Part One: Spring 1955
Art could sense things before they happened. All day long he had a sense of anticipation, through the morning church services and then at lunch with his wife, June. A doctor once, a long time ago now, had told him that the feeling was just anxiety, but Art knew it was not anxiety. It was never anxiety. It was the cold hard press of future events forming and looming inside of him. And now, as he sat making himself comfortable in his favorite reading chair, he could sense a presence lurking, somewhere, just outside the house. He could hear his wife in the kitchen washing the dishes, the slosh of the water and the clink of the plates as she dried them.
Art glanced up. He had a straight sight line from his reading chair through the dining room and into the kitchen. His gaze rested on the back door. He could see the faint shadow of a man through the curtains. Just as his brain became conscious of the figure, he heard a rapping on the door and June called, “Art, someone is here. I think it’s for you.”
He rose, walked through the dining room, and came into the kitchen. June glanced at him, her eyes filled with the same anxiety that Art felt in the middle of his chest. Only three types of people came to the back door in Fosterdale: children, handymen, and Diamonds.
Art nodded, and June moved to the door. She pulled it open, stepping slightly aside for Art to see who was there.
“Miss Moran?” the boy said, not seeing Art immediately. “I’se ah here to see the Mister.”
“Come in,” June said gently. “Caleb, isn’t it?”
“Uh huh. Uh huh, I’se ah here to see the mister.”
Caleb was a tall boy, standing over six feet, even though he was just fifteen years old. His hair was the color of fire, and his skin was dusky, with large liver-colored freckles splattered all about. He wore a patched flannel work shirt and jeans that were both too large for him. Around his waist a rope held up his pants. On his feet were worn work boots with no laces. He bowed his head, avoiding looking directly at June.
“You can come in, Caleb,” Art said, stepping forward.
Caleb’s head lifted at the sound of Art’s voice. His emerald-green eyes grew wide.
“Mr. Moran,” Caleb said in a hushed tone, “thee have-ah come.”
“Come where?” Art was now in the doorway, looking at the boy.
“Father Abraham say, thee have-ah come.” Caleb looked around as if making sure they were alone, and then he leaned in toward Art and said in just above a whisper, “Some-in bad, Mr. Moran, some-in bad. Thee have-ah come. Father Abraham say.”
“What’s wrong, Caleb?” Art asked.
The boy’s eyes darted around again. “Some-in bad. Some-in real bad. Thee have-ah come.”
The boy fidgeted. Art and June exchanged glances again.
“Okay,” Art said. “Why don’t you come in while I get ready? Mrs. Moran can give you a glass of milk and a piece of cake while you wait.”
“No suh, no suh.” The boy shook his head. “Father Abraham say hurry. Hurry fast.”
“Okay,” Art said again, nodding. He had never known a Diamond to turn down an offer of food. “I have to get ready,” Art added to both the boy and June. “Should be just a minute.”
“I in-ah truck.” Caleb indicated with his head the truck around front. “Father Abraham say thee follah. Father Abraham say thee follah truck. No leave. Thee follah.”
“Okay,” Art repeated, “just give me a minute. I’ll meet you out front.”
The boy nodded. He turned awkwardly, then turned back as if he had forgotten something. “Thee follah,” he said, more to himself than Art.
“Yes, I’ll follow you. Just give me a minute.”
As the boy shuffled-stepped quickly down the walk, Art could hear him say, “Some-in bad, some-in real bad. Hurry fast.”
June pushed the door shut. She looked at Art. He could read her eyes.
Art spoke first, as he moved from the back door toward the coat rack in the corner of the kitchen: “Call Carl and tell him to meet me up at Diamond City.”
From the coat rack Art pulled down a denim vest, his silver police badge pinned to the left chest. He then lifted up his holster and wrapped it around his waist, buckling it tightly, the gun resting against his hip. Finally, he placed his brown campaign-style hat, also with a silver police star, on his head.
