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Nashua, New Hampshire
An Unwelcome Arrangement
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About the Book
Life has always been a struggle for Rose McDougal. She lives in a decrepit apartment, an oven in the summer and an icebox in the winter. She drives an old beater, a vehicle with a seeming contempt for its occupants. She has no man in her life. In fact, she’s never had one. Making matters worse, Rose is cursed with a deep-rooted depression, the by-product of an abusive dad. Her professional life is no better.
Her quest to fill a full-time teaching position in a Nashua junior high school ends in failure. Making matters worse, she loses her gig as a sub. Jobless and on the fast track to poverty, Rose is desperate. While recovering in a hospital room, an Irish mobster named Patrick Donnelly, a dangerous man who once helped out Rose’s dad, pays her a visit. He insists on helping Rose get back on her feet. But as she soon discovers, his motives are purely self-serving.
Before long, Rose is drawn into a life of crime and constant danger. Gone are any illusions of living a routine, 9-to-5 life in some sheltered suburb. In its place, the possibility of death lay in wait behind every door and around every corner.
About the Author
About the Author
Joe Benson is a retired Air Force officer (separated as a Colonel) who spent his career in special operations units, serving with Navy, Marine and Army special forces. He is a Bronze Star recipient with 12 overseas deployments. Joe earned a bachelors degree in meteorology from Florida State University and two master’s degrees, one in unconventional warfare and one in special operations and low-intensity conflict.
He is from the Florida panhandle and lives in Carolina Beach, North Carolina where he served as mayor…when he wasn’t surfing.
The driver’s-side window shattered into a thousand bits, most of which fell inside the vehicle, thanks to Frankie’s powerful fist. Sweet, toxic fumes came pouring out of the car’s cabin, liberated and in search of another victim, another poor soul who would share the same fate as the unconscious woman who was sprawled out on the front seat. As Frankie withdrew his fist, which tightly gripped a rock, jagged ends of the remaining window cut his hand and wrist. Like a pincushion, small pieces of glass poked out from his right hand. Blood oozed from a dozen fresh cuts, a few rather nasty ones. For the average man, a slashed hand might have provoked screams of pain. But not Frankie. He felt no discomfort. His adrenaline rush was still peaking.
He leaned his head into a gaping hole which had once been filthy glass, squinting and holding his breath as he did. Immediately, he recognized the woman: Rose McDougal. She was the nice teacher who helped him one day after school. That was many years ago. Nowadays, Rose was the sweet woman who smiled at him, offering him sodas or hot dogs when he saw her at the baseball stadium.
Rose was sleeping, or so Frankie hoped. From within his mind came the hostile voice of Angie, that mean woman who managed the Dunkin’ Donuts across the street, offering her morbid assessment:
If she’s alive, it ain’t by much. My guess? She’s dead. Now go stand over in the corner like I told you earlier!
Angie, who had been rude to Frankie an hour earlier, wanted only to cause him pain. Pushing Angie’s image from his mind, he returned his attention to helping Rose. Frankie hoped it was only a deep sleep which had her motionless, but even someone like Frankie knew better.
He brushed the tiny pieces of glass off the door’s armrest, then reached back into the cabin and wedged his hand under Rose’s head and thick mop of hair, which covered the lock. By feel, he found it. For a moment, he had the lock in his grip, but it slipped between his moist fingers and her sweaty hair before he could yank it up. He tried again but could not get a firm hold. Frankie realized that finesse would not work.
“Sorry, Miss Rose,” he mouthed.
Using both hands, he pushed her shoulders. She wouldn’t budge. With his feet anchored on the pavement, his knees bent, and his chest pressed up against the vehicle, he pushed with all his might.
Her body flopped onto the passenger side. With the lock free, he pinched it tightly and pulled up in a swift tug. He then grasped the door handle and yanked the door open. In an instant, the fumes and smoke, a mixture of carbon monoxide and burnt oil, engulfed him, nearly knocking him off his feet. He reached back for the door handle to steady himself. Any of the previous sweet emanations were gone. A deleterious stench was all that remained. He covered his nose and mouth with his bloody right hand. The coppery taste of blood made him gag. The sight of blood—never mind the taste of it—had always sickened Frankie. But the 32-year old knew he had to act fast; he had little time.
