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**PRINT: MIXTAPE: THE2NDHAND’s 29th issue builds on a concept we introduced to the Chicago reading/performance scene in July 2007 -- the Mixtape reading, wherein several writers cast short-short stories inspired by pop songs. The concept evolved after several incarnations of its live component to include a published series here at the2ndhand.com and, now, a broadsheet. This latest includes 2008 Birmingham Artwalk contest winners Nadria Tucker and Emily Self, both past contributors to THE2NDHAND and both writing from Birmingham, and a story by Zach Plague, author of the art-school satire/adventure novel Boring boring boring..., out now from Chicago’s Featherproof Books. Tracklist: Leaving Batesville, Night Moves, Carousel...

DFW, an ongoing tribute Pitchfork Battalion
WING & FLY: DFW, Feb. 21, 1962-Sept. 12, 2008 | Todd Dills
A BRIEF QUIZ Stacy Bierlein
MIXTAPE: WARSAW Michael Tesney
STAND Lauren Pretnar

Michael Peck

Philadelphia-based writer Michael Peck describes this piece as an "attempt to dilute the common detective story to everything but its essentials in less than 2,000 words." Enjoy.

"Daddy is a nice, kind man."

I agreed with her, Daddy was a nice, kind man. He was also a psychotic planter with a sick estimation of his own crops and mental agility. Or so I'd been told.

"Know where he can be found?" I asked. The secretary was tiny-boned and courteous. The office was on the outskirts of the city, situated in a labyrinth of hallways in the basement of the warehouse. It was the administrative side of Daddy Longtree's business.


The woman suddenly lost her charm and glared at me, her triple-prescription spectacles magnifying her eyes to the size of a hyena's on the defensive.

"At the orchard," she said, but it was more an elongated sigh than actual words. I knew he'd be there, but it was good to have a second opinion, especially one that cared so little.

The orchard turned out to be a sprawling, mile-wide expanse covered in depletion and the wilted canopies of neglected apple trees clutching, like infantile lovers, at the brown fruit. I parked on the grass out behind a large shack with OFFICE stamped on the eaves. Inside it was decorated in trophies and plaques from the late 1970s and on into the 80s. The counter was brimming with little packets of seeds. There were rotten apples everywhere, not in slow decomposition, but already at their death peak. A young man sat on a stool behind a metal counter, his fingers shrouding the lenses of his rectangular, phony gold shades.

"Guess who?" He took his hands away and brought the glasses down on the counter.

"Is your Daddy home?" I asked.

"Daddy's always home, motherfucker. You know you kind of resemble somebody I wouldn't like."

"There's more of me back in the car, waiting for me to sound the alarm and come trooping in to give your face a set of knuckles."

The kid slouched back and licked the paper of a joint he'd apparently been saving for my visit, comfortable enough with my honesty to let himself go.

"So," I asked. "Daddy Longtree?"

"He's at the cottage." He lit the paper, squinting. "Bout a mile north, up a road you'll have a fuck of a time following."

"That's fine." I handed him a crumpled five-dollar bill. A little something for his trouble, which wasn't much. He kept it and didn't thank me.

I drove over to Daddy Longtree's outpost through a brambled forest of jutting boulders and sunken dips in a path that could barely be called traversable. It performed quite the paint job on my year old Chevy. Everywhere the crooked branches and liquid fruit popped under my tires, shooting little geysers of rot onto my windshield. I pulled up in front of the "cottage," more like a kiosk than a place of residence. I left my headlights on, warning Longtree that in a little while he would be as dead as his orchard. Soon, night would fall in sharp dividends up there in the hills, checkerboard patterns of moon and solitude, and the kind of shifting grace that always happens when man lays his stupid eyes on the sublime absolute. I waited for it, the motor humming me back to childhood as I stared and contemplated a thin stream of chimney exhalations blank against the gravelly sky. In my business, surprise is success. Even if that surprise is my own.

The case was simple, morbid, frail and crushing, like most of the modern world. It went every direction at once except straight, without purpose or a spot to put it. Longtree hadn't been a player in the beginning; I hadn't even heard the name until a postcard was dropped onto my kitchen floor through the mail slot, bearing his name and the address of his warehouse and picturing on the cover a gorgeous Midwestern orchard in crazy bloom. But the story had all the usual human receptacles of trash: A dirty woman with a serpent's mouth, her ex-con sometime lover who was so far in the dark it was blind daylight. A bald gargantuan of a man with pants and sleeves full of knives and sarcasm. A collector specializing in exotic parrots who regurgitated exotic information on colorful characters with the use of expletives I'd never dreamed possible. And there was the trustworthy handwriting expert who broke the case into shards that stuck in everybody's battered innocence by telling me that the suicide note was a forgery. What started out as the simple investigation of an heiress who liked to shoot herself in the head became a rather scattered mess of intertwining identities that consumed me whole. All in all I'd been beaten with a tall oak bat, had my left hand broken in one of several back rooms, and stumbled nobly along through various acts of doubt and pity and wrong turns that eventually led me directly to the degeneration of the common folk into retributive versions of lost-cause sadistic animals trying to behave like human beings through the simple toil of rage. There was the woman named Sue who tried to give me a red necktie with the fabric of my skin while I slept next to her, but for some reason stopped halfway done. It was a gesture of kindness, really, and I can still feel her love whenever I button the collar of my shirt. I reimbursed her fully. And finally there was Longtree, the Satanic archetype of Johnny Appleseed and his rebellious soil, and the America where one guy can freely step on another's face and be called successful for it. Maybe it was a metaphor, but I don't think much of metaphors. Besides, the presence of death everywhere doesn't beg poetry to have much of an imagination.

