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Authors: Daniel Trafford

Princes of Arkwright

BOOK: Princes of Arkwright
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Princes

of

Arkwright

 

 

By Daniel Trafford

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PRINCES OF ARKWRIGHT

 

 

Copyright © 2014 by Daniel Trafford

 

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher, except by reviewers who may quote brief excerpts in connection with a review in a newspaper, magazine or electronic publication; nor may any part of this book be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form o
r by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or other, without written permission from the publisher.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

 

ISBN: 9781494754136

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Renée, who believed in me

 

 

 

 

1. TUCKER BROMLEY

 

 

D
o yourself a favor and don’t ever visit Arkwright.

There is a
bsolutely no reason to go there unless you work there — or live there. Nobody ever moves to Arkwright. The people who live there were born there. And they’ll die there unless they’re lucky enough to escape.

It
’s one of those Rhode Island cities that died about thirty years ago, but nobody wants to bury it. The type of city with a lot of vacant factories, some of which have been converted into apartments they call “post-industrial” with the hopes of attracting artists. The tired, old wrinkled city fathers like to use terms like “renaissance,” or “revival” or “arts district” to make the city sound like something it’s not. The fact is most everybody who lives there does so because of the glut of public housing. It’s a social services-based economy and the leading commodity seems to be heroin and lottery tickets.

It wasn
’t always that way though. At least that’s what the old people say. And they say it a lot. There was a time, it seems, when the place was a bustling metropolis of textile mills and department stores — a city full of transplanted French Canadians who took pride in their heritage and bristled at the word “Canuck.”

They still live there, too, among the druggies, whores, homeless and winos. But they stay locked in their once-magnificent houses and pretend the druggies, whores, homeless and winos don
’t exist.

In the midst of this sea of decaying humanity was a figure who looked like he didn
’t belong. Walking rapidly down the sidewalk in what is, for lack of a better term, the downtown, Tucker Bromley kept his gait steady and his eyes cast downward. He did this not because he was shy, but because he was hoping to reach his destination for once without someone stopping him to ask him for a cigarette or a dollar. The one he didn’t have and the other he was unwilling to part with.

He took an abrupt right turn into a convenience store and managed to avoid eye contact with the animated couple that was standing in front of the shop. They always seemed to be standing there. And they always seemed to be engaged in a screaming argument about personal matters that for some reason best known to themselves just had to be conducted on the sidewalk.

The convenience store was one of those nondescript storefront places with no name. There was nothing to make it stand out beyond the fact that it was the only business on Main Street that wasn’t vacant, boarded up or barred with a ghetto gate.

Just inside the door was a table surrounded by metal folding chairs. They were occupied by an assortment of poorly-groomed city dwellers who were alternately staring at the Keno monitor and scratching cards with tiny pencils.
It was an ugly pile of humanity, made uglier still by the bright florescent lights.

Tucker, eager to accomplish his mission as expeditiously as possible, swept through the store to the little shelf of groceries and began picking up various foodstuffs with the intention of buying the first item he came across that wasn
’t past its expiration date. It turned out to be a single-sleeve box of saltines.

As he rushed back to the cash register, he audibly sighed as he saw a shriveled old lady with a walker sidling up to the counter. She was dressed in her Sunday best, that is clothing that went out of style about 50 years ago. Attached to her glasses was a chain that went all around her neck. Her makeup looked as though it had been smeared on by an undertaker.
“Fitting,” thought Tucker. “Saves time.”

It was a shaky hand that applied her garish red lipstick. That same shaky hand now presented the cashier with a fistful of lottery tickets.

“Can you check these for me, please?” she asked in a voice that indicated her 3-pack-a-day habit.

Tucker rolled his eyes as he sulkily gave in to this unfortunate circumstance.
While he’s waiting, let’s use this as an opportunity to take a better look at our hero. About 5 foot 7, with close-cropped light brown hair, he had the air of a police officer, which wasn’t surprising, because that was his line of work. His build was slight, but he did his best to conceal that fact by standing as erect as possible. He was wearing a brown suit, a striped tie and a trenchcoat. He had narrow eyebrows, thin lips and a small pug nose.

He sighed again very loudly, then shifted his weight from one leg and then to the other. Finally he accepted his plight and began looking around to pass the time as he waited for the clerk to check the old woman
’s tickets. His eyes fell on the store’s display of shimmering, iridescent bongs and crack pipes. He stared at them for a while, almost hypnotized before automatically searching for the bag of tobacco in the display. There it was, in the back. It was covered with a thick layer of dust, but it was there. Arkwright ordinance forbade the sale of drug paraphernalia unless it was sold alongside tobacco. Every time Tucker came into the store, he instinctively looked for the bag of tobacco. Even though he had been looking at the same exact bag for two years, he satisfied himself that the letter of the law was being obeyed — though he never for an instant thought of what he would do if the bag weren’t there.


Thank you for waiting for so long,” said the old lady, snapping Tucker out of his legalistic reverie.


Huh?” he said. “Oh, that’s OK. I’m not in a rush.”

If anyone had asked him why, he wouldn
’t have been able to explain, but at that very moment, as he looked into the old lady’s gray lifeless eyes, he was suddenly seized with a violent hatred that only disappeared when the decrepit woman turned to leave. As he was paying for his saltines, he suddenly realized that he would now have to endure the awkwardness of following her and her walker slowly out of the store. But when he turned to follow her, he was surprised that she was nowhere to be seen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.
THE INCIDENT

 

T
ucker stepped out of the shop just as darkness was rapidly shrouding the decrepit mill town. Beneath his feet, the discarded butts of thousands of cigarettes gave the sidewalk an almost spongy texture. He instinctively started breathing through his mouth, for although Arkwright was an inland city, it somehow always smelled like low tide.

