Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

Akashic Books

||| |||

News & Features » March 2019 » “Old Bones” by Michael Patrick Brady

“Old Bones” by Michael Patrick Brady

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, the new occupant of a long-vacant house needs a handyman, but nobody wants the gig. . .

Old Bones
by Michael Patrick Brady
South Boston, Massachusetts

The house had been vacant for a long time, the realtor told me, but she wasn’t sure why. She’d only lived in the neighborhood for a few years herself and couldn’t tell me any more than what she heard in passing from the old timers who haunted the bus stops. “It used to be a rough place,” she said. The sellers had bought it for a song and were looking to flip it fast; they’d never set foot in it—probably had never even set foot in South Boston. Instead, they directed the work remotely, scouring the place of any residual character until it looked like it could be anywhere but where it actually was. I paid through the nose for it.

“A pretty face,” the inspector said, rapping on the walls. “But it’s got old bones.” He brought me down to the unfinished cellar and explained why I’d need to have a sump pump installed. He used the steel toe of his work boot to mark off the spot where a pit would need to be dug in the dirt floor.

I found some numbers for local handymen and started making calls. But few seemed interested in the gig. “OK, sir, and what’s the address? Oh . . . One second, sir.” And they’d apologize—they’re actually booked up for the foreseeable future, they’d say. Sometimes, the line would just go dead.

“Lots of new construction in the neighborhood keeping people busy,” the realtor said when I called, desperate. “But I’ll see if I can scare something up for you.”

A week later, my doorbell rang as I was getting ready to meet some friends for brunch nearby. It was a wiry old man carrying a shovel and a large duffel bag. His face had some serious geography, and he had dyed jet-black hair that was slicked all the way back, held down with some gnarly wax. His arms were covered in inky blue stick-and-poke tattoos that had faded into a dense web of blurry lines.

“Can I help you?” I asked, ready to slam the door.

He told me he’d heard talk around the neighborhood that I was looking to dig a hole in the cellar.

“It’s a little more complicated than that,” I said, and asked if the realtor had sent him.

He nodded. When I asked for a business card, he balked. “I’m not so professional as all that yet,” he explained. “I just got back in town, trying to reestablish myself, as it were. Used to live here, but been out in Walpole for a spell. People here still know about me, though, you can ask around. My name’s Charlie.”

“Charlie, listen,” I said. “I’m on my way out right now. Can you maybe come back another time?”

He didn’t think so, he said. He couldn’t guarantee it and anyway he was already here and really, he was doing this as a favor. I relented. If this was the best the realtor could do, I figured I wasn’t going to do much better.

“So you have experience with this kind of work?” I asked.

“Diggin’ holes?” He laughed. “Yeah, I dug a few holes.”

I brought him inside. “You’ll be alright here alone?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s perfect,” he said. “Won’t take too long. And you don’t have to worry about me stealing or nothing. I won’t take nothing that doesn’t belong to me.” 

When I got home a few hours later, Charlie’s shovel was lying across my white granite countertop, caked in dirt. “Charlie?” I called. There was no answer. My phone buzzed in my pocket—a text from the realtor: “Sorry—haven’t been able to find anyone for your job. I asked my hairdresser (real townie) if she could help. When I told her your address she got all spooked. Wouldn’t say why.”

I picked up the shovel and crept down the cellar stairs. When I reached the bottom, an acrid smell stung my throat. I saw the sump pump I’d bought, still in its box. No sign of Charlie. He’d left a mound of dirt and a long, shallow hole, maybe three feet deep, in the center of the floor. I looked down into it, and saw nothing, except for a tiny glint, something reflecting the light from the bare bulb that hung overhead. I crouched down, reached into the pit to grab it, and held it up to the light.

It was a tooth.


MICHAEL PATRICK BRADY is a writer from Boston, MA. His short fiction has appeared in SmokeLong QuarterlyCHEAP POP, and Ink In Thirds, and for several years he served as a book reviewer for the Boston Globe. He can be found at www.michaelpatrickbrady.com.


Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—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.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Mar 11, 2019

Category: Original Fiction, Mondays Are Murder, Original Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,