When we got tired of fishing we walked back up to the house, but there was still nobody there.
"I think he works pretty hard. He's always goin' somewhere," Richie said.
"What's he do?" I asked, as if I cared.
"Some kind of construction - like power plants or something."
Actually, I was kind of intrigued by the dirt bike. "He doesn't care if we go fishin' there?"
"As long as we don't go near the big pond. He'll let you go there, but only when he's home and knows your out there."
"There's another pond?" I asked. I'd already seen two.
"Oh, yeah. A real big one with cliffs around it. You can swim in it, but it's kinda dangerous. He just wants to know when you're out there, in case you don't come back he can come and fish you out."
"Anybody ever drown?"
Richie shrugged, "I guess. Not lately, but people drowned in there before. You'll see how when you see it. It's pretty scary. Anyhow, he doesn't mind what you do as long as you don't make a mess. He used to cut the field out front so we had a place to play football, but people started junkin' cars out there so he stopped."
"Maybe we can come back tomorrow?" I was getting hopeful.
"He's always here on the weekend. He plays in a band nights and he's gotta be here."
"What kind of band?"
Richie shrugged again, "Rock and roll. I never seen him play, but you can hear 'em practice sometimes from Whit's house."
"Jerry's grandfather. Hi, Whit!"
We were walking towards a tall bald guy in a dark green t-shirt. He looked pretty happy.
"Hey, Rich. Who's your pal?"
"This is Dave Devino. He goes to school with me'n Jerry."
Whit was looking in our bucket. "Hoooly shit! Havin' catfish tonight I bet. D'ja empty the whole pond out?"
"There's plenty more," Richie said, "Is Jerry around?"
"Ain't seen him yet, but he'll be here."
"Tell him I was askin' about him," Rich said.
Whit had a definite Maine accent. I spent a long time once trying to figure out their rules for R's. I think it goes like this: If the word starts with an R, you say it normally. If it ends with an R or has 'ar' in it (like park), you omit it, changing to sort of an 'ah'. If it ends with an A, you simply add an R, like in 'ideer' or 'soder'. The hardest one is when the R follows a P. Then you change it to something that sounds like vw. Present is pronounced pvwesent. Looking at that last sentence, I'd kinda like to see a Mainer take a crack at it.
"You seen Ken around?" Rich asked.
"Not all week. Haven't heard him either. Must be out'a town again."
"Well, see ya, Whit."
"You take care boys. What's yer name again?" he asked, pointing at me.
"You be good."
We walked down to my house. Rich called his mother to tell her about the fish. It sounded like he had to remind her that she really, really liked bullheads. We had to clean them before she'd agree, but I was invited to dinner. We grabbed some newspaper and knives and sat out back at the picnic table.
"Watch the horn, it'll rip your hand open." Rich stated, matter-of-factly.
Cleaning fish is always pretty yucky, but bullheads are the only ones that fight back even when they're dead. I just cut the head off behind the horn to avoid it all together. Rich thought I was wasting a lot of fish that way, but at least I didn't get any holes in my hand. We washed the good parts off with the garden hose and put them in the pail with a tray of ice. I left my mother a note, and we walked over to Richie's house.
I was a little jealous of Rich because he still had a father, even if he was a step. He was a good guy, and they got along better than some people did with their real fathers. His mother fried the fish in what she called a 'milk' batter, and it really was good, or at least the guys thought so. His little sister wouldn't eat any kind of fish, and his mother just kind of picked at it.
After we ate, we sat on the back steps. This was the best day I'd had in a long time. I hadn't had my usual stream of dark thoughts since Rich shut me up earlier. Fishing had been fun, and discovering the new area so close to my house was kind of exciting. Rich's dad came out and sat with us.
"I hope you're not pesterin' Kenny, guys. He's got better things to do than be caterin' to a bunch of kids."
Rich said, "I know, Dad. He's not even home. I just wanted for Dave to meet him. We won't bother him."
"What's he like?" I asked Rich's dad.
"Some kinda different, I guess. Smart as a whip, funnier'n anything, a bit crazy, generous as all get out. He's the nicest guy I ever met, and I've met some. Never met anybody that didn't like him, that's for sure. Guy's friendly to start with, but he keeps his friends, treats 'em right, always knowin' what's goin' on. He takes on problems like they're his own. Doesn't care if you're the President or the garbage man, you get treated the same, which is to say, real good. Watch his eyes when you meet him. You'll think he can see right through you, but you can see right into him, too. What you see is what you get. He sure likes a wild time, though."
"Whattya mean wild?" I asked.
"Fast! Don't ever ride with him if you care to keep your lunch. He'll scare turds outta you that you didn't know were in there. And jumpin' off those cliffs - he's gotta be nuts! He took me up in a plane once, had five-pound bags of flour to drop on his friends. Right out the window. He does have a wild side!"