The five-story brick buildings — once red, now black with layers of grime — towered over the players in this scene, blocking out the last few rays of dusky sunlight.

Next to the shop, a large whore spilling out of her ill-fitting tube top was screaming something unintelligible into a pay phone.

One shabby, stringy-haired man who looked like he would be sticky if you touched him was bent over an overflowing trash can. He was plunged
headfirst into the garbage up to his waist and seemed to be frantically searching for something.

Across the street another man was walking along quickly when he dropped a white plastic shopping bag on the sidewalk. As soon as he was about 20 yards away, an old bruised Cadillac pulled up to the spot and the passenger door opened just enough for a hand to reach out and grab the bag. This all happened in one fluid motion like a well-executed double play — as though the scene had played out many times before.

The whole transaction went unseen by Tucker, who was looking up and down the street for the ancient woman. But there was no sign of her.


She probably sat down with the Keno crowd and I just missed her,” he thought. That was as far as his curiosity would allow him to dwell on the matter. Seeing more riff-raff headed his way, Tucker ducked into a well-concealed access between two buildings. It was well concealed because it was behind a door. The area behind the door was actually a long staircase that led down to the river between the two buildings. It was a dark place that nobody in his right mind would ever want to use. But Tucker was not one to let dark alleyways frighten him. Besides, in the years he’d been using this cut-through, he had never once encountered another human being.

When he reached the end of the staircase alleyway, he stopped short and peaked out as though expecting to be ambushed
; though, again, he had never actually seen anyone here.

From here he made his way along a path close to the river that had once been a railway bed back before the city had gasped its terminal breath. The city fathers had promised to convert it into a bike path a couple decades ago, but that somehow never happened. For Tucker
, it was a convenient shortcut to the Lovecraft Street bridge. On the other side of the river, the city abruptly ended. There were remnants of development – uneven patches of road, an odd wall with thick rusted pipes protruding. But the thick forest which lay beyond had eaten away at these.

The only building on that side of the river was a bar — lurking on the outskirts as though it weren
’t allowed to come inside city limits.

The weathered sign above announced in gothic letters that the place was called
“Wallbangers.”

An impressive gray stone façade with a bas-relief of a blindfolded lady with a sword and scales was the only indication that the building had once been a courthouse. It had been built back when the city
’s inhabitants were sure the city was going to grow, and they wanted to put their best foot forward by building the courthouse in this new frontier.

But the noble dispensation of justice had been abandoned long ago, and the monolith was now used to dispense alcohol instead. The ground floor had been remodeled to fit a bar and a couple of pool tables. The only windows in the place now were of the plate glass variety, turning an otherwise interesting building into a storefront, and retaining none of the charm of the old courthouse, save for the heavy wooden front doors. Like every other business in the city, the contents of the second and third floors were a mystery to those who came to do business on the first.

“I hate the elderly!” he shouted to the first person he saw as he stepped into the bar. It was the bartender, a balding, middle-aged, fat-bellied man who was so startled by Tucker’s approach that he dropped a glass, shattering it on the red tile floor.


Jesus, Tuck!” he said. “Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”


Sorry, Bobby. I can’t take old people anymore. They’re everywhere – like cockroaches.”


Yup,” said Bobby, grabbing a broom to sweep up the broken glass. “Old people are evil. No doubt about it.”


If I were dictator for life,” said Tucker, still on a roll and choosing to ignore the bartender’s sarcasm, “I’d outlaw anyone over the age of 75 from being seen in public.”


Wow,” said Bobby. “That seems a little harsh. What about when you turn 75?”


I’ll just change the law to 85.”

“You still drinking cranberry juice?” asked the bartender, giving a little courtesy laugh and reaching for a glass.


Yeah. Unfortunately. You don’t happen to know anyone who wants to buy a kidney do you? It’s going cheap.”


Hold onto it,” replied Bobby. “Stones and all, it may come in handy some day. So, what’s new at the police station?”


I’m the last person who knows what’s going on around there.”


I thought you were a detective.”


I am. But I spend most of my time shuttling criminals back and forth to the courthouse, like a glorified cab driver. Nothing exciting ever happens in this tired old city anyway — just domestic abuse and poor people robbing each other for drug money.


It’s a little dead in here tonight,” he added, surveying the premises for the first time since walking in. The empty tables and chairs seemed emptier still next to the wall, which was littered with New England sports memorabilia.


Well, it’s Monday,” answered the bartender, a little defensively. “And it’s early. Actually, we’re thinking of closing on Mondays. It’s always dead in here.”


Well that’s too bad,” said Tucker, grimacing after taking a gulp of the juice. “I’ll have to find somewhere else to go.”

Tucker looked down toward the pool tables trying to decide if it was worth it to get up and play a game when he noticed for the first time that there was somebody else in the bar, sitting down at the far end. He was a close-cropped, dark-haired man in his 30s, clean shaven and dressed in khakis and a green T-shirt. This whole ensemble was completed by a black button-down shirt that wasn
’t buttoned. He had an athletic build. Although he was sitting down, he gave off the aura of being a tall man, over six feet. Tucker made note of it. He was always intimidated by anyone taller than he – a fact he kept to himself. He figured this guy had him by a few inches anyway.


What’s that guy’s story?” asked Tucker, nodding in the stranger’s direction.


I don’t know,” whispered Bobby, as though the bar suddenly turned into a church and he had to lower his voice. “I’ve never seen him before. He just appeared in here and he’s been nursing that same Narragansett beer for about an hour now and staring straight ahead.”

BOOK: Princes of Arkwright
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