Welcome to a preview of my new novel. Please read the earlier chapters first.
Click here to read Chapter One.
Click here to read Chapter Two.
Click here to read Chapter Three.
Click here to read Chapter Four.
Click here to read Chapter Five.
Click here to read Chapter Six.
Click here to read Chapter Seven.
Click here to read Chapter Eight.
Click here to read Chapter Nine.
Click here to read Chapter Ten.
Click here to read Chapter Eleven.
Click here to read Chapter Twelve.
B a d N e w s B e t t y
When I regained consciousness, I found myself vomiting up what seemed like gallons of the worst imaginable filth into the mouth of a total stranger.
I was later told that three people, two men and one woman, jumped into the Harbor to save me. Sadly, I never got their names or the opportunity to thank them. A fireman on a day trip with his family from York, Pennsylvania, was the one who pulled me back from the dead with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Bob and Mike stood by helpless and confused.
Those first few minutes were a total blur. My chest ached and my head throbbed. My mouth roiled under the taste of all the waste and pollutants a large, dirty city could toss into its sewers. I kept gagging at the thought. I was sure I wouldn’t survive an hour as a result of all the poisons. A large crowd of onlookers surrounded us, despite the repeated pleas of the fireman to back away. One question was shouted to me time and time again: “Why’d you do it?”
“I was trying to rescue that lady,” I replied, although even in those first moments of consciousness I knew there was no woman.
The mention of another potential victim led to a flurry of activity around me. Many people ran back to the water’s edge to search for her, while other eyewitnesses shouted that there was no woman. I had simply run and jumped into the water. More questions where thrown at me from all directions. The mood of the crowd changed from exhilaration over my rescue to anger and suspicion. The arrival of an ambulance thankfully halted the Inquisition. I was happy to be loaded on the ambulance and taken away from that place.
The Emergency Medical Technicians wanted to take me to nearby Mercy Hospital, but I insisted on being taken to Johns Hopkins. They relented after I explained that I was an employee, and qualified for an employee discount. Mike rode with me in the ambulance. Bob followed right behind in his car. Amid the preliminary tests, I asked Mike’: “Did you see the woman?”
He just shook his head no.
I was admitted into the Emergency Room for tests. When Bob arrived, he told me that he had called my sister Janet. She was on her way in. I groaned audibly. That was the last thing I needed. I reached for my cellphone to tell her not to bother, but I couldn’t find it. The phone was no doubt at the bottom of the Harbor, if indeed there was a bottom. Just the memory of being pulled down into that abyss was enough to get me shaking again. I held my hands together to make it less obvious.
The police arrived during the examination to ask about the other victim. Under their firm questioning, I slowly backed away from my initial claim that I saw a woman jump into the water to the fact that I thought I saw a woman jump into the water, which was actually truthful. They weren’t satisfied with that explanation. They said if there were any possibility that there was another victim, they would have to drag the Harbor to recover the body, which was a time-consuming and expensive process. I eventually stood firm with the story that I had seen a woman, who probably stepped away while I was distracted, making me assume she had fallen or jumped when I looked back.
The police weren’t satisfied, but I wouldn’t budge any further. I certainly could not tell them the truth: That an evil ghost had tricked me into jumping in the Harbor with the intent of drowning me. That would have led to my exit from the Emergency Room and entry into the Psych Ward upstairs, where my brother had spent a great deal of time.
When the police left, I called Agnes Wilson, my supervisor, on the hospital phone. I tried to make light of the situation, explaining how I mistakenly thought a woman had jumped into the Harbor and I went in to rescue her. Bob and Mike listened to the exchange quietly, no doubt noting the subtle differences in my current story from the final version I just told the police. God only knows what they were thinking, and I wasn’t about to ask. They were my best friends, but there was no way I could trust them with the truth. I could barely handle it myself.
After I finished my tale, Agnes applauded my misguided heroism and told me to take a few days off. I agreed. When I hung up the phone, I turned to Bob and Mike who looked at me curiously, but seemed uncertain what to say. You could have cut the tension in the room with a knife, until I asked: “Who paid the check?”
They both started laughing. I raised my hand. Bob gave me the high five as he said, “Free eats.”
I turned to Mike and said, “The next time, you jump in.”
He gave me the high five, too.
