Documents
Resources
Learning Center
Upload
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out

Jim Tyrrell

VIEWS: 19 PAGES: 156

									                                       THE ROAD

                                a novel by Jim Tyrrell




         Chapter 1



         The three men sat at a card table that stood uneven on the dirt floor of a

dimly lit room. They were young; late teens, early twenties maybe. All three

looked a little too well dressed for their grim surroundings. And all three

seemed a little too content to be there.

         One of the young men, with brown hair which, since it grew nearly to his

shoulders, might get him mistaken for a lady in the dim light of the room,

spoke:

         "It's not a matter of faith, it's a matter of proof."

The youngest of the boys looked surprised at this. He had a yellow notepad on

the table before him, and he scanned the top page and then the one below as he

said, "It can't be, Jesse. When something is unprovable, and I think we've

established that some things are indeed unprovable, well, I think it can be

nothing other than a matter of faith."

         The third said nothing, watching the volley of conversation between the

other two.

         Jesse thought a moment. "You see, I still have a problem with that. I

think all things are provable. In the same way that all things are seeable, with

eyes of sufficient quality." He reached to the dirt floor, picked up a bottle of

soda, and unscrewed the lid. "Some of the finer details of our existence are

just currently beyond our testing methods, that's all." He took a drink.

The young one responded immediately. "Exactly. So one must believe the truth

remains to be found, if we cannot yet prove that it is there. Right?"
      Jesse held the bottle to his lips an extra beat, without drinking further.

Then he took it down and slowly screwed the cap back on. "All right, I see your

point. I don't much like it, though. I think it's a dangerous slope to allow

oneself to start treading down."

      "Why is that? It seems to me it's as honest, as real a view of things as

one can safely have."

      Jesse shrugged. "I guess because once you allow that faith can be used to

explain the unknown, you invite uncertainty. I don't think it gives one the

tools to make reasonable decisions. To me, at least... I don't know about you.

But to me, it would mean a life of fear and confusion, of wondering just what

completely random, unexpected and unexplainable thing was about to happen."

      A sudden burst of light came from behind Jesse. A man wearing a tropical

shirt entered through a sudden opening in the wall. He squinted in the relative

dark of the room and said, "Hey, any of youse guys know where I can get a fried

dough around here?"

      Jesse looked at the boy with whom he'd been conversing, and then at the

silent one. "Case in point."

      "Hardly," the young one scoffed.

      The third, who had yet been silent, spoke: "You guys go ahead. I think

you're on to something. I'll help this guy." He got up and led the man back

through the opening in the wall. Once on the other side, the brightness was an

assault. It would probably take a full minute for him to adjust, but he pretty

much knew where he was, so he gestured off to the right. "You want to go down

past that ticket booth. You see it?"

      The man in the tropical shirt looked down the dirt road. "Yeah."

      "Good. Go past that and there's a... a couple games. There's one where you

fill the balloons with the water guns. That's the one you're looking for, okay?

You get to that one and bang a left. The path goes sort of between two booths,
but they don't care, it's a cut-through that everbody uses. That's the quickest

way. You'll come out right behind the fried dough stand."

      The man nodded. "Yeah, okay. You think they're open yet? It don't look

like there's much going on."

      "It's early. I know the rides aren't running." He squinted, and could

start to make out his familiar surroundings. The midway was virtually deserted.

The only patron there seemed to be the man before him. The only other souls were

carnies, milling about, smoking and waiting. "I'm pretty sure that fried dough

stand is run by a family who travels with the carnival though. They sleep here,

so they're probably there. Give it a shot."

      "Yeah," the man said. 'All right. Thanks kid." He looked back at the tent

from which they had come. "What kind of booth are youse guys runnin' anyway?"

      The kid smiled and said, "Oh, it's kind of a school project thing. Except

my school doesn't know anything about it, and neither does the fair." He turned

and walked back into the tent. Above the opening, a makeshift sign scrawled on a

piece of cardboard read: CONVERSATION BOOTH. 0 TICKETS.



      The sun was up, but it was making little difference when Dane entered the

diner. He stood just inside the door for a moment, shoulders hunched up, blowing

on his hands, stamping his feet a little. Then he looked around. He had figured

he would probably be the first one there, but there was one figure seated on a

stool at the counter. A waitress was refilling the coffee cup in front of the

seated man, and looking at Dane with uncertainty.

      Immediately Dane took stock of himself. He realized he could only look

like someone who had spent the night outside, and that meant he looked like

someone without money, and that wouldn't play well. He knew all about that. Dane

walked to the counter, taking out his wallet as he did so. He placed it in front

of him as he sat to stools over from the other man. "Coffee, please," he said.
         The waitress promptly got about the business of being happy to see him,

and poured him a cup of steaming black coffee. She turned to the shelf behind

her and grabbed a porcelain cow. Its back was hollowed out, and in it there were

small thimbles of half and half. She placed the cow on the counter and said,

still a little unsure, "You want a menu?" Dane nodded, and she grabbed one out

of a wicker basket at the end of the counter and handed it to him. He looked it

over, and the waitress went out to the kitchen.

         The other man at the counter looked up from his paper. "Did you get some

sleep?"

         Dane shrugged. "An hour, maybe. I don't know." He gave the man a quick

smile. "I'm all right."

         The man nodded. "Mmm. Good. Wish I could have put you up, but my hotel

room-"

         "I know. Don't worry about it. Seriously, I'm fine. If you're still going

to give me a lift out of town, that is."

         The man opened the paper back up and folded it back over on itself. "Yes,

I'm headed out today. Not 'til later, though." He handed the paper to Dane.

"Gonna go here first. Looks like the fair's in town."

         Dane looked at the ad. It read:



                               77TH ANNUAL MIDTOWN FAIR

                        Thursday - Friday - Saturday - Sunday

                             Games, Rides, and Good Eats

            featuring a Friday afternoon concert by the Midtown Brass Band

              and a Saturday afternoon show with the Blake Mountain Boys

                          Sunday - Midtown Demolition Derby

                          and the amazing driving skills of

                            Jim Kilborn's Chevy Daredevils

Pick Up A Full Schedule And Money-Saving Coupons At These Fine Local Businesses:
               Gracie's - Turnbull Hardware - Pic 'n Pay - Donut Depot



         "Looks quaint," said Dane as he poured a thimble of half and half into his

coffee. He watched the little mushroom cloud in his coffee cup for a minute

before stirring it in with his spoon.

         The man said, "It's a good one. I try to hit it every year. I actually try

to plan my run through New England so that I'll be able to hit a few fairs.

There's one in Lancaster that's pretty good, and depending on a couple orders, I

might hit the Big E in Springfield this year."

         The waitress came back with a steaming plate for the man. Then she took

out a notepad and said to Dane, "You decided?"

         Dane handed her the menu and said, "Just the coffee, I guess. I gotta save

my money for the fair."

         The waitress scowled for a moment at this, but regained herself and said,

"Oh yeah, you goin' out there today? Me and my husband went last night. It ain't

as good as last year." She turned to the other man. "You all set here, honey?"

The man nodded, his mouth full of eggs. The waitress retreated to the kitchen

again.

         The man swallowed and said, "They never want to talk to you until your

mouth is full. It's uncanny." Dane chuckled.

         The man continued, "So, you can catch a ride out of town with me if you're

willing to hang around the fair for the day. From the sound of it, that idea's

an okay one, huh?"

         "Yeah, sounds good to me," Dane said. "Maybe I can get some eats, or

scrape up a couple bucks."

         The man said, "Where you headed, anyway? South, I would hope."

Dane nodded. "South. You got that right. My brother's in Florida somewhere. A

town called Jupiter, if you can believe that. I'll probably take a winding route

in that direction, I suppose."
      "Jupiter. Yeah, I've been there. Went down to Disney with the family a

couple years ago. That's over in Orlando, of course." The man looked at Dane

silently for a moment, then said, "You gonna make it there?"

      "Well, yeah. I imagine I will," Dane said, laughing. "What do you mean?"

      The man said, "Well, what I mean is, you got the look of somebody they'll

be pulling stone dead out of a ditch some morning." He paused. "I'm sorry, that

don't sound too polite. But it appears safe to say you're not a man of means.

I'm just wondering how you plan to make your way, is all."

      "Same way I got here, I guess," Dane said, and then drained his coffee

cup. He winked at the man. "It's done me pretty good for over a year now,

anyway."

      "Is that so?" said the man. "That's a Hell of a long time to be on the

road, I'd think." He got out his wallet, plucked out a five dollar bill, and

laid it on the counter next to his plate. The eggs and toast were gone, but

there was still a scattered pile of semi-cooked bits of potato. "These home

fries, I didn't think they was much good. But you're welcome to 'em if you're

hungry."

      Dane smiled. "I'll have to be a fair bit hungrier before I go for those.

Not much of a potato guy, myself. Besides," he said, standing up, "You got me in

the mind for fair food."

      The man stood as well, brushing crumbs from his pants. “Sounds good to me.

Let me just use the facilities here before we head out. The fair, all they got

is them chemical toilets, and I‟d just as soon not have to use one of those.” He

headed to the men‟s room.

      Dane looked for a while at the newspaper clippings along the wall of the

diner. They all appeared to be about the unbeaten season the Midtown High

football team was enjoying, except for one article far off to the right. It

concerned a catfish of some six hundred and fifty pounds, purportedly caught
somewhere in the South Pacific. He read a bit of it, then turned to see if he

had any coffee left in his cup. He did not.

         He did notice, however, that the man had left his jacket on the stool, and

his wallet on the counter. A couple bills peeked out from the folded leather.

Dane stared at it. Men in his situation that he had known over the years would

react to this in one of three ways. A good many would take it and run, trading

local anonymity for brief prosperity. That money would spend just as well in

some other town. A few would do the noble thing, putting the wallet safely away

in the jacket and thinking no more about it. Dane knew his best option was the

third; keep an eye on it, but do nothing whatsoever. He knew that if he was

caught with that wallet in his hand, even if he was doing the right thing, his

appearance would lead people to only one conclusion. Better to leave well enough

alone.

         Soon enough the man returned from the bathroom and gathered up his things

without so much as a thought for their safety. Dane appreciated this as a subtle

sign of trust. Apparently his presence did not raise the usual concerns with

this particular fellow. He supposed it could also be chalked up to complete

ignorance, but Dane doubted that. The man seemed too generally insightful for

that.

         The man threw his coat on and said, “Well, you ready?” Dane nodded, and

out they went, the bell of the diner door ringing quietly behind them, their

breath hanging like vapor in the still October morning air.




         Chapter 2



         Jesse and the younger looking boy discussed their ideas for another hour

after the arrival and departure of their morning visitor, the fried dough
pilgrim. The third young man just watched, saying nothing, until Jesse asked

him, “What do you make of it, Tom?”

      Tom raised his hands in defense. “Hey, I‟m leaving that to better minds.”

He smiled at the other two. “I‟m just here to facilitate good conversation, and

give it a little spur when and if necessary. What I think is irrelevant, and

actually, is probably not in the interests of furthering discussion.”

      “How can that be?” said Jesse, leaning back until he balanced on the back

legs of his chair. “I‟d think an additional viewpoint would only open up more

possibilities, you know?”

      Tom said, “Of course. But not from me. I‟m sort of a mediator in this

particular situation, and there is the risk of my opinions being taken as law.”

The young boy scoffed. “I don‟t think we‟d make that mistake any time soon.”

Tom laughed. “You‟re probably right. But it still seems safest to me to remain

uninvolved except where necessary. And it‟s my booth, so…” He shrugged.

      “Ah, it doesn‟t matter,” the young boy said, getting up from his chair and

stretching, “I gotta go anyway. I‟m supposed to help my old man with the wood.

See you guys.” The other two said their goodbyes to him, and he slipped out the

opening of the tent.

      Jesse shielded his eyes at the momentary flash of light from the tent

opening. Then, when all was dim again, he said, “We should have gotten a lamp or

something. It‟s pretty dark in here.”

      Tom nodded. “That would be good. Maybe we can scrounge one up. If we‟re

going to be here any length of time, that is.” He stood, went around to the

chair in which the younger boy had been sitting, and pushed it in. “It‟s easy to

forget that, really, when it comes down to it, this is basically just a joke.”

      “True,” Jesse laughed. “But so far, so good. I mean, it‟s early, yeah. But

nobody has seemed to care one way or another that we‟re here, so far anyway.”

They had snuck the tent in during the night. The fairgrounds were notoriously

easy to get into, if you didn‟t mind getting your pants a little wet. The east
side of the grounds featured the horse stables, and there was a relatively low

fence bordered by forest that dropped off into a gully. Many a high school

student over the years had headed down there, trudging through the low creek at

the bottom of the gully, and scrambling up the hill to wait for an opportune

break in the traffic of horse trainers and fair personnel, so they could jump

the fence and saunter into the crowd, hands in their pockets, with only dark

water stains on the cuffs of their pants to give them away.

      Tom and the younger boy – his name was Aaron – had carried the folded tent

through the woods from Aaron‟s house, down the gully and up the hill, and heaved

it over the fence. They then jumped over in turn, and walked crouching through

the midway, looking for a place to set up that might not be too conspicuous

during the day.

      Now, as the sun began to warm the inside of the impromptu carnival

attraction, Jesse said, “Looks to me like you guys picked a pretty good spot.”

“Maybe. It‟s a fine line, you know? We don‟t want to draw a lot of attention to

ourselves, but we don‟t want to be completely overlooked either.” Tom walked to

the tent opening and peered out. “We‟re pretty much at the end of the line down

here. I hadn‟t realized how far from the action we‟d be. Really, the only people

we‟ll probably get is the occasional lost soul.”

      “Not entirely inappropriate to the cause, you think?” Jesse said. Then he

drummed a quick little riff on the card table, stood, and said, “All right. I‟m

gonna get a bite. You want anything?”

      “No,” said Tom, “I‟m good. I brought some stuff.” He gestured to a

backpack in the corner of the tent. “You‟re welcome to have some. I‟ve got

apples, some crackers, a couple sandwiches… I‟m not much for greasy food.”

      “Well you‟re missing out,” Jesse said, opening the tent flap and stepping

out. He took a deep breath. “Man, I didn‟t even notice how stuffy it was in

there. Hey, I‟ll be back in a while.” He stretched and yawned, then sauntered

off toward the midway.
       The white van bounced along the narrow, unevenly paved road. The door of

the van read:

                               COASTAL DISTRIBUTORS

                                     Lakewood, NJ

                                     Veh. #04-116

       And then, further toward the bottom of the door, in smaller letters:

                                      NO RIDERS

       Dane sat in the passenger seat, watching the blur of the trees at the edge

of the road. The sun had warmed things up significantly since they left the

diner, and he had the window open.

       “Listen,” he said to the man driving, “I never did get your name.”

       The man said, “Oh, I can‟t believe I didn‟t mention. I‟m Walter.” He put

out his hand, and Dane shook it. Walter said, “Where you from, Dane?”

       Dane said, “Good question. I was born in Ohio. Most recently, I was up in

Ontario for a while. I was two days hitchhiking out of there when you picked me

up.”

       “Good thing I came by, too. Not a lot of people out on that route. You

could have walked half a day. How‟d you end up out there, anyway?”

       Dane said nothing, staring out at the woods as they flew by.

       Walter cleared his throat. “Sorry. It‟s none of my business. Just making

conversation.”

       Dane looked over suddenly. “What? Oh, yeah, that‟s fine. I… I wasn‟t

paying attention for a minute is all.” He rubbed his head. “I got a bit of a

headache.”

       “You need some food, is my guess,” Walter said. “When did you eat last?”

       Dane shrugged. “I had a bite to eat the night before you picked me up.

That‟s probably the last food I ate.”
         “Well, we‟ll get something into you soon enough.” Walter reached for his

wallet. “We‟ll be there in a few minutes, and I got-”

         “Oh, I don‟t want to take much else from you,” Dane said. “You givin‟ me a

ride, that‟s plenty. You just get me to the fair, and I‟ll take care of the

rest. I got a couple bucks.”

         Walter nodded. They rode in silence for a while, then Walter said, “I

don‟t need to know much about you or where you‟re from, but if you‟d tell me one

thing, it‟d put me at ease.”

         “Okay, what‟s that?” asked Dane.

         “You‟re not… in trouble, are you? Running from the law, anything like

that?”

         Dane smiled. “No. Nothing like that. There isn‟t a soul that‟s too

concerned with where I am. Or who I am, for that matter.”




Chapter 3



         Al Dupree went back to the truck and grabbed another piece of gear. His

back was starting to hurt, whch didn't bode well, since he was to spend the

afternoon standing in front of a crowd of fair-goers with a bass guitar slung

over his shoulder. He thought about having a go at the flask in his jacket

pocket, but decided it would be better to at least get the load-in done before

hitting the bottle.

         He grabbed one of the big PA speakers by the handles on the sides, and

limped it across to the stage area. Once there, he hoisted it over his head with

a loud grunt, and set it onto one of the speaker stand columns he had previously

set up. When the speaker slid into place, he put his hands to his sides and

bowed, trying to loosen his back.
         Ten years ago, he'd be cursing Brett Marquis's name by now, in colorful

language. But Brett's failure to arrive in time to set up at shows like this had

become the nature of the business over the years. What the band was able to do

on stage was pretty remarkable, at least to Al, and he decided a long time ago

that he wasn't going to spoil it over something as trivial as having to move a

little extra gear.

         He took a deep breath, exhaled, and headed back to the truck. He saw a

figure leaning into the truck, scooping out a piece of his equipment. Al thought

about yelling to whoever it was to get the Hell out of there, but he figured he

could close the gap quickly enough before any of his heavy gear was hustled

away. He quickened his pace.

         When he got to the truck, he found Jesse lifting out the second PA

speaker. Jesse said, "Looks like you got a good day for it. It's starting to

warm up pretty good."

         Al nodded and grabbed a couple guitar cases. "You work here?"

         "Yeah. Well sort of. I'm... a volunteer. I was just on my way to get

something to eat, and I saw you humping this stuff in by yourself. You do a solo

show?"

         "Nah," Al said as they walked to the stage, "We're the Blake Mountain

Boys. The rest of the guys, they'll be along soon enough."

         "Not soon enough, apparently," Jesse said, looking around for a place to

set the speaker. Al took one of the handles from him, and they hoisted it onto

the other speaker stand.

         "Man, those are heavy," Jesse said, looking over toward Al's truck. "You

need a hand with anything else while I'm here?"

         Al said, "Nah, that's the worst of it. I appreciate it,..." He put out hi

hand and waited for an introduction.

         "Oh. Jesse." They shook.
      "Al. Thanks again. Come by around three and check out the show if you're

around."



      Jesse walked on through the fairgrounds. The grid of dirt roads running

between the vendors and attractions were all dotted with visitors now. It looked

to Jesse like it was going to be a busy day. He liked that. There was something

he liked about the anonymity of moving through a large crowd, and opportunities

for that sort of thing did not come up much in Midtown.

      It put him in mind to travel. After graduating from Midtown Regional High

in June, he had thought for a while about going and making his way in the city.

He didn't have the money or the desire to go straight into college, so he had

officially taken that well-trodden course of 'taking some time off to see the

world'. A tough statement to back up, when one had never set foot outside of his

home town. But there had been a job opening at Triplett Engineering, and he was

making good money with little to spend it on. It had been an exhausting but

profitable summer, and now, as he walked through the busy roads of the Midtown

Fair, he began to put thought to what kind of life it might afford him.

      At the same time, he knew that his present situation was hardly a snapshot

of city living. This was a celebration, a time for relaxation, excess, and

freedom. He imagined the streets of the city would hold a much smaller

percentage of people so content with their surroundings.

      Jesse found himself standing in front of a food trailer. He had not

realized that he had been following his nose. Great billows of steam rose from

the trailer, and the smell of cooking sausages now overtook his attention. He

ordered one, and sat at a picnic table next to the trailer, watching the people

go by, listening to the buzz of the flies around the trash barrel.



      Tom walked slowly to the front gate. His tent was folded, and he half-

carried, half-dragged it alongside him. His backpack was slung over one
shoulder. Behind him, a Fair official paced him, frowning. There were murmurs

from the men working the front gate, most of them bemused.

      Oh well, thought Tom, at least the official had called his booth 'cute'

before telling him it was time to go. At least they had a sense of humor, even

if it didn't seem to affect their decision-making processes.

      As he left the fairgrounds, he wished he could have told Jesse what

happened. Then he smiled. It wouldn't take much for Jesse to figure it out. And

it'd be a fun surprise, at least, for him to find a bare patch of ground where

the Midtown Fair Conversation Booth had managed to stand for a good seven hours.




      Chapter 4



      "I'm pretty sure it's right up here," Walter said as they drove. "This

seems further out than I remember, but I know we took the right turn back

there."

      Dane shrugged. "Hey, it's my first time here. I don't know where the Hell

I am." He pointed to someone walking up the side of the road toward them. "At

least I'm not walking, huh?"

      Walter slowed the truck. "Hey, ask that kid." They rolled to a stop. Dane

leaned out the window.

      "Hey, is this the way to the fairgrounds?"

      "Yeah, you're almost there. Just over that hill on the right," Tom said.

Dane looked at the tent he was dragging. "Looks like you're headed the wrong way

then," he said, cracking a smile.

      Tom smiled back. "Not according to them."

      They said nothing for a moment, then Dane said, "All right, thanks."

Walter eased the truck back onto the road, and Tom gathered up the tent and

headed on, carrying it in front of him.
      As the truck reached the crest of the hill a policeman came into view. He

motioned for them to stop, and the two men sat and watched a long procession of

vehicles enter the fairgrounds from the other direction.

      "Looks like we came in the back way," Dane said.

      Eventually they were allowed entrance. The parking area was nothing more

than a semi-maintained field, and it was an even rougher ride than the road they

had taken to get there. They were directed across the field by a relay of high

school kids in orange vests. Walter parked the truck next to a van. An ancient

Ford sedan took the spot next to them immediately, and the row filled in

alongside them in a synchronized wave of cars in various states of disrepair.

      It was undoubtedly rush hour at the Fair. There were twenty people

standing in line to get in for every one person leaving the fair, and all the

traffic bottlenecked at a narrow gate. Beyond it, the excited cacophony of the

Fair could be heard, and the top of the ferris wheel could be seen, spinning

lazily.

      "How much is it to get in this thing?" asked Dane.

      Walter had his wallet out. He handed Dane a pink card and said, "Don't

worry about it. We get these every year." The card was a vendor's pass.

      "Do you guys have a booth or something?"

      Walter laughed. "Yeah. As far as they know. It's easy enough to call and

have 'em send a couple passes." He looked up and down the line, which already

stretched far behind them now as well. "I'll bet there's maybe one person in

five in this line who's actually paying full price at that gate."

      Dane put the card in his pocket. The line moved quicker than he had

expected it would, and soon he found himself near the gate, with only a man and

a child in front of him. The man looked to be about thirty-five, and the boy

Dane assumed to be the man‟s son stood even with his belt. Dane heard the man

say to the woman at the admittance booth, “One under five, and one Senior

Citizen.”
      The woman pushed two cards across the wooden counter and said, “Three

dollars.” The man paid, and he and his boy hustled to the gate. Dane followed,

mumbling to the man taking the cards with the apron and the Shriner's fez that

he was a vendor. The man took his card without even looking at it, or him, and

another man stamped the back of his left hand with a big blue SATURDAY, and Dane

was inside.



      Jesse stuffed the last bite of his sausage into his mouth and peeled off

his long-sleeved shirt. He wore a T-shirt underneath that featured a small

stylized illustration of a pair of men‟s briefs on the center chest. Below this

picture were the words:



                               THE UNDERNAÜGHTIES

                           www.theundernaughties.com



      He tied the long-sleeved shirt around his waist. This morning he had been

wishing for a jacket. Now he had too much clothing. It‟s like Mars here in the

fall, he thought to himself. You freeze at night, and boil by day.

      He walked back to the sausage vendor and grabbed a napkin, wiped his hands

with it, and tossed it into the trash can, scattering the flies for the briefest

of moments. Then he headed back toward the Conversation Booth.

      Jesse could see well before he got there that the booth was gone. He

looked around, and there was no sign of Tom. There had been little foot traffic

this far down the road, and he guessed he could probably track the path of the

tent as Tom dragged it, most likely right out the front gate. He decided not to

bother; if it had been that much of a problem to Fair officials, he figured it

best not to involve himself by lurking around the „scene of the crime‟, such as

it was. Some people, he thought, just can‟t take a joke.
      In actuality, he had thought the Conversation Booth was far more than a

mere joke. It was an opportunity to test the collective consciousness of a group

of people that generally disappointed him. He and Tom and Aaron had spent some

time talking about it. They all felt pretty much the same thing: Midtown (and

probably a good many towns like it) was populated mostly by people who were

asleep on their feet. They themselves felt a lack of purpose creeping into their

lives, and looking at the community around them gave them little hope of this

changing on its own.

      Tom had suggested the actual Conversation Booth idea. It was perfect. The

how-to fell into place quite easily. They had no illusions of great success with

it, but at the very least, it gave them something to work toward, and maybe they

would wake up a soul or two while they were at it. And it was harmless enough.

Jesse doubted Tom had gotten in any serious trouble for it. Still, he wished he

had been there to share the burden of the blame. Not much I can do about it now,

he thought, and headed back toward the growing crowd of fairgoers.




      Chapter 5



      Walter said to Dane, “I‟ll bet you‟re headed to the food.” Dane nodded.

Walter said, “Sounds good. I‟m not too hungry just yet, so I‟m gonna wander. If

I don‟t see you, how about we meet back here at the gate at five?”

      “Sounds fine to me,” Dane said. “I imagine I‟ll see you before then

though. This place isn‟t that big, is it?”

      “No, not so big. But it‟s pretty busy. Anyway, five o‟clock back here.

Don‟t make me leave without you.” He grinned.

      “Thanks,” said Dane, and he headed for the nearest food vendor. It

happened to be a small wooden shack stained dark brown. It had a red sign shaped
like an apple above the large open front. Routed into the sign were the words

APPLE CRISP.

      Dane stepped up and got the attention of the girl standing in the shack.

She said, “You lookin‟ for some apple crisp, are ya?”

      Dane nodded. “One, please.” In seconds she produced a paper plate with a

large square of apple crisp on it. She held it out, and as Dane went to grab it,

she pulled it back. “Oh, I‟m sorry honey, did you want whipped cream on that?”

      “That‟d be fine,” Dane said. She got to work on it, saying, “Can‟t believe

I nearly forgot. I don‟t know where my mind is.” She handed the now-finished

plate to Dane and looked out past him to the crowd. “I guess I better get my

head straight quick, it‟s gonna be hoppin‟ today.” She looked back at Dane.

“That‟s two fifty, hon.”

      Dane gave her three one dollar bills. She took two quarters from her front

pocket and handed them to him, then put the money in some unseen box below the

counter. Dane grabbed a plastic spoon and then looked for a place to sit. A few

booths down the road there was a picnic table. He sat at it and got to work.

      Dane tried to pace himself, knowing it would be better for him to eat

slow, but he found it tough to hold back. Soon he was shoveling the apple crisp

in as fast as he could manage. It was good. Only now, as he felt his strength

begin to return, did he notice just how weak he had gotten.

      The plate was empty far too soon. He dropped it, along with the spoon,

into a nearby trash can. He was tempted to head directly to another food vendor

and order something else. Then he decided it was probably best to let this sit

for now. Besides, he wasn‟t exactly made of money. He reached into his pocket

and took stock of his economic situation. Seven dollars and fifty cents. He

looked up the road toward the bustling midway. Maybe I can find a way to make a

few bucks here, he thought. He thrust his hands into his pockets and walked into

the crowd.
        Aaron pushed an empty wheelbarrow toward where his father was splitting

logs. Aaron‟s shirt was spotted with stains and bits of bark. He tried to brush

at it with one hand and steady the wheelbarrow with the other, but the

wheelbarrow lurched as soon as he took one hand off it, and clanged noisily on

its side. Aaron‟s father looked over at him briefly, then turned his attentions

back to his work. The maul rose quickly over his father‟s head, and then swung

down deftly, cleaving the log into two leaping halves.

        Aaron moved the wheelbarrow into position and stopped for a breath. He

said, “We oughta get the wood delivered closer to the barn, huh?”

His father set another log from the low pile on its end on the ground in front

of him. “There ain‟t enough sun over there. It‟d never dry out in time.” He

motioned for Aaron to stand back, and Aaron complied. With another quick stroke

the log flew apart.

        Aaron moved in and gathered the scattered cut logs from the ground.

Another eight or ten wheelbarrow loads and they‟d be done. When the wheelbarrow

was heaped full he wheeled it around and pushed for the barn. Out past the barn

he saw Tom walking out of the woods and through the field, with the folded tent

in his hand. Aaron laughed and doubled his efforts, meeting Tom at the barn

door.

        “Closed for business already?” Aaron said, grabbing a log off the top of

the pile and tossing it onto a low neat stack just inside the barn doors.

        Tom nodded, leaning the tent against the open barn door and wringing his

        hands. “Yeah, we didn‟t make it too far, I guess.”

        “What happened to Jesse? Did they arrest him or something?”

        “Nah,” said Tom, grabbing a piece of wood and stacking it. “He was out

getting food when they shut us down. Far as I know, he‟s still wandering around

in there. I‟m thinking I‟ll go back in a while.”

