brendan halpin

Who doesn’t love some gothic goodness? Spooky old houses! Repressed sexuality! Dread!

I recently watched The Haunted Palace with Vincent Price. It’s about how Vincent Price inherits a gigantic castle in Massachusetts(!) and gets possessed by the evil spirit of his ancestor who originally owned the joint!

It’s a fun time, if not as colorful as Masque of the Red Death. Kind of like a Hammer movie with less cleavage. For a fun bonus, it features a couple of guys who were on every TV show in the 1970s! (If you watch the movie, you’ll know them immediately, and look them up on IMDB trying to figure out where you know them from, then realize it could be literally any network TV program from 1970-80!). There’s a pretty big plot hole, but the end is great and it delivers the spooky atmosphere. Disappointing that Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth are mentioned but never make an appearance in the film. Whaddya got against elder gods, Roger Corman?

The Last One Left is a gothic novel by Riley Sager about a home health aide who comes to care for an old woman who may or may not have killed her parents and sister years earlier. It’s a pretty engaging read, but…well, there are many pleasures to be had from reading, and, in the mystery genre, I realize that what I really like is spending time with a cool protagonist while they try to unravel the mystery. I’m less interested in the solution.

Well, this book is all about the solution. The protagonist isn’t much of a character—just kind of an information-gathering machine. The solution is unexpected and brilliantly constructed, but…there are like five big plot twists in the last quarter of the book. After the first one, I was like, “Oh, cool!” by the fifth one I was like, “Really? Another one?” Ultimately the whole rest of the book is setting up the cleverness of the last quarter. If you like a clever solution and multiple plot twists, this is a good pick for you. If you’re like me…well, it’s still a very entertaining book. But be forewarned you may be rolling your eyes at the end.

#Review #movies #books #gothic #mystery

Back in February, I wrote about how several Boston charter schools were facing a crisis of declining enrollment. It seems the crisis hasn’t abated.

If you don’t want to click through to the old article, here’s why declining enrollments matter: in Massachusetts, the money follows the student. So every open seat in a charter school represents lost revenue for the school. Lost revenue leads to budget cuts, budget cuts lead to worse schools which lead to more open seats. This is the death spiral that charter schools were intended to inflict on real public schools. But now it seems to be happening to them.

As of August 17th, six months after the charter school lottery was held, eight of Boston’s sixteen charter schools still have open seats. Find the whole list here. (Don’t worry! I’ve got screenshots if they take it down!)

This matters, of course, because it shows that the charter school narrative that people are lining up to get in and we should really expand the number of charter schools is false. If you live in Boston, you’ve probably seen the ads urging people to enroll in charter schools. If a school is in high demand, it doesn’t need to advertise. (Also, I don’t believe even nominally public charter schools should use public money to advertise, but I’m old fashioned like that.)

But I started to get curious about why charter enrollment is falling. My theory is that the charters that started in 1995 have been around long enough that they’ve got substantial numbers of alumni who are parents…and choosing not to send their kids to charter schools because of what they experienced there.

So I decided to reach out to a bunch of charter school alumni to see if my theory was correct. This was in no way a scientific survey, and most people are busy and not as obsessed with education as I am. Two folks wrote back to me to say they had good experiences at the charter school where I was their teacher. This didn’t surprise me. The charter where I worked served a small subset of students very well. I think that’s true of most of them.

But then I also got this, from City on a Hill alum Tonya. I’m using her name and story with her permission. I’ve edited her response for length.

To be 💯 with you but when I was a sophomore at COAH, I was treated like shit. The only one that supported me and didn’t look down on me was Ms. Jamison.She told me that I would succeed even being a teen mom. I had teachers and administration tell me I wouldn’t be anything and I would end up working at McDonald’s and I should leave COAH and get my GED. I was misrepresenting the COAH mission statement and was told I needed to leave and go to a secondary maternity school for pregnant teens. I wasn’t even given the proper education there or all of my school requirements from City on a Hill which led to me getting kept back. I was supposed to graduate in 2004 but I transferred out my senior year. It SUCKED ASS for me and I felt like a failure. 1 because I was pregnant and

2 Because I felt like I was purposely kept back. I got straight A’s in my secondary school COAH transferred me to and told me I would be able to graduate with my class. But when it came down to it out of nowhere I didn’t have enough credits. So I happily left COAH permanently. I wasn’t going to be a statistic like admin was saying to me. Mr. Hays wasn’t telling me I wouldn’t be worth anything but he supported his peers and I looked up to these individuals. I PRIDED myself in being a charter school kid because it wasn’t BPS and I knew the requirements and high expectations. I love a challenge and love to prove people wrong when I’m being looked down on. I had a blast friends wise at COAH. I have amazing memories with my peers. But the way I was treated like a piece of trash and then shunned like a stain on their reputation was degrading. I was putting pressure on myself because I knew the obstacles I’d have being a teen mom but they didn’t make it terrible for me like I was a mistake.

