The next day was a rush. It started early for me, with a tapping at my door.
“Who is it?” I asked.
“It’s me, Lisa. Can I come in?”
I grinned, suddenly awake. “Is it bedtime already?”
She huffed, “Paul!”
I said, “Let me put some pants on; give me a sec.” My shorts from the day before were dangling from the chair, and I pulled them on and zipped up. I opened the door quickly and smiled. “You look nice. Come on in.”
She smirked, “I’ve been up for awhile.” She poked my bare chest, “You, on the other hand, have just been rudely awakened. Why don’t you do your thing and meet me downstairs. We have to make breakfast.”
I stared, “We who?”
“You and me we, that’s who. You’ll see why soon enough.”
I grinned, “Are you being mysterious on purpose? Have you been watching Melina Mercouri movies? I thought I was the only one, and I do it in private.”
Lisa rolled her eyes. “It would be mysterious if I had a sudden interest in your navel, but that’s not happening. I’ll be in the kitchen while you do whatever it is you do to make your hair that way.”
She turned and walked out, closing the door behind her. I looked at the closed door wondering if I’d just been put down, but it didn’t feel like that: more like a warning.
When I got to the kitchen, wearing the same shorts and a somewhat tight polo shirt, Lisa had a pot of coffee ready and dishes set out on the counter. She was chopping an onion when I got there, and already had a bowl of chopped red and green peppers.
She was making omelets, but there weren’t enough eggs, so she’d woken Aldo to take me to the store for more, and some bread for toast.
Aldo came down in a few minutes looking awake and cheerful, and we had an uneventful ride to the store. It’s funny, but now that I liked fishing he treated me like one of his paisans, and I liked it. He never mentioned me being in Lisa’s room the night before, and I certainly didn’t bring it up.
When we got back, I did see why Lisa and I were making breakfast. The folks had clearly overdone the drinking the night before. They were already a bit buzzed when we got back, and then Dad served coffee with brandy and cognac. After that they polished off the magnum of wine Mr. Mongillo brought.
That was unusual for Dad, but the rarity of it did little to lessen his hangover, and none of them looked any better. I brought them all big glasses of water, poured a big can of tomato juice into a pitcher, and put an extra scoop of coffee in the next pot I made. Between the flushing and Lisa’s very good omelets they were all pulling themselves back together, and were ready for a little horseback riding when it was time to go.
We all had a good time there, except for Elenora. Lou thought he was a real cowboy once he was on his horse, and listened to every word the guide said. He did fine. Gary Andrews liked it too. He had a bigger horse than most and he was sitting high in the saddle, so to speak. We were in a high meadow with a nice view, and the weather couldn’t have been nicer. It was cool and breezy with a warming sun. The sky was blue with puffy clouds passing, and the clouds made fun with their shadows. Aldo was entranced with how easy it was, and decided he should have a horse to take him to fishing places that were too far and hard to get to.
Elenora apparently got woozy, but she never said anything. We were all just riding along when Dana suddenly shouted, “Mom!”
I jerked my head her way, and she was tilting to the right, ready to fall off the horse. Russell was behind and beside her, and he hurried his horse over to push Elenora back upright. A guide was there by then and he stopped her horse and helped her to the ground. She just leaned into the horse’s flank breathing heavily for a few moments, and turned and took a few steps and fell to her hands and knees, heaving violently.
The guide was right there, and Darius hurried over, followed by my Dad, Mr. Mongillo and Dana. The rest of us stayed on our horses, embarrassed for Elenora and paying attention with our ears only as we pretended to enjoy the sights around us.
Elenora recovered quickly, and decided she could ride the rest of the way with us.
After the horses, we young-uns were advised to find something to do on our own as the fossils wanted to go back to the house, put their feet up, and probably sleep for four more hours. That was fine by us, and we huddled over the brochures to find something to do. We decided on going for a hike, and there were hundreds of miles of trails right around us, but we needed something reasonably easy to accommodate Lou, Dina and, though it wasn’t said aloud, Gary.
Shea found one after a few minutes, and we were practically there already. The brochure was just a two-sided card with a map on one side and a description and history on the other. It sounded perfect: an old growth hardwood forest with a nice loop trail, and access to the Appalachian Trail above, which goes from Georgia to Maine.
Shea was right, too; we weren’t more than two miles from the entrance, and the park was as beautiful as it sounded. The old trees were monsters, at least in an East Coast manner. They weren’t nearly as tall as California Redwoods or Sequoias, but a lot of them would give the redwoods a run for their money with their girth at the base.
It was wondrous just the same, and we spent nearly two hours doing a mile-and-a-half loop back to the parking area.
We went back to the house and were barked back out by grumpy old people to find our own lunch. We left in the camper with Darius. Dana and Russ knew the area, but Dana deferred to Russ as to places to eat out. Russ had Darius drive us to a restaurant he thought would be open, but it wasn’t, and the few other places either didn’t open on Sunday, or only opened for dinner. He suggested what he called Italian sandwiches from Horvath’s IGA. That’s the Northern New England term for sandwiches called grinders in Southern New England, subs down the East coast, and who knows what elsewhere. It’s basically a food-long sandwich roll sliced in half the long way, and filled with whatever you might want from a sandwich place, and then toasted or not.
We ordered what we wanted, and it took some time because Mr. Horvath cut the meats to order. I ordered a tub of beans, asked Shea to get some chips, and we all got our own drinks from the cooler. I picked up two more big cans of tomato juice for good measure, and I was ready to check out when I took pity on Dad and the others and ordered sandwiches for them. I took it easy, too, just ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise, no seasoning, no pickles, roasted peppers, red-hot peppers or sweet peppers, no onions, no olives, no nothing. They weighed about half what the rest did, but cost the same. When I got to the register I realized I didn’t have but a few dollars with me and said to Mr. Horvath, “Um …”
“Your father’s bill, then?”
I nodded, and he smiled and rang it all up.
We sat on the deck with our lunches after I delivered the sandwiches to Dad, Elenora, and Lisa’s parents. We were pretty quiet, and I think it was a combination of being tired and that at least half of us were a little edgy about our parents’ hangover, and our friends were probably somewhat embarrassed for us. When one o’clock rolled around I announced that I was going upstairs to get my things to take home, and even the little ones said they’d do the same.
It didn’t take long, of course, since all we had to get were our dirty clothes, and things like toothbrushes together and shove them in our travel bags. I left my door open, and when I was looking under the bed to see if I’d missed something Dana walked in.
I didn’t know that until I stood up and saw him leaning against my dresser looking at me. I smiled, slightly embarrassed, and mumbled, “Final inspection. What’s up?”
Dana looked serious. “We never talked about my racing yet. I want to know what you think.”
I said “Sure, give me one second.” I zipped up my bag and put it out in the hall directly in front of the door, and turned to see Dana’s bemused look. I explained, “The last thing I need is to forget the bag entirely.”
Dana said, “We could go outside.”
