They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and it’s especially true in a storm.
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Mary was supposed to be asleep. She was upstairs, in her room, in her bed, but the sound of thunder, like a bowling ball being dropped on the roof, was keeping her up.
The little man in the radio was reading the news. Johnny Pesky went four for five with five RBI’s as the Red Sox beat up on the Detroit Tigers at Briggs stadium thirteen to three, every Boston player had gotten a hit including the pitchers. The storm now smacking the state was expected to last until morning. A dazzle of light followed by a crackling punch of noise seemed to agree. Mary shivered. According to local police, the main branch of the Rockville Bank had been robbed, the suspects remained at large. She knew there wasn’t really a little man in the radio, but her mother used to tell her that when she was younger, that there was a little man in a suit or a tiny woman singing a song. Now Mary was ten and realized you couldn’t believe everything you heard, but these tiny people were stuck in her head.
The little man kept talking. The bridge on Route 74 was flooded. The National Weather Service advised that folks stay home if at all possible. Over fifty percent of Connecticut homes were without power. Then the little man put on some music. T-Bone Walker and his new song, Stormy Monday. She pictured a miniature T-Bone Walker strumming a toy guitar inside their wooden Crosley radio and was just drifting off as he moaned, Tuesdays are just as bad, when the power went out.
Downstairs, Hank said, “Goddammit.” Hank was Mary’s mother’s husband. Not her father. He was a man of few words. Goddammit was one of them. He preferred to communicate with nods and grunts but he was kind and honest and in daylight hours, almost always tending to the farm. But no matter how hard he worked, the bank seemed forever poised to take it away. This rain would not help the corn crop.
The sound of Mary’s mother, Linda, searching for matches and lighting candles. Mary heard footsteps coming up the stairs, the familiar creaks as her mother made her way into her room and left a lit candle there. Mary pretended to be asleep.
It felt like the house was inside a dragon’s mouth, its wheezing breath made the candle’s flame dance. The power flickered and fragments of the little man’s voice could suddenly be heard: A daring raid by at least two men. Static. Silence. Police are currently searching for suspects, but the storm is doing much to hamper their efforts.
The windows, right on cue, lit up day bright and a terrible clap shook the house. Then there was another light but this one moved through Mary’s windows, growing, making shadows against the wall. Headlights.
Mary listened closer and could just make out, through the wind, the hum of an engine.
We repeat, the little man had one more thing to tell them, these suspects are considered armed and extremely dangerous. Then nothing.
“Hank, someone’s in the driveway,” her mother said.
Mary heard a drawer being opened, the sound of a pistol chamber snapping open, being checked. She threw the covers off and snuck to her bedroom window, bare toes on wood. She pulled back her curtain.
Headlights were all she could see until another lightning flash revealed a big, black car, wide and shaped like a bullet. Then the night swallowed it again.
“Who is it?” Mary’s mother asked.
“A black Cadillac.”
In the hallway now, the slapping rain hid the sound of Mary’s creaking footsteps, down the stairs; she stopped just outside the doorway to the kitchen, peeked around the wall.
Hank had the door open to the outside, a large revolver in his hand.
“Well, who is it?”
“Son of a bitch,” Hank said.
The sound of car doors slamming. The noise of men muttering, grunting.
“Hank, what is happening?”
“We’ve got company.”
“Well, it’s dark but it sure looks like your bank robbing ex-boyfriend.”
A thunderclap exactly timed with Mary’s gasp.
The door loose on its hinges slapped open, the sound of the storm loud, two men in dark trenchcoats, dripping with rain, their feet squished and squeaked on the wood floor.
“Patrick?” Mary’s mother said.
Mary examined the two men. One of them was taller than the kitchen door and almost as wide. A huge square head with a fat jaw and tiny marbles for eyes. His expression reminded Mary of the Donovans’ German Shepherd. She would not have been surprised if the man had started growling.
The other one turned at her mother’s voice. Patrick. He pushed a wet mop of red hair out of his face. He was thin, with a narrow face and devilish eyes. A small grin appeared when he looked at her mother.
“Linda, me lass,” an Irish brogue, “we are terribly sorry to trouble you on such a night as this. This is my partner, James.”
James nodded slightly.
“What do you want?” Hank said.
“Ah, this must be Henry. You look as sturdy as I imagined you, sir.”
The words sounded like a song in Patrick’s voice.
“Might I bother you for a chair, lass?”
