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Peter Blauner: Slipping Into Darkness (Excerpt)

Peter Blauner: Slipping Into Darkness (Excerpt)

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Published by OpenRoadMedia
When a twenty-year-old murder case comes back to life, a detective must race against his failing sight to unravel the mystery
When a twenty-year-old murder case comes back to life, a detective must race against his failing sight to unravel the mystery

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Published by: OpenRoadMedia on Nov 22, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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PrologueHungry Ghosts2003
AS SOON AS he walked through the wrought-iron gates and out into the pastoral green expanseof Cricklewood Cemetery, Francis X. Loughlin heard the tranquillity of a mid-October afternoon being torn open by the crunk and whine of a hardworking backhoe.He looked around, trying to figure out where they were making the hole. Nothing waswhere it was supposed to be anymore. Another rude metallic thud sent a flock of geese flyinghigh over a mausoleum down by Cypress Pond. He watched the birds disappear from his line of vision a second before he expected them to, another sign of the natural order being disturbed.Twenty years.He took a left at the first granite angel and followed the sound of the machinery upHemlock Avenue, passing the tree-shaded urn gardens, catafalques, and overgroundsarcophaguses, the society matrons not far from the stevedores, the nuns near the baseball stars,the Indian Princesses beside the Hat Check Kings, the Natural Causes next to the SuddenDemises.Would it make his job any easier if they could all talk about their last moments? Or would the sheer cacophony and confusion just be overwhelming? What happened? Is that allthere is? Nine-one-one is a joke. But I wanted so much more! He shielded his eyes from a gust of flying specks. Would you even be able to hear one soft high girlish voice saying, “
 Excuse me, but  I don’t think I’m supposed to be here”?
He lumbered on past a Civil War memorial, a bruiser-weight white guy in a three-quarter- length leather coat, with boxing-glove shoulders, an Etruscan chest, and more or less thegut he deserved at forty-nine. His hairline had retreated up to the grassy hinterlands, revealing a pair of dark rapscallion’s eyebrows over a debauched cherub’s face. Women still liked him,though, because he could listen without interrupting to talk about the Giants and because heseemed like a man who could take broken things and give them back fixed without a lot of  pissing and moaning about how hard it had been.Maybe not quite twenty years, he decided. The ground had no give to it then. There wasfrost on the headstones, icicles on the crypts, and the trees’ branches were broken blood vesselsagainst a bleak white sky. Maybe after Thanksgiving.A sharp breeze shivered the red maples and sent a wash of dead leaves past his ankles. Hefelt something catch in his pant cuff and reached down to find a fifty-dollar bill stuck there. He picked it up and examined it, seeing it was not just fake but half burnt. Another gust carried theodd mingled scents of roast duck and smoldering incense. His eyes searched for explanation, over the stone crosses and up the hill, before finding a Chinese family gathered on a rise, traditionalcandles and flowers arrayed around a casket covered in netting.“Hey, Francis X.
qué pasa
?” a voice called out from behind him. “Wake up. Didn’t yousee us waving to you?”
He turned and saw about a half-dozen people standing by an open grave, staring at himlike a groom who’d shown up drunk to his own wedding. One by one, he recognized most of them as either being from the DA’s office or the medical examiner’s office. Behind them, the backhoe kept working, digging a hole near the headstone: ALLISON WALLIS, 1955- 1983. Asteel claw reached into a shallow hole and emerged with a mouthful of dirt. It pivoted anddisgorged its load out onto the plywood boards laid out to protect the grass, the smell of topsoilhitting wood setting off a writhing of worms in his gut.“Hey, hey, Scottie, word up.” Francis put on a game face as he went over to greet the videotech setting up a tripod over the trench.“Not the same old same old, eh, Francis?” said Scott Ferguson, a big bluff ponytailed guyfrom the Visual Evidence Unit who was always handing out business cards, trying to get weekendwork filming weddings, bar mitzvahs, and christenings. “Usually when you put ’em down, theystay down.”“Absa-fucking-lutely.” Normally he ran into Scottie only at crime scenes, when there was literally still blood onthe walls. “So whassup?” said Scottie. “I tried to ask Paul, but he said this is your clambake.”“Did he now?”Francis looked across the grave where Paul Raedo, his erstwhile friend, the prosecutor, washaving an animated discussion with a lady from the ME’s office, pointing his way every fewseconds, trying to reassign the blame, no doubt. Four members of the gravediggers’ union stood by in their green uniforms, leaning on picks and shovels, waiting to do the more exacting work of digging around the coffin.“Well, he told me one thing,” Scottie admitted. “He said it’s the fucking weirdest case heever heard of.”“Don’t believe the hype.”“Well, I don’t know what the hell else you’d call it. Girl’s dead twenty years and her bloodshows up on another body last week.”“Sounds like fucking Paul told you plenty.” Francis glared into the mid-distance. The backhoe grunted and rocked on its stabilizers as little brown plumes wafted from the gouge,drizzling dust on the people nearby. Francis took some small measure of satisfaction in seeingPaul cough and try to brush the grit off his lapels.“So, what’s up with that?” asked Scottie. “You got the wrong girl buried?”“That’s what her mother thinks,” said Francis, remembering how he’d stood on this veryspot with Eileen Wallis, a hand on her arm to keep her from jumping in back in ’83. “I’m tryingto keep an open mind.”“And what about the guy you locked up for it? Paul said he was in the can twenty years.”“He’s not the happiest horse in the race, but what are you gonna do? I still got one eye onhim. Everybody did something.”The machine kept digging. Each
of metal into soil another dig to his solar plexus,another reminder that something had gone wrong on his watch. The doctor brings you into theworld, the undertaker signs you out, and if something goes wrong in between, you call a cop. Hemight have had his lapses, but if you needed someone to get you from crime scene to the grave,he always figured he was the man for the job. Not necessarily to comfort the bereaved the way a priest or a funeral director would—just to keep the game honest. But now he felt like he’d letdown his people. He was supposed to be their representative, their public servant, their envoy: aPolitician for the Dead. Who else was going to make sure their needs got met? Who else wasgoing to twist arms, make phone calls, knock on doors, and filibuster on their behalf? Who elsewas supposed to speak up and fight for these constituents?

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