Mud Season

Chapter 23


That week was more of the same.  We visited Russ when we could, and actually spent less time at the hospital than we’d become accustomed to.  He was beginning physical therapy, and a lot of tests were being repeated so the medical team could furnish the Vermont doctors with the latest status, and probably satisfy themselves that they’d done what they could.


We had a lot of time available to us, and we put it to pretty good use.  I went with Tom and Ian to the Aquarium one day.  After viewing the displays of sea life, the IMAX showed an awesome film shot in space when astronauts were repairing the Hubble telescope. 


Ally took us all on a dinner cruise on the Harbor one night and it was beautiful.  The food was like banquet food, served buffet style, but everyone found things they liked.  Mr. Glover again demonstrated his beer drinking prowess when he discovered Harpoon ale.


Another time, on the most beautiful day of the whole stay, Mom fixed up a picnic lunch and we ate it on the Esplanade, right beside about two thousand other people who’d had the same thought.  We brought blankets and sat on the grass close to the river, where we could see ducks, swans, herons, and a lot of other birds, as well as yachts heading out, canoes, kayaks and rowboats zigging and zagging near the shore, and sculling crews in between.  They weren’t in a race so it was either practice or exercise.


It was the overall scene rather than anything specific that had us entranced.  Boston is an old city by US standards, but the population is active.  It’s crazy to drive in the city because the streets are narrow and commercial traffic like delivery trucks, buses, and taxis take up most of the space.  If you don’t know your way around, you’ll run out of gas before you find where you’re going, and cause even more congestion.  The MTA works, but punk gangs make it difficult in some areas, and it’s always crowded at certain times of day.  It’s the kind of town where the best way around is to put on some decent footwear and hoof it.


Unless you’re Mr. Glover who has trouble walking any kind of distance.  Ally delivered us that day, which was kind of nice because we had armloads of blankets and food.  She brought her car back to the garage she kept it in and walked over to find us.


That was the nicest day.  The doctors were taking the wires or whatever out of Russell’s jaw, had a CT scan or MRI (maybe both) scheduled, and the surgeon who worked on his arm would be there to give his final blessing, or Hail Mary, or whatever they do, and hopefully change his cast to something smaller and lighter.  We couldn’t even stop in to see him before four-thirty because so many things were being done, and the doctor who told the Glovers all this thought Russ might not be too amenable to visitors.  He’d be coming off a long and uncomfortable day.  He would have a day of rest the next day, and be released on Friday.


The doctors wanted Russ to spend at least one night in the Rutland hospital.  This was to ensure that the trip didn’t cause him any damage.  It would also to give the local doctors a chance to see Russ, the extent of damage, and to question Boston about any of their recommendations.  It was intended as a checkpoint, not a hospital stay.


I had called my father the night before, once I thought I had my facts straight.  He knew that Russ was coming back because he’d had a call about authorizing an air ambulance for him.


“His parents can go with him, but that’s all the room they have.  The rest of you are good with commercial, aren’t you?  Dana really enjoyed the Cape Air flight.”


I said, “Dad, listen.  Tom and I want to take the train back to Brattleboro.  He’s never ridden one, and we both really want to get home.”


The silence that ensued was long enough that I asked, “Dad?”


He was still silent, but just before I was going to try again he said, “Paul, oh Paul.  I’ve been so proud … everyone has.  I want you to think about what you’re saying; think long and hard.  How can you go this far with something and just walk away from it?”


I tried to interrupt, and he said, “Listen to me,” in about the strongest voice he had ever used.  “You have been taking care of the Glovers since the day Russell got hurt.  You, personally, are responsible for all the good feelings they have today.  You can go ahead and say it’s my money, but I promise you that you’re the person that family will remember next year and all the years that follow.  You carried them through this, Paul, on your own shoulders, and I can’t believe you want to leave them now.”


I didn’t know what to say, and kept my mouth shut.


Dad said in a gentler voice, “Do you remember what you told me when you wanted to leave Barents, and I asked you a lot of questions?  I asked if it wouldn’t hurt your social standing.   Do you remember your reply?”


“Not really.”


“You said I hope so, and those three words told me a lot about you, and you’ve been proving yourself since.   You get it, too.  It’s my money, not yours, and you don’t wear it like a badge of success that you haven’t earned yet.  You invented a health plan for the Danamat and you put it into practice without asking.”  His voice lowered, “Don’t leave them now, Paul.  Just a few more days, and you can go back to Brattleboro.  Just wait for Russ to be safe back at home before you leave them.”


I asked cautiously, “What should I do?”


“Go with them to Rutland; stay in whatever place we find for them.  Just do what you’ve been doing.  We’ll all join you for dinner on Friday, and after Russ comes home you can go to Brattleboro.”


I thought about it and said, “Okay.  I’ll disappoint Tom.  He really talked himself into the train ride.”


Dad said, “I know Tom.  I don’t think he’ll be upset at all.  Not at all.”


I said, “I don’t see why I have to do this.  All they have to do is get on a plane.”


Dad was silent again, and finally said, “Don’t let me down, Paul.  Please, not now.”


He’d finally said the right words.  He could pour laud over my head all day long and I’d still want my way, but I couldn’t do anything, not even in my dreams, knowing I was disappointing my father willingly, so I gave up, hoping to bring some grace to the moment.  “Okay,” I said.  “You’re right.  I just didn’t think the Glovers would need me back in Vermont.  Can Hector come back to Brattleboro when this is over?”


Dad said, “I can request that, sure.  Have you asked him about this?”


“No.  I thought I better ask you first.  I’ll ask him now, and call you back.  I’ll talk to Tom, too, to see what he wants to do.”


“That’s fine,” Dad said.  “Just don’t call too late.  And think about this while you’re at it.  You have to give your mother some warning too, although I suppose that with a security team there you’re probably old enough to be alone once in awhile.”


While that sounded good enough to make me smile, reality bit me.  “I don’t know how to take care of a house!”


“I’m not thinking of anything permanent, but it’s late in the game to tell your mother you want to go back to Brattleboro on the weekend.  If she can’t get there for a few days, you can certainly fend for yourself.  The only real difference will be that you’ll have to be careful with your key.”


I heard the humor in his voice when he said that and said, half seriously, “I don’t know if I’m capable.  I have to cook for myself, too?”


Dad said, “It’s summer, Paul.  You can put a hamburger on the grill as well as anyone.  I know you can make a breakfast and a sandwich for yourself.  You can use the washing machine as long as you stay far away from the bleach, and the security folks can get you where you need to go.  You should go ahead and start your driver’s school, too, but don’t think of getting your license until you’ve shown me that you really know how to drive, and understand the rules of the road.”


“I was going to put that off till later,” I said.


“That’s fine.  I have my eyes on a car I think you’ll love, so let me know when you’re ready.”


I was floored!  “Really?  What’s the car?  Is it a Corvette?”


Dad said, “No.  It’s Italian, actually, a real sweet thing.”


I was standing on tiptoes thinking about Ferarris, Maseratis, Lamborghinis.  “What is it?” I screamed.


Dad laughed, “It’s a Fiat 500, a real classic.  It’s a nineteen-sixty-four model that has been completely restored.  It has every option they offered, a huge sunroof … it’s a beautiful car. The restorer safetied it up a little, but other than new seats, seatbelts and a roll bar it’s in original condition.”


“Fiat?”  I asked.  “I don’t think I ever heard of that one.”


“They don’t import them here anymore, but Fiat is one of the top one-hundred companies in the world. They’re the parent company of Ferrari and Maserati and a lot of others.  You go and talk to Hector and Tom before it gets too late.  You can look at the Fiat 500 on the Internet if you want to.”


“Okay,” I said, and after I said goodbye and went to find Hector I realized Dad said it was a nineteen-sixty-four car.  I wondered if it looked anything like a fifty-nine Corvette.


“It’s open,” Hector said when I tapped on his door.  When I went in, he was sitting on a chair that was far too delicate looking for him.  The television was on, his laptop was on the table beside him, and he had a book in his hands.  He looked like he just got out of the shower; he was in a bathrobe and his hair was wet.  “What’s up?” he asked.


I went closer and sat on the edge of his bed.  “I want to ask … I mean, I was wondering if you’d come to Brattleboro.  Dad said he can request it, but only if you want to.”


Hector narrowed his eyes a bit.  “What’s the matter with the people already there?”


“Nothing,” I said.  “I think Dad wants to keep Darius up in Stockton and … well, I know you.”


I wore Hector’s gaze for a long time before he said, “Why will I like Brattleboro?  I’m used to warm weather and living by the sea.”


I looked at him before I spoke, trying to think of what to say.  I started, “Well, for one thing …”


Ten minutes later I was on my fifteenth thing and grinning so much it was hard to talk.  Hector was grinning too, and he finally held his hand up like a traffic cop.  “You’re good, amigo.  Okay, I give.  I’ll need a couple of weeks, though.  I have to close up in Florida.  You’re sure this Arizona girl is gonna like me?”


I laughed, “All I said is I’m sure you’re her type.  She’s younger than you; I think she’s twenty-one now, maybe a little older.  She’s smart, she’s funny and she has these …” I put my hands about a foot in front of my chest.


“That’s not what matters,” Hector said.


I know a lie when I hear one, so I told one of my own.  “Oh, I’m sure it’s not.”  I smiled, looked down, and then up with my eyes.  “It’s kind of nice to have once you’ve made that intellectual connection, isn’t it?”


“Always nice,” Hector said dreamily, and came back to attention.  He announced, “It’s intelligence and humor that really matter.  And compatibility.”  His voice softened, “Good boobs and a nice beam are like gravy on your mashed potatoes.”


I don’t know if I really understood his simile.  Then again, I’m not Hispanic, so I said, “You’re absolutely right, you know that?  That’s a good attitude.”  I looked at him, “So you’ll come to Brattleboro?”


Hector grimaced, “If they let me I will.  I think I’ll end up there for sure if your father asks.”


I stood up and put my hand on Hector’s shoulder, looked him in the eye, and said, “Thanks.  I have to find Tommy now.”


After a few more words, I left and barged into Tom’s room, but it was empty so I had to find him. Surprisingly, he was sitting on the darkened grand staircase about halfway to the foyer, a flashlight in his hands, and Ian a step up from him.  When I walked down and he noticed me, he said, “Look at this, Paul.  I move the light just a fraction and that picture changes into something else.  It’s really incredible.”


“Increjible,” Ian confirmed, and I smiled at his pronunciation.


I sat on the step up from Ian, and they were playing with my mother’s one venture into expensive fine art: her Vermeer.  Mom had only had the picture for a few years, but I’d already spent a lot of time staring at it myself.  Tom was using a flashlight to work out the nuances, but any different light made it a different picture.  I think if you looked at it at exactly noon every day, you’d see three hundred and sixty-five different pictures a year.  You could look at the painting earlier or later in the day and see twice or three times as many more, and at night with the overhead and wall lights on it was a different picture again.  Now Tommy was playing a flashlight over it, and it was going from sunny to gloomy to sinister with all the phases in between.  It really was increjible!


