Sheehan, in his 94th year, has published 53 books, has work in Rosebud, The Linnet’s Wings (100), Copperfield Review, Literally Stories (150), Frontier Tales, Green Silk Journal, Rope & Wire Magazine, He’s earned 18 Pushcart nominations, and 6 Best of Net nominations, with one winner. Two more western collections will be released simultaneously by Pocol Press soon, “The Townsmen<,” and “Call Me Chef and Other Stories,” written by a man who has never been on a horse, Last year he won AgelessWriters story contest with The Tale of Trot and Dim Johnny, and has submitted other books
Grandmother Calls the Shot about a New Location
I wondered where this ship below me was going, why junk was the cargo, all that clap-trap debris of the deserted, from wayside conglomerations and ruins and cast-offs that old men in thick white whiskers and beards picked up in horse-drawn wagons and now and then a small red truck with high red sideboards, a step up from the horse vehicle, for delivery and sale at junkyards in the area. The answers came later, in one fell swoop of destiny. There was a singular difference in the cargo of outgoing ships and the junk wagons; the ships only carried metal while the junk wagons also carried scrap paper and cardboard baled tight with rope or wire or old neckties whose patterns still showed off their styles, and bales of old rags in new patterns.
It was July of 1936, sticky hot, perhaps ice cream someplace I hoped, but I was acutely aware that ice cream might not happen this day. The steel bars of Boston's old Mystic River Bridge in my hands were hard and warm, as the sun had hours of penetration and I had one hour to spare within my dramatic playground out over the Mystic River we called "The Oily" with observant regard for its rainbowed surface. Having slipped inside the girder work of a cage-like support angled at 45 degrees, my eyes went directly down on a boat about to pass under the bridge loaded with iron junk, old cold steel, surely lots of brass and copper from junk yards and junk wagons all over Boston. Long lengths of copper and brass, gleaming in the mess, looked like sandwich parts between dark iron crusts. The bridge sat between Boston's Charlestown borough, proud as the Bunker Hill Monument, off across the borough and uphill from me, and Chelsea, a city as small in area as one can imagine, but lined with petrol tanks and ship piers, ships that traveled the high seas from countries around the globe ... the coming-from and the going-to so different.
That July of 1936 saw me on vacation from Miss Finn's first grade class at the Kent School, not far from Hobie's Beanery, in a garage of all places, nor far Abie's Market on one strategic corner of the Loop-the-Loop, and the Bond Bread factory. All of them memorable for one or more reasons, and I still have the note Miss Finn sent home to my parents: "Please don't move away until I have taught all the Sheehans." Miss Finn thought my sister Patricia and I were her bright stars; we were readers at this early age, taken in hand by a paternal grandmother and a paternal grandfather for the grasp of one of "the three Rs." (We had no idea, my sister Pat and I, that we were bound for Marleah Graves' second grade class at the Cliftondale School in Saugus, only a dozen miles away, and a host of new classmates bound to be SHS Class of '47.)
And yet here I was adventuring within the structure of a monster bridge, a structure that continually enticed me with solid come-ons. Once, a few months earlier, I had traversed over the river's water as the bridge opened to let a ship pass under its span. That one-time terror became, for a free lancer kid, a constant challenge to do it again, to out-do my first fear, to be, as my father used to say, "One of the survivors of the times that flag about us." I knew what he was referring to ... always hungry for the thin meals that came from nowhere into my mother's hands in our third level kitchen on Bunker Hill Avenue; some of those Depression-era meals so immemorial they are most memorable the longer I hold onto them. Let's say about 87 years now, stretching on, keeping cover. An instance would be a Sunday meal purchased for a dollar after church: at Hobie's Beanery a quart of baked beans and a loaf of brown bread and the balance spent in Abie's Market, closed on Sunday but entered via the back door for all the lamb kidneys I could get from Abie. Abie favored us too, for my sister once told him, "You grow the best lamb kidneys of all, but they still stink up the house when they're getting cooked." He loved her honesty and winked his appreciation for me, and I couldn't wait to tell my parents; good news was always in order.
If my father knew I was in that cage-like support, he'd whale the tar out of me; my mother would cast a stern look, shake her head, begin to cry at the possibilities. But ... and a big imaginative BUT, my grandmother, likely on that same July day, put on her pert little black hat, grabbed her black shiny pocketbook and took the first bus that came by her corner of Highland Avenue and Trull Lane in Somerville, a few miles away, the tall, elegant lady of manners, most correct speech, possibly the softest hands I've ever known, and words that often said, "We are born to read."
More than three-quarters of her life were spent binding books at Ginn & Company in Cambridge, with hundreds of rejects landing on our shelves from inside her shiny black pocketbook, those very books calling out, making demands, crying for attention to favored paragraphs beginning the longest lingering that bunches of words ever had. (The High Lama saying in Lost Horizon, "For when that day comes, the world must begin to look for a new life. And it is our hope that they may find it here. For here, we shall be with their books and their music, and a way of life based on one simple rule: Be Kind! When that day comes, it is our hope that the brotherly love of Shangri-La will spread throughout the world. Yes, my son; When the strong have devoured each other, the Christian ethic may at last be fulfilled and the meek shall inherit the earth.")
She was, on that day or one just like it, bent on travel and transportation and relocation ... of our family. "Find some grass and trees for the boy, friends for the girls, room to breathe, throw arms and yells into the sky, climb the hills, fish the ponds, let them be." A hundred times I had heard her say to my father, "Let them be, James. Let them be," That BE was stretched as far as she could send it. Too much too soon she had seen more than once; in our own doorway the drunk of early morning advertising his hard, harsh night, half alive, meaning half dead, sprawled in his helplessness, his loss, extravagance afoot gone prone, a disastrous sight for an elegant grandmother, bookbinder, dreamer, mover of families. There was a better place. Perhaps she had paused as I had on that same elocution of the High Lama, where each of us had seen Hugh Conway nod his head in universal agreement, in solitude's assessment. Some grandmothers are like that; lucky us.
That grand day of decision, she went via Somerville/Everett Station/Malden Square to find a big silver Hart Lines bus that simply said "Saugus" on its destination sign. She found a third floor apartment in Cliftondale Square beside Hanson's Garage, near Joe Laura's Barbershop and Louie Gordon's Tailor Shop, and gave acute directions to my father ... take them elsewhere. That's how we were bound for Saugus, where the green grass grew, huge fields of it.
We had, of course, moved before ... several moves ahead of unpaid landlords, in the midst of Prohibition and the Great Depression, and my father's pay of $28.00 a month as a Marine. We weren't taught frugality; we learned it first-hand.
Ahead of the moving van, he took me for my first ride to Saugus. We crossed "my bridge" on the way. Eventually we went along the river and a small fleet of lobster boats (I mentioned that I'd never had lobster and my father said, "Don't worry anymore," as he tousled my hair), cruised through the awed parts of town full of green grass in exorbitant spreads, lusty farms teeming with crops taller than me, rode the Turnpike that headed all the way to Newburyport ... and beyond? I heard the hum of traffic in prolonged sprints rather than the in-town screeches of a daring rider performing a Loop-the-Loop, tire cries as high-pitched as police whistles. Then we circled around until we had seen the three ice houses along the banks of Lily Pond and huge fish, which were carp, roiling in wide circles on the surface and kids jumping off a rocky place into the pond. A few older folks, on the far side, were almost in the darkness of trees as thick as parade crowds, swinging their fishing lines out over the pond where the leaning sun leaped westward back across the Turnpike. And one canoeist, motionless, most distant but ever since a part of this history, dazzled in the sun's rays, such a far cry from the drunk in the doorway who startled and started my grandmother on her own crusade, her own trek here ... a journey for family preservation.
I was locked into Saugus already, the images flying through me from the river and the pond and a small, decrepit building with high black letters on its gray side that almost squawked out "Shadowland."
"It used to be a ballroom," my father said, qualifying my curiosity. "Looks like it's gone into the Nevernever land."
But I could tell he was up to something, something special, something to fit, "Find some grass and trees for the boys." It was the male connection. It would not be a place where he'd say to the girls, "This is where you'll play with your dolls, or practice early make-up treats, wear dresses and gowns and high heels that are too many years bigger than you."
We spun a quick left hand turn and a broad field swept out in front of me, with uniform chalk lines at uniform distances, a gridiron. Then and still now, longer than I could run ahead of others, a baseball diamond in one corner backstopped by a huge tree looking surely able to trap foul balls in its thick spread.
In the air was a hush, minutes long, a declaration, a testament. He waited while the images came and went, then simply added, "This'll be for your brother and you. The girls will find their own places. They always will.
I didn't know the names yet of coming heroes and teammates, but I knew right then, beforehand, what would be the robust images of Iron Mike Harrington, Eddie Shipwreck Shipulski, Bazooka Bob Burns, Heavenly Gates, and then Doug and Bruce Waybright (Notre Dame), Art Spinney (BC and the 1958 game with his Baltimore Colts beating the New York Giants), Frank Pyszko (with 5 interceptions in one game), Bob Kane, Ernie Anganis (teammate forever), John and Fred Quinlan (John the best of the lot of them), Soupy Campbell (born to work and suffer and be admired), Gene Decareau, George Miles (Guts and Glory himself), Andy and Frank Forti, Sardie and Richie Nicolo, Cushy Harris, Saugus 14-Lynn Classical 12, Saugus 13-undefeated Melrose 0 (twice- 1941 & 1944), Saugus 21-undefeated Revere 0, the sharing, the warmth of friendship, hard working two-a-day practices starting in 1943 with Coach Dave Lucey), trekking off to Korea with four years' worth of opponents, sharing the Main Supply Route in a single file walk with Lynn Classical's Jimmy Varzakis as we swapped positions in the Iron Triangle of 1951 under the leadership of Young-Oak Kim, Korean-American, for whom I carried a 300 command radio as he directed the whole Iron Triangle attack. Once a highly decorated officer in WW II Europe in the Nisei 442nd Battalion, a lieutenant when I first saw him and a Lt. Colonel when we parted. That day of parting he stood at the tail end of a six-by truck of home-bound soldiers, deep in Korea, having earned "rotation status," and asking, "Is Sgt. Sheehan aboard?" I wanted to duck. I wanted to get home. I wanted to write. I had things to say, and I thought he wanted to keep me for another tour.
