The Lovers: A Charlie Parker Thriller | Chapter 10 of 49

Author: John Connolly | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 7972 Views | Add a Review

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I TOOK THE TRAIN to Pearl River from Penn Station. I hadn’t driven down to New York from Maine, and I hadn’t bothered to rent a car while I was in the city. There was no need. Whatever I needed to do here, I could do more easily without an automobile. As the little single-car train pulled into the station, still barely altered from its origins as a branch of the Erie Railroad, I saw that any other changes to the heart of the town were also purely cosmetic. I climbed down and walked slowly across Memorial Park where a sign close to the unmanned Town of Orangetown police booth announced that Pearl River was still the town of friendly people. The park had been created by Julius E. Braunsdorf, the father of Pearl River, who had also laid out the town itself after purchasing the land, as well as building the railroad station, manufacturing the Aetna sewing machine and the America Liberty printing press, developing an incandescent lightbulb, and inventing the electric arc light that illuminated, not just this park, but the Capitol area in Washington, D.C. Braunsdorf was one of those guys who made most people look kind of sluggish by comparison. Along with Dan Fortmann of the Chicago Bears, he was Pearl River’s proudest boast.

The Stars and Stripes still flew over the memorial at the center of the park, commemorating the young men of the town who had died in combat. Curiously, these included James B. Moore and Siegfried W. Butz, who had died, not in combat, but in the course of a bank raid in 1929, when Henry J. Fernekes, a notorious bandit of the time, tried to hold up the First National Bank of Pearl River while masquerading as an electrician. Still, at least they were remembered. Murdered bank clerks don’t often qualify for a mention on public memorials anymore.

Pearl River hadn’t shaken off any of its Irish roots since I’d left. The Muddy Brook Café at North Main, on the far side of the park, still offered a Celtic breakfast, and nearby were Gallagher’s Irish butcher, the Irish Cottage gift store, and Healy-O’Sullivan Travel. Across East Central Avenue, next door to Handeler’s hardware store, was the Ha’penny Irish Shop, which sold Irish tea, candy, potato chips, and replica Gaelic football jerseys, and around the corner from the old Pearl Street Hotel was G. F. Noonan’s Irish bar. As my father often remarked, they should just have painted the whole town green and been done with it. The Pearl River movie theater was now closed, though, and there were chichi stores selling crafts and expensive gifts alongside the more functional auto shops and furniture stores.

It seems to me now that I spent all of my childhood in Pearl River, but that was not the case. We moved there when I was nearly eight, once my father had begun to tire of the long commute into the city from farther upstate, where he and my mother lived cheaply thanks to a house left to my father when his own mother died. It was particularly hard for him when he worked his week of 8:00 to 4:00 tours, which were, in reality, 7:00 to 3:30 tours. He would rise at five in the morning, sometimes even earlier, to make his trek in to the Ninth, a violent precinct that occupied less than one square mile on the Lower East Side but accounted for up to seventy-five homicides every year. On those weeks, my mother and I barely saw him. Not that the other tours on each six-week cycle were much better. He was required to do one week of 8:00 to 4:00, one week of 4:00 to 12:00, another week of 8:00 to 4:00, two weeks of 4:00 to 12:00 (on those weeks, I saw him only at weekends, for he was sleeping when I left for school in the morning, and gone to work by the time I returned), and one mandatory 12:00 midnight to 8:00 tour, which screwed up his body clock so badly he would sometimes be almost delirious with tiredness by the end of it.

The Ninth worked what was called a “nine-squad chart,” nine squads of nine men, each with a sergeant, a system that dated back to the fifties and was eventually eliminated in the eighties, taking with it much of the camaraderie that it engendered. My father’s sergeant in the First Squad was a man named Larry Costello, and it was he who suggested that my father should consider moving down to Pearl River. It was where all the Irish cops lived, a town that claimed the second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the state after Manhattan. It was comparatively wealthy too, with an average income that was almost twice the national average, and an air of comfortable prosperity. So it had enough off-duty cops to form a police state; it had money; and it had its own identity defined by common bonds of nationality. Even though my father was not himself Irish, he was Catholic, knew many of the men who lived in Pearl River, and was comfortable with them. My mother raised no objections to the move. If it gave her more time with her husband, and relieved him of some of the stress and strain that was, by then, so clearly etched on his face, she would have moved to a hole in the ground covered by a sheet of tarp and made the best of it.

