Dead in Stockton

by Steven Cuffari

It was Sunday early in the morning. Roy Shy woke up naked in his house in Stockton, England. It was an hour outside London if you drove fast. The sun came through the window, but it brought no heat to Roy. It was the radiator that steamed away the winter’s cold. It gave him a sphere of heat that told him to stay put, but he had to go to work.

Roy wrapped himself in a white robe and made his way to the kitchen. The house was large, and at that hour, it seemed empty.

He was black-haired, pock-marked and in his late thirties. He didn’t wear glasses, but he did wear glasses to look smarter than he was. He sat at the table in the middle of the kitchen and finished reading yesterday’s Gazette. For him, they were all tales of horrible mundanity. “Bullshit,” he said, tossing it in the garbage. Then he went over to the kitchen counter and made himself breakfast.

He was chomping toast with coffee when on his left, he heard Sheila’s bedroom door open, immediately followed by the sound of the bathroom door closing. On his right, he heard the clomping of Clyde’s shoes on the wooden floors.

“Morning, Clyde,” said Roy, as Clyde passed in front of him.

“Another day in merry old England,” Clyde replied. He poured himself a coffee and chugged it.

Roy noticed that he looked oddly fresh, dressed in a pressed three-piece suit, just woken up.

Clyde poured another coffee into a stylish thermos and started another pot. “See ya later, dude,” he said and sped out of the kitchen toward the foyer.

Roy sat at the table and finished his coffee, got up, poured himself another cup and sat back down.

Sheila came out from the bathroom with her primary-red hair up in a towel and grabbed a cup for herself, then nodded to Roy as she flitted back to her room. Then Jacey and Tom came in, passing Sheila as she left.

“Morning, Roy,” they said in unison.

“Morning, guys. I’m gonna shower next, okay?” Roy asked.

“Yeah, sure,” said Tom.

“Yep,” said Jacey.

“Okay,” Roy said. He watched them kiss as Tom poured two coffees. For Roy, they were a mismatch in every way, but they seemed perfect for each other.

She tied her black hair back and wiped glitter off of Tom’s freckled face. They laughed and kissed again as he handed her a cup.

“Going into the city today?” asked Tom.

“Yeah, but I wish I didn’t have to,” replied Roy.

Tom grimaced, “Why not?”

“I don’t want to, that’s all,” said Roy.

“I would think you loved London. You’ve been here longer than all of us,” Tom said.

Roy smiled lightly and said, “Maybe that’s why.” He got up, washed his coffee cup and went to the shower.

After a few minutes, he dried himself off and got dressed for the cold, t-shirt, long-johns, jeans, sweater, jacket, sneakers and cotton hat. Then he grabbed his bag, went outside, got into his little Fiat and pointed it toward London.

 

When he got into the city, he parked the Fiat in a garage across from the Bird’s Peak Pub and Diner in Central London, on Regent Street.

He and the bartender, Paulie, waved at each other as he came in. It was half-full and quiet, the way he liked it. There was barely a hum of noise. He found a spot that was free, took off his hat and sat down. Paulie went over to the waitress, spoke to her and pointed at Roy.

He sat at a small two-person table next to the window in the back. He pulled out a notebook and his phone and put his glasses on. He compared last night’s sports results to a list in his notebook. He made little marks next to each name.

Roy continued to look at his book until someone took the seat across from him. He looked up and smiled. “Hey Charlie,” Roy said, taking off his glasses.

Charlie was a big, red-headed guy, and wore a shirt and tie covered by a long, wool coat. At the same time that he sat down, the waitress brought over a cup of coffee.

Roy handed her a five-pound bill. “Keep the change,” he said.

“Thank you. Excuse me. Thank you,” she said as she took the money and removed the salt and pepper from the table.

Roy watched Charlie as Charlie watched the waitress walk away. He was sweating and pink-faced. He looked disheveled, which was unlike him.

“So Charlie, what are you up to today?” asked Roy.

Charlie leaned in and whispered, “I’ve got the Bengals for forty and River Plate for twenty. Today’s games.” He looked behind himself and blocked his face from the windows.

Roy frowned. He knew there was something wrong. “Charlie, you know the minimum is a hundred,” he said quietly. “And since when do you take River?”

“No, mate. Forty and twenty large.”

Roy took a deep breath and sat back, putting his glasses back on. He whispered, “Hey Charlie, you know I don’t go that high. Listen, maybe you should rethink this. Talk to your wife.”

