This book is for all of you in Standard Baking, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Sophia's Bakery, Coffee by Design, and the Public Market in Portland, Maine, and, on the Big Island: at the Kohala Diner, Tropical Dreams, and especially Suzanne and Nick at the Nanbu Courtyard. Your smiles have been my grants. Mahalo.
Cover photo: Wild Horses, Conquistador Equine Rescue and Advocacy Program
There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.
“Twenty-six thousand,” Harry said. “Gotta spend it to make it.” He stretched yellow bands around two stacks of bills and laid one stack on the seat next to Charley. “Give them half before I check the load. Calms them down.” He looked at his watch. “High tide. Getting dark. Perfect.”
“Won’t be any diggers around,” Charley said, slowing the truck and easing over a slab of ledge rock. There was just enough room to turn around under a stand of pines. He shut off the engine, shoved the money into his back pocket, and got out. Brunswick jumped to the ground, sniffed a few trees, marked one, and trotted onto the decaying dock.
“So far, so good,” Charley said.
Harry leaned against the truck. “Easy money for you, my man. After you unload, don’t be hanging around. In and out.”
“Back in time for breakfast,” Charley said. Blueberry pancakes, a fine thought.
“Take a little weed for yourself—recreational—not enough to go into business.”
“Couple of bales should do it,” Charley said. Harry got in your hair like a deerfly; you had to keep brushing him away.
Brunswick stiffened, looking toward the mouth of the cove. The sound of a diesel carried in on the evening sea breeze and became more distinct. A fishing boat rounded the point and felt its way slowly up the channel, dark against the silvery water.
Harry aimed a flashlight and signaled three times. Three answering flashes came from the wheelhouse. Harry blinked his light three times again and waved. A man on the stern waved back. Charley went down to the water to take a line.
A blinding light came from the wrong direction. “FREEZE! You’re under arrest! Hold it right there!” Brunswick charged, barking. “GET DOWN, Goddamnit!”
Charley dove for the water, heard shots, more yelling. He swam underwater as far as he could, took a quick breath, and went under again, heading for an outcrop of spruce. A powerful engine surged into the cove, trapping the delivery boat.
Charley stayed close to shore, surfacing only for air. It was almost dark. He had a chance if they didn’t have dogs. Brunswick probably would have sensed dogs. They must have come earlier, through the woods from the head of the cove.
The shouting stopped. They were listening for him. Harry was caught. The boat guys were caught. If he came ashore where he was, they’d hear him. He had to get farther down the shore before they came after him in the boat. He swam silently underwater. The tide was beginning to run, helping him. He made another two hundred yards before the big engine revved. He came out of the water on his hands and knees and crawled into the underbrush as quickly as he could.
The boat passed by, shining a powerful light on the water and shore. They weren’t going to get him in the dark without dogs. He had until morning.
If they knew about the buy, they might know about him. Someone local could have recognized him. No going home. Shit. Ginny. They’d be after her, too. Better stay away. Harry’s money was still in his pocket, a soggy block. They'd send him to Thomaston for years, probably. No way. It was either run for it now or lie low and run later. Sometimes you had to be patient. Let the game come to you, he could hear his coach saying.
He moved quietly away from the cove, waving off mosquitoes. His shirt began to dry, but his jeans were wet and heavy. Rafer’s house was four miles down the main road. He could wait in the woods until Rafer went to work and then maybe borrow some stuff.
An hour later he emerged from the trees and started walking on the road, ready to run back into the woods. It didn't feel right. The cops might be waiting with their lights off; they knew he was somewhere close. He decided to stay hidden and wait for first light. He curled up under a pine about fifty yards back from the road and tried to rest.
It was stupid to have made those runs for Harry. It had seemed like a joke. Don't think about it, he told himself. Stay focused. He had to get away, stay free, stay alive. The certainty of this steadied him, and the hours passed, slowly and then faster as he listened to small noises in the night.
At dawn, he started through the woods, staying thirty yards from the road. He crossed a number of driveways and smaller roads. Dogs barked, but no one saw him. Rafer’s truck was in front of his house. He waited out of sight until he heard the truck start and drive down the road. Gus, Rafer’s lab, barked as he came out of the woods.
“Gus, Gus, good dog. Good dog, Gus.” He eased open the porch door and let the dog sniff his hand. “Good Gus.” It felt good to talk, to hear his own voice. He entered the house and quickly gathered a razor, Avon Skin-So-Soft for the bugs, a loaf of bread, cheese, and a bottle of water. He took a blanket and cut a length from a clothes line on the porch. He left a hundred dollar bill in the cheese drawer. No note. Nothing to get Rafer involved.
On the way out, he grabbed a black baseball cap from a shelf by the door. As soon as he was in the woods, he rubbed the Avon on his neck and face and ate half the bread and cheese. He drank most of the water and would have gone back for more, but it felt like the wrong direction. He rolled everything in the blanket and tied the ends, making a rough pack that he slung over one shoulder.
Rafer would keep his mouth shut. No problem there. Ginny’s phone might be tapped. When he could, he’d call somebody else, maybe Darlene, and ask her to give a message to Ginny. Tell her he was out of there. Tell her to find someone else, have some kids, get a life. Truth was, she ought to do that anyway. It was more out of habit than anything else that they were still together. High school was the good time, but that was—what?—five years ago. He began to feel bad, lonely, but he pushed the hurt away.
He walked for an hour, found a sunny spot, and slept most of the day. By dark, he was behind the Quik Stop, waiting for it to close. Fred finally turned off the lights and drove away. Charley waited five more minutes, before he went around to the pay phone by the front door. He was taking a chance, but he could see car lights coming before they got there.
“Darlene, this is Charley. I haven’t got much time. When you see Ginny would you give her a message?”
“Tell her something came up. She'll hear about it. I've got to get out of here. Tell her have some kids, have a decent life. We had some good times but it’s all over. Thanks, Darlene.”
“Gotta run. Take care of that sweet ass of yours.”
“Charley, wait! You want a ride? The cops are all over the place.”
He was surprised.
“I don’t want to get you in trouble, Darlene.”
“You can hide under some stuff in the back of the truck. If we get caught, I’ll say you forced me.”
“Jesus, I don’t know.”
“Where are you?”
He made up his mind. “At the Quik Stop. You sure?”
“O.K. I’ll be in the woods just past the big curve. If anybody’s around, keep going and turn around. Just pull over. I’ll jump in back and lie down. We can take the ridge road, by Valda’s; there won’t be cops up that way. Figure out where to go from there.”
“Half an hour,” she said.
He walked quickly down the road and crossed to be on the right side. He put the blanket roll behind a maple and waited where he could crouch out of sight if a car came. Four cars passed before Darlene’s white Chevy slowed to a stop. He picked up the blanket, threw it in back, and jumped in after. There was a tarp folded in the bottom. Darlene was turned, looking at him through the rear window. He smiled, banged twice on the glass, and lay down, spreading the tarp over him and putting the blanket under his head. She took off up the road.
Damn near comfortable, he thought. It was great to be moving. No more bugs. He lay there, rolling a little with the curves, tensing when Darlene got to the stop sign on Route 1 and crossed over. She took back roads to Valda’s, shifted down, and headed up the long hill. On top, she bounced along for five minutes and pulled over.
“Hot damn,” Charley said, coming out from under the tarp and swinging down to the ground.
“Gotta get you out of here!” She seemed pleased in the dark.
“I guess. Can’t go to Portland. I’m afraid of the Boston bus station. I don’t know. Worcester, maybe. I doubt they’d be over there. When do you have to be back?”
“Lunch shift tomorrow.”
“You up for Worcester?”
“Why not? Had the day off, didn’t do anything.”
“How about we go over to New Hampshire the back way, then head south?”
“I’ll stay down until we get to a diner somewhere out of state. Then maybe you could get us something to eat. How’s the gas?”
“Half, three quarters.”
“Good deal.” He climbed back into the truck. “You’re a princess.”
Charley had eaten the rest of his food earlier; he was hungry when Darlene stopped outside of North Conway. He handed her one of Harry’s bills. “One of everything and whatever you want.”
“Maybe a western sandwich and a roast beef sandwich, mayo, the works. Large coffee, regular. I’d better stay out here. I think I can ride up front, though.”
“What about pie?”
Darlene bounced through the door. She looked free, not hung up at all about harboring a fugitive or whatever she was doing. She was a year behind him and Ginny in school, on the chubby side, good natured. He hadn’t paid much attention to her. A lot of the girls put on weight after graduation. She’d lost some. Looked better, actually. Probably working all those shifts at Jack’s. She had that straight scar that ran past the corner of her mouth, made her look serious. When she smiled, the scar was like an elevator going up, and she seemed twice as cheerful. Kicked by a skate when she was little.
Darlene shouldered her way outside with a bag under her arm and a cup in each hand. He leaned over and opened the door. He took the cups and straightened. “Smells good.”
She got in and opened the bag. “Which one you want first?”
“Western.” He ate half of it in two bites and took a long swallow of coffee. “Finest kind! Damn, I’m hungry.” He took another bite. “What did you get?”
“Red beans and rice, chef’s salad.” She reached into the pocket of her blouse. “Here’s the change.”
“You better keep that.”
“I don’t want your money, Charley.”
“Shit, Darlene—at least take it for gas, the truck, and stuff.”
“You got enough to get on?”
“All right.” She put the money in her wallet. “I don’t want to feel bought, is all.”
“No way,” Charley said, relieved. “You know, maybe you shouldn’t say anything to Ginny right away, maybe let the cops get off her back. I could give you a note. You could say you found it under the door.”
“I’ll just wait ’til no one’s around and tell her. She won’t say anything. Not Ginny.”
“It's crazy,” he said. “Who gives a shit about a couple of joints?”
“I heard you were buying a boat load.”
“I guess that’s what pisses them off.” He bit into the roast beef. “Making money off it. No taxes. It was a dumb idea, though.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Don’t know. But I’m not going to Thomaston—not unless they catch me. We get to Worcester, I’ll take a bus somewhere, I guess. Pie’s a little gooey.”
“Canned apples,” she said, “some kind of sin in September.”
“Not too bad, though,” he said.
It was three in the morning when they stopped outside a Howard Johnson’s in Worcester, too late to rent a room. They dozed in the cab until the first gray light. They’d been in a good mood driving down, talking about the old days, but they weren’t smiling when they woke up.
“The bus station isn’t far, might as well get out here.” He went around and pulled his blanket roll from the back. He wanted to give her more money, but he knew she wouldn’t take it. Darlene came to him and hugged him hard. She pulled her head back.
“Could I have a kiss?”
Their mouths met, awkwardly and then firmly, saying hello and goodbye in a long honest meeting. “I always wanted to kiss you, Charley,” she said.
“Yeah,” he said. “You take care of yourself.” He shook his head. He could get used to kisses like that. “Getting light. You don’t want to be seen with me.” He stepped back and put the blanket roll over his shoulder. “Getting attached to this thing.” He raised one hand. “Thanks, Darlene.”
Two tears rolled down her cheeks. "Bye, Charley."
“You’re a beauty,” he said and turned away. He walked around the corner and stopped, listening for the sound of her truck. He heard her start it, back it around, and drive in the other direction. The sound echoed and died away. He was weak in the knees. If she had followed him, he didn’t know what he would have done. Probably would have ended up in some motel and wrecked her life, too.
When Brunswick attacked and Charley dove for the water, Harry put his hands in the air. The guys on the boat looked at each other. A shot. Two more. Brunswick yelped and fell on his side, arterial blood arcing from his throat. The cops were on them.
Cuffed. Shoved around.
Cursing in Spanish.
Another boat. Lights on the water, looking for Charley.
They weren’t getting Charley who seemed to have turned into some kind of otter. Otter resists arrest. Going to be the worse for him. Me, I’m a kid. Twenty-five. Don’t know any better.
“It’s just grass,” he said, “hold the cannons.” They recited his Miranda rights.
The ride to the police station was uncomfortable and disorienting, filled with loud messages to and from the dispatcher.
“Your new address,” the cop said, opening the cruiser door.
“10-4,” Harry said. For the mug shot, he produced an innocent, there must be some mistake, smile. How was he going to tell his mother?
In the morning, Jack Eagleton, the family lawyer, got him out on bail and drove him home to Falmouth.
“I'm sorry, Mother. I got caught trying to buy some grass—marijuana.”
"Marijuana, really! I don’t understand. For money? Why couldn’t you just rip people off on Wall Street like your father?”
“You think I should rip off Father?”
She rolled her eyes. “You aren't going to be joking if you have to go to jail.”
“Mother, I’m not going to jail. Jack knows what he’s doing. It’s not like I shot anybody. We weren’t even armed. It’s a harmless substance with medicinal properties—probably be legal when they figure out how to tax it. It’s a stupid law.”
“But it is a law. And you broke it.”
“Mmm—true. Jack is waiting outside.”
“Yes, of course, bring him in.”
After the niceties had been observed, Jack suggested that Harry had been naïve, was over his head. “You have a clean record. One of the guys on the boat is wanted in Florida. The Columbian has no papers. Charles Walker has one O.U.I. and is on probation for possession. I think it best to state that you happened to be there in case more money was needed. Charles Walker was in charge.”
“Do you like a joint now and then, Jack?”
“Attorneys don’t break the law, Harry.”
Harry burst out laughing. “Right, yup, that was my mistake—listening to Charley.”
Jack wrote on his pad and looked at Harry’s mother. “I was going to delay, Elizabeth, but I think not. I think it best to move this along. There may be—confusion—when Charles Walker is caught. Perhaps that will take some time.”
“Masterminds are slippery,” Harry said.
“Would you care for more coffee, Jack?”
“No, thank you, Elizabeth.” He slid his pad into a leather case. “I’ll have a statement Monday for your approval.”
“Thank you so much. I’m so grateful. We would be lost without you.”
They stood. Harry walked over to Jack and shook hands. He had an urge to brush the croissant flakes from Jack's lapel, but he didn't. The situation was getting more serious. Blaming Charley should help in the short run, but there would be problems down the road. And he didn't feel good about it.
“Thanks, Jack. Mother.” He went outside, taking a suede shirt-jacket from a peg in the hall closet. He needed to walk and think things over. Then maybe see Lynn.
Charley found a diner near the bus terminal and ordered pancakes. The blanket roll was doubled in front of his feet. He looked at his plate and tried not to scratch his three day beard—just another morning in Worcester. Most of the customers were still waking up or hungover. No one stared at him, but he felt like a face on a poster. Coffee helped.
A patrol car passed him as he walked to the terminal. He kept his eyes on the sidewalk. The cops kept going.
Inside the terminal he washed his face and shaved. He folded the blanket into a square with the rope and the razor inside, and bought a ticket to New York, feeling less conspicuous. The bus left half an hour later, and he slept all the way to the city.
It was bright and clear when he walked out of the Port Authority bus station onto a crowded sidewalk. He found a sporting goods store and bought a day pack, sun glasses, and a travel toothbrush. He bought a shirt, jeans, underwear, and socks. He changed into clean clothes and had his hair cut short. He thought about buying another hat, but things were happening too fast. Rafer’s hat fit. He needed to hang on to something.
He was tired but still pumped up. He wandered along Broadway and Columbus avenues feeling not too out of place. He was blonde, taller than average, square across the shoulders, good looking, energetic, just another young guy come to make it in New York. He could disappear here forever, but it felt too close, like he’d be drawn back to Maine. Also, he wasn’t crazy about living in such a big city. Screw it. He walked to Penn Station and bought a ticket to Savannah on The Silver Meteor, leaving at 6:30.
He ate a steak sandwich, drank a couple of beers, and boarded as soon as he could. The train left the city through a tunnel, emerging in the evening light to glide slowly by refineries and warehouses. Where was he going? Fear and loneliness began to take over. Instinctively, he forced them down into a hard place inside him, out of the way. If he gave in to feeling shitty he might just as well turn around and go home. Resisting arrest, a big buy—if he got five years, he’d be twenty-nine when he got out. No way. The hard place got harder. Like uranium compacted, it began to give off energy.
He looked through his wallet, removed his driver's license and a credit card, and stashed the license inside a sock at the bottom of his pack. The credit card was useless; any slip he signed would signal where he was. He took his knife and cut the card into six pieces. A women’s magazine lay on the seat next to him. He tore out a page, folded the plastic pieces into it, and threw it away in the lavatory. Probably he should toss the license, too. But he might need photo ID somewhere. He could get rid of it when he figured out how to get some other ID.
That had to be soon. Charley Walker was dead. No, not dead. Behind him. The hard place inside him said: get a name. He thought about this and decided that he could keep Charley. It wasn’t taking much of a chance; there were a lot of Charleys. Charley Dunn. The name came to him, familiar and easy. It had a rhythm to it. Then he remembered it was from a Jerry Jeff Walker song about a guy who made boots in Texas. Charley Dunn, he sang to himself. The sound of the wheels sang along. Charley Dunn.
Charley dozed, waking in Philly and again in Washington, D.C. Strangers walked by his window, faces pale in the station lights. At dawn, the train was moving through low country. He washed, got a cup of coffee from the club car, and watched small fields and trees go by, patches of swamp, dirt roads, a few horses, cows, old wooden houses, a gas station. The train stopped at a short platform. An older woman was standing silently by a large suitcase. She boarded, several cars behind him.
He got off in Savannah, feeling numb and stiff. He hadn’t slept in a bed for three nights. The station was outside the city. “About three miles,” a cab driver told him. “But you don’t want to walk it.”
“No, guess I don’t.” Charley put his pack in the back seat and got in front. The driver eased from the station, reaching out and setting the meter when they turned onto an access road.
“Where you from?”
“Maine? Supposed to be nice. Cold.”
“Not too bad,” Charley said.
“Any place is good, you got money in your pocket.”
“You know a place I could stay, not too expensive?”
“Oh, Lord. The cheerleaders are in town. Filled right up. State cheerleader convention.” He rapped out a rhythm on the wheel with his thumbs. “It’s early, you might get a room at the Howard Johnson’s. That ain’t too bad. Not right in the middle of town, but not too far neither.”
“Good deal,” Charley said.
They drove through an industrial district and stopped outside a HoJo’s that had seen better days. He gave the guy a ten.
“You want change?”
“Thanks, Brother. This is going to be a good day.” He had a hard round face with eyes that seemed to close when he smiled.
“I hope so,” Charley said.
“I’ll hang on in case you need to go somewheres else.”
There were two rooms left. Charley waved from the door, and the driver left.
He registered as Charley Dunn, 1126 Needham Street, Boston, MA, an invented address. He probably shouldn’t have told the cab driver that he was from Maine. But he had to be from somewhere. He collapsed on the bed and slept all afternoon.
He got up at dark, took a shower, and ate fried shrimp in the restaurant, still half asleep. The only thing between him and jail was thirteen thousand dollars—well, twelve something, now. Money, work, there was a lot to figure out. He went back to his room and watched a Braves game. The catcher threw out a runner stealing, and Charley felt a flash of satisfaction. How it's done. Charley had the best arm in the state. Roland was solid at second. Charley saw him taking a hard throw, putting on the tag, getting out of the way. He’d look up at Charley with a little smile and whip the ball around the infield.
When he opened his eyes in the morning, he didn’t know where he was. A semi went by outside, and he remembered the road outside and the Howard Johnson’s. He took a long shower and washed his dirty underwear and socks, leaving them in the bathroom to dry. He counted his money, putting half with his driver's license in the pack. He hung the pack on a hook in the closet area. If he got mugged, he’d have something left.
He walked toward the center of the city. It was warmer than Maine—none of the fall chill that sets in at night. There were oak trees with gray-green moss hanging from the branches, lots of little parks and squares, old houses with wrought iron railings. He had breakfast in a busy place called Creary’s.
“You want grits with that waffle?”
“Sure. What are grits?”
“Corn. Like a hot cereal, Honey. Put butter on ’em. Some folks use syrup.” The waffle was fine. It took a couple of mouthfuls to get used to the grits—creamy and gritty at the same time.
“Anything else for you, Handsome?”
“No, thanks. Grits are good.”
“Where you from?”
He paused. “Up north.”
“I only been far as New York.” She took his plate. “Well, y’all come back and see us.”
Charley walked aimlessly along the street. Where was he from? He was going to need an answer. Maine was risky. If he said, New Hampshire—say, Portsmouth or Newburyport—somebody might know more about the place than he did. North of Boston, on the coast? He could hear the next question: where on the coast? He didn’t want to use his home town. Maybe Portland? He knew Portland pretty well. If anyone pressed him about Portland, he could say he went to school in Orono, hadn’t lived in the city for long. He actually had lived in Portland for a year. He’d visited his grandparents there often when he was little. Screw it. Charley Dunn from Portland.
He crossed an avenue and descended a steep alley to a riverfront walkway. Ice cream stores, tourist shops, and art galleries were just opening. A brother with a salt and pepper beard was sitting on a park bench, playing a sax. There was a red plastic bucket for tips by his feet, but he seemed to be playing for himself, repeating lines, listening for something. Two blondes pushed babies in strollers, side by side.
Charley went to the end of the walk and turned around. He was edgy about the cash in his pocket. He didn’t look like someone who had a lot of money on him, but he’d feel better if he weren’t carrying so much.
He climbed up from the river walk and found a store that sold travel gear. He bought a money pouch that he could carry inside his pants, tied around his waist or hanging from a belt loop. That should work.
He walked through a park and stopped to look at an elegant black cannon. It had a cast motto, Ultima Ratio Regnum. A plaque next to the cannon translated: The Last Reckoning of Kings. Louis XIV. Force. What it came down to. Nothing wrong with smoking a joint if you wanted. It was saying fuck you to the cops, that’s what they couldn’t handle. Probably why he did it, too. It was fun—until you got caught. Well, he wasn’t caught yet. Harry was, but that was his problem. His family would probably get him off, somehow.
When Charley got back to the hotel, he put ten thousand in the travel pouch, leaving two thousand in the pack. He put the rest of the money in his wallet and walked back and forth in the room, getting used to the feel of the pouch. Better.
He lay down and let out a deep breath. He felt a pang of loneliness, but he pushed it into the hard place. There were things to figure out. Every dollar he spent was like a clock ticking. He liked Savannah. Its old buildings leaning toward the waterfront reminded him of Portland. It had style. But he wasn’t sure he wanted to stay.
He wasn’t tired enough to sleep, so he walked back into town. It was like summer. Lots of people on the streets, all going places. Students. Shoppers. Old people, moving slowly. A few groups of laughing girls, cheerleaders for sure. He wandered into a bar with high windows facing the street. A friendly crowd was watching a football game. Georgia—Alabama. It was Saturday, he realized.
Georgia had a hot quarterback throwing flat accurate passes all over the field. He was getting good protection. Nice to have a line, Charley thought. Every time Georgia scored, the place went wild. He felt—not, left out, just— not quite there. Alabama didn’t give up. They kept threatening to come back, but it wasn’t their day. Going to leave tomorrow, Charley said to himself.
As soon as he heard the words and knew his mind, the bar became friendlier, more important. He felt sorry for the bartender, young, stuck in a dumb job. The guys his age seemed O.K., only a couple of assholes. Older guys, some weight on them, looked happy, a little dazed at tables cluttered with bottles and glasses. He took a ballpoint from his pocket and made a few lines on a napkin, framing the room before he filled in the bar and tables, heads and backs. The napkin started to tear. He folded it, put it in his shirt pocket, and paid his check.
He walked to the Howard Johnson’s which was full but felt empty. He lay down on his bed for a moment, then got up and crossed the street to a convenience store where he bought a sandwich, a diet pepsi, a bottle of water, and a Hershey bar. He went back to the room, ate, watched the last three quarters of High Noon, and tried to sleep.
His mother’s face wouldn’t go away. Thinking back was going to screw him up; he had to think forward. But he knew she was worried. She was in good shape, happy with Molly, Ron, and Ron's kids, but she would have heard. He couldn’t call now or write. Roses. He could get one of those flower stores to deliver roses. It wasn’t her birthday for a couple of months, but she would know they were from him. He bought her a dozen roses every year. He could pay here, and they'd arrange it. Florists. He looked in the yellow pages of the phone book and wrote down the number and the address of the florist with the largest advertisement. He’d tell the florist it was a surprise, send it without a message.
He turned the TV on. Turned it off after a few minutes. Stared at the ceiling. Where should he go? An edge of panic fluttered like a sheet covering bad stuff. He pushed it down. What he needed was a map. He went down to the lobby.
“You got one of those road atlases, all the states?”
He paid and went back to his room holding the atlas carefully.
Georgia was a big state. He was way down in the corner of it. He looked at the roads crawling over the map, the yellow block around Atlanta, the lonely looking places in the opposite corner, up by Tennessee. He turned the page. Hawaii. Bunch of islands. That was more interesting. He looked at Florida, at the Keys curving out into the ocean, the Atlantic on one side, the Gulf of Mexico on the other. The ocean seemed good to him, maybe because he was used to it. He felt that he could be more anonymous near the ocean. In Maine, in those little towns in the mountains, everybody knows everything about everybody. The woods were O.K., but they were dark. If you were going to get caught or die, you wanted your last look to go up into the sky, not get caught in the woods.
In the end, Florida didn't seem far enough away. He'd never been to the west coast. He flew to San Francisco.
When Charley's mom, Charlotte, and her husband, Ron, first heard the news, they talked about it with the kids, told them Charley was in trouble, that he was a good person but that breaking the law was bad. Eddie asked, “What happens if they catch him?”
“He’ll spend some time in jail,” Ron said, “and then things will be all right.” There was a dubious silence. Eddie got his stony look. Molly brushed away a tear. Heather and Megan started a fight, and then they got on with dinner. They hadn’t talked about it since.
That night in bed, she said, “Charley’s O.K.”
“I thought you were feeling better. What happened?”
“He sent me roses. I don’t know where he is. No message or anything. I put them in the attic. I didn't want you to worry, didn't want to explain them to the kids.”
“I hope he turns himself in,” Ron said.
“I don’t believe he will.” For all of Charley's good heart and sunny disposition, he had a private stubborn streak. She could see him walking next to his father, Gordon, half as tall, but with the same walk, the two of them leaving on a fishing trip. She remembered feeling that they might just keep going and never come back. Gordon finally did just that. Just as well, as it turned out.
They lay looking upward. Ron cleared his throat, twitched a little, and patted her hand. “At least he's all right,” he said. “You need a hug?”
“We all do,” she said turning to him.
Roland Saucier knocked and waited.
“Hi, Roland. I guess you have to ask me some questions.”
“I guess,” he said. “I don’t like this. I ain’t seen much of Charley lately, but, you know …” He was apologetic.
“You want a cup of coffee? Come in.” They sat in the kitchen. “How’s Theresa?”
The thought of Theresa cheered him up. “Good.”
“You’ve been married, what, three, four years now?”
“Going on six.”
“Jesus,” she said.
Roland put down his cup. “I guess you haven’t seen him.”
“Guess not, Roland.” He didn’t have to look at her to know she was telling the truth. He’d known her since fourth grade.
“Thing is, they’re all pumped to get Charley. Larsen wants the publicity. Charley’d get off easier if he’d turn himself in—cut a deal, like Harry George.”
“I don’t know what Charley’ll do. I mean—I care—but we were fixing to break up anyway.”
Roland wasn’t sure what to say. He scratched his chin, looked around. “Yeah, well, it happens. You must be about done with nursing school.”
“One more semester.”
“Ginny, you got any recent pictures? Charley’s mother didn’t have anything but baby pictures and school pictures.”
