So, I’m teaching Creative Writing now and I need a place to post this so my students can see it. I wrote this back in high school, so if it’s not great, I have improved somewhat. Anyway.
Spoils of Crime
New York. 1937.
With little remorse, he watched as the man’s pleading face disappeared from view beneath the dark waters of the Hudson River. The man had robbed him, and, to make matters worse, had not paid him in months. He had only got what was coming to him.
“Whaddaya wanna do wid his shoes, Doc?”
Joseph “Doc” Rossellinni turned to face his accomplices. “Toss ‘em in the car, boys. They’re the only things on ‘im worth savin’.”
The men ducked into the car and drove off into the mists of the harbor, away from their crime scene with nothing more than a pair of shoes to tell their deed.
They weren’t ugly shoes – they just weren’t what Doc was used to. They were, however, more comfortable than many of his other shoes, so he wore them, but only around the house. His wife, Anna, knew better than to ask where he had gotten them, but she had her suspicions. She knew what her husband did for his living, even before she married him. She had thought she could change him, but had realized too late that change for Joseph was nearly impossible and it was too dangerous to leave him. He had an outrageous temper and would fly into a rage over the slightest thing. No, it was safer to stay right where she was and not ask too many questions.
Doc was feeling pretty good about himself. His most recent enemy was successfully eliminated and had effectively become an example to the rest of the community. One of his men, Benito Marconi, told him just a few hours after Jim Lengston “disappeared” that he had been receiving payments of debts owed to Doc. After last night, people were somehow able to scrounge up the money to make their payment.
Life was good.
That night, he sat in his study, reading a copy of A History of Western Civilization. It seemed an odd choice for someone in his occupation, but he had once had a potential career in the field of history and, if he had pursued it the same way he pursued crime, psychology. He was more well rounded than his competition, something that made him feel more confident as to his chances of ruling the city in the not too distant future.
He was several pages into an intriguing section on the Roman Empire when the lights went out. He threw the book across the room and yelled out something untranslatable in Italian. He stood, waiting for the lights to come back on, assuming that the power outage was only a mistake and that someone would realize the error and flip the switch. But the lights didn’t come back on.
The house was eerily silent at that hour. Everyone had gone to bed and there wasn’t even a candle burning anywhere in the building.
He couldn’t tell if it was his imagination or if he really could hear it, a swishing sound, like waves crashing against the shore. He sat back down in his chair and listened, trying to discern where it was coming from. Several minutes passed and the sound grew louder. His heart beat faster and faster in his chest until he thought it would burst. What is this sound? The power wasn’t coming back on, so it couldn’t be the heating system. Is there a window open?
Doc couldn’t tell if it was a trick of light of the full moon outside or his mind playing more tricks on him, but it appeared that a shadowy form was reaching up from the floor. The form turned into obvious arms then a head appeared from the floor. The arms were thrashing about, as if trying to swim, like there was a man drowning in the floor of his study. The apparition was floundering towards him, reaching out to him, grasping at his feet, which were still shod in the shoes he had taken from the man he had thrown in the Hudson the night before. What was his name, again?
A face began to take form on the head of the specter. A face Doc began to recognize.
“Jimmy? Jimmy Lengston? Is that you?”
The apparition reached for the shoes again and Doc pulled his feet closer to himself, debating whether or not to kick out at what he was certain was the dead man’s ghost. As the apparition came closer and began to reach farther and farther. A high- pitched whine slipped from Doc’s throat as he shrunk farther and farther away from the frightening image, and just as he was about to call out in terror . . .
The lights came back on and the apparition disappeared.
Doc looked around feverishly, still feeling the ghost’s presence, but the ghost had gone. I musta fallen asleep an’ had a dream. Yeah, that’s it, he told himself, standing up and stepping briskly from the room.
All the next day, Doc jumped at the slightest unknown sound, any slight movement from the leaves on the trees. But that night, nothing happened. No horrific face gleaming out of the night to torment him, no unearthly apparition to haunt his steps. It was beginning to affect the way he led his employees. Whispers on insanity and mutiny were in the air. No one wanted to stay behind a mad crime lord.
He had not set foot in his study since he abandoned the room and had even ordered his son to take the shoes and toss them into the room. He wanted nothing to do with any of it anymore. Nice shoes or no.
Several nights later, he lay asleep in his bed, still trying to block out the thought of the ghost he had seen the night after he had sent poor Jim to the Hudson. He was fairly certain it was his imagination, but he heard the swishing sound of water again and the room grew cold despite the covers and warm night. The sounds of the docks swept into the room and he could almost feel the fog as he had when he had performed the deed. There was a presence in the room, he could tell! He looked over at the form of his sleeping wife. Could she not feel it, too? He didn’t want to turn over to see what it was he could sense coming closer every second. His heart began to race again. His breath was coming hard, now, and his chest began to burn, as though he were holding his breath under water. He could feel the ripples of the water surround him in his bed.
He had to get out of there!
He leapt from his bed and tripped over something wet and soggy in the blackness. He groped around on the floor for a few seconds, trying to find out what it was. He shrieked in terror when his hand grasped it!
It was a shoe, covered in algae and slimy seaweed, the same sort that could be found all throughout the Hudson River!
But that was impossible! The shoes had been in the study all week and he was the only one with a key to the room!
He shrieked again and scrambled as fast as he could from the room.
Down the stairs he dashed, through the hall and to the front door. He flung it wide and was gone down the driveway. Through the night-clad streets he ran, down alleys and leaping over parked cars. He had to get away from the presence he could feel following him! Why, oh why, had he not simply tossed the shoes in after their owner and been done with them? He had to get away! Faster and faster he ran –
… straight into the Hudson River!
If he had been thinking rationally, he probably would have survived. But in his crazed state, his mind had deserted him. Faces floated up to his open eyes from the blackness of the water. Faces he recognized. Faces of people he had sent to their graves for one thing or another – he couldn’t even remember why anymore. Their fingers reached out to him like the wispy tendrils of seaweed that floated all around him in the murky water, pulling him deeper into the cold, black depths.
The next morning, there was a story in the newspaper. A local crime lord had drowned in a ditch near the banks of the Hudson River. The authorities assumed he had been drunk and passed out on his way home, drowning in the muddy water, but there was only one person who knew what happened.
Anna Rossellinni stood at the kitchen counter, making a sack lunch for her son before sending him off to school. Her eyes fell on a small bit of green leafy plant on the faucet where she had washed her hands after cleaning up the soggy mess from the shoes the night before.
A slight smile played across her face as she flicked it into the sink and washed it down the drain.