DEATH OF A DYNASTY
It was raining hard on the Fourth of July when Peter Benedict Bartlett and his son Julian Bartlett II, named after his powerful deceased grandfather, were driving back into Bartlett Bay from business in New Haven.
Peter turned off the Interstate 95 southward but instead of continuing down Worthington to Edmonton as usual, he went east down Charlotte Rd toward the expensive neighborhood known as Edwards Grove where Julian’s girlfriend lived. The two of them had some kind of special night planned for the Fourth and Julian didn’t feel like driving.
They crossed over the Orange River and Peter gave a casual glance at some of the creepy tents that housed members of the Savior’s Fold cult who primarily lived some hundred feet or so northward up the river. They were a fanatical Christian group who were both unpredictable and dangerous but from there all he could see were a few white tents and their symbol in the form of a blood-red cross.
The instant Peter turned back, he let out a loud, startled scream.
Something appeared before him, arms outstretched as if embracing the car coming toward it. In his terror, Peter instantly lost control of his vehicle alongside what was the worst possible place in Bartlett Bay and possibly the world: the cursed woods known as the Engelstad.
Peter’s 2008 cherry red Ferrari plowed through the tall chain-link fence that blocked the southern edge of the wood and when he braked, the slid across the muddy ground like it was ice right into a thick tree. Both airbags shot out, saving both passengers, but the car wasn’t going anywhere.
Peter recovered first, feeling a sense of mortification and horror, and looked around the airbag into the forest. The trees belonged nowhere in Connecticut and were fat and wide and with vines hanging down. He never had the nerve to enter himself, but he was told within the tops were so heavy with foliage they could create a canopy thick enough to block out the sun.
The forest is calling me…his mind whispered but he shook it off quickly, terrified by such an abnormal childish thought.
“No!” cried Julian when he blinked himself awake. “No, I cannotfuckingbelieve this!” He slammed his hand several times on the dash, threw open the door and threw himself out in the rain screaming in rage. “I don’t need this shit! Not NOW! Not EVER!” He turned to his father. “I’m supposed to be with my womannow, Dad! This will takehoursto deal with!”
Peter suddenly remembered the figure in the road and he quickly scrambled out of the car and looked out beyond the broken fence. He let out a heavy sigh of relief when he saw the figure walking across the opening the car had made was not only human but also someone he knew.
It was Argyle Coughlan, the last of the Coughlan men of Bartlett Bay. He was in his fifties, around ten years older than Peter, with very short dark brown hair surrounding his bald head and a neatly trimmed beard touched with gray. He was wearing a black suit, with a matching tie and black gloves with a long black rain jacket that reached down to his ankles. His shoes were dress shoes, covered in mud, and he was soaked as if he had been walking around in the rain for hours.
The funeral of his son had been a few days before, buried just a few months shy of his nineteenth birthday. Argyle had evidently been extremely upset and had barely eaten or slept for days and remained dressed in the same clothes that he attended the funeral in.
Argyle stopped at the rip in the fence as if to block it, his left hand resting on a mostly upright pole and focused his eyes on them in a way they did not like. “Is there going to be a problem here, Mr. Coughlan?” asked Peter as he adjusted his expensive black jacket. He hated the rain, his polo shirt and slacks already feeling soaked through, and he did not like the fact he was stuck dealing with this out in it.
Argyle said nothing and thunder struck in the distance behind him.
“Is there aproblem, old man?” asked Julian in a half-scream as he took out his black trench coat from the car and wrapped it around himself.
Argyle still said nothing.
Julian suddenly gave him a wide, cocky smile. “Are we still angry about your son’s ‘little drinking problem?’ ” Argyle tilted his head a bit, his expression unchanged. “You think—” Julian made an exaggerated shrug “—there’s something you want to do that the United States court system couldnot?” He shrugged wider, eyes wide. “Not guilty, Argyle.Notguilty.” He then frowned and pointed a finger away. “So get the fuck out of here!”
Argyle nodded and said, “All he wanted to do was be your friend.”
“Yeah, well, he’s dead now!” cried Julian and he looked at his watch and groaned. “Call a fucking tow truck already, Dad, and while you’re at it, call the police!” Argyle took a deep breath and then continued to look at Julian again in that same blank way. “Well, old man, are you going to do something other than eye fuck me?”
Argyle looked over at Peter as if expecting to find something more sympathetic in an elder generation or fellow father but there was nothing there. Peter, like his father Julian I, felt the courts were right when they made the right decision.
And the wrong decision was for his son, future heir of the Bartlett Empire, to go to jail for some nobody.
Argyle nodded again, sadness creeping into his face. “Say something Peter,” he said as he let go of the pole. “Say something about the truth. Anything—please, justanything.”
Peter scoffed. “What truth?Yours?” Argyle looked incredibly disappointed and he shook his head in that arrogant high-and-mighty way the trashy Irish Coughlans always did.