All of this history is traceable to that elegant lady with a shiny black pocketbook, soft hands, a thirst for the good word of the language, who bound books for more than half a century, who dreamed of a place of green fields and thick trees, never knowing at the outset it was Saugus, where Indians once danced and prayed on Round Hill, where Captain Kidd might well have come up the river with his catch to bury, where young Scots were surely indentured at the First Iron Works in America, where a Yankee carpenter or builder did leave a talisman coin on a sill of my house built in 1742 and a worn high-button shoe of his daughter square-nailed to a beam above our kitchen window, another fetish, which my father called an "anting-anting" from his Philippine days in the Marine Corps.
The junk collectors never knew they were selling parts for Tokyo Tojo's battleships, aircraft carriers, Zeros in quick flight. Neither did I. In other forms that load of junk hit me for years on end. Images, couplets, lines came and were gathered, remain yet like pieces of this wall of me ... but a long time before things fell into place, when hearing my father's advice; "Crow a little bit when you’re having good luck; Own up, pay up, and shut up when you're losing. Fishing is the great solace in sports. It’s for the mind, not the hook. It’s the time when you measure wins and losses in the truest angle of all, a slant of unbearably beautiful Saugus sunlight through morning’s alder leaves, water’s whisper of confidence on rocks you think you can hear later in the night, the pointed miracle of a trout beating you at his game, letting you know the wins and losses do come and do pass by, even when you're standing still."
It’s like the game of golf or the game of pool ... the green is highly coincident. And early in sports, at the edge of my first failure, marked by the touch of his hand on my shoulder: "You come into this life with two gifts, love and energy, and words and sports are going to take both of them for all you’ve got." I think his heart remembered a loss, his knees their pain. When they took his leg off, the pain did not leave him.
But the reminders stick like old gum under theater seats on late Saturday evenings ... I who lost a brother and nearly lost another remember the headlines, newsreels, songs of bond-selling, gas-griping, and movies too true to hate, the whole shooting match of them. The entire Earth bent inwards, imploding bombs, bullets, blood, shrieking a terrible bird cry in my ears only sleep could lose. Near sleep I could only remember the nifty bellbottom blues he wore in the picture my mother cleaned and cleaned and cleaned on the altar of her bureau as if he were the Christ or the Buddha, a new tall, skinny statue finding a pedestal in my mind, but he was out there in the sun and the sand and the rain of shells and sounds I came to know years later moving up from Pusan, breaking out of the perimeter, bound north to the Yalu River. I never really knew about him in the globular way until he came home from the Navy, stepped off the train in Saugus Center and I saw his sea bag decorated with his wife’s picture drawn by his hand, and a map and the names Saipan, Iwo Jima, Kwajalein ... the war. The memories stand still at times, forced into place, hardening me, stiffening the joists I rest upon, bearing recall, the fast moment being retrieved, lost, found again, fireworks on the Fourth, a May Monday of silence at Riverside Cemetery, a friendly-forces face from Bethlehem or McKees Rocks or the Windy City knocking at my door several times near midnights, the lasting moments caught again in surprise, elegant, heroic, so sassy, talking back to me later on a Saturday afternoon as I drink a beer, as it comes again without prejudice, in this new millennium where I know again full well the weight of an M-1 rifle on a web strap hanging on my shoulder, the awed knowledge of a ponderous steel helmet atop my head, press of a tight lace on one boot, wrap of a leather watch band on my wrist, and who stood beside me who stand no more.
The old Mystic River Bridge is gone, replaced by new a new structure with photographic toll collection; so are some cities I have visited in khaki, those blasted to smithereens saving a million lives here, losing unknown thousands there, still know about Young-Oak Kim, now celebrated by the name of a school in California, talk now and then to Pete Leone in McKees Rocks and Frank Mitman in Bethlehem, both in PA, and Bob Breda in North Riverside, Illinois, and wonder about them, and know most of all those who have moved with eternal motivation ... who stand beside me no more.
Like Stan Kujawski, star Chicago softball pitcher, the Mechanical Wrist, radioman from three wars, who wore down from his wars and rests now in Calumet City, Illinois ... Rest, Ike, forever.
Nor stands that elegant lady with the huge, shiny black pocketbook, bookbinder, director of traffic, mover of families, steadfast reader, enforcer of the trade, who opened so many doors with her work, her sly gifts, her coverless books, those rejects for the poor lot of readers still carrying the hunger for word upon word, sound upon sound, hearts wrapped with consummate adjectives.
Nor do I see too many guys in sun tans anymore; you know, the old summer Class A uniforms they saved from their promised long weekend leaves, those killers, those formidable young warriors, those hot Omaha Beach swimmers with salt in their noses and into gun barrels and curing half the ills and evils they had ever known as if all were the sole balm from the living god, those St. Lo low flyers of updrafts of gray dawn, Bastogne's Bullies, bridge-wreckers at Germany’s inevitable edge; friends who passed through my Seoul immemorial times leaving their footprints for my wayward boots to over-shadow, fill in, pass on to this destiny. Of course, they have popped the belt line button, split the crotch in hell’s anxieties, who let their quick waistlines go fallow with beer and dreams' nutrients, those old warriors of Sundays past without other salves, or Saturday evening's shelling or unconsumed bombs that threaten Wednesdays sixty years later; those slim-legged survivors who later wore them with their collegiate jackets, myriad sport coat ensembles, slick-cigarette'd, crew-cut topped, freshly shaven, but hinting of slight old world-in-the-face looks that could have toppled their young empires.
You know them, some even now, on a near corner, a block away, just over a mountain or the far side of a simple river, how they came back to play on the green fields as if they had never left the chalk-striped confines, showed the kids how the game used to be played, those Sun Tanners hitting behind the runners, bunters of the lost art when the whole world sat back on its heels that the big sound was now over, put their muscle on the line late in the game when the only thing left was heart and horror at losing, having seen too much for their time, but making do.
Remember them on baked diamonds of the quiet Earth, how there was an urgency to collapse time into a controllable fist, yet how free they were, breathing on their own, above salt water, the awful messages buried behind their brows for all time to come, unstitched wounds and scars amber in late evening’s breezes, like chevrons from their Elsewheres. The truest badges they wore were the sun tans carried home from Remagen and Mount Casino leaves, the march out of the Pusan Perimeter or off Old Baldy and Heartbreak Ridge, out of Yangu and the Frozen Chosen and the long marches along the MSRs, those slim, fit-all occasion trousers, press-worthy, neat, signally-marked with angst and annihilation and world freedom; those narrow-waist emblems of the Forties, the Fifties, neat with tie and shirt, wore cement on summer days of their labors, or roofing tar, some to class and some not, collapsing time again. I write this to celebrate the dual days, a Monday in May when a hush and a soft-shoed parade passes through the middle of town and the middle of memory, and a cooler day in November, a later observation, when old faces come leaping back from a distance, just wanting a moment to be known again.
The hawkers will sell their bright wares, wearing their municipal permits as badges, filling balloons, authorizing plastic toy gun purchases, leaving their remnant discards in cluttered gutters the early sweeper will gather, making money on the sad memorial, dreaming of next Flag Day and the Fourth of July. Popcorn will burst its tiny explosions, ice cream bars will melt, children will think they gambol in a ballpark. Then, then only apparent, I will see some old ball players, the Earth-savers, underground or remembering, chino-less and walking among the very memorable names; comrade, comrade, comrade or one’s teammate, teammate, teammate, illusions of the noisy past, clad in somber pin stripes or cedar, carrying grandchildren, bearing them up from under grass, evoking Monday of all Mondays, those swift ball hawks, those young Earth-dreamers, who survive in so many ways, that legion of names falling across Saugus and every town the way we remember them, a litany of summer evenings full of first names gone past but called for the First Sergeant’s roster: Basil P., Thomas A., Lawrence D., Edward M., Guy C., Hugh M., Arthur D., Edward D., James W., John K., Walter K., William M., Frank P., Howard B., names, settled, softly called, reverent even for this day, across our sun-drenched Stackpole Field and fields everywhere, bat on ball and the echo of a thousand games swung about the air as if time itself has been compressed into late innings, those swift ball hawks in pursuit of the inevitable; oh, young, in May, the whole Earth suddenly gone silent, but bound, bound, Oh bound to build memories, in May, in May, and then, in November, when all the leaves come back to earth.
I remember so many of them caught in the rags of war when the day had gone over hill, but that still, blue light remained, cut with a gray edge, catching corners rice paddies lean out of. In the serious blue brilliance of battle they’d become comrades becoming friends, just Walko and Williamson and Sheehan sitting in the night drinking beer cooled by Imjin River waters in August of ‘51 in Korea. Three men drably clad, but clad in the rags of war. Stars hung pensive neon. Mountain-cool silences were being earned, hungers absolved, a ponderous god talked to. Above silences, the ponderous god’s weighty as clouds, elusive as soot on wind, yields promises. They used church keys to tap cans, lapped up silence rich as missing salt, fused their backbones to good earth in a ritual old as labor itself, these men clad in the rags of war. Such an August night gives itself away, tells tales, slays the rose in reeling carnage, murders sleep, sucks moisture out of Mother Earth, fires hardpan, sometimes does not die itself just before dawn, makes strangers in one’s selves, those who wear the rags of war. They had been strangers beside each other, caught in the crush of tracered night and starred flanks, accidents of men drinking beer cooled in the bloody waters where brothers roam forever, warriors come to that place by fantastic voyages, carried by generations of the persecuted or the adventurous, carried in sperm body, dropped in the spawning, fruiting womb of America, and born to wear the rags of war.