“No, you listen, mate. I’m in for it big with these mafia goons. And I don’t have a fucking wife! You’re the only bloke I can come to.” The whole pub heard him shout.

Roy put away his pen and notebook, got up and smiled at Charlie. “I’m the only one you can come to because no one knows about me. This is why I don’t do personal meetings anymore. Don’t come to me again.”

“Please, Max,” said Charlie, trying to grab Roy’s arm.

Roy pulled away and kept smiling. “Don’t come to me again,” he repeated. He made sure to make eye contact with Paulie before he left.

Charlie got up and followed him out.

Outside, the streets were filling up with people and noise. Soon it would be at a fever pitch.

Charlie came out and shouted to Roy. “Max!”

Roy turned around and looked at him. To Roy, he didn’t look like someone who owed the mafia. He just looked like a regular, desperate guy.

He waved to Roy, for him to come back.

But Roy just shook his head, turned his back on him and went into the parking garage. When he came out of the garage in the Fiat, Charlie was still waiting outside the pub. Roy drove past him and headed back to Stockton.

On the drive back, Charlie called him. Roy deleted his number. The road got greener and houses got farther apart as he got closer to Stockton. He arrived in town around nine thirty and went to a café. He paid for a coffee and a copy of today’s Gazette and sat on a stool at the front window.

He leafed through the paper’s trash pieces about politics and celebrities and went to the sports section. “Bullshit,” he said. There was an article about the rise of baseball in Stockton as a result of the cultural exchange program with its sister city in Ohio. “Terrible fucking writing,” he said.

He put the paper down and made a phone call. He sipped his coffee as it rang.

A dark-haired woman came into the cafe, and Roy turned his head to look at her. A taste of the cold winter air followed her in. She noticed Roy and smiled at him, sat at the counter and took off her gloves.

Roy turned back to his coffee and took another sip, waiting for an answer to his call.

“Roy Shy? That you? To what do I owe the honor?” said the voice that finally interrupted the ring tone.

“Hal, how are you? How’ve you been?” asked Roy.

“I’m good, Roy boy. Busy. What can I do for you?” Hal asked.

“It’s not what you can do for me, Hal–”

“Let me stop you right there, Roy. I can’t offer you work, not in sports, not with your reputation at the BBC and not for the money you’re asking,” Hal said.

“There you go, Hal, making assumptions again. I thought you were a journalist,” Roy replied.

“Roy, I am a journalist. And more so, I’m an editor,” Hal said. “Alright then. What’s this about? Out with it.”

“The article you published today, about Cincinnati. That’s the kind of thing you should have me write. I’ve pitched you a dozen like it. When are you going to cut me a break?” Roy asked.

Hal sighed. “Oh, Roy. I’ve told you a dozen times. You can’t write for Stockton. You’re American. You don’t know these people. You can’t be the voice of the Gazette.”

“But you’ve told me time and again that you want a new voice, a fresh voice–”

“Yes, but a Stockton voice. You’re just not it. And besides, as of this quarter, we’re cutting sports from print. That’s what the Tribune is for. We’re focusing on human interest pieces from now on.”

“I don’t believe this,” said Roy, taking another sip of his coffee.

“Why don’t you try the Tribune? I can put a good word in for you,” said Hal.

“No. Thanks, though. They hate me more than you do.”

“Oh, Roy. I don’t hate you. I just don’t like your writing.”

Roy closed his eyes and rubbed his face.

“Roy, you still there?”

He didn’t respond right away. “Yeah, I’m here.”

There was silence on the other end.

“Hal?” He looked at his phone. The call was over. “Fuck,” he whispered. He finished his coffee and left, taking the Gazette with him.

 

Back at home, he made some toast and bacon and a pot of coffee. He sat down at the kitchen table with his food and flipped through the newspaper. “Bullshit,” he said.

Every article seemed to be conceived and written by a sixteen-year-old. He sipped his coffee and came to the final page before sports.

The picture of a sad-looking young man underneath a small headline caught his attention. The byline was Abe Stevenson, a name he had never seen before. He sighed before he read it.

 

Stockton Teen Murdered, Police Baffled

 

The young man’s expression in the picture gave Roy the chills. He was smiling, but it seemed forced. He read the short article which reported that the murder happened a month ago and that police were finally giving up on the case. The nineteen-year-old boy was found murdered in his house, and his parents claimed he was supposed to have been out that night. When they called him, they heard his cell phone ringing upstairs, where they found him with his throat slit and a bloody knife on the floor.

