Wrapping Up: A Few Thoughts on Blogging a Novella

Yesterday I released the last episode of my novella, 38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl) here on my blog. If you want to know how it all started, or need an index to specific chapters, please jump back to my original announcement.

I thought I’d post a few quick notes on this experiment. Hopefully this will help others to decide if this is a good approach to take for one of their stories.

1) Thanks to readers like Jason Black, I was able to make some improvements to the story as a result of publishing it. I wasn’t able to make all of the improvements he suggested (some of the structural changes would have forced major changes to the plot including chapters already published). But because it was published on-line, I was able to fix simple issues (the typos, word choice issues, etc.) quickly, and improve the reading experience for future readers. This is definitely something you can’t do in a regular book, but I would also hope that I wouldn’t have these types of issues by the time something goes to print, since I would definitely hire a professional editor prior to publication.

2) The hard part about publishing something online is getting people to read it. Unless you already have a very large daily readership or Twitter following, just publishing something for free doesn’t mean more people will find you. Getting word out on your effort via social media can feel like you’re spamming all of your friends. If you are not comfortable with sending out tweets at least a couple of times a day, don’t count on a sudden flood of traffic to your blog. I tried a number of different hashtags in my marketing efforts, including: #writing #reading #free #TragicalllyHip (since this was a fanfic novella) #fanfic #webfic #amwriting and #fridayreads. A couple of times I noticed bumps in my website traffic after one of these tweets, but nothing jumps out at me as a sure-fire way to draw in more readers. I did get lucky in that John Scalzi had an Open Promotion thread on March 15th, and I was able to jump on that. A significant number of people found me through that post. (Thanks, John!)

3) Having constant content on the blog for a two week period did improve the traffic for the website, and did gain me some new readers and subscribers. Normally, I try to publish blog entries every other day, but coming up with original non-fiction content that often is a difficult task. Having an extended period with original fiction took the burden off my shoulders for a couple of weeks and allowed me to focus on other things for a while… like the writing I get paid to do. Since this was a story I had written a while ago, and wasn’t too long, it was a perfect candidate for this experiment.

4) If I do this again, I’ll do it with do with a story specifically written as a serial, with standard episode lengths. I’ll also put a lot more focus on generating suspense at the end of each episode, to pull the reader back the next day.

5) Episodes posted on weekend days generally get much less traffic, but then people who were reading along, went back on Monday and caught up. But, if I were to do it again, I’d probably hold off on the weekend posts, and only do weekday entries to avoid that issue. People are already busy enough on Mondays. Why raise the barrier to consistent readership any further?

6) Two weeks (ten episodes) feels about right for short fiction. Three weeks is doable, but unless you’re writing a soap opera, expecting people to make the commitment for longer than that is probably too much to ask. Also, since I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the story, I didn’t publish any other blog posts during this time. A lot can happen in three or four weeks, and you may not want to block your blog for much longer than ten days.

7) I probably wouldn’t publish long fiction (i.e. a full novel with consistent, long chapters), this way. I might do a serial, but I wouldn’t put them on a blog. I’d announce them on the blog, and make the episodes downloadable to eReaders. I don’t think people want to sit in front of their computers for hours and read every day.

8) I think the perfect episode length for short fiction is around 1200 words. Too short and it feels like a placeholder. Too long, and people don’t have enough time in their schedules to read it in a single sitting, and are less likely to come back.

9) I didn’t get any comments on formatting or fonts, so setting them up like normal blog entries appears to have worked.

10) I set up all of the entries prior to the announcement going out, and let WordPress do the release on a schedule (every day at 3:00 AM Pacific to catch the early morning readers on the East Coast). Then I went back every morning and updated the announcement post with the link to the chapters. This was much easier and more reliable than trying to post things on the release date.

11) I’m glad I had the header at the top of each episode that pointed to the original announcement. That works very well for this type of publication process. I should probably go back and add a link at the bottom of each episode to allow users to jump to the next one.

12) The hardest part (besides the writing of the original story), is reading the feedback and reviews people send you. This is the first time I’ve put my fiction out there for public criticism, and that takes a thick skin. I’m assuming I’ll get bad reviews in the future, and at some point I’ll learn to ignore them. With traditionally published fiction, that’s possible (and recommended to a certain extent), because there’s not a lot you can (or should) do by the time the story is in the public’s hands. But with blog-serialized fiction, you’re seeing the feedback before the whole story has been read, and it’s hard not to want to try to fix things or debate with the readers. But you can’t do that. For better or worse, the story is done, and, unless the issue is a typo, it’s best to leave it, and move on to the next project.

Do I consider this experiment a success? Yes. I learned what works and what doesn’t, and that’s always a good thing to apply to future efforts. I did draw in new readers—March is on pace to be my best readership month ever. I expect that people will find the story in the future and continue to read it. Thus, it adds a long-tail of readership to my blog. Hopefully some of those readers will buy my books when they come out. Sure, I had dreams of exponential growth and discovery of my story by famous folk who would rave about my storytelling to all of their followers. I didn’t see anything like that. But then again, slow and steady progress is (in my opinion) better than a rocket that burns out after a short flight. I’m in this for the long haul.

So I hope you enjoyed the story. If you have any further comments, feedback or questions, please feel free to let me know. Thanks for reading!

38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl): Epilogue

Author’s Note: This is Part 15 of a series of posts serializing my novella 38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl). For more information on the origins of this novella, including all disclaimers, and a complete chapter list, please see the announcement regarding this series.

Epilogue

Mike got another five years tacked to his sentence for the escape. All but one of the fugitives was caught within seventy two hours. The last escapee was apprehended six weeks later in Manitoba trying to get across the border into the US in a stolen car. That was the farthest any of them made it.

Mike refused to see me for a couple of years, and I stopped trying after a couple of months of rejections. I kept making the steel bars and steel plates, day after day in the shop until Tony got me into the Plumber’s Union in ’78.

Mom died in ’79 of lung cancer. She was never the same after that night in ’73, and I had to move in with Davey for a short while to get away from her manic-depressive episodes. She could never really look me straight in the eyes till the day she died. That was hard. Real hard.

But Pop and I got closer after that night. We’d go out for beers pretty often, and talk about the old days. We went to a couple of Maple Leaf games with Tony and Ricky. Pop died of a heart attack after Christmas in ’84, six months before Mike was scheduled to be released. Burying him was the hardest day of my life. It was also the day I finally let it all go, and went about to set things right with the family.

Mike got out the weekend after May 24 in ’85. The four of us kids were all there to pick him up. We left all the families at home, and went as brothers and sisters. We picked up Mike outside the Millhaven gate on a slightly cloudy morning. He wore his old work boots as he walked out that prison yard gate, and though he was now forty eight years old, for a moment, he looked twenty again.

We stood there, in the warm spring air, wrapped our arms around each other, and didn’t say a word. We didn’t need to. The horror, as Mom had once said, had finally ceased.

THE END

38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl): Chapter Fourteen

Author’s Note: This is Part 14 of a series of posts serializing my novella 38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl). For more information on the origins of this novella, including all disclaimers, and a complete chapter list, please see the announcement regarding this series.

Chapter 14

At first, I thought it was a dream—a familiar dream perhaps, but a dream. I dreamt of a light tapping sound coming from beside my bed. It took a moment for me to realize that my eyes were open and I was, in fact, awake and yet I could still hear the sound. I had heard that sound many times over the years. My room faced the back yard. A small, single-paned storm-window was all that stood between my head and the weather. It had been a common route for Ricky and Tony, and sometimes for me, to use to escape when we wanted to be out after grounding, or to come in through when we missed curfew.

