Mud Season

Chapter 21


Tom and I started visiting Russ every day, or at least every day that he could have visitors.  He had major reconstructive surgery on his elbow after a few weeks on a Thursday.  Russ had been moved to a new room in the pediatrics area after it was determined that the special threat had only existed in Stockton, and the security team in Boston had been reduced to Hector Torres and a sinister-looking black Lincoln MKX.


Darius was staying in Stockton while Dave, and the various specialists I hadn’t met, went back to whatever they were doing before we fell into their laps.


While Russ was having his arm surgery that Thursday, Mom took Mrs. Glover to see the art at the Gardner Museum while I led all the guys to Blackie’s pool hall for some indoor recreation.  Blackie’s is in an old building that was probably a dive at one time.  These days it just pretends to be a dive.  The downtown location means the clientele are doctors, lawyers and government workers, as well as people from the various tech companies in the area.


It’s neat inside, though, with brick walls, ancient woodwork, interesting lighting, and the original pool tables from the eighteen hundreds.  The tables are beautiful, and have been meticulously maintained all these years.  Each has a Tiffany-type chandelier overhead.  The bulbs aren’t particularly bright, but they are placed so the table surface is virtually shadow-free.


The place has a dining room and a bar, and we had a reservation for lunch.  When we walked in a lot of eyes turned our way, and some narrowed as if we were bandidos walking in to rob the joint.  That, no doubt, was because of our group.  Eleven-year-old Ian led us in, followed by his dad walking in his crab-like way, then me and Tom trailed by the giant Hector.


There were several pool tables vacant, so we commandeered two of them … one for serious play and one for practicing and fooling around.  Mr. Glover looked at me and asked, “What’s your game, Paul?”


I shrugged, “Nine ball or straight.  Eight ball if you want to get used to each other, or play partners.”


He smiled, “Good idea.  Partners would be fun, but there are five of us.”


Tom spoke right up, saying, “Count me out.  I’ll just practice over here.”


I figured Tom would say that.  I’d taught him the basics of eight ball, but he hadn’t played much.  He’d have more fun knocking the balls around his own table.  I asked, “Want to play blind partners?”


Mr. Glover stared at me, “Blind?”


“I’ve seen Hector play, and you probably taught Ian, so I’ll take Ian and you take Hector, and I promise you’re not getting stiffed.”


Mr. Glover smiled, “That sounds fine.  Who breaks?”


I looked at Ian and said, “Get a cue.  You can break.”


We all went to get cues from the racks of them.  Blackie’s is a place where you trust the house cues to be in perfect condition.  I have a cue stick somewhere, handmade in a leather carrying case, yet I never liked it much.  It’s a beautiful looking thing, but it screws together in the middle.  Brass fittings make it possible, but they throw the balance too far forward, and the multiple woods that make it so pretty add to the imbalance.


We chose our cues, and the table was racked for eight ball when we got back.  Blackie’s will let you rack your own balls, but there are a few guys who do it for tips, and their racks are always perfect.


Ian chalked up and made the break shot right away, a gentle tap into the racked balls that sent a few rolling, but the cue ball stayed hard against the rack.  He may have been lucky, but I suspected he’d been taught well.  I touched his shoulder and whispered, “Nice break.”


Hector was up next with not much chance of a shot, though the fifteen ball was free and a remote possibility.  To make the shot, he’d have to bank the cue off the side cushion so it would hit the fifteen with some English to find the corner pocket.  He came damned close, but no cigar.  The ball hit the edge of the pocket and bounced away.


His shot didn’t benefit me because the cue ended up almost touching the huddle of balls in the middle of the table.  Try as I could, I didn’t have a shot.  As far as I was concerned it was a fun game, so I shot it directly into the rack, scattering balls all over the table and sinking the six.


I mumbled, “Sorry,” and kept shooting until I’d sunk four more easy shots.  I probably could have cleared our balls and dunked the eight, but I purposely reversed the English for my shot on the three so I could see Mr. Glover’s style, and let Ian and Hector have something to shoot at.


Mr. Glover looked at the ten balls left on the table and grinned at me.  “It’s not my birthday.  You didn’t have to do that.”


I said, “I just wanted to see you shoot.  I’d like to see Ian and Hector, too.”


His eyebrows went up and he said, “Ah, gotcha.  Let’s see, we have stripes, right?”


He knew damn well they had stripes and he put five of them away in short order before he miscued on the eleven.  I’m pretty sure he did it on purpose because he hadn’t chalked once.


We had two low balls left on the table, and Ian carefully put them away.  The eight ball was almost on the far cushion and the cue ball lined right up with it, but nearly eight feet away.  When I was eleven, I would have just slammed it in frustration, but Ian skillfully put the cue ball right behind the eight, leaving Hector nothing to work with.


Hector walked around the table three times, gauging his chances of hitting anything at all.  When he determined he didn’t have a shot, he tapped the cue into the eight so gently that the eight didn’t move at all, and the cue was snug up against it.  I was saying things about Hector’s ancestry under my breath, because my only conceivable shot would require a hair’s breadth of accuracy and a fair amount of power.  I didn’t have a chance of making it, and the alternative was to call a random pocket and just hit the eight and see what happened.  I chose the latter and gave Mr. Glover the game.


I didn’t care.  It’s hardly the first time I’d lost a game of pool.  Ian was better and more disciplined than I’d been at his age.  I hadn’t seen Mr. Glover with a tough shot, but I was sure he’d be thoughtful and careful, at least in a money game.  We all joked about the game, and I left to use the men’s room.


Ian was playing a game with Tommy when I came back, and Hector and Mr. Glover were trying trick shots.  Before I could even say anything, a guy walked over staring at Mr. Glover.  He said, kind of nervously, “Chief?  Chief Glover?”


Mr. Glover looked at the man for a long moment before he grinned.  “Ensign, right?  Give me a sec, I’ll get it.  Ensign Spalding.  Balls said the king!”


The man laughed and backed up.  “If I had ‘em I’d be king, said the queen!  You’re amazing.  You always had that memory.  It’s been what … thirteen, fourteen years?”


“About that,” Mr. Glover said.


“Is this your family?” Spalding asked.


Mr. Glover pointed at Ian, “The little one’s my youngest: Ian.  I’m in Boston because my older son is in the hospital here.”  He pointed at me and said, “This is Paul Dunn,” then at Hector and added, “Hector Torres.  The redhead with Ian is Tommy from Brattleboro, Paul’s friend.”


Mr. Spalding’s head snapped to me.  “Paul Dunn?  Brattleboro?  Did you call me last winter asking for a … I forget what.  You’re Frank’s son?”


I could have teased the guy, but he gave up five grand pretty easily so I said, “One and the same.  It’s really nice to meet you.”  I held out my hand and we shook.


He laughed, “I don’t believe it!  Chief Glover and Frank Dunn were more influential to me than my own father.”  He looked at Mr. Glover and said, “You gave me confidence, and taught me to focus on what was in front of me, what had to be done.”  He smiled at me and added, “Your dad showed me what could be done … he dropped it right in my lap.”


I felt kind of bad because I didn’t even remember the man’s name from the list Dad had given me.  That was my fault; if he was happy, I was happy.  I smiled, “Want to play pool with us?”


He said, “Oh, no you don’t,” while he took a step back.  He eyed Mr. Glover and said, “I gave up the game back in my Navy days.  If you play with the Chief, then you know why.  I think I’ll just sit over here and wait for my friends.”  He looked at me again and asked, “Is your father in town?  I’d love to share some ideas with him like the old days.”