Ginny went out of the kitchen and returned with a small framed black and white photograph. She looked at it for a moment. “I’m so used to this.” She handed it to him. “Now I’m going to get unused to it.”
“We’ll make a copy and get it back to you.”
“Take your time.”
Roland stood. “Guess I’ll be getting along.” He liked Ginny. She had a hell of a body, short and stacked. Theresa said she was spoiled, but Ginny couldn’t help it her father was a dentist, gave her everything. She had a set to her mouth now; she was moving on. He had a sudden memory of her in the stands, of a runner stealing, Charley straightening and throwing, low and left of the bag, Ginny cheering. There weren’t many who could make that throw look easy.
He shook his head. “Well, you gotta do what you gotta do, Ginny. Too bad, sometimes. Let me know, you hear from Charley.”
That brought a smile and a touch of fire. “Right, Roland.”
He zipped his leather jacket halfway and walked back to the patrol car.
This is more like it, Charley said to himself. San Francisco is different from the east—newer, looser. More Asians. It was cheerful. Half the people on Market Street looked like they were on the run. There was a big park in the center of the city, extending almost to the ocean. All kinds of action in the park. A zoo. Lions. Across a boulevard, a long beach. The Pacific was vast and gray, impersonal, bigger than the Atlantic.
Charley was glad to make friends. But the first four guys who started conversations turned out to be gay. They were quick to invite him to special places. They wanted to keep their hands on him. It was weird. He was used to being turned down by chicks; now he was the one doing the rejecting. He didn’t want to hurt anybody's feelings; he just wasn’t wired that way. They got huffy or sullen. The air was filled with sexual vibrations; the ordinary sidewalk was really a sexual swamp. The women were gorgeous, well dressed, and in a hurry; they didn’t seem to see him.
He ate dinners in the Tip Top Chop Suey Cafe where the entertainment consisted of an old waiter filling dessert dishes, sliding each with a flick of his wrist along a narrow stainless ledge. There was nothing to keep the dishes from spinning off and crashing to the floor. All heads at the counter followed each dish as it slid slowly along and bumped to rest against the previous one.
A month later, Charley decided to try Hawaii for a week. It was a five hour flight to Honolulu. When he stepped off the plane, warm perfumed air welcomed him like a friend. White clouds billowed over jagged green mountains. A few passengers lowered their heads to receive leis. Others walked quickly through the terminal, heading home. He felt unexpectedly happy.
“Going to the Hale Aloha,” he said to a cab driver.
“Ha-Lay Aloha?” the driver said. “Waikiki?”
“Yeah, right. I just got here.”
“You gonna like it.” The driver's voice was easy, but it had an undertone of don’t mess with me. “Where you from?”
“Back east, where it snows.” He’d found that out in San Francisco—that he came from back east. You had to go out west to learn that.
“We got snow on the Big Island. Thirteen thousand feet. Crazy buggahs go ski up there.”
“I’ve shoveled enough to last me awhile.”
“I saw all I wanted in Germany,” the driver said. “Free tour in the army.”
“Never been to Germany.”
“Foxy ladies. They like us island boys—we got any money.”
They passed a Del Monte cannery and streets lined with industrial buildings. A small Chinatown. Several blocks of office buildings and banks. A large double-decked shopping center across from a park bordered by palms. A glimpse of the horizon, edge of light blue and darker blue. They drove into a district crowded with hotels, and the driver stopped in front of a mid-sized building.
“Here you go, Brah. Hale Aloha. Waikiki.”
The Jag was parked by the front walk, British racing green dusty from the long drive. EN GARDE, the name of his father's boat and one of his investment funds, was barely readable on the license plate. Harry felt a familiar prick of irritation mixed with affection. As he approached the house, he saw his father through the bay window, a glass in his hand, holding forth. Harry made a face and entered.
“Ah, my son the smuggler,” his father said.
“How did it go, Dear?” His mother was dressed for dinner.
“No problem. Eagleton did his thing. Ten thousand bucks. Community service, 200 hours! I guess The George Foundation will be hearing about Chief Larsen's youth center project after a decent interval.”
His father extended a hard hand. Harry shook hands but didn’t play the grip game. His father was bigger than he was. He had a high bony forehead, curly chestnut hair, a way of looming over you, Ben George here. Harry had his mother’s fine bones, dark hair, and chiseled features. His mouth was like his father’s, wide. There was a similar set to their shoulders.
“Help yourself.” His father pointed to the sideboard.
Harry lifted a decanter of sherry. “Mother?”
“I’m fine for the moment, thank you, Dear. I am so relieved.” Harry put the decanter down and poured himself whisky, adding a little water, feeling his father’s eyes on him. In a moment his father would say, That’s the way it’s taken in Scotland.
“That’s the way it’s taken in Scotland.”
“And Cumberland,” Harry interrupted.
“By Georges,” his father said. Maybe this was going to work out, Harry thought. “Rum runners.” Uh, oh. “Supernumaries of the underworld.” Nope. “I’m not against making a buck, mind you.” His father gathered steam. “But I’m not wild about wasting it.”
“It was a mistake, Ben,” his mother said.
“Yes,” his father said. He frowned. “Your mother and I will split the amount.”
“I’ll pay you back.”
“How are you going to do that? Borrow it from your mother?” A small flash passed behind Harry’s eyes.
“Well, well,” his father said. “I think you’re annoyed. Maybe you’re a George after all.”
“You think you’re so tough.”
“Well, like Muhammed Ali said, the ones is strong enough, ain’t fast enough; the ones is fast enough ain’t strong enough.” His father’s mouth twisted.
“Ben. Harry! Stop this.”
“It’s all right,” Ben said. He stretched one arm out, loosening a large shoulder. He kept in shape, Harry had to admit. He liked looking good on his boat.
“You’ll get it back with interest,” he said flatly.
His father shrugged. “You’re my son, not an investment. Don’t worry about it. It’s just—it’s tough out there. There’s always somebody trying to screw you. You have to get them before they get you; it usually takes money.”
“No one has gotten you yet.” His mother switched to approval.
“Not recently,” his father said. Ethel appeared in the doorway and asked if she should put the crab cakes on.
“That would be marvelous,” his mother said. “Harry, I will have a taste more.”
Dinner was less contentious. Half way through, his father came back to money again. “So, what next, Harry? Was all that Bowdoin tuition for naught?”
“No way. I got a tooth knocked out, and we destroyed Hamilton in the finals.”
“Well done.” His father had played football at Hamilton but not hockey. Harry was too small for football, but he had been skating since he was two, all through prep school and Bowdoin. He took a pounding in the corners, but he kept after it. His skating saved him; he was a split second faster than most and had perfect balance. They called him a natural skater. Mostly it was that he had started so early.
“I’m working on some deals. Legal, you'll be glad to hear.”
The deals might be legal, but the front money wasn’t. Harry had a laundry problem.
He excused himself, went upstairs, and lay on his bed. It hadn’t been a bad day, really. The court hassle was over with. He'd have paid off his father on the spot, but then he would have had to explain where the money came from. He’d put that money to work, pay him later.
He fell asleep and dreamed that an old man, the father of a friend, was stumbling across a field to meet him. The man crossed under a fence and became a pigeon. Dark blood flooded through his breast feathers. Harry held the pigeon in his hand, heart pumping, old eyes open, sad and needy. The blood turned to a clear fluid, like tears.
Waikiki beach at sunset: gold to pink, then crimson and dark, stars over the Pacific, no one to share.
Diamond Head. Kapiolani Park, the smell of teriyaki, the sound of doves, congas, slack key guitar. The zoo, tigers pacing, elephants listening. Gorgeous women.
On the fifth day, he called the Nuuanu YMCA. They had rooms by the day, week, or month. He rode TheBus downtown and paid for a week. He carried his pack up a flight of stairs, walked down a hall, and opened the door to a narrow cubicle. There was a window at the end, a chair, a small bureau. He put his pack on the chair and lay on the bed.
Someone passed his door heading for the bathroom, flip flops slapping. He heard the shower running and snatches of song in a high pure voice. It was good to be out of Waikiki. He relaxed for a few minutes and jumped up. Time to take a walk, eat something, and come back. It felt important to leave and to come back, to begin to establish his new home. On his way out, the singer passed him, a brown man with massive shoulders and a towel around his waist. Three hundred pounds, easy. Slap, slap, slap.
One night at his favorite bar, beneath a banyan tree in the courtyard behind the Moana Hotel, the same bar where he first had the idea of using someone else's identity to get a replacement birth certificate, Charley got into a conversation with a guy named Ray who was complaining about his brother. “William Junior,” the guy said, “doesn’t have to do shit.”
“That your father’s name, William?”
“William Jackson. William Jackson Jr.—Mr. Perfect.”
“He older than you?”
“What are you, twenty-two?”
“Bullshit. You ain’t no twenty-six. I got twenty bucks says so.” Charley laid a twenty on the bar. Ray pulled out his wallet and showed Charley his driver's license—Raymond Jackson, Birthdate: April 9, 1952. It was a New York license. Charley felt a buzz in his ears. “Son of a bitch,” he said and slid the bill to Ray. Ray put his wallet away, moved the bill toward the bartender, and signalled for two more beers.
“So, New York, huh. Fucking Yankees.” Charley bitched about the Red Sox and steered back to growing up. Food. Mothers.
“Lasagne, scallopine,” Ray said.
“What, your mom’s Italian? You got all the breaks. What was her name? I mean her family, before she married your Dad.”
“Gianelli. My mom was a pretty good cook, you know, an all around cook. We didn’t get scallopine, though. What did they call her, Gina, Gina Gianelli?”
“Maria. Like in West Side Story. Maria …Ray sang.
“All right!” Charley said. His ears were really buzzing now. One piece of the puzzle left, but he didn’t see how to get it. Where was he born?
A tall slim sister walked by, giving them a good look. “Not bad,” Ray said. She came back.
“Now that’s a shame,” she said. “Cute guys like you—where your dates?” She tilted her head for an answer, cocked her hips.
Charley shrugged and smiled. “What’s your name?”
“Shana.” She answered Charley but she had her eyes on Ray who was looking dazzled.
“Shana, I’m Charley. This is Ray. So, you want a drink?”
“I could handle that.” Charley moved down one stool. She put a small black purse on the bar between them and slid slowly onto the stool, her short skirt riding farther up long smooth legs. Ray began to smile.
The bartender came over. “What may I get you this evening?”
She considered. “It’s early. Pina Colada sounds good.”
“My round,” Charley said putting another twenty on the bar.
Shana looked first at Ray and then at Charley. “Where you from?”
“Boston,” Charley said. “Took my first breath at Mass General. How about you?”
“Providence. My mama told me I was about to be born in the front seat of an Oldsmobile, but we made it, ten minutes to spare.”
“Ray’s a New Yorker. Goddamn Yankee fan. Probably born in the upper deck, centerfield. Born in the Bronx, right?”
“No way. Downtown, man. St. Vincents.” Bingo! Shana zeroed in on Ray.
“What you doing in the islands, Handsome?”
“Hanging out,” Ray said. “On my way through from Okinawa.”
“Hey listen,” Charley said, “I gotta split. I just remembered I’m supposed to meet someone.” He drained his beer. “Adios—nice talking with you.”
“All right, man. See you around.”
“Hasta la vista,” Shana said.
As soon as he was out of sight, Charley stopped and scribbled down the information. Was it Ginelli or Gianelli? When he said Gina Gianelli, Ray hadn’t corrected him. He was going to have to go with Gianelli, take a chance. Maria Gianelli. He could see the license in front of him—April 9, 1952. A year older, big deal. St. Vincents. This was the luckiest thing that had happened since he shoved Harry’s money in his pocket and Darlene picked him up. He could feel the future opening. Ray wasn’t going to remember much, by the look of him leaning toward Shana. He wouldn’t have minded leaning toward her himself, but he had to keep his eye on the prize. Stay away from the Moana for a couple of weeks, he told himself.
In the morning, Charley took TheBus to the airport. He liked the terminal; he felt anonymous, unnoticed. Also, it reminded him of when he arrived and of how much he’d learned about the island. He walked past a florist and remembered that his mother’s birthday was in a few weeks. He called New York information from a pay phone. A lady at St Vincents Hospital told him that they didn’t keep birth certificates, that he had to call the Bureau of Vital Records, Department of Health, City of New York.
The apartment was in Palolo on a narrow road three blocks up the side of the ridge. It was new, built into the lower story of a house. The owner was finishing a small deck when Charley got there. Charley introduced himself: “Ray Jackson.”
The guy looked him over, and Charley knew it was no deal. The ridge on the other side of the valley was dark green. Far down the valley, a scrap of blue ocean winked in the sun. “Ocean view,” Charley said.
The owner was careful. He didn’t say he wasn’t going to rent to a young haole who had just showed up on the island; he just shoved the piece of paper Charley gave him into one pocket. “Lot of people looking,” he said and continued working.
Charley walked down the hill. It was all right. The place was a little too far away, and he didn’t want to live downstairs from that guy. It was the first time he’d used the name, Ray Jackson. Saying it was awkward. A wave of rejection swept through him. I don’t want to be Ray. I’m Charley.
He thought about riding TheBus to the airport, buying a ticket for Portland, and turning himself in. “Hey, Charley,” people would say. He smiled, nodding. Charley. Then he imagined some asshole sentencing him to five years in Thomaston. “Ray,” he said. “I’m Ray Jackson. I’m Ray Jackson.” He said it over and over until the muscles in his jaw and throat relaxed.
When he got back to Ala Moana, he threw his bus pass away, a day early, and bought another. Ray Jackson, he signed it. He sat in Dunkin Donuts and signed his new name in a small notebook until he was comfortable with that, too. He tore the pages out and dropped them in the trash with his cup. He would cut up his driver's license when he got back, he promised himself. But, when he was in his room again, he didn’t reach for the sock at the bottom of his pack. He needed the license as a kind of anchor, proof that he was Charley Walker.
He followed Keaumoku Street across a flat business district, under the freeway, and up into Makiki, a neighborhood of small condominium buildings and a few older houses built one above the other on lush green hillsides. He turned into the driveway of a large house and rang the bell.
“I’m looking for the studio apartment,” he said to a Chinese man who opened the door.
“Just going to work,” the man said, closing the door behind him and putting out his hand. “I’m Bob Wu.” His gold rimmed glasses shone in the sun. He was medium sized, trim, and balding.
“Ray, huh?” Bob said. “I ever see you in Vegas?”
“I don’t think so.”
“You lucky, Ray. I see it.”
“I’ll be lucky, you got a place for me to rent.”
Bob looked him over again. “Maybe I got just the place. Come see.”
The room was tiny, one of four, side by side above a long garage. At one end of the garage, wooden stairs led to an external walkway, shaded by a partially built roof. “We just finishing. You work? Maybe you help.”
“I work. But I don’t have tools with me.”
“Good, good.” Bob opened the first door and pointed to a hot plate and a midget refrigerator. “You get your own dishes. $55 a week, electric included. You pay now, one week.”
“Well, O.K. Good deal! I like it.” He handed Bob three twenties and received a five, back. “You want a security deposit?” Bob looked at him again.
“No need. You pay Friday. Maybe you help, Saturday.”
“O.K.” Bob slid the door key from his key ring and handed it to him.
“This 556, A1. A1, huh?” Bob laughed. “You like it here. Lucky Ray. Gotta go.” He walked away with quick steps and drove down the hill in a gray Chevy.
Ray. It had come out easier than he thought it would; practicing had helped. Charley echoed in his mind. He put it away in the hard place.
The bed nearly filled the room. He sat on it and then lay back on the mattress. He needed a pillow and sheets, a light comforter or something. He sprang up and left, locking the door. 556 Keaumoku, A1. He was lucky. He began to whistle, to walk more cheerfully. It was as though Ray had just been born. Bob Wu had appeared to help with the delivery.
“My father’s kind of an asshole,” Harry said. He and Lynn were sitting in his car on the Eastern Prom, looking over the bay.
“I want to meet him. Does he look like you?”
“Good muffin,” he said. “Beautiful today.”
“He’s bigger than I am, blonde, has a square face. I look more like my mother.”
“I like the way you look. I want to meet her too.”
“This weekend wouldn’t be good.”
“Soon,” Lynn said.
“Soon. Maybe we can see my father in New York; he’s easier to take in the city. At home—he and mother—they’re O.K. with each other, but they’re like fighters in separate corners. You keep listening for the bell.”
“At least they fight. My folks never raised their voices. My mom went on a trip to Florida with her girlfriend, came back two weeks later with a tan, and said, ‘You can all take care of yourselves, now. It's time for me to move on.’” Lynn's voice dropped. “‘I love you,’ she told us. ‘I’ll miss you a bunch, but it’s time to go.’ Dad helped her pack, and that was that.”
“Damn,” Harry said, “what did you do?”
“Went to college.”
“She’s in Florida, right?.”
“New Smyrna Beach, near Daytona, working in a health food store. She sends me little bottles of enzymes and things. Vitamin C.” She shook her head. “I couldn’t believe it when she left, but she’s definitely happier. She’s got a guy. I met him last Christmas. He makes ceramics, dishes and things. He’s all right, a little New Age.”
“Maybe we could swing down there this winter, visit.”
Lynn looked pleased. She put her hand on his leg and wiggled her shoulders. “Couldn’t we go somewhere?” Harry’s eyes moved down over her breasts.
“You mean like a motel? Too early.”
“No, I don’t want to be cooped up in a motel room. Outside! It’s a great day.”
“How about Bradbury Mountain?”
They drove to Pownal and climbed through the trees. “Hard to call this a mountain,” Harry said as they sat on a ledge at the top. “Mini-mountain, maybe.” Most of the leaves were down. Small hills, woods, and fields merged into each other, flattening toward the coast.
“Look!” Lynn pointed to a high line of dots, coming closer. The geese turned toward them. Harry could see the V and hear the distant continuous honking. “God, they’re beautiful. That sound, it breaks my heart.”
The geese flew by, exchanging positions, heads extended forward, wings beating steadily, moving fast. When they began to pass from sight, Lynn put her arms around him. He held her and put his face against her neck and shoulder. She twisted for a last look at the geese.
“Tempus fugit,” he said, but the joke, if that’s what it was, fell flat in the brisk air. Lynn turned to him, and he felt her grief and acceptance. Time does fly, and we can live, get on with it, or be left behind, her body was saying.
They stumbled away from the ledge and went to their knees on a bed of pine needles and fallen leaves behind a patch of juniper. Lynn tugged at his belt buckle, felt for the ground with her hips, and drew him with her as she rolled onto her back. He opened her jeans and dragged them down past her hips. She pushed down her panties and made a happy incoherent sound as he entered her. The ground was mute and cool; they had so little time; it was frightening and lucky to be alive at all. She held him tighter and tighter until he came and collapsed. She rocked him back and forth. “There,” she said. “There.”
Harry blinked and thought about rolling off her. “I can’t move.”
They heard voices, then a crashing through the underbrush. A black and white dog was sniffing at them, wagging its tail. “Jesus,” Harry said.
“Lulu!” The dog’s owner was close.
Lynn called out, “Just a minute here, while I get dressed.”
Harry pulled his pants up and brushed needles and bits of twigs from his hands and knees. “Good dog,” he said. Lynn stood slowly and took a deep breath, running fingers through her hair. Her face was wider, slowed, happier, as though she had incorporated the two of them with the geese and the smell of earth and leaves.
Lulu raced back to her owner. Lynn and Harry went the other way, following a trail along a stone wall around the back side of the park. Half an hour later they emerged at the far end of the parking lot.
“It’s so quiet,” Lynn said. “It smells so good. I hate to leave.”
“Yeah. You hungry?”
“Getting there. Didn’t you say that your father’s boat was coming out today?”
“Why don’t we eat at the marina, say hello, maybe?” He started to object but he didn't want to disturb the blanket of contentment that had settled over him.
“You’ll be sorry.”
“Oh, Harry. I’ll bet I like him.”
He’ll like you, Harry thought. “Turkey club,” he said.
“Caesar salad,” Lynn said. “I love you.”
“Well, I love you, too.” It was true as he said it, and not true. Not true because a part of him wasn’t there, wasn’t behind the words. He had things to do that didn’t involve her or love either. She stroked his leg. One of the best things about Lynn was that she pretty much accepted him the way he was. It was a relief. Also, she was a great fuck. He turned down the steep hill to the marina.
En Garde was already up on stands, her hull still glistening, when Harry and Lynn approached his father. “Well, here’s a surprise,” his father said, looking at Lynn.
“Dad, this is Lynn.”
She held out her hand and said, “Very nice to meet you.” He adjusted himself to her height and regarded her for an extra moment.
“Ben,” he said, shaking her hand. “Where did you get those eyes? Are you Scots?”
“Norwegian, on my father’s side. English, a bit of French.”
“Marvelous,” he said. He looked up at En Garde. “I always hate to see the old girl stuck on land; she was meant to be in the water.”
“Like most boats,” Harry said.
His father ignored him. “They don’t make 'em like that any more,” he said, managing somehow to include Lynn in the category. He checked his watch. “Will you have lunch with me? The Galley has decent food.” Harry’s eyes stayed on his father’s Mickey Mouse watch. Mickey had pointed to the time on his father’s wrist for as long as Harry could remember.
His father had bought fifty of them at a liquidation sale; he wore them out one by one. If he was asked, he would talk about Americana, collector’s item, value as opposed to price, and so on. He had half a dozen riffs, usually ending, And besides—I like Mickey, or we’re buddies, or we talk.
Harry asked him once why he didn’t wear a Rolex or a Piaget. “The human touch,” his father said and went on seriously. “It helps to keep people off balance, gives you a tighter turning radius. Besides—I like Mickey.” He’d given one to Harry for graduation from prep school, along with the keys to a two year old Cutlass. Harry lost the watch.
“Do they have Caesar salad?”
“Finest kind.” His father led them inside and asked for a window table. They went through a couple of bottles of Chardonnay and a round of Irish coffee. Ben told sailing stories—storms, ports in the Caribbean, feats of navigation.
“And then there was the time you rammed the Poughkeepsie bridge,” Harry said.
“A dark night,” his father said. “Of the soul.”
“I’ve had a few of those,” Lynn said.
“Yes,” Ben said. “I was working in Kingston at a job I disliked. I realized, well into the evening, that the only sensible course was down river—just get the hell out. I had a little Stone Horse sloop, Gypsy, cutter rigged. I took her out of Esopus Creek and turned right. Beautiful night. Soft. Overcast. A bit later I was below, opening a bottle of Laphroaig I’d saved for a special occasion, when we—Gypsy and I—discovered the bridge.”
“Some damage to the bow. We got hung up but didn’t sink.”
“The State Police came to his rescue,” Harry said.
“Flashing lights,” his father said. “Sometimes you get the bear; sometimes the bear gets you.”
“Arrested you for what?” Harry persisted.
“Drunken boating. I have a record in New York.” He gave Lynn the Ben George smile. If he were winning, the smile was sympathetic; if he were losing, it was gracious, rueful, the little boy who couldn’t. Untouchable. He controlled the situation either way.
Harry couldn’t take any more. “Thanks for lunch. We’ve got to be going.”
“Thank you for the company. A day late for a sail, but perhaps we’ll get another chance,” he said to Lynn.
“Oh, I hope so,” Lynn said. “I’m so glad to have met you.”
“Likewise.” Ben paid the check and walked back to his boat.
Harry and Lynn drove up the hill, each waiting for the other to speak.
“He’s not what I expected at all.”
“Yes, but that’s not it. He’s kind of sweet, really.”
“Just one big lump of sugar.”
“Well, I can see that he’s used to getting his way, but there’s another side to him. Now I’m dying to meet your mom.”
“Give this to Peter and bring back the form when you’re done. Signed. Stay out of trouble. You can’t leave the country. If you’re going out of state for more than a week, give me a call. Any questions, call me. We’ll talk when you’re done with community service.” He looked down at Harry’s file and shook his head. “You got off pretty easy,” he said. “Don’t screw up.”
“Don’t worry.” They shook hands. “Thank you,” Harry said and walked outdoors, ripping off his tie. Poor sap, stuck in that office, probably up to his ass in debt.
He drove to the soup kitchen and was given a choice of shifts by Pete, a short bald guy with wide shoulders and big hands. “Mornings, afternoons, or nights—ten to two; two to six; six to ten.”
Pete ran his thumb over a schedule. “Next week, Monday through Saturday?” It wasn’t really a question.
“I’ll tell Dale. He’ll be your supervisor, show you what to do.” He made an entry on the schedule. “Should work out good. I’ll be gone at five; just check in with Dale.”
“Will do.” Harry went outside and breathed deeply, letting the air wash away the smell of fat, detergent, and floor mops.
“Hey, Buddy—help a guy out?” A man lurched toward him, scarred leather jacket hanging open over a red hooded sweatshirt. Several others watched, leaning against the building, smoking.
“Sorry,” Harry said, starting to move toward his car.
“All right. God bless.” He didn’t have the spaced out, twitchy, drug look. Hooked on something—booze, probably. Despair. “Milky Way, Man!” He raised one arm over his head and pointed. “The galaxy! A hundred million stars.” Harry stopped. The guy made a circle with his thumb and finger. He sighted through the circle and moved his arm six inches. “Every circle filled with specks, dots of light. Thousands in every circle. Deep space, Man. You know what those specks are?”
Harry looked up.
“Galaxies, Man. Like ours. Each speck.” He lowered his arm lovingly, like a conductor.
“Hey Professor, shut the fuck up. We’re going. C’mon.”
Harry pulled a dollar from his wallet and held it out. “Where did you go to school, Professor?”
The guy accepted the dollar, leaned closer, and said, “A whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.” He winked and joined the group straggling up the sidewalk.
Harry reached in his pocket for his keys. Where the hell was that from? Moby Dick? He started the car and drove toward home, slightly dazed. Each galaxy—a hundred million stars? Enough to make a guy feel small. “I got one for you cheap,” he said in the dark, “a little used, a dollar a star.”
The next morning Charley called the Bureau of Vital Records in New York and requested an application for a birth certificate replacement. Then he ordered a telephone. Electricity was included in his rent. What should he do for a second utility bill? He asked Bob if he could get cable TV installed. “Be my guest,” Bob said, “You pay. I got Nebraska and ten points this weekend. What you think?”
“O.K. Lucky Ray.”
The cable company scheduled an installation for the following Tuesday. We will bill you, they told him. Good. He bought a thirteen inch color TV.
Saturday was rainy; the work to the building was postponed. He went to a sports bar and watched Nebraska win by two touchdowns. By Wednesday noon, both the telephone and the cable TV were installed. He went out and came back to find a letter lying on his doormat. It was from the New York Department of Health. Hot damn!
He filled the form out carefully. Maria Gianelli, he printed. He felt an odd warmth toward this woman he’d never met. He bought a money order and made it out to the Bureau of Vital Records, signing it, Ray Jackson.
The utility bills arrived two weeks later. He made copies and sent the originals together with the application and money order from the main post office by certified mail.
Three weeks later, he sat on his bed, holding a letter from the Bureau in his hand. He was afraid to open it. He placed it squarely on the corner of the bed and walked to the window. A tree with large, almost horizontal, limbs shaded the area in front of the garage. A smaller house beyond the garage completed the compound. The patriarch of the Wu family was slowly raking leaves from the blacktop.
