The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Fiction
“I’m coming!” he shouted again when he reached the lemon yellow door.
“I’m coming! I’m coming!” Higgins shouted as he rushed down the dark hallway.
Whoever was banging on his front door was hitting it hard enough to knock it off its hinges, which he had to tighten just the other day because they were so loose. And there were already some cracks along the bottom so he was concerned it might split altogether.
On the porch stood Sonia Waite, a gangly sixteen-year-old who lived around the corner with her divorced mother. Her eyes were red and swollen, her cheeks damp with tears.
“What’s the matter, child?” he asked, startled by her appearance. “It’s almost midnight.”
“Where’s he gone to?”
“He’s gone!” she shrieked, sobbing uncontrollably. “He’s gone forever!”
Right beneath the porch light was a small wooden plaque that said “The Waites.” Morna stared at it a moment then pressed the doorbell. She waited a couple of moments then pressed it again and, in another moment, Mrs. Waite opened the door, a striped dish towel draped across her left shoulder.
“I am Duncan’s cousin, Morna McKinnon.”
“Oh, God,” she sighed, touching the younger woman on the wrist. “Please come in.”
Morna followed her past an umbrella stand into a living room that was crammed with so much furniture that she had to be careful she didn’t bump her knees.
“You just get in from Scotland?”
She shook her head as Mrs. Waite motioned for her to sit down. “I haven’t lived there for nearly two years. I reside in San Francisco now.”
“Oh, you’re the one. Duncan mentioned he had a relative who lived in the States.”
She smiled shyly. “That would be me, yes.”
“I can see the resemblance. You have his eyes all right. The color of cinnamon I used to tell him in the morning when I made him toast.”
Morna, silent, glanced around the living room, amazed at the number of framed photographs on display. Every shelf and table top had at least a couple and she wondered if Duncan was in any of them. She had no idea how long he had stayed at the woman’s house, though, because he was always on the move it seemed.
“Well, I’m sure you want to know why your cousin is no longer with us.”
She nodded, still looking for Duncan in the photographs.
“Well, believe me, that’s what I and a lot of people in Waverly want to know,” she said bitterly. “That boy wouldn’t harm a soul yet the officer who shot him claimed he felt threatened by him. That’s ridiculous. Sure, Duncan had some muscles on him but, as I’m sure you’ll agree, he was a very gentle person.”
She agreed with the landlady even though she had not spoken to her cousin in nearly a year. “In what way was he a threat?”
Mrs. Waite frowned, twisting a silver band on her right index finger. “Apparently he had a couple more beers that night than he should have and got confused which house was mine. That isn’t really that surprising because so many of the houses in this neighborhood look alike. Anyway, he started knocking on the wrong door. The widow who lives there got scared, thinking someone was trying to break in since it was so late, and called the police. That’s how this whole mess got started.”
“I can’t believe that was any reason to shoot someone.”
“Neither can I, dear.”
“It doesn’t make any sense.”
“No, it doesn’t,” she replied. “I guess he was doing a lot of hollering, demanding to be let in to the house he thought was mine, but that was the beer in him making all the commotion. The officer who answered the call should have recognized that he had too much to drink. He certainly didn’t have any cause to shoot him, not four times, for God’s sake.”
“Some people who wear a badge are just too damn eager to use their weapons.”
“Ain’t that the truth.”
The next morning, awakened by the laughter of some children playing in the alley behind the motel where she was staying, Morna immediately thought of her cousin whose snorting little laugh was so strident it made her cringe when she heard it. Always it was a little too sharp and excited, something that almost seemed forced as if to disguise his paralyzing shyness. Later, especially, it was quite incongruous to hear someone as muscular as Duncan laugh like a little boy.
In so many ways her cousin never seemed to grow up, she thought, remembering one of the last times they were together when he entertained her, as he had done so often as a youngster, by walking across her living room on his hands.
Morna, accompanied by Sonia, walked past the apple green house where Duncan was shot, surprised how sedate it appeared, as if expecting it still to be cordoned off with police tape. A bicycle lay on its side in the middle of the yard beside a pair of garden shears. A small swing hung from the limb of the maple tree next to the garage.
“It’s still hard to figure how Duncan could have got our house mixed up with the Powell’s place,” Sonia said as they crossed the street.
Morna did not reply, sure Mrs. Waite was right that all the alcohol he had consumed that night must have clouded his judgment.
“Our house isn’t green.”
“Remember, now, it was late at night and colors pretty much look alike then.”
“If he had knocked on our door, me or my mother would’ve let him in. He’d still be here then.”
Gently she patted the girl on the shoulder.
“He would be. I know he would.”
Isaac Youkilis, the deputy district attorney Morna met with later that afternoon, was quite reluctant to tell her anything more than the Waites had told her about the shooting. He almost seemed bored, as if compelled to do something he didn’t want to do, but became very defensive when she questioned whether the use of lethal force was justified.
“Of course it was,” he insisted, his eyes narrowing in irritation. “Our officers are trained to draw their weapons only in dire circumstances and to use them only if they feel physically threatened.”
“My cousin was half the size of the officer who shot him. He didn’t have to be killed. He was knocking on the wrong door, for God’s sake. That’s all he was doing.”
Agitatedly the attorney drummed a knuckle against a corner of his desk. “Your cousin was out of control, madam.”
