Please welcome J.S. Cook with
My Man Walter
Billionaire inventor Chase Gordon has just turned forty—and everything in his ordered little world is going to hell in an Hermès bag. His acerbic English butler Juliet Lavish has decided to retire. The humanitarian church founded by his late parents has suddenly gone broke—in the middle of the jungle—in Honduras. Lastly, NYPD detective Brian Schrade wants to use Chase’s palatial mansion to hide Walter Godfrey, a newspaper reporter who might know something about a recent rash of mob-related business deals. Part of the deal is the conniving, misanthropic Alec Pratt, son of a local newspaper mogul and unapologetic police informant who just might have a teensy weensy crush on Brian Schrade.
But Walter isn’t safe, not at Chase’s residence or anywhere else. His too-frequent forays into the city—against Brian Schrade’s advice—make him a target, and his strong attraction to Chase Gordon is setting him up for some serious heartbreak. When Chase goes to Honduras to investigate the state of his family’s failing fortunes, he adds another trouble to the long list: he's been set up for kidnapping.
Alec was to deliver a gift-wrapped parcel to a man at the airport who would be waiting in the departures lounge for an outbound flight to Barcelona.
“Sir, with all due respect, I can’t simply stroll into the departures lounge.” Alec tried to laugh, but it came out sounding like a wheeze. He choked on his own saliva and fell into a coughing fit that wouldn’t stop.
“Relax,” Veranda said. He poured a glass of water from a carafe and slid it across to Alec. “Have a sip of that and take a look at this.” He handed Alec an envelope.
When Alec opened it, he saw it was a ticket to Barcelona, first class. “I-I don’t know what to say,” Alec stammered. “Thank you, sir. This is very generous.”
Alec was to approach the man waiting for him the departures lounge, sit beside him, and say “Melvin says you like this kind of cake.” He wasn’t to hand the box over until they were in the air.
Veranda summoned one of his lieutenants. “Jimmy, get the box we’ve got for Gerry’s boy.”
Jimmy returned with a box and put it on Veranda’s desk, then disappeared again.
“Go ahead,” Veranda said. “Open it.”
“I don’t know if I should,” Alec demurred.
Something sparked in Veranda’s eyes, a brittle warmth Alec knew was entirely for show. “I feel disrespected when you say things like that,” Veranda said. “It hurts me when you disrespect me. I feel that, Alec.”
Alec opened the box. A pair of severed hands—man’s hands, judging by the look of them—lay on a bed of frothy pink tissue paper. The hands had begun to turn black at the nails; the odor was absolutely vile. Alec swallowed hard against the sudden rise of bile in his throat. There was a very real possibility he might faint. If he fainted, he’d embarrass himself in front of Veranda, something he absolutely wanted to avoid. Don’t get sick, don’t get sick.
“Hey, what’s the big deal?” Veranda asked. “You done this before. That night you went out with what’s his name, Lazlo, to deliver that parcel to Frankie, what did you think was in it?” He shrugged. “It’s my trademark. It’s why they call me ‘The Handyman.’” He gestured at the box. “Take it home with you, put it in the fridge. It’ll keep till you get to Spain, huh? You’re doing good, kid.”
Alec caught a taxi back to his apartment and put the box in the refrigerator, next to some leftover carrot cake.
Alec arrived at the airport the next morning, groggy, wearing sunglasses, and clutching a cardboard container of black coffee. He’d hardly slept the night before, getting up several times to check that the box was where he’d left it. When he did sleep, his dreams were riddled with horrible images. His muscles pained him and the light hurt his eyes. He didn’t want to do this, but he knew what Veranda would say if he didn’t. Worse, he knew what Veranda would do.
The man he was supposed to meet was sitting in the departures lounge, wearing a beige topcoat and reading a copy of National Geographic. He didn’t look up as Alec sat, preferring his magazine.
“Melvin sends his regards,” Alec said. He pasted what he hoped was a smile on his face. “You know, Melvin.”
The man ignored him.
Alec remembered what Veranda had said and kept the box on his lap until the flight was called. Alec lined up to board with everybody else, but when he presented his passport, the attendant merely glanced at it and waved him through. Veranda’s influence, again, he supposed. The man to whom Alec was supposed to give the box boarded immediately ahead of him. Alec wasn’t surprised to discover they were seated together in first class. Alec had the window seat, something he disliked. The sight of the ground falling away beneath him made him break out in a cold sweat, and the nausea of the night before pressed at the back of his throat. He leaned over to speak to his seatmate. “Melvin says you like this kind of cake.” He handed over the box with what he hoped was an engaging smile.
The man didn’t smile back. He set the box on his knees and untied the knot in the string. “I hope I like this kind of cake,” he said quietly.
Now he’ll open it and see what’s inside and my part of this is done, Alec thought. His pulse throbbed in his throat, and he could hear the rush of blood inside his ears. The lid of the box caught for a moment on some internal obstacle, and Alec braced himself to look away. He didn’t think he could stand to see the severed hands lying in their grotesque nest of tissue paper like a pair of blackened gloves.
“What the fuck…?” His seatmate stared down into the box and then at Alec, his mouth hanging open comically. “What the hell is this?”
The hands Alec was supposed to bring to Spain were nowhere to be seen. The only thing inside the box was three pieces of leftover carrot cake.
There’s a box of severed hands in my refrigerator, he thought. In my apartment… severed hands….He broke into a sweat, fumbling for the airsickness bag, and emptied his stomach somewhere over New Jersey.
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About the author:
J.S. Cook was born in a tiny fishing village on the seacoast of Newfoundland. Her love of writing manifested itself early when her mother, impressed with the quality of a school assignment she'd written, sent it to the editor of the local paper - who published it. Since then she has written novels, short stories, novellas, plays, radio scripts and some really, really bad poetry. She has worked as a housekeeper, nanny, secretary, publisher, parliamentary editor and a university lecturer, although this last convinced her never to step foot inside a classroom again. She holds a B.A. (Honors) and an M.A. in English Language and Literature, and a B.Ed in post-secondary education. She loves walking and once spent six hours walking the streets of Dublin, Ireland. She maintains she wasn't lost, just "looking around". She makes her home in St. John's, Newfoundland, with her husband of 27 years and her spoiled rotten 'dogter', Lola, who always gets her own way.
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