He turned back to the bed, took a deep breath, and opened the letter. Raymond Jackson jumped out at him, printed on stiff green paper. Born: April 9, 1952. The certificate was perforated with a fancy seal, City of New York. Done. He didn’t know whether he felt like cheering or crying. He did what he usually did when he was uncertain; he went out to eat. He walked to the Ilikai Marina and had shrimp cocktail, prime rib, and plenty of beer, feeling more like Ray Jackson as the evening went along. He had the birth certificate—something solid to build on. In the morning, he’d make copies, keep one in his wallet, and put the original in a safe place. Boats rocked in the marina. Customers came and wentas night fell. It wasn’t his city yet, but he felt more at home than he had anywhere since he’d left Maine, lying in the back of Darlene’s truck.
In the morning, he woke with a small hangover and went out for coffee and a newspaper. When he came back, Bob was standing by the garage.
“Lucky Ray, you just in time.” Bob pointed to a truck backing toward the end of the garage, loaded with lumber.
“Hey, all right!” He ran up the stairs and dropped his paper on the small table by the window. Four Wu’s were already unloading pressure treated 2x6’s, 2x10’s, and long 4x4’s. He trotted down and began to help.
The eldest Wu watched while they stacked the lumber in separate piles. The youngest, eleven or twelve, was sent for an extension cord. The elder opened a door in the end of the garage and directed the boy, pointing.
The other end of the garage had a window by the stairs but no door. He wondered what they would do about the door in this end. A few words were exchanged. Suddenly, they were all squatting in a circle, considering the design. Several ideas were weighed. They agreed on a stairway that began at the back and reversed direction at a landing, allowing access to the door.
Everyone stood at once and began to work. Bob’s brother, Henry, was in charge of layout. He worked by eye, using a chalkline to strike the outline of the stairs against the garage siding. Lucky Ray dug shallow holes and set flat concrete blocks for footings. They built the landing first, a little more than a third of the way up. It changed the end of the garage in a pleasing way.
Cindy, Bob’s wife, served lunch on their screened lanai, and then they were at it again. There was more pointing than talking. They seemed to have a code, an anti-bullshit pact. It wasn’t fun, exactly, working with them, but it was satisfying. They were done by dark. Several of the Wu’s nodded at him when they left.
He began putting on the roofing panels that would keep the upper walkway dry. It was pleasant on Bob’s stepladder, head and shoulders up through the rafters, hammering the nails just so, little rubber washers sealing the holes. He stopped when he was half done and studied the health insurance form. For occupation, he wrote: self employed handyman. He had no health problems. His last tetanus shot was junior year in high school when he cut his foot on a piece of barbed wire. Pretty stupid, running through that field barefoot. Chasing Ginny down. He didn’t get her that day, but he did later that summer. He softened and began to feel lonely. The hard place straightened him. She’s better off. So am I, come down to it. He put the good times behind him and finished filling out the form.
He went down the hill for a plate of fried rice and was home in time to watch Hawaii get beaten by B.Y.U. in a close basketball game. The Rainbows had a pretty good team, some local guys, a few players recruited from the mainland.
The next morning was bright and sunny. He took the insurance application to Kaiser Clinic, paid the fee, and was back on the stepladder by ten-thirty. He relaxed against a rafter and let his eyes take in the greenery covering the steep hillside—trees, vines, branches, leaves of many shapes and sizes. He became aware of something on a branch, something brown which came gradually into focus—a lizard, immobile, larger than a gecko. He watched it and blinked. He waited, blinked again. It was changing color. Almost imperceptibly, it was lightening, turning green. A chameleon, he realized.
He didn’t move. The sun beat down. The air was drowsy. The chameleon became fully green and jumped. He almost missed it, had to look hard to find it, motionless on a broad green leaf, exactly the same shade. I’ll be damned, He thought. It changed before it jumped.
The future was coming at him. The health insurance photo ID would be mailed in three weeks. Maybe a month after that he’d have a social security card. He’d be home free then. Take a driver’s test and open a bank account. He needed to get a job.
People were going to ask questions. He had to get his story straight, so that he wouldn’t tell one person one thing and somebody else something different.
He had another Heineken. He didn’t want to make up a lot of stuff about his past; it was too hard to remember. As long as he didn’t get fingerprinted, he’d be O.K. He probably wouldn’t run into anyone who would recognize him. If he did, he might see the other person first and be able to turn around. He thought about dyeing his hair and growing a mustache, but it wasn’t his style.
He'd tell people as little as possible about his past. When it was unavoidable, he’d stick close to the truth, using first names only. Who was going to check up on him? He wasn’t going to apply for a job with the F.B.I.
He let out a deep breath. It was like getting himself back. He was still himself; he just had a different name. It was a pain in the ass, but he was getting used to it. Not going home was the tough part. Remember Jimmy? Three years for dealing. Came out forty pounds heavier with a mean look. He shook his head, finished his beer, paid, and walked into the warm night.
Larsen looked him over. “This Walker—he’s making us look bad.” Roland nodded again. “You run him down, it would look good on your record. I could justify a raise in grade. Probably you could use the extra money.”
“For sure,” Roland said.
Larsen tapped his fingers together. “So, go ahead, put some extra time in on it. You need anything, let me know. He’s out there somewhere; he’ll be coming back, getting in touch. They always do. That’s when we’ll get him.”
“Right,” Roland said.
Later, he told Theresa at dinner.
“I’m not saying we couldn’t use the money,” she said. “But you can’t buy old friends.”
“Or me, either,” Roland said. “Still—it’s my job. Larsen thinks Charley’ll come back and get caught. I don’t think so. I hope he’s having a good time somewhere. Charley’s worth three of Larsen.”
“You got that right.” The kids were getting rowdy. She leaned toward them. “Shush now, I’m getting dessert.”
“You know what, Beautiful—let me do it. Ice cream, coming up!”
Harry stopped for breakfast at Moody’s in Waldoboro, a gateway to Down East. He always ate there, adjusting to a different pace, expanding into his other life where he was Harry, not the George kid who lived in Cumberland. He was Magnum Enterprises.
Magnum Enterprises was a bank account in Grand Cayman and his Halliburton briefcase. He glanced at the dull shine of the aluminum briefcase and its combination lock. Impervious. Ten percent skimmed from the restaurant and the convenience store added up nicely.
He looked for established businesses whose owners were hanging on until they could retire. He offered them a segue into retirement, buying the properties and the business, allowing them to stay on and run the business without worry. Often they weren’t ready to give up what they’d been doing for so long, but the cash for the business and the down payment on the property sometimes closed the deal. Magnum gave them half of the profit, made the mortgage and insurance payments, and kept the books. They were working for him, really, but it didn’t feel like that.
Mort, in Portland, handled the books and taxes. He was a legitimate accountant. It was nobody’s business how much he charged Harry and how much he got in envelopes twice a year. Harry’s motto was: Everybody wins but the I.R.S.
He was pleased when he left Moody’s. Thinking things over was work, a kind of maintenance that needed to be done regularly. Buying Jed’s had been a good deal. Jed started the place, built it himself twenty-five years ago—first the clam shack, then the addition. Good view of the marina and harbor. Finest kind clams, fried shrimp, lobster. The drive up was business, but it was always good to visit.
When he got there, Suzy, the waitress, was taking a smoke break in front. Four customers were lingering at a corner table. Jed was cleaning in the kitchen. “Here’s for you,” Harry said, opening his briefcase. He flipped an envelope onto the counter in front of the toaster.
“Thanks.” Jed put the envelope in his back pocket.
“What’s the matter? Hard day?”
“Nah, nothing. Time of year, I guess. Closing next week.”
“You can kick back, man!”
“Well, there’s stuff to do around the place. You know how it is. I like it when people come in to eat. Five month season—you’d think I’d be used to it by now.”
“Maybe you should take off for a while. Check out Florida or somewhere.”
“The missus wants to go to Bermuda. She’s been reading.” He looked at Harry. “What am I going to do in Bermuda?”
“Get some shorts; ride a bike around; play croquet.”
“Yeah, it’s a game. You hit a wooden ball with a mallet. Try to knock it through little hoops stuck in the ground. Wickets.”
“Brandy Alexanders,” Harry said. “Two or three of those and it gets exciting. I wouldn’t mind. Tell you what—I’ll go with the missus.”
“That a promise?”
The phone rang. “O.K., be right there.” He hung up the phone and wiped his hands on his apron. “I got to go do something, Harry. Suzy will close. See you next time. The bills and cash are in the safe.”
“Good. Place looks good, Jed.”
Jed looked around at the clean kitchen and nodded. “Oh, I almost forgot—Marty wants to see you, over at the Marina. He was asking when you were coming up.”
“No problem, Jed. See you next trip.”
Harry drove down the slope to the marina. The only person he saw was working on a boat moored to the main dock. Harry approached his back. “Marty around?”
A tall man pulled his head out of the engine compartment and cleaned a wrench with a rag. “Was, last time I knew.” There was a smudge on his nose.
“Roomy in there,” Harry said.
“They design these things with computers. Might be, Marty’s on the bridge.” He pointed to a large window on the second floor. “Steps are on the right. Bang on the door.” He adjusted a pair of small vise-grips and leaned over the engine.
Harry climbed the stairs and knocked.
“Come in, Harry.” Marty was sitting at a desk overlooking the marina. “Saw you coming. Have a seat.” Marty was burly. His eyes were dark, close together. He had a two day growth.
“Good view,” Harry said.
“Keep an eye on things. You know how it is. You want a cup of coffee or something? Shot of the finest? Beer?” Harry poured himself coffee and sat on a leather couch.
“So, what’s happening?”
“Glad you came by, Harry. Glad you came by.” Marty lowered his voice and leaned toward him. “I got a deal for you.” Harry waited. “I’m going to expand. I want Jed’s. I’ll give you a hundred grand for the business and the property. Here’s the kicker—half cash. Fucking idiots in Washington got enough of our money, know what I mean? Whaddya say?”
“Cash talks. What about Jed?”
“I’ll take care of him. Don’t worry about it. My problem.”
“One-fifty, half cash, 10G up front.”
“What! You little prick. You’re going to make me shell out a hundred twenty-five grand for that shack.” Marty shook his head admiringly.
“Make that one-sixty,” Harry said. Marty’s eyes narrowed. “You’ve got to figure,” Harry said, “which would be happier—telling me to fuck off or owning this side of the harbor.”
Marty made up his mind. “Wait for me downstairs.”
Harry went down to the first floor and stood in the doorway. Things were looking good. There was a little singing in his ears. Marty appeared five minutes later and held up a manila envelope. “One-fifty-four. Here’s ten thousand, sixty-seven more in cash when we close.”
Harry considered. He’d made his point. Always good to let the other guy have the last word. “Deal,” he said. “When do you want to close?”
“I’ll be in Portland a week from Friday. That give you enough time?”
“Yep. The deed’s clear.”
“I know,” Marty said. “Straight sale, as is—business, all assets and property, seventy-seven thousand on the books.” Harry gave him one of Mort’s cards.
“Solid. See you here, at Mort’s—right off Exchange Street. One o’clock, Friday?”
Marty looked at the card and put it in his wallet. “Right. If—this doesn’t go through, one of my reps will be looking you up.” Fucking neanderthal.
“No problemo. See you next Friday.” Marty went upstairs, and Harry locked the cash in his briefcase. He drove past Jed who was back, raking in front of the restaurant. Jed straightened, expecting to talk, but Harry smiled, waved, and kept going. Jed was going to have to work out his own deal with Marty.
On the way to Flat’s Cove, Harry reviewed the deal. There was no pre-payment penalty in the mortgage. After closing costs, he was going to have at least ninety thousand, seventy-seven under the table. On paper, he’d show a small loss that would come in handy at tax time. He’d put sixty into it and skimmed most of that back off the top. Not bad for a three year investment. A little less than three years.
By Monday afternoon, Harry had Marty's deal ready to go and had negotiated another five thousand on an offer for his house in Carrabassett. He wasn’t looking forward to the soup kitchen, but everything else was moving along well. He put on jeans and a green sweatshirt and reported.
“Community service calls.”
“Just in time, Sweetheart. You must be Harry, the answer to my prayer.”
Dale was six-three, at least, broad shouldered. He pointed to a stainless steel counter and a heap of pots and pans piled next to a large sink. “If you could start with those, it would be marvelous. There are kitchen gloves in the supply cabinet, there.” Harry looked at the pile. “I know. I know,” Dale said. “You think, I’ll never be finished. But if you do them one at a time and don’t think about it—after awhile, you’re done.”
“Jesus,” Harry said.
“I’ll play power music,” Dale said. “We’ll have some nice pie, after.”
It was worse than Harry thought; the sink, too, was filled with baking pans, mixing bowls, long handled spoons and ladles—anything that couldn’t fit in a dishwasher. He pulled on rubber gloves, a size too large, as Jimmy Cliff and a reggae beat filled the kitchen. The harder they come, the harder they fall, one and all … He picked up a scouring pad and a small frying pan, turned on the water, and began scrubbing.
It worked, as Dale said, as long as he didn’t think about it. When he started to think, to talk to himself, he began to panic. He was trapped. He wanted to run out the door. He could claim some kind of crisis or personality problem with Dale. He could talk his way into a different community service, but—would it do any good? It might be worse, although that was hard to imagine. He set his jaw and became a scrubbing machine.
Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, two hours later, Harry rinsed a huge mashed potato pot and took off the gloves. “Next time,” Dale suggested, “with that potato pot—start out with cold water. Potatoes, rice, pasta—cold first, then hot. Harry, they are beautiful, beautiful. They gleam.” He brought a pie dish from the cooler and served two pieces at a wooden table. “Billy makes a good pie.” Harry got a cup of coffee and adjusted his chair so that he couldn’t see the sink.
“I like a cup of tea at night,” Dale said.
Harry chewed and pointed at the pie with his fork. “Pretty good.”
“Didn’t I tell you?”
“So, what do you do, Dale, besides work in here?”
“Oh—I have my position to uphold.”
“What position is that?”
“I’m the largest queen in Portland. And I have my collections.”
“Collections?” Harry took another bite of pie.
“Oh, yes. Nothing much, really. Kilims. And my Georgia O’Keefe memorabilia. I’m not so much into that now. Kilims, God! I've spent everything on them.”
“What’s a kilim?”
“A small rug, hand woven, usually wool. Unbelievable colors. Traditional patterns from Turkey, Iran, the Causcasus, places like that.”
“Where do you buy them?”
“Dealers. I went to Turkey once with Ringo. We found some beauties.”
“Do you ever sell them?”
“Only when I absolutely have to—to buy a better one. Sometimes you simply can’t resist.” Dale shrugged.
Rugs. Who would have guessed. Everyone has a weakness, something they want that will make everything all right.
“Can you get a decent one for a thousand bucks?”
“Oh yes, if you know what you’re doing.”
“Dale, I’ve been thinking. I’ve got a lot to do in the next couple of months. A lot to do. I’m thinking about a deal here. If you could find someone to pull my shifts, I could pay for him and get you something for being the contractor. I’m thinking a thousand bucks for the labor and a thousand for a kilim.”
Dale leaned back in his chair. “My, aren’t you the hustler.”
“That would be up front. Then, when you sign my form in ten weeks, another thousand for the collection.”
“What if Pete checks on you?”
“At night? Never happen. He’s a family man. Anyway, if he did—a hundred to one, he won’t—I’m sick and you got a sub. Just call me and let me know. How about it?”
“Hmm. I don't know. Well, O.K.”
“We have a deal? Good. Tomorrow night I’ll bring the two thousand. You take care of the other guy; handle that any way you want. I see a killer kilim; it's waiting for you.”
“Yes, well, it is hard to resist your enthusiasm.”
“Yeah, you got a passion for kilims; I have passions, too.”
“Not for dishes,” Dale said. He was a likeable dude, really. Comfortable. Probably something to do with being big. “In the meantime,” Dale went on, “that is to say, until ten, there are those potatoes.” He pointed to a sack in the corner. “If you would peel them and put them in that blue tub with some water, I’ll make a few calls.” Fair enough.
Dale went into a small office and emerged half an hour later. “Ringo is too lazy,” he said. “I tried Pele; she was quite rude. Larry said no, but he suggested Daniel. Marvelous! Daniel is pleased to have the work. You’re a free man, Harry—if you’ll just be good enough to finish those potatoes.”
The next evening, at quarter to six, Harry handed Dale a copy of Antique Collectors Digest with an envelope jammed inside.
“He’ll be here any minute. Daniel is very punctual.”
“Good man,” Harry said. “I’ll see you in ten weeks. Enjoy the kilim.”
“Yes, and thank you for the magazine. Enjoy your freedom.” He seemed to mean it.
His mother was reading in the living room. “Hello, Dear,” she said, “how was your day?”
“I have prevailed.”
“It is the way of the George’s,” she said.
“Balzac.” She lifted the leather bound volume slightly. “Pere Goriot.”
“Oh, good. Nothing heavy.”
“You might try Balzac, Harry. Your mind wouldn’t wilt.”
“It’s too late, Mother. The killer weed.” She fought back a smile. He seized the moment. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”
“That woman you’ve been seeing, I suppose.”
“Lynn. Very well.”
“I was thinking about dinner, maybe Friday?”
“Ethel is taking Friday off.”
“Not here. The Galley, perhaps?”
“Yes. Well. That will be very nice, Dear.”
“I’ll make reservations,” Harry said.
“Very nice.” She was reading already.
“You’d better get back to Paris,”
“Good night, Dear. Friday. Yes. Very nice.”
Harry went up to his room and called Lynn. She was excited. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Better not to think about it. He turned on the TV.
By Friday he had scrounged enough cash to pay off the mortgage on Jed’s. He was out of cash, but Marty would make him well in a hurry. Mort had the paper work under control. They would slide the deed and keys to Marty; he would slide them a check and an envelope. Mort would hand over a file box that contained the business records along with a couple of diskettes. Harry would walk to the bank and make a deposit. Magnum would be primed for the next deal.
It went as he expected, although Marty wasn't a bundle of laughs. He didn’t think much about the dinner until he picked up Lynn. He was surprised to see her in a straight skirt and black cashmere sweater. “Are those pearls?”
She tossed her hair. “You like?”
“Amazing! Couldn’t we skip dinner and just start taking things off?”
“I borrowed the pearls.” She took a wool coat from a closet. “I didn’t have a decent coat. I found this one at Amaryllis.” It was the color of brick and fallen leaves, complementing her auburn hair and the black sweater.
“We’ll pick up mumsie on the way.”
Harry’s mother was waiting and stepped outside as they drove in. He and Lynn got out of the car, meeting her on the walk. “Mother—Lynn.”
“I’m so glad to meet you, Mrs. George.”
“Elizabeth, for God’s sake.”
“Mother is known for getting to the point.”
“It is true that I am Mrs. George,” she said, getting into the back seat. “But it is more true that I am Elizabeth.”
“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in front?”
“This is perfectly fine, Dear. I’d ride in a donkey cart to get to salmon and a nice drink.” Dear. Harry didn’t understand how it had happened, but his mother and Lynn seemed to have already reached an understanding.
Dinner was a female affair. His mother told stories about the little Harry and desisted from discussing great literary works. There was an uncomfortable moment after Lynn explained that she was studying music history and was asked if she played an instrument. “Piano—but not very well.”
His mother paused as though the answer didn’t translate into any of her languages. She brightened. “I’m sure you play very well. I don’t play at all.”
“I played the penny whistle,” Harry said, “until Father broke it.”
Lynn smiled. “How can you break a penny whistle?”
“Over your knee,” Harry said.
“Your father does have a temper at times. Although he has mellowed—wouldn’t you say?”
Harry made a face. Yeah, right.
Lynn said, “I met—Ben—right here. He was very charming.” Harry wondered if his parents had talked about her.
His mother said, “I’m so glad to get to know you,” with over the top sincerity that made his teeth itch but seemed to put Lynn at ease.
Dessert went on for some time. Harry made a point of paying. His mother made a point of thanking him. Lynn and his mother said their goodbyes in the car, and he walked his mother to the door.
“She’s very nice, Dear,” his mother said. “But I will remind you that you must lie in the bed you make.”
“Thanks for the reminder.”
“Good night, Dear. It was a lovely dinner.”
Harry was halfway down the drive before Lynn said, “Well, what did she say?”
“She said you were very nice.” Lynn hesitated, weighing his tone.
“I think she’s just fine,” she said. She put her hand on his leg. “Guess who’s not home this weekend?”
“Mmmm, maybe I’ll stay awhile,” he said, stopping in front of her house. “I’ve got to get another place one of these days.”
“The house in Carrabassett is too far away, isn’t it?”
“I sold it. Closing the end of this month. I didn’t go up all that often, but even when I rented it—it was still mine.”
“Well, mi casa, su casa—tonight anyway.”
“Tough choice between you and the Celtics.”
“You can have both.”
He watched the third quarter while she changed and cleaned up in the kitchen. She bounced down beside him on the couch, bathrobe falling away from one knee and leg. “How’s the game?”
“In the bag, Celtics up fourteen.” He moved sideways and bent his head to her leg. He felt with his teeth for the muscle along the top while he traced with a finger the soft underside of her leg. Her hand went to the back of his neck. He turned his head, resting his cheek on her leg. His hands rose to her breasts. Her bathrobe opened.
He followed the long curve of her body down to her hips, his hands separating. She didn’t move. His head slid up her legs, into the cleft between them and then over the flat smooth swell of her belly to one breast and then the other. He was on his knees now. He shut his eyes and pushed her over on the couch; he didn’t want to see her face; he wanted her body.
She undid his belt and pushed his pants down as he moved over her. He was hard and heavy, pinning her to the couch, fucking her deliberately. She wanted it. She was there to be fucked. She was supposed to be fucked. She took it and took it, digging fingernails into him, gasping harder and harder until he came, filling her with what felt like his collapsing will.
She stroked his back and made soothing sounds. He heard Johnny Most, the Celtics’ announcer, shouting in disbelief at a bad call. “Let’s go to bed,” Harry said, pulling slowly out of her and rising awkwardly. He turned off the TV, went into her bedroom, and crawled between cool sheets.
Ray walked to an address at the intersection of Kalakaua and Kapiolani, a gas station on the Diamond Head corner. A cream colored delivery van was parked at one edge of the lot. Several Dodge Darts with taxi roof lights were angled next to the van. Inside the garage, another Dart, white like the others, was up on a lift. A middle-aged man was working on the brakes. Ray asked about the cab company. The mechanic pointed at the van. Ray nodded and walked over. He was getting used to new ways. Why talk when you can point? Why answer when you can nod?
Next to the van door was a painted sign: “Archer is.” Next to that, behind a clear plastic shield, was a card that read, “In.” Ray rapped on the door.
“Come in.” A large haole with a pleasant face was sitting at a desk covered with papers and folders. He was talking on a phone. “Just a moment.” The van was organized as an office and small meeting room—a bookshelf, a narrow counter, a tape player, a trash can nearly filled with empty coffee cups, photographs and a map of Honolulu on the wall. “What can I do for you?”
“I'm looking for a job.”
“Have you driven before? I'm Archer, by the way.”
“Ray, Ray Jackson. Not a cab.”
Archer looked him over. “First time for everything.” He had a tan and an aloha shirt, the easy look of the islands, but his voice was mainland, east coast with the edges worn off. “We have a good training program. Where are you from?”
“Down East,” Archer said. “I did summer stock in Maine.”
“Acting—in the summer theaters—off Broadway.”
“You were an actor.”
“Of sorts. I'm afraid I never quite made it. And, it's so cold in New York. Why do you want to drive?”
“I need the money.”
“Ah,” Archer said. “That's why I got into it.” He looked out a window in the end of the van. “Here's Dean.” He stood and opened the door. A stocky guy about Ray's age came in.
“Dean, this is Ray. He wants to drive with us.”
Dean took another look at him. “Why not?”
“Maybe you could take him out for an hour, show him our way of doing things.”
“Will do. 21 isn't charging. Belt's O.K., probably the alternator.”
“All right, I'll tell Muni. Why don't you take 32?”
“Right on. Let's go.” He looked at Ray.
“Let's go,” Ray said. He got into the front seat, and Dean waited for a chance to turn up Kalakaua.
“So, where you from?”
“Yeah? I'm from Cleveland. Just outside of Cleveland.”
Dean reached for a microphone under the dash. “32.”
32, 240 Kaheka.
“Ten four, 240 Kaheka.” He hung up the mike and backed across the lot to the Kapiolani side. “Over by the Pagoda,” he said. A neatly dressed woman waiting on the sidewalk smiled at Dean as he leaped out of the cab and held the door for her. She gave him an address.
32. The dispatcher had a rich voice that left sweet echoes.
“240 Kaheka to 2982 Alewa Drive. Mahalo.”
“Oooh, 32.” Approval floated through the cab.
“Alewa Heights,” Dean said to Ray. He turned his head to the woman. “How are you today?”
“Fine, but one half hour late.”
“Traffic is light—we make good time. You want I ask the dispatcher to call for you, say you on your way?”
Dean had a clipboard and a map of the city on the seat next to him. While they waited at an intersection, he made an entry on the clipboard. They drove across town and high into a residential neighborhood. From time to time, the dispatcher gave a location, followed a short time later by instructions to another driver, closest to the pickup point.
The city spread out behind them; the Pacific reached farther and farther as they climbed. Dean slowed.
“This one,” she said. He turned off the meter and stopped by a low house with a tile roof. Most of the house was hidden behind a stuccoed wall. Bougainvillae hung from a wooden trellis that framed an entry in the wall. Dean opened the door for her.
“You going to need a ride back?”
“Three o'clock,” she said.
“I'll be here.”
“Better I call—in case things change.”
“O.K., mahalo.” He took the money, waved, and got back in the cab. Ray watched the woman walk under the flowers. Her shoulders seemed tired. The flowers, the quiet, the green with the ocean beyond, the woman with some kind of problem, her back, her short hair elegantly cut—time stopped for a moment. He felt that his life could open, walking behind her through that entry. Would open through some entry. With someone. “Good load,” Dean said.
As they drove down the mountain, Dean explained the shifts: “Twelve hours, six to six. You start with a full tank; you fill up at the end of the shift. You turn in an envelope with the beginning meter and the ending meter. You subtract them, divide by two, and write that down. That's how much you put in the envelope. The company gets half the meter. You get half the meter and all the tips. You pay to fill up at Muni's. You turn in the envelope, and that's it. You're an independent contractor. No taxes, no benefits.”
“I get it.”
“Archer's good to work for. Top three drivers every month get a free shift. You get better cabs and first choice of shifts after you've been here awhile. Oh yeah, if you break down, he'll pay you for the time you lost.”
An elderly man at a corner raised his arm. Dean hit the turn signal and brakes at the same time, stopping just past the man.
“Hotel Street,” the man said, lowering himself into the back seat. Dean pulled into traffic.
32, 110 Queen.
“110 Queen.” He put down the mike. “We'll be there in a couple of minutes. Hotel Street is right on the way.” He dropped the man off. On Queen Street, they picked up an airport load. Leaving the airport, a guy flagged them down from the city bus stop.
“Yes!” Dean said. He looked in the mirror. “We aren't allowed to pick up at the airport. Sometimes I'll take a chance. This is a SIDA stop. Only SIDA cabs can pick up here. They've got the airport, most of the big hotels.” He jumped out and opened the trunk for the guy's suitcase.
“Ilikai,” the guy said.
“Let's roll.” Dean got in and said, “Charley's got the shopping center, Holiday Mart, some of the smaller hotels, lots of dispatch.”
“So, Archer's company is part of Charley's?”
“Right. We've got a training booklet that explains all this—how to get your cab license and all.”