But Tony and Ricky hadn’t used the window since long before they moved out, and I hadn’t used it in years. These days it took an act of god to get the damn thing to open at all. The steel locks on the mechanism shredded your knuckles without remorse.

I jumped out of bed, and reamed on the latches with all my might. Only one person in the world would use that window, that night. The window flew up with a screech that could have woken the dead. I stuck my hand out, felt someone grab it, and hauled Mikey in with a giant pull.

“Jesus Christ, Donnie. You’re going to wake up the neighborhood.” In the dark I knew that he was smiling. But he sounded dead tired.

“Jesus Christ, yourself, Mikey. What the hell are you doing?” I pushed past him and pulled the window down. It didn’t make quite as much noise going down, but I could hear movement in the rest of the house. Mom and Dad would be coming in any moment now.

He didn’t say anything back. A light popped on in the kitchen, and the glow filtered under the door. Mom didn’t even knock.

“Donnie… Donnie, what’s going on?” She spotted Mikey in the shadows.

“Oh….. Oh Michael!” She rushed towards him and wrapped her arms around his neck. He gasped from the force of her embrace.

He was smaller than I remembered. I was a little taller than him now, and maybe a little heavier, but some of that was beer gut. He had somehow stayed in pretty good shape all those years in jail. His body was in good shape, that is. His face told another story. Even in the dim light of my room I could tell the years had been hard. Harder than you really saw in an unfamiliar place like the prison visitation room. Here, in a place where he had once lived as a boy, in a place where he had often been the one to tuck me in at night, I realized how much he had changed. He was no longer the cool, older brother sitting on the porch at night contemplating the meaning of life and the difference between a Ford and a Chevy. He was old, and strange, and different in so many ways. He wasn’t the brother I remembered. I took an involuntary step back and shuddered.

But Mom had grabbed on, and wouldn’t let him go.

“Oh, Michael. You’ve come home! I can’t believe you’ve come home. This nightmare. It’s over. Finally!”

“For the time being at least.” Pop stood in the doorway and scowled.

“Hi, Pop.”

“You know how much trouble you’re in, Michael?”

“Yeah, I got a pretty good idea.” Mikey said in a slightly condescending tone. It was certainly not as respectful as it had been many years ago. My memories of all those conversations from the past flashed in my mind. Mikey had always been on a pedestal. This man was someone else. Someone I didn’t know.

“Laidlaw told me to call him if we heard from you.”

“Bob’s still around? I haven’t heard from that son of a bitch in a few years now.” Mikey disregarded the suggestion, as if Laidlaw had abandoned him to rot away in a jail cell. It had been quite the opposite. Laidlaw had fought hard, for years, even when we couldn’t pay him. But Mikey seemed to remember none of that, or if he did, he didn’t appreciate it.

“Oh, Michael.” Mom maintained her stranglehold around his neck. Mikey looked at me and I shrugged. He hadn’t seen Mom like this. She was always on her best behavior whenever we went to the prison. She never wanted him to see her weakness there. But here, she wouldn’t let him go, and I think, at that moment, had he tried to push her away, she would have crumpled to the floor and never gotten up.

He let her hug him for another minute, then said in his gentlest tone—the one that I remembered from years before—“Come on, Mom. Let’s sit down.”

He steered her towards the kitchen, and sat her down at the table. He took my chair, oblivious to the fact that seating arrangements had changed a little bit since he had been gone. I worked my way around to the other side of the table, pulled a stack of newspapers from the seat, and tossed them into a wicker basket in the corner. Mom clutched at Mikey’s hand and she stared at him, much like a mother stares at a baby the first time she sees him after birth.

“Michael, there’s a bunch of people looking for you,” Pop spoke softly. The curtains to the house were all closed, but I looked surreptitiously around to double-check.

“Yeah. There’s a couple of squad cars down the street.” Mikey nodded. Mom’s head snapped towards the door. A brief look of anger flashed across her face. I realized, at that moment, that she had not thought of Mikey having to go back. In her mind, he was home and done with that horrible place built of stone and bars. But Mikey, Pop and I knew better.

“We should call Laidlaw,” Dad suggested.

“Whatever.” Mikey nodded. He wasn’t about to disagree with Pop at that moment. But Pop’s face went from relief to simmering, and even though Mikey had been gone for a long, long time, he recognized the look.

“Are you okay, Mike? You ain’t hurt, are you?” I asked. Dried blood caked his knuckles. Dirt covered his fingernails. His clothes had been snatched from a clothesline somewhere along the way. A piece of an electric cord cinched his stolen pants, which were too short by three inches. Sweat and dirt stained his white T-shirt. His shoes were prison issued though, the same slip-on design, with no laces, and no heels. It was the shoes that stuck with me the most. I wondered what had happened to his old work boots.

“No, I’m fine. A couple of scratches, that’s all.” He picked at the dirt under a fingernail and checked a scrape on his elbow. For the first time I noticed a couple of tattoos on his arms. Prison jobs. Artistic in their way, but not the quality you might have gotten these days. One was a simple cross, done in black, about the size of a playing card. The other was black rose. Neither one meant anything to me at that moment, but I stared at them for a minute before I shook my head and asked Mikey the critical question.

“What happened, Mikey?”

“Long story.” Mikey’s glance begged me to not ask him any more details.

I stared back at him, with my best “Okay, for now” look. An uncomfortable silence slid into the room as we tried to figure out what was okay to talk about. I couldn’t make small talk, not at this hour, and not under these circumstances. Pop sat with his arms crossed, and watched Mikey interact with Mom, who was back in her make-believe world that everything was going to be okay. And that left me with one question that had to be asked.

“What are you going to do now?”

“Dunno. Depends.”

“On?”

“Pop, what do you think I should do?” He looked over at Dad, and threw the weight of the world back onto Pop’s shoulders. The question took my breath away, and stunned Pop.

“Me? You want me to tell you what to do?” Pop’s simmer almost boiled over, but he held it in check—barely—for Mom’s sake, I suppose.

“If you want me to call Laidlaw, I will. Otherwise, I’m going take off.”

“Michael.” Pop avoided looking at Mom. I knew what she would say, given those same options. Mom wouldn’t only tell him to run. She’d go with him, and care for him like the little boy she thought he still was. Pop sat there for a moment, biting the inside of his lip. He shook his head as he spoke. “I can’t tell you what to do.”

I don’t know how Pop maintained his composure. He shifted into a gear I didn’t know he had. Maybe I had seen it once, when a siding salesman had weaseled his way through the front door and Pop had been forced to sit through the whole spiel. He looked at Mikey like Mikey was that shill, a stranger in stolen clothes, sitting at his kitchen table.

Mikey glanced back at me, and recognized the anger in my eyes. But he was oblivious to the cause. In his mind, I knew he was asking his father for advice. But he had put Dad in the worst circumstance possible: a choice between honesty and his family. Blood was thicker than water, they say, but Pop was a God-fearing man. Maybe, back then, that meant more than it does today. Mikey should have known better to ask that question, but he also should have known better than to break out of jail, too. Mikey’s judgment hadn’t been great that day.

“Fine.” Mikey sat back in the chair. It creaked, as if the wood was about to give in to too many years of accumulated stress. I knew the feeling, and saw it manifested on the faces of my folks. Mikey swept the room with his eyes, his gaze stopping on all the things that hadn’t changed since he’d last sat at this table, eighteen years before. Then he looked back at me. I still stewed in my anger across the table from him.

“What’s wrong, Donnie?”

