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The Edge of Propinquity

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A Luminations Story
Rick Silva
Start at the beginning of the Luminations series

We're not getting anywhere.

This isn't easy. I don't have correct names for two of the people, and I've got almost no other information to go on.

The internet. You said you could access everything.

I exaggerated. These people are probably in their sixties or seventies now. They may have no online presence at all, and even if they did, without their full names and some other identifying information, we'll never separate signal from noise.

What do we do?

Detective work. I use my connections. Talk to some people and ask them questions.

Well? What's stopping us?

My connections are not going to like these questions.


Marianne Colter is the toughest woman I've ever met. She dresses like a librarian. A six-foot librarian with arms that once swung a mean billy club back before she retired from her job as a correctional officer.

You're afraid of her.

And man enough to admit it. Besides, I have reason to be. She's probably mad at me.

I stood at the door of Marianne Colter's little house in Nashua, New Hampshire, on an April day thick and heavy with drizzle, conversing with the voice in my head while I waited for Marianne to answer her doorbell.

The place was charming in a cluttered country style, with little painted wooden signs reading "Home Sweet Home" and "Stay For Tea" and simply "Meow" hung along with birdfeeders and window boxes.

"Chess Hall." Marianne didn't sound surprised, and she didn't sound angry. She stepped back from the door and invited me in, shooing away a pair of fat longhaired cats that had come to see what the commotion was about.

She motioned me to sit and turned on the burner under the teakettle. The cats settled down against my feet as I sat at the little kitchen table across from a display case of small faceless wooden angel figurines with wire wings. I had come with questions to ask, but I didn't want to rush.

Marianne works for a private investigator in Nashua named Jake Horner. Jake got me started in the business back in '01. He helped get my license and taught me almost everything I know about detective work while I taught him how to use a computer and how to put technology to work for his business. Jake Horner would know how to find the men I was looking for.

But Jake Horner had been a cop once, and in 1980, Jake had been the cop investigating the case of a missing woman named Mattie Ives. Jake had never solved that case and it still bothered him. It bothered him so much that I knew better than to ask him for help. Besides, I didn't think he'd appreciate my solution. I know exactly where Mattie Ives is: In my head, same place she's been for the last two years. No, Jake most definitely wouldn't want to hear that.

So I'd come to Marianne. I was hoping that Jake's assistant might be able to help me. For all my talk of doing detective work the old way, I was woefully short of contacts after being away for more than two years. I was running low on favors to call in.

"You screwed up, Chess. You know that, right?" Marianne sat down and pushed a teacup across the table to me. It smelled fruity. I raised it to my lips to get a better whiff, but it was still too hot to drink, so I put it down.

"Yeah, Marianne. I've screwed up a lot lately. I need your help."

She sipped her tea and waited.

I kept it simple.

"Two men. Charlie Devens, or maybe Davens. Or something like that. The other one's name is some variation of McHurley. First name is Ed. I don't have much else to go on, except that I've got reason to believe they were both employees of Richard Harrington's construction business around 1980."

"The Mattie Ives disappearance?" Marianne still didn?t sound surprised.

I nodded and burned the tip of my tongue with the tea. The tastebuds that were still working registered a pleasing citrus flavor. Mandarin oranges.

"CDL records," she said. She was good. I'd thought of that, but I didn't have someone at the RMV who could dig them up for me. Apparently, Marianne did. "Someone's going to have to spend an afternoon going through dirty fileboxes at the Registry."

I waited. She decided.

"I'll help you, Chess," she sighed. "Jake wouldn't like it, but he's touchy about this stuff. Besides, he's really just still mad at himself after all these years. As much as he pretends he wants people to just leave it alone, what he really wants is the same thing we all want: Justice for that poor girl."

"Thank you." I waited. Marianne wasn't done.

"Go and visit Melissa."

"Marianne, I..."

"I'm not playing matchmaker, Chess. It's just that you've disconnected yourself from everyone who cares about you. I don't know what made you do it, but you can't cut all of us out of your life. And you'll need more than just me."

I gulped down the rest of the tea, finally tolerable to drink and most definitely mandarin orange, and I thanked Marianne again and gave her a card with my updated contact information. I didn't give her an answer about Melissa. She didn?t need one.

She knew I wouldn't refuse her request.


I wasn't prepared for Melissa's face. I knew she hadn't been permanently disfigured or anything. The surgery, four rounds of it, had been a success. Various people had filled me in on how she was doing: My dad, Nancy Mateo, Jake. There had been emails and mentions dropped in conversations over the months that I'd been avoiding this moment.

Mattie was distant, almost imperceptible.

Giving us space.

