Jason Terry could tell the interrogation room at the Canaan State Police barracks was seldom used. There he sat with his head hanging low, his right hand cuffed to the steel table, examining a stack of janitorial supplies left in the corner. Florescent lights flickered and hummed above him, revealing peeling blue paint on porous concrete walls.
He was making some effort to retrace the past two days in his head when the door made a loud clank, breaking his daze. It opened as the two detectives who had been questioning him returned. The fat one, a man named McAuliffe, seemed to take charge while his partner, Carlyle, seemed unsure how to proceed.
“Alright, kid,” McAuliffe said. “We’re going to need to start from the beginning. Everything you told us and more, as thoroughly as you can recall.”
“Cigarettes?” Jason asked.
“There’s no smoking in here,” Carlyle informed him.
“You want me to go over all this—everything that happened… what I did… then I need a fucking smoke,” Jason insisted. “This shit is kind of stressful.”
McAuliffe motioned for his partner to pick up a pack of cigarettes.
“Nearest place is ten minutes away,” Carlyle protested.
“I’ve got plenty of time. I’m not going anywhere,” Jason remarked, yanking the chain cuffed to his wrist.
McAuliffe snorted in agreement, and Carlyle begrudgingly left on his assignment. Once he was gone, the fat detective stared at Jason intently.
Jason was a mess—unshaven, disheveled, and unwashed. He wore a t-shirt that at one time had been white, but was now yellowed with sweat. After a few moments, McAuliffe broke the silence.
“So, all I got from all that blubbing and ranting was: you killed some fella for stealing your girlfriend. Is that the long and short of it?” he asked.
“Not just because he stole her. He used her addiction. Got her back on drugs. Everything that happened to her is his fault.”
McAuliffe smirked and shook his head knowingly.
“Now, now, son,” he said condescendingly. “Nobody ‘got’ her back on drugs except herself. You know that’s the truth of the matter, don’t you? A man like yourself—you know all about that. Don’t go blaming him for that,” McAuliffe argued.
“You don’t understand. Guys like this are different. They’re predators. He preyed on her. He preyed on my cousin…”
The detective’s tone infuriated Jason.
“Yes. That’s what people like Trivoty do! You people don’t do shit about it, either,” he charged. “Predators like him operate right in the open. Outstanding job you guys do here.”
“You mean people like you. Drug dealers,” McAuliffe stated. The words seemed to hang like a noose around Jason’s neck.
“I just sell weed, man—people don’t get killed over weed.”
“Oh? Is that right? Seems a lot of people around you gettin’ killed recently.”
Jason looked away as if trying to avoid the conclusion McAuliffe had drawn.
“That’s all a huge mess tied to these guys. Everyone knows it,” Jason explained. “They sell dope, pills—they’re tied to international gangs. It’s organized crime. They’re responsible for the violence.”
“The Trivotys? Well, I guess there’s just one, now that you killed Michael.”
“Somebody had to. Before he hurt anyone else.” Jason shook his head and tried to choke back tears. “They’re all cancer…”
“Nobody’s handing out awards; tone down the dramatics,” McAuliffe chuckled.
A knock on the interrogation room door surprised the detective. He got up to see who it was, took a look back at Jason, then exited the room without explanation. Minutes later the door opened, and Connecticut State Trooper Dwight Evans walked in.
“I’ve got nothing to say to you,” Jason snapped. He turned his head to ignore his visitor.
“Goddammit,” Dwight said softly. “What are you doing here, Jason?”
“Confessing to my crimes. You should be thrilled,” Jason replied with bitterness in his voice.
“And what is it that you did?” he asked.
“I killed Michael Trivoty. He’s responsible for Maegan, and I made sure he paid for it.”
“You’re such a goddamn fool,” Dwight said, scoffing in disbelief. “What’s your game, Jason? What’s going on here?”
“No games. He deserved to die. I don’t feel bad about it at all.”
“And George Calloway? Did you kill him too?”
“What?! Come on! No, George was into—well who knows what George was into. It doesn’t matter. I killed Trivoty because of Maegan. It has nothing to do with anything else.”
“And these bodies up in Sheffield? The dead cops and the boy?”
“I have no idea…” Jason laughed anxiously.
“Cut the shit!” Dwight snapped, slamming his fists down on the table. “Sandusfield’s place—I know that’s where you get your weed from. Don’t play stupid with me.”
“Look man! I don’t know what the hell is going on with that, but this thing between Michael and I was about Maegan. That’s it!”
Jason’s tone was confident, but his eyes seemed to plead with Dwight to be believed.
“You think I’m an idiot or something? I know this is all connected. You coverin’ for somebody? Is it Dickey?”
“Look, man, I am here to confess to shooting a man in cold blood. I shot Michael Trivoty in the head. I killed him because he was a disease.”
“Right, of course,” said Dwight. “One question, Jason, then I will leave you to lie in this bed you’ve made. What caliber did you use to shoot him with?”
Jason stared blankly at the floor and refused to answer.
“What caliber, Jason? You’re going to have to tell them in your statement.”
“Forty-caliber,” Jason answered defiantly. “Made a nice fucking hole, too.”
Dwight shook his head and sighed.
“I’m going to find out the truth, Jason. I know you don’t want me to, but there is too much at stake here.”
“If all of you had been doing your jobs then none of this would have happened,” Jason spat.
“That may be the most truthful thing you’ve said yet,” Dwight replied. “I’m going to set things right, either way.”
“Too late for that. I already did it.”
“Alright. Well, I’m heading out to have a nice talk with Dickey.”
Jason’s face became angry and fearful.
“You leave him alone! He’s got enough shit going on. He’s a veteran… and a widower.”
“I know – it’s a real shame,” Dwight said before leaving.
Jason forced back tears. Moments later, Carlyle and McAuliffe returned with a pack of Marlboros, a lighter, and an ashtray. Jason opened the smokes and lit one up.