“How about you?” Argyle asked Julian. “Anything repentant to say?”
“Our car just crashed, old man!” cried Julian. “Unlike your son, we actually have something other than lying around to do!”
Argyle sighed, shook his head again in that same arrogant way and then reached into his jacket. Then, after sighing one more time, he pulled out a semi-automatic pistol and fired.
Julian let out a shriek like a girl as the bullet sliced cleanly across his right leg, and he fell against the back of the Ferrari. He was instantly defeated even though he could have likely walked or even ran if he tried. He cried out, “Don’t hurt me! Please! I’ll do anything!Anything!”
Peter felt his bladder release, too terrified to come close to action, and he froze. He had been in the military, most Bartlett men had, but it was a champagne unit and everyone knew it. He had seen about as much action there as he would have working in a salon.
Thus, the several key moments when he could have rushed forward and donesomethingwere wasted while he stared as though in a trance.
“Why?” whimpered Julian. “Why would you do this tome?”
Argyle’s eyes hardened and he raised the gun up to Julian’s forehead. He pulled the trigger, splattering the back of his head against the Ferrari’s trunk, and watched calmly as his body slipped down into the mud. He then walked over, his shoes making squish sounds as he walked, and slowly leaned over. He looked long and hard into the dead light blue eyes of Peter’s only son as they seemed to stare blankly up into the raining sky.
Peter shook his head, unable to believe what he just saw. How couldthishappen? It was against everything natural in the world, against God Himself. “You’re—” his mind fought for some kind of logic as Argyle looked at him “—going to Hell!” Argyle raised the gun toward him and that broke the paralysis. Peter charged away in the only direction he could be certain there was some kind of cover.
He ran into the woods.
His hope, when he finally regained lucidity in his thoughts, was to cross the Engelstad to the other side and flag someone down off the Interstate 95, but it seemed one of the stranger aspects of the forest was true and the woods really did get bigger. He scrambled over roots and under branches for quite some time and, not only did it not end, it seemed only to thicken.
Peter was no woodsmen nor was he remotely dressed as one and after just ten minutes he was covered in mud and bruises from countless slips and falls. Having no choice but to go on he had proceeded for over an hour, screaming, yelling, and wailing with every fall until he hit a root and stumbled out of the trees into a soaked meadow by an overflowing stream.
He cried out in agony, having nearly broken his toes, and looked up to suddenly see a horror he heard rumors of all his life. A great wall of tall hills, or possibly mountains stretched across the north, and on a pass high up between two of the tallest peaks was the dark castle. There was no doubt about it, the clouds had parted from over it alone, and he could see its many black towers and walls silhouetted up into the darkening gray sky.
That castle had been spotted multiple times over the years going back even as far back as the 17thcentury. Who lived there? What do they want? What happens to those who seek it out and who built it?
He heard something behind him and he went west as fast he could, splashing across the ankle-deep stream, and disappeared into some more trees. He chose west because he had crashed farther west than east on the south entrance of the woods leaving the exit closer in that direction.
He also chose west because he would rather run back at Argyle with his loaded gun and get shot before even thinking of going in the direction of that castle.
* * *
“Walk west down Charlotte Rd at five-thirty tonight if you want a chance for your son’s vindication,” a woman’s voice had said on Argyle’s answering machine that very morning. It was strange because his wife Alice was home all that morning and the entire day before and had not hear the phone ring once.
Alice did not want him to go and he told her he wasn’t going to but he did anyway. He wasn’t sure why he believed the voice but he did.
He wasn’t thinking about Alice when he stepped out into the meadow and looked around. The sheer scope of the Engelstad was mindboggling and there was that castle everyone whispered about.
He ignored it, which was not the easiest task in the world, and went looking for Peter Bartlett. Argyle knew he wouldn’t have the nerve to go anywhere near that castle but that asked the question of other direction he would have gone. East or west.
“That way!” cried a voice.
He turned to see a figure standing directly north amidst the trees with the mountains behind her. With the rain, the distance and the shade created by a heavy canopy of leaves it was impossible to determine anything of the figure except that it was cloaked in something dark from head to toe and that it spoke with a woman’s voice.
“He went—” she pointed to her right, his left, to the west “—that way!”
Argyle didn’t question it. The voice was the same as the one on his answering machine and she had been right before. He could not think of any possible reason she would suddenly lie and he was beyond carrying what reasons she had for helping him.
* * *
The stitch in Peter’s side had become unbearable and he leaned up against a tree for a moment. He looked to his right, to a rocky vertical hillside with a jutting overhang. Underneath, were four goblins, all grinning at him. “Oh God, no!” he cried and he started to stumble away. “Notnow!”