I said nothing. Whatever I was going to say would have been full of expletives, and no matter how upset I was, I knew this was my mother’s house, and I was not going to push her any further than she had already been pushed that day.

Mikey got up, picked up my pack of smokes off the kitchen counter, and lit one up. He eyed the door. I could see his mind running, remembering back to the days and nights of sitting on the porch. He took a step towards the porch, as if he wanted to go out there and see his old room. It was a storage area now, filled with junk collected through the years. Years that he had been gone.

“Why’d you come here, Mike?” He was no longer Mikey to me. He was Mike. Someone I no longer knew: a stranger, a convict, and a fugitive.

His eyes glazed over in confusion. Mom seemed aghast that I would ask the question.

“He’s home, Donnie. That’s all that matters.”

“This isn’t his home, Mom. Not right now.”

“Donnie!” Her hand flew up off the table towards my face. I would have let her slap me, if that’s what it took for her to see how far around the bend she had gone. But she stopped short as a voice from outside, amplified by a squad-car megaphone, shook the house, and certainly did wake the neighborhood.

“Michael Mallory. This is Chief Mackenzie. We know you’re in there Michael. You need to come on out.” The megaphone let out a short squeal from feedback. The chief cussed as the sound rattled through the neighborhood.

Dad’s head slumped. Mom’s hand, stretched and ready to hit me, went back to her mouth. Mike took a slow drag on the cigarette as he eyed the door to my room, and the window beyond. I saw the look on his face. He took a step. But I was quicker. I leapt from behind the table, and caught him as he reached my door. My hands slammed into his side, and the two of us crashed into the doorjamb. The wall shook. A small picture of the family, taken before the troubles, crashed down. The glass shattered into a thousand pieces.

“Mike. Don’t even think about it.” My fingers latched onto his T-shirt, and pulled him back into the kitchen. He fell to the floor, colliding with a cupboard. Dishes rattled from the impact.

“Donnie…” He tried to get back up and to get past me, but I pushed him back down. He didn’t try very hard. Deep down, I’m sure he knew what was right and what was wrong. He didn’t want to be forced to make that decision on his own.

“No, Mike. You need to sit down.”

“Donnie. You don’t need to get involved.”

“I’m already involved. What did you think was going to happen, Mike? Did you honestly think they wouldn’t find you here? Did you think that coming here wasn’t going to cause trouble? For all of us?” I looked back at the face of my mother, and knew the troubles we had seen up to this point were only the beginning. Mike glanced back at Mom, and, just for an instant, a flicker of recognition crossed his face. So much in the house was the same as it had always been. But so much had changed. The people had changed. Grown. Gotten older.

Mom vaulted from her seat and ran to him. She had stayed quiet during the whole confrontation, but she threw me a look I’ll never forget. Daggers of hard, drop-forged steel lanced from those eyes and into my heart. She knelt down next to Mike, wrapping her arms around him, and pressing her lips to the side of his head. She gently rocked him, as if he were three years old and had skinned his knee.

I took a brief look back at Pop. He was standing now, by the table. Our eyes met, and he gave me a slow nod. His eyes watered. He wiped them with the back of his hand, then turned his face to look into the wicker basket of newspapers. His Adams-apple slowly worked to control a sob. That nearly broke me.

Instead, I walked past Mike’s outstretched legs, towards the front door. Mike leaned back against the cupboard, with Mom still in a stranglehold around his neck, whispering “It’ll be okay, Michael,” over and over again. I paused briefly at the door, undid the deadbolt, and turned on the porch light. I opened the door a crack, and stepped to the side.

“Chief, this is Donnie Mallory. Come on up to the door. There won’t be no trouble.” I turned to look at Mike. He hadn’t moved an inch. He nodded. Mom wouldn’t look at me. She buried her face into Mike’s shoulder.

The screen door on the porch squeaked. Heavy footsteps worked their way across creaky boards. Those same boards that creaked eighteen years before still squawked that night. I opened the door a little further, and stood where the chief could see me. We knew each other from the days of the trial, and a few times since, usually for reasons that didn’t involve me coming home in a squad car. The chief was a pretty good guy, and I trusted him.

“Hi, chief.” Another officer stood slightly behind him. Their guns were holstered, but the snaps were loose.

“Hi, Donnie. You’ve grown a bit since the last time I saw ya.” He smiled, looked me in the eye, and nodded.

“Yeah.” I opened the door far enough for him to see everyone in the room. He nodded to Pop, who returned the brief, uncomfortable greeting with one of his own. Mike sat there, and waited for him to acknowledge his presence. It was so calm, it was surreal.

“Come on, Michael, son. We’re taking you home.” He held out a pair of handcuffs. Mike slowly unwrapped Mom’s arms from around his neck, and stood. He tried to pull Mom up with him, but she would not move. He was abandoning her. She turned away from him, and covered her face with her hands. Mike stepped slowly towards the two officers, turned around halfway across the room, and put his hands behind his back.

“Bye, Mom. Bye, Pop.” He didn’t look at me as he left.

I shuffled back into my room, and closed the door. The doors on the squad car slammed shut. The engine roared as it pulled away from the curb.

Just like that, Mike’s run for freedom ended—not with some high speed chase across half the country, but with a short altercation between two brothers, separated by fourteen years at birth, and eighteen years of life.

38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl): Chapter Thirteen

Author’s Note: This is Part 13 of a series of posts serializing my novella 38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl). For more information on the origins of this novella, including all disclaimers, and a complete chapter list, please see the announcement regarding this series.

Chapter 13

Shortly after one, Davey and I drove a few miles out of town in his Dodge Dart to get a bite to eat for lunch. Cops were everywhere, and more than one gave us a solid stare as we passed. There was a resemblance between me and Mikey, but it wasn’t that strong. His hair was dark—mine dirty blonde. Mikey had the hard look of a man with serious issues. I still had the look of youth; that dumb, the world is my oyster, look of innocence. I had the look, but I knew better.

We grabbed a booth at a hamburger stand on Highway 15. The lunch crowd was pretty much gone. Most of the heavy traffic had moved over to the new Highway 401, so what used to be a pretty bustling location barely saw any business these days. The food was cheap though, and half decent, so it was a good option from ‘city food’.

A steady stream of cop cars buzzed up and down the roads, heading in both directions, some at high speed, some at a slow crawl. Every hitchhiker and every car with a busted taillight or window was pulled over and inspected. They actually caught one guy that way around dinner time driving a stolen car north on a back road. He didn’t put up much of a fight, but still looked like he had ‘resisted’ by the time he was back in his cell. The Mounties always got their man. What was left afterwards was left for the medics to sort out.

After lunch, we took a swing around the city, touring old spots where Mikey used to hang out. A lot had changed in eighteen years, and most of the spots had been rebuilt or knocked down. We even went by the old high school to where Cathy had been beaten. The bushes had been replaced by a parking lot extension. We spent a couple of hours driving around, trying to see, but not be seen. More than a couple of times, someone we knew waved at Davey, saw me, and pointed to a friend. Look there’s Donnie. The killer’s brother.

Davey dropped me off a block behind my place around four. I hopped the two fences, and slipped back into the house.

Mom still sat at the table in her robe. Dad had showered and dressed, but waited on the couch, ready to jump at the slightest noise. He glanced at me as I entered, hoping I had brought some good news. I shook my head, and slumped down next to him. We sat in silence as the sun began its slow slide to the west.

Doris, helpful as ever, brought over dinner for us. I wasn’t real hungry. Watching Mom mope about was hard on the stomach, and the beef-noodle casserole barely stayed down. I followed it with a cold bottle of Labatt’s, which didn’t help my gut much, but was at least something to hold onto, other than a coffee cup. And I sure didn’t need any more of that.