The passenger leaned toward the front seat. “You guys make any money?”
“Sometimes,” Dean said. “Slow now, but we'll pick up after the holidays.”
“I ought to quit and come out here; that's what I ought to do.”
“Sure,” Dean said. “Come on out. Or just stay, throw away that return ticket.”
“I got a lady wouldn't like that.”
“At least you got a lady. Bring her, too.”
“I'd have to bring half of Wisconsin.”
“Wisconsin,” Dean said, “Packers, man. Green Bay.”
When the Ilikai came into sight, the man said, “There she is. I'm ready for a cold one.”
“Lucky dog,” Dean said. He retrieved the man's suitcase and stuffed bills in his pocket. “Mahalo. Enjoy.”
He got back in the cab and headed for Muni's. “It isn't this good all the time.” Back in the van, he told Archer, “Four loads—Alewa Heights and an airport.”
“Dean's our number one,” Archer said to Ray. “In fact, he wrote this booklet. Here's everything you need to know. Come back when you get your license; we'll put you on the road.”
Ray took the booklet. “Thanks.” There was a friendly feeling in the van, a group of guys pulling something off, making it on the edges of the system. “I'll be back.”
He wrote “Ray Jackson” in a new notebook and sketched Diamond Head, glowing green from recent rain. He turned over a page and laid down his ballpoint. Christmas was next week. His mom would miss him. And Molly. He used to always get Molly a good present. Ron, the kids. Ron wasn't a bad guy.
He wondered how his father was doing. Last he'd heard was a card saying that he'd moved farther north in Minnesota, somewhere up near the border. He was still with Edna; that was a good thing. She was nice, had a sweet smile. His father kept getting farther from people, not like his mother. It wasn't that he didn't like people, as far as Ray could tell; he was just happier in the woods. Never did talk much. He'd understand, though—taking off—staying free. It was the closest Ray could come to a real conversation—imagining his family, hearing their voices in his mind. He looked around. There wasn't anyone he really wanted to talk to. Time to go. It was comfortable at the Moana, but he had to get up early in the morning, first day of driving.
Kalakaua was crowded with tourists in groups of three and four, carrying shopping bags, talking fast, having a good time before they got on a big bird back to Tokyo or Des Moines. A short blonde walked toward him on the sidewalk. She had leis hanging on one arm and was giving them away. She came toward him smiling, forcing him to stop. She reached both arms over and behind his head, almost a hug. Plumeria brushed his cheek. She stepped back. His eyes opened at the sweetness of the smell. “Aloha,” she said.
Her eyes lingered on his for a moment, and then she stepped around him and continued down the sidewalk. He took a few steps and stopped. His knees began to shake and suddenly he couldn't see. He was crying on Kalakaua Avenue. He touched the plumeria lei. The woman's warmth was all over him. Last of the flower children, ten years out of date. She chose me. He walked unsteadily forward, regaining control of his breathing. He wiped his eyes and shook his head feeling weak but better, as though a fever had broken. He hadn't cried since junior high school. He turned to look for the woman, but she was gone.
The next morning, Ray was at Muni's by ten minutes to six. Cabs were pulling in; drivers were pumping gas and turning in envelopes. Archer said good morning and pointed to a cab parked near the van. “Why don't you take 48?” he said.
“Good deal.” Ray got into the cab, put his license into the holder on the sun visor, and started the engine. He adjusted the seat and mirrors, turned the radio on, and headed out.
The streets were sleepy in the early light. The dispatcher called a location on the other side of the city. Ray had no idea what to do. It was too early to wait in line at the shopping center. He drove down King Street and then doubled back on Beretania. A guy ran in front of the cab waving his arms. He jumped into the front seat. “Fort Shafter! Got to get there by 6:45!”
“Where's Fort Shafter?”
“Jesus, keep going! I'll show you.” He was a G.I. who had to be on base in time for duty. Ray raced to Wahiawa, just making it. The guy gave him fifteen bucks and ran from the cab.
Ray put the bills in his shirt pocket and made an entry on the trip sheet. On the way back to Honolulu, he stopped for French toast and sausage. Not bad, he thought. A cab was a whole lot better than jail.
Nearly a year later, Jim Pizza was leaning against the fender of Ray's cab in front of Liberty House at the shopping center. “So what's the best load you ever got?”
“Fort Shafter,” Ray said. “Damnedest thing. First load I ever got. Six in the morning.”
“Not counting tours, I think Kaneohe was my best.” Jim Pizza was his real name. He was from New York. It was November, a slow time.
“What did you do in New York?”
“I was a musician.”
“Yeah? What did you play?”
“Guitar. Guitar and sing. Used to play on the street.”
“Yeah, it was cool. Better in Europe, though.”
“They dig musicians over there. Stockholm, Copenhagen—you can do great around the holidays. Good looking women.”
“I can't play anything. Why did you stop?”
“I don't know—got tired, burned out.”
“No, it isn't. You gotta stop sometimes, try new things, recharge. I'm going back.” Jim looked out over the parking lot to the line of palms along the shore. The ocean was blue and sunny through the trees. “I'm saving. I've got my guitar. When I get a ticket and a few bucks, I'm gone.” Ray had been driving nearly a year and had heard plenty of drivers' dreams.
“Hope you make it, man. Send me a card.” A woman came out carrying a Liberty House shopping bag. Jim opened the door for her, waved at Ray, and drove off. Ray moved to first in line.
A few weeks later, Jim Pizza wasn't around any more. One morning in February, Archer said, “This came in yesterday.” He handed Ray a card—a photograph of a sculpted mermaid in a harbor. On the other side, next to the address, it said, “Made it! Playing every day. Come on over. Your friend, Jim Pizza.”
“Son of a bitch,” Ray said. “He did it. Jim Pizza—he's in Copenhagen playing his guitar.”
“He's a good driver,” Archer said. “Shows up every so often for a while and takes off.” He raised his eyebrows, smiled, and spread his arms. “The wild years.”
Ray bought a paper and coffee and drove to the Ala Moana Hotel. It was usually a long wait, but sometimes you got an airport load. Not much else going on at six.
The hotel was dead. He waited fifteen minutes, last in line, and changed his mind. He cruised around the shopping center and down Ala Moana Boulevard. A woman waved at him from the entrance to the Ilikai and hurried toward the sidewalk. Ray didn't see any doormen or SIDA cabs. He stopped.
She got in and half collapsed, half threw herself into the back seat, letting out a long breath. Ray pulled away quickly. “Where to? We're not supposed to pick up here.” He saw her looking at him in the rear view mirror. She looked upset, as though she hadn't slept. Shoulder length black hair, strong face, broad cheekbones.
“Take me where I can hear the ocean. I need to just sit for awhile.” Ray drove through Kapiolani Park to Diamond Head and stopped at the lookout. They rolled down the windows. Surf crashed softly below. The morning was still gray but beginning to brighten.
The woman sighed and was quiet, her head turned to look out at the Pacific. The meter ticked. Ray reached over and shut it off. He adjusted himself to have a better view. Sadness from the back seat filled the cab. He gave in to it. There was plenty to be sad about. Then there was the ocean that didn't care, that just rolled along the shore, ever changing, timeless. The light. It was the light that made it bearable.
The sadness began to dissipate like a fine mist burning off.
“I can go back now,” she said.
“O.K.” He straightened and reached for the key. He needed a moment before he could stand the sound of the starter. “O.K,” he said again. They didn't speak until they reached the Ilikai.
“You want to come up for a joint?”
“Sure. Of course. But I'm not going to.” He surprised himself. But it was the right thing to do—he didn't know why.
“You're an outlaw,” she said slowly. He was startled. Their eyes met and held. His truth, or the truth in him, seemed to satisfy her, to set rings expanding in her eyes. She smiled for the first time—a small proud possessive smile. “Handsome outlaw.” She handed him a twenty. “Is this enough?”
“I don't need—”
“It doesn't matter.” She let herself out. Ray opened his door and stood up. “Aloha,” he said. She looked at him, wide open for a moment, then her mouth firmed and her head rose. She had a hard place, too. She raised one hand, turned, and walked into the hotel.
He drove around the corner to Tops for breakfast. What was that all about? A couple of months ago, at the Hawaiian Regent, a gal with a blonde pony tail and square shoulders asked Tim in the next cab if he would help with her luggage. Tim said he got to her room and she grabbed him, saying she didn't want to leave without getting laid. He asked Tim what happened. “It was great.” Ray was envious. Now it happens to him, and what does he do? Turns her down. Good looking, too. Better than the blonde.
She was what—ten years older? He felt drawn to her past, a detour from his future. She was an outlaw herself, or she loved one. He imagined coming close enough to touch her cheek and stopped himself before he ran back to the Ilikai.
The next day that he had off, he slept late and walked to the Moana. He had a beer and watched the wildlife—Japanese women, Germans, Scandinavians, mainland women, pacing up and down the beach, some shy, some looking for company, some disinterested. He was uneasy. Women. It wasn't as if he were stuck in the woods somewhere. Waikiki beach for Christ's sake, in the middle of winter, no less.
He walked toward the Sheraton and stared at a sharp looking blonde lying on a white towel. Perfect body. She noticed him, and he turned aside, sitting on a low concrete wall by a concession stand. A few minutes later, she stood and came slowly toward him. The line waiting for service ended just in front of him. She stopped at the end of the line, stepped sideways, and turned so that the front of her bikini was six inches from his face. It was: you want to look, look. Your move.
Someone in the line called to her in German. They had a cheerful exchange. She added, in English, “You can tell by the accent.” She didn't move her lower body an inch. He could see every tiny blonde hair on her tanned skin, every grain of sand along the edge of her bikini, the compound curves and the subtle swell of her belly. He could lean forward and kiss her. He could draw back and look up at her, let her laugh. He sat, matching her stillness with his while her beauty rearranged his brain. She would not move, and neither would he.
At last, her friends called her away. Someone handed her a soda. She left as deliberately as she had come, walking back to her towel. Ray stayed still for several minutes. When he was able, he took several steps in her direction, stopped, and bowed his head respectfully. A challenge had become an exchange. She seemed to have everything, and he felt as though he had nothing. But on some level they were equal. She wiggled comfortably into the sand. Ray went back to the Moana.
“Gilbert, you married?”
The bartender opened a beer for him. “Twenty-seven years.”
“It's a good thing, huh?” Gilbert nodded, wiping the bar. “You got kids?”
“Two. Almost as old as you. Better looking, though.” Gilbert went over to another customer.
Ray sat at his favorite table. He had sketched Diamond Head from there so many times that it was part of his mental landscape. The slopes were deep green now, but he could see summer, the sagey brown beneath the green. Hard to believe that he'd been driving more than a year.
Time was strange in a taxi—each day was long, hour after hour, waiting mostly, but the weeks and months went by nearly unnoticed. It was a kind of coma, taxicoma. Probably, it wasn't good. He wasn't making much money, just enough to get by, but he always had cash in his pocket; he could stop any time he wanted for coffee and an English muffin. He had a car. His shirt, white with an orange tapa collar, Charley's Taxi embroidered in red over the pocket, labeled him, made him anonymous. People saw the shirt, not him. Perfect. For now.
He'd met drivers who had never done anything else. Most of them owned their own cabs, renting them to other drivers on days or nights off. Some had two or three cabs. Archer had about thirty, had made a real business of it. Archer treated people fairly and had a steady flow of students, loners, artists, and people passing through who needed to make a few bucks.
He had moved from Bob's into a studio on Piikoi Street, not far away. The monthly rent was the same as he had paid Bob by the week, when you added it up. The studio was more private. It had a small lanai that looked toward the mountain. He bought an hibachi and ate most of his meals out there.
But, women? He couldn't get anywhere. He'd even paid fifty bucks once. Late one night in a bar on Pauahi Street, two hookers took his money and led him to a sagging four door Oldsmobile. They drove him away, the driver working with one hand to open his pants while the other leaned over from the back seat and unbuttoned his shirt.
“C'mon, Baby,” she said in his ear. “Let's get it on. Let's you and me have a black-white thing. C'mon back here with me.” The driver stopped, and the woman in back opened her door. “C'mon, Sugar.” Ray crawled out, pants half down. The gal in the back seat hopped in front; the car took off, the women howling with laughter, slamming doors, leaning out the open windows.
“Bye, bye, Mother Fucker! Stupid Mother Fucker! Believe that shit!!” Ray pulled up his pants and began walking back to Pauahi Street, laughing too, but not as hard.
He seemed to have been putting out a stay away vibe. And now, twice in one week, women had shown up and were getting in close. He had a beer for the road and walked home.
Two days later, he was driving through Moiliili about nine in the morning.
“Two-nine, University and Beretania.”
Two-nine, 17 Aalii Street.
“Two-nine, 17 Aalii.” He turned up University and pulled over at the top of the hill. The map showed Aalii, well into the valley on the Ewa side, a short street, the highest one before the ridge became too steep for building. When he got there, a woman was waiting at the bottom of wooden steps that disappeared in greenery. Ray waved and turned the cab around. He got out to help with her suitcase.
“No need,” she said, flipping the suitcase into the trunk. She had black hair, a long squarish face, blue eyes, and an island tan.
“Wooo,” Ray said, raising his eyebrows and making a muscle with one arm as he closed the trunk.
“There's nothing in it,” she said. “You mind if I sit up front?”
“Nope. Where to?”
“Airport.” Lucky day. “But first I've got to get my stuff. 260 Hobron, just off Ala Moana. It won't take five minutes. I'm all ready to go. I just didn't have a suitcase.” She was cheerful and sad at the same time.
“I think I've seen you somewhere,” Ray said.
“Could be. You ever go in the Chart House?”
“That's it!” He remembered her eyes, now—level. And watching her walk. She moved easily. “I saw you there, once. But your hair was pinned up or something. Sometimes I go in there, Fridays, if I'm not driving. Good pupus.”
“I like the shrimp,” she said. “How long have you been driving?”
“A year, a little more.”
“Do you make any money?”
“I get by.”
“About like me,” she said. “But I love it here. You know, like they say, lucky you live Hawaii.”
“Yeah, it's great. Different. I never knew I was a haole.”
“Me neither. Irish-American haole.”
“My grandfather's Irish,” Ray said.
“Oh yeah? What's his name?”
“Murphy. He died a couple of years ago.”
“Oh, I hate it when people die.” She tossed her head. Out of the corner of his eye, Ray saw her hair settle back on her shoulders.
“I'm Ray,” he said.
“Jackson. Ray Jackson.”
“I'm Cait. Coytleen Sive Sullivan, that's how I'd say it in Ireland.”
“Cait's a good name. Kiss me, Kate. Cait the great.”
“I'll bet you can't spell Sive.”
“Five bucks. No, it isn't fair.”
“It's fair,” Ray said. “S-A-I-B-H.”
“Damn you! How did you know that?”
“Aunt Sive. My grandfather's sister.”
“Wouldn't you know I'd get the only cab driver in Honolulu who can spell my name.”
“I'll give you five bucks if you can spell Jackson.”
“No way. Probably some weird spelling with an e or something.”
“J-A-C-K-S-O-N. I tried.” He braked and turned on Hobron.
She pointed. “It's the green one.” He stopped and handed her the suitcase. She was nearly as tall as he was. Long legs.
When she returned, he opened the trunk and she slid the suitcase in using both hands. She had changed into a linen jacket and had put on makeup. Her face was more focused, prettier. “Quick work,” he said.
She shrugged and sat in front again. “Let's go. United.” She seemed sad. Ray turned on Ala Moana and they were silent past the shopping center, curving past downtown, through the sharp smell of pineapple from the cannery, and nearly to the airport. Tension gathered between them. Approaching the terminal, Ray swerved into the lane by the lei stands and turned off the motor. He jumped out and returned with a ginger lei.
“For the trip.” He passed it to her through the window. Cait placed it on her lap. When he got behind the wheel, she put it around her neck.
He stopped at United, got out, and retrieved the suitcase. She paid him. “I still owe you five,” she remembered.
“Maybe I'll come collect at the Chart House.”
“O.K.” She turned away and then turned again. “I'll be back in a week.”
“Aloha,” Ray said. She looked terrific in the lei. She smiled and left. He felt light-headed and strong. “Yes,” he said as she entered the terminal. He pumped one fist. “Yes!”
He headed downtown and turned on the radio. Van Morrison. Louder. Brown-eyed Girl … he started singing. Cait's eyes were blue. That didn't matter; it was the feeling. Brown-eyed Girl …
While he was busy, he didn't think about her. In the quiet times, she was often beside him in the front seat. It was good and bad. He felt excited, less lonely, but he was used to controlling his situation, and this feeling wasn't quite like that. He wasn't out of control, but he wasn't in control, either. He tried to describe this to Dean while they waited in Kapiolani Park for the Eastman Kodak show to get out.
“It's love,” Dean explained. “I fell in love with the housekeeper when I was fifteen.”
“Things got all fucked up.” There was an edge of sadness in his smile, but Ray didn't see any regret.
“Would you do it again?”
“I did it again.”
He got to the Chart House around four, an hour early for pupus. He took a deep breath to calm down before he went in. Cait was standing at the end of the bar, putting drinks on a tray. The bar was half full. Neil Young was playing on a decent sound system. There didn't seem to be a hostess. He sat at a table by open shutters and flower boxes that overlooked clusters of masts. The place was expensive but worth it once in awhile if you figured the pupus were dinner.
As soon as she turned around, she saw him and came over, smiling. Neither spoke for a moment. Amazing. It didn't seem to matter.
“How was your trip?”
“My mom is sick.”
“Oh. Bad?” He knew it was.
“Leukemia.” She shrugged, helpless. “You want something to drink?”
“Heineken.” She brought the beer and told him that she could sit for a minute. He pulled out a chair.
“I'm sorry about your mom.”
Cait looked out the window. “It happens. Who knows? There's so much shit in the air and the food. Who knows how it starts?” Four or five guys came in talking loudly. “Here we go,” she said.
“Damn,” Ray said. “You want to get together sometime? Go for a walk, have coffee or something?”
She looked at him. “Yes.”
“I eat breakfast at Tops a lot. That's close to you. We could meet there?”
Cait pushed back her chair. “Around nine?”
“Nine o'clock. I'll be there.”
“Beer's on me,” she said. “Me and Aunt Saibh.” She went back to work. Ray didn't want to watch her smile for the customers. He drank up, thought about leaving a note, decided against it, and left. Halfway down the block he realized that the pupus hadn't even arrived.
He stopped for a mahi burger at Zippy's. Leukemia, that was cancer, right? Heavy. Where was she from? He hadn't even asked. Sounded like the midwest somewhere. He'd find out in the morning. He liked her hands—strong. She had a silver ring on one finger. Which one? He took out his notebook and sketched her hands and wrists. The ring was on the middle finger of her left hand. Her wrists were wide and flat. He made them too thick. He tried again, but this time he was too careful; the hands didn't have any life in them.
In the morning, he picked up two-nine at Muni's and bought coffee and a malasada to hold him until breakfast. It was slow—one load downtown and then a long wait at Holiday Mart. Two women came out with many bags of groceries; they were probably shopping for the month. The older one, perhaps seventy, said nothing. The younger, in her forties, gave an address in Manoa. She directed him down a small street that led into a lane that ended at a weathered house standing by itself on a small knoll. The house was dark and quiet. Ray carried bags to the lanai in silence. A line of zoris neatly aligned next to the door seemed untouched.
He was five minutes late to Tops and apologized to Cait who was sitting in a booth by a window. “I had to carry a lot of groceries—way up in Manoa.” He shook his shoulders, remembering. “Strange place. How are you?”
“Good. Starving. What was strange?”
He described the women and the house, the silent lanai. “It was like a hundred years ago. No lights. Completely plain.”
“Do you think it was just the two women living there?”
“Seemed that way. It was like life had left them stranded there. Something about the house. They were like museum keepers. But they were part of the museum.”
“It sounds beautiful, in a way. A little scary.”
They ordered a big breakfast. Ray told her he'd grown up in Maine, played baseball and football, and dropped out of the University his sophomore year. “I could have started, but—I don't know—it wasn't any fun. You were supposed to do everything a certain way. The catching coach wasn't that great, really.”
“You were a catcher?”
“Yep. We almost won the states in high school.”
“My dad's a coach. I used to play a lot. Pitched softball. We had a pretty good team.”
“All we need is a shortstop,” Ray said. “Build on that.”
“A coed league,” she said. “That would be cool.”
“I checked out a league here,” Ray said. “They were having a good time, seemed like pretty good guys. I was ahead of them, though. I didn't want to show anybody up, be the hot shot, you know. It was better to let it be.” She seemed to understand. “Did you go to school?”
“University of Wisconsin.”
“Did you graduate?”
“What did you major in?”
“Yeah, I love making stuff.”
“Do you just make what you feel like making, or do you copy stuff? You know, Michelangelo. Greek stuff.”
“I'm not good enough to copy Michelangelo.”
“I know what you mean. I'm not good enough to copy Rembrandt.”
Cait started laughing. “What?”
“I got a Rembrandt book in the bookstore. Because of the self portrait. I don't believe that painting! I tried to draw one myself, but I kept screwing it up—not even close.” She was looking at him differently, not laughing.
“It's hard,” she said.
“Anything—if you're going to do it right.”
Ray drew back and searched around for their waitress. “Need more coffee,” he said. Cait pushed a heap of rice from one side of her plate to the other, made a terrace with her fork on one side, while she thought.
“I had somebody in the cab last week. We got talking. She called me an outlaw.” He stopped while the waitress filled their cups. The hard place tightened his cheeks, put a band across his mouth. But another feeling broke through like lava. “She was right.” Cait waited. “I am. I'm wanted for resisting arrest and smuggling dope.”
“Yeah. Probably some other charges, too. I don't know; I didn't stick around to find out. You're the first person I've told.”
“Jesus,” Cait said, “I find a decent guy and he's a drug dealer.”
“I'm not,” Ray said. “I just made a couple of deliveries for a guy. Anyway, I've stopped. It was stupid.” Cait was shaking her head. “It doesn't matter,” Ray said, “except that I can't go back. Maybe I should have let myself get arrested, gone to jail, gotten it over with. I don't know. I couldn't. I took off. Lucky I didn't get shot. My dog got shot. Damn.” He swallowed. “He was a good dog. I hate to remember it.”
Cait spoke slowly. “How are you going to keep from getting caught?”
“Look,” Ray pushed his chair back. “You don't want to know any of this. I shouldn't have said anything. Just forget it. I'm sorry.”
Cait sat still, shook her head once. “Too late,” she said. “I knew it.”
“That you were big trouble. Let's—let's take a walk, or something. Let's get out of here.”
Ray hesitated. It was so good to be straight with her. “Yeah, O.K. My cab's around back,” he remembered.
“I don't have to work until noon,” Cait said.
They drove to Kapiolani Park and walked along the sidewalk in the shade of the tall pines. He told her how he'd gotten his new identity. “I'm all right as long as no one knows at home and as long as I don't get arrested and get fingerprinted.”
“You've been careful.”
“Well, it's serious.”
“It must be hard not to be able to go home or be in touch.”
“It hasn't been too bad. I miss my mom and my sister, Molly, the most. My mom remarried when I was a senior in high school—a guy named Ron, a decent guy. He has three kids from another marriage.” He kicked a pebble off the sidewalk. “Maybe it will blow over after a while.”
“I've got some things to tell you.”
“I've done some bad things, too.” She touched his arm for a moment. “I took my sister's boyfriend. I made him fall for me—just to show her I could.” It was Ray's turn to wait.
“That was bad enough. But he really fell for me.” Her voice constricted. “I had to tell him that it wasn't going to work.”
“Too bad,” Ray said.
“He shot himself.”
“So, I killed him. That's worse than what you did.”
“You didn't kill him.”
“I might as well have.”
Ray saw a hard light in her face. Rugged. He didn't know what to say; it didn't seem like a great time to say anything. They passed two guys playing congas, one bare chested, one wearing an orange T-shirt with a blazing sun on the front. The sound floated to sea with the clouds and the tradewind.
“That was four years ago.”
“Shit,” Ray said.
“My sister still hates me.”
They walked farther. Ray said, “He didn't have to leave her. He didn't have to kill himself.” He paused. “I wouldn't kill myself.”
Cait took his hand. “Let's go back. Let's go to my place.”
Ray drove along the one way street, around the park, and up Ala Wai Boulevard. “I rented my parking space,” she said. “Maybe we can find one close.”
“We can leave it at Tops if we have to,” Ray said. They were lucky and found a spot close to her building.
She led him up a staircase to the fourth floor. “I don't use the elevator unless I've got a lot of stuff.”
The apartment was sunny—one large room with a kitchenette at the end, a lanai, a bedroom. A table was partially covered with tools and several small figures made of clay. A large birdlike object stood on the floor by the window. It was brightly painted. “Wow! Is that wood?” He pointed at the bird.
“Laminated,” she said. “Be right back.” She went into the bedroom. He moved closer to the table and looked at fingermarks in the clay figures. A toilet flushed.
Cait was standing in the bedroom doorway wearing only a T-shirt and panties. She raised her eyebrows and held out her arms. He went to her and put his hands on her shoulders. She stepped against him. His hands moved to her back, and they stood together, rocking slightly. She drew him back and onto her bed where they lay facing each other. She made tracings on his chest with one finger. He was tense, tight.
“I think I'll take my shoes off.”
“What a great idea!”
He lay back down. She rolled him away from her and rubbed his back, moving his muscles around with circular motions. He began to relax. One of her hands reached down along his hip. A short sound escaped from his chest. A longer sound followed and turned him over toward her. He buried his face against her. He couldn't stop, a sound of want and need. His hands went around her ass. She nibbled on his face, lips soft, mouth half open. She tugged at his shirt.
He pushed his pants off and slowly pulled her panties down from her hips and along her legs. She put her hands under his arms and pulled him up over her, opening her legs for him as she lay back.
There was no rush or hurry. She guided him into her as though they did this every day. As he held her, the force with which she pressed against him was equal to his but different. He gave in to her, to the doubleness that drew them both to slow waves of pleasure, finally lifting and crashing, rolling them up on a beach. He fell asleep.
When he opened his eyes, he saw her lying next to him with a sweet half smile. “You're going to be late,” he said.
“They're going to have to get used to it.” Her eyes opened wider, and she said, “I need to know your real name. You'll always be Ray to me, but I need to know.”
A weight lifted from him when he said it. He looked away and then back. She was crying. “It's O.K.,” she said. “Ray.” He held her close. Their bodies were warm and wet with each other.
“Ray loves Cait,” he said and held her tighter. She rolled her face across his shoulder, drying her eyes.
“Ray better not forget it,” she said.
Four months after the wedding, Lynn announced that she was pregnant. Harry had made a low offer on a good property in the Foreside. He raised it forty thousand, and it was accepted.
Time passed quickly as they set up house. Lynn had a boy, Fergus, who was healthy and seemed to take mostly after her. She was glad to be done with college and enjoyed being a full time mother, shopping, decorating the house, and listening to Harry's stories about the day.
He worked hard. At home, he watched sports on TV and occasionally looked after Fergus, giving Lynn a break. He started his first big money project—a condominium development on a wharf in the Old Port.
On the day that he paid for an option on the wharf, he stayed up late watching a game, eating leftover pizza, and drinking beer. Lynn was sound asleep when he got to bed. He lay down next to her, and for a few moments, before he closed his eyes, he felt uneasy. He didn't have any problems that he knew of. Things were happening the way they were supposed to. Too much pizza.
Fergus howled at first light.