“We’ve all got it,” he said, exhaling smoke as he contemplated the nature of what had brought him there. “That demon, calling us to those things we know are so bad for us… smokes… drugs… women…” He caught a glimpse of empathy in Carlyle’s eyes. “You know what I mean, detective, don’t you?” he laughed. “Yours is women, huh?”
“Why don’t we get started?” McAuliffe said, placing a digital recorder on the table.
“I’ve always enjoyed killing myself with multiple vices,” Jason continued, ignoring the detective.
“But then you killed a man for those same vices,” Carlyle replied.
“I killed a man for spreading those vices like cancer and for hurting two people I cared about. People I love.”
“Alright, why don’t you start from the very beginning,” Carlyle suggested, switching on the recorder. “Take us back to how you met Mary Ann.”
“Maegan,” Jason corrected him, irritated.
“Right, why don’t you tell us about you and Maegan…”
3 Months Earlier
Jason Terry’s mornings generally began on his porch with a large joint and a cup of coffee, black with a dash of sugar. There he would watch the cars pass down the road, and wave hello to his neighbor, Mrs. Williams when she would come out to get the paper.
“Smells good!” the seventy-eight-year-old often teased. She was a smoker herself, acquiring the weed she needed from Jason to help her with her many ailments. “Please stop over later,” she said. “I am running low.”
“Will do, Mrs. Williams!” Jason said with a smile.
His apartment was a loft above the garage of her Colebrook home. Her husband David had rented it to him three years ago before he died. Once Jason discovered Mrs. Williams’s affinity for marijuana, the two became close. After she received her bone cancer diagnosis, Jason stopped charging her money. “I insist you take some money,” she would always say, to which he would customarily refuse.
Mrs. Williams was like family, which was valuable to him, having never been close to his own. Jason’s mother had raised him as a single parent until walking out on him when he was eight years old. He wound up staying with his aunt and uncle in nearby Torrington, which was fine until they had a son of their own. Jason had tried to be a big brother to Tim, but the family seemed to push him away as the boys grew older. By sixteen, Jason was spending most of his days and nights at his best friend Dickey’s.
Jason finished his joint and checked his phone. He had three messages; one from Dickey, one from a customer who wanted some weed, and one from a girl he hoped to see later. He went inside, grabbed the keys to his 2000 Subaru Outback, a plaid button-up shirt, and set off.
The sale was for a quarter-ounce to a guy named Norm, a clerk down at the Winsted Grocer. Winsted, as small as it was, served as neighboring Colebrook’s go-to destination for supplies. The small urban center which ran along Connecticut’s Madd River was the remnant of an industrial city done in first by the great flood of ’55, then by decades of unfavorable economic conditions. Main Street was a cluttered mess of businesses, apartments, and government buildings surrounded by blighted industrial properties looming overhead. If not for the people in the surrounding rural towns of Barkhamsted, Colebrook, and Winchester, Winsted’s economy would have been in even worse condition. And there was plenty Winsted didn’t have; locals had to travel fifteen minutes south to Torrington to find a clothing or department store.
As was the routine, Jason sent Norm a message when he was in the grocer’s parking lot. A few minutes later, Norm stepped out for a smoke and quickly exchanged a hundred dollars for the bag. Jason nodded satisfactorily before nonchalantly pulling away into traffic.
He stopped off for gas, then headed back to town to see Dickey.
Dickey was a widower with two beautiful little girls who adored Jason. The feeling was mutual; Jason had never been so in love. The way they looked at him somehow filled a void in Jason’s life.
Six-year-old Marie Calloway ran out to greet Jason in the driveway, shrieking with joy as he lifted her into the air. Her five-year-old sister, Stacey, yanked at his pant leg. He secured Marie with his right arm and swooped Stacey up with his left. “Hello, my angels!”
He carried them up the walkway from the driveway to the porch where their father, Dickey stood stoutly, his massive arms folded. A large smile with big, white teeth greeted Jason from below a John Deer hat. “What’s good, brother?” he asked welcomingly.
“Just popping in to see my girls,” he said, giving Marie and Stacey a kiss before setting them down.
“Uncle Jay,” Marie pleaded. “Can you play guitar for us?”
“Oh, not today, darling. I’ve got a date later and I have to get ready.”
“Is she pretty?” Marie asked. Dickey and Jason chuckled.
“Why yes, she is,” Jason replied.
“My mommy was pretty,” Marie said with pride. Ellen, Marie’s mother and Dickey’s one and only love, had passed away nearly two years ago.
“Yes,” Jason replied, caught off guard. He looked to Dickey, who winced. “Yes, she certainly was, darling – and you know what?”
“What?” Marie asked.
“You and your sister look just like her! Except for that nose,” he said, grabbing at her nose playfully. “That funny looking nose came from your daddy.”
The girls giggled.
“Poor girls,” Dickey said with a chuckle, self-consciously grabbing his own nose. “Marie, Stacey, c’mon baby girls, it’s time to watch a movie.”
That meant it was time to get the girls situated with something on the television long enough for Dickey and Jason to smoke a joint out back.
Jason exhaled a large puff of smoke out his nose as he lit the joint.
“Another blaze session behind the old woodshed,” he said, passing the joint to Dickey.
“Yup.” Dickey hit the joint a couple of times and passed it back, coughing slightly. “Amazing we can even get back here. Remember all the brush and shit growing back here?”
“Oh yeah. You’ve done a lot of work to the place since last year. It looks great.”
“Well, it isn’t mine…” Dickey said with a laugh. “But I have to live here, so I don’t want it to look like shit.”
Had Richard Sr. known that Dickey and his girls would have ever needed a home, he likely wouldn’t have left it to Dickey’s brother. Nobody had ever thought Dickey would need anything from anyone.