I shrugged and turned around, picked the bag up, and headed downstairs with Dana right behind me. We went out the front and I brought my bag right down to the camper, and left it beside the locked luggage compartment. I looked around for a place to sit, and we ended up on the fender of Elenora’s Subaru. Dana straight-armed the fender and put a lot of his weight on his hands
”Okay, I’ve been thinking about this,” he started. “What sucks is there’s no real better choice, just different. If I go with the ski club I’ll get to race more, and maybe against better skiers. They don’t do downhill, but they do slalom and giant slalom. I do okay in giant; I average about one win in three races. I really bite the bone in slalom, but it’s always been my skis being too big. I get into a gate okay, and then the tails hit the gates and throw me off. It’s not that I can’t go fast, but hitting the gates makes me lose whole seconds on every run, and sometimes throws me into a header so I don’t even finish. I need like totally different skis for slalom, and a lot more practice even if I get a good pair. That’s the good part.”
I said, just to let Dana know I’d been listening, “What’s the bad part then?”
“There are a couple of downs. There’s no downhill, and that’s my best race. The last thing I need right now is a losing season.” He looked at me, “People watch this stuff, you know: important people. I have three state golds and two regionals in downhill. If I do club racing, those wins will be old news: Dana as a child star. The other thing is, I can’t accept anything from equipment companies at club level. There’s no demo hardware, no money, no publicity.”
I looked at him and said, “Tell me about sponsors. How does that work?”
“You can’t take anything from sponsors in school racing, either, but they can lend you branded things as long as they don’t claim you won because you were using something. They pretty much come in packages, like a ski company will let me use skis, and they have these other companies they work with for poles, helmets, goggle, clothes, boots, and whatever. Another thing they can do is help with expenses if there’s travel involved, and there always is. I mean, I can ride on the team bus, but if it’s overnight forget it.”
Dana’s shoulders suddenly heaved and he said, “I don’t know. It used to all be so hard, and now there’s Dad and he has all that money. He says he’ll pay, and I know it’s not a lot to him, but I don’t ever want it to be not a lot to me.”
I could tell that Dana was getting choked up, so without looking at him I said, “Tell me about the school races.”
He sniffed, “Oh, yeah. Well, we don’t get enough practice, and there’s only the coach and whoever he can find for training – usually some ski patroller or instructor. It’s half-assed. There aren’t enough races, either, but they’re good ones because whole divisions race each time, so we see a lot of other skiers. There aren’t any kinds of team championship races; you won your division or you didn’t. It’s not like playoffs or anything. What happens is the ten top finishers in every event from one division go against the ten best from the other, and that decides the state champions. That’s the top five girls and five boys. We’re not teams there, just kids, and it’s pretty fun. Then the winners go to regional, which is eastern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.”
He stopped, and I turned to see Dana looking at the clear sky above. He said almost dreamily, “They do the regionals up big time. The tracks are beautiful; everything is, and they have ESPN and TV stations from each state there, radio guys, everything! It’s almost like a World Cup race.”
“You won twice?” I asked.
Dana said, “Yeah. Just downhill, though. I looked like an idiot in slalom and GS. I tanked out right at the top every time.”
“You won two downhills!”
“I know,” Dana said in a chuckle. “It’s okay if you’re going fast and crash. At least it looks good, but right at the top turns? All I did was fall, too, because I couldn’t fit my skis between the top turns.”
I snickered, “Humility becomes you, brother.”
Dana said adamantly, “No it doesn’t.”
I let that go, and asked, “What else? Is there more?”
Dana said, “I guess not. I just hate to choose.”
“Can’t you do both? What would happen?”
“I thought of that,” Dana said, “And I don’t know. I’d have to miss races for sure. The school races are almost always on Saturday, but sometimes it’s Sunday. I could probably still make some club races if the time is right, but that’s a thing I don’t know. They race on both days, too. If it’s the same mountain, then it’s the same courses, and no problem either way.”
“I don’t know, Dana. If you take out sponsorship and everything else, it’s between the races, isn’t it? I mean, the clubs give you slalom and giant, and the school adds downhill and still has the other two, but not as much racing. But you can find sponsors with the school thing and not the club. It’s not the money now. You have your own pile, and Dad will get you the right equipment, but it sounds like a sponsor would get your name out worldwide. Tell me another plus for each one, the school and the club.”
Dana thought for a solid minute and said, “Okay. At school we’re friends, or mostly anyhow. We watch each other and say what we see, and that helps our skiing.” He snickered, “There’s no audience at a high school race, so we all cheer each other, all sides: doesn’t matter.” He paused again and finally said, “It’s probably the same at a club. I don’t know. I’ll be the new guy and …shit. That’s what I don’t want. I’ll have to prove myself in events I’m not good at.”
Dana pounded my shoulder and said “Thanks. It’s the downhill, Paul! I’m a downhill racer, and if I can place in the other races fine.”
Dana kissed my cheek. That put me off for a second before I remembered he’s Italian, and they do that kind of thing.
The others had been trickling out with their bags, and Darius came to open up the camper. I went inside with Dana to say goodbye. Mr. and Mrs. Mongillo were upstairs getting ready to leave, so after I said my goodbyes to Dad and Elenora, I walked out onto the kitchen deck with Lisa. We smooched for a few minutes before she came out to the camper with me. Aldo was already there saying goodbye, and the two little ones were with him. Russ and Dana came out and were shaking hands with everyone, and then Dad and Elenora came with Lisa’s parents, and it was more goodbyes.
As things often happen, it seemed like a lot of people had a lot to say right at the end, and we mingled around for a good fifteen minutes. I got a hug from Elenora, a pat on the shoulder from Dad and a handshake from Russ before I made it into the camper.
I sat facing forward at the table in the little kitchen area. Before I buckled in I took a bottle of white grape juice from the refrigerator. Of course, the package that had our leftover roast beef from the other night was still there. Gary or Roger could take it home if they wanted it. It would still make good sandwiches.
I sat back down and buckled in, figured out that the round black disk by my elbow was the cover of a cup holder, and put my bottle in the holder. Gary came and settled in beside me, and I told him if he wanted a drink he should get it before Darius got the bus moving.
He said, “Oh yeah,” and took a bottle of water out. I mentioned the leftovers and asked if he wanted them. When he sat back down and was buckling in he said, “If you don’t want it, sure.”
Everyone had been talking. When Darius started the engine we quieted down and waved out the windows to the people standing there. They were out of sight almost immediately when Darius turned to go out the driveway. I just sat back and closed my eyes for a minute, thinking about the weekend. It probably wasn’t a bad thing that Sunday ended up being a lazy day. We over-ate on Friday, and probably pushed our endurance on Saturday. We did manage to go on the trail ride that morning, a first for some, and our little hike in the park had been a treat: an easy walk in a very beautiful park.
I might have dropped off, but Gary nudged me and asked, “Are you trying to sleep?”
“Not really,” I mumbled, and opened my eyes. I hadn’t been expecting conversation, but Gary sounded a bit anxious. I turned to face him and asked, “What’s up?”
Gary said quietly, “Your father is a nice man. I just wanted to say that.”
It was only then that I remembered Dad had spirited Gary away when we were all heading upstairs the night before. “He talked to you?”
“Yeah. He said he needed help with something. When we got to the kitchen he said he just wanted to talk. We ended up out on the steps for an hour.”
I pictured that easily enough My father loved being outside on a warm evening, and some of my earliest memories were of sitting on steps, stoops, picnic tables, or even tree stumps when I had questions, or even when we just wanted to sit. We’d talk anyhow, about the tides and ocean related things like sharks when we had the place on Cape Cod. We talked about the buildings and American history in Boston. When we first got the house in Brattleboro we talked a lot about Mom and Ally, but also about cows, syrup, places we’d discovered in town, whatever came up.
