Mud Season

Chapter 19


My mother shooed everyone out of the room and turned out all the lights except the one in the bathroom.  There was enough light to see by, but it was behind me and not in my eyes.  She stayed with me, speaking softly, until I fell asleep.


It was after eight when I woke up and the house was as silent as a tomb.  I looked out on the terrace and no guard was there, and the bed was made in Tom’s room.  I didn’t know who would be in the other room so I didn’t look.  I washed up and pulled yesterday’s clothes on and went downstairs barefoot.


I found Tom in the kitchen with the Glovers, and they were entering numbers into their phones as Tom read them off my phone.  I greeted them by saying, “Lucky you.  Private lessons from the master.”


They looked up as one, and each of them smiled and mumbled greetings.  There was coffee in the pot, but the heating light was out so I asked, “How old is this stuff?”


Mrs. Glover said, “It’s best you make more.  We reheated that from last night.”


I made a face and dumped it out, asking “Where are Mom and Ally?”


Mrs. Glover spoke again and said, “Oh, Ally came down earlier.  She said your mother was up late with you and then she called the hospital.  They don’t want us there before noon, so I think they’ve gone back to bed.  She said we could make breakfast on our own, and we’ve been involved with these telephone devices since then.”


Mr. Glover added, “Your father has really gone above and beyond with these phones.  This is a huge surprise.”


I had measured out some coffee, but the talk had distracted me and I forgot how much.  I held the little basket in front of Ian’s face and asked, “Does that look like two scoops or three?”


He studied it and said, “I don’t know.  How much is a scoop?”


I smiled, and passed it around.  “Anybody?”


When it got to Tom he shrugged and said, “Do over.”


I did.  I poured it back in the canister and counted out three scoops, then another half, poured the water in and pressed the go button.


I sat down while it was brewing and asked, “Will Ian be able to visit Russ today?  The reason I’m asking is that he saw some things he’d like to do when we were out yesterday, and if you have till noon you could at least go down to the common … it’s a nice park.  The Botanical Garden is right there and they have rides on the swan boats.  The things Ian wants will take longer.”


Mr. Glover looked at Ian and said, “It’s probably better if you wait at least until tomorrow to see Russy.  Even if he wakes up today he probably won’t know who we are, so you can go ahead and see the sights.”  Ian looked down as if he was embarrassed, and his father patted his shoulder.  “Don’t feel bad, son.  You’re here because you have to be, so take advantage of it.  I know you care about Russy, but the time isn’t right yet.  He’s having an operation this morning, so nobody can see him until after.”  He held up his new cell phone and said, “We’ll be right here.  You go ahead and see Boston.  We’d like to see some things, too.”


I had all this in my head and looked at Tom.  “Do you know if it’s a day or night game today?  Bernie can probably get you in with a great seat, if you don’t mind sitting with some kind of business people.”


Tom’s eyes lit up like I hadn’t seen before.  “Really?  It’s a day game; I’m not sure when it starts, but usually around two.” 


I said, “I should call now,” and went to the regular phone in the hall, and then had to come back to get my cell phone for the number.


I called Bernie and he said, “I’ll see what I can do.  Have you ever heard of notice?”


I said, “Sorry, I just found out.  If you can’t it’s no big deal.”  I said that with a grin because can’t isn’t in Bernie’s vocabulary.  “I’ll tell Tom you’re trying.”


Bernie said, “Don’t hang up.  Is he a Sox fan?”


“I’ll say!”


“It’s just him?”


I said, “I don’t know.  I guess some others might go if there are more seats.”


Bernie said, “There’s a big box, six seats, in the third row behind the Red Sox on-deck circle.  It doesn’t have a great view of the outfield, but you can’t beat it for watching the pitching and the infield action.”


“Six seats?” I asked incredulously.


Bernie said, “Five, if you’re going.  I haven’t been to a game yet this year.”


“Sold!” I said.  “Do you know the exact start time?”


“Two-twenty.  I’ll pick you up where?  Your mother’s house?”




“Perfect,” Bernie said.  “I’ll be there,   Bring hats because the sun will get in your eyes.”


I went back to the kitchen where Mrs. Glover had breakfast makings out on the counter, and some bacon cooking in a pan.  I said, “We can all go to the game today if you want.”  I looked at Mr. Glover and said, “It will give you an hour at the hospital, and if you want to stay that’s okay.  I can ask some of the security guys.”


He looked at his wife and asked, “What do you think, hon?”


She seemed surprised and asked, “What about Russell?  We can’t just leave him there alone.”


I said, “Fenway can’t be more than ten minutes from the hospital.  How close can you get?”


Mr. Glover said, “What about Ian?”  He looked at his younger son, whose eyes were wide, patted his lap, and said, “C’mere, son.  Let’s all talk about this.”


Ian climbed aboard his father’s leg and leaned back into him.  His father asked, “What do you think, Ian?  Me and your mom will talk to the doctors after Russy’s operation, and then we can all go to a real, live baseball game together.”


“Russ too?” Ian asked, sounding confused.


“No, not Russy.  He needs to rest, but we need to spend some time with you, too.  What do you think?”


Ian looked at me and asked, “Can I still go on the trolley?”


I smiled, “No problem, and if there’s time after the game we can go on a duck tour, too.”


Mr. Glover looked at his wife and said, “Kait?”


She said dreamily, “I haven’t been to a big league game since I was a girl.”


They looked at each other, smiled and nodded, and Mr. Glover said, “We’ll go.  It sounds like a real treat.”


I looked at Ian and said, “We’ll get to your wish list too, mister.”


Ian beamed, “I like you.” 


I mumbled, “No wonder,” and everyone laughed.  I said, “I have to wash up.  Don’t wait on me; I can do my own eggs.”  I poured out a coffee, put the requisite drop of milk in it, and headed up to my room, the scene of my bad dream.  I remembered having it, but only fragments of what it was about.  I had a good sleep afterward and felt good.  I felt better after a shower and a shave, and wasn’t even too put out by the fact that Mom had packed my school clothes.  I was in Boston, and it was Sunday when all the good Catholics went to church, so I’d be dressed-down at best.  I was downstairs twenty minutes after I left, and Mom and Ally were in the kitchen with everyone else.  Darius walked in about a minute after me.


I wasn’t particularly hungry, and there was a coffee cake on the table.  I took a hunk of that and poured another coffee, and then sat down to eat.  I asked, “Where’s Ian?  Anyone else want to go on the trolley tour?  You don’t have to do it all.  You get on, you get off, and you can come back on it any time.”


Ally announced, sounding proud, “Paul is our tour guide,” and snickered.  “Get your tickets here!  Anyone not interested in the trolley, we were thinking of a walk down to the Common.  It’s a lovely day and it’s just a short walk away, not five minutes.”  She looked at me and asked, “What time are you being picked up for the game?”


“One-thirty,” I said.


“Oh, that’s perfect,” Ally replied.  “We will have plenty of time for the park, and to get to the hospital and back.”  She looked at me, “You’re meeting here?”


I nodded, and she said to the Glovers, “Let’s get going then.  I have to get my sneakers … can’t go out in my silly slippers.  Let’s meet downstairs in five minutes.”


She and my mother left and I looked at Darius, who had just sat down beside me.  I said, “We kinda have plans.  We’ll take the tourist trolley, and you’re welcome to come, but we got tickets to the ballgame later, and the seats are all taken.”


Darius smiled and said, “Maybe it’s my day off and I’ll go around on my own.  What’s the best way to the JFK library?”


“Red Line,” I said.  “You can walk with us and I’ll show you the stop.  It’s not far, just take the train south toward Braintree and get off at the JFK stop.  There’s a bus, but if it’s not there the walk to the library isn’t far.  When you come back, watch for the Downtown Crossing signs.  Go two stops past and you’ll be back where you started.”


I was talking too much, and that was because I had a chance, finally, to treat Tommy to Boston, and I’d have fun showing Ian a good time.  The big thing was that there hadn’t been any more phone calls, and I had no urge to initiate one.  Maybe the freak was religious and took Sundays off.  Better yet, maybe he’d stolen a chicken and choked to death on a bone.  I didn’t want to hear from him that day, or forever for that matter, but a day off looked good.


When everyone was ready, we headed out en-masse.  Ally and my mother took the Glover parents one way, and I led the rest of us toward the T-station where we stayed outside while I told Darius what to do when he got inside.


