Usually I give the intro to the stories, but I am tipping my hat to one of my Mistress of the Night editors. Her reaction to this story? ‘It’s pretty sick and I liked it.’ (I think that speaks volumes…) – Jimbo
The Man in the Long Black Cadillac
I am the man in the long black cadillac. I am the man that all mothers hate. the bill read in scrawling black ink as if it had been scratched on with a fingernail.
Carol had seen it a hundred times by now but it still gave her pause. She looked at it a little too long before she heard the man clear his throat, and she stuck the bill in the register, among at least a few others with the same added message.
She reached into the coin cup to grab his change; the same amount every day; he was only sending one letter across town. Same address, same name, same handwriting as on the bill. She closed the register drawer and reached out her hand to give him the coins, but when she looked up, he was already at the door, saying, “You keep it lady. You’re too slow for me.” The bell jingled as he left.
She watched him walk across the parking lot towards that imposing car with matte black paint all the way down, even on the fender, the bumper, and the trim. She watched him get into the driver’s seat and disappear behind the black door.
She turned away from the windows back to her work, but she jumped as she heard his tires screech away onto the main road; now he’s got her wigged out, she thought. She turned back to the letter he had given her, realizing she hadn’t even put the postage on it he paid for. She walked over to the stamps, peeled one off and stuck it to the corner of the letter. She paused a second reading the address: 157 Pond St. then walked to the back and dropped it in the bin to go out with tomorrow morning’s mail. It was way too late to make it out today. In fact, she thought, if she knew the routes well enough, the part of town he was sending to should be getting their mail right about now.
The mail truck pulled up outside 157 Pond St. like it did every day except Sunday and dropped a couple of items into the box: two magazines, a bill, and two letters. One from someone named Bill Hartley, maybe one of Ms. McDonnell’s boyfriends, and another one, same as every day, with that scratched black ink. Donny, the mailman on this route knew who those letters came from, and the smile fell from his face as he looked at it for a moment.
Then he heard a door opening and saw Ms. McDonnell come out of the front door of 157 Pond St., and he smiled and dropped the letter in the box and shut it quickly.
“Hey there, Ms. McDonnell.”
“Hi, Donny, how are you doing today?”
“I’m okay. Finally recovered from the storm the other week; we had a tree fall on our garage.”
“Oh no. Everybody okay?” Ms. McDonnell reached into the mailbox and pulled out the two magazines, a bill, and two letters as they spoke.
“Yeah. Just scraped off a few shingles; we got lucky.”
“That’s good,” Ms. McDonnell said absentmindedly as she pulled out the one letter not from Bill Hartley.
“I really gotta get going on my route Ms. McDonnell. I’ll see you tomorrow if you’re around.”
“Okay, Donny.” As he pulled away he watched her walk back into her house, staring at the letter. He caught a glimpse of her daughter Jean watching from the window and looked away. She had the down syndrome, and something about looking at her face made Donny squirm. He had nothing against them and felt real sorry for her, but it just bothered him to look at her. The girl all those letters are addressed to.
Ms. McDonnell walked into the kitchen and dropped the mail onto the counter except one letter she had tucked into her back pocket. She had to walk past the dining room where Jean sat at the table looking out the window. She tried to do it as coolly and casually as possible but Jean called out for her.
“Yes, Jean.” She turned around, knowing a fight was coming.
“Do you have my letter?”
“Yes, I do,” she never lied to her kid, “but like I said before, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to read it. The man sending them is obviously very ill, and I don’t want you exposed to that kind of stuff.”
“But it’s addressed to me.”
“I know Jeany, but it’s just weird stuff. You don’t want to read it.”
“I do want to read it. I never get mail. Only you get mail, and it’s all boring stuff. I really want to read my letter.”
“I can’t let you read it.”
“It’s not weird stuff this time, I promise. Why don’t you read it first and decide if I should read it?”
“I know what my answer is going to be already, but I will do this to humor you.”
Ms. McDonnell slid her nail across the top of the envelope, and pulled out the folded piece of paper inside. She read the scratchy black ink handwriting to herself:
I hope your mom will let you start writing me back soon; I’d really like to be pen pals…Hope all is going well…The storm last week was pretty serious…Are you and your mom okay? I was lucky that nothing fell on my car…REAL lucky…I love that car…Hope you’re doing great…
He didn’t sign it. Ms. McDonnell sighed.
