A Safe Place for Dying

A Safe Place for Dying by Jack Fredrickson Read Free Book Online

Book: A Safe Place for Dying by Jack Fredrickson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jack Fredrickson
Great Depression was in full fire by then, and the demand for limestone, let alone single turrets and medieval dreams, was nonexistent. The turret and the heap of blocks sat neglected until the end of World War II, when the city fathers of Rivertown, as slimy a bunch of lizards as had ever scuttled down a dark alley, raised up their heads and sniffed the coming of postwar prosperity. They would need a proper city hall from which to dispense building permits and accept donations and appreciations. And so it went. They condemned my grandmother’s pile of stone and the two acres on which it sat and built a four-story limestone city hall of magnificent executive offices and tiny public rooms, all set on terraced stonework leading down to the Willahock River.

    They hadn’t wanted the rat-infested turret a hundred yards away, with its skinny windows, nor its rickety storage shed, and they sat empty for another six decades as ownership passed from my grandmother to my uncle and then to his widow, my aunt. Each tried to sell it, but always, the fees for clearing an old title clouded with murky, vague city liens were more than the property was worth. My aunt, in a last act of maternal protection, left the property not to her own four children but to me, her least favorite nephew.
    In my right mind, I would have viewed the inheritance the way the owner of white carpeting sees the arrival of a St. Bernard suffering intestinal distress. But I was broke, exiting a ruined business and a failed marriage, and I needed a place to live. Of such is born delusion. I figured I could fix up the turret, clear the title, and sell it for a tidy profit, to get a grubstake for a new life.
    I was full of new optimism, that day after Halloween, as I walked across the grass from the turret to city hall to get an occupancy permit. It had been less than a month since I’d met with Amanda’s lawyers and the Bohemian to dissolve my marriage, but it was a new day, a sunny day, bright and warm.
    â€œHow long you been gone?” the building commissioner asked. His name was Elvis, and I remembered him from high school. He’d been the mayor’s nephew. He’d slathered lots of Vaseline on his hair back then, and I used to wonder if a fly landing on his head could free itself before it dissolved. Now, it appeared he enjoyed hair spray, scented sweet, like coconuts. His hairline was in full retreat, but what was left, halfway back on his head, was sprayed straight up, like a little wall meant to hide the patch of shiny skin behind.
    â€œSince high school, Elvis. I lived in the city while I went to college, stayed there when I got a job.”
    â€œHeard about your job.” He smirked with his mouth open so I could admire his bad teeth.

    â€œI was cleared.”
    â€œPut your ass out of business, I heard. Got you throwed out of Gateville, too.”
    A month earlier, I would have gotten in his face. Now, though, I was showering at the Rivertown Health Center while standing in what I hoped was just water. I needed the occupancy permit.
    â€œDamned right,” I smiled. “I prayed I could be returned to my own kind.”
    The top of his head glowed crimson all the way back to the hair wall, quicker than he could think. Instinct must have told him there’d been an insult, but the words had come too fast to process. He bent over the counter, head still glowing, and began filling out a form. When he was done, he hit it with a rubber stamp and pushed the permit across the counter.
    I looked down. He’d stamped “Historic” in red ink at the bottom. “What’s this?”
    â€œYour property is a historical. No changes.” He laid a dirty fingernail on a tiny drawing in the upper right corner of the permit.
    It was a rendering of the turret. The City of Rivertown was using my turret as its symbol.
    â€œWhat do you mean, no changes?”
    â€œCheck with us before you do anything, so’s you

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