Charter school in that phrase to me sounds like “elite”, or “thorough bread”, “smarter than” “better than”, and as much as the mission statement sounds cool and jazzy, it’s bullshit. It’s like a corporate office job that says all these amazing things to get bodies through the door then when you are hired to work their you realize it’s just for show.

I graduated public school with honors and held my “mistake” on my hip and in my class speech I told in short words that I was holding my daughter as a middle finger to everyone that said I couldn’t do it in school.

Now, obviously Tonya is only one alum. I won’t say her story is representative of everyone’s experience, but Iknow for a fact that it’s far from unique. I will never stop feeling ashamed that I sat silently in meetings while students with ed plans were “counseled out” of City on a Hill because the school wasn’t willing to meet its legal obligation to serve their needs. Students usually left those meetings in tears.

Would you send your kid to a school that had, in Tonya’s words, treated you like shit?

(If you’re a charter school alum with a story to tell, click on the contact me link at the top of the page. I have often been guilty of writing about charter schools by the numbers, and I think it’s important to remember that every one of those numbers is a person.)

#Boston #Education #CharterSchools

Just back from a delightful week in rural Maine, not far from the New Hampshire border. I’ve got some thoughts about rural life in general, but the first thing I will say is if you choose to ignore TLC’s advice as I did, Sabbaday Falls in New Hampshire is a VERY cool waterfall, just a short walk into the White Mountain National Forest.

The first thing that struck me about rural life is that you just have to freaking drive EVERYWHERE. Over the course of a week, I got used to driving between 15 and 45 minutes to do pretty much anything. Want a cup of coffee? 15 minutes away. Ice cream? 15 minutes in a different direction. Grocery store? half an hour.

You get the picture. You just have to spend so much time in the car all the time. These folks cannot give up their cars. Which makes it all the more important for those of us who live in cities to try to drive as little as possible and to fight to take our cities back from cars so that they (and the planet in general) will be more liveable.

(aside—You can’t be serious about climate change if you don’t address the incredible carbon footprint of the US military. We need to stop maintaining a global empire in order to save the globe. But I can’t make the DC establishment kick its defense contractor money habit, and I might be able to move the needle on driving a little bit. So we do what we can!)

Also, a lot of us anti-car folks should, I think, include a recognition of this reality of rural life when we talk about this issue. If I had to depend on a car to make my life livable, I too would probably be pretty hostile to anti-car rhetoric. I know there aren’t, percentage-wise, that many people in rural environments, but I think they could use some reassurance that we don’t want them stuck in their homes forever.

Also—while I did see some “Don’t Tread on Me” flags in Maine, once I got into New Hampshire, the fascist symbols multiplied, like, exponentially. In a supermarket in NH I saw a guy with a trucker hat bearing the Punisher Skull logo with the fascist “blue line” flag pattern and a swoop of orange hair atop the skull. It was like a parody of fascist merch, but this guy was not wearing it ironically.

I don’t know why New Hampshire is so much more fascist than…well, any other New England State, but in light of the Don’t Tread on Me flags, I started thinking about the many ways rural residents are subsidized by city residents. For example, in the Maine towns where I was, there were basically no roads—only state routes. The rural towns don’t have any roads of their own, presumably because they don’t have the tax base to maintain them. So they just build houses off the state route, paved, maintained, and plowed by the state, and therefore subsidized by people who live in non-rural areas.

Same with the power lines and cable internet infrastructure. A mile of power line on a state route in Maine might serve a hundred customers, but I feel like the actual number is far less than that. So either the state or the ratepayers are subsidizing the power and internet lines going to areas where it probably costs more to maintain the lines than the companies make in revenue from having them there.

Now, I’m not going to use crappy GOP rhetoric about freeloaders or whatever because I believe we should all take care of each other. And so I don’t think it’s wrong or even bad that rural infrastructure is subsidized by urban residents. But maybe rural residents could recognize this and a) stop demonizing the cities whose tax revenue makes their lifestyle possible and b) stop with the “independent homesteader” cosplay and recognize that you’re not some lone wolf living on the frontier. You’re someone driving every day on a road someone else paid for because they think you should have roads to drive on.

Well, I can dream.