I touched Ian’s shoulder and said, “You’re up pretty late.  Shouldn’t you be in bed?”


“I’m hangin’ out with Tommy.”


I looked at Tom, who nodded and said, “Sorry, Ian, I didn’t know it was this late.  C’mon, I’ll go up with you.”


Tom got to his feet, handed me the flashlight, and Ian looked up saying a weary, “Okay.”


Ian took Tom’s hand when it was offered, and got to his feet.  They disappeared up the stairs while I sat and looked at that painting by flashlight.  It really was amazing.  I’d hear the odd news about higher and higher prices paid for art at auctions, and I could see the allure to the people with enough money.  With the right work, you got a different picture for each dollar paid.


Tom came back down and sat beside me.  “What’s up?”


“I have to go back with the Glovers, so no train ride.”


Tom said, “No big deal.  Why?”


“Dad doesn’t think I should walk out on them after all this.  That’s all.”


Tom nodded.  “That makes sense.  Want me to stay with you?”


I closed my eyes and said, “For sure.”


We sat quietly for a moment and I asked, “Ever hear of a Fiat?”


Tom shook his head kind of slowly.  “I think a fiat is like an order, right?  Like a rule or a proclamation or something.  Is that it?”


I looked at Tom with my most serious expression, at least the most serious that I could come up with.  “It’s a car, Tom, an Italian car like a Ferrari or something.  My dad wants to get me one.”


That got Tom’s attention, and he asked, “Is it a brand new one?”


I grinned, “No, it’s a brand old one.  It’s a sixty-four that’s been restored and updated a little.  I have to call Dad back, but we can look for one on the Internet after.  Why don’t you go in the den and start up the laptop?  I’ll be there in a second.”


Tom said, “Okay,” and when he started up the stairs he mumbled, “Wow, a Fiat car, a classic.”  He turned around at the landing and said, “You really stepped in it when you were born.”


He walked away and I grinned after him.


I called my father right from where I was sitting.  He said he’d call the security company and request Hector for their Vermont contingent.  He was happy I’d decided to stick it out with the Glovers.  He told me to go look for a car on the Internet, and that he’d email me the URL for the one he was looking at.  “You’re in for a surprise, Paul.  I hope it’s a pleasant one.”  We talked a little more, and when I hung up I went running to the den.


When I went in, Tom asked right away, “Did you say a Fiat 500?  A sixty-four?”


“Did you find one?”


“That’s what it says.  Come and look.”


I hurried over, expecting to see something long, low and swoopy looking.  I stopped short when I saw the screen.  The picture there looked like a car made by the same company that made the Radio Flyer wagon I had when I was little.  It was the same thing with a body and two doors added, though my recollection was that the wagon might have been a little longer.  I didn’t have a good angle on the screen, and thought I must be looking at a distorted picture, but when I knelt by Tom I knew I’d seen it right the first time.


The car looked dinky and it looked dorky.  The thing was tan for God’s sake!  Did Italy ever really make a car and paint it tan?  I doubt it, but that color was somehow appropriate on such a nerdy looking vehicle.


“Is this the only thing google came up with?” I asked Tom.


He said, “No, there are lots,” and clicked the back arrow.


I saw one that said detailed specifications and told Tom to go there.  I didn’t know what all the terms meant, nor did Tom, but I figured out that it had a two cylinder engine that produced an eye popping twenty-two horsepower, and it would propel me and my terrified passengers to sixty in a minute flat.  That claim was theoretical at best, because top speed was listed at fifty-nine mph.  I was pretty sure that Dad was yanking my chain, and Tommy told me I should hope that was the case, but as we went back and forth between google and individual web sites a pattern emerged.


Those cars, all these years later, are still enormously popular, and the more pictures we saw, the more appealing the little car became.  The ‘sunroof’ was a cloth top that you pulled back from the windshield and fastened with snaps.  The doors were hinged at the back so you could actually get in the thing.


After about an hour we stopped looking and reading, and went to the kitchen for a snack.  While we were rummaging around I said, “Heck, it weighs just over a thousand pounds, and a decent horse weighs that much.  The horse will move you right out with, well, just one horsepower.”


Tom’s head was in the refrigerator.  “You’re right.  And with twenty-two horsepower you’d have an eighty-eight leg equivalent, so you’d probably never get stuck in a snow drift.”


“Good point,” I said.  “There’s definitely a cool factor, too.  Who’s that girl with the Mini at school?  That thing looks like a square box compared to the Fiat.”


Tom backed away from the refrigerator with a jar of Cheez Whiz, a jar of pickles, and a carton of milk. He kneed the door shut.  “That’s Marlena Litzke.  She’s nice to look at, but what a dunce.  You ever talk to her?”


I said, “No.  I’ve just seen her in that car.  She’s never been in any of my classes.”


Tom was opening cabinets and drawers looking for some crackers.  “Bucky Lenderson went out with her last year.  He liked to drive the Mini, so he’d buy her some food out of town at some place and offer to drive back.”  Tom came back to the table with a package of vanilla wafers.  “One day they stopped somewhere and got chili.  On the way home, they both got the farts something fierce.”


“I think I know the place you’re talking about,” I interjected.


Ton snickered, “Bucky was just letting them go, but Marlena was trying to hold them in, so they came out like whistles, and every time she cut one she started yelling at Bucky for stinking up her car so he wouldn’t hear them.  He heard them anyhow, and didn’t want to hurt her feelings so he drove to his house and got out.  It was her car, and he thought she’d make him walk home if they went to her house.  She was yelling to cover up her farts, but she made herself mad doing it.  That was their last date, and Bucky only eats chili with guys now.”


With that, Tom chomped down on a fat pickle, and got such a big chunk of it in his mouth that his eyes crossed.  When he finally got it down he was a soprano, and said with a red face and watery eyes, “Good pickle.”


Then he started putting globs of Cheez-Whiz on cookies and following them with white milk.  When he noticed me again, he said, “That Fiat.  It’s definitely cool.  Did you notice the transmission isn’t even synchromesh?”


“Stars above!” I said.  “What’s synchromesh?”


Tom picked up another pickle and held it in his hand.  “I’m not sure how it works, but it makes it possible to shift a standard transmission without double-clutching.”


“Double-clutching?”   That was another unfamiliar term and I said, “Explain, please.”


“When the transmission doesn’t have synchros you have to push the clutch down to shift out of gear so everything idles out, then you press it again to go into the next gear, doesn’t matter if it’s higher or lower.”


I was trying to grasp the concept.  “Otherwise?”


“You’ll grind your gears and have to get new ones.”


“Okay, so this double-clutching is why zero-to-sixty takes a minute in the Fiat versus three seconds in the ZR-1?”


Tom looked up from his food and said, “You’re picking this up pretty quick, Paul.”  He spread Cheez-Whiz on another cookie, and before he ate it he said, “If you ever get tired of philanthropy you’d probably make a heck of an engineer.  You have half a brain showing, so I’m confident there’s another half in there.”


“I’m saving it for when I need it.”


Tom met my eyes.  “Now that’s good thinking.  When early-onset senility sets in, you can just switch to the unused part.”  He looked troubled suddenly and I thought it was from his snack.  “But wait!  If you do that, all your knowledge and memories will be stuck in the old side, so no net gain.  You’d be like a baby again and have to be burped.”  He took another pickle out of the jar and held it out to me.  “Pickle?  These are good.”


I took it and chomped, and my reaction was much like Tom’s.  These were the spicy Polish pickles that Ally favored and I usually avoided.  I know a lot of people like hot things, but I’m not one of them.  Spicy yes, but burning hot, no way.  I put the pickle down and drank the rest of my water, and went to the sink to refill it.


Tom was packing it away, and there was only Cheez-Whiz and milk left to put away because he ran out of cookies and ate all the pickles, including mine.  I said, “You should be on Saturday Night Live, you know that?  You could just eat pickles and Cheez-Whiz and cookies, and you’d be funnier than the hamburger-hamburger guys.”


Tom sighed, “Cheeseburger-cheeseburger, Paul.”


“Oh yeah, I forgot the cheese.”


Tom suddenly said, “Shit!  It’s almost two o’clock.  We’re gonna be dragging tomorrow.”


I said, “So what if we are?  All we have to do is wash our clothes and pack up.  We can sleep late.”


I wiped the table off, tossed the paper towel into the trash and turned the light off.  I followed Tom to the stairs and walked up after him.  Outside his room, Tom asked, “What time should I get up?”


I didn’t know.  “I’m going to sleep until I feel like getting up.”


Tom smiled and said, “That’s what I like to hear.  See you in the morning.”


* * * * * * * *


Thursday turned into down time for all of us, except Ally had to work.  We ate breakfast late enough to call it brunch, lazed around reading, talking and watching television.  Mr. and Mrs. Glover seemed on edge and I didn’t know why.  When I went down to help my mother with the laundry I asked her if they’d said anything.


“They haven’t said anything to me, Paul, but I think they’re looking at a great unknown.  Russell will be coming home, and he’ll need a great deal of care.  I know that feeling all too well.”


She smiled and said, “Let’s finish this basket and sit on the terrace for a bit.”


We folded everything up and went out back, to discover it was another fine day.  When we sat down, Mom said, “When we brought you home from the hospital, Frank and I were so in love with you already, and that was after one whole day.”  She smiled, “That’s when we discovered we didn’t have the first idea of how to properly care for you.  We’d taken parenting classes, but nothing prepared us for the noises a newborn was capable of.  When you cried, we panicked.  When you spit up, your dad asked if he should call an ambulance.  I hate to put it this way, but you were like a miniature terrorist in our midst.  Every move you made, every sound that came from your mouth sent us scurrying to figure out what we’d done wrong.  And these … fluids came from every opening in your body.”


“That bad?” I asked with a grin.


“The body can take just so many days without sleep, Paul.  Your father finally took a day and drove to Maine, and he brought his mother back with him.  She had experience, of course, with three sons of her own.  She knew what to do and what to say.  All your noises, all your squirming and your leaks … they were all normal.  Most of all, her reaction was a lack of reaction, and her own calmness quieted you down.”  She smiled softly, “Our reactions to you caused you to react to us, and we found ourselves in a nasty little circle of poor reactions.”


“I can see that,” I said.  “What does it have to do with Russ and his family?”


Mom sighed, “Paul, Russ went off to work one morning nearly a month ago and he was a perfectly normal boy.  Serious harm was done to him that morning, and he has been here in a Boston hospital since, and the whole family torn from their normal way of life.  Russ will recover, but until he does he’ll remain incapacitated.  The whole dynamic of that family has changed once already, and now it will change again with this new necessity.  We’ve given them support here, as has Bernard, but now they have to head home and face things on their own.  They’re a strong family and it may not be too awful, but there are bound to be tensions and upsets.  Russ needs time to heal, and he still requires some future repairs.  Given his age and prior good health, he’ll probably be testy at best, and they’re unwiring his jaw today.”


I burst out laughing.  “You mean he gets his voice back?  Now he can bitch and moan all day until his father hot-glues his mouth shut again?”


Mom looked across the railing and said, ever so softly, “That’s exactly what I envision.”