We left him there, and headed down to the trolley stop, where I thought we could get tickets on board.  The trolleys are really just buses with old-fashioned-looking bodies on them, but it turned out that they didn’t sell tickets on board. I asked if we could ride to the closest ticket place, and the guy looked at me like I was a Martian.  I asked for a brochure and he wouldn’t even give me that, so I said, “Come on.  We can walk anywhere they go, and the other trolleys let you get tickets on board.”


The driver said something, but we were walking away and I didn’t hear what it was, and I didn’t care.  I’d taken that tour many times, and brought them a lot of business, but I wouldn’t be back if that’s the way they treat people: change the rules and do nothing to accommodate those of us who didn’t know the rules had changed?  No thanks.


We walked another block and got on a red trolley, where the brakeman cheerily welcomed us on, and happily took my money.  The car was crowded and we had to stand, but most people got off at the downtown stop, so we got seats.  I sat beside Ian, who had a window seat, and asked, “What do you think?”


He didn’t say anything, so I looked over the seat and asked Tom, “Do want to see anything in particular?  We have time.”


Tom said, “Is Quincy Market open on Sunday?  That sounds like fun.”  I smiled because Quincy Market is a place, a part of a larger place, not a store.


“It’s open all the time, Tom.  Let me ask, but I think it’s the next stop.”  I ran back and asked the brakeman, then went back to my seat.  “It’s the second stop.  The one right now is the aquarium.”


We got off at Quincy Market and had a good time.  I was paying for things, and nearly spent myself out, but Ian and Tom had a very happy morning, and armloads of things to take home, so when it got near one o’clock and I had less than thirty bucks left, I said “We gotta go, guys.” Our trolley tickets would get us back but maybe not in time, so we got another cab back to the house.


Mom, Ally and the Glovers weren’t back from the hospital, so I called Ally to see where they were.


“We’re almost there, kiddo.  Five more minutes, maybe ten.”


“How’s Russ?” I asked.


Ally said, and she sounded almost sad, “Russell is going to be alright, but he certainly isn’t now.  They’ve induced a coma to get him through the worst of this.”  Ally didn’t usually get upset, but she sounded like she was when she added, “It was a cruel person who did this, and the pain must be unbearable.”  Ally is Buddhist and she said, “I’ll pray. There is a wish-path called Monlam and I can send hope that way.”


I didn’t want her to drive off the road, so I said, “We can all say a prayer.  We’ll be waiting.”


Lord, Ally’s car has Bluetooth so I knew everyone in it heard every word, but on my end I was the only one who knew what she said.  I thought of passing it on, but instead said, “Bathroom break!  If you gotta go, go now, and wash up anyhow.  We’re in the good seats.  Change your shirt Ian; you got ice cream all over it.   Chop, chop!  Bernie will be here in a few minutes.”


I had to go anyhow, and I washed my hands and face.  I didn’t have to worry about my hair because I had my old Red Sox cap right there.  I had a minute and sat on the bed remembering other Sox games with Bernie, who was the consummate fan.  He had fun at games, win or lose, but the dinners after a win were way better.  I didn’t have much money left, but if I went with a million bucks Bernie wouldn’t let me spend a cent.  He’d been taking me to Sox games since I was five, and it was always an event, and it would be an event today, especially for Tom and for everyone else, too.  If the game sucked, Bernie would still make it entertaining. 


When I got back downstairs my mother, Ally, and the Glovers were just coming in, and they were a grim group.  I stopped in my tracks and said, “Uh-oh.”


Ally pulled me to her and said, “Don’t worry your little head about it.  Russ has a good prognosis; it’s just difficult seeing him the way he is now.  He’s facing many and various types of treatment, and probably a lot of hospital visits, but they’ll put him back together.  He went through today’s surgery just fine.  He’s young and strong, so it’s just a matter of time before he’s dipping ice cream again.”


I backed away with nothing to say, and managed a smile toward the Glovers.  Ian was sitting on his father’s lap, and the three of them seemed calm and within themselves.  I said, “You’ll need hats if you don’t want to go blind later on.”


I smiled when each of them felt their hair.  Ally had heard that and cried, “I have boxes of Yankees hats.”


Tommy surprised me when he growled, “You want to get them killed?  We’re sitting at home plate at a Red Sox game.  You can’t wear a Yankees Hat to a Red Sox Game.  It’s un-American.”


Ally looked at Tom as if she’d just discovered he was a Republican and held the glare until Tom took a small step back, but then she shrugged, “I suppose you’re right. I’m sure Bernie will buy everyone ten hats, but he should be here in a minute so you’d best get ready.”


We did, and we were on the front stoop when Bernie drove up.  His car is big, but it only has seats for five and there were six of us, so Mr Glover sat in front and the rest of us in back, with Ian on Tommy’s lap.  I had pulled out my old fielder’s mitt, and Ian was wearing it to catch any foul balls that might come our way, because the seats were in prime territory for that to happen.


I made the introductions as Bernie drove, and Mrs. Glover was floored when she realized he was the Bernard Sutton she’d seen so many times on television.


We were at Fenway in no time, and Bernie let the Glovers and Tommy off on the sidewalk with their tickets.  He had to park and I went with him.  The tickets came with a parking pass, so it didn’t take too long, and when we were walking toward the ballpark Bernie asked, “How are things?  I have the update on Russ, and it’s encouraging.  How is the family?  I don’t want to say the wrong thing.”


I started snickering and managed, “You?  You don’t know how to say the wrong thing, do you?  More people trust you than the Pope.”


Bernie laughed and bopped my shoulder harder than absolutely necessary.  “You know what I mean.  I want to know how they’re holding up.  Are they strong or on shaky ground?  They seem like nice people and I want them to have a good time.  The wrong words could ruin it.”


“I wouldn’t worry,” I said.  “They’re looking forward to the game, and Ally said you’d buy them hats.”  I laughed, “She wanted to give them Yankees hats!”


Bernie said indignantly, “That’s blasphemy.  This is Fenway Park, soon to be the last bastion … nay, shrine of baseball in the country.  Those Yankees have a new stadium, and they’ll soon tear down the old one like it’s a piece of crud.  I don’t know how, or why, they can do that.  That park is their history, their heritage, yet every team is doing it.  Give the Yanks credit for doing it on their own dime, though.  Most teams threaten leaving town to get the taxpayers to ante up.  It’s criminal, really criminal.”


We took a few more steps and he said, “Ah!  There they are.”


He was right.  Everyone was right across the street, and we had to wait and wait and wait some more, because the traffic signals were off and things were being orchestrated by white-gloved cops who were trained to move cars before people, but we finally got to cross, and Bernie rushed us inside, stopping to buy scorecards for everyone, and a fistful of Red Sox pens.  He handed me some tickets and said, “Paul, take Tom and Ian to our seats, and show them down to first base for autographs if they want.  We’ll pick up some hats and meet you there.”


He slipped me a ten dollar bill and said, “Don’t forget the usher.”


I went through the correct gate, and there were a lot of people in front of us.  Tom and Ian were looking around in awe, and we were met by an usher who looked at our tickets.  He led us down toward the field.  As the people in front of us found their rows, we continued down until nobody was left in front of us, and Tom was laughing, “I don’t believe it.  I don’t believe it.”


We finally reached our seats, and the usher pulled them down and wiped them off one at a time.  I handed him the ten and he thanked me politely but brusquely, and we sat for about ten seconds while I asked Tom and Ian if they wanted to try to get autographs.


They did, so we walked back up to the crowded aisle and headed over toward first base. I told them how to do it:  hold the scorecard out in one hand and the pen in the other and take who you can get.  You might get a hero or a rookie, but you’d have the autograph of a genuine major league player.  I gave my scorecard to Ian and told him to see if he could get autographs for Russ, too.  “Just give it to the first guy and say your brother is in the hospital, and ask him to sign both.”  I thought to write ‘Russ Glover’ on the top of the card.


I went back to our seats to find Bernie and the Glovers with beers in their hands and piles of hats and shirts in their laps.


When Ian and Tom came back they were both equally eager to show the autographs they’d picked up, but Ian was upset.  “He took the card you gave me for Russ and said go back there during the seventh inning scratch.  What’s that mean?”


Well, Bernie had a huge laugh at that, and claimed that Ian had just introduced a new idiom into the game of baseball, while I explained that the word was stretch.


Ian seemed on the verge of tears, “Yeah, but why did he just take it?  I told him it was for Russ.”


Bernie said, “Don’t worry, Ian.  You’ll get it back.”


Then the announcer called us to stand for the National Anthem.  I’d seen a lot of people do this, from amateurs to rock stars, jazz singers, you name it.  This day it was an operatic tenor who did it justice, and the crowd roar started as we applauded him.


Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very exciting game.  Seattle scored two in the second inning and that was it going into the seventh inning stretch.  Both pitchers were having hot days, and most of the batters either struck out or were out on grounders and fly-balls.  A few foul balls had come our way, but far over our heads.  We were full of hot dogs and popcorn, and swimming in soda.  Well, beer in the case of Bernie and Mr. Glover.  I walked out to go to the men’s room, and a lot of people kept on going.  I would probably have done the same if it wasn’t for Tom and Ian, who were both still plugged into the game.


The men’s room was packed and I waited a long time, but the stretch seemed extra long and I got back to our seats just when I saw Ian sitting down, and everyone seemed to be helping him.


I asked, “What’s going on?” and Ian looked at me with tears in his eyes.  He handed me the scorecard that I’d written Russell’s name on and I flipped through the pages.  At a glance it seemed that every player on each team had signed it.  Several signatures had good wishes, and a few had longer messages that I’d read later.  Ian also had a signed ball from each team, and team pennants for Russ.


It took a groan from the crowd for me to realize the game had resumed, and the first man up had already struck out.  I put my attention back on the game, and the next hitter took a few pitches, but his mighty swing only popped the ball right to the second baseman.  The next guy hit the pitch just out of reach of the shortstop for an easy single.


Two outs and one man on.  The next hitter took a strike and hit a foul ball that went back over our heads. The next pitch was a ball, and the pitcher was taking his time.  The batter swung at the next one, and it came foul right our way.  Tom reached up at just the right time and knocked the ball down into our box, and after a lot of scrambling by all of us, Mrs. Glover came up with it, held it up to the crowd, and then dropped it into Ian’s glove.


That made our day right there, and the next pitch was wild, so the runner went from first to second.  The hitter ended up walking to first, and there was a pitching change.  Everyone in our box except Mr. Glover and me headed to the toilets, and it looked like half the park was empty. I moved over beside him and asked, “Are you having fun?”


“Oh, I am, I am,” he said.  “I’ve always seen big-league baseball on television, and this is just how I imagined it would be if I ever made it to a game.  And this ballpark … how do you suppose they do that with the grass?”


I looked, and assumed he meant the criss-cross mowing pattern, but I shrugged.  “I don’t know.  You know, Bernie’s gonna want to take us out to get fat after this game.”




“Bernie celebrates with food.  If Seattle wins we’ll get a little bit fat.  If the Sox win you won’t have to eat again for three days.”


His look soured, and he said, “I don’t know if we should be celebrating anything with Russy the way he is.”


Now I felt bad.  “I didn’t mean it that way.  It’s a ballgame; it has nothing to do with what happened to Russ.  It’s up to you, but even if Russ wasn’t hurt, wouldn’t he want you to celebrate your first baseball game even if he couldn’t go?”


The grim look faded into a small smile, and Mr. Glover patted my wrist.  “Yes he would, and if we don’t he’ll be an ornery beast when he finds out.”  He patted my wrist again and said, “Of course we’ll celebrate. Now, who’s going to win this game?”


The first pitch had been thrown and it was a strike.  People were filtering back around us and it was a pain because we couldn’t see everything.  We jumped up at the crack of the bat, and saw the ball just barely clear the left field wall, Fenway’s famous Green Monster.  A three run homer, and Boston was ahead.  Luckily for Tom and Ian, they replayed the hit several times.


Seattle left their pitcher in, but that was the end of the scoring and Boston won three-to-two.


I helped carry the Glover’s loot out to the car.  They each had jackets, t-shirts, sweat shirts, hoodies, hats and various other souvenirs, including a set of four crystal tumblers.  Everyone but Ian had protested at Bernie’s largesse, but he poo-pooed them.  He loves treating people, and treating them well, especially when their circumstances are rough like they were for the Glovers.


He drove us to a place that was new to me, but was clearly a favorite with post-game Sox fans, at least the well-off ones.  The young guy who opened Bernie’s door smiled brightly.  “Mr. Sutton!  It’s good to see you.  It’s crowded inside.  How many are people in your party?”


Bernie said, “Hi, Chris.  There will be eight of us.  Is there a wait?”


Chris was texting and said quickly, “No wait.  Melissa will be right here to lead you in.”  He hurried around and opened our doors, saying “Welcome, welcome.  Did you enjoy the game?”


That was the wrong question, and he had to excuse himself when the next car honked its horn.  Melissac was a young black girl who was there as soon as Chris left, and she said, “Follow me.  We have a table with a nice view for you.”


I was a bit surprised, thinking the restaurant would be right inside since their awning crossed the sidewalk, but the entrance led to a bank of elevators, and we all got into one and went to the eighteenth floor, where Melissa led us to a table that had better than a nice view.  It was spectacular, really, with a curved, floor-to-ceiling window that overlooked the plaza below and the harbor beyond.


The waitress left to get menus, and Bernie sat Tom and the Glovers where they could see the view out the window, and placed himself and me where we’d be beside the windows and not obstructing their view.  Bernie’s a smart man.  There weren’t two more people coming; he got the two extra seats to protect the view.


I wasn’t especially hungry, nor were Mr. and Mrs. Glover.  I just ordered an appetizer, and they settled on soup and salads.  Tom, Ian and Bernie ordered meals.  Ian got a Coke and everyone else was fine with water.


I was pointing out the landmarks we could see when my phone went off.  It was my mother asking where we were.  “We’re in some restaurant.  We just ordered.”


She said, “Oh, that’s fine.  I was wondering if I should prepare a dinner, but I have my answer.  Did everyone have a nice time at the game?”


“Yeah, it was great.  It took Tom, Mrs. Glover and Ian to land a foul ball, but they did it.”


“I’m sure that’s wonderful.  We’ll be here to take them to the hospital when you get back.  When will that be?”


I said, “An hour and a half, probably, maybe two hours.  No more than that.”


“Alright, dear; we’ll look for you then.  Enjoy your meal.  You know I love you.”


“I know,” I said, “and I love you back.”


We did enjoy our meal, and were entertained by Bernie Sutton’s long discourse on the history of Boston politics.  He had everyone within earshot mesmerized one moment and laughing the next.


When Bernie brought us home, he stayed on the sidewalk with Mr. and Mrs. Glover after sending the rest of us inside.  I’ll never know what they talked about, but the Glovers came in after about fifteen minutes wearing thin smiles.  They seemed resigned to whatever Bernie had told them, but whatever it was, Dad had them in a good position to get through it.


Ian was describing the game to a rapt Ally.  Tom had taken the foul baseball up to his room along with the program to write the date and game on it for Ian, along with the hitter’s name and the pitcher’s.  While this was going on, I sidled up to my mother and asked as quietly as I could, “Is there by any chance another envelope around here for me?”


She said, “Oh, my!  You haven’t spent that already have you?”


I shrugged, “Well, you know … meals, cabs, sightseeing … it adds up.”


“You can use your credit card at an ATM.”


“I forgot it,” I said.  “I didn’t really have time to think yesterday.”


She got her purse and handed me her ATM card, saying, “Oh, here. The PIN is your birthday, month and year.  There is a wall of ATM machines at the T stop.  Hurry back though, so we can get these good people to the hospital before they turn the lights out.”


I grinned, “Nice try, but the lights aren’t even on yet.  I’ll be right back.”


I did hurry.  I ran from the moment I was outside until I reached the station, matched the name of the bank to the right machine, and took out four hundred bucks.


When I turned around I nearly bumped into Dave, who was breathing heavily from chasing after me.  He gasped, “Don’t … do … that … again.”


I thought for a moment that he might throw up, but he didn’t, and we walked briskly back to the house.  On the way I said, “Sorry.  There was some hurry-up involved. They have to get to the hospital, and I was broke.”


He said, “I understand, but say something next time.  I didn’t know if you were running away from something or to something.  We’re not exactly over-staffed here.”


I said, “Sorry,” again and went inside, where Mom, Ally and the Glovers were waiting for me.  I handed Mom her card and the receipt and they left, promising to call if there was any news.  I already knew there wasn’t because nobody had heard from the hospital all day.  When they went out I looked for Tom and Ian, who had found the workout room and were playing with some of the equipment while laughing at the paintings on the wall.


Tom was on some pedal thing when I came in and he stopped pedaling.  “Do you think it’s okay if I use the phone to call Bridgette?” 


I almost said ‘no problem’ but looked at Ian.  He was on the unlimited plan and hadn’t touched his phone other than to play with it.  “Ian, let Tom use your phone, okay?”