I debated going back out. Davey had said he was up for it, but all our usual haunts would be more than a little awkward. Most folks I knew well would have let it be, but there’d always be punks like Jimmy Tolliver hanging out around the pool table, trying to get my goat. I was normally a pretty calm guy, but I knew it wouldn’t take much that night to set me off. Absence, in this case, was the better part of valor.

I stretched out on the couch, and watched TV, trying to pick up the channels out of Buffalo. The Blue Jays didn’t come around until 1976, so our choices on that night were a little limited. Seemed like most folks here were Red Sox fans, but I leaned to the Yankees, if only to be different. Baseball, however, was just the intermission of the real show between May and October. Hockey ruled this town. Even in the middle of the summer, a single, poorly-chosen word could set off a brawl between Canadiens’ and Maple Leafs’ fans.

There was a Yankees-White Sox game on the TV that night, though the reception from the rabbit ears wasn’t great. It was in Chicago. I wondered if anyone in Comiskey Park had heard about the escape, or if anyone there had ever even heard of Kingston. I tried to figure out how far Chicago was from us, and if Mikey was heading west, how long it would take him to get there. After a few innings, I turned the game off, and sat in silence, staring at the ceiling.

In those days, the paperboy dropped the paper in the evenings. Today’s landed with the weight of a special edition on our doorstep around nine o’clock. We waited a few minutes before grabbing it from the stoop, afraid people would be waiting for us to stick our head out the door. I did the quick run, and barely made it in before the spotlight on the remaining news van lit up the front of the house like a concert stage. They turned their light off quick, but the effect of the flash glowed in my eyes for ten minutes afterwards.

I handed the paper to Pop. There were three sections to it, as there was every weekend. Pop took the first section, handed the second one to Mom, and I was left with the entertainment, coupons, classified and the funnies. Most nights, that would have been the section I wanted, but tonight, Mom and I hovered over Pop’s shoulder as he read the front page lead.

12 Men Escape From Millhaven

The pictures of the twelve were strung in two rows of six below that, with a caption below each with their height, weight, original crime and sentence. All but three were convicted murders. Two of the other three were rapists, and the last was in for armed robbery. Not a nice group of fellas, no matter how you looked at it. The pictures were arranged alphabetically, putting Mikey as the second picture on the second row. Three of the convicts had names that started with L’ or Le or La. All Frenchies.

The story on the first page detailed what was known about the escape, which was very little when the story was published, and said a little more about the police effort to recapture the fugitives. There was no further mention of Mikey on the first page.

The second page, however, was dominated by an article completely devoted to Michael James Mallory. The breath rushed out of Mom’s chest as soon as she read the title. “Local Man One of Millhaven Twelve” That’s what he would be known as for the rest of his life. One of the Millhaven Twelve. And Mom’s title, Mother of a Murderer, would now be suffixed with ‘and Mother of One of the Millhaven Twelve’. She crumpled back into her kitchen chair, and stared at the seat that she had been saving, all these years.

“Oh, Michael.” She burst into tears. Pop pulled another tissue from a box and handed it to her. She took it without thinking, clenching it in her hand.

Pop read the page, then read it again, scanned the next page, and flipped to the next page. He muttered something under his breath, but I didn’t catch what he said. It all slid off his back, at least outwardly. He might have been burning up inside, but outside, he maintained his composure.

Mom continued to sob, and soaked through two more tissues before the crying died down. By then I had taken the rest of the paper, and was skimming through the classified ads. I wasn’t looking for anything specific. I was just looking. It was what we did back then for fun when we couldn’t get out of the house.

I made a vain attempt at the Saturday crossword, but didn’t get more than three or four words right. I was never that good in school, but was okay at the hide-a-words and daily jumbles. Mom usually got to them before I did, but today I had them to myself and knocked them out pretty easily.

When you’re used to going out and partying every Saturday night, rain or shine, a Saturday night at home can feel like forever, especially when you’re stuck with a mother who’s bouncing between sobbing uncontrollably, and pacing frantically. It wasn’t that Pop and I didn’t want to do anything for her. There was nothing we could do for her. We’d seen her get like this many times over the past few years. They call it manic-depressive now, I think, but back then we didn’t know there was anything wrong. Life with a manic-depressive became a balancing act between making sure they didn’t hurt themselves, and making sure you didn’t hurt them. It was touch and go on the latter for a long time with Mom.

I moved from the couch into my bedroom shortly before ten-thirty, and briefly considered sneaking out the window and going to meet Davey down at the pub. But the reality was that I was okay with not going out. I didn’t want the attention—or the questions. So I sat up in bed, read an old Popular Mechanics magazine, and drifted off sometime after eleven.

38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl): Chapter Twelve

Author’s Note: This is Part 12 of a series of posts serializing my novella 38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl). For more information on the origins of this novella, including all disclaimers, and a complete chapter list, please see the announcement regarding this series.

Chapter 12

During the trial, there had been the occasional reporter by our place, either taking pictures, filming a news-spot for the six o’clock, or interviewing neighbors and friends. It had been a pretty tight community before the incident, but months of strangers nosing around had worn thin on a lot of folk, and they were glad when things got back to normal.

Still, things were never quite the same after that. Most folks in this burb were company folks, and back in the day, that meant you were born in the neighborhood, you lived in the neighborhood, you worked in the neighborhood, you retired in the neighborhood, and you died in the neighborhood. Because of the trial, our family was a little different. The kids scattered. We didn’t even try to find places close by. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but after the incident, it was like… like we weren’t welcome. There was always that feeling that people were talking behind our backs, pointing us out to people who didn’t know better. There they are, those are the folks with the killer in the family. Some folks watched the house all the time, waiting for the next thing to go wrong. Others couldn’t look at us, or the house at all. They looked at the other side of the street, or at their shoes as they passed by.

For most of the last eighteen years, it had been pretty quiet. But by the time I was out of the shower and dressed that morning, a brigade of reporters stood on our sidewalk filming spots for the news. Neighbors not familiar with how vicious the press could be, gawked from their porches. Those with experience kept their curtains closed, the doors locked, and the lights off.

Mom had already closed our curtains, the thick corduroy material blocking out the glare from the dozen spotlights positioned by our sidewalk. She resumed her station at the kitchen table, staring at the clock on the wall, and gave me a brief, disinterested look as I put on my watch and grabbed my keys off the counter.

“Where you going?” Pop sat on the end of our old kiwi-green couch. The prickly upholstery was murder on the back if you slept there for any length of time.

“Can’t stay here. I’m heading over to Davey’s.”

Pop nodded. He understood. I don’t think he wanted to be stuck in the house with Mom either at that point, but he didn’t have a choice.

I ducked out the back door, away from the crowds out front, hopped two wooden fences, and crossed to the other side of the block. I’d done that a million times over the years. Davey lived a ten-minute walk away. I usually drove in those days, but there was no way I was going to try to get my truck out from the school of piranha guarding the front door—not with blood in the water. They wouldn’t be getting their story from me.

Davey was barely out of bed when I got there, sporting an epic hangover. He sipped his first cup of coffee and hauled on his second smoke as he let me in. He hadn’t showered yet. He lived alone in a run-down, one-bedroom apartment, in a two story building that might have been a no-tell motel at one time. We had often talked about getting a place together, but I could never commit. Davey was a slob, and I was used to Mom picking everything up after me. I didn’t think I could go from perfect order to anarchy like that. My only hope was to find a good woman, who could do my cooking and cleaning, and marry her quick, before the whole woman’s lib thing got too out of hand. I guess I ended up doing okay there, but that’s another story.

