Superimposed Chapter 18

Superimposed Chapter 18 by Nora E. Derrington

 

About Superimposed

  • 2014 Community Novel Project of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library
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  • A different Topeka author and illustrator featured in each chapter
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Author Bio | Author Interview

August 1950 — Robbinsville, NC

Captain Higgins opened the door wider and gestured again for Joe to enter. When Joe hesitated, Higgins’s grin slipped, and he cleared his throat. “Please. I’ve wanted to explain since you asked five years ago — well, hell, since I saw your dog tags and realized you weren’t the man I thought I was shooting at. This time around we shouldn’t be interrupted.”

Joe nodded and stepped inside. He walked through a dim front hallway into a sitting room where the wood-paneled walls were covered with memorabilia from Higgins’s days in the Army: photos of squads, framed commendations, maps marked with pushpins, and scraps Joe couldn’t identify.

“Make yourself comfortable,” Higgins said, then stepped into the next room. “Still a whiskey man, I assume?” he called.

“Of course,” Joe replied with half a smile. He looked closer at one of the scraps on the wall – a scrawled note in German. What was Higgins up to?

Higgins returned with two glasses, and the men sat, facing each other. Joe waited until Higgins had taken a drink before sipping from his own glass. He didn’t exactly trust a man who’d shot him in the back not to try poisoning him; but on the other hand, Higgins had had plenty of opportunity to poison him back on the ship. While this whiskey was the kind that would rot your guts out – not the smooth, smoky Scotch Joe enjoyed best – it was definitely unadulterated whiskey.

“I tried to contact you once, a couple of years ago,” Higgins began, watching Joe with a thoughtful expression. “Turned out Salvatore Caló isn’t just a difficult man to get a hold of, but he’s not the man I shot in Germany, either.”

Joe acknowledged this fact with a dip of his chin. “I’m Joe Grimaldi. They wouldn’t let me enlist due to my size, so I went in another man’s place.” The story Tony had told him was so familiar now that the memory felt almost like one of his own, and the lie flowed smoothly off his tongue.

Even so, Higgins frowned a bit. “That doesn’t quite sound like the whole of it, either, but I’ll let it lie. See, my unit had a particular mission. We weren’t just looking for gold. There were lots of other things the Germans had stashed around that were worth finding, too. Valuable things they stole from the people they sent away to camps, things they stole from towns they passed through and the like. My unit worked on finding those things. And we’d heard they had a man helping them in that area, someone who fit your description. Kinda small, kinda…” His eyes narrowed as he searched for the right word. “Swarthy-looking, I guess. When I saw you running away, I just assumed. And like I told you before, I didn’t miss a shot during the entire war, so… here we are.” He raised an eyebrow, then took a gulp of whiskey. “I don’t guess it’s your first case of mistaken identity, though.”

Joe dipped his chin again. “It’s certainly the only one that’s gotten me shot in the back, though.” He wondered about the other man Higgins spoke of. How could there have been a man who looked like him in the same part of Germany without him knowing about it? And when Higgins said “swarthy-looking,” did he mean another Romani man? Joe could imagine such a man agreeing to help the Germans in order to save his own life — what he had a hard time imagining was German soldiers extending such an offer in the first place. What promises might the man have made to secure such a position?

He sat back, taking another swallow of whiskey and scanning the room again while his thoughts wandered. He thought of Pina, then of her husband. Andre wasn’t so much taller than he himself was — and what had he been doing in Aachen? But surely that was too much of a coincidence…

Higgins polished off his whiskey, setting the glass down with a declarative thump. “Why don’t I show you why I was so eager to come back to North Carolina?”

Joe set his glass down as well and followed Higgins further back into the house, then out the back door. The tightly clustered trees wove a canopy above, turning the late afternoon light a warm green around them. Higgins’s house was near the town center, but after just a few moments of walking, the woods swallowed them, and human struggles seemed very far away indeed. Joe kept his hands in his pockets, ready with the knife he always carried. He still thought that if Higgins meant to kill him, he’d have done so by now – but it never hurt to stay prepared.

A break in the trees appeared ahead, and Joe made out a few old camp chairs. As they grew closer, Joe began to see what Higgins was referring to. They were at the edge of the ridge, with a view sweeping out over undulating hills and valleys. The mountains in the distance seemed to shift from the deep green of the forest to the hazy blue-grey of smoke. Cotton-white clouds wisped across the sky.

