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A BAD PENNY
A Novella Featuring Bay Tanner
(falls between book 12 and 13 in the series)
Author: Kathryn R. Wall
ebook short story
ISBN 978-1-62268-078-8 ebook
A BAD PENNY
Novella Featuring Bay Tanner
(falls between book 12 and 13 in the series)
Author: Kathryn R. Wall
we were fifteen, Mikey Holloway stole the keys and his father's brand-new
Cadillac Coupe de Ville. He tried to run us down, but he lost control,
careened through a red light, and killed two pedestrians in the crosswalk,
a six-year-old boy and his mother.
I knew he blamed me, but it was only partly my
fault. If Mikey and I hadn't broken up . . . If I hadn't hopped on the
back of Darryl Monaghan's Harley right under his nose . . . If we'd headed
out of town instead of riding right down the center of Market Street .
If, if, if.
I remember sitting in the packed courtroom, three
rows behind the defense table, the vicious July sun beating through the
long windows sending tiny rivulets of perspiration trickling down under
the cast on my left arm. Sandwiched between my parents, I listened to
Mrs. Holloway's quiet sobbing as Judge Harlan Wells sentenced Mikey to
three years at the Farm. His stern voice echoed off the walnut-paneled
walls as he expressed his regret that the law prohibited him from sending
my former boyfriend to jail for the rest of his miserable life.
Mikey's well rehearsed apology and tearful pleas
for mercy had fallen on deaf ears. He'd always been a bad actor. In more
ways than one.
It wasn't right, the people around us whispered,
little more than one year for each life so carelessly snuffed out. I watched
from the safety of my father's arm as they led him away. For the briefest
moment Mikey looked back, and our eyes met. Just for a second, but it
was enough. I knew without question that when he turned eighteen and they
set him free, he would be back.
The tall, slender woman shaded her eyes against
the bright spring sun and scanned the dunes that undulated like waves
on the vast ocean spread out just beyond the narrow beach.
"Madeline Randall Stanton! Do you hear me?
I said get in here right this minute!"
The child's bright gold hair and red sweater should
have been easy to spot against the dun-colored backdrop of the sand. Overhead,
the gulls screamed and swooped, competing with Liz Stanton's rising voice.
She swallowed hard against the panic tightening her throat.
She whirled at the tug on the hem of her Clemson
T-shirt, and the familiar giggle made her heart turn over in relief.
"I scared you, didn't I, Mama? I snuck up
and scared you."
Liz reached down to scoop her daughter into her
arms, the old fear gradually subsiding. Safe, she repeated inside
her head, safe, safe, safe. Thank you, God.
"Yes, you scared me, you little minx,"
she said, nestling her face in the velvety skin of her daughter's neck.
"And it's sneaked, not snuck."
"I like snuck better," Maddy said, her
six-year-old voice asserting her independence, a recurring theme in the
past few months.
School had given her child a new sense of herself,
of her own personality, Liz thought as she carried the wriggling bundle
back up the boardwalk toward the house. And that was a good thing. Liz
knew she tended to be overprotective. Brian had told her so often enough
in the months leading up to the separation. One of his many complaints,
always voiced in that calm, reasonable tone that drove her up the wall.
She would have preferred a good old-fashioned shouting match, complete
with tears and profanity. Something to clear the air. And perhaps, when
they'd cooled off, a reconciliation in the huge bed that faced the wall
of windows overlooking the sea . . .
Instead, her husband chose logic, marshalling
his arguments as if he were negotiating with one of his clients. The louder
Liz became, the softer he spoke. One of the many things Liz couldn't stand
was being humored.
Inside in the mud room, she peeled off Maddy's
sweater and gave it to her to hang on the low hook set just at the right
height for her little hands to reach.
"Your soup's probably cold," Liz said,
urging her daughter ahead of her into the bright warmth of the kitchen.
She picked up the bowl from the table in the bay window and carried it
to the microwave. "Go wash your hands while I heat it up."
"Okay." Maddy skipped toward the half-bath,
and a moment later Liz heard her daughter's voice, muffled by the sound
of running water. It sounded as if she was singing to herself.
She smiled and turned at the ding of the
microwave just as Maddy scooted around her and climbed into her place
on the long banquette beneath the window.
"Careful, it's hot," Liz said and set
the steaming bowl on the place mat covered with brightly colored starfish
"Okay," the child said again, blowing
so hard across her dripping spoon that some of the broth splattered onto
Liz pulled her salad from the refrigerator and
sat down across from her daughter. "Where did you get to this morning,
sweet pea? I was calling you for a long time."
The shrug nearly reached her ears. "Playing,"
she mumbled around a mouthful of noodles and chicken pieces.
