Tom Redford Chooses Life

By Thomas M. McDade

I’m a klutz but managed to sneak the coat out of the Kennedy Plaza apartment on Broad Street when one detective used the bathroom and the other was peeking under the bed. What drew me to it is anyone’s guess.  The label read Briggs LTD, a fancy clothier in Providence. The place looked like Hurricane Carol spent the night. Person or persons unknown stabbed and shoved my father down the senior residence cement stairs. His lifelong friend Augie Sprague whose left eye sometimes blinked out of control showed up at Lebanon Knitting Mills where I was a floor sweeper. He drove me to the morgue in his Royal cab. Barrel-chested, he was a former boxer. He claimed to been in the ring with Young Montreal but had no newspaper clippings to prove it. Stooped, he once stood over six feet. Augie had always been around. He used take my mother shopping in his cab and on other errands. My father never had a dependable car. I’d heard Augie calmly lecturing him about family duties when I was a kid. 

My expired Rhode Island license worked. I picked up my dad’s personal effects. Almost fell over when I saw a photo of my mother in his Buxton wallet. There was a small Swiss Army knife, Timex wristwatch, half the strap missing, reading glasses, and a pack of cherry Lifesavers. The keyring was a horseshoe with Pike’s Peak Meadows lettering.  They let me use the phone to call a funeral home. I chose where my mother was waked, McAloon’s on Garden Street. When the mortician heard my name, he asked me to hold. Next voice asked, "You’re Howard Redmond’s son, correct?"
"That’s right."
"Our Condolences—he took advantage of pre-pay, Mt. St. Mary’s Cemetery plot too. He desired no viewing or service.” 
What a relief.  They’d pick him up when the investigation was finished. 

I examined the coat in my room. I tried it on; no fit for me. The inside pocket was badly ripped. While smoothing out a poorly sewn slit in the lining near the bottom, I heard a crinkling noise. Removing thick thread, I reached in and found first an envelope containing a fifteen grand Metropolitan Insurance policy. I was the beneficiary. The thought of that much dough shook my hands and rattled my mind. I picked up the paper folded in four I’d dropped, a rejection slip from the Crime, Period, Review that was brief, nothing personal about it, “Dear Sir or Madam, Your story not for us, try again soon.” The logo was a revolver, string of dots in a line from the barrel. One of the handfuls of times I’d seen him in the last couple of years, he told me of his trip to Colorado. While hitchhiking in the rain on Route 80 in Nebraska, a kid in a red Corvette picked him up and complemented his storytelling, raved about it. “Write it down, oh eloquent man!” There was also an unused postcard, the Student Union at the University of Colorado and a Franco-American Credit Union passbook with $2,500 worth of $100 cash deposits. The current balance was zero. That and more must have gone to McAloon. A business card shocked hell out of me: Alan Dooley, Esq. “ENOUGH,” written on the back.  He was a Project kid like me but a punk to the core yet a Brown University graduate and mayoral candidate. A bully, he was brave with a gang backing him. That wavy haired moon faced punk I’d heard a woman call shanty Irish was three years older. He terrorized kids left and right. I was his favorite target. I fought back when he tried to take my mail order Black Forest hunting knife. I’d seen it in an Outdoor Life Magazine at the Bishop Bend Barbershop.  It was a beauty, silver, eagle claw, handle tip. It seemed like forever before it arrived. Good thing it was summer so I could keep a sharp eye for the mailman.  My mother never would have let it slip by without inspection. I’d been throwing it at a big oak on the grass in front of our Housing Project when assaulted. I landed one punch to his chest then Augie came to my rescue, chased the gang away. He missed grabbing a handful of Dooley’s hair by inches. Augie took the Black Forest sticker, gave it to my mother. She lectured me then just shook her head, tears in her eyes. 

Was my old man a blackmailer? What incriminating facts had he known about Dooley? On the back of the Crime, Period, rejection slip was scribbled, “Tires, Heat and Babies Dead” 3,175 words. I smiled at the idea of my father two-finger popping away, maybe Wite-Out speckling his fingers. I’d rented an Royal to practice on in high school. My mother always said a body would never be without work if he or she could type. On a couple of occasions, she used the edge of the kitchen table to pretend type my name: T-h-o-m-a-s—R-e-d-m-o-n-d and talked about her days as a clerk typist at Glenlyon Textile. She told of counting her strokes as her speed built, imagining a new Ford station wagon speedometer in the flying keys. When the document was finished, she fantasized slowly pulling her Country Squire into the garage of a newly built colonial. She never drove, never owned a house. He left us to the Prospect Heights Project life and scraping by a long time ago. I felt half-guilty being empty of grief. A reference librarian looked up info on Dooley for me. He’d gone to a Denver Law School. Only detail on the Boulder University was a fetus found in dormitory trash. Could Dooley have been involved? Christ, a third of the story title fit, but my father didn’t send it to Time or Newsweek. Hell, fiction for sure, but how many nail heads did he hit to scare Dooley into paying, and murder? I thought about hitching or taking a bus out west, finding a dishwashing job at the Lamppost Inn as my father had, snoop around; learn what Dooley had to hide; zip through newspaper microfilm seeking clues. I could fund it easily on the insurance money. Forget it. That adventure was his alone but it would sure be nice to get more than four New England states under my belt. I decided to take the haberdashery route. I had my father’s coat tailored, inside pocket repaired, left the telltale slit for inspiration. I wore it to Dooley’s rallies carrying a sign that read CHOOSE LIFE. I bought a Black Forest knife just like the one from childhood at Stanley’s Pawn. I secured it to my belt and sometimes I was Tarzan, Prince Valiant, a kid again or my old man turning the tables on the future mayor. I kept notes. Stan sold me a pick and peck portable Underwood.