“Jesus,” Harry said without opening his eyes.
“Mommy's coming, Sweetie. Here I am.”
“What is he, thirty inches? Should have named him Air Raid.” He listened to Lynn comforting the baby and fell asleep in the blissful quiet.
When he woke up, Lynn was downstairs moving around in the kitchen. He smelled coffee and heard Robert J. Lertsema, the NPR announcer. They had considered buying a ranch house on the water in Cape Elizabeth, but Harry wanted to go upstairs to bed. He liked sleeping above the fray, as his father would say. He hadn't figured that the fray was portable and would lie in a crib in the next room. He and Lynn were fine in the old farmhouse. They liked the field and woodlot—extra land to sell if they wanted to someday. He'd paid a reasonable price for the location, a mile from the coast, got the house for nothing, really; they were paying for the land.
He put on his bathrobe and descended to the kitchen. “Mornin', Mother,” he said. “Look at them cabinets!” The kitchen remodeling was finally done. “Morning, Air Raid.” Fergus ignored him, eyes fixed on a blue plastic cup. It made a great racket when Fergus slammed it on the tray.
Lynn set a mug of coffee on the table.
“Thanks, Hon. How about a hug?”
She came close, and they held each other. Fergus crashed the cup and let out a preliminary cry, winding up. Lynn rushed over and kissed him as she picked the cup off the floor and put it back on the tray. “There,” she said. “There's my little baby. Everything's all right.” She turned toward Harry. “What's happening today?”
“Meeting with Larsen about the project. Can't do anything in this town without his say so, now that he's on the council.”
“He's been O.K. as police chief,” she said. “He didn't lock you up.”
“True. And he got a lot of votes out of the Larsen Youth Center.” Fergus threw the cup to the floor. “Right, Son,” Harry said, “that's how I feel about him.” He replaced the cup on the tray. “Have a drink.”
“He's learning, little sweetie,” Lynn said.
“I'm going to get going,” Harry said.
He took a shower and drove to Portland. The air was cold and dull. It had been a colorful fall, but most of the leaves were down. Deer season was just around the corner—maniacs from Boston wearing blaze orange, trampling around, manfully unshaven, hungover, firing at dogs, cows, sometimes even deer. Stay out of the woods.
He stopped at Mr. Bagel and looked through the paper. Not much happening. The city would be glad for the construction of his building when he got all the permits. He bought a bagel with lox for Mort and parked in the garage on Union Street.
“Soul food,” he said, putting the bag on Mort's desk.
Mort unwrapped the bagel. “Ah—there's food and there's food.” He chewed with pleasure. “You know, Harry, if you were a little smarter, you'd make a good Jew.”
“I'm working on it,” Harry said. “How smart is our bank account? Can I write a check for five hundred thousand?”
“Sure. You'd have enough left to buy me another bagel. That architect cost a bundle.”
“O'Malley. His wife is on the council. Eileen. I think she's screwing Tony Caravalho, but I'm not sure. Anyway, she's on our side now.”
“So, if you get Larsen—”
“Right. Larsen, Eileen O'Malley, Tony, we're almost there. Three of the others usually vote with them.”
“What do we need, eight?”
“Yep. The Save the Harbor people have four votes. Larsen is key. He needs to be on the winning side all the time, the man who gets things done. He'll be running for Congress as soon as he can.” Harry shrugged. “The condo design is O.K. Shouldn't piss off too many people. O'Malley's been doing this for awhile; he must have learned something.”
“Where are you going to get the building dough?”
“Not sure yet. I'll have more leverage when I get the permit. I've got twelve more months on the wharf option.”
“What's it going to take, five mil?”
“Six, anyway. Maybe eight. Depends on how it goes.”
“Interest rates are crazy,” Mort said. “You should be lending, not borrowing. It's bond time, Baby.”
“Maybe next year.”
Harry went out for a haircut and arrived at T's Oyster Bar a few minutes early. A short blonde waitress greeted him with a smile. She dropped a pen and bent over to retrieve it. She had an eager body that welcomed the world, especially the young male world. “Carramba,” Harry said, looking at her breasts.
“We don't have any of those.”
“I think,” Harry lifted his eyes, “I need one of your famous bloody Marys.”
“Coming up.” She wrote on her order pad. In an earlier time, she might have moistened her pencil with her tongue.
“There'll be two of us. Chief Larsen. You sure you're twenty-one?” Her cheeks reddened. “I'm sorry,” Harry said. “Sometimes I'm such an asshole. What's your name?”
“Perfect. I'm sorry, Angel. I'm Harry. I'm going to have some steamers, but I'll wait to order.”
“I'll get your drink.” Outside the window, the slips that once held lobster boats were filled with double and triple decked power boats. A wooden schooner, partially restored, was the last holdout against plastic.
Angel set his drink in front of him. He stirred it with the green celery stalk, smelled the tomatoes and horseradish, lifted the glass in her direction, and swallowed. The vodka slid down his throat and warmed him. “We have ignition,” he said, staring again. Her body was solid and fluid at the same time.
“Maddy makes them good. Some people don't like so much horseradish.” The expression around her eyes was experienced, cynical almost, but the eyes themselves were an innocent almond color.
“Hello, Harry.” Larsen loomed over Angel, rested a heavy hand on Harry's shoulder, and patted him twice.
“Hello, Chief. This is Angel. Angel, Chief Larsen.” Larsen extended his hand and Angel shook it.
“Pleased to meet you, Chief,” she said.
“Tom. Call me Tom. Never mind the Chief. What'cha got there, Harry?”
“Looks damn good. I'll have an iced tea, Angel. Gotta walk the walk.” Angel wrote on her pad and Larsen sat down.
“Well, Harry, what's new?”
“Not too much. Coming along on some projects. The big one's on your desk.”
Larsen looked around and lowered his voice. “You've got some opposition, there. Some folks see it as: Harry George wins, the waterfront loses.”
“People don't like change,” Harry said, “but it's coming anyway.”
“Bound to,” Larsen said mildly. “Thanks Angel.”
“It's good for the city,” Harry said. “Besides, if I don't do it, somebody else will. Might as well have a project that looks good.”
Larsen drank his iced tea. He was wearing an expensive shirt. “I don't see anything wrong with the plans,” he said.
“Can't go wrong with Keenan O'Malley,” Harry said. “Nice shirt, by the way.” The chief's eyes glittered momentarily. The shirt was intended to impress people, to shut them up, not to be pronounced upon by squirts like Harry. Harry set the hook. “What do I have to do to get the votes?”
Larsen smiled involuntarily. “Well,” he said, thinking, “you're probably right—somebody's going to build on the waterfront. But you know, Harry, the council wants to feel they're doing the right thing, that the project is going to someone who cares about the community, a Portland person.” Harry leaned forward and tried to look like a Portland person. “The Foundation, for instance, The Youth Center—don't think those grants aren't appreciated.” Angel approached and they ordered steamers.
“You've done well since the arrest. Just off parole, aren't you?”
“Two months,” Harry said.
“Good, good.” Larsen wiped his mouth. “You're a do-er, Harry. I like that.” He was the judge, now. “You know, I've got a reputation in this town for getting things done.”
“Being an effective Chief of Police—I should say, becoming an effective Chief of Police—has taught me a lot.” This is painful, Harry thought. He leaned closer. “A community is built on trust.”
“No pain, no gain.”
The words had flown out. “I mean,” Harry said, “your experience—it couldn't have come easy. Must have been some hard spots.”
“Better believe it,” Larsen said. Angel brought the steamers. Harry wished she'd been hanging around. Maybe they could have laughed about it afterward. “Anyway, as I was saying, a police department, in particular, is one of those things a community trusts. They trust that when someone breaks the law, they're going to get caught. We've missed a few little guys, but we've gotten every high profile we've gone after—except Charles Walker.” Larsen shook his head and rattled around in his bucket of steamers.
“He disappeared completely,” Harry said.
“Pisses me off,” Larsen said through a mouthful of clam.
“I haven't heard anything,” Harry said. There was a spot of butter on Larsen's shirt. Harry looked for Angel and beckoned her over.
“Could I have a glass of Chardonnay?”
“We can do that.”
“I've got a good man on it, Roland Saucier, but he's come up empty.”
“I know Roland,” Harry said.
“You're a smart guy, Harry. You may not know where Walker is, but I'll bet you could find him if you really wanted to.”
“If I really wanted to—like I really want this permit?”
Larsen did a quid pro quo with his eyebrows. “The community, Harry. The community takes care of its own. Remember that.”
“Got it,” Harry said. “But I don't know if I can find Charley.”
“I'm going to table this application for a couple of months,” Larsen said. “See how things develop.”
“You want me to report to you?”
“That won't be necessary. Any leads you get, pass them on to Roland.”
“O.K. You know—if I do find Charley, there's no telling what he'd say to make himself look better. Might not do me much good with the council.”
“If he turns himself in and pleads guilty, takes a deal, he wouldn't have to say anything. I think we could arrange a light sentence in that case. Say, eighteen to twenty months. With time off for good behavior, he'd do fifteen or sixteen months, something like that. He'd make a public apology, agree to pay a fine—maybe about the same as yours.” Larsen stopped for a clam. “What did you pay, ten grand?”
“Yeah, ten grand, then. Maybe fifteen. He could say that he knew he was wrong and that we, the police department, were going to get him sooner or later.”
“Nice touch,” Harry said. “I'll see what I can do.”
They finished lunch. Harry tried to get information about the other council members, but Larsen wouldn't give. They talked boats for a few minutes, strolled outside, and parted with smiles, men of the world. Harry went back inside and left an extra tip. Angel must have been in the kitchen; he didn't see her.
He walked to the Eastern Prom and stood for a few minutes where he and Lynn used to park and enjoy the view. Aside from Brooklyn Harbor, Casco Bay was the best deep water anchorage on the east coast and the closest to Europe. In sailing days, when distance mattered more, it was a bustling port,. Now, except for tankers offloading to the Montreal pipeline and an occasional scrap metal or container ship, the harbor belonged to the ferries and pleasure boats.
During World War II, the yard in South Portland launched a Victory Ship every five days. Amazing. They weren't small either—four hundred some feet, carried a lot of cargo. All gone, except for a few museum ships. Nothing left of the industry. Fishing had declined steadily, especially since the factory ships started sucking up everything. A few lobster boats and long liners hung on—old timers who owned their boats and houses, a few kids who wanted to be like Dad or Grandpa.
Charley was like that, he thought, a throwback to times that no longer existed or mattered. His father, if Harry remembered right, was a trapper or something. Charley was probably in a cabin up the Yukon or some other god forsaken place. Still, there had to be some way to find him.
Later that night, he talked it over with Lynn. She thought that Charley's mother must know something. Surely, she would want to know if there was a possible deal that would get Charley a lighter sentence. You don't have to tell her about the project, Lynn suggested.
It was comfortable lying next to her in their bed, in their house, Fergus asleep, dishes washed, things in their place. Since Fergus was born, he hadn't wanted to take Lynn's clothes off the way he used to, but their sex life was pleasant enough. Angel rose before him like a sweet burglar. Eyes and mouth. What's your last name? She smiled and disappeared.
Lynn asked him where Charley used to hang out. Harry could ask around. There must be some rumors. Well-liked people didn't just vanish. She was right. She was right about a lot of things. Good old Lynn. He fell asleep and didn't hear her get up for Fergus.
Later that week, he followed Lynn's advice and talked to Charley's mother. She was suspicious, but she listened. She might or might not have accepted his reason for wanting to find Charley—that he wanted to close the matter, get it behind him, get Charley off as lightly as possible. Just between us, he told her, if there's a fine involved, Charley won't have to worry about it. Her eyes narrowed at that. She didn't say that she'd tell Charley; she said that she didn't know where he was. She was telling the truth, he thought, but she knew he was somewhere. She was angry and hurt, but she wasn't bereaved.
He had a few drinks in the two local bars near Charley's high school. When he asked about Charley, people looked at him and looked away. They didn't have anything to say. The only response he got was from a middle aged woman drinking up some divorce money, a redhead with chubby cheeks and a small mouth. Kids are what it's all about, she told Harry. The hell with the rest of it. A couple of drinks later, when Harry got around to Charley, she leaned toward him and said, “He's a cute one, Charley Walker. I wish he was around right now. You know about the trouble he got into—you a friend of his?”
“Yeah, in the old days.”
“Well, they say he sends his mom roses every year, on her birthday.” She drank more. “I've got two boys,” she said. “That's nice, you know what I mean. They say he sends one more rose every year, one more for another year he couldn't see her. It's so sad. Charley Walker never did anyone no harm.”
“Buy you another one?”
She accepted and Harry excused himself after the second time she told him that nobody knew where Charley was and how sad things could be.
The air outside the tavern was refreshingly cold. There were times when Harry liked to drink and times that he didn't. This was one of the latter. He had a bit of a buzz on and a sour taste in his mouth. On impulse, he stopped in to see his mother.
He had coffee with her in the library while she sipped sherry. She seemed older, attractive still, but thinner at the temples. Fergus and Lynn were well, he said. They made a dinner date. She told him that his father had had a financial reversal but was hoping that things might go his way at the end. She didn't seem worried. Of course, her money was unassailable. He talked about the prospects for his project and went home reassured. His world had slipped out of focus in the tavern. Sadness. He didn't have time for it. Life was tough. That was all there was to it.
It was a sunny morning with clouds off to the southwest. Winter was a month away. A good time for a drive. He had a meeting in Albany at five with a guy named Sal, a cousin of Marty’s, who might be interested in the project. He needed two million, he figured, to get started. Marty was in for half a million if the permits came through. The bank would kick in the rest, once it was a sure thing.
He decided to take Route 9 instead of the Massachusetts Turnpike. He could stop for lunch at the Royal Chelsea Diner in West Brattleboro. Traffic was light. The trees were bare, the woods brown and gray—aside from evergreens, color was gone for the year. If you wanted color you had to wear it or go south.
By the time Harry had crossed the Connecticut River into Vermont, he had figured out his best offer for Sal. It was good to have that fixed in your mind before you started dealing. Along with the standard interest, return of principal, and percentage of profit when all the condos were sold, a luxury unit at cost with no payment due for five to ten years should do it. Start with five years, go up to ten if necessary. Full payment if Sal flipped the unit, of course. He could give on the condo fee if he had to, try to get half, anyway.
He drove through Brattleboro and stopped in the diner parking lot. He got out of the car and stretched. Big white clouds were boiling over the mountain, but it was sunny in the valley, just above freezing. He went inside and had a raspberry waffle, bacon, and coffee while he watched mountain people, dairy farmers, students, and New York intellectuals come and go. He bought a coffee mug for home on the way out.
By the time Harry got to Marlboro, a third of the way up the mountain, the sky had clouded over and flakes were falling. Cars coming down had snow on their windshields and their lights were on. He switched on the wipers. As he climbed, the weather worsened. He was down to fifteen miles an hour in a howling white-out when he came over the top and onto the high plateau. Six inches of wet snow. Cars sliding back and forth in front of him. A tractor-trailer angled over in a deep ditch.
It was hard to believe that it had been sunny when he went in to lunch, an hour ago, not twenty miles away. He hadn’t seen snow since the winter before; he’d forgotten how completely it covers a landscape. He was down to ten miles an hour, leaning forward, trying to see through the hurtling flakes. Occasionally it let up enough so that he could scan the white emptiness on each side of the road. It was like being on the moon. Lifeless. Gusts battered the Audi from one side and then the other.
He came to a crossroads town, the only one in twenty-five miles, and thought about stopping, waiting it out. The car in front of him turned into a deserted parking lot by a closed convenience store. He kept going.
The road had been half plowed, but the plows seemed to have given up a mile out of town. He could no longer see the shoulders of the road. The wind increased as he began to climb again. He might have turned around, but he was afraid to lose his momentum. There were no cars on the road. He made it to the top of a hill, crept down, and started up again. The Audi slid to a stop and would go no farther. He had gone off the road into a deeper patch and was hung up on the frame.
He got out and staggered in a blast of wind. He didn’t even have boots. There was a blanket in the back seat. He wrapped it around him. The car wasn’t in the middle of the road, at least. He probably wasn’t going to get rammed by a truck. He felt like an idiot. Why didn’t he take the turnpike? He’d been over this road a dozen times, but always in summer. He didn’t know how quickly it turned into a wasteland.
He walked back and forth, not wanting to get back in the car and be slowly erased by falling snow. Stay with the car, that’s what you’re supposed to do. The snow eased for a moment, and he thought he saw a shape in front of him, something standing. He looked back, not wanting to lose sight of the car, and moved cautiously forward. It was a mailbox protruding from a drift. That’s why he hadn’t gone into a ditch, he realized. He was in the entrance to a driveway.
Has to be a house somewhere, he thought. His feet were getting cold. He wrapped the blanket tighter. I’ll walk for five minutes, turn around if I don’t see anything, follow my tracks back. If I find a house, I can call Sal. If no one’s there, maybe I can break in. He walked forward. A row of trees loomed blurrily on his left. The driveway most likely followed a line between the trees and the empty white on his right, probably a field. He looked behind him. His tracks were filling. He sped up. Five minutes later he stopped. Nothing. He looked back. Another two, three minutes and that’s it, he told himself. He walked faster, head down, and stopped again. His feet hurt. He was turning around when the wind shifted. He lifted his head. Wood smoke. Unmistakable. With the wind blowing the way it was, it couldn’t be far.
He continued toward the smell. A small house with a porch appeared directly in front of him. There was a light in the window, softened by swirling snow. He tramped loudly onto the porch and knocked on the door. “Hello? Anybody home? I’m stuck on the road. Anybody home?” The door opened and Harry looked down at a thin man with a bald pointed head and intense blue eyes.
“Come in.” He looked at the blanket and down at Harry’s feet. “Guess you’re not from around here.”
“Maine,” Harry said, stamping the snow off his shoes and entering. The warmth struck him in the face. He wiped his eyes. “Pretty nice in here.” He began to shiver. The man pointed to a Windsor chair by the stove. Harry sat. “Thanks. I was colder than I thought. He held his hands over the stove. “Harry, I’m Harry.”
“Jared. Water’s hot. Cup of tea suit you?”
“Yes, thank you.” The little guy had a calming influence. He seemed to be in a good mood for someone trapped in a blizzard on Pluto. A large orange cat on a wicker sofa lifted its head and regarded Harry. Strange, how you don’t see cats until they want you to. “Nice cat. What’s his name?”
Jared was in the kitchen pouring water over a teabag. “Jake.”
“He came one night and never left. Five years ago. Just called from the porch and came in.”
“Like me, but don't worry, I’ll be leaving as soon as it lets up. I’ve got a meeting in Albany at five. Doesn’t look too good.”
“Here is your tea. I have milk and honey. There’s a lemon in the bottom of the refrigerator.” Harry unwrapped himself and went into the kitchen.
“Milk, honey—great.” Jared set the containers on opposite sides of the mug, equidistant, and stepped back. Harry loaded up on honey. “Do you have a telephone, Jared?”
“Next to the refrigerator.”
“Oh, yes. May I use it to call this guy I’m supposed to meet?”
Harry left a message, saying that he was stuck in a storm and wouldn’t be in Albany until the next morning. He’d call. He took the tea back by the stove and sat down. “Thanks, Jared. It’s very comfortable in here. How long have you been in this house?”
“Eleven years this fall.”
“Go through a lot of wood, I bet.”
“I did the first winter. The house is well insulated now. Four cords are usually enough. I get a considerable amount of solar gain in the back.” Jared opened a door in the far wall. Harry saw a large room with tall windows and what looked like a stone floor. It was filled with plants.
“Thank you. It adds a great deal to the place. I sleep there now. If the storm continues, you may sleep in my old room.” He pointed to another door. “But I think that it may blow through quickly. We get these quite often up here.”
“I hope you’re right. Where were you before you lived here, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Antwerp, Amsterdam, Johannesburg, New York, Brazil, Columbia.”
“Yo! I’ve been to the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, London, Scotland. That’s about it.”
“London is a pleasant city,” Jared said. “I’ve had very fine curry there in the Indian restaurants.”
“You’ve been all over the place. What were you doing?”
“Diamond cutting, and then I dealt a bit in precious stones.”
“No shit? You were one of those guys who looks at a big diamond and smacks it with a hammer—brilliant stone or rubble—one shot?”
Jared smiled. “I was trained in the old ways, yes. It’s all diamond saws and fifty-eight facets now, mathematically determined, a function of diamond’s index of refraction.” He stroked Ben. “Looks and smacks doesn’t quite describe it. There was a great deal more looking than smacking.”
“You must have had a knack for it.” Harry snapped his fingers, “A knack to the smack, knack to the smack. We’ve got a song here.”
“Yes,” Jared said. “It’s true, I suppose, but it all followed from the looking—coming to understand the grain of the crystal, its flaws, what could be made of it. I did produce a certain amount of rubble.” My biggest mistakes were from impatience.”
“I bet you did all right,” Harry said. “Supposed to be big money in that business.”
“Money is not important. Things are important. Things that you can improve. Money just gets you there, that’s all. I regret several stones that I ruined.”
“I’m into money,” Harry said. “It’s how you keep score. Real estate.”
“I am in favor of real estate,” Jared said. “One of the best things to improve. I have had much satisfaction from this property. If it weren’t snowing, I’d show you the orchard and gardens.”
“I’m going to improve an old wharf in Portland, if I get the permits and the bucks.”
“Excellent,” Jared said.
“It should be.”
“You have a difficulty?”
“There’s a group that wants to keep things the way they’ve been for a hundred years. Save the Harbor. They’ve got some votes on the council.”
“Ah.” Jared put his fingertips together. “Do they have any worthwhile arguments?”
“I can see why they wouldn’t want the whole waterfront go to condos. It is a beautiful harbor. Everybody should have some kind of access, share it. I’m only talking about one wharf, but they’re acting like it’s the whole harbor gone.”
“Is there a way that your project might further their aims?”
“Bribe them, you mean! Why didn’t I think of that?” The room brightened as though the sky had also had a good idea.
“One must try to work with what is,” Jared said.
“I’ll remember that. Say, that orchard of yours, you got apples right?”
“Got any Macouns?”
Jared crossed the room and took a book from a cherry bookshelf. “Macouns.” He read in the book. “Ah. An old variety, supposedly a challenge to grow.”
“Worth it,” Harry said. “Best apples going. We’ve got some in Maine; I’ll send you some trees.”
“That would be a fine bribe, Harry.” Jared replaced the book. “But it isn’t necessary.”
“Wilmington, Vermont. Jared, Jared what?”
“Jared Nathan—hey, like me, two first names—Harry George. Is that sun? Weird.”
“It sometimes happens this way,” Jared said. “We get a blizzard for a few hours, and down below they get an inch. You might get to Albany tonight after all.”
“Maybe, or at least down to Bennington.”
“You're welcome to stay. It will be dark in an hour.”
“Thanks. I need to be getting along. I'm hoping for an early meeting tomorrow.”
“The plows should be right along,” Jared said. He found a pair of rubber overshoes that Harry was able to squeeze into, wearing only his socks.
The fields were white and glistening. A breeze blew bits of snow around as they carried two shovels to the main road. They had the car nearly dug out when a plow came by and threw a three foot wall of snow across the entrance to the driveway. It took them another twenty minutes to clear that.
Harry took off the boots and put on his wet shoes. “Should do it,” he said. “I sure appreciate your help, Jared.”
Jared nodded. “Stop in again sometime. Good luck with your project.”
“O.K. Thanks.” Harry spun his way out onto the plowed road. He beeped twice and gathered speed, heading for Bennington as Jared walked into his driveway, two shovels in one hand, the boots in the other. Strange little guy. You never know who you’re going to run into. Piece of luck, though.
The going was slow, but at least he could see. Half an hour later, he caught up to a sander at the top of the steep grade down to Bennington. He followed it all the way into town. He got a motel room, had a passable lasagne with a couple of glasses of Chianti, and slept soundly.
In Albany the next morning, he laid out the project for Sal. O’Malley’s drawings were impressive when Harry looked at them through Sal’s eyes. Worth the money. Sal was hip to Portland’s potential. When he finished asking questions about the building, he said, “So I talked to Marty. You’ve done business.”
Sal nodded. “You say you need two mill. What’s Marty in for?”
Harry hesitated. “Seeing as you’re cousins, I guess I can say—half a mill.” Sal’s eyes flickered. Competition here. Jealousy. Work with what is. “He told me to get back to him after I talked to you. I don’t know. Maybe he’ll be in for more.”
“I’ll take the rest, one point five.”
“Supremo!” Harry said. “You’re a smart man; that gets you fifteen percent of the profit along with the rest of the stuff. Fifteen for you, five for Marty.” That’s what Sal wanted to hear.
“The condo,” Sal said. “I don’t want to be looking at a dumpster, know what I mean?”
“No way. Top shelf. Best we got. You’re the man.” Sal reached across the table and picked up Harry’s pen. He leaned over the drawing and circled one of the end units. “It’s yours,” Harry said. “You’re going to love it.”
Sal handed him a card. “You want front money?”
“Nah. I’ll send you the papers tomorrow.” Sal reached in his pocket and peeled off five one hundred dollar bills. “Here you go, have a good time on the way home.”
“O.K. All right! You’re the man.”
“I don’t screw around,” Sal said.
Harry put the money away. “Oh yeah, I forgot to mention—no payment on the condo for five years, but there’s a condo fee, starts after it’s built, same for everybody. Takes care of the maintenance, keeps up the value of the place. That going to be a problem? I should have said something before. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Sal pushed back his chair and handed Harry his pen. “Nice pen.”
“Keep it, Sal, you like it.”
“Yeah?” Sal put the pen in his pocket. “I’ll sign your check with it.” He turned and left.
Harry sat back and exhaled. He was excited but tired, too. These goons took it out of you. He could replace his Montblanc and have a hundred dollars left over, but then—would he think of Sal every time he used it? It wasn’t worth losing sleep over. Maybe he should make it a tradition, give a pen to every major investor. The thought of giving Marty a good pen irritated him. Bad idea. He gathered up the drawings and headed for the car.
Cait's mother was getting worse. They flew to Wisconsin, rented a car, and drove through Green Bay.
“I don’t usually get this way, but I’m feeling a little—I don’t know—nervous,” Ray said.
“They’ll love you. Look there’s Daddy!” Cait braked and jumped out of the car. A trim man, gray at the temples, shut off the lawn mower he was pushing and took her in his arms. Ray got out and hung back by the car. Cait led her father over, holding his hand.
“Daddy, this is Ray.”
“Hi,” Ray said.
“Pete Sullivan.” He appraised Ray for a moment and shook hands. Solid, Ray thought. He could see Cait’s energy, channeled, disciplined. “How was the trip?”
“Good,” Ray said. “Nice to be here.”
“Cait, why don’t you show Ray around while I finish up.”
“Lot of grass,” Ray said.
“Yep, this is about going to do it for the year.” He left them standing together and walked slowly back to the mower. Cait and Ray were silent. He was going to be alone, and they weren’t. Pete pulled the starter cord and continued toward the other end of the yard.
“Poor Daddy,” Cait said. Ray put one arm around her shoulder. She took a deep breath. “Let’s go see Mom.” He followed her into the house, scraping his shoes several times on the door mat. After three years in Hawaii, it was strange not to take them off.
Cait’s mother was upstairs in a large airy bedroom, resting against several pillows. She was thin and pale, smiling.
“Oh Cait, it is so good to see you.” Her eyes were dark and bright, large above sunken cheeks.
