9781579621377

The Last Refuge

Chris Knopf

ISBN 10: 1579621376 / 1-57962-137-6
ISBN 13: 9781579621377
Publisher: Permanent Press
Publication Date: 2005
Binding: Softcover
About this title:
Synopsis:
Available in Canada for the first time a compelling debut from a fresh new voice in crime fiction. Sam Acquillo is at the end of the line. A middle-aged corporate dropout living in his dead parents ramshackle cottage in the Hamptons, Sam has abandoned his friends, family and a big-time career to sit on his porch, drink vodka and stare at the Little Peconic Bay. But when the old lady next door ends up floating dead in her bathtub it seems like Sam is the only one who wonders why. Burned-out, busted up and cynical, the ex-engineer, ex-professional boxer, ex-loving father and husband finds himself uncovering secrets no one could have imagined, least of all Sam himself. Meanwhile, a procession of quirky characters intrudes on Sam s misanthropic ways. A beautiful banker, pot-smoking lawyer, bug-eyed fisherman and gay billionaire join a full complement of cops, thugs and local luminaries in this tale of money and murder.

About the Author:
Chris Knopf is a principal of Mintz Hoke, a marketing communications agency. A native of Philadelphia, educated in the U.S. and London, Knopf lives with his wife and their two wheaten terriers in Avon, Connecticut, and Southampton Village, Long Island. The Last Refuge is his first novel. Two Time will be published by Random House Canada in August 2006.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
My father built this cottage at the tip of Oak Point on the Little Peconic Bay in the Town of Southampton, Long Island, in the mid-1940s when there was nobody else around to build anything. They were all still at war, most of the young guys anyway, and the older guys were either too poor or too scared of the future – or too damaged by the Depression – to take a chance. But my dad had vision before people called it that, and he bought this nine-tenths of an acre parcel right at the edge of the bay. Waterfront, they call it now. Then it was called stupid and expensive, even though it only cost about $560 a lot.

The price of this kind of property has gone up a lot since then.

He built the house himself, a little at a time, without a mortgage. The first year he dug the foundation with a pick and shovel, laid up cinder block and put on the first floor deck. Then he built the rest of the house room by room as he got the money, and the building materials, most of which he scrounged out of local dumps and empty lots and the handful of construction projects that were going on at the time around the city and out on the Island.

He was too old for the war, but he fought plenty at home. My dad wasn’t a nice guy. He was a real bastard actually, but he treated me okay, most of the time.

I live in this place now, by myself. I was born about the time my father winterized the cottage, so for all intents and purposes, this is where I grew up. We also had an apartment in the Bronx where he stayed during the week, but my mother and my sister and I lived on the bay year round after he installed the oil furnace. I don’t remember ever being in the Bronx, though he used to tell me about the room I had, and how my sister and I played in the backyard around the crabgrass and sumac trees, until “the Negroes all moved in and scared away the regular people.” That was more or less how he put it, speaking the words with an acid fury. He was an active racist, like all the people of my father’s generation I knew growing up.

All I remember of my childhood is the restless water and neon sunset sky of the bay. The persistent breeze that could suddenly snap into hysteria and the smell of rotting sea life at low tide. I’m breathing it in now, and sometimes it seems like life’s only durable reference point.

The cottage is all on one floor, with a corner-to-­corner screened-in front porch facing the Little Peconic. It’s the best room in the house, and it’s where I sleep all year round. Beginning about early April, till a little before Christmas, I leave off the storm windows. That was why I could always hear Regina Broadhurst moaning in the night. She slept with her windows open as well, and since her house was right next door, the only thing to stop the noise were the cicadas, the flip-flip of the little bay waves and about five hundred feet of windswept Long Island air.

When my mother died, I called a local used furniture guy to come over and take everything out of the house. Occasionally I see one of our things for sale in the window of an antiques store, or the thrift shop on Main Street, depending on its perceived value. I got two thousand dollars for the whole thing, which included hauling it away. They had to take a lot of stuff they didn’t want, but that was part of the deal.

I held on to my dad’s ’67 Pontiac Grand Prix. I keep it running and drive it around the eastern end of the Island. I try to stick to the back roads during the summer season. The big stupid car has a huge engine. Traffic makes it overheat.

Because it’s so big and improbably shaped, people don’t realize that the ’67 Grand Prix was one of the fastest production cars Detroit ever made. My dad and I retrofitted it with a 4-speed from a GTO, which made it even faster. I let the paint fade into the undercoat, but I patch the rust holes as they surface. It’s something to do.

My dad never appreciated the car like I did. He really only got a few good years out of it before those guys beat him to death down at the neighborhood bar in the city where he used to hang out.

After the furniture guy stripped the cottage, I stripped the paint my mother had put over the old varnished knotty pine that covers the walls. She’d done it to get back at my father for getting killed and leaving her alone on a permanent basis, not just during the week. I revarnished it and bought a new couch and a woodstove for the living room. Also a kitchen table and chairs, and a bed for the screened-in porch. I haven’t got around to doing anything else, but the little cottage feels bigger, and even echoes a little, and at least it’s wiped clean of the cluttered, congealed misery of my parents’ lives.

This all happened about four years ago after I came out here to stay. The place had been empty for a while – my mother spent her last years imploding into herself at a nursing home in Riverhead. My sister saw her more often than I did, even though she had to fly in from Wisconsin. I said I was too busy at the company to break away, but actually I couldn’t stand to see my mother in that place surrounded by all those demented, hollowed-out mummies. Or suffer the reproach I always imagined I saw in the contour of my mother’s set jaw.

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