I shook my head, “No, we moved to Vermont a few years ago.  He’s in Stockton right now.”


Mr. Spalding nodded his head and said, “You tell your father that Dan Spalding said hello, and that I’d like to see him sometime soon … wait a minute!  Stockton?  That’s where all those people were murdered.  He’s alright, isn’t he?”


I said, “He’s fine.  I’ll tell him to look you up when he’s in Boston.”


He gave me an odd look and asked, “You’re not involved in that in any way, are you?”


I was silenced by that.  I really didn’t know what to say, but Mr. Glover said, “We’re here because my son was beaten nearly to death by the killer.  We don’t know why yet, but he was probably in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he knew the man they think did all those things.”  He nodded to me and added, “Paul here has been looking after us while his father is providing resources to the police back home.”


Mr. Spalding stood there for a moment with his eyes wide and his mouth open.  He finally said, “My God!  How old is your boy?  Is there anything I can do to help?”


Mr. Glover said, “Russ just turned sixteen.  I think we’re pretty well covered, but thank you.  I take it you’ve done well?”


Spalding blushed a little and said quietly, “Yes, quite well.”  He looked to me and added, “All thanks to Paul’s father.  He gave me an idea and showed me how to put it into practice.  I … we employ over seven thousand people today.”


Mr. Glover’s eyes widened and he put a hand on Spalding’s shoulder.  “Good for you.  I didn’t often have much faith in ensigns, but you were a good and eager young man.  More power to you.”


Mr. Spalding looked down for a moment, and turned his eyes up to Mr. Glover.  “If you’re interested … if you think it would help your son’s recovery to have a little sand and sea, I have a small place on Cape Cod that doesn’t get much use.  I’d be honored if you’d stay there whenever you like.”


Ian’s father stared at Spalding for a bit, and broke out in a smile.  “Will it sleep four?”


Spalding grinned, “Exactly four, Chief.”  He reached in is pocket.  “Here, take my business card.  Wait, I’ll put my personal numbers on the back.” 


He put the card on a table and wrote out the numbers and handed it to Mr. Glover, and all I could think from his expression was that he was delighted to think his ‘chief’ would take up his offer.  I was, too.  Mr. Glover seemed a proud man, and I’m sure he didn’t look around for handouts, but what we’d done, and what Mr. Spalding had offered, were clearly gestures of friendship, and pride should not get in the way of friendship for any reason.


Mr. Spalding looked at Mr. Glover’s legs and said gently, “I heard about your accident.  That’s the best they could do?”


Mr. Glover didn’t respond immediately, but finally said, “I’m afraid so.  There are better possibilities today, but the VA won’t pay a second time, so this is my lot.”  He smiled grimly, “It’s not so bad.  I do what I can with what I have.”


Spalding nodded curtly, and then smiled.  “It’s really good to see you again, Chief.”  He held out his hand and they shook.  “Please take me up on the Cape Cod house.  It’s yours whenever you want it.”


They made some small talk, and I turned to the other guys to see who would play who and at what.  We hadn’t gotten very far when Mr. Spalding tapped me on the shoulder.  When I turned, he said, “Give me a second, Paul?  I have a few questions.”


I turned to the others, shrugged, and followed Mr. Spalding over by the window.  He turned and faced me, placing both his hands on my shoulders.  His face was intense.  “Paul, I know you don’t know me, but Chief Glover is one of the finest men I’ve ever met, and I’d like to help him.  One of our products is software that generates 3-D images that can help in reconstructive bone surgery.  Are you with me?”


I nodded, and he smiled.  “Now, I’m no surgeon, but we developed this program with many expert doctors, and they’ve done some remarkable things using the imaging software and other new tools.  I would love nothing more than to give Chief Glover his legs back.  I can’t diagnose and I can’t promise anything, but do you think he’d be open to an offer of … call it a second look?  It will be on my dime.”


I thought about that and said, “I really don’t know.  Now isn’t the time, but maybe when Russ is back home he’d think about it.”  I smiled, “His wife is a tough lady.  Why not invite them to dinner and bring it up when she’s there?”


He smiled, “Good thinking, Paul.  People are waiting on both of us, so go back to your game.  I’ll get your tab; you show your friends a great time.”  He smiled brightly, “You’re so much like your father.”


I couldn’t resist, so I asked, “And you’re not like your father?”


He put his nose up like something suddenly smelled bad and said, “Not at all,” and we both laughed.


I went back to the tables, where there were two games of eight-ball going on: one between Hector and Mr. Glover, and the other between Tom and Ian.  Ian was cheerfully creaming Tom, and Hector was up on Mr. Glover, which surprised me.  I stood off to the side to watch, and when Hector called safe on a shot, Mr. Glover cleaned up the table.  The eight ball and Hector’s six were there with five of Mr. Glover’s, and he put them away in order, calling each shot.  I had to smile, because Mr. Glover didn’t waste a lot of time aiming;  his shots, even the difficult ones, just went where he said they would, and soon enough he was just looking at the eight-ball, the game shot.  It wasn’t in a great position, with the six between it and a side pocket, and the cue ball at the far end of the table right in line with the eight.  It was doable in the corner with a careful shot, or the other corner with a bank, But Mr. Glover patted the side pocket that Hector’s six was guarding.


He grinned and asked, “You’ve read these house rules, I hope.”  They were on the wall and he pointed at the ones for eight ball, where the last one said any combination was allowed on the eight ball as long as it’s called correctly.


It didn’t really make a difference to Hector, or me for that matter, because a combination shot off the six into that side pocket seemed impossible.


Anything is possible.  Mr. Glover once again didn’t take a lot of time aiming, but he sent the eight up to the end of the table where it hit the cushion, and it came back, kissed the six, and went into that side pocket as cleanly as any shot in the history of pool has dropped.


I stared, aware of Mr. Spalding’s reason for giving up the game.  Holy shit!  I cheered Mr. Glover’s shot and suggested lunch, hoping to get some beer into the man before I had to play him.


It was a good thing that he was hungry, and the aromas coming from the dining room were enticing.  We were all hungry, so we put up our cues and went to find our table.  I read the blackboard specials before the waiter brought us to our table, which was a window seat overlooking the sidewalk.  That’s not special treatment in what is essentially a Boston saloon – most patrons would prefer to sit as far from the window as they can get.


When we sat down the waiter asked, “Can I get you something to drink?  For the adults we have Sam Adams on tap.”


Mr. Glover looked up with a twinkle in his eye.  “Surely not the Sam Adams; he’s been dead for centuries.  Are his descendents fomenting a new revolution?”


The waiter smiled and said, “Mr. Adams’ descendents come in kegs.  The makers might claim a revolution in fermenting an American brew.  We have it in eight ounce glasses, twelve ounce mugs, and one pint tankards.”


Mr. Glover grinned at the guy.  “You’re very well spoken.  Harvard?”


The waiter grinned back, “Boston U.  How about a beer?”


“That sounds good.  Bring me one of the big ones, and don’t you disappear when it’s gone empty.”


The waiter got the rest of our drink orders and came back almost immediately with rolls and butter.  He came back shortly with our drinks and left us to look at the menus.  It was pretty much a tavern menu, but the specials sign advertised planked salmon with brown bread and beans, so my mind was made up.  The menus also had a loose sheet with the specials, so everyone saw them.