Aaron chuckled. “You won‟t get the tent in there again, I don‟t think. Certainly

not in the middle of the day.”
      “No, I mean I‟ll just go back and, you know, hang out. Play a couple

games, maybe do some people watching.” Tom stole a glance at Aaron‟s father, who

was still chopping up the last of the wood. “You think you can come out?”

      “Yeah, probably. Soon as this is done, anyway.”

      “Well then,” Tom said, grabbing the last two logs from the wheelbarrow,

“Let‟s get it done.”




      Chapter 6



      “Hey, man,” Brett Marquis said, jumping up onto the stage. “Sorry I‟m

late, it‟s a bitch getting in this place.”

Al was duct taping microphone cables to the stage floor. “It wasn‟t too bad

first thing this morning.”

      “Yeah,” Brett said, looking around. “Listen, I wanted to get hear a little

early because I want to talk to you about something.”

Al stopped what he was doing and stood up. “Is that so, Brett? Well, what‟s on

your mind?”

      “It‟s just… we been at this a while, and I‟m not convinced that…” he

looked at Al. “You and me, I think we got a good thing going. But the other

guys, I just don‟t feel like they share our ambition.”

At this, Al raised his eyebrows.

      “I‟m serious,” Brett continued. “I‟m beginning to think you and I could be

doing a two-piece. You know, twice the money for half the bullshit. You know

what I‟m saying?”

      Al knelt down and resumed taping. “I know what you‟re saying, Brett. I

just don‟t think it‟ll work.”

      “And why not?”
      “Because not many places around here are looking for a two-piece act.

Certainly not the clubs we‟re playing now.” Al stood and walked to the sound

board, spooling a microphone cable out behind him. “And the small places would

just as soon pay a solo guy and be done with it.”

      “What about the Zwicker Brothers? They‟re workin‟.”

      “They‟re workin‟ in Maine, in Connecticut, in God-knows-where. Yeah, I

guess you could make it work if you were willing to drive all over Hell and

creation. I‟m not. I don‟t have the wheels for it, for one thing.”

A car pulled up next to Al‟s, and the remaining members of the band got out and

headed for the stage.

      “Well, something to think about anyway,” Brett said, letting it go for

now. He greeted the other men while Al continued running the microphone cords.



      Dane stood in front of a carnival game booth. This particular one offered

fair attendees their choice of familiar sayings and band logos, having been

silkscreened hastily onto square mirrors. The mirrors themselves were useless

for all practical purposes, since the stuff printed on them occupied most of the

surface area. Dane recognized few of the bands, but he knew all of the beer

logos. Not that he was a big drinker; just that those logos didn't change as

quickly. There were a few bands here and there he could pick out, but most of it

was newer stuff, groups he hadn't the ambition or the opportunity to familiarize

himself with.

      The man in the booth was looking at a newspaper. He noticed Dane standing

there and hastily folded it up, saying, "Howdy!" The man sized Dane up, and at

first glance figured he wouldn't be likely to be spending any money today.

Still, it'd be foolish not to try. "Three bucks, three darts. You're a good

shot, right?"

      "I'm not here to play," Dane said. "I'm here to work. You know if they got

anything?"
         The man frowned. "Boy, I doubt it. This is a tough outfit to walk in to."

         "Yeah, it looked like they were tapping from outside the country."

         "You got it," the man said, reaching for a pack of cigarettes. "My guess

is somewhere in Central America this year. Or South America, or something." He

offered Dane a smoke. Dane thanked him but declined.

         The man lit up and went on, using the cigarette like a pointer. "Most of

the rides now, the Tilt-A-Whirl, the Mixer, the Dutch Tumbler, all that's worked

by these guys. I haven't found a one of 'em can say more than two words in

English."

         "That's why they're not working these booths, right?"

         "Right. They just take tickets and pull levers. Now us over here, Jesus, I

think the newest fella'd be... no, it'd be whats-her-name, Darla or something,

down that way." He pointed down the row. "She's been on three years now anyway."

         "Hmm. I'd just as soon not be in a booth anyway. They got people cleaning

up or something?"

         "What do you think?" the man said, pointing to an overfull trash barrel.

He took another long drag and said, "You might be able to get on with one of the

food vendors. They're all independent, far as I know. I've known a couple kids

who would do that. Hard-ass work, but they make good money on the day."

         "I don't think anyone wants a guy looking like me working with their

food."

         The man chuckled. "I don't think you've taken much of a look at the ones

who already are."

         He noticed a young man shuffling along with his hands in his pockets. Not

a high percentage mark, but not bad. The man had found that he was likeliest to

get a few bucks out of families, then young couples. But bored guys by

themselves could be squeezed now and then. Sometimes they just don't know what

to do, and need a little nudge.
        "Hey," he yelled to the young man, looking at his shirt, "You an

Undernaüghties fan? I got them here somewhere." The man gave a quick wink to

Dane.

        Jesse turned and walked over, scanning the mirrors along the walls of the

booth. The man did the same, and beat him to it. "Over there, right under Duran

Duran. Three bucks, three darts. Give it a shot, huh?"

        Jesse said, "Yeah, all right. In honor of your apparent lapse into good

taste, I'll give it a whirl." He reached into his pocket and took out three one

dollar bills. Simultaneously the man produced three darts and placed them on the

counter. The bodies of the darts were solid green plastic, but the tips were

long, very sharp looking metal.

        Jesse pulled his hair back behind his ears and scooped the darts up in his

right hand. Then he took one in his left and aimed.

        “Southpaw, huh?” the man in the booth said. “Lefties usually do a little

better, I don‟t know why.”

        Jesse threw the dart. It corkscrewed to the back wall and stuck in at an

odd angle, well outside the nearest red star. He looked at the other two darts

in his hand. The plastic flights were pretty battered. All the weight of the

darts was in the nose. There was little hope of throwing a predictable straight

shot with these. His first shot had certainly taught him little about the

performance of the darts that he could constructively apply to his next shot.

He decided that analysis was of little use in this instance, so he abandoned it.

He switched a second dart to his left hand and tossed it sidearm from his hip.

It twisted through the air and found its mark, setting firmly into the topmost

arm of one of the stars.

        “Hey, there you go,” the man in the booth said, smiling a bit at Jesse‟s

throwing style. “Showing off a little, huh? Nice shot.”

        Jesse held up his third dart. “I can‟t win twice, can I?” The man shook

his head no, and Jesse closed his eyes and pitched the dart. It bounced off the
back wall and fell to the ground. “Good enough,” he said. “I‟ll take the

Undernaüghties one.”

      The man looked below the counter through shelves Jesse couldn‟t see, and

came up with a mirror for him. “I haven‟t heard these guys. They any good?”

      “I think so, anyway,” Jesse said. “Music for the thinking man.”

      The man looked at the underwear logo and said, “Oh yeah, that‟s obvious.”

      “What, the logo? That‟s part of their thing, I guess. They actually have a

lot to say, but you‟ve got to look past that first impression. That‟s kind of

what they‟re about.”

      “Ah. Well, enjoy.”

      Dane, who had up to now just watched, spoke up. “Is this band local?”

      Jesse looked over at him. “Heh. Are you kidding? Look around man, nobody

here would get it. Well, not many people, anyway.”

      “Maybe. Maybe you‟re not giving people enough credit. I‟d check it out,

anyway. What kind of music is it?”

      “Hmm. It‟s pretty eclectic. They are kind of roots rock, but there‟s some

jazz in there too, I guess. I mean, you can tell they know theory. They do a

little bit of everything. Pretty obscure though, I'm not too surprised you

haven't heard of them. Oh, they did a TV theme though. You ever see the show

McBishop?"

      Dane shook his head. "No. Haven't watched a lot of TV lately."

      "You're not missing a thing. Actually, that's not one of their better

pieces, but it's not bad. Their production is kind of middle-of-the-road, but

the songwriting is their strong suit. I‟m Jesse.” They shook hands.

      “Dane. Well, I saw a bandstand over that way. What kind of bands do play

around here?”

      Jesse laughed. “Oh, today I suspect we‟re in for the Blake Mountain Boys.

You should see „em once, you‟ll never have to see them again.”

      “What do you mean?”
     “I mean, they‟ve been playing the same set list, in the same order, for as

long as I can remember. They‟re not bad players or anything, but if you‟re gonna

be a cover band, the least you can do is mix it up now and then.”

     Dane nodded. “Well, I‟ll probably go check „em out. Thanks.”

     “I‟ll go with you. I‟ve seen it before, but…” Jesse looked around at the

fairgrounds. “There ain‟t much here I haven‟t seen before.”




     Chapter 7



     Tom and Aaron walked through the woods. The path they followed would be

indistinct to the casual observer, if one were to have reason to be here, which

was unlikely. The fallen leaves obscured the bare trail that wound through the

forest. The two knew the trail well enough to be able to chart it in the black

of night; in fact, they had done so more than once.

     It was bright and sunny now though, and they drank in the warmth as they

walked, saying nothing. Winter would come soon, putting a cruel end to days such

as this for a good many months. But for now, if they closed their eyes, the

warmth of the sun on their faces could almost fool them into thinking it was

just another of the long days of summer vacation laid out before them, with only

the crunch of the dead foliage at their feet to testify otherwise.

Their path connected with a wider, straighter one. They followed what they had

been told used to be a logging road until it intersected with the main road

leading to the fair. They walked in the shallow ditch alongside this road until

they came to the long hill leading up to the front gate. Then, with no

discussion necessary as to which would be the better option, they turned back

into the woods and headed for the gully.
      Al finished tuning his bass guitar, and then placed it on the stand behind

him. He looked at his watch. The show wouldn‟t be starting for another hour.

Time to get a bite to eat.

      “I‟ll be back in a few,” he said to nobody in particular. The drummer gave

him a half wave and continued putting the drum kit together. Al crouched, and

with a little hop he jumped down off the riser. His right knee gave a little

shock of pain at this. Man, he thought, I‟m getting old.

      He made his way through the crowded footpaths until he got to the food

concession area. He decided he was in the mood for pizza, so he stood in the

center of the path, turning circles as the crowd flowed around him. He spotted a

pizza stand and weaved his way toward it. There was nobody in line, but the man

in the trailer was talking to some run-down looking fellow out the side window.

      “Nah, we ain‟t lookin‟ for nobody,” the man said loudly over the noise of

the fair, “Try down there.” He pointed off toward another cluster of food

trailers. Then he turned to Al. “Whatcha need?”

      Al ordered two slices of pepperoni pizza and a Coke. The man produced the

order with remarkable speed, as if he had a hundred people waiting. Al paid, and

turned to go. He looked at the chaotic stream of traffic between him and the

bandstand, and realized he was unlikely to make the trip with his flimsy paper

plate of food intact. So he tucked the unopened can of soda under one arm, and

ate where he stood, watching the run-down fellow and what appeared to be his

younger companion disappear into the crowd.



      “So how long have you been on the road?” Jesse asked as they walked. It

seemed as though no matter which way they headed, they were always trying to

walk against traffic.

      Dane said, “Technically, a year and a half, maybe. Longer than that

really, but I did sort of stay in one place for an extended period. I never

really called it home though.”
       “You ever travel with anybody?”

       Dane shook his head. “It‟s not really practical. If you‟re hitchhiking,

it‟s a lot tougher for two guys to get picked up. They take up more room, for

one thing. And then there‟s the matter of outnumbering the driver.”

       “Ah,” said Jesse. “Still, I‟m thinking I‟d like to hit the road for a

while. You know, see what I can find.”

       Dane stopped, further confusing the flow of traffic around them. “It‟s not

like taking a holiday, you know.”

       “Yeah, I know that. And I‟m not looking for a holiday.”

“What are you looking for?”

       Jesse thought. “I don‟t know. I guess I‟m just going on the hope that I‟m

smart enough to know it when I see it, and stupid enough to set out looking for

it.”

       Dane began walking again. “Yeah. A very romantic notion. Well, some time

on the road won‟t quite kill that, but it sure will knock some sense into it.”

       Dane found no work at the concession stands. They were all run by older

couples, or by frantic teenagers, usually directed by equally frantic men with

thinning hair. None were looking for help, from him anyway.

       “There you go,” Dane said, “That‟s life on the road for you.”

       Jesse shrugged. “Hey, it‟s still a day at the fair. Unless you‟ve got any

other leads, we might just as well check out that band.” Dane had no more ideas,

so they headed for the bandstand.




       Chapter 8



       The concert area at the Midtown Fair was a field in slightly better upkeep

than the parking lot. It was still empty when Al came back to it. The other
three members of the band sat with their legs hanging off the stage. Al joined

them.

        Brett said, "I got some bad news today, guys. I didn't know whether I

should say something about it before or after our show today. I figure it's just

best to tell you now." He paused. "Molly's has decided they are going to close

for the winter."

        The other three men were taken completely by surprise at this news. The

drummer said, "Just like that? You mean, we're not playing next weekend?"

"That's right. Everything we got on the books, you can take it back off. Phil

said he'd call me in April to talk about the summer."

        The other guitarist, a wiry man with graying hair named Chris, said, "How

can they do that? They booked those gigs with us. They can't just..."

        All three of them looked at Al. Brett said, "Now Al, before you say

anything, I know you've been wanting to do contracts. I don't know, maybe we

should have."

        "You think so, Brett?" Al said.

        "Come on, man, I know Phil. I used to play with Phil. If I had gone in

there with papers for him to sign, it would have been rude. We might not have

gotten half the shows he booked us for."

        Al shook his head at this. "You do realize we are not playing the shows

you two shook hands on."

        Brett opened his mouth to respond, but said nothing.

        Al continued, "If they had only been willing to sign us for, let's say

three shows this winter, we could have gone with the same contract to another

place and booked three more shows, and we'd still be working because we wouldn't

be driving another place into the ground."

        "Provided there was another place to go to," said the drummer.

        Brett raised his eyebrows. "It's true. Where else are we gonna play? You

guys want to drive to Kingston on Fridays after work? I don't."
         "I don't know," said Al. "All I know is, we just got laid off, and I think

we wouldn't have if we ran this thing more like a business than a weekend hobby.

I'm too old for that. I think we all are."

         There was silence after this. They had had this discussion before.

Deciding they had no more to add to it, Chris and the drummer went back to

fiddle with the equipment.

         Brett looked over his shoulder at the two, and then turned to Al. "You

should think about what we talked about earlier. There ain't a lot of places for

a band to book, but you and I, we could stay busy." Al said nothing.

         Brett clapped his hands to his knees and said, "Well, we still got a show

to play today at least, right?" He stood up.

         Al looked out at the field in front of the stage. The only people there

were the run-down fellow and his friend that Al had seen earlier. "Yeah, lookin'

good."

         "Listen," Brett said, "I don't like it any more than you. But pull your

shit together and let's do this one, huh? Let's have some fun." He gave Al a pat

on the shoulder and turned and walked to the other band members.

         All right, Al thought. I‟ve got one more show in me. Just one. He checked

his watch. Time to get going. He walked to his bass rig and grabbed his

instrument. He found that it had stayed in tune, which was a pleasant little

surprise. Outdoor shows tended to wreak havoc with the guitar tunings. He turned

on the bass amp and rolled out a couple quick riffs. Satisfied, he nodded to

Chris, who was already in his place to the far left side of the stage. Al was at

the far right. The drummer was set up at the back, and Brett stood directly in

front of the drum kit, center stage.

         A few more people had gathered, seated as far from each other on the

bleachers as they could seem to manage. Brett stepped to his microphone and

addressed the audience. “All right, welcome to the Midtown Fair! We‟re the Blake
Mountain Boys. We‟re gonna play some music for you here today…” He looked up at

the cloudless sky, then over to Chris. “Boy, we got a good one today, don‟t we?”

“You bet,” Chris mumbled into his microphone.

      Brett smiled. “Well then, let‟s get her goin‟.” He turned and nodded to

the drummer, who clicked his sticks together three times and then gave the snare

drum a sharp stab, and they rolled into the first song.



      Walter had nearly given up waiting at what he was nearly certain should

have been the chosen rendezvous point. He could still hear the instructions in

his mind: Two o‟clock, at the racetrack automobile entry. It was easily quarter

past by now. He looked around and saw nobody that looked anything like his

contact. Not that he knew what the man would look like, but he felt sure the man

was not in the crowd of families and school kids currently bustling past him.

He heard footsteps behind him. Walter turned and saw two boys who had apparently

come from nowhere. He noticed that their shoes, and the bottoms of their pants,

were wet. This can‟t be who I‟m looking for, he thought. He asked them, “Is this

the automobile entrance?”

      Tom said, “No, this is where the horses come in. I think the derby cars

drive in from over there.” He pointed further down the road, toward the

outskirts of the fairgrounds.

      Of course, thought Walter. “Thanks,” he said, and headed that way. He met

a foreign looking man in a grease stained pair of overalls standing by the gate.

      “You‟re late,” the man said.

      “Yeah, sorry,” said Walter. “I had my directions mixed up is all.”

      The man raised his eyebrows. “Do you think you will be able to find your

way to Kingston?” He squatted and hoisted up a cardboard box and held it out to

Walter.
      “Yeah, no problem. I‟ve been there the last two years. I‟ll be there.”

Walter took the box. It was heavier than it had looked, a testament to the

strength of the man who had handed it to him.

      “There had better be no problems, Mr. Walter. This is a very important

delivery.” The man took an envelope out of the pocket of his overalls and

stuffed it into the front of Walter‟s pants. “Passes to Kingston. Remember, Mr.

Walter. You must deliver the package on time. If you are late, it means very

serious consequences for you and for us.” He smiled. “Mostly for you.”

Walter nodded. “I‟ll be there at ten tomorrow morning. Who do I meet?”

      “The details are in the envelope. Along with a map. Just in case.” The man

looked over Walter‟s shoulder to the rest of the fairgrounds. “You go now. If

everything goes as it should, I will never see you again. If I do see you again,

neither of us will be happy about it.” He walked through the auto gate and

disappeared among the trailers.

      Walter watched him go, then began the walk to the van. The box was already

a burden, and he had a long way to go. He wondered, as he entered the flow of

fair traffic, if he hadn‟t just made the biggest mistake of his life.




      Chapter 9



      The Blake Mountain Boys went through the motions. The sparse audience made

it tough enough to be enthusiastic about playing, but the bad news on top of

that had turned the show into little more than an exercise for the four of them.

Brett still offered up his rehearsed banter between songs, even though it seemed

to elicit no response from the crowd.

      As they played, Al began to notice that they sounded particularly tight.

The lack of outside distraction had a positive effect on their playing. The on-

stage sound was pretty well-balanced too, which helped quite a bit. He doubted
there were any club owners in the audience, but he felt that if there had been,

they'd probably be satisfied enough with the performance to consider hiring the

band. When we're at our best, we're pretty good, he thought. Doesn't happen

often enough.

      By the time they got to the last few songs of the show, they were starting

to get a smattering of applause from those watching. This made it easier for

them to put a good finish on the show, and by the end, they were in fighting

form. Then it was over. They waved and thanked the crowd a little longer than

they probably should have, drinking it in for the last time they could

anticipate. Then they got to the business of breaking down the gear.



      Dane watched the show but kept one eye on the foot traffic headed for the

gate. The band was in its final song when he saw Walter working his way to the

gate. He was carrying something heavy in a box, and moving through as fast as he

could manage.

      Not wanting to miss his ride out of town, Dane trotted over to meet him.

He squirmed through the milling fairgoers until he caught up with Walter. "You

need a hand with that?" he offered.

      Walter looked surprised, even a bit nervous. "No, I got it. I'm leaving a

little early. That work for you?"

      "Fine by me," Dane said. "Do I have time to get something for the road?"

      "If you hurry. I'm headed to the van now. Catch up as quick as you can, we

gotta go."



      Jesse hadn't noticed Tom and Aaron until he heard Aaron's voice beside

him, saying, "Well, that kinda sucked."

      "Oh, hey," Jesse said. He looked at Tom. "Didn't make it too far, huh?"

Tom smirked. "No, not today. We'll try it gain sometime, maybe."
      "You know," said Aaron, "We could actually get a permit. Probably doesn't

cost that much." The other two nodded, but said nothing.

      Jesse turned to introduce Dane to the others, but he was gone. Jesse

looked around, but couldn't spot him.

      "Did you lose something?" asked Tom.

      "There's this guy I met, he was just here. I was gonna introduce you.

Listen, I'm thinking about going away for a while."

      "Where to?"

      "Not sure, really. I've got a little money, and I'm thinking I might just

hit the road and see what happens."

      "Well what about your job?"

      Jesse shrugged. "I guess I quit. Not like I'm losing a career opportunity

or anything, you know."

      Aaron said, "What about Kelly?"

      "What about her?" Jesse snapped. "I mean, we're not seeing each other

anymore. I doubt she'd know I'm gone, to tell you the truth."

      "Well," said Tom, "Sounds fun anyway. Wish I could go with you."

      "You can if you want."

      Tom laughed. "No, I don't think so. Kelly might not notice you're gone,

but can you picture Lissa finding out I hit the road? She'd cry for an hour,

then come find me and beat me for a day."

      "Yeah, I can see that. Well," Jesse said, "I'll try to keep you posted."

Aaron said, "You're leaving now?"

      Jesse nodded. "Gonna take advantage of the traveling weather. I don't know

how much more of it we'll get. See you, guys." They shook hands, and Jesse made

his way to the gate.

      He walked through the parking field to the main entrance and out onto the

road. The streams of cars entering and leaving were about equal now. He felt his
chances of getting a ride were pretty good. It was the perfect time to go. He

stuck out his thumb and walked backwards down the road.




        Chapter 10



        The van was backing out of its space when Dane got to it. He tapped on the

passenger window, and Walter stopped. Dane got in, balancing a fried dough on a

paper plate in the crook of his left arm. In his left hand he held two cans of

soda.

        "You weren't kidding, you are in a hurry," he said to Walter as the van

began to back up before Dane had his door fully closed.

        "You got that right. Got someplace to get to," Walter said. He guided the

van through the bumpy field to the gate.

        "Listen," Dane said, "I know you're not supposed to pick people up in this

van and all. I really appreciate you giving me a lift." He held out a can.

"Thirsty?"

        Walter took it. "Thanks." He opened the can, steering the van for a moment

with his elbows. He took a long drink as they pulled through the gate and onto

the road.

        Traffic going into the fair was backed up as far as they could see. The

outgoing traffic was heavy as well, but moving along steadily. Not far down the

road they approached a hitchhiker. Dane recognized him as Jesse. Jesse spotted

him in the passenger seat of the van, gave a little wave, and lowered his thumb,

to wait for the next car.

        As they passed him, Walter said, "Got my quota today, kid, sorry." Dane

offered a laugh.
      Jesse wondered where Dane was off to. Then he started to put some thought

into where he himself was headed. It would be a city, he knew that. Boston

seemed likeliest, being the closest. Then he remembered hearing something about

The Undernaüghties being from Boston, and it was decided. He would try to find

them. What to do once he found them was irrelevant. It gave him a destination,

however arbitrary, and that alone lightened his step.

      He walked backwards for a good two miles or so before a car pulled to the

side. Jesse trotted over and opened the passenger door. As he did, a man was

grabbling handfuls of papers and clothes and CDs off the passenger seat and

tossing them hastily into the back. "Just a second," the man said. Once a

suitable clearing was made, Jesse climbed in.

      "Hey, thanks for the ride," Jesse said, positioning his feet in the

cluttered floor well below him, trying not to step on anything of potential

value, even though it mostly looked like trash.

      The man looked in his rear view mirror. "No problem. I've been there. You

got a good day for it, though. Now let's see if we can get back on the road

here." He watched the slow, steady stream of cars until a small gap appeared;

not large enough for their car, but enough to be able to nose in and show his

intent. He threw the left blinker on and said, "Hang on."

      He pulled quickly into the road behind one car, cutting off another. The

car behind them slowed and stopped reluctantly, leaving just enough room for the

man to pull into place. He offered a wave without looking back. "There we go,"

he said. He looked at Jesse. "So. Where are we going?"

      "Probably as far as you'll take me. I'm thinking of going to Boston for a

while."

      "No kidding?" said the man. "Well, I can get you most of the way there.

I'm going to Chelmsford." Jesse looked uncertain. The man added, "Just outside

Lowell. Near where 495 hooks up. You should be able to pick up another ride from

there, it's a pretty busy intersection."
      "All right, sounds good. Again, I appreciate it."

      "No sweat. So. What did you think of the fair? That's where you came from,

right?"

      "Uh, yeah. It was pretty good, I guess. Something different, at least."

The man said, "You won yourself a mirror, huh?"

Jesse looked at the mirror he was carrying. "Oh yeah. A strange thing to be

bringing on a hitchhiking excursion, but there you have it."

      "You're an Undernaüghties fan, apparently."

      Jesse brightened. "You know 'em?"

      The man shook his head. "Not really. Not to recognize them on the radio or

anything. But I've read about them. I read a lot of music magazines."

      "You don't happen to know if they're on tour, do you?"

      "I don't think so. No, as a matter of fact, I think they're in the studio

working on a new project." He gestured to the back seat. "There's something

about it in the latest Spin. It's back there somewhere. Don't mind the mess."

Jesse fished around in the back until he found the magazine. Then he read as

they drove through the countryside toward the highway.



      THE UNDERNAÜGHTIES ARE SHOWING

      by Carl Owin

      Spin Magazine, November 2005

      Cambridge, Massachusetts: The leaves have turned, and Massachusetts is in

decay. Winter looms threateningly over Cambridge. And somewhere in a tiny

studio, the spark of life is burning.

      In an absurdly small, nondescript recording studio called Northern Lights,

The Undernaüghties are at work on their new album, Lowlight Remnant Innovator.

The band's brainchild, Fell Williams, took some time out to talk.

      Spin: This latest work, does it resemble the TV work you've done?
      Fell Williams: Well, in a way. I mean, there's our sound in everything we

do, I don't think you can escape that completely. But we're not writing an album

of TV themes or jingles or anything.

      S: Is the project being done completely by you guys, as in the past?

      FW: Yeah, al the recording, the basic tracks, we're doing that ourselves.

We're going to bring in a co-producer this time, though. I met Peter Lawless a

while back when we were doing some stuff for NBC, and we've wanted to work

together ever since. So this is a good project for that.

      S: Is this a concept album?

      FW: (laughs) Do people still make those? Man, I'm not sure if the concept

album is dead, or if every album made now is a concept album. You could look at

it either way, I guess.

      S: The new album by Los Voluminos certainly smacks of a concept album.

      FW: Yeah, I suppose so. I mean, it's one long track, so I guess that

counts. Our CD is definitely not gonna be one long track. Nothing wrong with

that, we just have too many little ideas, and I don't think it'd serve them well

to be lumped together like that. You know, it's not a concept album, but it'll

have continuity anyway.

      S: So are you guys going to tour nationwide to promote Lowlight Remnant

Innovator?

      FW: If we can manage it. It'll probably start with an East Coast leg, and

we'll see where we can go. I'm itching to get out on tour. The studio work is

really at the heart of what we do, and what we like to do. But you need to

connect with people too, or it gets stale.

      S: Are there any plans for a McBishop DVD?

      FW: Every TV show ends up on DVD now, right? (laughs) Sooner or later,

they'll probably put it out there, I guess. It's kind of depressing that they'll

just be doing the one, the McBishop: The Complete Series disc, you know? But it

was great getting our work on TV. And we met a lot of great people. -Spin
      "Cambridge," Jesse said. "Where's that?"

      The man said, "It's part of Boston, really. Just over the river. The T

runs all over the place down there. You can get to Cambridge easy enough."

"Cool." Jesse flipped through the rest of the magazine as they drove on.




      Chapter 11



      Al drove, unsure of where he was going. He knew the route well enough; he

simply hadn‟t settled on a destination. He figured he should probably be out

looking for work for the band. Leaving it up to Brett was not a good idea. Al

was pretty sure Brett‟s line of club owners with whom he was acquainted had

dried up. And the only work Brett had ever brought in was from friends.

It had been a significant amount of work though, over the last two years or so,

anyway. Molly‟s had been a good run while it lasted. Before that, they were a

bi-weekly feature at the Smiling Garden, where the bar was managed by a

guitarist Brett had worked with about fifteen years ago. They had also done

several fill in shows for clubs that couldn‟t book the band, but kept them on

file in case of cancellations and whatnot.

      This was the first time in a long time that the Blake Mountain Boys had

nothing on the books. Al had become accustomed to the steady, if small, income

the gigs provided.

      There were a few places he thought the band might get into, but like he

had told Brett, they were further afield than he cared to commute. Still, they

had to do something. This was a particularly bad time of year to be losing work.

Summer was a lot easier to pick up shows. At least, in theory. Even with the

occasional cancellation show falling into their laps, they were pretty much a
one trick pony, playing at the same place until the place closed or got sick of

them.

        Maybe Brett was right about trying to do a duo thing. But the idea itself

was kind of insulting, and Al gave it little weight. Brett was talented enough

to play solo shows, and the money would be better for him. The main reason he

wanted Al on board was the gear. And moving it, of course.

        Al thought about booking some solo shows himself. It would take quite a

bit of preparation before he was ready to play out by himself, though. He wasn‟t

a bad guitarist as such, but he was a much better bassist. And he only knew

about a dozen songs on the guitar that he was comfortable enough with to sing

and play at the same time. With maybe a month of work, he could get a short

night‟s material together.

        None of this helped him at the moment. He still didn‟t know where he was

headed. He didn‟t feel like going back to the house. It was a lonely enough

place on a normal day; today, it would seem especially isolated and quiet. He

wasn‟t in the mood for that.

