Central Park, New York City, 2013.
Dastardious Hollow stared at the gun in his hand. He could still feel the pressure against his scalp, the cool of the nozzle, from where the gun had sat just moments before. It wasn’t perfect. Suicide. But neither was living. Death and life were merely a game, and with Alice gone, life was bland. He was facing a return to prison, which was a death sentence in and of itself. Escaping from prison and murder made sure you went to prison, and with his record they were sure to remove his files from viewing and make sure what few people knew about him forgot about him.
However, death was death as well. It was a form of prison. With an uncertain jail on the other side. It might be worse than lie. On the other hand, while it might not be for him, it might be for someone else.
Turning around, Dastardious’s eyes took in Central Park, the tall, dark trees, the blue night sky with one star peeking through clouds and smog. Animals rustled in the leaves of trees, in the bushes, and squirrels, damn things, ran across the lawn. Dastardious followed the path away from the lake that minutes before he had watched Alice disappear down. She was gone by the time he reached the crest of the hill, and the park was empty except for a huddled bundle by a park gazebo. Homeless.
Marching purposefully, Dastardious stripped his shirt from his back, feeling the bracing cold air rake across his bare body. He reached the homeless man, asleep on a pile of shopping bags containing his valuables. He kicked the boot of the man.
‘Wake up,’ he hissed.
The man woke, wide eyed. He moaned at Dastardious and shuffled up against the railing of the gazebo. He pulled a shopping bag to his chest. ‘Got nothing you want.’
‘Yes you do,’ said Dastardious. He dropped his shirt and jacket. ‘I want to trade clothes. Your’s look worn. Mine will be better.’
‘Huh?’ The man picked up the jacket, looking wearily from it to Dastardious as Dastardious began removing his shoes.
‘We’ll trade shoes. Got it?’
‘You want to trade?’
‘Yes,’ said Dastardious. ‘I’ll pay if I have to.’ He pulled out his wallet and drew out a handful of bills which he pressed into the man’s hand. ‘Now hurry up.’
‘You crazy man!’
‘Shut it and undress,’ hissed Dastardious, separating his holster from the bundle of clothes at his feet. The glock gleamed from something, and it caught the homeless man’s eyes. He jumped up and began removing his clothes.
Five minutes later the two men were changed in each other’s clothes, the homeless man standing awkwardly.
‘Now come on,’ said Dastardious, handing out a couple more bills to the man. ‘I want to show you something down by the lake.’
‘My stuff,’ said the man.
‘It’ll be here when you get back,’ assured Dastardious, turning and walking back to the lake. Behind him he heard the shuffling footsteps of a hesitant man.
The two of them reached the shores of the lake, the water lapping at the muddy bank. Leaves rustled in the trees and only now did Dastardious smell the stench of something rotten somewhere.
Turning, he eyed the homeless man behind him. The man was clutching the bills in one hand and a bag of belongings in the other.
‘What you show me?’ he mumbled.
‘This.’ Dastardious detached his glock from his holster and pulled it up to the man’s face height. Then he stepped forwards, grabbing the man by the shoulder, pressed the gun against the side of the man’s check and fired his last remaining shot through the man’s face.
The crack of the weapon exploded through the still night and the wildlife stilled. The body dropped in front of Dastardious as he bent quickly and, wiping his prints from the weapon, imprinted the homeless man’s identity on the gun. Then he grabbed the man under the arm pits and hoisted him up and pushed him into the lake. The water splashed and the body floated, knocking against the bank. Using a stick, Dastardious pushed the body out into the lake. So he died. Now it was time to live.
Lastly, he picked up his dropped wallet, the loose dollar bills and the man’s garbage. Life was worth living, but not here. Never in New York. But maybe some place else he could start afresh. South America? Farming.
Hurrying back to the gazebo, Dastardious dumped the bag with the rest of the rubbish and walked calmly to the nearest street. From there he hailed a taxi, ignored the driver’s look of disdain, flashed the necessary bills and settled down for the trip to docks. It was funny, he chuckled at the thought that came through his head. America was built on people coming to its shores via boat. There weren’t many recorded moments of people leaving America via boat to new worlds. Planes weren’t safe, but a boat, if you knew the way you could get on board as a sailor and make your way. Yes. That would work. The other option was drive down to Mexico and cross the border. But that meant rubbing shoulders with Mexicans. No, a boat out of America was the way to go.