Not surprisingly, Tom and Ian ordered half-pound burgers and whatever came with them.  Hector got a basin of Caesar salad and some stir-fry, while Mr. Glover had a big, fat steak.  I got my fish, brown bread that bordered on black, and a nice crock of beans.


After we ate, and after Mr. Glover had three pints of beer in him, we went back to the tables.  A waiter followed with another beer for Mr. Glover.  I think it was a given that we’d play a game of straight pool.  That had never been discussed but I knew it would happen, and when we had our cues Mr. Glover asked, “Straight pool?  You and me?”


I said, “Sure, but let me go outside for a minute.  I need a little fresh air to clear my head.”


He said, “Go ahead, boy.  A little beer will steady my hand.”


I went out to the sidewalk, took a deep breath of car fumes, and cracked up.  I’d tried to screw with him, and he came right back, and it was funny.  If I breathed any more outside air I’d choke to death, and if Mr. Glover drank much more beer he’d pass out on the floor.  I’d given up our game of eight-ball to him just to see what he’d do, and it was predictable.  He had let Hector get way ahead of him after that, but when I came back he mopped up the table.


That’s fair, you know.  Pool is a head game as much as it’s a game of skill.  If you can convince your opponent that he can’t win, then he never will.  The problem here was that we were both playing it, so in the end it would boil down to skill.  I was probably dead before I started.


I started, though, breaking the first rack while Mr. Glover concentrated on his beer.  He was concentrating on his next beer two racks later when I miscued what should have been an easy shot.  I was up forty to nothing, but that doesn’t mean much in a game of straight pool.  Well, it means something.  I was down fifty-three to forty when I got my next shot, and Mr. Glover got his next beer.


I found my zone then, and didn’t stop shooting till I had a hundred points.  I only had one shot that I’d call difficult, so there were no heroics involved.  Mr. Glover wasn’t upset, or even surprised, but he did say, “Russ told me about a shot you made once.  Can you set it up again and do the same thing … say, five ways?”


I said, “I don’t know.  It was a little pay table.  I didn’t think I could do it then, but let me see.”  I moved the eight ball to the back cushion, eyeballed it to the middle, and tucked it up tight.  I looked at Mr. Glover, “Five ways?  All from the same spot?”


He said, “Not the same shot, but from wherever the cue ends up.  I held the cue ball out to him and said, “Be my guest.”


It was then that I realized we had an audience.  I had paid no attention to anyone else, but we were pretty well surrounded, and the watchers seemed to be taking care to not even breathe loudly.  If I hadn’t looked up I would have never known they were there, but they were and their focus was on Mr. Glover.


He put the cue ball on the dot you’d break from, looked at the ball at the other end, walked around the table and came back.  He pointed at the left side pocket and said, “There,” and made his shot.  He didn’t shoot directly at the ball, but at the right cushion, and when the cue ball caromed into the eight sharply, the eight bounced off the left cushion, the right cushion, and dropped as nicely as you could hope for into the called pocket.


Then people made noise, me included, because that was the stroke of a real master.  Of course, the cue ended up where the rest of his five shots weren’t hard at all, and each was simpler than the one before it.


He beamed at me and said, “Your turn,” but I backed away.


I smiled meekly and said, “Maybe when I can drink that much beer.  Right now I’m not allowed.”


I think that was the right thing to say, because Mr. Glover put his stick on the table and roared with laughter.  He grabbed me roughly and pulled me to him and said, “Remind me when you become old enough and I’ll tell you the best beer joke ever.” And he held onto me as he headed to the door.  Just when we reached the door to go outside, he whirled around and walked off toward the men’s room.  Tommy was beside me by then and he mumbled, “About time.  That man has three quarts of beer in him.”  He grinned, “My father says you’ll never out-drink a sailor, and I guess he’s right.”


The four of us leaned against the wall on either side of the door and waited what seemed a very long time.  Hector finally said, “Maybe I should check,” but then Mr. Glover came out from the alcove that led to the restrooms and headed toward us, smiling his relief.  “All set?” he asked as he approached, and Hector held the door open for us.


Once on the sidewalk I asked Mr. Glover if there was anything he wanted to see.


He thought for a moment and said, “I was in the Navy.  I’d love to see the USS Constitution if it’s not too far.”


I said, “It would be a long walk, but it’s not all that far.”  I looked at Hector and said, “It’s in Charlestown.  There’s parking right there.”


He said, “Let’s go then.”


Tom and Ian seemed eager, and we waited while Hector went to get the car out of hock.  The day was warm and pretty humid, so the Navy Yard would be a good place to visit.  There was a breeze there every time I’d been.


Hector picked us up with the car, and I guided him across the bridge to Charlestown.  He parked in the garage on Constitution Road and we walked over to the pier where the ship was anchored.


The Constitution isn’t very big by modern standards.  I’ve seen longer and wider private yachts, but none with a two-hundred-twenty foot main mast and over an acre of sail area.


We all stopped when we had a clear view, and Mr. Glover pulled a little camera out of his pocket and took some pictures.  Then we went into the National Park building where we had to go through a security screening.  After that, the building was a ship’s museum with people around to tell you what you were looking at and to answer questions.  There was a tour of the ship leaving in ten minutes, so we stayed close to the gathering spot until a guide showed up.


I’d been on the tour a few times before, and I still liked it.  The interior of the ship is stark and unadorned, except for the captain’s quarters.  The cannons are replicas made in the nineteen-thirties and not operable, but they still impress.  They weigh about six-thousand pounds each and could blow a twenty-four pound iron ball over half a mile with reasonable accuracy.


Everyone seemed interested in different aspects, and the only vocal member of our group was Mr. Glover.  He commented on the condition of things, asked questions as if the guide was responsible for the ship, and showed a genuine appreciation for the quality of certain workmanship.  Our guide, a young guy in Navy whites, finally said, “If you aren’t a Chief Petty Officer, you’ve missed your calling in life … um, if you don’t mind me saying so.”


Mr. Glover laughed his happy laugh.  “Not bad, sailor, but it’s past tense.  My last ship was a guided missile cruiser, and it attacked me on my first inspection.”


The guide smiled, and said, “Welcome aboard, Chief.  The Cap likes to meet other sailors.  If you’re interested, I’ll let him know you’re here.”


Mr. Glover asked, “Who’s your Captain?”


“Captain Brandl, sir.  Captain Richard Brandl.”


Mr. Glover grinned, “Captain now, huh?  You tell your cappy that Chief Glover would be very happy to see him again.”


The guide’s eyebrows went up and he asked, “You know the Captain?”


Mr. Glover smiled and nodded, and indicated the tour should go on.  We weren’t the only ones there, and the other tourists were looking on expectantly.  The guide seemed a bit embarrassed and said, “Of course.  Now if you’ll follow me over here …”


The tour lasted about another fifteen minutes, long enough for Tom and me to decide that the Navy wasn’t for us.  The Constitution is just over two hundred feet long and forty-five feet at the widest.  It carried a crew of four hundred and fifty sailors, forty officers, and thirty boys.  The crew slept in hammocks on a lower deck, and I believe it must have felt like being a sardine in a can, and with the stink, probably like a can that had gone bad.


When we left the ship, Mr. Glover asked us to stay around while he went to visit the Captain.  We’d seen everything inside, so we decided to walk along the piers we were allowed to go on.  My phone and Hector’s went off at the same time.  Dana was calling me, so I stopped walking to pay attention.