Ian is an agreeable little guy.  He unhooked the phone from his belt and held it out to Tom without a question.  I mouthed, “Unlimited minutes,” to Tom and got a wide grin in response.  Then I led Ian to the other end of the room where there was a little refrigerator usually laden with goodies of the health-food variety.  I said, “Let’s see what’s on television.  You didn’t tell me how you liked the game.”


“Oh, I loved it,” he said, and he continued loving it while I found a room with both comfortable seats and a television.  I turned the set on and handed the remote to Ian, and he talked about the game.  I said I’d get something to drink from the kitchen and he paused until I was back


I finally interrupted him and said, “I was there too, you know.  How about all the things Bernie bought you?”


Ian said, “He’s a nice man. He didn’t have to buy all that stuff.”


“Listen, Ian.  Bernie did have to buy all those things.  You’re right that he’s a nice guy, but it’s in his nature to share.  If you left that game without one of everything he’d feel cheated.”


Ian said, “I didn’t get a shiny jacket.  They don’t sell them for kids.”


I said, “Really?  They used to.  Follow me.”


I led him up to my room and slid the closet open, and there was a lineup of shiny Red Sox jackets, most barely worn.  I asked Ian, “What size are you?”


“I don’t know, sometimes twelve, sometimes fourteen.”


I pulled out the size twelve and it fit him perfectly, but I knew that wouldn’t last.  I said, “Why don’t you take all of these?  Keep that one on, and you can grow into the bigger ones and give away the ones that are already too small.”  I thought I should have done that a long time ago.  The smallest one probably fit me when I was five or six.  I had drawers full of jerseys and sweatshirts, too, and boxes full of souvenirs from years past.  I’m not sure how Mom ended up with them, but she did.  I’d be doing her a favor if I brought it all back to Brattleboro and gave it to some church or charity to sell or auction off.


We were walking back to the room with the television, Ian all snug and smug in his jacket, when my phone rang.  I told Ian to go on ahead, nervous about who was on the phone, but it was Lisa, so I dropped into a chair in the hall and said, “Hi.”


Neither of us had any real news.  A few Brattleboro parents were irked that their kids had been drinking at the party, but everyone who did drink something brought their own stuff with them.  I told her about the game, and the seats Bernie got for us.  Lisa sounded thrilled for Tommy because he was such a fan.  I told her that there was no word at all from Stockton, and I hoped it stayed that way.


Lisa advised me that the name of the trooper who was killed had been released along with the name of the lady murdered at the gas station.  I thought that made sense because they can’t sit on things forever, but nobody else had been named, including Russ.


I wish I hadn’t thought that, because the moment I did I got choked up.  Poor Russ Glover.  He was all wrecked up in a trauma center because he stepped into the path of a madman.  If he’d forgotten something, left a minute later, he would have worked his shift and gone home.  Or it could be the other way around.  If he didn’t forget something he would have left on time, and that could be the difference between running into a lunatic or not.




“I’m sorry,” I said.  “I just thought about Russ and got choked up.  You know, if he broke a shoelace that morning this probably wouldn’t have happened.”


Lisa said gently, “You’re a kind person, Paul.  Don’t lose that – don’t ever lose it.”


I thought of a dozen great lines then, but retired them to say, “Thanks.  I don’t know what good it does.”


“It works,” Lisa whispered.  “Have you heard from Dana?”


I said, “Not today.”


She said, “Call him, then.  I have to give up the phone anyhow.”


I said, “Okay, but Lisa?”


“I’m still here.”


“Love you,” I said, blushing in my solitude and almost choking on the words.


She whispered, “I love you too, Paul.  Call me tomorrow.”


I had a sudden thought and said, “Don’t go yet!  Are you still there?”


“What’s wrong?”


“Can you tell the school what’s going on with me and Tom and make sure they mail our report cards home?”


She giggled, “I can ask them to, but I don’t think I can make them.”


I smiled to myself, “Good enough.  I’ll leave you alone now.”


After we hung up, I thought about calling Dana but called my father first.


“Hey, Paul.  What’s up?”


“That’s what I was going to ask.”


“Nothing here.  Our beast seems to have gone underground.  It’s quiet, which this town needs.  I can’t stay on long, I have half the town here, and we’re trying to figure out what to do next.  There is school tomorrow, but some people want to call it off.  I can see both sides, but there are a lot of police here now, and it seems they should be able to guard the school.  Kids aren’t dumb either.  They might see things on the way to school that their parents miss.”


“So things are cool right now?” I asked.


Dad sighed, “In a way. There is just this darker undercurrent that everyone seems to feel.”


“Like it might really be terrorism?”  I asked.


“I honestly don’t know, Paul.  Nothing seems organized like you’d expect from terrorists; it’s all been random.  You think it must be a familiar face to move around so casually, but nobody seems able to come up with a possibility locally.  I really have to go now.”


“Is Dana there?” I asked quickly.


“Yes, and he’s bored out of his socks.  Give him a call.”


“I will,” I said.  “I’ll talk to you later.”


I called Dana and he didn’t answer, which seemed odd.  I tried again after a few minutes and left a message on his voice mail when he didn’t answer again.


I went back to watch some television with Ian, who was watching the sports news.  He said excitedly, “They showed it!  They showed Tommy almost catching that ball, and my mother giving it to me!”


“You’re serious?” I asked.  That would be the thing to have.  When Ian nodded eagerly I called Bernie Sutton and asked if he could get that clip from the station.


He said, “I can go one better.  I have the whole game on DVR.  I didn’t know I’d be going, so I had the machine set up to capture the game.  If MLB has it, I have it.”


I said, “You’re a genius!”


Bernie said, “Just lucky this time.  I’d love to talk, Paul, but I have work to do.”


I apologized for interrupting him and we hung up.  I grinned at Ian and said, “Bernie has the whole game.  We’ll get copies.”


He said, “Nice!” and paused.  “Um, can I ask something?”


I said, “Sure.  What’s up?”


“How come you’re so nice to us?  I heard Daddy say those tickets would have cost him two month’s pay, and you been paying for everything else, too.  Russy only worked for you for …”


Ian was in a chair and I was on a settee, so I patted the seat next to me and he came over and sat down.  “Listen, Ian, and this is important.  You’re right that Russ only worked at the Danamat for a little while, but it’s a new place.  He’s been there as long as anybody, and that’s not the point, anyhow.  What’s important is that Russ showed up when he was supposed to, all cleaned up and ready to work.  He did his own job and whatever else he was asked to do.  He was good with the customers and with the other workers.  He didn’t get hurt somewhere else; it was on the way to work, so it’s our obligation to take care of him.  Do you understand me so far?”


Ian nodded and I said, “Good.  Russ couldn’t get the treatment he needed where you live, so his doctor sent him here.”  I patted his shoulder, “Now, you can’t stay at home with Russ here.  That wouldn’t be fair, and while you’re here you still need a place to eat and sleep.  This is my mother’s house, so it doesn’t cost anything.  We’re not trying to make a big deal out of this.  We’re just trying to be fair.  Anyhow, Bernie got those tickets, and he bought those souvenirs and paid for dinner after the game.  He’s my father’s friend.”


Ian looked at me and cuddled up beside me.  He said, “You’re my friend,” and I got tears in my eyes that I didn’t try to hide.  I put my arm around him and pulled him closer, and we sat in silence like that until my phone rang.


It was Dana, and he said, “Sorry I missed you.  I had the phone but climbed up the hill in back to see the view you told me about.  You’re right; it’s really beautiful from up there.”


I asked, “Is anything going on?”


Dana growled, “Everything’s going on here, but I’m not included.  There are cars everywhere: up both sides of the driveway and up and down the road.  It’s like a town meeting.”


“Dad told me.  What’s it like?  Are people scared? Mad? What?”


Dana snickered and said, “What is the right word.  They’re deciding one little thing at a time.  Mom said she’s going to open up tomorrow like always, but a lot of people don’t want to take chances.  The school buses will run to the high school and middle school, but they’re still talking about the elementary school here in town.  The selectmen were in there begging people to call their school if they keep their kids home, otherwise they’ll have to send cops out to check if they’re okay.  People are afraid this nut will hear their calls and know if they’re home.  It’s kinda crazy.”


“It sounds a lot crazy.”


Dana asked, “How’s Russ?”


I told Dana what I knew, and he seemed relieved, saying, “I think that sounds good.  The way they were talking yesterday … Jesus, was it just yesterday?  It was, I know, and the people that saw Russ didn’t think there was much hope.  How’s his family doing?”