Walko, reincarnate of the Central European, come of land lovers and those who scatter grain seed, bones like logs, wrists strong as axle trees, fair and blue-eyed, prankster, ventriloquist who talked off mountainside, rumormonger for fun, heart of the hunter, hide of the herd, apt killer, born to wear the rags of war.
Williamson, faceless in the night, black set on black, only teeth like high piano keys, eyes that captured stars, fine nose got from Rome through rape or slave bed unknown generations back, was cornerback tough, graceful as ballet dancer (Walko’s opposite), hands that touched his rifle the way a woman’s touched, or a doll, or one’s fitful child caught in fever clutch, came sperm-tossed across the cold Atlantic, some elder Virginia- bound bound in chains, the Congo Kid come home, the Congo Kid, alas, alas, born to wear the rags of war.
Sheehan, reluctant at trigger-pull, dreamer, told deep lies with dramatic ease, entertainer who wore shining inward a sum of ghosts forever from the cairns had fled; heard myths and the promises in earth and words of songs he knew he never knew, carried scars vaguely known as his own, shared his self with saint and sinner, proved pregnable to body force, but born to wear the rags of war.
Walko: We lost the farm. Someone stole it. My father loved the fields, sweating. He watched grass grow by starlight, the moon slice at new leaves. The mill’s where he went for work, in the crucible, drawing on the green vapor, right in the heat of it, the miserable heat. My mother said he started dying the first day. It wasn’t the heat or green vapor did it, just going off to the mill, grassless, tight in. The system took him. He wanted to help. It took him, killed him a little each day, just smothered him. I kill easy. Memory does it. I was born for this, to wear these rags. The system gives, then takes away. I’ll never go piecemeal like my father. These rags are my last home.
Williamson: Know why I’m here’ I’m from North Ca’lina mountains, sixteen and big and wear size fifteen shoes and my town drafted me ‘stead of a white boy. Chaplain says he git me home. Shit! Be dead before then. Used to hunt home, had to eat what was fun runnin’ down. Brother shot my sister and a white boy in the woods. Caught them skinnin’ it up against a tree, run home and kissed Momma goodbye, give me his gun. Ten years, no word. Momma cries about both them all night. Can’t remember my brother’s face. Even my sister’s. Can feel his gun, though, right here in my hands, long and smooth and all honey touch. Squirrel’s left eye never too far away for that good old gun. Them white men back home know how good I am, and send me here, put these rags on me. Two wrongs! Send me too young and don’t send my gun with me. I’m goin’ to fix it all up, gettin’ home too. They don’t think I’m coming back, them white men. They be nervous when I get back, me and that good old gun my brother give me, and my rags of war.
Sheehan: Stories are my food. I live and lust on them. Spirits abound in the family, indelible eidolons; the O’Siodhachain and the O’Sheehaughn carved a myth. I wear their scars in my soul, know the music that ran over them in lifetimes, songs’ words, and strangers that are not strangers: Muse Devon abides with me, moves in the blood and bag of my heart, whispers tonight: Corimin is in my root cell, oh bright beauty of all that has come upon me, chariot of cheer, carriage of Cork where the graves are, where my visit found the root of the root cell---Johnny Igoe at ten running ahead of the famine that took brothers and sisters, lay father down; sick in the hold of ghostly ship I have seen from high rock on Cork’s coast, in the hold heard the myths and music he would spell all his life, remembering hunger and being alone and brothers and sisters and father gone and mother praying for him as he knelt beside her bed that hard morning when Ireland went away to the stern. I know that terror of hers last touching his face. Pendalcon’s grace comes on us all at the end.
Johnny Igoe came alone at ten and made his way across Columbia, got my mother who got me and told me when I was twelve that one day Columbia would need my hand and I must give. And tonight I say, ‘Columbia, I am here with my hands and with my rags of war.’ I came home alone. They are my brothers. Walko's my brother. Williamson's my brother. Devon's my brother. Corimin's my brother. Pendalcon's my brother. God, too, is my brother. I am a brother to all the dead, we all wear the rags of war.
Thunderous rain kills you, freezing snow fights its way through. Fragmentation waits no one. Rain's umbrella spread is odd June's greatest havoc. You're one zone distant like a sniper's bullet beats a thirty ought-six at work, a narrowed focus. Do not know who's gone dead. Find a medal's pinned with first hole put on this man's chest. You were so advised by veterans' shaking shaggy eyes walking down the trail from mountain horror. Memory carries no foe's face. Memory's terror is like a wound, is permanent. It won't let you sleep but it will wake you at one night's movie with dead eyes and a comrade's reaching hand.
Oh, I've gone elsewhere at war's end, at comrade's loss, as I did when trout fishing with Rommel’s last-known foe when the alders went bare above us, ran blue lightning jagged and ragged as scars on his arms, the proud chest, not a welt in the beginning but Swastika-made, bayonet-gathered somewhere south of France, high-dry Saharan. Leaves, forsaken, set false blasts about limbs; from small explosions came huge expulsions. Frank recalled the remarkable incumbent grace and energy of hand grenades, the godness of them, ethereal, whooshing off to nowhere unless you happened to get in their way, conclusively, incisively. He said, “The taste of shrapnel hangs on like a pewter key you mouthed as a sassy child, a wired can your father drank from which you’d sneak a few deep drafts for yourself in the cellar, nails you mouth-cached, silvered, lead-painted, wetted, iron-on-the-tongue gray-heavy metal you’ve only dreamed of since. Yet, where he’s come to since that eventful sand wasn’t all he knew. On our backs, the bare alder limbs mere antennae in the late afternoon above us, October’s flies grounded for illustrious moments, the squawking at our trespass merely a handful of crows in their magnificent tree kingdom, he brought home the last of his brothers, goggle-eyed veteran tankers, Tinker Tommies under the Union Jack, raw Senegalese old sentries still worry about, dry bodies seventy years under a mummifying sand, perhaps put away forever, and then some.
He thinks old Egypt has a whole new strain of sleepers all these years down the road of their own making, the wrap of sand as good as Tutankhamen had at hand, their khaki blouses coming up a detective’s work, with a special digger’s knowledge, at last citing army, corps, division, regiment, battalion, company, father, brother, son, neighbor, face, eye, lip, hand, soul, out there on the everlasting shift of sand, the stars still falling, angular, apogean, trailing across somewhere a dark night. Here, our worms, second place to uniqueness of fashioned flies, keen hackles, are ready for small orbits, small curves, huge mouths. And his last battle, faded into the high limbs, a flag run up after all this recaptured war, says he knows yet and ever Egypt's two dark eyes. Frankie's plaque is flat in cemetery's clipped green , soldier still who knows a volunteer cuts the grass for his comrades ranked in rows
This appointment came when light tired, this arrangement, this syzygy of him and me and the still threat of a small red star standing some time away at my back, deeper than a grain of memory. I am a quarter mile from him, hard upward on this rugged rock he could look up to if only his eyes would agree once more, and it’s a trillion years behind my head or a parsec I can’t begin to imagine, they tell me even dead perhaps, that star. Can this be a true syzygy, if one is dead, if one is leaning to leave this line of sight regardless of age or love or density or how the last piece of light might be reflected, or refused, if one leaves this imposition? The windows of his room defer no light to this night, for it is always night there, blood and chemicals at warfare, nerve gone, the main one providing mirror and lethal lens, back of the eyeball no different than out front, but I climb this rock to line up with another rock and him in the deep seizure of that stolen room, bare sepulcher, that grotto of mind.
Today I bathed him, the chest like an old model, boned but collapsible, forgotten in a Detroit back room, a shelf, a deep closet, waiting to be crushed at the final blow, skin of the organ but a veneer of fatigue, the arms pried as from a child’s drawing, the one less formidable leg, the small testes hanging their forgotten-glove residuum which had begun this syzygy, the face closing down on bone as if a promise had been made toward an immaculately thin retrieval. And, at the other imaginable end of him, the one foot bloody from his curse, soured yet holier in mimicry of the near-Christ (from Golgotha brought down and put to bed, after god and my father there are no divinities), toenails coming on a darkness no sky owned, foot bottom at its own blood bath, at war, at the final and resolute war with no winner.
Oh, Christ, he’s had such wars, outer and inner, that even my hand in warmth must overcome, and he gums his gums and shakes his head and says, sideways, mouth screwed into his outlandish grin, as much a lie as any look, as devious, cold-fact true, “I used to do this for you,” the dark eyes hungry to remember, to bring back one moment of all those times to this time; and I cannot feel his hand linger on me, not its calluses gone the way of flesh or its nails thicker now than they ever were meant to be, or skin flaking in the silence of its dust-borne battle, though we are both younger than the star that’s dead so they say, as if all is ciphered for me and cut away, I know the failure of that small red star, its distillation and spend still undone, its yawn red as yet and here with us on the endless line only bent by my imagination, the dead and dying taking up both ends of me, neither one a shadow yet but all shadows in one, perhaps a sort of harmless violence sighting here across an endless known
Ah, Devon, the other muse; The bullet of my spirit hits the runway at Shannon after The Dingle popped out. You crowd me with misery and the pestilence of long hope. I have brought all my nights with me, our silent screaming back and forth, the kaleidoscopic stars and moons serving as soul transmitters, the brittle, unremembered pain numbing my bony joints forever scarred with your injection, the well of tears I’ve spent and hold collected in the explosive bag that veins and aorta serve, and the silent times when my son was born and my nights were cries for him grasping atthe edge of life.