I looked at her and asked, “And you think the Glovers know that, and they’re afraid of it.”


She turned a benign smile to me.  “I know it, Paul; it’s in their eyes.”


I played with her.  “They have that haunted look, huh?  Like, where did I leave that axe?”


Mom swatted at me and laughed, “You are truly a horrid little boy.  I wonder if it’s still legal to put turpentine and mustard on a sassy tongue like yours.”


I said, “Oh, no!  They outlawed that long ago.  You can look it up … it’s right there in the Magna Carta, or one of those things.”


Mom spit at the flagstones as she stood, rolling up imaginary sleeves, and I took off laughing.  I was taller than her, outweighed her, and was stronger, but when she put on her war face she could frighten the heads off Mt. Rushmore.  I ran inside and ducked into a nook in the old kitchen area, and snuck up the back stairs after she passed me by.


I suppose I’m pathetic in some ways.  I’m the son of a billionaire and don’t give a crap about that.  My mother is a petite little lesbian, and I love her, but the power she still has frightens me more than wars, dragons and fast food.  She’s pretty awesome when you get right down to it.


The back stairs led up to the kitchen, which was unoccupied.  I didn’t want anything, and sat at the table to relax.  I thought about what Mom had said about the Glovers, and didn’t see anything I could do even if I stayed in Stockton.  Russ was facing some tough times.  I could ask Dana to visit, and to get his other friends to come by.  It dawned on me then.  That was the big thing!  Russ had friends, and I had no reason to think they weren’t good friends.  Russ had his own life going before I came along, with his own friends, and those friends were the ones he needed to reconnect with.


I called Dana, and when he answered he said, “I’ll call you back, okay?  My hands are all grease.”




I closed my phone.  Dana’s greasy hands gave me more time to think things out.  I had planned to come to Stockton for the summer and help out at the Danamat, but there was Lisa now.  I’d already been gone over three weeks, and I wasn’t confident that being apart would work for a whole summer.  I’d go back to Brattleboro, stay at least through the Independence Day celebrations, and then go back and forth.  I’d see Dad and Elenora, Dana, Heinrich and Karen, and I could visit Russ and his family.


I was developing a lonely feeling from it, but I knew it would disappear when I got back to Brattleboro.  I guess I had grown protective of Russ and his family, who I really liked.  Things would be different in Stockton.  I was in Boston with them primarily because I know the city, but I was really a small part of an entire support group.  I showed them around and ran small errands for them, but my main job was to keep Ian occupied.  Tom was better at that than me, although I still put the time into it.  Mom and Ally put them up in style and kept them fed, and they provided both transportation and support at home and at the hospital.


The security people were an important part of everything, especially during the first part of their stay, and Bernie had given the Glovers free legal advice, and he kept them informed of their rights and the progress of the investigation.  He still talked to them so they’d understand the likely course of the criminal prosecution.  Dad had financed the whole thing, and I know he’ll keep it up until Russ has seen his last doctor


In Stockton, the Glovers would still want to hear from Bernie, but they’d be home where they knew the town and the people better than I was ever likely to.  I was glad that my father had convinced me to stay with them until they were home.  I’d thought about that and he was right as usual.  If I didn’t stay with them until Russ was safe at home, I’d have a sense of unfinished obligation that might stay with me for years.  This way, I could go back to Brattleboro and pick up my summer where I’d left off.  I could visit Stockton when I got a chance or when I needed money. 


I was anxious at the prospect of seeing Lisa.  It wasn’t that I was afraid of her, but I was more than apprehensive of how I’d behave and how she might respond.  We probably shouldn’t get alone for long or too often until we found a pace that worked for us, and would let us live a few more years.


I’d told Lisa that I loved her, and I meant it, but I said it over the phone and couldn’t see her reaction.  We had both told the other over the phone, and those words should come with at least a hug and a kiss … that would be the absolute minimum.  I smiled at my brief thought that bare minimum would be the better term, but if we went that way there was a serious danger of us approaching the bare maximum.


In a lot of ways that was my preference, but I was pretty sure it would result in a premature and painful death for me, and a few very unpleasant years for Lisa.


Dana called back then, and Tom walked into the kitchen just when I answered.  I gave Tom a little wave and said hi to Dana.  I looked at Tom and mouthed, “Dana,” and Tom got it.  He found something in the refrigerator and left.


I said, “Hi again.  Did you know Russ is coming home tomorrow?”


“Dad said.  Does he still have to stay in Rutland for the night?”


“That’s the plan,” I said.  “It’s part caution in case something goes wrong on the trip, but mostly so the people who will be taking care of him get to see what they have to work with.”


Dana snickered, “You make it sound like he’s a two-by-four or something.  Jeez …what they have to work with.”


I smiled to myself because that was a good observation on Dana’s part.  “Okay, my bad.  What they have to know is what kind of supplies they’ll have to bring in … things like screws, glue, happy pills.  They’ll be like the King’s horses and men were with Humpty Dumpty.”


“He’s that bad?” Dana asked seriously.


I said, “He’ll get better, but he won’t be able to do much of what he wants to for a while.  I hope you can talk to his friends.  He’ll want company, but it’s not a good idea to make it sound like everyone is having a great, fun-filled summer without him.”


Dana said glumly, “You don’t have to worry about that.  Nobody around here is very happy right now, so maybe having Russ back will help everyone get past it.  Only a few people know for sure that he’s still alive.  I think the cops are trying to keep it that way so Schiffer doesn’t know they have a witness.  They didn’t keep him in Rutland; the jail he’s in is down in Windsor.  He won’t learn too much from gossip there, and he’s in solitary for his own protection, anyhow.  Oh, not many people know where he is, so don’t go blabbing that.”


I grinned, “I don’t blab.”


“I know.  Will Russ be able to go outside?”


“I think so.  They’ve been letting him outside at the hospital; not off the grounds, but there’s a nice rooftop terrace.  They brought him out in a wheelchair a few times, but now he just walks.  He gets around okay, and they want to change his cast for a smaller one today.  They’re undoing his jaw too, so he can talk and eat something that doesn’t come through a tube.”


Dana asked, “How’s he look?”


“Still rough,” I said, “but not like before.  The swelling is pretty much gone and the marks are fading.  He still needs work.  The kick that broke his jaw also broke some teeth and they have to fix those.  The big things are the concussion and his elbow.  There’s no brain damage, but they said he still has to be careful for six months, maybe even a year.  I think careful means ‘don’t hit your head again’, and that rules out sports.  They’re most worried about the elbow because it was really splintered.  The doctor who put it back together is coming today, so it’s kind of judgment time.  If he’s happy with his work, then they change to a smaller cast and send Russ home.  If he sees a problem it might mean more surgery, but none of the other doctors think that will happen.”  I snickered, “You should see them when they talk about the surgeon: Doctor, and I hope I say this right, Kamalahassan.  They talk like the man is God himself.  They’re really in awe of him.”


Dana said, “Say that name again.”


“No.  I don’t know if I said it right the first time, and if I say it that way again I’ll think I was right, and then I’ll have it wrong in my head for as long as I live.”


Dana snorted, “I want to learn how to say it, but later is okay.  What time do you get here tomorrow?”


“Depends.  We should be in Rutland around eleven, but if something gets screwed up we’ll have to get a later plane.  If it gets too late, I don’t know.  We’ll either drive over or wait till Saturday.”


Dana said, “I have to go, so let me know.”


It was an hour later when someone from the hospital called.  They told the Glovers that they could visit with Russ for a short time, but just the parents.  Ally was at work, so Hector drove them over and they were back in less than two hours wearing looks like I’d have if I found a puppy under the Christmas tree.


Ally kind of whooshed everyone into the living room so the Glovers could give us the news.


Mrs. Glover beamed, “Dr. Kamalahassan is very happy with Russy’s elbow.  He has changed the cast to a much smaller one that Russ will have to wear for three weeks, and they’ll just wrap it for a few weeks after that.  He said the arm will be fully functional by Thanksgiving, with no loss of motion or range or anything.”


Mr. Glover beamed and said, “Russ can talk!  They didn’t think he would for a few days.  He’s a kind of hoarse, but talking up a storm.  And he ate some food, too.  Soft stuff to be sure, but I never saw a more satisfied look on his face.”


I did a silent cheer for that.  I’d never been seriously banged up, but not tasting food for nearly a month was probably the worst thing, and he must have had real dragon breath after his mouth was wired shut for that long.


I grinned, “How long did it take him to brush his teeth once he could?”


Mrs. Glover chuckled, “He’s probably still at it.  He has to brush very gently and says he feels like his mouth is full of camel … um … dung.”


Ian said excitedly, “I know what that is!  It’s …”


His father’s hand covered Ian’s mouth before he could finish, and Mr. Glover said, “We all know what it is, Ian.  There’s no need to say it in front of ladies.”


Ian nodded, and Mrs. Glover went back to describing Russell’s condition.  I saw Ally lean to Ian and whisper, “What is it?” in his ear.


He cupped his hand over Ally’s ear and whispered, “Poop,” and Ally actually blushed, most likely because she found it hilarious and didn’t want to laugh out loud.


I grinned at her so she’d know I heard, and she nodded vigorously with a wide smile on her face.  When my mother noticed, Ally put her hand to the back of her neck and started twisting along with the nodding to make it look like she had a cramp or something.  I thought the whole charade was funny, but at the same time I was trying to follow Mrs. Glover.


She was pretty much finished anyhow, and clearly pleased with Russell’s progress.


Tommy’s stomach growled, and he blushed when he realized everyone heard it.  Mr. Glover said, “It sounds like somebody’s hungry.”


Ally laughed, “He looks hungry, too, and so am I.  Should I order in, or do you want to go somewhere?”


I said quickly, “Let’s go somewhere,” and kicked Tom’s foot.


He said, “I vote we go out.”


Ian said, “Me, too.  We’ve been here all day.”


The others shrugged like it didn’t matter, and I mentioned, “Tom was interested in Durgin Park, but we never got there.”  I saw my mother’s smile vanish, and I could see the gears cranking in Ally’s head.


She said, “That’s not a place to go if you’re hungry right now.  We don’t have a reservation, and I’m sure that at this hour the line will be very long.”  She put her finger to her cheek for a moment and added, “I know I can get us into Abe and Louie’s on no notice.  That’s where you ate the other night, Paul.”


I shrugged and said, “It’s your wallet,” and looked at the others to say, “It might be the best steak you ever had.  It’ll be a real treat for your last night here.”


“It’s strictly steak?” Mrs. Glover asked, sounding worried.


My mother smiled at her, “They have several seafood dishes, some chicken things, pork chops, and probably a lot that I’m forgetting.  It’s not just steak.”


Mr. Glover started to stand saying, “I have to wash up.  I hope I don’t need a suit and tie.”


Ally shook her head, “No, it’s very casual.  Wear anything; something dark is nice in there.  A lot of people seem to wear black, and I suspect that’s because it doesn’t show evidence of overenthusiastic eating.”