With his right hand covering his nose, he leaned into the smoky cabin and felt for Rose’s collar. His left hand found it. He grabbed and pulled with all his strength. Her seatbelt was not fastened, which was good, but despite his feverish tugging, she barely budged. He would need both hands to pull her to freedom.
Ignoring the pain, he placed his injured right hand on Rose’s left shoulder. Blood leaked from his many cuts, instantly staining Rose’s T-shirt. Frankie squeezed hard with both hands and yanked. Her shirt began to tear at the neck, but he kept his grip and kept pulling. Her left leg got caught on something poking out of the floorboard. Frankie shot a glance at it but paid it little mind; he just kept pulling and pulling. Slowly, the hefty woman began to slide. He pulled harder, leaning his 250-pound frame backward and anchoring his legs.
His last yank did the trick, and she was free of the cabin and its poisonous fumes. She flopped lifelessly onto the parking space next to her car. Though he had released her, Frankie was convinced: Miss Rose was dead. He dropped to his knees by her side and pounded furiously on her chest, a technique he saw on that medical show with the scary music, desperately trying to revive her. He could not leave her but knew that only someone who knew doctor stuff could help her.
“Help! Help! Over here!” he shouted, jumping to his feet. He began hopping up and down and waving his arms over his head. “HELP!”
Finally, others began to appear. A group of four men walking along Canal Street were drawn to his desperate cries. They turned off their designated course and broke in his direction, jogging, then running toward the Dunstable House parking lot. They drew to within fifty feet and stopped. Something about the scene didn’t look quite right. Convinced it was some ploy to get attention, the four men, all toting sheathed umbrellas, shuffled off, scowling back at Frankie and the big woman sprawled on the parking lot. One of them mumbled something about adults not getting enough attention in their childhood.
Thankfully, however, Frankie’s calls for help reached a more sympathetic audience. His pleas penetrated the inner sanctum of the Dunstable House, where landlord Jim Budzko sat in his humble apartment, watching Bob Barker warmly welcome a giddy, buxom blonde to his game show stage. As soon as Jim heard the shouting, he jumped up from the couch and raced outside. Upon spotting Rose, who was splayed out on the pavement, he called back to his assistant, who had sprinted out behind him, to go back inside and call 9-1-1. A minute later, five curious pedestrians arrived on scene. Before long, a small crowd had assembled in the Dunstable House parking lot.
John Callahan and Jimmy Largy jumped out of their parked cruiser and hustled over to a group of onlookers who were gathered around a large woman lying on the parking lot, on her back. She appeared unconscious. A man on one knee was by her side. He was shirtless. Next to him stood a tall man with a crew cut. His right hand was wrapped in a cloth. The shirtless man was checking her pulse. Officer Callahan told Largy, the junior officer, to see if the man giving aid to the victim needed any help while they waited on the ambulance. Callahan would deal with the crowd, which was growing.
As he made his way through the crowd, he heard the wail of an approaching siren.
“Step aside, folks. Step aside,” Callahan said, gesturing with his arms. The crowd of bystanders did as instructed.
Callahan looked over his shoulder and watched as an ambulance turned off Main Street onto Canal Street. The shriek of the siren grew louder. The ambulance sped the short distance down Canal and whipped into the Dunstable House parking lot before slowing down prior to hitting a speed bump. The driver then cut off the piercing siren and executed a three-point turn, so that the back doors opened toward the accident scene. The ambulance inched back a few feet and then stopped. The driver EMT jumped out. The other came out through the back doors. He reached back into the ambulance and extracted a stretcher.
From the front, the passenger door opened. An attractive blonde woman stepped out. She walked to the rear of the ambulance but kept her distance from the medics.
Callahan watched her as she leaned against the corner of the rear bumper. She was strikingly beautiful, so out of place. She looked like no EMT or orderly he had ever seen. He couldn’t keep his eyes off her. What’s she doing in an ambulance? he wondered. She ought to be modeling on a runway in New York.