Gary beat me to the punch in Stockton, because we’d never spent much time there outside of the winter months.
I looked at Gary and asked, “Are you going to say what you talked about?”
He nodded. “Things … lots of things. Me, you, the other guys, Dana and Russell, about you and Lisa. He asked me about the family and the farm, and how we were doing. I asked about him and what he did, where you lived before … things like that. It was just real nice.”
Oh Lord. I was dying to ask what my father said when Gary asked him what he did, but I held it in and he went on.
“He asked things about me, like what I want to do after I’m out of school and how I would get there.” Gary looked at me. “I told him I wanted to get into construction but didn’t know how I could. He asked why that was, and I asked if he’s seen me walk yet. Then he asked how I did on the motorcycles in the morning, and I said I did just fine, and it was fun. He asked what I know about construction and I said what I knew. He wanted to know if I ever built anything and I told him I done nothing but stone walls.” Gary’s eyes suddenly brightened, “Guess what?”
Gary couldn’t contain his grin. “He wants me to build some walls at your house. If I do good, he’ll talk to Mr. Jenks about giving me a summer job!”
I was laughing inside, because that was so typical of Dad. I tried not to show it. “That’s great. We always wanted some more stonework around,” I lied. Well, it wasn’t exactly a lie, because I like the houses around that have nice stone walls. “We sure have the rocks if you know how to stack them, or whatever you call it.”
I settled back, thinking the conversation was over, but Gary said, “He knows about ataxia like I have. Most people never heard of it.”
I said, “Well, my father has been around. He knows a lot of things.”
Gary spoke hesitantly, “Your father told me he knows of a program starting up that’s gonna give something like scholarships to guys like me.” He shrugged, “Girls too, I guess. It’s so we can go our own way and still learn what we need to know.”
I turned my head his way. Gary’s tone had sounded a bit down, but he was staring into the middle distance with the proverbial stars in his eyes. “I can learn the big equipment, hell, all the equipment. I can run a crane; that’s the best.”
The stars in his eyes shone even brighter, and I tapped his wrist. “You’re alright, Gary, you know that? You can do it your way, and still make it.”
He said, “I hope so.”
I asked, “Did I tell you that Lisa thinks you’re a hunk? She said a lot of girls do.”
Gary grinned, “That’s shit and you know it.”
“I’m serious. She said exactly that. The girls talk about you because you’re tall, you have big shoulders, that shiny black hair, and something else. Oh yeah, one of them said you look dangerous. I guess girls like that.”
Gary made a sound that fell between a sigh and a groan. “Yeah, and I walk funny. I bet they love that.”
I looked at Gary until we made eye contact. “That’s one thing, Gary, just one thing. Look at my hair, at Tommy’s body, at Shea’s height. And for God’s sake, look at Jim. He looks like a shelf full of frying pans fell on his head when he was a baby, but he has friends. Did he give you a name yet?”
Gary blushed and hissed, “Yes.” I just stared at him expectantly until he said, “Gunslinger, okay? He calls me Gunslinger.”
I grinned, “See? Even Jim thinks you have that dangerous look. That’s a good name, too. It beats hell out of Doodler and Carrot.”
Gary’s eyebrows went up a little and he said, “Well yeah, I guess.”
I prodded some more. “You met a lot of people this weekend, didn’t you? I guess you knew Lisa’s parents, but my father and Elenora were new, and Heinrich and Karen. You met Dana and Russ, too. Did anybody even look at you funny?”
Gary shook his head slowly and replied, “I guess not. I didn’t notice anything.”
I said, “Russ asked about you. He just wanted to know what was wrong. When I said it’s ataxia, he said that’s what his father has. He grew up with it like you, but had some kind of accident that made it a hundred times worse. Now he gets around almost like a crab. He still seems happy, and he’s real friendly and like that.”
Gary looked at me with narrowed eyes and asked, “Is that really true?”
I said seriously, “Gary, I can bullshit you till your head turns around backwards. You’ll know when I’m doing that because it won’t make sense, it’ll only sound like it might. I don’t lie, though. I never lie.”
Gary didn’t respond, but he was smiling. Then he snickered and I said, “What?”
“That’s a picture, ain’t it? My head on backwards … I wonder how I’d walk then.”
I laughed out loud, and that caused heads to turn. I looked at Gary and said, “You’d crash into everything like the rest of us would. Like bang, crash, oops, scuse me. What’s this, a wall? Somebody point me in the right direction. Uh-oh! My front is my back and my back is my front. Help!”
We were all laughing, Roger especially. He wheezed out, “You’d probably piss out your asshole.”
Darius called from up front, “Okay, let’s stop right there. I’m driving here, and I can’t drive when I’m laughing too hard.”
I lowered my voice, leaned toward Roger, and said, “If you pissed out your ass, then something else would come from there too.”
Roger looked at me, “Oh?” He seemed perplexed, and his eyes widened after a few seconds. “Oh!” His face crinkled into a perfect whole-head grin. “What? My asshole all erect and everything?”
We roared and Darius pulled off to the side of the road laughing hysterically. “Alright, get out the bus! You can walk from here; it can’t be much more than another forty miles.”
We started to protest and Darius repeated, “Get out the damn bus. I can’t drive in these conditions.” We were all staring at him and he pointed out the front window. “Just follow the dotted lines. You’ll probably make it … most of you.”
Roger mumbled, “I’ll be good, I promise.”
Darius looked over his shoulder and asked, “The rest of you?”
We all nodded eagerly and mumbled our assents. Darius said, “Well … okay this time. If anybody has to go, this is a good time seeing we’re stopped.”
I had to, and so did everyone but Jim and Shea. Of course, every time someone was in the tiny bathroom for more than two seconds, the next guy pounded on the door and said they were playing with it or something ruder, but we were eventually back in our seats and Darius was watching for a break in traffic so he could pull out.
When we were back on the road I nudged Gary. “Ever see one of those Viagra ads on television?”
Gary said, “Yeah.”
I whispered in his ear, “Maybe Darius had an overdose.”
Gary started jiggling with laughter, his hand over his mouth, and my cell phone rang. It was Lisa with a rare call from her cell.
We said hello, and she asked, “Are you pulled off on the side of the road? Aldo thought it was your camper.”
“Yeah, that was us. Darius stopped so … so we could use the bathroom. It’s too dangerous when the thing is moving.”
Lisa knows how to crack me up. She didn’t talk into the phone, but she said, “They were pissing, father. Everything is fine.”
I heard her mother start into a loud admonishment while her father laughed. Lisa giggled and said, “Call me when you’re back home.”
I said, “I will.”
When we hung up Gary asked, “Lisa?”
Gary said, “She’s really nice. I always thought she didn’t like me, but she never made fun of me either.”
I said, “Gary, you knew her a long time before I did. If she was the kind who makes fun of people you’d have known years ago.” I looked at him and asked, “You know what I think?”
He looked back, and when I caught his eyes I said, “I think you let a few wise guys let you think nobody liked you … that nobody would like you. You make friends easy enough. There are always people around who pick on every difference there is, like only they are perfect. That’s crap. Everybody gets it, and I mean everybody. The guys who give it to you and me get it themselves somewhere, and it’s still crap. Nobody’s better than you; nobody’s better than me.” Gary looked stunned by my vehemence, so I smiled and toned it down. “Nobody’s better than anyone else, and if they think they are it’s their delusion.”