Mary’s mother dragged a chair out from under the table.
Patrick winced as he moved to the chair and let out a breath when he sat. Mary saw him look at the blood on his hand. But the grin stayed on his face.
“To your question, Mr. Henry,” he looked up, “A roof, a dry floor.”
“Patrick, what happened?” her mother asked.
“A bullet,” James said.
“Henry, might I add, we’re in a position to reward your generosity handsomely.”
Hank’s face changed at that.
Even in the dead of night with nothing but candlelight to see by, this was no palace. Everything was tired, mismatched, second hand. Mary looked at her nightgown, lent from a cousin, two sizes too big.
“What did you have in mind?” Hank asked.
“Talk about numbers later, Hank. Patrick, you’re bleeding and you need mending.”
Patrick’s grin faltered slightly. “I never did get far arguing with you, girl.”
“Can you stand?”
Mary’s mother grabbed a candle and led Patrick out of the room.
“Rest assured, Henry,” Patrick called behind him, “’tis a seller’s market.”
Then Mary was in front of Patrick in the doorway. His eyes went big and his grin grew wider.
“The famous Mary, I presume. Lovely as your mother. Did we wake you, lass?”
“Who are you?”
Patrick chuckled, her mother stiffened.
“Patrick O’ Malley, at you service, Miss.”
“Mary,” her mother said, “Get a bowl of hot water and some towels.”
“Just do it, child, and bring it to the guest room.”
Nothing was said in the kitchen as Mary gathered her mother’s supplies. Both men stood and watched her as though awaiting instructions. Several times, Mary snuck a peek at the hulking James. A gleam in his eye, in his smile, that she did not like. What big teeth he had.
In the guest room, Patrick had his shirt off and Mary’s mother was probing with her fingers. Seeing the puckered wound made Mary’s stomach buzz, her head spin, she needed to sit down. Patrick sucked in some air.
“Still in there,” her mother said.
“To be sure.”
“Needs to come out.”
“To be sure.”
“Here’s your water, mom.”
Mary’s mother took the bowl and a towel and began to clean the wound. Mary looked away.
“Thank you, Mary. Off to bed with you.”
“Not tonight, Mary. Please.”
Mary left. But did not go far, and returned to listen just outside the door.
“She has your eyes,” Patrick said.
“And your everything else. A little outlaw in the making. Always figuring the angles.”
“This was how you wanted things as I recall. A sturdy man, a solid home for your daughter.”
“I don’t recall the subject of you arriving unannounced in the middle of the night.”
Patrick made a noise of discomfort. “Well I thought that was understood.”
“Damn you, Patrick O’ Malley. Damn your wit and your charm and your smile, damn it all to hell.”
Mary had never heard her mother use language so foul.
“Don’t you dare laugh at me.”
“Don’t make me laugh. It hurts.”
They spoke quietly, sounding like snakes hissing. Mary could just make out their words. She was confused by her mother’s tone which seemed full of affection even though the words were angry. Mary had once had her mouth washed out with soap for saying, “Dammit,” after skinning her knee, a word she’d overheard Hank use a thousand times.
“How is sturdy and solid Henry working out for you?”
“Stop smiling before I knock your teeth out. You know why I did it.”
“She seems a lovely girl.”
“Just shut up. I’m going to mend you. You’re going to stay the night. In the morning, you and your flunky will leave. Forever.”
“That’s what you want?”
“Don’t say anything else.”
“How about a kiss then?”
The last sentence spoken so low, blood pounded so loud, Mary doubted her ears. So she leaned around the wall and peeked in.
Patrick’s hands were running through her mother’s hair. Running everywhere. Mary’s mind twirled. She pulled her head back, stood flat against the wall, tried to breathe quietly. The sounds of lips touching and heavy breathing, a storm of kisses.
“Patrick O’ Malley you are a bank robbing son of a bitch.”
“And I never stopped loving you, angel.”
“You are leaving in the morning. Forever.”
“Come with me.”
Mary’s world was a much different place than the one she had gone to bed in. Her mother had become a stranger.
“We need more water.”
Mary bolted as quickly and quietly as she knew how, running like a cat up to her room. Into her bed.
She had planned on slipping back down to do some more eavesdropping, but her sheets wrapped around her and the night seemed full of bedtime stories for her, things she’d never known, if she would just listen. And sleep.
