I’m new to the listening tech. I only started listening to classical on YouTube and Pandora at work because of tinnitus. Later, from being bored at work when many hours of the day were spent working with old paper records and most of the office had been sent home. I did not need my brain for this. As the pandemic worn on—and on—I depended more and more on my old pal fictional narrative to get me through and turned to audiobooks. They’re not bad if you have the right narrator, if they hit the right tone. Some books I can’t listen to.
I’ve recently progressed to podcasts. We signed up for a dual subscription to Spotify and, after years of Pandora and YouTube, I don’t think I can live without my Spotify. Because podcasts. The first one I listened to and loved was Unwell, which I’m still following. Highly recommended. I like to walk and listen, too. I’m trying out some others but, yeah, fiction saves me.
There’s more than fiction. I watch Lore so I was happy to follow a recommendation for a podcast narrated by the same person Aaron Mahnke: Unobscured. Salem Witch trials to the Ripper, shining a little more light onto oft-told tales. Now working from home, those get me around the horse track in my home town.
If you write, it’s amazing how much inspiration you might find between the lines, so I have to keep a notebook around when I listen. Unobscured helped me tremendously in getting over a hump in my novel. I’d still be stuck on Chapter Nine without it.
And if you write, it’s funny how bits and pieces paved over by the years suddenly jump out at you like a new frost heave.
I followed a random thread of thought a few Sundays ago while working on my blogs and went looking for a specific type of podcast. True Crime based in New England. I came up with a few, but I started on one because I liked the title: Dark Downeast by Kylie Low, mostly because I live in Maine.
So, if you’re still reading and interested in true crime podcasts, I highly recommend Dark Downeast (https://www.darkdowneast.com/). She deeply researches stories from the present and the past with respect to her sources and the victims with style.
One story in particular came up like that frost heave I mentioned. It’s the second story. I waited on Frank Douglas when he came into the B&B I worked at back in the day—it was still the 90s, I lived in NH, and it was my second day. I know, right?
I wrote a piece of flash fiction about the experience for a writing workshop. If I can find it, I’ll post it. It’s also amazing how much I didn’t know about the case at the time, but now that I think about it, the mid 90s was not a good time for me, so there’s that. So, when I first was listening to it, I didn’t really recognize it, not the names or the place. Gradually bits started popping out at me and I said to myself, hey, that’s Mr. Douglas!
Which is what Hattie the hostess said to me as she scanned the headlines of the Boston Globe one slow morning a long time ago in NH in the late fall…
“See that guy?” Rhonda, the senior waitress, pointed through the circle of glass in the swinging door between the kitchen and dining room of the bed and breakfast.
Genevieve nodded. The lone man, bald and age-spotted, occupied a table in an otherwise empty room filled with faded Victoriana and late autumn sunlight, eating the breakfast Rhonda had just delivered.
“He eats the same thing every time he comes here. Always alone, a couple times a year late in the season. Eggs Benedict. Bring him two sweet rolls and decaf. You’re new, so he won’t trust you, especially after I’m gone. Bring a steak knife with the eggs. Bring a separate dinner plate of kale.”
“To eat?” Genevieve asked, thinking of the tough crunchy stuff between her own teeth.
“Yeah, the whole plate. Gross, huh?”
“And a knife for poached eggs?”
Laughter erupted in the kitchen behind them. Rhonda smirked, drawing out the moment, Genevieve thought.
“Yeah,” Rhonda said. “So he can kill you if you get his order wrong.”
“Shut up. He’s a nice guy. He tips good,” the red-haired waitress, Julie, said. “Don’t listen to him, Gen, they’re just trying to scare you.”
The breakfast cook, sweating in front of the grill, surrounded by boiling pots, said, “Just don’t make him mad, new girl.”
“Don’t marry him and make him mad!” the prep cook shouted.
“They can’t prove anything,” Julie called back.
Rhonda glanced out the little window again, Genevieve beside her. Their customer read his folded newspaper, eating kale with a knife and fork.
“Keep it down, you guys,” Rhonda said. “Come here, you.” She pulled Genevieve away from the door, to the other side of the room where the table for salad prep stood, littered with diced tomato, onion, and cucumber. The scent of bacon and eggs had begun to fade, shoved aside by simmering garlic and Fryolator oil.
“Listen. Last year there was an article in the Boston Globe about him. His wife disappeared. The paper said he lost her in a store. They found her purse in the ladies’ room but they never found her. At their house, the police found blood.” She paused again, leaning a little closer to Genevieve. “It was hers.”
The prep cook wiped at his red face with his sleeve. “No body, no crime.”
Genevieve pulled her braid nervously. What would she say to the man if he sat in her station? How could she look him in the eye?
“You have to have motive,” the salad prep said. “It’s not like he’ll get her life insurance, not until they find her.”
“Maybe she left. Maybe she set him up?” Julie pulled the toaster crumb tray out from the ancient toaster and wiped it off into the sink.
“Maybe she has dementia and wondered away. My grandma does that all the time.” Genevieve suggested, unsure about how she felt about contributing to the conversation. She didn’t like to gossip, but it was hard to avoid.
Julie brushed crumbs from her hands. “Oh, that’s so sad.”
“Maybe she was wicked sick?” The new dish washer brushed by Genevieve with a rack of steaming hot silverware to sort. “Maybe it was a mercy killing.”
“There would be medical records.” The salad prep popped a head of lettuce onto the sideboard and ripped out its stem. “Dr. Kevorkian he’s not.”
“The cops always suspect the person closest to the victim,” Rhonda said, heading back for the dining room.
The door swung open, then fell back. A grunt as the heavy wood landed on the arm wrapped in a gray cashmere sweater, accompanied by a rattle of plates.
The breakfast cook bared his teeth and cocked his head. “Heeere’s Johnny!”
Genevieve didn’t think it was funny anymore.
Rhonda swore and waved her arms. “It’s him.”
Julie said, “He can’t come back here. Stop him, Gen.” She wiped her buttery hands on a cloth with quick movements. “Jesus, never mind. Hey, Mr. W,” she sing-song-ed, putting a sashay into her walk. “You’ve got to give the door a hard kick—if he slips and sues us—Gee, are you looking for a job, we’ve got plenty of work back here for you.”
She held the door for him, then took the plates with expert ease as he peered bashfully around the room. Once she had unloaded the plates by the dish pit, she led him back to the door, sweet talking him into the dining room. She threw a glare over her shoulder at them. Nobody spoke. Work had effectively stopped.
“Boy, he’s an old man,” the dishwasher said.
“What should I do?” Genevieve asked.
Rhonda smirked. “Bring him the check.”
© jan matthews 1996