For a limited time, the Kindle version of my short story collection, Devious Tales, is now available for only 99 cents. Twelve dark short stories about revenge, lust, love, money and murder with a twist.
Holcomb Bridge is a short story from my book, Devious Tales. If you like it and want more tales with a twist, you can purchase the complete book at Amazon (ebook and paperback), Barnes & Noble (ebook and paperback), and Kobo (ebook). The paperback contains two additional stories.
Holcomb Bridge was the sort of small bridge you find in many small towns. This particular one though had little traffic during the day and was even quieter at night. That is except for Friday and Saturday nights when local teens came out here way after dark looking for a deserted area where they could park and neck. As a cop, I knew all this pretty well. I was also a teenager once myself, and having grown up here, I had fond memories of kissing Caroline McKay, Janie Newton, and a few other girls right on that bridge. Not at the same time of course!
It’s a romantic spot. Especially if you got lucky and the moon was full, shining bright and reflecting off the river below. These days, this area of town was part of my regular patrol, and those nights of my teenage lust long gone except for the memories. I am married now to a great woman. Her name is Barbara. We have two terrific sons, Michael and Anthony. Still, whenever I drive by this bridge which is every night I am on duty, it brings back fond recollections of those late nights and early mornings. Today, as a police officer, I always left the kids alone.
Unlike Ray Morton.
Ray Morton was the police officer who patrolled this area back in those days when it was me and Caroline and Janie necking in the shadows of the bridge along with other kids. Soon as he spotted us, Morton jumped out of his car. He would shine a bright flashlight right at us and chase us all off threatening to tell our folks. Like we cared!
Me on the other hand, I just drive by, take a quick gaze at the surroundings making sure nothing looks out of the ordinary and let the kids be. Necking and maybe smoking a bit of weed was not the worst thing you could do.
This particular night though was a Wednesday. It was well past midnight, and the person on the bridge was not a teenager, and he was there all by himself. His car was parked right in the middle of the bridge. I pulled over stopping my car about twenty feet from him. I shut the headlights off and sat there looking at him for a bit getting the impression he didn’t even know I was there. He hadn’t moved. He was just staring down at the water. I quietly got out of my car and slowly walked over toward him until I was a couple of feet away. He still did not move or acknowledge my presence. I leaned over the railing and stared out into the darkness.
“Nice night, a bit cool maybe,” I said.
“I’ve seen better.”
“How long you been here?”
“I don’t know. An hour or so, maybe. Makes no difference.”
“You know, I bet that water is still cold after our snowy winter.”
He turned and looked at me for the first time, just for a moment. He nodded, “yeah, it probably is.” He then turned back to staring out into the dark nothingness.
He pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Put one in his mouth and then offered me one.
I shook my head. “Gave them up a while back.”
“I thought of doing that too, but lately it just doesn’t seem to matter.”
He lit up, took a long drag and blew out a mouth full of smoke.
“You know, life gives you a lot of twists and turns,” he said. “One moment it makes you think everything is finally going to ease up and go well. You could settle down, be happy, and then…then you suddenly, unexpectedly get a big knife right in your gut ripping you apart.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, what happened?”
He took the cigarette out of his mouth and held it in right hand.
“My wife died.”
“That’s what everyone says. They all say how sorry they are, friends, relatives, co-workers. They all offer help, food, comfort, companionship. Everything except for one thing.”
“What is that?” I asked even though I knew the answer.
“How do I get my wife back? She was everything to me, and now she’s gone. I’m alone.”
“Do you have kids?”
“No. Stella couldn’t have children, and that was okay with me. We had each other and always would, forever. At least, that’s what I thought. Forever ended sooner than expected.”
With that, he flicked the half-smoked cigarette into the river below. We were silent for a few minutes.
“You married?” he asked.
I nodded in the affirmative, “we have two boys,” I said.
“That’s nice. Like I said, Stella couldn’t have kids. I knew when we got married that she couldn’t have them. She had a hysterectomy when she was nineteen believe or not. Cancer. But they got it all, and here we were twelve years later, and she was doing great. We were happy.”