From behind, Callahan heard a man yelling at folks to get back. He pulled his gaze off the blonde and spun back to the crowd, which by then numbered in the dozens.
“Folks, keep clear. Got an emergency here!”
The EMTs pushed the stretcher through the gap in the crowd that Callahan made. They got to the unconscious woman and lowered the stretcher. Callahan watched as they instructed the shirtless man to come to the opposite side of the stretcher and hold it in place. He did. With the stretcher steady, both EMTs slid their arms under the woman’s back and legs. As evidenced by the strain on their faces, it took great effort to get her onto the stretcher. The EMTs then locked her in place with straps across the chest and legs, before making the short trip to the back of the ambulance.
As she rolled past, Callahan noticed the woman’s eyes. They were milky and distant, but at least she was alive. He took another look at the blonde woman, who stood back as the EMTs slid the stretcher into the ambulance. He squinted at the stitching just above a chest pocket on her white coat. From some fifty feet away, he could have sworn he made out the word Doctor.
Beautiful and smart? If she’s got a guy, I hope he knows how good he’s got it. He shook his head and headed back to his partner.
Largy nodded to Budzko, who slipped into a button-down shirt that had just been handed to him. Budzko turned his attention to Officer Callahan before beginning.
“Her name is Rose McDougal. She’s lived here for about ten years, about as long as I’ve run the place.” He looked up at the apartment building, as he fastened the last button of his shirt. “Never gave me any trouble, not one complaint against her. Always paid her rent on time.”
“What about people coming by to visit her? Anyone you might consider out of place or even suspicious?” Callahan asked.
“None,” Budzko answered, looking at both officers.
“No one appearing suspicious?” Callahan asked.
“No. I mean no one as in no visitors at all. Zero.”
Callahan gave him a curious look.
“In the ten years she’s lived here, I’ve never seen her with anyone inside or outside this building.”
Callahan glanced over at his partner, who appeared perplexed. Ten years and not one visitor? No family? Then who’d want to hurt her? Maybe we’re not looking at a—
Largy broke his train of thought, as a good partner is prone to do.
“Before you got here, I asked Mr. Budzko if one of us could take a look inside Miss McDougal’s apartment, while the other looks around out here for a while,” Largy said.
“Makes sense,” Callahan said, then nodded back in the direction of the ambulance. “Look, the Telegraph is here. Right on time.”
“Hmph,” Largy said, shaking his head. “How about I stay out here and take a look inside the car.” He glanced at the ambulance. “I’ll wander over there shortly.”
“That’s a good idea. I mean, if you don’t mind me saying,” Budzko said looking at both cops. He then pointed to the ambulance. “That big guy with the crew cut was the one who pulled Rose from her car. He was the only one on the scene when I arrived.”
“Sounds good, Jimmy,” Callahan said to his partner.
Largy was reaching for a rear door of the vehicle when Budzko called out to him.
“The hero, I guess you might call him that, is named Frankie,” Budzko said, before pausing. “He’s . . . well . . . not entirely there, if you know what I mean.”
Callahan understood. With the press in close proximity, an officer shielding someone who might be challenged or dimwitted would be useful.
“Why don’t I head over to the ambulance first,” Largy said. “That’s Popovich from the Telegraph. A real pest, that one. Anyway, I’ll check around the car after.”
“Good idea,” Callahan said.
“If you’re finished before we are, we’ll be in apartment 4D. Top floor,” Budzko said.
No wonder she never had visitors, Callahan thought.
A bug-encrusted light bulb, suspended from the ceiling inches above Callahan’s six-foot stretch, swung listlessly a few doors down from apartment 4D. Plodding ahead, Budko pointed to a tripping hazard. Callahan looked down and saw what looked like half a toilet seat, but he didn’t stop to confirm. He stepped over whatever it was, took a few more steps and stopped next to Budzko, who stood in front of apartment 4D. He fumbled with a set of keys, silently cursing the poor lighting.
