THE BOOK: 3 Women, 4 Towns, 5 Bodies
PUBLISHED IN: 2018
THE AUTHOR: Townsend Walker
THE EDITORS: Beverly Mills, Rae Bryant, Janet Freeman
THE PUBLISHER: Deeds Publishing, Athens
SUMMARY: The sixteen stories are rooted in foreign places, cemeteries, violence, and strong women. The worlds the characters construct are unforgiving. Their paths cross in tangled and sometimes unfortunate ways. In the title novella, five linked stories, three women use wit, seduction, and weapons to master the men they meet. The ribald reverend in “The Second Coming” meets his match in nineteen-year-old Charity. In “Super Secrets,” two women are neighbors and lovers, until one is betrayed and exacts revenge. On a darker note, a crazed horse and a storm at sea shatter a fragile love in “Slashing at the Nets.” Then, in “Storm Painter,” an artist moves in with a writer, but their past destroys his third novel. Place is important. No one other than an Italian detective would ﬁnd a clue in a singular tortellino. The New York sniper would only be trained by the Israeli Defense Force. This short story collection spans centuries where nothing is as it seems, and twists are as abundant as they are deadly.
THE BACK STORY: I started writing short stories about ten years ago. Most were published in literary journals, on line and paper. My formal schooling had me reading Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes, so when I started reading and writing short stories I experimented a lot with subject matter and style. From the start, one of my ambitions was to put out a collection of stories, but a collection needs to be held together by a theme. Looking over what I had written the emerging theme was noir with untoward endings. That’s why these stories were put together in one book. The combination of a lead novella and subsequent short stories came about when a close friend gave me Colum McCann’s Thirteen Ways of Looking, which does just that with good effect.
WHY THIS TITLE? I was initially casting about for the title of the lead novella, looking for something attention getting and words that carried an indication of what the reader would find. At one point, I started counting. Three women, that was obvious. There were four towns, and without knowing aforehand, I started counting bodies. Voila! Five. And though not specific to the other eleven stories in the collection, it worked thematically.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? The stories are entertaining and provocative and keep the reader on the edge of uncertainty. They offer an accessible and compelling escape from the here and now. And who doesn’t need that? I think they merge elements of the classic noir genre with the idiosyncrasies of the Gen X and Millennial generations. As a bonus, the stories feature a cast of shrewd, fearless, kick-ass women.
“Written with crisp, precise prose, 3 Women, 4 Towns, 5 Bodies is a stylish and modern take on noir fiction. These stories portray a world that is glamorous, mysterious, a bit seedy, and thoroughly compelling. Fans of Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard will love the sparkling dialogue and dry wit.” –Martha Conway, author of The Underground River
“If you like your plots hard-boiled, your romances illicit, and your beautiful dames worldly and sharp as their murder weapons, look no farther than this fast-paced collection of gleeful tales of trickery, murder and slow-simmered revenge. Set in lush locations as varied as 1960’s NYC, revival tents in 1928 Texas, and a mountain village in 1839 Hungary, these fascinating morally ambiguous stories will be just your cup of tea….or glass of fizzy champagne. Or claret. Or port….” –M. M. De Voe, author of The Boy Who Loved Trees and founder of Pen Parentis
“An impeccably written collection of stories–each one different, but somehow creating the same effect. The dark tone, the characters with loose moral and behavioral boundaries, and the vivid imagination of the author make this collection worthy of a permanent place on the bookshelf.” –Sheri Hoyte, Reader Views
Book Excellence Awards Winner
Pinnacle Book Achievement Awards Winner
2018 International Book Awards Finalist in Two Categories: Short Story and Mystery/Suspense
2018 Best Book Awards Finalist in Fiction: Short Stories
AUTHOR PROFILE: I grew up in western Maryland and graduated from Georgetown, New York University and Stanford, Economics and Political Science. During a career in banking I lived in New York, Paris, London, Rome and San Francisco and wrote three books in finance: A Guide for Using the Foreign Exchange Market, Managing Risk with Derivatives, and Managing Lease Portfolios.
My novella, La Ronde, was published in 2015. Short stories have appeared in over seventy literary journals and have been included in ten anthologies. Two of the stories in 3W4T5B were nominated for a PEN/O.Henry Award. I live in San Francisco and in addition to working on stories, I conduct a workshop in creative writing for incarcerated veterans at San Quentin Prison.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: My primary purpose in writing is to entertain the reader and to take them out of the world they are in—escape. At the same time, I’d like to think that I’m able to provide useful insights into people and places the reader is not familiar with, or may not want to be familiar with.