"He sounds cool."
"You go meet him, Davy. You'll find a better word."
After that, I couldn't wait to meet the guy. I got my chance that Saturday.
Rich and I walked over there late in the morning. There seemed to be a lot of people hanging around the house, and I didn't know which one he was at first, but I guessed pretty quick. There was one man, not very big, with long blonde hair and glasses. Not too much to distinguish him except he was sitting in a lawn chair looking straight into the muzzle of the biggest gun I'd ever seen. The end of the barrel looked like a trumpet or something. Rich dragged me over to him.
"Hey, Ken. This is Davy."
He didn't seem very interested. He said hi and never took his eye out of the gun barrel. I think he was trying to get the light right because he kept twisting around and moving the gun up and down. When he seemed satisfied, he got up and walked away. I was really feeling disappointed. then he turned around. He didn't smile or anything, just said "Hi Davy", then kept walking away.
This was the great Ken? I just looked at Richie and said we should go.
"No, wait! He's up to somethin' here. Just watch."
We watched. He was on the patio doing something with the gun, like pouring stuff into it, then shoving a rod down the barrel. Then he put it up to his shoulder and pointed it up it the air. "Everybody, this here's Davy. He came with Richie. I'm the welcome committee."
BLAM!!!!!! The gun went off with a huge cloud of smoke. It was really loud, like hurt your ears loud. Then all you could smell was gunpowder. All the other people were either laughing or yelling ouch. Ken walked over to me and Rich.
"Blunderbuss. I love this thing. Jeet?"
"I said this is a blunderbuss. It's a beautiful old rifle. I just fired it off. You might'a noticed."
"We're down to one question. Jeet? Jeet lunch yet? ARE YOU HUNGRY? We're just gonna make some hot dogs."
"Oh. OH! Yeah, sure. I'll have a hot dog."
"How many? Never mind, I'll just cook all of them. Give me a hand."
The Weber was already going. We followed him into the house and he started handing us stuff. A big box of hot dogs, packages of rolls, a box of miscellaneous. He told us to bring it out and come back for more. He and another guy dragged out a giant cooler. We went back in and carried out more stuff, then Ken got somebody else to start cooking. He was talking to other people as he did all this. Not really looking at them if he was busy, but you got the sense he was listening. I looked around. There were about ten people besides us, and you could tell they were all pretty different. They were all ages, from pretty young to white haired. One couple looked like hippies, another guy was wearing some kind of uniform pants. The rest were dressed pretty much in regular summer clothes, but it didn't take a genius to tell a few of them were rich. Ken was wearing a baseball jersey and cutoff jeans.
Another thing I noticed was that this place was definitely made for outdoor living. There was a stone patio the full length of the house, then some steps down to another one. There were chairs and small tables everywhere, then on the lawn there was a big redwood umbrella table and a whole bunch of padded redwood chairs and lounges.
Ken came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. "Wanna go for a ride?"
"Just in the woods. It's fun."
I looked at Rich. He looked at Ken. Ken said, "I'll take you later, Richie. Only got two seats."
He led me over to the buggy with the tube frame and I got in. He hopped in the driver's seat and started it up. It made a lot of noise. He didn't turn around, just stepped on it and flew straight ahead across the lawn, then right through the gap in the trees that I'd walked through with Richie the other day. I pulled my right arm in close and held onto the grab bar in front of me. The trees were whizzing by. We got to one of the cross trails and turned left, I should say spun left, then he really gunned it. I was really getting scared. The trees were so close, and the trail wasn't smooth at all. There were rocks and limbs everywhere, and we were really bouncing around, but he kept going faster. I managed to glance at Ken and he had a real strange look on his face. Like all concentration, but sort of a grin too. There was a field at the end of the trail. He kept going straight into it. The grass was so high it was hitting the windshield, and I couldn't tell where we were going. He told me to hang on, then we hit a rise and lifted right into the air. As soon as we landed, he pulled a lever between us and we spun to a stop, looking right back at where we'd come from. He shut off the motor.
I looked at him. He was grinning, and shouted, "I LOVE THIS THING! This is better than the two-hump camel races!"
I just kept looking at him.
"What's wrong, Dave?"
"You scared the shit out of me!"
"I mean, what's wrong? You were either angry or sad when you got here. What's the problem?"
We were looking into each other's eyes. I could see what Rich's father meant. He was trying to read me, but I could see all of him. The joy, the warmth, the concern. He cared! It was right on his face. And he hadn't even looked up when I got introduced.
"My father died."
"Just two months ago." I started to get tears in my eyes. Ken hadn't lifted his gaze.
"I'm really sorry, Dave. But don't worry. We'll fix ya up. Here, you drive!"
... to be continued
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