Rosarno, Italy, 2018:
Squalor was the term used most often to describe the town of Rosarno. A municipality in the Metropolitan city of Reggio, Rosarno was a town of roughly 15,000 people and most of those were made up of illegal immigrants. Built on natural terrace, the town was built on agricultural upbringing, with fantastic olive plantations, vineyards, and citrus fruits. People would find themselves migrating to the town in search of work in the fields. Squalor came from an abundance of workers with little work to keep them busy, and so they sheltered in abandoned factories.
The main streets of the town itself were average, surrounded by brick buildings, crumbling with age. The grass and native tree life browning in the heat of the summer, it blended in with the buildings giving the whole place an overall bland look.
A bleak farm house sat in the middle of a wilting field on the outskirts of the town’s borders. Browning plants folded over in the heat, occasionally moving as a warm breeze rippled the leaves. Course dark dirt crunched underfoot of a man as he strode up the long drive way. A near mile walk, it was exercise just to check his mail box and the only outside appearance he made.
Dastardious reached the doorway of his current home, his chest heaving as his lungs sought for air. In a short sleeve white t-shirt and khaki pants, his thick hair starting to thin but was still dark with more speckles of grey throughout, Dastardious blended in as a reclusive widower who had recently retired. It was an easy role to play, the emotional widower card had kept most of the locals at a distance, respecting his ‘mourning’. He had failed to tell them that his wife had died 18 years earlier, and that he had been the one responsible for her death. Only occasionally would someone take the trip out to see him: the woman that cleaned his house, the grocer that supplied a fortnightly supply of produce, but for cold things and meat he had to make the trip into town. The only other visitor, every few months or so, was the local constable to check up on him.
Unlocking his front door, Dastardious made his way inside to the kitchen and turned on the jug. He placed the rolled up newspaper and yellow envelope he had carried all the way up the drive way on the kitchen table and pulled a mug from the sink and set about making a cup of coffee. His skin itched as he fiddled with the portions of coffee grinds and sugar. His teeth gritted as the itch made his way up his spine, stopping at a spot that was impossible to reach. His fingers flecked as his cheek twitched. His mind was running as a bead of sweat dripped down his forehead and splashed onto the counter. The itch spread and Dastardious breathed deeply, focusing intently on his movements as he poured the boiling water into his cup and stirred everything together.
Slowly, as he focused on the spoon swirling through the black liquid, his mind relaxed and the itching subsided. It no longer felt like his body was being overrun with ants that were crawling underneath his skin and niggling at his nerves. Dastardious dropped the spoon in the sink, which it hit with a clank, then he grabbed his letter and newspaper and retreated to his couch.
Giving up heroin had not been the easiest thing he had ever done, but with leaving New York and the police department his supply of free substance was gone to abuse. Of course he could take a weekend and head to Portugal for a supply, but it wasn’t a trip he fancied. The less places he travelled the better. Even the dead were occasionally recognised amongst the living. Besides, it was a habit that was not doing his body, or his mind, any good. It was taxing. Cold turkey had almost destroyed him, which irritated him more than not taking a hit, because it was a slap in the face that he did not have as much control over his addictions as he cared to think. So he gave up and switched his focus to other addictions: coffee and the cigars that were habitual to smoke. The thought of switching one deathly addiction to another was one that gave him joy, but at least smoking would kill him slower.
Once seated, Dastardious opened the envelope and slowly pulled out the letter it contained, savouring the moment that came only once a month from Silence Mourner. Polaroid photos fell out and landed on the soft carpet by his feet as he unfolded the letter and took in the familiar scrawl of his only connection to a past life, and, really, any life worth remembering. Dastardious picked up the Polaroid photos and glanced briefly at them as he worked his way through the letter intently, stopping every now and again to focus on a certain picture as the letter described when it was taken, why, and who it featured. Most of them were holiday shots at a beach resort in Florida of a young man, his wife and five year old daughter. All of them smiled at the camera, all of them smiled at each other as they played on the beach, or visited the park, the cinema, or ate out of a street vendor’s food van.