        So he drove on, hoping the answer would come.



        Tom and Aaron walked along underneath the bleachers, amid beer cans and

food wrappers. They had snuck in to the racetrack through a loose board in the

fence. Now they made their way across to the end of the bleachers furthest from

the entrance, where they would not be noticed coming out and taking seats to

watch the demolition derby.

        Their caution was largely unnecessary. Nobody took any notice of them as

they made their way to the very back row. The bleachers were about half full;

the lower rows were densely packed with spectators, and the upper section was

more sparsely populated. There was nobody sitting within twenty feet of them.

Aaron reached into the inside pocket of his jean jacket and produced two cans of

beer. “Miller. My old man drinks this piss. But hey, beggars can‟t be choosers.”
He handed one to Tom, and they opened them as quietly as they could manage. Then

they drank carefully.

      Aaron said, “Did you really wish you could go? With Jesse, I mean.”

      “Yeah, I guess I did,” Tom said. “It‟d be fun for a while, wouldn‟t it?

Until the money runs out anyway.”

      Aaron nodded. “Jesse‟s probably got enough pocket cash to take care of

himself for a while, I bet. Maybe I should try to get his job at Triplett.”

“They wouldn‟t hire a student. Not for his shift.”

      “Yeah, I know.” He drank, then said, “But I could just go and work

instead. I mean, I‟m not going to college anyway. Why not just start working? If

I‟m gonna get anywhere, it‟s gonna be on workplace experience, not a degree.”

Tom laughed. “One beer and you‟re out of your head. Finish up, get your diploma

at least. Jesus, man, you‟re still living a home, and you don‟t want for money.

Or anything else, for that matter. You should get as long as you can out of that

deal. It won‟t come twice.”

      “How „bout you?”

      “I‟ll be at school on Tuesday.”

      “No, I mean, after school. You were talking about applying to a couple

colleges.”

      Tom said, “Mr. French got me some info on Oberlin College in Ohio, and one

in Arizona I thought might be good. I haven‟t sent anything in.”

They finished their beers as slipped the cans between the bleachers, hearing

them clatter to the ground below. The drone of many automobile engines had grown

as they talked, and now it charged the air with a growling anticipation. The

murmur of the audience had begun to crescendo to match it. The demolition derby

was about to begin.

      The cars formed two rows, facing one another at opposite ends of the oval

inside the racetrack. This was the last event to be held at the racetrack this

year; the demolition derby was always the climax of the festivities. Tom
reasoned that this might be due to the violent nature of the event, but more

likely it was a practical matter. The track would be in serious disrepair

afterward, making any subsequent events impossible. The cars started inside the

racetrack, but before long their efforts would send them sprawling as wide as

the fences would allow.

      There was a reinforced wall in front of the grandstand, but the rest of

the fencing was made of wooden slats like the one Tom and Aaron had pried open

to gain entrance. The reinforced wall had never been breached, although one year

a car did manage to get stood up against it, with its nose peeking over the

wall, smoking fiercely.

      Tom scanned the rows of cars, then pointed and said, “There‟s Bertha.”

Aaron, who had been looking for the same car, spotted the station wagon at the

same time Tom did.

      Bertha was a monstrous eyesore. All of the cars in the derby had been

spray painted and adorned with garish embellishments, but Bertha was the only

car who could claim to have looked exactly the same beforehand.

Her owner was a guy named Tucker. People called him Scooch. Scooch had taken

Bertha to as many Grateful Dead shows as she could get to, back when they were

still touring. At every show, her massive body picked up a new sticker or

fingerpainting or similar adornment, until she was a haphazard mobile collage.

Bertha was legendary in Midtown. The running joke at the local bakery was that

the stickers and paint were the only things holding her together. It was rumored

that the road could actually be seen passing underneath the floorboards, and

that if Bertha ever stalled, Scooch could simply „pull a Fred Flintstone‟ and

use his feet to get her going again.

      The local police had stopped Scooch on a number of occasions, claiming

that Bertha was a distraction to other drivers, and therefore unfit to be on the

road. Eventually they gave up on this, once it became apparent that Scooch was

not a reckless or impaired driver, just an eccentric one.
Bertha had been due for inspection in August. The repair bill Scooch would have

had to pony up for to make her streetworthy was unreasonable. There was actually

a little talk in town about a collection, to try and keep this rolling landmark

in operation. But nothing came of it, and Scooch had decided it was time for

Bertha to go out in a blaze of glory.

      Bertha now held place near the middle of the left hand row. Her nose stuck

out a good two feet beyond the other cars in the row. Soon she would be a

lumbering juggernaut, rolling to meet her fate.




      Chapter 12



      Walter looked at the gas gauge and frowned. “Won‟t get to Kingston on half

a tank. We probably better get gas here.”

      Dane said, “Sounds good to me. I wasn‟t gonna say anything, but I could

use a bathroom. I should have gone before we left.”

“Oh, I can‟t stand those chemical toilets at the fair. I‟d have waited too.”

They drove through the center of Midtown, eventually coming upon the Pic „n Pay,

the only gas station/convenience store in town. Walter pulled up to one of the

pumps. Dane got out and walked around the side of the building. He found the

rest room doors there. They were both locked. He hadn‟t wanted to have to go in

and ask for a key, looking as much like a transient as he currently did, but he

had no choice.

      As he walked around to the front doors, he regarded himself in the

reflection of the store window. He was badly in need of a razor and a shower.

His eyes had begun to sink into dark pockets, and his hair seemed to be somehow

growing and thinning at the same time. He himself would probably assume, if he

happened upon this reflection stumbling down the street, that the man before him
was not in control of his mental faculties, either by fault of drugs or good old

fashioned natural ineptitude.

      He brushed through his hair as best he could with his hands and went

inside. At the door, he was met by someone coming out who had a wooden plank in

his hand. At the end of the plank, a key swung on a metal ring. Dane turned and

followed the man outside, stopping to linger at the front of the store as the

man went around and into the rest room.

      Once Dane heard the door shut, he went around and waited near it. He

looked over at the van. Walter was not there. He must be inside, Dane thought.

Come on, hurry up. Dane entertained the idea of taking care of his business

around back of the store, but thought better of it. The last thing he wanted was

to be mistaken for a wino and arrested for something like pissing in public.

      The door opened and Dane met it with his hand, mumbling “Excuse me” to the

man coming out. He didn‟t look at the man, pretending (at least half-pretending)

to need to use the facilities urgently. Then he was in, with the door latched

behind him. He wondered if the man would say anything about it when he returned

the key. Probably not, Dane decided, and it doesn‟t matter anyway.



      Walter sat in the van waiting for his rider, thinking. He wanted

desperately to open the box and assess its contents, event though he knew what

he could expect to find in it. He tried to distract himself from this line of

thought, but this only invited the question that had been lurking in the back of

his mind since well before he made the pickup: Am I going to make this delivery,

or am I going to run?

      He was not ready for the answer. He thought perhaps he knew what he was

going to do but didn‟t want to hear it yet. Mercifully, Dane opened the

passenger door and jumped in, dispersing the cloud of thought Walter was mired

in.

      “All set?” Asked Dane. Walter nodded and pulled the van out onto the road.
      Jesse recognized the van pulling out of the gas station as they pulled in.

He thought it was kind of cool that he and Dane were traveling the same route,

at least for now. Perhaps they would hook up somewhere down the road, in some

place he had never been.

      He got out of the car and took a deep breath. He was still in the middle

of his home town, and he knew the surrounding stores and streets completely. But

the air had a foreign feel to it. It was as if, some invisible barrier had been

lowered, and for the first time, his surroundings had taken their place in the

rest of the world.

      This was going to be a good trip, he told himself. He walked to the Pic „n

Pay, where his driver was already at the counter. The woman behind the counter

was telling him, “Well, all right, but you don‟t have to pay first here. You can

just go on ahead and use the pump.”

      Jesse grabbed a drink from the cooler. He found himself wishing he had a

backpack with him, so he could load up on supplies. There didn‟t appear to be

anything like that for sale at the Pic „n Pay, unless he thought he‟d be able to

make do with a Styrofoam six-pack cooler. He ruled this out quickly. Besides, he

thought, I‟ve got a ride most of the way. I can sort out provisions once I‟m in

the city. No sense carrying stuff any longer than I have to.

      On his way to the front counter he noticed a familiar-looking man coming

in to the store. Not surprising, given the size of the town. But he couldn‟t

seem to place where he had seen the man. It wasn‟t until after he had paid for

his drink and was getting in the car that he remembered where he had seen him.

He was one of the Blake Mountain Boys. Jesse thought it would probably make for

an interesting ride if he were to jump in that guy‟s car, or whatever he was

driving. If it were as easy as just picking out which car you wanted to ride in,

and then hopping in it. He knew it wasn‟t that easy, but as he got in and rode

out of the gas station, he marveled at how easy it had been so far.
      Chapter 13



      The roar of the demolition derby was now deafening, and the cars had yet

to engage one another. They growled in line, waiting impatiently for the flag to

drop. Tom and Aaron tried to talk over the cacophony with little success. It

didn‟t matter much, since the subject of their conversation was an exercise in

futility in the first place; namely, where they could get more beer.

      It certainly wouldn‟t be possible to get into the beer tent. That was the

one place in the fair that had any semblance of security attached to it. You

could probably break into the car lot and leave in one of Jim Kilborn‟s Chevy

Daredevil cars easier than you could get an underage drinker into the Midtown

Fair beer tent.

      Aaron had snuck two beers in because it was all the inside of his jacket

would hold. Also, his father would have certainly noticed the absence of more

than two of his cans. If they hadn‟t had any beer at all, it would not have

diminished the day in the least. But now that they had each had one, they were

in the mood for more. As many as they could hold, perhaps even one or two more

than that.

      A roar of applause, and a further increase in the noise from the cars,

erupted as a figure walked to the edge of the racetrack. He carried with him a

pole, on the end of which hung a white flag with the Mobil logo on it. One might

mistake this for a paid product endorsement, but in actuality, the flag had been

in the supply shed near the grandstand for years, and used at most of the events

at the racetrack. Nobody could recall its origin, and nobody put much thought

into replacing it.

      The man turned to face the crowd, raising the flag pole high above his

head. Then he set himself in a runner‟s stance, preparing to hustle out of the
traffic that would soon ensue. Aaron pointed at the man in his pose and shouted,

“He looks like a one-man Iwo Jima!” Tom laughed. A portrait of the famous statue

adorned the history books at Midtown High, and the man‟s pose did bear a

striking similarity to it.

      The flag came down, and the man lumbered away from the cars. All his

preparation seemed to have granted him no extra speed, but he had plenty of time

to get to safety. The crowd erupted as the cars tore up the ground beneath them

and advanced their lines toward collision.

      All except Bertha. She had lurched along for the first few feet of the

advance, and now sat motionless. There was a collective gasp from the crowd as

Scooch opened his door and went around to the front of the car. No more than

twenty yards away, cars met one another violently, squealing and smoking.

Scooch finally sensed the potential danger he had put himself in, and after

popping the hood, climbed up and stood amid the massive engine of the station

wagon. He bent down, apparently working on some element of Bertha‟s anatomy that

could not be discerned from the grandstand. Behind him a ferocious disaster

raged, but all eyes in the stands were on Scooch.

      When he stood upright again and jumped down to the driver door, the crowd

cheered him enthusiastically. He gave a quick wave before jumping in and turning

Bertha over. Whether she was struggling to engage could not be heard over the

rest of the noise, and the crowd waited for some sign of life.

      Suddenly a great plume of blue smoke came from Bertha‟s exhaust. A good

portion of the audience actually took to their feet in standing ovation for the

effort. Bertha‟s tires spun in the soft ground, she leapt hungrily toward the

melee, and with a bang loud enough to be heard by the crowd and the other

drivers alike, she once again came to a stop.

      A groan came from the crowd, and they watched to see if Scooch would once

again test his luck. He was, for all intents and purposes, in the middle of the
fray now, although Bertha remained unscathed, at least by other vehicles. Scooch

sat at the wheel for some time, assumedly trying to get Bertha to turn over.

The people watching from the stands saw the black smoke coming from Bertha‟s

front grill before Schooch did. There was a good deal of laughter, which turned

to panicked shrieks when flames began to lap the hood of the station wagon.

Scooch finally noticed this and jumped out, running around the back of the car

and sprinting to the grandstand gate. He was greeted enthusiastically by those

in attendance. Scooch faced the crowd, standing on the safe side of the concrete

barrier, and acknowledged them with a shrug of his shoulders, arms outstretched.

      Behind him, a great blast sent Bertha‟s hood pinwheeling skyward. Scooch

laughed, because, as he was heard to say when later asked of the legendary

event, when something could very well have killed you, but didn‟t, it‟s probably

the best way one can react. It‟s either that or wet yourself.

      Bertha took only one hit during the derby, from a Buick that was pushed

into her by another driver. This brought another cheer from the crowd; Bertha

had become a fan favorite, the unofficial mascot of the Midtown Fair Demolition

Derby. For the most part, the other drivers avoided the station wagon

completely, as if her bad luck would rub off with the paint.

      In the end, only Walt Turnbull‟s car remained in motion, taking to the

racetrack for a couple victory laps. As he finished his second lap, he came upon

the relatively empty space in the field where Bertha sat. In a gross

miscalculation of the allegiance of the crowd, he revved the engine of his

Impala and bore down on the prone station wagon, broadsiding it so hard it went

up on two wheels.

      Walt jumped out of his car to an unexpected chorus of boos. He trotted

over to the man who had previously held the flag. The man now held a trophy.

There being no public address system to speak into, the man simply handed the

trophy to Walt and applauded, urging the crowd to follow suit. Walt got a

smattering of applause, but the boos outnumbered the supporters.
      The effects of this event were particularly far-reaching in Midtown. Walt

had become a sort of black sheep. When townsfolk would talk with his father, the

proprietor of Turnbull Hardware, they tended to no longer use Walt‟s name,

instead asking how things were with „that boy of his‟. Business at the hardware

store dropped off significantly. Most people associated this with the opening of

a Home Depot in nearby Waterville. But when the name Turnbull Hardware was

spoken from that day on, it was said with a slightly different inflection, the

sort of subtle difference one hears when talking about a baseball player who

used to play for the Red Sox, but is now a Met or a Mariner.

      And for several years afterward, it was not unusual to see a few high

school age kids in the stands, wearing homemade „Bring Back Bertha‟ t-shirts.

One young man, Parker Tritt, had actually drawn up artwork to be silkscreened

onto shirts he was sure would bring him fame and fortune at the following year‟s

fair. His strategy for accumulating startup capital involved the sale of a good

deal of marijuana, however, and his plans to go into the shirt vending business

ended up on hold for six to ten years.

      But now, at the time, Bertha‟s demise was not yet the stuff of legends,

although the events seemed to already be taking on something of a mystical air,

the way people in the crowd were already regaling one another with their own

tellings. Tom listened, noting the small embellishments and interpretations that

seemed innocuous enough now, but would eventually morph the event into the realm

of urban legend, a tall tale of dubious validity.

      He and Aaron sat for a while. Then Tom said, “You want to hang around for

the Daredevils?”

      “I don‟t know,” said Aaron. “If we had some more beer, then maybe.”

      As if in answer, there came a clatter below them under the grandstand.

They looked down between the bleacher slats and saw Ronnie Bates. He had a can

in one hand, and the rest of the six pack dangling from the other. He raised his

can in a mocking toast, and drank.
      Tom and Aaron looked at each other and laughed, then made their way

through the crowd to the edge of the bleachers.




      Chapter 14



      Al paid for his gas and walked back out to the van. He had recognized

Jesse as one of the people watching the band at the fair; the Undernaüghties

shirt with the underwear logo on it was hard to miss. He wondered is the kid had

recognized him. In a little place like Midtown, it didn‟t take much to achieve

some semblance of celebrity.

      By the time he got back to the van, he had made his mind up. He liked

playing, and he especially liked playing to an audience. He could sit at home

and record, noodling away into a 4-track, or he could go out and try to book

some work. If he found work for the band, then that‟s what he‟d do. If he found

solo gigs, then he‟d play solo.

      And what if I have the choice between the two? He thought. He decided to

defer that question, not letting it slow him down. For now, he would just hit

the road and scare up some gigs. But the answer to the question was easy enough

for Al to surmise, when he decided his first potential venue would be all the

way down at the Kingston Fair.

      He put on his blinker and had nearly turned out of the parking lot to head

for the highway when he clapped his hand to his forehead, shaking his head. Look

at me, running out of town like I‟m twenty two years old with no

responsibilities, he thought. He turned his blinker off and instead pulled out

to the left, headed back toward his house in Somerville. He couldn‟t be running

all over Hell and creation for who knows how long unless he at least stopped at

home and fed the dog.
      Walter had said little since they left the gas station. Dane was used to

this awkward silence. It was fairly common on long hitchhiking trips.

Eventually, you run out of polite subject matter, and all that‟s left are the

sort of questions about one another which, not knowing each other particularly

well, might be rude to ask.

      They had taken to the highway, and as long as they were moving down the

road, Dane had no reason to say a word. But when Walter took the exit to Route

16, Dane had to ask.

      “Looks like we‟re not going straight to Kingston?”

      Walter looked troubled. Despite the relative cool of the car, his brow was

moist with sweat. “No, not directly. Listen… I may not be going to Kingston. If

you want to hop out here, and try to make your way down the interstate, that‟s

cool, I can let you out.”

      “Well,” said Dane, slightly uncomfortable at the unexpected change of

plan, “I didn‟t have my heart set on Kingston or anything, it‟s just another

place to go. Looks like you‟re headed west. Any place in particular?”

      Walter gripped the wheel and stared straight ahead. “Not sure yet. Right

now, I‟m just thinking about getting a long way from here.”

      “Hmm. Don‟t you have a package to deliver?” Dane pointed his thumb to the

back. Then he thought for a moment, and said, “You‟re running with it.” Walter

said nothing.

      Dane looked at Walter. “Hey, if you want me out, I‟ll hit the road. I can

get another ride easy enough.”

      “No, that‟s okay. I mean…” Walter sighed. “Look, I should warn you. If I

decide to go, some people are going to be pretty upset about it. I don‟t think

they‟ll find me. I intend for them not to. But if they did, it‟d be trouble for

me, and probably anyone with me.”

      “Then whatever you got in the back of this van must be pretty important.

Valuable, at least.” Walter nodded.
      Dane thought about it. “I‟ll ride along for now. Whatever it is, they

won‟t miss it until you‟re supposed to get it to Kingston, right? Should be safe

enough for today.”

      “Yeah,” Walter said. “About ten o‟clock tomorrow morning all Hell‟s gonna

break loose, but until then…” he pointed out the window at the rolling

landscape. “…it‟s just another ride in the country.”



      Jesse stared out the passenger window. The novelty of being on the road

had evaporated much quicker than he had anticipated. He wondered how much of it

entailed sitting around and waiting for the next thing to happen.

      He had read a couple of the magazines floating around in the back seat,

but tired of that pretty quickly. He found the tone of the magazine article

bothersome. They sounded to him like vain attempts by a desperate old guard to

maintain validity in a world that was leaving them behind.

      Jesse had soured on the music industry, „the beast‟ as he liked to call

it. He had read countless accounts of bands that got the short end of the stick

while their labels made a fortune. Some of the bands were old favorites of his,

and the thought of him enjoying their music so much, when all the while the

creators were suffering through such cruel situations, sickened him. This,

combined with the massive upsurge in availability of independent music that

shirked the prevailing system, placed Jesse firmly in the „indie‟ corner.

The magazines he‟d just killed an hour or so reading pandered to the idea, most

likely recognizing the amount of money changing hands. The result reminded Jesse

of a beer he had tried not long ago. It purported itself to be a microbrew, but

was made and distributed by Anheuser-Busch. One could tell that the result was a

pale attempt at mass-manufacturing personality, and try as they might, the big

boys would never get it right. Of course, the sad truth, at least as Jesse knew

it, was that as long as they sold a certain number of units they would have

gotten it „right enough‟, and such less-than-genuine products would continue to
muddle the commercial landscape. All one could do is hope that the discerning

palate would be fooled by these imitations only once.

      Of course, it was possible for a band to get the best of both worlds.

Rare, but possible. The Undernaüghties appeared to be enjoying such a luxury, at

least for the moment. Time would tell if they were to be a continuing commercial

success or merely another of the many flavors of the month. But at the very

least, Jesse was pleased to see some of the attention going to a band that had

not been manufactured like a product, but instead had been borne of inspiration

and a love of music. Not that he had specific insight into the band‟s origin,

but just like with beer, one‟s listening palate could develop the degree of

refinement necessary to distinguish the difference, and Jesse considered his

sufficiently capable.

      It occurred to him that he and the driver had not spoken for quite some

time, and the silence seemed suddenly awkward. Jesse cleared his throat and

said, “So, I never did get your name. I‟m Jesse.”

      “Carl. Nice to meet you. So how‟s life on the road so far?”

      Jesse laughed. “A little boring, I don‟t mind telling you.”

      “Yeah, that‟s pretty much the way of it, I think. But hey, you could be

bored at some dumb-ass job right now.”

      “Been there. Hey, that reminds me, I‟m supposed to be at work on Monday. I

should call them or something.” Jesse thought, then added, “On second thought,

the Hell with it. What am I gonna tell them, sorry, I‟m not coming in?”

      Carl said, “They might appreciate a heads up, just so they can get someone

to do whatever it is you won‟t be doing.”

      “Yeah, that‟s probably true. I‟ll call from the city. There‟s no hurry,

the place is empty now.”

      “So what‟s in the city for you? Except maybe The Undernaüghties, if you

can find them.”
        Jesse shrugged. “I‟m not sure. I‟m going to find out, I guess. How „bout

you? You live in Massachusetts?”

        “Yeah, for now. I‟m from New York originally, but I‟m working New England

now.”

        “Oh yeah? What do you do?”

        “I write for that magazine you were reading. The Undernaüghties piece,

that was one of mine.”

        “Really? That‟s cool,” Jesse said, a hint of panic creeping into his

voice. He scrambled to remember if he had said aloud any of the derisive things

he had been thinking about the magazine. He was pretty sure he hadn‟t. “So you

met them. What are they like?”

        Carl smiled. “I‟m not going to ruin the surprise. You‟ll find out if you

meet them.”

        “All right,” Jesse said. “So what brings you… well, brought you up to

Midtown. You‟re not doing a spread on the Blake Mountain Boys, I‟m sure.”

        “Not exactly,” Carl said. “It‟s more of a piece about New England fairs in

general. I‟ll head to Kingston, then over to the Big E in Springfield, then

maybe the Essex Aggie if I need more material.”

        “Not a bad way to make a living.”

        “Unless you‟re actually trying to make a living at it,” Carl laughed. “But

it is an interesting way to go, I suppose.”

        They drove on.




        Chapter 15



        “How you guys doin‟?” Ronnie Bates said, smiling as Tom and Aaron waded

through the garbage below the bleachers toward him. The environment down there
was getting less savory by the minute, as new refuse drifted and clattered down

from the seats.

      Tom and Aaron picked their way through as carefully as they could. When

they reached Ronnie they all shook hands. Ronnie was not the sort that you‟d

expect to find Tom or Aaron hanging around with, certainly not at school. But if

there‟s anything that brings kids with the slightest association closer together

than the fair, it‟s beer. Ronnie handed out the cans and they drank.

      “Where‟d you get these?” Aaron asked. The beers were ice cold.

Ronnie gave them a wicked grin. “Me and Diller stole „em from the beer tent.”

      “No way. Impossible,” Tom said.

      “It‟s true. They got Diller though. He was trying to make off with a whole

case. I told him he was stupid, but you know Diller.” Tom and Aaron knew who

Diller was, having seen him at school, but couldn‟t have told you much about the

boy, aside from the obvious facts that he was tall, skinny, and not too bright.

      “Sure thing,” said Tom.

      “They‟re probably hauling his ass down to jail. Poor bastard,” Ronnie

said. He finished his beer and flipped the can to the ground beside him, and

plucked another one off the six pack. He held up the two remaining beers. “You

sallies gonna drink those, or what?”

      The two finished their beers in long pulls and dropped the cans. Aaron let

out a belch that made the other boys snigger. Then they punched Aaron in the arm

and looked carefully up at the bleachers to see if his eruption had given them

away. After a few seconds, it became clear that the noise from the racetrack,

where Kilborn‟s Chevy Daredevils were hard at work, easily drowned out any noise

they were going to make down where they were. Tom and Aaron took the last of the

beers and cracked them open, drinking greedily.

      The three of them made as quick work of the beer as they could manage, and

then set to decide what they should do next.
      “Let‟s go on the rides until we puke!” Ronnie said. He still held the

empty plastic six pack rings in his hand.

      Aaron said, “Haha, like Sara Dumont and Kirsten Mills!” He leaned toward

Ronnie and pretended to throw up on him in great exaggerated heaves. The two of

them fell to the ground, laughing, scattering garbage.

      Sarah Dumont and Kirsten Mills were two girls in Aaron‟s class. It was

likely that their names would be spoken together for the rest of Midtown‟s days,

after what had happened at the fair last year. They had not come to the fair

together, and they only knew each other in passing, much in the same way Tom and

Aaron knew Ronnie and his friend Diller. Even in a school as small as Midtown‟s,

it was quite common to keep to a small group, and interact little with the

others.

      Sarah and Kirsten happened to be in line next to each other at the Tilt-A-

Whirl. When their turn came, they were ushered into one of the bright red

capsules, along with two boys who had been in line behind them. The two boys

were the co-captains of the Midtown High wrestling team. They sat at the outside

edges of the capsule, with Sara and Kirsten in the middle.

      The wrestlers, of course, took it as their own personal challenge to get

the thing going around as fast as possible. When they found out there was a

group of guys from the football team in the next unit over, it fueled their

determination even further.

      When the ride finally came to rest, with the wrestlers laughing and

already planning to have another go, Sarah Dumont and Kirsten Mills made their

mark in Midtown folklore by throwing up all over each other.

      None of the three boys currently drinking under the bleachers had been

there when it happened, but they had all heard the stories. Apparently the two

girls were so overcome with fear and shame that they refused to leave the ride.

Eventually Mrs. Dumont had to be fetched from the bingo tent, and she finally
talked the two girls into making their way out of the capsule, down the

crosshatched metal ramp, and through the gawking crowd.

      The following year had been hard for Sarah Dumont. She had been a quiet

girl before, but she became almost invisible after that day. Kirsten Mills was

no longer at Midtown High School, as her family had moved to Georgia before that

Christmas. But even now, if one of the girls‟ names came up in conversation, the

other was soon to follow.

      Tom tossed his empty beer can at Aaron, bouncing it off his shoulder. “You

lushes can blow chunks on each other if you want. I‟ll pass.”

      Aaron and Ronnie stood up, still laughing. Ronnie said, “Well, unless I

can get some more beer from that tent, going on the rides is the only way I can

keep my buzz going.” He shoved Aaron and said, “You coming?”

      “Yeah, I‟ll go,” said Aaron. “Come on, Tom. You‟re not gonna hang out down

here in the trash all night, are ya?”

      “I‟ll come along. You‟ll need someone to stand your drunk ass up.” The

three of them shuffled out from under the grandstand and made their way to the

midway, giggling and roughhousing.




      Chapter 16



      It was getting darker, and noticeably colder, when Al pulled in to the

driveway. His house was dark, and he had not yet gotten back into the habit of

leaving the outside light on. As winter approached, he got home in the dark more

and more often.

      Now, he could still see his way easily enough to the small porch. He

walked up the stairs and opened the door, pushing against the dog that was

scratching it on the other side. Lou was happy to see him, turning quick
circles, taking a couple prancing steps toward the kitchen and looking back to

see if Al was following.

      Al knew that Lou‟s antics were just an act. He had been fed generously in

the morning. And his behavior was by no means unusual. The dog would eat all day

long if you let it. Al flipped on the light and walked to the kitchen. He put

down a bowl of dry food for Lou, who got to work on it, tail wagging.

      Al looked out at the growing dark. Now that the light in the house was on,

it looked even darker outside. What am I going to do, he thought, drive all the

way to Kingston to a fair that‟ll be over for the night by the time I get there?

He considered it, listening to the huffling of Lou nosing his bowl across the

kitchen, and the soft scratches of Lou‟s feet on the linoleum as he tried to

keep up with it.

      It was as if being home gave him reason at the cost of ambition. He

decided to just see if he could round up some work tomorrow. He stepped around

Lou and grabbed a beer from the refrigerator, then went to the living room to

watch some television.



      They had driven most of the night without talking further. It was sometime

after midnight, and they were in some place neither one of them had been, when

Walter took up the conversation again, almost as if it hadn‟t stopped. He said

to Dane, “Well since you‟re willing to come along, at least for now, let me ask

you something else.”

      “Shoot,” Dane said.

      “Do you want in on this?” The question hung in the air.

      Finally, Dane said, “What do you need me for?”

      “That‟s kind of why I picked you up. You‟ve been on the road. I‟ve never

done this. I mean, I‟ve traveled plenty, but not under these conditions, you

understand.”
      “It‟s not my place, but I was a little curious if you‟d done this sort of

thing before.”

      Walter sighed. “It‟s a fair question. No. I‟ve never stolen as much as a

candy bar from a grocery store. And I‟ve never been on the run, with nothing but

the clothes on my back. I thought maybe you‟d have some insight on it. Not the

stealing, maybe.”