Where he was standing he could see the truck through the dining-room window—a rusted 1940 Ford pick-up, idling. In the cab he could see the shadows of two men. The truck had long ago lost its real color; it had probably been black originally, but it had been recoated with paint, most likely house paint, that once had been red and was now a faded pink. Its bed and bumpers were made of old boards.
Art turned to June, adjusting his holster as he moved toward the back door. “Tell Carl not to breathe a word to anyone. Not to his mama or anyone. Just tell him to meet me up at Diamond City and be quiet about it. I don’t want anyone to know anything until we figure out what’s going on.”
“Be careful,” June said, her brow creasing.
“I will,” he said. He kissed her quickly and headed out the door.
His black and white police car was parked in the driveway. Just three months ago, the town had finally invested in a cruiser for him. It looked clean and new sitting there. Having a cruiser almost made Art feel like a real policeman…almost. He pulled opened the door and ducked his head so his hat would clear the roof. He was still getting used to the hat too. After a moment he put the cruiser in reverse and tried to focus on the road behind him instead of the rising anxiety in the bottom of his belly.
Art had just turned thirty three months before, but he looked older. His hairline receded back past his ears, and he walked with a slight limp, a reminder of his brief service in World War II. There was already a deep crease across the length of his forehead.
He backed the car out of the driveway. As he did, the Diamonds’ truck, which people in town joked was held together with bubble gum and string, roared into life. It had no muffler, and smoke poured out from underneath. He followed the truck for two miles, down the Main Street of Fosterdale. Then, still following the truck, he turned left on the South Pass Road. For three miles there would be a smattering of houses and farms. Then the road would suddenly narrow to barely one lane and turn to dirt. On the east side of the South Pass Road was the Hotchatonk River. It was always flirting with overrunning the road, and at least a few times a year it did. Then the town highway workers would come and patch that area with paving. Art wondered how many years would pass before the entire five-mile stretch would be paved in patches like a mismatched quilt. On the west side of the road was a rocky mountain ridge that spewed down rock slides, particularly in the spring. There was no shoulder or pull-off. Once a driver got on the South Pass Road, he was committed to the five miles it would take to reach the other side.
The spring had been unseasonably dry, and the truck in front of him kicked up billows of dust. Art drove through the cloud as if through dense fog. He tried to keep his mind focused on his drive, but it kept going back to the boy, to “Some-in bad.” What could be so bad that a Diamond would come to town to summon help? He tried not to imagine possible answers to that question.
Like a time-traveler arriving unannounced in a burst of smoke, the police car reached the end of the Pass Road ended and entered a bowl-shaped valley. No matter how many times Art entered this valley, he always sucked in his breath with amazement. This was Lake Paradise, and aptly named—it was a fairy-tale place to the people of Fosterdale, a place they all knew about but few visited. There were no signs forbidding the locals to come here, but they knew it was not for them. The cottages, the inn, the brightly painted out-houses (some now made into artist studios or potting sheds) were all for city visitors who came to get away from the heat and the crowds during the summer. According to what Art had heard, it was billing itself as an artists’ colony nowadays. Every once in a while, a family might drive out and stand on the shore of the clear blue lake, but no one ever brought a picnic. Nevertheless, the little village, just a bungalow colony really, lay within the map lines of Fosterdale, so every once in a while Art drove up here, as a good police officer should, and walked on the gravel roads to get a sense of it. Somehow, the sense never came to him.
Now, in the spring, it was like an abandoned village, the cottages shuttered tight against the winter. At the inn he saw Arnie Richardson, cleaning up the yard, his red pick-up parked by the inn. Arnie was one of the local folks hired to care take the place. Art shot Arnie a quick wave out the window as he passed. Arnie leaned on his rake, waving back. He wasn’t much of a gossip, but Art knew that as soon as Arnie got home he would say to Dottie, his wife, “Guess who I seen up to Lake Paradise today?” It would only be a short time before the tongues of Fosterdale started wagging with speculation.
