Brit Grit Crime Author James "Jim" Shaffer became an FFO Editor on February 4, 2019 when writer Jesse Heels Rawlins and her merry band of murderous miscreants staged a bloody Gutter Coup. Sometimes known as "Gentleman Jim" this ex-pat American—who now bludgeons keyboards in the wilds of England—is "deadly with a pen" and owns a writer's license to kill. Suck on that 007.
While Jim's a master of disguises and routinely practices spy-craft by keeping to the shadows, writer Mick Rose recently cornered Mr. Shaffer over at Center Stage, where they talked about Jims work. But ha! We're pleased to share a Gutter-side tale that neither one mentioned.
It's Not the Pale Moon by Jim Shaffer
It was early November, evening, cold, but no snow predicted. Ellie sat in her chair by the window and watched a full moon rise in an already darkening sky, its mottled surface scarred by a web of black branches at the top of a tree that grew in the garden. A draft of air nudged the edge of the window, rattling the pane and puffing out the curtain. She pulled her blanket tighter across her legs and closed the top button of her sweater, never taking her eyes off the rising moon.
“Earl,” she called. “Earl, come on over here. Look at this moon. Ain't it a sight? Come on. Put your arms around me like you used to.”
She could almost feel his arms around her. Almost.
“Remember how you used to hold me? How we watched the moon together. Coming up full and bright like now. Oh, we used to love it. didn't we?”
Earl didn't answer. But she thought she could hear him.
“Yes. It's lovely. Just like we were. Remember? Holding each other, loving each other.”
She smiled at the memory. She stared at the moon.
“Loving our Cathy.”
Then the memory slipped. Fell from her face. From her eyes.
“You always thought she was a beauty. She was, wasn't she?”
Earl didn't answer.
“She was, wasn't she?”
Earl didn't answer.
The moon retreated behind a cloud. Ellie backed away from the window.
“I saw you, Earl. I saw you leaning over Cathy's bed. You didn't hear me, did you?”
Earl was silent.
“I watched you, Earl. The full moon outlined your dark, huddled shape. A crouched monster. You have nothing to say for yourself?”
Earl remained silent.
“I slammed that phone book so hard up the side of your head. Surprised you, didn't I? Knocked you clean off that bed. Cathy screamed. You remember?”
He couldn't answer.
“You hit your head on the corner of the night stand. Right in the temple. I couldn't have planned it better. Trust me, Earl. You're better off. I would have killed you.”
She looked up. Moonlight painted a window shape on the carpet. She moved closer to the light. Looked up at the moon just escaping the tips of the garden tree's dark branches. No longer a prisoner behind bars. Free now to forge its path through a clear, star-filled sky.
Ellie backed away from the window. She turned. She wheeled her chair through the doorway and down the hall to their room.
She pushed open the door and entered.
Their room offered no view of the moon. She wheeled her chair up next to her bed, locked the wheels, and shifted herself onto the bed's firm mattress. She lay back on the pillow and lifted her legs up and over so her body was aligned on the bed. Her bathrobe covered her like a thin blanket. She glanced over at the bed beside her.
The constant sucking rhythm of the respirator was like a lullaby. Tubes and needles, a comfort. The monitor displayed a reassuring normal pulse and blood pressure.
The comatose Earl was still holding on, alive and as well as could be expected.
Ellie listened to the breathing machine, watched the green peaks and valleys on the monitor. They made her feel good, reassured her. Earl couldn't hurt anyone any more. But just in case.
“I'm watchin' you, Earl. You bastard. As long as you're alive, I'm keepin' you near me, real close.”