Cait made a choking sound and hugged her as best she could. “Mom, Mom,” she said. They clung to each other for a long moment.
“You have a beautiful tan,” her mother said when Cait straightened. “Is this Ray?”
“Yes, oh.” Cait turned to him and he approached the bed. Her mother held out a hand. Her fingers were light and dry; they closed around his with surprising firmness, drawing him to her.
“Let me look at you,” she said. He remembered waiting once while a blind woman felt his face with her fingertips. “I see,” she said. “Don’t go to sleep mad. Pete and I never—” She waited for a flash of pain to subside. The mower stopped.
“Thank you,” Ray said. He put his other hand on hers and imagined picking her up. “Do you want to go outside?” It just popped out of his mouth. Her eyes opened wider. She smiled like a girl.
“I am outside.”
The mower started again. Her eyes closed. “I’m going to sleep a little, now.” Ray returned her hand and looked at Cait. She was biting one knuckle. He touched her arm. They walked carefully out and down the stairs.
“I knew she was in bad shape,” Cait said finally, “but I didn’t expect—.”
“I see where you got your looks. Not the eyes, though.”
“Sullivan eyes,” Cait said. They put their bags in Cait’s old room, a corner room shaded by a maple, and went outside. They sat on the porch steps and watched Cait’s father put away the mower. When he was done, he sat beside them on a lower step.
“A nurse comes twice a day,” he said. “She has some good days and some bad.”
“Are you getting enough sleep, Daddy?”
“I’ll make it.” After a time, he said, “We owe God a death; he that dies this year is quit for the next,” he told the tree. “Richard IV.”
“I thought you were a coach,” Ray said.
“They make Daddy teach English, sometimes.”
“Of course, if you’re a soldier you have to expect a little coming back at you. Steffie never hurt anybody. Only brought life. Never took it.”
“For sure,” Cait said. “Unlike some of us.” Her father patted her knee.
“You can't beat yourself up forever, Honey.”
“I try and make it up to Jenna, but she won’t talk to me.”
“Jenna’s got to do things in her own time. She knows you’re sorry. I guess Cait’s told you about all this,” he said to Ray.
“I am a coach. I heard you played a little ball. Have a catch?”
“Sure.” Ray stood and stretched.
“Not too much time left for grilling brats outside,” Pete said to Cait. “You want to take care of that? There’s potato salad in the fridge.”
“That’s affirmative,” Cait said.
Pete went in the house and came out with a football. He spun it a few times and lateraled to Ray. The ball felt good, solid, pumped up, broken in. “Been a while,” Ray said. He moved his hand around the ball, feeling the seams and laces, shaking his wrist. Pete walked into the yard and caught a short flip. He backed up a few steps and threw it to Ray.
“Great time of year. Green Bay is something special in football season.” He backed up a few more steps and took a soft pass from Ray. They threw back and forth, gradually increasing the distance between them. Pete would catch and turn, jog a couple of steps. He threw a harder pass to Ray and stepped back. “Don’t be messing up my tree, now!” Ray threw another pass, harder, on a lower line, a couple of feet beneath an overhanging branch. Pete caught it, backed up some more, took a breath, and delivered another, just below the branch. Ray caught it and looked up. Pete’s face had gone hard behind his grin. It’s a test, Ray realized. Well all right. Let’s get it done.
A familiar coolness spread through him. Game time. He took a five step drop, looked off the safety, pivoted and delivered to Pete, right in his hands. Pete caught it, although it knocked him back half a step. This time he didn’t turn and run upfield. He stood there, spun the ball once in his hands and then walked toward Ray.
“Where’d you play?”
“Maine. High school. A little college.”
“We could have used you around here.”
“Yeah, I like football. I was better at baseball.”
“Figures. Why did you quit?”
“I don’t know. They wanted robots—interchangeable parts. It wasn’t fun anymore. It was all about winning and not about the game.”
“This is Vince Lombardi country,” Pete said. “Winning is the only thing. That’s religion around here.”
“Not my religion,” Ray said. “No disrespect to Vince Lombardi.” He shook his head. “What do you call a team that plays over their heads, plays a great game, and comes up a run short in the ninth—losers?”
“I’ve seen a lot of players,” Pete said. “I could have gone a long ways with what you’ve got. I had to try to make up with drills, practice. You know, outwork the other guy.”
They continued toward the house in silence. “Maybe I’m wrong—” Pete spoke in a different tone. “But I’ve got the feeling you’re holding something back.”
“I’m sorry,” Ray said. “I got in trouble. I can’t go back home right now. Nothing serious, but they want me to do jail time. I can’t tell you anything else without putting you in a bad spot.”
“Shit,” Pete said.
“They can’t get me as long as I don’t go home.”
“That isn’t good.”
“I guess what it comes down to—do you love Cait?”
Pete made up his mind. He tossed the ball to Ray. Ray looked at the ball, threw it back.
“O.K.,” Pete said.
Later, in bed, Ray said to Cait, “I love being with you, but I didn’t realize—it isn’t just you—it’s your mom and your dad, too. And I haven’t even met your sister.”
“She’s coming tomorrow.”
Ray was too tired to worry about it. When he woke up the next morning, Cait was already in the kitchen talking with Pete. He slept half an hour more and dressed. Cait was outside on the steps with a cup of coffee. He poured himself a cup and joined her. The day was clear and chilly.
“Football weather,” he said.
“Daddy’s gone to practice. He’ll be back for lunch.”
“So, what’s the plan?”
“How about we drive around? I’ll show you where I went to school. Go by the lake.”
“Don’t forget where you had your first kiss.” Cait put one hand on each of his ears and kissed him long and hard. “There,” she said. “It was right here. Now I can’t remember it.” They rode through town, along the lake, and out into the country. The fields were large, the sky wide open. It was good to be in the north again, but Ray already missed the Pacific. Lake Michigan seemed like a big bathtub. “Daddy likes you,” Cait said. “He’s worried about the trouble, though. He doesn’t want me to get hurt.”
Jenna was there when they got back. She and Cait exchanged a quick formal hug and looked at each other. Jenna was as tall as Cait but thinner. Same blue eyes, flecked with green. Same dark hair, but Jenna’s was cut short and curled up at the ends, giving her an older look. She was a school psychologist in a suburb of Milwaukee. At lunch, she was definite, had answers. Ray kept quiet. Jenna was not impressed that he drove a cab. Nor was she especially interested in Cait’s life or art work. She wasn’t mean, he didn’t think. It was just that she didn't see much outside her world. Pete treated her with warmth and respect. When she left, in the late afternoon, Ray let out a deep breath. He hadn’t realized that he was holding it.
Ray and Cait did the dishes. He was beginning to feel more comfortable in the house. Cait’s mom was tired but happy to have everyone together. They played cribbage with Pete and went to bed early.
Overnight, there was frost. Pete and Ray carried storm windows up from the cellar and arranged a work place in the garage. They were heavy old-fashioned wooden windows, meant to last, in need of glazing and painting. During the next several days, Ray worked on them whenever something else wasn’t happening. He replaced two cracked panes, patched putty, scraped and primed and painted each one on both sides. Once he looked up and saw Cait holding her mother by an upstairs window. He waved and they waved back, slowly.
By the time he and Cait packed to catch their plane, he felt good about the place. It wasn’t like having another home, exactly. But it was somewhere he could come back to.
On the long flight to Honolulu, they snoozed and talked.
“She’s always been like that,” Cait said, about Jenna. “Straight A’s, went to the University at Madison. She always did the right thing.”
“Pretty serious,” Ray said. “She have a boyfriend?”
“I think she’s seeing somebody. She doesn’t talk about him.”
“Probably the principal,” Ray said. Cait giggled.
“I can see her sneaking around. Dark glasses in Milwaukee. Mom likes you. She’s worried we’re never going to get married.”
“We can take care of that. You want to?”
Cait looked at him, eyes flashing. “Yes.”
“Well, all right!”
Ray signaled one of the stewardesses. “Couple of beers,” he said when she paused by their seats, “we’re getting married.”
They toasted the moment and fell into decision mode. Cait said that she didn’t want to make a big deal about it, the ceremony and all. “Mother’s too tired.”
“We can’t go to Maine. Let’s just do it.”
“Why not? Do you think we should get a bigger place? My lease is almost up.”
“We could, but maybe it would be better to squeeze into my place for awhile. Save money.” They talked it over. Driving a cab and waiting on tables wasn't forever. Maybe Cait would go back to school. Maybe he’d get some more tools and a truck. Whatever they did was going to cost money. By the time the plane banked over Diamond Head, they felt as though they were already married.
The warm scented air at the terminal reminded Ray of landing on the island for the first time. He heard a dove call and felt grateful—just to be there. There with Cait.
His mother’s birthday came around again, and he went out to the airport to order her flowers. He waited in line behind a customer and thought that his mother didn’t even know he was married. It didn’t seem right.
The voice froze him from behind. He couldn’t pretend that he was someone else. He turned slowly, his expression neutral. Roland was standing there in khakis and a new aloha shirt. His eyes dropped to Roland’s waist. He thought he saw a holster bulge.
“I’m off duty, man.” Charley waited, balanced, unsure. “Thought I’d see if you were going to send your mom any more flowers.”
“Jesus, Roland.” Charley started to smile. “Hell of a shirt you got there.”
“You like it? Therese picked it out.”
“Therese! How’s she doing?”
“Good. She’s on the beach right now with the kids.” Charley stepped away from the flower stall.
“You put a scare on me, Roland.”
“I see that.” Roland was pleased with himself. His moustache was shining. “I had vacation coming. I said to Therese, why not get one of those package deals to Waikiki? Live a little.”
“She know I’m here?”
“No. Shit, I didn’t know you were here. But I ran down those flower orders—right around this time every year from this location. I figured, what the hell, what have I got to lose? I ain’t much for beaches, anyway; I’ll just hang out and see if Charley shows up.”
“Son of a bitch, Roland.”
“Listen, Larsen is still after you. If I can find you, maybe somebody else can. Maybe you might be thinking about some other way to say hello to your mom. Don’t use the telephone, though.”
“Don’t worry,” Charley said. “Good to see you, Roland. Feels good to be Charley again.”
“You got a new name, I guess. New something on your finger, too.” Roland was grinning broadly.
“Oh, yeah. I got married. We got married. You shouldn’t be knowing this stuff.”
“Don’t worry about it. Look—I try to do my job; don’t get me wrong. But, being a good officer is about using your judgement. If I arrested everybody who was OUI on Saturday night, we'd need ten more jails. What good is it going to do to lock you up? Besides, Harry George got off.”
“How did he do that?”
“Money. The usual. Larsen’s Youth Center got a big grant from the George Foundation a year, year and a half, later. Harry paid a ten grand fine, apologized, got off with community service and parole. He would have had to do hard time, but they reduced the charges. His statement said it was your deal, that you just asked him to be there in case you needed money.”
“Fucking Harry,” Charley said. “I only made a couple of deliveries for him. He had a house in Carrabassett, up at the end of the valley, where he kept the stuff. He had three or four dealers in different parts of the state. He was big time, didn’t sell anything himself. He used to talk about a place he went to in the Cayman Islands a couple of times a year. I think he was stashing money down there.”
“Everybody knew it was bullshit,” Roland said. “But—you weren’t around.” Charley looked at his shoes for a moment.
“Well, thanks for keeping quiet, Roland. I’m obliged.” Roland shrugged. “But I don’t know what to do about the flowers. My mom will be awful worried if they don’t come.”
“So will half the town,” Roland said.
“That bad, huh?”
“Things have a way of getting out.”
“I guess I’ll send one last bunch and figure out another way to let her know I’m O.K. You got time for a beer?”
“Hey, I’m on vacation.”
They talked baseball and old times. Uncle Jack was calling it quits, and Darlene had worked out a way to buy the diner. The city was growing, but otherwise things were pretty much the same. Charley dropped Roland off at the Outrigger Surf a couple of hours later. When he got home, he was full of things to tell Cait. She waited until he was done.
“I like him,” she said. “Now—I have something to tell you.”
“What! No shit?”
“No shit. I found out this afternoon.”
“Whoooa!” He took her in his arms gently.
“I won’t break,” she said. He swung her off the floor and around. “That’s so great! There’s three of us. Look out world!”
“Look out world,” Cait said as he set her down.
Harry stopped by T's Oyster Bar more often. Angel was usually working at happy hour. They joked around. When it got crazy, she would raise her eyebrows at him, and he would nod sympathetically. Guys hit on her constantly. They didn't get far. She was the original mixed message. Her hot body concealed a cool will power that Harry understood. As the weeks went by, she grew older and he felt younger. He was sometimes late for dinner.
Family life settled into a routine. He and Lynn and Fergus often went to his mother's for lunch or dinner during the weekend. She got along with Lynn better than Harry had expected. She was playful with Fergus and confided in Lynn that she might have been a bit too stiff with Harry as a child. “Mother?” he said in mock surprise when Lynn told him.
“Haven't heard much from Dad,” he observed at dinner one Saturday night. Elizabeth frowned delicately and wiped her mouth with a napkin.
“I am sure things will work out for him, but I am a bit worried,” she said.
“I don't have the details. Something to do with a business arrangement. Rather more serious, this time. When we talked a few days ago, he said that he thought he was going to have to sell his boat.”
“Oh, no!” Lynn said. “That beautiful old boat?”
“En Garde,” Harry said. “Never happen.”
“Your father has done well over the years, but lately he seems to be less—engaged. He will be up next weekend. Perhaps you can talk about it with him, Dear.”
“Listen, you mean.”
Elizabeth smiled patiently, exchanging a glance with Lynn. “It would be very nice to see you. I do hope you can come over. Ben is quite around the bend about Fergus.”
The next day, Harry stopped in at the marina. He asked a young salesman whether En Garde was for sale. To his surprise, she was listed for $97,500. “History afloat, immaculate condition,” the salesman said.
“I'll give you ninety for it,” he said.
“She's a hell of a boat. You want to take a look at her?”
“I know the boat. I'll give you a check right now. But there's a condition: this is a private deal. No one knows who bought it. Not the present owner, nobody.”
“We can do that. But, I don't know if the owner will take ninety.”
“Offer's good for 48 hours. I'll get back to you by Wednesday noon. Be right back with the check.” Harry went to the car and opened his briefcase. He could cover the check with fifty to spare. “For purchase of En Garde, fully equipped, as is,” he wrote on the check and handed it to the salesman. “Enjoy that commission, Buddy,” he said.
“Bill, uh, Bill,” the guy said.
“I'll call Wednesday.” Harry left him holding the check with a dazed expression. Looked like he'd never had a lucky day. Sometimes, spending money was fun.
Wednesday, he learned that his offer had been refused. “Ninety-five,” Bill said. “The owner said anybody was lucky to get it for that, and he wouldn't take a dime less.”
“O.K.,” Harry said. “I'll be there in half an hour with a check for five grand. Polish those keys for me.”
“Yes, Sir,” Bill said. “Thank you.”
En Garde was out of the water, up on stands, and wrapped. Harry walked around her twice and traded the check for the keys and the papers, pre-signed by his father. When he got home, he put them in a large manila envelope. He didn't tell Lynn. This was something between his father and him; it didn't involve her.
Angel thought it was great that he'd bought his father's boat. Harry didn't explain any of the details. “Wish someone would buy me a boat,” she said. “I'd like to just go away on it, maybe see Florida and down around there.”
“I can't buy two boats in one week,” Harry said. Angel made a pout face, but she was pleased; he'd considered it. “You like boats? We ought to go out sometime when it warms up. Rent one, or maybe I'll pick one up if I can get a decent price.” Her eyes fixed on his for a moment and began to yield. Warm almond.
“Yeah,” she said, “if it ever warms up and I ever get a day off.” Harry laughed. They didn't say anything else, but they had a date of sorts.
Harry was in a good mood when he got home. Fergus was crawling all over the place. Lynn had made a lemon meringue pie. It was cold and dark by 4:30, but the days would soon begin to lengthen. Nothing much happened that evening. An ordinary night, really. But the picture of it remained clear in Harry's mind when he'd forgotten nearly everything else about that winter.
On Saturday, they arrived promptly at cocktail hour for dinner with Harry's parents. Ben had a big smile for Lynn and made a great show of consulting Mickey on his wrist. “Definitely over the yard arm,” he said and began making drinks. Fergus headed straight for Elizabeth, soaking up attention.
Ben proposed a toast to Fergus, “the youngest George,” in a less commanding tone than usual. They drank and clapped. Fergus sat up on the Persian carpet like a prairie dog.
“A little bird told me you had some hard going,” Harry said to his father.
“Headwinds,” Harry suggested.
“More like a typhoon, I'm afraid.” Ben sipped Laphroiag. “I got careless. Made a couple of mistakes. Then I got mad and made a big mistake. I went double or nothing, so to speak. You'd think I'd know better. Sometimes, you've got to cut your losses, take your beating, and move on. I blew it. The worst thing is—I had to sell En Garde.” Ben raised his glass. “En Garde—”
They drank to En Garde. Harry went into the hall and brought back the manila envelope he'd left with his coat. He reached inside and tossed the keys onto the cocktail table in front of his father. They landed with a clatter and slid against the silver cheese tray. “May she sail on,” Harry said. “I bought her for you.” He put the envelope on the table next to the keys. “Here's the papers. We're even for the court fine and all that tuition.”
Ben flushed and looked, not at Harry, but at his mother. Lynn's mouth was slightly open. Fergus swiveled around, waiting for someone to make noise. “You drive a hard bargain,” Harry said, “knocked me up five grand.” His father and mother were sharing something without words, something sad.
“They wouldn't tell me who bought her,” his father said, finally.
“Yeah, that was part of the deal. My corporation owned her. She's signed back over to you.” He pointed at the envelope.
“Quite a surprise.” The air was flat and heavy, not what Harry expected. “You've done well,” his father said, the words offered more as fact than compliment. Fergus made a complaining sound, and Lynn put him on her lap.
“Making progress,” Harry said.
Ben took another sip of whisky. “You know,” he said, “she's all wrapped up for the winter. I might just have her trucked to Virginia and take her down the waterway. Live aboard. Get back to basics.” He'd talked about this many times; it seemed like an extension of earlier conversation, except that he sounded as though he meant it. There was a quietness around the word “basic” that was new to Harry.
“Your basic forty-two footer,” Harry said. Ben shrugged. There wasn't any fight in him. Harry felt cheated.
“Perhaps we should move to the dining room,” his mother suggested. They proceeded with dinner, but cheerfulness had gone for the evening. His father thanked him for the boat when they left. He said goodbye in a soft way that Harry didn't understand, as though he were giving something to Harry, instead of the other way around.
“Don't run into any bridges,” Harry said.
“Once was enough. Night, Lynn. Night, Fergus.” Ben put a big hand on top of Fergus's blue woolen watch cap. “So nice to see you all.”
“Good night, Dears,” his mother called.
“Thank you so much,” Lynn said.
Halfway down the driveway, Harry exploded. “What was that all about! Jesus! I save his precious boat, and I get treated like an axe murderer.” Fergus joined in, complaining loudly.
“There, there, it's all right, Precious. You were a very good boy, very good. Best in the whole world. We're going home now. You might have told me,” Lynn said, turning back to him. “I felt a bit stupid being as surprised as everybody else.”
“I guess I should have said something. I don't know. I take care of the money; you take care of the house. I couldn't believe it. He just sat there.”
“It was wonderful of you to buy En Garde for him. Maybe you could have told him a little differently. I mean, I can see why you'd want to pay back the fine; that happened after you were grown up. But, tuition? Maybe he was proud of paying for your education. Wouldn't you feel that way about Fergus?”
“You didn't have to listen to all his reminders over the years.”
“No.” They turned off the main road. “People change sometimes,” she said.
“Believe it when I see it.” It was upsetting to think of his father changing.
“He sounded serious about sailing south. What did he say—get back to basics?”
“He's been saying that for years. I mean, he's a tough son of a bitch. And so am I.”
“Well, of course you are,” Lynn said. “Of the two of them, I think your mother's the tough one.”
“She's no pushover. It's true.”
Lynn carried Fergus into the house and put him to bed. She told Harry that she was going to read for awhile. “I'm going to watch a game,” he said. “I'm feeling a little torqued.”
“Don't stay up too late.” She brushed a hand over his hair and went to bed. Harry sat in front of the TV, not involved in the game, thinking about his business deals. It was calming to think about things that he had control over, or, if not control, at least he could act. They were his deals.
Marty was going to be in town the next day. They had a meeting to talk about the project, 2:30 at T's, a late lunch or an early drink. The permits were still in process at the city council. Funding from Marty and his cousin, Sal, was contingent on project approval. He was cutting it a little close. Buying En Garde had taken most of his reserve.
He opened his briefcase and made notes. He began to feel better and did not take it personally when the Celtics lost. Fergus was sleeping like a cherub when he went upstairs. Lynn turned over, mumbled, and went back to sleep. Harry slid under the covers and lay there, seeing his parents exchange glances. You'd think he was twelve or something. He put them out of his mind and imagined Angel on the beach. Much better.
The next afternoon, at T's, Angel wore more than a bikini, not that it made much difference. Her body always seemed ready to burst out of her clothes. Even heavy sweaters had a pleading, take me off quality when she wore them. Harry wondered if she were embarrassed by her body. She dressed plainly, as though she were trying to look like her grandmother. I've got enough trouble, she seemed to be saying. Today she was wearing a white cotton blouse, rolled back at her wrists, and a chino skirt cut modestly above the knees. She leaned toward him to say hello, and he had to stop his arms from opening to receive her.
“Don't you look good,” he said.
She smiled. “Do you think my hair's too long?”
“No. No, longer is better.”
Angel ran the fingers of her left hand slowly through her hair, adjusting it. “Maybe a little longer,” she said. “What's happening today?”
“Meeting somebody here in a couple of minutes. I came early so I could get a look at you.”
“You need a drink; that's what you need.”
“Good idea. It's shitty out there.” Sleet rattled against the large window and sliced into the harbor. “I think it's a rum kind of day. How about a Planter's Punch?” Angel scribbled on her pad and walked slowly toward the bar. She was young and strong, but there was reluctance in her steps, as though she were tired of fighting gravity.
The taste of rum brought back the Cayman Islands. Someone played a James Taylor song, I've seen fire, and I've seen rain. I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end. But I always thought I'd see you one more time again. Angel leaned over farther than necessary to put a dish of pretzels in front of him. His eyes rested between her breasts.
“Well, well!” Marty was a shock. Harry looked up to see Marty grinning at Angel.
“Uncle Marty!” She hugged him and he patted her hard on the back, twice.
“Good to see you, Princess,” he said. “How's your mom?”
“I'll see you next week. You behaving yourself?”
Marty knocked Harry on the shoulder. “Harry, this is my niece, Angel.”
“I figured that out.”
“Bring me a beer, would you Princess?”
“Amstel light?” Marty nodded and sat down.
“My sister Danny's only kid.” He lowered his voice. “I keep an eye on her. Her old man is on a long holiday in New York, know what I mean? Five more years. I told Danny not to marry that punk. What are you going to do? What are you going to do?”
“I don't know,” Harry said. The Caymans had disappeared.
“Well, maybe I got some say with Angel.” Angel brought his beer and poured it into a glass for him.
“Here's to you, Sweetheart,” Marty said. Harry also raised his glass. Angel went over to a customer in the far corner, and Marty turned to Harry. “I see you looking at her when I come in. She ain't for you. Keep your fucking hands off. You get my meaning?”
“Loud and clear. Jesus, Marty—who wouldn't look, for Christ's sake?”
“Yeah,” Marty said, leaning back. “Look.”
“Besides, I'm married.”
“Yeah, and Santa's a transvestite.” Harry laughed in spite of himself.
“That's funny, Marty. I don't know why. But it's funny.”
“I'm a funny man, Harry, when I'm making money. How's our little project?”
“The Save the Harbor people turned down the contribution I had figured out. Said it was greed money.”
“Dumb asses,” Marty said. “It's going to happen anyway. They should have taken it. What about the rest of the council?”
“It keeps getting delayed. Pisses me off. I had to shell out for a six month extension on the option.”
“When was that?”
“Last month,” Harry said.
“Better get on the stick. Don't let 'em jerk you around.”
“I'm working on it. I've got a pretty good connection with Larsen.”
“Let me know,” Marty said, pushing back his chair. “The check's waiting. By the way, Sal's been telling me how good his condo unit is.”
“Yours is just as good, believe me, Marty. Maybe better.” Marty nodded and dropped a twenty on the table.
“That's for Angel,” he said.
“Yeah, Marty. I'll get back to you next week or as soon as I hear anything.” Marty strolled over to Angel, hugged her, said something in her ear, and left. The sleet was changing to rain. Drops made tracks down the window, merged and slid faster. What a goon.
A few minutes later, Angel sat beside him. “We got to talk,” she said.
“What's the matter? You look pale.”
“I can't tell you now; it's getting busy.”
“Is it your Uncle Marty?”
“Yes.” She glanced around at the tables. “He's kind of—old-fashioned. I can't talk now.”
“You working tomorrow?” Angel nodded, close to tears. “I'll come when it's slow. We'll talk. We'll talk.” Christ, he was beginning to sound like Marty.
“O.K., Harry. We'll talk.”
So far, it had been an easy pregnancy—a few days with morning sickness, checkups perfect, no problems. Ray kept driving, saving as much money as he could. It felt increasingly strange to have his mother and sister completely outside his new life. He wanted Cait to meet her and Molly and his old friends. He also wanted to try and find his father. His father would like Cait, he thought. Pressure built to the level where he had to do something.
He was afraid to call. If they were still tapping his mother's line, they'd trace the call. Even if he flew to the mainland to call, he wouldn't be able to make any plans. A visit was the best way. He'd give his mother a coded phone number that she could use from a pay phone if she needed to. Maybe they could arrange a vacation on the west coast where she could meet Cait and the baby. Cait went along with it, although she was worried.
“What if you're caught?”
“I won't get caught.”
They had fun buying oversized sun glasses and a hat with a large brim. He'd always been clean shaven, so he let his beard grow for a few days. Stubble was in.
“How about a black T-shirt and a gold chain?” Cait suggested.
“Not good. I'm wanted for dealing, remember.”
“Right. Bad idea.”
They settled for a jogging outfit that he could ditch anywhere— light pants, windbreaker, running shoes. “Like one tourist from New York,” Ray said in the island way. “This will work. It's still cool there in May.”
He bought a round trip ticket to Pittsburgh. It was a long drive to Maine, but he didn't think that the airport would be watched if he were spotted and had to run. He could get there on back roads if he had to.
“What if your mom isn't there?”
“She's bound to be. Molly's graduating this year. They'll all be there. Besides, Roland would have told me if there had been any big changes, if they'd moved or anything.”
“What will you do, call when you get there?”
“I don't know. I don't want to chance the phone. Maybe I'll try to catch her after the kids go to school and Ron's at work. Wouldn't be much risk if I just drove in, asked her to meet me somewhere, and left right away.” Cait put her hand to her mouth.
“That would be an awful shock,” she said.
“Mmm. I don't know what else to do.”
Cait said. “I'm worried.”
“It's not taking much of a chance if I stay low and don't drive around too much in the daytime.” They put together a traveling kit. Ray took close-ups of Cait in the apartment, making sure that nothing in the background revealed their location.
It was the third week in May when he kissed her goodbye at the airport. “See you in a week. Take care of yourself. And Junior.” It was harder than he thought, leaving her.