He was a sweet lay. Charlie, that’s what he said his name was, picked me up at The Pub. He thought he did the picking, but then most guys do. The Pub, a neighborhood bar on the upper West Side, heavy on the wood, pretenses of being English, dart board, shepherd pie, cheese and chutney nibbles. I was perched on a stool at the bar with a Vodka Collins. He was at the far end, a lean 6’2”, sandy hair, horn rims. I turned his way once or twice, rested my eyes, not waiting to see if he noticed. He finished his beer, walked toward the door, stopped.
“Looks like heaven’s missing an angel,” he said.
“Think you’ve got that one turned around.”
“I can go either way.”
“If I can’t?”
“Then it’s the devil’s way.”
Light played off his smile and I thought, what the hell. He took my hand and we strolled back to his place, a block away. Nice, but a heavy decorator’s hand: black and white Montmartre street photos, leather, plaid throws.
I liked Charlie, Charlie with the green eyes that told stories of mischief, the kid who peeked while his teenage sister’s friend was taking a shower. He lit the logs in the fireplace, we sipped cognac, and he un-wrapped me, quickly, and a little rough. Sometimes, this time, a turn-on. Then he took his time as his lips moved slowly from my breasts to my belly to below. At each stop, he inscribed little circles of pleasure with his tongue.
In the second act, we traded places and I felt the heat from his smooth skin and savored his cedar smell as I licked my way down his body. After the third act, he fell asleep. I waited an hour, got up, dressed, and left. It had been a perfectly cozy tumble on a rainy night, but I had places to go and people to kill.
K, the guy that saved my ass at Maroun al-Ras, now with Mossad, had called late that afternoon. Asked if I’d do him a favor. A major problem with a Russian named Sergei R. in Brighton Beach.
“Can’t you get the FBI to arrest him?”
“Tried that,” K said. “For the last two years, but they’re not buying the evidence we’ve collected, claim it’s weak.”
“And it’s not?”
“It’s solid, Mia, I promise.” Not something I’d ordinarily do. After my tour, I thought I never wanted to kill anyone again. What good did it do? But I owed K, and there a good reason this Sergei R. should die. He was the state-side link of a sex slave trade triangle run out of Kiev into Tel Aviv on to New York. Roma girls were recruited on the pretext of becoming nannies, then sold off to pimps in the Midwest. K would take care of the Ukrainian and Israeli angles if I’d handle this one. No one else was going to stop this, only K and me.
We need to back up here. Out of Wharton I wanted a job on the Street, had a couple of offers—Morgan, Merrill, but then the market went in the tank, and when the tank broke, it was: we’d-love-to-have-you-and-we’re-sure-business-will-pick-up-in-six-months-but-at-the-moment .
. . So I did what every Jewish girl with an MBA/JD does, went to Israel to do the kibbutz thing. Don’t they? Some do, if their grandparents were kibbutzniks.
Six months in the kibbutz when an army recruiter came through with stories about the exploits of the Israeli Defense Force. I knew the story. My grandparents had talked about being rescued back in ‘49. I signed up for a two-year stint. An added attraction, the training base was near Haifa—cypress trees, rain, lush green hills, beaches, and men.
In basic, it turned out I was a crack shot. Top of the class. Qualified for sniper school. There, I graduated second. A natural talent it seemed. Two things: metabolism of a cat and people with gray eyes have better vision, more light gets through. And to do something with impact. In the lingo, be a force multiplier. Eliminate commanding officers and the people manning the serious weapons.
My first action, Lebanon. Beautiful country – the crenelated landscape painted with deep green valleys and framed by pale gray limestone cliffs, but marred by villages with broken buildings and rubble from shelling. My Recon Company was sent in to Maroun al-Ras with K as my partner. We set up on a high point, a place with good sight lines. K was about 20 feet to my right. The field we overlooked was target rich. Out 500 meters were four Fajr-5 rocket launchers and their crews. I’d taken out the three crew members on the nearest launcher. I could see the faces of the soldiers I killed, but didn’t allow myself to get distracted. I targeted a button on their chest and believed if I didn’t kill them, women and children would die. And I tell myself that every time a settlement takes a round.
I set up for the next launcher crew, heard the brush crackle on my left, turned, a dark hulk, blotting out the sun, a man, head wrapped in a black scarf, a long knife, a whisper,
My stomach clutched. I’d been triangulated So fucking stupid, Mia. Lesson one, shoot, move. I was dug in, arms trapped by my rifle. I couldn’t budge. I screamed, but nothing came out. Then, a shot, a knife clanked off my helmet, a man fell on my legs.