They looked like scrawny, short people at four feet tall at the tallest with skin mostly color of greenish-black while a few were ugly mustard yellow or maroon red. Their eyes were all beady and black, their noses crooked and long and they had greasy black hair and long, pointed ears.
The clothes most goblins wore were stolen from children. Those particular goblins’ feet were covered bright sneakers with holes at the ends to let their clawed toes stick out and every one of them wore a hat, three of which were typical baseball caps, but one of them an overly large top hat.
“Oh what’s the matter, meat bag?” asked one of the goblins wearing a pink t-shirt with a grinning monkey on the front and a backward Connecticut Tigers baseball cap. He pulled out a survival knife from his side. “Scared?”
Peter could hear the goblins coming up after him, all chuckling eagerly, and he was certain they would soon easily catch up and eat him but then he heard four gunshots. He looked back and saw Argyle moving through the trees past the suddenly dead goblins almost casually. “No!” Peter cried as he ran away. “No, no,nooo!”
He forced himself to move faster despite the pain and the trees grew wider and the branches higher. He seemed to be moving faster than ever but one look back showed Argyle remained close behind and far better maneuvering through the woods than Peter was. He looked barely winded.
Peter turned back, stepped around a tree, and found himself suddenly facing a ledge beneath a hundred foot raging waterfall he heard coming but hadn’t realized he was running right for it.
It came from the unnatural mountain range in the Engelstad, pouring down a natural staircase over at least a dozen falls until it became the one above Peter. It flowed down past him into a rock-filled pool seventy feet below the ledge and then flowed down another waterfall fifty feet farther below that where it merged into a pool.
To the south, the pool turned into a river, and he knew that after connecting to several other small rivers, it would became the Orange River. It would flow past the Savior’s Fold, down through Bartlett Bay and then out into the Long Island Sound.
Peter was trapped.
There was nowhere to go. Down was death, the pool below being filled with rocks, and the one below that was so much far down he probably wouldn’t survive the jump even it was just water. Upward was a vertical climb to the north through a raging waterfall and, as for climbing, he was pretty sure he didn’t skill for it even if it wasn’t soaking wet from the waterfall and rain.
Even if it could, it would takehoursand that would give Argyle Coughlan plenty of time to calmly lean over, point his gun down, and fire.
He turned around, hoping to double back and find another path before Argyle appeared, but he was too late and Argyle stepped out of the woods.
* * *
There were many good reasons for what Argyle Coughlan was doing.
John Bartlett, Peter’s younger brother, had violently raped Argyle’s younger sister Nadine in the mid-1980s and she had never gotten over it. She had gone from a sweet-hearted romantic to a bad-tempered, embittered spinster who became an alcoholic.
The death of John Bartlett at an ill-fated Halloween party did nothing to appease her or their family as the entire accusation was not only defeated earlier by Bartlett money and power, Peter’s father, Julian Bartlett I, had even gone so far as to somehow brand Nadine as a whore in front of the entire town.
Another reason came from Argyle’s wife. When Alice was a girl, she was given an incurable limp after Anne Bartlett, who was a competing dancer in school, had hit her with a car. Alcohol-related driving laws were not as well enforced back then, MADD hadn’t even been founded yet, and that, combined with Bartlett power, ended it as being ruled an accident and the Bartletts didn’t even have to pay the medical bills.
Sometimes sweet-hearted Alice, who had to give up her dream of being a dancer, even seemed to believe it but Argyle had met Anne Bartlett and, even though she had later become quite an alcoholic, he found himself doubting she was really drunk at the time.
Of course, there was also the family business, the Coughlan Cannery, which had been started by his great-grandfather John Coughlan when he came over from Ireland. Bizarrely, the Bartletts and Le Sueurs, supposed enemies, joined forces to destroy the business they must have viewed as a competitor even though they were both already transitioning on to very different kinds of businesses by then and had little to fear.
With their combined power, they succeeded and the Le Sueurs took over and ran the cannery into the ground, forever destroying the Coughlan family business. The Bartletts had been previously friends with the Coughlans and that was a surprising and very hurtful betrayal. It had cost the Coughlans their greatest legacy.
There were countless other incidents that any number of people in town could have claimed. Sexual harassment, regular harassment, drunk driving, assault, theft, and hell, even closing down that cannery had cost countless jobs and turned Fisher St. into a slum. The Bartletts were never convicted, never even punished. Sometimes they were fined but it was also a token punishment than a real one.
There was only one good Bartlett, James Bartlett: the last who resembled the noble family that the Bartlettsusedto be. He had acted against his family when Julian Bartlett I had done something very bad to an eight-year-old girl. , Argyle still didn’t know what exactly but it had cost the Bartletts five hundred thousand dollars in the 1950s to silence that girl’s parents.
It was the closest thing to a twentieth-century conviction of that family and James’ father was so infuriated that he disowned James for talking while not so much as getting annoyed with Julian and what did to that girl.
