1956: An Interlude IV
Evan Harmont looked in on his sleeping daughters. The steady rise and fall of their small bodies beneath the covers made his heart feel too huge and too small all at once. He covered his mouth and closed the door.
As he passed through the hallway, he glanced in the direction of the bedroom he’d shared with Rebecca for the last few months—the bed they had shared for over ten years was in that room, and the pretty girl he’d fallen in love with before the bed had even been a thought in some fabricator’s mind was buried beneath a blanket in that room. Thinking of him? Maybe. Hating him? Probably.
He left the house quickly, bound for Sandy Lanes Bowling Alley and Tony Tredio.
He arrived just before the witching hour. Tony stood next to the regular dumpster, smoking a cigarette. The stink of tobacco and garbage hung thick on the humid air. Evan stood before Tony, ignoring the sausage-fingered hand Tony offered him. “I have it,” Evan said, holding out a small envelope. Tony snatched it and tucked it in his coat pocket, a surreptitious expression on his round face. “Tell Sal I’m done,” Evan said, his voice absent of inflection.
Tony paused at that, his cigarette dangling between his fingers in front of his thin-lipped mouth. Finally a wry smile curled those lips upward. “Sorry, buddy, I don’t know no one by that name.” That smile reminded Evan of dog shit. For a brief moment he considered killing Tony here, in this isolated alley. No one would be able to link him to it if he did it quietly. But that would put Sal Puccini on his scent in a day, maybe less if you believed the rumors behind the man’s alias—Merlin.
“All the same,” Evan said. “Tell him I’m out. I quit.” His body wanted to sweat beneath his coat, to trickle down his brow, but he willed it to dry up. Showing fear to a dogsbody like Tony Tredio could be dangerous. “I’m out,” he repeated. “You tell the man. Done deal.” He turned to leave, heard Tony sigh and then grind his patent leather loafer against the pavement—he put out his cigarette.
“Sorry, Ev,” Tony said, sounding, to Evan’s surprise, genuinely apologetic. “You know it don’t work that way. You either come in with me or—” Tony didn’t finish. There was a sharp click behind Evan’s back and then the hard nose of a revolver was pressed between his shoulder blades.
“You gonna shoot me, Tony? That it? You know how quick the cops’ll be on your ass?”
Tony tittered. Evan hated when Tony laughed almost as much as when Tony talked. “C’mon, Ev.” Tony’s voice was that of the amused father with a belt in his hand instead of a gun. “You know how it works. I don’t bring you in, the big man’ll dangle me from a chain fall by my cock and nuts. I’d rather shoot you and spend a ten-piece up in Newark with my mouth shut than deal with that shit. So c’mon, make it easy on both of uh—”
Evan moved quickly, his reflexes firing on well-oiled pins. He punched Tony in the throat, forcing a wet rrracccchhhgl sound from the man’s lips. Tony lost his balance, dropped the gun, and then Evan was standing over him, his expensive shoe rising, falling, rising, falling on Tony Tredio’s upturned and bleeding head. Harsh breathing, the whimper of a desperate man, the crunch of bone.
When it was over, Evan wiped his shoes clean, reached into Tony’s coat, retrieved the envelope, then left, leaving the broken-faced man behind.
He drove without direction. Green reflective signs flashed their faces in his eyes, blacktop sliced cleanly through dense vegetation that looked equally black in the darkness. It was only a matter of time before Sal learned about Tony Tredio’s fate, and then it would take mere moments to link the broken thing behind the Sandy Dunes Bowling Alley with Evan Harmont.
A light rain began to patter the windshield, though Evan hardly noticed. He was imagining what punishment Sal would dream up for him. Rebecca would be first. Sal’s goons would rough her up badly, messing her pretty face; they would probably leave her alive and disfigured, so she could stare at her husband with those hurt eyes for the rest of her days. The girls—Sal would have them killed. It would be quick. But they would be dead, nevertheless, and Evan would have to live with the knowledge that he had made it all come to pass. But no. Sal wouldn’t allow Evan to live—not for long. Evan knew far too much. And much of what he knew too much of had recently been penned in his journal.
The journal, he thought. Perhaps Rebecca and the girls could be spared.
Yet he had to wonder: if he was so concerned for his family’s well-being, then why was he driving to a house squatting in the hedges of Leeds Road?
“Verina,” he whispered, pulling up to the shack and turning off his headlights. A shadow drifted languidly behind the sheer curtains that covered the front window. “Verina,” he whispered again and climbed from the car.
Shoes crunching on gravel. Breath dry, tearing in, whispering out. Sweat-slicked palms. Trembling lips.
Evan knocked on Verina Magus’s door.
She answered, her face as stoic as a fact. Her hair was tumbled over her shoulders, her cotton dress stopped just above her knees, the flesh below was tanned, earthy; her toes were black with soil. She seemed to measure his face, the need in his eyes. Her lips parted, she sighed. “I know,” she said.
Then he was in her arms, cradled against her: a big man seeking comfort, and the woman who gave it to him.