“Might as well be yours. He ain’t here; he doesn’t live here — fuck him.”
“No, he’s not. Never has been. You probably see him more than I do.”
“That’s because I sell him weed.”
“I still feel bad about all this. Like you’re paying for me to live here,” Dickey confessed.
“It all works out for me,” he reassured Dickey. It wasn’t entirely true, but Jason didn’t mind sacrificing a little profit to help Dickey and his girls.
“Working with him is a fucking tragedy waiting to happen, Jay. How long till he fucks you over or screws up so bad he can’t repay you?”
He knew Dickey was right, it was only a matter of time before George screwed him over.
“I know. I don’t care. I expect him to fuck up and end up owing me money,” Jason said.
“You know, the girls and I… we’re grateful,” Dickey replied.
“I love you, brother. More importantly, I love those girls. You’re all they have, remember that,” Jason said. The April breeze lightly whipped his hair with a warmth that promised spring. “Get some hunting done this year?”
“Shit… Been a while since I even shot a gun.”
It had been since Fallujah. The truth was he avoided shooting or anything else that reminded him of his service. He had had some trouble reacclimating. Ellen’s death had only made it worse.
“Sounds fun.” He laughed a little and passed the joint.
“Well, shit, we will have to get our licenses…” Jason looked at Dickey and tried to hold a straight face. Dickey laughed.
“Licenses? Shit, man, we will walk right up into these woods and shoot whatever we damn-well-please. I’m a veteran; I’m not getting Uncle Sam’s permission to hunt in my woods. Fuck no,” he laughed.
“These your woods now? Because last I checked the property line was…” Jason teased.
“Hey, I played in these woods. We bled in these woods. State property means open to all who live in the state, right?”
“That’s one way of looking at it, I suppose,” Jason answered with a laugh. “You sleeping any better, man?”
“Yeah, thanks to the weed,” Dickey said, deeply inhaling a long pull off the joint before handing it to Jason. “You brought me more, right?”
“Of course,” said Jason. “You seeing that doc anymore?”
“The head shrink at the VA? Fuck him.” Dickey noticeably tensed up; he didn’t care for Jason’s concern. He had finally gone to be evaluated at the VA and they’d referred him to a psychiatric specialist. However, he had stopped going after just one appointment.
“Yeah, I know….” Jason was holding back. He was concerned, but wary of intruding.
“Assholes wouldn’t work with my schedule,” Dickey said. “Don’t worry about me; I’m fine. That’s all I need, to get put on some government list that says I’m fucked in the head… they could take my guns… maybe even my daughters.”
“Stop it. That’s just paranoid internet talk there. You’re a veteran. People respect that.”
“Yeah? Maybe, maybe not. You’ve seen the news lately. Being a vet doesn’t get you much, not even respect these days. Either way, it doesn’t matter because I’m fine,” he said. “What are you gettin’ into tonight?” he asked as he tossed the joint roach and lit a cigarette. He handed the smoke to Jason then lit another.
“Maegan Riley, hopefully,” Jason laughed.
“You’d be the millionth guy to get into that, son,” Dickey joked, the two making their way back to his porch.
“Whatever, I’ll wrap it up,” Jason said. He brushed it off, but Dickey’s remarks stung. Despite his reserves, he liked this girl even though he knew she had a bad reputation. He didn’t want to hear about that. He was hoping she’d changed.
“You better wrap that shit up. She was dating Michael Trivoty, Andrew’s little brother.”
“Andrew Trivoty? That gang banger who stabbed Danny Steppler?” It was an infamous story in Winsted.
“Yup. And raped his girl… You know that crew that has the house down on Reckon Ave in Winsted?” Dickey asked.
“Yeah, of course. Junkies and thieves. They sling blow and heroin mostly, some prescription painkillers. Had to go there when I had that tooth problem to score some percoset. Bunch of winners in that group.”
“That’s Andrew’s crib. Low life scum, brother. And she was all wrapped up in it. She’s an addict, too,” Dickey warned.
“She’s had a tough life,” Jason said. He knew what Dickey was saying was true, but something about her smile made him hesitant to believe anything bad about her. He’d always held a fondness for her.
“A life she makes tougher,” Dickey retorted. “Girls like that always do.”
“I’ve been chatting with her for a little while, texting and what not — I don’t know. I know she has a history, but she says she’s changed. Maybe she has, you know? People change. Either way, I have wanted to tap that ass since I was in high school,” he said as if to deflect Dickey’s concerns by asserting his manliness.
“Well then,” Dickey said through laughter, “Wrap it up, brother. Wrap it up. And don’t fall for her. She’s broken inside, bro. Trust.”
“How would you know?”
“Before Trivoty, she dated my buddy, Craig. Cheated on him, was on dope…. Crazy girl, man.”
“She’s been clean for a while.”
“Heroin addiction doesn’t just go away. It’s like a hungry animal scratching at the door. Not many succeed at keeping it out.”
“We’ve all got beasts we battle with.”
“Ain’t that the fucking truth,” Dickey said, patting his friend on the back. “Just be careful, bro.”
The two then headed back inside for coffee. From the kitchen, they could see the girls, still enthralled in the animated movie Dickey had put on for them.
“You headed back to work Monday?” Jason asked, sipping from his mug.
“You know… I don’t think so,” said Dickey, chuckling.
“Coming up on a month, bro. Silvers doesn’t mind?”
“I have the vacation time saved up. Besides, he’s still pissed off at me. Probably doesn’t mind me keeping some distance,” said Dickey.
Dickey did not care for the way Jason had started regularly expressing concern for him — he had always been the older brother in their relationship. He was not only four years Jason’s senior, but he had always been the stronger of the two. He had gone to war while Jason had stayed home and smoked pot. Somehow, though, losing Ellen had changed everything, including their dynamic.