“The cancer didn’t come back if that’s what you’re thinking. It was a car accident. Some teenage kid. A seventeen-year-old asshole texting on her phone swerved, not paying attention to the road, slammed head on right into her. The doctors said she most likely died instantaneously. I guess that’s something to be grateful for huh?”
He pulled out another cigarette and lit it up. “Maybe, it was cancer that killed Stella. The stupid human kind. You know what I mean?”
“Unfortunately, I do. Kids, texting and driving. It’s not just kids,” I said. “Not to sound like an advertisement or something, but it’s an epidemic.”
“Stupidity never dies.”
“I’ll take one if you don’t mind.”
“Thought you said you quit?”
“Generally speaking…” I smiled.
He smiled back and offered me the pack. I took one and lit up. We both stood there silent for a while again. This time it was longer though I can’t say how long, but we finished that pack of cigarettes, I know that.
The wind was beginning to pick up a little. It felt good.
“I hated that kid,” he said suddenly. “Lord knows I did. Marcy Stevens, that’s her name. I know you’re a cop, but I’ll tell you anyway. I wanted to kill her. I wanted her not just to die, but to suffer before she died, actually suffer like I have been suffering now.”
“Did you? I asked.
“Did I what?”
He looked at me incredulously. “No, of course not. I had a lot of rage for a long time, and I thought up a lot of bad things. A lot of different ways to make her suffer. Run her down like she did Stella. Then run over her again and again, going back and forth. Then I thought of shooting her or stabbing her. But I…I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do any of that. Stella wouldn’t have wanted me to. She would have wanted me to forgive that kid. That’s the kind of sweet soul she was.”
“Sounds like she was a wonderful person.”
“Oh she was, she was.”
“Have you been seeing anybody? Professionally I mean, a doctor.”
“I did for a while, but I stopped going. I began drinking for a while, but I kept getting sick to my stomach. Never been able to tolerate booze well. I gave up on that too. That’s when I started coming out here to think. Thinking about a lot of things but mostly about,” he stops for a moment, “well, you can guess.”
“Yeah, probably,” I said. “You should go back to the doctor.”
“Yeah, but I have been coming out here for a while now. True, the first few times I came out here, I always had plans to…well, take the dive. End it all. But, somehow, I never did. Then I began coming out here as some sort of therapeutic thing. I’d talk to Stella, and for a while that was good. And she told me it was okay and I should go on with my life. Am I crazy, talking to a dead person?”
“Lots of people do when they miss someone,” I said.
“Well, believe it or not, it helped. I stopped coming here, and I thought I was over it all. You know, I figured I reached a point, with Stella’s blessings, where I could move on with my life. It was all okay for a time. A couple of months went by, and it was good. I even thought of dating. Then came one night when suddenly inside my head I felt all those old emotions and feelings come rushing back. The next night and the next were the same. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to come out here. It all came back. I wanted to jump again. I wanted it all to end. Then you appeared, and we talked. I’m okay now, at least for tonight.”
“Well, I’m glad for that,” I said and truly was.
“I guess it’s like being an alcoholic. You have to take it one day at a time.”
“I guess, but I still think a doctor could help you along the way.”
“You’re probably right. I should go back. Maybe next time you won’t be here to talk me down.”
He looked at me.
“I want to thank you,” he said. “You know, I just realized I don’t know your name.”
“Moretti, Bob Moretti,” I said. “If you ever want to talk or need me, here is my cellphone number.” I took a card out and jotted down my personal number.
“Mine’s Fred Smith.”
We shook hands.
By now, a couple of hours had passed, and the sun was beginning to rise slowly.
“Wow, we’ve been here almost all night,” Fred said.
“Time goes by when you’re having fun…” I said, trying to keep it light. “Like I said, Fred. Anytime. Just call me, and we can talk. I don’t want to come here again some night and find you down at the bottom of that river.”
“I appreciate all this. Thanks, Officer Moretti.”
“Bob,” I said.
We shook hands again, and I walked over and got into my cruiser. I backed up to the end of the bridge and sat there for a moment watching as Fred got into his car. He was heading in the opposite direction from me. His car started up. Suddenly, there was the screech of his tires. Bob’s car burned rubber as he drove right through the railings and off the bridge plunging into the cold river below.