#transit #fascism #cars

I was sucked in by the setup—in 1968, a teenage boy searches for his missing sister. He knows she was kidnapped, but the cops think she’s just another hippie who dropped out, so he has to find her. For the most part, the novel delivers on the premise. What kept me from loving it was that the author seems to be interested in making this a coming-of-age novel in addition to a mystery, so the search for the missing sister unfolds at a pretty slow pace as the protagonist does some teenage boy coming of age stuff that was less interesting to me than the mystery.


For a book that takes place in the 60’s underground and, for the most part, paints cops as ineffectual at best and malicious at worst, this takes what seems to me a pretty sharp right turn (politically speaking) at the end. Trotting out the right-wing myths of people on acid thinking they can fly (I mean, I guess it might have happened at some point?) and protestors greeting returning Vietnam vets with abuse (particularly weird in this book because how do the protestors know when the bus is coming with the returning soldiers on it?) both make an appearance, and, in the end, the problem can only be solved by men with guns.

Also, it has to be said that there is not a single well-developed female character in the book. We come closest with the mom, but even she is pretty one-note in the end.

So, overall, it was entertaining. Would have been better if it were a hundred pages shorter.

…and the bookstore is playing hits on their sound system. Now, we’ve been in other stores and have heard music ranging from tolerable to loathsome. But as we wander the aisles in this joint, we hear The The’s “This is the Day” followed by Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear us Apart” followed by The Smiths’ “This Charming Man” followed by New Order’s “Ceremony.”

I was enjoying the groove when one of the two people behind the counter asked if she could give my dog a treat. Like his owner, he only says no to a treat if he’s feeling extremely ill, so I gave an enthusiastic yes. Now, this particular woman was white haired and in her late 50s or early 60s. The other person behind the counter was a young woman in her 20s, so I figured the person in front of me had chosen the “alternative hits of the 80s” playlist.

So I said to her, I said, “you’re playing the soundtrack to my adolescence here! I wanna go sulk in my room, ha ha!” Not the greatest joke in the world, sure, but mildly amusing, to me anyway.

But not to the bookstore clerk who responded thusly: “Oh, I’m too old for this stuff. I feel like it just kind of meanders. And I’m like, why?”

Reader, I was outraged. First of all, this woman was certainly not too old for this stuff—she was probably just listening to different music when “Love Will Tear us Apart” came out. Second of all, this is an inappropriate response to someone’s enthusiasm for a work of art!

Full disclosure: I had to edit this piece twice to remove my own snarky dismissals of the kinds of music other people enjoy. Perhaps what I really meant was that it was an inappropriate response to my enthusiasm for a work of art.

Today I logged my tenth short story rejection in the last year. (Not all for the same story—I am, apparently a glutton for punishment, but not that much)

Now, I got published a lot in the early 2000’s. But I haven’t sold a book (or story) since 2011. I’ve now been dealing with rejection for longer than I dealt with acceptance. Writing-wise, of course.

So I’m a bit of an expert on rejection (in the fiction realm—there are lots of other ways to get rejected that I don’t know much about!), and I’d like to share some of my hard-earned wisdom!

First and foremost: you know this already because you’ve read an embarrassingly bad book or story that was traditionally published, but, at any level, the business of publishing is not about judging the quality of the work. So the fact that you got rejected by an agent or editor does not imply that your work isn’t good. Really. So let’s go through the people who may reject your work and look at what their reasons are!


This one’s easy because legitimate agents only get paid if they sell your book to a publisher. Which means this: they will only agree to represent your book if

a) they feel like it’s a sure fire bestseller. (Note: screenwriter William Goldman’s maxim about Hollywood applies to publishing as well: nobody knows anything. So this is an agent making a guess that this is the right moment for this particular book.) This is rare.

b) They love your book. Now before you get offended that they didn’t love your book, think about how many books you’ve read in the last year. How many did you love? For me it’s about ten percent of the books I read. It doesn’t mean that the others aren’t good—it’s just that I am one particular person with a particular bunch of experiences and preferences, and some books are really going to speak to me and other aren’t.

This is the same case with agents, only I suspect the percentage of books they love is even smaller. And remember—if an agent agrees to take on your book, they’re agreeing to work on it for free. They’ll only get paid if they sell it. So that’s a pretty high bar to clear. They’ll read many good books they just won’t love enough to work on them for free. Fair enough!

Editors (magazines)

If you’re submitting to one of the big professional markets, you need to remember a couple of things.

One is that these editors are saving spaces in every issue for established writers. Is your name on the cover going to move copies? Nope! But if Stephen King’s name is on the cover, people will buy it. (This, of course, benefits new writers—if people pick up the magazine to read something by Stephen King, they might wind up reading yours too!)