Higgins pulled the stump of a cigar from a pocket, clamped it between his teeth, and lit it. He carefully dropped the spent match in an ashtray on one of the chairs. Joe could imagine Higgins spending his days – when he wasn’t doing whatever it was with the maps in his den – sitting out here, puffing on a cigar, content in the knowledge that the only gunfire he would hear would be the report of a hunter’s rifle.

They settled into the chairs and sat companionably for a little while, appreciating the view. Finally Higgins spoke. “You seem like a resourceful fella,” he said, still looking out into the distance. “And if you found me here, you’re obviously willing to travel.” Joe said nothing, waiting for Higgins to get to the point. “The war ended five years ago, and the program I was part of – finding and protecting valuables – well, that officially ended four years ago. But there’s still work to be done.” Now he looked at Joe, and grinned around his cigar. “How’d you like to do some treasure hunting on the side?”

A smile slowly crept its way across Joe’s face. He still wasn’t sure he could trust Higgins, but this was their third time meeting, and it was clear that the skein of this man’s life was clearly entangled with his own, regardless of how he felt about it.

“Perhaps you might find one of those cigars for me,” Joe said, gesturing at what was left of Higgins’s, “and then you can tell me all about this new business venture.”

 

 

April 1961 — Istanbul, Turkey

Joe sat at a wobbly table outside a café a few blocks away from Peter’s school. Letters from Peter’s grandmother, sent through a local barber to one of Joe’s many aliases – letters that were never replied to given what he’d learned about Andre’s tendencies to read household mail – assured him that his money was being put toward Peter’s schooling, as intended, and that Peter was thriving. But as his work had brought him back to Turkey, Joe wanted to see for himself. He idly swirled the sludge of grounds at the bottom of his coffee cup around, affecting laziness while discreetly watching all passersby. He kept his limbs relaxed even as Peter rounded the corner, careful not to indicate to anyone who might be watching that he’d been waiting for the boy.

The sun was bright in the springtime sky, but a chill breeze blew in from the northwest, and Peter had his collar turned up against it and his cap pulled low, shadowing his face. As he made his way across the street, though, a ray of light showed Joe the livid purple crescent underneath his left eye, with yellowing down to the cheekbone to indicate the injury was several days old. Joe’s eyes narrowed in spite of himself, and after waiting a few beats to let Peter get further away, he left a few coins on the table and began to follow.

Peter went straight inside when he got home — no loitering to smoke a cigarette as he’d done the previous winter. Joe kept walking, stopping at a corner where he could still see the building and pulling out a local newspaper, still aiming for inconspicuousness. He waited an hour, but never saw Peter leave.

He stayed in the shadows when he saw Andre come home, presumably from work, but it was much earlier than he’d come home the last time Joe had been there. A few minutes later, the door to the building burst open as Andre shoved through it, followed by a subdued-looking Peter. They argued in low voices, with just a hint of the sound and none of the substance carrying down the street to Joe. As the argument went on, Andre’s face grew increasingly flushed as he leaned into Peter, poking the boy in the chest.

Still-lanky Peter was several inches taller than Andre, but their body language told anyone watching who held all the power in their relationship. Peter winced and shrank back every time Andre’s finger connected with his chest, but Andre kept pursuing. Peter shook his head several times in response to questions Andre asked at increasing volume.

Andre’s anger finally came to a head, and he exploded, backhanding Peter across the cheek – on the other side of his face from the black eye, Joe noted. Peter fell to his knees, muttering something. Andre stalked off down the street, in the opposite direction from where Joe was standing.

Joe stood frozen for a few moments, the only indicator of his own anger the slight tremor in the paper he still held before him. Once Andre was entirely out of sight, Joe dropped the paper and rushed to Peter, who slowly rose and spat on the ground. When he saw Joe, he took a startled step back, bumping into the wall behind him.

“You should not be here!” Peter hissed. “What if he sees? It’s bad enough that I’m back in school when he thinks I could be earning more money elsewhere!”

“I just wanted to see – ” Joe stammered, surprised by another hostile greeting from Peter.

“You want to protect me, hmm? Help me grow up smart and strong and free because you loved my mama?” The bitterness in Peter’s voice was nearly overwhelming. “Then stay away.” He turned and ran back into the house.

Bile rose into Joe’s throat as he made his way in the direction Andre had gone. “Forgive me, Bella Mia,” he thought. “I’m trying to do right by your beloved son as best I can.”

Business had brought Joe to Istanbul numerous times over the years, and he knew the area well. He had no way of knowing where Andre might be going, though, so at several corners he had to guess which direction to go. Luck was with him — after several minutes, Joe caught a glimpse of Andre, still stalking ahead, his posture still indicating anger. Joe gripped the knife he always carried tight in his fist as he quickened his pace. Confronting Andre seemed foolhardy, but he’d come up with a plan in a moment. He always did.