“See Mom, see!” Jean exclaimed. “There’s nothing bad in there, it’s a totally normal letter right, so now can I read it?”
Ms. McDonnell walked over to the dining room and dropped it on the table in front of her. She picked it up eagerly and begin scanning the lines. Ms. McDonnell walked away to her bedroom and shut the door. She picked up the phone off the bedside table and began dialing a number she had memorized. It rang for a moment before someone picked up.
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“Letter in the mail again?”
“Same as every day, Joe. Please, isn’t there anything you guys can do for us? Isn’t this some kind of stalker situation?” She pressed the phone close to her face.
“I’m sorry Susan, unless you’ve got something new for me, we can’t do anything.” At the station, Captain Pete walked past Joe’s desk and signaled to him to say Who is it? Joe covered the receiver and whispered up to him, “Susan.” Captain Pete rolled his eyes and walked away. “I’m really sorry, but there’s not enough for us to make any kind of arrests or even put you guys under some kind of watch. The best I can do for you is check up on Jean when I can.”
“That would really be great if you could do that Joe,” Susan said from the other end of the phone.
“I know you’re scared. I’ll come over as much as I can. Was there anything bad in this new letter we can go off of?”
“Nothing. It couldn’t be tamer. It seems like they’ve gotten milder and milder with each one.”
“And you’re sure you can’t find any of the early, nasty ones?”
“No, it’s like they were stolen, they just disappeared, the ones I saved after I stopped throwing ‘em out.”
“Are you saying there was a breaking and entering?”
“No. But one day they just disappeared. I’m guessing Jean did it, but I went through her stuff a few times and couldn’t find them.” Joe heard her take a deep breath through the phone.
“I know you’re scared. I’ll come by when I can. Until then just keep your eyes open and don’t let Jean get wrapped up with this guy when you’re not around.”
“I know, but it’s hard because I work.”
“I know. I’ll go by there when you’re gone.”
“Okay. Thank you, Joe. I’m going after we got off the phone. Hopefully see you soon.”
“You will. Bye-bye now.” He hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair. Captain Pete saw he was off and walked over.
“Jesus, that woman, huh?”
“She’s scared witless by those letters. I told her I’d swing by now and then when I could.”
“That’s real nice of you helping out that single lady and all, but make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, and that you don’t take too much time from your real police work.”
As the Captain walked away from Joe’s desk and towards his office, the janitor opened up the window blinds to let in some sun just as a long black cadillac drove by on Center Street outside. The janitor paused and looked at it as it drove by in the bright bright sunlight without a single glint off the matte paint.
Jean sat reading her letter over and over, in the same spot at the dining room table where her mother had given it to her. After she had read it eight times she looked up just for one moment when she heard a bird tweeting and thought it might be her favorite bluebird at their feeder. There was no bird. Instead she saw across Pond Street, and behind the trees in the park, a long black smudge across the green. She knew it was him, she just knew it, and she ran from the dining room, through the kitchen, to the front door, leaving her letter behind. She threw open the front door and the screen door and ran out into the front yard, but when she looked up it was gone. All green, like that black smudge had never been there. Her heart sank, and tears welled up in her eyes, but before she could really cry she heard her mother’s voice.
“What are you doing out here, Jean?”
She slyly wiped away the few tears in her eyes with her sleeve as she turned to face her mother. “I thought I saw my bluebird, Mommy.”
Ms. McDonnell frowned. “Okay, honey, well come back inside. I want to talk to you about something.”
“Okay, Mom.” Jean trotted inside after her mother. As she shut the screen door she ventured one more glance over her shoulder, and wasn’t sure, but thought she might have seen something.
She walked into the kitchen behind her mother. Her mother was wearing her purse, that meant she was going to work. “So Jean,” she said. “I don’t want you to leave the house while I’m gone, okay?” Jean nodded. “Don’t get mad at me, but I’m having Joe come by to check on you while I’m away.” Jean opened her mouth to speak, then saw her mother’s look and shut it. “I know you’re an adult now, I know you can take care of yourself. It’s not about that. I’m worried about the man sending you those letters.” Jean opened her mouth again. “I know what you’re going to say. But it’s not normal for a grown man to send a girl like you a letter every single day no matter what they say, and it makes me nervous.”