Reaching the end of the letter, Dastardious folded it up and tucked the Polaroids and the letter back in the envelope. A book case stood by the door containing half a dozen novels, a couple of maps of the local area and one cook book borrowed from the library in town. Pushing the book case away from the wall, Dastardious dislodged a brick in the wall revealing a hollow place behind it. A pile of letters tied together with string sat in the hole. Dastardious placed with new letter on top of the pile and then, replacing the brick, he pushed the book case back into place and returned to his coffee.
Silence Mourner was doing well, which was, it always surprised Dastardious, a relief to hear. His wife Susan was pregnant with their second child, their first attempt since the birth of their daughter five years before. All three of them were doing well, Susan writing for a variety of online news magazines as a freelance journalist, which she could do from home. Silence had given up his book shop, finding it a dying industry and not sufficient enough to support a growing family in Manhattan. He had taken a corporate job three years earlier, had been promoted to manager, the first mute in that position, and was being looked at to rise even further up the chain. With his knowledge of human behaviour, and his grasp of the human language he was an invaluable speech writer for corporate businessmen who had no idea how to talk to the ‘local man’.
Seated back down again, Dastardious unfolded his paper, translated in English. Even after five years his Italian was frail and his reading ability was even worse, though he could make do if he wanted to.
‘Fucking police,’ he muttered, eyes glancing over the title headline on the front page. A woman bashed to death in her apartment and her junkie husband missing. After five days police were still looking for witnesses, but had assumed the husband was responsible. Just because circumstances appeared favourable for the husband to be the killer did not mean that that was so. But it was common practice in town for the police to pick the easiest route, even if it was wrong, rather than accidentally find themselves mixed up in business that was heavier than they could handle. It was a bit like home, it some regards, mused Dastardious, turning to the centre page and the comic strip.
Gioia Tauro Port
Situated on the left bank of the river Mesima, the town of Rosarno over looked the Gioia Tauro Plain. Further down to the west was the port of Gioia Tauro itself, the largest port in Italy. With the longest linear quays in the Mediterranean, the port served as the largest for container throughput. Bustling, a constant source of movement with an average of 3.5 million containers at any one time, the port was a hive of activity and dealings. Twenty-two ship to shore cranes along the quays moved and operated constantly, piling containers twenty-three rows high.
The port provided another source of work for migrants who desired something more than farming. The work was long, exhausting, from break of dawn to beyond nightfall, and for little pay, it was enough for some people so long as they did not mind who they really worked for. The greatest source of monetary input to Italy’s economic system, and those that lurked in the dark feeding off it, was commercialism. With so many containers coming through the system, it was easy enough to hide one by not recording it. The container brought in extra products which were then sent to stores and sold, the profit creating a tax free excess that lined the pockets of the hidden wealthy.
On the concrete docks, surrounded by towering warehouses and bright, multi coloured stacks of twenty foot long containers, a group of men in blue overalls, and stained white shirts huddled around a blond haired man. He was dressed differently from the men around him, wearing a pair of heavy duty work boots, cream shorts and a Hawaiian shirt open at the neck. His body was tanned and face lined from working in the sun. A Dredge straw sun hat was perched on his head, string under his chin tying it in place. He wiped the sweat from his forehead as he gazed down at the clip board in his hand.
‘This item itinerary’s correct,’ he said, flipping to the pages underneath and scanning the long list of coded container names with designated characters for the items they contained.
‘You’re confirming this is the number of containers you brought ashore?’ The man asking the question was a short, darkly tanned man in a blue suit and yellow hard hat.
‘Sure, boss,’ drawled the blond man. He scratched the back of his neck and then pushed his hat off his head. He squinted in the midday sun until his eyes had adjusted to no longer having the shade above them. Heavy machine rumbled as forklifts purred along the docks, carrying stacks of crates and boxes. Trucks idled in the bay, while others beeped as they reversed and then took off to the main gates to begin distributing products across Italy. The smell of salt was thick in the air, so close to the sea. It made the man’s already parched throat ache.
Above the group and the churning industry on the ground, a flock of yellow-legged gulls flew, eying the land below for scraps. The vultures of the sea, the blond haired man watched them with disdain.