Also: they have a vision for what their publication is. And your story might not fit into that vision. Some of the speculative fiction publications are clearly focusing on stories that ignore or subvert familiar tropes instead of using them as a framework. So your perfectly cromulent space opera story might not find a home there. The mystery publications often have the opposite focus—I suspect their readership skews older, and so they do a lot of stories with familiar settings and tropes that feel more comfortable than challenging. Your story might be great, but if they judge that it doesn’t fit the vision for their publication, or that their readers aren’t ready for such a departure, they’re not going to publish it.

Editors (novels)

As with agents, editors acquire for two reasons.

a)They think it’s going to sell really well and make everyone a lot of money (but remember: nobody knows anything)


b) it’s the kind of book that is going to make them feel like their job is valuable and important

So if you don’t have a high-concept bestseller, you have to hope your book hits reason b. And the editor, like you, is a person with a specific set of preferences and experiences that may or may not align with your book.

In my experience, it never gets easy to get rejected. But for so many of us, every submission feels like a referendum on the quality of our work. I hope it’ll be helpful to you to know it’s not.

#writing #publishing

I really enjoyed this show, the rare comedy/mystery that works really well as both. The first two episodes are really funny, and the remaining ones are intermittently funny as the focus shifts from comedy to mystery.

It’s about a small town in Tasmania that is rapidly gentrifying thanks to an influx of lesbians from the mainland, one of whom is long-suffering cop Dulcie. This is a great performance from Kate Box (Good God, imagine how hard middle school was for this woman), who essentially plays the straight man (comedically speaking) to most of the rest of the cast of quirky characters, led by Madeleine Semi as foul-mouthed, horny mainland detective Eddie. It’s kind of like if Northern Exposure was about a serial killer instead of some will-they-or-won’t-they bullshit.

One of the things I really love about crime fiction and television is that it allows for exploration of social issues without didacticism (usually). Deadloch does this really well, highlighting the aforementioned gentrification as well as the mistreatment of the indigenous people and the paternalistic cruelty of wealthy white people who do philanthropy for them. And, of course, how women are mistreated by men in their personal and professional lives. The only stumble, in my opinion, is this: Dulcie sees one of her indigenous neighbors has sprayed ACAB on their garbage cans and just kind of gives it an exasperated eyeroll. For a show that clearly sets out to skewer a lot of injustices, it’s a weird blind spot. Why even bring it up only to dismiss it?

My slight political objections aside, I still give this a full-throated recommendation. It’s one of the best crime shows I’ve watched in years. I’m really hoping for a season 2, though I suspect this is a lightning in a bottle situation that won’t be repeated. Catch it on Prime.

#TV #Review #Cops #Crime

I watched all 3 episodes of House of Hammer (Not to be confused with Hammer House of Horror, which is also great) this weekend. It’s a riveting, disturbing documentary.

Of course it’s about sexual abuse, so it features survivors telling their stories in graphic detail, so if that kind of thing is going to send you spiraling for a few days, please do not watch it.

I found it gross and awful and couldn’t stop watching. I very rarely watch TV by myself, and yet after starting this and getting about 15 minutes in, I found nearly 3 hours to continue it.

So: an excellent documentary with a huge content warning for sexual assault. That’s the review. Now the reflections.

I hope that as stories like this continue to emerge, we’ll start to change our perception of the ultra rich. The Hammer dynasty (Armand, Julian, Michael, Armie. Not MC, who is, as far as I know, a decent guy) is comprised of shockingly horrible people. And I don’t think they’re alone. For one thing, becoming ultra rich seems to require a lack of empathy for other humans that is almost certainly pathological. For another, with apologies to Master P, growing up with no limits seems to break something in the human brain. In short, the people who amass huge fortunes probably have serious personality disorders, and even if those aren’t passed down genetically, growing up ultra wealthy seems to lead to people becoming awful. So maybe we can stop lionizing these folks. They are the absolute scum of the earth, which is not the kind of term I throw around lightly.

It’s impossible to adequately praise the courage of the women who came forward to detail what Armie Hammer did to them without slipping into cliche. But to survive that kind of horrible trauma only to be targeted by horrible fans? To know that the person you’re exposing has enough money to both smear you and evade consequences for pretty much anything forever? That really is a profound bravery, and ultimately, self-sacrifice. Because they face the public vilification in hopes of saving other women from enduring what they endured.

This is in no way to diminish the aforementioned incredible courage, but something I noticed was that one of the Armie Hammer survivors was the CEO of an app company (so just regular rich, not ultra rich), and was able to just take off for multi-week vacations on a whim. I firmly believe in most organizations, the more money you make, the less important you are to the day to day functioning of the place. The boss never has to find anyone to cover their shift because it doesn’t matter if they show up or not.

