by Herschel Cozine
This story was previously published in HandHeldCrime.
Emily huddled on the bench in the subway station, her shawl pulled tightly around her shoulders. It was late, almost twelve o’clock. The station was nearly deserted. Two men stood to one side of the platform, diligently ignoring the few others. A homeless man, tattered clothes and inevitable knapsack stuffed with debris, lay sleeping on the bench across from where Emily sat. The few lights that still worked threw a dim, dreary yellow glow on the platform. No one seemed to notice.
It was a dangerous place to be at night, or at any other time for that matter. It was especially dangerous for the elderly. Vulnerable to attack by hoodlums and gangs out for a lark, older people were usually careful to stay off the streets after dark. The city was unsafe. Emily knew this. But, she thought, it wasn’t always the elderly who were victims of these vicious gangs and druggies and weirdoes who roamed the streets and subways looking for whatever it is they want. Younger, stronger men and women have been beaten, raped and murdered as well. She shifted in her seat and pulled her purse closer to her frail chest. Yes, the city was dangerous. But she couldn’t let that stop her from her mission.
A train lumbered down the track toward the station, its one-eyed headlight throwing a blinding beam over the platform. The two men lifted their heads in unison and took a step toward the edge of the platform, preparing to board as soon as the doors opened. The derelict did not move. Neither did Emily.
Three youths got off, half falling through the doors, shouting boisterously to one another as they scrambled from the train. Emily gave no sign that she noticed. But she kept a close eye on them, watching as they shuffled and danced across the platform toward the exit. The tallest, obviously the leader, walked on the balls of his feet, hips swaying defiantly. He was probably eighteen. No more. His long hair was stringy straight and fell over his shoulders like black spaghetti. His small eyes looked out at the world over a sharp, slightly crooked nose. His face was pockmarked, scarred, most likely from gang fights. It was, Emily knew, an honor among these hoodlums to have scars and disfigurements. It was a sign of — what — courage? That was as good a word as any, she supposed.
One of the youths paused momentarily when he spotted Emily. His leering eyes swept over her, finally coming to rest on the oversized purse in her arms. He nudged one of the others, smiled evilly, and swaggered toward her. She tensed, but didn’t move.
“Hey, granny,” the youth said. “what ya got in that bag?”
Instinctively, Emily pulled it closer. The youth laughed harshly, a little too loud, in a bravado intended to impress his friends.
“Hey, Jug!” the leader said.
The youth stopped, turned and looked at the leader.
“Leave her alone.”
Jug held out his hands. “Hey, Beano, she’s got something in that bag of hers. I’m just checkin’ it out.”
“I said leave her alone,” Beano repeated.
Jug started to protest, then shrugged and turned away from Emily. He walked toward the exit, calling to Emily over his shoulder. “Lucky for you, granny, that Beano here has a little old gray haired grandmother that he adores.”
Beano cuffed Jug on the head. “We ain’t pickin’ on old ladies. What the hell’s the matter with you?”
Arguing noisily, the youths disappeared through the exit to the street above. Emily relaxed and resumed her wait.
“Granny.” The word, slung at her by a hoodlum barely out of diapers, stung like a needle. She would never be a grandmother. Not now. Emily swallowed to ease the tightness in her throat. This wasn’t the time for that. She silently fingered her rosary.
Another subway car rumbled to a halt. Two figures emerged, a man and a young woman. The man clutched a briefcase in one hand and a newspaper in the other. He hurried out of the station, paying no attention to Emily or the other woman.
The subway jumped to life and crawled away. The young woman paused briefly, her eyes sweeping the empty platform, resting for a moment on Emily. She appeared to be nervous. Well, thought Emily, she should be. This is no place for a woman to be alone, especially at this time of the night. Hadn’t she told Angela that?
Emily thought back to that terrible morning when she had answered the door to find a policeman standing there.
“Mrs. Mallory? I’m Sergeant Dixon.”
Emily put a hand to her heart and said, “Angela.”
“I beg your pardon?” Dixon said.
“My daughter,” Emily said. “You’re here about my daughter, aren’t you? Something has happened to her.”
She had been right, of course. She shuddered as she recalled the lonely ride to the city morgue, the chill that had gripped her as she looked into the pale lifeless face of her daughter; a face not unlike the young woman who had just gotten off the subway.