“So he had too much to drink. So what? That doesn’t mean he deserved to be shot.”
“He was told to step away from the door he was banging on and to lie down on the ground. According to the officer, he was told to do that three times but he continued to bang away. When the officer told him the fourth time he turned and growled at the officer.”
“That’s what the officer reported,” he said curtly. “Then your cousin started to move toward him with his hands balled into fists so the officer believed he had no choice but to put him down out of concern for his own safety.”
“I don’t believe that, sir, not one word of it.”
He frowned, arching his thick eyebrows. “There will be an investigation into the incident, as there is in all officer-involved shootings, but I have little doubt that the officer’s response will be found to be justified.”
“So why bother to conduct an inquiry if you already know the outcome?”
He glared at her for a moment then spun out of his swivel chair and extended his hand. “I am sorry but I am due in court in a few minutes.”
She looked at his hand then, without shaking it, turned and walked out of his office.
Her eyes still simmering with anger, Morna rushed out of the courthouse, crossed the street, and walked past her rental car. She was just too upset to drive right now, was afraid if she got behind the wheel she might plow into someone because she was so distraught. All she could think about was that prosecutor she had just spoken with, not having met someone so obnoxious and arrogant and assured of himself in quite some time. She had suspected she might be wasting her time speaking with him and, clearly, she was right. His mind was made up, absolutely unwilling to consider that the officer who killed her cousin was also out of control that night and should never have fired his weapon.
Silly fool, she thought to herself. Silly damn fool.
He said her cousin growled at the officer and she knew that was ridiculous. She suspected he was actually laughing as he often did whenever he got nervous, manifesting his anxieties in a high, whining squeal that reminded her of a hyena’s laugh. He was every bit as scared that evening as the officer confronting him, she bet, probably even a little more scared.
A squirrel startled Morna as she stepped out of her motel room, nearly brushing its bushy tail against the back of her left ankle. She smiled as she watched it dart across the gravel parking lot, recalling what Sonia told her the other day when they were walking around her neighborhood. A couple of scrawny squirrels, chasing one another, raced past them and frantically scampered over a fire hydrant and up a birch tree.
“Just like Duncan,” she thought aloud.
Sonia chuckled. “Duncan was so full of energy that he could hardly sit still. If he wasn’t running around, he was sprinting off a wall or leaping off some ledge.”
Morna nodded. “He was like that as a youngster,” she recalled, “forever running through the Lowlands as if someone were trying to slip a net over him.”
The older woman smiled, again nodding her head.
“That’s what he was like, all right, so sometimes I’d call him ‘Squirrel.’ He kind of liked it I think. At least he always smiled when I called him that.”
Among the people Morna spoke with who knew her cousin only one, Jared Earhart, thought he was shot because he was a foreigner. Around the same age, with nearly identical small red pointed beards, they met at a bar along the riverfront shortly after Duncan arrived in Waverly. Earhart, who cut lawns for a small landscaping business, suggested that Duncan apply for work at the company and he did and was hired and assigned to the same crew as Earhart.
“Not me, mind you, but some folks had a hard time dealing with Duncan,” he told her one night at one of the bars he and her cousin frequented after work. “Because of his accent he was difficult to understand at times, especially when he was drinking, and as you probably know, he could become pretty stubborn when he had too much to drink. He just wouldn’t listen then, not to me, not to anyone who wanted to help him.”
He paused and took another sip of beer.
“That’s what I figure happened the night he was shot. He’d had too much to drink, was confused which house he was at, and when the cop arrived Duncan didn’t have any idea anything was wrong. If he said anything, the cop probably couldn’t understand him and, for whatever reason, felt threatened and fired his gun. It was a language barrier, I think, more than anything else, and if it’d been me there that night, and not Duncan, the cop would’ve understood me and not fired.”
She didn’t agree with her cousin’s friend but was not in the mood to argue so she let him talk. Duncan wasn’t shot because he wasn’t from around here. She knew all too well America was a difficult place for an outsider to live but Duncan found it just as difficult back in Scotland which was probably why he followed her over to this side of the pond. He was constantly searching for a little quiet in his life, some kind of respite from all his perceived problems. Yet he was at her home only a few days when her boyfriend demanded that he leave on account of his heavy drinking. He had problems wherever he was, always seemingly at odds with others over one thing or another. He just never was able to fit in, which she suspected was one reason why he drank as much as he did.
“Are you going to take Duncan back to Scotland?” Mrs. Waite asked Morna the afternoon she came by to collect her cousin’s belongings.
“You’re not?” she said, surprised.
Morna shook her head. “This is where he came so this is where he’ll stay.”
“I don’t really know how much he liked it here. He said he did but maybe he was just being polite. But my daughter and I sure are pleased we got to know him. And, believe me, we’ll be happy to make sure there are always some flowers on his stone.”
“It’s the least we can do for a friend.”
Back in her car Morna sat for a minute, staring again at the plain little house where her cousin was killed. He was just so full of demons, she thought, unable ever to understand why his mother gave him up for adoption when he was barely a year old. It was almost impossible for him to relax, except when he was drinking, which she reckoned was why he was forever running around, why he wandered from one place to another. It wasn’t America that was to blame for his troubles, he had many of them back home and just brought them with him here.
to be continued...
© Thomas Healy March 2013
laurel462001 at yahoo.com
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