Down to the River

Down to the River

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Overview

Down to the River is a collection of twenty crimes stories that take place on or near American rivers from some of the strongest voices in crime fiction writing today. As these stories show, rivers are not only sources of life; they can also be scenes of murder and revenge.



All twenty stories have been generously donated by the writers to show their support for American Rivers, an organization that truly understands America would not be America were it not for our amazing rivers and waterways. The authors and American Rivers believe that rivers connect all of us as Americans and need to be protected and preserved for future generations.



Edited by Tim O’Mara with an introduction by Hank Phillippi Ryan and stories by Reed Farrel Coleman, Bruce DeSilva, Patricia Smith, and more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781948235785
Publisher: Down & Out Books II, LLC
Publication date: 04/22/2019
Pages: 242
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.55(d)

About the Author

TIM O’MARA is a teacher in the New York City public school system. Raised on Long Island, he lives in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen with his wife and daughter.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

A ROCKY ROAD AT INTERSTATE PARK Jessie Chandler

The descent into the St. Croix River Valley and the tiny, historic village of Taylor's Falls, Minnesota was always breathtaking. Today, however, the view was absolutely incredible.

Thanks to a series of warm fall days and cool nights, leaves on the area's deciduous trees had exploded into incredibly vivid, almost neon autumn colors. Vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows glowed against the deep green needles of interspersed white pines towering well over one hundred feet tall.

Tulip, who'd hijacked the shotgun seat eleven miles back after a stop at the Lindstrom Bakery — home to the one and only crunchy on the outside, squishy on the inside Scandinavian Donut — bounced up and down from an overdose of excitement and processed sugar. "I can't wait! Ever since I moved to Minneapolis, Rocky's promised he'd bring me to see the potholes."

Rocky, our endearing, mentally challenged Rain Man who'd lost the front seat to his wife, leaned forward and put his hands on her shoulders. "Yes, Tulip, I have wanted to bring you here for the last three hundred and eighty-six days, fourteen hours," he paused, put his arm high in the air, and glanced at the face of his Mickey Mouse watch, "and sixteen minutes."

"You forgot the seconds, my man," said Coop from the back seat. He was my six-four, ex-chain smoking, sometimes-vegetarian best friend who was the pickle in the middle between Rocky and Eddy, my spunky African-American quasi-mom. In the rearview mirror I saw him unseat Rocky's ever-present aviator hat and plunk it back down on his head sideways.

Rocky pulled up the earflap that now covered one of his eyes. "Nick Cooper, you are a pain in my gluteus maximus, not to be confused with my gluteus minimus or my gluteus medius." He stuck his tongue out at Coop and resettled his hat. "It was fourteen seconds then, but," he looked at his watch again, "it's now forty-eight seconds."

"Coop," Eddy said, "feel free to mess with Rocky. But you touch one of the carefully cultivated curls on my fine afro and I'll take my whacker after your noggin."

Eddy's "whacker" was a mini Minnesota Twins baseball bat she liked to use to escort the occasional out-of-control caffeinator from my shop, the Rabbit Hole Coffee Café. Once in a while she also employed it to extract information from various nefarious individuals. It was one of the most useful gifts I'd ever given her.

"Take it easy with that weapon, Eddy," Coop said. "I'll behave."

"Yeah, right. Coop behave?" In the rearview mirror I caught sight of my partner JT's smile in response to the banter. She wore a Minnesota Lynx ball cap with her ponytail through the back and her eyes were hidden behind a pair of sunglasses.

She'd taken the unusual-for-her measure of forgoing her safety belt and was lounging across the entire third row bench seat of the Ford Explorer we'd borrowed from our dog sitter, Pam Pine. I doubted her lack of restraint would be looked well upon by any of her Minneapolis Police Department colleagues, but as long as I didn't bust through the guard rail and land in the St. Croix River, no one would be the wiser.

Eddy harrumphed good-naturedly. "Don't worry, JT. I'll keep an eye on him."

Before long we'd descended through lush, forested bluffs into the St. Croix River valley and pulled into the lot of Interstate Park, one of Minnesota's sixty-six state parks in one piece.

JT's safety secret was safe.

We weren't the only ones enjoying the cloudless, vividly blue sky, the yellowy-white fall sunlight, and mild weather before the white shit flew. The parking lot accommodated about sixty cars and was three-quarters full. A couple walked their dog on a blacktopped path beside the lot, and a few groups milled at the trail head leading into the Glacial Potholes area, river overlooks, and sandstone bluffs.