And Melissa's face wasn't the same. She was beautiful. Unmarked, no trace of the damage. But that's the thing with facial reconstruction. They put the bones back together with titanium plates and screws and bone tissue they harvested from her ribs, but the bone structure is never identical. I recognized Melissa's eyes even as my brain grappled with the disconnect between those eyes I'd stared into so many times and a face that was simply wrong.

And I tried not to think about something that Katy had told me once about how people could be changed in elusive ways that were impossible to completely figure out.

Of course, we'd both changed.


I was staring.

"I'm sorry. You look really good, Melissa." I took a step toward her and she caught me in a hug. For a second I thought all of the awkwardness would melt away in that embrace, but she pulled away too quickly and suddenly all I could see was the stranger's face looking back across the space between us.

She turned away and I followed her into her townhouse.

"Did you save her?" She was talking about Mattie. I still knew what she was thinking before she finished saying it. That used to annoy her to no end.

"Working on it." I crossed the room and put an arm around her shoulder. I did it without thinking, and it was natural, easy. The awkwardness really did melt away this time. Her touch was an old habit, unconscious and unremarked.

I was crying.

"I'm so sorry, Melissa. I've been going on with this, trying to make things right. But everyone who tries to help me ends up getting hurt. I should have protected you."

She turned to me, held my hand, brought it up to her face. She ran my fingertips along her cheekbones, letting me feel the little bumps of metal where the bones had been fastened.

"You owe me an apology, Chess, but not for this. This is my fault. I fought and I lost. I was as determined as you were to stop Christina from imprisoning Mattie's spirit. We went in there to fight and I wasn't strong enough. I let you down."

"Melissa, it..."

I tried to embrace her and she pushed away hard.

"Yes it does matter, Chess. I was left trying to figure out what went wrong, and I'm still working on it. Let me tell you, Chess, that's the hard part. The surgeries, they were easy compared to dealing with the guilt. But you don't owe me an apology for what happened to me, Chess."

I waited for the rest. She let me have it.

"Chess, you owe me an apology for not treating me as an equal. Damn it, I know what happened to Mattie. It's the only thing I can remember when they hauled me into the ambulance. Wondering where she was, sensing just a whisper. She was safe. With you. I could sleep. I woke up three days later and they did the first operation that night."

She walked across the room and turned to face me.

"But where the hell were you, Chess? What kept you away for more than two years? You were protecting me, right? Keeping me out of it because I'd been hurt enough? You owe me an apology, Chess, because that was not your choice to make! It was mine, damn it! You've admitted how badly you suck at protecting your friends. How about giving your friends a little bit of credit for being able to protect ourselves? Even when we can't, Chess. Even when we get our asses kicked. You need to stop making people's choices for them, and you need to start letting people help you. Or you're not going to win this."

And she was back across the room, and in my arms.

"Well?" she looked up at me.

She's right.

"Thank you, Mattie," she whispered in my ear.

This nearly left me speechless. I finally managed to stammer out, "Wait... You can hear her?"

"I could hear her before you could. Remember?"

I did remember. I'd just forgotten.

"You're right," I said. "And you're right. About everything else. I'm sorry. I don't know if that's going to make me stop acting like an ass, but..."

The theme from Dragnet. My ringtone. Marianne.

"I have to take this," I told Melissa.

She nodded and backed off.

"You lucked out, Chess," Marianne said quickly. "Charles Deven. Age 58. Former employee of Harrington Construction. Current employee of Manchester General Hospital. Facilities department. Night shift. He was the hard one. I'm still working on the home address."

"Would be helpful, but maybe I can pay him a visit at work if I need to. You said he was the hard one, how about the easy one?"

"Edward Hurley. Formerly Edward McHurley."

"Changed his name legally?" I asked. "That should make him harder to track, not easier."

"What makes him easy to track," Marianne said, "is that he's a registered sex offender. Everything the guy has done and every place he's lived and worked in the last fifteen years is a matter of public record. I emailed you the details, including his home address. I'd get on this fast, Chess. These pervs have an instinct for when they're being hunted."

"On it right now, Marianne. Thanks!"

I hung up to find Melissa putting her jacket on.

"Two bad guys?" she asked. "Should we flip a coin?"

How does she know what...

I filled her in while you were on the phone.

Cute trick.

I didn't object to her helping. I'd been paying enough attention to know that would have been a bad idea.

"Never split the party..." I started.

"Unless you have a good reason. One of them could warn the other."

She had a point.

"Melissa?" I asked. "Do you know people at Manchester General?"

Melissa nodded. Her job was at a clinic in Derry, but she knew a lot of the local medical professionals. Some through work, and some from her time as a patient.