Davey hadn’t turned on the radio or TV yet, so when I showed up and told him the news, he had to see for himself. He turned the radio on, and set the TV to the local CBC station. They were showing a cowboy and Indian flick, ‘Fort Apache’, which was a hell of a lot better to watch than the news, but Davey kept the radio up and the TV down so he could hear about the escape. I watched the movie, and smoked another Players. I wasn’t a particularly heavy smoker, but I was on a hefty pace that day. If I kept this pace up, I was going to have to send Davey for more smokes by noon.

Finally, the radio gave their update. Nothing new. There were no reports of the missing convicts, and no more news on the breakout. Cops across the province were now on the lookout. Even the US cops across the river were notified. The river was big, but it wouldn’t be that hard to steal a boat and get across. Hell, we did it more than once in high school, just to see if the American girls were as good looking and easy as everyone said. They were, and they weren’t.

“So where do you think he is?” Davey asked after the report finished and he had turned off the radio.

“I dunno. North maybe? Toronto, maybe?”

“If I was him, I’d head west. Lots of room out west to get lost.”

“Sure, but you have to get there first.”

“Yeah. But it ain’t rocket science to boost a car. Mikey was always pretty good with engines.”

“Yeah.” I hadn’t actually thought that Mikey would run somewhere. I still couldn’t believe that he jumped. Sure he had seven years left, but there was always a chance for parole, every year. A few more years of good behavior and he might have gotten out early. Now, he’d be lucky if he didn’t get a few more years tacked on.

I turned my attention back to the movie, and turned up the volume on the TV. Davey munched on a bowl of Fruit Loops. I couldn’t watch him eat. The bile in my stomach rose and fell with every breath. I smothered my half-burned smoke, licked my teeth, and wanted a Rolaids. But I knew Davey wouldn’t have anything like that. I sat and ignored the burn.

38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl): Chapter Eleven

Author’s Note: This is Part 11 of a series of posts serializing my novella 38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl). For more information on the origins of this novella, including all disclaimers, and a complete chapter list, please see the announcement regarding this series.

Chapter 11

Like I said, I was living at home, and working down at Falcon in ’73. On that particular Friday night, I was staying in, being good. Mom, Dad and I were planning an early morning trip to Millhaven. Not sure why, exactly, that we had to do it early in the morning. It only took a few minutes to get there, and visiting hours didn’t start till 9:00 and ran till 4:30 on Saturdays. But Mom always wanted to be there first thing. There was nothing more important than her Mikey, and she wanted him to know that, every week.

That Saturday, the phone rang a little before five in the morning. The walls hadn’t gotten any thicker with time, and I could hear every word of Dad’s side of the conversation.

“Yeah?” he said with a sleepy voice.

“What time is it?”

“What?”

“No… I’m sure he’s fine.”

“Okay.”

“Thanks.”

The phone jingled slightly as he set the receiver down.

“Who was that?” Mom asked.

“Doris.”

I pulled on a pair of jeans from a chair beside my bed. I missed the next part of the conversation as my belt clanked and the change in my pocket rattled. Pop and I met in the kitchen as he came out. Mom followed quickly behind him, pulling on that same old pink bathrobe as she walked. Years of smoking added to the creases on her face created by all the worrying. Mom had not aged well.

“What happened?” I asked Dad. “What did Doris say?”

“Something’s happened at Millhaven.” Dad reached for the radio. Mom stood there with her hand over her mouth. Her fingers twitched and searched for something to grab onto. She eyed the pack of Camels on the counter-top, but didn’t move. The station came out of a commercial break to some crappy Mama’s and the Papa’s tune. We all looked at the clock. It was two minutes to five. The news would be up next if we didn’t screw with the dial. We stood there listening to the warble of a bad song grating on a low power radio, like fingernails on a chalkboard. I stepped over to the stove, turned on a burner, and filled the kettle with water. I needed coffee. We all needed coffee.

The newscaster began talking before the lyrics of the song had faded, with a special bulletin. There had been a breakout at Millhaven. Reports were that as many as fifteen convicts had escaped, by unknown means. They were considered dangerous, and everyone in the area was advised to remain inside their homes, with doors and windows locked. Anyone who saw anything suspicious should immediately call the police. Because Millhaven was a federal penitentiary, the Mounties would be running the show. They were calling in reinforcements from all over the province to track these criminals down. There would be more updates as information became available.

That was the top, and only item on the news. The anchor repeated the story, with slightly different words to make it sound even more dire than it was. We listened to every word like it was new material, trying to glean whether or not Mikey was involved from the tone of the announcer’s voice.

They cut back to a commercial after that, and we stared at the radio, waiting for more information. No one said a word. The commercial ended, and the newscaster gave a brief update on the weather. It was sixty-four degrees outside. Temps expected to be in the high eighties by noon with the possibility of ninety away from the water. That weather update, for some reason, stuck in my mind for years. There was nothing more on the breakout. The station cut back to music—something by the Temptations, I think.

We stood there until the kettle boiled. I turned off the burner, set three cups on the counter, and doled out three teaspoons of Maxwell House instant, added sugar to mine, added hot water to them all, and stirred with one spoon. Pop picked up his coffee and sat down, elbows on the table and his head in his hands. It was the same table we’d had as long as I could remember, though we’d been able to pull the two expansion leaves out of it with only the three of us there. The rest of the chairs were scattered about the house, except one spare, which sat empty at every meal, just in case. Mom said she was leaving room in case someone dropped by for dinner at the last moment. But I think she kept it out those last few years in the hope that it would one day be Mikey sitting there.

Mom didn’t pick up her coffee until it was cold. She stared at it much the same way she had looked at the pack of camels just a few minutes before. It was as if she was drinking it, and smoking those menthols, without even exerting the effort required to actually do it. Whatever sanity Mom had held back in reserve those eighteen years, departed in those twenty four hours after that phone call.

I debated calling Ricky and Tony, but even the slightest move towards the phone raised an eyebrow from my father. The line was to be kept clear, just in case. We didn’t know what’ just in case’ might imply, but no one was going near the phone unless it rang first. There wasn’t such a thing as caller id or call-waiting back then. If the line was busy, you didn’t get through. If Mikey needed to get a hold of us, it would be through that black device with the tangled cord hanging from the wall.

After the second update at the bottom of the hour told us nothing the first hadn’t, I relaxed a little, and managed to scrounge up some cereal and milk. Mom looked at me like I was blaspheming. I really wanted a shower and some fresh air. But I wasn’t leaving them alone until we heard more news.

Shortly after six, the phone finally rang. Pop snatched it off the wall before the second sound. It was Ricky. Dad kept the conversation short, and had Ricky call the rest of the family to let them know what was going on, and to not call home unless they heard something from Mikey.

Tony called a few minutes later. Ricky hadn’t reached him yet. Dad set him straight right quick, and hung up the phone, gritting his teeth.

Thirty seconds after he hung up with Tony, the phone rang again. I knew right away from Pop’s voice, that it wasn’t a member of the family.

“Yes.”

“Oh.” His face collapsed. His fingers ran through his thin and graying hair. He didn’t look at Mom or me. He stared at the table.

“No. We haven’t heard anything. Just what we got from the radio.”

“Yes, sir. Of course. I’ll give you a call if we hear anything.”

“Thanks for calling.” He hung up the phone, and swallowed hard.

“Pop?”