I felt myself getting in over my head, and said, “You’re fine, Gary. You’re a good guy, and I like you. Everyone here likes you. Don’t let jerks define you; turn it around on them. You define them, and I bet everyone knows who they are already. You can’t be the only kid they pick on, and they probably pick on each other too.”
Gary eyed me and asked, “Do you really think that’s so? I don’t see it.”
“You don’t notice it, Gary, because you’re busy looking after yourself. That’s good; you should look after yourself, but don’t turn a blind eye when it’s someone else. How many times do you see somebody picking up their books and papers off the floor at school? Do you think that many people can’t hold onto a book? How many times do you see a couple of guys looking over their shoulders and laughing, then come across the kid with his crap all over the floor?” I put my hand on Gary’s wrist and asked, “How many times did it happen to you, man?”
Gary looked out the window and said, “Too many times … all the time.”
I asked, “Didn’t anybody ever help you pick up your things?”
Gary mumbled, “Yeah, sometimes.”
I thought that Gary could have had friends, but I didn’t want to make that point so I said, “The same thing probably happened to them, you know, and most likely still does. You’re the big guy now, so stop and help.”
“You think I should?”
“Why not?” I asked. “The people who don’t help are probably afraid to because they could be next. You’re as big as most seniors, so if anyone wants to give you grief you can give it right back. You can help without fear if anyone can.” I smirked, “You’re the gunslinger.”
Gary eyed me, and cracked a little smile. He didn’t say anything, so I didn’t either. In a few minutes Darius took our exit, and Gary’s house came up first. The house and barn were a bit run down up-close, but from the gate it was a pretty place, nicely sited with the fields and hills rising up behind the buildings. Gary hopped out to open the gate, and got back in after the camper went through. We all got off when we got to the house, mostly to stretch our legs, and Gary’s father came out smiling.
“Hey, boy. Didn’t expect you back till later. How was your weekend away?”
Gary grinned, “It was great, Dad. We had so much fun.” He suddenly looked back at the camper and said, “Oh! Be right back.”
Mr. Andrews looked at Darius and said, “That boy wasn’t any trouble, was he?”
“No sir,” Darius shook his head. He pointed at me and Roger and said, “The only trouble came from those two: The instigator and the jokester. They almost had me off the road.”
Roger managed an innocent, straight face, but I could not, and I turned away to snicker. When I remembered him saying, “Asshole all erect?” I cracked up and started laughing again.
I heard Mr. Andrews say, “I see that,” then he saw Gary coming from the camper with the container of leftover roast beef in his hand, which he held out when he reached his father.
“What’s this?” He lifted the lid and mumbled, “Roast beef.” He lifted his eyes and asked, “How much money did your ma give you, son? I told her twenty dollars should show you a good time.”
Gary looked nervous, so I butted in. “Mr. Andrews, this weekend was for me … part of my birthday present. My father paid for everything … for everybody. I wanted to have a good time with my friends, and that’s all we did.” I swallowed, “I’m glad you let Gary come with us, else it wouldn’t have been so much fun.”
I played that back in my mind quickly, and it sounded pretty good. If I tried to add anything, I’d probably trip on it.
It worked. Mr. Andrews smiled and said, “Happy birthday, then. When’s the big day?”
Relieved, I said, “Not till July, but I’ll be working up north by then, and everyone’s either busy or gone on vacation in July.”
Darius tapped my shoulder and said, “I have to get all these boys home.”
I nodded at him and held my hand out to Mr. Andrews, whose hands were big like Garys, but thicker. I said, “I’ll be back,” and turned to grin at Gary, who smiled and held his hand up and waved it a little.
We clambered back into the camper, which Darius turned around and tooted the horn, and we were off. It didn’t take more than two minutes to get to Roger’s place, and his parents came out to greet him so I got out again, followed by the other guys.
Roger’s folks were happy to have him back in one piece, and he tried to tell them all about his weekend in one long, rambling sentence. His father’s eyes almost crossed, and his mother finally stopped him with a cheerful reproach. “You just said two days worth of words in two minutes, and I don’t believe you used any punctuation at all.”
Roger blushed while the rest of us grinned, and when he saw us his ears went even redder. His father smiled at him and said, “Son, your friends were there with you, and I think they’d appreciate it if you just thanked them so they can get home themselves. Then you can tell us your tales nice and slow, because we are …” he looked at his wife.
“Thick headed,” she said.
“Thick headed, that’s right; that’s the term you used. We need extra time to absorb information because we can’t have you going around thinking we don’t understand what it’s like these days.” He looked at the rest of us and winked. I think we’d just witnessed a little payback, but Roger took it well.
He turned and grinned, “Thanks, Paul … all of you. It was a great time, and thank your father too, Paul.”
We all said our goodbyes and climbed into the camper again. Darius again tooted the horn when we pulled out, and it was on to my house. It was a few minutes past four, and Jim decided to stay and get a ride home later. We got our things out of the camper, and Darius made us look again to be sure we had everything. We took turns shaking his hand and thanking him, and then he drove off, tooting the horn one last time.
When we turned around, Ally was at the door waving us in. When we were close enough she said, “Hurry up. We just made ice cream.”
I asked, “You made it?” when I got to the step, and she pulled me into a hug.
“Just for you. We just put it in the freezer a half-hour ago.” She pulled me inside saying, “We found this machine yesterday and it’s a real beauty. I spent all morning cleaning it and oiling the parts.” When we got to the kitchen Ally swept her arm out and said, “Ta-da!”
I just shook my head. I was looking at a relic for sure, but if it was me it would have been out on a step with a flower growing in it. The thing looked like a bucket with vertical wood staves. That would be fine, but the wood looked like it had given up a century ago. It was a very dark reddish-brown, almost black, held together with three copper bands, and the wood itself was split along the grain in about a million places. That part was lined with what looked like pewter, and there was a smaller, copper-colored vessel in the middle. That must have been what Ally spent the time cleaning. It wasn’t shiny, but it looked spotless and very bright. There was a contraption on top, like an axle that went to a big iron wheel on one side, and that had a handle of newer-looking wood. In the middle there was some gearing, and it was obvious that if you cranked the handle this paddle thing off the bottom of the gearing would turn. The paddle was also made of wood, but finely made and in good condition.
The other guys were there, and Shea gave the crank a turn. I expected that would spin the paddle, but it just turned lazily. I waited for someone else to ask, and when they didn’t I looked at Ally. “Okay, what’s the trick? How does this thing make ice cream?”
Just then my mother came running in and tried to smother me, but I’m bigger than her now, so I held her off a little… not too much. “I’m sorry, Paul. I saw you come in, and I was just placing tomato stakes. You can help me after, but I didn’t want to get my measurements wrong.” She smiled, “How was your weekend?” She turned to the other guys and said, “Hello, boys. I hope you enjoyed your time in the far North.”
I just grinned. Far North my ass. Stockton is close to the middle of the state, at least in the north-south aspect of things.. The guys all responded happily, and Tommy made the best comment.
“I always have fun there, and it’s better now that Paul makes Cheez-Whiz right on site.”
Mom looked at me, Tom, me again, and it was clear she didn’t have a clue. She had never really approved of Cheez-Whiz, calling it an odd orange substance when she felt a compliment was in order. I said, “Ma, we talked a long time ago about the difference between teasing and telling lies. Remember? I do, and I haven’t told a real lie since.”