That got a chuckle from the Glovers, and the room emptied out.  Half an hour later I was waiting in the foyer.  I didn’t have anything black, but I was wearing navy blue chinos and a shirt that was an even darker blue.  Hector was the next one down.  He was dressed all in black, and if he ever looked like a bodyguard it was right then.  He was wearing a tee shirt that was stretched over him like a second skin, black slacks and shiny black shoes.  If he hadn’t been smiling I might have run away just on principle.


The others came down, Mom and Ally in black dresses, the Glovers and Tom all in the darkest things they had with them.  Ally had called, and the restaurant was getting a table ready for us.  She said she’d take the Glovers in her car and the rest of us should just walk, so that’s what we did.  We got to the restaurant at about the same time, and Ally drove off to park while we went inside.  The same host that Dana and I had on Saturday was there, and he beamed when he saw me.


“Your table is ready, but first I have something to show you.”  He picked up a stack of menus and a wine list, and we followed him, but he stopped short of the dining room.  There on the wall was a picture of him standing at a table, and Dana sitting there.  There were cartoon balloons, and the host was saying, “Enjoy your meal,” next to Dana’s, “I will if I like it.”


I laughed out loud and asked, “How did you do that?”


“I don’t know how they put the picture together.  The one of me has been here.  I know the manager liked that story better than all of us put together, and he called the magazine office to see if they could pose a picture, but that young man had already left town.  This picture showed up here on Tuesday.”  He looked around quickly and said, “Here, let me take you to your table.”


Ally came in then, grinned when she saw us, and said to the host, “Oh, Roland, you don’t have to fuss.  This is my family and friends of ours, so I’ll do the fussing.  You take care of the feeding, and they are a hungry bunch.”


The host looked at Ally fondly and said, “Yes, ma’am.  I’ll have the bar send some snacks right now, and your server will be here in a minute.”


He was true to his word, too, and before we had even looked at the menus, bowls of peanuts, trail mix, and popcorn showed up in front of us, and a busboy filled our glasses with ice water.


The snacks picked us up, and in no time we were chattering away.  It was happy talk, not loud or anything, just happy like I wished it could have been all along.  The Glover’s eyes were wide when they saw the prices, but Ally kept them talking about what they might like, and recommended the priciest things.


I elbowed Tom, who had the same look, and said, “Just get what you want.”


That served to make him smile like a predator, and I was afraid he’d order a two pound plate of cedar-planked Cheez-Whiz.


Ally knew the place well, and when the waiter came for appetizer orders she said, “Just tell the chef we’ll take an Ally special for seven.  Do you mind if we order now?”


“If you’d like, certainly.”


That’s something we wouldn’t have heard at Durgin Park.  It’s known for rude wait staff, but they’re not rude really.  They wouldn’t have said, If you’d like, certainly; it would be more like, No problem, whaddya want?  They’re not really insulting, just a bit crude, and the waitresses don’t mind if you call them wench.  They’ll just call you something in return.


We ordered our food and had a nice, unhurried meal.  I told the Glovers, Tom and Hector to be sure to try the hash browns, and then didn’t get any for myself.  I didn’t get a steak, either, but I had a nice piece of wood-grilled swordfish instead.


We were back at the house by ten, and everyone but my mother and I were in bed by ten after.  We sat in the kitchen while I told her my plans.


“I’ll probably go back to Brattleboro on Sunday, no later than Monday.  Dad thinks I’ll be okay on my own for awhile, so you don’t have to rush down.”


“You won’t be afraid on your own?”


I said, “I won’t really be alone.  The Timeks are right there, the Luellens, and now Hector will be there.  The only thing I’m afraid of is the house.  I mean, I know how to clean things, but not really when.  I can cook for myself.  I can go get groceries, but how do you know what to buy?  And the washing machine … that thing scares me if nothing else does, and I don’t know why.”


Mom turned a soft smile to me.  “You don’t remember?”




“One day, I think you were probably eight, you helped me with the laundry.  It was my fault, really.  I handed you the bottle of bleach just when the phone rang, and I told you to add the bleach.  I hadn’t told you yet about whites, lights and darks, so after you put the bottle of bleach in the machine, you put all our good clothes in after it.”


I asked incredulously, “I put in all the bleach?”


Mom smiled, “You poured the whole bottle of bleach in, Paul, and tossed the bottle cap in after it.  Our things came out in a kind of uni-color, like a grayish-brown on the white things, and everything else was mottled.  A lot of things shrank, too, because the water was hot for the white things, and when your father came home he was torn between being irate and lost in hysteria.”


I hadn’t heard that story before and had no recollection of the event.  I said, meekly I hope, “I bet the hysteria won out,” praying that it had.


Mom took my hand and squeezed it.  “Of course the funny won, and Frank had a story that he told for a year.  He couldn’t stay angry because you did exactly what I told you to do, and a little more.  It wasn’t your fault, Paul; it was my lack of specificity.”


I grinned.  “You just said specificity.  I never heard that word said before.  It’s funny.”


Mom said, “Wait until you’re a parent.  You will learn all about being clear with your instructions; I can promise you that, because every little lapse will cost you.”


I smiled, “Was I that bad?”


Mom shook her head and said, “You were never bad.  We assumed knowledge in your head that wasn’t there yet, and there was no reason for it to be.  Children learn a lot of things on their own, but washing clothes takes a little instruction.  If you have questions about laundry you can just call me.”  She smiled, “Better yet, call Dana.  I think he’s the professional now.”


I yawned, “I’ll remind him of that.  I’m going to bed.  Do you want to say goodbye now so you can sleep in tomorrow?”


Mom grinned.  “Where did you get that notion?  I most certainly will be up to see everyone off in the morning.  I have other things to do tomorrow as well, so I’ll be going to bed now, too.”  She walked over to me and kissed my forehead, “Goodnight, Paul.  I do love you.”


I kissed her cheek and whispered, “G’night.  I love you too.”


I didn’t exactly pack that night, but I found everything and laid it out on a chair before I climbed in bed.  I’m pretty good at leaving things behind when I try to do it all in the morning.


+ + + + + + + +


Everything went off on schedule the next morning, so we landed in Rutland just after eleven.  Darius was there with a Suburban to drive us to town.  We’d be staying in a Hampton Inn with no restaurant, so we stopped at a little place for lunch.  It was in an old building, and I loved it the moment we walked in.  There were brick walls, neat windows, bookcases, and the tables were made out of tree slabs.  Some walls had a wainscoting made from scraps of barn siding, and there was what looked like a real tree growing up through the middle of the place.  It was about the coziest little restaurant I’d ever eaten in.


Their food was soups, salads, sandwiches and wraps.  There was a menu, but when I asked for red onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce with olive oil and black pepper, that’s exactly what I got, and it came on a hot spelt roll.  It was Heaven-sent after all those big meals in Boston, and a glass of real iced tea was the perfect go-with.


I thought to call Mr. Glover and ask if we could bring them lunch, but they were already eating in the hospital cafeteria.  He told me that Russ was in a meeting with his new doctors, and we could stop in any time after two.


We finished our lunch and Darius found the hotel, which was really pretty nice.  Our rooms were all clustered together near the end of a hall on the second floor.  Tom and I were sharing a room with two queen beds, and it adjoined a room with a king bed for Hector.  Across the hall, Mr. and Mrs. Glover would have the king room and Ian the adjoining room.  Darius had the car, and he got a king room just down the hall that didn’t adjoin anything.


One thing we hadn’t expected was a pool, and we all had new bathing suits so we headed there before even unpacking.  I wouldn’t unpack anyhow for just a night.


The pool was on the small side, but on a Friday afternoon we had it to ourselves and splashed around for a cheerful hour.  Darius wasn’t prepared for a pool, and even though there was a mall right next door where he could get a bathing suit, he decided to stretch out and watch rather than joining us.  That didn’t matter to us.  I swam a few laps, but ended up trying to get as much chlorine into Tom’s eyes as he’d got me with in Boston.


We sat for a while to drip dry before toweling off, and went upstairs to get changed.


When we got to the hospital Hector had to ask where Russ was, and we found our way to his room.  A lady at the nursing station questioned us, but a guy came along and told her it was okay, and he led us to the right room.  I thought we were getting special treatment and I didn’t always like that.  I’d sensed it in Boston, but that hospital was so big that any feeling of special got lost in the size and overall busyness of the place.


In little Rutland, with a sign that clearly stated that only two visitors at a time were allowed into the room, we all went in, and Mr. and Mrs. Glover were already there. 


Russ was sitting on his bed in street clothes, and he smiled when we came in.  His voice was hoarse and a bit garbled when he said, “Hey.”  He spit something into his hand and said more clearly, “Sorry.  I was sucking on an ice cube.”  He eyed Hector and asked, “Who are you?  I saw you in Boston, didn’t I?”


I explained Hector to Russ, and they bumped their left fists gently.  Hector said, “You’re looking better.  How do you feel?”


Russ said, “Better, I guess; happier anyhow.  I can eat, I can talk, and I can walk around.  I’m wearing clothes too, so there’s hope that the entire world won’t be able to describe my butt in detail.  Now they took that monster cast off, and I can use my right hand a little bit.  I can go to the bathroom in private.  I can see my friends, sleep in my own bed; it’s getting better.”


“What about pain?” Hector asked.


Russ smiled grimly, “I guess pain is supposed to be my friend now.  Things honestly don’t hurt all the time, and when it does start it’s a warning that I’m doing something wrong, or too much, or some other thing.  That’s what Dr. Kamal said, anyhow.  The best part is I’m not all drugged up anymore.  It’s like a bad dream when you don’t know if you’re awake or asleep half the time.”


I asked, “That’s Dr. Kamalahassan?”


Russ smiled, “You said that wrong.  Everybody does, so he just goes by Kamal … not even Dr. Kamal, just Kamal.  He doesn’t think the American public is quite ready for proper Indian names.”  He looked at his parents and asked, “Can I go for a walk now?  The doc said it’s okay.”


His father said, “Go ahead, Russy.  You probably want to be with your friends, so we’ll be in the TV room down the hall.  Let us know when you’re back.”


Russ got to his feet very carefully, balancing against the attached table with his left hand, and stood up straight, wiggled his hips a bit, did a high-step in place with each leg, and said, “Let’s go.”


We let him lead the way. Darius and Hector stayed with the Glovers and Ian came with us, walking close beside Russ when we got out of the room.  Russ stopped at the nursing station and asked, “Is there somewhere outside where it’s safe to walk?”


She said, “Oh, yes.  There is,” and pulled open a drawer.  She put a small diagram of the medical center in front of Russ, and marked it with a red X.  “You’re here on the second floor.  Take the elevator down …” She marked the route to a little walking path that meandered across some lawns, passed through some woods, and led to a field that hadn’t been developed.


We found it easily enough, although it was quite a walk just to get there, and we rested on the first bench we came to.  After what seemed like a decent interval, I broached my question to Russ about the attack on him, kind of going at it through the back door.


I said, “You know, Dana seemed a lot happier after he saw you last week.  I know you couldn’t really talk, but what was it all about?”


He turned to me, “You didn’t ask Dana?”


He caught me scratching my ear, and I said, “I didn’t.  He was only here for a couple of days and I could see it was raw right then.  I left it alone, and if it’s private between you and him I’ll leave it alone for good.  It’s just my curiosity.”