“Hey Dana, what’s up?”


“Nothing good.  A couple of girls are saying Mr. Schiffer molested them.  They were afraid so they never said anything before.”


“Wow,” I said.  “Girls from his school?”


“Yeah.  Listen, you can’t tell everyone.  I only heard this from Mr. Sutton, and I’m not supposed to repeat it.  I don’t know who the girls are; he’s not saying.  I probably don’t want to know anyhow.”  Dana sounded really upset.  “This is hard, Paul.  Mr. Schiffer was always good to me.  I trusted him.  I never … I never saw something like this coming.  God, I used to dream about him being my dad; how different things would be.  Now I feel sick about it.”


“Are you okay?”


“No.  I think a lot of people felt like me until … until now.  They were talking about a defense fund.  I guess that’s sick, huh?  A defense fund for a guy who murdered ten people, but now they’re ready to hang him for molesting little girls.  How could the guy have two sides like that?  I don’t understand it at all.”


There was despair in Dana’s voice, and I hated hearing it.  I didn’t really know what to say, but I didn’t want to just pass the buck either.  “Dana, can you get away for a couple of days?  You can come to Boston, and we can work it out.  Ally still wants that interview, you know.  You could do that, see Russ, see the city … It’ll be great and you’ll be out of there for a couple of days.”


“I don’t know.  I don’t know if it’s the right time, or if I can go or … how would I get there?”


“You fly, Dana.  You call Cape Air and get a seat, get to Rutland and board the plane, and you get off here.  Do it, man.  You can stay with us, or Ally will put you into a cool hotel and I can stay with you.”


Dana sounded very hesitant.  “I don’t know, Paul.  I want to, but I should be here.”


“Come on, Dana.  I’m talking a day or two, not the rest of the year.  Get away from it and do something new.”


Dana chuckled, “I’ll ask.  My mother just came in.  I’ll call you later.”


“Later,” I said, and closed the phone.


Hector was still on the phone, so I told Tom and Ian some of what Dana said, hopefully in terms that Ian understood.  He understood the basics, and wandered off to think about things after Tom suggested he take a minute to himself.


I looked at Tom and said, “You’re so good with him.  If Dana can come for a few days, would you look after Ian?  Dana’s more upset than he is.  Ally wants to interview him for her magazine, and I think she wants to keep it all business, so she’ll get him a hotel somewhere near.”


Tom said, “And you want to stay with him, right?”  He grinned, “No problem, as long as Ian keeps that phone charged up.”


I smiled back at him and said, “You know what?  You’re a keeper.  How about when we get back to the house we call people in Brattleboro?  It seems like we’ve been here a long time, and I know it isn’t.  I should talk to Shea and Jim … and Gary and Roger, and a lot of people.  You should, too.  We’re not married to Boston or Stockton, it’s just this situation.”


Tom nodded and said, “You’re right.”


Hector came over and said, “Schiffer is confessing to a lot more than we knew about, and he told the police where they would find Mr. Wolcott’s body.  He killed him too, when he was confronted by the man about raping his daughter.”  Hector closed his eyes for a long moment before he went on, “Schiffer has been screwing little girls since he was twelve, using his size, his strength, and his popularity to frighten them into silence.” 


He sighed, “They’re coming out of the woodwork now, a dozen or more girls silenced by their fear of the man.  You watch; more will turn up once this hits the news.  He’s told the investigators that it’s probably around fifty or more girls over the years, all of them something like ten to twelve years old.” 


Hector made a growling sound and turned away from us.  I didn’t blame him.  Mr. Schiffer may have been nice to Dana, but he’d killed eleven people that we knew about, and had been messing up the lives of young girls for a long time.


I looked around and Ian was off with Tom looking at something in the water and Mr. Glover was back talking to Hector.  I couldn’t hear, but he had a disgusted look on his face, so Hector must have told him what he told me.


Hector said he was going to get the car.  Mr. Glover hadn’t said a word about Schiffer, so after we talked about his visit with the Captain I asked him what he thought about the man.


“What I think about that man?  I think he’s damn lucky that Vermont isn’t a death penalty state, or maybe he isn’t that lucky.  I’ve heard that prisons aren’t very safe places for anyone, but particularly for child molesters.”  His face became troubled.  “Personally, I always thought he was a good guy.  I think most people thought that way.  There was no indication I ever saw that other people thought differently.  It was him that got Russ into skiing, and he led the group that talked the local areas into the ski-free programs.  He’s done good things but, Lord Almighty; it seems he has some real evil in his heart.  Now I worry more about Russ, knowing who hurt him so.  Russ adored the man, and the beating he took must have hurt ten times more than if it was a stranger.  It must have felt like his own family was turning on him.”


I had to think before I said anything.  “I … I don’t think Russ would ever think that.  I got the feeling right from when I first met Russ that his home and family meant a lot to him.”


Mr. Glover looked me in the eye and blinked a few times.  Then he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Thanks for saying that.  You’re right, too.  Russ has never been the typical rebellious teenager.  He’s very open with us.  I know there are things he wants that we just can’t give him … that’s why he applied for that job.”  He snickered, “Heh, you should have seen him when they said he was hired.  He wasn’t just walking on air; he was up in the stratosphere for a week, as happy as if he’d come home with a king-of-the-hill skiing trophy.”


I smiled, and Mr. Glover said, “Russ will be okay, you’ll see.  This is a setback, but he’s as optimistic as they come.  I can see it in his eyes already.  He can’t talk or high-five or even form an expression on his face, but the brightness is there when he’s awake, and he’s always had a way of smiling with those eyes … not a squint exactly, but almost.  He’s been doing that since he was a day old.”


I was glad we’d talked, because I had a better idea of where Russ Glover came from.  His father looked like a rough, weather-beaten man with bad legs, the kind of guy who might like to mix it up in bars.  Maybe he did, but the opposite was true, too.  He spoke of Russ like a poet might speak of his own son, and I knew that he must have a gentle soul that he’d passed on to his two boys, because Russ and Ian both exhibited that same level of kindness.


My phone rang, and it was Hector saying, “You’ll have to come to the gate.  I can’t drive in there.”


I laughed, “You?  Who tells you what you can’t do?”


“Don’t be a wise-ass; just get out here before I get a ticket.  I’m supposed to be watching you.”


I called to Tom and Ian, and we all hurried at Mr. Glover’s pace to the car. 


When we got in Hector asked, “Where to next?”


When nobody said anything I said, “Let me call my mother before we take off.”  I took my phone out, and it was just after four o’clock.  I called my mother, and they had just gotten back to the house. “We picked up some wonderful looking snacks, and are going to have a proper tea on the back balcony.  Will you join us?”


I said, “Let me ask,” and said to everyone, “They’re going to have a proper tea on the balcony and want to know if we’ll join them.”


I laughed when the unanimous response was, “Nah.”


Mom giggled, “I heard that.  I guess we’ll see you when we see you, then.  Are you caught up on the happenings in Vermont?”


I said, “Yeah, Dana called and Hector talked to someone.  Oh, wait!  Can I talk to Ally?”


“Of course.”


Ally came on after a few seconds, “Hi, Paul.  Did you men have a good day?”


“Yeah, pretty good.  I talked to Dana and he’s all bent about what’s going on.  If he’ll come, will this weekend be a good time for you to get your interview and pictures and everything?”