      “No, I‟m no thief. I‟ve hit some low patches, but I never had to resort to

stealing. But this,” he pointed to the back of the van, “My guess is, this is

more than a candy bar from a grocery store. I‟m tempted to come in on this, if

that‟s what you want. I don‟t know if what I know is going to prove particularly

helpful, but it might. But there‟s two things I„ve got to know first.”

      “Go ahead.”

      “This van. Is anyone going to be looking for it?”

      “No. It looks like a fleet vehicle, but I just had those door magnets made

up so it‟d look that way. I work for myself.”

      “Do those magnets come off?”

      “Yeah, sure. That‟s a good idea. What else?” Walter gave a half smile.

“Like I need to ask.”

      Dane nodded. “I want to see what‟s in that box.”

      “Of course. We‟ll stop at the next gas station.”

      Dane looked out at the indiscernible landscape. “Do you have any idea

where we are?”

      “Sort of. I‟m guessing by now we‟ve passed through Vermont, and are

somewhere in upstate New York. That‟s all I know.” Walter yawned. “Long night.”

      “Yeah, how are you holding up? I can drive if I have to, but I don‟t have

a license.”

      Walter shook his head. “No, that‟s all right. Not yet, anyway. Let‟s not

do that unless we have to. Just one more risk to take, you know?” He shifted in
his seat, sitting up straighter. “I‟ll be all right. We should hit a convenience

store soon enough, and some coffee will keep this parade moving.”



        The sun was beginning to make its presence known when Carl and Jesse got

to Lowell. Carl took the exit to route 495 and then pulled to the side of the

road.

        “Well,” he said, “That‟s as close as I can get you.”

        “I really appreciate it, Carl,” Jesse said, putting his long-sleeved shirt

on over his Undernaüghties T-shirt.

        “Hey, no problem by me. It helps to have a rider when you‟re driving all

night. Listen, you probably want to be off the highway itself. Stick to the on-

ramps, try to get a ride there. They‟ll bust you if you‟re walking up on 93.”

        Jesse nodded. “Right on. Thanks for the tip. I think the first order of

business is some breakfast though.” He could see a strip mall nearby that

featured, among other things, a sign shaped like a big cup of steaming coffee.

        “That‟s John‟s,” said Carl. “You can get a good bite there, and not too

expensive.”

        Jesse opened the door and stepped out of the car. “That‟s where I‟m headed

then. Thanks again, man.” Carl waved to Jesse as he closed the door. Then the

car took to the road and was gone.




        Chapter 17



        Tom woke up with a pounding headache. He found himself surprised at this,

considering the relatively small amount he‟d had to drink. He could only

attribute the severity of his hangover to the quality of the beer. Drinking

won‟t kill you unless it‟s the cheap stuff, he liked to say. As he got up and
stumbled to the bathroom, he decided it was high tome to start applying this

knowledge in his everyday life.

         He could probably have slept another two hours easily were it not for the

sun. This time of year, when the leaves started to fall from the trees and the

sun took a lower trajectory across the morning sky, the sunlight through Tom‟s

window gave him no option but escape from the bed. Most mornings he didn‟t mind;

it was his favorite part of the day, and he always felt worse for missing it on

the occasions he slept in.

         He was alone in the house. At this hour he certainly expected to be. His

father would have been off to work before the sun came up. Tom made his way

carefully down the stairs and into the kitchen. He thought he had smelled

coffee, and he was pleased to find a pot steaming in the machine on the counter.

He poured a cup, tossed in three spoonfuls of sugar, and sat at the kitchen

table.

         Tom‟s mother, May, died when Tom was thirteen. They found cancer in her,

and once exposed, it worked quickly. She died only three months after the

discovery, her health declining dramatically. Tom had wondered, but never asked,

how much of the rapidity of her decline was not due to the cancer, but the

knowledge of it. It had been as if, once she was told she was sick, she believed

it with all her heart, making it the centerpiece of her life. Tom imagined he‟d

probably behave much the same way in that situation. But he had a feeling that

if his mom hadn‟t found out about the cancer, she‟d have lived a longer life,

and had perhaps a happier end.

         Not long after May died, Aaron lost his mother in a car accident. Tom went

to the funeral, even though he only knew Aaron in passing. A good many of his

classmates were at the funeral, but Tom was treated differently. He was an

ambassador from a place nobody wanted to visit. Tom hadn‟t done much up to this

point but go to school, so this was his first interaction with the townsfolk.
Even with the uniqueness of the setting, he could tell people were going to

treat him differently from then on.

      Aaron and he became friends almost by default. Tom had little in the way

of consolation he could offer, but Aaron was appreciative to just have someone

to hang out with. Aaron was younger than Tom, and they hadn‟t traveled in the

same circles. Soon they could almost always be found together. This further

cemented the general conceptions held by those around them; it was assumed,

given their respective hardships that they were „good boys‟.

      For the most part, they were. Tom was a smart kid, but not quite too smart

for his own good, like Jesse. Tom was pleased to find that Aaron was pretty

sharp himself. What started as a friendship borne of an unfortunate common

thread became a genuine appreciation for many of the same things. And even when

Jesse, whose reputation about town was that of a rapscallion, started hanging

out with them, it did little to sully their standing. It seemed Tom and Aaron

had a large bank of forgiveness from which they could draw. He thought about the

Conversation Booth and smiled. A completely harmless thing, but other people

might have found themselves in more serious trouble for it. Jesse, for instance.

Tom was glad Jesse hadn‟t been around when the tent was discovered.

      He finished his coffee and put the cup in the sink. It was time to go to

school. The school day had begun at 7:10, and it was now nearly half past. Tom

had a first period study hall though, and his good grades afforded him the

luxury of skipping it, which he did about half the time. He grabbed his jacket

and began walking to school.



      Chapter 18



      Aaron sat in study hall, working on a short story. It had been a fairly

productive day. He looked over his pages:
      The folds of the fabric are not to be confused with pleats. If anyone were

to talk to Maggie Blyth they would find this mysterious bit of information out

first hand.

      She is a millworker. We were all millworkers. If you didn‟t work at the

mill you didn‟t work at all. And time moves so slow here if you‟re not working.

One might think there would be unparalleled joy in having all that free time,

but time and money suffer from the same thing here: you‟ve nothing of value to

spend either on.

      So, we work. She runs a stamper, mostly. When they let her, that is. There

was a problem with that some time ago, when she became known for abusing the

equipment in ways that are unsanitary at best, and certainly in no way

acceptable as public behavior. There turns out to be a four-week corrective

course for dealing with just this sort of mental malady, and off they sent her,

with little but a suitcase and a ticket to Pueblo, Colorado, and a few extra

pairs of poorly-folded pants.

      When she came back she was a new woman. A couple new women, actually. I

remember once when my car was acting up, and I thought about taking it down to

Kirk‟s. A friend of mine, Ed Zigler, said “Don‟t take it there. They‟ll fix one

thing and break two more.” Well, the folks in Pueblo seemed to have done the

same sort of number on Maggie. She came back an obvious mess, where before her

troubles had at least been undetectable by those who didn‟t have to keep track

of her work sheets and time cards. Now it was painfully obvious that this was a

woman with problems.

      Her head kept wanting to move of its own accord, and it looked like she

was spending a great deal of her energies trying to keep it from lolling about.

Maggie would walk slowly through the factory, staggering a bit from side to side

as if her head would roll off her neck the moment she stopped compensating for

it.
      And the mumbling. Always mumbling. It was largely incomprehensible, but

you know something… Maggie actually says stuff. I think we‟re just sort of

trained not to listen. We discount it automatically, and dismiss it with all the

other temporary information that bombards our senses constantly. Like driving.

Have you ever driven a long distance, then tried to go back and remember the

trip? There will be certain landmark areas fixed in your mind, but often large

whacks of the journey are gone, flushed out of the temporary memory as soon as

they were deemed unnecessary. That‟s how most people experienced Maggie; as a

quick flash into the mind, and gone without a lasting impression.

      I don‟t fault them for that. But it‟s a shame they don‟t take the time to

listen, at least for a bit. But maybe not. You see, once you take notice, then

everything changes. You hear it all, every time. You can no longer ignore it.

It‟s one way or the other. Me, I hear everything she says now. The folds of the

fabric are not to be confused with pleats, she says. She says that a lot. They

did something to her in Pueblo, and this peculiar little sound byte is the one

thing she‟s most likely to offer up to whomever is listening.

Maybe she doesn‟t even hear herself. It could very well be that her entire

audience consists of me, and only then when I happen to be passing by during the

shift change. She works the second shift. I‟m an overnight guy. We work in the

same area of the building. I think my old machine is next to hers. But she‟s

never there when I show up for my shift. She‟s always mousing through the

hallway or sitting in the cafeteria, shifting back and forth, keeping her head

atop her body like a plate juggler.

      Will she ever know love? Not from me, I can tell you. Maybe some

downtrodden guy who can‟t see outside the walls of this factory will take to

her, and they‟ll dig at one another until they find happiness. I‟m not having

any part of that. Not with anybody. That sounds pretty callous, but it‟s true.

It‟s just a part of life that I don‟t miss. There‟s plenty about life that I
don‟t miss. Some of it, it‟d be nice to experience again. But not much. For the

most part, this afterlife gig is pretty nice.

        When Maggie dies, I hope to talk to her for a while. I don‟t know if

she‟ll have anything relevant to say, even once she‟s freed from that gray cage

of a brain. But I aim to find out. If she‟ll give me the time of day, that is.

More likely, she‟ll run screaming if she finds out who I am.



        My name was John. I worked at Wallfield Tool and Dye from summer 1971 to

the spring of 1974. I hadn‟t been here long enough to qualify for a full-time

position. There just weren‟t enough to go around, the foreman would say. And it

was easy to believe. As I‟ve said, you worked the mill or you didn‟t work. But I

was a good part-timer anyway, and I like to think I did my job well most of the

time.

        I fell into a large piece of machinery and it messed me up pretty bad.

Shut half the factory down for almost a full day. The belt took me pretty far

into the guts of the unit, and it was the combined work of a dozen men, counting

the police and the EMTs, to fish me out of there. Thirteen, if you count Dylan

Garrett, the kid who noticed the stink coming from under the heat press a week

later, and unscrewed the platen to find most of my right hand waiting for him.

        I‟ve talked with a few others out here. It sounds like the consensus is

that death is not a painful experience. I don‟t mind telling you it most

certainly can be a painful experience. My ability to howl in agony was taken

from me at the very start, since I went down face-first. The machine gobbled my

left shoulder and pulled me in. Fortunate for the crew, I suppose, not to have

me shrieking and such. But from what I hear, I kicked and quivered much longer

than anyone thought my remains capable of sustaining.

        Maggie was not there. Maggie might not yet have been born. But I‟m

something of a legend in here, and I bet somewhere in there, if she still

remembers anything, she knows me.
      As to whether she would recognize me, it‟s not as easy as that. You don‟t

see us. You sort of know us. We come in and out of each other‟s presences, is

the best way I can explain it. Just as well, given the limited and scattered

physical form in which I left this Earth. Not many people who work at the mill

would be able to recognize me from a photo now anyway. There was a memorial

thing hanging up for a month or so but the foreman got some complaints about it.

I brought back some disturbing memories for some of the more sensitive crew

members. I don‟t know where that picture is now, but it wasn‟t a particularly

good one. They had gotten an enlargement of my ID badge photo. I always hated

those safety glasses they made us wear. I looked like a retard.



      I can‟t leave. I tried more than once. Every couple years or so I test it,

and so far, I can‟t leave the factory. So these days I go through the motions,

just to have something to do. They dropped down to a two-shift work day in 2003,

due to declining sales. Everyone blamed it on post-9/11 economic depression, but

most people figured it‟d get better by now. Or maybe it has, and management has

simply achieved a better profit margin running two shifts instead of three.

Either way, the overnight shift pretty much consists of me, sitting at Maggie‟s

station, cranking out metal stampings.

      I say pretty much, because there‟s a couple others here. George Hallet

died in the cafeteria in 1947 of a heart attack. He had been in World War II,

and was among the soldiers who liberated the death camps at Birkenau and

Auschwitz. George stays in the cafeteria mostly. He doesn‟t like the fact that I

work. He says no good can come of it. But I have to do something. Eternity isn‟t

all it‟s cracked up to be.

      And Maggie, thankfully, is the perfect opportunity. She doesn‟t remember a

damn thing, and she‟s not particularly productive anymore. So between the two of

us, she makes her numbers and nobody asks questions. I fear the day that she
gets transferred, or otherwise relieved of her position. But for now, it‟s a

living.



      The other guy here is Staley. I‟m not sure if he was born dull, or if

something happened to him in life that took away the best parts of him. But

Staley is what some people like to call a „non-factor‟. At least to me. He‟s

definitely a factor among the living though, because he doesn‟t know the

ramifications of his actions. He‟s probably what people will call a poltergeist.

But in the end, his antics aren‟t clever trickery, but oblivious existence. If a

chair moves across the room for no visible reason, he‟s not trying to freak

anybody out. He‟s trying to sit down.

      Staley is, by my reckoning, extremely old. There‟s no record of him at the

mill, and I think that‟s because his life (and death) predates it. He has next

to no information to offer on the subject. Staley isn‟t even really his name.

George gave him that name, apparently because George had been in the service

with some kid of similarly limited capacity.

      George does not even acknowledge the existence of Staley anymore. I think

he worries that I lean a little in Staley‟s direction myself. He can think what

he wants. You can‟t change a man in life, and it‟s certainly too late to be

making any kind of impression on George now. And far be it from me to teach

George any lessons.

      I don‟t like spending time in the cafeteria. As much as I‟d love to have

some company, and George is the closest thing available, I just don‟t like being

in there for a few reasons. Of all the things in life, the thing I miss most is

food. Especially breakfast. If my soul was a commodity I could trade, I‟d

probably offer it up for no more than one plate of eggs and sausage, and hot

coffee with cream and no sugar, and diced home fries with onions.

As for that… the soul, I mean… I got bad news for you, kids. Nobody on this side

of the chasm seems too interested in my great reward or punishment. If there‟s a
decision pending somewhere regarding my eternal fate, it‟s been thirty one years

coming, and I haven‟t heard word one. I imagine that if I had been given such

information while I was still alive, I‟d have received it with a mixed sense of

terror and liberation. Like most things, the novelty of the idea has pretty much

worn off at this point.

      Fortunately, and unfortunately, I‟m not encumbered by the resulting

question: what is there to live for? My existence shows no sign of an end, and

if there is one, it‟s entirely out of my hands. All I can do is the one thing I

always really hated doing: hanging around.

      But I‟ve got my work, at night anyway. It keeps me out of trouble, as the

saying goes. And here‟s hoping it‟s a distraction that lasts for a good long

time. Because without such a diversion, I had found myself wandering into

dubious territory. Not like Staley, mind you. Far more nefarious stuff than

Staley is capable of. For a while I thought of actively trying to bring someone

else over to this side.



      The idea occurred to me in the year of our apparently-absent Lord nineteen

hundred and eighty seven. By this time I was in a pretty low place, mostly

hanging around near my work station, watching a parade of temps abuse my

perfectly good stamper. My desire to explore my surroundings had burned out some

years previously. There was little new to see.

      I don‟t mind telling you that I was in a „ladies‟ room‟ phase for a while.

And having spied out the enemy landscape, I can tell you that it‟s not as

interesting as you might think it would be, unless it‟s the night of the

employee Christmas party or something.

      But by ‟87 I had given up eavesdropping as a hobby, except for my little

work area. I was there when George summoned me to the cafeteria. Upon arrival I

saw a boy on the floor. Brian Abbott‟s heart was failing him.
The propensity of this hit me hard. George and I watched as the paramedics

worked on the kid. They put him on a stretcher and wheeled him out quick. It

turns out he died on the way to the hospital. Wherever he is now, he‟s not here.

      But yes, it got me thinking.



      What had started as an exercise in free association had turned quickly

into a pretty coherent story. Aaron smiled. This is what he wanted to do with

his life. Nothing else gave him such joy.

      He looked around the study hall, trying to spot Tom. Aaron wanted to show

the work to him; he was the only one Aaron knew who would appreciate it for what

it was. He wasn‟t anywhere to be seen, as Aaron had half expected. There being

only about two minutes left in the period, he closed his notebook and put it in

his backpack. He was at a good place in the story, and he decided to leave it

there for now. He‟d have some opportunity over the course of the day to ruminate

on it before continuing.




      Chapter 19



      Walter pulled the van into a wide and empty parking lot. He parked as far

as he could from the one building nearby, a small convenience store called

Rosie‟s. Walter and Dane got out, stretching and yawning. Neither of them had

slept. Walter had invited Dane to sleep while he could, but Dane found it

difficult to sleep when hitching a ride.

      Dane walked around to Walter‟s side of the van and said, “I‟m gonna get

something to drink, and then we‟ll…” he pointed his thumb at the back of the

van. “We‟ll have a look.”

      Walter nodded. “It‟s on me. What are you drinking?”
      “A coffee would be good. Cream no sugar. Thanks Walter. I‟m going to go

use the bathroom then.” They walked over to the store. Dane tried the bathroom

door at the side of the building. It was unlocked, and he went in. Walter went

around to the front door.

      Inside, there was nobody to be seen. Walter found a coffee pot steaming

away, and he poured a couple cups. He glanced at the newspapers on the nearby

rack. The lead story on the front page of the Examiner nearly stopped his heart.

      “You all set there, darlin‟?”

      The voice made him jump, and he spilled hot coffee up his right arm. He

winced and put the cup on the counter and wiped at his sleeve. “Didn‟t see you

there. I‟m fine, yeah. I got two coffees, and I‟ll take a paper.” He paid and

walked out, a coffee in each hand, a newspaper tucked under his arm.

      Dane was waiting by the truck, still working the kinks out of his legs

from the overnight ride. He took one of the coffees from Walter. “Thanks again,

that‟s mighty good of you.” He looked at Walter for a moment. “You look spooked.

We gotta go somewhere else?”

      Walter shook his head. “You should see this.” He handed the paper to Dane.

The front page story read:



                     DRUG SWEEP NETS 14 AT NEW ENGLAND FAIR



      Kingston, MA – Fourteen individuals were arrested late Monday evening at

the Kingston Fairgrounds. The arrests were the culmination of a joint operation

between state and local forces over the last two months.

Kingston police spokesman Lt. Tim Warner called the operation „a sweeping

success‟, and said that twelve men and two women had been taken into custody,

and an undisclosed amount of contraband was confiscated.



      Dane said, “This has something to do with your package, I take it.”
Walter nodded. “I wonder if they‟ve seen me. Christ, the cops probably have

pictures of me. And my van. Oh shit.”

      “Well don‟t panic yet. It sounds like they‟d have found us by now if they

were really concerned about it. First things first, tell me what you‟ve got.”

      “Yeah,” Walter said, “Yeah. Let‟s find out.” He opened the back doors of

the van.

      “Find out?” asked Dane. “You don‟t know what‟s in the box?”

      “Well,” Walter said, “I know more or less what‟s in there. I know what‟s

supposed to be in there, I guess. But I‟ve yet to crack her open. I never really

had the opportunity before we left.”

      “Okay,” said Dane. “Let‟s have a look then.”

      The box was white, and according to the logo on the side, it had once held

six dozen or so Hanes Beefy-Ts. The top had been taped shut. Walter slid the box

out to the edge of the van, and cut down the middle of the seam with his key.

Then he pulled at the box until it opened. He folded the top of the box back,

exposing a layer of newspaper. The two men looked at one another, then Walter

pulled the paper aside.

      “Oh Jesus,” Dane said. “Oh that‟s not good.” He paced back and forth

behind Walter, who stared dumbfounded into the box. A faint red light emanated

from the box, lighting up Walter‟s face in steady flashing intervals.

Whatever contraband might be found in the box, it was not to be seen beneath the

tangle of wires that lay on top of it. There was a large cluster of tubes taped

together in the middle of the wires. Mounted to these was a LED readout,

counting down from 16:37:03. The sight was straight out of a movie. It looked to

the men almost as if great pains had been taken to make it very clear that they

were looking at a bomb.




      Chapter 20
      Jesse sat alone in a diner booth that seated four. The loss of the extra

seats was not of great concern to the establishment, as he was the only one in

the whole place dining at the moment.

      He had ordered the Lumberjack‟s Special, and was working steadily through

the last half of it. The waitress had given him an eyebrows-raised, „you sure

you can handle it‟ look when he ordered. He was handling it with determination,

if not ease.

      The Lumberjack‟s Special consisted of: four eggs however you wanted them

(scrambled in Jesse‟s case); three large pancakes that served as the foundation

for the pyramid of food; three slices of French toast cut into triangle halves

and sprinkled with powdered sugar, with dollops of whipped butter sliding down

them; three strips of bacon; three sausage links; a chunk of grilled ham; two

slices of your choice of toast (wheat for Jesse); and a pile of home fries that

looked to have been heaped over their designated area on the side of the plate

so they spilled into the other foods. It was served on a long oval plate, and

the waitress had carried it out with two hands, going back afterwards to fetch a

coffee pot.

      Jesse was hungry, but this was a bit much. Still, he had wanted something

that would stay with him. He didn‟t know how long it would be before he got the

opportunity to eat again. He had smiled at the waitress when she brought the

plate, and dug in.

      He wanted to start with the pancakes, but it would take some digging to

get to them. Jesse paced himself, working through half of the French toast and

the eggs, then getting into the pancakes. He was in no real hurry, and at about

the halfway point he could tell that he was up to the task.

      Eventually, all that remained was a piece of wheat toast and a few bits of

egg. Good enough, he decided, draining his coffee. The waitress came and
examined the results. “Not bad,” she said, clearing the table and leaving the

slip.

        Jesse checked the bill. They got a good price for the Lumberjack‟s

Special, apparently. They better, he thought, looking around the diner. I‟m

keeping this place in business.

        Jesse waited until the waitress had disappeared into the kitchen, then

reached into his left sock and pulled out a wad of bills from a baggie nestled

in his shoe. He peeled off a ten and a five and left them on the table. By his

estimation, this would leave him with cash on hand totaling somewhere in the

neighborhood of two thousand dollars.

        If anything about his current adventure struck him as dangerously stupid,

it was this large amount of cash he was carrying. He‟d brought it with him to

the fair, and even there it was a ridiculously excessive amount. He had done it

mostly because he could. It had been a long summer of hard work, and he had

decided he wanted enough money on hand to be able to react to whatever whim took

him. So far, so good.

        Of course, he had not paid to get into the fair. Jesse was not about to

just start throwing his money away, regardless of how much he had. Besides,

jumping the fence was tradition; one of his favorite parts of the whole thing,

actually.

        It occurred to him now, though, that sticking his thumb out at a highway

on-ramp was something of an unnecessary exercise. He could much more easily walk

to the bus station, and for less money than he had just paid for breakfast, he

could get a guaranteed ride to Cambridge. The idea of making things harder on

himself then they had to be by trying to flag down a ride seemed a bit

transparent at this point. If he didn‟t need to do it, it didn‟t have the same

weight.

        The waitress came back to the table and collected the money. Jesse asked

her, “How far is it to the bus station from here?”
      “It‟s just down this way, through a couple sets of lights,” she said,

leaning across the table and pointing out the window down the street. Jesse

looked in that direction but couldn‟t see it. Still, it sounded to him like the

way to go. “Thanks,” he said, and slid out of the booth. As he got to the door,

he realized he should probably use the bathroom while he had one at his

disposal.

      When he was finished he walked out of the diner and headed up the street

in search of the bus. The day was beginning to warm up a little, and it made

Jesse think that he had not yet considered the possibility of inclement weather.

Not a problem so far, but something to keep in mind. Then he filed the idea in

the back of his mind. Right now, he had enough money to react to anything that

came up. He‟d worry about the rain when it started raining, or if it looked like

it was going to. It appeared to be smooth sailing for now, anyway. All he had to

do was keep moving, and see where the trip took him.




      Chapter 21



      Sometimes, Al thought, things have a way of working out. He watched the

morning television reports about the drug raid at the Kingston Fair, and was

more than glad that he hadn‟t decided to drive down there. He sipped his coffee

as a reporter spoke from just outside the Kingston Fair‟s main gate.

      “Police say the drug trafficking ring had been under observation for some

time. They would not release any details about what specific drugs were

involved, or the names of any of those who were detained.”

      The camera cut to close-up of a local police officer standing in front of

one of the fairground buildings, speaking into several hand-held microphones. It

was darker than in the previous shot, indicating that this interview segment had

been taken sometime last night. “The Kingston Police are pleased at the outcome
of this investigation, and we are happy to have been a part of what appears to

have been a successful operation,” the officer said. “At this point, the entire

operation is in the hands of those at the Federal level, and we have no direct

involvement in the case. But I want to personally commend the men and women on

the local forces who took part in this operation. It was certainly of a greater

scope and intensity than the usual tasks we face as peace officers in this area,

and I think it was handled very well from top to bottom.”

         They cut back to the reporter. “As for the Kingston Fair, we are told that

it will go on as scheduled. The first of the events her at the fairgrounds are

set to begin at six this evening.”

         The phone rang. Al turned off the television and answered it.

         “Hey,” Brett said over the phone. “You hear about Kingston?”

         “Yeah,” Al said.

         “Man, I thought there was something weird about those carnies.”

         “Carnies are kind of weird anyway. I guess.”

         Brett laughed. “Yeah. So listen. I was going to go out and try to scare up

some gigs today. You up for it?”

         “I was thinking the same thing. Where are you headed?”

         “Don‟t know, really. I thought maybe we‟d head south and see what we

find.”

         Al finished his coffee. “Sounds okay to me. You want me to meet you

somewhere?”

         “Yeah. Actually, you mind driving? You can pick me up and we‟ll swing out

from here. If that‟s cool.”

         “Yeah,” Al said, rolling his eyes. “No problem. I‟ll be down there in

twenty minutes or so.”

         “All right. See ya.” They hung up.
      The news of the Kingston raid spread through the school quickly. Aaron had

missed most of the conversation about it; he had been absorbed in his writing.

But between classes, the halls were alive with chatter about it. Aaron ran into

Tom in the hall near the gym.

      “Tom,” he said. “How you feeling this morning?”

      “Not bad,” said Tom. “Easing in to it today. You look none the worse for

wear. How‟s your back?”

      “Oh man, better now. I was stiff as a board first thing this morning. I

should know better than to have tried to give Ronnie a go.” Aaron and Ronnie had

decided to see which could ride the Round-Up the longest. After twelve

consecutive rides, they had called it a draw.

      Aaron pulled his notebook out of his pack. “Hey, I did some writing this

morning. A new story.”

      “Good,” said Tom. “I want to read it. I won‟t have time this morning,

though. What‟s up after school?”

      “I was going to try to get down to Kingston, maybe. I don‟t know though, I

doubt I‟d be able to get the car.”

Tom shook his head. “Have fun. I think I‟ll wait until the weekend.”

      “Me too, probably.”

      The bell rang. Tom and Aaron realized they were alone in the hall.

      “Uh oh,” Aaron said. “Talk to you later.” They jogged off in different

directions.




      Chapter 22



      Walter and Dane sat in the van. They were still parked at the edge of the

convenience store parking lot. The back doors of the van were now closed. The

box was taped shut.
        “Why would they have you deliver a bomb?” asked Dane.

        “I have no idea,” Walter said. “None whatsoever. I guess maybe they wanted

to blow up the fair.”

        Dane thought. “No, that doesn‟t make a lot of sense. Well, you were

supposed to meet them when?”

        “Ten AM.”

        “Right. The timer goes until… midnight tonight. I guess this would have

given them plenty of time to place the bomb and scatter.”

        “Speaking of which, shouldn‟t we get moving?”

        “To where? We certainly can‟t make it to the rendezvous, and even if we

could, I think your contact is probably in custody.”

        “Well, I don‟t know. We‟ve got to do something.” Walter started the van

and drove it out onto the road, headed back the way they had come.

        “You know,” Dane said, “There‟s another possibility. Maybe the bomb is

just insurance on the package.”

        “You mean, they put it in there to ensure that I‟d make the delivery.”

        “Right. They allow for a few hours of tardiness, then they cut their

losses emphatically. And if the package arrives on time…”

        “…They defuse the bomb.” Walter considered the idea, biting his lip. “How

do they defuse it? Remote control?”

        “Probably not. I‟m no master electrician, but the wiring looks pretty

simple back there. My guess is, they just know which wire to disconnect. And

before you ask, no, I do not know how to do it.”

        “Listen,” Walter said. “If you want to get out right now, I understand. I

have absolutely no idea what I‟m going to do, but it‟s not your problem. It‟s

mine. You‟re more than welcome to go to Hell with me, but I‟m not gonna make

you.”

        Dane thought for a while without saying anything. Between staying and

going, he was stuck halfway.
      “I still have some time to decide on that one.”

      “Not much,” said Walter.

      “Still, let‟s not worry about it for now.”

      “All right. Well… do you suppose the bomb is removable? You think maybe we

can just lift it off and chuck it?”

      “It seems too easy. It‟s a mess of wires in there. I‟d have to think

they‟ve got it somehow connected to their goods.”

      “But it‟s possible, right? For all we know, it‟s just sitting on top of

the stuff.”

      Dane thought. “Yes, I suppose so. But the problem with that theory is,

we‟d have to test it. Are you going to do that? I‟m not.”

      “Hmm. Right. I can‟t believe this. I cannot believe I got myself into

this. What am I gonna do? This was gonna be my meal ticket, you know? Now it‟s a

disaster.”

