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Authors: Anne McAneny

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Chapter
11

 

Allison… present

 

Arriving home around four, I found Selena searching the pantry for a snack to stuff down her gullet for her lengthy drive home, all of four miles if I calculated correctly. She came up with a bag of pretzels, glared at them disapprovingly, and shoved them in her purse anyway.

“How’s she doing?” I asked.

“Seems good. An old friend from work called and they chatted for twenty minutes.”

“Someone she’s actually met?”

“No, a phone friend from the west coast,” Selena said as she headed out the door and waved good-bye.

My mother
had worked for years as an at-home medical transcriptionist until the company centralized their operations last November. It had been good, steady work, but lonely, especially for an ostracized widow. Her only contact with co-workers had come during monthly teleconferences. They’d known her as
Justine who made the occasional joke before the manager came on the line
. It allowed her to escape her surname and brought in some much-needed money. I wondered sometimes if the loss of the job contributed to the current worsening of her mental state.

My mom
entered the kitchen from the dining room. She looked good, lively. “What would you like for dinner tonight, Allison?”

“You cooking?”

“Don’t I always?”

No, but I wasn’t going to call
her on technicalities. The pots left boiling on the stove last May and the lasagna that transformed into a black brick on my previous visit were best left unmentioned.

“As it turns out,
” I said, “I stopped and got salmon at that seafood place where the print shop used to be. Think you can turn it into something fabulous?”

“Salmon itself is fabulous, but there’s nothing wrong with dressing it up a
bit.”

As my mom unwrapped the fish and started
to concoct a maple-brandy marinade for it, I jumped into the conversation that had been awaiting one of her clearheaded moments.

“I ran into Mrs. Smith today.”

My mom’s back tightened as if all her muscles had cramped at once but she let them relax with her next exhalation.

“You two ever talk anymore?”
I asked.

“Oh, no,
honey. Her son was one of poor Bobby Kettrick’s friends. You know that. Well, maybe you don’t. You were so young, after all.”

The revolving door of
Bobby Kettrick perceptions was spinning again. In lucid moments, Bobby was
a dear boy
. Sometimes
a poor thing
. In the newer, confused moments, Bobby was inevitably a rat. One thing he never was…
the boy your father shot
. She wouldn’t believe that if I showed her a video of it. I always gave Mom the benefit of the doubt and assumed that the woman who turned the other cheek and gave the shirt off her back to less-than-charitable neighbors was the real Justine Fennimore.


I remember her son,” I said. “Smitty. He’s actually in town for the high school reunion.”

“Do you ever do things like that,
honey? Go to your high school reunions?”

Needed
to rent
Carrie
for my mom sometime. A bucket of blood on my head would be the least of my worries. She turned to me as she sprinkled a bit of salt on the fish. “I mean the school in New York, of course. I certainly wouldn’t expect you to attend anything Lavitte-related.”

After the trial, I’d gone to Brooklyn to live with my aunt. My mom
had thought about selling the house and moving north to join me, but five realtors had told her the house wouldn’t sell for a good, long while. Not with the history of its only owner. She’d tried selling it herself, but teenagers had continually vandalized the sign. When she’d finally attracted an out-of-town couple, the neighbors had sought them out immediately and filled their heads with venom. The offer had been retracted like a forked tongue finding no fly and my mom had taken the house off the market. By the time she’d thought it reasonable, if not ideal, for me to come home, I’d been accepted into an elite program at the Brooklyn school and we’d all agreed I should stay put. Despite missing my mother, my old life felt foreign to me by then and I had no desire to return.

“Uh, no,” I said. “Never even occurred to me.”

“You did make friends up there, though.” It was a question disguised as hopeful sentiment.

“Of course,” I lied. “I mean, I studied a lot, but the geeks and I commingled.”

“Those were hard years. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you more.”

“Mom, please. You had more to deal with than any human should have to.”

I
brought the conversation back to where I wanted, which was definitely away from the topic of me. “You ever hear anything over the years about Smitty knowing more than he admitted about that night?”

That night
was Fennimore code for, well, that night.

“No
!” my mom blurted. “Definitely not. Who would talk to me, anyway?” She whisked her marinade too hard and a few dark drops splattered on the white counter. She wiped them up immediately. “I can’t spend my time thinking about it. And you shouldn’t either. You have a good head on your shoulders and you need to put it to better use than worrying about that night. Now where’s the garlic powder?”