“Well, you made him look bad in front of his daddy,” Jason teased.
“Damned if I was going to take the heat for that shit. He forgot to secure the boom on the truck, not me.”
“Still can’t believe that damn thing took out an entire block of street signs and a fucking telephone pole before he noticed!” Jason laughed every time he recalled the story.
“Cost the company about ninety-k,” Dickey added.
“Ninety thousand dollars because your boss is a moron.”
“Morons cost this world more than you could imagine, brother. What do you think, we didn’t have Dave Silvers-types in Iraq? Only there, they got people killed.”
Dickey worked for Silvers and Sons Tree Service, primarily trimming and taking down trees. His supervisor, the only ‘son’ left at Silvers and Sons, was a pompous prick. He and Dickey never got along well, despite Dickey’s attempts. Jason knew it was only a matter of time before Dickey left the job altogether.
Jason worried about his best friend a lot. He had never acclimated himself to civilian life after the Marine Corps, having been home for less than a year before Ellen died. That loss piled on top of whatever he was struggling with from the war. Dickey was the strongest man Jason had ever known, and he continually proved as much by putting on a smile and going through his days with his head held high, if only for the sake of his girls. But Jason worried that inside he was breaking.
MAEGAN RILEY SAT IMPATIENTLY through the counselor's personal story of addiction and how finding Christ had saved his life. It wasn’t that she didn’t find it inspiring, it was just considerably less so after hearing it so many times. His name was Chris, and she did owe him for spending so many hours listening to her problems. But she couldn’t bear to hear his story anymore. Maybe it wasn’t the content, she thought, but the way in which he told it. He was too scripted; it felt less sincere each time she heard it.
“…through the power Christ I was saved, and I know he can save you, too,” Chris said.
They would meet there once a week in the recreation center next to St. Mary’s Church in Torrington. There would be cookies and coffee laid out when they arrived, and then they would all sit in a circle while Chris led them in their discussion. Some were there desperately trying to get better, others simply because they had been court ordered to attend.
“Now we will hand out chips for sobriety. Now, I always say this, if you can’t claim a chip today, it’s okay. You’re here now, and that’s such an important step.”
This is what she was waiting for — the reason she had come at all. She had not touched dope for six months, and she wanted that damn chip. Sure, she had openly mocked the chips to her family, but at least it was something. It was something she could physically hold that represented the battles she had won.
Chris would always start by calling for anyone who wanted that day to be their first day of sobriety to come up and receive a chip. They looked like poker chips—blue little plastic coins with “1 Day” printed on them. Maegan watched a young girl with bleached-blonde and pink hair hesitantly make her way to claim a chip. The group applauded, and the young girl smiled. Maegan did not applaud; she felt incredibly sad for the girl.
Chris would then call for the “10 Day”, “1 Month”, and “2 Month” people to claim their chips. Usually, they never got past two months. People stopped coming. Maegan was sure some of them had gotten better and no longer needed the group — at least, she hoped.
“Today we have a special chip to hand out,” Chris said, smiling as he held it high for the group to see. It was gold with a triangle inside. The words ‘Unity, Service, Recovery’ were embossed on the face. Inside the triangle read ‘6 months.’
“When I met Maegan she had tears in her eyes. She had just ended a toxic relationship, and wanted to seek help. She turned to us here at St. Mary’s, and she poured herself into the healing process. Through her faith and her strength, Maegan has been clean for six whole months. Please come get your chip, Maegan.”
Chris smiled, and Maegan could not help but blush. She stood up and crossed the circle to Chris, who hugged her. “I am so proud of you!” he said to her.
“Thank you,” she said. “I don’t think I could have done it alone.”
After the meeting ended, she stayed to talk with Chris while she waited for her ride.
“Is your mother using again?” he asked her.
“Probably,” Maegan said with a sigh. “I can’t really tell. She hides it.”
The two walked along the back edge of the church’s parking lot, which rested beside a small brook. Maegan smoked; Chris tried not to mind.
“Have you thought about what we talked about last time?” Chris asked.
“Going to live with my uncle?”
“I think it would be a much more stable environment for you,” he said.
“Yeah, I know… I have thought about it. I guess I kind of even want to…”
“But I feel like she needs me there. The house is going to shit as is.”
“Your brother still not going to school? Partying all the time?”
“More or less. Kaleb is never around anymore, but Danny has his friends over all the time, and they trash the place.”
“And she doesn’t care?”
“Nah, she never did. She’s too cool… She always wants to be the cool mom,” Maegan answered after a moment.
“And how are you doing?”
“I’m good. Six months.” She held up the chip and laughed.
“Are you still taking the Suboxone?”
“Not very often,” she said. “Hardly ever, actually.” That wasn’t true, but she wanted to impress him and allay his concerns.
“Good. I think it is a valuable tool, but I have seen too many grow dependent on it. You never truly break the addiction if you have to continue Suboxone or Methadone. I know a lot of people would disagree with me, but…”
“No, I know,” Maegan assured him. “You’re right.”
An old tan Ford pickup truck pulled into the parking lot; Maegan’s Uncle Dwight arriving to take her home.
“Thank you again, Chris,” Maegan said. They hugged one last time.
“You coming back?” Chris asked as she was about to climb into the truck.
“I don’t think so,” she said with a smile.
“We’re always here if you need us,” he replied with a nod.
JASON TERRY STARTED SELLING weed at a young age. At first, it was merely the lure of free weed which encouraged him. He’d buy a half ounce at a time, selling what he didn’t need to his friends to break even. It wasn’t long until he started buying whole ounces and making a profit. Dickey knew a grower from the VFW, Randy Sandusfield. He introduced the two, providing Jason with an unlimited supply for little cost.
Soon he was moving four ounces a week, then eight. Then he started finding friends who wanted to sell and make a little cash. Altogether Jason sold or distributed about a pound of medical grade marijuana every week — which was a rather large amount for such a small area. People who didn’t even know him were getting high off his supply.