We were still laughing when Janet arrived. I saw her last about five months ago at our cousin Mara’s wedding. A sculptor who worked as a waitress to make ends meet, Janet now had short orange hair with red highlights and wore retro, used clothing that would have been more appropriate on an art student than a thirty-one-year-old adult woman. Her appearance epitomized what I thought of her: She refused to become an adult and take responsibility within the family. Bob and Mike greeted Janet before taking off to return to their normal lives.
“I’m sorry Bob called you,” I said to her after the guys left. “There was really no need.”
She sat down beside me. Her expression was dour. “You don’t think I need to know when you jump into the Harbor?”
“It was a stupid misunderstanding,” I explained.
She studied me for a moment before she asked: “Did this have anything to do with Gina getting married?”
“No,” I replied, insulted. “Do you think I was trying to kill myself?”
“Sorry for asking, but in this family….”
She didn’t have to finish.
I hated confiding in Janet, but I knew I had to give her something so I said, “I’m cool with Gina getting married. He seems like a nice guy. He makes her very happy.”
“Yeah,” Janet said, nodding her head. “That’s what she says.”
Those words surprised me. I wanted to know how often they talked, but this was definitely not the time or place to pursue that subject. I had to deflect.
“Actually, I just started dating someone myself,” I lied. “She’s very nice.”
“What’s her name?”
“How long have you been dating?”
Saying yesterday would hardly bolster my point, so I said, “Just a little while, but it’s good. She’s really nice, and we have a lot in common.”
“That’s great,” she said, smiling for the first time. “I’d like to meet her.”
“You will, soon,” I said. I forced a smile, too.
Silence, then she leaned closer. “Rick, this isn’t right. We’re all we have left. We should be closer.”
“Yeah,” I said, and I meant it.
Granted, I harbored a great deal of resentment toward her for escaping to college in California and leaving me alone to deal with Lenny and our mother, but that was the past. Plus, I had to ask if had I always been there for her? If I looked even further back, I could remember a little girl who always used to want to tag along with a big brother who never had any time for her, especially after the death of our father. Yup. I was too caught up in my own grief to give her much thought at all.
“I know we don’t have a lot in common,” she continued, “But I think we should make a commitment to get together at least once a month for dinner or something. You still go to the movies?”
“Yeah,” I replied. I loved going to the movies, but I hadn’t gone as much since I broke up with Gina. I found it depressing to go to the movies alone.
“Well, that might be a good place to start.”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “I like real movies, not those mumblecore indies you watch.”
“I can stand a Hollywood film every once in a while,” she said, standing up. “You need a ride home?”
“No,” I replied. “I lost my phone in the water, but I still have my keys and wallet.”
Janet suddenly leaned over and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. I couldn’t remember the last time she did that. Even at our mother’s funeral, the most we did was hug.
“You scared me, bro,” she said. “Be careful, okay?”
“Don’t prove Betty right,” she said under her breath as she left. She said it so quietly that I barely heard it, but I did and the name definitely rang a bell.
Betty was a fortune-teller my mother visited at least monthly, and more often when she was freaked out about something. Betty was supposedly the real deal. She was never wrong. My mother said Betty accurately predicted the death of both my father and brother. That’s why my mother called her Bad News Betty, because everything she predicted was tragic. Betty only made one happy prediction, as far as my mother was concerned: That Gina and I would never get married. My mother threw that prediction in my face at least once a week as a reason for me to stop wasting my time with her. I was not, however, aware of any other predictions about me.
Jumping down from the examining table, I sloshed over to the door. I called to Janet, who was halfway to the elevators. “Janet, what did you mean about proving Betty right?”
Janet turned to me. Her expression displayed her concern. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Please,” I said.
She weakened. She took a few steps back toward me. “Betty told mom that you were going to kill yourself, too.”
I felt the blood drained from my face.
“She never told me that.”
“She was afraid to mention it,” Janet said, stepping even closer and lowering her voice. “She didn’t want you to feel predestined.”
“Don’t worry I plan to make Betty a liar.”
Then it hit me: Betty. Betty was short for Elizabeth. Or Elisabetta.
Holy crap. It was her: Bad News Betty.
“Do you remember Betty’s last name?” I asked.
“No,” Janet said. “But I think it began with a C or a K.”
“Was it Kostek?” I said.
“Yeah, I think so,” she said. “Why do you ask?”
“I think I saw her grave over at Eternal Faith.”
Janet spoke as she turned and headed back toward the elevators. “Good. I’m glad she’s dead.”
“Yeah, me too,” I replied.
I just needed her to be a little deader, and I was going to make it happen.-->
Copyright 2016 by Sean Paul Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
Be sure to read my memoir The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.