      “I don‟t know. Not yet. For now, we‟re going to keep driving, and we‟re

going to think of something.” The white van drove on through the morning fog.



      Jesse had found the bus station in short order. He bought a ticket to

Cambridge and climbed onto the number six bus. He was the only one on the bus,

but it was early, and as he sat, people filed in and took seats. Most of the

riders came by themselves, solitary travelers. Jesse didn‟t know where the bus

went after it got to Cambridge, but he spent some time looking at his fellow

riders and wondering about where they were headed, and just how interesting the

random intersection of their paths was. He envisioned a great spiderweb of red

lines joining, separating, and crossing over a map of New England, his mental

camera slowly dollying back to show the lines darting across the Eastern

seaboard and then the entire country, and even further still until he saw the

world as a vast network of motion, all of which seemed related and frantic.
      On a bus in Lowell, Massachusetts, waiting to ride into Boston, Jesse

began to get a sense of the size and depth of the world.




      Chapter 23



      Brett got in to Al‟s van and they started off to the highway.

      “So,” Al said, “Did you think of any place?”

      Brett shook his head. “About the only idea I‟ve got is to head south,

toward Kingston. If we hit anything on the way, that‟s a bonus. But at least we

can find out if there‟s any openings at the fair.”

      “Yeah, I guess. It‟s a little late in the game to be booking work down

there.”

      “Uh huh. But Al, the way I figure it is, who knows what all has happened

to the schedule down there. I bet you know more than one band that would be

scared off by a drug bust.”

      Al laughed and nodded. “Yep, good point.” Twenty years ago, it probably

would have been Al himself turning tail at the news. He was quite fond of

marijuana in his youth. And it wasn‟t the worry of getting caught that had

steered him away from it, although it was an ever present concern. Nor was it

the effect the drug seemed to have on his overall motivation. He found it more

than mildly annoying that he never seemed to get anything done, but it wasn‟t

enough to stay his hand. In the end, the stuff simply started to make him feel

worse. Almost every time he smoked he‟d end up having some kind of panic attack.

Eventually, he felt better when he wasn‟t high, so he started doing that

instead.

      Al was not, however, one of the ones who swung sharply to the other side,

admonishing others for his own sins. Every now and then he‟d meet someone like

this. Usually it was tobacco and not marijuana that they were all holier-than-
thou about. Such attitudes would always make Al reflect on just how full of

ourselves we can be.

        “Do you still smoke, Brett?” Al asked.

        “Well yeah. Now and then. When someone‟s got some, I‟ll light up. More of

a social thing, you know? I don‟t have any on me, if that‟s what you‟re worried

about.”

        “Naw, just curious.” They had driven through the center of town, and now

took the on ramp to the interstate.

        Brett said, “How „bout Newfield? There‟s a couple little places there,

huh?”

        “Yeah, I guess. Restaurants. We‟d probably have to back off the set a

little.”

        Brett scoffed. “If they got a liquor license we don‟t have to change a

goddamn thing. And if we do… well, there‟s always what I was talking about

yesterday. I‟m tellin‟ ya, the two piece thing could really work out up here.”

        “Is that what you want, though?”

        “What I want is to play. I want to do something, you know? I‟ll tell you

what I don‟t want. I don‟t want to sit around the house wishing I had a show to

play. Do you?”

        “No. No, I don‟t want that. I just… sometimes I wonder why I do it, is

all.”

        Brett laughed. “Hey, it beats workin‟.”

        Al rolled his eyes. “Yeah. Piece of cake. No, seriously, we can book the

band at fairs, and we can dig out little two piece shows at Gramma‟s Podunk

Café. Maybe we could even get a rotation going, a steady schedule. But for what?

The money? Yeah, all right. There‟s easier ways to do that though. The audience?

Not likely.”
      “Maybe it‟s more simple than that Al. Maybe you‟re doing it just to play.

It sounds corny, but if you got that in you, you don‟t even have a choice in the

matter. You gotta play. I know, believe me.”

      “I can do that at home, Brett.”

      “Yeah, but you don‟t want to do that. „Cause here you are out looking for

work. Al, it doesn‟t matter what‟s driving you. Something is. Long as you keep

it moving… good things‟ll happen. You watch.”

      Al was not entirely convinced, but he nodded anyway. They drove on.

      Soon they came to the exit for Newfield. From the highway, a massive and

elegant structure could be seen at the top of a great hill. Brett looked at it

and said, “Say, yeah. What about The Greenwood? Now that would be a gig.”

      Al had known about The Greenwood Resort but hadn‟t even considered the

possibility of trying to book work there. “I‟m not sure we are what they would

be looking for, Brett,” he said with a wry smile. They took the exit off the

highway.

      “Maybe, maybe not. If they have a bar, then I bet they like to get down

like everybody else. Come on, what have we got to lose?”

      Al looked at him, then at the approaching entrance to The Greenwood

Resort. A large sign carved of a single piece of wood split the entrance into

two lanes, each wider then the road they were currently on.

      Brett elbowed him. “Hey. I shaved this morning. It‟s our best chance to

fool „em.”

      Al laughed. “Yeah. All right, what the Hell. The worst they can do is tell

us no, right?” He turned the van onto the vast expanse of road that led up the

hill to the resort.




      Chapter 24
      Aaron sat at his desk with a white lab coat on. Like most Tuesdays, Mr.

Forrester had gone over last week‟s work, introduced the components of the

coming week‟s study, and disappeared, leaving the class to work on their

experiments for the remainder of the period. It was assumed by the class that he

was off to the teachers‟ lounge, and the rumor persisted that was partaking of

the bottle while he was in there. Probably just talk, but none of the students

was about to point it out to anyone. Whatever he was doing, it meant a period

without supervision, and that was as close to an extra day off as they could

hope for.

      Most of the students sat talking to one another. A good deal of the

discussion centered on the previous night‟s bust at the fairgrounds in Kingston,

and all the suspicious things they had all seen. Ronnie Brown sat near the back

of the classroom, and Aaron could hear him talking about „those carnies they

truck in from God-knows-where‟. Aaron didn‟t hear any mention of his own name,

which was not too surprising. And just as well, really, since Aaron was finished

with his lab observations, and was trying to work on his story.



      It occurred to me that I had the ability to manipulate objects in the

physical world. And I could put this to the purpose of arranging some kind of

mishap that would result in an addition to our merry ethereal crew. I couldn‟t

quite bring myself to ask George about the idea, but I did hint at it by

suggesting that it was a shame Brian Abbott didn‟t expire with us, if he were to

expire anyway. George said he didn‟t know if that would have been good or bad.

He said he often thought about the battlefields, and the death camps, and what

it would be like to be in the eternal presence of all those souls if he had died

there like so many others. He said he doubted whether it would be better, and

was in fact likely to be a Hell of a lot worse.

      I didn‟t have much perspective on this, personally. George had been places

that I had only read about. I did not serve in the military, as my poor eyesight
disqualified me from participating in Johnson‟s war. And while I didn‟t spend my

time at home protesting or anything, I certainly didn‟t think it was good

business to be over there.

      Once I spent a few years in this afterlife, I found I didn‟t have a strong

opinion on the matter. Until I could sort out what life is for, other than a

period of physical presence before the great floating beyond I now currently

inhabit, I couldn‟t really assess its value in the grand scheme of things. If

this is our great reward, then Hell, a lot of people are better off here, and

sooner than later, I thought. This was the sort of thinking that got my head

going on getting someone killed.

      I spent a long time thinking about ways to kill someone painlessly. I

certainly didn‟t want anyone to suffer needlessly during their transition to the

afterlife. But I was limited by the resources at hand, and eventually I came to

the poisoned conclusion that any suffering one might have to endure would be

fleeting in the context of eternal painlessness.

      I set to work on my stamper. I decided to rig the wiring in order to bring

about the electrocution of the fellow who held my seat at the time, a man named

Gus. All I knew about him was that he was not a family man. I didn‟t want to

take any young kid‟s daddy away from them, at least. He had worked at the mill

for about a month and in that time he had not struck me as particularly good

eternal company, but I had a hunch that over time, we‟d become conversationally

compatible. It seemed like the unavoidable conclusion to an eternity together,

at least in my mind at the time.

      Gus was electrocuted all right. Can you call it electrocution if the

person doesn‟t die? I‟m not sure, and if one of these people ever brings in a

dictionary, I aim to find out. Gus didn‟t die as a result of my actions. He may

have wished he had though. The suffering I put him through was months long.

Years, if you count the debilitations he‟d have to spend the rest of his life on

Earth dealing with. I ruined that man, and to no benefit for him or myself.
Except it did free up my machine for Maggie Blyth to come along, I suppose. As

appreciative as I am of this turn of events, I am deserving of little comfort

from it.

      George never came out and said that he was aware of my involvement in the

events. But he told me it was probably just as well I had fallen into that

machine back when I did, because of the two accidents, it looked like I had

enjoyed the least painful. There was something uncertain about George then. His

tone was almost apologetic, and certainly laced with something that seemed

almost like regret.

      Then it came to me. The two days after I had died, there had been

extensive testing on my machine which came up inconclusive. The resulting report

was decidedly unsatisfactory to the factory officials, as well as the police. It

said, in about as many words, that there was no discernable way the settings on

that unit should ever have found themselves in the position they were in that

day. Ghosts in the machine, they called it.

      George and I have little to say to one another these days. I imagine that

will change over time, because there seems to be a lot of time for that to

happen. For now, I work. And when I can‟t, I find myself wishing I were more

like Staley, floating aimlessly and unburdened.

      But for all the grandeur that the afterlife seems to lack, I can say that

one grand eternal question seems to have been answered for me. I asked it myself

many times in life, and it continues, and it always will: Why do bad things

happen to good people? The answer can be found in a common proverb, although I

don‟t think it turns up in the Bible. Idle hands are the Devil‟s playthings,

friends. On this side it‟s just the same as over there. If something bad

happens, you can bet it‟s the result of some deluded idiot with too much time on

his hands.

      Time for me to go to work.
         Aaron closed the notebook. Not bad for a first draft, he thought. He found

himself surprised at how little time the draft had taken to write. At the same

time, he was pleased to see that class was nearly over. He packed his book bag

and took off his lab coat, and waited for the bell.




         Chapter 25



         Dane and Walter sat parked on the side of a road. Neither one of them knew

what route they were on. There were no signs within view, or even any landmarks

that looked familiar from the previous night‟s journey. It didn‟t actively

concern either of them that they were, for all intents an purposes, lost. Since

they didn‟t know where they were going, it was tough to be upset about not

knowing how to get there. Besides, they had more troubling matters to worry

about.

         Dane looked toward the perilous cargo in the back of the van and said, “I

don‟t think we can keep it. Unless you‟ve got some idea, the best thing is

probably to ditch it.”

         Walter put a hand to his mouth and rubbed his chin. “Yeah. I can‟t think

of a damn thing. But I‟ll tell you this. I have been through a lot, and I‟m not

inclined to give up on it until I have no other choice.”

         “Well, that‟s my point. If there‟s another choice, I‟m all ears.”

         Walter sighed. “I don‟t have one for you. Not yet. But by the timer on

that thing, we‟ve still got a little time to work with. I‟m not ready to cash

out on this. Not just yet.”

         “Okay, but I‟m getting pretty nervous. If this thing comes down to the

wire, I just want you to know that you may find yourself riding it out alone.

I‟m… I‟m inclined to err on the side of safety, is all.”
      Walter nodded. “Yeah. I understand. Shit, I need a drink.” He started the

van and pulled out onto the road without checking traffic. There was no need;

they hadn‟t seen another car go by since they stopped ten minutes before.

      Before long they came upon a town. Neither of the men could remember

having seen it the night before, and they became convinced that they were now on

a different road than they had taken. A white painted sign welcomed them to

Granville, and told them that they were entering „the fourteenth best small town

in America‟.

      The main street (an unnecessary distinction, there being no other streets

to give it any competition) featured a bank, a couple stores of unidentifiable

character, a hardware store that also served as the town post office, and a Red

Apple convenience store and gas station. Walter pulled the van in to the Red

Apple parking lot.

      “You need anything?” Walter said as he got out of the van.

      Dane shook his head. “Nope. I‟m good. Gonna read the paper and try to

think of something.”

      Walter went in to the store. The Red Apple was part of a corporate chain

of convenience stores that canvassed the northeast United States, but this

little town had managed to put their own quaint stamp on the format of the

store. There were large posters on the walls of the local high school‟s sports

teams. An open bin next to the pastry shelf featured locally grown produce from

Owens‟s Farm.

      Walter walked past these to the drink cooler and grabbed a Sprite. He read

the label and put it back. No caffeine. He chose an RC Cola instead, and took it

to the counter. He paid the lady in change and walked out.

      Outside he was met by a woman in a burgundy leather coat. She had been

storing toward the entrance, but held up when she saw Walter. She gave him a

contemptuous look and said, “Good, there‟s somebody here at least. Fill it with

premium.” She jerked her thumb back toward the Mercedes parked at the pump.
      Walter said, “I don‟t work here, ma‟am.”

      “Well who the Hell does?” The woman huffed, pushing him to one side and

barging in to the store.

      Walter walked back to the van, shaking his head. He got in and said to

Dane, “Hey, I think I found a good place for that bomb,” pointing to the

Mercedes across the lot.

      Dane was smiling. He held the newspaper in his hand. “That may not be a

problem, Walter,” he said. He handed Walter the paper and pointed out the lead

story, which had been continued on page A14. It read:



      (continued from page 1) to the Parker State Detention Facility in

Haverham.

      The State Police were assisted by forces from Rockingham, Chester, and

Morgan counties. The state Bomb Squad force was also put on alert, but did not

take active part in the proceedings. According to Lt. Warner, some of the

materials confiscated had appeared to have possibly contained explosives, but

this turned out to be „a false alarm‟, and it was not necessary to deploy the

Bomb Squad.



      Walter‟s eyes widened as he read. “Holy God.” He looked at the back of the

van. “A dummy explosive.”

      “Maybe,” Dane said. “We may be exactly that lucky.”

      Walter looked over the article again and frowned. “Yeah, maybe. I guess

they might be saying it was a false alarm just to quell potential panic or

something, huh?”

      “Right. So here‟s my idea. We find a place to stow this thing until after

the time expires on it. If it doesn‟t blow up, we collect it and that‟s that. If

it does, well, we keep on driving.”

      “Sounds like a plan. But where do we put it?”
         Dane shrugged. “That‟s what we‟ve got to figure out. Nowhere around here,

that‟s for sure. It‟s gotta go somewhere where no one will get hurt. I guess we

head out of town and see what we can find.”

         “Okay. Okay. What time is it?” Walter asked. Dane shrugged. Walter put the

key in the ignition and turned the van on. The dashboard clock read 11:54.

“We‟ve got twelve hours,” said Walter as he put the van in gear. “Let‟s find a

spot.”




         Chapter 26



         Jesse got off the bus and walked through the South Station terminal.

Somehow, by methods he could not fathom, he had ended up on the wrong side of

Boston. He spent a moment trying to figure if he had gotten on the wrong bus, or

misread a sign. Soon enough he realized that whatever had happened didn‟t much

matter to him. It was a nice day in the city, and he‟d have a pleasant enough

time making his way across it.

         Before embarking on his trek, he went into the men‟s room. He took an

unoccupied stall and sat on the toilet without taking his pants down. He rolled

up his right pant leg and pulled down his sock. A plastic ziplock bag fit snug

to his ankle. He took it out and examined its contents. His generous amount of

cash was in good order, but the ankle it had ridden against was beginning to

redden. He decided to switch feet, stuffing the baggie into his left sock.

         He straightened his socks and pants out and stepped out of the stall. A

man who had just walked into the bathroom gave him a curious, almost offended

look as he left. Jesse was confused by this, and was afraid he may have somehow

given himself away, until he realized the man was probably just reacting to the

fact that he had left the stall without flushing.
        That mild paranoia stayed with Jesse for quite some time, though. He felt

exposed as he walked through the streets of the city, as if everyone recognized

him as foreign and strange. He did his best to blend in, which, by no conscious

decision, consisted of putting his hands in his pockets and pretending to not be

overly enthusiastic to be there.

        Jesse had wondered if the city might somehow seem familiar. He had been

there once before, on a field trip to the New England Aquarium when he was just

a second grader. They had come by bus, and while he couldn‟t remember anything

specific about the city, he could easily recall the excitement that he and his

classmates had felt as they drove into it. It was a new experience for all of

them.

        His memories of the aquarium itself were vague as well. There was a

massive central tank, he knew that. And the place was like a large spiraling

ramp that went up around it. He wondered if he‟d know the place if he happened

upon it. The logo was a recognizable enough one, and surely there would be a

sign out front.

        It would be a fun and unexpected thing to return to the aquarium on this

trip. Jesse decided that if he did find himself there, he‟d go in and have a

look. Surely the price of admission would be of no consequence. But he also

reminded himself of his mission. He was looking for The Undernaüghties.

        He walked on, not worrying much about where he was going. He had a hunch

he was headed north, and sooner or later he‟d find Cambridge. And if not, he

could always hail a cab.



        Al‟s van looked decidedly out of place as it made its way up the expansive

road leading to the Greenwood Resort. The road bisected part of the attached

golf course, and Al and Brett stared at the groups of golfers getting the last

rounds of the season in. Before long, the clientele staying at the resort would
be skiing instead of golfing. The resort had its own ski mountain, complete with

a gigantic glass-walled lodge building at its base.

        They came upon a fork. A sign to the left indicated valet parking, and the

right path offered a lot where guests could park themselves. Al chose this

option without any discussion. He parked the van, and the men sat, staring at

one another for a moment.

        Brett laughed and said, “We‟re a couple of sore thumbs.” Al nodded. They

both wore jeans. Brett had a plaid flannel shirt unbuttoned over a New England

Patriots Superbowl XXXVI T-shirt. Al was wearing a plain gray sweatshirt.

        Al shrugged. “You said it yourself, we‟ve got nothing to lose. I‟m sure

this place requires jackets for its guests, but since we‟re here looking for

work, maybe they‟ll let it slide. Especially considering that these are our work

uniforms.” He reached into his wallet and took out a business card. The card

read:



                                Blake Mountain Boys

                              Music For All Occasions

                             Al Dupree – (603) 381-0255



        “Those things are finally gonna come in handy,” Brett said as they got out

of the van. When Al had made the cards (using the library‟s computer and a few

sheets of card stock from Staples), Brett had scoffed. Their music, he insisted,

was certainly not for all occasions. Al had argued that it was at least worth

suggesting that their music was suitable to whatever purpose one might envision.

If this meant retooling their set list a little, then so be it. At least they‟d

be working.

        It had been a moot point up until now, as they had never had occasion to

hand out even one of the cards. All the shows they‟d booked had been with club

owners with whom at least one band member (usually Brett) was already
acquainted. Now the cards seemed to bear the appropriate utility, and even Brett

had to admit it.

      Al had made versions of the card for each band member, with their own name

and number on them. He presented them to the band before one of their shows, in

little packets with rubber bands around them. He had never seen one of them in

the hands of any of the guys since then.

      They walked across the parking lot and up the stairs to the wide entrance.

Near the entrance, a porter had been positioned to greet new arrivals. He was

too busy loading a cart with luggage to take notice of Al and Brett as they

walked past and entered the main lobby of the resort.

      The lobby was immense. The ceiling was impossibly high. The room had a

sense of silent void about it, yet every conversation across the entire room

could be tuned in on clearly from any spot. The two men felt even more out of

place than they had before, and they simultaneously realized they would not be

enjoying any sense of anonymity for long. Al walked with purpose to the long

reception desk, Brett following close behind.

      If the woman who stood behind the desk wasat all surprised by their

appearance, she concealed it well. “May I help you?” she offered neutrally.

      Al handed her the card and said, “I‟m Al Dupree. This is Brett. We‟re with

the Blake Mountain Boys, a local musical combo.” At this, Brett gave Al an odd

quick look. He had never once in his life used the word „combo‟ to describe a

band, certainly not one he was in.

      The woman took the card and opened the ledger on the desk, saying, “Are

you in the lounge tonight?”

      “Ah, no,” Al replied, “I would like to speak to someone about that,

actually. We‟re not scheduled to play here yet, but I had hoped to arrange it.

Who would I talk to?”

      “That would be Rick Severin,” the woman said. “He‟s not in until later

this afternoon, I‟m afraid. But I can give him your card. Your contact info is
on here, I assume.” She glanced quickly at the card and confirmed her

assumption. “I imagine he‟ll give you a call this evening, if you will be

reachable.”

         Al nodded. “That will be fine. Are they… I mean, are you looking for

someone to play right away or something?”

         “Well, they only just started having music in the lounge a month ago. I

really don‟t know anything more than that. Mr. Severin handles it. But he did

say to direct any inquiries to him immediately.”

         “Good enough,” Al said. “We won‟t take any more of your time. But

certainly tell him that he can reach me any time today, that would be just

fine.”

         “I‟ll do that,” she said, already turning to attend to her work. The men

retreated hastily through the lobby and out to the parking lot. They said

nothing as they walked to the van, walking with the haste and care of one who

was perhaps trying to cross a den of sleeping lions.

         Once in the van, Al exhaled loudly. Brett said to him, “How about that?

Man, you never know. You just never know.”

         “It‟s true,” Al said, smiling. “We could do a lot worse than to play in a

place like that. If our stuff goes over well enough, that is.” He started the

van and began the drive back down the hill.

         “I‟d say we‟re on a roll,” Brett said. “Where to? Let‟s hit something

else.”

         “No, I think that‟s it. I want to be home in case Rick Severin calls.”

         “Oh yeah, good thinking. Well, that‟s okay. We‟ll get this one secured,

and we can book around whatever they give us here.”

         “If they decide to book us,” Al added. “We are still what we are, after

all.”

         “I got the impression that they were actively looking for people,” said

Brett. “We got a good chance, I‟ll wager. And hey, as far as our set list, don‟t
even worry about that. If I gotta play that mellow stuff for a night, I‟m all

right with it. Of course, if they want a night of Broadway tunes or jazz

standards I‟m up shit creek. But we can probably come up with something.”

      “We could always learn some, you know.”

      “Yeah, maybe. But I‟m an old dog, and that‟s a new trick, and you know how

that goes.”

      “Broadway? Jazz? There‟s nothing new about those tricks,” Al chuckled.

“New to you, maybe. Anyway, you‟re right. There‟s no sense worrying too much

about it until we find out what they‟re looking for.”

      They hit the highway and headed back north.




      Chapter 27



      Tom sat at his desk, absently thumbing through a thin book. The entire

class had just received copies of The Elements Of Style by William Strunk and E.

B. White. Murmurs of curious anticipation, the reaction form the class at

hearing the title of the book, devolved into groans of agony as the nature of

the text became clear. At least it‟s a short book, Tom thought.

      He wondered if Aaron had read it. Most likely, he had. Aaron read a lot,

and wrote pretty much whenever he wasn‟t reading. Tom had more than once found

himself a bit envious of Aaron‟s drive toward a specific passion. He himself

didn‟t know what he wanted to do, who he wanted to be. And people around him

were more and more insistent on an answer to that question. The best he could

seem to do was to stay on a path that afforded him the best options. He kept up

on his schoolwork and stayed out of trouble. This, combined with the general

good disposition afforded him by the local populace, put him in a position of

vague opportunity, and when the time was right, Tom hoped to decide on a path

and pursue it with the same vigor Aaron put into his writing.
      It didn‟t take much for Tom to realize that Aaron‟s pursuit of the written

word was as much escape as anything. This was something of which Tom also found

himself quite envious. When his own mother had passed on, Tom found himself at a

real loss. He would have had an easier time of it, perhaps, if he‟d had

something similar to dive into.

      Looking at The Elements Of Style, Tom realized that the book was anything

but an invitation into escape. Its approach to the rules of writing was military

in its strictness. Tom recognized E. B. White as the author of Charlotte‟s Web,

which he remembered as a light, fanciful book. How could such a thing be created

under such strict regulations as these? he wondered.

      The bell rang, and around him the students began their desperate

evacuation of the room. The end of sixth period marked a general end to the

rigorous classes of the day, with the more leisurely studies occupying the

seventh and final period. The studentry were as much in a hurry to dive into

those classes as they were to escape the clutches of the ones they currently

inhabited.

      Tom had left himself few scheduling options for seventh period of his

senior year. He was not musically inclined, so band and chorus held little

appeal. He had already taken the three years of Spanish the school offered. His

requirements for English and mathematics were being completed in the middle

periods. This pretty much left him with another study hall, or some sort of

independent study program. His guidance counselor had pushed him for the latter,

citing its value as perceived by college admission boards. But Tom elected to

fill the spot with another study hall. None of the subjects available to Tom

interested him to so great a degree. If his senior schedule made it appear as if

he were running out of gas, it may have been because he was.

      In the end, Tom‟s seventh period study hall choice was given little

challenge by the administration. Tom had a hunch that this was largely due to

Aaron having taken the same study hall. There seemed to be a great apprehension
behind the positivity extended to Tom, as if people were waiting for him to

crack, and hoping he would not.

      The pressure on him was not as great as people seemed to fear. He missed

his mom. He thought about her every day; so little about the rest of his life

had changed, her handprint was still on most aspects of his life, leaving it

impossible to avoid reminders of her. But he felt in no danger of collapse, by

any means. He didn‟t think Aaron was as frail as other people feared either.

      Tom had gathered his things and left at the end of the herd piling into

the busy hallway. The teacher gave him an approving nod. Tom had been thumbing

through the book at least, while most of his fellow students had tucked it away

and tried to ignore the thing completely. In the land of the detached, the half-

interested are scholarly, Tom thought. He gave a quick wave and walked out.



      Aaron was already in his seat when Tom arrived at the study hall. Tom

tossed the book on Aaron‟s desk and said, “You ever read this?”

      Aaron picked it up. “No, I‟ve heard of it though. So this is what I‟ve got

to look forward to in Senior English?”

      “Yeah,” Tom said, taking the book back. “And I wouldn‟t hurry it. These

guys take all the fun out of it.”

      Aaron produced the story he had just written. “I‟m productive enough

without it, I guess.”

      Tom took it, surprised. “You finished it already? Jesus. Well that‟ll give

me something to do here.” He settled in to his seat and began to read. As he

did, Aaron took back The Elements Of Style and began to peruse it.

      A few minutes later, Tom looked up and said, “This is pretty good. I

wonder, though… to whom is the story being told, and how?”

      “Good question,” Aaron said. “I didn‟t want something as trivial as that

to slow me down, so I figured I‟d address it in the second draft.” Aaron laughed

and said, ”I seriously lost about a half hour trying to figure that out. If I
hadn‟t just gone ahead and left it for later, I might never have gotten to the

end of the story.”

      Tom nodded, then continued reading. Aaron interrupted him a minute later,

saying, “You know, this is good. This is really good.” He handed back The

Elements Of Style. “It‟s straight to the point, that‟s for sure. No bullshit in

there. I don‟t recognize the authors, but they seem to know what they‟re talking

about.”

      “E. B. White wrote Charlotte‟s Web,” Tom said without looking up.

      “Oh yeah!” Aaron said, “Now I remember. Never read that. Saw the cartoon,

though.” Tom was still reading, and Aaron decided not to interrupt him further.

He fished around in his backpack for something to do.

      When Tom finished, he gave the story back and said, “Nice work, man. What

happens with it now?”

      “Well, in theory, I take it through a second draft, polish it up, and send

it off to some magazine or something. More likely, I put it on the pile and

write something else.”

      Tom thought about suggesting that he dig in and polish up the story, but

decided he wasn‟t the one to be offering such advice. “Well, it‟s pretty good,

I‟d say.” He picked up The Elements Of Style, looked at the back cover for a

minute, then settled back in his chair and began to read.




      Chapter 28



      In Walter‟s van, the mood was considerably lighter than it had been for

most of the morning. They had a plan, at least, or the idea of one anyway. Dane

and Walter talked cheerfully as they drove through the unnamed countryside. They

both looked out their windows frequently, sizing up their surroundings.
      “Yeah, our best chance is probably to stow it somewhere in the woods,”

Walter said. “I don‟t really like the idea of putting it someplace where the

only tire tracks to be found are ours, though.”

      “Still, we can‟t put it where there are people. And the tire tracks are

only a problem if it goes off, right?”

      Walter nodded, still looking around. “Right.”

      “And it‟s not going to go off, is it?”

      Walter turned to Dane, smiling. “If I was so sure, I wouldn‟t be looking

for a place to dump the damned thing.” They laughed.

      “You know what‟s interesting?” asked Dane. Walter couldn‟t imagine what,

at this point, would not be interesting about all this, but he still shook his

head no. Dane continued, “The timer. It‟s set to go off at midnight.”

      “Uh huh,” Walter said.

      “Well the Kingston Fair, according to the ad in the paper here, says the

fairgrounds close at ten.”

      “Uh huh,” Walter said again, still not seeing anything of importance.

      “It just seems weird that it‟s set to go off after hours. I don‟t think

the bomb has anything to do with wanting to blow anything up.”

      “Well, unless they wanted to destroy something but not hurt anybody doing

it. You know, wait until the fair was empty and then…”

      Dane shifted in his seat. “Yeah, I guess. And you know, you were supposed

to make the delivery at, what, ten this morning?”

      “That‟s right.”

      “So why an extra fourteen hours on the clock? That just seems weird.”