Russ started, “He couldn’t believe it was Mr. Schiffer.”  His voice lowered, “I couldn’t believe it either.  I’m walking to work and I hear footsteps behind me, coming fast.  He went right past me, but I recognized Mr. Schiffer.  He had his shotgun and I figured he’d been out looking for birds.  I don’t know; it was always good to see him, and when I called his name he stopped.  I go up to him all smiling, and he smiles back and asks what I’m doing up so early, and when I got close enough he slammed the side of my face with the gun butt hard enough to take my head off.  I’m on the ground looking up and he’s pointing the gun at me, and he’s like crying.”


“Crying?” I asked.


“Yeah, he going, Why’s it gotta be you Russ?  Why you? The gun wasn’t loaded, so he’s got a foot on my ankle to keep me down, and he’s feeling in his pocket for shells.  I’m thinking he’s gonna kill me, so I made myself calm down, then I slammed my free heel into his balls as hard as I could.  The gun went flying, and he came down right on top of me.  If that didn’t happen I could have run, but that guy weighs a ton.”


“Holy shit!” Tommy said.


“Yeah,” Russ said.  “When he got his breath he got up on his hands over me, and honest to God, he had the face of the Devil.  His face was red, his eyes were red, and the look of hate in him made me know I was dead.  Then he kneed me in the crotch … hard … and again and again, and that’s all I remember.”


Tom asked, “You got all that damage when you fell and he came down on top of you?”


Russ said, “No.  I didn’t go down that hard.  The doctors took pictures but I never saw them.  They think he kicked me, like in a rage or something, but this elbow didn’t come from a kick.  He must have stomped on it or smashed it on the slate walk.”


Russ opened the two top buttons of his shirt and pulled it down to show his collarbone where it had been broken.  After nearly a month, there was still a dark spot there.  Russ brushed it gently with his good hand and said, “He hit the bone here.  I think he was aiming for my throat, and that would have killed me for sure.”


He left his shirt open and said, “That’s all I know about it.  You asked about Dana, anyhow.  When he came to see me I still couldn’t talk, and he took my hand and said for me to answer him like I did that lawyer, because he had questions.  First he wanted to know if it was really Mr. Schiffer, then if I was positive.  I was just squeezing his hand to answer, but I was positive.”


Russ kind of choked out the next.  “He reminded me of how Mr. Schiffer always told us to be positive, to be honest right down to our toes, about how we were as good as anyone,” Russ had tears on his face by then, “and I don’t think it was a lie.”  He looked up, “I don’t know what went wrong with Mr. Schiffer to make him do the things he did, but he was always good to us.”  His voice trailed off, “Always.”


I patted his leg and asked, “Tired?”


Russ looked at the ground and shook his head.  “No, not tired.  I’m just sad and all kinds of disillusioned about this.  Mom says I can get counseling, but what about everyone else?  Even the kids who hate school love Mr. Schiffer.  What about them?”


I said, “The schools will most likely do something.  If they don’t I’ll ask my Dad to hire Tommy to do it.”


Tom laughed, “Me?  I don’t kiss boo-boos!”


I said, “My mother, then.”  I snickered, “Or, how about Hector?  He’ll say ‘Get over it’ and go poof and disappear.”


Russ grinned and said, “You’re both nuts.  Funny yes, but really demented.”


Tommy said, “When your body is well enough I’m going to want a hug.  That’s the nicest thing anyone ever said to me.”


Russ looked at him.  “I just said you’re nuts.”


Tom grinned, “Oh, I thought you said I was funny.  Okay then, when you’re better I’ll buy you a Playboy and cut out all the good pictures first.”


I said, “Give it up, Russ.  You’re in losing territory now.”


Russ stood up abruptly, and it made him dizzy or something.  He stumbled, and Ian was there in a flash to hold him up.


I asked if he was okay, and Russ assured us that he was fine, and that he’d always favored imbeciles like us as friends because it made him look good.  Then he said, “Let’s find that fountain.  I’m thirsty and my legs are getting tired.”


We found the fountain right down the path and we all took drinks.  I asked Russ, “Want me to get you a ride?”


He shook his head and said, “I’m alright.  Let me set the pace to something that’s comfortable.  I haven’t worked my legs much in the last month.”


“Slacker,” Tom mumbled, and I shot him a warning glance, but Russ snickered at the comment.


Russ actually walked faster than we had been going.  The first door we came to was locked, and a sign told us to use the main entrance.  That was another good distance away, and when we got inside we just plopped down in the lobby.  I saw the sign to the cafeteria, and after we’d caught our breath I asked, “Anybody want anything from the cafeteria?”


Russ asked for an iced tea or a lemonade; Tom wanted a Coke or Sprite, and Ian asked if he could come with me, so the two of us started down the hall.  I walked quickly until I realized that Ian had to keep trotting to keep up, so I slowed down and put my hand over his shoulder.  I said, “Russ looks good, doesn’t he?”


Ian started to talk, and my phone went off.  It was Dad so I had to take the call.


“Hi, Dad.”


“Hi, Paul.  Where are you?”


“We’re at the hospital in Rutland.  I’m heading to the cafeteria to get us some drinks.  We just went for a walk outside with Russ.”


Dad’s voice softened, “How is Russ?”


“Better.  He’s in regular clothes now.  He can get around; he just has to be careful.”


“How does he seem?  Is he in pain?  Is his mood okay?”


I said, “He actually seems pretty happy, Dad.  He told us about when he ran into Mr. Schiffer.  That was scary even to listen to, but he just told it.  It sounds like he got knocked out before the worst things happened.  He’s in a pretty good mood right now.  He’s happy to taste food, to brush his teeth, to talk.  We’re having fun now.  I know he still has to go through a lot, and I’m not going to be the guy to remind him.”


“That sounds optimistic then.  Thanks.  We’re just closing up here, and we’ll drive directly to the hospital.  We should be there in a half-hour, forty minutes.  Will you still be there?”


I said, “Yeah, I’m not going anywhere, except to the cafeteria and I’m here now.  Call when you get here, because we might not be in his room.”


“I’ll do that.  Oh, I didn’t mention it, but Katie’s coming with us.  You can decide if you should keep it a surprise or give Russ fair warning.”


I snickered, “I think a surprise.  Ian knows about Katie, so Russ hasn’t been keeping secrets.”


I hung up after saying goodbye and Ian tugged my arm.  “What about Katie?”


“She’s coming to visit Russ,” I whispered.  “She’s on the way right now.”


Ian looked worried, but I ignored that.  There was a drink machine that only had big bottles, so I paid for four cups at the checkout and went to the dispensers for our drinks. 


Russ drank his so quickly I thought I’d have to get another, but then he took the lid off and started sucking on ice cubes.  I didn’t ask about that, but I imagine ice tasted and felt good after a month of nothing, or it might have provided some inside numbness to his damaged jaw.


We were comfortable there, and I found a deck of cards on a bookshelf.  After some discussion, in which we ruled out strip poker, we found the only game everyone knew how to play was setback.  Tom got a piece of paper and a pencil from the desk to keep score.  Russ and Ian didn’t trust me and Tom to be partners, so Ian and I played against Russ and Tom.


Ian surprised me by being very good, and we were leading with a score of twenty to seventeen when my father walked up with Elenora.  Elenora went right to Russ and knelt beside him.  “Oh my God!  You look so good.”


I tuned them out when I saw Dana there, and waved him over to sit with me, and when he moved he exposed Katie, which gave her a good look at Russ.


Her mouth opened and she covered her gasp with her hand, and turned around, leaning like she might get sick.  I got up and hurried over to her and pulled her into a light hug.  “He’s okay,” I whispered.  She hiccupped and I could feel her pulse with just my fingertips touching her back.  She was breathing like she was sobbing, but she wasn’t.  There was a chair right there and I pretty much pushed her into it.  Katie had a clear view to Russ from there, and I stood behind her with my hands on her shoulders while I whispered, “He’s okay, Katie.  He’s beat up, but he’s all there.  It’s still Russ you’re looking at.  Talk to him, you’ll see.  Don’t be afraid.  Not now.”


I started to move away, but Katie grabbed my hand and cried, “Help me.”


I asked, “Do you want to be alone?  It’s kind of public here.”


She nodded, and I asked Tom to come over.  “Take Russ up to his room, will you?  I’ll be right behind you with Katie.”  I looked over at Russ, and his very confused looking face was staring right at Katie.


I turned to her and said, “Relax for a minute.  Tom’s going to go with Russ up to his room, and I’ll bring you up after.  You can talk there, and you’ll see.  Russ hasn’t changed, so don’t you change.  He’s okay, I promise.”


She nodded and closed her eyes while her breathing steadied.  When her eyes opened she said sheepishly, “I need the little girls’ room first. Do you know where it is?”


I did, because I’d passed it on the way to and from the cafeteria, so I led her there and went back to the lobby. 


Dana hurried over to me the moment he saw my face.  “What’s the matter?  Is Katie alright?”


I shrugged, “I think she’s fine; she was frightened by the way Russ looks.  I’m going to bring her up to talk with him in private.  It’s something we can’t help much with, so lets just sit with everyone down here.”


Dana nodded, and a minute later I saw Katie standing by the elevator looking kind of awkward.  She was wearing Reeboks, jeans and a dazzlingly white tee shirt, and even in her discomfort she looked cute as all get out.  I hurried over and pressed the up button, and I left her at the open door to the room, where Russ was standing opposite looking out.


Tom was already outside, and we took the stairs back down since they were right there, and joined the others in the lobby.


Dad said, “Darius just called from the hotel and they’ll be here straight away.”  He was in a comfy looking sofa and sat back, hands behind his head.  “We can wait right here.”


I smiled.  Elenora was sitting close up to Dad, and Ian had climbed on Tom’s lap the moment he sat down.


That left me beside Dana, and I asked, “So, did the Danamat rake in a lot of money today?”


He said, “Things are back to normal.  We did pretty good, because for a couple of weeks people let everything go.  Now they’re catching up.”


I nodded.  “Do you hear from Rhod at all?”


Dana gave me a strange look and said, “He’s been here every weekend since the news got out.”


I socked his arm.  “If you told me things like that, I wouldn’t ask dumb questions.  I’m supposed to guess?”


He socked me back and said, “I thought I told you, but it was crazy.  His parents … my grandparents … came up once, too.”  Dana closed his eyes for a moment before he looked at me.  “It’s still crazy.  This evil freaking thing was actually good for the town in a way.  You had to go back to the ski areas to get a room, and even the breakfast places were staying open for lunch and dinner.  It was mostly news people at first, and there were a lot, a lot, a lot of them.  There’s still a lot of people and they’re … I don’t know what the hell they are.  Heinrich calls them murder tourists and he says they might come for hundreds of years.  There are scenes of crimes all over Europe that are tourist attractions today, and he said every city that built a palace for the Inquisitors way back, turned it into a torture museum.”


I said sarcastically, “Just what a town wants to be remembered for.”