"Charles Deven. Maintenance, Manchester General. I'll fill you in on the details on the way."


I dropped Melissa off at the hospital. The plan was for her to find out where he lived and keep an eye on him.

I wasn't exactly sure what the plan was with my mark. I didn't know whether I was ready to kill a guy in cold blood. Deep down I knew he deserved whatever he got. But then, deep down wasn't completely me anymore, so what did I really know?

I figured I'd improvise. I'm good at that.

Edward Hurley, formerly McHurley, lived at the end of a dirt road over by the racetrack in Salem. The houses were rundown shacks and trailers packed tight. There was no way to sneak up on the place. Too many dogs, for one thing. I didn't bother trying.

"You from the State?" Hurley was a scrawny little man dressed in sweatpants and an unbuttoned flannel shirt.

Just a man?

Yes, Chester. Just a pathetic old man. Not something like Tuckerman or Christina.

I shook my head at the question and he fired off a couple more: "Cop? Fed? Collections?"

"None of the above, Mister McHurley." I pronounced the old version of the name slowly, with purpose.

"Then you better come in," he said.

I'd been expecting the laundry thrown around on the floor and the dirty dishes piled in the sink. I hadn't been expecting the wall of comic book longboxes that occupied one corner of the room.

"Serious collector?" I asked, suddenly curious. Nothing like a little geekery to show a person in a different light. I could feel the first tingling of impatience from Mattie, but I wanted this guy talking.

He just shrugged. "Stopped years back. Kept 'em. Worth something, someday, right?"

"You mind?" I inquired. He gestured for me to go ahead. I opened up one box and looked. Silver age Marvel stuff. Daredevil, Avengers, FF. This was worth some dough. I didn't recognize any of the big-money issues in the few that I flipped through, but they were mostly in nice shape. Five or ten bucks per issue. Two hundred comics in a longbox. And twenty boxes nicely stacked against the wall.

I was doing the math when McHurley spoke again. "How did you find out?"

That would be telling. I didn't answer.

"I guess it doesn?t matter. Look, he hasn't hurt anyone. I know it wasn't right and it wasn't safe, but it worked, right? Or is that why you're here? What did he do?" McHurley asked anxiously.

I had no idea what he was talking about, but I improvised. "I'm concerned with what you did, McHurley. August of 1980. Richard Harrington's back yard in Bedford."

He took a step back, eyes widening. His turn to be surprised. He'd been expecting something else. What else?

"That hippie girl. I thought no one would ever find out." He sat down on the paper-strewn couch and put his head in his hands.

When he looked up, his expression was calmer, resigned.

"You don't need to believe this, but I prayed every day for five years for them to come and arrest us all. But they never figured it out. Or Harrington made sure to shut up anyone who suspected anything. There was some kid who tried to get the police to look into it. They never listened to him. Didn't matter to Harrington. Couple of years later they found the kid floating in the Quabbin Reservoir. I gave up after that. You know, we didn't want it to happen. But if either of us had said anything, we've been in the concrete with her. Doesn't matter, I guess. You're here to arrest me or kill me, and there isn't much difference between those either. I'm just sorry Eddie got dragged into this. He wouldn't have been working for Harrington if it hadn't been for me."

My hand reached out to him, touching the skin on the side of his neck. I hadn't realized that I'd crossed the room. The memories came flooding back. Mattie's memories. Drowning.

Mattie, wait. Wait! Something he said...

The memories were wrong. There were two sets, superimposed and suddenly none of our minds could resolve it.

He stiffened, I felt myself stumbling, stepping to regain my balance.

I shut us down. Veto power. I can't force Mattie to do something, but I can force her to do nothing.

My head bounced off the corner of his TV table.

Damn it, Mattie! Stop! Let me ask him!

He hadn't moved.

I got up. I was cut, but not badly. It could wait.

"You're not McHurley. You're Deven. Why? Everyone in this neighborhood thinks you're a perv. Why the fuck would someone choose that?"

He sat there blinking. "I thought you knew. Look, Eddie's my cousin. He's a drug addict. Been that way since we were in middle school. What happened... He was too strung out to know that girl was underage. Didn't realize he was hurting her. There's stuff he takes that calms him down. You know, like Bruce Banner, right? Like in those old comics I used to pull out to show him, the ones my dad collected. I used to go up to Planet Comics in West Roxbury sometimes, buy something that was missing from the collection. The good books, you know. The wall books. I'd save up what I made running errands for Whitey and Harrington, and I'd show 'em to Eddie and he'd take those pills to keep sane. It kept him from getting on the hard stuff, the stuff that would turn him bad."

He walked over to his comics.