Mom said, “Certainly I remember, but please explain a real lie. Is there such a thing as a false lie … a lie about a lie? That’s a rather confusing concept.”
I said patiently, “I know I promised to try and not swear, so what Tom just said was nothing but one-hundred percent bull fecal matter.”
There was a split second of dead silence, and then Ally roared, Tommy kicked me in the butt, Shea fell against me and dug his hands into both ribs, and Jim hung his head, apparently ashamed that he even knew me.
My mother looked around and back at me and said, “Well, as long as I know that you’re not making that vile material I won’t worry.”
God, I wanted to laugh, but not at my mother. I said, “I have to go!” and hurried to the little toilet off the hall and laughed after I had the door locked. My mom can be all smart and sensible most times, full of good advice, and at other times she’s so clueless that it’s a comedy act. I had to put cold water on my face to bring me back to my senses, and I realized that I should use the toilet while I was in there.
When I came out, the guys were at the kitchen table with big, empty bowls in front of them, and Tom was struggling mightily to extract some ice cream from the tub, while Ally was frantically searching through a drawer. When she saw me she said, “Please tell me you have an ice cream scoop. I can’t believe that stuff hardened up so much.”
I looked at the rack at the end of the counter where things like spatulas and meat forks were hanging and picked up the ice cream scoop. I rinsed it out under the tap and handed it to Tom. Instead of taking it he held the tub of ice cream out to me. It was dark chocolate and very hard, but no match for the ice cream scoop. It was too hard to dig into, but twice dragging the scoop across the top got it full. I asked where my dish was, emptied the scoop in it and followed with two more scoops full before I handed the tub and scoop back to Tom.
I took my seat and proceeded to try the ice cream. It seemed to have little ice crystals in it, but the flavor was strong chocolate and the texture was nice and creamy, so I looked up and said, “Good.”
Tom was more the gentleman. He filled his dish and traded it for Shea’s empty one, and did the same with Jim, finally putting about five scoops in his own dish. The only thing he likes better than chocolate ice cream is Cheez Whiz, and watch out if they ever make a chocolate version of that.
This ice cream was cold enough to slow even him down, and I already had to stop for a bit to let the roof of my mouth warm up when it started shooting blue lightning straight up through my brain.
While we were sitting there Jim asked, “Anybody start their community service yet?”
We groaned in unison. A requirement for graduation was to perform forty hours of community service and I, like everyone else, figured I’d do it someday, maybe like at the End of Times.
I looked at Tom and suggested, “I bet it’d take us forty hours to fix up the signs at Lesbian’s Leap.”
Tom choked while his ears turned absolutely purple; my mother squealed with glee, and Ally roared with laughter. She said, “I’ll buy the paint!” Tom pulled his hands close to his chest and flashed me the longest, thinnest twin bird on record and we all laughed.
Jim’s mother called shortly after that, and he looked at Mom and Ally and asked if he could get a ride. Ally nodded and he said he’d be right home. Our bags were still out beside the driveway, so we went out with him. He thanked me for the weekend and we made small talk until Ally came out with my mother to take him home. Tom and Shea took their bags and headed home too. I went back inside, where the phone was ringing. It stopped almost immediately, so I brought my bag up to my room, washed ice cream residue from my hands, and wondered if I had any homework.
I couldn’t think of anything so I wandered back downstairs and glanced at the caller ID. Uh-oh, the last caller was Lisa, and I’d promised to call her as soon as we got home. I dialed her on my cell phone and wandered upstairs to talk from my room. I changed my mind at the last minute and turned into my father’s office so I could sit in a chair that didn’t look right at a wall. I realized that the phone was still ringing and looked at it. I’d hit the wrong speed number and the phone was ringing off the hook up in Stockton. I hung up and dialed the real Lisa, and it was busy. At that same instant the phone on Dad’s desk started ringing. I picked it up and said, “Hi lady.”
Dana’s voice came back with, “Huh? Paul?”
I laughed, “One of these days I’ll figure out these freaking things. I thought you’d be Lisa. I just missed her call.”
Dana said kind of breathlessly, “You remember where we took that hike today? There’s a rescue going on there now; it’s on TV.”
Well that was a jolt. I looked for the remote and asked, “What channel? What happened?”
“I’m not sure. Some family was hiking and then one of the kids disappeared. That’s all they said so far. I hear these things sometimes, but not where I just was the same day. It’s like if we were still there, we could help look.”
Again I asked, “What channel?”
“Oh yeah, hold on. It’s Channel 3 in Burlington. Do you get that on your satellite?”
“I don’t know,” I said honestly, thinking to start Dad’s computer up. “It’s cable here, not a dish, but I’ll find it on the Internet.”
Dana lowered his voice, “What did you do with Lisa yesterday?”
I smiled, “That isn’t exactly your business, Dana.”
He said, “I know that, but what did you do?”
I sighed, “It’s still not your business, but you want the truth?”
I snickered, “You going to be a ski racer or a lawyer? Okay, keep your hands where I can see them. Lisa came to my room after we cleaned up. We went out on that little deck to see the view, and that was nice. Lisa told me I was yummy so I put some clothes on. Then we went out back and climbed the mountain partway, to where there’s this level area. Most of it is just trees, brush and weeds, but one end goes up the rocks where you can see over the trees, and the view is like out over all creation there.”
“You never showed me that,” Dana complained.
“I know, but don’t interrupt. We got up on the rocks and found a nice pile of moose shit, so we sat in it and had a serious discussion for about a half hour.”
Dana was laughing, and squeaked out, “What did you talk about sitting in moose shit?”
“I don’t know exactly. I have to interpret it,” I said. “We were using Braille, electricity, and our tongues … a code we’ve been working on. I’ll write it down one of these days and send you a letter.”
Dana was still laughing, “You are such a shit; you know that?”
“I know. Ain’t it grand? Let me see if I can find Burlington Channel 3, okay?”
“Okay. You call me next time, and call before you call so I’ll be ready.”
It was my turn to laugh, and Dana hung up before I could say anything else.
Our cable doesn’t have that station, so I went to their website and found the story under the ‘Developing News’ link. It was a single paragraph and only said what I already knew, so I left the page up and called Lisa. Lou answered, and when he knew it was me he said in his monotone, “I had fun with everybody. Thank you.”
I said, “I’m glad you came. Can I talk to Lisa?”
I guess he put the phone down, because all I heard was a sound like a washing machine, maybe the dishwasher. I waited what must have been five minutes and nothing changed, so I hung up and called Lisa’s cell. That call rolled over to voice mail, and I left her a message to call me. I looked at the computer screen and the story about the missing hiker had been updated. I looked back at that.
A large family group of Canadians had gone out for a day hike on the Long Trail section and found they were missing a ten-year-old girl. She had been with them only ten minutes earlier, so they back-tracked and couldn’t find her. They sent someone down to report it to a park ranger and a search had begun. The news crew was still en route.
I don’t think any adult would like being lost in those mountains at night, so the story was worrying. A ten year old girl would likely be frightened, and she may have been hurt rather than just lost. And there is always that other possibility – the ugly one that people don’t even want to think about, and use a euphemism like stranger-danger instead of spelling it out.