As he always did during the few times a year he came out here, Art rolled down the window. The air seemed fresher, crisper. The lake, trapped in this bowl valley, gave the air a clean smell he could find nowhere else.
Just as Art came to what looked like a dead end, there was a sharp turn to the right and the road started a steep ascent up Hog Mountain. At the bottom of the road a rough-hewn gate, made of wood, old fencing, and barbed wire, was propped open, leaving a space wide enough for a car to pass through. On most days it was held fast with a huge padlock. The truck was waiting for him above and drove off, up the hill, when he arrived. Art followed. This part of the trip would be slow going. The road was a single-lane farm road, the tire marks deep-set, with grass growing down the middle. Even though it was only about a mile up, the incline was very steep. He was glad for the dry spring; without it, this road would have been a thick, soupy mud. He had to be attentive now for rocks sticking up in the road. Once he had bottomed out here and lost his tail pipe.
The trees were set far apart and grew very large and thick, with wide circumferences that demonstrated Hog Martin’s decision, a hundred years earlier, not to clear cut the entire mountain. Martin had been a forest man and a farmer; he had taken only the hardiest and most mature trees, leaving the others to grow. Now these wide trees were worth money, but no one was going to cut them. As Art drove, every once in a while another dirt road appeared off to the left or right, less worn, disappearing into the wood or down the hill. Art knew to stay on the main path. He spied the truck just up ahead—Caleb was now in the bed, crouched down like a surfer, his hand at his brow, searching for Art’s cruiser.
In the five years since becoming Fosterdale’s first police officer in the newly formed department, Art had been to Diamond City only a dozen times. This was the first time he had been invited. Of course, there had been those two occasions, as a teenager, but he forced himself not to think of those days. What could be so important that the Diamonds would invite an outsider up the closely guarded hill?
The trees began to thin, still as large but farther apart, allowing grass to grow between them. Every now and again a shack appeared, just barely visible from the path. Sometimes it was a clapboard shack, silvered with age. Other times it was a log cabin, smoke curling from its chimney. A field opened to reveal a good-sized orchard with mature apple, cherry, and pear trees. The trees had tight buds, and Art knew that in a week or two they would blossom and the whole mountain would smell sweet. Further on, Art recognized fields of well-tended blueberry bushes, shrubby and close to the ground. He knew that somewhere on the property there were a good number of elderberry trees as well, because the Diamonds were known for their bootleg elderberry wine. Art wasn’t supposed to know about those jugs of wine, exchanged through back doors in Fosterdale for dollar bills.
Finally he rounded a corner into a clearing that at first looked like an abandoned village: a line of silvered shacks, built close to one another. Each shack had a slightly different design, clearly made with whatever resources had been available when they were being built: clapboard, stone, recycled wood, bricks. Nothing was painted. Their roofs were aluminum sheeting. All of them had rickety-looking porches with straight-back wooden chairs and rustic log tables instead of porch furniture. There were no people around. A dog ambled down the center grass strip of the road, and Art had to stop to let him pass. The dog turned to Art’s car, lazily sniffed the air, woofed once, and then ambled on.
At the end of the strip of houses, the truck Art was following sat parked, now empty, both its doors wide open. Art eased in the cruiser behind it. He sat for a moment, surveying the scene. It was eerie and unnaturally quiet. Slowly he opened the door, stood up, shut it quietly, and listened. In one of the shacks, he thought he saw a curtain move. The feeling that had been moving through him all day began to intensify and form a heaviness in his chest. He took a deep breath, held it a moment, and then let it out. He had arrived in Diamond City.
The door to the shack where the truck had stopped was slightly ajar. Art walked toward it and started up the wooden stairs. A man pulled the door open and stepped into the frame. He was middle-aged and had the same coloring as Caleb, bright red hair and dark skin with freckles. He nodded once to Art. Art tipped his hat. Still without speaking, the man stepped back into the room and indicated that Art should follow. They entered the shack.
