For the two days that the murder was a topic at the Long Bar, patrons joked that while Russ and Charley had not painted the town red, they did a fine job painting Danny Wus room.
Twenty kilometers outside of Toronto, Douglas Pearce reflected on his first visit to a foreign country.
Three hours earlier he had crossed the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls and passed through the security check without the guard so much as asking him if he was an escaped felon or weapons smuggler. No passport, no visas, no "papers, please"just "have a nice visit." Not that he was an escaped felon or a weapons smuggler, but he was disappointed they didnt even ask.
Douglas Pearce had left his home outside Pottsville, Pennsylvania; earlier that morning and, other than having to ask for directions three times, he had had little trouble. So far this international travel thing was all right by Doug.
There was that confusion about the speed limit, and it took him a frantic ten minutes to figure out that "Speed Limit 100" meant 100 kilometers an hour. He managed to get his Ford pickup to a truck-shaking ninety before he realized his mistake. Still, the Canadians seemed to treat the speed limit as a mere suggestion and, even at ninety miles an hour, he was passed on both sides.
From what he could tell, Canada seemed a lot like the U.S. True, he had only traveled through a small part of it, but then he hadnt seen much of the U.S. either. He knew a fair piece of central Pennsylvania, bits of western New York State, and most of the area around the Massaweipi Boy Scout Camp in West Virginia; where he had spent six days when he was a kid. Most everything he had ever seen looked a lot like central Pennsylvania, just sometimes not as hilly.
He worked at the Odenbach Brewery in Pottsville, or he had until four weeks ago when, for no reason he could figure, he was laid off. Sure, hed been late now and then, and he took home an occasional six-pack, but so did everyone else. He wasnt the worst employee they had, in fact he was probably better than most. But old man Odenbach had called him in, told him foreign investors were phasing out his position, and gave him a check for a thousand bucks. In the eighteen years he had worked there it was only the third time the old man had talked to himone of those times he had mistaken Doug for someone else. And the grand surprised him, too. The Odenbach family was not noted for giving their employees any more than they deserved, and Doug couldnt figure out any reason why hed deserved it. Doug had replayed his meeting with the old man dozens of times and it still didnt make sense.
Really, he thought, nothing in my life has made sense since I got that letter.
"Dear Mr. Pearce," it read. "You dont know me but I was a friend of your Uncle Russell."
Uncle Russ. Crazy Uncle Russ. Wild Uncle Russ. Dead Uncle Russ.
No one in the family talked about him, none of the adults who knew him anyway. The only time Doug even heard his name was when he was listening in on late-night whispered conversations in the kitchen. And all he knew about Uncle Russ was what he could piece together from his own screw-ups. When he was caught cheating on an algebra exam, and when the cops busted him for drinking beer in the park, his father warned that if he didnt straighten up hed end up "just like my lousy brother." Caught smoking cigarettes, "thats how Russell started out." Totaled his first car, "youre no better than he was." A black eye from a barfly, "God, how can there be two in one family?"
Thanks to these comparisons, exaggerated and obscure, Doug was able to determine that Uncle Russ drank whiskey from a hip flask, smoked unfiltered Camels, caught the clap from a prostitute in Philadelphia, was busted out of an unnamed branch of the service, was a reckless driver, and would cheat at cards if he thought he could get away with it. He never wrote, he never visited, and he died in Singapore.
From Relative Danger by Charles Benoit (Chapters 1 & 2, pages 1-16). Copyright Charles Benoit 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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