“Stay down, Mia,” K yelled. Then ran up and finished off the attacker with his bayonet.
My two years in the IDF up, I came back to the city. The economy still sucked and the Street wasn’t hiring. I had a bit saved, so I hung with some people from B-school, made a serious study of the after-hours clubs and the guys who go there. Some rough characters. Wolves in Street clothing. I hit the gym for a couple of hours in the afternoon and had my weekly mani-pedi.
I interrupted the Sergei R. story for some background. Now back to him. It took a few days to find him in Asser Levy Park. A stocky man, mid 50s, pasty complexion, sour expression, a track suit, finger thick gold chain and black leather shoes—Russian mafia couture. I sat on a bench watching. The first morning, as a mother cooing to her baby swaddled in a blanket. Another morning, as a threadbare homeless woman with an overflowing shopping cart. Sergei had a pattern. At seven every morning he walked his overweight toy poodle. Seemed to love the little thing. Picked him up, nuzzled him, fed him tiny biscuits.
The Park was bounded by high rises on one side, (he lived in 8905), and four-lane Surf Boulevard, behind Coney Island beach. A park saturated by ocean humidity and salt. Sergei walked the same paths, always, the ones between the amphitheater and the road. Not many people and not many cars early in the day, especially when the fog hung low.
I spent time mapping sight lines and covers. Found a grove of trees with the perfect angle. Waited for a rainy day. Bullets shoot flatter (more accurately), and footprints would be washed out. I went to Goodwill and picked up two long raincoats, standard tan and a pair of boots.
The rain started at four Wednesday morning. I was ready. When I saw him at the end of the path, I pulled the rifle from under my coats, lay down in the mud, set the bipod, adjusted the scope, a little to the left, for spin drift. Nailed him at 200 meters. He flopped, fortunately not on top of the little dog. A couple of days later, an envelope under the door. From K. Generous, down payment on a West Side two bedroom. That knife that clanked off my helmet, I hung it over my bed.
A month after the Russian job, K called again. “I hate to ask this, but Mia, one more. Please.”
“What’s it about this time?”
“Guy molesting my cousin. She works for him in the Diamond District, forcing her to do things to him. Disgusting things. Even you, I can’t say the words to.”
“Why doesn’t she . . .”
“Forget the cops, my cousin told me the guy is a big contributor to Orphans and Widows. Is that something?”
“Listen K, some things I can’t kill for. Only one person involved here. Sorry, I know it’s your cousin, but for me it’s got to be proportional. What I will do is put him in pain for a long while.”
My plan, take out his knee. I checked and he didn’t have insurance. Friend over at Aetna ran a cross company search. Thing they did when anybody applied. Made sure people weren’t double and triple insuring for the same thing. This jewelry guy would be forced to sell the business to cover multiple operations. K’s cousin would be home free.
Isaac lived over in Borough Park and spent time strolling in nearby Green-Wood Cemetery after he closed up shop on 47th Street. On a path below a rise covered with poplars, dotted with small crypts. One evening at dusk, from behind a red granite tombstone, Sloat (Rear
Admiral, claimed California for the U.S., according to Wikipedia) was the name on the plinth, at 100 meters, I took out his right knee. The shot was true, but when I turned around, I saw a pale faced man in a green uniform and service cap, cemetery custodian on rounds, about fifty feet away, staring at me. He twisted around to pull a walkie-talkie from the holster on his belt. Where the shit did he come from? Think Mia. Make him forget. I set my rifle down, unbuttoned my coat and my blouse and let my skirt slip down my legs. Then picked up the rifle, walked toward him, unhooked my lacy red bra, opened it, started to slide my panties, red also, over my hips. He gasped, turned, dropped the walkie-talkie, stumbled, pulled himself up, and ran. He won’t remember my face.
Justice frontier style, but justice all the same for the Roma girls and K’s cousin. Talked to a rabbi about the Torah’s “eye for an eye.” It came down to guys who batter their wives, abuse kids, and stalk women. The city needed its modern day paladin, not the Dungeons and Dragons video game variety. Not trying to subvert the legal system, just give victims a righteous response. Why me? I’m smart and educated, dispassionate (some of my school friends have said ‘cold’) and I can shoot. I didn’t want to do it. I had to do it. All that, plus memories of the time I spent on the kibbutz at Yahel. Up before dawn to milk, lead the cows out to pasture, muck out the stalls, bring the cows back in. And repeat. It’s kind of corny, but my milk fed babies. I’d felt part of something larger than my own family. It seemed more important than a career in finance.