So we went south, and because all that subsequently went wrong in our lives was, for me, tied in with Pearl River, the town came to dominate the memories of my childhood. We bought a house on Franklin Avenue, close to the corner of John Street where the United Methodist Church still stands. It was a “fixer-upper,” in the peculiar language of Realtors: the old lady who had lived in it for most of her life had recently died, and there was nothing to suggest that she had done much with the house, other than occasionally move a broom across the floors, since 1950. But it was a bigger house than we could otherwise have afforded, and something about the lack of fences, the open yards between properties on the street, appealed to my father. It gave him a sense of space, of community. The notion of good fences making good neighbors was not one that held much currency in Pearl River. Instead, there were those in the town who found the concept of a fence mildly troubling: a sign of disengagement, perhaps, of otherness.

My mother immersed herself in the life of the town. If there was a committee, she joined it. For a woman who, in most of my early memories of her, seemed so self-contained, so distant from her peers, it was an astonishing transformation. My father probably wondered if she was having an affair, but it was nothing more than the reaction of someone who found herself in a better place than she had previously been, with a husband who was more contented than he’d been before, although she still fretted when he left the house each day, and responded with barely concealed relief when he returned home unharmed after each tour.

My mother: now, as I trawled through the details of our life in that place, my relationship with her began to seem less and less normal, if that word can ever truly be used about the interactions of families. If she had sometimes appeared disconnected from her peers, so too was she often at one remove from my father, and from me. It wasn’t that she withheld affection, or did not cherish me. She delighted in my triumphs, and consoled me in my defeats. She listened, and counseled, and loved. But it seemed to me that, for much of my childhood, she acted in response to my promptings. Ifh t  omptings. I came to her, she would do all of those things, yet she did not initiate them. It was as though I were an experiment of sorts, a creature in a cage, something to be monitored and watched, to be fed and watered and given the affection and stimulation to ensure my survival, yet no more than that.

Or perhaps that was just a game memory was playing on me as I churned up the mud in the reservoir of the past and, when the dirt had settled, picked my way across the bottom to see what had been exposed.

After the killings, and what followed, she fled north to Maine, taking me with her, back to the place in which she had grown up. Until she died, when I was still in college, she refused to discuss in any detail the events that had led up to my father’s death. She retreated into herself, and there found only the cancer that would take her life, slowly colonizing the cells of her body like bad memories canceling out the good. I now wonder how long it had been waiting for her, if grave emotional injury might somehow have triggered a physical response, so that she was betrayed on two fronts: by her husband, and by her own body. If that was so, then the cancer began its work in the months before I was born. In my way, I was the stimulus as much as my father’s actions, for one was a consequence of the other.

The house had not changed much, although crumbling paintwork, upper windows streaked with grime, and broken shingles like dark, chipped teeth spoke of a degree of neglect. The color was slightly different, a paler gray than it had been when I lived there, but the yard was still unfenced, like those of the rest of its neighbors. The porch had been screened since last I had seen it, and a rocking chair and a rattan couch, both bare of cushions, faced the street. The window and door frames were now painted black instead of white, and there was only lawn where once there had been carefully tended flower beds, the grass thin and straggling where it was visible through banked and frozen snow, yet this was still recognizably the place in which I had grown up. A drape moved in what used to be the living room, and I saw an old man staring curiously at me. I dipped my chin in acknowledgment of his presence, and he receded into the shadows.

Above the front door was a double window, one pane broken and patched with cardboard, where a boy would sit and gaze out at the small town that was his world. Something of myself had been left in that room after my father died: a degree of innocence, perhaps, or the last remnant of childhood. It had been taken from me in the sound of a gunshot, forcing me to shed it like a reptile skin, or the pupal shell of an insect. I could almost see him, this little ghost: a figure with dark hair and narrow eyes, too introspective for his age, too solitary. He had friends, but he had never overcome the feeling that he was imposing upon them when he called to their houses, and that they did him a favor by playing games with him, or inviting him inside to watch TV. It was easier when they went out as a gang, playing softball in the park in summer, or soccer if Danny Yates, who was the only person he knew who was enthusiastic about the Cosmos and had Shoot! magazine sent over to him by an uncle stationed with the air force in England, was back from summer camp, or had yet to leave. Danny was older than the rest of them by a couple of years, and they deferred to him in most things.

