This post is part of the April A-Z Blogging Challenge, wherein participants blog throughout the month according to the letters of the alphabet. For more on the challenge, click here.
Note: If anyone wondered, I tagged the blog as having adult content due to a few factors: one, strong language; two, the possibility that excerpts I post may have graphic descriptions of sex or violence and therefore unappealing to some readers. Never fear, though, I’ll be sure to warn y’all if a post of that nature comes up! In the meantime, feel free to read on!
Yet another note: This post’s excerpt DOES feature swearing, as well as discussion of death/suicide. Consider yourselves warned!
Cheers and happy ABC’ing,
I love Gage Holloway. Not in a creepy fangirling way, don’t get me wrong. As a character, though, he’s a blast to write. Given his background as an ex-con (albeit one with a heart of gold) who is fiercely loyal to the remaining members of his fractured family, all of whom are seen as social pariahs in town, it’s definitely not easy. His friends are few and far between, and his personality is an interesting contrast between outright rudeness and occasional bits of humour. It’s hard to explain why I like him without sounding incredibly cheesy, I’ve discovered while trying to write this. So here you go, have an excerpt of him arguing with Darcy about the local ghost story she’s come to check out. It’s their first meeting and he’s helping her paint her bedroom walls.
“So, the original bridge was built in the 1880s—big steel thing, totally ugly,” I start cheerfully. “In the spring of 1914 the city council—” He makes a disparaging noise “—okay, town council, smartass—had plans drawn up for a new structure and hired all the crews needed. They started as soon as the weather was clear.”
“This town, productive?” he drawls. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
My lips twitch, but my only answer is to playfully nudge him with my elbow when we both move to reload our paint rollers. He shuts up, smirking at me.
“Anyway, World War One broke out and the world went batshit, and Canada still being part of the British Empire, a lot of locals wanted to fight. Construction was sped up and the workers started rotating shifts so that they could work from early morning to last light. Story goes that the men who worked the earliest and latest hours started reporting a presence around the site, definitely female. Some nights they heard a woman crying, one man found a woman’s footprints in the mud near the river bank, and another found a piece of old, dirty lace, the kind a woman would have made for her bridal veil.”
I pause and watch the roller moving on the wall as if it’s not powered by me, debating what to go on with next. Gage is quiet, eyes watchful even when he’s not looking directly at me. Wondering where he learned that but pretty sure he won’t answer if I ask, I lick my lips and go on.
“The engineer, Charles Lawson, was there most days during the building, especially after it accelerated. On the nicer days, his wife and the serving girl would bring their daughters down to the water to bring lunch to the men.”
That serving girl was Beatrice Crawford, née MacAuley, also known as, according to my records, Gage Holloway’s great-grandmother. If that fact registers, he doesn’t show it. A little bummed at the lack of reaction, I keep going, wrapped up in the history now.
“They finished the bridge in record time. Everyone was thrilled, triumphant.” I gesture a bit with my free hand while reloading the roller. “Until the morning when the town council was to formally ‘open’ the bridge for public use, when someone noticed something sitting on the bridge railing.” I pause, heavy with knowing what happened next. To me, these things weren’t “yesteryear.” To the dead person still lingering, they’re recent, and because I let so much of them in, it feels that way to me, too. “It was Eliza Lawson’s wedding ring.” Gage’s eyes flicker over to me. Encouragement enough for me. “Charles Lawson—”
“Was the prime suspect?”
Startled out of my history daze, I glare at him and imagine bopping him over the head with the paint roller. It almost makes me giggle. “No, idiot. He was crushed. He loved her.”
He snorts. “I bet. Honey, anyone around here knows that story. Charles Lawson was fifteen years older than his wife. If he loved anything, it was sex with a twenty-year-old.”
“Either way,” I continue over him, “he wasn’t charged. He was heartbroken. Told the police they’d been hoping to have another baby, that he didn’t know what had happened, she must have been murdered.” I can picture it, the frantic denial, the absolute need to find an explanation that makes even the tiniest modicum of sense. “The police looked for evidence of murder or assault, but her body never turned up, and they eventually ruled that she must have killed herself. Lawson left town and left the house to rot, and nobody heard from him again.” That still makes me sick, a little. Take care of your houses, people. Ghosts need places to live, too, and they can’t exactly get on the phone to hire the cleaning service.
“He died,” Gage interrupts. “Start of the Depression. He’d switched to finance, couldn’t handle the crash, and ate his own gun. His daughter inherited everything, moved back here, cleaned the place up, got married, and stayed. I know my local history.”
“You don’t have to be so snarky about it,” I answer primly. “Yes, he died then. But his daughter did come back here, because he never sold the house. That’s interesting to me.”
We’re finished what was the last wall I had to paint in this room, so I set my roller in the tray and step back, rubbing the pins and needles out of my upper arms. For all the bickering we did while we worked, it looks good, and the work itself was fun.
“House wasn’t where she died,” he answers practically as he looks intently at the paint he’s cleaning from his hands with a turpentine-soaked rag. “Just don’t try to solve the murder-that-wasn’t-a-murder, a hundred years later, okay, sugar?”
I don’t answer that, shoving my determined-to-be-curly hair from my eyes and making a face as the move wafts the smell of turpentine from my own just-washed hands up to my nose. “I saw a bar when I drove into town,” I announce instead. “Food good?”
He shrugs a shoulder. “No complaints. No other options, either, unless you want fancy.”
I’m shaking my head before he even finishes the sentence. “Bar food,” I insist. “C’mon, I’ll buy you supper and a beer in exchange.” I nod at the wall, then hold out my hand to shake on the deal. Again, he looks at it like it’s a foreign object, and his lip curls as if in disdain.
“I’ve been kicking around here long enough. I oughta get going.” He tosses me the rag and I catch it on reflex, then stupidly take the no-fuss business card he hands me. “I do the maintenance work for this property. Anything fucks up, gimme a call.”
He’s almost through the apartment before I find my voice, and my snark. Hustling after him to the hallway, I call in a saccharine voice, “What if I just wanna talk?”
Hand on the doorknob, he turns and gives me a tight little half-smile. “Call a hotline,” he suggests before he leaves.