The Death Knock : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

The Death Knock

Fiction by Marc Munroe Dion


Before he became the columnist for his hometown newspaper, the Mill River Standard Times, Jack Dupont spent five years on a large Midwestern daily. Straight out of college, he took the first job he could get and worked his way up from covering school committee meetings in the suburbs to the black heart of murder in the city’s sprawling, project-studded ghetto.

“I lived in what they called a ‘garden apartment,’” he once told his girlfriend and fellow reporter Simone LaCroix. “The streets were wide and flat. The curbs were made out of poured concrete, not granite curbstones like we got here.

“If you wanted to go to a bar near my house, you had to go to a place called ‘Paddy McWhiskey’s,’ but there wasn’t anybody in the place named ‘Paddy McWhiskey.’

“It was a made up name. They got 50 bars out there called ‘Paddy McWhiskey’s.’”

“It’s a chain,” he said. “Like Sears.” Simone, like Dupont a Mill River native, thought his objection to a saloon name was a ridiculous reason to hate a whole section of the country, but she also knew exactly what he meant.

“I know,” she said. “This guy I used to go out with took me to Disney World once.

“They got this area of the park where it’s all fixed up like different countries. They have native cuisines and colorful costumes.”

“What the hell,” Simone said. “The people who live next door to me in Mill River don’t speak English, and the market at the end of my street sells octopus in a can. I don’t have to travel to get a big spoonful of colorful ethnic.”

In 1905, Mill River, Massachusetts, produced more cotton cloth than any other city in the world. When that business moved south, the huge Gothic mills became garment factories, each one featuring rows of women at sewing machines, all of them working at top speed because garment shops paid by the piece.

“The work came to your machine in a big bundle with cardboard tickets attached to it,” Simone told younger reporters she thought might be interested in the city’s industrial history. “You took one of the tickets, did your bit of the work and passed it along. At the end of the week, you turned in your tickets and they paid you so much for each one.

“My mother used to keep her tickets in a kitchen drawer. They were all different colors—red, green, blue, pink.”

“The first thing I ever learned was a sin was touching the tickets,” Simone would say, laughing.

The younger reporters, natives of better places whose upbringing encouraged them to associate the word “job” with the word “office,” were horrified if they were not uninterested.

The sewing shops went to Sri Lanka. Nothing replaced them except welfare, heroin and the lottery. The huge mills now crouched empty at intersections throughout the city, their granite walls dripping tears whenever it rained. Mill River’s population was 96,000 in 2000 and 88,000 in 2010.

Twenty-eight years into his career at the Standard Times, Dupont was 55, “graying around the muzzle like an old dog,” as he put it, but still slim and humorous. He liked tweed jackets, fedoras, side street bars where the owner worked behind the counter, books and all of the 103 pipes in his collection—one of which he had in his mouth when he asked Standard Times reporter Kevin Fragoza about a suicide in a nearby suburb.

“Her name was Emily Faison,” Fragoza said. “We don’t cover suicides if you do it at home, but she did it in a little bit of woods near her grandmother’s house. Shot herself.

“Cops say she was known to the department. Some kind of mental illness. Two years in the Air Force. Fired from a pizza delivery job for not showing up. Fired from a waitress job after she beat up one of the other waitresses. Two assault convictions, sentences suspended. Both of them were for assaulting her mother. That’s probably why she lived with her grandmother. Twenty-five years old. Just broke up with her boyfriend.”

“I went out there last night,” Fragoza said. “Got there about three minutes before she died. Did 800 words with what I had. This history stuff is for
a follow-up.”

“You do the death knock?”

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Category: Feature Article, Summer 2016

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