* * *
Charlie was gone a month, business trip to the coast. Back in town, apologized for the silence, invited me to Behanding in Seattle. He did a great Christopher Walken low raspy, “I don’t need to be made (pause) to look evil. I can do that (pause) on my own.” Also spent time with his brother who lived in San Francisco. Went on about how his brother had become bearable, even likeable since he’d married and had a kid. Charlie liked kids. Twice a week he coached for the Police Athletic League up on 119th Street. He’d been all-conference guard at Bucknell. Good hands (to which I could attest). They seemed large for a man just over six feet.
Meantime, I decided to become a PI. License to carry. I’d investigate first, fire only if I had to. The PI exam was a doodle and I managed to convince the examiner that my military service met the experience requirements. A friend from Wharton worked for Della Femina, the ad agency, and helped me put together a media campaign focused on women’s issues—cheating husbands, abusive partners. The image: hip, hard, helping.
Over on 47th and Second, west side of the street, gold lettering on a third-story window.
Allan & Monroe
That’s my office. I’m the Allan, Miriam Ivanna. It’s been Mia since I left home. There’s no Monroe, never was, but a double-barrel name is reassuring. That’s what the Marketing prof at Wharton said, though I don’t think he had this in mind.
A couple of weeks later, raining, Charlie and I grabbed a cab to see View from the Bridge. Cabbie missed the turn on 45th. Charlie went crazy. Nearly jumped into the front seat. Thought he would throttle the driver, but I managed to grab his arm. When he sat back, he became all apologetic, to me and when we got out, he gave the cabbie a fifty. A little class to Charlie, more than just good in the sack. Okay, hair-trigger temper, but cooled quickly. Occupational hazard probably. A stockbroker, started with Salomon, now Morgan Stanley. Successful, smooth talker. I wasn’t in a hurry to settle down with anyone, but he made me start to think about it. Never fails when you spend your summer weekends at girlfriends’ weddings.
* * *
Late one afternoon, a woman poked her head in my office door. Late-twenties, black hair, spikey, contrasted with a blue polka dot shirt dress. Nina Silvano seemed both nervous and determined. Sat very straight in the chair
“Had a bit too much to drink after Roger didn’t show.”
“Happens to all of us. The Pub, the one over on the West Side?”
“Yeah, that one. Anyway, this cute guy, I’d seen him there before, convinced me to go home with him. When I got outside, the rain woke me up and I decided I didn’t want to.”
“When I told him, he went nutso and shoved me against the building, then grabbed my arms, held my wrists above my head with one hand.”
“I’m pretty sure it was his left hand.” She showed me the bruises, turning yellow and green. I looked carefully. The marks were from a left-hand clutch. His thumb left a distinctive mark. “He put his other hand over my mouth.”
She stomped on the guy’s shoe, he let go for a minute, and she ran into the street just as a cab passed. I asked her what she wanted me to do.
“Remember, last week in the paper, the girl that was found strangled on the west side of Central Park? I’m afraid it might be the same guy.”
“I’d been to The Pub the night of the murder, saw the girl there, I saw him too. According to the papers she had bruises on her wrists when she was found, like mine.”
“That’s not much to go on.”
“But, when they were sitting in the corner, they argued, waved their hands. After five minutes of this they quieted down, then he kissed her palm and she leaned into him. After that she went to the bar and talked to, I guess, a girlfriend. On his way out, he stopped and said something to her. She nodded, like she was agreeing to meet him because a couple of minutes later, she left too.”
“Okay, let’s start with the basics—Name? What did he look like? Age? What was he wearing? Anything quirky about him?”
“Danny was over six feet, kind of built, sandy hair, horn rims. Maybe in his mid-thirties. And he wore a soft leather jacket.”
“Did you notice the color of his eyes?”
“They were green, beautiful actually.”
She waited for me to say something.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“Nothing, nothing at all.”
“One other thing. He left before me. He said he was going to step out of the bar and call his brother. Something to do with him coming to town. Danny wanted me to meet him at the corner. That’s where he grabbed me.”
“Did you talk to the police? The Central Park murder story has been all over the papers.”
“They said they had it under control. The cop heading up the investigation said they’d identified persons of interest. I spent an hour with them but it seemed they only wanted to hear things that confirmed what they already knew.”
I helped Nina to the door, a sisterly hug, and said I’d see what I could do.