Oh, Christ, Devon, you smother me, the highs and lows of such long pursuit, the sands shifting over the spectrum of lore binding our ends, as I move the English Ford between obstacle barrels like crude orange chess pieces on a Limerick bridge guarded by a new army, their automatic rifles hung bore down, their faces stiff as clock faces, lips set at nine and quarter past the hour, an army you never knew and yet began.
I impelled myself out of the city ganging at me harsh as Lowell or Lawrence or Worcester with the ghosts of their mills forcing thousands of aimless steps on every corner, every street, their red bricks inanimate, bearing the wrong breathlessness, usurpers, idle squatters; then only to find that new army in wayside patrol, slow meandering, a bore-down search for time, and I know you are near.
Will I find you in Elphin-Mere, by the crude hut of Johnny Igoe, blue and thatched on the far turn, or out from town, toward Cassidy’s, where that lone statue stands, the Gaelic names burning stars. Your army, Devon, imprisons me at Elphin-Mere!
I struggle for the Bulliwicks, moving nowhere in the tide rushing through my limbs, helpless as my son crib-bound looking up to me, only eyes reaching, and I am my son! I am that babe beneath the power.
Oh, Christ, Devon, I am you! I am you! And the Bulliwicks fade, the hawthorn fades, sweet smell lost in the granite pull, strong stable smell up in smoke, the Easter names popping bullets of letters in my eyes, and I am caught, we are caught, in a freeze of time. Ah, Devon, will we never go home again? Is your peace in me?
This night I sleep in village disguise beneath a roof without starry eyes, beneath the quilting, quiet fog covering sea and sand and bog, and in that dark of graying ghost I lay my mind out to the coast, let the sea fill all my veins; the dread of deeps and hurricanes, the creaking of the Dutchman’s ship forever eyeless in its trip, touch scarred galleons in their graves, flinch at traffic of the slaves, know some U-Boat’s trembling pause as it slowly sank from wars, feel fears of the Murmansk run where men lay frozen in the sun. Oh, to know, in this gray retreat, the sea is touching at my feet, know here this night at Warren’s Point the sea is balm and does anoint.
What of all the spills that ache here --- upland dosage where the delta’s done and settling its own routines, the near immeasurable transfer of land and other properties of the continent chasing down Atlantic ways, shifting nations and cities from directly underfoot, moving towns along the watershed, oozing territories. Oh, how I loved the river feeding the ocean.
I have plumbed the Saugus River at its mouth, found the small artifacts of its leaning seaward, tiny bits of history and geography getting muddied up against the Atlantic drift, suffering at tide’s stroke, roiling and eddying to claim selves, marveling at a century’s line of movement, its casual change of character, its causal stress and slight fracturing under ocean’s dual drives, the endless pulsing tide and the overhead draft of clouds bringing their inland torment and trial, land and loam and leaf running away with the swift sprinters of water, the headlong rush of heading home like salmon bursting upstream for the one place they can remember in the chemistry of life, impulses stronger than electricity, smells calling in the water more exotic than Chinese perfume.
The flounder, sheaving under the bridge at the marsh road, pages of an un-sprung book, one-eyed it always seems, hungering for my helpless and hooked worms, sort over parts of Saugus in this great give-away, and nose into the extraneous parts that were my town, my town.
“Listen,” my father said to me, his eyes dark, oh black during a whole generation, “for a sound whose syllable you can’t count up or down, for what you might think is a clam being shucked, a quahog’s last quiet piss on sand, a kelp bubble exploding its one green-stressed overture.”
He talked like that when he knew I was listening, even at ten years of age.
He wasn’t saying, “Listen for me,” just, “Listen for the voices, the statements along Atlantic ritual, every driven shore, rocks sea-swabbed, iodine fists of air potent as a heavyweight’s, tides tossing off their turnpike hum, black-edged brackish ponds holding on for dear life, holding a new sun sultry as anchovies … all of them have words for you.”
I hear that oath of his, the Earth-connected vow all the sea bears, the echoes booming like whale sounds, their deep musical communication, now saying one of his memorials, “Sixty-years and more, I feel you touch Normandy’s sand, measuring the grains of your hope, each grain a stone; and I know the visions last carved in June’s damp air.” “Oh,” he’d add, “you sons, forgotten masters of our fate.”
Deepest of all, hearing what I didn’t hear at ten, but hear ever since, the hull-hammered rattling before rescue from the USS Squalus, 60 fathoms down off Portsmouth, the sound and the petition count never fading; three quarters of a century of desperation and plea hammering in my ears. Say it straight out: “Some were saved and some were lost. That is a memorial.”
The eels squirm and fidget on Saugus farmlands, pitch-black bottom land gone south with rain and years, gutter leanings, great steel street drains emptying lawns and backyards and sidewalk driftage into the river below black clouds. The worn asphalt shingles on my roof yield twenty-five years of granules, and now and then tell that story inside the house. A ninety-year old pear tree shudders under lightning and offers pieces of itself as sacrifice to the cause, dropping twigs, blasted bark other lightning has tossed into the soft footing, the grayed-out hair of old nests, my initials and hers and the scored heart time has scabbed up, dated, pruned, becoming illegible in the high fancy of new leaves and young shoots. There, too, went my father’s footprints in one April storm, washed away in late afternoon as he lay sleeping in that tree’s hammock; and grease off my brother’s hands from his Ford with nine lives hanging on a chain-fall; and across the street a neighbor’s ashes spread under a pear tree and grapevine an August fire later took captive in dark smoke I still smell on heavy summer evenings.
This is my word on all of this: It is where the river’s done, where a boy’s hung between the sunlit surface and a pinch of salt, who’s read of twisted souls at sea, knew sweet misery of warming sand, I know how water marks horizon’s dwelling where dark stream and ocean meet twice in the flow of bayside surge and ocean merge grasps the river’s downhill push, losing lush things like the very gravel I have trod, and the locks and boards holding back my river's horde.
Oh, believe … I have come up by image from the sea in other times, by overhand, by curragh, by slung-sailed ship of oak, afloat a near-sunken log; have crawled sandy edges of the bay, looked back at waters’ merge and flow, found the river’s crawl reversed where floating parts are nursed, toting redwing nests the winds abuse, good ground the rain in swift return hauls down the river … Saugus on the loose.
Ever now, when I fish at the mouth of the river, rod high, and hope too, I catch awful parts of Saugus. I know the stream and ocean meet where I dare dangle my awkward feet, where love-lies-bleeding and the primrose meet, where tempting sea and bay greet all of rhyme and so its clime: The rainbow catches up the horde; Sea color is set by gracious Lord. This, in faith, you can believe; It’s Saugus I can’t lose or leave .One man touches another man with a word, especially the night my father and I listened to Temujin's life on an old record ... heard the song he'd sung I race the river to the sea … and shadows remembered their routes up the railed stairway like a steppe’s presence, I stood at your counting the days Oh, the I I I I counted wounds he had conquered. The bottle cap moon clattered into his room in vagrant pieces…jagged blades needing a strop or wheel for honing, great spearhead chips pale in falling, necks of smashed jars rasbora bright, thin flaked edges tossing off the sun. Under burden of the dread collection, he sighed and turned in quilted repose and rolled his hand in mine, searching for lighting only found in his memory. Always it’s ahead of me,
In moon’s toss I saw the network of his brain struggling for my face the way he last saw it, a piece of light falling under the hooves of a thousand Mongol ponies, night campsites riding upward in flames, the steppe skyline coming legendary again.
When I stand at the last stone mark of the elegant lady with the perky hat and the shiny big pocketbook of muffins and biscuits and rolls, the lady with the soft hands, the lady of books without covers, who began all of this, and try to deliver a simple phrase, she'll not hear me, having moved on in her journey, touching all the others in their due, in her due; the lady who once said to me, "Think of the one word you love most, but don't tell me now, save it for later." Oh, she tries me yet.
But nothing's ever over for good; a small spark is ignited; from nowhere, a voice comes clear past a shadow, a whisper gropes on a breath of air; a word says itself again and again.
And I can't hear it. It lies there waiting for me.
