Throw-Away Faces

Throw-Away Faces

by Josef Alton

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Overview

A string of patricides rocks 1916 Dublin and a washed-up Scottish doctor receives a mysterious manuscript from a fellow Scotsman recounting his dark experiences in the pioneer city of Seattle in 1889. As the doctor reads the manuscript, he’s made aware that the murders in Seattle are connected to those in Dublin and that he and the author crossed paths many years before and under tragic circumstances. In Seattle, a tale of corruption and conspiracy unravels at the feet of a crazed serial killer hell-bent on halting historical progress. It’s just a matter of time before the city will burn. The doctor must decide if the author is an ally, or the killer himself amidst an atmosphere of political instability and impending revolt. Throw-Away Faces is a raw look into the abuses of power, the dark well of madness, and the inevitability of tragedy versus the power of redemption.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781684332007
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Publication date: 01/10/2019
Edition description: First Printing ed.
Pages: 206
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.47(d)

About the Author

Josef Alton is a born and raised Seattleite who enjoys the rain, the sound of crows cawing in the morning, and the sight of the mountains.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

I had the dream again. She's there, sitting on a rock, looking out to sea and I'm looking at her, then she falls. Well, half of her falls. An apparition of her sits up from her own seated body and slips off the cliff. I jump up and look over the side, horrified, and I see her body flail and her white dress whip with the wind as she gets smaller and smaller until she disappears into the black swell of the Irish Sea. Her other body comes up behind me, caresses my back and then pushes me off the cliff. In mid-flight, when the air is being sucked from my lungs, a rigorous pounding shakes me awake.

I opened my eyes and the death of the night hummed in my ears, and I lay there thinking I drowned until the pounding returned and the shadow of two feet laid planted and interrupting the slit of light which glowed on the other side of my hotel-room door.

"Enoch," Madame Lou Grahami said, "it's happened again."

I sat up and asked myself two questions. The horrible dream I couldn't seem to burn, yes it would never die. Secondly, where am I? The here-and-now repositioned back into focus. I was in bed, it was late, but telling from the noise downstairs the bar was still open. The killer claimed a new victim. I tore out of bed, shirtless, but in trousers. Halfway to the door, the whisky I consumed earlier drained from my head and into my blood. I made for the door, lost my balance on the way, but grasped the door handle just in time to save myself from falling over.

"Open the door," Lou shouted.

I exhaled and opened the portal to the light. It was blinding, and the short wide woman sutured tight in an armor of imported textiles and feathers stood an inch in front of me. I closed my eyes to avoid straining to focus on her painted face while my eyes adjusted. Her perfume overwhelmed my nose, and I thought I might vomit.

"You reek of poor decisions." She pushed me back into my room and shut the door. "It's happened again," she repeated. "Get dressed." Lou built this brothel up from the ground and was kind enough to rent out a room to me when three weeks ago there became some confusion concerning my original accommodation. She was heavy, German, and quite awful. However, she was shrewd and sharp as a razor's edge. She was a dangerous opponent — you could tell — and had a big mouth too, which worked to the detriment of all. Despite that, there was a soft side, somewhere. Her tender moments were few and far between, but at least genuine when they surfaced.

"What has happened?" I asked already knowing the answer, "And, how's it you know?"

"I killed the bastard myself, that's how I know." She slapped her palms against her big hips and scowled at me. "A young cop came in and said there's a commotion in the alleyway behind the Oddfellows Hall on Front Street. He said there's a body face down in the muck."

"And what business is this of mine?"

"What's it to you? You know damn well. You're a witness and the only person the killer communicates with. It has everything to do with you."

Lou swayed as though uncertain whether to turn right or left before twirling towards my sorry excuse for a bed. She sat down, crossed her legs and pulled a cigar from her corset and stared at me like I was supposed to do something. I took the last candle from the fireplace mantle and stood over her as she lit up. She really was as wide as she was tall, black curly hair, and smoked as much as any card playing Yank I'd ever met.