Had James not been disowned, Argyle believed his family’s cannery would still be functional.
Oh yes, there many reasons to kill Peter Bartlett and his worthless son but Argyle personally only had one.
“My son will not be remembered as a stupid frat boy who killed himself getting drunk when you are dead,” Argyle told him loudly over the sound of the waterfall. “They’ll know you crossed the line and they’ll know why you died. They’ll all say that Peter and Julian Bartlett finally crossed the line and got what was coming to them.”
“I didnothingwrong!” Peter nearly shrieked.
It wasn’t hot even though it was June but the rain felt as warm as Argyle’s tears. He held the gun tenderly, an unwelcome replacement for a lost child, while the water above came down like a shower that could never make him clean.
“Everyone in the Yale Bartlett House was either your employee’s child or your friends’ child. It was of little difficulty for you to pay off or threaten them into perjuring themselves to ensure your son’s release. I have it on good authority on what your sonreallydid.
“He held down my boy down and forced alcohol down his throat laughing until he choked to death. I know this true because my son did not and would noteverdrink. He was always a teetotaler.”
“Is that what you’ve come for? Revenge?”
“No,” he told him earnestly. Argyle would have been satisfied ifanyappropriate legal measure had succeeded after the death of his son. He could have accepted a weak sentence, even a slap on the wrist, as long it came with an acknowledgment of guilt and of what Julian had done to his son. The knowledge of his son’s goodness remaining intact would have not made him happy but it would have kept him far from Charlotte Rd at five-thirty that evening.
“Killing me won’t bring back your son!” Peter cried.
“I’m not trying to bring my son back,” Argyle replied. “This will only bring back the memory of who he really was and will give some peace to his poor mother who has now losteverydream and hope that she ever had because of your family.” Argyle thought about what they had done to all the people in the town and the town itself and his hand tightened onto the pistol. “Bartlett Bay will be better without you.”
“Bartlett Bay cannot exist without a Bartlett!” cried Peter. It was not in anger but in fear. “Wearethis town! You kill the last of Bartletts, youkillthis city!” That sounded like something his father would say. It was if the women of his family weren’trealBartletts.
“There is another male Bartlett,” said Argyle. “Perhaps he’ll be the man his grandfather, your uncle and my uncle-in-law, had been. A man who will use his immense power to help the city instead of using it to bully everyone. He would be a Bartlett like the English aristocrats you once came from.”
“Thatis why you’re doing this?” Peter cried out. “To put a—to put aJewin my place?” It was then that Argyle realized that speaking to Peter was a complete waste of time and it had just shortened Peter’s life.
Argyle raised his gun and fired a single bullet into his chest.
It hit dead center and Peter Bartlett, second-to-last of all-male Bartletts, fell backward off the ledge with his arms outstretched. He fell through the air without a cry and died on impact with the rocks below making a very bloody mess. He was dragged away by the water over the next drop where he went bobbling away face-first down the river.
Later that night, he would catch up under the stone bridge not far from where his son’s body.
Argyle tossed his gun into the river and the sound of thunder struck in the distance so loudly it seemed to shake the world.
He backtracked a little and then found a path to walk along the river. He saw no one, not even members of the Savior’s Fold as he walked by their large camp. When he got home, he poured himself a glass of wine, sat down in his cheer and waited patiently for the police to come.
They didn’t come right away even though they would have to have been idiots not to have seen him as the prime suspect. By then, the rain had slowed down enough to give him one last sense of freedom with his wife, but, somehow, ironically, they did nothing. Whatever power the Bartlett men had, the women did not, reinforcing the rumors of Julian Bartlett I’s extreme misogynistic personality. That, combined with the fact several people automatically gave him alibis during the time of the murders set him completely scot-free.
Argyle, Alice and Nadine went downtown around Fisher St. above the boardwalk, looked out over Lighthouse Island past where the ruins of the Bartlett fisheries and the Coughlan Cannery were and watched the fireworks rise up from Lighthouse Island and fill the sky with beauty. It was a small island, and they were close enough so that they could see the ocean and watch the fireworks reflect on the water.
It was one of the most beautiful moments of his life.
* * *
Escaping justice like a Bartlett after killing a Bartlett was an extra special irony he could never have predicted and the real prize couldn’t have come quicker.
Within days or even less, the people were all saying what he hoped. That the death of his innocent son Linus was the final straw and someone, after years of Bartlett abuse, someone decided to finally end their tyranny before another innocent person was hurt and everyone agreed his son didnotkill himself. It felt very much like justice, not real justice such as an appropriate sentence from a judge after a jury conviction, but justice as good as it could be under the circumstances.
A short time later, Argyle heard from a friend at his favorite bar that the last Bartlett was being summoned into Bartlett Bay all the way from southern California.