When the four returned to La Garrison, Aloha unlocked the door, walking through with a sigh. She hung up her coat, wincing as the fabric pulled at the wounds laid on her by the clown. As she turned to go upstairs, she saw a bright white envelope on the bartop that had definitely not been there when she left.
Fear and suspicion pricked through her but she picked up the envelope, noting its strange heft. As she opened it, two bullet casings tumbled out, clattering onto the worn bartop. Her hands well and truly began to shake as she unfolded the accompanying paper. It was a military range target of a human figure at 80 yards. There was a clean hole straight through the figure’s forehead, and one straight through the heart. In the upper right corner, XOXO was scrawled in black marker. Aloha felt her vision swim.
Ren popped onto a barstool next to her. “A letter from your boyfriend, Miss Wanderwell?”
She didn’t seem to hear him.
I first met Peter Oakley at a community dance. The ladies boarding house I was living in at the time hosted an evening for the young people of the neighborhood. It was late 1918; we were in the final throes of The Great War. He was a sniper by trade who had been loaned to the Canadian Corps in 1916. He was at Passchendaele in Belgium, sitting in the upper stories of a building at the front when the Germans deployed gas, blinding him and his spotter. They somehow made it into the arms of some of their fellow soldiers. They buried themselves in a waterlogged trench. It took two weeks of near-constant shelling, gunfire peppering the walls around and above them, before they found their way behind their own line. They slept precious few hours face down in the mud, dragging Peter with them. A few men tried to go for help but were mowed down the second they surfaced. Peter said they were finally extracted by some American Expeditionary Forces. The doctors weren’t certain his eyesight would return. A blind sniper was useless to the Army so they gave him an honorable discharge and sent him stateside. It took some time but his eyesight came back. He was so charming and had an engaging story. And he could dance. And he took a shine to me straight away.
By the end of the year we were inseparable.
“Plant your feet, chère. Sight down the barrel, but don’t close your eye. Now…squeeze the trigger. Don’t pull, you’ll make it jerk. Squeeze—YES.”
The target at the end of the range spat paper. It wasn’t a perfect hit, but Peter didn’t seemed concerned, “Well, you have him worried now.”
I smiled at him. “You’re just being sweet to me.”
“No, I mean it. Look,” he jogged down to the end of the range to examine the paper and pointed to the hole. “It’s over his left shoulder. You’ll wound him yet.”
It wasn’t all trips to New Jersey and long nights on the Great South Bay. We got an apartment together. It was simplicity itself, a little place on Broadway and 97th. We kept it warm with our love for one another. We struggled sometimes and fought as hard as we loved. At the time I didn’t notice that we didn’t go dancing as much as we had before. He broke plates just washing them. I should have guessed something was wrong in his head, but I didn’t want to see the storm that was coming hard.
We fought one night over dinner. He had something happen on his job and I wasn’t sympathetic enough, I suppose. He got up to get some more coffee, I thought, but he smashed the mug into my head instead. I tried to stand up, to defend myself, I recall the bare bulbs swinging overhead, throwing our shadows all around the room as we fought, struggling on and around the table.
“Filthy bitch! Spying whore!” Peter’s grip on my arm tightened more, which I almost couldn’t believe was possible. I clawed at his fingers begging him to stop.
“Shut up!” he growled, “I’ll ask you one more time before I get ugly. Who are you reporting to?”
I hadn’t spoken to anyone new, I hadn’t even seen my family since Christmas. I went to my job at the switchboard and came home after.
He yanked me up from the table and struck me across the face, splitting my lip. I collapsed, sobbing pathetically onto the wooden floor, blood dripping. The sting added insult to injury. “Please, don’t,” I tried, “please….”
In an instant Peter’s demeanor changed completely. He knelt next to me and caught me by the leg as I tried to scramble away, asking me to tell him what had happened. I couldn’t say anything, I was choking on my tears.
He sat back on his heels. He apologized and promised to figure it out. Then he left.