Quietly, Jean said, “You just said I was an adult.”
“What did you say?” Ms. McDonnell said without anger.
“You just said I was an adult. Then you said I was a girl.”
Ms. McDonnell chewed her lip. “That I did. Well you’re not quite an adult yet, and you’re not quite a girl anymore. But those letters aren’t normal no matter which way you spin it.” Ms. McDonnell took another deep breath. “Okay. I’m going to work. Be safe, don’t leave the house, keep an eye out for Joe.”
“Okay, Mom.” Jean watched as her mom walked out of the kitchen, through the front door and the screen door, and out into the driveway. She watched her get into her car and start to back out. She watched her pull into the road and then away, and as her eyes tracked with her car across the park, she found she was right, there was something; that black smudge across the park was back, just as she had thought.
She ran back into the dining room and grabbed her letter and carefully tucked it into her pocket before she ran out of the house, across the street, and into the park.
“Okay, Pete, I’m going to head out and check on that McDonnell girl, but don’t worry, I’ll be back for the meeting.”
“Alright Joe. See you at the meeting. See if her mother has a friend.”
“Not happily.” Joe laughed to humor him.
He walked out to the parking lot and got in his patrol car and turned out of the station in the direction of Pond Street.
It was a nice day. The sun was really shining. Joe reached into his glovebox and pulled out a pair of sunglasses and put them on.
He pulled into the driveway at 157 Pond Street. He walked up to the front door and knocked. There was no answer. He knocked again, and this time he heard footsteps in response, coming from behind him. He turned around to see Jean running from the park across the street towards the house. She was running in that way the kids with down syndrome did with their head down and their arms flapping. He could tell she hadn’t seen him. She got to the edge of the driveway and stopped to breathe when she looked up and spotted him standing outside the front door. Her face fell.
“Susan? It’s Joe here.”
“Oh no, what happened?”
“Don’t worry, I’m sitting here with Jean. I just thought you should know when I came over to check on her she was running towards the house from the park. Won’t tell me what she was doing either. Just sitting here with her eyes shut up tight and her arms crossed.”
“I know you think she was seeing that man, Susan, but she could have been doing anything, you don’t know.”
“I’m coming home from work. Would you mind waiting there until I get home?”
“Sure. I’ll be here.” He hung up the phone, and immediately started to dial another number. It rang for a minute, then Captain Pete picked up. “Pete, I am going to be late to that meeting after all—”
“I was seeing him, you know.” She paused. “That man.”
“I’ll call you back, Pete.” He lowered the phone slowly. “The man who writes you the letters?”
“Yeah. He’s a smart man. He would have taken me away with him if I didn’t tell him you were coming. He said you’d catch on too quick and we’d get caught. He said we’d have to wait for another day, but he showed me what we can do together when we’re alone.”
“What do you mean by that, Jean? Did he touch you?”
“He kissed me on my mouth.” She ran her fingers stiffly across her face and then moved to her neck. “He kissed me everywhere.”
“Jean, I want you tell me. Did he touch you in your private parts?”
She giggled. “No! He’s too smart for you. He knew that would get him in trouble too quick. He said we could do that when we’re alone for good.” She closed her eyes for a moment and smiled.
Joe looked at Jean flabbergasted, struck into silence.
“It won’t matter that you know. He’ll still take me away, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“It just can’t be Joe. That just can’t be,” Susan said, confused and hurt, purse still around her shoulder, standing in the driveway talking to Joe as Jean watched from the window. Jean smiled and turned and walked into her mother’s bedroom towards the telephone, but before she could pick it up, it rang. She answered it.
“Hey. I miss you already. I want your mouth where you couldn’t put it.”
“I want that too, baby. But you just gotta hang tight for one more day. The heat is on, huh?”
“Yeah; it makes me excited. It makes me…horny.”