I looked at Ian, and he was sleeping.  I said, “They seem like really strong people.  As long as things keep getting better I think they’ll be fine.”


“That’s good, because they’re really nice.  It’s too bad his father’s all crippled up like that because he can do a lot of things.”


I asked, “You know what happened to him?”


“Not exactly what.  He was in the Navy and there was some accident on the ship that crushed his legs.  That’s all I know.  Now he does some welding if you bring it to him, and he details cars and trucks.”


“Details?” I asked, unfamiliar with the term.


Dana replied, “Yeah, it’s like a special cleaning.  It’s what I do to washers and dryers.  He cleans cars inside and out so they’re like new.”


That explained the new truck in their dooryard the day I walked home with Russ.  He had just told me his family was poor, and yet his father was working on a new and expensive looking truck when we reached his house.  It was someone else’s truck.


We didn’t have a lot else to say, so we got off the phone shortly.  Ian was sleeping and didn’t respond to my quiet admonitions, so I got up, stretched him out, and found a blanket in my room.  He looked comfortable enough, and I went looking for Tom, who was more-or-less where I’d left him.  He wasn’t on the phone anymore, but sound asleep on the machine he was straddling, and the phone was on the floor.


I shook him, and he roused a little.  “Tommy, you can’t sleep here!”


“I know.  Leave me alone.”


“Tom!  Get up and go to bed”


He gurgled, “This is a nice room.  I wish it was in my house.”


“So does everybody.  GET UP!”


He raised his head and looked at me.  “Why are you yelling?”


“Open your eyes and look at where you’re sleeping, dummy.  What if there’s an earthquake?  All this stuff will dance around and you’ll be crushed.”


“Earthcake?  There’s an earthcake?  Do we have to hide?”


I was trying to be patient, but I had to laugh.  “Just get off that thing, okay?  It’s time for bed.”


Tom’s eyes finally cleared and he said, “Oh yeah.  I could go to bed now.  Show me the way.”


I pointed at the ceiling and he looked up, and then at me.  “Oh, oh, I get it.  Upstairs, right?”




When he extricated himself from the machine I picked up Ian’s phone and put it in my pocket.  I led Tom up to his room and pointed out the door to the bathroom.  He seemed out of it, but when I turned to leave he said, “Thanks, man.  I knew I’d see the Sox play someday, but I didn’t even know they had seats like that.  What a great day!”


I said, “I know.  Sleep well, okay?” and I went to my room, closing the door behind me.


Then I worried about Ian and went down one more time to try to wake him up, but he wasn’t buying it.  I found a pad in the kitchen and wrote a note explaining where Ian was, and taped it to the outside of the front door.  Then I went upstairs, wishing there was an elevator, and managed to get my sneakers off before I conked out on top of my bed.


I got a good night’s sleep.  It was just after nine when I went to bed, and if I dreamed it was forgotten.  There had been no phone calls, no wake-ups, nothing but quiet, and after my shower I felt really good.  I was hungry, too, and even though it was just after eight, only Tom hadn’t come down yet.  I stared at everyone, poured myself a coffee and dropped some milk in it, and after I took a few sips I managed a smile.  I looked at Ian and asked, “Where did you wake up?” as I took his phone out of my pocket and handed it to him.


He stared at me, and finally said, “In my bed.  Why?”


I shrugged, “Just wondering.”   I looked at the counter and there was a bowl of eggs already scrambled, a plate with several cooked slices of bacon and a few fat sausages, and asked, “Are these for me?”


Ally said, “You and Tom.  Don’t be a pig.” 


I poured some orange juice into a glass, put two slices of bacon and a sausage in the pan on the stove, pushed a slice of bread down in the toaster, and when the pan looked hot enough poured some egg into the unoccupied part of the pan.  I like my scrambled eggs kind of wet, so in about two minutes I put everything on a plate and sat down to eat.


That’s when the phone rang.  My mother picked it up and disappeared around the corner.  I ate a few bites of food, and she called me over.  “It’s your father.  I’ll keep your food warm.”




I’ll never forget his voice right then.  “Paul, there are more murders.  It’s a family this time, and the police seem to think the father might be the killer.”  He practically yelled, “God dammit!  These are kids: fourteen, eleven and eight. Strangled, and their mother was killed with a twelve gauge shotgun.  They lived in this kind-of compound.  These people moved here in 1998 – the parents did, and they built this compound where they could survive the millennium.” 


Dad sounded really upset and said, “I can’t talk right now; I want to throw up,” and he clicked off.


I had nowhere to go, so I leaned back against the wall while people asked me what was wrong, but I didn’t have an answer.  After a test step to make sure I could walk, I went back to the kitchen and sat at the table.  I told them what Dad had told me, and I could tell that my own voice sounded like death itself.  I couldn’t get away from the flat monotone I started with, and ended saying, “That’s all I know.”


Mr. Glover mused, “It must have been that fella … what is it, Endicott?”


“Wolcott,” his wife corrected.  “I can’t believe he’d do such a thing.  I know he’s a bit peculiar, and they are very strict with their children, but they all seem friendly enough.”


Mr. Glover went on, “I remember when they came to town.  It seemed they had some money because they bought thirteen or fourteen acres over on the West side … paid cash for it, too.  They were in a big motor home at the time, and the first thing they did was hire a contractor to build a wall around a couple of acres.  It wasn’t just any wall, either.  It’s block, and a good eleven feet tall.  They hired out the foundation, and for a well and a septic system, but they built that house with their own hands, with hired help here and there with things like the chimneys.  It’s built right into the mountainside, it is, with most of the space dug out like a cave.  It looks like a regular house if you see it, but I’m told the front part can be separated from the cave part, and that it’s a fortress in back.”


“Oh, I can’t believe it’s them,” Mrs. Glover said.  “Those children are always scrubbed up, and they’re so cheerful and polite.  And the parents … I don’t know where you’d find a better looking couple, and they were friendly themselves.  They did keep to themselves out there, but if you ran into them in town they’d call you by name and stop to chat for awhile.”


Her husband said, “People thought they were daffy when they first came here, all worried about a tick of the clock.  Before long it was news everywhere, and people were asking them questions about how to prepare.  I did myself, and put in three years worth of firewood, bought oil lamps and candles, and we hit the canned goods sales with a vengeance.  The big concern at home was losing power at the coldest time of year.  It was quite a time.”


Ally had been sitting with her thumb on her chin and her first finger on her cheek, like she does when she’s really listening.  She said, “Tell me, do they participate in things around town?”


“What things?”  Mrs. Glover asked.


Ally smiled, “I’m sorry.  I mean the things that most people might do, like go to PTA meetings, attend church, go to fairs or festivals, school functions, church functions … anything at all.”


“Oh,” Mrs. Glover replied.  “Yes, sure they do.  I can’t say how much because we don’t get out often, but they were there for potlucks and the like.  I did say they kept to themselves, but I meant their noses. They aren’t busybodies, but they’re hardly hermits.”


Ally laughed, “Ah!  I missed the noses part.  That’s funny.”


Just then, Darius came in and got my attention.  When I looked he asked, “Can I talk to you?”


I asked, “Is it about what’s going on in Stockton?”


He nodded, and I asked, “Can’t you tell everyone?  I’ll just end up repeating it and probably get it half wrong.”


Darius looked pointedly at Ian, who already seemed confused.  I looked at Ian’s folks and they both shook their heads.


It was a dilemma.  I looked at Ian and asked, “Do you understand what’s going on, Ian?”


“Not really.”


I said, “How ‘bout we go on a duck boat, just us, and we can walk back after and I’ll tell you about it?”


Ian’s face transformed into a huge smile that was directed straight at me.


I stood and looked at Darius, who was clearly confused.  “Four sets of ears are better than one.  When we get back, I can hear all four versions of what you said.”  I turned to Ian and said, “Get your shiny jacket.  We’re leaving.”


My mother called, “Paul?” and I turned.  She looked confused for a moment, and then smiled.  “Have a nice time.  Don’t get on the one that sinks.”


I grinned.  There have been duck boat accidents, but I never heard of one sinking.  “Don’t worry, I know how to swim.  You taught me, remember?”


Ian was ready to go after I used the toilet, and he looked the perfect little Red Sox fan.  I just looked like a fan, because my old cap, which had started out gray, had turned a khaki color over the years, and the red ‘B’ was all faded to the point where it was practically brown.


We were almost out the door when I noticed Tom’s disappointed face and felt guilty.  “Aren’t you coming?” I asked.


