Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cathryn's Bay

Richard Daniels stared out the window and watched the girl die. 
He felt neither fear nor disgust as the bearded attacker shook her free of his impaling blade. His eyes revealed no horror as they watched the assailant strip everything of value from her. His heart never leapt. He never gasped. He knew and accepted the fact that death’s prey was often young. He never even heard her scream, not that it would have mattered. He was focused more on the bay. There should be more boats, he thought, with taller sails and brighter colors. The gruesome murder needed better contrast. He considered the matter further. She was a nameless girl slain by a nameless man for nothing more than the rings on her fingers and the chain about her neck. That was how it was in this part of town. Nameless faces, nameless streets, but the bay…the bay was called Cathryn’s.

Odd that his mind tarried on the girl, he thought. There were other things that demanded his attention, things far more important than nameless faces. But he couldn’t help it. How ironic it would be if her name, like the bay, had been Cathryn. Again, he decided it didn’t matter. The girl wasn’t important. The attacker wasn’t important. They were merely diversions, welcome reminders of life on this side of the bay. They distracted him from pondering the bay and what lay past its northern shore. Woe to any man who places his last dream in the hands of a woman. Yet he had done just that and was beyond regret. She would be his salvation. He would make sure of it. He couldn’t bear the thought of eliminating her. He had eliminated far too many already. Another glance at the girl caused him to sigh--and the sigh left his breath on the glass.

Streaking it with a wipe of his hand, he watched three boats ride the salty breeze into the bay. Proud sails stood on tall masts, rainbows of color splashed on white. They were late, he thought. They should have been there when the girl was robbed and murdered. He decided her name was Cathryn. No one would be able to tell him otherwise. And he liked the name. She still lay on the curb. Blood oozed through her white blouse and trickled onto the concrete. Her attacker had already fled. Cathryn was pretty, he decided. Although a little late to notice, he thought. He would like to have seen how the wind caught her chestnut hair, how the cool air colored her cheeks, how her topaz skirt ruffled and folded as she walked. It was a pity she had to die so young. He would like to have been able to get to know her. He sighed again. These streets were not for young girls--especially girls alone. Where had she been going? It couldn’t have been far. Again, he decided it didn’t matter and shrugged.

“Want me to warm that up for you, Mr. Daniels?” the waitress asked. 
He nodded and slid his mug toward her as he answered, “Please. And it’s Richard.” 
She refilled his coffee with a forced smile and scurried off to another table where she lapsed again into her mantra. The coffee smelled strong, so strong it drew his eyes away from her short skirt. He hated coffee that had sat too long on a hot burner. It made it too bitter. Sugar wouldn’t do. Bitter was better than bittersweet. He frowned as he sipped. The apple pie would help. He still had several bites left. He stabbed it with a fork, dirty long before he used it, and stuffed a chunk into his mouth. He nodded in satisfaction. There was bittersweet and then there was bitter and sweet. He definitely preferred the latter. He turned his gaze back to Cathryn as he chewed and wondered if she would have agreed.

Someone should go to her, he thought. Even in this part of town a girl shouldn’t be left to rot on the side of the street. But the few passersby who paid more than a curious glance just stared and walked past her. Not even a gawking crowd had bothered to gather. Scenes like this were far too common on this side of the bay for that. Getting home was more important than satisfying morbid curiosity. Should any stop and linger, they too might join her on the curb, another lump rising from the pavement for indifferent pedestrians to sidestep.

“Too bitter for you Mr. Daniels?” The red-haired waitress stood beside his table shredding a stick of gum with coffeepot in hand. “It gets that way sometimes.”

“It’s Richard,” he answered, and added, “and the coffee’s okay.”

She squinted and gave him a dubious stare. “You sure, Mr. Daniels? I saw that look on your face a moment ago. Looked like a face drinking bitter coffee to me.”

He returned her stare. “I suppose it is a bit more bitter than I like, but I’ll manage.”

Her stare grew into a scowl and her mouth reached a truce with her gum. “I bet you will, Mr. Daniels. I bet you will.” She radiated ripples of chill as she and her pot disappeared behind kitchen doors.