I wondered where most of those former friends were now (none of them black, for Pearl River was a lily-white town, and we only encountered black kids at varsity games). I had lost touch with them after we left for Maine, but some were probably still living here. After all, Pearl River—clannish, fiercely protective of its own—was the kind of in  the kind place that became home to generations. Bobby Gretton had lived two doors down on the other side of the street. His parents drove only Chevys, and kept each car for a maximum of two years before trading it in for a newer model. I looked to my left and saw a brown Chevy Uplander in the drive of what had always been the Gretton house. There was a fading bumper sticker on the rear of the car supporting Obama for president in ’08, and beside it a yellow ribbon. The car had veterans’ plates. That was Mr. Gretton for sure.

The light changed at my old bedroom window, a cloud scudding overhead giving the impression of movement within, and I felt again the presence of the boy I once was. There he sat, waiting for the first sight of his returning father, or perhaps a glimpse of Carrie Gottlieb, who lived across the street. Carrie was three years older than he, and generally considered to be the most beautiful girl in Pearl River, although there were those who whispered that she knew it too, and that that knowledge made her less attractive and personable than other, more modestly endowed and self-effacing young women. Such mutterings did not concern the boy. It did not concern many of the boys in town. It was Carrie Gottlieb’s very separateness, the sense that she walked through life on pedestals erected solely for her own purposes, that made her so desirable. Had she been more down-to-earth and less self-assured, their interest in her would have been considerably diminished.

Carrie went off to the city to become a model. Her mother would tell anyone who stood still for long enough about how Carrie was destined to adorn fashion spreads and television screens, but in the months and years that followed, no such images of Carrie appeared, and in time her mother stopped speaking of her daughter in that way. When asked by others (usually with a glint in their eye, sensing blood in the water) how Carrie was getting along, she would reply, “Fine, just fine,” her smile slightly strained as she moved the conversation on to safer ground or, if the questioner persisted, simply moved herself along instead. In time, I heard that Carrie came back to Pearl River and got a job as the hostess in a restaurant, eventually becoming the manager after she and the owner got married. She was still beautiful, but the city had taken its toll on her, and her smile was less certain than it once had been. Nevertheless, she had returned to Pearl River, and she bore the loss of her dreams with a certain grace, and people admired her for it, and maybe liked her a little more than before because of it. She was one of them, and she was home, and when she visited her parents on Franklin Avenue the ghost of a boy saw her, and smiled.

My father was not a big man compared to some of his fellow officers, barely making the NYPD’s height requirement and slighter in build than they were. To my boyhood self, though, he seemed like an imposing figure, especially when he wore his uniform, with the four-inch Smith Wesson hanging on his belt, and his buttons gleaming against the deep, dark blue of his clothing.

“What are you gonna be when you grow up?” he would ask me, and I would always reply: “A cop.”

“And what kind of cop will you be?”

“A New York cop. N! Y! P! D!”

“And what kind of New York cop will you be?”

“A good one. The best.”

And my father would ruffle my hair, the flip side of the light cuff he would dispense whenever I did something that displeased him. Never a slap, never a punch: it wply  punch: ias enough to cuff the back of my head with his hard, callused palm, a signal that a line had been over-stepped. Further punishments would sometimes follow: grounding, the withholding of my allowance for a week or two, but the cuff was the danger sign. It was the final warning, and it was the only kind of physical violence, however mild, that I associated with my father until the day the two teenagers died.

Some of my friends, tired of living in a town defined by cops, were wary of my father. Frankie Murrow, in particular, used to curl in upon himself like a startled snail whenever my father was around. Frankie’s father was a security guard at a mall, so maybe it was something about uniforms and the men who wore them. Frankie’s father was a jerk, and perhaps Frankie just assumed that other men who wore uniforms and protected things were likely to be jerks too. Frankie’s father had asked him if he was a fag when, at the age of seven, Frankie had gone to take his father’s hand as they prepared to cross the road. Mr. Murrow was a “royal sonofabitch,” as my father had once put it. Mr. Murrow hated blacks and Jews and Hispanics, and he had a string of derogatory terms on the tip of his tongue for every one of them. He hated most white people too, though, so it wasn’t as if he was a racist. He was just good at hating.

At the age of fourteen, Frankie Murrow was put in reform school for arson. He’d burned his own house down while his old man was at work. He’d timed it pretty well, so that Mr. Murrow was turning onto his street just as the fire engines were arriving behind him. Frankie was sitting on the wall of the house opposite, watching the flames rise and laughing and crying at the same time.