He brightened, “You’re asking?”


“I didn’t know I had to.  Get your hat; we’ll wait.”


Tom raced off and was back in a minute.  Ian got hugs from his parents, and I got one from Mom.  Ally hugged Tom so he wouldn’t feel left out, and we were off.  The street was busy and slow-moving, so we waited several minutes before an empty cab came along, but he saw me and cut off other cars to pick us up.


“Where to?” he asked.


“The Duck Tour place,” I said.


“Tourists?” he asked.


“Not exactly.  That’s my mother’s house where you stopped, and my friends are here visiting.”


“How nice.  Why the Duck Tour if you live here?”


“It’s fun, that’s all.  I could show them around, but I can’t drive them into the river.”


The driver laughed and said, “I guess not.  I could drive you in the river, but I’d end up in jail.  Here we are.”


I had my usual problem, which was that I had no small bills.  The fare was five bucks, and I asked Tom if he had seven.  Between Tom and Ian they came up with it, and I vowed to myself to visit twenty everything-for-a-dollar stores and buy one thing at each using a twenty every time.


The tickets for the Duck Tour were steep, and set me back over a hundred dollars, but it was another fine day, and the vehicle we got on was filled with mostly young people.  It wasn’t packed by any stretch, but there were enough people aboard to keep us from looking like lost tourists.


The ride was fun, like it always was.  The driver was funny, informative, and sometimes serious.  He imparted a sense of Boston that was at once reverent and irreverent, gave flavor to the sweetness of the different neighborhoods, and made jokes about every red light we had to stop at.  We passed within a few blocks of my mother’s house, but I didn’t mention it because the guy was evoking the feeling of old Boston while he drove.  He pointed out some of the restorations, and mentioned how ‘that window’ cost more than a nice house in Andover.


The quackers cost four bucks each, and I knew I already had some somewhere, but I bought more.  When the driver rang the bell, we quacked our quackers and for good measure yelled, “Quack, quack!” with everyone else.


At one point the driver said, “Oh no!  Oh boy, hold on folks, we’re gonna splash down in about ten seconds. Then he stepped on the gas and we were suddenly in the Charles River with an enormous splash that got us a little wet.  We only motored along the river for a few minutes, and the tour was soon over.


We got off laughing, though, and when I got my bearings we walked down Commonwealth toward home.  After a minute I felt Ian’s little hand searching for mine, and was surprised that I didn’t mind.  I took hold of his hand, and we walked, Tom equally close on my other side.  We didn’t say anything for awhile until Ian asked, “Are you going to tell me something?”


I looked at Tom, and he nodded, so I said, “Ian, listen.  The man who hurt Russell might be someone you know.  I wish I knew more, but he may have just gone nuts, because it sounds like he killed his own family.  Do you know them?  Their name is Wolcott.”


Ian said, “I know Joyce.  She’s nice.”


Oh, boy.  I was in dangerous territory.  I said, “Can you tell me about her father?  Is he nice too?”


“Did he kill Joyce?  What are you telling me?”


I could mess things up without trying.  I looked at Tom for help, and he scooted behind me to take Ian’s other hand.  “Nobody knows, Ian.  We know what happened to Russ, and to that lady, and to the policeman.  We know that someone hurt another family, but not who or why.  It’s okay to be sad about it.  I am, but that’s one thing.  They say Russ will be okay, and right now we’re lost in Boston, so we have a big problem.”


“We’re lost?” Ian asked, squeezing my hand.


I said, “Yeah, but not that lost.  This is a big street so it must go somewhere.”


I know.  That was lame, but I thought Ian feeling a little lost was better than Ian thinking his friend had been murdered.


Commonwealth Avenue ends right at the Gardens, and when we got there I said, “Hey, how about a ride on a swan boat?”


Tom rolled his eyes and I punched his arm and said, “Be a sport.”


Ian was all for it, and the tickets were just a few dollars each.  Some of the same people from our Duck Tour were waiting, and we laughed again remembering some of the driver’s jokes.  The swan boats are pedal powered, and the feathers part covers the mechanics.  The ride is short, but the lagoon is pretty small, and it always looks different as flowers lose their blossoms, other flowers are in full bloom, and still others are just budding out.


I don’t think Ian was too impressed, but he thanked me politely afterward and we found a bench to sit on.  I took a deep breath and said, “It smells nice here.”


Tom and Ian agreed, and I decided I had to get into it with Ian.  Tom’s an only child like me, and we were both seriously deficient when it came to dealing with younger kids, but Tom was better than me, and I relied on him to keep me honest.


“Ian,” I said, “Let’s talk about what’s happening in Stockton, okay?  I don’t know how much you’ve even heard, so why don’t you tell me, and I’ll try to answer your questions if I can.”


In a small voice, Ian said, “Somebody hurt my brother.  He’s hurt real bad and he could die.  And you said some people were killed today.”


I said, “Ian, a lot of things happened in Stockton.  Even before Russ was hurt, a lady was killed, and yesterday a policeman got killed.  Whoever hurt Russ hurt other people too.  I don’t know about that family your parents were talking about.  They were kind of guessing who it might be, and it’s not right to worry when you’re not sure.”


Tom said, “The doctors said that Russ will get better, but it will take some time.  They have to fix his bones and patch him up.  Then he’ll probably have to rest for a long time, and go to therapy to get his strength back. Now I’m only guessing about the therapy, but that’s what usually happens.”


Ian looked at Tom and asked, “What’s therapy?”


“That’s a good question,” Tom replied.  “There is mental therapy and physical therapy.  Mental is your mind and physical is your body.  Russ has a broken elbow.  Do you know where your elbow is?”


Ian nodded, and Tom continued.  “His elbow will be in a cast until the bones heal up, and it’ll probably hurt a lot all that time.”


“How long will that be?” Ian asked.


Tom bit his lip, “I don’t know.  You’ll probably know in a day or two.  When he gets that cast off he might be afraid to use his elbow because it hurt for so long.  He could worry that it will hurt even worse if he moves it, or that he won’t be able to move it at all.  If that happens, he’ll need some mental therapy to get him to give it a try.  Then a physical therapist will show him how to move it so it doesn’t hurt, and give him some exercises to get it back to normal.  It all takes time, and he might have to rest long enough that his whole body needs therapy just to get him back to normal.  Do you understand how that works?  You must have hurt yourself and been afraid to touch where it hurt.”


Ian looked down, “Yeah, I know.  I never got hurt bad.”


Tom put his hand on Ian’s shoulder and said, “The main thing is that Russ will be alright.  It’ll take time, but he’ll get there, and when he gets home and has to do exercises you can make sure he does them.  That’s how you can help.  Don’t let him forget.”


Ian looked at Tom with a little bit of the devil in his eye and asked, “Never?”


Tom laughed out loud.  “I didn’t say never!   You do it until he’s better, and then stop.  Don’t forget that when he’s better he’ll be able to do what he always did, and that includes giving his little brother what’s coming to him.”  He grinned, “Like this!” and he got Ian’s ribs on both sides well enough to evoke a screech of laughter.’


Tom didn’t keep it up, and Ian told him, “Don’t do that!  I’m ticklish.”


Tom laughed, and I said, “Let’s get going.  Ian, why don’t you call your father and tell him we’ll be there in ten minutes?”


“Really?  Okay,” he said with cheer back in his face.  He pulled out his phone, flipped it open and stared at it.  “I don’t remember.  Which button is the numbers list?”


Tom pointed and said, “That one.  Press that, and then this one to find your father’s number.  When that’s lit up, press send.  That’s the green one here.  Remember now?”


Ian nodded, and we let him walk ahead.  I looked at Tom and asked, “How’d you get so good with young kids?  They usually just piss me off.”


Tom shrugged, and after a minute I saw Ian putting his phone away.  He turned around and waited for us to catch up and said, “Daddy said they’re at the hospital, and Russ is awake.  He said we can go there later.  Can we?”


I smiled, more at the fact that Russ was awake then Ian’s eagerness. I nodded and said, “Sure we can.”


We walked the short distance to the house, and I didn’t have my key.  I rang the bell and knocked but nobody opened the door.  Oops!  I looked around and couldn’t pick either Darius or Dave out of the people in view, so I called the security company and said, “We’re locked out.  I left my key inside.”


The voice at the other end said, “Hang up.  Someone will be there in a few minutes.”


We never lock the house in Brattleboro, and only lock up in Stockton when we won’t be back soon.  The condo I grew up in had a pad thing, where I just tapped in a number, and the house on Cape Cod was only locked when we left for the season.  I’m just not good with keys, and frequently forgot my card-key at the hotel we’d recently stayed at in Florida.