All I could do was hope that she’d just wandered off and would be found playing with a little forest creature like a fawn or a chipmunk, but I felt the foreboding anyone would on hearing about a lost kid, and especially in that kind of environment.
I left the computer on and went back to my room. I called Lisa’s number again and finally got through. Her mother answered, and seemed happy that it was me calling.
“Hi, Paul!” She tittered, “You’ll have to forgive this house tonight. My husband is making everybody crazy talking about those waterfalls.” She sighed, “He deserves it, though. It took him years to get those tiles just-so, and it was a real thrill for him to see them used so imaginatively.” She snickered, “Honestly, he’s beside himself. Thank you so much for asking us up for the weekend, and thank your father again for us.”
“You’re welcome, and I’ll tell Dad. Um …”
“Of course you can. Let me find her.”
There were sounds in the background, basically the sounds of a house full of people, and then Lisa picked up. “Hi. I called before.”
“And I called back before. Lou left me hanging, and your phone was busy after.” I wandered back to my father’s office.
Lisa shrugged that off, saying, “Well, that’s Lou; don’t think he singles you out. He just forgets.”
“I know that by now. Dana called, and where we hiked today there’s a little girl missing.”
Lisa was silent for a moment, then, “You’re serious?”
“Dana saw it on TV. I saw it on the station’s website. Yeah, she’s ten, and just vanished.”
“Oh Lord,” Lisa said. “You don’t suppose …”
“I thought of that. I don’t know; I hate to speculate. All I know is a little girl is lost and I hope she gets found okay. It’s better to wait and find out, because if I think too much I’ll just get mad.”
Lisa said gently, “I know how you feel. Its way easy to let your imagination take you … I don’t know … where it shouldn’t. You’re right; we have to wait and see. That, or go back and join the search.”
I felt helpless all of a sudden. “I don’t know, Lisa. Another searcher probably won’t make the difference. I just hope she doesn’t spend the night out there by herself.”
Lisa was quiet for a long moment, and said, “She’s young to be lost out there, but that’s not the worst thing. It’s almost summer and the nights aren’t that cold. Nothing will eat her but black flies, and it’s early for them. If she is hurt, that’s another thing, and …”
I noticed a big, red, “Found!” thing on the screen in front of me and interrupted Lisa. “Hold on, it says she’s been found. Give me a sec to read it.”
I read it out loud to Lisa, the basics being that nine year-old Dominique Fournier from Moncton, New Brunswick, who had been reported missing from a hiking party, had been found unharmed and there would be future updates.
Lisa let her breath out loudly and mumbled, “Thank God. That’s a relief, and we’ll probably learn all about it tomorrow.”
I felt the same relief, wondering that people would pull together over a television report about strangers while all sorts of bad things happened around us all the time. I said quietly, “I’ll try to remember to check in the morning. See you then, okay?”
+ + + + + + + +
The idea for the party started small, with Shea Luellen suggesting a get-together for the end of the school year. Shea’s thought stayed small through the first five minutes of a lunch period. By the time the bell rang it had expanded beyond Shea’s yard into Toms, and had outgrown the addition of my yard and swollen to Andrews’ farm and ultimately spread across the river to some land that had been vacated by someone nobody remembered. That place had two huge pluses: It was out of Brattleboro proper, in an area with just a constable, and it went right to a deep hole on the river where people could swim, and it actually had a little beach. The Friday night before school let out was chosen because people would scatter on family vacations, head out to camp, start summer jobs and generally find a million things to do after the final bell rang.
Somehow, after two weeks of planning that amounted to non-planning, it was still being called Shea’s Party. The kids who’d played at the party for Jamie said they’d play again if there was electricity, and someone whose father had a truck with a generator said he could provide the juice if someone else would buy gas, and the whole thing came together like that. It was bring-your-own everything, although a few vendors from town were smart enough to show up. Their colorful carts provided a focal point to everything, and it looked like they cleaned out a lot of pockets.
Everything else was carried in. I brought a blanket and a cooler full of cold-cuts, cheese, rolls and condiments, some chips and a huge jar of Cheez-Whiz to add to Monsieur Timek’s enjoyment. Lisa had been assigned to wet, and had water, soft drinks and fruit juices, and so it went. Shea came with brownies, candy bars, cupcakes and other sweet things, the Fournier sisters brought French bread, salamis and cheese, Gary brought roast beef for sandwiches and … and he brought a girl. And drop me dead, it wasn’t just some girl, but Joan Novitzke! Joan, aside from Lisa, was the prettiest, sweetest, most desirable girl in our class.
Lisa is quiet, but hardly shy. I always thought Joan was even more bashful than me, and I’d always been afraid to even look at her for more than a glance. Now she was there with us … with Gary, all animated and trying to figure out what to do like the rest of us were. We had blankets spread over a slight rise above where the band was setting up, and we had all these coolers, candles, flashlights and pillows …even some golf umbrellas on Tommy’s hedge that it wouldn’t rain if we were ready for it.
As soon as we’d settled in, Lisa and I took off to walk around and see what we could see, who we could see, and it seemed everyone had the same idea. We’d sit somewhere, point to where we thought we were and invite people over, then move on.
There was some noise from guys drinking, and other people angry with them, and I heard a couple of voices telling some pot-heads to get lost and not make trouble.
“Come on, guys. Take it somewhere else, okay?”
“Hey, fuck you!”
“Listen, I don’t care if you do some smoke. You do it here and the cops come, you know how it is. You two smokin’ means everybody’s smokin’ and you know that’s not the case.”
“Like I said. Fuck you.”
A voice toughened up. “Phil, you have a car. Get in it and go across the river. Get as high as you want over there – start your own party. Come on back when you get hungry, but leave your shit over there!”
There were sounds of capitulation finally, and we didn’t wait around to learn who owned those voices. I’d been hopeful that nobody would start any trouble, and those few pot-heads were the closest anything came to going wrong. There were drinkers and other smokers around, but they laid low because they hadn’t come to show off or share.
We found our way back to our little hilltop when we heard the band make some noise through their amplifiers, and when we were back in sight they had lights as well. When I got a good look, it was like a scene from a bad movie. They were setting up on a plain old hay wagon towed behind a tractor. Their gleaming instruments and amplifier stacks seemed incongruous with the pastoral river scene behind them, yet the overall context was absolutely perfect for the occasion. I was delighted to see people with cameras taking pictures all over the place, because I’m firmly in the ‘oh-no’ column when it comes to remembering a camera.
When the band looked ready to play, the drummer hit a beat and the guitars hit a chord and stopped short. The frontman picked up his microphone and screamed, “Are you ready for some football?”
Everyone laughed and yelled back, “No!”
He came back teasingly, “Are you ready for some … algebra?”
He looked around and asked, “What should we do then? Oh, I have an idea!”
He nodded to his bandmates, put his head back and bellowed,
those old records off the shelf
I'll sit and listen to 'em by myself
Today's music ain't got the same soul
I like that old time rock 'n' roll!
The party was on, and it was a good one. There was no trouble; the only injuries came from dancing on rough ground and amounted to bumps and scrapes. A number of people managed to drink enough to get sick. Everything that was brought got eaten, to the point where I don’t think a single cupcake wrapper went un-licked. Blankets were trashed with danced-on spilled food, and the odd cooler was broken where someone tripped over it. The guys in the band were so hoarse they couldn’t even talk, and the kid with the generator was looking to siphon enough gas to get home with.