‘That all?’ he asked, handing back the clip board.
‘Sì, that’s all.’ The hard hat man tucked the clip board under his arm and pushed through the crowd and headed for the small box office down the port.
The blond haired man watched him go, his face set in a firm gaze. Once the attendant was back in his office, he turned to the men around.
‘Well what are you fucks waiting for? We got a ship to stock, get the fuck to work!’
The men scattered slowly, taking their time. One man stayed behind, his arms crossed in front of him. Russian, he towered above the blond man, his own blond hair tucked away under a blue sailor’s beanie.
‘What are you going to do, Captain Flint?’ he asked, the question almost a grunt it was so thick with his accent.
‘I’m going to go back on board and take a nap,’ said Jonah Flint, adjusting his Dredge hat back on his head. He looked back at the attendant’s office. ‘They pull random searches all the time, looking for things that shouldn’t be there. But we play above the board. They’ll never find anything and so there’s nothing to worry about. I want you to get the men shoving, I want to be out of here by tomorrow morning.’
‘Aye, aye, sir.’
Flint watched his first mate depart after the dawdling members of the crew. When he was near enough he barked an order, making the group jump and then split off to their duties.
Flint shared one last look at the office before making his way to one of the massive container ships docked by the port. Routine inspections were often random, to check that all procedures were being followed, and that nothing illegal was being imported. It was rarely need for concern, most attendants were in the pocket of someone. But even so, that attendant was unfamiliar and his random approach in the middle of the dock was unorthodox. It was a good thing nothing extra had been brought in, it was only the take away order he had to worry about.
The long, funeral procession weaved its way through the town, travelling from one side to the next towards a cemetery set on a hill. As it began to flow through the courtyard, the cart carrying the wooden coffin covered in flowers passed Dastardious and he caught a look of the mourning family. The mourning mother, dressed in black and surrounded by her weeping sisters and various other female relatives and friends, the father stoic and grave walking just behind the cart, and behind all of them what looked to be almost the entire town.
It was an impressive turn out, and Dastardious found Italian funerals always interesting to watch. They were such family based events, sad as they were. The only thing missing from the march was the dead woman’s husband. Drugged up somewhere, or dead, or alive, he was absent and somehow the hole was noticeable. It was curious, thought Dastardious, as the line filed past him and he stepped into the back of the march, that though the husband had not committed the murder and was currently missing, no one was mourning his absence.
It was nice and tidy, he had to admit, it all looked like a crime of passion type murder from the outside. But it was much more complex, and it annoyed Dastardious. Not the death, though they were messy and he preferred having nothing to do with them. No, what annoyed him, he thought as the line slowly reached the cemetery and began spreading out, was that someone had been taking people from the town for the past five years he had been there, and no one had any idea it was happening.
Intermittently through the years, women would disappear and it would be blamed on their husbands, though no evidence ever appeared. The town just accepted it. This time was different, almost wrong. The woman had died and it was the husband that had disappeared.
‘You’re the old man in the farm outside town,’ said a man beside Dastardious.
Dastardious glanced sideways at him. He was a middle aged man, looked early forties, maybe mid-forties. Clean shaven and dressed in an immaculate black suit. He smelled of a strong flowers.
‘Mm,’ said Dastardious, turning back to watching a group of men lift the coffin from the cart. They carried it towards the hole dug next to a large stone headstone.
‘How do you know Esmeralda?’
‘Esmeralda? Oh, the girl. I know her mother. She cleans up my shit.’
‘Ah, Sanae’s your carer.’
‘What? The fuck no,’ exclaimed Dastardious, glaring at the man. ‘She cleans my house,’ he said quieter, nodding to the faces that had turned at his expletive.
‘Ah, I apologise, Mr?’
‘It’s a sad case, isn’t it?’ asked Dastardious, pocketing his hands and staring at the scene in front of him. He wasn’t going to answer, not when he was certain the man already knew his name. In front of them, the men from the church had placed the coffin on the lift that would lower it into the ground and the priest was praying. Heads were bowed and the sound of weeping mingled with the words that flowed from the priest’s lips.