"When he got out of prison, I just wanted him to be okay. And I knew that wasn't gonna happen surrounded by a bunch of paranoid neighbors with a probation officer breathing down his neck. So I called some connections. Someone at the hospital to get him the dope he needs. Some people at the Department of Corrections to look the other way when a few things came across their desks. Wasn't hard. Working for Harrington, you get to know all kinds of people. And they always said we looked like brothers."

I grabbed him by the shirt and shoved him back against his precious collection. The wall of boxes teetered.

"So you arranged for him to work in a hospital? What the fuck is wrong with you?"

"Hey, judge me for everything else! On this, you got no right! He's okay! My cousin is okay! He's not some nutcase! You didn't take care of him growing up! You don't know!" It was the first time he'd been angry.

I fought off the urge to punch him and turned for the door.


No, Mattie. Melissa first. Or nothing.

She let me have control.

Over my shoulder, I heard Deven crying again and then he called after me.

"I'll go to the police. I know I should've. Just don't hurt Eddie."

I slammed the door shut, wondering whether anything short of death would bring Mattie's soul the justice it craved.


Melissa's cell phone went straight to voicemail.

I was driving twice the speed limit and running red lights, but the simple fact is that you just can't get from one part of New Hampshire to another fast. The roads aren't made for speed.

I spotted Melissa from my car in the lobby of the ER, parked in one of the emergency patients' spots and ran in.

She turned to see me coming in and I caught sight of the rip in the shoulder of her t-shirt and the wad of bandages on the side of her head.

"Chess! What happened to you?" She said. I'd forgotten about the cut I'd gotten when I fell.

"Tripped and hit my head on a table."


"Swear to God. Your turn."

"Okay. I win. He must have gotten suspicious. Maybe someone tipped him off. He tried to jump me. Let's just say he got the worst of it. Ran for it. Security found him, called the cops, and they hauled his ass off to jail. Oh, and the guy had a bunch of stolen narcotics on him." She was smiling, pleased with how it had turned out.

"He's also not Deven." I said.


"Long story. Let's get cleaned up and I'll tell you about it over ice cream."

Mattie had gone quiet. She stayed that way all night. She was back the next day, but we never resolved anything about Deven or McHurley.

Devin and McHurley got resolved without our involvement.

McHurley's arrest caused the deception to be unraveled, and the newspapers ran with it: Sex offender, phony identity, caught attacking a woman at a hospital, stealing drugs, the whole sordid affair.

They sold even more papers a week later when McHurley was fatally knifed by an inmate at the Hillsborough County Jail.

Marianne called me up a few days after that and told me that there had been some new leads in the Mattie Ives case. Deven was talking. I didn't hold out much hope that they'd get anything useful from him.

Two days later they found Deven floating face-down in the Quabbin Reservoir.

Story and image by Rick Silva, Copyright 2009

Last updated on 1/10/2010 1:55:28 PM by Jennifer Brozek
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Other documents at this level:
     01 - Pulp
     02 - Chase
     03 - House
     04 - Foundation
     05 - Antiquarian
     06 - Murder
     07 - Bloodsucker
     08 - Safehouse, Part One
     09 - Safehouse, Part Two
     10 - Questions
     11 - Hearing
     12 - First Night
     13 - Chechaquo
     14 - Curiosity
     15 - Opening
     16 - Assassination
     17 - Easter
     18 - Sleuth
     19 - Runes
     20 - Feast
     21 - Elimination, Part One
     22 - Elimination, Part Two
     23 - Solstice
     24 - An Accounting
     25 - Entry
     26 - Podcast
     27 - Conversations
     28 - Crossing
     29 - Chains
     30 - Misdirection
     31 - Signing
     32 - Date
     33 - Escalation
     34 - Moments
     35 - Intervention Part One
     36 - Intervention Part Two
     37 - Subprime
     38 - List
     39 - Exorcism
     40 - Falls
     42 - Curve
     43 - Motel
     44 - Isolation Part One
     45 - Isolation Part Two
     46 - Desert
     47 - Sand
     48 - How It Ends
     Four Visitors 01 - Singularity Part One
     Four Visitors 02 - Singularity Part Two
     Four Visitors 03 - Singularity Part Three
     Four Visitors 04 - Duality Part One
     Four Visitors 05 - Duality Part Two
     Four Visitors 06 - Duality Part Three
     Four Visitors 07 - Trinity Part One
     Four Visitors 08 - Trinity Part Two
     Four Visitors 09 - Trinity Part Three
     Four Visitors 10 - Tesseract Part One
     Four Visitors 11 - Tesseract Part Two
     Four Visitors 12 - Tesseract Part Three