“I keep reminding myself to get another damn light up here,” Budzko said, shaking his head. “I swear this old place will be the death of me.”
Callahan grunted, keeping his eyes down the hallway behind them. Being jumped by some ex-con drug addict in a place like this seemed possible.
“Ah, here it is,” Budzko said, holding up the key as if it were the winning Lotto ticket.
He guided the key into the slot, twisted it twice before finally earning the click. He grabbed the door handle and turned it, but the door wouldn’t budge. It was stuck.
“Damned humidity. Gotta get WD-40 for some of these doors.”
Budzko lowered his shoulder and drove it into the door while turning the knob. He put so much force into the door that when it blasted open, he stumbled and fell face-first onto the linoleum floor of the kitchen. Callahan hustled in behind him. He extended a hand and pulled Budzko back onto his feet. Budzko groaned as he brushed off his shirt and pants.
“Lemme guess, a shot of WD-40 on some of these old doors, huh?” Callahan asked, grinning.
“That’s right. Something else to add to that growing to-do list,” Budzko said, steadying himself.
Callahan’s first impressions of the woman’s apartment were no different than the rest of what he had seen inside the Dunstable House: depressing and dark. The apartment was small. He guessed it to be about 600 square feet. The few pieces of furniture she owned were dilapidated and appeared dirty. A battered, steel garbage barrel, the likes of which one might find in a prison mess hall, sat under a windowsill behind the kitchen table.
“I’ll check the bedroom,” Budzko said, pointing to an open door.
Callahan nodded, “I’ll look around out here.”
Budzko turned back to Callahan before entering the bedroom. “Should I be looking for a note of some sort? Maybe a suicide note?”
“Anything that looks out of place and, yes, any sort of handwritten note,” Callahan replied.
“Got it,” Budzko said. He then stepped into the bedroom and out of view.
Callahan walked into the living room, a room equally as small as the kitchen and dining area. Its contents left little to be desired. There was a 13” rabbit-ear-antenna TV which rested on a two-foot-high TV stand. A grimy couch, covered in stains, and an old wooden chair were flush against the wall. Under all the crappy furniture was a repulsive shag carpet. Age had not served the carpet well. Callahan began his search with the couch.
Not only was the couch unsightly, it reeked of rotten meat. Her couch was the kind of repulsive thing one might find at the end of a driveway, its owner begging for someone—please, for God’s sake—to take it far, far away. Of course, no one would. About the only thing it was good for was target practice.
Callahan held his breath and lifted its pillows. He searched behind the couch and under it. He found nothing. He walked over to the TV stand and pulled it away from the wall. Dust bunnies, a bottle cap, a cobweb and a few dead flies greeted him. No letter. No suicide note.
Suicides aren’t supposed to hide their notes.
“Nothing in the bedroom or bathroom,” Budzko announced as he walked up behind Callahan, causing him to jump. “Sorry ‘bout that.”
Callahan waved a hand, dismissing it. “Nothing out here,” he said, as he pushed the TV stand back against the wall. He then made his way into the kitchen. He pulled open the cupboards and drawers. Budzko followed behind him.
“I checked under the bed, lifted the mattress and pulled off the sheets. I found nothing,” Budzko said. “I checked the chest’s drawers and the nightstand. Nothing suspicious. No notes or letters.”
“Anything in the bathroom? Pills? Pill bottles?” Callahan asked, as he rifled through the kitchen drawers.
“Nope. No medicines of any kind,” Budzko replied. He then checked the refrigerator. “And nothing in here, Officer Callahan.”
“Well, I guess that covers it,” Callahan said. “Thanks for letting me in here and thanks for the help, Jim.”
Callahan shut the final cupboard and was about to leave the apartment when, from the corner of his eye, he spotted an edge of a crumpled piece of paper poking out from a gap between the garbage barrel and the wall. He looked over to Budzko, who had followed Callahan’s eyes to the same piece of paper.
“Give me another minute, ok?” Callahan asked.
“Of course,” Budzko said.