‘O Dio, la cui proprietà è di avere sempre misericordia e di risparmiare, ti preghiamo umilmente per l'anima del tuo servo Esmeralda, che tu oggi hai comandato di partire da questo mondo, affinché non lo consegnassi nelle mani del nemico, né dimenticarlo fino alla fine, ma vorresti che fosse ricevuto dai Santi Angeli e condotto in Paradiso, il suo vero paese; che come in Te ha sperato e creduto, non può soffrire le pene dell'inferno, ma può prendere possesso delle gioie eterne.
Per Cristo nostro Signore. Amen.’
‘Amen,’ said the man next to Dastardious. ‘Sad indeed, but not uncommon. We are doing what we can to find the man responsible, but the husband seems to have skipped town.’
Hmm, police, thought Dastardious. That made sense. Checking up on the stranger who randomly decided to come into town for the funeral of his cleaner’s daughter. ‘I thought Hector was in charge of the case.’
‘He was, but he has been persuaded to take some much needed leave. He’s getting on.’
‘And he passed the baton of looking after me to you,’ said Dastardious dryly. He turned from the still ongoing funeral and began the slow walk down the hill and home. He wasn’t surprised to find that moments later the policeman had turned and was by his side, following him.
‘Hector told me about you. Said you were a recluse, very rarely out of the house. Something about being in mourning, which I’m sorry to hear. Being at a funeral again must be hard. And so when I saw you I thought I would introduce myself and explain that Hector would be visiting for some time.’
‘Hmm,’ murmured Dastardious. He stopped by the bus station just on the edge of the town. The bus ran hourly, and there was ten minutes to wait. ‘You never introduced yourself.’
‘Ricci, Station Sergeant Francis Ricci.’
Dastardious laughed internally. Hah, Station Sergeant, I outranked him. ‘Well good luck then, I hope you catch your intended victim. I’d stay and chat, but my bus is here.’
Down the hill came a large blue bus, turning widely around tight corners and barely making it through.
‘I won’t keep you then, sir,’ said Ricci, the corner of his right eye twitching at Dastardious’s comment. ‘I should correct you. It’s actually ‘suspect’, not victim. The victim is the person there crime has been acted against. It’s a common mistake, a slip of the tongue I’m sure.’
‘Yeah,’ nodded Dastardious. ‘A slip of the tongue. See ya.’ The bus came to a stand still and the doors whooshed open, and Dastardious pulled himself on board. He passed the fare over and took a seat at the back, where he could see Station Sergeant Ricci standing under the shade of the bus stop watching the bus as the doors closed and began to pull away from the street curb.
The dress was too frumpy, it made her look like a fat dumpling that the chef hadn’t felt the passion to mold into an attractive shape. Sanae washed her hands in the sink of her grandmother’s bathroom, eyeing the way her dress collected on her rolls of fat. Henry thought it was attractive.
‘A whole lot of woman for me to love-ah,’ he would proclaim loudly at her sighing remarks as she faced herself in their bedroom mirror.
Her face paled as the rest of his saying flooded her memory. ‘And with-a-my beautiful daughter and my beautiful wife, I have more to love-ah than any man should be blessed to have.’
Her breath froze on her lips as her heart stilled. Her hands gripped the edge of the porcelain bowl to steady herself as her legs seemed to disappear beneath her. Sobbing, Sanae found herself curled up on a ball beneath the sink, clutching the handle of the cupboard until the metal and her nails bit into her skin. Sobs racked her body, heaving her shoulders as tears streamed down and left dirty streaks through her lightly applied make-up.
Thinking about fat! She coughed, aching to breath. Esmeralda was dead and all she could think about was her fat body in her dress. Deep down she knew it had just been a way to distract her mind, but everything about her and her life was carved out of looking after her only daughter. Even her body, which still held marks from giving birth twenty-seven years earlier, and the pregnancy fat she had failed to shed was a reminder.
Breathing deeply, she pulled herself under control and stood up. She washed her face again, which washed away the remainder of her make-up and then attempted to touch up the make-up around her eyes which would hide the red-puffiness. There was nothing to be ashamed of, and she had been crying all morning, and all through the funeral. She was surprised there were any tears still left inside her. The make-up was just to make herself look presentable when she went to see him.
Once she was satisfied she washed her hands once again and exited the bathroom, straight into the arms of her sniffling female relatives.