She leaned
towards a low pantry shelf in search of the yellow, metallic container, but I refused to be distracted by a condiment. “I talked to Smitty about it.”

My mother shot up from her bent
-over position. Hadn’t seen her move that fast since avoiding a strike from my dad. “Why? Oh, Allison, why would you do that?”

“Things come up.”

“I can’t imagine how awkward the
coming up
of that topic must have been. I certainly hope Elise wasn’t within earshot.”

“You really care what she thinks? She
doesn’t even speak to you.”

She harrumphed as she sprinkled the garlic powder. “Every
one in town was asked about their whereabouts that day. The police tried to figure out where Bobby had been all day, along with that poor Anderson girl. They even questioned Elise’s son about what time he’d finished painting the porch, who he’d been with, all that type of thing. She never forgave us for her family’s integrity getting dragged into the whole mess. And of course, Abel Smith was the one who testified about…”

My mother turned back to the pot
where the butter, brandy, and maple syrup simmered together. Although she could make any marinade with her eyes closed, she pretended that this one suddenly required her undivided attention.

“Mom?” I said. “What did Mr. Smith testify about?”
I had read most of the trial notes by now, but couldn’t remember anything about Abel Smith, Smitty’s dad.

She
turned around, brows crossed, mouth tight. She resented me for driving these memories to the forefront of her delicate mind. “Mr. Smith is the one—the only one—who placed your father anywhere but at the garage that day. Said he saw him walking back from the direction of the creek… where Shelby’s body was found.” Her voice cracked. “Out past the Hesters’ barn.”

“Why would Dad
—”

“He
must have been looking for that scraggly cat.”

Justine Fennimore was known to love all animals. Even discouraged my dad from shooting the
gophers and rodents near the shop. But if my dad’s search for that cat had linked him to Shelby Anderson’s corpse, she’d never accept it. It had to be damning when a reliable witness had placed Artie Fennimore near the site of the body disposal on the very afternoon Shelby’d gone missing.

Instead of stirring
the marinade with the wooden spoon, my mom now stabbed at it, possibly envisioning old Rusty, the stray my father had adored. “He loved that cat,” she said. “I never understood it.”

She removed the pot from the heat and grabbed a few basil leaves from her window plant. Chopped at them
in such a way that I curled my fingers in. “Abel Smith barely knew where his own son was most hours of the day or night, but he somehow managed to keep tabs on your father on the one day when it made a difference.” She was practically hyperventilating. I eased towards her, not wanting the knife to come flying up in my direction.

“Hey, Mom, let me do that.”

She placed both hands flat against the cutting board, the knife hanging over the edge, her fingers still clutching it tightly enough that her knuckles turned white.

“It’s just, it was just… I mean, the
Bobby Kettrick thing was bad enough, but the Shelby Anderson case. That’s what did it, you know. That’s what sent everyone over the edge.”


Do you think—”

She
twirled fast towards me, the knife spinning with her until its tip caught my arm. She jerked it back when she saw the razor-thin line of blood. It was the shallowest of cuts, but she screamed as if she’d impaled me.

“It’s okay, Mom. It’s nothing.”

“I’ve cut your arm!” she shrieked. “Oh my God! You see how this stuff happens?” Her eyes turned desperate and distant. “Someone has a weapon. They don’t realize what they’re doing. It’s in their hand and—bam! Your life is never the same. Never. And, and…”

She noticed my arm again, as if for the first time. “You’re bleeding.”

Clarity-Justine had taken her leave for the evening. Still, the maternal instincts kicked in. She dabbed at the cut with a piece of gauze that she grabbed from a drawer. The blood had already clotted, leaving little trace of the previous minute’s drama. She produced a small tube of antibiotic ointment, and, like my father’s deft movements under a car hood, she disinfected and sealed my wound before most people could have acknowledged it.

“Thanks, Mom.”

She patted my arm and smiled beneath a blank stare, as if thanking a stranger who’d dropped a quarter in her beggar’s cup. As she shuffled away to her room, the fish started to stink on the counter.

Chapter
12

 

Artie…
sixteen years ago

 

Artie tightened the final screw to make sure Bobby Kettrick’s transmission wouldn’t end up lying in the middle of Marshall Street. He shook his head as he heard Enzo cursing the oil he’d just spilled all over himself. It was like Artie couldn’t dumb the tasks down enough for that kid. A simple thing like changing oil—hell, people could do that clean and fast with their cars sprawled over a ditch on the side of the road—but Enzo still managed to make a mess of it.

