Sample Chapters | The Yardman

The Yardman



Mary Louise Swartz drove toward her Erie, Pennsylvania, home on Prospect Street on Saturday, July 11, 1942. That morning, she worked at the electric company where she was recently promoted to head bookkeeper. On her car radio, William M. Shirer talked about a German Panzer Division crossing the Donets Basin in Russia. Then, about the Pacific front—the Japanese—those strangely-named islands. She switched stations; Glenn Miller’s Chattanooga Choo Choo featuring Tex Beneke was playing. Uplifting. No more war news today. She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel and bobbed her head to Miller’s rhythmic beat.

Two weeks earlier, Mary Lou had celebrated her 40th birthday. She lived alone with her six-year-old calico cat Gretchen in the only house that she had ever known. Her parents had moved there when she was two. At age 18, her mother had died. Mary Lou put up with her drunken, seldom-employed father until she reached age 29, when he died in 1931. She had maintained the house and paid off the mortgage in 1937. The cloudy day and a threatening rain storm didn’t dampen Mary Lou’s disposition—nor, did the war news. Hopefully, it would rain, breaking the three-week heat wave. Her jovial mood soared because William, her long-lost brother, had contacted her in a letter for the first time in five years. She had feared that he was dead, and wondered if the letter was possibly a hoax. She had not seen him for 22 years; he had left home at age 17. He was now living in Texas—or, so the letter said. He wrote her from Indiana in 1937, and she had replied at the time. Shortly afterward, she had learned he was in trouble when the Erie police came looking for him. Their initial numerous inquiries had slowed down, then ceased over time. Now, knowing that he might be alive uplifted her.

En route home, she dropped by the Franklin Avenue Quick Stop to pick up groceries and three-cent postage stamps. She wanted to reply to his letter this weekend and mail it Monday.

Mary Lou drove her 1935 Plymouth coupe into the driveway past the house to the small detached garage in back. She approached the back porch kitchen door to hear Gretchen’s blood-curdling sounds. Yee-e-e-e-aah-h-e-o-o—mee-a-a-ah-oooh! What’s that crazy cat up to now?

She rested the grocery box against the door to free her hand to unlock it. It swung open. She grabbed the box quickly to keep it from spilling. Not only unlocked, the door was left ajar. Careless me, she thought. Guess I didn’t completely close the door this morning.

Gretchen’s yowling grew louder. Mary Lou set the box on the counter and hurried to the dining room.

“Oh my!” she exclaimed. “What the …? Oh-h-h my God!”

Gretchen’s tail hung at the top of the wide door frame between the dining and living rooms, nailed by an ice pick. As the hanging cat twisted and turned, blood ran down her tail and off her body, dripping on the floor. When she saw Mary Lou, she swiped at her tail, her blood-curdling screams intensifying.

Mary Lou screamed and tried to reach the ice pick to free the cat but couldn’t stretch high enough, even jumping. A short, petite woman, she ran to the pantry for a step stool and returned to help the cat. Beneath the door ledge, beside the hanging cat stood a tall man whose head almost touched the door frame. His yellow, rotten teeth glared with a devilish grin. His face was scratched, a result of cat’s revenge. Dry blood stains were on his shirt. He wore gloves.

“Where is he?” the man demanded, his voice a deep bass.

“What have you done to my cat?” she screamed.

“Where is he, bitch? Where the hell is he?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about! Take my cat down!”

“Screw the damned cat!” he yelled and knocked Mary Lou to the floor with the back of his gloved hand. “For the last time, where’s your goddamn brother? Where is he?”

“I don’t know! And don’t talk that way in my house!” she said, trying to get off the floor. “You shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in—”

Before she could finish, he kicked her in the stomach, taking her breath away. Gasping for air, she rolled over onto her back. The cat kept screaming. She caught her breath. Her eyes refocused. Standing over her, he glared in anger with an ice pick in each hand.

“Now tell me! Where is Will Swartz?”

She knew this monster was about to kill her but was determined not to tell. William’s letter was in the drop-door desk. She glanced toward it, hoping he wouldn’t look there. He picked up on the direction of her glance and started toward the desk. She broke for the outside kitchen door, crawling through the dining room, standing by the time she reached the kitchen. She reached for the back door knob and felt a sharp sting in her back. She turned around and there he stood, towering over her, smiling, almost laughing. His foul buzzard-smelling breath was overwhelming. She looked into his terrifying cavernous satanic eyes, then down at ice picks in each glove-covered hand.

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