Death for the Phantom Receiver
Chapter One Late on a Saturday night or early Sunday morning summoned Mel Campbell, the end of August, game day coming with the sun. Hell, his mind was saying, it’s only a preseason game. His eyes were full of the woman beside him. Maybe it was the start of something real. Women had never been real for him. Sex had never been that real, not like this. Man, he said to himself with wonder, staring at the high-shining blackness of her cheeks, at the half light in her dark eyes, at her lips, red, moist, open. This was real; her richness filling his nostrils, his right arm curving around her shoulders, his left hand angling up under the short skirt, where she wore no underpants, gently stroking her dampness. When he leaned even closer, his mouth open, she reached behind her, slipped the gun out of her handbag and shot him. Twice. Loud, but muffled. Nobody realized Mal Campbell’s death, while sitting at the wheel of his teammate’s Bronco, two .30 caliber slugs mere inches apart in his chest, began the near-decimation of the New England Phantoms receiving corps. In earnest. The three-year veteran flanker, headliner of the NFL’s New England entry, was counted on to help bring the team back from a so-so season the previous year. When Mal went down, Phantoms owner Pete Goodyard sat up straight, that trusty feeling-in-the-gut talking as it always did for the grocer extraordinaire who made his mark and his millions in home food delivery. With that inner voice speaking to him, in its warning tone, it brought back an odd pair he’d dealt with before. It said, Gethelp from Harry Krisman and Kyle Bronte. The ex-BPD Homicide cop and the defrocked judge of the Massachusetts courts solved a major problem for him a few years earlier when the grocery operation was being threatened from the inside. Throw the ball in their laps, the voice said, it’s what they do. It’s what they do as good as anyone. His mind sent out for pictures, found the right file, rifled through a haze of snapshots, focused. He saw a good looking, mid-thirties Harry Krisman with one gold tooth, a slight left-foot limp, as if reaching for something not quite there, making him questionable in anything with a physical demand, who was an avid bird watcher, no less, at free moments, and a one-woman man, the woman being an accounting professor at Bentley College in nearby Waltham. In the same snapshots he conjured up a late-fortyish Kyle Bronte’s unswerving penchant for law and order and women, whatever being handiest neutralizing the other. But his women were not neutral, not that Pete could remember. They appeared to have been, as far as he could recall, generally tall, generally slim, and always beautiful, in the knock-out range. A lingering snapshot showed the ex-judge wearing, when appropriate for dress, which was ever classy, and serving as a middle finger message to his defrocking friends, an expensive cape from a collection of capes. The well-off, moneyed Bronte kept a tailor, someplace in Boston, in business. This is how Kyle Bronte explained the alliance to Pete: “I was sitting in court, a normal day, waiting for all the jelly beans to get ready, when Harry walks in, a good looking young guy, blond Nordic type just to throw the Aryan thing out of context, average height, but sporting a not average gold tooth in his mouth. I couldn’t decide which tooth it was...eye tooth, incisor, first of the molars, like a nugget in the wash it was. I dubbed him Gold Tooth. And he caught me staring at him. Gave me the cold cold blue. Of course, he’s learned since then to curb that shine with lip control. Even think he might mine that gold and go for a nice conventional implant. Natural white, perhaps, if Maxine his girlfriend can force the issue, can assure him he still has good points otherwise.” “I knew of him, word around the courts doing a lap or two, a good investigator for BPD, raised from near infancy by his Marine father, and a monk or brother out of some Canadian Order, when his mother had been killed up North in a horrendous logging truck accident. And him almost. He thoroughly piqued my interest, thinking here’s a man on my side of the law for a change who might be made of stern, disciplined and faithful stuff, the strange melding of parentage, the monk and the Marine. So, I began to watch him, kept an eye on his career. When they dumped me, I went with him. Best boy’s best move.” Pete had said, in reply, “Tell me about the limp. It’s almost nonexistent, but detectable. As though the toes of that foot are reaching for something he can’t find.” “It’s a prosthesis, ankle high,” Kyle said. “One of his friends tried to ram a truck at him down a narrow alley. Harry dove through a cellar window. All of him made it, except the foot.” “Good Jesus.” “You’re right on that, Pete. Pension. Retirement per se. Officially off the cluttered streets of Boston, but only for a short spell. Man with phony foot can’t sit still, as Tonto says or Charlie Chan.” “Doesn’t slow him down much.” “Not going to do the dash but takes special effort to get ahead of him. Reminds me of a wide receiver the old Patriots had, kid by the name of Jimmy Colclough. Ran his patterns at about a mile and a quarter an hour, slow as frigging monkey vomit, but when most cornerbacks turned around, old Jimmy was behind them, with the ball, and heading for the end zone, if he wasn’t already there, cool, not hot-dogging it. I like cool better than hot- dogging.” Pete’s eyes had lit up. “So, he’s not Superman?” “Come on, Pete,” Kyle had chided, “twenty-three and a half hours a day he’s ahead of the crowd. Count on that.” “And that last half hour?” “He’s like you and me and all the rest of us; there’s always something off-stage going on for us. You hope you know what it is, always, when it happens, but that doesn’t happen. Think of it this way .... think of his mortality .... he’s getting ready to get in the sack with a lovely lady. The pitch and yaw are right on the mark. The horizon indicator’s level. The landing strip is all laid out. He drops his pants. Does he have to go through the whole fucking thing again? Explaining about the foot? Each time? Every time?” “Takes a special lady.” “Her name is Mal,” the judge said. The judge’s partner had said of him, “Kyle has an eye for the law, as you’ll admit, and an eye for the ladies, as you’ll see if you haven’t seen it all ready. He’s a swordsman from the word go, an olden day’s black-and-white movie lothario, but a bulldog on the job. Would never let you down. Never leave you in a hole” Now the newest message on Harry’s phone center said, in Pete’s baritone voice, “This is your greengrocer calling. You’ve likely heard about the murder of one of our players, Mal Campbell, wide receiver, was to be the highlighter of our receiving corps. I have this gut feeling that my balls will soon find themselves between a rock and a hard place. You know how that twist of fate hurts. It makes a real sissy out of me. Please call, I’m going to need help. I can feel it. The check will be a blank one. Write your own figure down.” Neither Pete nor Harry nor Kyle had any idea that the madness began with the team’s drafting, in the second round, speedy wide receiver Kelvar Hobbins from the University of Florida. Hobbins’ story also had quickness in its feet, moving as fast as the young black receiver who during the past season broke a number of long-standing records for one of the perennially good college football teams in the country, always in the post-season bowl mix. Years earlier the boy Kelvar Hobbins had come bursting up out of a gully, crossed the crown of the rise and dusted into a hundred-yard sprint across Florida openness, his legs in that post-adolescent sprint of an older teen closing on Olympic speed. The wind from his lungs exclaimed the good god’s name: Tonka Teal! Tonka Teal! How he make me run, Tonka Teal! In his right hand, he carried the camera his grandmother had said a few nights earlier she’d just love to have as her own, when she had seen it in a store window. “God, Chile, ain’t that somethin’, that camera. All them black smooth surfaces on it, like a man I once knowed before your granpap came and went like wind hisself moaning all way to Detroit crying ‘bout his knees and how he done over wrong and then your daddy done over wrong too.” He’d listen to her forever, he believed, the music coming with her words, the red lips saying it all, the constant chatter and music in her one message, all that was coming down on them in this life. She said, “This other man, he another one of Tonka Teal’s spirited runners, another one his gifts come to him in his sleep one night all way from over there, Chile, from home bone, from true thickness, from a Black Continent, from A-fri-ker, from cool shadows only we knows and we talks about, pronounced over him with same words I pronounce over you and give you, Chile,” her hands sweeping across his eyes, touching his shoulders, investing. He loved how she said A-fri-ker, three parts marked out of something special and beautiful and mysteriously dark. It hummed from her mouth every time she said it, her lips pouty, wet. She said it like it was holy. Meant it holy. A-fri-ker. Her hands had come on him again, those soft hands and soft fingers and the red, red nails that could touch with fire. “Chile,” she had begun another time, telling him Tonka Teal came on him like new sweat breaking. Came on him as a heartbeat full up of thunder. Came on him secret as tears before they fell. Telling him always he was the light of her horizon leaping through night, putting it aside. Telling him he was the wind in the leaves getting torn and tossed from limb, and the back end of water getting pushed up all the way up front just as if it had a ticket. Whole pieces of things she’d said he could remember, even when he was running, the wind and the music together: That he was the panther and the cheetah loose on the grass of the most solemn savanna and all the creatures out there looking up all of a sudden with the special light in their eyes, the message: A-fri-ker. At night, nearing sleep, a cougar calls out in the darkness, the sound of A-fri-ker filled his mind, numbed his body. And her great eyes remained wide in his mind also, and her bird-red lips and the glorious black shine on her high-borne cheeks, like new-found coal caught by a lantern down in a long tunnel, or a new enamel they hadn’t found yet in any laboratory the whole world over. The swing of her hips remained too, leaving him on the doorstep, hands deep in his pockets, linting, reaching, knowing throb the way it’s meant to be known, the swirl of dust each night trailing behind her as she went off, “to talk to the gods as only they gets talked to, face to face, belly to belly, this blacker black of mine right up again’ them.” She had told him, time and again, he had been roughed out of A-fri-ker diamond and all the other hard kind. “Cut, cut, Chile, like they was nothing else left in the world.” Making him believe that he was all that was left over from the fire, that he had A-fri-ker burning down in him deeply, making his legs move the way they did, wind and fire running loose on the world. That time her eyes had gleamed, her voice thicker, like it was coming from inside a cloud, telling him he was loose, loose and running in the wind as if Saturday never came any more except for kickoffs and him loose again, and her, his grandmother, Sadie Janelle herself, and all