“I'll be here.” He turned and ducked through the metal detector. When he looked back, Cait was still standing there. He waved once and went around the corner. He walked to the departure gate and sat near a large Samoan family.
He was on his own, but he wasn't. It was as though Cait were going to show up any moment. He watched the mother tending to her youngest children. A lot of work. She was good at it. He had more respect for mothers these days. He wasn't sure what fathers were supposed to do with babies, but he figured he could learn. The Samoan father was calm. Like that, maybe.
He had a window seat on the plane. A woman who looked like a retired teacher got up to let him in and then dove into a book. He attached his seatbelt and rubbed his jaw. Two days without shaving. Probably he didn't look so great. He could feel the woman ignoring him. It was good, really; the less he talked on this trip, the better.
As the plane climbed, he began to worry. For the first time in months, he felt the hard place; he put the nervousness away and planned a route from Pittsburgh. It was late in the evening when he rented a maroon Ford and drove out of the airport. He checked in at the first cheap motel and went right to bed.
The next day, he stopped in Portsmouth. He didn't want to spend the night in Maine. He'd taken the slow way from Albany, through Vermont. The leaves were out in the valleys and just coming out on the mountains. The greens were paler than in Hawaii, deeply familiar to him. A couple of months ago the woods were bare and the ground covered with snow, but it was hard to imagine. In the north, you forget about winter as fast as you can. Ray Jackson, he signed himself in, effortlessly.
He was up early and on the road. As he crossed over into Maine on the Piscataqua River Bridge, he started becoming Charley. He could feel his mother's presence tugging at him.
He stopped in her driveway at quarter to nine. The house was quiet, one car in the garage. He walked quickly to the kitchen door and rapped on a glass pane. His mother appeared, and he saw her mouth say, “Charley.” He pushed open the door and put his arms around her. She was smaller than he remembered. The smell of her shampoo was the same. He had a confusion of feelings. She clung to him, crying. Roles were reversed; he was comforting her.
She stepped back and looked at him. “You're looking very well,” she said and wiped tears from her cheeks.
“I'm O.K., Mom.”
“I see that. I'm so happy to see you.”
“I can't stay too long.”
“Oh, don't talk about that now. Tell me about yourself. Here, how about a cup of coffee?” She pulled out a chair. He meant to set up a meeting somewhere else, but it was impossible.
“I could use a cup.”
“Charley!” She was looking at his hand.
“Oh, yeah. I got married. I'm really sorry I couldn't tell you about it. It's one of the reasons I'm here.” He took the pictures of Cait from an envelope and handed them to her.
“Cait,” Charley said.
“Cait. I wish I could have been there.”
“Me, too. Well, nobody else was there, either.” He explained about Cait's mother. “And there's more—you're going to be a grandmother.”
“My goodness.” Charlotte sat down. “I think I need coffee, too. When?”
“Beginning of September, looks like.” She was speechless. Charley got the coffee.
“I don't know where you live,” she said.
“Hawaii.” He gave her the card with the telephone number. “You have to take 1 away from each number—take 1 to get Charley & Cait. If you call it as it is, you get an auto parts store in Winston-Salem.”
“Molly has missed you badly. She was pretty angry at you for a year or so, but now she's—I don't know—resigned, I guess is the word. She's graduating next month.”
“I know,” Charley said. He reached into his pocket and put a small box on the table. “Here's a present for her. Tell her I'm sorry I can't be there.” He looked at the floor and then back at his mother. “I have to stay free.”
“I already told her that. Just like your father, I said. He called, by the way, after the blow up. I guess the police tracked him down looking for you. I told him what had happened. He didn't say much.”
“He doesn't usually,” Charley said.
“I could tell he was worried. I said I'd let him know if I heard anything.”
“I want to go see him. Is he still in Minnesota, up by the border?”
“Yes. It's so good to see you. You're looking older.”
“Yeah. How's everyone else?”
“Ron's fine, working hard. We've got a lot of expenses now. I've got a part time job at the nursery. It's fun working with plants and people. I'll call in, tell them I can't make it today.”
“No, don't do that. I'm taking a chance being here. I just had to see you, but I can't hang around. I was hoping you could meet us later on in the fall or maybe around Christmas. Meet Cait and the baby. Maybe in Seattle or somewhere on the west coast. I've never been in Seattle. Maybe you could bring Molly; she's old enough to keep quiet. Ron, too, but he probably shouldn't get involved.”
His mother brightened. “I'd love to. We can swing it, somehow.”
“You could call from a pay phone sometime; we could get the dates straight then.”
“I will. Oh—Harry George was here a while back. He said he had a deal set up for you that involved less jail time. There was something in it for him. I don't know what. I like to threw him out of the house, but I said I'd tell you if I heard from you.”
“Harry George,” Charley said.
“Strange thing is, I saw him just last week. He said again that you should call him. He was in the nursery buying apple trees. Half a dozen Macouns. Shipped them to Vermont, somewhere.”
“Maybe I'll call him.”
“He's married now, has a kid, a place over on the foreside.”
Charley shook his head in disgust. “Harry George. What's Molly going to do?”
“She's been accepted at the University of Vermont at Burlington.”
“She'll like it up there,” Charley said.
“We're very excited for her. She was all state in basketball this year.”
“No shit! All right, Molly!” His mother picked up Molly's present and turned it over in her hand.
“Congratulations, Molly,” she read. “And a drawing of a rose. What's in it?”
“Necklace. Black coral. It's rare out there, grows deep.”
“She'll love it.”
“Speaking of roses, I can't send them any more. I'm afraid they're going to get traced. But I'm hoping to see you before your birthday.”
Charley finished his coffee. “Got to roll.”
He nodded. She put the phone number in her pocket. “Don't let that get away,” Charley said.
“I'll be careful. Take one for Charley and Cait. I'll call in a couple of weeks from a pay phone.” They had a long hug in the middle of the room.
“Take care of yourself, Charley. I'm proud of you.”
She followed him to the car and waved sadly as he drove away as she waved. He beeped twice at the mailbox and turned toward the Maine Mall. He drove without purpose, upset and relieved at the same time. She had said just the right thing. Proud of him. He was ashamed of the trouble he'd given her.
He sat in the car at the Mall parking lot for a few minutes and then went inside to find a bathroom. On the way out he passed a phone and remembered Harry George.
Information gave him a number. A woman answered, her voice faintly familiar. She might have been the girlfriend he'd met once—slim, if he remembered, good looking, intense, in a quiet way.
“He's playing with his new toy at the boat yard. Or should be. He left about twenty minutes ago.”
“O.K., thanks. I'll try and catch him there.”
“Good luck. Who's this?”
“I'm an old friend,” Charley said. “He'll tell you all about me.”
“Can't wait.” He heard a small child calling for her. “Whoops,” she said, “later.” Charley hung up and walked to the car, head down. He was beginning to feel that he'd been in town too long, was pushing his luck. But he needed to see Harry. He wasn't sure why.
He parked the Ford near the boat yard and walked down the hill. He didn't want Harry getting a look at the license plate. The yard was busy. Boats suspended in slings were being lowered into the water. A crew was adding to the side of the marina building. No one paid any attention to him, but he felt exposed, even with his hat pulled down almost to his sun glasses.
He found Harry near the end of a line of floats, sitting in the stern of a white boat powered by large twin outboards. He stepped aboard.
“What do you know,” Harry said. “You could have sent a check; you didn't need to make a special trip.”
“Fuck you, Harry.”
“Just kidding.” Harry pushed a glass of juice away from him. “You want a beer, juice?”
“Well, Charley—you could use a shave, but you're looking good. Must have spent it wisely. Forget about it. I made it back. I guess your mom told you I've got a good deal for you?”
No one else was near them. Charley sat down carefully, keeping his hat on.
“Here's the deal: you get caught, you're looking at four to six years. Larsen wants you bad. You're like a bad mark on his record. He's big into politics now, on the city council, likes to talk about his effectiveness, how he gets things done. I'm trying to swing a development permit on Commercial Street, and I need his backing. I told him I'd find you. If you turn yourself in, he gets the publicity; I get the permit; and you get twelve to fifteen months—after time off for good behavior. There will be a fine. I had to pay ten grand. But that will be taken care of. All you have to do is sign a statement, apologize, and keep your mouth shut. You keep quiet, and there's twenty grand for you when you walk out the gate.”
Charley didn't move.
“I can see where you'd be pissed,” Harry said. “Doing hard time. I got off. But—a year would be a whole lot better than five. You'd be free of it, wouldn't have to stay on the run.”
“I hear you got married,” Charley said.
“Yeah. Twice the fun and four times the trouble.”
Charley stood up. “See you, Harry.”
“What? You're not thinking clearly, Charley. My lawyer will handle everything, Jack Eagleton, best in the business. It's all set up, ready to go!”
“I wasn't thinking clearly when I got mixed up with you in the first place.”
Harry's eyes narrowed. “I can find you.” He made a motion to get out of his chair. Charley had an image of his father stepping from behind a tree and grabbing a guy who was robbing his traps. It was January. He'd thrown the guy in the creek and told him he'd get worse next time. That was the story Charley heard. When he asked his father about it, his father just nodded and smiled. Harry settled back.
Charley noticed Harry's car keys on the table. He reached down and flipped them into the water. “Hate to have you following me.”
“Well, fuck you too. Why did you come here, anyway?”
“I don't know—settle things, I guess. Close a door.”
“Yeah, well you're getting the dumb prize. Think it over. If you wake up smart, call me.”
Charley left Harry sitting there and walked fast up the hill. He looked back twice; Harry wasn't following. When he put his keys in the Ford ignition, he had a bad moment. What if it didn't start? The engine roared to life, and he drove away. It was hard to stop looking in the mirror.
That's it, he thought and began to breathe a little easier. Harry had a boat, sure, and a lot of other stuff, but he didn't look too good. I'm the free one. He slapped the steering wheel a couple of times. Get the hell out of here. He passed the diner that Darlene was buying and had an impulse to stop. He kept going, but when he came to the Howard Johnson's, he went inside and called the diner.
“Is Darlene there?”
“I thought it was you. Darlene, this is Charley. You come out back in about ten minutes, you'll see a maroon Ford. I'm on my way out of town, but it sure would be good to see you.” She agreed, and he drove back to the diner. He sat low in the seat with his hat pulled down. She came around from the side door and got in.
They hugged hard and made little noises that seemed to have been trapped in them for years. She noticed his ring right away. He told her about Cait and the baby. “You look terrific,” he said.
“I'm feeling good.”
“Oh shit!” Two state police cars pulled off the road and parked in front.
“They're regulars,” Darlene said. “They're in most days about now.”
“I don't think I'll stick around.”
“You stay right here another minute; I've got something for you.”
She went back inside and came right out with a white paper bag. She handed it to him through the window, bent down and kissed him. “For the trip,” she said, “wherever you're going. Darlene's famous muffins.”
“Thanks, Darlene. It's great to see you. Great to see you looking happy.” He started the car.
He eased out of the lot, his heart beating loudly. A mile down the road, he turned toward the mountains. As he drove away from the coast, relief swept over him. He was tired, but he felt sure of himself. He knew where he was going. Home.
He waited until he got to Pittsburgh to call Cait. The car was returned; he was checked in; it was done. She answered and that's what he said: “It's done.”
“Oh, Ray, I'm so glad. Are you all right?”
“Yep. I'll tell you all about it when I get there. How's Junior?”
“Just fine.” Ray, again.
Harry did a slow burn as Charley walked out of sight. He looked over the side of the boat. No keys. Pain in the ass. He went over to the marina pay phone to call Lynn, who had another set. It was maddening to think of Charley, right there, so close. If he was caught, he'd have to take the deal. Maybe it wasn't too late.
He called the police station and found out that Roland was off duty. He called Roland's home number and got lucky. “Roland, this is Harry George. Charley Walker's in town. If you get on it, you might catch him. I just saw him at the boat yard. I didn't get a look at his car. I think he's by himself. ”
Roland paused before answering.
“I'll tell you what I'm going to do, Harry. I'm going to try hard and remember some details about a safe house in Carrabassett, a bank account in the Caymans, a guy in Lewiston and—where the hell was it?—Lowell? It isn't so great getting older, Harry. Your memory goes. Sometimes people call me and I forget all about it.”
“Fucking Charley,” Harry said.
“We'll see you around,” Roland said.
“Right.” Harry crashed the phone into its cradle. Goddamnit. He picked up the telephone again to call Lynn, but his fingers pushed the numbers for Angel.
“Harry! We weren't going to talk any more. Where are you?”
“I couldn't help it,” he said. “My fingers went crazy. I'm at the boat yard. It's getting warm. Great day. You want to come over? Take a ride out to Jewell? Check out the boat?”
Angel hesitated. “I'm scared, Harry.”
“What, of your Uncle Marty? No way he's going to know. We'll just buzz out there, catch some rays, take it easy for a while.”
“Oh, God, O.K. Janie owes me a shift. If she can't do it, I'll call in sick.”
“Dynamite. Oh, Angel, bring your suit. I've got a little diving project.”
“Be there in an hour.”
Harry walked to the corner store at the top of the hill and bought a bottle of pre-mixed pina coladas, a bottle of Chardonnay, ice, chips, and salsa. He was still furious. How to find Charley? He had a good tan; he hadn't been in the north all winter, that's for sure. Harry pushed the problem to the back of his mind and cleaned up the boat while he waited for Angel.
He saw her coming from a distance, walking tentatively along the line of floats, carrying a canvas L.L. Bean bag. She was wearing white shorts and a caramel colored T-shirt. He waved and she walked quickly up to the boat.
“Welcome to the Jo Ann,” he said, reaching for her bag. He couldn't see much above her smile; she had on a Red Sox hat and pricey sunglasses. Instead of giving him the bag, she took his hand and stepped over the rail. Harry stared at her legs and felt her weight as she came all the way aboard.
“So, who's Jo Ann?”
“Don't know—I'm the third owner. My father has a fancy old boat named En Garde. I kind of like having this little muscle job named Jo Ann. Anyway, it's bad luck to change names. So, how are you? You look fantastic!”
“Good. It's a little early. I worked last night.” Angel stretched slowly and looked around the boat. “Not so little.” Harry had never seen her bare legs before. They were trim, broadening smoothly up into her torso. Her lower body was all one piece, a torpedo, a dolphin, or something. Her breasts moved independently, had a more separate weight and freedom.
“Big enough to get around the bay.”
“Well, I'm glad she's not your wife.”
“Jo Ann.” Angel sat on one of the chairs. “I don't feel too good about this.”
“Hey, we're just going for a ride. It's too good a day to waste.”
“What's the diving project?”
“My keys.” Harry pointed. “Right about there.” Angel laughed, kicked off her sandals, and hung one foot over the side.
“Aieee, it's cold.”
“We could do it later.”
She drew her leg back. “Let's do that. I want to get out of here.”
Harry fired up the engines and cast off. Away from the marina, he told Angel to hang on, and he opened the throttles full bore. The Jo Ann roared and rose up on plane, accelerating across the tops of small waves, trailing a plume of white, shooting past a Casco Bay ferry. The wind blew away Harry's concerns. Angel stood beside him. “Wow!” she said. He could hardly hear her. He cut back, and the Jo Ann settled in the water.
“She moves right along,” he said. “Makes a hell of a racket, though.”
“Like a Harley,” Angel said.
The cove at Jewell Island was deserted. Harry anchored in front of the small beach and spread the canopy over the stern. They sipped pina coladas and munched chips while the Jo Ann moved quietly up and down. The tide was full. A few thin cirrus clouds floated high in the sky.
Harry got up to get more ice. Angel tipped her head to look at him as he passed. Their eyes met, and he stopped. Almond, honey-colored eyes. They drew him in deeper. Slowly, without questioning, he bent toward her. When their lips met, it was like the first touch of water in a slow motion dive. As his eyes closed, her mouth opened, and he fell deeper, sinking to his knees. The deeper he went, the more he felt. Her hands went lightly to his shoulders. There was more of her than there was of him. There was all of her he wanted. He collapsed against her shoulder, gasping.
Angel took one of his hands and led it to her breast. “Do something,” she pleaded. Her breast was solid under the T-shirt.
“Wait.” He stumbled below and pushed the mattress pads up onto the deck. He found a pillow and pulled himself up the ladder. Her arms went around his neck as she adjusted her body to his. His hands slid down her back and stopped on the curve of her ass.
“Harry—” He pushed her down slowly and put his hand between her legs. She pressed against it and reached for his head with both hands. She kissed him hard, biting his lip once, breathing fast while he tried to answer her lips and slide her shorts down over her hips. Her underwear came off easily. She was wet and hot in his hand. He pushed off his pants. She took her T-shirt over her head, and dug her nails into one of his arms, pulling him onto her.
He entered her slowly and then deeper. Again, she wanted more and more of him. She made choking sounds and her head rolled slowly from side to side. Her body went rigid and then loosened in a long series of catches and spasms and surprised noises, falling through the air like a tropical waterfall, white thread, free, falling home.
Finally, she lay still beneath him. The boat rose and fell. “Turn out the light,” Harry said.
Half an hour later, he heard voices. “Hey, it's Rocco! Hey, ROCCO.” He realized that he was naked on the deck, next to Angel, also naked, a fine sight.
“Angel?” He rubbed her shoulder. “We've got company. You want to scootch down that ladder and get dressed?”
“Ummm, umm,” she said and reached for her T-shirt. Harry put his pants on as she crawled to the ladder on hands and knees. He sat up straight, his head above the rail.
“Not Rocco!” he yelled.
“Where's Rocco? That's his boat.”
“No it isn't. I bought it.”
“You bought it?”
“Shit. It isn't Rocco, guys. That's a hummer, the Jo Ann.”
“She'll get you where you're going.” The other boat turned away, and Harry started the engines. Angel stayed below while he pulled anchor and nosed out of the cove and around the island, heading back across the bay.
“It's safe,” he called. Angel emerged, and they clung together. It seemed natural that there should be no distance between them. He kissed her, and as she responded, his knees weakened and his mind began to swirl. She stepped back with a satisfied smile.
“That's a first,” she said.
“All those orgasms. I lost count somewhere around thirteen.”
“You were counting?”
“God, Harry. We're in deep shit.” Harry managed to steer around a buoy. Angel put a warm arm around his waist. Their hips bumped and stayed together. She spoke softly. “Nobody ever took me serious, before. Nobody that mattered. I love you, Harry.” Harry's tongue was welded to the bottom of his mouth. He put his arm around her shoulders and squeezed. “Do you want your shirt?” He nodded and adjusted one of the throttles.
They were nearly at the marina when he remembered the keys. To hell with them. They were probably sunk in the mud, anyway. He had another set at home. Angel could give him a ride to his driveway. He didn't want to bother about anything; he just wanted to keep touching her.
He docked and closed down the boat. Angel wanted to leave first. Better that they not be seen together. She bounced off the Jo Ann and walked away, more energetic than when she had arrived. It was odd to see her getting farther away. Harry waited and then followed, getting quickly into her car and slumping low in the seat.
Angel drove up the hill and paused. Harry pointed to the right. “I'm having a little trouble talking,” he said. She put her hand on his leg, stroking and reminding. When she reached his driveway, he got out of the car and remembered the bag in the back seat, the bottle of wine. Angel handed it to him through the window. He didn't know what to say. It was all too much. He realized that she was holding back tears. “I'll see you tomorrow—at T's,” he said.
“I'll be there.” The unspoken for you blossomed in her face.
“Sweet dreams,” he said. “Gotta go.” Angel turned the car around and drove off, waving. Harry hesitated. Lynn. She wasn't two hundred yards away, probably in the kitchen with Fergus. He was not anxious to see her. If he'd had his car, he probably would have gone for a drive, called in, and come back late. Fucking Charley. He walked slowly through the trees toward the house. The trimmers had done a good job; it would be four or five years before the drive would begin to be crowded. If you cut too much, it looks like a subdivision.
He walked into the kitchen like a condemned man. Fergus looked up brightly and hammered a spoon on his tray. “That's my boy!” Harry said. “You wouldn't believe what happened today, Hon. Charley Walker showed up. Basically, he told me to fuck off. No deal. Then he tossed my keys over the side and took off.” Lynn looked at him and looked away.
“I think he called this morning. Someone was trying to find you.”
“Well, he did. Son of a bitch. I was so pissed, I went out to Jewell Island and drank pina coladas all afternoon. Oh, here.” He put the bag on the counter. “Chardonnay.”
“I made a lasagne.”
“Thank God. A man can't live on chips.”
“I'll make a salad. We can eat any time.”
“I'll just take a shower. My man!” He patted Fergus on the head and tried not to run out of the kitchen. He might as well have been wearing Angel Carrera—that's how he felt—her arms around his neck, legs wrapped around his waist.
The shower calmed him down. He changed clothes and stretched out on the bed for a minute, letting the house reclaim him.
Conversation at dinner was strained, but he got through it. By the time he went to bed, a distance had established itself between them. Lynn read, as always, but there were no small pats or rubs. Let it be, was the unvoiced directive hanging above them. Let it be. He gave up for the night.
The long flight gave Ray plenty of time to think things over. Too bad he hadn't seen Molly and Roland and a couple of the guys, but it was a good trip. He felt better about the future. A get together in the fall would be fine.
He'd come a long way since he first flew to Honolulu from San Francisco with no idea what to expect. Ray Jackson, that had been a piece of luck. Bob Wu. Lucky Ray. Archer, Jim Pizza. Cait. Everything had changed when he met Cait.
She was waiting in the same spot where she had waved goodbye. It was better than good to see her, tall and straight, smiling, her cheeks flushed from pregnancy. They had a long hug and then began to catch up, spending extra for a cab home. Ray told her about his mother and about Harry. Cait had worked extra shifts and made money. She'd begun going to a yoga class for pregnant mothers. They went up to the apartment and directly to bed.
Two hours later, sitting at the table and eating grilled ahi, the trip seemed like a receding dream. Cait was limiting herself to one glass of wine. Ray poured himself more. “Three for me, one for you,” he said. “I like this pregnancy stuff.”
“I can't tell you,” Cait said, “now you're home, I feel so much better. A couple of times I thought you might get caught, and I couldn't breathe. Five years—” Her face went blank.
“No way,” Ray said. “No way. I'm back now. And we'll see Mom after the baby's born, maybe just before Christmas. Where should we go, Seattle? San Francisco?”
Cait was silent. She took a deep breath. “Do you think we should take Harry's deal?”
Something in Ray's mind went dark. “What?”
“Take the offer. Oh, Ray, it would be terrible, very hard, but it would be hard for both of us—worse for you, I know. But we could do twelve or even fifteen months. I know we could. But five years?” Ray had trouble swallowing his mouthful of fish. “Maybe it would be better to get it over with. The baby could have your real name. We wouldn't have to live our whole lives worrying about getting caught.” Ray saw a group of men in orange prison clothes.
“I was thinking about a fake suicide,” he said. “I know just the place in San Francisco. I could leave my clothes and a note. I've still got my old driver's license. I could leave a wallet with that and a few bucks inside. I guess it wouldn't be the first time somebody tried that. But it might help. After a few years, they might give up, close the books on me.”
“They might,” Cait said. “Honey, I'm with you either way. If no can, no can.” Ray looked out the window. A bit of the Ala Wai canal was visible past the edge of the building across the street. “I could get a divorce,” she said, “and we could get married again as soon as you get out. Cait Walker.”
“How would you live?”
“We've got some saved. I can work for another four or five months. Daddy would help. Food stamps.” The walls began closing in on him. He got up from his chair.
“I've got to go out for awhile.” He shook his head negatively and said no more.
“O.K., Honey.” Cait didn't move as he walked out the door.
Harry continued to see Angel at T's. He couldn't help himself. They planned another meeting.
A week later, he was watching a Red Sox game at home when the phone rang.
“Harry? This is Charley. I'll take the deal.”
“Yo! You woke up smart.”
“Cait did.” Something good was happening! About time. “I wouldn't do this on my own,” Charley said. “But there's three of us to think about.”
“Wait a second,” Harry said, “I'll give you Jack Eagleton's number. I'll let him know you're going to call. He'll take care of everything. Hang on—” He found the number and rushed back. “Charley?”
“Here it is. I'll tell him you're going to call later or maybe tomorrow.”
“Listen, Harry: Cait and I talked this over. We don't want your money. The fine—O.K. You can pay the fine and the legal expenses. The whole thing's an investment for you anyway. But the shut up money—we don't want it. It would be like I was working for you. I'll take the deal, but, if I get more than eighteen months, the whole world is going to know how Harry George got started.”
“No problem,” Harry said. “Don't worry about it. Jack has it all set up. You'll be out in twelve or thirteen months with good behavior; Larsen gets his good press, guardian of the community; I get my permit. Everybody wins.”
“I'll worry about whatever I want to, Harry.”
“There's the Charley we know and love.” He read out Eagleton's phone number. “Where are you?”
“I'll call him this afternoon,” Charley said and hung up.
Harry got right on it. Jack was out of his office, but Marianne took the message. Marianne was an elegant piece of work. Too old for him, he thought, but he wouldn't mind. There was something amused behind her impeccable manners.
Harry was losing his way, sexually. He couldn't imagine sitting down to dinner with Angel for the rest of his life, but neither could he picture lying next to Lynn every night. When he was fourteen, he used to listen to Dylan albums. Something is happening here, but you don't know what it IISSS, DO YOU, Mr. JOOONES? The heavy beat repeated in his mind like a lunatic pounding a bass drum.
He left a message for Larsen and drove to the boat yard. He was beginning to understand why his father spent so much time on the En Garde. The Jo Ann was a small boat, but it was his. He could think there, or not think, without distraction. It was fine, early in the morning, to have a cup of coffee on board and read the paper. A few times, he'd gone out after dinner and just drifted in the dusk, watching the city lights come to life. He thought of taking Lynn and Fergus some evening, but he couldn't. Angel was already aboard. It would have been a breach of trust, an infidelity.
Harry stretched his legs in front of the deck chair. There was an unfamiliar feeling in the pit of his stomach. For the first time that he could remember, he was scared. His father was still south, in the Bahama's at last word, showing no signs of remorse for having left Wall Street. If he were sitting next to him holding a glass of Laphroiag, Harry would have said something about being scared. For better or worse, his father would have had an opinion.
Harry's mind told him to get to work, to keep the pressure on Larsen to bring the permits to a vote, and to talk further with the Save The Harbor group. He would have to pay for another option soon if the permits were delayed much longer, have to hit Mort up for a second short-term loan. Beneath these concerns, another need was building—to hold Angel, to go down to that place where he was altogether wanted and used, where they were joined. If he were living in a cartoon, she would be the banana peel that put his feet higher than his head. But the fall was into Angel.
Harry gave up and went to T's. Angel was happy to see him. She was wearing a tight aqua blouse, showing more cleavage than usual. “My banana peel,” Harry said.
“ You turn me upside down.”
Angel blushed and moved close. “I'd like to.”
She made a sad face. “I have to work at eleven. I'm off on Thursday.”
“Thursday, then,” Harry said. “Great! Thursday.” He was smiling broadly. Elation banished fear. He had a quick drink, went home, paid special attention to Fergus, and talked with Lynn about the possible addition of a sun room.
The following day, just before noon, he called Jack Eagleton. Charley had reported in and hadn't changed his mind. “Walker was cooperative,” Jack said. “He will be arraigned a week from Wednesday. He'll need bail, of course. I'm assuming that you want the firm to take care of it?”
“Correct. We don't want the world knowing that I'm covering his bail. When is the hearing?”