Most Diamond City shacks had just one or at most two rooms. This one was no different. Art entered the front room—a large chamber, almost bare, with straight-back chairs lining the perimeter of the room. The walls were off-white, unpainted plaster. There were long rub marks around the room’s perimeter where the backs of the chairs had smudged the plaster. Off to the left was a small kitchen; Art could see the wood stove from where he stood. To the right was a doorway to another room, blocked by two red-haired men.
A woman stood near the kitchen, her red hair braided thickly down her back. She wore a long, faded, blue prairie dress, and she rested a baby, naked except for a diaper, on her hip. She was barefoot. Her eyes were puffy and rimmed red. It was clear that she had been crying. Caleb was shuffling in a corner, and another man, probably the driver of the truck, stood next to him. They all glanced at Art, but none would look at him directly.
Father Abraham sat, like a king seated on a throne, in a chair against the far wall. He was a mix between mayor, elder, and cult leader, a tall, angular man, probably in his eighties, though no one knew for sure. His hair was wild and unruly, running down his back in a thick cloud. It was snow white, as was his beard, which reached his waist. Like all the other men, he wore a flannel shirt and work pants. His hands rested on the handle of a cane in front of him.
Art took off his hat and nodded in deference to the old man. “Afternoon, Father Abraham,” he said.
“Afternoon, afternoon,” the old man said, his voice weak with age.
Once the signal, unseen by Art, had been given, the others around the room mumbled, “Afternoon.”
The old man seemed confused for a moment. He made some sounds that sounded a little like speech and a little like grunting, in the way old men do when they can’t pull the right words from their aged brains. He lifted his right hand, and it flitted like a bird. Finally, it rested, hovered, pointing at the two men in the doorway to the back room. “In there,” was all he said.
Art nodded again, hat still in hand, and moved to enter the room. The two men standing there bowed their heads and then moved to the side, as if he were an honored guest. Art moved through the door.
The back room was sparsely furnished: a single bed with the cover askew, a tall dresser, and a straight-back chair. But in the space between the bed and a chair lay a young girl, Art estimated about sixteen years old, mostly nude, her dress bunched up at her neck. It appeared from where Art stood that she was almost decapitated, her throat slit deep from ear to ear. Her mouth was open in a silent, ghastly scream, and her eyes were wide open. Thick, dark blood had pooled under her body like a halo of maroon, and blood had sprayed everywhere around the room. He glanced up—there was even blood splatter on the ceiling.
Art stood in the doorway a long time, trying not to let any detail escape him. Finally he turned, rubbing his chin, trying to keep his racing mind under wraps. “Do you know who did this?” he asked, not knowing who would answer.
“No suh,” Father Abraham answered firmly, his body trembling. He didn’t look at Art but rather kept his gazed fixed on a spot in the center of the room.
“One of the boys didn’t do this?”
The old man became agitated. He moved in jerky motions, and his mouth made silent protestations.
“No suh,” said the woman. Her voice was deep, raspy, and full of indignation. She lifted her head like a queen, but while her face turned to Art, her eyes still didn’t make contact with his, instead looking slightly downward. “Weese-ah all to worship in-ah church,” she said. Even with its deep, colloquial accent, her voice came out staccato, as if shooting at Art.
Art looked at her—at her chin lifted, her mouth drawn tight, her jaw set, her eyes fixed on the same imaginary spot in the center of the room that Father Abraham gazed at. “Do you know who did this?”
“No suh,” she said, as she turned her body away from him.
Art heard gravel crunch outside. Carl had arrived. “That’s my officer,” Art said, turning toward Father Abraham.
“No!” Father Abraham expelled the syllable. “Just thee. Just thee.”
“Father, I’m going to need help here. I can’t…”
Father Abraham cut him off, his hand making a chopping motion. “No, suh. Just-ah thee. No one else.”
“I promise it will just be Carl. I’m going to need some help.”