the lovely darkness she had hidden, all dolled up and up there in the stands watching him run as if were caught up of all the gods out of old A-fri-ker. But mostly Tonka Teal! “You a god, Chile. You a god. You my running god. All a way En Ef El, Cincinnati, Chicago, Jets, Jaguars, Phantoms. We take our pick. Jim Dandy time coming.” In the back of his mind, the front of his mind, in his arms, in his legs, in his whole body, the words sounding themselves out as part of his blood: Tonka Teal! Tonka Teal! Tonka Teal! the name of his grandmother’s god, his long-gone tribe’s god, his god. Tonka Teal! Tonka Teal! God of the sun and the wind and the rain. God out of A-fri-ker itself. God of sperm. God of speed. God of the necessities. God of the deep green bush he was now heading toward, coming out of that culvert. In there, among the solid green expanses, an army of cops couldn’t find him, they try all night, all next week and then a month of cooling Sundays. The two policemen behind him could never catch him, even if one of them was the black Dunbarton Crokes his grandmother had known for years. Shit, he can’t catch me no more, getting so old he can’t catch up to his own shit, he was saying to himself as his legs pumped with godliness. She had told him, her lips not yet red, evening not yet come calling on those over-luscious lips, that that boy, him, that Dunbarton, Lucille’s boy, her with the Equator hips and crooked smile by which you knew she was hiding something from you, like how she spread for white and black made no difference to her, he was now different, that Dunbarton. “He’s gone over, that boy. He’s made the journey to other side. A-fri-ker left his blood high and dry long time ago. Might’s well be a yoking Arab slaver come at night, a snake crawling on his belly never even both’ing to count. Dark’s he is, he gets no more shadows. Boy to the other side now.” A few hours later, his fetching and running clothes hidden in the woods, he set the camera on her bureau in the bedroom of the little house on the edge of the green thickness. Saw it sit new and black and shiny on its many surfaces he did. It sat among other tokens she had commandeered in her quiet musings: the television with the VCR built right into it, the six-foot tall rack to hold her En Ef El videos, the all-white Mr. Coffeemaker soon’s it was dirty would get replaced, nothing ever too good for his grandmother. And the string of near-perfect pearls she only wore on “Sat’dy nights so’s I can wake up all the gods from their boneless sleep, pearls that hang their wishing for hands what could crawl down there they had their druthers and their bone ready,” a nine piece vanity set trimmed in gold and silver had made her exclaim over and over again, letting him see more A-fri-ker breast from inside her loose robe than he ought to see, nipples red as ripe but burnt pears, the deep other blackness now and then showing too, a country yet too far to visit. “Chile, if you ain’t the goddest of all the chiles I ever knowed,” her hand, one or the other, casually in his lap, casually knowing the throb. Sadie Janelle Hobbins, moving about her love of A-fri-ker, striking in her blackness, was a forty-five-year-old grandmother. Gwendolyn Gal, her best friend, just next door, said it, “You a looker, girl, even having Kevlar’s father when you was only fifteen ain’t hurt you yet; and Kelvar’s father, all of fourteen, tipping Tucson Angel upside down one night and having Kelvar when Tucson Angel was only fourteen also. All prime and you always saying he come vibrant and special, that grandson of yours.” The boy runner, Kelvar Hobbins. Nobody ever caught him, or caught up to him, his grandmother vouching, time and again, that “he was going to have a halo ‘round him ever and ever. A halo ever and ever.” But all his young life he felt something was chasing him down the dark ways. All the way to the En Ef El. At Florida State, Kelvar Hobbins, a heralded flanker, did the forty-yard dash in 4.26, and at graduation came to the front office of the New England Phantoms and then to their practice field just about that fast. Things he left behind but being drafted in the second round by the Phantoms made up for a lot of shortcomings. He told himself that fast, tough, black cornerbacks, safeties and wide receivers were the standard of the league, and all he had to do was bump a guy or two ahead of him on the depth chart. Or they got bumped off the roster by other means, like injuries or stiff fingers, or not having Tonka Teal hanging out right down there inside their jockstraps. Tekla Koov and all of A-fri-ker. Probabilities were always around and there were more ways than one of making a team, of being a starter. And looking for the big contract, a block-buster, an En Ef El blockbuster, was a boy’s right, a boy’s due. It was not a new road for Kelvar Hobbins, though his grand-mother, Sadie Janelle, who raised him since the day his daddy and momma took a dive off a high bridge with their arms locked around each other most of the way down, said a number of times: “Some time, Chile, but not now, you got to stop running for your own good.” She only said that when it tired her to watch the boy fly around the way he did and her trying to rest up during the day. He raced everywhere, around the house, up and down the stairs, off and back to school, to the market for pizza or some pop, doing numbers for Black Lord Anthony, the neighborhood cruiser, with who-knows-what-else under his jacket. “Lord, look at that little sucker go, thinking him’s Jessie Owens all the time and Nazi Mustache chasing him down Berlin way. Takes my heart to faulty fluttering, think he gonna fall down and die and never get to the En Ef El and pay me back all this worrying I got to get done before he get rich.” But she had pronounced that boy, so she had, cross her heart and then some. Her child of the wind and the shadows he was, her A-fri-ker child, all so right and proper. He wore the sweat of Tonka Teal. No two men ever wore that at one and the same time. She could picture him on the television, sprinting down the sidelines, some rich whitey quarterback throwing a long spiral down the field ahead of him and him running under the ball, light foot, a light-tan savanna Tommy, catching up to it, picking it out of the air on his lovely fingertips, a petal from the pale night rose drifting on the wind. “Kelvar,” she’d yell from the side door thinking no one but him would hear her call,” her voice rising through leaf and limb, the only thing he ever thought could catch him in a sprint. “Come eat, Chile. Come feed that spirit that ‘bides in you.” The neighbors, even Gwendolyn Gal, best friend, would laugh a bit, but Gwendolyn Gal would do so under her breath when she heard Sadie Janelle call the boy to supper, saying to herself at the same time, that she called him exactly the same time every night, just so she could go see her friends and do what she does best, and Lord, there’s times she’d like to go with her and do the same, but she’d get whipped close to this side of hell if she did. When Kelvar Hobbins got to the Phantoms at Benton College for the mini-camp for draftees, he did not look back to Florida, not right away. Earlier in the week of Mal Campbell’s death and Pete Goodyard’s call, Harry Krisman and Kyle Bronte sat in their offices in downtown Boston discussing the Phantoms’ draft choices. They looked out and saw the Charles River splashed with sunshine, saw miniature cars running slowly in the streets of the city, saw the cabs, the trucks, the clutter, the people plodding in light and darkness, morning shadows moving down building faces. At hand, steam rose from their coffee cups, day well on its way. “The key pick,” Kyle Bronte said, putting down a copy of the Boston Herald, lifting his coffee as if toasting his selection, “is the anchor they finally got for the offensive line. The center, from BYU. Not a quarterback with that pick, mind you, but a center. And, for the first time in a long time, he’s a long-snapper. And a good one. For punts, point-afters, field goals.” He paused, his face saying he remembered something else, one dark brow raised, his tan coming on ebony, the wide jaw a redoubt and a match for his neck. Across the back of a chair spread one of the capes he’d worn ever since being benched, his plain enough message to defrocking peers, his signature, his talisman. “It was,” as he delicately put it a few times to Harry, “a cape or an eternal fucking sneer, and grace be damned.” “Hell, I remember one guy they had way back, got snake bit, like Tex Hughson did when he pitched for the Sox with Boo Ferris. Boo’d give up a dozen hits, some off The Monster in left, and six or eight runs, and the Sox’d get twelve runs for him. He’d get the win. Poor old snake-bit Tex Hughson would lose a one or a two hitter. They couldn’t get many runs for him. Sometimes no runs at all! Anyway, a Boston Pats center they had way back, this guy snapped a few bad ones, over the punter’s head mostly, some bouncing along the ground, crazy way a football bounces. The whole thing began to carry. Like a disease, a malady of confidence. Right in the bloodstream. Used to make me shake at fourth down and five. Times I wouldn’t look and I’d hear the crowd and know he’d done it again. Went on for a long time. Couple of full seasons, I’d guess. It was right in the cranium all the time. Not in his hands. Almost got a couple of punters and holders killed in the line of fire. Think it was Jon Morris, but I’m not sure now. Been so long. Had to go out and get a special long-snapper to do the job. Otherwise, he was a great center.” He leveled his dark eyes at Harry, his judicious look, his bench look. “This new guy brings great credentials. Name of Barton Longstreet. Fits him, doesn’t it? Great balance. Quick feet for such a small giant of a man.” Lightly, on his toes, he danced the Notre Dame box shift, two steps, one back and a crossover, and then a little hop, across the office floor, no creaks from his knees, leaning forward, hands on knees waiting for the snap of the ball, ready to go to work. “My best caricature of the old days,” he explained, and went on. “The coach says he doesn’t have to pencil him in as a starter. It’s indelible right now, He’s got the job. Healthy, he might have that job for ten years, where most of them last less than four years, when they make it. Then he can go to that ranch he’s looking for right now, the one his father’s going to run for him until his career is over. Says it’s got to be in Wyoming or Montana, in that end of the world, Big Sky country. The kid’s got the ball in the right alley.” Harry could hardly wait to bust in on him. But he waited, his good foot perched on an open desk drawer, the gold tooth hidden behind a lip. The judge saw him waiting. “You think my choice is crappy, do you, Harry? You going with the linebacker from Georgia Tech?” He drank some coffee, pondered, made an assessment. “For two years now, I’ve been your associate in crime detecting. I’ll tell anyone, it’s my nature, I’m still trying to make decisions for you, this kind, yes, but not the ones out in the field, not the ones on the line of fire. I know exactly where I stand on those counts, where I’ve come from, most likely where I’m going. Those on-line decisions belong to you, ex-cop, second to none, as far as I’m concerned, in the private eye business in Boston. God, I’ve seen enough of them, the shady, the putrid, the