. “I got the sense his father’s a pretty bad guy,” I said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Menno’s been learning from him.”
Rick took more notes. “Throw in Chris McCutcheon and Karina Warr,” I added. “Maybe what I said to one or both of them on Saturday hit home.”
“Now you see why I told you that you shouldn’t have said anything?”
My head hurt. Being proved wrong can do that to you. So can getting knocked on your ass by a car. “Yes, and I told you that you were right. Are we over that yet?”
“No, we’re not. Not if one of them was driving the car yesterday.”
“Yesterday?” I struggled to sit farther up in the bed. It just made my head pound harder. “So today is Tuesday?”
“Jesus. I’ve got a class to teach at 12:30.”
“Missed it,” Rick said. “It’s what, six now? Six p.m., that is.”
“Don’t worry. I called over to the college this morning and let them know you were laid up. The secretary’s getting you substitutes for the rest of the week.”
“But this is the last week of school. I have so much to do.”
He shrugged. “Talk to the doctor.”
He got up and started to pace around the room. “I don’t need all this shit, “ he said. “I’ve got unsolved cases all over town. The chief has been coming down hard on my ass since that article in the
“But he must know what it’s like when you don’t have any clues. Can’t he cut you some slack?”
“If I can’t solve this case, somebody’s got to take the fall,” Rick said. “You see the article in the
?” I shook my head. The
was a daily paper out of Levittown, much bigger than the
. “Not as stupid, but it made the same points. Now the mayor’s picked up the baton. I had to spend an hour in her office this morning explaining everything I’ve done.”
After Rick left, I tried to turn on my side, and the pain was so great that it brought tears to my eyes. I remembered once hearing a student at Eastern talk about the different names the Native Americans had for the moon at different times of the year. “There’s the harvest moon and the hunter’s moon,” she said. “And the handkerchief moon. That’s the one you cry in front of.”
I could cry to the moon about getting run over, but it wasn’t going to do any good. The best thing I could do was go home and be with my dog. If he licked my face, I knew I’d feel better.
The doctor agreed that I could leave the next morning, and Rick recruited Edith to pick me up at the hospital, run me home for a change of clothes, and then take me up to Eastern. I sat through the remaining presentations in the tech writing class; fortunately, Layton Zee did not show up.
Then, after a brief break, I met with the freshman comp class and accepted the final drafts of their research papers. I announced that I would be grading them over the final exam week, and that they’d be available for pick-up in the English department when I was finished.
Dianne or Dionne (I still couldn’t tell them apart, and it hardly mattered any more) exclaimed over how bad I looked. “What happened?” she asked.
“I had a little accident,” I said. “Nothing serious, though. I guarantee you it looks a lot worse than it feels.”
That wasn’t true; I felt pretty crappy. But I wanted to see if Melissa or Menno had any reaction. Either they were both very cool customers, or neither of them had been behind the wheel of the car that ran me off the road. Melissa wished me well as she walked out of the room, and Menno told me he hoped I had a good summer.
Edith was waiting for me in the faculty lounge, and she drove me over to Annie Abogato’s house. The yard was just as cluttered with toys as it had been before, though the Big Wheel had been replaced with a pair of tricycles.
I was just as glad to see Rochester as he was to see me. As soon as Annie opened the front door, he came bounding out, skidding to a stop just as he got to the open door of Edith’s car. He tried to jump in with me, putting his front paws on my lap and licking my face.
I petted his head and back. “I know, puppy, I’m glad to see you, too,” I said. “Don’t you worry, I’m not leaving you.”
Annie came to stand by the car. “You look like shit, Steve,” she said.
“But you look lovely,” I said. “That housecoat brings out the blue in your eyes.”
She laughed, and opened the back door of Edith’s sedan. “Go on, get in back, you big moose,” she said. “I had to feed him Maslow’s chow,” she said. “I hope it doesn’t upset his digestion.”
“Thank you,” I said. “You’re a sweetheart.”
“Rochester’s always welcome here.”
Edith insisted on fussing over me and Rochester back at the house, making sure that he had food and water, that I had hot tea and something to eat for dinner. “We’ll be fine, Edith,” I said.
“I feel so terrible, Steve. What if you were run over because of me?”
“If I was, then you’re in just as much danger,” I said. “I don’t like the idea of you going home alone, Edith. After all, they know where you live.”
She sat down at my kitchen table. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Can you go stay with Irene for a few days?” I asked. “Just in case.”
“I hate to be a burden to anyone. Maybe I should go to visit my cousin.”
“You don’t want to leave town. Suppose the police need to talk to you.” I picked up the phone. “Go on, call Irene.”
Irene was at the café, and from what I heard of the conversation she said it would be no problem for Edith to come and stay. When Edith hung up, she said, “Irene’s going to meet me at my house so I can pick up a few things, and then we’re going to her place in Cornwell’s Heights. I’m just worried about leaving you alone.”
“Rick’s going to come over this evening to check on me,” I said. “He said he’d take Rochester for his evening walk, too.”
I convinced Edith to leave, and struggled upstairs to bed. Rochester took another of his flying leaps and joined me there, and we were both asleep when the guard at the gate rang to announce that Rick was there.
The visit was a quick one; he was on his way home after a long day. “There is one thing I’m going to need from you,” he said. I’d come downstairs, and we were sitting at the kitchen table. “I need you and Edith to sit down with me and go over how much money she’s missing.”
I nodded, and yawned. “Can we do it over the weekend?”
“You’ll be up to it by then?”
“I will.” I yawned again. “Hey. Did you get the fingerprint results back on Chris McCutcheon and Karina Warr?”
“Yup. No match to the partial we found on the shell casing.”
“Which doesn’t mean that one of them didn’t shoot Caroline,” I said. “It just means someone else loaded the gun, right?”
“You’ve been watching too much TV,” he said. “But yes, you’re right.” Rochester came over to lay his head on Rick’s lap.
“What am I, chopped liver?” I asked the big dog. “You traitor.”
“He knows who’s going to walk him,” Rick said. “Leash on the counter?”
“Yup.” I yawned again. “Man, getting run over takes it out of you.”
“I wouldn’t know,” he said. “Come on, Rochester.”
I struggled to stay awake until Rick returned with Rochester, who came bounding in the house and rushed toward me, as if to make sure I’d survived the few minutes he was away.
“I’ll call Edith and get her over here on Saturday,” Rick said.