"You know, when I was a girl in Germany," she began, "I used to watch my father smoke in the fields, and I always thought it made him stronger because he worked such long hours." She blew out a thick pillow of smoke and continued. "But, when I got older I realized you don't make nothing by just working hard, you have to use your head. I'd like to think he was smart, but no. He just thought working harder would get him more. The poor man died with a broken body and nothing to show for it. I think about my father every time I smoke in my business — memories don't fade like smoke, but that's beside the point."

"They don't," I said. "Don't what?"

"Fade. Memories like that."

I was dressed. Lou continued with her poetic thoughts, which she always unleashed after a healthy dram or two of rye. However, they descended into her favorite rant about how she made her fortune.

"How is it you keep the ship afloat?" I said, to keep her ego intact. "I sit, honey, and watch the wallets come and go as they please." "Ni bad."

"Surely no, sex is sex. It's the same as any enterprise of sustenance; people need to please their appetite, or run around malnourished and anxious."

"The Church of Scotland would differ," I said. "Now, why am I out of bed again? My head's pounding."

"You've got a killer who needs you," Lou said while another plume of smoke seeped out from between her lips and caressed her round painted cheeks. "Seems the big boys in town think you've bonded with him, or her. Better show your face; you love it anyway. Seems sick to me, but what do I know about you English and your vanity."

"Scottish, Lou. I'm Scottish. Far from an Englishman. There's no vanity up north, just an old Roman wall, some mountains and a ubiquitous sewage problem."

"Besides the fact I can only understand half the things you say, I don't see much difference between the people on your island."

"Ye faschious German, I mi' as weel call ye an Austrian from no on." "Don't you even think of it!" she thundered, but then smiled, "Faschious?" She queried, "Is that a Scottish word? Your accent always grows thicker when you're upset."

"How I wish I had your friends," I said, ignoring the rest. "There're no friends in Seattle, just business relationships, deep pockets and vices begging to be filled."

"How lonely," I said.

She smoked looking proud.

"Go on and get out of here. I'm betting the killer left you something," she said.

"What, another letter? Not once on the same day and never at the scene."

"But things are growing more severe, can't you feel it?" she said. "It started with that dead strumpet, but then a respected man. Who's next? I can feel things are getting worse."

I didn't know how to take what she said so I scowled. "Can you?" I said.

"Oh yes, Lou Graham knows about appetites, and the killer's evil is insatiable."

"And?"

"And the killer wants you to know it. He isn't writing love letters to anyone else. When do you reckon writing will no longer be enough for her? She's going to show you things, Enoch."

"Bloody hell, what's it going to be, a he or she?"

"Both for now until we know for sure, but I hope it's a woman," she said.

"Why?"

"You men have all the fun and have had enough."

Lou sat back satisfied, and I headed to the door not interested in humoring her any longer.

"Lock up, will you?" I asked, turning around halfway to the door. She was still sitting on my bed, picking at my bedspread like she figured out something important in her head. She looked up.

"And what makes you think you're coming back tonight, huh?" she said, cracking a smile. "Oh, my innocent boy of the brothel."

I shook my head, "Not innocent," I said, then turned and left.

CHAPTER 2

I reached the bottom of the stairwell and saw the millionaire, Henry Yesler conversing with a small group of well-dressed gentlemen. Beside him stood Thomas Burke. He made eye contact with me, excused himself and approached.

"You're the young Scottish gentleman I've heard about?" he said, holding out his hand.

"I fear you've heard something bad," I said.

"The contrary. My father-in-law is John McGilvrav, your employer if I'm not mistaken?"

"Oh aye, I've been with the firm two weeks and have yet to meet him."

"He's in San Francisco, but will be back in a week's time." "That's what I've been told," I said.

Burke possessed a well-mannered grin defined enough to fight off his goatee, and eyes as dark as his hair. I could sense behind his civility lay a shrewd and stark personality.

"How are you finding things?" he asked.

"I mean no offense, but I've seen beyond my share of dead bodies since my arrival."