Circling back to the toxic fans. I think it’s incredibly important for all of us to be able to admit when we’ve been conned. Armie Hammer successfully conned people into believing he was a certain kind of person (not a monster), and people who invested so much into admiring him would rather publicly attack a rape survivor than admit they were wrong. But here’s the thing. Cons, scams, cults, whatever—they don’t just work on stupid people. They work on all of us because they use the good parts of our personalities against us. So giving people the benefit of the doubt, showing forgiveness, believing in the necessity of working for a better world—these are all good things we don’t want to lose, and as long as we have them, people will con us. Armand Hammer didn’t amass a huge fortune by conning only dumb people. He conned everyone. I pride myself on my cynicism and was succesfully conned by two different employers, each one peddling idealism they didn’t believe. I’m susceptible to being conned again for the same reason.

Also, if you’re not a sociopath, they’re hard to spot. That’s why they can do so many crimes and become super wealthy! I, like most people, consider myself a good judge of character but was completely stunned to find that someone I used to work with was credibly accused of two violent crimes. Up until I read the details of their alleged crimes, I would have told you they were a warm, friendly, and very good-hearted person. But I appear to have been wrong about that. Or, anyway, those qualities somehow coexisted with violent rage. I would like to encourage us all to have some humility about our ability to judge people and not see our inability to immediately spot horrible people as our flaw. It’s not. It's the very qualities that make us not horrible that make us fall for these people. The problem isn’t us. It’s them.

#Review #EatTheRich


My city councilor recently drove through a fence and into a house. She was not drunk, she was just driving like an asshole. (She was also driving an uninsured, uninspected car with no license, but that stuff, while interesting, and probably pertinent to her reelection chances, doesn’t figure into what I’m talking about here.)

Now, my city councilor consistently advocates for policies that will show kindness and care to the most vulerable people in the city. And, she drove her car in such a way that she was very lucky not to have killed someone. I’ve been thinking about this contradiction a lot. I’m not surprised when someone on the right drives like an asshole. It’s entirely philosophically consistent to advocate for the idea that only some people matter and to drive in a way that shows you view other people not as people, but as obstacles. But how can you be kind and compassionate in your policies and an asshole behind the wheel?

I’ve come to believe there is something inherent to driving that brings out the worst in people. I certainly do not exempt myself from this, though I am on a continual quest to be a better person in all aspects of my life. But I suspect it’s true of you too. How many of us can say we are the best version of ourselves when we’re driving?

I think one part of the equation is that driving offers a freedom it can never deliver. We get in a car and think it’s going to be like walking, only faster. That is to say, you choose your route, and you just go. But of course other drivers slow us down when we’re driving in a way other walkers don’t slow us down when we’re walking. And this seems profoundly unfair. How dare you people deny me my right to get where I’m going as quickly as possible!?

There is something about driving that makes us disregard the humanity of everyone else on the road. This is particularly egregious if you are walking. Every day I take my dog to Franklin Park and have to cross Walnut Street at a crosswalk with a stop sign. And at least once a week I wind up yelling at someone who blows through the stop sign because they’re not paying attention, or they just don’t feel that the laws apply to them or because they stopped when the person in front of them stopped at the stop sign, so that totally counts. It’s also very frequent that people give me an annoyed face, or gun the engine as soon as my back foot clears the front of their car, or otherwise demonstrate that they think I’m the asshole by delaying them by ten seconds, which is about how long it takes me and my dog to cross the street.

I don’t think all of these people are sociopaths. But I do think there is something about driving that brings out sociopathic behavior.

As I said, I do have a car, and I do drive it, but I’m trying to drive it less. I think we all should drive less, not only as a response to the climate emergency, but because it will make us better people. I don’t think most of us want to be the kind of people who put other people’s lives in danger because they inconvenience us. But more that that, we’re facing some very serious challenges right now, and I don’t believe we can meet these challenges as a bunch of individuals fighting for scarce resources (like space on the roads, for example.) We’ve got to work together and recognize that we’re all in this together, and driving subverts this mindset. It’s literally killing us.


Okay, Brendan, great philosophy, but I still have to get places. What’s your plan?

There’s a center lane busway near my house that has completely transformed my experience of riding a bus. These are exponentially cheaper to build than light rail. They should be everywhere.

Public transportation should be free. Always and everywhere.

So, advocate for these policies.

If you’ve got the money, you can snag an ebike for as little as a thousand bucks. Which is a lot of money, but not compared to the cost of fueling, insuring, parking, and maintaining a car. You might or might not be able to use it year round, but for doing little errands near your house, they’re unbeatable. I put a basket on my (regular, not e)bike and found I was able to dramatically cut the number of car trips in my neighborhood.