After she had moved through the group, hugging each in turn for the hundredth time. Men nodded solemnly to her, offering sincere, silent, and sometimes verbal condolences. She thanked each in turn and passed through the kitchen. Older women of the town moved about, unwrapping plastic from plates of food brought by mourners, and heating up dishes in big pots on the stove or by the small microwave that would slowly be overheating from the overload of work.
She went through the back door and down the steps to the driveway where a car at idling in the driveway. A young man sat nervously on the hood of the car, a cigarette rolling between his thumb and forefinger as he fidgeted.
He stood as Sanae approached him. ‘Aunt Sanae,’ he said.
‘Joseph,’ she replied and stopped before him.
‘You sure?’ he asked, dropping the cigarette onto the ground and grinding it out with the heel of his boot.
‘He was at the funeral. I saw him. On the outskirts watching as we passed by. He even followed to watch the burial,’ Sanae said, absently playing with the hem of her dress sleeve around her wrist. It was fraying and she wound the thread around her finger and pulled, snapping it off. Her voice was distant as she recalled the lone figure standing silently as the funeral procession had passed. Looking back, she had seen him step respectfully onto the end of the line and followed them up the hill. As a stranger he had not approached or intruded into the ceremony, but he had been there. He hadn’t needed to have been. But he was.
‘So you really want to see him?’ asked Joseph, his thumb and forefinger still rubbing together in a nervous habit. ‘He’s… not exactly a welcoming man. Nor a nice employer to you, Aunt Sanae.’
‘He pays me well for what I do,’ she said sternly, opening the back door of the car and sitting down inside. ‘So drive me, Joseph. No more talk.’
‘Yes, Aunt Sanae.’
Joseph drove the old, battered family Peugeot through town and onto the dirt road that lead out to the track where the farm house sat. The scenery flashed by, blended brown and green grass and trees that swayed in the breeze. With her window down, Sanae revelled in the cooling wind on her face, drying her tears. She was alright so long as she kept her mind blank.
Shortly the car came to a stop and Sanae opened her eyes. Joseph was twisted in his seat, looking at her with an intent, nervous expression. ‘You want me to come in?’
‘No,’ Sanae replied, opening her door. ‘I come here all the time. Mr Hollow is a good man, if secluded. But stay here with the car and wait for me, please.’
Sanae stepped out and made her way up the short path to the front door and rang the bell, just as she did every Monday she came by to clean the house.
The door opened and Hollow stood before her. His black suit was gone, replaced by khaki shorts and an undershirt. His left arm gleamed from the multiple pale scars that criss-crossed in an ugly fashion all up the entire arm, disappearing under the sleeve. Sweat glimmered on his body and his face was red as he panted.
‘Mrs Folliero,’ he said, opening the door wide to reveal the dimly lit house. Cool air flowed out from a fan in the corner of the room that slowly spun back and forth. A set of weights sat in the middle living room.
‘I’m disturbing your exercise, I’m sorry,’ said Sanae, fiddling with the gold band on her ring finger.
‘Mmm,’ murmured Dastardious. ‘What do you want?’
‘I saw you today. Earlier. At the… funeral.’
‘Yeah,’ said Dastardious. He nodded. ‘I was there. My condolences.’
‘I want to thank you for coming. We missed you at the reception.’
‘Uhm, me,’ said Sanae, swallowing. Hollow was swaying in her front of her, and he seemed to be blurring, as I someone had painted him and then was smearing the paint around.
‘Come into the cool, Mrs Folliero,’ said Hollow, reaching out and grabbing her arm and pulling her through the door. The cool hit her instantly and her body relaxed as she breathed the air in deeply, soothing her lungs. She heard the door close behind her and the darkness in the room engulfed her. Hollow moved behind her, clearing the weights from the floor. Presently her eyes adjusted to the dark.
‘Thank you,’ she said.’
‘Yeah,’ said Hollow, sitting down on his couch and putting his feet up. ‘What do you want, Mrs Folliero? Monday isn’t for two days.’
‘I know, Mr Hollow. I’m not here for cleaning.’ Sanae moved forwards, her hands clasped in front of her earnestly. ‘My daughter was murdered. You know this. You must. Everyone does. I want you to find the bastard of a son-in-law I have and make him pay.’