“That was the chief.” He took a look at mom to see if she was in danger of falling down if he said what he needed to say. She sat down without him even asking.

“What happened?”

“Not sure. They said twelve guys weren’t there at morning roll call. Michael was one of the missing.”

“Oh, Good Lord!” Mom clasped her hand over her mouth.

“Shit,” I muttered under my breath. Mom didn’t even bat an eyelash at me.

“He wants us to call him if we hear from Michael.” It sounded like the chief had made a request, but I, and most likely Pop, knew it wasn’t a request. It was an order. I doubted I could ever call the cops on my own brother. Mom, I was sure wouldn’t. She wanted him home so damn bad that she would have risked everything to see him back here safe.

Pop, well Pop was another matter. He wanted Mikey home, and home safe, but he also had a pretty good head on his shoulders for figuring out what was right and what was wrong. He had taken it more than a little personal that Mikey had ended up in prison in the first place. It hadn’t been Mikey’s fault, in his opinion. Pop had failed Mikey, and Cathy, as a father. And that was far worse than any sentence that any judge could hand him. He held a belief that Mike was doing the time he had earned, and that if he was a man, he would serve it like a man. It wasn’t something I totally agreed with him about, but I understood it. Mikey going over the wall was another sign to Pop that he had failed as a father. It still had nothing to do with Mike. This was about Pop, his honesty, and his integrity. If Mikey had come in the door right then, I figured it was a fifty-fifty shot that Dad called the chief.

The phone rang on and off all morning. First it was friends and family. Dad wasted no time with them. The line was to be kept open for Mike. Next was Mike’s lawyer, Robert Laidlaw, now a partner in a private law firm down the road in Bowmanville. He hadn’t worked on Mikey’s case since the additional sentence was added for the beating of the inmate who killed Billy. He told Pop to call him if Mikey did turn up. It would be better for Mikey if he had legal representation as soon as possible. Pop thanked him, and gingerly set down the phone. I knew part of him was already thinking about the legal bills. The last one had cleaned out Pop’s savings, and they weren’t chasing me out of the house yet because they needed the money I brought in to help pay the bills.

The photos were plastered all over the television by 8:00 AM. Mom cried when she saw the mug shot of Mikey grouped with the mug shots of the other convicts who had escaped. The news showed the faces one at a time, with larger images of each, and a short description. They spent a few extra moments rehashing Mike’s crime and punishment. Then they cut to a hastily arranged press conference held by the Mounties and the prison warden at a command post set up at the local police station.

The black and white images on our TV were grainy and low quality, filmed by local camera men with cheap gear. The big boys hadn’t arrived from Toronto yet. They’d soon be bringing in the new color cameras and the satellite trucks usually reserved for visits from the Queen. This was big news in the province. The RCMP were out in full force. The local police department had been pushed aside by a river incoming Mountie and Ontario Provincial Police cars. And yes, the Mounties even brought some horses. They were used to cover some of the rural areas. The Mounties, they said, always got their man. In this case, there were twelve. From the look of the weapons they brought, and the number of men carrying them, this wasn’t a manhunt. It was a war.

The lead Mountie constable gave the rundown on who had escaped, but never said how. I don’t think they figured it out till they started recapturing some of the guys. They had gone out through a utility tunnel that connected the laundry to the outside world. There had been bars on the tunnel, but two of the convicts had spent months sawing through them with broken saw blades taken from the metal shop where they made door hinges for the local public school buildings.

Most of the men who escaped were from elsewhere in the province, and from other provinces—Quebec mainly. ’73 was right after the FLQ dustup, and some of the guys from that mess were in Millhaven. The Mountie constable pointed to pictures of the men tacked to the bulletin board and gave each one’s name, hometown, weight, height, hair color and identifying marks. He paused briefly before reading Mikey’s name. He didn’t know Mikey, didn’t know the story, but did look to the chief briefly to see if there were any worries about this particular criminal. The chief, standing in the background of the picture, shook his head slightly.

“Folks, we need everyone to keep an eye out for anything suspicious, but there’s probably nothing to worry about. Most of these guys are from other places, and the last they’ll want to do is to hang around here. But if you do see anything, please call us. Immediately.”

The press conference wrapped up with a few questions from the reporters, who were mainly focused on how the convicts had escaped, or whether they were considered armed and dangerous. They were dangerous, the Mountie said, but not considered to be armed at this time. Folks should not approach them, however. They were to call the police first.

The news coverage flipped back to the studio, and the anchor rehashed the story. The pictures were put back on the screen again. Pop waited for them to show Mikey’s picture one more time, as if he didn’t believe it the first three times they had shown it, then snapped the TV off as soon as that part of the story completed.

My stomach ran hot with acid. I set my coffee cup down and headed back to my room to grab some clean clothes and a shower. My mother’s eyes dug into my back as soon as I moved, as if there was no way in hell that I should be doing anything but worrying at that point in time. I didn’t look back to confirm my suspicion—I knew it to be true, and closed the door.

38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl): Chapter Ten

Author’s Note: This is Part 10 of a series of posts serializing my novella 38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl). For more information on the origins of this novella, including all disclaimers, and a complete chapter list, please see the announcement regarding this series.

Chapter 10

I was the last kid left at home in the spring of ’73. I could have moved out a dozen times, but every time seemed like the wrong time to do it, for one reason or another.

Cathy was 35 now, living near Jane and Finch in Toronto. It wasn’t as bad a neighborhood then as it is now, but it still wasn’t great. She had two kids and a jerk-off for a husband who was constantly screwing around on her. Her habit of attracting the wrong type of guys, and sticking with them for far too long, bugged the crap out of the rest of us. You couldn’t talk to her about it. She was too scared to be on her own, and she hadn’t learned a damn thing from the whole Johnny incident. Maybe if Mikey had still been out and about, he might have been able to talk some sense into her. The only good thing was that she had stopped having kids after the second one. I felt bad for the two boys she did have. Their father was a prick, and Cathy could barely take care of herself. As for the rest of us, well, we weren’t much to those kids, but I know, had Mikey been around, he would have been a great uncle.

Ricky was 32, and an insurance salesman in Oshawa, an hour outside of Toronto. He had wanted to stick closer to home, but no one would buy insurance in Kingston from the brother of a convicted murderer. He had a wife, and three kids. He was doing okay, living a perfect suburban life.

Brenda was a good little homemaker, 29 years old, married, with two girls. She had married a structural engineer who was in school at Queen’s when they met. He made really good money, and was a decent guy who took good care of her. I talked to Brenda as much as any of the kids, but that was because I was still at home and she called Mom and Pop every couple of days. She probably talked to them more than I did, and I lived there.

Tony was 26. He was finishing up as a plumber’s apprentice after bouncing around some crappy jobs like I had been doing at the plant. For whatever reason, he wasn’t able to get a union card like I did, but stumbled into the Plumber’s Local 728. He seemed to like it, but said he hated it on any day he had to handle calls on septic tank issues.

Dad retired from Falcon Steel after 35 years, with a mediocre pension. His back was wrecked from the years of lifting and shuffling steel. The Canadian winter made him wish that they could take a vacation down to Florida. But there wasn’t that much money in the pension, and Mom wasn’t going anywhere as long as Mikey was up the road in Millhaven.

Mom was the one it hit hardest. Those first few months, during and after the trial, I don’t think she slept more than two hours a night. She lost a lot of weight, smoked more than she should have, and drank coffee like it was going out of style. Aunt Doris was there, at least four days a week, helping to feed us and to get us ready for school. Sometimes she was still there at night when we got back. Mom disappeared, often for half the day or more. When she got home, Dad would ask her where she had gone. She would say she was visiting Mike. Even if there were no visiting hours at the jail, she would go and ‘visit Mike’.