The storm continued its tale, whispering and shouting it. The rain pelted the house. But among the sounds, a wooden creak from the doorway to her room. Mary’s eyes fluttered open as lightning flashed, revealing a large silhouette – James.
Then dark. Blackness. Mary’s ears and eyes strained. Her body locked, she perspired with the effort. The night outside, a funhouse of noises. More flashes, but no James in the doorway. Yet she could smell him, the scent of a strange person, cheap aftershave.
Another flash and here he was, on his knees, face to face with Mary.
“Are you scared?”
She wanted to scream so badly.
“Are you scared of the storm?”
His breath was gasoline. In the barely lit room his eyes looked black.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Take my hand.”
She stayed immobile under the sheets, her hands squeezed her legs.
Another flash. Another crack. She flinched.
James leaned his massive head closer. “It’s just a storm, Mary.” He stroked her hair. “Now take my hand.” His voice turned hard and flat.
She tried to hold the tears back. James gently rubbed the corner of her eye. With the storm, would anyone hear if she screamed?
“Mary, don’t upset your Uncle James.”
He pulled the covers back revealing her too big nightgown, lightning illuminated the faded pink roses on it.
Mary shivered and closed her eyes and shivered.
She wondered what Patrick and her mother were doing down the hall. Wondered where Hank was.
Flash. Crack. Much louder, right on top of the house, like it was in the room. And James was on top of her, so heavy and sweaty and stinking and she screamed and twisted and punched and hissed, “Damn you, damn you, damn you.”
But James said nothing. Did nothing. Didn’t even breathe.
Hank pulled James off of her and the big man crumbled like a brick wall to the floor.
Mary gasped, wondering absently when was the last time she had taken a breath.
She was in Hank’s arms. Hank. The smell of him, pipe smoke and Old Spice aftershave and sweat from a day in the fields, smelled like home.
“Okay,” he said.
He picked her up, grabbed a blanket and carried her to the couch in the family room.
“Don’t leave,” she said.
He must have left at some point, because when she woke up, Hank was gone.
Was it a dream?
She was still on the couch. She crept upstairs. Mom asleep in her bed. No Hank. Patrick snoring softly in the guest bed.
Mary eyed the door to her room for a while before opening it. No James. Her bed was made. She rubbed her eyes. She went to her bedroom window and looked down at the driveway. No rain. No black car.
In the early daylight the night before seemed impossible.
She sniffed the air in her room. She sniffed again. Gunpowder.
She looked at the floor. Drops of blood.
Downstairs she put on a coat and shoes. Still chilly outside. Everything was wet. She thought she could hear the sound of Hank’s tractor a ways off, in the north field the other side of the hill.
She found the car in the barn, still slightly wet from last night’s rain. She looked inside. Saw more blood. Saw the bags in the backseat.
When Mary went back inside, Patrick was in the kitchen listening to a tiny Billie Holiday sing Stormy Weather from inside the radio. He had a cup of coffee in front of him. He nodded to her.
“Been an age since I had a cup of coffee in someone’s kitchen.” He took a sip. “Would you care for one?”
She grinned. Shook her head.
Patrick shrugged. Took another sip.
“Are you my father?”
He seemed to ponder the flavor of the coffee, looked deep into his mug, decided he liked it, then looked at Mary. “Yes, lass.”
She nodded, not quite sure what to do with this information.
“Must be confusing for you. All of this. You look quite a bit like me mum, you know, your grandmother.”
Mary’s eyes widened.
“A lovely woman. That’s where you get your green eyes from.”
Mary pictured someone taking a woman’s eyes out, handing them to her mother, her mother placing them into Mary’s face.
The little man in the radio started talking about the robbery again.
Police in Tolland County are conducting a house by house search. Road blocks are in place. Expect delays on the roads.
Patrick sighed. “They’ll be along soon, I imagine. Tell me, Mary, have you seen my friend, James?”
After a moment, Mary shook her head.
Patrick nodded. “Odd.”
“Do you love my mother?”
“I do. I always did.”
“Are you taking her with you?”
Patrick tried his smile but saw that he needed more for the likes of Mary. He needed an answer, maybe even the truth, “If she’ll come.”
“What about me?”
“The lam is no place for a little girl. Your mother knew that, we both did. That’s why things are the way they are.”
“Because you’re a robber?”
“What was the first thing you ever stole?”
He smiled. A genuine smile, not meant to charm. “A kiss from your mum.”