      “I have no idea. Maybe they wanted to give me the rest of the day to think

about it. Maybe the timer only works in 24 hour increments or something.” Walter

noticed a few houses at the edge of the field they were passing. “Dammit,

there‟s people everywhere out here. Any idea what town this is?”
      “No. My best guess is, we‟re somewhere near the New Hampshire border.” As

if in answer, a narrow sign appeared on the horizon, marking the state line.

Dane pointed it out. “There we go. You know anything about New Hampshire state

laws regarding the transport of explosives and contraband?”

      “Not a thing,” said Walter, “And I aim to not find out.”

      There was a break in the conversation, then Dane ventured, “So it‟s not

any of my business, but how in the world did you fall in with this sort of thing

in the first place?”

      Walter said nothing. Dane added, “You know what? It‟s not important, I

don‟t need to know.”

      “No, it‟s all right,” Walter said. “I just… this isn‟t the sort of thing I

do, you know? I‟m not a drug runner.” He sighed. “I met them on a delivery to

Springfield last month. I don‟t know a lot about what kind of racket they have

going, except that it‟s pretty much in every fair in the northeast by my guess.

Or it was, anyway. Who knows where they‟re at now, with the bust in Kingston.”

      “They didn‟t tell you what was in the box, right?”

      “That‟s right. It‟s safe to assume it‟s drugs of some sort though. I saw

and heard enough from these guys to know that drugs are their stock in trade.”

      They came to another small town. It looked quite similar to the one they

had most recently stopped in.

      “Okay, so we find a place to stow this stuff, and then we wait it out,”

Dane said. “But where? We‟ll have a few hours to kill at least.”

      “I guess it depends where we leave the box. If there‟s a…” Walter looked

in his rear view mirror. “Oh shit.”

      In his own mirror, Dane caught the blue flash of police lights. “Oh shit

is right. All right, we don‟t need to panic. We‟re a delivery van making a

delivery. Any idea what‟s got him pulling us over?”

      Walter wheeled the van to the side of the road. “Ah, I was probably

speeding. We‟re in town, it‟s probably a thirty or something. I hope that‟s all
it was anyway.” The van settled to a stop, and the police car pulled up close

behind it.

        Dane stared at his hands, trying not to be noticed. Walter reached across

to the glove compartment and got out a large blue envelope, and began to thumb

through it.

        The officer arrived at the driver side window and gave it a couple sharp

raps with his knuckle. Walter rolled down the window and said, “Good afternoon,

officer.”

        “Good afternoon can I see your license and registration sir?” The officer

said. Walter found the registration in the envelope and handed it through the

window. He gave the envelope to Dane, and dug for his wallet. As he got his

license out the officer asked, “Do you have any idea why I pulled you over today

sir?”

        “I‟ve got to admit, sir, I‟m not exactly sure. I may have been going a

little-“

        “I had you clocked at forty seven miles an hour this is a thirty mile per

hour zone I suspect you missed the sign coming in to town.”

        Walter handed over his license. “I don‟t remember seeing that sign, no

sir. We‟re just on our way to deliver a-“

        “Why don‟t you sit tight sir I‟ll be with you in a minute.” The officer

turned and headed back to his cruiser.

        Walter looked over at Dane. “I think we‟re all right. Just stay cool.”

Dane didn‟t look up. He nodded quickly.

        The wait seemed interminable. They had driven just to the edge of the

center of town. In his rear view mirror, Walter could see a few pedestrians back

on Main Street stealing glances at the van and the cruiser.

        Eventually the officer reappeared and walked up to Walter‟s window. He

thrust the license and registration toward Walter, along with a yellow sheet of
paper. “This is a written warning I‟m going to need you to keep the speed down

sir.”

        “Absolutely,” Walter said, taking the papers from the officer‟s hand.

“I‟ll be more careful-“

        “It‟s a school day and we love our children in this town slow it down and

have a good day sir.”

        “Yes sir. I love your children too, sir. I mean, I‟ll…” The officer was

already halfway back to his cruiser.

        Dane and Walter each took a deep breath as the police car pulled a u-turn

behind them, turned off its lights, and headed off into town. Walter put the

registration in the glove box and his license back in to his wallet. Then he

turned the key and started the van, put his left blinker on, and slowly eased it

back on to the road. He did exactly thirty miles per hour as they drove out of

town.

        Only once they had gotten a mile or so down the road, and the speed limit

had increased to fifty, did they begin to relax. It was short lived though, as a

siren blared behind them and the flashing lights of a fast approaching police

car could once again be seen.

        “Oh man,” Walter said.

        “Shit. They ran the plate or something. What do we do?”

        “I don‟t know, I don‟t know!” Walter looked around, as if some escape

would present itself. The cruiser closed the gap quickly. “We couldn‟t outrun

him if we wanted to, not in this thing. Nothing we can do but see what happens.”

        “Okay,” Dane said. “We‟ll see.”

        Walter braked and once again eased the van to the side of the road. The

cruiser behind them did not slow down, and actually seemed to pick up speed as

it grew nearer. It drifted over into the left lane and blew by them before the

van had come to a full stop, its siren shrieking as it plowed on through the

countryside. In seconds it could no longer bee seen or heard.
      Even though it was no longer necessary, Walter still pulled to a stop

alongside the road. He and Dane sat for a couple minutes, saying nothing. Once

Walter felt he had regained his composure, he said, “All right. Let‟s keep

going.”

      “Sounds good,” said Dane. As they pulled back on to the road, he added,

“Do me a favor. If you see a bathroom, stop for me, would you?”




      Chapter 28



      The novelty of walking semi-aimlessly through Boston had worn off quickly

for Jesse. He had gotten almost no sleep, and it was starting to catch up with

him. And he had yet to happen upon anything that gave him the remotest idea of

where he was or which way he was headed.

      Eventually he came upon an entrance to the subway. Double doors let to a

wide stairway that plunged into darkness below the city. The rumble and squeal

of the trains bellowed up from below. Jesse headed down the stairs, trying not

to seem half as mystified by his surroundings as he actually was.   The smell of

the subway registered with him as entirely unique, unlike anything to which he

could compare it. Not entirely unpleasant, but completely pervasive and

inescapable.

      At the bottom of the stairs a small line moved quickly toward, and past, a

grimy token booth. A few people used the automatic machines to the left of the

booth. Jesse elected to stay in line, steeping forward with the others, until he

realized that all his money was still in his shoe. He cursed himself silently

for not leaving some pocket cash out, then he left his place in line and went

over to one of the automatic machines. He looked around for a rest room door,

but could not see one. So he decided to simply do it as quick as possible.
      He bent down and fished the baggie out of his left sock. Concealing it as

best he could in one hand, he opened it and peeled out all the ones and a five,

then sealed the rest up and replaced it in his sock. This left him with nine

dollars, enough for travel, easily.

      He put a dollar into the ticket machine. It swallowed the bill greedily

and waited for more. Jesse checked the sign, then put another dollar in. The

machine clanked loudly and spit into its silver bowl a brass token and eighty

cents in change. Jesse scooped them up and headed for the row of turnstiles.

      He took his time approaching them, so he could watch a few people go

through. It was pretty much as he had assumed. He walked up to one, dropped his

token in the slot on the left, and pushed forward. The turnstile did not budge.

He looked around, confused. Nobody else seemed to be having this problem. It

took him a few seconds to realize that the coin slots were to the right of their

respective turnstiles. He quickly retreated and went to the one just to the

left. The turnstile spun easily, and he was through. Jesse walked on, slightly

embarrassed.

      Beyond the turnstiles were two sets of stairs that went down in opposite

directions. The stairs were labeled INBOUND and OUTBOUND. This seemed an

unsatisfactory method of distinction to Jesse. After all, he was throughbound if

anything. Not seeing a map nearby, he decided the inbound was the likelier

choice. Most people seemed to be taking this stairway, and he joined them.

      He had hoped to find a map at the bottom to confirm his guess, but the

pace of the people around him had quickened, and as he reached the bottom of the

stairs he realized a subway train was there, doors open. He hurried with the

other passengers onto the train, figuring that if it was the wrong one, he could

always get off at the next stop.

      There were no seats available in the car he had entered. A good many

people stood, holding on to chrome rails that ran the length of the car. He

found a place in the middle of the crowd and grabbed the rail. Across the other
side of the car he saw a diagram of the orange line. It showed the names of the

upcoming stops. He did not see Cambridge mentioned there, but there were about

fifteen stops ahead in this direction, and Jesse guessed that if he were headed

south, there would be far fewer.

      The train lurched into motion, and Jesse swayed back with all the other

passengers, as if they had all been spontaneously coerced into doing the hula.

This struck him as funny, and he could not repress a smile. Good Lord, he

thought to himself, I am such a hick.

      After a few stops, the train intersected with the red line at Downtown

Crossing. At this stop, nearly the entire train got off, and another full car‟s

worth of passengers took their place. Jesse decided to hop off there and get his

bearings. He pushed his way through the people getting on, and found himself

watching the train roll off through the black tunnel.

      He had a sudden wave of panic as he recalled the jostling trip he‟d just

taken. Without further consideration he knelt and checked his sock. The baggie

was still there, still firmly in place, and still full. He sighed heavily and

stood, then made his way over to a large wall map. A girl stood there, perusing

it. Jesse glanced over at her and immediately noticed the unmistakable logo on

her T-shirt.

      “Excuse me,” he said to the girl. She looked over, surprised, and smiled

briefly. Jesse continued, “I‟m looking to get to Cambridge. Do I need to take

the red line, or…”

      She said, “Where in Cambridge?”

      “Um… I guess I‟m not sure.” Jesse shrugged and grinned.

      She looked at him for a moment, then said, “Try the Harvard stop on the

red line,” pointing it out on the map.

      “Thanks,” Jesse said. Then he nodded toward her shirt. “Do you know if the

Undernaüghties are playing anywhere tonight?”
        “I think maybe they‟ve got a show somewhere out of town.” A train arrived

noisily on the orange line track, and she gave Jesse another quick smile.

        “Okay, thanks again,” Jesse said, and took the nearby stairs leading up

and over to the red line tracks. There were not as many people waiting there,

and it seemed eerily quiet. A light breeze came in from one end of the tunnel,

renewing to Jesse the subway scent.

        The rumble of the red line train grew for a long time. It seemed to shake

the platform on which he stood. Then it burst into view, and car after car sped

by Jesse. Just when he had become convinced that the train would not be

stopping, and could not possible be any longer, it eased to a halt. The doors of

the fourth car from the rear of the train opened in front of him, and he went

aboard. There were empty chairs this time, and he sat. The doors stayed open for

a minute, then with a distorted ding they slid shut, and the train whisked Jesse

off into darkness.




        Chapter 29



        Al pulled in to Brett‟s driveway. “If I hear from him, I‟ll call you,” Al

said.

        Brett opened the door of the van and hopped out. “Sounds good. I‟ll start

working on some Lawrence Welk stuff or something.” Al rolled his eyes, reached

over, and pulled the van door shut. Brett waved as Al backed out of the driveway

and headed off.

        Once back out on the road, Al turned on the radio. One might think that a

man of Al‟s disposition would be listening to music as he drove, but more often

than not, it was talk radio that he tuned in to. The radio stations in the area

offered a narrow selection of music, and Al had heard enough of it. It was
almost to the point where he could name a song, and it would come up some time

in the next ten.

      The local public radio station was a pretty good one. It picked up most of

its local interest shows from the Boston affiliate. The announcers were from the

Granite State though, and hints of the New Hampshire accent could still be

heard, hidden deep in their well timbred voices.

      The programming this afternoon was focused on the previous night‟s drug

bust at the Kingston Fair. Al half listened to the discussion as he drove back

to his place. The interviewer was speaking to some police spokesman about the

raid, trying to pry out details the policeman was reluctant to offer.

      “You‟ve been watching these people for some time, apparently. What can you

tell us about the scope of their operation? Is this a nationwide ring?”

      The policeman sounded exasperated. “Well, again, I‟m not at liberty to say

much about that. I can say that what we have observed are the actions of a group

of professionals. These guys are good at what they do, and they had a

sophisticated setup in place to get it done. But I really can‟t offer much more

than that, for fear of jeopardizing the state‟s case.”

      “Of course,” the interviewer said, pressing on. “Let‟s talk about the

Kingston Fair. I understand the fair will go on as scheduled, is that correct?”

      “Mm, I believe there has been no interruption of alteration of the fair

schedule. That‟s a fact of which we at the station are particularly proud. We

know how much these events mean to the local citizens, and we‟re pleased to have

been able to go about our business with a minimum of disruption. Matter of fact,

I‟m looking forward to taking the family down there this weekend.”

      “Sounds fun,” said the interviewer. “I want to thank you for your time,

and for your efforts in this case.”

      “It was my pleasure, Pat.”
      The announcer shifted gears smoothly. “I‟d like to remind our listeners

that this is pledge week, and if you have enjoyed this and other reports and

interviews about the news that affects you, I urge you to call-“

      Al turned off the radio. He couldn‟t stand pledge week, and he was all but

home anyway. When he shut off the engine in his own driveway, he saw Lou pop his

head up in one of the front windows. Al got out and went to the front door. Lou

met him there, excited. Al gave him a quick scratch behind the ear and walked

him over to his food dish. Lou tried simultaneously to paw at his dish, turn a

circle, and playfully nip at Al‟s pant leg. Not sure which of these to pursue

with his full attentions, Lou bent down, head to the floor, front legs splayed

out before him, butt in the air, tail wagging sharply.

      Al took Lou‟s bowl and filled it. “It‟s a little early for dinner, but you

look hungry,” he said. Lou gave a howl of agreement, and set to the food

greedily when Al placed the bowl down.

      The phone rang. Al got there after the first ring, but let it ring once

more, so as not to appear too anxious. Then he picked it up. “Hello?”

      “Hey. It‟s Brett. Did he call?”

      Al sighed. “No, he hasn‟t called yet. I thought you might be him.”

      “Oh, okay. I was just checking, you know. Listen, remember… if he‟s just

looking for a two-piece…”

      “I know, I know. Get off the line so he can get through, for Pete‟s sake.”

      “Right, okay. Gimme a call after you talk to him. And hey! Try to get one

fifty a man. They can afford it.”

      “I‟ll talk to you later, Brett.” Al hung up. He switched on the television

and sat in his chair.

      It was not very long at all before the phone rang again. And once again,

Al let it ring a couple times before answering. “Hello?”

      “Yes, good afternoon, I‟m looking for… Al Dupree. Is this him?”

      “Yes it is.”
      “Ah, good. I‟m Rick Severin, from The Greenwood Resort. How are you doing

today?”

      “Not bad, not bad at all,” Al said. “Thanks for getting in touch.”

      “It‟s my pleasure. So, you heard that we were looking for some music for

our lounge.”

      “Actually, we just stopped in on a whim. We were out dropping by a few

places, and thought we‟d see if, you know, you guys do that sort of thing up

there.”

      “Very good,” Rick said. “Let‟s see, your card here says music for all

occasions. What sort of stuff do you do?”

      “Oh, well, we‟re pretty flexible, really,” Al replied. “We kind of tailor

it to the particular situation. But most of our shows are for venues that are

looking for classic rock, some bluegrass, stuff like that.” Al felt his answer

was somewhat unsatisfactory, and decided to take the offensive. “What is it you

folks are looking for?”

      “That sounds fine, actually. You see, the lounge… I don‟t know if you got

a chance to check it out while you were there…”

      “No actually, we didn‟t see the lounge.”

      “Ah. Well we have a jazz trio that plays the restaurant. They‟re an in-

house band, and they handle all our functions and so forth. But the lounge is

more like your regular bar, and our guests like to dance and whatnot. Have a

good time, you know. So we‟ve started to bring in some local musicians and

bands. We‟ve got a guy from Boston coming up tonight, in fact. How many people

are in your band?”

      “Uh, we‟re a four piece. Guitar, bass, keys, and drums. I‟m the bass

player. Sometimes the guitarist and I will do a guitar slash bass two piece

thing for smaller venues.”

      “Do you have a demo that I can check out?”
         Al reddened. He had bee pestering the band to get it together and go to

the studio to cut a demo for over a year, but they had balked at its necessity.

He offered Rick the next best thing. “I have a recording of one of our shows.

It‟s not studio quality sound, for sure, but it gives a pretty good sense of

what we do.”

         “That‟s great. When can you get that to me?”

         “Well, how late will you be around tonight? I‟m not too far away, I can

spin back down there with it.”

         “Oh, that would work. I‟ll be here all night. Just ask for me at the

desk.”

         “Will do. I‟ll se you then.”

         “One thing, though,” Rick said. “Do you have a sport coat? We require

jackets after six p.m.”

         “Right. Not a problem.”

         “Good. I‟ll see you tonight then.”

         “See you then.” Al hung up.

         He thought for a minute about whether or not to call Brett. Al would

probably be better off negotiating the deal by himself. As much as The Greenwood

seemed to be looking for a band of their type, he didn‟t think they were going

to respond well to Brett‟s manner of negotiation, or even his conversational

tone. Brett was an okay guy, but he was a redneck to the bone. Al smiled at

this. I‟m one to talk, he thought. But he decided he could at least fake it

better than Brett. He went upstairs to get his jacket.




         Chapter 30



         Tom and Aaron walked out of the school‟s main entrance into the empty

asphalt yard. They had decided enough was enough, and Tom had gone up and
quietly asked if he and Aaron could cut out a few minutes early so they could

get home in time to get an early start on the chores. There was no objection,

and the two walked out, making no eye contact with the rest of the kids watching

them jealously.

        In about ten minutes the school would adjourn for the day anyway, so the

others didn‟t have too terribly long to wait. But every minute of freedom was a

thing to be prized. Tom and Aaron certainly enjoyed it as they walked off the

school grounds toward their houses.

        “So,” Tom said, “You‟re not actually going down to Kingston tonight, are

you?”

        “I don‟t know. If I can get the car, I‟m going to do something. Why, you

want to go to the fair?”

        “I think I‟ve had my fill of it.”

        “Say that again in February when we‟re trudging through a foot of snow.”

        Tom laughed. “Yeah, I know. Man, you can already feel winter creeping in.

What a useless season.”

        “You should learn to ski, maybe.”

        “No, I don‟t think so. One, I don‟t like the cold. And two, it‟s an

expensive hobby from what I hear. No, I think sledding at Parker‟s place with a

flask once or twice a winter is all you‟ll see of me.”

        Aaron laughed. “You were there when Scooch wiped out last year, weren‟t

you?”

        “No, I heard a little about it. He was drunk, I‟d wager.”

        “Yeah. Among other things. He and Jeff were trying to stand in the sleds

and get down the hill. Like snowboarders.”

        “Oh Jesus,” Tom grinned.

        “Yeah. Of course they‟re slipping around in the things, and Jeff suggests

that the problem is that they‟re not buckled in like snowboarders. So they get a

roll of duct tape from Parker.”
      “Nice.”

      Aaron went on. “So there‟s Scooch with duct tape looped around his boots

and down under and around the sled. We‟re talking so much tape you could hardly

see his boots under it. They stood him up and he handed his bottle to Jeff. I

think they were drinking tequila.”

      “Sounds about right. So he wiped out, right?”

      “Well, not at first. That‟s the thing, it could have worked, stupid as it

was. He was on flat ground at the top of the hill, so Jeff and Parker had to

give him a little bit of a push to get him going. He kind of serpentined down

the hill for a second, but as he picked up speed the sled straightened out, and

he got his weight on top of it, and it seriously looked like he was going to be

all right. At least until he got to the bottom and had to figure out how to dump

all that speed.

      “But I think he got a little nervous as he was going down about how fast

he was going, and he turned the sled sideways, trying to carve like a

snowboarder. Of course, the damn thing didn‟t grab at all, and he wavered back

and forth a couple times. Then he leaned forward a little too far and the front

edge of the sled caught the snow and that was it. He pitched straight face down

into the snow and knocked himself clean out. He plowed face first all the way

down the hill. I guess when they got to him his jacket had filled with so much

snow it was like it had made a big cast of his torso. They actually unzipped his

jacket and took the round snow shell out, and used it as the middle of a snowman

at the bottom of the hill.”

      “Now that I saw. I was wondering about that; Parker didn‟t seem the type

to be building snowmen.”

      “Yeah, that was Scooch‟s honorary snowman. He was fine, of course. Scooch

is built to take a beating.”

      They came to Aaron‟s house. “Well, anyway,” Aaron said, “Let me find out

if I can get the car, and I‟ll give you a call.” They said their goodbyes, and
Tom walked on. It was another half mile or so along the rural residential road

before he came to his own house. As expected, nobody was home. His father would

be working at the mill until five o‟clock at least. And this time of year they

usually offered a couple hours of overtime at the end of the shifts, which his

father never passed up.

      Tom went inside, walked to the refrigerator, got out an armful of items,

and fixed himself a ham sandwich. Most days, it was like having his own place,

and he liked it. He got along with his father okay. They didn‟t fight, like the

stories he heard from some of the kids at school when they talked about their

own parents. Tom and his father just didn‟t have a great deal to talk about.

      His father did all the right things for Tom when his mother died. He was

strong, he was compassionate, he was there whenever he was needed. But it

certainly took its toll on the man too, and he asked for no such comfort from

Tom. It seemed to Tom that the only solace for his father was the normalcy of

work. He would work so hard and so long that he was too tired to think much

about things at home. Or at least, too tired to discuss them to any depth.

      Suddenly Tom found himself thinking about Jesse. He wondered where Jesse

had gotten to, and what sorts of things he was seeing and doing. Tom‟s own day

at school seemed decidedly bland in comparison to the vast possibility he

imagined before Jesse. He found himself struggling against the urge to slap

another sandwich together and hit the road himself, just to see what he could

find. This surprised him. He hadn‟t thought he was so discontent with his life,

even if it did lack specific direction. And he knew that wandering off toward

God knows what was hardly a substitute for direction. But there was something to

be said for motion of any sort; namely, that it beat just standing around.

      The phone rang in the other room. Tom wiped mayonnaise from the corner of

his mouth as he walked over and answered it. “Hello?”

      “Hey, it‟s Aaron.”

      “What‟s up? You got the car?”
      “Yeah. What do you want to do?”

      “Boy, I‟m not sure. I guess… I guess we could go to Kingston. I don‟t know

of anything else going on.”

      “We could grab a bite to eat somewhere.”

      “Nah, I just ate.”

      “Hmm, okay,” Aaron said. “Give me an hour or so to eat something and get

my things together, then I‟ll pick you up.”

      “All right, I‟ll see you then.”




      Chapter 31



      When Major Dennis P. Rutledge of the United States Air Force (now some

forty years deceased) was asked by a reporter, on the occasion of his return

home from the great war, what he intended to do, he had said with a wide grin

that there was a sugar shack waiting for him deep in the woods of his home town,

and he was going to sit in it and boil maple syrup until the trees gave out. The

shack had been there for a good many years before Rutledge inherited it. It was

passed down to him by his uncle Orin, who operated it for twenty two years

himself, having himself received ownership of it from a relative long lost to

history.

      The retired major held the post proudly, and for twenty years he turned

out some of the most coveted local maple syrup in New England. It was said that

something in the soil contributed to the trees producing a sap that was of

incomparable quality, and this, combined with the jealously guarded production

knowledge passed down between owners, resulted in batches of syrup so sweet and

good that one could drink the stuff straight from the bottle.

      The structure had not been solidly built, and Rutledge was not even

remotely talented in carpentry. When he returned from the war the shack had
stood unused for two years, and had fallen rapidly into disrepair. Rutledge had

cleaned it up as best he could, and got it back into working order, but just

barely. The appearance of the place did not matter much, since it was not the

sort of location that did any retail traffic. It was too far out beyond town for

people to bother traveling to, especially when there were two stores right in

town that proudly stocked the syrup every spring.

     The other thing Rutledge had neglected was to choose a successor. He had

no kin, and nobody worked with him in the shack. So when a heart attack felled

him in the early months of 1965, the shack missed its first boil since anyone

could remember, most likely since it had been built.

     Time attacked the structure with all its might. The place seemed to age

twenty years overnight, to those few who bothered to travel to it. The shack was

visible from the road, set back some twenty feet into the woods, but it looked

far from inviting to the passerby. Its only occupants over the years were the

occasional young couple looking for a private place to be romantic.

     There had been brief debate in town over who held propriety of the shack

and the business attached to it. Nobody held any illusions that there was any

great deal of money to be made at the shack. Certainly anyone with active

knowledge of the process knew that the labor involved was never well compensated

monetarily. And any discussion on the matter was wiped out along with the trees

in the area when gypsy moth caterpillars ravaged that entire area of forest,

leaving the woods little more than gray leafless spires of kindling.

     The trees, and the shack, never regained their former glory, and now they

still stood quietly, with little about them to remind anyone of their once

vibrant existence. All the boiling equipment was gone from the shack, leaving it

one large empty room with seemingly inexplicable shelves and benches and large

windows. Two doorways gaped on the front and rear of the building, with no doors

anywhere in sight. Blue and green plastic lines spidered out from its windows
into the woods, tacked to long dead trees, the only remaining evidence of the

shack‟s former purpose.

      In the seriously unlikely event that someone were to visit this shack this

particular afternoon, they might have felt a mixture of sorrow and nostalgia.

Something about the place implied a time and a way of living far removed from

our own. Our hypothetical observer would also surely have been taken by complete

surprise upon viewing the white cardboard box that had been pushed in to the

corner of the shack, under one of the low shelves. Were our observer to open the

box, he or she would instantly realize that the shack had been put to a purpose

far more grave than any it would have held during its distant time of regular

operation, and certainly in the quiet years since.

      Walter and Dane, not too far along from the shack, drove through the

country side, feeling relieved of a great burden.

      “Okay, that‟s that,” Walter said. “Now we wait. Where to?”

      “I can‟t say as I know,” Dane replied, looking around, checking the

landscape for any signs of recent traffic. He saw none but their own. It was as

if the road had been made especially for them a hundred years before, and lay in

wait until this day. “I prefer heading this way to the way we came from, but

damned if I can tell you what we‟re going to run in to out here. I‟ll tell you

what I‟d like, though.”

      “What‟s that?” asked Walter.

      “A drink,” Dane said. “Maybe four. I‟m not a big drinker, mind you, but

I‟m ready to put a few back, I don‟t mind telling you.”

      Walter smiled for the first time in quite a while. “I hear that,” he said,

and took out his wallet. “Looks like I‟ve got enough for a couple rounds. I

could get to an ATM and get some cash too, if we‟re going to go on an old

fashioned bender.”

      “Well, let‟s not get too out of control. First off, I don‟t need to be

putting you out.”
      “I‟m not too worried about that at this point. If this works out, I don‟t

think either of us will have to worry about that.”

      Dane said, “You know, that brings up a pretty important point. We don‟t

know what‟s in that box, but we can assume it to be drugs. How in the world do

we turn that around? I don‟t think I know anybody who buys that stuff.”

      “Yeah, I‟ve been thinking about that. I haven‟t come up with a good answer

yet, but I know a couple people I can call who might at least be able to point

me in a direction. No sense doing it yet though. One thing is for sure, I don‟t

want to be like a drug dealer, selling the stuff off in small amounts. I‟d want

to move the whole thing, get it out of my hands. That‟s a business I don‟t want

to be in.”

      “Likewise,” Dane said. “Anyway, about the drinks. Using an ATM might not

be the wisest thing either.”

      Walter thought, and said, “Yeah, you‟re probably right. I guess if someone

wanted to trace our steps, though, they‟d have that traffic stop back near the

border. Still, no need to put out any more landmarks than we need to, I suppose.

And as long as you‟re not drinking Moet & Chandon, I can spring for a couple

with what I have.”

      “I appreciate it, Walter,” Dane said. “And we don‟t want to get too out of

our heads anyway. We‟ve still got some work to do. But for now…” he sat up in

his seat and patted the dashboard with both hands. “Let‟s find us a bar.”




      Chapter 32



      Jesse got off the subway train at the Harvard stop. He noticed that the

majority of the people he could see were college age, much younger than at the

other stops he‟d gone through. This made him feel a little more at ease,
although he still felt far from comfortable in his surroundings. He made his way

up the nearby stairs and stepped out into the middle of Harvard Square.

      It took a good thirty seconds for Jesse to fully acclimate to the

sunlight. He found his way to the side of a nearby building and squinted. He

slowly realized he was in a round cobblestone pavilion in the middle of a

traffic circle. He stood next to a large newspaper stand. He sauntered around

the stand, looking at the vast array of papers and magazines, available in

nearly every language in current use on the planet. He thought about buying a

Spanish newspaper and bringing it back to Tom and Aaron, but he decided he

didn‟t have a convenient way to carry it.

      He looked around at the pavilion and the surrounding area of the city. It

almost looked like a movie set, the way everything seemed so perfectly framed.

Cars and pedestrians moved in a chaotic synchronization, and he felt completely

outside it as he stood there. He found himself wondering just what the Hell he

was doing there.

      A paper sign tacked to one of the bulletin boards at the newspaper stand

caught his eye. It said:



                                Northern Lights

                                Recording Studio

                       Creative, Comfortable, Good Rates

                           117C Inman St., Cambridge



      Below this, the paper had been cut into little pull tab strips with the

name, address, and phone number of the studio written on each. Jesse pulled one

off and walked up to the man working the stand.

      “Excuse me, can you tell me where Inman Street is?” Jesse said loudly over

the traffic.
      The man pointed behind and to the right of Jesse, who turned and saw the

street that connected like a spoke to the traffic circle. “Thanks,” Jesse said,

waving as he headed off.