I waited for the rescue team to arrive. It took them a half hour to get here. By then the sun was almost up, and it was no longer a rescue operation. There’s no way Fred could have survived that frigid water, even if he survived the car’s dive into the river. Now, this was a recovery operation.
They dragged the car out of the river. As expected, Fred was dead. Still strapped in with his seat belt which I found ironic since he planned on killing himself. Habit maybe?
Also dead was the teenage girl, Marcy Stevens. She was tied up in the trunk of the car. Her cellphone was stuffed into her mouth and held there with tape.
Today only, my eBook Murder with a Twist is free on Amazon. Here’s what author Carol Balawyder had to say….
The two short crime stories in this book read like hardboiled fiction. Like any good short story both stories in Murder with a Twist are tightly written and we jump into the action right away.
Reviews are appreciated: Amazon, Goodreads, Blogs, etc.
One of my favorite crime writers is the late Donald E. Westlake. Westlake was awarded the title of Grand Master by The Mystery Writers of America, as well as a three-time Edgar winner. He wrote over 100 novels and numerous short stories and screenplays.
Westlake was a prolific author, best known for two long-running series, one featuring the dark anti-hero known only as Parker, written under one of his many pen names, Richard Stark, and the lighter comedic mysteries featuring John Dortmunder. By 1977, both characters had already made their way to the movie screen. In 1967, the first Parker novel, The Hunter, appeared under the title Point Blank (1) with Parker’s name changed, inexplicably, to Walker. The film featured Lee Marvin in the lead role. Five years later John Dortmunder hit the screen with Robert Redford in The Hot Rock.
Back in 1977, the author published a book called Enough. It consisted of two novellas, the longer of the two was called A Travesty, and the second, shorter story, was Orb. Enough may be one of the toughest of Westlake’s works to find a copy. I was fortunate enough a few years back to discover a copy at a local library. A Travesty is a dark, comic tale involving a sexually insatiable film critic, Carey Thorpe, who during a heated argument with one of his lovers accidentally kills her. Having seen too many movies, instead of calling the police, Thorpe decides to cover up his involvement in the transgression. Unfortunately, Thorpe’s lover was under surveillance by a blackmailing private investigator. Additionally, the investigating police detective takes a liking to our “‘hero,” and admires his amateur detective instincts. He’s also a frustrated screenwriter and would like Corey to take a look at what he wrote. Along the way, Carey is “forced” to commit a couple of more murders. Regrettably, for the film critic, his voracious appetite for sex does him in when he spurns the wrong woman.
Let’s fast forward more than 30 years to 1999 and the premiere on TNT of a film called A Slight Case of Murder. It’s not to be confused with the 1938 Edward G Robinson film with the same title, but a made for TV film starring William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman, James Cromwell, and Adam Atkin. The film is based on A Travesty and adapted for the screen by Macy and director Steven Schachter. The duo faithfully captures the humorous essence of Westlake’s novella. The film critic’s name was changed in the movie from Corey to Terry, but much of the tale stays close to Westlake’s original work. It’s smart with plenty of visual and verbal nods to the noir films it’s sending up including Terry talking at times directly to the camera (in place of a voice-over). It’s filled with murders, sleazy characters and plenty of twists wrapped up in a funny script that film lovers, like myself, will especially love.
The performances by the four main actors are all of high quality, though William H. Macy gets a special nod in a role that some may find reminiscent of his Jerry Lundgaard role in Fargo. Also noteworthy is Julia Campbell’s work as Arkin’s amorous wife, whose affair with Macy leads to his downfall.
I am a big fan of two of the author’s stand-alone books, The Ax and The Hook, both wonderful satires. In The Ax, the main character is Burke Devore, a quiet company man who after twenty-five years of service becomes a victim of corporate downsizing. After two years of unemployment, his life falling apart, Burke comes up with what he considers the ideal solution, eliminate his competition by killing them off.