The voice on the other end of the phone laughed a throaty laugh. “Yeah, I bet it does, baby. You got one more letter coming for you tomorrow. You sure your mom’s still gonna be at work when it comes after what happened today?”
“Yes, definitely. She had to leave work early today and her boss hates her ‘cause she won’t sleep with him. She’d get fired if she missed again.”
“Okay, good girl. Just because that last letter is not as tame as our recent decoys if you know what I mean…”
Jean giggled hysterically. “Ooh, I can’t wait, Mister. I want to feel that tingle I felt today.”
“You will baby. That letter’ll tell you what to do. See you tomorrow night.” The phone clicked dead on the other end. Jean squeezed it tight to her chest and smiled until she heard the front door open and quickly put the phone back on the receiver, stepped out of her mother’s room, and closed the door behind her.
It had been a day since Joe had told her all those things Jeany had said.
“Why don’t I just come over and sit at the house today with Jean and keep an eye on things?”
“I think that’s a good idea. I’m so scared by what you told me. I just can’t believe she said those things. She won’t say a word to me about it when I ask her. She just looks at me tight-lipped with her arms crossed.”
“I’ll come and sit and watch her all day. She won’t be able to go anywhere.”
“Will the captain let you do that?”
“I’ll tell him we’ve crossed into the boundaries of a serious stalker and potential kidnapping situation.”
Susan was silent for a moment. “Thank you Joe.”
“I’m coming over now. Are you leaving for work?”
“Yes, right now.”
“Okay, I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“Bye Joe. Thank you.” She hung up the phone, put her purse over her shoulder, walked out the front door, got in her car and drove to work as Jean watched from the dining room.
Joe arrived within a minute of her mother’s car pulling away. Jean watched as he walked into the house and sat down at the dining room table beside her with a stern look on his face. They did not speak.
Jean spent her morning happily doing arts and crafts by the window. She often did this over summer break when her mother was at work. She made snowflakes, hearts, paper airplanes, and blow-up, paper water balloons. Joe watched.
At 12:00, she made herself a sandwich. She had the perfect recipe: white bread, 1/2 turkey, 1/2 ham, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo and lots and lots of pepper. She loved pepper. She offered Joe one but he declined. He moved to the living room and began reading magazines and watching television.
At 1:00, after she had finished her sandwich and put her dish in the sink and wiped off the table and had sat for twenty minutes trying to figure out what to do, she saw her bluebird. Right outside the window it sat like it hadn’t been gone for weeks. It was only a foot or two from her face, bright blue and singing in its beautiful voice. She watched it happily flit from bird feeder to tree to bird feeder to yard to tree to bird feeder for an hour.
At 2:00 the mail came.
Just like every day, Donny brought it. Just like every day he paused before he placed the letter with the scratchy black handwriting in the box. And just like every day he drove away with the willies when he saw that down syndrome kid staring out the window.
Before the mail truck had even turned the corner, Jean was biting her lip anxious to get out the door. She looked over to Joe who watched television absent-mindedly.
He looked up, surprised. It was the first time they had spoken in hours. “Yes?”
“I’m gonna go get the mail.”
She walked out the front door, looking back to see him watching her from the window. If she had been alone she would have run to the mailbox to get his letter and left all the other mail behind. But she couldn’t alert Joe’s attention. She wasn’t sure he had even thought of the fact that a letter from him would be waiting for her in the mail. If she acted just right he might not.
She reached the mailbox and took all the mail out carefully and watched him at the window as he stared at her. She knew that while she was coming through the screen door and the front door there would be a moment when he wouldn’t be able to see her.
She reached the screen door and the front door.
As she came through she slipped his letter into the back of her pants. She walked into the kitchen and laid the mail on the counter. She saw Joe sit down and go back to watching television.
“I’m going to go take a nap for a while.”
“Okay,” Joe said, watching her as she walked into the hallway to her room.
By the time she got there she had already read the letter twice:
Hope you’re ready to get out of here and hit the road together…We can make love in truck stops and sleep in big empty fields and kiss at the top of the Empire State Building when we go all the way to New York City…I think you’re the sexiest, and I want to be alone, so I can kiss you everywhere…
Here’s how we’re going to do it…You gotta wait till tonight…
Otherwise your mom will find out too soon…I included a decoy letter to show your mom when she asks where the letter from today is…All you gotta do is sit through one more dinner with her and then we’ll be on our way…Just meet me in the park in the same place as always after Mom hits the sack…Don’t worry about bringing clothes, we’ll get you new, nicer ones…
If you play your cards right you can even work the radio when we get going…
“How was work, Mom?”