Dana shrugged.  “It happened.  It’s awful and makes you want to puke, but nobody can make it unhappen.”  He shrugged again and turned to me.  “If it makes life better for the people left behind, it means those lives weren’t totally wasted, doesn’t it?  No, I guess that’s a cheap shot; that’s not it.  It’s more like something good coming from something ugly and evil.  Something.”


I didn’t say anything.  I didn’t want to argue with Dana even though I didn’t agree with him.  If the people in Stockton got a quick infusion of money because of Schiffer’s crimes, that was fine, and would happen anywhere.  If they decided to capitalize on the murders and trade those poor people’s memories for money I would protest it.  I mean, maybe a few hundred years hence, if that particular series of crimes was still in memory, then fine; open something like the Salem Witch Museum.  Not now, though, with the dead barely cold in their graves and their murderer months or years from trial.


My thoughts were lost when Hector came in with Darius and Mr. and Mrs. Glover.  I rushed over to Tom and whispered in Ian’s ear, “Go tell Russ and Katie to come down right now.  Got it?”


Ian grinned, “Got it!” and scurried over to the elevator.  The Glovers were busy greeting and hugging Dad and Elenora, and I went to them to keep it going.  I hugged Dad, and he whispered in my ear, “Nice job with Katie.  Ian went to get them down here?”


I laughed, “Yup!” beginning to believe that my father did think like me.


Then it was Elenora, who gave me a real hug and said how proud everyone was of me.  Honestly, anyone else and I would have thought, ‘yeah, yeah,’ but that was the first really personal thing Elenora had ever said to me, so I had to accept it at face value.


I smiled when Russ and Katie appeared from the hallway and not the elevator.  That way nobody knew they’d been upstairs.  They were holding hands as they approached us, and the lights were definitely on in their eyes.  Ian came and tapped my arm.  I looked at him and he asked, “Did I do good?”


I bent and whispered in his ear, “You did great,” and gave his shoulder a squeeze.


Dad took us all to a place in town, and he’d chosen it because they had shepherd’s pie on the menu: something Russ wouldn’t have to chew much.  I ordered the shepherd’s pie too, partly in sympathy with Russ, but mostly because I really like it. Ian and Katie got the same thing.  Tom got liver and onions, which I don’t even want to discuss, and Dana, to everyone’s surprise, ordered stuffed sole.


The restaurant was bright and it was pretty noisy, but everyone seemed to enjoy their food.  The servings weren’t huge, but there was plenty, and I saw that Russ had literally polished his plate and was sitting low in his chair looking happily stuffed, while Katie fondly stroked his good arm.


I glanced at Dad to find him looking at me, and I sensed he was willing me to realize I might have missed that for the sake of a train ride.  I did realize it, and nodded slightly to Dad.  If I lived forever, nobody would ever be able to describe this day in any way adequate to replace my having lived it.  I think everyone there sensed it, too.  I also felt that we’d never talk about it, because it was important to each of us for our own private reasons.


Dad, Elenora, Dana and Katie were staying in Stockton that night.  When our dinner broke up, The Glovers spent a few minutes together, and then Darius took the parents and Ian to the hotel.  The rest of us went back to the hospital, where we left Russ and Katie alone in the lobby and went outside for a walk.  It was nice that there were no bugs.  There was moonlight from a hazy moon, but we stuck to the lighted areas.  Dad and Elenora led, followed by Hector.  Dana, Tom and I held back so we could talk in private, meaning we told jokes, mostly dirty jokes.


Hilarity doesn’t go unnoticed no matter how well you think you’re keeping it down, and soon enough Dad said, “We should really get going.  It’s late already, and we have to work in the morning.  We don’t have to rush, but let’s turn around and go back for Katie, and see to it that Russ gets to his room.”


Direct orders like that were rare to non-existent from Dad, but he didn’t sound upset about anything, so we just turned around and went back.  I think we got to the lobby just in time because Russ looked really tired, and Tom, Dana and I helped him upstairs.  We waited while he went to the bathroom and got changed, and only left when he was in bed and thanked us.


I stopped at the nurse’s station and said Russ was in his room.  She looked at some papers and said, “Oh, he’s just visiting.  I’ll ask an orderly to bring him some fresh ice.  Thank you for letting us know he’s back from dinner.”


I said, “You’ll look after him, won’t you?”


She smiled and said, “Mr. Glover is here to rest.  He’s been in a hospital for weeks now, and I’m sure he’ll be happier in the morning if we don’t look after him.  Don’t worry; he knows how to get us if he needs something.”


We went down in the elevator, and our good-byes were quick.  I got a quick hug from Dad, another from Dana, a longer one with a kiss from Elenora, and a real squeeze from Katie, who whispered, “Thank you so much, Paul … for everything.”


I smiled and kissed her cheek.  “Get along home girl, before I have another father after me with a shotgun.”


Katie giggled and said, “You’re awful!”


I said, “I keep hearing that, and I’m trying to change.  Don’t worry, we’ll have Russ home in the morning.”


Elenora rushed Katie out, and Darius turned to us saying, “Let’s go get some sleep guys.”


That sounded good to me, and on the way to the hotel Darius said, as big as that Suburban was, he would just be taking the Glovers with him to make sure Russ was comfortable.  The security company had dropped off a Jeep so Hector could take me and Tom back to Stockton, and Hector could bring it back to Brattleboro when we were ready to leave.


I heard all that, and it registered, but I wanted more than anything to get into bed and sleep.  I did want to ask if Hector would get us back to Brattleboro or if we’d end up in Montreal, but that would have taken time and energy.


+ + + + + + + +


In the morning we all ate the hotel breakfast, which was included in the price.  It was pretty good.  They had the usual coffee, juice, pastries, rolls and cereal, but also hot waffles, scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, and fresh strawberries right at the peak of strawberry season in VermontVermont strawberries aren’t very big, but they’re juicy and sweet, and these were ripe clear through.


We all had red fingers when we went to the cars, and didn’t spend a lot of time talking because we all knew the next steps.  Hector would take me and Tom to Stockton, and Darius would take the Glovers to the hospital to get Russ.  They had no idea how long that would take because they might have to talk to the doctors there, so at the last minute Ian came with us.  He was so thrilled to be going in an open Jeep that we let him sit up front, while I sat in the back with Tom enjoying the breeze.  It was a good thing that our bags were all small ones.


When we neared Stockton I leaned forward and told Hector when our turn was coming up, and we headed up the mountain.  I told him to slow down so he wouldn’t miss the driveway, and when we pulled up to the house he stopped the car and stared.  ¿Esta es su casa?”


I said, “Not really.  It’s my father’s house.”  Hector had pulled close enough so it seemed like there was nothing but house in his field of view.  “Let’s go in.  I need the toilet.”


Tommy had been to the house several times, but it was new to Hector and to Ian as well.  Ian stood there with his mouth open.  He said, “Wow,” stretching the word to several seconds.  “You must be rich!”


I had to go, and didn’t have time to discuss finances with Ian, so I stood on the back seat, balanced using the roll bar, and hopped out.  I ran to the door praying it would be unlocked, and for once it was.  I hurried down the hall to the bathroom and spent the next five minutes admiring our very realistic looking fake palm tree.  I laughed out loud remembering Mrs. Proper Elimination from Florida.  I wished she was there, because I was sure I’d earn a merit badge for that one.


Since my hands were otherwise unoccupied, I called Dana to tell him we were back in town.  I asked if we should come to the Danamat and he said, “Maybe later.  It’s really busy here today.  I’ll tell Dad you’re here, and I’ll call when it slows down, okay?”


That suited me, and I finished my business.  When I came out of the bathroom, I had to go looking for the guys.  I didn’t see them outside, so I called, “Tom?” and again louder.


The house went in a lot of directions, so I tried the most likely places first, like the kitchen, the deck off the kitchen, the TV room and the main rooms.  I finally smacked my head and pulled my phone out and called Ian.  He didn’t answer and I sat down to wait.  Sure enough, in about a minute he called.  “I’m sorry, I missed it again.”


I snickered, “Don’t worry.  You’ll be a teenager in a couple of years and that phone will be like part of your hand.  Mind telling me where you are?”


Ian whispered, “I’m in the bathroom.  After Hector ran away, Tommy pushed me in here.  Where are you?”


“Hector ran away?”


“Uh-huh.  He said he couldn’t wait another ten seconds.”


I asked, “Did you eat any strawberries?”


Ian said enthusiastically, “Yeah.  They were good, huh?”


They sure did their job.  “They were delicious, Ian.  Tell you what.  When you’re done, wait at the top of the stairs for Tom and Hec before you come down.  I’ll be the guy sleeping in the TV room.  Tom knows where it is.”


I went into the TV room and stretched out on a sofa.  I don’t know why I was suddenly tired, and the only thing I could ascribe it to was my superhuman effort on the … well, I won’t go there.


I did hear the guys when they came in, but I was truly tired and didn’t react.  Nobody spoke to me specifically; they were just looking for their own spots, and everything was silent soon enough, at least until the TV was turned on, but the volume was turned down immediately.  From their whispers, I could tell that Hector and Ian were channel surfing, and they stopped on a baseball game.  The low volume was all it took to send me to dreamland, and I only woke up when my phone vibrated, then started ringing.


It was Dana, letting me know that things had quieted down at work and we could come over if we still wanted to.  I did, and said so, and when I was off the phone I stood up and asked if anyone else was interested.


Hector said, “It’s the ninth inning.”


I asked, “Who’s playing?”


Tampa and Philadelphia,” Hector said, sounding annoyed. 


Tom and I grinned at each other and I mouthed, “So what?” and went up to my room to wash up.  I’m glad I did, because half an hour in the back seat of an open Jeep had me pretty crusty looking and I hadn’t shaved that morning.  I took the easy way out and took a quick shower, shaved while I wondered if spiking gel might possibly get my hair to lie down, and got into clean clothes.  Then I took them off and got into summer clothes: shorts, a tee and my Tevas, sans socks.   With a good chunk of my vacation already spent in Boston, I’d forgotten how to dress, but that wouldn’t happen again.


When Tom saw me, he said, “You bastard!  Got another pair of shorts?”


I did, and we found a tee that fit him, and raided my father’s closet for sandals.  We only found flip-flops, but they fit and Tom was happy.


When Hector saw us he smirked and said, “Where’s the beach?”


I asked, “What?  They didn’t have summers when you were a kid?  We don’t need a beach.  Vermont gets hot, too.”


Hector said, “I bet.  When does that happen?”


I looked at Tom and he scratched his head.  “I think it’s scheduled for July twelfth this year, but we’ll get a thunderstorm late in the day to cool things off.”


Hector laughed, “Am I going to have to keep you two separated?  There’s still time for me to join my brother’s florist business.”


He laughed all the way to the Jeep, where Ian was having fun riding the Rubicon in the driver’s seat.  He looked disappointed when Hector told him to move over, but grinned when the engine started.  He turned around and said, “Someday I’ll get a Jeep,” and I had no doubt that he would.


We dropped Ian off at the end of his street, watched until he turned into his yard and waved to us.