      Inman Street, at least this end of it, was packed as densely as possible

with busy coffee shops and vintage clothing stores with hand painted signs out

front. As Jesse walked along the street he looked for numbers on the shops. He

finally spotted one at number 33, then found number 38 across the street. He was

headed in the right direction, at least. He laughed at himself at this when he

realized that if he had started at one end of the street, he could not help but

to be going in the right direction. Well, he thought, that‟s why I‟m not in

college, I guess.

      He walked for a while, and then, to his surprise, he found himself looking

at a building numbered 131. He looked back. He could no longer see the pavilion

or the subway entrance from here. Looking at the many little entrances to the

buildings along the street, it was easy to see how he might have missed the one

he was looking for. He headed back, paying more careful attention to the signs.

117 Inman Street looked like a residential building, a three story brownstone in

a row of similar looking structures. Jesse tried the door. It did not open. He

found a set of buttons and a speaker next to the door. He pressed the buzzer for

117C, above which was written Northern Lights.

      A voice came through the speaker. “Yeah?”

      Jesse cleared his throat. “Hi, I‟m looking for Fell Williams.”

      “Yeah, who‟s this?”

      “My name is Jesse.” He could think of nothing better to say.

      There was a long pause, and then a buzzing sound came from the door. Jesse

tried it, and it opened. He made his way up the stairs, past what appeared to be

a residence on the bottom floor, and a framing shop on the second. The door to

Northern Lights featured a large single pane glass window with Venetian blinds

drawn behind it. The lights appeared low behind the door, and nothing about the
place seemed to inviting, but the small sign on the door said OPEN, so Jesse

turned the knob and went inside.

      An older man sat working on a piece of electronic equipment with a

screwdriver, a pen light in his mouth. He gave Jesse a quick wave, and nodded

toward one of the adjoining rooms. Jesse pointed to one of the doors, and the

man nodded again.

      “Thanks,” Jesse said quietly, and walked through the room to the doorway.

      It led to a soundproofed instrument room. On one wall a large window

separated this room from the recording booth, a chamber of lights and wires

straight out of a science fiction movie. This room had a wooden floor that

reminded Jesse of a bowling alley. Strange pieces of gray foam zigzagged along

the walls. Guitars of every imaginable style lined the far wall, and Fell

Williams knelt before one of them, laying it into a guitar case. He looked up at

Jesse and said, “Hey.”

      “Hi, I‟m Jesse. I‟m from up in New Hampshire, and, uh… I was just in town,

and… I mean, I came down to see if I could, you know, say hi.”

      Fell stopped and stood, brushing off his pants. “You came all the way down

here for that?” He put out his hand, and Jesse shook it.

      “Well yeah, I mean, I love your stuff. I‟m a big fan.”

      “Hey, right on. I appreciate that. New Hampshire, huh? I‟m on my way there

now. Playing a solo show tonight. You should come out.”

      “Really? I mean yeah, that‟d be great! If I can get back up there in time,

that is.”

      “Well how‟d you get here?”

      “I hitchhiked most of the way, then grabbed a bus.”

      “Seriously? Man, I always wanted to do that.”

      “Heh, me too. It was pretty cool. Kind of a boring trip though. And my

feet are killing me.”
      Fell finished packing away the guitar. “I bet. Well, if you got nothing

going on, you can ride up to the show with me.”

      “You‟re kidding.”

      “Nope. But you gotta carry the gear. I always wanted a roadie.”

      Jesse shook his hand again. “Well you got one today, by God.” Then he took

the guitar from Fell and said, “What else you got?”

      “Not much, actually. The place has its own PA system, so I‟m traveling

light. Just as well, „cause my car isn‟t very big. If you would, just grab that

mic stand, and I‟ll get this case here, and I think we‟re good to go.”

      “Wow,” Jesse said as they headed out, “This is really unbelievable. Thanks

again for letting me come along.”

      “Hey, it‟s no problem,” said Fell, holding the door open for Jesse with

his foot. “I was actually worried that this gig wouldn‟t be all that

interesting.”




      Chapter 33



      Al had showered, shaved, and changed into a pair of black pants and a

turtleneck. He put on his gray sport coat and checked himself in the mirror. It

was a pretty discordant ensemble, but it would work. He didn‟t have any other

options anyway.

      Lou met him at the bottom of the stairs, and Al told him to go lay down.

He didn‟t need dog hair all over his pants. Lou did so, retreating to his large

pillow in the corner, tail still wagging. He watched Al for a minute and then

got to work on a nearby piece of rawhide.

      Al turned out all the lights except the small one over the sink, then

walked out to the van. It turned over with some difficulty, and gave a reluctant
shudder as it started. I‟ve been working the old girl pretty hard, he thought.

Hang in there.

         Once on the road, the van was running fine. Al had deferred turning on the

radio in case the engine had anything important to tell him, but now he switched

it on. The weekly car repair call-in show was in progress. Al listened,

wondering if he might perhaps hear something that would give him insight into

his own vehicle‟s troubles.

         The van was pretty old, that was its real problem. It had been a company

delivery van before Al got it. He bought it as part of an equipment closeout

sale when the Morganville Stitchery (affectionately known by those who worked

there as The Stitch And Bitch) shut down. The van had over a hundred thousand

miles when Al got it, but the engine had been rebuilt just twenty thousand miles

previous. It held all the gear the band would need to tote around. And it was

cheap.

         He had driven the van, to gigs and just on general business, for a couple

years now, easily getting his money‟s worth out of it. Now, faced with its

imminent replacement, he worried about what he‟d be able to afford to replace

it. Al hoped to at least be able to get through the winter with it.

         The drive back to The Greenwood Resort was an uneventful one. Nothing on

the radio proved helpful, but it was mildly entertaining, at least. One woman

had called to discuss a wasp nest that had formed under the hood of her Chevy

Caprice that had sat unused in the front lawn all summer. Al decided that things

with his van could certainly be worse. After a while he took the CD out of his

jacket pocket and put it in the van‟s player.

         The recording was of a show the Blake Mountain Boys had played the year

before. The disc featured just the first set of the show, about fifty minutes.

This was usually their mellower material, and not always the best indication of

the enthusiasm they received from the crowd. But it was also probably the most
appropriate stuff for a place like The Greenwood Resort. Plus, the first set was

when Brett was still relatively sober, and playing at his best.

         He turned in to the Resort drive and parked in the public lot, not far

from where he had parked earlier that day. He felt much less out of place now

that he was dressed appropriately. As he walked up to the entrance he noted that

most of the gentleman guests he could see were wearing ensembles of assorted

origin, much like his own. The Greenwood Resort might have had ideas of being a

high-class place, Al thought to himself, but its guests were meeting its

requirements to the barest degree possible.

         Once inside, he went again to the desk and spoke with the woman he‟d met

before. “Hello again. I‟m here to see Rick Severin, he called me earlier.”

         “Welcome back,” the woman said. “I‟ll let him know you‟re here.” She

reached for the phone, but stopped when she saw Mr. Severin himself come out of

the lounge. “Mr. Severin,” she said, “There‟s a gentleman here to see you.”

Rick Severin was the only man Al had seen so far whose coat looked like it

actually fit him. What‟s more, the rest of his suit matched it impeccably. Rick

put out a hand, and Al shook it.

         “Pleased to meet you,” Rick said. “Thanks for coming all the way back down

here.”

         “Oh, it‟s no problem. I‟m only about twenty minutes away.”

         “Great. Well, come on in, let me show you the lounge.” He led Al back

through the door from which Rick had come.

         The lounge was almost comical to Al. It was as if it were really trying to

be a relaxed environment, but there was just simply too much money in it. The

wood was too nice, the couches too large and spotless. The pool table had so

much space around it, one could shoot from any angle without hitting the butt of

their stick on the wall. The two women behind the bar wore white shirts and

black vests, and seemed constantly to be looking for something to do. There was
nothing relaxing about the place to Al. But he thought that perhaps, given time,

he could get into the groove of it.

         “Nice room,” he said as they walked toward a twelve-foot projection screen

along the far wall. Behind it, a dark red velvet curtain swayed lazily.

“Not bad. The sound in here is pretty good, too, from what I‟m told. I‟m not a

musician myself, but we get good feedback from those who come in.”

Al chuckled to himself at the unintended pun. “And the stage is behind there, I

take it?”

         “Yes. There‟s plenty of room up there for… you are a four piece, you

said?”

         “That‟s right.”

         “Ever do solo shows?”

         “Not in a long time, but I can put something together if that‟s what you

prefer. The guitarist and I work as a duo now and then.”

         “Mmm, good to know,” Rick said as he drew up the screen and pushed the

heavy curtain to one side. Al felt sure he had already told Rick all this, but

he figured Rick was probably a busy guy.

         “You don‟t have to open all this up just for me to check out, I‟m sure

it‟s fine,” Al said.

         “Oh, it‟s no problem. I need to get it ready anyway, we‟ve got music here

tonight.”

         Once revealed, the stage was indeed impressive. It was easily as large as

the stage they had just played on at the Midtown Fair, and far bigger than any

of the clubs they normally worked. What‟s more, there appeared to be ample power

outlets on both sides of the stage, and a house PA and light system were already

set up.

         “Looks nice,” Al said. “We can pretty much walk in and play.”
      “That‟s the idea,” Rick said. “Years ago they had a house band here. We‟re

talking back in the seventies. So most of the gear here is a little old, but it

still works fine, and it‟s never moved from this spot. So, you got a CD for me?”

Al reached in his pocket and said, “Oh dammit. I do, but it‟s back in the van.

Let me run and get it.”

      Rick checked his watch. “No, don‟t worry about it now. You can grab it

later. Listen, you made the trip all the way out here, how about some dinner?”

He produced a card from his coat pocket. “Take this up to the restaurant and

have a bite to eat. Have you dined here before?”

      Al took the card. “I can‟t say I have.”

      “I think you‟ll like it. Meet me down here later on, and hey, stick around

for the show tonight if you want.”

      “I might do just that,” Al said, smiling broadly. “Thanks.”

      Rick Severin headed over to the bar. Al walked back out to the lobby and

followed the signs up to the restaurant.




      Chapter 34



      “What if we just kept driving?” Aaron said to Tom as they cruised down the

highway in Aaron‟s father‟s car.

      “Well,” said Tom, “We‟d run out of money, we‟d run out of gas, we‟d walk

home and get beaten.”

      Aaron laughed. “Yep, that pretty much sums it up. So, what are we doing.

Are we going to Kingston, or what?”

      “No idea. I guess. Oh wait, what time is it?” The dashboard clock read

4:55. Tom turned on the radio. “The entertainment guide should be coming on.”

They listened through commercials for Turnbull Hardware and Verizon, and then

the DJ came on. “And now it‟s time for your local entertainment guide, brought
to you by Turnbull Hardware – Good Service Keeps Us In Business. It‟s Tuesday,

September twelfth, and here‟s what‟s happening in the area.

      “Tonight at the Midtown Twin Cinema, Christian Slater and Jamie Newsom

star in Heart of Ages in cinema one, and cinema two will show the animated

feature Trouble on King Dexter‟s Island. Showtimes for both movies are at seven

and nine fifteen.”

      Aaron rolled his eyes. “Okay, the movies are out.” Tom nodded in

agreement.

      The DJ went on. “Zoot‟s in Fairview will have DJ Lefty spinning records

tonight starting at 9 p.m.”

      Tom said, “Even if we wanted to go see that, we couldn‟t get in.”

      “Right,” said Aaron.

      “At The Greenwood Resort,” the DJ continued, “A solo show by singer

songwriter Fell Williams, front man for The Undernaüghties. The show starts at

eight.”

      Aaron and Tom stared at one another. “Can you even believe it?” Tom said.

“Jesse‟s got to be there.”

      “Well that‟s it then. That‟s what we‟re doing,” Aaron said, turning off

the radio. “You really think he‟ll be there?”

      “If he knows about it, then I have no doubt he‟ll go. If he can get in,

that is.”

      “You think they‟ll let us in?”

      Tom thought. “Oh, you know what, I think it‟s formal up there. We‟d need

sport coats. Where can we-“

      They looked at each other and said in unison, “Chet‟s!”

      Aaron threw the right blinker on and took the off ramp as Tom got out his

wallet. “I‟ve got sixteen bucks,” Tom said, “That should be plenty.”
      At the end of the off ramp, Aaron took a left, then got back on the

highway headed the other way. Five minutes later they had driven back to Midtown

and parked in front of Chet‟s Consignments.

      They went inside and shuffled through the racks of men‟s clothes. Tom

found a mustard blazer with large brass buttons. Oddly enough, it went pretty

well with the shirt he was wearing, and it was a good length. Plus, the one

dollar price tag was hard to beat. Aaron found a much more subdued gray sport

coat with matching pants for $3.50. They paid, changed, and jumped back in the

car, laughing.

      “Hopefully there‟s no cover charge, I guess,” Aaron said.

      “Probably not. I‟ve still got a few bucks left, but I doubt there‟s a door

charge. If there is, we‟ll figure it out.”

      They made it back to the highway and Aaron drove as fast as he dared,

which was about five miles over the speed limit.

      Tom said, “So, got any new story ideas coming up?”

      “As a matter of fact, I do,” Aaron told him. “I‟m thinking about a story

about a man, like a technician, found dead in his workplace.”

      “This is a recurring theme, isn‟t it?”

      “This one‟s different. The guy is the steward for Deep Blue, the chess

computer that Garry Kasparov played against. When they find him, the tech that

is, they come to the conclusion that he has killed himself. But nobody can

imagine why. He‟s a pioneer in his field, his work is unparalleled in its

success. He‟s a family guy with a good future. He doesn‟t leave a note or

anything.”

      “Uh huh,” Tom said, waiting for Aaron to continue.

      “So they can‟t figure it out, and then they see the chess board on the

table. One move has been made. E2-E4.”

      “Whatever that means,” Tom said.
         “It‟s chess notation,” said Aaron. “It means the pawn in front of the

white king is moved out two spaces. A common starting move.”

         “Oh, okay. I still don‟t see the significance of it though.”

         “Neither does anybody else until they turn Deep Blue back on. Apparently,

the tech had shut him off, right? And when he comes back online, the readout on

the screen says 1. E2-E4. Mate in 47.”

         Tom thought about it for a second, then got it. “Deep Blue broke the

game.”

         “Right. I mean, chess is obviously a finite game, but its limits are well

beyond what we can see. But Deep Blue has gotten to the end of it. He sees it

all, and the game is over as soon as it begins.”

         “So what happens?”

         “I don‟t know. I kind of think someone, maybe the investigating cop, maybe

another tech, smashes Deep Blue to at least postpone the discovery. You know,

for all intents and purposes, the discovery ruins the game, or at least the

mystery of the game. I‟m not really sure, though. The only sure way to know is

to sit down and start writing it, and then see how it ends.”

         “I‟d think you would need to know how the story was going to end before

you wrote it,” Tom said.

         Aaron laughed. “If that were true, I wouldn‟t have written a thing yet.

I‟m more or less flying blind every time I sit down to write. As a matter of

fact, it‟s more like I‟m not even writing the stories, I‟m just the first person

to read them.”

         “That makes absolutely no sense to me.”

         Aaron shrugged. “I guess it‟s hard to explain to someone if they haven‟t

done it.” He looked over at Tom. “You should do it, Tom. I bet you‟d write good

stuff.”

         “Maybe,” Tom said. “Hey, this is our exit.”
      Aaron veered hard to the right, swinging the car across the highway and

onto the off ramp, sending Tom hard into Aaron‟s shoulder, laughing

hysterically. They barreled down the ramp and merged onto the adjoining road,

coming up quickly on the entrance to The Greenwood. On the small island from

which the entrance sign post sprouted, a sandwich board had been placed,

reading:



                               LIVE MUSIC TONIGHT

                                 FELL WILLIAMS

                                8:30 – MIDNIGHT



      “This is the place, all right,” Aaron said, turning in to the entrance

road. He drove up the hill and parked in the public lot. Then the two looked at

each other and broke out laughing again.

      Tom said, “I‟m wearing this jacket to the prom.”

      “Yeah, that‟ll get you a date. Who are you taking?”

      “Sara Dumont and Kirsten Mills,” Tom joked, getting out of the car.

      “Sounds like a wild time. Don‟t get any on your new jacket. Not that you‟d

notice on that color.” They walked through the lot and up the stairs to the

front entrance.




      Chapter 35



      Walter and Dane had driven until they came to the highway. It had been

over an hour since they stopped and dropped off the box in the sugar shack. They

had come upon no suitable place to stop and wait it out, but now they had a few

options.
      Dane looked at the on ramp to the highway and said, “Should we head south,

do you suppose? Head down to the city for a while?”

      Walter pointed at the resort that loomed at the top of the nearby hill.

“No, I think we‟ve gone far enough. It‟ll take us quite a while to get back

there from here anyway. Let‟s see if we can get a drink.” He drove past the

highway on ramp, below the overpass, and turned into the entrance to The

Greenwood Resort.

      “I don‟t know if we are going to get in to this place,” Dane said, looking

around at the opulent surroundings and feeling decidedly self-conscious.

      “It‟s worth a shot. Besides, the sign down below said they had live music

tonight. We can say we‟re here for the band.” Walter pulled in to the public

lot, next to another white van. They got out and went inside.

      It was immediately obvious to them that they were out of place. Still,

Walter walked confidently up to the reception desk and said, “Hi, we‟re here to

see the band. Where are they playing?”

      The woman behind the counter said, “There in the lounge. I‟m afraid we

require sport coats of our guests, though.”

      “Oh,” Walter said. “You see, the thing about that is, we‟ve come a long

way, and this band is a favorite of ours, and-“

      “If you don‟t have jackets, we can rent them to you at five dollars a

piece.”

      “Nice racket,” Dane said under his breath. Walter elbowed him and said,

“That will be fine.” He took out ten dollars and gave it to the woman. She

looked the two men over briefly and disappeared around the corner, returning

quickly with two gray jackets. The two men put them on, and they fit comically

poorly. They switched jackets with each other, and the results were much better.

      “I‟ll need a driver‟s license from one of you. To hold as collateral,” the

woman said. Walter got his wallet back out and handed the woman his license.

Then the two men walked in to the lounge.
      The band had apparently not yet arrived, as the stage was empty and dark.

The lounge was not very busy. There were a few couples drinking at tables, and

two kids were playing pool. One of the kids wore a gaudy sport coat. Walter

looked in his wallet, checking his remaining cash.

      Dane said, “So did that eat up our drink money?”

      Walter nodded. “They‟ve got my license, so I may as well find an ATM now.

Anyone who wants to know if we were here can find out easily enough.” They

walked to the bar, and Walter asked one of the bartenders, “Can you tell me if

there is an ATM on the premises?”

      “Back out the door and to the left,” the bartender said, pointing.

      Walter said, “Thanks. I‟ll be right back.” He walked out, leaving Dane

sitting at the bar.

      The ATM was down a hallway on the other side of the lobby, just past a row

of telephones. A well-dressed man was on one of the phones, talking quietly but

angrily. Walter walked past him and used the bank machine. He took out twenty

dollars, grabbed his card and his receipt. As he turned to go back to the

lounge, the man who had been on the phone stood blocking his way.

      “I had said that if we of us saw each other again,” the man said, “neither

of us would be happy about it.” He pulled back his coat to expose a pistol on

his belt. “But I must admit, given the circumstances, I am quite happy to see

you, Mr. Walter. Let‟s take a walk.”

      He motioned for Walter to return to the lobby. Walter did so, with the man

close by his side. “We do not want to make a scene, do we, Mr. Walter?”

      “We most certainly do not,” Walter said. He was feeling dizzy, and had

gone pale.

      “That‟s good. Let‟s sit down and have a drink. Catch up on old times.”

They walked in to the lounge and took a seat at one of the unoccupied tables.

Dane noticed them when they came in, and he walked over to the table and took a

seat with them. “Who‟s your friend?” Dane asked.
      “Yes,” the man said to Walter, “Who is your friend?”

      Walter shot a quick look at Dane, who instantly surmised the trouble.

“This is Dane. He‟s just a guy I picked up hitchhiking. He doesn‟t know

anything.”

      “I‟m sure,” the man said. He turned to Dane. “Your friend Mr. Walter, he

is a very bad liar. Perhaps I should direct my questions to you. Will you give

me straighter answers?”

      Dane shrugged. “He‟s right, I don‟t know what you‟re talking about. I‟m

just trying to get upstate.”

      The man made a clicking sound with his tongue. “This is how it is going to

be. All right, we can do it like this. But let‟s not spoil anybody else‟s

evening, eh? Your vehicle is here, I assume. Let‟s go to it now, and I hope for

your sake I find what I am looking for there.” He stood. Walter motioned for

Dane to follow, then stood up himself. The three men walked out to the lobby,

Dane and Walter side by side in front, the man close behind.

      Halfway across the lobby, Walter stopped and said, “Listen. I‟ve still got

it. But it‟s not in the van. It‟s about an hour from here, and we‟re going to

have to take a ride to go and get it.”

      “Then that is what we are going to do. Keep moving.”

      “Let me finish,” Walter continued. “I just want you to know that I had,

and have, no intention of screwing you over. It‟s just that after what happened

in Kingston I had no idea what I was supposed to do.”

      “Yes, Mr. Walter. And I have no intention of causing you or your friend

harm, provided we bring this matter to a close quickly.”

      “And we‟ll do that. But I gotta ask something of you first.”

      The man looked impatient. “What is it you need, Mr. Walter?”

      Walter leaned in close. “To use the bathroom. It was a long trip here, and

I‟ve really got to go.”
      The man stared at him. Then the faintest glimmer of a smile creased his

face, and he said, “Of course.” He pointed to a nearby door. “There. Your friend

and I will wait right here. Make it fast.”

      Walter nodded, and went quickly across the lobby and into the bathroom.

Dane and the man stood there, saying nothing.

      After about five minutes, the man said to Dane, “Mr. Walter has begun to

disappoint me.”

      Dane said, “Well, he hasn‟t been feeling well since he picked me up.

Indigestion, I think.” He shrugged meekly.

      The two, at the man‟s coercion, walked toward the bathroom. The man said,

“You go in there and bring him out, and we will get this over with.” Dane nodded

and went in.

      The bathroom was empty. There were two urinals and three stalls beyond

them, and nobody at any of them. At the far wall, a breeze from an open window

blew a white curtain lazily back and forth. Dane walked over to the window and

looked out. The drop was only about six feet. He thought about his dilemma. He

certainly couldn‟t go out and tell this guy that Walter had beat feet. There was

nothing for it but to follow Walter on whatever idea he had, and quick. Dane

slipped out the window and down onto the grass below.




      Chapter 36



      The feeling Jesse got as he crossed the border back into New Hampshire was

surprisingly warm. He was definitely excited to be traveling to the show, and

completely stunned at his present company, but the fact that he was returning to

his home state made him happy, and that surprised him.
      He actually hadn‟t talked much as they drove through Massachusetts, but

now began to loosen up and get more comfortable with his situation and his

surroundings. He said to Fell, “So where‟s the rest of the band?”

      Fell glanced over at him. “What do you mean?”

      “Well, you‟re pulling a solo show tonight. Where are the other guys?”

      “There are no other guys, really. When the tour starts after the album is

done, I‟ll hire some musicians and bring them up to speed.”

      Jesse was confused. “You‟re a one man band or something?”

      “Yeah, kind of like that, I guess. I write and record everything myself.

But it‟s not like I stand there and play a bunch of instruments at the same time

or anything.”

      “That‟s awesome. How many instruments can you play?”

      “A bunch. Do you play any?”

      “Me?” Jesse said. “No. I can do Heart and Soul or whatever that song is on

the piano, that‟s about it.”

      “Ah.” Fell reached up and flipped down his visor, steering the car with

one hand. From the visor he plucked a CD. “You want to check out some demos of

the new stuff?”

      “Yeah! That‟d be great.”

      Fell put the CD in. The first song took Jesse a bit by surprise. The

recording quality was pretty rough, and the style of the music was unlike what

he had heard from The Undernaüghties in the past. But he liked it.



                         Ain‟t gonna hear the things you say

                         Don‟t wanna play the games you play

                  Ain‟t gonna listen to ya - I push right through ya

                                  Here it comes now



                                 You can say anything
                                  But I don‟t mind

                            That‟s all right with me

                            You can take everything

                                  And I don‟t mind

                           It‟s all all right with me

                       In the end you don‟t have anything

                                      Anything

                           That I can‟t find for free

                              You can say anything

                                  And I don‟t mind

                           It‟s all all right with me



                         „Cause what you failed to see

                     Is I‟m all right - It‟s all on my side



                              You can say anything

                                  But I don‟t mind

                            That‟s all right with me

                            You can take everything

                                  And I don‟t mind

                           It‟s all all right with me



                      Yeah, „Cause what you failed to see

                     Is I‟m all right - It‟s all on my side



     As the song faded out, Jesse said, “Wow, that was different.”

     “Was it good?” Fell asked.

     “Yeah. Real good, actually. A little more of a mainstream kind of song

than I expected. I bet it‟ll do well.”
      “Cool. I think we‟ve got that one tapped as the single. It‟s probably me

least favorite on the album. But you know how that goes.”

      The next song was quite a bit more upbeat, and closer to Jesse‟s

preconceived notions of the band.



                        Under a blanket with my feet out

                        In front of the TV in the spring

                       Commander Adama sent the fleet out

                        And the Cylons never hit a thing

                      A week and a half of straight reruns

                      Starts to do something to your mind

                I‟m thinking there‟s things that need to be done

                     Thinking of leaving everything behind



                     I went to the kitchen with a back pack

                      I filled it with sandwiches and beer

                     I left a note that said I‟d come back

                          Sometime sooner than a year

                      I hit the road and put my thumb out

                        I stood there waiting for a ride

                     I started to question why I‟d come out

                  When this white van pulled over to the side



                        I won‟t ever hit the road again

               Because the road hits back much harder than I can

             And if you ask me I cannot remember when I chose to go

                    So if you hear me wish that I could fly

                 I‟m giving you permission to hit me in the eye

           Cause if you ask me I can not remember why I hit the road
            The van was driven by a bombshell

              She said her name was Emaline

       She asked if I felt like raising some Hell

          I said I could probably find the time

           We went to her house and got crazy

            The wildest time I‟ve ever known

             The rest of the memory is hazy

         I woke up in Boston broke and all alone



           Asleep on a bench in South Station

              To get on the Attleboro train

               It‟s not exactly a vacation

                I‟m never doing it again

             I begged for money for an hour

               I made a dollar twenty five

            In need of a coffee and a shower

           I‟m probably lucky just to be alive



             I won‟t ever hit the road again

    Because the road hits back much harder than I can

 And if you ask me I cannot remember when I chose to go

         So if you hear me wish that I could fly

     I‟m giving you permission to hit me in the eye

Cause if you ask me I can not remember why I hit the road



           It took all day for me to get back

           My roommates tried to act surprised

          A couple weeks of getting laughed at
                           Oh man I love these fuckin‟ guys



                         In front of the TV getting restless

                         I‟m wondering where my life has gone

                    But this ain‟t the day I‟m gonna fix it

                           Cause Battlestar Galactica is on



                           I won‟t ever hit the road again

               Because the road hits back much harder than I can

             And if you ask me I cannot remember when I chose to go

                    So if you hear me wish that I could fly

                 I‟m giving you permission to hit me in the eye

           Cause if you ask me I can not remember why I hit the road



      “Oh man, that‟s a riot!” Jesse said. “Hey, I heard an F-bomb in there.

Guess this one won‟t be on the radio.”

      “Ah, they can always bleep it out,” Fell shrugged. “But yeah, this isn‟t

the sort of stuff I‟d expect to hear on Pure Pop 106 or anything. That‟s fine

with me, I suppose. I mean, it‟s a tough thing. If I want to keep making albums,

I‟ve got to sell them. But in the end, if it‟s not stuff that I‟m happy doing,

then I‟m not really selling the albums I want to sell, and that‟s no fun. So for

the most part I‟m writing what I want to write, and if it works, that‟s great.”

      The Theme From McBishop came up on the CD after that. Jesse knew the theme

well, but had never heard this version of it. “Wow,” he said, “This sounds

pretty different too.”

      “Oh yeah. It‟s actually a piece I had written a couple years before I

pitched it to ABC. They wanted something for a theme song, and I thought it

might work. You can hear the changes it had to go through to satisfy the execs.”
      “Man,” Jesse said, “this is really cool. Is there any way I can get a copy

of this? Or do you not like your demos to get around or something?”

      “Oh, go to my web site. It‟s www.theundernaughties.com. I put mp3s of the

demo versions up there for free download.”

      “Wow. That‟s cool, giving it away.”

      Fell said, “Yeah, if it convinces someone to go out and buy the studio

version, that works for me. If not, well at least they‟re hearing some of my

stuff, and that‟s what I really want.”

      They drove on through southern New Hampshire, talking and listening to

music, Jesse still trying to get a grip on just how lucky he was.




      Chapter 37



      Al had walked up to the restaurant, handing the card to the tuxedoed man

at the door, who said, “Good evening Mr. Dupree, we‟ve been expecting you.” Al

thought this unlikely, and figured the guy was just reading his name off of the

card and doing his job. But when he was led through the dining area he was taken

aback to find a table set up with a placard on it that featured the embossed

name of Al Dupree. It seemed arrogant of Rick Severin that he would assume Al

would be staying for dinner, but Al decided that it was more likely that the

resort had the money to throw away on the mere possibility of his being there.