Ms. McDonnell shut the door behind her and looked at her daughter as Joe backed out of the driveway and drove away, the sound of the car steadily growing quieter. “You’re awfully peppy today.”
“I did crafts, ate my favorite sandwich, and got a letter. Look,” she said as she thrust a letter forward into her mother’s hands.
Her mother clumsily took it as she tried to take her purse off her shoulder at the same time. She hung her purse on the hook just inside the door, then spread the letter out and read it.
Looks like another storm’s coming tonight. Better be careful! Tell your mother hello from me… Don’t have much to say today other than hope we’ll get to meet soon…
Ms. McDonnell handed her daughter back the letter. “Very nice, Jean.” She rubbed her forehead and walked out of the kitchen and into her bedroom. She closed the door behind her and lay on the bed looking at the ceiling with her feet hanging off the bottom. She kept her eyes closed and her hand on her forehead. After a moment she kicked off her work shoes. They clunked as they hit the floor. She rolled over onto her side and pulled her legs up, exhausted.
The door opened and Jean walked in. “Mom.”
“What’s for dinner?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it yet.”
“Okay.” She paused. “I’m hungry.”
“Give me a few minutes to relax.”
“Do you think we can do dinner as soon as possible, so we can go to bed early? I’m tired too.”
“Okay.” Ms. McDonnell opened her eyes and sat up. She brushed her hair away from her face. “Sure.”
In the gas station down the street from the house, Joe sat in his patrol car watching the front of 157. There was a small yard with a tree with a bird feeder hanging from it. There was a white garage door, which he knew contained Susan’s sedan. There was a front door covered by a screen door, and a window that looked into the dining room. He watched the front of the house not because he was still on duty but because what that girl said yesterday was eating him and it wouldn’t quit.
“That pizza was good, Mom, thanks.”
“I just heated it up.”
“I’m going to get in bed early, I’m tired, and you should too; you seem tired.” Her mother looked at her for a moment too long, and Jean knew she was being too obvious. “Okay, goodnight, Mom.”
“Goodnight.” Jean walked back to her room mad at herself for being too obvious. She had been stupid; she didn’t want to blow it.
She took off her clothes, put her PJs on and got in bed. She looked out her window. The sun hadn’t even fully set yet. It was only 8:15. She laid her head down on the pillow and stared at the ceiling, listening for what her mother was doing.
She heard dishes clanking in the kitchen as her mother put their plates from dinner in the sink. She heard the sink running as she probably washed her hands. She heard footsteps down the hall and a door opening and closing: her mother going into her bedroom. She looked out the window behind her bed; it was dark enough to see the light from her mother’s room pouring out onto the backyard; she waited until she saw it disappear to get out of bed, go to her shelf and take off the hollowed-out book her dad had made her before he died. It was a book called PILOTING OCEAN VESSELS; he said you had to pick ones that sounded so boring no one would want to read them. She took out the stack of letters; the earlier ones that made her tingly, and his newest one right on top, which she had already read more than ten times since she got it. She put all the letters in the pockets of her PJs except the newest one, which she kept in her hands and read again even though she could barely make out the words in the darkness.
Lightning flashed and illuminated the letter in her hands. There was a storm; he had been right. He was always right. She counted in her head after the lightning strike. 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… BOOM, she heard the thunder. Five meant it was only one mile away; she had better go now if she didn’t want to get rained on.
The man in the black cadillac waited across the park for Jean. He didn’t think about anything. He just stared at the lightning striking across the sky in the distance. He looked across the park towards 157 Pond Street and saw her there, running with her head down and her arms flapping in her pajamas, the lightning illuminating her for a brief moment. He smiled.
Jean was almost there. She could see the grass of the park underneath her feet as she ran, and she felt the first raindrops on the back of her neck when suddenly she saw shoes and looked up to see him standing there outside his car, waiting for her, smiling at her.