Mikey went through a few phases while in prison where he didn’t want to see anyone, and a few times, especially after Billy got killed, they stuffed him into solitary, where he wasn’t allowed visitors. The weeks when Mike was in lock-down just about killed Mom. Whatever bad habits she had broken out of since her last collapse, she fell right back into. She ate nothing, smoked more, and left the house for long hours in the middle of the day. She would sit in her car and stare at the walls of that prison, willing them to fall down and let her boy out.

And, that’s pretty much what happened.

38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl): Chapter Nine

Author’s Note: This is Part 9 of a series of posts serializing my novella 38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl). For more information on the origins of this novella, including all disclaimers, and a complete chapter list, please see the announcement regarding this series.

Chapter 9

Monday was a holiday—not that we would have gone to school that day if it hadn’t been. Pop still wasn’t home by the time we got up for breakfast. I didn’t get a lot of sleep. I don’t think anyone did. Ricky and Tony whispered a little before we got up, but they avoided their usual morning roughhousing. None of us wanted to get into any trouble.

When we slid into the kitchen at 7 AM, Mom hovered by the stove, waiting for the water to boil for her third cup of Maxwell House. She looked us over with tired, vacant eyes, then resumed her vigil in front of the kettle. Aunt Doris arrived moments later to help with breakfast.

Pop called at quarter to eight from the police station. Mikey and Billy were being held there until a lawyer could make it in to ensure that they said nothing to incriminate themselves. The cops didn’t even try to ask them anything. Pop wouldn’t let them anywhere near Mikey. Everyone knew Mikey. Everyone liked Mikey. Everyone understood what had happened, and why it had happened, and no one wanted to see Mikey go to jail for it.

But Johnny McAllister’s father was a bigwig in town. He was the branch manager for one of the banks, a long-time member of the local Elks Lodge, and good friends with the mayor. He had been a captain in the army, had fought in WWII, and landed at Gold Beach on D-Day where he received a Military Cross for distinguished service. He was well liked by a lot of folk. Dad had always said the McAllisters were no good when he was fighting with Cathy. Maybe it was because no one would ever be good enough for his little girl. Or maybe he had figured out Johnny McAllister, and knew that the good had been all used up by the previous generations of the family.

It was hard to get a lawyer on a long weekend, but one was eventually found—Robert F. Laidlaw, Esq. He wasn’t the top lawyer in town, but he wasn’t too expensive, and not-too-expensive was all we could afford. To have a lawyer, with the word ‘law’ in their name meant he had to be good—at least to a six year old. He was young and inexperienced, but not many lawyers in our area had experience with this type of crime. Dad and Billy’s father agreed to split the costs and to have one lawyer defend both boys. Looking back, that probably wasn’t a great move for Billy. He was tarred with the same charges and same verdict as Mikey got in the end, and he might have been able to cut a better deal had ratted on Mikey. But Billy wasn’t that kind of friend. He stuck with Mikey through it all. And it cost him everything.

The first week after the incident flew by pretty quickly. Mikey and Billy were both charged with 2nd Degree Murder, and bail was set unreasonably high. Mike had been making ten bucks a day on the road crew, which was pretty good for back then. The judge set the bail at ten grand. Each. Mikey and Billy stayed at the local jail, which was a hell of a lot better than getting shipped off to the county facility, or worse, up to the long-term-storage at Millhaven. Like I said, folks liked Mikey, and even the cops were looking out for him. But there was only so much they could do. Letting him go free wasn’t one of those things.

Pop went down to see Mikey every day. Mom went to the jail once, but spent most of her time with Cathy in the hospital. Going to the hospital every day broke mom’s heart. Going to see Mikey in that jail cell, just once, broke her soul. She was never quite the same. After that, her face always had some kind of a far off, pleading look, like she was locked in a cell herself, and couldn’t even ask for someone to let her out.

We kids weren’t allowed to go to either the jail or the hospital. Mom didn’t want us to see Cathy all hooked up to the tubes and bruised up. And there was no way we were getting anywhere near the jail. We went back to school on Tuesday, but Ricky and Tony got sent home by lunch for getting into fights. It wasn’t their fault, really. The other kids were taunting them, and there was no way they weren’t going to stick up for Mikey or Cathy. Brenda was a sobbing mess most of the time, and she ended up staying home a few more days more to get a grip on it.

It was a little different for me. Maybe word didn’t travel around so fast in the first grade, or maybe the kids were more intimidated by the teachers and knew it was time to be nice to me, so I didn’t get even the normal amount of playground taunting. And if they had taunted me, they would have had to deal with Davey, and he wasn’t putting up with anything. We’ve stayed friends pretty much ever since.

Cathy came home a week after the incident. She was busted up pretty bad. Rolls of gauze wrapped around her head. Her left eye had swollen shut. A long line of black sutures ran from her right eyebrow to her left eye, across the bridge of her nose. Ricky said she looked like Frankenstein. Mom gave him a pretty good wallop for that one.

I hadn’t known exactly what to expect. I thought, maybe, she might have a shiner. That’s all I’d ever seen anyone get before. I mean, I thought maybe Johnny had slapped her. Years later, once I was much older, I heard the whole story, and I completely understood why Mikey had flown off the handle and done what he had done. I still get a hot tingle in my chest, and the hair stands up on my arms and neck when I think about it. I don’t wonder why Mikey had beat the crap out of Johnny. I would have been in line behind Ricky and Tony to do the same things as soon as I was big enough had Mikey not already taken care of that business.

Cathy had snuck out of the house that night to go with Johnny up to the beach to hang out with a bunch of their friends. But they never made it out of town. Johnny had gotten it into his head that since everyone from town was up at the beach, that night would be perfect to go down to the lover’s lane behind the school, and to take it to the next level with Cathy. Only she hadn’t been let in on his plan, and she sure as hell hadn’t approved of it. She had been rebelling at home, and pushing it with Mom and Pop, but she was still a pretty good kid at heart, and she wasn’t quite ready to do what Johnny wanted to do.

But Johnny didn’t take no for an answer. He got a little grabby in the truck, and tried to take off Cathy’s shirt. She pushed his hands away, and tried to back him up, but there was no reverse gear in Johnny’s brain that night. He pushed a little harder, and got a little more forceful. She tried to scream, but he covered her mouth. When she opened the door to run, he pushed her hard to the ground and jumped out after her. He landed on top of her and smacked her head into a concrete curb. The impact stunned her. The little prick dragged her into the bushes behind the school and ripped off her clothes. When she got her senses back, she struggled and tried to push him away. But that set him off, and he started hitting her. Not once, but half-a-dozen times. At some point, he knocked her completely out. Then he raped her, and left her in the bushes. They say he went down to McCauley’s pub after that, three blocks from the school and had a drink, then took off for the beaches.

Cathy spent ten long, horrible hours lying there, semi-conscious, unable to call for help because Johnny had shattered her jaw. Blood from her broken nose covered her face. Four teeth had been smashed. At some point in the night, she managed to crawl out of the bushes just enough that Mikey had seen her hand as he was checking the town for her in the morning. At first he thought it was an old glove. It was blanched white, but it moved a little as he drove up, and he knew it was Cathy even before he got out of the vehicle. Mikey took her directly to the hospital and then went to get Mom from church.

