The Death of Jack Nylund Excerpt
“This is a picture of him from 1919, just after the war, looking like he slept in that uniform all the way from France. He still had that face, but he wasn’t the same. I know there’s men who came back changed: the Paterson boy up in Brownville hung himself that summer. Nobody talked about it much, and I suppose that was for the best. But Jack wasn’t like that; it hadn’t been a terrible thing for him, I don’t think. Or if it had been, then it was one of those terrible things you get through and it sets you free.” She said it in a deliberate, emotionless voice and finally passed the small black and white photograph to Walter Black.
Mary Howard’s hands and the photo smelled of Johnson’s Baby Powder and Ivory soap.
“I knew the truth before he did,” she said. “About this place. About him. He’d come back from the war having seen the world and, well, I can’t imagine what else. He’d grown a head taller, but Auburn was still a small town; too small for him. Sure enough, he was gone before the winter set in.”
“This is your only picture?” he asked.
“It’s the most recent one. I have couple of older photos of him with our mother. I don’t suppose those would be much use to you. I hope he still looks like this: can’t imagine him as anything else. Is it enough?”
“You said he wrote to you,” he reminded her.
“From hotels. I think only because there was paper and he had nothing to do. Backwards, forwards, ‘cross a dozen states: as far east as Chicago and then three months later Baton Rouge and Beaumont, Texas. I kept all of them, wrote back the day I got each one, but I doubt he saw more than a handful of my replies. And so what? What stories did I have to tell him? Then a year ago the letters stopped. It was just after the baby came and before Arnold – that was my husband – before he passed away. For a couple of months I’d wait for the postman every day and some days he even had a letter for me. But it was never from Jack. His last one was from the Ramsay in Des Moines. I wrote there so many times the hotel manager wrote back asking me to stop.”
“Can I see the letters?” Walter asked.
“Of course, let me—” She was cut-off by the sudden, sharp cry of the baby in the other room. “Like as not, he’ll need changing. Can you give me a few minutes?”
He waited at the table and took another sip of the cheap, bitter coffee. The kitchen was clean, and worn from use and cleaning. The stove was older than the house around it, cannibalised from another home no grander than this one. A sink of similar ancestry was attached to the wall by iron bolts and stained with tears of indelible orange rust.
Mary Howard returned with a shoebox of letters under one arm and a wide-eyed child pressed to her side by the other. Her son – whose looks strongly favoured his mother – was Arnold Jack Howard.
“Pleased to meet you Mr Howard, I’m Walter Black,” he said and extended his hand. The boy grabbed the top half of his thumb and beamed a toothless smile. “That’s quite a grip you have there.”
Mary sat back down and placed the collection of letters on the table. “You have a way with children Mr Black; little Jack doesn’t usually take to strangers.”
He asked, “May I see them?”
Her eyes followed his and with surprise she noticed the hand perched on top of the box, its fingers gripping the cardboard, like something precious beyond value, like a handhold on the edge of a precipice. Recognising the hand was hers, she exhaled and let go.
“I don’t know what use they’ll be. But if you need them, that’s fine. I have most of them memorised.”
He sorted the envelopes by eye. Four different sizes, eleven different shades of cream and white, one blue. Postmarks from fourteen states; nothing east of Chicago, Illinois, nor anything west of Grand Junction, Colorado. They smelled of the house and the shoebox and woman who had read them uncounted times. A handful were from Des Moines, but he lifted three others that looked the same and found a return address pre-printed onto the flap of each: Savoy Hotel, Kansas City.
As tactfully as he could, Walter Black said, “You should prepare yourself for the possibility—”
“That he’s dead? I know.”
“You should prepare yourself for the possibility that he’s alive and doesn’t want to come back.”
She replied in that same flat voice, “I need you to find him Mr Black. If he’s dead then I don’t know what I’ll do, but if he’s alive he’s got no choice. My son is all that matters to me now and he’ll need someone when I’m gone.”
Mary Howard’s heart would not last the year, so the doctors said. Her mother died of the same thing at thirty-seven, though Mary was only twenty-eight. Stress, they called it; stress had cut her years as a grown woman in half, cut her time as a mother to nothing.
Walter continued, “This isn’t as simple as making a few calls or writing some letters.”
She held herself straight-backed as he explained his terms.
The blue cotton dress she wore had a small mending stitch at the shoulder. He’d seen this dress a hundred times on as many women. Such as it was, it was certainly the nicest thing she owned and she had worn it as much for herself as for him.
“I know the price,” she said, “and I will pay it.” Her desperation and the defiant setting of her jaw was a promise she couldn’t break. They didn’t discuss payment again.
“I’ll leave in the morning for Kansas City and call you if I find anything there.” He stood and picked up his hat from the table, taking the photograph and a selection of letters, as many as he could fit in a pocket.
“I don’t have a telephone,” she said.
“I’ll write you, unless I can bring him back with me faster. Or unless it’s not news you’d want to get by letter.”
She rose to show him to the door and replied, “I’ll wait for your letters, then.”
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Gods and Monsters Book One
By David F Porteous
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Number of pages:127
Word Count: 37,000
Cover Artist: Rob Moran
America, 1922. Ten years have passed since The Lines went up, dividing the States and the world into isolated pockets. The oligarchs are gangsters, titans of industry, monsters – the secret masters of mankind. They have endured a decade of cold war stalemate – but with forces equally weighted, the life of one man might be enough to change the fate of all men.
US Federal Marshal Clay Falk must bring Jack Nylund to New York. For the Marshal and his deputies the financial rewards are enormous, but in a landscape of shifting loyalties Falk is soon made a counter-offer he can’t refuse. The war can be ended in a single night – the price is the honour of a legend and the life of a god.
Private Investigator Walter Black has no idea his latest missing person’s case is the balance on which the world rests. Jack Nylund’s sister is dying and Walter must track Jack’s scent across America, through ruined lives, secret addictions and unforgettable pasts. The enemy he must overcome is one he’s all too familiar with. The cost of his failure would be the death of Jack Nylund.
About the Author:
David F Porteous is a social research consultant and author of the novel Singular and the forthcoming Gods & Monsters series. The following are randomly selected biographical details about David – hit refresh to learn more.
David attended Cockenzie and Port Seton Primary School where he learned to spell and write his name in cursive. The value of these once impressive skills has been substantially undermined by subsequent technological developments.
His favourite authors include Iain Banks, George V. Higgins, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
In his teens and early twenties he used to write poetry. People shouldn’t try to find it; none of it was good.
In 2002 he graduated from Edinburgh Napier University with a degree in Marketing Management. His honours dissertation asserted that there was a bright future ahead for DVD rental stores. Over time this assertion proved to be both wrong and stupid. (He is not giving back the degree).