Liz poured on vinegar and a dribble of oil from
the cruets and sprinkled some pepper over the crisp romaine leaves. "You
weren't by the water, were you? You know the rules about staying behind
Maddy's sigh gave her mother a preview of what
it would be like dealing with her baby as a teenager. "I know,
Mama. I'm almost seven."
Liz hid her smile and concentrated on her salad.
Through the window she glimpsed a pod of dolphins rising in the surf only
a few yards off shore. "Look, honey," she cried, and Maddy whirled
in her seat.
"What, Mama? I don't see Oh,
there they are!"
The two watched in rapt silence as the graceful
creatures glided through the water, surfacing and diving together in an
instinctive dance that never failed to enthrall both the Stanton girls.
When they'd moved out of sight, Liz realized that Maddy was humming again,
softly, under her breath.
"What's that, honey?"
Maddy resettled herself in her seat. "What's
"That song. Were you singing to the dolphins?"
Maddy nibbled a saltine and spooned up more soup.
"Unh-uh," she said as a dribble of broth settled on her chin.
"I was calling Skipper. Mama, can I get a puppy? I'd love a puppy.
I'd take really, really good care of him."
"Where did that come from?" Liz asked,
eyeing her daughter. "You've never asked for a dog before."
She paused, her fork halfway to her mouth. "And who's Skipper?"
"The lost puppy. The man was really sad."
Liz coughed, choking on the lettuce as her throat
closed again. She forced herself to lay her fork down gently on the table.
She sipped iced tea and composed herself. "What man is that, honey?
Were you talking to someone outside? You know you're not supposed to"
"I know, Mama. I'm not a baby."
Liz clasped her hands in her lap to quell their
trembling. "So why don't you tell me about it. About Skipper. And
Maddy loved stories, and lately she'd been more
interested in being the narrator than the audience. Her little face assumed
a serious air, and she mimicked her mother's clasped hands, hers resting
on the table alongside her soup bowl.
"Well," she began, "I was on the
swing set." She shook her head solemnly. "Not by the
water at all, Mama, because that's against the rules."
"Good girl," Liz said and was rewarded
with a scowl for the interruption. "Go on, Maddy."
"Well, I heard someone yelling. Sort of mad
yelling. 'Here, Skipper! Where are you, boy!' He sounded kind of like
when you and Daddy are having a 'scussion."
Liz nodded, suppressing a quick smile. According
to Brian, they never argued. They had discussions. It was amazing
what the sponge-like minds of children managed to pick up.
"And I got off the swing and went to look,
and there was a man on the beach. And he saw me, and he waved. And I waved
back." Maddy smiled at her mother, waiting for praise for her politeness
to a grownup.
"That was nice. Then what happened?"
"He came over, and he said he lost his dog.
Skipper. He's just a puppy, you know, and he hasn't learned to mind yet.
He must not be almost seven."
"Probably not." Liz forced herself to
be patient. "And did the man ask you to help him find Skipper?"
"Yes!" Maddy crowed before settling
back. Her face darkened. "But I told him I wasn't s'pposed to go
with anyone I didn't know, and he said that was a very good rule. And
he asked me my name."
"What did you tell him?"
"I said I wasn't s'pposed to tell that, either."
"I'm very proud of you, Maddy. You did exactly
"Thank you, Mama. I'm a good rule doer, aren't
"The best." Liz rose from her chair
and slid onto the banquette to wrap her daughter in arms still trembling
a little with fear. "And did the man go away?"
"He asked me if I lived in that big house,
and he pointed over here. I wasn't sure about that one, so I said yes.
Did I do bad, Mama?"
Liz cupped the solemn little face in her hands.
"It's okay, honey. But it's probably better if you don't tell strangers
where you live."
Maddy nodded. "Okay, Mama." She squirmed
free of her mother's embrace and picked up her spoon. "But he wasn't
a real stranger."
"Why do you say that, sweet pea?"
"Because he said he was a friend of yours."
There wasn't anyone of her acquaintance with a
dog named Skipper. She was sure of that. Besides, everyone who knew her
knew Maddy as well. Their small, gated community in one of Hilton Head
Island's most exclusive enclaves was tightly knit. Newcomers were announced
and introduced to the neighborhood through the homeowners' association,
and access, even to their small strip of beach, was scrupulously controlled
by a private security force.
Maddy slurped the last of the noodles from her
spoon. "He said, 'Tell your mother I said hi.' So, hi, Mama."
She grinned and waited for a response. "From Skipper's daddy."
"Did the man tell you his name?" Liz
asked. She knew it couldn't be him, not after all these years. Not after
all the moves, college, and her marriage. It wasn't possible he'd found
her again. It couldn't
"No," Maddy said, oblivious to her mother's
distress, "but he said to tell you he'd see you real soon."
copyright ©2014 Kathryn R. Wall