“I think so … give me a minute to get my calendar.”  She was gone for what seemed to be exactly a minute.  “Yes, it’s a very good time.  Joe Banack is an excellent photographer and he’s available.  Let me know.  It’s best if Dana can come in Friday night, and we can spend Saturday morning with him.  If we miss anything, we can get back together on Sunday.  Will he stay here with you, or at a hotel?”


“You said you’d put him up.  Dana likes hotels.  He’s pretty upset about what’s going on, so I want to stay with him.”


Ally said, “You got it, babe.  Anything else?  I’m getting sugar deficit disorder looking at all these little cakes and tarts.”


I snickered, “Get your fix, then.  I’ll talk to you later.”


When I hung up Tommy teased, “Ooh, tea on the balcony sounds like such fun, but I think I’d rather watch the heels wear out on my socks.”


I said, “I happen to like balconies.”


“I do, too,” Mr. Glover said. 


“Me three,” Hector chimed in.


“Me three, too,” added Ian.


Tom scowled at Ian.  “You can’t me three, two.  You can me four or you can me five; hell you can me ninety-nine if you want, but you can’t me three, two.”


Tom was funny.  I reached across Ian to poke Tom’s arm and I said, “He meant me three also.”  I looked at Ian and said, “That’s still wrong.  One, two and three are already taken, so by the natural law of progression you should say me four.  You confuse people like Tommy when you get out of order.”


Tom opened his mouth, but Hector beat him to it.  “Shut up, Paul.  How far is Revere Beach from where we’re going?”


I had my own question.  “Where are we going?”


Hector said, “You are guiding us, aren’t you?  The last exit said ‘Revere Beach Expressway’ and I don’t remember passing that on the way out.”


“You didn’t,” I said.  I saw the US-1 sign out the window and said, “We’re heading on up to where they have the best fried clams on Earth.  Just turn right when we get to 128 and get on 133 North from there.”


“Just how far is this place,” Hector asked.


“Oh, let me think.  About a half-hour I guess.”


“Will you tell me what this place is called, or should I stop and ask where we can get the best clams on Earth?”


“Oh, sorry,” I said.  “It’s a town called Essex, and I know all the menus by heart.  If it’s still warm when we get there, we can eat outside by the water at a couple of places.”


Mr. Glover looked back at us with a big grin on his face.  “You just made all that up, didn’t you?”


I suppressed my laugh, “Well, no, not exactly.  I’m just trying to cover for Hector’s wrong turn by bringing you somewhere really neat that’s in this direction.”


Mr. Glover barked out a laugh, and Hector’s shoulders heaved so much he almost went into the breakdown lane.  When he settled down he said, “Let’s go to one of those places by the water, and we can watch Paul swim while we eat the best clams on Earth!”


Ian cried, “I don’t like clams!”


His father asked, “How would you know?  You never had a clam.”


I patted Ian’s knee and said, “You can get a hot dog if you want, but clam McNuggets aren’t a lot different than the oyster McNuggets you had when we first got here.  They probably have oysters too.”  I smacked his leg, “Don’t be so fussy anyhow.  I’m not trying to poison you.  If you get something you really don’t like, then order something different.  Okay?”


He nodded kind of sullenly and said, “Okay.”

We rode in silence for a few minutes before Ian poked my leg.  I turned to him, and he said in a whisper, “I’m sorry.  I won’t be picky.”


I was looking at him and had to smile.  His face said he thought he’d offended me, and on his apology I held my hand out until he got my own message, and then we shook on it. I leaned close and whispered in his ear, “Don’t worry, we’re good.  You get whatever you want, and you can try things we get.  Okay?”


We ended up at a place named Woodman’s.  It’s a big old barn of a joint where you order from a blackboard menu.  There are a lot of tables inside, and there’s a big tent outside in a field that overlooks the salt marsh.  There are several separate picnic tables right up by the edge of the marsh, and that’s where I liked to sit when it was nice out.  It was very nice out that day.  We stood and read the blackboard, which never changed a lot.  It had a place where it said ‘the clams are running (small / medium / big) today’ and I think the rest of it was pretty constant unless there was a special.  The food is good, and they give you a lot for your money.  Everything indoors is fried, and there is a big station outside where they steam lobsters and clams.  Tom and Hector said they wanted lobsters, while Mr. Glover and I chose clam platters.  Ian was hesitant until he went and looked at some things at the pick-up window.  He decided that clams looked pretty good after all, so I went to the window and ordered.


I told the other guys they had to get their drinks, even water, at the bar and handed Tom a twenty.  Then it was just a short wait until they called our number and we lugged our food out to a lone table with a fantastic view over the marsh.  Tom and Hector both wondered why I thought that marsh in front of us was so special.  I started to explain how important the salt marshes are to the entire ecosystem, and Mr. Glover helped.  Ian paid no attention at all, and was the only one who finished eating while the food was still hot.


He ate the whole platter, too, and announced, “I guess I do like clams.”


I was about three-quarters done and already feeling stuffed; Ian’s plate was clean and he was picking fries from his father’s pile.  I would normally have made a comment, and would have with anyone else, but Ian didn’t get sarcasm at all, so I left him alone.


I wished I’d sat in the front seat on the way home, because everyone but Hector and me fell asleep before we even got to the highway.  I didn’t want to bother anyone with a loud conversation and I wasn’t sleepy in the least, so I was glad when Dana called, sounding a little happier than he had earlier.  “I can go tomorrow.  The plane gets in at five-thirty-nine.  Can you pick me up?”

Dana and I lived apart most of the time with no problem, but I’d missed him during this period of extreme stress and I was anxious to see him.  That didn’t mean I couldn’t tease him a little.  “You can just take the subway, Dana.  Get a paper and a pencil and I’ll tell you the trains and changes.”


Dana barked, “What do I know about subways?  I don’t know cities!  I’ll never find my way.”


I laughed, “Okay, I’ll meet you then, and teach you about subways and cities.  They sent a car when we got here, and I could have been home a half-hour earlier on the train.  The security has eased up, so I’ll just ride out and meet you.”


Dana said, “Sounds fun.  Do you know what hotel I’ll be at?”


“No idea,” I said.  “Do you want to stay in a big place or a little one?”


“What was that place in Florida?”


“That was a resort, Dana. It wasn’t big, but there’s nothing like that in town.  A small hotel here is a boutique, usually way less than a hundred rooms.  I don’t think you’ll find a suite like you had in Florida, but there are a lot of nice places.  Let Ally pick one out; she knows what’s going on in town.  You could stay at my mother’s with us, too.  It’s a big place, and we’re having a pretty good time.”


Dana whispered, “How is Russ doing?”


I shook my head at the change of subject.  “That’s a tough question.  He’s getting better, but he still can’t talk and he looks a mess.  The docs say it looks like everything will heal up; it just won’t be too soon.”


Dana asked, sounding hesitant, “Will I be able to see him?”


“Oh, sure; he’s in a regular room now.  Bring your student ID.  I’ll make sure you’re on the list.  He’s in pediatrics, so no Joe Blow can walk in off the street and see him, but it’s no hassle either.”


“He’s going to be fine?”


“Yeah.  Listen, this is funny.  He has this doctor who’s Chinese, and he says Russ will be ‘hunnah pahcent’ before the end of the year.”  I probably butchered the poor doctor’s accent with my Boston version, but Dana laughed, and asked what he should wear.