He had quite the setup. He personally only had to sell to a handful of people, and he not only made enough money to pay his bills and keep his car running, but he had all the free weed he could smoke. It wasn’t a grand life, but it was comfortable, and that was all he wanted, aside for maybe a companion.
“Is that Orange Kush again?” Tim Madison asked, sliding a bag of weed into his pocket and placing sixty dollars on Jason’s center console. Every strain of high-quality weed had a name, some considerably more inventive than others.
“Nah bro, this shit is Black Diesel,” Jason answered, taking the money and putting it in his back pocket. “And again, you didn’t get it from me. If your parents ever found out…”
Tim was only sixteen years old, and while his parents had helped raise Jason, there was a lot of tension between them already.
“Last shit was fire, yo,” Travis, Tim’s best friend, chimed in from the backseat.
He had met the boys near a mini golf and arcade center in downtown Winsted. It was a popular hangout for kids and an innocuous place to meet for a drug deal.
“All my shit is fire,” Jason countered sharply. “And I mean it, man. Don’t let your parents find out you’re smoking. They’ll blame me for sure.”
“Yeah, I know. Don’t worry,” Tim said.
He was a short kid with curly brown hair and carried a general look of confusion with him. He was an airhead. A natural burnout.
“Can you drive us to my place?” Travis asked from the back. He wore baggy, obtrusive looking clothing and a loud, flashy baseball cap embroidered with the logo of some urban-styled clothing company Jason didn’t recognize. “By the lake?”
“Yeah I guess,” Jason said with a sigh. He turned on his radio; Black Rebel Motorcycle Club came blasting through the speakers. “Put your seatbelts on,” he said to the boys.
“Seriously?” Travis laughed.
“I don’t care about your safety, sweetheart; I don’t want to get pulled over,” Jason said snidely.
Tim laughed and Travis grumbled under his breath as they both buckled up.
“WHAT THE FUCK?!?!” April Riley shrieked from the kitchen “You fucking fucks drank my fucking beer?!?” She emerged from the fridge, cigarette hanging from her lip, a wine cooler in her hand, and slammed the door.
“Don’t look at me!” her son Danny, yelled back from the living room where he was playing video games. Then he muttered to himself, “I didn’t touch your shit. You probably got drunk and drank them all yourself. Crazy bitch.”
“What was that?!” she yelled.
“Nothing!” he answered, lighting a cigarette.
April ran her long fingernails through her bleached blonde, frazzled hair and cursed under her breath.
“Would you two shut the hell up?” Maegan said, emerging from the hallway. “Jesus Christ, just calm down.”
“Did you drink my beer?” April asked, fire in her eyes.
“No, mom, I didn’t drink your beer.”
“Somebody drank my fucking beer,” she insisted.
“Would you put some clothes on, mom? Seriously?” Maegan asked.
April was wearing a thin white tank top and a tiny pair of shorts. For a fifty-year-old woman who had lived a rough life, April didn’t look bad—a fact she flaunted.
“Oh relax! Nobody is around. And besides, I look good!” She playfully smacked herself on the ass and laughed.
“Jason is coming here in a little while, and I would like for him not to see this,” said Maegan, gesturing to her mother. “Or this,” she added, sweeping her arm toward the piles of unwashed dishes and clutter littering the counters and tabletop.
“Yes, mother. Jason. I told you about him.”
“Ohh! Yes, that’s right,” her mother answered with a smile. “Jason, the nice boy.”
“Yes, the nice boy,” Maegan said, grabbing April’s cigarettes off the counter and lighting one.
“What’s that mean?” Danny asked, passing by to get a soda from the fridge. “Nice boy?”
“It means he isn’t a dirtbag,” said Maegan.
“Does he have a criminal record?” Danny asked.
“No!” Maegan snapped with certainty and then paused. “Well, I don’t think so.” They all laughed at her response. “He’s just a respectful guy, you can tell.”
“In other words, he isn’t your type,” Danny teased.
“You’re right, honey,” April said. “You don’t want him to see all this; you better get ready and go outside when he gets here.”
JASON HAD SMOKED a large joint in preparation for his date, but he was still nervous. Maegan was a beautiful girl. He’d had a thing for her since he first saw her way back in high school, but four years was too large a gap at that time. To his delight, they had bumped into each other at a gas station a few days earlier, and Jason had mustered up the nerve to get her number.
He’d had girlfriends before, but they never lasted long. He wasn’t good at dating; he found himself lost just talking to most girls. They made him feel nervous and unsure of himself. Somehow, even when a girl was into him, he felt inadequate.
He pulled up to Maegan’s house on Washington Ave in Winsted and beeped his horn, as she’d requested. A couple of minutes later she came out and hopped into his car. She beamed at him and invited him to hug her. “Hello! It’s good to see you,” she said.
“You too!” he replied, his heart leaping as they embraced. He was in awe; she was breathtaking. She had the loveliest smile, one which revealed an adorable set of dimples. Everyone had always remarked on it, a smile that could light up a room.
They drove to a nearby Mexican restaurant and had tacos. When they finished, Maegan proposed they go out to get some drinks.
“Not a bad idea,” Jason said. “I wasn’t sure if you drank.”
“I’m a drug addict. I never had a problem with alcohol,” she said with a smile.
“Alright then. How about we get out of town?”
He knew she had lived a party lifestyle and had been around. He didn’t want to go to a bar where she might see some guy from her past.
“Where are you thinking?” she asked, intrigued.
“Let’s head out to New Hartford,” he suggested.
“Tell me you’re going to share some of that weed I smell in your car with me,” she said with a giggle as they left the restaurant. Jason smiled, finding himself able to relax with her in ways he hadn’t experienced before.