The Hook is a devious tale about author Bryce Proctor, a mediocre but best-selling author. Then there is author Wayne Prentice, a more accomplished writer than Procter, but his books no longer hit the best sellers list. Bryce has been going through a rough stretch including a divorce which has led to a bad case of writer’s block. To make it worst he has a deadline quickly approaching on his next book. Wayne comes up with a plan that would help them both. He’ll write the book, give it to Bryce to publish under his name, and they split the royalties 50/50. Bryce is all for it except he has one caveat, Wayne needs to kill Bryce’s wife.
Many of Westlake’s books have made it to the screen, unfortunately not always in a good way. The previously mentioned Point Blank, The Hot Rock, and A Slight Case of Murder are on the plus side. However, more often than not, there were mediocre films like Cops and Robbers, The Twin, The Split, The Bank Shot, and the awful and misguided Jimmy the Kid which was turned into a vehicle for Gary Coleman. Interestingly enough, a few of Westlake’s books have been made into films by foreign filmmakers including Costa-Gavras whose 2005 film, Le Couperet, is based on The Ax. In 1966, Jean Luc Godard loosely adapted Westlake’s The Juggler (a Parker novel) turning it into Made in the U.S.A. (2) No one connected with the Goddard film, including Goddard, at the time, bothered acquiring the film rights. Westlake eventually sued and won.
As a screenwriter, Westlake was nominated for an Academy Award for his adaptation of hard-boiled author Jim Thompson’s The Grifters (1990). He also wrote the screenplay for the original The Stepfather film which was adapted from a short story he wrote with co-writers, Brian Garfield and Carolyn Lefcourt. For a full list of Westlake’s film credit’s check here.
If you like reading crime fiction and have not read Donald Westlake, get down to your local independent book store or anywhere books are sold and start catching up. If you like hard-boiled fiction, the Parker books written under the name of Richard Stark are must-reads. On the lighter side are his John Dortmunder books. Dortmunder is a cool, criminal mastermind, brilliant at planning heist. Unfortunately, his luck is not as good as his talent. Inevitably something always goes wrong.
(1) In 1999, Point Blank (The Hunter) was remade as Payback with Mel Gibson in the lead role. Once again Parker’s name was changed again, this time to Porter.
(2) Wikipedia Donald E. Westlake.
My thanks to author Carol Balawyder for the wonderful review of DEVIOUS TALES, my short story collection.
There’s a saying in writing: make every word count or at the very least have every paragraph/scene be relevant. This can be argued, especially for the novel where there is room for sub-plots and leisure strolls through gardens and having tea with a favorite aunt. Not so for the short story. Short stories are (generally) tight, concentrated and condensed.
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Devious Tales is my new collection of short stories consisting of 12 dark tales with a twist. It’s available as both an e-book and a paperback from Amazon and as a paperback from CreateSpace. The paperback edition contains two bonus stories. Check out the summary below.
Holcomb Bridge has been a secluded and romantic make out spot for the local teenagers for many years, but that changed one late night.
Photographer Derek Shaw’s life changes in both good and bad ways after he meets Karen, the new love in his life, and her two kids, Gerald and Amanda.
Late Night Diner
Some people like working the over night shift. Others need to. It gives their demons and nightmares a place to escape.
Smart Like Dillinger
Love, even in old age, can take an unforeseen turn.
An Almost Perfect Woman
Judy was perfect…well almost. She did have one little problem.
For young Bobby Smithfield there are some lessons you never recover from.
The Organic Garden
A bad marriage and an organic garden make for a delicious mix of ingredients that will make your garden grow.
An Office Romance
Office romances can be great; they can also be bad. However, sometimes it’s just what you need when your life is about to take a deadly turn.
The Anniversary Surprise
As Brad Hollis discovers, surprises do not always turn out quite as you anticipate.
The Old Man
Young Billy Atwood becomes friends with an old man who lives in his apartment building. Their relationship is short lived, but for Billy there’s an unexpected twist of fate.
A Merry Little Christmas Gift
The holidays can brings out the worst in everyone, and does in this Christmas treat.
Can old lovers come back and haunt you? Well, not if they are dead…or can they?
Devious Tales: 12 Short Stories is now available as a paperback! The paperback version includes two bonus stories. Both were previously published in Murder with a Twist. You can get you copy here at CreateSpace. It will also be available on Amazon in a few days. The e-book is now available here at Amazon.
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