“Long pants and shoes.” I said, “Nothing else matters much unless you want to eat someplace fancy.”


Dana asked, “What if I do want to eat at a fancy place?”


I grinned for my own benefit.  “Well, let me think.  You’ll need a long-sleeve dress shirt that buttons to the top, a tie, some dress pants and a nice jacket, or maybe a suit, a handkerchief in your   pocket that matches …”


“You can stop,” Dana chortled.  “I don’t have that stuff and I don’t want it.”


I laughed, “Don’t worry.  There are places where you have to dress up but I think you have to be old to like them.  You like steaks:  I’ll take you to a place where one steak looks like two or three of the ones you get in Vermont or Florida, and they’re really good.  You’ll eat.”


Dana’s voice went soft when he asked, “Do you think … I mean will it be possible if I want to be alone with Russ for awhile?  I know you say he can’t talk, but I want him to tell me it was Mr. Schiffer that …well, you know.”


I thought about that and said, “It kinda depends on timing, Dana.  We’d have to get there when nobody else is visiting.  If you want, I’ll ask his folks if you can have some time.”


Dana said, “It’s important, Paul.  Mr. Schiffer pushed me and Russ into a lot of good things, got us to try skiing.  It’s not just that, it’s like he got us, a lot of kids, to think we could respect ourselves.  I don’t know, I just don’t.  It’s really hard for me to think of him as a bad person, and to believe he could do that to Russ.”  Dana’s voice went blubbery and I knew he was crying, “He said we were good people … fine people, that money wouldn’t make us better, wouldn’t make us happier than we were.  He said it was inside us to be as good as anybody, better even.  We believed him, Paul.  Is it all a lie now?”


I didn’t have an answer, but I had to say something.  “He told the truth about you and Russ being good people.  I know the guy did good things, but … he’s confessing now.  He did bad things too.  He did horrible things, and he did them for a long time.  I guess … I don’t know what to say.”


“Don’t strain yourself,” Dana said, “I know what you’re saying.  I should go pack.  I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”


“Tomorrow.  Be good.”


I knew that Dana was upset, and rightfully so.  I know I’d feel terrible if someone I admired and trusted for much of my life turned out to have a secret life as a monster, and Schiffer had gone way off the deep end.  I’d never heard of the man before, but I was still shocked by the depth and breadth of damage he’d caused.  I hadn’t asked a lot of questions about him because it was difficult for the people who knew the guy to put his acts together with the man they knew, and it upset them to even try.


We hit heavy traffic going back into Boston and it took quite a while to get home.  Everyone in the car was awake by the time we arrived, and we all needed to use the bathroom.  Hector left us to park the car and we hurried inside.  Mom came to the top of the stairs to meet us, but we rushed right past her.  I managed to hold up a finger and gasp out, “Long ride,” which I hope she understood.


Relieved, I washed up, and I changed my shirt after I noticed a ketchup stain.


I found my mother in the kitchen with Mrs. Glover.  They were putting a tray of snacks together, and I asked if they knew how Russell’s surgery went.


Mrs. Glover smiled and said, “The doctor sounded really pleased.  They used some new computer-guided thing, and he sounded confident that when the bones set that elbow will be perfect.”


I smiled and said, “That’s good news,” wondering if the ‘computer-guided thing’ said Spalding on it, but that would be too much coincidence.  I asked, “Is Ally around?  Dana’s coming tomorrow.”


My mother said, “Oh, wonderful.  She left a number to reach her at, but said to call after eight.”  She looked around and found a yellow sticky note and handed it to me.  “She’s having a meeting over cocktails with some of her production people.”  She looked up at me and asked, “Will Dana be staying here?”


I said seriously, “Dana likes hotels all of a sudden.”  I glanced at Mrs. Glover before I said, “He’s really upset about Mr. Schiffer, so I said I’d stay with him.  I hope you don’t mind, but I think he wants to talk things out.”


My mother looked at me for a moment and said, “Oh, that’s fine.”


Before she could say more I said, “Tom’s gonna look after Ian, so don’t worry.  He’s better at it than I am, anyhow.”


I sat at the table beside Mrs. Glover.  “Dana wants to spend a little time alone with Russ.  Is that okay?  He’s really not believing that Mr. Schiffer did all those things, or would do them.  He needs to hear it first-hand.”


Poor Mrs. Glover looked so sad right then.  She put her hand on mine and said, “None of us can believe it, son.  That man has helped us so much.  He’s taken dinner at our table more than once, and he had a real influence on Russell:  a good influence, a positive one.  When Russy – Dana too, started third grade … well, all the children their age, their attitudes changed so fast – it was almost like magic.  These are poor kids from poor families in a poor town, and they came home from school happier every day of the week.  Russ started doing his homework like it was important and I think he read anything that had printing on it.” 


She took a sip of water from the glass in front of her and went on.  “I’ve spoken to some others from town, and it’s very hard to understand how a man like Fred Schiffer could have such a dark side to him.  We’ve known him for eight years, and not once was there an inkling of anything amiss.  He’s so intelligent, so jovial, so kind and helpful …” She shook her head sadly and dropped the thought.


The man confused me for sure.  He seemed to be a Jekyll and Hyde type, and I wondered if the Jekyll bit was a put on, or if he really had two such opposite sides to him, or if his desire for young girls threw him off the deep end.  He’d been screwing with them since he was twelve and he was thirty-eight now, yet the girls he went after were the same age he’d always gone for.  He murdered eleven people a few weeks earlier.


My thoughts were interrupted when Mrs. Glover asked, “What have you done with Arnold?  Didn’t he come in with you?”


I shrugged and said, “He fell asleep in the car.  Maybe he’s taking a nap.”  It struck me that Tom and Ian hadn’t come down either, and that Hector never came back from parking the car.  I said, “I’ll go check upstairs.”


“I’ll go,” Mrs. Glover said while getting to her feet.  She muttered, “He probably drank a gallon of beer,” and walked out.


I grinned at my mother and whispered, “At least a gallon, and he had rum with the Captain of the Constitution.  They know each other.”


Mom sat down and smiled, “He’s an interesting man once you scratch the surface.  They’re a very nice family.”  She looked around and said, “I wonder what happened to Hector.  This is the quietest this house has been in the weeks since you arrived.”


I said, “I’ll make it quieter.  I want to call some people.  Is it okay if I use the washer?  I’m kind of out of clean things.”


“Just bring your things down.  I’ll wash them.  Don’t forget to call Ally after eight.”


After I brought the clothes basket to the laundry room, I went up to my room and called Lisa, who had gone to watch her father’s softball game.  I had ten minutes before I could call Ally, so I tried Gary.  I hadn’t spoken to him since Shea’s party, and wanted to explain my absence.


His sister answered and was surprised by my call.  “He’s at your house, Paul.  He’s doing the stonework your father asked for.  I don’t know how you missed him.”


I said, “I missed him because I’ve been in Boston at my mother’s place.”


“You didn’t know he was building paths, some walls, and a planter?”


I laughed, “I know my father talked to him, but that’s all I heard.”


She said, “How strange.  Your father mailed him a sketch and got him an account at the garden center.  He’s been over at your place every day since.  Nobody told you?”


“Nope, but I’m glad for Gary.  I know he was excited about the idea.”


“He’s excited about earning money, Paul.  He’s excited about a lot of things lately.  His coach got him into a program for people with ataxia, and they think he’ll improve with physical therapy.  I guess you know he has a girlfriend, and she is a real sweetheart.  They’re both shy, and so cute together they could make a movie and sell it.”