The Danamat was still pretty busy, and we had to leave the Jeep up the street.  We parked right behind Rhod’s Volvo, and I said to Hector, “Guess whose car that is in front of us?”


He said immediately, “I give up.  Whose car is it?”


I said, “Call your mother.  That is Rhoderick Daniels’ car.”


Hector pointed and said, “That thing?  You’re kidding.”


I said, “You’ll see,” as we walked to the Danamat, which looked much more lived-in than the last time.  The trees out front had the terrace shaded, and the flowers in the planters were in full bloom.  The brick sidewalk and steps had been walked on enough to look like they belonged, and the windows were their usual sparkling clean.  The little tables on the terrace were all occupied.  I didn’t really have anything to do with the design of the place, but I still had a sense of pride in my father for putting so much into so little, and creating a new focal point for the center of the village.


We went inside, and I immediately wondered just how busy it had been in the morning for Dana to say things had slowed down.  It looked like every machine was running, and all the folding stations were occupied.  Four guys were playing eight ball, there were people lined up for coffee or ice cream, and every table was full.  A bunch of little ones were having fun in the play area, and Katie was showing her wares to a sizeable group of people.


I felt a tug on my elbow and turned to see Dana.  He grinned and said, “I lied.  I wanted you to see this.  I think the whole town is here, or has been.  The news got around that Russ is okay and the Glovers are coming back and … I guess it’s the first really good news in a month.  He pointed out the window, “And look out there!  Those people are from all over the place.  They came from curiosity, but there’s nothing they can really see, so they look around, they eat, they buy things.”

I said, “Wow,” and Dana said hi to everyone else.  Then he said, “The post office had to get more stamps.  Everybody sends letters or post cards, and they all want them postmarked ‘
Stockton, Vermont’.  Rhod’s here, and the Senator.  Want to say hi?”


I grinned.  I’d seen Dana excited before, but never to the point where he was running off at the mouth like he was then.  I said, “Sure.  Where’s Dad?”


“He went with Heinrich to talk to Mr. Glover.  Mom’s here somewhere.  Rhod’s in the office, and the Senator and Mrs. Senator are upstairs.”


I put my mouth to Dana’s ear and whispered, “Think Rhod will do something special for Hector’s mom?  He’s her favorite actor.”


Dana hesitated before he said, “Let’s go ask.”  He approached Hector and said something that seemed to surprised him, and led Hec to the office.


I went over to see how Katie was doing.  She was busy with customers and didn’t notice me, so I just listened.  She was good.  “Now, this cheese is what they call stirred curd.  Around here it’s called Plymouth cheese, and it used to be made by President Calvin Coolidge not twenty miles from where we’re standing.  It’s not an all-purpose cheese and not really a snacking cheese, but it grates well and is beautiful on salads.”  She shoved a plastic tray with about thirty little paper cups like you’d get ketchup in at Burger King into the microwave, set it for thirty-nine seconds, and turned back to the people.  “I can’t describe in words how wonderful this cheese is when melted, so I’ll let you taste it for yourselves.  It’s great on crackers, and if you want the most wonderful cheeseburger you ever dreamed of, a generous slab of Plymouth is what you want on it.”


I was grinning, partly because her spiel was good, and also because Katie wasn’t the kind of person who I envisioned selling cheese to people.  When the microwave beeped, she put the cheese tray on the counter beside a tray of little crackers and let the customers try it.


I tried it, and it was beyond wonderful.  It had a strong cheddar flavor, but also had the flavor of butter mixed in.  I was in love, and said, “I’ll take some!”


Katie turned to me and seemed surprised.  “Paul!  I didn’t know you were here.”


I said, “I snuck in to spy on you.  You’re good.”


The proof of that was in the line of people waiting to buy some of that cheese.  I decided to help Katie and went behind the counter beside her.  “How much is this?”


She said, “Five for a small wedge, eight for the big one, and sixty for the wheel.  If they want a lot, we can deal because they make bigger wheels.”


I grinned, wondering if this girl was the same one who was all upset seeing Russ the night before.  We can deal?


My first sale was five small wedges, the next for fifteen.  After a few more sales I couldn’t stop smiling, and my father’s thinking made more sense.  He sank a bag of money into this place for sure, but in the long term he’d take two bags out. 


We were pretty well through the line of people when I saw Heinrich come in alone.  I finished up with the customer I was with and excused myself before I lost sight of him.  When I was close enough for him to hear me, I called, “Heinrich!” and he turned around, smiling when he spotted me.  I reached him and we shook hands.


“How was Boston?” he asked.  “I was just hearing about what a good boy scout you’ve become.  I hope the damage isn’t permanent.”


I laughed, “Yeah, me too.  Where’s Dad?”


“He’s still with the Glovers.  I didn’t want to stay and listen to a discussion about money.”


“They’re talking about money?” I asked in surprise.  “What’s that about?”


“Nobody told you?”


I shook my head.  Heinrich said, “Let’s take a walk.  I don’t want this to become gossip.”


We walked out the back and through the parking lot to the little street that went uphill behind the shop.  “We went to see the Glovers to welcome them back and to have a look at Russ.  We wanted to be sure they have everything they need.  Karen and I went and did a little shopping for them yesterday, but really just got some basics that will see them through today.  After the pleasantries, we sat out in the yard with just Mr. Glover to offer him a job here as maintenance manager.”


I looked at Heinrich and asked, “Isn’t that kind of what you do?”


Heinrich said, “I don’t have the title, but it’s exactly what I do.  Paul, when your father was injured I agreed to stay and run the project to completion, and I think you’ll have to agree that it’s complete.  It was never my intention, or your father’s, for me to stay on and work here.  It’s not in my nature to want a job like this.  I like the freedom that being my own boss gives me, and I love the variety of problems that people call me about.  I won’t get rich, but I always have a backlog so we get by just fine.”


I said, “I think that’s pretty cool.  Um … did Mr. Glover take the job?”


“Once he was convinced that he wasn’t taking the job away from me, yes.  He jumped at the chance.”


I winced, “Come on, Heinrich.  He jumped?”


Heinrich’s jaw dropped and he looked embarrassed.  “Oh, boy, what a bad choice of words.  Let’s say he eagerly accepted, and they’re talking about pay and benefits now.”


“He can do the job?”


“Paul, the man was a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy.  That’s the only recommendation he needs.  A Chief is a maintenance manager, and for a lot bigger and more complex operation than your Laundromat.  Just feel lucky that he’s willing.”


“I understand,” I said.  “Will you be staying long enough to teach him about that equipment in the basement?”


Heinrich smiled, took my shoulder and pointed me back downhill.  “Oh, yes.  I’ll work with him the first few weeks.  I live just a few miles away, and if there’s a problem after that I’ll help.  I’ll just be working for myself when I do.”


I liked that logic, and when we were close to the building I saw my father walking down the street toward us.  Heinrich went in through the back and I went out to the road, and crossed my arms as Dad approached.  When he was close enough I said, “Where have you been, young man, and what have you been doing?”


Dad grinned and said, “Cut the crap.  I just hired Arnie Glover to take over for Heinrich.  I saw you back there with him; is that what you were talking about?”


“Yeah.  If he didn’t tell me, I’d have to guess, right?”


“Stop it, Paul.  When was I supposed to tell you?  Last night at dinner with everyone there?”


“Bernie told me you were going to make an offer a couple of weeks ago.  He wouldn’t say what it was about.”


Dad grinned, “Bernie projects things based on available knowledge.  He came from Boston and told me and Heinrich that Mr. Glover was an impressive man, and a former CPO.  Heinrich said, that’s your guy, and Bernie projected correctly once again.”  He smiled, “Honestly, there was no serious talk of an offer until yesterday, when I was certain Heinrich intended to go back to his own business.”


“So what did you offer?”


Dad straightened his collar and said, “We negotiated, Paul.  We came to terms, and the first term is that Arnie will go to Boston again, where Dan Spalding will set him up with a visit to one of his magic machines, and a specialist in corrective surgery.  After that, we’ll see how things work out, and it may not work out at all.  If there’s any chance for improvement, Dan will finance it.  If there isn’t, well, Arnie will know his fate, at least until another advance is discovered.”  He chuckled, “Isn’t it great how tech works?  If there’s something else to do, then someone, somewhere, is already working on it, or at least thinking about it.”


“Or looking for something … trying to think of something to think about?”


Dad laughed out loud, “Exactly.  Don’t be cynical, Paul.  The old adage is that necessity is the mother of invention.  You met Dan Spalding.  Tell me what you thought of him.”


I shrugged, “I don’t know.  He was friendly, concerned about Mr. Glover.  He bought our lunch.  He’s a nice guy.”


“Nice guy,” Dad said.  “Not a genius?”


“Is he?” I asked.


Dad softened his voice.  “Dan’s mother was hurt when he was very young.  She fell off a seawall onto the rocks and broke a lot of bones, and did some damage to her spine.  She never walked again and, well, she never could do a lot of things again.  His father had a hard time with it, and distanced himself emotionally from his wife and Dan.  They had some money, and the father provided for them, but pretty much abandoned any real sense of fatherhood when Dan was ten or eleven, and his mother died when he was sixteen.”


“Why are you telling me this,” I asked.


“Wait, you’ll get it.  From the time his mother got hurt, Dan was envisioning all kinds of miracle cures for her.  When other kids were drawing cars and transformers in history class, he was drawing miracle machines that he could put his mother in one end, and she’d come out like new on the other end.”


“Wow,” was the best I could come up with.


“I’m trying to keep this short.  Dan’s father died young, too, and Dan was a modestly wealthy high school student with a court-appointed live-in guardian.  They got along, and the guardian suggested that he consider the military to learn a little about living in a structured world.  Dan took that advice and managed an appointment to Annapolis.  He studied physics, and in the process learned a lot about computers, and they interested him more than the physics.


“He never stopped thinking about his machine, and when he put what he knew about physics, what he’d learned about computers, what he’d encountered with medical machinery, he went and built his magic box.  Now a doctor can see a 3-D image of a mangled bone or joint, rotate it, and even project a hologram that he can walk around to study.”  Dad asked, “Do you know why I’m telling you this?”


I smiled, “I think I can guess.  Mr. Spalding wanted to fix something, didn’t he?  It wasn’t about money.”’


Dad’s eyebrows lifted with his smile.  “You’re exactly right, Paul.  Dan was far too late to save his own mother, but he can offer hope to other families – like the Glovers.  Like me, he’s earned a lot of money from his various inventions, and I think he’s also a bit embarrassed by it.”  Right then, Dad gave me a look that I didn’t often see, and he stood closer, hands on my shoulders.  “I hope he’s lucky enough that his son or daughter come up with creative ways to get rid of it.”  He snickered, “I’m talking like you now, aren’t I?  I’ve been letting it pile up, but it really is time to start using it.”


I said, “Well it might be just enough if we figure out a way to live for the next three thousand years.”


Dad looked at the sky and said, “There’s that, I guess,” and pressed his forehead against mine, laughing.  “Where the hell did you come from?  If we’d been best friends in high school, we’d probably both be sweeping floors somewhere.”


I said, “I wouldn’t mind,” and Dad laughed merrily before he kissed my head.