I told him to hold on, and when I called Darius for our ride he said he would bring some.
Shea Luellen was truly astonished. People sought him out to thank him for the party when he really hadn’t done a thing to make it happen. It was clear that it would still go down in Brattleboro annals as Shea’s party, and he would be the go-to guy the next time kids wanted to let loose.
When Darius showed up in his Jeep, there were three other Jeeps with him, and each had a five-gallon can of gas for Bruce, who had provided the electricity and whose name I heard from someone. He was grateful beyond measure, and it crossed my mind the he might not have had clear permission to be there with that generator truck. He was probably from my school of thought, where “Huh? What was that?” is like a blank check.
Lisa and I hopped in the Jeep with Darius and Roger after we’d collected up our coolers and sodden blankets. Roger didn’t come with a girl and he didn’t leave with one, but he’d had a good time dancing, and just about melted out of the car when we dropped him off.
After our good-byes, Darius seemed miffed. “You told me nobody would be getting high.”
I objected, “I said nobody in our group. I can’t speak for the whole school, and nobody got out of line.”
Darius shook his head, “That boy’s not in your group? Then who is?”
I said defensively, “Roger isn’t high. I know he isn’t. He was right with us all night long. He’s high on a good time, maybe, but we all are.”
Darius muttered doubtfully, “Yeah, helluva a good time then,” and let it go.
When we got to Lisa’s I looked at Darius and asked, “Give me a few?”
He looked at his watch, gave it a double-take and he said, “Okay … very few. It’s almost three. Our boss promised we’d do a sweep for stragglers, pick up lost souls, fish the drownees from the river, and make sure everybody is accounted for by three. You have two minutes, and not one second more.”
I grinned, “You’re the boss!” and walked Lisa to the door. The overhead light was on, and the light was on inside. We spared the words and spent the time on our kiss, and I was back at the Jeep one second after Darius started the motor. He seemed pleased by that, and when we got to my house he helped me put the coolers and wet blankets on the lawn where I could take care of them the next day.
I looked out back and lots of lights were still on at Tom’s and Shea’s, so I figured they took a late bus – the Fournier Sisters Bus Line, and who knew what route that followed.
I went in, shutting off lights in my wake, washed my face and my cruddy hands, brushed my teeth, and crawled into bed.
I woke at nine and I’m not sure why, because I certainly wasn’t prepared to be awake. I just woke up, even though I wasn’t really awake.
Of course, the phone rang, and I looked at it. I felt cruddy and decided some time in the bathroom was a prerequisite to meeting the day. I was really dragging, and even a clean pair of underpants felt heavy, so I closed the door behind me and tried to remember how things should go. Why is it that every summer I have to re-qualify for a late night out? It seems they should issue certifications and hand out rules for recovery. Shit, shower and shave, or is it shit and shower, with shaving optional? Or is everything optional and I can go back to bed?
I figured that since I was already up, I might become awake if I tried everything. I sat on the toilet until I was nearly back to sleep, and decided that a certain level of need was required for that activity, and I needed some energy to develop the need, so I started the shower, and that movement somehow created the original need, so I sat and did my business. That wasted water with the shower running, and I wasted a lot more because the shower felt so good. I just stood in there, turning in circles with my face pointed at the shower head, and didn’t even pick up the soap until the water started to go cold, at which point I hurried up and then stepped out. It was then that I realized I’d neglected to get a towel, and the linen closet was across the hall. I peeked out, saw and heard nobody, and scooted across for a towel, and got back without incident.
I gave a weak try with my hair, skipped the shave, and went back to my room to get dressed. There would be two more days of school on Monday and Tuesday, but they were for turning in books and getting our report cards. It would be a half-day Monday and probably even less on Tuesday. There were more get-togethers planned over the weekend and I was asked to a few, but Shea’s party marked the official end of the school year in everyone’s mind.
Awake, and clad in only a pair of khaki shorts, I went downstairs. Mom and Ally were in the kitchen eating some pasta that reeked of garlic.
“Well, look who’s here,” Mom said. “I take it you had a late night.”
I looked in the cabinet for a box of cereal and said, “I said I’d be home before three, and I was. Don’t we have any Wheaties?”
“No, dear. I used them for the breading on the veal the other night. There is a new box of Rice Krispies there, and decent blueberries and strawberries in the refrigerator.”
That sounded good, and I ended up with a big serving bowl of cereal and all the berries in about a quart of milk in front of me, and dug in. I didn’t even add sugar, and I was glad I didn’t because the berries were way ripe, like they’d be going mushy in another day, and very sweet. I had an English muffin with jam and a coffee to finish off, and it was a good breakfast.
I cleaned up after myself and went to my room with two possibilities in mind. One was a nap, and the second idea was to call Lisa and ask if she wanted to take a nap with me. It was probably a good thing that the phone rang before I could make a real ass out of myself.
It was Dana. “Hi,” I said. “What’s up?
He sounded ragged when he said, “Oh, Paul. I’ve been trying to call. Russ is in the hospital. He’s hurt bad.”
“Russ?” I asked. “What happened?”
Dana said, “Nobody knows. Somebody beat him up, and I mean beat him up bad. He might … he could die!”
I heard but didn’t comprehend. I barely knew Russ, and I couldn’t get my mind around why anyone would hurt him, of all people. To me he seemed like a nice enough guy, a small-town kid from a close family whose only outward desire seemed to be a closer relationship with a girl he worked with.
“Where’s Dad?” I asked.
“On his way back from Burlington. He left early with Heinrich.”
“Dana, listen. Have you called the police?
“No, but somebody did. That’s how we found out.”
I tried to steady my breathing, and asked, “Dana, are there people like Hector up there? I guess you’d call them our own people?”
“Yeah. I should call them, huh?”
I said, “You should call them big-time. I’m calling the guys here, and I’ll be there as soon as I can. Um …does it look bad for Russ? You make sure his family knows that whatever he needs, we’ll take care of it, and don’t you be afraid to make promises if jerks want to know where the money’s coming from. Are you okay?”
Dana sounded like he was gasping, but he managed to say, “I got it. I’ll be okay. You’re coming up?”
“Right now,” I said. “I’ll call Bernie on the way so you can use him if people ask about money. He’ll probably call you with a local contact. Call my cell if you need me, but let me get moving here.”
I hung up and poked the speed number for our local security, got my message out as quickly as I could and got dressed, if pulling on a shirt and stepping into sneakers constitutes getting dressed..
I was down the stairs in just moments, buttoning shirt buttons, and Ally loomed in front of me, a rare look of panic on her own face. “What’s happening?”
“Somebody tried to kill Russ Glover. Dad’s not there so I have to go.”
I thought oh shit, and ran back to my room for the phone charger, and back downstairs with one sneaker hanging off. I had to calm down, but I could do that in the car. I looked at Ally and my mother and said, “I’ll call, okay? I gotta go!”
Ally said, “We’ll be right behind you, Paul. You go. We’ll be there.”
I tried to squirt away with just a quick hug, but Tom burst in through the back door, made his usual rapid assessment, and asked, “Need me?”
I looked at him, and I didn’t really need him to come, but I wanted him to. “Is it okay if you call from the car? There’s no more time.”