“You shouldn’t upset her like that.”

Richard found the man who had addressed him sitting two booths closer to the door and facing him with a frown worthy of a protective brother. Richard raised his brows. “Wasn’t aware I had.”

“I guess there’s a lot you’re not aware of.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“For a man holding all the cards, you sure don’t know what’s in your hand.”

Richard studied the man. He decided his name was Boris. He tilted his head giving him silent permission to vent his view.

Boris twisted his face in disdain. He spoke tight words through a tight sneer. “Take Rosie in there…you think she really cares if your coffee’s bitter? You think her sorry boss pays her enough to care? Or do you think her heart’s all butterflies and roses? Look around you man. For the love of God, look out there in the street! A girl’s knifed down so she won’t kick or scream when she’s robbed. The last thing she sees is cracked concrete rushing up to meet her. And you sit there sipping coffee, playing niceties with a waitress who has no choice but to try and survive this godforsaken deathtrap. It’s a living hell for every last one of us--except for you. This city’s rank, man. The stench is enough to strangle you. It’s like bile burning the back of your throat.”

Boris surveyed the café and Richard followed his gaze. The eyes of all the patrons were watching. The buzz of conversation was muted. Clanking silverware now hung suspended between mouths and plates, and a twinge of uneasiness churned in Richard’s stomach. He considered the burly, outspoken man. Was he just someone who happened in for a bite? No, he wouldn’t know Rosie if that were the case. But seeing no indication of more, Richard also dismissed the possibility of a relationship between the two. Just a regular, he decided. Someone who frequented the café. Someone who frequented the neighborhood’s horrors. 
Richard gave Boris a level stare. “It’s necessary,” he stated simply.

Boris’ bushy brows rose. “Necessary? Necessary!” He turned to the patrons transfixed on their exchange. “He says it’s necessary! The whole south side of Cathryn’s Bay is God’s own cesspool and the man says it’s necessary!” He fixed his fiery scowl back on Richard. “You have no idea what it’s like! You created this mess! You orchestrate our lives! It’s you who should pay! Not us!”

Silent onlookers began murmuring, their pitch a rising, disgruntled buzz. Richard felt their emotion. He could do that. He could determine what anyone felt…or thought. It was an ability uniquely his. He just wished these people could think for themselves at times. Having to do it for them was as much chore as delight. He put the thought aside and looked again at Cathryn. He longed to see the woman from across the bay.

Boris continued ranting. “Your little heroine isn’t coming, man. She’s fed up, too. You think she really wants to take on this whole damn city by herself? You think she’s grateful? You’re the one she’d like to see behind bars! How can you know her so intimately and still put her through all this?”

“Detective Jessica Tate is everything,” Richard answered. “Without her, I have no life. Without her, you have no life. You will endure…as she endures.”

Boris stood from the booth. “No, I won’t. I refuse to…endure…like this! It’s over! You’ll not profit from our misery any longer! Maybe I can’t just whip out a pen and change our destinies, but I can whip out this and change yours!” He reached behind his back and pulled out a pistol. He began firing indiscriminately. The patrons screamed and ducked behind tables and booths. Some were quick. Some weren’t. Boris didn’t care. With a single bullet remaining, he pointed the weapon at Richard and fired. 
Richard closed his eyes as he rubbed his chest. The mood was set. His mind contained everything it needed. He took a deep breath and sipped his coffee. Its rich flavor was perfect. Pulling a pen from his shirt pocket he began writing.

“Timothy Slate stared out the window and watched the girl die.”


  1. This one gave me the willies. Really solid piece of writing, Jeff. Makes me shiver at the things I've allowed to happen to my own characters... makes me wonder what they would say if I ever was brought face to face with them.

    1. Thanks for the compliment! I labored over this one, that's for sure. Rarely do I write anything so heavy in a contemporary setting, but the muse whispered. Someone told me it made them think "Twilight Zone" but I took that as a positive. I mean, that's *almost* a comparison to Rod Serling, right? ;-)