“I don't have a firm date, yet. We need to go before Judge Darter. It looks like the latter part of July.”
“Excellent! Send me a bill.”
“I'll try to remember,” Jack said.
Harry was about to hang up, when he had a thought. “Hey Jack, you want to come out on the bay sometime? Check out my boat?” There was a longish pause. “Jack?”
“I was reminding myself that you are an adult now; there is every possibility that you can read a compass.”
“Very funny, Jack. We'll pick an extra calm day, no fog, geriatric seas.”
“I'll look forward to it,” Jack said calmly.
Harry found Larsen in his office. Larsen beamed when he heard the news. “A good day for the community,” he said. What a turkey.
“He's coming in next Wednesday. Probably the Advertiser ought to know.”
“He's going to cooperate fully. Should be some good press: the relentless pressure of law enforcement, led by Police Chief Larsen.”
“Now about those condos.”
“Meeting is on Thursday,” Larsen said. “We'll see what happens.”
“Thursday, shit. I forgot.”
“You should be there.”
“I'll be there.” It meant a shorter time with Angel, that's all. “Seven o'clock—I'll be there.” Harry walked down to T's in a good mood.
“Day after tomorrow,” he promised Angel.
On Thursday, he woke to a pouring rain. He went to a meeting with Mort and then drove to the boat yard and waited for Angel. She showed up at eleven, water pouring down her yellow slicker, eyes bright. She turned around once in the crowded space below decks and took off the dripping slicker. “I'm making everything all wet.”
Harry hung it by the ladder. “Don't worry about it; it's a boat.” She threw her arms around him. Her warm luxurious body was like a reward for living. It's all worth it, he thought as his list of things to do slipped away. “What's that perfume?”
“You like it?”
“Something I bought at the Mall.” He brought his hands up under the light sweatshirt she was wearing. “I missed you,” she said, half closing her eyes. Harry ran out of words. He'd been waiting ten days for her. He had to be inside her, claiming and claimed. It was a quick happy fuck on a narrow berth, her broad smile, his gasping.
He half crawled to the other berth and collapsed. “Now what do we do?” he asked, laughing. Rain drummed on the deck, streamed down the porthole.
“We could do it again,” Angel said.
“I love it here. It's small, but it's so cozy. I'm hungry. Are you hungry?”
“I didn't have any breakfast.”
“Hang on, I'll whip up some eggs Benedict.”
“Oooh! Classy! I'll have chilled cantaloupe first. I like cantaloupe first.”
“So do I,” Harry remembered. “Now I'm hungry. Let's go get something.”
“But, could we just lie here for a few minutes, listen to the rain?”
“Five minutes,” Angel said.
Harry breathed out and closed his eyes.
“Urgh, umm—O.K., here we go.” They dressed and drove to Cole Farms in Gray where they weren't likely to meet anyone they knew. They ate and talked about going to a movie, but Angel was nervous about being seen together. She wanted to show Harry her apartment, so Harry followed her car into the West End. They parked two blocks away and walked to her door.
“I swear,” she said, “the next place I get is going to have parking. This is such a pain, sometimes. Especially on snow days.”
Her apartment was small and surprisingly neat. Harry had expected a messy place, fertile with cast off blouses and half read magazines. Angel was nervous.
“I like it here,” Harry said. “What's the matter?”
“That guy in the door of the laundromat—I think he's a friend of Uncle Marty's.”
“I'm scared, Harry.”
Harry took her in his arms. “To hell with him,” he said. “What's he going to do?”
“You don't want to know.”
“I'll worry about it. You have any music?”
“Let's see—” They discovered her bed and had a quiet afternoon. Angel was sexually deliberate, tender and thorough. Harry lost track of time, rocking and rocking, plunging and rocking.
He slept and almost missed the city council meeting. He made a hurried call to Lynn on the way, apologizing for missing dinner. “I got into it at T's,” he said. She said something about having to talk, and he agreed. He just made it as Larsen called the meeting to order.
The council worked through a long series of disagreements. At ten o'clock, Larsen closed the meeting. The permits hadn't even been mentioned. Harry was furious. He caught up to Larsen outside and asked what had happened.
“Couple of the members said they might be late, so I scheduled it last. Couldn't get to it.”
“Jesus,” Harry said. “It's going to cost me.”
“Next month for sure. Guaranteed. First order of business.” Larsen slapped him on the back encouragingly. “Hey, Tony!” He turned to talk to Tony Carvalho. Goddamnit! What a pain in the ass. He was going to have to see Orin Borders about the wharf option. Get more money from Mort.
He started toward home, changed his mind, and parked in front of T's. He was O.K. about being evasive; he was all right with keeping things from people; but he rarely, if ever, told an outright lie. He had lied to Lynn. Having a drink at T's would make his excuse a little bit true, or, at least, more believable.
The late crowd was different—the losers and the lost, a few newcomers who could go either way, no Angel, a bartender waiting on the clock. Harry tossed down a Scotch. I can have another one, or I can go home, he thought. Not a terrific choice. He went home.
Lynn was asleep and made no effort to wake up when he crawled into bed. He was grateful and felt that he'd gotten away with one.
In the morning, when he came down for breakfast, Lynn told him calmly that she was taking Fergus to visit with her father for a few days, maybe a week. “I need some space,” she said. She was already packed. Harry barely had time to say goodbye to Fergus before she picked him up and carried him to her car. Harry waved from the doorstep, still in his bathrobe. Lynn looked different, distant, almost like a stranger.
He was surprised and troubled. Also, relieved. Whatever was happening, he didn't have to deal with it for a couple of days. A good thing. He had a lot to do. He went back in the house and took a shower. First thing to do was to call Mort, then find Orin Borders.
Mort said that he could come up with half the option money. Harry had just enough for the rest. He took his checkbook to Orin's office and waited nearly an hour for him to finish a meeting. When he was finally alone with Orin, he said, “Hate to do it, old buddy, but I've got to give you some more cash. The permits are looking good, but they were delayed again in the council. I only need another three months, but I'll pay you for six.”
Orin leaned back in his chair, the harbor visible behind him. “Can't do it, Harry.”
“What? What do you mean? You need more bucks? I've made you rich already. How much do you want?”
“Said I can't do it.” Harry stared at him. “I sold a year option, beginning the first of the month.” Harry couldn't believe what he was hearing.
“Who?” he asked.
“Not supposed to say, but you're going to find out anyway—Empire Construction, out of Albany, New York.”
“Albany? Guy named Sal?” Orin shrugged. A yes shrug. “Thanks a hell of a lot, Orin. What have I got? Five fucking days?”
“Midnight, the thirty-first,” Orin said.
“Son of a bitch.” Harry stormed out. Now what? Larsen. Fucking Larsen had been squirrelly after the meeting. Maybe he'd been gotten to, bought.
Harry picked it up a notch. He couldn't waste time pissing and moaning; he needed five million dollars by Wednesday. He drove directly to his mother's and explained the situation. She heard him out and said, “Harry, over the years I have never bailed your father out of his business affairs. It has proven wise, and I am going to follow the same course with you.” Harry sat, stunned. “In addition,” she said, “I have just recently committed a sizeable sum to a trust for Fergus.”
“Fergus! Why don't you let me triple the money and then give it to Fergus?”
“I'm sorry to disappoint you, Dear. You will learn more from your mistakes than from my largesse.”
“Oh, finely put, Mother! Finely put.” He made a strangled sound. “There's a word for you in P-Portuguese.”
“Don't sputter, Harry. One must do what one thinks best.”
“I think it best I leave,” Harry said, getting to his feet.
“I am sorry for your troubles,” she said. He remembered Fergus.
“Thanks for thinking of Fergus.”
“He's a very special little boy,” she said. “Where are you going? Won't you stay for tea?”
“There's some cleaning to do on the front deck of the Titanic; I'm going to get right at it.” He thought he saw the corner of her mouth twitch, but he didn't stick around to verify. Jesus.
Marty was the last hope. He got him on the phone and asked for a meeting. “You know our deal—it's a gold mine, right? Well, I have a cash flow situation. I think we can work something out that will make us both healthier.”
“Yeah,” Marty said. “I'm tied up all day. I got a dinner meeting in Camden. How about Moody's, around nine?”
“Good deal. I'll see you at Moody's, nine tonight.”
Harry went over to T's to say hello to Angel and tell her that Lynn was gone for a few days. Angel wasn't there. He didn't feel like going home, so he drove out to the boat and took a nap.
At nine, he was sitting at the counter at Moody's finishing a piece of apple pie when someone tapped him on the shoulder. “Harry George, right?” Harry nodded. The guy put a twenty dollar bill on the counter.
“Marty says, pay for your dinner, tell you come outside where it's cool.”
“Big tip,” Harry said. The guy turned and went out the door. Harry took another bite and swallowed some coffee. Edith's lucky day, he thought. He smiled at the waitress, who had been there as long as he could remember, and walked around to the side parking lot. It was almost dark. The guy waved from the far corner of the lot. He was standing by a black car. Harry walked over and bent toward the car.
The first blow exploded squarely on his mouth, knocking him back against another car. He straightened and coughed out blood. He brought his hand to his mouth and spit out a tooth. He held it out to the guy. “Here—give this to Marty—proof—maybe he'll give you a bonus.”
The guy took the tooth in his right hand. His right elbow twitched, and a left hook out of nowhere broke Harry's nose, spinning him sideways. He dropped to his hands and knees, on the edge of consciousness. Slowly, he pulled himself to his feet. His legs were loose, wobbly. Blood was streaming down his face. He swallowed and looked directly at the guy. His father's words came back to him in slow motion, “Sometimes, sometimes you gotta take a beating and move on …”
Honolulu was bustling with summer visitors. Construction was booming. Ray and Cait made the most of the seven weeks they had before the sentencing. When it came time to part at the airport, there was nothing left for Ray to say but—I love you. I'm sorry. Aloha. He bent down and rubbed goodbye on Cait's belly. They shared a long look. He backed up two steps, one hand raised. Cait raised her hand in answer, smiling sadly. He turned and left.
He was numb for hours as the red-eye crossed the Pacific, but an edge of relief crept in with the early dawn. At least he was on his way, getting it over with. By the time he reached Maine, he was resigned, almost cheerful, determined to stay positive.
He went straight to Eagleton's office in Portland. The hearing was the next day. Eagleton was calm and matter of fact about the sentence.
“It is the judge's discretion,” he said. “Given the circumstances, we can expect sixteen months or less.” His eyebrows lifted when he said “circumstances.”
Eagleton was right. Charley was sentenced to fifteen months in Thomaston. The court accepted his apology and restitution in the amount of fifteen thousand dollars. Charley was led away and driven upstate.
“It was as good as we could have hoped,” he wrote to Cait. “I should be out for the baby's first birthday. The worst thing was seeing my mom crying in the courthouse. I'm glad you stayed in Honolulu. It's better to remember you there. And we saved a bundle.”
She wrote back, “Dear Charley, I'm going to get used to Charley, starting now. I love you, Charley. I love you, Charley. The baby is kicking. I'm going to work for at least two more weeks.”
She didn't write every day, but three or four times a week Charley got a letter, bringing him up to date. He wrote back often, always signing, “Charley” followed by the number of days until he got out. “Charley 365” was a memorable day.
It was bad inside, but it was bearable. There was a small gym where he got to play hoops once in awhile. He worked most days in the woodshop, making jewelry boxes and miniature lobster crates for sale to tourists. It was better than sitting around watching TV.
He got lucky with his cell mate, Ray. “Strange, huh,” he wrote Cait. “Ray. Ray Naki. He's Indian, Native American. I don't know his Indian name; that's private. Funny thing is—I played football against him in high school a couple of games. We put two guys on him, and he was still chasing me around half the time. Couple of times I couldn't get out of the way. It was like having a barn door fall on you. We got a laugh out of that. He's good to be around—quiet. That's key around here. Keep your mouth shut. You'd never know it from the outside, but there's an inner courtyard. Ray's in charge of a garden there, and he's got it full of flowers, really nice. Nobody gives him any shit about growing flowers.”
On September 20th, he got a note from Cait that said only: “Baby Girl! Kalani. 7 lbs, 1 oz. She's beautiful! I love you.”
He told Ray. “Good,” Ray said. That was like a song and dance from someone else. “Good,” Charley repeated, nodding.
Cait was with her father in Green Bay. She was planning to bring the baby for a visit when she left Green Bay, taking a roundabout way back to Hawaii. Her father wanted her to stay in Wisconsin until Charley got out, but she was anxious to get back to her own life. She told Charley that her father understood. “Kalani has your eyes,” she told him. “Maybe she takes a bit more after your side of the family. She's fairly quiet, spends a lot of time looking at things. Really, I think she's more like herself than anyone else. My father will miss her. So will Jenna. Jenna's been helpful. She loves Kalani, and I think she's mostly forgiven me. That's a relief. It's nice for Kalani to have Aunt Jenna. Soon she'll meet Aunt Molly and Grandma!”
Charley didn't brag about Kalani. A lot of the guys weren't going to appreciate happy talk from someone with things to look forward to in less than a year. He kept his head down. He knew a couple of the other prisoners and one of the guards. Word got around that he was O.K. There were a few guards that got off on giving people shit, needling them, seeing if they could get them to lose it. When they started in on him, the hard place came up and said, “328” or “316.” He took it, silently. “It's a wonder anybody ever gets out,” he wrote to Cait. “It would be so easy to teach one of these guys a lesson.”
On a gray day in November, Cait put Kalani in his arms, and he forgot for a moment that he was in jail. She looked up at him, wondering who he was. She made a gurgling sound, and he felt suddenly connected—his little girl! “Too much!” he said to Cait. “She's got your mouth. Did you know that? Your mouth. She reminds me a little of my father, too.”
“I have your father's address. Your mom gave it to me. Do you think I should write?”
“For sure. Send a picture. I should write, too. I've been too embarrassed. We'll go visit. What do you say, Kalani, we'll go see your grandpa!” This was fine with Kalani. “I can't believe how glad I am to see you,” he said to Cait. “You look tired, Baby.”
“I am. Your mom has been great. But I need to be home.”
“I wish I could help.”
“You are, Honey. You're doing the best thing you could be doing for us.”
That night Charley lay awake for a long time. Cait and Kalani. They smelled like outside. He ached to be with them. All winter, all summer to go. Cait was right about the five years. He couldn't even imagine it.
The next day he was in a bad mood. One of the guards sensed it and told him to hurry up in line. “Move it, Walker!” Charley looked up slowly and gathered his feet under him. “306.” “306.” He took a deep breath and shook his head at the guard. Not this time, Buddy. He walked quickly ahead. One more time.
He was low for a week. But as the images of Cait and Kalani softened and lost their immediacy, he settled into the routine. Cait wrote steadily from Honolulu. The divorce came through. Christmas was miserable, but, slowly, the nights got shorter, the days longer. Cait sent him a drawing of a horse and rider climbing a switchback trail. He remembered the scene. They had been on a trip to the Big Island, hiking in Pololu Valley. The horse and rider had passed them, powerful and surprisingly fast. He remembered her talking about the combination, horse and rider, passion and purpose, stronger as a unit than they were separately. “I wanted to do a sculpture,” she wrote, “but it would have had to be ten feet high.” Charley sent her a drawing of Ray Naki sitting on his bunk.
One by one, the days went by. Spring came. Ray's flowers began to bloom. He was in the courtyard on a warm afternoon when one of the newer prisoners came up to him. “You're the guy doing time for Harry George, right?”
“Well, sort of. Charley Walker.”
“Mike Brannigan. Thought you might like to know—he ain't as pretty as he used to be.”
“Oh, yeah? How's that?”
Mike told him what happened at Moody's Diner. “So, he's standing there, and I figure I'll pop him one more time, finish the job before he falls over, and he says, 'Sometimes you just gotta take a beating.' Well I can relate to that. I did some fighting—you get in there with somebody better than you, and about two minutes into the first round you know it's going to be a long night. So, Harry looks at me and he says, 'You ever seen Angel Carerra?' I said, yeah, a couple of years ago. 'You should see her now,' he says. He's weaving a little, blood all over him. He says, “Costing me my marriage, my money. And I'm not feeling too good right now. But you know what? We lit up the fucking bay.'”
Mike chuckled. “'We lit up the fucking bay,' he says, 'so, do what you have to do.' Well, what with one thing and another, we got to talking and ended up drinking some kind of fancy whisky in his car. Frog something. Got half shit faced. Really, for a rich asshole, he wasn't that bad.”
“Fucking Harry,” Charley said. “Hey, we get together on the outside, beer's on me. All right?”
“What happened to Angel Carerra?”
“Her uncle fixed her up in Florida. Lauderdale, I think. Got her out of town. That was the end of that.” Mike flexed a long muscled arm. A good guy to have on your side.
The last two months dragged on. The more Charley thought about what he would do when he got out, the slower the days went. There would be plenty of time to figure things out when he was back in Hawaii, he told himself, but it was hard to stop. He'd get a new driver's license under his real name, get a tan, talk things over with Cait. Maybe they'd move to the Big Island. He wouldn't drive a cab. That was the past. That was Ray. Better to let that just fade away. Get married again. Cait wanted to do that as soon as he got back. Work with tools. The details didn't matter too much.
He told his mom that he would show up at the house the day he got out. That he wasn't sure exactly when he would be released. He'd catch a ride, take a bus, or something. He didn't want her to pick him up; he wanted to be on his own from the first minute, although he didn't say that.
Cait bought him a ticket to Honolulu. It was waiting at the Portland airport. He sent her a final letter: “See you soon, Charley 3!” On the last day, he said goodbye to Ray Naki and wished him luck.
“Good,” Ray said. Charley felt guilty leaving him there, two years to go. He was a better man than a lot of people walking around outside; it didn't seem right. Ray sensed what Charley was feeling. “It's O.K.,” he said. He meant life. Charley would never forget the look in his face, forgiving and free—if you can be free when you're locked up.
“Let's go, Walker.”
They gave him his clothes, and he signed release forms. They opened the door. He stepped outside. It was strangely silent. There was space all around. It was like being dropped into nothing. A man got out of a police car.
“Hey, Charley!” It was Roland. “Thought I'd give you a ride.”
“Well, son of a bitch, Roland!”
“I would have visited, but I didn't want to increase your popularity inside.”
“Good man. It's weird to be out. Let's get out of here.” Suddenly he was in a rush to get down the road, away from the dark stone and brick.
Roland caught him up on what had been happening. Darlene married Billy McGinnis.
“He was what, two years behind us?”
“Pretty good hitter, right? I didn't think he was up to Darlene, though.”
“Hard to understand,” Roland said. “No French blood in him, as far as I know.”
“You seen Harry George around?”
“Marriage shot, what I heard. He got knocked around pretty good, last year.”
“I heard about it,” Charley said.
They talked about getting together in Hawaii or the next time Charley was in town. Roland switched on the flashing lights when he pulled into the driveway.
“Aloha, Roland. Take care of yourself, Buddy.”
“Bon temps roulez,” Roland said. And away he went.
Charley's mom cried. Ron looked relieved. The kids teased him about his jailhouse tan and asked a lot of questions. Molly was in Vermont, so he didn't get to see her. It was possible that she might come out with everybody during her Christmas or spring break.
In the morning, they saw him off at the airport, lots of hands waving. Charley took a look around. He had the feeling that he wasn't going to be back for awhile. He waved and walked down the ramp, ducking into the narrow door of the plane. He had twelve hours to go, but he was already home.
On a fresh summer morning, Harry turned into his old driveway and stopped in front of the house. He took a check from his aluminum briefcase and knocked on the kitchen door. Lynn opened the door and returned to stirring dough in a stainless mixing bowl. Harry laid the check on the table.
“Here's the rest of it.”
“Thank you. Fergus? Your daddy's here.”
“Daddy! Daddy!” Fergus ran into the room at full speed. Harry picked him up.
“Daddy, we go on the boat?” This was the hard part.
“Why not, Daddy?”
“I've got to go somewhere. I have to take a trip. I won't see you for awhile.”
“I want to go to the boat, Daddy.”
“We will,” Harry said. “I promise. But not today.” Lynn filled a muffin tin, studiously quiet. His problem. Fergus pushed against his shoulder.
“Boat, Daddy.” Harry didn't want to put him down. He hugged him tighter and whirled him around.
“Bye, Champ,” he said. “We'll go on the boat when I get back. What a good boy!” He set Fergus on his feet.
“Say goodbye to Daddy, Fergus,” Lynn said.
“Bye, Daddy.” Fergus was suddenly sad, as though he were soaking up the emotion that was welling over in Harry. It was time to go.
“Bye, Fergus.” He walked outside and to the car, blinking back tears. It was what it was. Sad. But he had to get out of town for awhile.
He drove to the turnpike and headed south. At the first rest stop, twenty miles past Portland, he pulled off and parked between two semis. Coffee. You have to start somewhere. Start with coffee. He walked across the parking lot, stretching his legs. Leaving Fergus. He had an ache in his chest.
It had been a long winter after the divorce. The recession had knocked property prices down. Eight months it took to sell the land that he'd split off the property. But it was done. Lynn was set for a few years. After that, she still had the house and child support payments. A pretty good deal for her, but she'd been good about Fergus—no problem about seeing him.
As usual, in their way, they didn't talk about it much. He had left her, sexually. She faced it and threw him out. The divorce was right; they both knew it. There wasn't enough relationship to build on, aside from Fergus, and it was the wrong way around to rest a marriage on a child.
He'd gotten a small apartment on Morning Street, walked to the Victory Deli every morning for breakfast, had a couple of pints of Guinness at Dewey's in the late afternoon, and gone home to watch a game. Sometimes he stopped at the Village Cafe for dinner; sometimes he got a sub to take out. He didn't go to T's any more. Angel was gone. Besides, from the parking lot he could see construction on the wharf he almost bought. Fucking Sal.
“You didn't get it done, Buddy,” is what Sal said. “But—never take food off a man's table. Remember that. I'll give you a hundred and a half for the plans. I could get new ones for less, you know what I mean?” Yeah, and wait six months. Harry took the deal and paid Mort the money he owed him. Eagleton's bills and the divorce settlement took most of what he had left. He still had deep reserves in the Caymans. At some point on this trip he'd duck in there for cash.
Harry regarded himself in the mirror of the men's room. His nose was pushed to one side, his mouth a bit battered. “Hard years,” he said. He'd put on a few pounds, but he looked calmer. “Handsome devil.” Peter LeBourdais, in Brunswick, had fixed up his teeth with a permanent bridge. Good man, Pete. He'd been patching Harry up since his Bowdoin hockey days. That was a good thing about a hometown—people knew you through ups and downs.
He sat a table with his coffee, in no particular hurry. For the first time in his life, he'd been stopped. He'd been flat on his ass all winter—not working, not proving anything to anybody, not going anywhere. It had been a solitary winter as well. Don Youker had talked him into joining a hockey league. Once a week, he put on his gear and played for a couple of hours. He didn't care who won especially, but he liked the sudden cuts, a swoop into the corner, a quick pass, a breakaway—reminders of competence. He'd had a few dates that didn't amount to much.
Angel wrote a tearful letter saying she'd never forget him (but don't show up). It was a different kind of divorce, but also right. Maybe someday he'd have a relationship that was both relaxed, like his marriage, and total, in the way he'd been with Angel. Anything less wasn't worth the trouble.
He had dinner with his mother every other week. He read Pere Goriot, mostly so that he could make a joke about it to her, and enjoyed it, to his surprise. He read more Balzac. His father had confounded everyone by sailing to Africa. He was due back in the Bahamas soon, maybe they could hook up down there, just a hop from the Caymans.
Harry tossed the empty cup in the trash. It was time to leave. Break the habits he'd settled into. Get rolling. Figure out what to do next.
He took the Vermont route west, had a late lunch at the Royal Chelsea Diner, and drove up the mountain. The trees were full and green, the air hot and hazy, but he knew what it would be like in a few months—white, deserted, ferocious.
He passed Wilmington and looked for the spot where he'd gone off the road. Strangely, he couldn't find it. When he started climbing a long hill, he knew that he had passed it. To satisfy his curiosity, he turned around. He found a driveway at the bottom that felt like the place, but there was no small cabin with an attached greenhouse in sight. There was a large, raw, executive chalet where Jared Nathan's house should have been.
A man was practicing short iron shots on the grass in front of the house. Harry got out of the car and walked up to him.
“Excuse me, I'm looking for Jared Nathan. Didn't he live here, or around here?”
“Yes sir, he did. Yes he did. Never met him though. Bought the place through a realtor. What I heard—he went out to California, had a daughter out there needed help some way.” Harry stared at the house. “He had a small place, there. We took it down. We entertain—you know how it is. ” He extended a hand. “Bobby Dale Bender.”
“Harry George what?”
“Oh.” He looked at Harry sympathetically. Life with a truncated name. “The wife got into it,” he said. “She was right there with the architects every step of the way. Lou Anne, well—” Bobby Dale smiled admiringly. “When she gets going—four bathrooms, a lap pool you can't see from around this side. LOU ANNE!” A woman with a lot of hair appeared on a second floor balcony. “Comin' at you, Darlin!” He knocked a seven iron over the house.
“Bobby DALE—” She disappeared.
“Let me show you, Harry. Wait 'til you see this.” He led Harry around the house. The land behind the house had been cleared, blasted, and shaped for a great distance. “Eighteen holes,” Bobby Dale said. “Championship course. I got Jack's team designing the sucker.”
“You ever been here in the winter?” Harry asked.
“Winter? Not me, Boy. Got me a little business in Atlanta. This is for summer fun.” He nudged Harry's arm. “Might even make me some money. Fairway Estates going in along the far edge.”
Harry noticed a small group of fruit trees to one side, two rows of three, neatly staked and taped, healthy. He walked over.
“I don't know what they all are,” Bobby Dale said. “The wife said to leave 'em.”
“They're Macouns,” Harry said. “Good eating apple. One of the best.”
“That Lou Anne!” Bobby Dale surveyed his burgeoning golf course. “Y'all come back now. We'll have us a round.”
“We'll do that,” Harry said.
He got on the road and drove toward Bennington. Too bad about the little house. He could see Jared Nathan, his intense blue eyes, alive and amused. He heard him saying, Improve something.
It wasn't offered as a suggestion or advice. Jared was talking to the universe. It was a refrain, an utterance of a deep need. It was a clue, a guide to a way forward.
He drove to Bennington and spent a couple of days checking out real estate in the Bennington-Manchester area. On impulse one night, he got Charley's telephone number from Marianne at Jack Eagleton's office. When he called, Charley answered.
“Hey Charley, this is Harry George. I've got a delivery for you, if you want to take it.”
“Can't do it,” Charley said. “Too busy eating pineapple.”
“Tough,” Harry said. “Look, I thought I'd call and say hello, wish you luck—umm, apologize.”
“Well, thanks. No problem, Harry. The way I look at it, if it weren't for you, I wouldn't be in Hawaii and I wouldn't have met Cait. Sweet years, man. Strange how things work out. How's your nose?”
“You heard about that?”
“Mike Brannigan told me. He was doing time when I got out.”
“I'm getting used to it,” Harry said. “Reminds me to be a little more careful about who I deal with.”
“Live and learn, huh?”
“Try, anyway,” Harry said.
“A lot happens in four years,” Charley said. “Give me a call in four more; we'll see what the hell else has happened. I gotta roll, Harry. Aloha.”
“Aloha.” Harry hung up and looked out the motel window. “I am a George,” he said out loud. “I will prevail.”
No one clapped.
One step at a time, he told himself. Improve something. Improve something.