I found an open spot and pulled in near the main building, which was constructed with bluish-gray stone and ocher-brown logs, hewn straight from the land. To one side of the entrance stood a small wooden sign with yellow letters reading "Visitor's Center," along with a list of services. Within, one could get a permit, visit the gift shop, view exhibits, and use the restroom.

"Look at that structure!" Rocky threw the door open and slid to the ground. "It was crafted with locally mined basalt rock by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. And it was used as a refectory for a while, too."

"A refectory?" Eddy frowned at the squat building. "Where's the church?"

"I do not know, Miss Eddy," Rocky said. "My sources did not indicate that information." Rocky knew an amazing amount of stuff, and when he was going to embark on something he wasn't familiar with, he spent hours researching it. Then he loved to share all he'd learned with the rest of us.

I rolled up the windows, pulled the keys from the ignition, and shoved them in my pocket as the rest of my peeps exited the vehicle. I pushed the door open and was about to get out when someone shoved a cell phone into my face. A voice said, "Only guys are supposed to drive big SUVs like that."

The movement startled me and I fell back onto the seat. "What the hell?" I batted at the camera, but it was pulled away before I made contact.

"Are you a girl or are you a boy?"

I regained my footing and opened my mouth to let the freak in my face have it when I got a better look at who was behind the camera — an eight-year-old kid about four feet tall, with a round face and short sandy hair sticking up in a multitude of directions.

"Well? Are you a boy or a girl?" He had a hoarse, deep little kid voice. "Come on. I'm shooting a video all 'bout my visit to the pit park to show my grandpa. He's in Koronis Manor. That's in Paynesville."

"Parker! Parker, where — oh, there you are." A dark-haired woman in her early thirties ran up and grabbed Parker by the arm. "I told you to stop using that phone to video people." She looked at me apologetically as the kid yanked himself away from her and took off around the corner of the visitor's center. "I'm sorry if Parker was bothering you. His grandfather gave him that phone and told him to document his day and come back and share it. That was a week ago and now Parker's decided he wants to be a photojournalist. I thought it was a good idea until —"

"Mom!" a girl's shout floated around the side of the building. "Parker's filming my boobs again!"

"Anyway, my apologies." The woman dashed around the building and out of sight.

Pain in the ass kids these days. I shook it off and trailed my crew into the center. A half hour later, mind-numbed from glacial model overload and Peeping Parker's attempts to video any breathing soul within twenty feet (including a few non-breathing, stuffed exhibit animals,) I happily followed the gang out the door.

The sun was bright. I squinted and JT grabbed the sunglasses she'd perched on top of her head and settled them on the bridge of her nose. Even after a year together, she still took my breath away.

"All right," she said. "Let's go find the Easy Bake Oven and see if there are any chocolate chip cookies inside."

"It is not called the Easy Bake Oven, JT Bordeaux," Rocky said. "It is the Bake Oven Pothole. It is called that because the side of the pothole was rubbed away by the St. Croix River back in the Ice Age, and it looks like the opening to an antique baking oven. And there are no chocolate chip cookies in the Bake Oven. But a chocolate chip cookie does sound very yummy."

Tulip slid her arm through Rocky's. "There's a restaurant called the Chisago House on Main Street, kitty corner across the road from this parking lot. I'll bet they have chocolate chip cookies. Once we're done looking at each and every pothole, we can go check it out."

"Forget food," Eddy said. "I'm bypassing the restaurant and going directly to the Goat Saloon, which I saw past that restaurant as we drove in. After dealing with that video-obsessed child sticking his gosh darned phone in my face very thirty seconds, my nerves could use a tonic."

"I'm with you, Eddy," Coop said. "I could use a cold one right now, too."

A chocolate chip cookie did sound delish, but then again so did an ice-cold Corona.

JT laughed. "I see the gears whirring, Shay. You want a beer and you want a cookie."

It was still freaky how well JT knew me. Sometimes better than I knew myself.

"Come on." I grabbed her hand. "There's an overlook I want to check out behind the center." I glanced at my watch. "How about we all meet back here in a hour?"

"Deal. Toodles." Tulip grabbed Rocky's hand and dragged him past waist-high boulders to the main park path.

"Come on, Coop," Eddy said. "Let's keep an eye on the kids. Give Shay and JT a little time alone." She lewdly wagged her eyebrows as Peeping Parker darted between us, stuck his phone in Eddy's face and took her picture.