She shook the image from her mind and looked around for the young woman. She was gone. Emily reached into her pocket and pulled a small white handkerchief from it. She dabbed her eyes. It had all happened three years ago. But it might as well have been yesterday. The hurt is just as bad — perhaps worse — than it was then. And it will never go away. Not tomorrow; not when this is all over. Not ever.
She looked up at the clock. The old fashioned Roman numerals and ornate hands told her that it was 11:53. Five more minutes, perhaps ten. She couldn’t be certain. She felt in her purse, then set it next to her, unzipped.
Angela’s accused killer was a small man in his early twenties, with a weasel face and a criminal record that ranged from petty theft to armed robbery. He wore a smirk throughout the trial. The face, the smirk, and the final pronouncement at the trial were burned into Emily’s brain.
Contamination of evidence, violation of the defendant’s civil rights, and unreliable witnesses were responsible for the verdict. He was guilty, and everyone knew it. And the public was outraged — for a while. Then more important events, like the World Series and the garbage strike, made them forget Angela.
Emily would never forget.
A lone policeman walked along the platform. Angela’s death was responsible for that. It was the city’s response to the crime. The mayor, up for reelection, had ordered it. Like most decisions of this nature, it was ill conceived, halfhearted, and useless.
The policeman approached Emily. “Are you all right?”
Emily nodded wordlessly.
“This is not a safe place for you, Ma’am,” he said. “Do you have a place to sleep?”
“I’m not homeless,” she said.
The policeman eyed her carefully, touched his cap and nodded. “I’d advise you to go home,” he said.
“I’ll go when I’m ready,” she said.
“Make it soon,” he replied. He patted his gun and took a step back. Seeing the derelict asleep on the bench, he crossed over to him and nudged him with his nightstick.
“Move along, buddy,” he said.
The derelict stirred, sat up and grunted.
“Come on, now,” the policeman said. “You can’t stay here. How many times do I have to tell you?”
Slowly, the derelict collected his knapsack and shuffled away. Emily watched his retreat through sad eyes. A harmless old man with no place to go. Why don’t they leave him alone and go after the weasels that rape and murder people?
Weasels. Eddie “The Weasel” Griffith had strolled out of the courthouse with that vicious, evil smirk. He stopped in front of Emily and said in a voice so low she could hardly hear, “You lose.” His smirk curled into a sneer. Then, with an arrogant twist of his thin shoulders, he swaggered to a waiting car. The driver, an equally vicious looking man, gave him a high five, then pulled away from the curb and sped off.
That was the last time she had seen him. But she had not lost track of him. She knew where he lived, where he hung out (he had no job), and who he spent his time with. Yes, Emily knew him well.
12:03 a.m. The subway was right on schedule. It ground to a halt, and the doors hissed open. A lone figure emerged and walked slowly across the platform. Emily felt her body tense as she watched the man. He stopped and pulled a crumpled cigarette package from his shirt pocket. He lit a cigarette, took a drag, and exhaled.
Emily felt her heart beat harder — not from fear, but from a loathing that had grown for three years. She watched as the weasel looked around the station. His eyes fell on her briefly, with no hint of recognition. He took a step toward her, then, apparently changing his mind, he started for the exit.
Emily picked up her purse, put her hand inside, then let it drop to the floor. It landed with a thud, and the contents spilled out onto the floor. The weasel stopped, turned toward Emily, and sneered.
“What have we here?” he said. He reached for the purse, picked it up and peered inside.
“Remember me, Eddie?”
The man stiffened, straightened up and looked into Emily’s eyes. His puzzled expression changed back into the evil smirk as he recognized Emily.
“Well, if it ain’t old what’s-er-name,” he said. He smiled maliciously and took a step toward her. He started to say more, then the sneer on his face froze as he saw the gun in her hand.
“What the…?” he said, and put his hand over his face. It was a futile gesture. Emily squeezed the trigger, and the man fell to the floor, blood flowing from a hole in his forehead.
Emily dropped the gun next to the lifeless body. He had recognized her, and he had known that he was going to die. She took comfort in that.
In the distance she could hear footsteps. The policeman, no doubt. She smiled at the irony. Stationed here because of Angela’s death, he would now have to deal with the death of her killer. Well, let him come. She had nothing more to do and no place to go. Emily sat down on the bench, drew her shawl around her, and waited.
You can find more of Herschel’s short stories, and others, in KRL’s Terrific Tales section.