Don’t feel safe riding a bike on the road? Advocate for better bike infrastructure. Actually you should do this even if you are devoted to your car and never want to ride a bike because you hate sharing the road with bikes, and they hate sharing the road with you, so get ‘em some protected lanes!

And, of course, you can do what you do when gas prices are high: be thoughful and intentional about when you get behind the wheel. Combine trips. Don’t go for a drive for fun, or to clear your head, or whatever. Take a walk!

Appendix 2: The title of this post is a quote from Repo Man (1984), which is a great movie, marred only by one homophobic slur aimed at John Wayne. It’s a weird, hilarious movie about a young man trying to pick the right mentor. Its’ also got aliens, Harry Dean Stanton, a fantastic punk rock soundtrack, and a scene with the Circle Jerks doing an acoustic cover of “Pablo Picasso.”

#Boston #Driving #Transit #Biking #RepoMan #Bus

This is a short (2800 word) noir story I wrote for an anthology where it failed to find a home. It has also garnered rejections from a number of fine short fiction publications. It’s a nasty little jolt of a story that does exactly what I wanted it to do. It’s noir, so content warnings aplenty: Suicide (discussed), Sexual abuse (discussed), violence and murder (depicted).

I don’t think anybody really wants to work third shift, but that was the job that was open, so that was the job I took. Doing security for minimum wage plus a buck twenty-five an hour shift bonus at a warehouse in Somerville. It was boring as shit.

That’s inaccurate. Because even shit varies. Whereas security at the Krebs Envelope warehouse was exactly the fuckin same every single night. Walkthrough at 12:30 PM after the last of the second shift workers were out, just to make sure nobody was hiding in the machinery or, I don’t know, fucking in the break room or whatever. Another walkthrough at 3 AM, and a final one at 6:30 before anybody from first shift was in the building. Every walkthrough exactly the same: me walking around, shining a flashlight, not seeing shit. But I had to do it because if I didn’t show up on the security camera footage walking through the warehouse at the appointed times, I would be summarily fired. Or so my boss at Gravitas Security told me.

So: same shit every night. I read a lot of books, played a lot of games, watched a lot of TV. Easy money, and I should have been happy. I was even saving because I never got to go out. But it sucked. One night I got off the T at 11 o’clock and was seriously thinking about just bailing on the whole thing. Stop going to work, get evicted I guess, and then what? Move back in with Mom?

Might as well be dead. I knew I had to find a way to get through the night. The Store 24 two blocks away was open, so I went in. There was a young woman behind the counter. Short, black hair, sleeve tats—I’m not gonna say she made the Store 24 uniform shirt look good because that’s impossible, but she looked good despite it. I was browsing for a while, and she was behind the counter on her phone. I couldn’t find anything exciting enough to get me out of my seat for the 3AM walkthrough.

And then I realized I knew somebody else who worked the late shift who might be able to give me some advice. I got a can of Red Bull, I guess because they didn’t sell caffeinated piss and this was the closest thing. And it was also good to have another purchase in my hand when I asked her about snacks so she wouldn’t think I was just there to perv on her. So I went up with my Red Bull and said, “Hey, so I work all night at the warehouse down the street and it’s boring as fuck and I need a snack I can like, look forward to at 3 AM so I don’t just run screaming into the night from being bored out of my skull. Got any recommendations?”

She smiled. “Get those wasabi almonds,” she said, pointing at an endcap that had a lot of skinny plastic bags of nuts. “Wake your ass right up. If you take a handful, it feels like your nostrils are on fire. Not, like, completely pleasant, but if you’re gonna fall asleep and then get fired, those’ll do the trick.”

I bought two bags. “Thanks” I said. “If I don’t get fired tonight, I’ll owe you.”

“Does that mean I get a cut of your paycheck?” she asked, and at that moment I had this stray thought like I would totally give you anything you asked for, but that sounded both dorky and creepy in my mind, so let it go.

But I was back the next night. I brought a flower. I was like, “Hey, I wanted to thank you for the tip about the wasabi almonds, and I was gonna like, bring some food in, but I don’t know if you’ve got food allergies or whatever, so I went with a rose.”

She looked at me for like ten seconds, then said, “You bought me a rose. Because you were afraid I had food allergies.”

“I mean, I guess it...I mean, you were nice to me on a shitty day, and I wanted to say thank you.”

“Well,” she said, looking at the rose and smiling, “You’re welcome.”