He hollered, "Gotcha!" and sped away.

"Why, that little —" Eddy pressed her lips together, biting off whatever she'd been about to call the little monster. "Where's my whacker when I need it?"

The kid was lucky. Sooner or later someone with less patience than us was going to toss him ass over teakettle into the St. Croix.

"Come on, Eddy." Coop wrapped his arm around her shoulders and physically steered her toward the path Rocky and Tulip had disappeared down. He tossed a "See you later" over his shoulder.

JT looked at me. "I think we're alone now."

"Sounds like a song. Come on."

The sidewalk beside the visitor's center and in fact much of the rocky ground was carpeted with three-inch, russet-colored pine needles. White pines dominated, towering far into the Caribbean blue sky.

Six worn stone steps led to a gentle hill and a faint path through rock outcroppings that led toward the river. After about fifty feet, the slope steepened and the path ended. Trees, rock outcroppings, pine needles, and brush lined a drop off to roiling waters of the river below.

We gazed over the river at Wisconsin's mirror image Interstate Park for about thirty seconds.

"Okay. Enough sightseeing. Let's play." I jerked my thumb to the right. The gentle slope extended well out of view. Rocky extrusions, crevasses, and half-buried boulders were ready and waiting for us to explore.

As we climbed up and around and over, I finally understood what the exhibits had been trying to inform visitors. Solid rock had been broken into chunks and slivers and boulders during the Ice Age. Trees and brush had grown between cracks, somehow finding a place to sink their roots. Some areas had been worn down from human intervention, while others were as wicked and huge and craggy as I imagined they'd been as they were being formed.

Numerous rock ledges became sort of a stairway that eventually led to the top of an even steeper cliff that dropped at a sheer angle toward the river. About twenty feet down was a wide, arch-shaped protrusion jutting out fifteen feet from the rock face.

"Come on," I said and scrambled down the rocks, my glee barely suppressed.

JT scrambled to keep up with me. "Careful, Shay, or you're going to wind up splayed all over those rocky boulders down there."

I wasn't afraid of heights, but from here the drop was a good seventy or eighty feet to dark, jagged rocks that made the river froth on contact.

"Look at that view," I said once JT joined me on the ledge. "It's breathtaking."

"Yeah. In more ways then one."

I slid my hands beneath her ponytail and pulled her to me for a quick kiss.

As I did a voice from above sing-singed, "I see two girls k-i-s-s-i-n-g!" I glanced up.

Peeping Parker had his phone in hand, videoing the evidence of our affection. I tensed and JT squeezed my forearm. "Relax, Shay. He's only a bratty kid. Let it go."

I might've been able to if he hadn't started making loud smoochy sounds. I grabbed one of the many pinecones littering the ground and fired it at him.

He ducked and it sailed harmlessly over his head. The little shit stuck his tongue out and then dashed out of sight before I could gather more ammo.

"Cool your jets, babe, he's gone." JT gave my back a rub, then slid an arm around my waist, hooking a finger in one of my belt loops. The PDA wasn't so much an expression of love and tenderness as it was a way to restrain me if really did lose my mind and went after the kid in a fit of pique. I did have a bit of history losing my temper.

"I'm cool," I grumbled and tried to rearrange my face into its previous happy expression.

"That's my girl." JT's smile melted into a frown, and something akin to panic flickered across her face. "Uh oh. You want to hang here while I run back to the visitor's center and use the restroom? Will you please not kill anyone?"

I dropped my shoulders and took a deep breath. "I'm okay. Go." It didn't surprise me that she needed to hoof it back. Not with the amount of very delicious grease she ingested at breakfast on the way here.

"Back in a flash. Behave." She shot me a pained grin and bolted.

I backed up and leaned against the rock face of the cliff, in a shadowed crevice out of sight of the world above, and studied the Wisconsin side again. It truly was amazing what a glacier could do. I was so deep in thought I didn't hear a couple descend until they passed me and continued on another ten feet to the middle of the rock shelf, coming to a stop an arm's length away from the edge.

They were arguing so loudly I had no idea how I missed them. Actually, as I listened, I realized it was a loud, one-sided argument. The man was in the midst of thoroughly haranguing the woman about something, expletives flying from his mouth faster than the river rapids down below. With every word he threw at her, she folded in on herself like a rapidly wilting flower.