"It's abominable, and I'm very sorry for it. I've been made aware you are helping Police Chief Butterfield with your insights on the matter?" There was a twinkle in Burke's eye as though he was fishing for something.

"Yes, to what end, I'm not sure. I'm just a witness who's beginning to see the obvious, a pattern."

"And what pattern might that be?" he asked.

"Their faces."

"All bloody I've heard," he said. "Destroyed more like it, with a hammer." "Dear god."

Burke's disposition changed, and he appeared to weaken from my words.

"My apologies," I said. Yesler approached us.

"Is this the boy who bunks with our loose women?" he asked, dawning a dark-toothed grin.

"Enoch Campbell, is it?" "Yes Sir, Mr. Yesler." "You know my name?" "Everyone knows who you are because you announce it wherever you go," Burke joked.

"Don't be rude, Thomas or I'll make sure you never win my lottery."

Yesler laughed, and Burke winced.

"Enoch," Yesler turned his weak old shoulders and grey head away from Burke's red cheeks, "does this murderer have you next on his list? We'd hate to lose you so soon. Colman did promise your father we'd take care of you."

Yesler's question was a thrown pry bar. I sensed he knew about the killer's letters and hoped to catch me not minding my business. That, or I was being paranoid. Either way, he was a cunning old devil.

"I canna tell," I said.

In his last letter, the killer referred to himself and me as brothers, so it was reasonable to guess I was perhaps the safest person in Seattle. Although, on the other hand, there was no doubt our relationship was doomed to sour at some point. I thought it best to avoid mentioning the letters to Yesler, no matter how much he knew, as their existence would draw me closer into the matter, and for some, to the point of complicity.

"Does he not send his friend mail?" Yesler's eyes darkened. "You're not the only one who interests this madman. I'll tell you something, the scantlings which still hang upon those great trees in front of my house won't be removed while I'm alive, no matter who threatens so!"

"I'm sorry Mr. Yesler, but I don't follow," I said, surprised by his sudden fury.

"Those looters during the riots should have hanged from it too, and if the killer thinks he's going to avoid it, he's wrong. This is my city, not his!" Yesler's bottom lip trembled, and he looked like he was a step away from either battering me or weeping on my shoulder. He pulled a kerchief from his herringbone topcoat and cleaned the poison from his lips.

Burke interjected, "Henry, Henry, come now, it's water under the bridge, and Enoch here knows nothing of these old Seattle squabbles." He tried to put his arm around Yesler, but Yesler rejected it with a violent turn. "Enoch, please forgive Henry."

"It's an honor to meet you, Mr. Yesler, and I'm sorry if my connection to the killings has offended you."

"It's my nerves," Yesler said.

"These killings have us all anxious," Burke said.

"Aye, they do," I said. "I apologize, but I must be going."

"Speak of the devil, were we not just speaking about the killer? Have you any sense being on the streets alone at night while he's on the prowl?" Yesler said.

"I'm not travelling far."

"It was a pleasure," Burke said, shaking my hand again, "I will see you at the firm. My start in Seattle was under McGilvra. I hope you learn as much as I did from the experience."

"If I learn half as much I will consider myself a lucky man," I said. Burke smiled and came in closer. "Today's paper should answer any lingering questions you might have about Henry's mood." He handed me a rolled-up newspaper. I begged Yesler goodbye, and he hacked and drew his handkerchief back to his mouth. "A pleasure meeting you both," I said.

Yesler half waved while he tended to his recovery.

Nearing the door, I saw one of Lou's girls I'd never seen before speaking to another young gentleman. She turned and eyed me. I felt embarrassed and turned away. Memories from my old life raged back, and I hurried outside.

* * *

I stepped out of Lou's and dodged a group of drunkards on the boardwalk.