They smoked pot the entire way to New Hartford, music blasting. Maegan laughed with joy. “It feels so good to be out and having a good time!” she exclaimed.
By the time they hit the Swinging Parrot in New Hartford, Jason felt quite relaxed. He gently placed his hand on the small of her back as they walked up the steps to the bar. Inside, he politely pulled her stool out for her.
The bar was packed. There was a RedSox game on all eight big screen televisions.
“Do you watch baseball?” Jason asked her.
“Not at all,” she laughed.
“Me neither, not in the slightest,” he chuckled.
The waitress came, and they ordered drinks: two whiskey and gingers. When the drinks came, they were drunk quickly and seconds were ordered. By this time they were very much buzzed, and Maegan could not stop smiling. She stared off into the crowd, as if she were intently focused on something.
“Whatcha looking at?” Jason asked, leaning in closer to share her angle.
“I’m people watching,” she said.
“Oh, I always do that,” he replied.
“Those two, they’re on their first date, and that one is not into it,” she said, nodding her head to two gentlemen sitting near the bar.
Jason was very happy to see the waitress come back with more drinks and his order of sweet potato fries. “Thank you,” he told her.
“See the guy with the sweater—the one with the white hair?” Maegan continued. “Look how he’s acting. He’s nervous, fidgety, yet smiling. He’s insecure.”
“Oh? I can relate,” Jason teased.
“The other guy is obviously here to watch the game. He doesn’t much care about this guy at all, actually,” Maegan said, turning her head sideways in contemplation. The other man, who was noticeably younger than the gentleman in the sweater, was indeed more focused on the television than the man beaming at him from across the table.
“And, see,” she pointed at the younger man as he rose from the table. “This is like the fourth time he’s left the table since they’ve been here. He keeps going to answer his phone and smoke cigarettes.”
“You’re a good people watcher,” Jason observed.
“Damn right.” She smiled. “Looks like he’s just using the bathroom this time, though,” she reported, continuing to watch the drama unfold.
He noticed how close he was sitting to her and nearly pulled back out of instinct. Then he looked into her soft, brown eyes and felt moved to kiss her, so he did. He was unsure of himself and full of doubt, but he went for it, and she kissed him back. The bar exploded in applause, people hooting and hollering in excitement; the RedSox had hit a home run. For a moment, though, they both thought the celebration was for them.
“I have to pee,” she said, laughing off the moment.
Moments after she had left for the bathroom the younger man they’d been watching returned to his date with the older gentleman. While he waited for her to return, Jason ordered them another round.
She came back with a look of disbelief and amusement. “Someone was smoking crack in the bathroom.” She laughed, shaking her head.
“What?” Jason asked incredulously.
“Crack-cocaine. Somebody down there was smoking it,” she affirmed. “I think it was the disinterested guy.”
“Get out of here,” Jason said, laughing in disbelief. “Don’t be silly.”
“I swear to God, I smelled crack, and he was down there looking high as hell.” She shook her head, laughed, and sipped her drink.
“You know, I don’t believe I know what crack smells like,” Jason said after a moment.
“Oh…” she was taken off guard. After a short but awkward silence, she simply replied: “I do.”
“Okay…” Jason answered hesitantly. He didn’t know what to say. He knew she had had a rough life, but the details were hard to reconcile with the feelings he felt for her.
“I’ve had a crazy life, Jay, but I don’t want that anymore. I’ve lost too much because of it already. I wouldn’t be here with someone like you if I still wanted any of that.”
Her eyes connected with his and pled for him to see her as he so wanted to — as a good person. He wanted to believe that she could put all that behind her and that maybe somebody like him could help her do it.
“I hope you mean it. You’re better than any of that shit,” he said.
“Thank you.” She smiled, batted her eyes, put her arms around his neck, and kissed him.
They talked some about their lives, how Jason’s mother had left and how Maegan’s was an addict living off the state. Jason stared contently at her face as they talked; she was radiant and beautiful, but there was an emptiness in her eyes. Was it sadness?
After some time, Maegan finished her drink and stood up, signaling her desire to leave.
“So, you gonna take me home?” Maegan asked, kissing him softly and running her fingers down the back of his neck.
“I was certainly hoping to,” said Jason, running his hand softly up and down her leg.
HE WOKE UP IN A COLD SWEAT, his heart beating loudly, gasping for breath. He patted himself down to assure himself he was unharmed and then rose from his bed. His body had two distinguishing features: a United States Marine Corps tattoo over his left breast and a jagged scar down his left side where the shrapnel had torn into him.
The night terrors were the worst part. During the day, Dickey could keep the thoughts at bay. He could focus on his girls and when all else failed, drink beer or smoke pot. But when he slept, the memories would haunt him.
He looked at his phone; it was 1:20 AM. The visions from his dream haunted him. Fire. Blood. The screams of children. The faces of men he had killed. Faces that were vague and indistinguishable, except for one: an American face.
Heading down to the porch, he stopped to check on his girls. Both little angels were fast asleep. Stacey reminded him of her mother when she slept. That was the hardest part, he thought —missing her whenever he looked at them.
Dickey took his joint down to the front porch, opting to sit on the steps rather than his chair. He took deep drags and tried to relax. Hopefully, if he got high enough, he could get back to sleep. He would have to be up in just over three hours to get the girls ready for school.
The wind blew, causing one of the two big pines in his front yard to emit a loud crack. Dickey looked up at the tree suspiciously.
“Don’t you start giving me shit,” he said to the tree. “You’ve got to be strong. No time to deal with you right now.”
The trees were massive; planted as twins long ago. Dickey was quite fond of them, but knew someday he would have to take them down. One good storm could fall one of them and send it crashing into his house.
Dickey smoked and tried again to relax. The screams of Iraqi children echoed somewhere in the back of his mind. He wanted nothing more than to feel Ellen’s touch again.