“Hi!” she exclaimed.
“Hi,” he said. “Are you ready to go?”
“I’m so ready. I did just what the letter said. It was perfect. Mom was really tired and went right to bed.”
“That’s good. You did it just right.”
“I’m so glad.” She moved quickly in and hugged him around the waist, squeezing.
“Hey hey now eager one.”
“I’m so eager. And happy.”
“So am I. Especially eager. About to be happy.”
“Yay. Just like me.”
The tires of the cadillac screeched as the car went over the curb and onto Pond Street without waking up Ms. McDonnell who was sleeping so well she dreamed, which she never did, dreaming of a perfect man coming into work and telling her they have the same favorite cereal, and when they discover this they decide to ride a ferris wheel together and get married.
The tires of the cadillac screeched as the car turned the corner passing the gas station without waking up Joe who against character and two cups of coffee had fallen asleep in his patrol car and didn’t dream.
The tires of the cadillac screeched as the car took the ramp onto the highway, but nothing bothered Jean who sat awake in the passenger’s seat, looking around the inside of the car, which was blacker than the exterior, so black it absorbed all the light from the outside; the light from the street lamps and lightning strikes seemed to disappear before it arrived.
The rain began to pour and the man turned his wipers on. He looked over to Jean. “I’m glad you came,” he said.
“They don’t usually.”
“What do you me—”
“You know I knew your mother once.”
She turned to him. “You did?”
“She acts like she doesn’t remember me. But I sent her letters once. A long time ago. She didn’t come.” He cut himself off. “They don’t usually come—You’re a little different.”
“I am a little different.”
“I like that.”
They sat in a hanging silence as the cadillac rocketed down the highway. For a moment Jean’s mind was blank. The man’s was not. He thought of the contents of his glove box: string, pack of cigarettes, unpaid parking ticket, pocket knife, butane refill for his lighter, and matches from a highway bar.
Then Jean noticed a sign for a park n’ ride up ahead, and she bit her lip and felt tingly, and the man saw the sign and saw her looking.
He smiled and almost laughed. “You ready?”
Lightning struck and the thunder followed immediately after.
The next morning Carol weighed, labeled, and binned three packages: one from Mrs. Stonesman, one from Kathy Johnson, and the third Billy Jackson had delivered on his mother’s behalf. She had stamped and binned two letters: one from Nathan Horn, and another from a new neighbor of Josey’s who’s name she had forgotten already. It was then as she went over this in her head that she realized her usual customer had not been in. She thought, Well his letter writing campaign must be over.
The bell rang above the post office door and her sixth customer of the day entered; it was Brian McNoulin. She hadn’t told anyone yet, but she had a real crush on Brian.
“Hey Carol. I would like to buy some stamps.”
“Alrighty I can do that for you. You want a book of the standard ones?”
“Okay, then. Here you go.” She reached below the counter and pulled out a book of twenty of the standard stamps, currently outfitted with an image of the American flag. “Ten eighty.”
“Ten eighty? Jeez, they upped the price, huh?”
“Yeah just recently.”
“Alright, gotta pay the piper. Here you go.” He handed her a twenty across the counter.
“Out of twenty. Okay.” She reached into the register. She slid a five-dollar bill off the five pile. Then a one off the one pile. Another one. Another one. On the fourth one she noticed a note written in black ink. She stopped and stared at it for a second. Then she took it and handed the pile of bills to Brian and closed the register.
“You forgot my coins.”
“Oh my goodness; I’m sorry.”
She opened the register again and took out two dimes and handed them to Brian.
He smiled and thanked her. He heard her call after him as he turned to leave: “Have a nice day, Brian. See you soon.” He looked over his shoulder and smiled.
He walked out of the post office and started across the parking lot towards his sedan. He counted the bills in his hand to make sure she hadn’t made another mistake. He noticed a one with something written on it. He turned the bill so that the writing faced him. He read it silently:
I am the man in the long black cadillac. I am the man that all mothers hate.
March 16, 2018
Parker Rouse was born in Annapolis, MD. He is a student at University of Texas at Austin studying English. He is a freelance filmmaker working part time for Richard Linklater.