T…H…E… B…R…O…K…E…N… spelled out on the large marquee, one letter at a time, in red neon letters. It flashed three times at the end, then held still. Under that appeared T…H…E… B…E…A…T…E…N… spelled out in neon blue letters, echoing the same pattern. In yellow, this time alighting one word at a time, AND… THE… Damned…. the final word in fancy cursive script, echoing the flash pattern of the first two. Besides the three lines of words in red neon flashed a smiling devil with a hand tilting left, then right, and back again. The frame of incandescent bulbs chased each other around and around until the final word was lit. Then the whole marquee flashed slowly on and off five times before starting the cycle again.
The fantastically bright sign was a jarring sight on a street known for its faded hand painted signboards hanging over long-shuttered business with boarded-up or shattered storefront windows. Except for the patrons of the BB and D, as the locals referred to the all-night club, nobody had reason to be in this part of town.
Jane McCarron sat in her truck across street watching the entrance of the club. Deputized by the Sheriff some forty years before, Jane was the closest thing Blightsburg County had to an official investigator. She had worked as the Sheriff’s Office Clerk since high school and probably knew more about policing than all the young deputies that cycled in and out of the department over the years.
Jane had sat more than her fair share of stakeouts at the BB and D, as well as the other watering holes in the county. The sight of her truck would make regulars laugh, kidding each other that, this time, it was one of their missus’ with suspicions. Jane didn’t care if she was spotted, especially if it kept a wayward husband or boyfriend in check. Truth was, she rarely was called out to catch a cheating partner in the act. The reason was always more nefarious.
The target of her stakeout this night was a woman Jane had known years before as Tina Montgomery. Their families had been neighbors, and while Jane and Tina played together with other neighborhood children, they were never friendly. In high school, Tina was in the Glee Club, played flute in the marching band and graduated with honors. Jane got in trouble more than a few times hanging out with the boiler room crowd at school, eventually dropping out. While Jane stayed in the area working for the Sheriff (the result of a program to get kids like Jane back in school and on a straight and narrow), Tina left to attend state university and then went on to New York City and a brilliant career as a CFO of a national chain of retail stores. That was then. Now, the Sheriff’s office was given solid information by the FBI that Tina planned to meet a leader of a drug cartel at the BB and D.
A couple of days before, Sheriff Becker called Jane into his office. He had his laptop open, facing out toward the door. An online meeting was on the screen. Jane didn’t recognize the faces, except one, but she couldn’t place who it was.
“Everyone,” Sheriff Becker began, “this is Jane.” The faces on the screen waved a polite greeting. “Jane, take a seat. I’m going to flip the computer back so… actually… Jane, bring your chair next to mine so they can see us both.”
“While you two get situated, I’ll get started,” one of the faces said. “Like I said, we need your help. The club is a little too obvious, but maybe Tina’s thinking the locals won’t think anything of her showing up in her hometown.”
Jane realized who belonged to the face she recognized. Tommy Montgomery. The eldest of the four Montgomery kids. The others were Shannon, Erik and Tina, the youngest. Tommy dropped out of high school to work the canaries in Alaska, at a time when that sort of work, if you could survive it, paid really well. He would come back to town in the spring, flash his money around bar hopping up and down the coast highway every night, usually in the company of a bike gang, and then break some young girl’s heart when he returned to Alaska in the fall. Blightsburg County was dotted with his DNA. Last Jane heard of Tommy, he moved to Maine to run his own lobster boat. He looked old and very weathered, but handsome as ever.
“Well, Jane’s great. The best,” Sheriff Becker said. “Jane, these folks here from the FBI, and I bet you recognize Tom.”
Jane nodded. “Hey Tommy. Long time.”
Tommy nodded and smiled. “Hey kiddo. Time’s been good to you, looks like.”
“Turns out Tom has information that his sister Tina might be running a racket of some sort. You remember Tina as well, I assume.”
“Yeah,” Jane said with a slight shake of her head. Tina Montgomery’s running something that’s got the Feds attention? Tommy saw her disbelief.
“Right?” Tommy said, “Hard to believe. Teeny-Tiny Baby Tina, a fuckin’ crook.”
“Shut it, Montgomery,” cautioned one of the Feds on the screen. “Jane, Tom’s assisting us with apprehending his sister.”
As the Fed outlined their investigation, Jane picked up a file in front of the Sheriff and began scanning the contents. Tina’s current married name was Evanston. Two grown sons by her first marriage to a Blake Kolenski, and a daughter with second husband Daniel Evanston. Her second husband, much older, was a criminal attorney, now retired. They live in upstate New York. Tina has been under investigation for racketeering for the past 10 years.
“What’s Tommy got involved with it?” Jane asked, interrupting the discussion.
“Made myself a deal with the Feds,” Tommy said.
“Mr. Montgomery, let us do the talking,” a Fed said. Tommy lifted his hands in resignation.
“Tommy’s made a deal for information,” Sheriff Becker explained.
Jane scoffed. “Suppose you got yourself mixed up with whatever Tina’s got going?”
Tommy gestured across his mouth with a zipped-closed motion.
“Well, thanks for bringing this sort of shit home, Tommy.” Jane tossed the file back on the desk. “Folks around here are born with one foot in the grave to begin with. They don’t need shit like this to make things worse.”
“Why do you think I’m in on the deal in the first place?” Tommy replied, annoyed. One of the Feds started to admonish Tommy, but Tommy cut him off. “No, I’m talking here! I know these people like family.”
Tommy continued, “Jane, Mike, I’m tellin’ ya, I’m doing this for the right reasons. Yeah, I did some stuff with Tina, when I moved back east. Needed to get things going out here and, her being a big-time CFO, ‘course I’m gonna reach out. She’s my kid sister! But…” Tommy trailed off in thought before he began again. “It’s bad. She’s bad. She’s changed. Our folks pretend not to notice, but they’ve been brought down pretty damn far by all of this.
“All I’m gonna say is I will do whatever these fellas need to make her stop. Even if it means her getting locked up. I know you haven’t thought much of me over the years, but, you help these guys out? I’ll keep you in Main lobster the rest of your life. And, maybe my folks can go to their graves knowing the right thing was done.”
- a place of bones
- the broken, the beaten, and the damned
- stronger than gratitude