“Kevin,” Artie said to his son who was looking more like Justine’s side of the family every day, “go down
under the first bay and see if Enzo needs help. Sounds like he made a damn mess again.”

Kevin smiled at his dad in a show of camaraderie. The two of them bailed
Enzo out of messes on a weekly basis, but neither ever suggested getting rid of him. Enzo had promise—just not as a mechanic. He never complained about staying late, usually arrived within five minutes of his starting time, and had a playful, fun attitude that the shop desperately needed.

Artie let the hood on
Bobby’s car drop back into place, his face squeezing itself together like a pinched wrinkle of fabric when the slam penetrated his brain. He lumbered over to a nearby shelf, reached behind a box of rags, and grabbed a bottle of prescription pills. He poured two into his hand, then another two, and tossed them in his mouth. He swallowed them down with a swig of water from an open bottle nearby. Then he leaned forward on Bobby’s hood, waiting for the pounding to subside, as he stared through the windshield, out the back window, and at the trunk of the car. He squinted his eyes and tilted his neck to slant the pain in his head, giving the right side a spot of relief. It also gave him an opportunity to toy with scenarios involving the trunk of Bobby’s car.

“I wonder if he’s that stupid,” Artie muttered to himself
while allowing a guarded grin to traverse his thin face. Nodding, he opened Bobby’s front door and pulled the latch to pop the trunk. He sauntered ‘round the back and looked into the cavernous, damp-smelling trunk. He shoved aside a big, burlap sack and there, lying right out in the open for anyone to see… Artie’s tools.

“That son of a bitch
,” Artie muttered. “That stupid, punk-ass son of a bitch.”

Enzo
’s voice startled him. “You writin’ a love song to Bobby, Mr. Artie? Or preparing his eulogy?”

Artie turned around and
watched Enzo peel the grey jumpsuit from his skin where the oil had saturated it.


Christ, Enzo,” he said. “You get any oil
in
the car?”

“This was the dirty stuff, Mr. Artie. I never waste the good stuff.”

That was true. Enzo wore his streak of frugality like a badge of honor. He knew the costs of all the items in the garage, and had even helped make simple changes in the business to improve the bottom line. Hooked Artie up with new suppliers, encouraged him to order in bulk, and brought the service charges more in line with what the market would bear.

Enzo
glanced at the expensive tools in Artie’s hand. “Don’t tell me you found those in Bobby’s car.”

Artie slapped the heavy pieces of metal against his palm. “Sure as heck did.”

“What an idiot.” Enzo walked over to the Chevy. “He left them right there in the open?”

“Under that sack,” Artie said.

Enzo lifted the sack to check for more stolen bounty. Nothing there but fast food trash and an old pair of jumper cables. He looked in the sack. Nothing that would get Bobby thirty days in the slammer. Disappointed, he closed the trunk.

Kevin came up from the underground bay. “
Where’s that jumper you were wearing, Enzo? Gonna need to burn it out back.”

“It’ll wash,” Artie said. “Justine’s good with that stuff.”

Kevin allowed something akin to approval to show on his face. His father had been trying real hard in the last year or two to improve things at home. He and his dad had always been sort of okay, and Artie usually just let Allison be. But things used to get pretty hairy between his parents. Twice, Kevin remembered Artie hitting his mom. Both times in the kitchen over some problem with the meal. Both times, Kevin, with his own temper brewing just below the surface, had launched himself at his dad, his skinny limbs flailing about as he screamed in protest. He’d only been spared a paternal slug to the face by his mom’s swift intervention. Maybe that history was part of Artie’s motivation to get himself under control. He knew Kevin couldn’t be held off anymore. Kevin dwarfed his dad by at least five inches and thirty pounds of chiseled muscle, every fiber earned in the hot sun, on roads and in fields. Cables, pins, barbells, machines—that stuff was for wusses… and guys who lived in towns that had such facilities.

“Look what I found in
Bobby’s trunk.” Artie held up the tools like a prize as Kevin came over to get a closer look.

“Guess being the mayor’s son comes with advantages and disadvantages,” Kevin said. “The advantage being you can do stupid shit and get away with it.”

“And the disadvantages?” Enzo said on cue.

“You yourself are stupid as shit.”

They laughed. Kevin took the tools while Artie went to the other end of the garage to put his own jumper into the sack he usually brought home for Justine. Kevin’s brows met in an arch as he turned the recovered tools over in his hands.