Before the moment came, though, Joe found himself being jerked back into an alley by a thin but strong cord around his neck. He clawed at the cord that was quickly cutting off his air supply, but his assailant jerked it tighter, pulling him back against whoever it was who held it.

“If you are wise,” the assailant growled in Joe’s ear — in Romani! he noted through his growing panic – “and if you wish to do what’s best for you, and especially for the boy, you will leave Istanbul and never return.” The cord jerked tighter once more, and the alley swam before Joe’s eyes. “Understood?” Joe frantically nodded, as well as he could, before consciousness slipped away from him.

When he woke, it was dark, and his ribs and belly throbbed, as though his assailant had kicked him a few times before going on his way. His breath wheezed through his swollen and bruised throat – but at least he drew breath at all. He thought of Pina again, and of Peter, and of Andre. He knew there were pieces of the puzzle he hadn’t yet put together, but he vowed that he would make the connections, and he would do all he could to ensure the wellbeing of Pina’s beloved son.

In the immediate future, however, he would choose discretion, and do his best to keep an eye on Peter from outside Istanbul. Just as he’d considered in Germany, all those years ago, he was no good to anyone if he was dead.

Chapter 19 will be published next week at http://www.tscpl.org/novel

About Nora E. Derrington

Nora E. Derrington received her MFA from the University of New Mexico and teaches English at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. Her work has appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, Blue Mesa Review, Inscape, and elsewhere, and she reviews genre fiction for Publishers Weekly.

An Interview with Nora E. Derrington

What is your writing background? What sort of work do you usually write?

I’ve been making up stories for just about as long as I can remember, which (long story short!) ultimately led to my going to graduate school for creative writing, and I received my MFA from the University of New Mexico in 2007. For the past few years my focus has primarily been creative nonfiction, which I teach at Washburn. Lately I’ve been taking on fiction in a couple of summer projects, and I dabble some in poetry, as well.

Who are some of your favorite authors? Are there books, poems, or stories that have inspired your own writing?

Some of my favorite authors are Margaret Atwood, Edwidge Danticat, Junot Díaz, Ha Jin, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Audre Lorde, and Naomi Shihab Nye. My writing is often inspired by people who have the courage and vision to tell their own stories, from Marjane Satrapi and Alison Bechdel in their respective graphic memoirs, to my students, who are constant inspirations!

Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?

I thought it would be a welcome challenge, getting me out of my comfort zone. I also enjoy the collaborative aspect.

Have you ever written fiction in collaboration with other authors before?

Sort of: I’ve been a tabletop gamer (think Dungeons & Dragons) on and off for about 20 years, and at their best role-playing games are a kind of collaborative storytelling. That said, this is certainly the first time I’ve helped tell a story in such a structured–not to mention public!–way.

Do you usually write in a burst of inspiration, or is your work carefully outlined? Did writing for the community novel differ from the norm?

I tend to do a lot of prewriting—research, notes, staring off into space—and then write in a burst as the deadline approaches. I kept with that pattern while working on my chapter. 

What do you like about the premise and characters of this year’s Community Novel Project? What challenges you about them?

I very much enjoy the action and intrigue of the present-day chapters, but of course the focus for my chapter was Joe. Joe is such a complex, layered character, which I both really enjoy and which also presented a challenge—I had to think about how all the various pieces of his life we’d been introduced to thus far fit together.

What was your first reaction when you saw the chapter before yours?

Chapter 17 ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so I really wanted to know what would happen next!

What do you like most about the chapter that you contributed to the 2014 Community Novel?

I really enjoyed getting to do the research for my chapter: I got to take trips to North Carolina and Turkey without actually leaving my living room!

What do you hope happens or doesn’t happen in the chapters that come after yours?

I’m so excited to see how everything wraps up. There are still a number of loose threads and unanswered questions, so the writers who come after me really have their work cut out for them, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

What sort of writing can we expect from you in future? Are you currently at work on any writing projects?

Right now I’m working on a personal essay about a family event from 1991, an academic essay about the movie Frozen, and a short story about werewolves and vampires in 1863. In other words, then, the writing you can expect from me in the future will be quite varied indeed.

Lissa Staley

Lissa Staley helps people use the library. She is a Book Evangelist, Health Information Librarian, Arts & Crafts Librarian, Trivia Emcee, Classics Made Modern book group leader, and frequent library customer, especially with her children. She reads a new book every few days, but recently loved Adorkable by Sarra Manning, Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman and Tin Star by Cecil Castellucchi.