Tom said his usual, “Let’s went,” and led the way out to the driveway where four shiny black Jeeps were lined up with the engines running, and Darius was there with an anxious look on his face. “Hurry it up, guys. I have an update. I’ll give it to you in the car.”
I let Tom sit in the front with Darius because of his long legs, and I was fine in the back. I was clicking off the things I had to do when Darius said, “Listen to me. There was a murder last night, too. A girl working late at a convenience store-slash-gas station was shot and killed. We don’t have a time on that, or when Mr. Glover left for work. His father says his normal routine was to get up at five, do his farm chores and get washed up, and leave for work in time to get there by seven. The local police don’t see any connection, but there hasn’t been a robbery in twenty years, a murder in over thirty, and nobody has any recollection at all of a random violent attack, so they’re treating these as related crimes for now.”
“What do you know about Russ? How bad is it?”
Darius shook his head. “I know that he’s been moved from the local clinic to a hospital in Rutland, and that he’ll likely be moved again. I heard a list of injuries but no prognosis. All I can say is that it sounds like it’s touch and go.”
I sat back and knew I should act instead of worry, so I called Bernie Sutton. If there is one thing money can buy, it’s superior medical care, and Bernie was the guy who could insure that Russ got the best.
He answered with his usual, “Sutton here,” and I launched right into him.
“Bernie, this is Paul Dunn and it’s important.”
“Bernie, I know you remember Russ Glover from when you came up to Stockton. You dropped him at his house that first night after dinner.”
Bernie said, “Yes, I remember. There’s a problem?”
“Big problem. Somebody beat him up this morning, and I mean bad like he could die.” Bernie muttered something and I went on, “His family doesn’t have any money, and I just want a promise to precede him that whatever it takes is paid for, and I mean anything at all.”
Bernie checked me on the spelling of Russell’s name and that he lived in Stockton, and I suggested he call Elenora to find out which police department was involved.
Bernie said, “Done. I can reach you at this number?”
I said, “Yeah. It’s my cell, so I’ll get you a list of numbers in case I’m out of range.”
“I’ll look for it. Listen to me. I want you to have your security crew line up air charters, and helicopters, and find a list of airfields. We need people who can act quickly. You may need to move on no notice. I’ll get things going here and be on my way, so let me know where you end up.”
“There’s one more thing, Paul. Until someone tells you differently, you’re in charge of your family’s affairs now, and I’ll have a document to that effect in the hands of whoever is running the show within a few minutes. You listen to the authorities, but pull rank if anyone acts to delay things in any way. I know you can handle it, so let me get things rolling and I’ll be in touch very soon.”
I started to say something else, but Bernie hung up. I leaned forward and talked to Darius. “I need your company to get a flight service on standby. We’ll probably need a helicopter and a plane at the minimum, and maybe more. And we need a list of places they can land if there aren’t good airports. Make one an air ambulance in case they have to get Russ somewhere in a hurry.”
Darius glanced at me, “You can authorize this?”
I said, feeling kind of foolish, “I’m in charge as far as my family is concerned. I won’t get you in trouble.”
Darius nodded and said, “I’m on it. Can either of you drive?”
I looked at
Tom and he nodded, so I said, “Tommy can. Can you get us a police escort?”
Darius shook his head and grumbled, “I can ask,” and picked up his radio.
In five minutes we were off to the side of the highway, with Tom in the driver’s seat of our Jeep figuring out the controls. In another minute he looked like a terrified carrot as he followed a state trooper, while Darius was talking frantically on the phone.
The Jeep had a power adaptor in the back, so I was able to use my phone without worrying about the battery, and I kept calling Dana to learn what was going on. He wasn’t learning a lot either, and sounded like he was ready to jump out of his skin. I asked if he’d heard from any of the Glover family.
“They’re here now with the police. This whole town’s upside down. There was a murder last night. This girl, Lori Alden, was working late at the Texaco. Somebody robbed the place and shot her. I mean, Jesus, she never hurt anybody, and she has a little kid. And now Russ.”
“What have you heard?”
Dana drew a deep breath and said, “He’s fucked over, Paul. I don’t ...” Dana’s voice choked, “They say somebody tried to kick him to death. He’s all busted up and might have brain damage. We’re all waiting to hear.”
“Where’s he at?” I asked.
“Rutland, or on his way. They couldn’t take care of him here.”
I said, “Dana, listen. Word should be there by now to whoever is in charge that Russ will get the best care possible, and that everything, and I mean everything and anything, is paid for. That goes for the best transportation for his family too, so they can be with him. Hold on.”
I looked at Darius and he told whoever he was talking to to wait. “Who’s in charge in Stockton, and where is he?”
Darius said, “It’s Dan Lemoine, and he should be at the Laundromat in just a few minutes.”
“Tell him to see Dana. I’m talking to him right now, and he’ll know what to do.”
We both went back to what we were doing, and I said, “Dana, a man named Dan Lemoine will be there with you in a few minutes. We should be there in maybe twenty minutes. You tell Lemoine that I’m speaking for the family now. He should have arrangements for planes and helicopters, and what we want is the best treatment for Russ, and to have it in the shortest time, with no screwing around. Rutland may be fine, but if it’s better in Boston or California, or anywhere else, make sure they know it’s fine to spend the money, and make sure the Glovers get treated well too. We’ll all catch up somewhere, but don’t let anybody wait if something has to happen.”
Dana said, “Thanks. People are here now. I’ll call you.”
I put my head down for a second and wondered if there was something I hadn’t thought of. There undoubtedly was, but nothing came to mind. I needed a minute to think, and I thought to call Lisa to tell her about what happened.
She had just left when I called, but Aldo picked up so I at least knew my message would get passed along. Al seemed really torn up to hear what happened to Russ, and offered to help in any way he could, and he’d tell Shea, Gary and Roger which was about all he could do right then. I promised to stay in touch, which I’d promised too many times to too many people already.
I tried to catch a breath after I hung up, but my father called. “Hi Paul. How close are you?”
I looked around and said, “Maybe fifteen minutes.”
Dad said, “Okay, I hate to be short with you but we’re putting Russ on a chopper to the Boston Medical Center. It has the best Level 1 Trauma Center around. Bernie will be there to meet his flight and handle the logistics. I’m already in the car with Heinrich and we’re on our way. We’ll be there in about two hours. Now listen carefully. Boston Medical has its own heliport and Russ will go there. There aren’t many other places to land, but we’re trying to get use of one. I want you to go with the Glover family, and you may have to make a decision in the air where to land and make very fast arrangements for a car. Got that so far?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Good. Your mother and Ally are going to open their house for the Glovers, and will make hotel arrangements for anyone else. I want you to make sure that anyone who needs a flight gets one, and anyone who can deal with a ride has one. Bernie’s going to arrange a conference room in his offices, and a few Vermont police may want to set up there. I want you to be available to them. You know Boston and you know the people in Vermont. Are you okay with all this?”
“I … I guess. It’s so fast. What about Dana and Elenora?”
“We’ll know later. They have obligations, and they have to decide. Please, if they ask, tell them to do what they think is best. Promise that?”
“I promise. Did Bernie tell you he put me in charge?”
Dad said, a bit more brightly, “He told me, and I know you’ll do well. We’ll leave that in effect for now, if it’s alright with you.”
I smiled and asked quietly, “What are Russell’s chances?”
Dad paused, “There’s hope, Paul. All this activity isn’t pointless. There’s hope.”