otherwise. We, that is, Boston, might have more gendarmes than crooks.” Harry said to himself it was the judge’s morning to talk, noticing how he had turned the tone and tenor of topic, and let him go on, saying also to himself, as a qualifying statement, that this guy never kissed ass in his life and wasn’t starting now, no matter what it sounded like. “You’ve defended me each and every time it’s been needed since I was defuckfrocked.” the judge added. He used his favorite double-eff expression, by which by the powers-to-be in the Judiciary, tired of his finger-pointing, tired of his threats to the obviously guilty, tired of his constant references to contacts on the inside who owed him, tired of arranging blind dates coming to visit you those nights you least expect it down at MCI Walpole or any other locale of justice you might find yourself in, and there’s none I don’t know of, had forced him from the bench. Kyle Bronte had said on occasion: “I dress well. I have the money to feed this taste. The money, and the taste, have been in my family for generations. Now, I’m the last of the Brontes, and it appears I will spend it all. The most fashionable items in my accouterments are the capes I wear in lieu of getting defuckfrocked by my fucking peers on the fucking bench. I have a collection of them, each one grander than the last one I’ve worn, any time.” The words were never rehearsed, Harry believed. At the moment, Harry decided, the judge was Laird Cregar stepping out of a black and white movie, wearing a diamond stick-pin as big as a pencil eraser in his tie. It could probably pay the office rent for about half a year or lease a Peugeot.” Kyle said, “He’s one of their second-round picks, Kincaid. Had a career and a half for the Bulldogs. But he’s not my pick.” Harry’s thin, handsome face picked up some color with his argument. His blue/green eyes flickered, but the memorable tooth was lipped out of sight. He was not building up for an argument at the moment. He said, “Thanks for the kind words by way of diversion, Judge, but the other kid’s my pick. The other second rounder they got in that Puncher Merton trade with San Diego. The receiver from Florida, Hobbins. Clocked a 4.26 in the forty. I think he’s a secret coming down the road. Maybe next year, a little more big-league experience under his belt. He’s got Oliveria and the other flanker, Mal Campbell, in front of him and perhaps that receiver they picked up from the Bengals over the winter. Free-agent who’d been hurt, Weyruth Grambling. All those receivers were decent last year. But they don’t bust it enough or haven’t done it yet. That’s what they say; they can do it but haven’t done it yet. Great hands, all of them, but not the breakaway speed. Admit they keep the ball when it’s in their hands, but don’t do too much with it.” He folded the Boston Globe sport pages onto his lap. Kyle said, “You’re bagging a guy who won’t even start over my guy who’s a stick-out to be a starter every game, sixteen regular and what else they have to do to keep public interest going, you name it and they’ll do it. You onto a career thing? Is that your stand? I’ll match my guy to your guy over the next ten years, for ten bucks. Meet me for lunch at Maliave’s then, we’ll match notes.” Back over his shoulder he looked at the calendar on the wall, then at the large mahogany wall clock he’d brought with him from his own chambers. “Eleven forty-five a.m., Tuesday, August 1, the year of our Lord two thousand and eight, Ammo Donimi. At ye olde Maliave’s. Bring resume and lunch money, for imbibition if nothing else, if you’re not very hungry or don’t have a sweet tooth as a fang.” “If I’m busy, being a working man, I’ll send Mal. She loves lunch at Maliave’s. Football doesn’t exactly break her up the way hockey does, but she’ll go for the food there. She doesn’t think there’s enough action, enough thrills, with football.” Max was Maxine Humdroph, accounting professor at Bentley College in nearby Waltham. Harry followed her back to Bentley one day from the Boston Public Library where he’d seen her stretching for a book on a high shelf. The stretch did it. In the silent room, in the reference section loaded with tomes and thicknesses, the buzzer went off in the back of his head, the stretch did it, the push of self against clothing, the formation. Up front she admitted her love of bird watching and her love of hockey. And no interest in football whatsoever. The morning after Harry’s and Kyle’s discussion on odds, longevity and careers, all three of them, including the accounting prof, sat up and took notice of football and the New England Phantoms. Wide receiver Mal Campbell, standby veteran of the receiving corps of the Phantoms, had possibly been lured from the Canton townhouse he shared with running back Luke Graham. Mal was found, shot twice in the chest, in his room mates’ Bronco parked beside a public phone booth. A patrol car had checked out the Bronco, a dome light still burning, a door ajar. They found Mal Campbell behind the wheel, sitting straight up in the seat. The bullet holes were about six inches apart. His chest was bloody red. To the police and some to the newspaper reporters, Luke Graham said, when questioned, shaken, unsure of only some minor elements, “We were hanging out, that’s all, having a few beers. Been hot and tough that day, lotta live stuff, mixing, cracking heads some. Mal was worried ‘bout his wind not coming back like allus did. His knee kinky. He wasn’t sick, though, just a little worried. Maybe tired the hard work out. Some days it’s bitches, you know. We try to keep the phone number out of print, if you know what I mean. But every once a while some chick sneaks it off’n somebody, teammate maybe, who thinks she’s hot something, or special. Groupies, whatever you guess, they all over. Hundred reasons suppose. Anyways, a call comes for him. I get it. Sweet voice all purr, I mean downtown all purr, fire-stuff, all that darling stuff coming right down the wires must a been melting all over Ma Bell sneaky-like, says to me, ’Hi, Sugar buns. I like to talk to Mal. Saw you a day last week, Sugar buns. You a pair of something, you two. He there?’ Her voice rippling the way a rock’s thrown on water. “ “Mal gets on the phone and he talk only ‘bout ten minutes and he outta there. Takes my keys and my Bronco, ‘cause I’m last in the driveway ‘cause I’m in last last night, my own ‘pointment being hot.” I say, ‘Where you going this hour, man?’ Must a been near eleven, maybe after, coming midnight soon, sky full of moon. Night for something else. you know.” “He says, grabbing himself, you know, ‘She hot, man. Waiting in a phone booth says only one she could find when she got our number. Over by Leroy’s Bar, the town line, near big garage where Little League plays.’” “‘Man,’ he says to me, ‘She says to me, ‘Know what I’m doing right now, Sugar buns, right here in this public phone booth near a streetlight, cars zipping past me, I’m warming it all up for you, wet and awful awful pow’ful hungry, Sugar buns. My skirt up ‘round my hips, don’t ever wear anything under there. Never do. No hand on the phone, darling, holding it with my shoulder, my head, being two-hand busy for you. Saw you a day last week. Can’t stop thinking ‘bout you. It hurt, that feeling. I gets hurt something awful. Cops come by now, never ever see me again. They send me off to jail for ever and ever. C’mon, Sugar buns, I can’t wait much longer. No sir. I go finger crazy right here on side a road. Oh yah oh yah oh yah. You be my Superman, the phone booth.’ “ “Outta there he goes. Never see him again ‘til the cops come, three four o’clock, blue light shaking all through the house, almost talking, coming in all the winders like them Northern Lights all shook loose last year one time, bouncing through the house a freight train coming down the tracks middle the night right outta nowhere, waking you up, making your suitcase jump alla place. It come off the ceiling where I see it first when I wake up, this blue light zapping and I know ain’t no dance hall light for juking and jiving and stuff. Scare the hell outta me, it do.” His eyes saddened more as he continued. “Then I knowed something happen. Feel it in my back like it crawling all over me. Cop was nice, knew I shook up, kind a sad look on his face, like maybe he saw Mal catch a few ‘em long one’s once awhile. Ast me go look. I gotta call the coach three four o’clock in the morning. Gotta call somebody with the team. Ain’t going there alone, not this one. Coach Krier, me and him go there like it’s Halloween and we ain’t sure of nothing. Mal shot twice, in my Bronco, sitting right at the wheel like he minding his own business, going someplace else, easy drive, radio playing, cool. Light on overhead like he was to read a map looking where to go.” His face went blank as if he knew where that place was, a road each one of them had known. “Cop say shot right up close. I just tell ‘em it was a sweet young thing called. Don’t even know if she did him, did him anything, turned any tricks what else. Don’t even know she the one, whoever she is, but smoking all’s I say. Real smoking, that girl. Real smoking!” Looking around, feeling as though he had been pushed to the wall for some kind of team declaration, he added a somber clarification. “Look like Kelvar Hobbins, he goes first team now. First offense. Hope he does it good, rookie from Florida. Mal, he had good hands, job all sewed up ‘nother year. Do him no good now, going grassing his new way. Way it goes, me and Kelvar rookies.” Chapter Two Pete Goodyard, new-era grocer, a rich one, who blew it open when his company went public and him holding a couple of hundred-thousand or so shares, “spreading some of his wealth onto other fields,” as he often said thereafter, was now the principal owner of the New England Phantoms, and their new stadium shone in the sunlight of the Saugus marshland just below the southerly edge of that town’s Baker Hill, Revere on one flank and Lynn on the other. “I want it here,” he told the media earlier, “to be a part of history, near the site of the old Saugus Airport from which the country’s first air mail delivery had taken place, and the old Saugus Racetrack, both now gone into the ground, into a clutch of saline and brackish wilderness, more than 750 acres where the tide comes in and cuts grid-like. As an owner in big time football, I’m a youngster, low man on the totem pole, tyro at sports, but bringing with me a nod at sensitivity and community, a love of history, a flair for human relations, and gut feelings I always obey when they begin to talk to me, in the bone, in the soul.” He was handsome in the blond way, light eyed, tanned well, and excelled at a number of one-on-one sports. He knew how to make money. Where to put it. A few years earlier he had called Harry Krisman and Kyle Bronte. “I’ve heard of you and your reputation, Harry, and also admire the stand of your cohort, Judge Bronte, on some sticky issues rather close to my heart. Perhaps someday we can discuss them, but now business tells me I’m in need of assistance and want you to come to work for me, if you’re free. Your calendar, that is. Both of you. The retainer will be just, the job secret.” He threw some numbers out. Lanyard’s voice on the phone was level, deep enough that Harry pictured a heavy-set man of forty-five or so, bright-eyed, high forehead. The man’s voice carried a shot of bounce in it. Lanyard continued, “The