My father was not a heavy drinker. He didn’t need alcohol to help him relax. He was the calmest man I had ever known, which made the relationship between him and his partner, and closest friend, Jimmy Gallagher, so difficult for the boy to understand. Jimmy, who always walked near the head of the town’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, who bled Irish green and cop blue, was all smiles, and almost-playful punches. He was taller than my father by three or four inches, and broader too. If they stood side by side on those occasions when Jimmy came to the house, my father would look a little embarrassed, as though he felt himself to be somehow wanting when compared to his friend. Jimmy would kiss and hug my mother as soon as he arrived, the only man, apart from her husband, who was permitted such intimacies, and then he would turn to me.

“There he is,” he would say. “There’s the man.”

Jimmy wasn’t married. He said that he had never met the right woman, but he’d enjoyed meeting a lot of the wrong ones. It was an old joke, and he used it often, but my mother and father would always laugh, even though they knew it was a lie. Women didn’t interest Jimmy Gallagher, although it would be many years before I understood that. I often wondered how difficult it must have been for Jimmy, keeping up a front for all those years, flirting with women in order to fit in. Jimmy Gallagher, who could make the most incredible pizzas from scratch, who could cook a banquet to please a king (or so I had once heard my father tell my mother) but who, when he hosted a poker game at his house, or had his buddies around to watch a ball game (because Jimmy, being single, could always afford the best and most modern TVs), would feed them nachos and beer, potato chips and store-bought TV dinners or, if the weather was good, cook steaks and burgers on the barbecue. And I sensed, even then, that while my father might have spoken too d  ve spoken my mother of Jimmy’s secret culinary skills, he did not make such references carelessly among his brother cops.

Jimmy would take my hand and shake it just a little too hard, testing his strength. I had learned not to wince when this occurred, for then Jimmy would say, “Ah, he has a way to go yet,” and shake his head in mock disappointment. But if my face remained still, and I returned the grip as best I could, Jimmy would smile and slip me a dollar, with the admonition: “Don’t spend it all on booze, now.”

I didn’t spend it all on booze. In fact, until I turned fifteen, I didn’t spend any of it on booze. I spent it on candy and comic books, or saved it for our summer vacation in Maine, when we would stay with my grandfather in Scarborough and I would be taken to Old Orchard Beach and allowed to run riot on the rides. As I grew older, though, booze became a more attractive option. Carrie Gottlieb’s brother, Phil, who worked for the railroad and was believed to be of slightly subnormal intelligence, was known to be willing to buy beer for underage kids in return for one bottle out of every six. One evening, two of my friends and I pooled our cash for a couple of six-packs of PBR that Phil picked up for us, and we drank most of them in the woods one night. I had liked the taste less than the frisson of pleasure I experienced from breaking both the law and a rule of the house, for my father had made it clear to me that there was to be no drinking until he said it was okay. Like young men the world over, I took this and other rules to refer only to things about which my father knew, since, if he didn’t know about them, then they couldn’t possibly be of any consequence to him.

Unfortunately, I had brought home one of the bottles and stashed it in the back of my closet for future use, which was where it was found by my mother. I’d taken a cuff on the head for that, and was grounded, and required to take an involuntary vow of poverty for at least a month. That afternoon, which was a Sunday, Jimmy Gallagher had come by the house. It was Jimmy’s birthday, and he and my father were going to hit the town, as they always did when one of them celebrated another year of not being shot, stabbed, beaten to a pulp, or run over. He had smiled mockingly at me, a dollar bill held between the index and middle fingers of his right hand.

“All those years,” he said, “and you never listened.”

And I had answered sullenly: “I did listen. I didn’t spend it all on booze.”

Even my father had been forced to laugh.

But Jimmy still didn’t give me the dollar, and after that he never gave me money again. He never got the chance. Six months later, my father was dead, and Jimmy Gallagher stopped coming around with dollar bills in his hand.

They had questioned my father after the killing, for he admitted his involvement as soon as they confronted him. They treated him sympathetically, trying to understand what had taken place so that they could begin to limit the damage. He had ended up at the Orangetown PD, since the local cops were the primaries. IAD had been involved, as had an investigator from the Rockland County DA’s office, a retired NYPD cop himself who knew how these things were done, and who would smooth the feathers of the local boys prior to taking over the investigation.

My father had called my mother shortly after they came for him, ana m  for him,d told her of what he had done. Later, a courtesy call was paid to the house by a pair of local cops. One of them was Jimmy Gallagher’s nephew, who worked out of Orangetown. Earlier that evening, when he was not yet on duty, he had come to our house in his casual clothes and had sat in our kitchen. He had a gun on his belt. He and my mother had pretended that it was merely a casual visit, but he had stayed too long for that, and I had seen the tension on my mother’s face as she served him coffee and cake that he barely touched. Now, as he stood again in our house, this time in uniform, I understood that his earlier presence had been connected to the shootings, but I did not yet know how.