I smiled to myself.  “I saw them at the last party.  I was surprised that Gary asked Joan to go.  I think most guys are too afraid of rejection.”


“Joanie asked Gary to go with her, Paul.  She told me last week that she was afraid he’d say no because she never saw him with anyone.”


“Neat,” I said.  “Tell Gary I called, and I’ll try again when I get a chance.”


After I folded the phone I had to smile at the thought of Gary and Joan actually being together.  Before that party it would have been the last thing I might have pictured, but they were there having fun.  Joan had asked Gary to go with her, too, and I snickered at the thought that maybe she liked the danger-man type, and I still thought Gary looked that way.  I guess the world is full of surprises.


I got hold of Ally and told her when Dana was getting in, and she said she’d find a hotel, but wasn’t sure what she could come up with on short notice.  “If I can’t find a suite, would you mind terribly if I get adjoining rooms?”


I said, “That’s fine, Ally.  Even one room is okay as long as it has two beds.”


“I’ll let you know in the morning.  How was your day?”


“We had fun … shot pool at Blackie’s and had clams up in Essex.  Mr. Glover ran into two guys he was in the Navy with – one is the Captain of the Constitution.”


Ally said, “Ooh, I’m impressed.  I doubt many people forget Mr. Glover.  He’s quite a man.”


I was a little surprised to hear that from Ally, but I agreed and said, “He sure is.  The guy at Blackie’s is one of Dad’s billionaires, and I could tell he really looked up to Mr. Glover.  He called him chief.”


“You would do well to spend time with Mr. Glover, Paul.  He’s a quiet man, but he’s very intelligent and his personality is truly magnetic.  He has a genuine inner force and he knows how to control it ... a man to be reckoned with.”


I hadn’t thought of him in those terms, but Ally was absolutely right, and I thought to tell her about Mr. Spalding.  “You’re right, Ally.  Listen to this:  the guy he met at Blackie’s has a software company.  His name’s Spalding.”


Before I could go on, Ally asked, “Danny Spalding?”


I was aware that Ally knew a lot of people, but I asked incredulously, “You know him?”


Ally said, “I’m time-limited here, Paul.  Yes, I know Dan quite well.  What’s he up to?”


“If you know him, it might help.  His company has some kind of imaging software that they use in reconstructive surgery.  He wants to fix Mr. Glover’s legs if it’s possible.  He sounded kind of nervous about bringing it up.  Do you think you can help?”


“Of course I can, and I will, but I have to speak to the troops right now.  Behave yourself.”


She hung up before I could say anything.


I looked in Tom’s room and he was sleeping.  It was early, but I was tired too.  I put my phone in the charger, got undressed and slipped into bed, and I checked out almost immediately.


+ + + + + + + +


Dana looked around confusedly as he came out of the secure section.  He had an eye out for me, but couldn’t resist looking around in amazement at the terminal.  It was the first major airport he’d ever been in, and he was clearly surprised by the bustling crowd and the stores and restaurants.  I had to get right in front of him, or he would have walked right past me.


Dana grinned, “There you are.  This place is something, isn’t it?  It looks like a shopping mall.”


“Hi, Dana.  It looks like an airport to me, but I guess they all try to look like malls.  How was the trip?”


“It was fun.  The plane had propellers!”


I thought it might, but I didn’t say so.  “Do you need the bathroom or anything?  It’s rush hour, so it might take a while to get to the hotel.”


Dana said, “Maybe I better.  Show me the way.”


I showed Dana how the signage worked in an airport, and we both used the first men’s room we came to.  After that, it was the bus to the T-station, the Silver Line to Government Center, and we changed to the Green Line to Copley Place.  Ally didn’t have enough notice to find a room in one of the places she liked to put people up, so we were staying in a Marriott.  She’d checked in with me so there wouldn’t be a hassle about minors getting a room, and gave me both keys when she left.  She copped a great room too, on the twenty-second floor with a great view over the Back Bay area.  It was a regular modern room with two beds and the usual amenities, which was fine for us.


Dana was at the window as soon as we walked in, suitcase still in hand.  “Wow!  Tell me what I’m looking at.”


I did.  I spent fifteen minutes pointing out things we could see from that one window, and I knew the nighttime view had to be spectacular.  It was after six when we got to the room and we had a seven-thirty reservation for dinner, so we had to get cleaned up.  We were going to one of the best steak houses in Boston, and it was just a few minute’s walk from the hotel.  Ally’s magazine had an account there and she told them we could sign for the meal when she made the reservation.  When we were ready, we had a little time so we went to look at the hotel pool, which is on the fifth floor so there’s even a view of the city from there.  We were the only ones there and it was kind of steamy; we didn’t stay long but figured we’d come back for a swim later.


We walked out through the mall, which is nice enough as malls go even though it didn’t have stores that interested me much.  Places like Tiffany, Armani, Louis Vuitton and Burberry don’t excite my imagination, nor did they Dana’s, so we just walked and looked around.  When we walked outside it was a short walk up Exeter to Boylston Street and our restaurant.


Abe and Louie’s is a pricey place, but it’s very casual and low key, and their meats are about as good as you’ll find in town.  Ally had made the reservation in Dana’s name, probably for tax purposes, and Dana was nervous about that.  Under my prodding he walked up and said, “I have a reservation.  My name is Dana Morasutti.”


The host looked at his paperwork and smiled broadly when he found the reservation.  “Yes sir!  Mr. Morasutti from Women’s Health magazine, table for two; will you follow me, please?”


He picked up two menus and led us to a table away from the noisy bar.  “Your waiter will be with you right away.  Enjoy your meal.”


Dana was already opening his menu and said absently, “I will if I like it.”


I’d just taken a sip of water and had to cover my mouth to keep from spitting it out, and the host turned around and came back laughing merrily.  People at the closest tables had heard, and they were snickering too.


When it dawned on Dana that people were laughing about his words (and I could hear people repeating them around the dining room, causing more people to laugh) he blushed like a beet, with a curious little smile on his face.  “Did I say something funny?  What’d I say?”


Our host was red from laughing, and he leaned close to Dana.  He said, “Son, your dessert is on me.  I thought I’d heard it all.”  He walked away laughing, and set some of the waiters to laughing when he told them.


Dana looked at me with his eyes wide and asked, “What?”


I said, “Oh … nothing.”


He pleaded in a whisper, “Come on; what is it?  Did I sound like some hick or something?”


I said, “Dana, you made a pretty sophisticated comment when that guy told us to enjoy our meal.  That’s like an order when you think about it, so when you said you’ll enjoy it if you like it, that was the perfect comeback.  That’s what everyone thought was funny.”


Dana smiled, “I guess it is pretty funny.  I didn’t even know I said that.”


I opened my menu and said, “You did.”


I looked back at Dana and said, “Before you order, look at the size of the steaks other people have.  If you have a big appetizer you’ll explode.”


Dana looked around cautiously and said, “Wow,” when he turned back to the menu.  “Now I don’t know what to get.”


“It’s all good,” I said.  “Whatever you get, have the hash browns with it.  They’re fantastic here.”  I was still looking at the appetizers and I asked, “Want to split some oysters?  We’d get three each.”


We ended up doing just that, and both ordered the New York steak after I explained what it was to Dana.  He was daring and ordered his cooked black and blue just like I did.