Roy looked up from the paper and took another sip of his coffee. “They just gave up?” he whispered to himself. Hal’s words echoed in his mind. We’re focusing on human interest pieces from now on. Roy smiled as a plan began to form in his brain. But he took one look at the boy’s picture, and his smile disappeared. In a weird way, the boy reminded him of Charlie. He shook the chills off his body, finished his coffee and went outside to the Fiat.

An hour later, he was pulling up to the house where the young man had been murdered. It was just like every other house in Stockton, square and frumpy. He parked the Fiat, went up to the front door and rang the bell. As he waited for someone to answer, he took off his glasses and polished them on his shirt.

Finally, the door cracked open, and a beautiful, brown-haired woman showed her face. “Hello,” she said.

“Hi, Mrs. Canfield, my name is Roy Shy, and I’m a writer. I was hoping to ask you a few questions today,” he said.

Mrs. Canfield was obviously heart-broken, and obviously trying to keep herself together. “Is this about my son?” she asked.

“Why yes, it is, Mrs. Canfield.”

She smiled and held back tears. “I can tell you’re American. May I ask why you’d be interested in my Hubert?”

“I live here, Mrs. Can–”

“Please call me Lucy. I can’t stand being called Mrs. anything.”

“I’m sorry, Lucy. I live here in Stockton. I used to work for the BBC, and now I’d like to write about local stories. Stockton stories,” said Roy.

Lucy smiled lightly and nodded. “Stories. I see. Well, then there must be other stories you can write about. Hubert’s is certainly not the only murder in Stockton. It’s far from unique.”

“But it is unique, Lucy. Why have the police given up so quickly on Hubert’s case? Do you ever think about that?”

Lucy looked away from him, but didn’t close the door.

“The Stockton police have a policy to keep murder cases like this one open for at least six months,” he continued. “What are they hiding? Did the police interview you?” He finally caught her attention.

“Actually, other than accusing my husband and me of the crime, no.”

“That sounds unique to me, Lucy. Can I come in and ask you a few more questions?”

Lucy smiled lightly and nodded, opening the door wider for him to come in. He took off his hat and went inside.

 

Roy and Lucy sat in the living room while she described the night of the murder.

“It was about nine o’clock on a Friday night. Hubert liked to go out with his friends. He rushed out of the house, wearing his heaviest jacket. I remember, because I tried to tell him it might be too warm for such a heavy coat. He didn’t seem to care. He just grunted and ran out. Now that you ask, it seemed quite odd. He was never in such a rush before. That was the last I ever saw him alive. I don’t know how he got back upstairs that night before we called him. There is no way to climb in through the window.” She tried not to cry, but several sobs escaped her lips.

She took a sip of tea, as did Roy.

He diverted the conversation away from the night of the murder. “Did you always live in Stockton, Lucy? Did Hubert have many friends here? Enemies?”

“Enemies? My dear, no. He was such a friendly, popular young man. He was that way even as a boy. Actually, he was born in London, when we lived there. We adopted him as an infant. He was an orphan, a twin actually.”

“A twin? Really? Did he ever meet his twin?” Roy asked.

“No, not that I know of,” she replied.

“But what about his friends, Lucy, the people who knew him best? What can you tell me about them?”

“Truthfully, I didn’t know his friends very well. He rarely had them over. He would always call them school friends, as if he had others. I never pressed him on it. Do you think I should have pried more? You know, I think George and I were his best friends. We should have been more observant.” She couldn’t help herself from crying now.

“Maybe I should go,” said Roy.

“I’m sorry, Roy. Thank you for trying to help us.”

“Thank you, Lucy. This story needs to get out. I’ll call you tomorrow about speaking with your husband,” he said. “I’ll show myself out.”

He left Lucy to her grief and drove away in the Fiat.

 

As he drove home, he thought to himself, Who would want to kill this kid? He was so young. What kind of a past could he have had? What secrets had he been hiding? When he got back into town, it was just about noon, and he was getting hungry. So, he stopped at a kebab shop and ordered one with a side of fries. He sat inside and watched the television, which was showing the BBC news with the sound off.

The story being reported happened in London. Roy chewed his food slowly and watched. The mug shot of a young woman was displayed on the screen. Her face was sad, but with a tinge of a smile that looked very familiar to him. He continued to chew slowly. When the words, “Orphan Murderer” appeared underneath the girl’s picture, Roy nearly choked on his kebab.

“Can you turn on the volume?” he asked the cook, who obliged.