He had only been home for eight months when she was diagnosed. Things progressed quickly from there. She’d refused to undergo chemotherapy, terrified of what it might do to her. She tried holistic treatments, but all the vitamins and herbs did nothing, and Dickey and the girls watched as she deteriorated. Finally, after months of pleading, she agreed to seek aggressive treatment. By then, it was too late.
If he was honest, he resented her for it. He felt abandoned by the person he most trusted in the time he most needed her. He had fought through hell three times to get back to her and the girls. When her time came to do the same, when it was her turn to fight for them, she didn’t have the will to do so.
BACK AT HIS APARTMENT, Jason and Maegan laid naked on his bed. He slowly ran his fingers through her hair as she drifted toward sleep with her head upon his chest. He couldn’t believe a woman of such beauty was in bed with him.
At the same time, their relationship was giving him anxiety and apprehension. Every woman in his life had hurt him, and considering Maegan’s past, he wasn’t sure he could trust her not to do the same. Despite his hesitance, he felt compelled to continue seeing her. He was already attached to her, whether he liked it or not. The realization of how vulnerable he was caused him further panic. For now, he tried to ignore his concerns.
He traced his fingers along the lines of her tattoos. On her right hip there was a rose, the thorns tinged red as if they were digging into her flesh. On the back of her shoulder, there was a little devil with angel wings and a halo.
“I really like you,” she said to him suddenly, lifting her head to kiss him.
“I told myself not to like you,” he said with a laugh between kisses.
“Oh yeah?” she said indignantly. “Didn’t want to fall for the slut?”
“No, it’s just that…”
“It’s fine, Jason, don’t lie to me — everyone else does that enough,” she said.
There was something refreshing about her honesty. Once again she somehow managed to make him feel comfortable in ways no other woman ever had.
“Fair enough,” he said. “But don’t lie to me. Are you ready to have a better life?”
“Yes,” she said. “Oh my God, yes!”
He felt like a hero and she looked at him like he was.
“Okay then,” he said with a smile.
“Do you have plans tomorrow?” she asked, sitting up and pushing him down flat against the bed.
“Nope. I’m kind of self-employed,” he joked.
“Good, because you’re not sleeping tonight,” she said as she straddled him.
DWIGHT EVANS AWOKE AT 5 AM, as he did every morning, to go for his daily run with his German shepherd, Max. Dwight would leave his house located in the center of Colebrook and run down route 183 for about a mile or so before crossing through the cemetery and heading back. On most days, Max would follow him right out the door, but on this morning, the old boy just looked up at him from his bed and refused to move.
“You gettin’ lazy on me, Max?” Dwight asked, as he affectionately rubbed his dog behind the ears.
Max rose to the challenge; stretching, shaking, and then following Dwight out the door. Dwight had owned Max for seven years. Although he wasn’t the police force’s dog, but he did accompany Dwight on nearly every call. As such, Dwight affectionately referred to him as “partner.” Being the sole officer of a backwoods town in the northwest hills was lonely at times. Max made the long, boring shifts a little easier.
Dwight was painfully aware that as a purebred German shepherd, Max only had a couple more years left in him at most. Max’s age was starting to show already: his eyes were dull, his fur worn, and his snout was graying. He was often tired by the end of a run.
When they returned, Dwight filled Max’s water bowl from the faucet, and then went to shower, shave, and dress. He walked up the stairs wincing with his fingers pressed against his temple; the pain was back. He had recently begun experiencing a high-pitched whining noise that accompanied his headaches. It was an incessant ringing that would permeate his every thought.
He popped a handful of aspirin before showering.
His police-issued uniform was brown with blue and gold trim, worn with regulation boots and a trooper’s hat. He took time to put it on with care each day. To him, this ritual was a matter of respect. He may have held a lowly post, but he represented the law with the dignity he felt it deserved.
By 7 AM he was on the job patrolling Colebrook with Max beside him inside his gray, police-issued Crown Victoria. Nearly the whole town was under his purview – the reservoir and dam were the jurisdictions of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection officers.
After patrolling for an hour, he stopped at Rachel’s—the only place in town you could get a breakfast sandwich and a cup of coffee. He left Max to guard the car and went inside to a warm welcome.
“Mornin’, Dwight!” Rachel called from behind the counter as she made rounds with the pot of coffee.
“Good morning, Rachel,” he replied.
“The usual for ya, today?” she asked.
“Please and thank you,” Dwight said, sitting down at the counter to read the paper while he waited.
She placed a cup of coffee down in front of him, which he splashed a little cream and sugar into before drinking. Moments later his radio came alive. “Unit seventeen, ten-fifty-five, code eighty-seven, twelve-twenty-two Fairmont Ave.”
“Unit seventeen responding,” Dwight answered into the radio receiver attached to his shoulder.
“Going to need your sandwich to go, hon?” Rachel asked him.
“Yes, Rachel. Thank you.”
Dwight pulled up to the residence at 1222 Fairmont Ave about twenty minutes later. The coroner and the volunteer ambulance had already arrived from Winsted.
“Mother found the body,” the medics told him. “She called 911 for an ambulance, said her son wasn’t breathing. He was D.O.A., but we deduced it was an overdose, so we called you.”
“Heroin?” Dwight asked.
“Looks like,” the medic sighed. “Track marks all over both arms.”
“Another one,” Dwight said, shaking his head. “How old?”
“Nineteen years old,” the medic said.
They both looked down and shook their heads some more.
“Dope and what-not upstairs?” Dwight asked.
“Nope. Not a sign of it other than the fresh track marks. Ask the mother,” the medic said before leaving.
The coroners were bringing the boy’s body down the front stoop when Dwight entered the house. The boy’s face was blue and yellow. In most heroin overdose fatalities, the drug causes the lungs to slow to such a rate that the user essentially suffocates under the weight of their own chest.