And so that’s how I wound up going back there the next night and the one after that and pretty much every night before work. I started taking an earlier train so I would have a few more minutes to shoot the shit with her. Her name was Candace, and if you called her Candy she would put a Doc Martens so far up your ass she’d knock your teeth out from the inside. Or so she told me. I did not want to test it.

After a couple of days we exchanged numbers and then we would text each other while we were working. I probably should have asked her out sooner, but, and I know this is going to sound dumb, but she was the only thing making my job bearable, and so the only thing keeping me anchored to a stable life. Or a life that was on the way to stability, anyway. If we went out and it was weird, or she decided she hated me or whatever, I’d have to go and be alone in the warehouse again with no texting and no wasabi nuts, and I honestly didn’t think I’d last a week.

But then I decided I was going to do it because it was dumb not to. It had been a month and she was going to think I wasn’t interested if I didn’t pull the trigger. So I walked in and walked straight up to the counter and said, “Hey, so I’ve got my day off in a couple days, and I don’t know if you—” and that was as far as I got because at that moment I swear to God David Fucking Chapman walked into the Store 24.

In order to understand what came next, you have to know a little bit about David Fucking Chapman. He was a Latin teacher at Boston Classical when I was in seventh grade there. Teacher of the year like three times. Everybody loved him—one of those teachers who has a little cult around him all the time because he’s mister inspirational Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society or whatever.

I always found him creepy, but my sister Bridget liked him. Until he raped her. But she was just townie trash with a drunk for a dad and a mom who was never home, and he was teacher of the year and worked at Boston Classical where the mayor and half the city council went, and if you thought anybody was gonna stand up for a girl like my sister against that kind of power, well, you’re obviously rich or stupid or both.

After the rape came the drugs and…well, I don’t wanna get into it, but my big sister Bridget was dead four years later. And our whole fuckin family blew up. I stopped going to school because why go to school when they just protect rapists there, Dad left and never came back (this part wasn’t actually that bad), and Mom just decided she was gonna do nothing but sit in front of the TV 16 hours a day for the rest of her life.

So imagine my surprise when David Chapman walks into a Store 24 in Somerville at 11:30 on a Tuesday night.  “Hey, Mr. Chapman!!” I said when he walked in. He looked at me, confused.

“Did I have you in class?” he said.

“No, but you had my sister. Bridget Connolly?” I watched his face to see if he would flinch or have any kind of tell that he felt guilty or afraid. He didn’t.

“Mmm. Sorry, I don’t remember, but I have a lot of students, you know.”

I got up real close to him. “Yeah, but how many of those do you rape? I mean, I bet it’s a lot, motherfuckers like you always do it a lot, but it can’t be so many that you actually forget them. Can it? Bridget Connolly? Nothing?”

Now he looked uncomfortable, but I figured this was more because I was in his face than because he remembered my sister. I grabbed him by the collar and slammed his face on the counter. I heard his nose break, and blood went everywhere.

“Bridget Connolly,” I said. “Remember her now, you piece of shit?”

“I…I have no idea what you’re...” BANG. I slammed his head down again. He started crying “Please,” he said. “You’ve got the wrong—”

I brought a knee into his nuts before he could finish his lie.  He crumpled to the ground, and I got on top of him and started slamming his head on the linoleum. “Bridget! Connolly! Bridget! Connolly!” I said, over and over again. He was crying and I didn’t care because I missed my sister and she deserved better than she got, and she might have had a chance if it weren’t for this fuck.

I guess I kept slamming him for a while, because I felt Candace’s hand on my shoulder. “Hey,” she said. “I think he’s had enough.”

I looked at the bloody mess underneath me and at my bloody knuckles. Looked like maybe I punched him in the mouth a few times too. There was a tooth on the floor next to his head. Candace reached down and felt at his neck. Then she kicked him in the ribs. He didn’t react. “Yeah, I think he’s dead,” she said.

I immediately came off my anger high and just stared into space, feeling like I had just been dropped into someone else’s life. Candace put her arms around me for five seconds. “Hey,” she said. “I need you here. You can fall apart later,” she said. “But right now we’ve got some work to do.”             “What do you mean?” I said. I was just starting to realize that I had killed a guy in a Store 24 and was maybe going to spend the rest of my life in jail.

“I mean, you wanna go to jail for killing that asshole, or you wanna do a little work?” She dug into the guy’s pocket and pulled out the key to his Prius. “Take this,” she said.  She locked the front door and turned out the store lights. She went to the little machine where the hot dogs and taquitos rotated on hot rollers and grabbed two pairs of gloves.

“Help me move him to the back door,” she said, so I did.