It didn't help that Mouthy was about six-twelve and two-forty, and Meek was maybe five feet tall and MacBook Air thin. I had a propensity for leaping to the aid of the underdog, and seeing this hulk of a man go after her was more than I could take.

I stalked into the sunshine. "Hey buddy, maybe you should pick on someone your own size." I was a good eight inches taller than Meek, and had her by at least thirty pounds, but I wasn't exactly his size. But that'd never stopped me from noble idiocy before, and it wouldn't now.

Both their heads whipped toward me. As soon as I got a good look at Mouthy's face, I recognized him from my father's Minneapolis bar. This past Fourth of July I'd been bartending for my dad, and this guy had wandered in already lit brighter than the city's fireworks display. He was lewd and crude, and called me a ho. As in, "Hey, ho, get daddy a beer and I'll give you a spin on the happy maker," accompanied by a gesture toward his crotch.

We exchanged words, and the exchange escalated until my dad stepped in and 86-ed him before I bashed him over the head with a full bottle of Jim Beam.

"Well, well. If it isn't the high and mighty ho from that crappy northeast dive bar. Your daddy go out of business yet?"

First of all, I was amazed he remembered anything from that night. He'd been thoroughly wasted. Secondly, it was one thing to insult me, and another thing entirely to insult my loved ones.

My vision narrowed. I stepped closer. "Why don't you leave the lady alone and just go?" As I spoke, Meek tried to back away from the two of us.

He caught her by the neck and jerked her to him, pressing her head at an awkward angle against his chest. "This bitch is not going anywhere."

The woman's eyes went wide, and she made a weird squeaky sound. I wasn't sure if he was cutting off her air or if she was simply in shock. Then I caught sight of faded bruises running down her cheek beneath her eye socket, and more bruises on one of her upper arms. My narrowed vision began to fill with a reddish haze.

Another step forward and I was within inches of the two of them. I ignored a voice in my head that mumbled, "This might not be a good idea, Shay."

"Back off, bitch!" He jabbed my shoulder with a Polish sausage-shaped finger.

Boom. The red took over. I stopped thinking and shoved him hard.

He stumbled backward a step, letting go of Meek to catch his balance.

Then he was right back in my face, returning the favor.

I tried to sidestep but he still caught enough of my shoulder to spin me violently around. I landed on one knee a foot from the edge of the rock.

Meek screeched.

Mouthy reset and charged with a roar.

Instead of trying to rise, I dropped flat, one arm flopping into open air.

Without me as a buffer, Mouthy sailed over me and disappeared.

Meek's screech turned into a keening scream.

Over the howl I heard, "Oh, my God! The kisser's a murderer! The kisser's a murderer!" Gasping for air, I rolled away from the edge and onto my back. Twenty feet up, a wide-eyed Peeping Parker stood between two gnarled trees on the top of the bluff, his cell phone thrust in front of him.

I heard footsteps scrambling down the rock face, and then a pair of familiar legs came into view.

"The kisser is a murderer?" JT stood over me with her hands on her hips. "I was only gone for five minutes."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Down to the River"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Tim O'Mara.
Excerpted by permission of Down & Out Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction Hank Phillippi Ryan,
Foreword Tim O'Mara,
A Rocky Road at Interstate Park Jessie Chandler,
A Tale of Two Rivers John Keyse-Walker,
Blue Song, Edged in Woe Patricia Smith and Bruce DeSilva,
Bronx River Elegy Scott Adlerberg,
Catch and Release Chris Knopf,
Eel's Blood Frankie Y. Bailey,
Fifty-Fifty Tim O'Mara,
Fish Belly White Eric Beetner,
Inheritance Eric Gardner,
No Good Deed Charles Salzberg,
Optimize Us Maria Kelson,
Requiem for Dirty WaterClea Simon,
Tarentum Bridge Dana King,
The Chair in the River John B. Wren,
The Great Emancipator Mike Veve,
The Righter Side Reed Farrel Coleman,
The River Freezes M. Wallace Herron,
The Riverfest Julia McDermott,
Tonight Wasn't Her Night to Die Marcie Rendon,
Waves Christina Chiu,
Where Are the Boats? Puja Guha,
Wrath, Chapter 61 Tom Lowe,
Acknowledgments,
Preview from Silent Remains by Jerry Kennealy,
Preview from It's Not My Cult! by A.X. Kalinchuk,
Preview from The Pyongyang Option by A.C. Frieden,

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