The newscaster spoke in a nasal, measured way. “The young woman, who was found covered in her boyfriend’s blood in his London flat, was identified as Chloe Sanford. She has been in and out of the London Foster care system for all nineteen years of her life. Some are calling this a failure of the fostering system…”

Roy chewed what was left in his mouth and stared at the television, which showed the young woman’s mug shot again. He had seen her face before, he was sure of it. The answer came to him halfway through his kebab. He dropped it, sped out of the shop, jumped back into his Fiat, and pointed it toward the offices of the Stockton Gazette.

When he arrived, he parked his car and ran to the reception desk, jotting down notes as he did. “I’m here to see Hal Stone. I’m Roy Shy,” he said.

“Please have a seat, Mr. Shy. He’s in a meeting right now,” said the stern woman at reception.

“Tell him it’s important,” Roy said, nodding.

The woman smiled, and he sat down.

Roy continued to write notes for the story.

“Mr. Shy?” called the receptionist a few minutes later. A smiling young man passed Roy by as he went up to the reception desk.

“Yes?” Roy asked.

“He’ll see you now,” she said.

Roy nodded, whispered thanks to her and went into Hal’s office.

 

“Roy! I’m glad to see you,” exclaimed Hal, as Roy closed the door.

“Really?” asked Roy.

“Yes, but we’ll get to that in a moment. What’s this that’s so important?” Hal asked.

Roy smiled. “Well, Hal. I took what you said to heart about human interest pieces and decided to find one.”

“Oh, really?” asked Hal, leaning forward. “Pray tell.”

“It’s about the crumbling London Foster Care system and a cover-up of police negligence right here in Stockton. A month ago, a young man by the name of Hubert Canfield–”

“Let me stop you right there, Roy. We’ve got this story covered already. The girl went insane and killed her long-lost twin and her boyfriend. It’s happened before, you know. One of our staff reporters is on it. Abe Stevenson? He’s actually a big fan of your BBC work. You know, before the scandal.” Hal leaned back into his chair, smiled at Roy and continued speaking.

Joy melted off Roy’s face and leaving only dejection. Hal’s voice was muffled in Roy’s ears. He thought of the sad faces of Hubert and his long-lost sister Chloe. He thought of Charlie. He thought of the stains on his life. They seemed indelible. Those thoughts crowded his mind, and just as he felt about to explode, he took a deep breath.

“What was that?” he asked Hal, whose voice became clear again.

“I said, I think we can work with you, Roy, but it’ll have to be at a substantial pay cut. We can offer you 50 percent of what you were getting at the BBC,” Hal said.

Roy managed to force a smile. “That’s sounds good to me.”

“But you’ll have to start at the bottom. We need to build trust, Roy,” said Hal, leaning forward.

“Whatever you say,” said Roy.

Hal smiled. “Good. Then you’ll be training under Abe–”

“Wait, what? Training? I have a master’s in journalism!”

“Roy, like I said. We need to build trust. And it’ll only be for a while. You’ll be writing obituaries, horoscopes and the advice column.”

Roy clenched his jaw, wanting to scream. “Fine. I can do that. Where do I sign?”

Hal smiled again, stood up and put out his hand to Roy.

Roy followed suit and shook his hand.

“You start tomorrow. I’ll have Klara send you the contract.”

“Okay, see you tomorrow then,” said Roy. He walked out, forcing himself to smile and tried to remind himself what he was doing.

 

The next weekend, after working a week at the Gazette, Roy was back at the Bird’s Peak Pub and Diner on Regent Street in London. He had found himself a nice two-seater near the window in the back and was eating eggs, toast and bacon. He was happily chewing as he wrote flowery phrases in his notebook for his obituaries, when a large man in a dark suit, white shirt and blue tie sat in the chair across from him.

Roy looked up at him and smiled. “I don’t work here anymore,” he said. “Sorry.”

“I’m not here about that, Mr. Schwarz.” The man had an American accent and put his FBI badge on the table.

Roy went back to his notebook. “I don’t know what kind of joke this is, but I don’t have time for it,” he said.

“I’m here to ask you about what happened in Las Vegas, Nevada on August 7th 2012,” said the agent, putting away his badge.

Roy took off his glasses and looked at the agent again.

“Do I have your attention now, Mr. Schwarz?”

Roy smiled and sipped his coffee. “Why yes. Yes, you do.”

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

Thanks for reading. If you liked that (or if you didn’t), read more of my short stories here.