The meal was wonderful, and our waiter was terrific. He was never intrusive, yet our glasses were always full, and empty dishes disappeared like magic. Dana and I had both finished one pound steaks and our private mountains of hash brown potatoes, and we’d shared an order of sautéed mushrooms.  There was no way we could eat dessert, but the offer had been made so we asked for two pieces of the seven-layer cake to go.  It would make a nice breakfast.


The waiter brought the bill when he brought the boxed and bagged desserts and asked, “Which of you is Mr. Morasutti?”


Dana said, “That’s me.”


The waiter handed him the little booklet with the bill.  He said, “You only need to sign this.  I’ll pick it up in a moment.”


Dana looked at the bill, and his eyes opened so wide and so fast that his eyebrows would have flown to the ceiling if they weren’t attached.  He didn’t comment, though, and read the bill for what seemed to be a long time before he said, “I don’t get it.  There’s a total, and they add the tax, then it says comp minus sixteen, and there’s a place for a tip.  How much should I tip anyhow?”


I said, “Let me see,” and Dana handed over the bill.  I looked at it and said, “It’s kinda weird, huh?  I think you should tip on the total before the tax and the deduction for the desserts.”  I looked at Dana and said, “In a place like this, with the good service we got, you should give a twenty-five percent tip, which is a very nice tip.  Divide the total before tax by four and you’re there.  If the service was really crummy you could leave like ten percent.  It’s kind of up to you, but you shouldn’t stiff somebody who might be having a bad day.”


Dana took the bill back, wrote in a tip and signed his name.  He closed the cover and the waiter came over for it, so we stood up, thanked the guy for a great meal, and went out into the night.


I had the idea in mind to find bathing suits and spend some time in the hotel pool, but I couldn’t for the life of me think of a place anywhere nearby where we could buy some, but then it dawned on me.  We were just a few blocks from City Sports, but it was almost ten, so they would be closed.  I told Dana, “Tomorrow when you’re with Ally I’ll get us some swim trunks.  What’s your waist?”


Dana snickered, “That’s getting pretty personal, isn’t it?  What’s yours?”


“I asked about your waist, Dana, not your dick.  You saw that pool; don’t you want to get in it?”


“It did look pretty nice.  It’s twenty-eight inches I think, maybe twenty-nine.”


“Okay,” I said, “So like a men’s small?”


“That’s what I got in Florida.  Howcum you’re out without Hector?”


I said, “Don’t even start.  Hector gave me crap about going alone to meet you, but I stood my ground.  This is my home town and I know my way around.  I’ve been allowed out on my own since I was eight, and nothing bad ever happened.  I called when I got to the airport, and I called when I saw you coming.  I called again from the hotel while you were in the bathroom, and I’ll call when we get back.  For all I know Hector might be following us, but at least we’re free.”  I looked at the bag Dana was carrying and added, “We’re free until one of those cakes starts calling me amigo.”


On that, we laughed our way back into the hotel lobby, and when we got to the room we labeled the cake boxes Ron and Hector, and Dana, using the pen from the desk, cast a spell crying, “Entomb-o untilweneedyo!”


I laughed while we got ready for bed, and asked, “You like Harry Potter, too?”


Dana said, “Yeah.  I read them all twice.  You, too?”


“I love that series.  I think I was eight when I got the first book for Christmas, and I was hooked right away.  My father got me the next three, and I had to wait for the others like everyone else.  I read other things then, but a new Potter book was always … it was like an event.  I stayed up reading until my dad took the light bulbs and made me go to sleep.”


Dana giggled and said, “I was the same way.”  He was quiet after that, and I thought he’d fallen asleep, but he said, “It was Mr. Schiffer that got me reading.  I had him in third grade, and I think I was feeling trapped in Stockton then.”  He lowered his voice, “Mom worked hard, but we never had any money.  She had a record player, but we didn’t have a TV, or even a radio.  It wasn’t just us.  Most people weren’t much different.  Nobody had much, and nights were just boring.  I mean dead boring, at least in winter.  Mr. Schiffer really pushed reading, and told us it was our way out of there.  He took us to the school library for a lot of classes, and gave everyone names of books he thought we’d like.  Well, I liked.  I could read and get the heck out of Stockton doing it.  I went down the river with Huck Finn, jousted alongside Desdichado, wondered where the ducks were with Holden Caulfield.” 


Dana sniffed, “If I didn’t have that I think I’d be a loonie by now.” 


He was quiet for another minute, then said in a croak, “Mr. Schiffer gave me that, Paul.  He gave me skiing, and made me believe in myself, like I could do anything if I believe I can.  That’s why this mess is so hard for me to understand.  How could somebody so good, so positive, go and rape little girls and then shoot people?” He sighed, “I mean, we don’t have to go there again, because I know you don’t know either.  It’s my problem because I trusted him.  What’s that say about me?”


I said, “Cut it out, Dana.  I think everybody trusted the guy, so don’t single yourself out.  It sounds like everyone liked him, too.  You’re not alone in this.  Talk to Mr. Glover tomorrow; I’m sure he feels the same way as you do.  Schiffer helped Russ just like he helped you, and a lot of other people, too  It’s not like he deceived you personally for some reason.  He fooled everyone in the district, and they all probably feel like you do.”


Dana sounded stubborn, “You didn’t know him, Paul.”


“I know that, and if I did probably the last thing I’d think was that he liked messing with young girls.  Who does think things like that?  It’s been going on for a long time, and none of the girls ever said anything.  He got one pregnant this time, and I guess he panicked or something, or maybe he thought he could really get away with all those murders.  I don’t know, he might have wanted to get caught.  We might never know.”


Dana spoke so softly I could barely hear him.  “You don’t know how I feel.  You don’t know what it’s like.”


I was tempted to roll over and drop it, but I looked toward Dana instead and said, “Try me.  Before … when my parents were together, I knew what divorce was.  Hell, half the kids I went to school with at Barents were on their second or third stepmother or stepfather.  I never thought it would happen to me, but it did.”  I closed my eyes, remembering.  “I felt so damned … lost.  It was sudden for me, and it was like my mother had died.  Dad picked me up at school in the middle of the week and said we had to talk.  He started driving to Boston and I kept asking what was wrong, because I knew something was, but he wanted to wait till we were home.  I thought the worst – like Mom had been run over or something, and when I started crying we stopped at a rest area.  Dad got us hot chocolates and we sat in the car while he told me what was going on.  Then he turned around at the next exit and drove me back to Barents, but we stopped at a motel instead.  We stayed up almost all night talking, and I felt better after.  I knew it wasn’t me, and it wasn’t Dad either.  That’s when I learned the word catharsis, because in the morning that’s what Dad said we’d had.”


I opened my eyes and Dana was on his side looking back at me.  “What’s that mean?”


“This isn’t the technical meaning, but we talked ourselves out of our feeings of guilt, of self-pity, the need to blame someone.  Mom couldn’t help her feelings.  She still loves us both but she was living a lie.  She tried for a long time, but then she met Ally.”


“And it was all over,” Dana said.  “I see how they are together, but mostly I see how good they are with everyone.  I don’t care about gay or lesbian or anything; I don’t even want to hear it.”  He grinned, “I don’t think Mr. Schiffer is gay or lesbian, but you watch.  The church people will be climbing over each other to forgive him.”


I looked at Dana and smiled.  “Say goodnight, Dana.”


He smiled back at me, “Okay.  Goodnight.”



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