"Watch where you're going," one said, while the others laughed. I unrolled the newspaper Burke gave me and read the headlines. "Months later, still no sign of the Ripper in Whitechapel." Beside that read, "Anonymous Letter to Yesler: 'I'm going to steal your scantlings." This explained Yesler's mood. My interest was piqued; I opened the paper and continued to read not worrying about the body up the street. "Police Chief Butterfield acknowledged an anonymous letter was sent to politician and businessman, Henry Yesler, stating his scantlings — made famous in the 1882 mob lynching of two murderers and one suspected murderer — will be stolen from the trees where the men were hanged without trial. The scantlings have stayed lodged in the trees for the past seven years. "Yesler refused to comment, but Butterfield admitted the millionaire who owns the property where the lynching took place, and who publicly agreed with the tragic miscarriage of law and public order, was agitated by the letter and attributed it to the killer who has claimed two victims in the past three weeks. The lynching, which brought national indignation upon Seattle, is still considered by many the main reason why Northern Pacific Railroad chose rival city, Tacoma as its main terminus of the Northwestern region. A sore spot which has left business leaders interested in a main railroad line between Seattle and other major American cities, smarting.

"Yesler's own troubles in regard to the old city lottery scarred his reputation. Guilty of fraud in 1876, Yesler was found to have abused lottery funds and contributed to the spike in criminal activity which corresponded to the popularity of the lottery and influx of criminality. The murders and the subsequent mob lynching were the apex of the city's trouble with criminal disorder. Seattle's wave of crime as of late has reopened old wounds which Yesler and Seattle's old citizens wish were healed.

"As of yet there are no leads to the killer's identity, and Butterfield suggests every citizen be on their guard until the killer is brought to justice."

I let the paper slip out from my hands and onto the glaur of the street.

I turned into the alleyway and onto the crime scene.

"What took you so long?" Police Chief Butterfield said. He pulled me out from the small crowd of onlookers. "I've got half the mind to make you the prime suspect considering how often you're at the scene before I send an officer to collect you."

"You didn't send someone?" I said. "Lou woke me up to say one of yours rang to do just that."

Butterfield flashed me an angry look.

"I'll want to talk to her about this visitor tomorrow," he said.

"I'm sure she'll more than be obliged to fulfill your request," I said.

Butterfield snorted from his bulbous nose as if to expel the scent of his distaste for Madame Lou. He looked back to me and nodded; the nod I understood to communicate if I was ready to view the body and see if it triggered any memories from the first killing.

"I still want to look at the letter he sent you," Butterfield said.

"I'll see if I can find it, I think I may have thrown it away," I lied and for no good reason other than I wanted to keep the letter and I didn't see what good it would do to hand it over.

"It was typed anyway," I lied again. "Not much you can study from it."

He seemed unpleased and turned to the crime.

"Now, I want you to look around and mind if you see anything

peculiar," he said. "Anything that might jog your memory." "Peculiar? I suppose, besides the body of a man or woman?" "This one's a little different," he said.

"Than a man or lassie?"

I scanned Butterfield's face, up from his thick creamy mustache to his small Norwegian eyes, and in the dark, saw the blue fires within them were ablaze with fear. Real fear. My stomach tightened.

"A lass, again?" I asked. "No."

Butterfield grabbed my arm and led me to the body. The alley opened up. The sides of the wooden buildings which encased the alley floor stood opaque enough to create a sort of slatted projector screen. The policemen's lanterns cast us as long green shadows against them.

In the very middle of this picture show lay a doll. It lay face down in the muck, the frills of its little dress still white like snow. But this was no doll, and Butterfield was right; the victim was not a woman, but a little girl.

I looked away, and again to the alley's wooden sides, watching the elongated bodies of chief Butterfield's lantern holders tower over me, and I could have sworn I entered a satanic ritual. I walked closer to the child. She lay prostrate, her arms straight at her sides, both palms facing up and open to the godless stars. Her feet were fixed and her toes sunken into the mud. Her face was pushed deep into the mud with plenty of blood pooled around her splayed golden locks, enough so her head looked like a buried meteorite cooling in the earth. There was no doubt he placed her like this. My thoughts started to race.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Throw-Away Faces"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Josef Alton.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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