Callahan walked over, adjusted his weapon belt and lowered himself to his knees. He inched the barrel away from the wall. The paper slid to the kitchen floor. He picked it up. As he stood up, ligaments in his knees popped. He smoothed the letter on the kitchen table. Budzko walked up behind him to get a close look.
It was a typed letter, riddled with black scribbles, though still legible. Based on the many scribbles and a few small tears, the letter had not been well-received. Through the scribbles, Callahan read the brief, carefully worded letter.
Dear Ms. McDougal:
Thank you for your interest in the vacant teaching position at Dr. Crisp Junior High School. Your resume is well-written. Your references wrote of your teaching acumen in glowing terms. Clearly, your exemplary performance as a substitute teacher is undeniable.
However, I’m sorry to inform you that I cannot offer you a position at this time. Furthermore, State budget cuts have forced us to significantly reduce our pool of substitute teachers. You were one of the substitutes that we had to let go.
In the meantime, I wish you the best of luck with your goal of becoming a full-time teacher. If you wish to be added to our quarterly newsletter, which posts any teaching vacancies, please contact my secretary, Miss Eileen Dirubbo at 885-5544.
Andrew C. Frazie
Superintendent of Schools
Doctor Karen Bedard took the proffered card from Officer Largy and glanced at it. She had heard that it was considered polite to look over a business card before placing it into a pocket or purse. She smiled at the officer, then slipped his card into her breast pocket. He smiled back but seemed distracted by something behind her. She turned around and noticed a handsome man holding a small notebook. A badge of some sort was pinned to his shirt and he wore a Pirates’ baseball cap. He stood in the vicinity of the ambulance.
“Well, I better get to work,” Karen said, pointing at Frankie. “His hand looks pretty bad.”
“Yes, of course,” Largy said smiling, before looking back in the direction of the ball-cap-wearing man. Largy appeared suspicious to her as he gazed at the man. That was when it hit her. The badge, notebook and a police officer’s suspicion? He was with the press, she concluded.
“Thank you, officer,” Karen said. She then gestured to the reporter. “Don’t worry about him. This isn’t the time to comment on what we think took place. He can wait for the final diagnosis, just like everyone else.”
“I appreciate that, doctor. He’s a reporter with the Telegraph. He’s good, but can be a damned pest,” Largy said.
“I hear that’s the case for the good ones,” she said.
“Pretty much,” Largy said. “Anyway, I need to take a look around your patient’s car, then get inside and see if my partner found anything. Thanks again.”
Karen watched as Largy walked across the parking lot toward the old Chevy belonging to the woman who lay on a stretcher in the back of the ambulance.
Callahan sighed. He picked up the letter and folded it in half. He rubbed the back of his head and sighed.
“Talk about a kick in the nuts,” Callahan mumbled.
“And patronizing as hell,” Budzko added.
An Unwelcome Arrangement
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Advance Praise for
An Unwelcome Arrangement
In the tough-to-break-into crime fiction market, a depressed, overweight, out-of-work school teacher in the rundown mill city of Nashua, New Hampshire, seems a chancy protagonist for a debut novel. But Joe Benson puts the pieces together and makes it work. A suicide attempt, old debts in need of repayment, bad-ass criminals , and a Vietnam vet friend makes An Unwelcome Arrangementa tasty, bubbling stew.
Bestselling author of The Tuesday Man and
The prizewinning Alex Rasmussen private-eye series
Poor Rose McDougal. The story opens with Rose passed out cold in her dump of a car. From there, things only get worse for our heroine. While recovering in the hospital, Rose unwittingly makes a deal with a murderous Irish mobster. Instantly she is thrust into danger, where she tangles with blood-thirsty thugs, a bevy of doped up criminals and a mafia hitman. Her back up? Just a goofy-looking man named Bubba, armed with a toothy smile and a Southern drawl.
Packed with action, An Unwelcome Arrangement is both gripping and heart-warming. With each new assignment, the perils increase for Rose and Bubba. Survival rests on their ability to conquer their fear as well as some well-timed help from a few good friends.
Television commentator and personality