“Great. Now I’m gonna disable the security cameras. You—pour some bleach in that bucket and mop the shit out of the floor, then wipe down the counter and anywhere you see blood.” She looked at me. “And you’re eventually gonna have to bleach the uniform and probably throw the shoes away somewhere far from where you usually go. I don’t suppose you’ve got any extra clothes?”

“Um. No.”

“Okay, well, for now, wash the blood out of that shirt. Just don’t forget to bleach everything later. And then maybe burn it. Except the shoes. The soles stink like hell and make a lot of black smoke.”

I washed the blood out of the shirt in the bathroom sink, then got to work mopping.

Even though there was light from the streetlights spilling into the store, it was still a little challenging to mop in the dark, and a couple of times people came to the door and I had to duck behind the chips and stuff, but it only took me ten minutes or so to get the floor mopped and the counter wiped down.

I smelled something horrible and started to cough. I looked over at the counter, where Candace was pulling something off the hot dog roller with a pair of tongs. “Sorry about the smell,” she said. “Had to cook the security camera DVR’s hard drive. Now I’m gonna go reinstall it.”

I didn’t really know what she was talking about, but I trusted her.

I dumped out the mop bucket and put the paper towels in a garbage bag which I threw in the dumpster.

“Great. Now here’s the plan. You’re gonna pull his car around—oh, I guess you better call in sick, by the way, this is gonna take a while.”

“Shit. I am totally getting fired.”

“Yeah, I know this is gonna be a big loss for you because your job is really something special. Kind of like mine! But maybe one day, if you’re really lucky, you can find another job that sucks your soul out.”

“Okay, okay, touch ,” I said.

“Also it’s better than going to jail.”

I pulled the Prius around back and we wrestled the body that once belonged to David Fucking Chapman into the passenger seat. “I kind of wish I’d let him live and just cut his dick off,” I said.

“Yeah, well,” Candace answered, “Maybe you can do that to the next rapist. Now, turn your phone off. Then drive the car to Everett, by the casino. Send a text from his phone to anybody in his contacts when you get there. Doesn’t matter what—you just have to make sure his phone pings a tower there. But stay out of the Casino lot—they’re bound to have cameras. Wipe the phone down and stomp it till you’re sure it’s broken and leave it on the ground. Then drive to the rear parking lot of the Wellington Orange Line station. If you drive to the far end of the station you can back right up to the tree line. Pull him out of the back of the car and drag him to the water—it’s only about fifty feet to the Malden River.”

She had very specific knowledge of how and where and how to dump a body. I did not ask why.

“Don’t take the T because there are cameras in the station. You’re gonna have to walk back. Oh yeah, and keep those gloves on until you’re out of the car. Then ditch ‘em.”

“Got it,” I said. I followed her directions. When I saw the sign for the casino, I pressed Chapman’s dead finger on the phone and then sent a text to the number one person in his frequent contacts: Marjorie. “Going to the casino,” I said, then turned the phone off. It turned out to be very hard to text using a dead guy’s fingers. Stomping the phone to death was much easier.

After this, it took me about fifteen minutes to find my way to the rear parking lot at Wellington Station because of course I couldn’t turn my phone on to navigate there. But I did eventually find it, and it was exactly as Candace had said. I pulled Chapman out of the back of the Prius and dumped him into the Malden River, which was more of a creek here, but whatever. There was enough water for his corpse to start floating away. “Good riddance, you fuck,” I said.

Then I started the long walk back to Somerville. Maybe I should have gone home instead of back to the scene of the crime, but I felt like I was just about to fall apart, and I needed to see Candace again.

It took a little over an hour to get back, but I didn’t have anything else to do. I walked in and looked around at the immaculate store. You’d never know a guy was murdered here a couple hours ago. From behind the counter, Candace said, “Welcome to Store 24!”

“Thanks,” I said.

“I’m off at 6:30,” she said. “And you’re taking me to breakfast. Least you can do.”

She was right about that. The morning shift guy came in, and she sloughed off her Store 24 shirt, revealing the Misfits T-shirt underneath.

We walked away from the store, arm in arm, not talking. And after a block or so, I started to cry. I just had a lot of feelings all the sudden, and it got kind of overwhelming. We stopped, and she gently wiped the tears from my cheeks. “Hey,” she said. “You did a good thing. You don’t have to feel bad.”

“I don’t feel bad about that guy,” I said. “I just…it didn’t bring my sister back. You know? She’s still dead, my old man’s still a drunk piece of shit, and my Mom is still catatonic in front of the TV. Nothing’s better.”             “Well,” she said. “Maybe it’ll be better when we get the next one.”

“What next one?” I said.

“I’ll tell you over breakfast,” she said.



If you liked this story, you might well enjoy my novel The Long Detention. Pay what you want!

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