“Hmp,” he said, scraping a hardened, reddish clump from the end of the heavy-gauge wrench.

“What is it?” Enzo said.

“Dunno
.” He held the wrench out to show Enzo. “Could be nothing. Could be—”

“That’s blood
.” Enzo’s tone—and bevy of colorful life experiences—left no doubt. “And look here.” He pinched at the clump and came up with four or five coarse, ginger-colored hairs, no longer than a pinky nail. He pressed them against his palm to be sure Kevin could appreciate their particular shade and texture.

Kevin’s nostrils flared beneath a darkening
patch of fractious lines on his forehead as he and Enzo exchanged a knowing glance.

“Rusty,” Kevin murmured.

Enzo merely shook his head as if this sordid discovery seemed inevitable. At the sound of Artie’s light footsteps crossing the garage floor, Enzo’s expression turned urgent. He whispered to Kevin, “Not a word, man. Not a word. Nothing good can come of it.”

Kevin laid the tools on the shelf near the window just as
his dad clapped him on the back. “So you’re legal now, right son?” Artie knew full well that Kevin had turned eighteen the month before because they had all celebrated the hell out of it with a pig roast at the house, followed by a huge bonfire that had allowed Artie to dispose of a lot of junk lying around the garage. Kevin would be heading to East Carolina University in the fall to study engineering and it looked like things would turn out okay for the kid.


I ain’t legal enough to drink in town,” Kevin said, forcing a grin, “but since when do we lower ourselves to Lavitte standards?”

Artie didn’t usually encourage
minors to break the law, but he knew Kevin had imbibed on more than one occasion, and heck, it was late on a Friday and still hot enough to fry an egg on the hoods of the cars.


You thinking about those beers in the mini-fridge?” Kevin asked, the grin beginning to feel sincere.

“It’s been a long afternoon
,” Artie said.

“Afternoon
?” Kevin said. “That passed by three hours ago.” He glanced outside at the remnants of the late August sunset. “Heck, even Happy Hour is old news.”

“You in,
Enzo?” Artie said.


Matter of fact, my uncle—”

“Here we go with the uncles,” Artie muttered to Kevin
with a grin.


…. he brewed something up last week,” Enzo continued. “It’ll rip your stomach out, but it tastes sweet as pure nectar and smooth as a centerfold’s legs going down. Just gotta get past the first sip.”

“No, thanks,
Enzo,” Artie said. “I’ll stick with Bud. Not even supposed to drink once I take those pills for my head.”

“Come on, Dad,” Kevin said.
“How often do you get a chance to sample from one of the most notorious moonshiners in the county?”


Well, maybe just a taste,” Artie said.

Enzo
’s uncles had been near-arrested more than anyone else in the county, earning them the status of near-celebrities. Everyone knew they bribed their way out of trouble by producing and supplying the law with the best moonshine for a hundred miles in any direction, along with a hunk of the profits. As long as the Feds stayed out of the way, Moonshine Rodriguez and company were as golden as the elixir they produced.

Enzo
returned from his truck with an unmarked bottle of clear liquid. He walked over to the messy, metal desk in the corner and emptied some screws, nuts, and bolts from their respective tin cans. He poured a liberal shot of liquor for each of them. Whatever germs had taken residence in the cans couldn’t touch the ingredients in his uncle’s illicit brew.

Enzo
swirled his can, gave it a loud sniff and declared, “A good year. A bit fruity with essence of rust, alcohol, eau de rat tail, and more alcohol.” He indulged in a disciplined sip, nodded approvingly, then delivered the Fennimores their cans.

Kevin lifted his can
for a toast. “To Artie’s Autos, and to customers who drive pieces of shit!”

Artie offered his own amendment. “To
my tools! May justice be served one day against that golden-haired piece of shit.”

Kevin and
Enzo swapped the subtlest of confidential glances before Enzo offered his amendment to the toast. “To you guys, for putting up with this lazy Meh-hee-can-o boy piece of shit.”

They
laughed and drank. Enzo knew enough to take it slowly but Kevin swigged his down like cheap tequila. The burning sensation took a moment to work its way to the shriek in his mouth. “Holy mother! You ain’t kidding ‘bout the burn.” He coughed and spit.

“It’ll be worth it,”
Enzo said.

An hour and a half later
, Artie had forgotten about those pills he took. He and the boys were arguing over who had the better night vision and who could shoot better blindfolded. At one point, they got to laughing so hard, they wouldn’t even have heard an intruder sneak up behind them.

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