Jimmy’s nephew confirmed for her all that had occurred, or appeared to have occurred, on the patch of waste ground just a short distance from the house, without ever referring to the fact that it was his second visit to the house that evening. She had wanted to join her husband, to offer him support, but he told her that there would be no point. The questioning would go on for some time, and then he would probably be suspended on full pay pending an investigation. He would be home soon, he promised her. Sit tight. Keep an eye on the boy. Tell him nothing for now. It’s up to you, but, you understand, it might be better to wait until we all know more…

I heard her crying after my father’s call, and I went to her. I stood before my mother, dressed in my pajamas, and said:

“What’s wrong? Mom, what’s the matter?”

She had looked at me, and for a moment I felt sure that she had failed to recognize me. She was upset and in shock. What my father had done had frozen her responses, so that I seemed to her a stranger. Only that could explain the coldness of her stare, the distance it placed between us, as though the air had frozen solid, cutting us off from each other. I had seen that expression on her face before, but only at the worst of times, when I had done something so terrible that she was unable to bring herself to speak: the theft of money from her kitchen fund, or, in an abortive attempt to create a bobsled for my G.I. Joe, the destruction of a plate bequeathed to her by her grandmother.

There was, I thought, blame in her eyes.

“Mom?” I said again, uncertain now, frightened. “Is it Dad? Is he okay?”

And she found it in herself to nod, her upper teeth clamped down hard on her lower lip, so hard that, when she spoke, I saw blood against the white.

“He’s okay. There was a shooting.”

“Was he hurt?”

“No, but some people…Some people died. They’re talking to your father about it.”

“Did Dad shoot them?”

But she would not say anything more.

“Go back to bed,” she said. “Please.”

I did as I was told, but I could not sleep. My father, the man who could barely bring himself to cuff the back of my head, had drawn his gun and killed someone. I was sure of it.

I wondered if my father would get into trouble because of it.

Eventually, they released him. Two IAD goons escorted him home, then sat outside reading the newspapers. I watched them all from my wwhe  ll from mindow. My father looked old and crumpled as he walked up the garden path. His face was unshaven. He glanced up at the window and saw me there. He raised his hand in greeting and tried to smile. I waved back, but I did not smile, before leaving my room.

My father was holding my mother tightly as she wept against him, and I heard him say: “He told us they might come.”

I waited halfway down the stairs, holding my breath.

“But how could that be?” my mother asked. “How could it be the same people?”

“I don’t know, but it was. I saw them. I heard what they said.”

My mother began to cry again, but the tone had changed: it was now a high keening, the sound of someone breaking apart. It was as though a dam had burst inside her, and all that she had kept hidden away was now pouring through the breach, sweeping away the life she once had in a great torrent of grief and violence. Later, I would wonder if, had she managed to hold herself together, she might have been able to prevent what happened next, but she was so caught up in her own sorrow that she failed to see that, in killing those two young people, her husband had destroyed something crucial to his own existence in the process. He had murdered a pair of unarmed teenagers, and, despite what he had said to her, he was not sure why; that, or he was unable to live with the possibility that what he had told her was true. He was tired, wearier than he had ever been. He wanted to sleep. He wanted to sleep and never wake up.

They became aware of my presence, and my father removed his right arm from around my mother, and welcomed me into their embrace. We remained that way for a minute until my father patted us both on the back.

“Come on,” he said. “We can’t stay like this all day.”

“Are you hungry?” my mother asked, wiping her eyes on her apron. There was no emotion to her voice now, as though, having given vent to her pain, she had nothing else left to give.

“Sure. Eggs would be good. Bacon and eggs. You want some bacon and eggs, Charlie?”

I nodded, although I was not hungry. I wanted to be near my father.

“You should take a shower, change your clothes,” my mother said.

“I’ll do that. I just need to do something else first. You worry about those eggs.”


“Toast would be good. Wheat, if you have it.”

My mother began bustling around the kitchen. When her back was to us, my father held my shoulder tightly and said:

“It’ll all be fine, understand? You help your mother, now. Make sure she’s okay.”

He left us. The back door opened, then closed again. My mother paused and listened, like a dog sensing some disturbance, then returned to heating the oil in the pan.

She had just broken the first egg when we heard the shot.

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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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