I shut off the motor just after dusk and got out of the car slowly, leaving the door ajar. I expected too much. I let myself into the shack without knocking. The tepid stench of rotting fruit incapacitated me for an instant. I felt the grip of the pistol nestled under my left armpit. The place was nothing but an extended room, kitchen, bedroom, living room, all compacted into a stinking few airless square feet. Old Daddy Longtree sat behind a legless table, rigged up in the middle with a stack of phone books. He was eating an apple pie with a butter knife.

"I seen you out there setting in your car about an hour. I hope you wasn't afraid of me." If a pickled roast of lamb could speak, it would have sounded a lot like Longtree's strained, bubbly voice. Longtree had a prowling strand of stubble for features, and a mane of streaked blond hair that swirled across the darkness of his eyes like eddies in a swamp.

"I was thinking about being afraid but decided against it. There's enough fear in you for the both of us."

"I'm not afraid of you."

"I'm a little afraid of me. I think you should be too."

I grabbed a chair by the sink and brought it over to face him. He ate contentedly. I looked down into the pie. Moving things rummaged as though in a small mound of garbage.

"I been thinking," he said.

"That doesn't sound hopeful."

"It isn't."

He scooped a large helping out of the pie, using his free hand to scrape it between his lips. Something fell out of his mouth and skittered away.

"We all of us," he said, chewing, "got to return one day to the earth. I'm getting a head start." He put the knife down and scraped at his teeth with a fingernail.

"Why'd you forge the suicide note?" I asked. "Who was the girl?"

"My father was a criminal. It runs the course of the family." He belched. "There's no reason for it. Just genes. In theory anyway."

"That's pure logic."

"I'm not the kind of man to disguise things. Especially words."

I crushed a beetle that was clambering up one of my pants legs. The smell in the room would have made anyone vomit, but letting onto weakness now would be like lowering the curtain in the third act.

"I'm the commonest man," Longtree said.

"I can't dispute that."

"I'm a common man, aren't I? Wouldn't you say?"

"Why did you forge that note?"

"You think I'm a common man? It's important to me."


I took the pistol from beneath my arm and laid it flat on the table. Longtree only cut another dollop of pie and pretended that the gun and I weren't there.

"I had to forge the note and I had to have Maxine killed and I had to know you'd be here." He pressed a finger into his forehead and rubbed it around, showing the best place for a bullet to visit.

"You slipped the postcard to me. Now I wonder why a person who eats and breathes shit would do something so sensible."

"I'd made a discovery. Her father was a murderer and a man who caused his own death. A long line of criminals, as I said before."

I slumped back in the chair, senses as dull as Longtree's goddamn butter knife. The girl's father was sitting across from me, munching as happy as a fool on an apple pie. Around him his world, the orchard, was falling to hell. But the bastard couldn't care less.

"Runs in the family," he said. "I couldn't have the world suffer that." This time he didn't use the knife, just dug in with his fingers and stuffed a slopping handful of pie and insect into his unperturbed grin.

"You know much about farming?" he asked, as though we'd been carrying on a reasonable conversation. "About planting at all?"

My hand crept slyly toward the pistol, even though he would probably welcome the jolt.

"First thing, you have to care for each individual tree like it was part of your own body. That's why my orchard is successful, and will be. I'll tell you. I've got some fifty workers. You'd have noticed on your drive how beautiful the place is. That's why" -- he tapped the back of his hand twice on the pie tin -- "I make such a nice pie." On the third tap his finger did not move. Nor the rest of his body. A billow of smoke erupted to the ceiling and settled there.

I climbed back in the car, returned through the same wreck of forest, all mold and confusion. I parked at the main office. The kid was baffled by his own mind when he saw me. He was still in the same position as before. I swiped his legs off the counter.

"You're fired," I said.

He looked at me. I shrugged and walked out and drove however many miles it took to return some place less awful.

On the way there I thought quite a bit about the orchard and almost managed to forget Longtree's gaze as his head thumped the back of his chair. I decided to change my name when I returned to the city, and also my profession.