A snort escaped Dastardious. ‘That’s for the police.’
‘Yes,’ she nodded. ‘But they do nothing. They always have. But you can do so much more. I know you can.’
‘I’m not a cop, Mrs Folliero. I’m just a quiet retiree living out the rest of his days in the middle of no-where.’
‘I don’t believe it,’ said Sanae, stepping forwards again so that she was close to Dastardious. ‘I clean your house for you. There is not much here in terms of personal items. I know this. Nothing of where you come from, or what you did in the past. I am not stupid. I know many people. We get many people here. Many from the docks, many who are, not undubious-‘
‘So dubious, then,’ said Dastardious, a grin cracking his lips. Sanae stepped backwards. It was like a wolf was peeking through the skin of a sheep, finally revealing itself.
‘And you think I’m one of the dubious ones because I don’t want to be reminded of my past life? My wife?’
‘I believe you had a wife, once,’ said Sanae, finding confidence in her voice. ‘But your finger has long since tanned where the ring would have sat once. It was before you arrived.’
‘Maybe you’re a detective yourself, Mrs Folliero. Though that’s dangerous work, and life is dangerous enough without entangling yourself in things that don’t concern you,’ said Dastardious. He stretched out on the couch and yawned. ‘I think it’s time for you to go. My condolences once again.’
‘Please!’ exclaimed Sanae. She starred at him, surprised at the strength in her voice. She hadn’t wanted to, but she found herself lowering to the floor and begging.
‘You can find my Esmeralda’s husband, because you are not tangled in the bureaucracy of the police and the people that control the police. My son-in-law did drugs, opium, heroin, whatever he could. He bought from men in the port and shady parts of town. He was corrupting my daughter, endangering her life, and now he has killed her. My husband and I don’t have much, we never have, but we will give whatever if it brings some sort of justice into our life.’
‘I don’t really deal with justice, Mrs Folliero,’ said Dastardious, sitting up and helping her to her feet. Once she was standing her sat down again. ‘Justice is just a thing, it’s as man-made as the aqueducts that this country is so renowned for coming up with. It’s religious based from men in high castles that think because they are higher than thou they can create the commands of morals, and ethics, what’s right and wrong. I don’t deal with that. And I certainly don’t deal with such things for money.’
‘Then what can we give you?’
Dastardious sat in silence, staring out of the window that showed Joseph sitting on the hood on the car smoking. The man saw Dastardious watching and nodded, before stubbing out his cigarette and climbing into the car.
‘Let me think about it,’ he said at last. ‘By Monday, when you next come in.’
‘So you will help?’
‘I said I’d think about it,’ snapped Dastardious. ‘Now get back to your mourning. You don’t belong here today, and your family will be wondering where you are.’
‘Thank you,’ said Sanae, nodding her head as she turned and hurried quickly out the door. She climbed into the car and Joseph reversed the car around and then they headed back to town.
Throughout the trip Joseph was silent, but Sanae felt his eyes glancing at her through the rear view mirror. When they had parked outside her house he asked, ‘So what happened?’
‘He said he would think about it.’
‘I guess that’s good, right?’
‘Yes. It wasn’t a no,’ said Sanae. She starred up at the house, at the cars parked around and the people milling inside and outside, sipping wine and holding onto plates of food. Some laughed at memories, others cried at them. It didn’t look as though any of them had missed her, though she had been gone for almost an hour.
‘What’s he going to take for it?’ asked Joseph, tapping the steering wheel.
‘I don’t know,’ said Sanae. ‘He wouldn’t accept money.’
‘What?’ exclaimed Joseph, turning. ‘Then what did you offer him?’
‘Anything,’ said Sanae. Her voice sounded distant to her ears. Would Joseph hear her? ‘Thank you for driving me. I will see you.’
Exiting the car, Sanae walked up the path to the house, passing by friends and family who called to her, their voices fading into the mist that surrounded her. Justice? What was justice? A form of peace, that people got what they deserved. And for whoever had murdered her daughter, death was what they deserved. That was justice. Maybe Hollow did not believe in justice, but she did. And she knew what her daughter’s murderer deserved.