All of this came out at the trial in mid-July. It wasn’t some grandiose trial like you see these days, or in the movies. It lasted two days. Local reporters covered it, and twice, we heard Mikey’s name on the radio. None of us kids were allowed into the court room—none except Cathy—and that was only for an hour or so while she testified. The broken jaw caused her to slur her words as she spoke. From what I heard, she told the story true, and if it had been a trial for Johnny McAllister, they would have strung him up right there and then. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Even Johnny’s father cried. But Johnny wasn’t on trial, and most of what Cathy said, though true, and as good a reason to kill someone there ever was, wasn’t enough to get Mikey and Billy off. The prosecutor took it pretty easy on Cathy; there was no need to do otherwise. No one had any doubt Johnny had been the one who did it to her.

When it came time for Mikey and Billy to testify, they did. They didn’t deny beating Johnny. By the time the trial came around, they were trying pretty desperately to cut a deal. Assault, possibly. At worst manslaughter. But for some reason the prosecutor held it at Murder Two. To this day, I don’t understand why. But then, Mikey’s my brother, and I didn’t think then, nor do I think now, that he did anything wrong at all. I would have done it myself.

Mikey and Billy had tracked down Johnny at a beach party near Picton. He wasn’t hard to find. His souped up truck was parked along the main road to the beach, like hundreds of other cars. But the paint job was one of a kind, and easy to spot.

They parked, walked towards the beach, and listened for the sound of the voices. He was as easy to find as the truck. Johnny was an obnoxious drunk. They waited for him to need to take a leak. The way he was drinking, they didn’t have to wait long. They grabbed him off the path on his way to the can, and beat him pretty good, but not enough to kill him, they swore to the judge. One of the other partiers found Johnny lying face down in the bush a half hour after Mikey and Billy had left. Other people tried to revive Johnny, but he was already gone. Sometime after the attack, Johnny had vomited, and since he was barely conscious after the beating Mike and Billy had put on him, plus the fact that he was drunk out of his skull, he choked on the vomit and died of asphyxiation.

They said the death was a direct result of the beating. Since Mike had planned to beat him, and that he and Billy had stalked Johnny before doing it, the assault was premeditated. When premeditated assault caused the death, murder was justified. They showed pictures of Johnny to the jury. He was beat up a lot worse than Cathy. Mikey and Billy both had their work-boots on, and those steel toes did one heck of a lot of damage. Johnny’s front teeth were gone, his ribs busted up. He had been kicked in the balls pretty hard, too. The trauma there had been obvious, even after death.

In the end, the jury had no choice but to find them guilty. I heard years later that there had been a lot of debate about justifiable homicide. But back then, that wasn’t an option. Twenty, thirty years earlier, everyone would have said he deserved it, and got what he had coming. But after the war, things got ‘more civilized’. Even the judge, an old coot who had seen the ‘uncivilized’ days, thought that Murder-Two was a little severe, but he was under a pressure to get tougher on crime, and this was a capital case. With Murder-Two, his only option for sentencing was mandatory fifteen to twenty five, with a chance of parole after fifteen. Billy got fifteen. Mikey got twenty.

Billy never made it out. He died in prison halfway through his second year, shanked with a piece of glass from a broken mirror in a prison-yard fight. Mikey beat the crap out the guy who did it during the fight, and his sentence was extended to the max, twenty five years—twenty five grueling years in that cesspool of society. I don’t know how he held it together. Mikey wasn’t built for being trapped inside a cage. I would have gone stir crazy after a month.

That was the summer of ’55. Eighteen years ago. And Mikey hadn’t seen daylight outside of the prison walls since. The parole board seemed to be comfortable to let him serve the rest of the twenty-five. In the spring of ’73, Mikey had seven years left on his sentence. Seven long, hard, years.

38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl): Chapter Eight

Author’s Note: This is Part 8 of a series of posts serializing my novella 38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl). For more information on the origins of this novella, including all disclaimers, and a complete chapter list, please see the announcement regarding this series.

Chapter 8

About six months before, Tony had hit me in the gut with an old boxing glove. That punch knocked the wind out of me for about five minutes. But that hit was nothing like hearing the word ‘dead’ that night. That four-letter word crushed everything around it. It had momentum, like the metal press at the plant. Once someone pulled that lever—said that word in that way—there was no slowing it down and no taking it back. The world closed down tight, and became that one word. Dead.

“Jesus Christ,” my father gasped, apparently hit by the same steel-bending force.

“Michael?” Even with the door closed, I heard Mom sob. There was a pause, and the officer cleared his throat.

“Mike, why don’t you come down to the station with us? We’ll talk things over. Mr. Mallory, why don’t you follow us down there?”

“Let me grab my boots.” Mikey wasn’t going to put up a fight. Mikey was a bright kid, most of the time. He shut up and slid his tarred-up work boots on, and I listened as he and the officers walked slowly down the sidewalk to the awaiting patrol car. The car door slammed, and then our front door closed. My father rushed to his bedroom. My mother’s panicked voice echoed through the house. My father spoke in hushed tones barely audible through the thin walls. Everything moved so quickly. We kids shuffled from the door to the wall to find the best place to hear the conversation.

“I don’t know, Anne. I’ll go down there, and see what’s going on.”

“Oh, Michael…” Mom’s voice trailed off. Their bed squeaked. “It’s has to be a mistake, Les. This has to be a mistake. Michael wouldn’t hurt anyone. Michael’s such a good child. He wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

“I’ll talk to him. We’ll get a lawyer. Everything will be fine. Get some sleep. I’ll call you if I find anything out.”

Dad’s boots stomped across the floor. The engine in Dad’s old Buick growled to life, then roared down the street. Our hearts raced. Mom sobbed in her room.

We shuffled back to our beds, and climbed in. None of us could get right back to sleep, but none of us said a word.

38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl): Chapter Seven

Author’s Note: This is Part 7 of a series of posts serializing my novella 38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl). For more information on the origins of this novella, including all disclaimers, and a complete chapter list, please see the announcement regarding this series.

 

Chapter 7

The knock at the door shattered the still of the night, startling me from my sleep.

“Michael Mallory, are you in there?” said a gruff voice. “This is the police. We need to talk to you.” I sat bolt upright in bed.

“Just a sec.” Mikey responded from the porch. I dropped down off my bed and ran towards my door, nearly colliding with Tony and Ricky. The light in the kitchen switched on at the same time we all arrived, momentarily blinding us. Dad emerged from his bedroom, wearing nothing but a tee-shirt and a pair of boxers. Mom wasn’t far behind, cinching her frayed, quilted robe around her waist.

“What the hell’s going on?” Dad reached for the handle of the porch door. Mom watched as we spilled into the kitchen and gave us a quick point.

“Back to bed! All of you! Now!” she snapped. We quickly closed the door and hid behind it, ears to the wall, listening for what we were sure would be a major confrontation.

“What’s this all about?” Dad demanded.

“We need to talk to Mike, Mr. Mallory.”

“At this hour? What the hell for?”

“Johnny McAllister got himself beat up this afternoon, Mr. Mallory. Witnesses said they saw Mikey and Billy Ferguson nearby shortly after it happened.”

“Michael, what did you do?” Dad dug down deep in his chest.

“Nothin’, Dad.”

“We’ll need to take you down to the station. Mike.”

“Now?” Mom spoke for the first time. “Can’t it wait till morning?”

“No, ma’am. It can’t.”

“You come stormin’ in here after midnight, wanting to take my son because some punk-ass kid got a little roughed up? Son of a bitch. What the hell is going on?” Pop’s voice rose far above what he ever used on us kids. I was glad I wasn’t on the other end of his anger.

“It was more than a little roughed up, Mr. Mallory. Johnnie McAllister’s dead.”