“I’ve been stealing things ever since.”
Patrick seemed to consider this. “Nobody ever asked me that before.” He scratched his chin. “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
“To get to the other side.”
“Why did Mr. Everest climb that mountain?”
Mary didn’t know.
“Because it’s there,” Patrick pointed to Mary’s ear. “And I want it here.” Patrick touched her ear lobe and produced a silver dollar in his hand. “Like magic.”
“Robbing’s not like magic,” Mary said.
“Sure it is,” Patrick said. “Just another trick.”
“But that doesn’t explain why you do it.”
Patrick smiled at his daughter.
“Why do you rob banks?”
“Because I’m good at it, my dear.” He twirled the coin in his fingers and made it vanish. “I’m good at making money disappear.”
“How’s your stomach?”
Patrick grimaced. “Sore.”
“Maybe you’re not as good as you think.”
Patrick looked ready to speak but then he heard the sound of Hank’s tractor. Hank parked it near the barn and turned off the engine. He walked in the kitchen door, looked at Patrick.
“Cops. A few miles up the road.”
“How long?” Patrick asked.
“If they’re coming straight here, five minutes.”
“I’m obliged,” Patrick said. “Henry, is James about?”
Hank stared at his hands as he rubbed the calloused palms together. “He overstepped his bounds.”
“Did he now?”
Hank said nothing.
“And was the resolution a permanent sort of thing?”
Hank had nothing but a hard look for Patrick.
Mary heard her mother’s steps on the stairs. She walked into the kitchen with a bag in her hand and tears in her eyes.
Mary didn’t know if her mother had already told Hank. He didn’t look surprised. “You better go if you’re going,” Hank said looking at nobody, then walked outside.
Patrick stood then bent and kissed Mary on the head. “Farewell, angel.”
Mary and her mother slowly met each other’s eyes.
“Take me with you, Mommy.”
She shook her head. “I can’t.”
Tears gushed. “I can’t.”
Mary looked around at their threadbare lives. How could her mother ever have chosen this?
“Kiss me, Mary. Give us a hug.”
She remembered Patrick and her mother the night before. The way they kissed and hugged, like they were the last two people alive. She stood and went to her mother and hugged her, smelled her perfume. Her mother smothered her with kisses. “Don’t forget me, Mary. Don’t hate me. Hank will take good care of you.”
“I know, Mommy.”
Mary was surprised that she wasn’t crying. Just like Hank, she had seen this coming.
She watched her mother run to the barn as Patrick drove the sleek, black sedan toward her. In her mother went. Long after they’d driven away, Mary watched the end of the driveway.
From somewhere, the sound of sirens.
Hank came into the kitchen and turned up the radio.
The little man told them about the chase. The chase for Patrick O’ Malley through four states. The police would lose them, then find them again. Mary and Hank sat in the kitchen listening. Hank lit candles and made dinner, and let Mary stay up past her bedtime until she fell asleep at the table. Then Hank must have carried her to bed.
In the morning, she woke and found him with a cup of coffee still listening to the little man who explained that the chase had come to an end.
Mary found her mother’s mug and poured herself a cup, sipped the hot, bitter taste.
Patrick O’ Malley’s black Cadillac had skidded over a bridge embankment. They’d come back through Connecticut and run into the flooded bridge on Route 74. Hank moved to turn the radio off but Mary stopped him.
“That was a fine automobile,” Hank said.
Divers had found three bodies. James Keegan, a known associate of O’ Malley’s had been found with a bullet in his back in the trunk of the car. Also the body of Patrick O’ Malley and an as-yet unidentified woman. The divers continued to search for the estimated one hundred thousand dollars stolen from the main branch of the Rockville Bank.
They won’t find it, Mary knew.
“The hell were they doing coming back this way?” Hank wondered aloud.
“The money,” Mary said.
It took seven potato sacks to hold all of the loot. A long time to finish moving it. She remembered the smell of the bills, a dirty smell, she hated it and wondered if she would ever stop smelling it.
Piles and piles of money but she didn’t want any of it. All she wanted was for her mother to come back. To show her parents she was a good thief too, an outlaw, like her dad.
Mike Miner has had stories in PANK, Narrative, Shotgun Honey, The Flash Fiction Offensive, Pulp Metal Magazine and Spinetingler, and the anthologies Pulp Ink 2 and The Lost Children: Protectors. His first novel is forthcoming from Full Dark City Press.