I checked out Nina and Charlie, their college and job records, co-workers, past lovers, friends. Spent a month, following them around and digging through computer files. My client was as close as you can come to a convent girl, these days. Sacred Heart for high school, Marymount, and now fifth grade teacher at Blessed Sacrament over on West 70th. And I dug into the background of the woman who’d been murdered—mid-twenties, black hair, pale complexion, graduated NYU in sociology, worked for the city. Seemed Charlie had a thing for black hair, pale complexioned women.
Turned out Charlie’s name was Daniel Xavier O’Rourke. For someone his age, had the usual number of affairs, only one went as far as an engagement. Nothing to suggest he’d beat a woman. And I couldn’t hold a phony name against someone. Well, maybe I could, three months?
I went into the Pub before the crowd one night and talked to the bartender. He remembered that the victim and Charlie/Danny had both been in the bar the night of the murder, but he saw them together for only a minute. Busy night. The bartender did remember Charlie paid his tab and left. Sometime later, the woman hurried out. After a month of sleuthing, I understood the police position. Too much coincidence for them, for me too.
I had to be sure, for me, and for my client. Knew I could bump into Charlie at The Pub without making it obvious what I was up to. I wore my pencil leg pants, heels, and a black silk blouse with a serious V. He was by himself at a table in the corner. Cords, brown bomber jacket, sipping a Guinness. He called out as I walked in.
“Where have you been?” He stood and took both my hands in his. “I’ve missed you.”
“Business trips. Quieted down a bit now.”
“You never told me what you do.” He seemed genuinely interested.
“We had other things to talk about.”
“So, what is it you do?”
“You want to continue the conversation at my place?” I said. After all, he was only a suspect, no proof of guilt, yet.
He threw a fifty on the table and we left. He placed my arm on his and kissed my hair as we walked back to my apartment. Sweet gesture.
Pleasure first. Act One played out as always. Very, very nice. Then business. I went a little mean on him. “Is that all you got?” Poked him in the ribs. He looked startled. “Where’d you leave the big man?” Light cuff on the ear. He turned red.
“What the hell’s this?”
He jumped out of bed, pulling the blanket with him. His back to me. He must be into a new weight routine—the traps had more definition, and his ass was definitely tighter than I remembered. I watched, lying on the bed propped up on my right elbow, sheets pulled up. I could tell he was tense the way his muscles bunched, but he didn’t say anything, not even heavy breathing. He stuffed his shorts into the pocket of his pants, put his left leg through them, teetered a bit as his lost his balance, then stuck his right leg through. Maybe Charlie could control himself. He wasn’t the killer.
“You always leave your women disappointed?”
He continued to dress, reached down for his shirt, put his right arm in the sleeve, hesitated, let the shirt drop, then whirled around, his face livid. Before I could move, his fist smashed into my cheek.
I scurried and rolled across the bed, but got caught in the sheets. With his left hand, he grabbed my right wrist, then the left one, and squeezed them together. Punched me in the stomach. His hands were around my throat, pushing down. I groped for the drawer in the bedside table and knocked the lamp on the floor. He jerked. Cold steel pushed into his gut. My .38.
“Whoa, baby,” I purred. I wanted him to remember I don’t scare.
He stumbled for the door. I think his shirt was on backward and he left his socks on the carpet. Yup. Charlie had a mean streak, deep and ugly. And the mirror said my face wore it. Shit! It hurt. Why Charlie? Why is it you? Why didn’t I see it?
Much later I figured out it was me. Out to have fun, grab it when I could, hell with consequences. That’s what happened with Charlie.
But, his taste in women, his M.O. He was the one, but not enough hard facts to go to the police. But this violence. Couldn’t watch him all the time. Couldn’t risk other women. I had to. Next Wednesday, I’ll be in position on Summit Rock in Central Park. First light. Charlie will jog from his apartment on West 80th, toward the Reservoir. He’ll run towards the Rock. Me, I’ll be kneeling in the shadows, arm vertical under my rifle, I’ll see him, I’ll sight on his heart, I’ll count down, I’ll feel the heat of the target, I’ll remember the smell of the target, I’ll breathe in, let out half a breath, I’ll be in my still place, steady pressure to the very end of my finger.
The bullet will travel through his heart faster than the speed at which his tissues tear, stretching them beyond their breaking points. His blood pressure will drop quickly, but it will take 10 to 15 seconds for him to lose brain function. Time to think about why this is happening to him.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Russian Hill Books on Polk Street and Books Inc. on Chestnut Street in San Francisco.
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Deeds Publishing: https://www.deedspublishing.com/store/3w4t5b and Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07B4N8KWN/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i0
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: firstname.lastname@example.org