Carl was at the door, hat in hand like a Bible salesman.
“I don’t want ’em up here,” Father Abraham said. He was growing more agitated.
“Father Abraham,” Art said, stepping toward him and lowering his voice, “I swear, it’ll just be Carl. We’ll keep it quiet. Just me and Carl.”
Father Abraham turned sideways in his chair and scowled. He made a motion toward the door, indicating Carl could enter.
“Come on in, Carl,” Art said.
Carl entered. He was nervous and breathless. He nodded at Art and tried not to look around. Carl was a boyish twenty-one, still a bit gangly and awkward in his body. His black hair was combed into a pompadour, and he had dark, deep-set eyes. At his mama’s bidding, Art had hired Carl part-time to help out in Fosterdale’s one-man police department.
“This is Carl Williams,” Art said, speaking to everyone in the room. “He is a police officer. He’s going to help me here.” He turned to Carl. “This is Father Abraham.”
Carl nodded to the old man, who did not look at him. “How do you do, sir,” Carl said, stepping forward and extending his hand. The old man grunted at him but still refused to look at him. Carl pulled his hand back, looking to Art.
Art inclined his head toward the room where the girl lay. “Don’t go all the way in,” he cautioned. “I have to collect evidence.”
Carl went to the door and looked inside. His eyes grew wide and unblinking. “Jesus Christ…”
“I’ll not have yah using the Lord’s name in vain in this house,” Father Abraham cried out.
“I’m sorry, Father Abraham,” Art said. He looked sternly at Carl, but Carl spun around, faced the wall, and closed his eyes.
“If you’re going to puke,” Art said softly, “go outside.”
“What…what happened to her?” Carl said, his eyes and teeth clenched shut.
“Her throat’s been cut. From here, it looks like it’s almost clean through.”
“Who done it?” Carl’s voice was quavering. He was fighting the urge to vomit.
“I don’t know,” Art said, taking one more glance around. “Let’s go outside a minute. We can talk there.”
I wrote Diamond City in response to my childhood. I grew up in small-town America, the part of America that supposedly represents everything that is good and pure about the country. But small-town America can also be cruel to those who are different and do not fit in.
Diamond City is in part a love story. It tells the story of Art Moran, a small-town boy, who falls in love with Rebecca Diamond, a mixed-raced girl who is a member of a mysterious clan family. Their relationship is destined to fail because those around them work to make it fail.
Diamond City is also part crime novel. Art Moran, as a man and police chief, is called to Diamond City to solve the murder of Rebecca’s sister. The murder sets off a horrible chain of events in which Art loses Rebecca forever. But forty years later, Rebecca’s daughter, Tirzah, seeks answers to her own troubled youth. Through a cryptic note, Tirzah is led to Art Moran, now old and isolated, and she implores him to help her reopen the murder case. Tirzah finds out the truth about her mother, her family’s demise, and the man who murdered her aunt. In the end, Tirzah says, “All I ever wanted was for the nightmares to end.” Art says to her, “That is all anyone ever wants.” And that is how the novel ends, not with the tying up of loose ends or justice for the murdered woman, but with a sense that the nightmares of the past have ended and the characters can move into their own future.
Marianna Boncek grew up in the Catskill Mountains, where she learned to love nature and the stars. She holds a BA from Vermont College, an MA from Goddard College, and a PhD from Union Institute and University. She is currently pursuing her MFA at Mississippi University for Women. Her two popular nonfiction works, The Spooky Hudson Valley and Gone Missing in New York, were published by Schiffer Books. Her young-adult novel, Ajar, was published by Mélange Books. Two of her plays have been featured in the Hudson Valley Short Play Festival, and she is a regular reader in Hudson Valley poetry venues. Her hobbies include hiking, traveling, and searching out the perfect bookstore. She currently lives in the Hudson Valley in New York with her partner, Dave. Please visit her website at mariannaboncek.com.
Embark, Issue 6, October 2018