Darius showed up in a minute with a big smile on his face.  “Forget something?  I’ll let you in, and we really have to talk.”


He opened the door and followed us in.  His tone of voice when he said we had to talk was too serious, and I had a lump in my throat.  I said, “Tommy, why don’t you take Ian upstairs and see if there’s anything to make a sandwich with or something?  I have to talk to Darius.”


Tom understood, and challenged Ian to a race up the stairs.  That would have mortified my mother, but I thought it was funny.  Darius chuckled, too, and said, “Short legs have their advantage in a stair race.”


I had to go, and excused myself for a minute, and then sat with Darius on a little settee in the entry that people normally sat on to put their boots on and take them off in the winter.


Darius started right in.  “I’m afraid things are worse than we thought this morning.  The police got a search warrant for the house where the family was killed, and there were more bodies inside: two adults and two children.  The police aren’t saying, but our information is that they were the sister and brother-in-law of the missing father’s wife, and their two children. We haven’t learned the manner of death yet.”


“What’s their name,” I asked weakly.  “Wolcott?”


“That’s the owner of the property,” Darius said.  “The people they found inside are the Bennett family from New Jersey: inlaws.”  He sighed, “This is police work, not that we can’t help them.  The people we usually deal with have intent to do harm for some specific reason, which is usually money.  When a loonie goes around offing people that’s …”


I interrupted and said, “Jesus, please don’t call it ‘offing’ people.  These are kids, for Pete’s sake, whole families.   They were murdered with intent, not just disposed of.  Oh, God!  If I put a gun to your head and pull the trigger, am I just turning you off?  It’s not like that.  You’re not a fucking light bulb, you’re a human person!”


I put my elbows on my knees and my face in my hands.  After a while, I felt Darius’ hand on my shoulder, and he said, “You’re right there, Paul, and right now I think you’re a more human person than I am.  I’m sorry, I really am.  I think I’ve watched too much television or seen too many movies.  Life should be dear, not cheap, and I won’t use words like that again.”


I sat back and breathed, “Thanks,” and I thought.  “So do they think Mr. Wolcott is the killer, the guy who attacked Russ?”


“He’s a person of interest because he hasn’t been found, and he more-or-less fits the description that one witness gave.  He’s a big man, and the shooter is a big man, but that’s not much to go on.  His vehicles are all parked at the house, and so is the in-law’s car.  People around town don’t believe it’s him because they say he’s a pacifist, but I think anyone can snap.”


Just then, Tom came down the stairs with two fat sandwiches on plates.  “Turkey salad,” he said.  “It’s good.  What to drink?”


I said water and Darius said anything, and the sandwiches were half gone by the time Tom came back with two glasses of ice water.


I asked him, “What’s Ian up to?”


“He’s watching TV.  He’s okay.”


“Sit down,” I said.  “There’s more bad news.”


Darius was busy giving Tom an update when my phone rang.  It was Dana saying, “Paul, there’s going to be statement from the police at three.  It’ll be on CNN.”


“Did they catch somebody?” I asked.


“Not that I heard.  Dad thinks they probably want to keep the reporters off their backs, so they’ll tell everyone at once.  I don’t think they really know much yet.  How’s it going there?”


“It’s pretty quiet.  I’m at the house with Tom, Ian, and Darius.  Everyone else is at the hospital with Russ, but I don’t think they’ll stay long today.”


“Have you seen Russ?” Dana asked.


“No, but I might this afternoon.  He woke up this morning.  Mom and Ally go, his folks go, but they talk to the doctors.  I’m mostly looking after Ian.  How are things there?  Are you at the house?”


“I’m at work, but it’s not very busy.  Nothing’s busy.  I think most people are staying in.  They called off school, and we might have to go back for a few days when this is over, but it’s pretty much done anyhow.  It’s mostly police out on the roads.”


I said, “Makes sense.  The guy doesn’t seem to care who he hurts, so why be a target?  How is everyone else holding up?”


“I think everybody is worried.  Nobody talks much, and every time the TV says something about Stockton it’s like the world stops so they can go watch.  Even Heinrich is quiet, so you know how weird it is.  It’s like living inside a scary movie.”


I asked, “Do you think you’re safe there?”


“Yeah, I’m not really worried.  I have all these big guys with huge guns around me.”


“As big as Hector?” I asked.


Dana laughed, “Six Hectors wouldn’t even fit in here.”


I laughed, and then thought to ask, “How’s Janie taking all this?”


Dana suddenly sounded sad.  “Pretty bad, I think. Mom talked to her and said she’s really upset at this whole thing, not just Russ.”


“I would guess everyone is.  You can give her my number if she wants to talk, or to check in on Russ.”


After a moment’s pause Dana said, “That’s nice.  I’ll tell her that.  Oops, I have to get going.”


I said, “I’ll talk to you later,” and closed the phone.  I immediately opened it again to see what time it was, and turned to Darius and Tom and said, “There’s a news conference on CNN in a few minutes.  Let’s go watch it.” 


We went upstairs and to the room where Ian was watching TV, but he was laughing happily at a cartoon, so we left for the kitchen.  There was a little fold-down set under a counter there, and we could see it from the table.  The news conference hadn’t started yet, so I looked for some nibbles.  As usual, there was some cut-up celery, carrots and broccoli in the refrigerator and to my surprise there was a jar of Cheez-Whiz in there, too.


I didn’t do fancy.  I opened the box of veggies, took the lid off the Cheez-Whiz, and put out some paper napkins and a spreader for the cheese.  Tommy said, “Ha!  You’re mother’s a fraud,” when he saw the Cheez-Whiz.


I said, “My mother is?  Have you paid any attention to Ally lately?”


We stopped when they announced the news conference from Vermont, and they prefaced it with a quick synopsis of the known crimes along with videos from around town.  Ten murdered people simply did not fit with the scenery, and Stockton actually looked nicer on television than it does in real life. Their cameras don’t pick up on peeling paint and rust on cars.  Everything looked pristine, and like the last place you’d find ten dead people in a few days.


A uniformed man came out, and I missed his name and title because the sound was too low.  I made it louder, and it was clear that the man speaking was having a hard time.  He told about the situation and what had happened that they knew about so far, and he kind of choked on the so-far part.  He had to stop again when he talked about the murder of the trooper, and it seemed really hard for him to describe the scene at the house.


“There were four bodies outside: an adult female and three juveniles.  They were found under a piece of corrugated roofing.”  He gulped, “An officer petitioned for an emergency search warrant.  When that was granted, they entered the home and encountered four more bodies:  An adult male, an adult female, and two juveniles.”  He put his hand on his forehead like he was trying to hold in bad thoughts.


I felt bad for the guy.  It was clear that when he said, ‘juveniles’ he dearly wanted to call them what they were: children, youngsters, little boys and girls, whatever, yet he groped for the ‘correct’ terms.


He went on to say that they hadn’t located the homeowner, and a search team with dogs was scouring the property for him.  The bodies had been removed and autopsies were under way, but they didn’t expect even preliminary results before the next day.


After he talked, a few other men explained why they couldn’t say much about the investigation, and then they all took questions, to which they gave vague and roundabout answers before signaling that the meeting was over, when they walked out of the room.


The reporter from CNN talked in a low voice, like she was afraid she would be overheard, but she didn’t know anything more than we did.  I looked at Darius and asked, “What do you think?”


Darius said, “I don’t know what they know, but it really doesn’t sound like they suspect the father, and that leaves it wide open.  They didn’t say he was a suspect, or even a person of interest, and made it seem like they’re expecting to find his body somewhere.  I don’t know … it could be a ploy, but I can’t see what the point would be.  I’m sure they’ll have a dozen forensics people going over all the sites with fine-toothed combs.  We have a smart criminal here, but they’re never that smart.”


Tom asked, “So they’ll catch him then?”


Darius shrugged.  “Some get away, even some who kill a lot of people, but this isn’t a serial killer.  I can’t think of one mass murderer who killed ten people, maybe more, and never got caught.”


We broke up after that.  Darius had to check in with his company, Tom wanted to call home, and I didn’t want to leave Ian alone any longer.


Ian was asleep on a sofa with Nickelodeon cartoons playing on the television.  I wondered about his parents and called my mother to see where they were.


“Hello!” she said brightly.


“Everything’s okay?” I asked.