      “Please, have a seat,” the Maitre „D said, pulling out one of the two

chairs. Al sat, and the man continued, “If you should choose to stay with us for

breakfast, Mr. Dupree, just come on in to this same table, it will be reserved

for you.”

      “Thank you very much,” Al said, vainly attempting to make it sound as if

such treatment were remotely within the realm of possibility. No more than ten

seconds later, a waitress came by, filled his water glass, and asked if he would
like to see the wine list. He declined, asking instead if they had any beer. She

said that they indeed did, and asked what he would like.

      “How about a Thumper‟s? Do you carry that?”

      “Certainly, sir,” she said, regarding the empty chair across the table.

“Just one?”

      “Yes, thank you,” Al said. The waitress hurried off. Al sat and sipped his

water, looking around at the vast dining room. He appeared to have arrived at

the early part of the dinner hour, as very few of the other tables were

occupied. Light jazz music could be heard, and Al was pleased to hear it. It was

not the muzak style fluff normally heard in restaurants that tried to come off

as high class, but actual sophisticated composition and improvisation. It took

Al a full minute to notice that the music was being supplied by an actual trio

at the far end of the dining room. He wished he had been seated closer to them,

so he could watch them work. The piano player was as smooth as any he had heard.

As he listened, he found it increasingly hard to believe that the Blake Mountain

Boys had any business being within ten miles of the place.

      The waitress returned with a Thumper‟s, a tall glass, a basket of rolls

and butter, and a large menu. Al thanked her and perused the menu, getting to

work on the beer and a white roll at the same time.

      The dishes offered on the menu were pretty intimidating. After a bit of

searching, Al found an accessible looking beef tenderloin with Yukon gold

potatoes and pickled grapes. He ordered, wondering just what a pickled grape

tasted like. I guess I‟ll find out, he thought, taking a sip of his Thumper‟s.

      The meal came to him quickly. It featured a generous pile of steaming

broccoli that Al couldn‟t remember having seen on the menu description. He

didn‟t care for broccoli, and the smell of it was strong. He pushed it aside and

got to work on the tenderloin. It was fantastic. He noticed the small dark

purple slices at the side of the plate. One might mistake them for very small
beets. He skewered one of these pickled grapes and tried it. Not bad, he

thought.

         Al made quick work of the entire meal. Except for the broccoli, of course.

It was as well prepared a piece of meat as he had ever had in his life. He had

ordered it medium rare, something he hardly ever did. Usually he told whomever

was cooking his steak to blacken the thing. He had always operated on the theory

that a good piece of meat prepared well could be served medium rare, but the

stuff he had regular access to was usually not the best cut of meat, and most

often prepared by a semi-skilled cook at best. He included himself in this

category. But this tenderloin was exquisite.

         The waitress cleared his plate and presented him with a dessert menu. Al

looked it over quickly, but had already decided he would be skipping dessert. He

wasn‟t much for sweets. He did take a look though, just to see if there was

anything on there that might change his mind. In the end he declined, and got

up, satisfied. He made his way out of the dining room and headed back down the

stairs. Then he remembered what he had to do. Oh, that‟s right, he thought.

Better run to the bathroom first, then I‟ve got to go out and get that demo CD

for Rick.



         The man in the lobby had waited long enough. It had been another five

minutes or so since the second man, Dane, had gone in to the bathroom. It was

time to go and get them both, and get back to business. The man pushed the

bathroom door open and stepped inside. He checked the stalls as the door swung

shut behind him. Then he noticed the window.

         Those who happened to be out in the lobby at the time were startled to

hear a yell of rage coming from inside the men‟s room. There was brief

discussion among the workers, and one of the porters was finally chosen to go in

and see what was going on. To his surprise he found the bathroom completely

empty.
      The man jogged along the edge of the building. The drop from the window

had left him standing on the back lawn, and it was a long way around in either

direction. He headed to the right, trying to remember the layout of the front of

the building. As he came around the corner of the building, he saw what he had

hoped to see: the public parking lot. He entered it, scanning the rows of

vehicles, catching his breath. Soon he found what he was looking for; a white

van with COASTAL DISTRIBUTORS on the side. He took out his gun and held it at

his hip, just behind him and out of view, as he approached the van. He carefully

peered in through the passenger window. It looked unoccupied. The man looked out

around the parking lot, but saw no sign of activity.

      To head back in to the resort was to take the chance of missing his quarry

altogether. He decided to take the safe play. In matters such as these, he

reminded himself, patience is the most useful tool. It had been a very long day,

and patience was something of which his supply was running quite short. He

tested the passenger door, and found it unlocked. As quietly as he could, he let

himself in to the van, closed the door behind him, and settled in the back.




      Chapter 38



      Fell pulled in to the entrance to The Greenwood Resort and drove up the

hill. “I wonder if they charge for valet parking,” he said. “Ah Hell with it, I

can park in the lot over there, if you don‟t mind carrying some gear.” He

pointed to the public parking lot.

      “No sweat,” Jesse said. “We can make it in one trip.” They drove in and

found a spot, then unloaded the car. Jesse grabbed the guitar case and the

microphone stand, and tucked a music stand in under his left arm. Fell was left

with just his briefcase and a backpack.

      “Not bad,” Fell said. “I should have gotten me a roadie a long time ago.”
      They carried the gear in and went to the front desk. Fell said, “Hi there,

I‟m the entertainment for this evening. Where do I set up?”

      The woman behind the counter was getting a little tired of this

conversation, but tried her best not to show it. “There, in the lounge. But we

require jackets of our guests, gentlemen.”

      “Really?” Fell said. “Nobody said anything to me about that when I booked

the gig. I don‟t even think I own a sport coat.”

      The woman said, “We can rent you a jacket for five dollars, if you don‟t

have one.”

      “Come on, you‟re seriously going to do that to me? I‟m working here. I

just drove an hour and a half to-”

      Jesse stepped to the desk and said, “Don‟t worry about it, I‟ve got it

covered. We‟ll take two.” He smiled at the woman, who sized them up and went to

get a couple jackets. By the time she came back, Jesse had pulled ten dollars

from his sock and placed it on the desk. He and Fell donned the jackets, picked

up their gear, and headed for the lounge.

      On the way, Jesse spotted a familiar looking man coming out of the men‟s

room. It took him a second to place him, considering the distinctly different

context in which he was seeing the guy. He waved and said, “Al, right?”

      Al looked at him. “Yeah. You‟re… from the fair, right?”

      “Yeah. Jesse. I helped you load your gear in.”

      Al looked at the equipment in Jesse‟s hands. “Looks like you‟re on your

way to a new career.”

      Jesse laughed. “Maybe so. I don‟t think it pays well enough though. Hey,

this is Fell Williams. Fell, this is Al from the Blake Mountain Boys.” Al and

Fell exchanged greetings and shook hands.

      Fell said, “So have you played here before?”

      “No,” Al said. “As a matter of fact, I‟m here trying to set that up now. I

gotta run out and grab a CD real quick. You‟re playing tonight, I take it?”
      “Yeah, just doing a solo show in the lounge over there.”

      “Cool. I‟ll check you out,” Al said as he headed for the front entrance.

      “Right on,” Fell said, giving him a wave as he and Jesse walked to the

lounge.



      The very last thing Jesse could have expected upon entering the lounge of

The Greenwood Resort was for people to be yelling his name. But he hadn‟t even

made it halfway across the open dancing area to the stage when he heard exactly

that, coming from his left. He looked over and saw a couple guys walking over

from the direction of the pool table. He didn‟t recognize them as Tom and Aaron

until they were almost upon him.

      “Hey!” Jesse said. “What the Hell are you guys doing here?”

      “Well, we figured we‟d find you here,” Aaron said, giving him a playful

push. “We wanted to hear about life on the road.”

      “Yeah, it doesn‟t look like you‟ve turned in to a vagrant yet,” Tom said.

      “I‟m doing better than you, Colonel Mustard,” Jesse said, pointing at

Tom‟s jacket. Aaron let out a snort of laughter.

      “What?” Tom said. “I like this jacket.”

      Aaron and Jesse rolled their eyes. Jesse said, “Listen guys, I‟ve got

somebody you‟ve got to meet.” He led them over to the stage. “Fell, these are my

friends Tom and Aaron. Guys, this is Fell Williams.”

      “Hi guys,” Fell said. “Boy, Jesse, you‟re pretty well connected out here.

Is there anyone you don‟t know?”

      “It‟s purely coincidence, I assure you,” Jesse said, shrugging. “I‟ve

never been here in my life.”

      “Well me neither,” Fell said, “And I‟ve got to get set up here and start

playing.”

      “You need any help?” Jesse offered.
         “No, I don‟t think so. It looks like I‟ve got what I need up here.” Fell

jumped up on to the raised stage. “But if you happen to run into a guy named

Rick Severin, tell him I‟m here, or send him over or something.”

         “Will do,” Jesse said, and he, Tom, and Aaron headed back toward the pool

table.

         “Unbelievable,” said Aaron. “You leave on a whim, and come back the next

day loading gear for the lead singer of The Undernaüghties.”

         “There‟s a story for you,” Tom said. “Maybe you should listen to this guy

for a couple hours and just write down what comes out.”

         Jesse said, “You know, it wasn‟t as exciting a trip as all that. Lots of

down time between very brief periods of actual interesting stuff. And I‟ll tell

you, it‟s kind of nice to be back up here.” He motioned toward the pool table.

“Who‟s up for a game? I‟m buying.”



         Al was surprised at how dark it had gotten when he stepped outside. Even

from the front stairs, he could see his van in the public lot. It was the only

van in a sea of cars, most of which cost more than Al had made in any one year

of his life.

         As he walked over, he was a little pleased to see a few cars mingled in

there of lesser value. But there were still not many; even those guests who went

through the trouble of parking themselves instead of using the valet service

seemed to be pretty well off for the most part. Al reminded himself, in the

event that he were to negotiate any shows at The Greenwood, to bring a tip jar.

He could probably double his wage.

         He opened the van door and got in. The visor was still down, and he

fumbled with it in the dark before realizing the disc was, of course, still in

the CD player. He got out his keys and started the van. It objected, but came to

life noisily.
         As it did, a stern voice came from the back of the van. “Do not say a

word. You drive, and drive where I tell you, or I swear to God I will shoot you

dead.”

         Al went white with terror. He began to turn toward the voice in the back,

and he heard the unmistakable click of a revolver.

         “Don‟t look. Drive.”

         He turned back around, taking a deep breath. Then he put the van in

reverse, backed out of the parking space, and as calmly as he could manage,

drove down the hill and out of the resort.




         Chapter 39



         The quiet of the New Hampshire country side was suddenly interrupted by

the roar of a van going far too fast for the road it was on. It hurtled down the

road, squealing around corners and bouncing comically up and down like a jalopy.

It was dirty white, and there were clean shiny squares on its doors, showing

where magnetic signs had been until just recently.

         Dane said to Walter, “Take it easy, man. None of this does us any good if

we hit a tree.”

         Walter slowed a little. “Right. Yeah. You‟re right. Oh Jesus.”

         “So that was the guy who gave you the box, or one of his associates.”

         “That was the guy himself. I don‟t know his name.” Walter‟s knuckles were

white from his tight grip on the steering wheel.

         “Okay. Well, we‟ll be back at that shack in about… thirty five minutes.

Maybe thirty, the way you‟re driving. Then what?”

         Walter said, “Then we pick it up and get the Hell out of Dodge.”

         “No, that doesn‟t work. We still don‟t know if that thing is loaded or

not, right?”
      Walter thought. “Dammit! Yeah, okay.”

      “Listen, this guy is not very likely to find the thing where it is. Unless

we lead him to it. Let‟s turn around and find somewhere else to sweat it out.”

      “Maybe you‟re right. But where do we go?”

      Dane shrugged. “The highway is right back by The Greenwood. Let‟s get to

it, pick a direction, and go.”

      “I don‟t like the idea of heading back that way. I mean, he must be

looking for us by now.”

      Dane said, “It‟s true. He probably is. And who knows how many others he‟s

got with him. But we sure as Hell don‟t want them coming out this way. And if he

or one of his buddies does find us, they can‟t do anything to us if we‟re the

only ones who know where the box is.”

      Walter hit the brakes and turned around right in the road. The van headed

back in the other direction as urgently as it had come.

      “Man,” Walter said, “I should have known this would get completely out of

control.”

      Dane said nothing. He tried in the dark of the van to read the newspaper

article about the Kinston raid, hoping to find any information that might

somehow help them.

      Walter said, “I feel pretty bad about whoever owns that other van. God, I

hope nobody gets hurt.”

      Dane looked up from the paper and said, “That was pretty clever. When did

you think to do that?”

      “About two seconds before I did it. If any of this seems like a plan, I

assure you it‟s not. I‟m pulling this right out of my ass.”

      “Well so far so good. If we get to the highway, I think we‟re in good

shape.”
      Al stopped at the bottom of the hill, unsure which way he was supposed to

go. The voice from the back of the van came again. “Go. You know what I want.

Take me to it, or you die. Now!”

      This has got to be a mistake, Al thought. He turned left out of the Resort

and drove past the highway on ramp, wondering how he had found himself in this

situation.

      They drove in silence for a while. Al thought, where does this guy think

I‟m taking him? Sooner or later, he‟d have to say something. He racked his brain

for any possible explanation for what was going on, and could come up with

nothing.

      Finally, he decided he had nothing to lose. He spoke. “Mister, I don‟t

know what you‟re looking for, but I don‟t have it.”

      The man was enraged. “Stop the van NOW!” Al did so, easing it over to the

side of the road. The man clambered up and sat in the passenger seat, leveling a

gun at Al‟s chest. “Who the Hell are you?”

      “My name is Al Dupree,” Al said, staring at the black pistol.

      “Well what the Hell are you doing in this van, and where are your

friends?”

      “This is my van, and I honestly don‟t know what you‟re talking about. I‟m

by myself, I swear.”

      “GET OUT!” The man screamed, reaching across and opening Al‟s door. Al did

as he was told. The man climbed across and got out the driver‟s door, keeping

the gun pointed at Al the whole time. He slammed the van door shut. As he did,

Al noticed the COASTAL DISTRIBUTORS magnetic sign stuck to his door. How in the

world? he thought.

      “I swear to God,” the man said, pressing the gun to Al‟s forehead, “You

are dead, DEAD RIGHT NOW if you don‟t tell me what the FUCK IS GOING ON!”
      Al tried to speak, but nothing came out. The man bore down harder with the

barrel of the gun, and Al thought for sure he would soon break the skin with it.

He managed to stammer, “Someone… put that sign on my door. It‟s not mine.”

      The man looked at Al with uncertainty, then reached over and peeled back

the magnetic sign. There was none of the discoloration one would have expected

to see on the door behind the magnet. Upon closer inspection, the man noticed

the sign was set fairly crooked on the door, as if it had been hastily slapped

on.

      The man tried with all his might to suppress the fury rising in him. He

took the gun from Al‟s head, who sighed audibly. The barrel had left a red

rosette mark on Al‟s forehead.

      “This is… a misunderstanding,” the man said. “Most unfortunate.” He

offered a polite smile. Al shook nervously. The man put a hand on his shoulder

and turned him gently. “Go around to the other door, my friend. I will drive us

back to The Resort, and we will forget all about it.”

      Al turned automatically. He felt completely spent. His brain had all but

ceased to function as he walked toward the back of the van. As he did, the man

walked close behind him, quickly raised the pistol to the back of Al‟s head, and

pulled the trigger.

      The report from the gun seemed to echo forever, bouncing between the White

Mountains in the distance. The man walked around Al‟s body and dragged it to the

back of the van, and opened the rear doors. As he began to load Al in to the

van, he saw the growing glow of headlights coming toward him. He doubled his

efforts, getting the body safely stowed away before it could be seen. He swung

the rear doors shut and then stood against the back of the van, waiting for the

other car to go by.

      He could not believe his eyes when he saw a white van shoot quickly past

him. He was sure, even in the brief second it had been in view, that he had

caught sight of a discolored square on the van‟s driver door. The man sprinted
around and got in Al‟s van, finding the keys still in the ignition. He turned

them. The van groaned, burbled, and went silent. The man took a breath through

clenched teeth and tried again, this time pressing the gas pedal to the floor

board. The van turned over loudly, against its will. The tires spun as the van

lurched forward, fishtailing in the soft earth on the side of the road. The man

got control of the van and spun it around, giving chase as fast as he could go.




      Chapter 40



      Fell Williams was tuning his guitar when Rick Severin came up to the edge

of the stage and said, “Hey there, nice to finally meet you.”

      “Oh, hi. You must be Rick,” Fell said, shaking his hand.

      “Hey, thanks for coming up, and I‟m sorry about the jacket thing. They

mentioned it at the desk. I thought I had told you when we spoke on the phone, I

apologize.”

      “No big deal at all. If I‟d have known, I‟d have picked out something that

matched a little better, that‟s all.”

      Rick laughed. “You look fine. Listen, I‟ve got to take care of some

things, but I‟ll be in and out over the course of the evening. Do you need

anything while I‟m here?”

      “Looks like I‟m all set,” Fell said. “The PA is pretty straight forward,

and I‟m ready to go. I‟m just going to jump down and grab a drink, and then I‟ll

be starting.”

      “Perfect. I‟ll stop in later.” Rick left.

      Fell walked over to the bar and asked for a glass of water. The bartender

directed him to the sink in the back and told him to feel free to get whatever

he needed. Fell wasn‟t quite sure if this was a perk or a chore, but he thanked

her nonetheless and walked back. He filled a glass with ice, and found the soda
gun hanging in the sink. There didn‟t appear to be a WATER button, so he filled

up with COKE and headed back to the stage.

     As he got there, the colored spotlights spontaneously turned on, and he

received a smattering of applause from those in the room. He looked back over to

the bar and saw the controls for the lights on a wall near the bartender. Well,

there‟s one thing I don‟t have to do, at least, he thought. Then he checked

himself. Oh man, I get a roadie for one day and I‟m spoiled to the core.

     Fell decided to kick off the show with a yet to be released song from the

upcoming album. He didn‟t expect too many of the people in the room to be

familiar with his material anyway. He played the guitar intro and sang:



                     I can see the way you‟re lookin‟ at me

                       You got some bad news on your mind

                       What you need is a change of scene

                     But you can‟t bear to leave it behind

                          You wanna hide – stay inside

                     Because you don‟t wanna take that fall

                      You‟re in last place in the rat race

          And you‟re thinkin‟ it‟s a waste that you‟re runnin‟ at all



                        When you gonna put it to bed now

                            When you gonna let it go

                        When you gonna put it to bed now

                      How long you gonna carry that stone



                       I swear it ain‟t that I don‟t care

                    About the trouble that you been through

                   But there ain‟t nothin‟ you prize so dear

                    As all the bad things that happen to you
                     You‟re at a loss tryin‟ to carry that cross

                          But you can‟t bear to put it away

                        Because the shit list id your hit list

                   And you‟re gonna let the top twenty play all day



                           When you gonna put it to bed now

                               When you gonna let it go

                           When you gonna put it to bed now

                         How long you gonna carry that stone



      The first song met with pretty good applause, and some hoots from Jesse

and his friends up by the pool table. Fell hadn‟t prepared a set list; he

figured he‟d play off the crowd. He thought it best to follow up with something

familiar, so he rolled into Kodachrome by Paul Simon. He could tell that most of

the people in the room recognized the tune, and as he played through it, he

settled in to what looked like it would be an easy enough night.



      “Tell me that wasn‟t him,” Walter said as he swerved the van on to the

highway on ramp.

      “I‟m pretty sure that was the guy,” Dane said. “Not good.”

      “Okay. Okay. Shit.” Walter drummed on the steering wheel as they flew down

the road. “The question is, did he see us get on the highway?”

      “Not sure,” Dane said, looking in the side mirror. “I don‟t see him back

there. How far to the next exit?”

      “Damned if I know.”

      “Well I suggest we take it. Get off and change direction again.”

      “Yeah, great. To where?”

      “Back to The Greenwood.”

      Walter looked at Dane. “Are you crazy? Why on Earth would we-“
        “Two reasons. One, it‟s probably the last place he‟d look. Two, if he

does, we beat him there and tell them he‟s coming and he‟s got a gun.” Dane

paused, then said, “It‟s the best I‟ve got.”

        “Better than anything I can think of,” Walter said. “Damn, I‟m no good at

this. What the Hell was I thinking?”

        “I don‟t know if either one of us was thinking. It doesn‟t matter much

now.” Dane pointed. “There‟s our exit.”

        Walter took it quickly, screeching to a halt at the end of it. He looped

around and got back on the highway headed north. They saw no sign of the other

van as they pulled off and took the quick turn up the hill to The Greenwood

Resort.

        Walter pulled the van in to a space in the public lot. They jumped out and

hustled inside. They went immediately to the reception desk, and Walter said

breathlessly, “Hi. We‟re back.”

        The woman said to them, “As expected. I didn‟t think you‟d make it too

far.”

        Walter looked at her uncertainly, fear creeping up his back. He had no

idea what she was talking about. She reached under the counter and held up

Walter‟s license. Only then did he remember that he and Dane were wearing the

rented jackets. “Oh. Yes. Right. We‟re actually going to stay for a bit. Um,

check out the band. But listen, there was a fellow here earlier. Maybe you saw

us with him here in the lobby. Black suit?”

        “I‟m not sure I know the man, sir,” the woman said. “If anyone asks for

you, I can tell them-“

        “No, no, you don‟t understand.” Walter leaned in closer. “I don‟t want to

cause undue alarm, okay? But this guy is dangerous. If anyone asks for us, for

me, that is, don‟t tell them I‟m here. He‟s probably… okay, he‟s got a gun. I‟d

call the police if I were you.”
       The faintest sign of alarm crossed the woman‟s face. “I think I had better

notify the manager. Please stay right here for a moment.” She disappeared around

the corner.

       Walter looked at Dane. “I don‟t know, maybe I played our hand a little

early?”

       Dane shrugged. “No way to know. We gotta play it safe at this point.

Listen, what if we just tell this guy where the box is, and-“

       “I don‟t think that‟s an option at this point,” Walter said softly,

looking at the woman returning behind the desk. Rick Severin walked in beside

her, and said to the men, “Is there some sort of trouble?”

       “We certainly hope not, sir,” Walter told him. “But a man…” he spoke more

quietly now, sensing that the manager‟s presence may have drawn the attention of

others in the lobby. “A man here pulled a gun on us earlier. We believe we‟ve

given him the slip, but if he comes back, I thought you guys should know about

it.”

       Concern laced with disapproval crossed Rick‟s face. He spoke quietly. “If

there is a gunman headed for my resort, I do not want him to have any targets to

shoot at. I think it best if you two go to my office for the time being, if you

think there‟s a chance of him coming back.”

       Walter said, “I have to believe there‟s a good possibility of it, sir.”

       “Follow me then.” He walked across the lobby and to the end of a long

hall. He opened a door on the left and flipped on a light switch. “Wait here for

now. I will notify the authorities, and we will see what happens, I guess.”

       “Thank you, sir. I‟m sorry for this, I realize it‟s a terrible situation,

Walter said as he and Dane entered the room.

       “No no, I‟m sorry something like this has happened at our resort. Nothing

like this has ever happened at The Greenwood. Please accept my apologies. Let‟s

try to get it taken care of.” Rick Severin closed the door, and his footsteps

faded down the hall.
       Chapter 41



       Al‟s van hobbled along down the road. The man jammed the gas pedal, trying

to force it to run more smoothly. His efforts just caused it to lurch even

worse, and soon he gave up, thankful just to be moving at all. By the time he

got back to the on ramp, there was no gin of the other van. They could easily

have gone in any direction, and be far along by now. This would not do.

       He drove past the highway and up the hill toward The Greenwood Resort.

About halfway up the drive, the van sputtered and stalled. The man pulled

frantically to the side and then swore at the van for a full minute, not

stopping to breathe, as he turned the key violently again and again to no avail.

When he finally composed himself, he realized the walk up the hill was

relatively short. He got out and started walking. He didn‟t much like the idea

of leaving the van where it was, especially given its morbid cargo, but he had

no choice. This whole day had gone to Hell, and if he couldn‟t do anything else,

he was going to ensure that he didn‟t make the trip alone.

       He arrived, winded, at the steps to the main entrance. As he ascended

them, his way was blocked by a tall man. Rick Severin stood there, regarding

him.

       “Looking for something?” Rick said to him.

       The man tried to walk past him. Rick grabbed him by the shoulder and

pinned him to the wall, looking around to make sure nobody could see them. Then

he stood the man up and brushed off his suit coat, and said, “They are in my

office. You know where that is?” The man nodded. “I want you to go and take care

of it. I want this to be over.” He looked down the hill at the van. “Is that

yours?”

       “No. But we had better get it moved. There‟s a body in it.”
      Rick looked at the man for a long time. “This has gotten sloppy. I don‟t

have much tolerance for that.”

      The man hissed, “If Kingston had gone off there never would have-“

      “Don‟t,” Rick said, looking around again. “Don‟t speak to me in that way,

or I‟ll feed you your tongue. I‟ll take care of the van. You find out where my

box is.” He walked down the stairs toward the abandoned van. The man watched him

for a minute, not relishing the thought of Rick finding the mess he had left in

the back, then walked in through the lobby.



      “I don‟t like this,” Dane said, pacing in Rick Severin‟s office.

      Walter sat in a chair next to the desk and said, “Me neither, but what

else can we do?”

      “No, I don‟t like this. I think it‟s fishy. Something‟s not right.” He

looked at the door. “I don‟t think we‟re safe here.”

      “We‟re certainly no safer out there,” Walter said. “And they know where we

are in here.”

      “That‟s what worries me,” Dane said. “It just seems too-“

      The sound of footsteps grew louder. Someone was coming. Dane moved back

from the door. Walter sat up in his chair.

      The door opened, and the last man Dane or Walter wanted to see stepped

into the room.

      “Gentlemen,” the man said, “It has been a long day, and now it is over.

Let‟s finish this up, shall we.”

      Walter began to stand, and the man walked over quickly and pushed him

roughly back in to his seat with one hand, taking out his gun with the other.

“Don‟t get up, Mr. Walter. I have just about fucking had it with you. I have run

out of politeness toward you, and now we are getting down to the business of you

telling me where I can find my fucking box.”

      “Or what?” Dane said as calmly as he could manage.
        “Excuse me?” the man said, looking over at him. “What did you say?”

        “I said, or what? You‟re not going to fire that gun in here. The whole

place will hear it.”

        “Perhaps you are right,” the man said, turning to point the gun at Dane.

“Perhaps I don‟t care.”

        “I doubt that, too,” Dane said. Walter shot him a look of terror and

disbelief.

        Dane continued, “If getting this box is your job, I‟d say- with all due

respect- you‟ve done a piss poor job of it so far. So maybe it‟s consistent with

your lousy track record that you‟ll kill the only two people who know where the

thing is, attracting the attention of an entire hotel at the same time. But I

think even you are smarter than that.”

        The urge to pull the trigger was stronger than anything the man had felt

in his life. He bit down hard, fighting against the impulse with all his power.

His rage subsided slowly, but his teeth were still tightly clenched as he said,

“Perhaps you overestimate me. What then?”

        “Well then I‟m a dead man either way,” Dane said.

        The man stared at Dane. “Tell me where the box is.”

        Walter watched in silence as the two men stared each other down.

        Dane said to the man, “No, I don‟t think so. You‟ve got no play.”

        The man‟s rage boiled over. He could not suppress it. The only thing he

could do was redirect it. He turned and shot Walter in the face. Walter

collapsed backward behind the desk, mercifully hidden from view.

        The gunshot had been deafening in the small office, and Dane‟s ears rang

loudly. He could see the man shouting at him, but could not hear him. He

shouted, “I can‟t hear you!” and the man apparently realized he also could not

hear.

        They were both taken completely by surprise as the door to the office

swung open. Reflexively, the man turned to the figure entering the room and
fired again. Dane didn‟t hear the gunshot exactly, but it made Dane‟s head feel

like it would split.

      In the doorway, Rick Severin toppled and fell. Horror filled the man‟s

face at the realization of what he had done. He looked at Dane, then at Rick‟s

body on the floor, then at Dane again. Then a sense of understanding calm

crossed the man‟s face. He realized that he indeed had no move. Never taking his

eyes from Dane‟s, he put the pistol in his own mouth and fired.

      Dane slumped to the floor, exhausted. He did not see or hear when the

first of the resort employees came to investigate, and he still sat there with

his head down when the police finally came to clear the scene.




      Epilogue



      Tom and Aaron shook Jesse‟s hand in turn outside the bus station. It was a

warm day for September. They had been lucky so far, although the colder weather

would come. It was only a matter of time.

      “Take a lot of notes,” Aaron said.

      Jesse held up the journal Aaron had given him. “I will. And I‟ll stay in

touch. The tour actually comes back to Boston in November. Maybe I‟ll see you

guys then?”

      “I hope so,” Tom said. “Stay safe, okay?”

      “Safe?” Jesse laughed as he stepped on to the bus. “You guys have more to

worry about than I do. New Hampshire‟s crazy.”

      He got on the bus, and his friends waved him off as he headed to Cambridge

to meet Fell and his hired musicians.

      Tom and Aaron walked back to Aaron‟s father‟s car. “He‟s gonna have a good

time. I bet you‟d like to be going too, huh?”
     “Maybe,” said Tom. “There‟s a lot to see, that‟s for sure. But I‟ve got

stuff to take care of first.” They got in the car and headed home.



                                    THE END

								
To top