He gave his condolences to the grieving mother and tried to get some basic information about her son and his habits from her.
“Ma’am,” he said candidly. “We know it was an overdose; we need the evidence. Now, you turn it over to me and I won’t charge you with tampering with evidence.”
She looked at the floor and didn’t respond.
“Or we get State’s drug task force down here,” he continued. “They can rip apart your house, find the evidence, and then throw you in jail, either way. Because we know you got rid of the drugs and the needle.”
“Is this how you treat a grieving mother?”
Her mascara had run down her cheeks. She clutched a snotty, wet handkerchief with both hands.
“No, ma’am. This is how we prevent more grieving mothers. State needs the dope that killed your son so we can determine if it was a bad batch or if your son just took too much. Helps us track the sources and keep tabs on any potentially bad batches.”
That was the policy, at least, and what his superiors told him to say. He wasn’t sure how much of it was true. All he ever saw was more heroin, more addiction, and more suffering.
“And what then?” she asked. “What then? Arrest someone? So they can spend five years in security with room and board, clothes and food paid? My son was a good man. I flushed the damn drugs because I didn’t want people knowing him as a drug addict!”
Dwight looked at her, sympathetic for her loss, and nodded.
“And the syringe?” he asked.
“In the garbage container on the side of the porch,” she said through sobs. “Are you going to arrest me?”
He went out to his car and retrieved a pair of latex gloves and an evidence bag. He carefully removed the syringe from the trash and secured it in an evidence locker in his trunk. Before leaving, he left his number with the mother and told her to call if she needed anything. Then he drove toward his sister’s house while eating his breakfast sandwich, which he shared with Max.
APRIL RILEY STILL CARRIED the name of her dirtbag ex-husband. He was an abusive, asshole biker who had fathered two of her three kids. The house she lived in was run down and littered. Danny, the son who still lived at home, liked to throw parties— the evidence of which was all over the lawn. Neighbors were never surprised to see Dwight’s car there, but were surprised to learn he was family.
“Hello, Brother Officer,” April said through wafts of smoke as he entered the house. She smoked heavily, even more heavily than she drank. “Here to lecture me again about my parenting? To check my arms for marks? To harass me about the noise my son makes? What is it? I’m sure you’re not here to say hello…”
“Actually, I’m here to check on Maegan,” Dwight said, scanning the mess.
“How sweet. She ain’t here,” April scoffed. She made her way to the sink, which was overflowing with dishes. “Damn kids sure do make a mess.” She turned on the faucet to fill the coffee pot. “Some coffee, dear brother?” When she wasn’t rude to him she opted to be patronizing.
“Just had a cup, thanks. Where is Maegan?”
“Don’t know, she didn’t come home last night. Probably turning tricks somewhere,” she said. A thin attempt at humor.
“What do you mean she didn’t come home?”
“She’s twenty-seven years old. I don’t have to keep tabs on her.”
“Yeah, April, you’re supposed to. She’s been out of rehab barely five months. You just let her run around?”
“She went out with some boy—a nice boy, for Christ’s sake. Relax a little.”
“Jason Terry. Seems very nice. His shirt even had a collar when he picked her up.”
“Jason Terry?” Dwight laughed. “Typical… Really, April?” He knew the name. Colebrook was a small town. “You think he’s a nice boy? He’s no good for her; he’s a goddamn drug dealer.”
“It’s just a little pot, lighten up! She smokes a little weed. It’s not a drug.”
“Is she going to her meeting next week? The support group?”
He picked up a dusty framed photo off the living room hutch. It was Maegan’s fourth-grade class photo. He loved the photo; he had the same one in better shape. Her unmistakable smile and adorable dimples seemed almost unchanged. She was the daughter he never had.
“I’m not sure. You’d have to ask her,” April replied.
“I know you’re busy sitting on your ass drinking and collecting welfare, but you should realize that being involved in your daughter’s life might be the last chance you have to do something meaningful with yours.” He put the picture down, angry at his inability to influence his niece's life, angrier at her mother for flouting the very responsibility. “It’s your fault she fell through the cracks, and it’s your fault she was addicted to the same drugs you were by the time she was twenty. You’re a terrible mother, April, and a terrible sister.” He stopped himself for a moment, but saw his words had seemed to rattle her. At the chance of something he had to say sinking in, he continued. “You’re just looking to use whoever you can to get by. Your oldest won’t talk to you. Danny is on his way, too. And Maegan? Well, she seems to think you need her here, or she’d be living with me. Of course, maybe she wouldn’t like that seeing as she wouldn’t be dating drug dealers.”
“Why do you even talk to me, then? If I am such a fuck-up, why come around here at all?”
“Honestly, the idea of you walking around here every day, living for free and burdening your son and daughter with every financial need Uncle Sam doesn’t provide, using drugs, drinking like a fish, and thinking you’re high and mighty and righteous on top of it just gets under my skin. I guess I like to drop by and remind you of reality.”
He hadn’t come there for this, but it was how nearly every visit with her ended.
“Some brotherly love right there,” she scoffed, lighting a smoke and waiting for her coffee to brew. She looked permanently hung over. She had large dark circles surrounding her eyes and her teeth were rotting.
“I love you, sis. I stuck by you time and time again when you made bad decisions. But mom and dad and I had to let you go when you chose heroin over your family every time. And that’s exactly what you did. You don’t get to put that on me.”
“And what did you ever do for me except judge me and my life? Look, you even went and made a career out of it. Judging others by your code. How many dopers you bust wishing it was me?”
“You got me wrong there, sis. I don’t want to bust you or make you pay. I think of whoever sold you that first bag… Whoever first tied you off and pushed death into your veins. That person took my sister from me.”
His heart aching and scorn in his eyes, he left. As he walked out to his car, the high-pitched ringing in his head grew louder, like a train approaching in the distance.