“Oh, Paul, it’s you.  We stopped for tapas, and then that ghastly police report came on and we stayed to watch it.  We’ll be leaving as soon as the waiter brings our receipt.  You should see us in about twenty minutes.”


”Okay,” I said.  “How is Russ doing?”


“The same.  I’ll tell you when we get there, alright?”


I said, “Okay.  I’ll see you in a few,” and hung up.


I looked at Ian, and he was down for the count so I tried Lisa’s number and got a busy signal.  I called my father.


He answered with, “Paul?  If this is important go ahead.  If it’s not, it’s a bad time.”


Gong, gong, gong!  I said, “It’s not important, so later, then,” and hung up.


I shook Ian’s shoulder until he woke up, and at least he seemed happy to see me.  He smiled, and I said, “Take a walk with me.  I need to get out of here for awhile.”


Ian yawned, stretched, sat up, and yawned again.  “Okay.  I gotta go first.”


Don’t we always?  I smiled and said, “Go ahead.  I’ll meet you downstairs.”


I went to the bathroom, too, and washed my hands and face after.  That made me feel better, and when Ian reached the bottom of the stairs he hop-scotched across the big black and white tiles to me, like life was suddenly fun again, and I wanted that back.


We walked over to the river, and I explained what Ian was seeing at first, but he didn’t care so I stopped talking.  We just walked, and after a few more minutes, he took my hand again.  I didn’t mind, and I answered his ‘what’s that?’ questions when he saw something he found interesting, until we reached the Esplanade, probably the prettiest place in the city.


We walked right down to the water and stayed there for a few minutes, and then backed up to a bench.


“This is beautiful,” Ian claimed.  “I see the buildings, I see the river, I see the ocean.”  He squeezed my hand even tighter.


“It’s one of my favorite places.  That’s not the ocean, though, it’s the harbor.  It does go out to the ocean.”


We sat in silence for a few minutes, just looking around, and I thought to tell Ian, “Dad tells me the harbor used to be really dirty, but the government cleaned it up.  Now it’s beautiful.”  I looked at Ian and said, “Where I grew up we could see the harbor from great big windows, and it was always beautiful, even on gray days.”


Ian asked, innocently enough, “Do you like everything?


I had to think about that.  I put my arm across his shoulder and gave him a little squeeze.


“No.  Not everything.”


Ian’s phone rang, surprising both him and me.  He fussed to get it out of the case, had it upside-down at first, and when he got it right it stopped ringing.  He looked forlorn saying, “I missed it!”


“Call back,” I said.


He looked at me and asked, “Call who back?”


I showed him how to go through the menu to the ‘missed calls’ section, and when he pressed that he said, “Oh no.  It was my daddy.”


I showed him how to call his father back from there, and he did, seeming quite pleased.


I heard Ian say he was with me, and then he asked me, “Where are we again?”


“The Esplanade,” I said.


Ian held the phone out and said, “Here.  You tell him.”


“Your dad?” I whispered, and he nodded.  “Hi, Mr. Glover.  We’re at the Esplanade.  Do you need us back there?”


“We wanted to take Ian to see Russy.  Will it take you long to get here?”


“We’re not that far away.  We can be home in fifteen minutes.”


I could hear Ally in the background, and then she came on the line.  “We have to go that way anyhow.  Can you wait on the corner of Pinckney and Charles and we’ll pick you up there?”


“Sure, we’re on our way,” I said.


“So are we.”


I handed the phone back to Ian and said, “We’ll have to walk fast, but it’s just a few blocks from here.  They’re going to pick us up”


Ian got his phone put away, and that little hand came out and grabbed mine again, so I led him across the Storrow Drive walkway and turned down Charles Street.  When we got to Pinckney, there was a bus stop near the corner, so we waited right on the corner and watched for Ally’s car.  Luckily, no bus came, so she stopped right where we were and we hustled into the back seat.  Ian got in first, and before I closed the door I asked, “Am I supposed to go?”


Ally said quickly, her eyes in the mirror, “They won’t let you in the room.  It’s family only, and they’ll get just a short visit.  Why don’t you go and keep Tom company?”


I stepped back to the street and said, “See you later,” and shut the door.  I wasn’t offended, and I hadn’t really expected to go with them.  I walked back toward home, stopping at a newsstand to look at the headlines.  Some were pretty lurid:  one, in huge print, read Massacre in Vermont, and another said Bloodbath.  I felt like spitting on them all.  Even if the crimes qualified collectively as a massacre or bloodbath the papers didn’t have to present them that way.


What was happening in Stockton was a tragedy, an unspeakable tragedy.  Innocent people … innocent children … had been killed, the whole town traumatized, and it would continue until whoever was responsible was caught.


I walked away from the newsstand, not willing to let it get me down.  I kept walking, too, past our street, along a few blocks, headed toward the harbor, and ended up instead on a stool at a Quincy Market coffee shop. I ordered a coffee that I didn’t really want, but it was good so I sipped it.  It seemed nice to be alone for a few minutes, and I was invisible to the people around me, so I just sat and tried to think about nothing.


I can never think of nothing, but I thought of my mom’s new little vegetable garden in Brattleboro, about how she once told me new plants are like new babies, and needed constant care.  I thought about calling Lisa to ask if she’d look after them, but I didn’t even want to do that.  The thought of the phone reminded me to take it out and turn it off.


There!  I was alone in my own space: in the world and out of it at the same time.  The people in Quincy Market didn’t know me, and didn’t care who I was or even that I was there with them.  I could just wander, and that’s what I did.  I left the coffee where it was, along with a tip, put my hands in my pockets and wandered around.  There was a mime who was good, a pair of jugglers on unicycles who made me wonder how and why they did what they did, and various musicians who may or may not have deserved that title.  I dropped dollars into whatever they had out to collect money, looked at restaurant menus and store windows, and tried not to think about any of it.  It was stuff for the senses, not the mind, and I enjoyed it in that context.


I could watch something or not, buy something or not, eat something or not: all easy yes and no things, and they all came up no.  I wasn’t angry, I just didn’t want anything.  I didn’t need anything.  I’m me.  I know I’m a work in progress, but the me part has been done for some time now.  That won’t change except for the way things change as people get older.  I’m a comedian, and I can be caustic and sarcastic, but that just comes from above my eyebrows.  The rest of me is like a marshmallow in a sack of pretzel sticks.  Jiggle me around and I’ll laugh because I’m tickled, but poke me too hard and you’ll find that I’m just one big soft spot.


That soft spot was the reason I was unplugged, at least for a few minutes.  It was usually a good soft spot, the part of me that made me think of helping people like Elenora and Dana, to raise money to celebrate Jamie Jenks’ life, and to help people choose their own careers.


Now it was a soft spot that hurt, and I was happy to be separate from it.


I wandered into Faneuil Hall and eyed the benches.  When I saw a man folding up his newspaper I rushed over, just in time to take his seat when he stood to leave.  I sat and slid forward, then looked up.  I’ve traveled a lot and seen lots of domes, inside and out, and I still love the one at Faneuil Hall.  It’s such a simple design, but the symmetry, the squares and rectangles, the vertical and horizontal lines, can keep me staring at it for an hour, and I can’t move my neck afterward.


I didn’t get an hour that day.  An old man with a cane and wearing a golf cap spoke, “Sonny, would you let an old fellow take your seat?”


I stood and smiled, saying “I will if that old fellow is you.”


He sat very carefully, and I took his hand at the last moment thinking he was going to drop, and he sighed once he got comfortable.  I still had his hand, and he smiled at me.  “Thank you, son.”


I said, “Not a problem,” turned my phone back on and headed outside for the walk home.  I walked quickly and was a bit sweaty when I got there after about twenty minutes, again without my key.  I rang the bell, and thankfully heard noises from inside almost immediately.  Tom yanked the door open fast enough to create suction.


“Where’d you go?  Where have you been?”


I tried to sound mysterious, “I’ve been seeking peace, a sense of myself and the world around me.  I bet you’ve watched all the news about the game you saw, and then read the funnies.”


Tom gave me a serious look and said, “Nobody knew where you went.  The security guys thought you went to the hospital when Ally picked you up; Ally and your mother thought you came back here.”  His look softened, “So, did you get it out of your system?”


I shrugged, “I guess so.  I feel better.”


Tom bopped my shoulder and said, “Go on up and get yelled at.  Your mother is making Italian tonight, and Ally is baking.  Oh God, it smells so good in that kitchen.”


I went up and got yelled at, and threatened by Darius who just happened to be cleaning his gun, and hugged by Ian.  He didn’t say anything at all; he just hugged me.