“The Widow Never Showed” by Nathan Ward
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Nathan Ward’s 1935 Manhattan crime reporter tries to get a glimpse of a young murderess. Next week, we’ll go to Dam Neck, Virginia with Paul Renault for “The Last Stud.”
We had switched from beer to a pair of hot rums dubbing around in a reporters’ bar across from the women’s prison downtown. Outside it was storming in late-October style, the first chilly rain that gnaws like winter, and from our polished stools we watched the people tilt their umbrellas at one another like blind knights as they passed.
The rum warmed our hands and insides as we watched for the last haul of easy ladies to be brought in before the midnight deadline turned our stories into pumpkins. My buddy from the Herald, Red Hughes, and I were waiting with our fellow newshawks for the murderess Eileen Meola to take her police-escorted sashay into the women’s prison, hoping for a long enough glimpse to write in our morning editions whether her young face was pinched with guilt, flashed defiance, or showed only a sleepy calm of the just. About eleven-fifteen, Red nudged my elbow and gave two knowing clucks as I was wringing the last heat from my cradled rum, “Here comes something.” The police wagon rolled up with a full load of sisters.
Like the consummate legman, Red scurried across the street and claimed a perfect assassin’s spot for the ragged procession in the time I took to drain my mug and fumble for my hat. It was hard to see the self-widowed Mrs. Meola between the rain and the dark circle of cops that moved at cortege pace. At the back, one officer held a black umbrella high above the group in a civilized gesture that offered no particular shelter from the spattering. When they passed us, though, the cops were shepherding not the killer of the week, but a gaggle of brightly dressed whores, the rain spotting their jade kimonos and pink house robes. The whiff of their mingled perfumes was like a garish homecoming, transporting me along a path of magnolia and rosewater and overripe fruit into the cathouses of my youth.
Most of the easy ladies I saw dragged in nightly on my job left me unmoved, but there at the center of this bunch, instead of a young murderess, was a plump, proud woman I vaguely recognized, with hand-drawn eyebrows and crimped red hair. Doubting myself at first the way people cringe at any fleshy proof that time has passed, I reluctantly identified her as a tumbledown version of one of the girls who had met me at the door of Mrs. Kennedy’s place in Chelsea on so many nights in the old times, waving a cigarette in her scarlet pajamas. That West 25th Street row house had leered yellow light like a jack-o’-lantern down its block, while teasy piano lines tumbled from it and filled the young visitor with expectations of worldly adventure like he was approaching the Cunard pier.
Names are part of my business. True, we had both been youngish, working nocturnal jobs not known for their virtue, but considering how many faces a person met in her line of work, I doubted this older Angeline could make me out all these years later under my hat and Mac. She spotted me staring, and turned to size up the gawker in the slanting rain.
“Do I know you, Mister?” she smiled. “Maybe I used to know you. Eh, Johnny?”
The sergeant who’d helped her down from the wagon chuckled and swabbed drops from his broad red face with a pocket rag. “Should I leave you two alone, Finster?”
“Lucky guess,” I lied. “I bet she’s met plenty of Johnnies in her business.”
Angeline winked. “All these reporters for me?”
“Might as well be.”
The others laughed and there was a push from the back of the group. “Let’s move, ladies,” said the sergeant, still grinning. Angeline and the other sisters shuffled familiarly up the wet stone steps into the jail.
The press boys retreated back to the bar across the avenue to wait for our deadly widow, but she didn’t show that night. Mrs. Meola was still confessing somewhere to a couple of proud but punchy detectives, unspooling for their weary stenographer an epic line of drool about her departed husband, left mute and gutted like a trout. There was no press viewing of either Meola that night—the chatterbox or the corpse.
NATHAN WARD is the author of a crime history called Dark Harbor: The War for the New York Waterfront (FSG/Picador), and has a forthcoming book about Dashiell Hammett as a Pinkerton detective.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Mar 3, 2014
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