“I wouldn’t mind either.  These last few years, Paul, mostly just you and me … I’d sweep floors to keep them going.”


I said, “Let’s go inside.  I haven’t seen Elenora yet, and Rhod’s here, and Elenora’s parents.  Are they staying here or at our house?”


“Rhod’s staying with us.  The Morasuttis are staying in a Bed and Breakfast, and they’ve invited us to dinner tonight.  I know Dana is coming, and you’re welcome to join us.”  He smiled, “If you’re sick of restaurant meals, there are some nice steaks and pork chops in the meat keeper, and plenty of salad fixings.”


I said, “I’ll ask Tom and Hector, but you’re right; I’m kind of tired of sitting in restaurants.  Let me ask now, because if we don’t go I want to go up and visit with the Morasuttis while they’re here.”


We went inside, where I found Tom talking to Katie at one of the inside tables.  Katie looked a little tired and had a coffee in front of her.  They were just bantering, so I didn’t mind breaking in.  “Break time?” I asked Katie.


She smiled, “About time is more like it.  I’ve been on my feet since lunch.  Is Russ home now?”


I nodded and turned to Tom.  “Dana’s grandparents are taking them all out to eat tonight.  Do you want to go or stay at the house?  Dad says there’s plenty of food there.”


“What do you want to do?”


“Honestly?  I think I could do without restaurants for a long time right now.”  I looked at Katie, “We’ve had at least one restaurant meal a day since we left, and sometimes two or three.  I just want to slob out and eat at a picnic table, breathe some air that doesn’t smell like diesel.”


Tom said, “Sounds good to me.”


Katie giggled, “I’m not sick of restaurants.  I hardly ever get to eat out.”


“Go with Dana tonight,” I said, “Or come over and I’ll be your chef, Tommy will wait on you, and Hector will protect you from wolfish behavior.”


Katie laughed, and she had a cute laugh, but she declined both offers.  She wanted to visit Russ after work, and her mother would come to bring her home.  Katie looked at the clock, picked up her coffee, and said, “Back to work.  Stop back before you leave, okay?”


I looked at Tom and asked, “Ever meet a real, live soap opera star before?”  Before he could get his thoughts together I said, “Well, it’s time.  I just have to find him.”


Tom followed me, and the first person I knew was Heinrich, who was leaving the men’s room.  I asked if he’d seen Rhod or Dana and he pointed to the office.  “Rhod’s in there.  Dana might be upstairs.”


I introduced Tom, and we went to the office.  My father was working at the computer and Rhod was on the phone facing away from us.  Dad looked up and smiled, “Hi Tommy.”  He stood up and came from behind his desk.  “I want to thank you for all the time you spent in Boston, and the best way I could think of is to pay you for it.”  He picked an envelope up off his desk.  “Your father gave me your Social Security number.  You’ll notice that you’re a taxpayer now, so welcome to the club.”


He held the envelope out and Tom said, “I can’t take that.  I didn’t do anything.”


Dad pushed the envelope closer to Tom and said, “You did a lot, and you gave up a lot.  You earned this, so take it.  If you don’t, I’ll mail it to your house.”  Dad smiled, “This isn’t a bribe, Tom; it’s a paycheck, actually three paychecks.”  He waved the envelope and said, “These things are why people get up in the morning and go to work.  Paychecks buy shelter, food, clothing … they buy cars and pay for gas.  Paychecks build houses, send people to college, and save for the things they want.  Put your hand out.”


Tom blinked, and Dad said, “Put your hand out.  Nobody doesn’t take their paycheck.  Nobody!  And you’re going to take this one if I have to staple it to your shirt.”


I put my hand out hopefully and Dad laughed.  “You’re management.  A little extra effort is expected sometimes.”


I must have looked like the picture of resentment because Dad laughed harder, took another envelope from his desk and said, “Kidding,” as he handed it to me.  Then he put a hand on each of our shoulders and said, “You two are the ones who stepped up and did what you had to, and you did it on your own initiative.  I saw the Glovers today, and I know they’ll be eternally grateful.  It’s hard for me to express how proud I am of both of you.”  He pulled us into a quick three-way hug and said, “Um, before I forget, your layoff notices are also in those envelopes.  You’re technically eligible for unemployment compensation, but don’t you dare.  Just have a great summer.  I’m not Donald Trump, so you’re not fired.  You’re laid off.”


Tom started to thank my father, but Dad said, “I forgot … one more thing.  He went behind his desk and pulled a box from under it.  He held it out to Tom, and I could read the ‘iPhone’ on the edge.  Tommy gasped, and Dad handed one to me as well.  “I expect a lot of pictures of the Andes from both of you.”


Tom started to say, “I’m not …” but Dad interrupted him.


“Go with Paul and Dana.  This one’s on me.”


Tom tried to protest, but couldn’t keep his grin off, and he ended up saying, “Holy shit!  Skiing in August R me!  Why are you being so good to me?”


Dad said, “I don’t know.  You’re a keeper I guess,” and his smile was all sunshine.


I introduced Tom and Rhod, and they seemed to hit it off.  While they were yakking Elenora came in, and I collected another hug and kiss, and heard once again what a wonderful person I was.  I mean, crap, I spent fifteen years building a reputation, and it was all falling apart.  Not good!  Maybe I could rename myself something like Captain Colorado and try to start over among the Mormons, where I’d stick out like a very sore thumb.


I left the office with Tom, thinking I’d failed somewhere along the way.  I am, most emphatically, not either particularly nice, nor do I resemble a Boy Scout.  A kid at Barents called me ‘sarcasmo’ and refused to even sit at the same table, and that’s how I liked to be thought of.  Maybe adults see things differently, and I’ll probably have to adjust my attitude and demeanor to fit.


It got worse when we went upstairs to visit Elenora’s parents.  Her mother had heard all about our ‘deeds’ in Boston, and actually shed tears when she hugged us.  The Senator said we should consider politics.  “You boys have big hearts, you’d be naturals.”




We found Dana and downstairs, and there weren’t many people left.  I told Dana we weren’t going to dinner with his grandparents, and we’d be heading to Brattleboro the next day.  He didn’t try to argue me out of it, and I was learning that he was insightful that way.  We hugged and he kissed my cheek and I returned it.


Elenora came rushing from the office, envelopes in her hands.  She verified that Katie was still going to see Russ Glover, and handed her his paychecks: four of them.  Now that, even to me, was above and beyond, but I loved it.  One check must have been for the last week Russ worked, and the others were for when he didn’t work.  Perfect!


We found Hector in the basement, learning about reverse osmosis from Heinrich, and he didn’t seem terribly upset when we said it was time to leave.  Heinrich gave me a grin and a thumbs-up from behind Hector, and we left.


+ + + + + + + +


When Hector took the exit for Brattleboro, I looked at Tom and asked, “How bad is my hair?”


Tom stared at me and said, “You’ve been in a Jeep for an hour … a topless Jeep.  How bad is my hair?  Multiply that times ten and you have yours.”


Tom’s hair was windblown and pretty wild looking.  “Not good,” I said, and gave Hector directions to the house.  I told him to slow down when we got close, and pointed out the pumping station that his outfit was headquartered in and said, “Your guys are there,” and showed him our driveway, which was almost straight across.


Gary Andrews was there amid a pile of rocks, and he jumped two feet when Hector tooted the horn.  When he saw me he grinned and ran over.  I jumped out and we shook hands, and I looked over his handiwork.  He’d done a lot, and it was pretty impressive.  He’d put a walk from the driveway to the door we used most, and there was a ten foot circular space about halfway.  There were low stone planters on both sides.  I started to walk toward the door, and in the center of the circular area there was what appeared to be an old millstone raised high enough on a stone pedestal to form a seat, and there were stone seats on the inside of the planter in that area.  The stoop to the side door was new, and there was a large, partially built stone patio stretching to the back of the house.  I could see where it would be because it was marked off with stakes and string, and the gravel base was already in place.


I put my hand on Gary’s shoulder and said, “This is beautiful!  What kind of stone is this?”


Gary was beaming, “It’s just field stone.  I thought about granite, but I like this better.  You get the different colors, and it looks real nice.”


“Where did you ever find a millstone?”


“I thought it was a millstone, too, but the place sells used bricks, too, and that’s a wheel they used to chip mortar from old bricks with when they did that by hand.  I saw it laying there and asked about it, and when they brought the first load of stone it was on the truck.”


Tom and Hector were standing there when I happened to notice and I slapped my head.  “Sorry.  Gary, this is Hector Torres.  He’ll be around here a lot after a few weeks.”


While they shook hands, Tom handed me my suitcase and said he was going home.  “Call me later, okay?”


I thanked him very profusely for sticking with me and bunging up his own summer in the process, and he took off.  Hector said, “Amigo, I’m going across the street to introduce myself.  Are you okay here?  Got your key?”


Oh God, my key.  I knew it was a vain attempt, but I felt in my pockets anyhow until Hector grinned and held the key out to me.  “I think you forgot this.  Have you ever heard of a lanyard?”


I took the key with my eyes still on Hector.  “I’m trying to picture one as we speak.”


Hector nodded and said, “You’ll have one within the hour.  Now be good, and don’t lock yourself out.” He smiled at Gary and said, “Nice to meet you,” and turned to leave.


He was just getting into the Jeep when I remembered something and went running out after him.  “Hector, Tommy’s going skiing with us in Chile.  Can you make sure we go first or business class?”


Hector eyed me and asked, “Is it authorized?” 


I nodded, “It’s authorized.”


He turned around and I walked to the house smiling.  Bernie had put me in charge the day Russ got hurt, and he said it was until I heard different.  I think maybe he forgot, because I never did hear anything different.


When I walked back to Gary, he said, “Oh, your vegetable garden looked kind of sad when I started.  I’ve been taking care of it, and it’s going good now.  You already have some radishes, and you should have peas by next week.”


I smiled and said, “My mother’s gonna love you for that.  Let me put my things inside and wash up.  I’ll be back out in a few minutes.”


I went inside, and the house was really stuffy and a little musty smelling.  I left the inside door open and went around opening a window in each room so there would be some cross-ventilation.  I put my bag in the bedroom and went to clean up.  While I was in the shower, I couldn’t think of what to do first.  I’d call Lisa, of course, but my summer was back in my own pocket, and there were so many things I thought of doing that I wished I had a pencil so I could write some things down.  I had more thoughts while I shaved and brushed my teeth, and more yet when I tried to get my hair to settle down.


That was a lost cause, and other than getting a perm there wasn’t much I could do.  I tried a buzz cut once, and ended up with stiff little hairs that pointed everywhere but where they should.


There was a knock at the door, so I pulled my towel around my waist and opened it.  Gary was there saying his sister was waiting for him in the car.  I had wanted to talk to him some more, so I asked “Will you be back tomorrow?”


“Yeah, I’ve been here most every day.  I’d stay now, but after I get cleaned up I’m going over Joan’s for dinner.  They’re having a cookout.”


I said, “Go then.  Save some time for me tomorrow, okay?”


When he left, I stretched out on my bed and picked up the phone.


“Lisa?  I’m home.”