thing you did in Montreal, admirable, imaginative. Ran against a few tough grains, I bet, before that one was done. It keyed my selection.” He had qualified his stand, now his voice had become friendly in the next step, and then compassionate, with a small, tight expression of awe in it. ” I admire some controlled intensity, imagination, the kind of ethic that takes over when luck goes out the door.” “You a hockey fan?” Harry said, before he even asked what kind of a job was in the offing. He remembered L’Voner with the knife in his hand, advancing on Mal in the Montreal restaurant; a picture that’d never go away. “No, but I hate the Canadiens. The team, that is. Always have. For some misguided reason I know, but fact is fact. It must be a Boston penchant, an Orr thing, an outgrowth come of losing something you figure belongs to you, but it doesn’t.” “Man after my own heart. What can we do for you?” Pictures were still coming into the back of Harry’s head. The judge had looked up from his desk at that point of the call. His cape, another gray one so honest in its cut and texture it drew eyes, lay draped over the back of a visitor’s chair. A thin loop of black material twirled at one edge, matching the black button on the other side. A thin, elegant black trim showed as collar. It could have had dollar signs stitched into it. Kyle’s face said, “What now?” He could see Harry’s gold tooth still holding its own as far as shine or gleam was concerned. Before it was all over, Maxine would have something to say about that tooth. He’d bet his next encounter on it. Well, almost. Lanyard said, “I have this gut feeling that some of my operations are being sabotaged. From the inside. If we can sit down and talk about it, I’d appreciate it. I need help. I’ve come to the cream of the pro’s.” He laughed as he added, “That’s from what I’ve heard from the community, the professional side and elsewhere. And we have some mutual friends. Judge Harnedy, Judge Malton, Captain Bidwell, BPD, who’s the godfather of my accountant’s son, and, I think, Harry, a friend and I followed your stay with a friend at the Blacktides Inn in Vermont, on one of your bird-watching trips. The Colsons favor you and your friend a great deal.” It took Harry and Kyle Bronte only two weeks, or slightly less, to knock down the culprits, hired by a third party. Harry and Kyle had locked it up in “Jig time”, as Lanyard said, watching them at work, questioning in his mind at first the limp Harry exhibited, wondering about his capabilities, reaction time. He’d told himself shortly he need not have worried. Now, two and a half years later, Pete Goodyard had dialed that same number again. Now it was not commercial sabotage, but murder. There was still concern about assets. They met at the Pilot House, a hundred yards off Route 1, where Everett-Revere-Chelsea bang shoulders. A simple sign of announcement hung over the front doors, a small red lobster in one corner as vague as an afterthought. Pete Goodyard was waiting for them in a side function room, the lamp on the table turned down low, the furniture dark mahogany, the shadows sufficient for tryst or secrecy or corporate takeover. “Glad to see you again, Harry, Judge.” His head of ample blond hair nodded at each, and he offered his hand. There was a drink in front of him, Kyle thought it a margarita. Pete Goodyard pointed at it. “Name it, Cheryl’ll get it for you.” His voice was low, but not a whisper. Cheryl, tall, leggy, carefully dressed, possibly a true redhead, appeared out of the shadows and took their order. She was soundless disappearing, no high heels clicking on the floor, no look-at-me-guys notice broadcast within the building. Kyle Bronte appreciated her walking style for a lost moment. “It’s been a while, Pete,” Kyle Bronte said, turning back. “We’ve gone over your draft picks, really close. Nit pickers, Harry and I. Spent some time at it, made a few bets. Long range ones, though. Career stuff. A very interesting draft. Might shake itself down the line.” Kyle’s face said he was sorry for a lousy pun. He could see suddenly that Pete did not want to do any kind of warm-up, his mouth slightly ajar, deferring to the older man, the judge, but ready to step in at the first chance. Kyle Bronte appreciated the man’s paid respects as well as his attire; a well-dressed and successful business man who could put his money where it did him the most good, clothes being a very prominent part of it. “What’s bothering you, Pete? You look like you’ve swallowed a can of sardines that’s half opened.” Kyle pushed his drink away, and reached for one of his favorite smokes, a HavaTampa cigar with a white mouth piece. His eyes darkened with interest, his chin stuck out. “What’ve you got? We’ll handle it, give it our best shot.” There was no high-bench pose with his words. Pete turned to Harry and could not see his gold tooth. He wondered if it had been replaced. Harry’s limp had been forgotten entirely. Was the ex-judge exercising a kind of senior attitude? The grocer thought he better get to the case at hand, put his own observations aside. “I expect you’ve read about our wide receiver, Mal Campbell. Nice boy. Earnest, taking care of his parents, some siblings, like a lot of his teammates. Shot twice in the chest. Left to die on the side of the road in a teammate’s car, Luke Graham, also his roommate.” He sipped his drink, but not absentmindedly, his eyes drifting over the top of the glass. “That was his account in the Globe and the Herald. Made it sound like a set up. Contrived, to say the least. Apparently lured out of their townhouse down in Canton, closer to practice at Benton College than downtown Boston where you know they’d liked to have been... Twin Towers, Four Seasons, the Holiday near the hospitals and all that uniform whiteness running loose and free. These kids, can roll out of bed and find it waiting at the doorstep for them, on the stoop, like evening can’t wait to spread its legs for them. Oh, to be that young again for some of us’d be the same kind of disaster.” There was a momentary flash on his face, a look at another time, another era. “Takes a lot to stay on-sides, keep under control, in this day and age. There’s a lot of foul territory. Quicksand you never see from the bench. Not even from the press box. A lot of rules you’d better keep in mind if you want to last in this game. Most of them don’t see it. Can’t keep the good and the bad separated. It lasts such a short time for them. I’m aware of that. A lot of them aren’t. Knees go wacky with ACL’s getting torn this way and that any day of the week. Hamstrings start working on you. Turn an ankle the wrong way and you might be done for the year, at least the best part of a year. It’s all so hip for them, so fast and free, with a promise that it’ll go forever. But that forever never happens. Take three years, maybe four, and be happy, be thankful, take care of mommy and daddy, get the farm you’ve dreamed about, the ranch, a house on top of a hill. Mostly it’s what the family has dreamed about for a hundred years or so, hardscrabble being the way of life for many of their families since the War of the Union. Getting a hunk of this earth. Putting your brand on it.” He stopped to measure a territory or an idea in his mind. “Then, all of a sudden, deed or no deed for that farm or that ranch, the sun stops shining. They think it’s going to shine for fucking forever. They make a run at it. They’ve got money, youth, just cares enough, after family of course who happen in most cases to be hundreds if not thousands of miles away, that Sunday afternoons go right for them. Bam! Poof!” He flashed his fingers in the air. “Just like that! Midnight coming! Carriage at the door. Late in the evening it was for Mal, eleven-ish, when he was lured from his pad, a hot voice via Ma Bell, sounds like it was a pants dropper from the word go. I don’t know if he ever closed down a nice deal for a farm for his large family. I should know, but I don’t.” He paused, took a breath. “You up on all that?” Harry Krisman said, also pushing his drink away, “We caught that on TV and in the papers. Sports Illustrated did a quick piece on it and some associated stuff, or I should say, similar stuff. The business gets bigger, the more fringe riders saddle up. Not just the satellite stuff, but hard-core leeches, suitors of all ilk, as you might say. We’ve been there and now you’re going through it. You feeling something we haven’t heard about? My accent on feeling is a mutual reference to some of the things you’ve encountered in business, though each of us knows a hell of a lot of intelligence goes into those gut feelings of yours. Is there something that’s not in the papers yet? You telling me we’re not up to date on all things Phantomic?” Harry saw on Pete Goodyard’s face, even in the half-lit room, a look, first quizzical, then of worry. For this man, without a strand of hair out of place, clothes as well-groomed as Kyle Bronte’s, their cost somewhat like three hard weeks of work beyond Harry’s own price range, that look was as serious as a price drop, a change in the commodity market. Absolutely honest, somewhat foreboding. They would talk about that conversation when they were alone, Harry and Kyle, remembering what Pete Goodyard had to say. And some of what he did not say. It was later in the day, after a court appearance, a five-minute testimony by Harry and then by Kyle, witnesses to a family shooting in the North End. They had gone for pizza-and-whatever to Bobby Pag’s new pizzeria, Emily Romagna’s Valley Rich, Harry ostensibly for the pizza, Kyle for the whatever. “Not a square inch of stainless steel or Formica in the whole place that you can see,” Harry’d said when asked why there. “Even the ovens are out of sight, and you can’t smell Rinso or Tide or Ajax or some industrial-strength cleaning agent floating against the best part of your palate.” With them were Maxine Humdroph, not-so-plain-professor-of-accounting at Bentley College, and a striking redhead by the name of Magnolia Comfort. Maxine was clear blonde, Nordic in facial look, but warmer in the eyes. Blue eyes but not steel blue. Blue like an ink he could remember. Kyle had noticed, much earlier in their association that when she was in Harry’s company, Maxine did a lot of talking with her fingertips, touching fingertips, at a sleeve end, on the back of his hands, at his elbow still housed in a jacket, at the strap on his wristwatch, often unobtrusively the hair on the back of his neck. It had taken him a while, he admitted readily, to define in his mind how she might have handled Harry’s prosthesis, like getting in the sack for their initial tumble, or any tumble thereafter. It had been ribald at first, but he had settled down his thoughts, Maxine coming to mean as much to him as the younger detective, scarred enough times already in his life, but dogged at every task. “No kidding, Scout’s honor,” Kyle had said, raising his right index finger shoulder high when introducing Magnolia Comfort, adding, with a bit of nonchalance he could always muster,” Here’s dark-eyes herself, one hundred and thirty-five pounds of suppleness and sensual competence spread upward on a torso right off a European designer’s style show runway, as close to five-eleven as one can get and not have heels do the body any damage. Mother gave her the name, ‘now hear this’ she also says without abashment, ‘the same night she was conceived under a tree in a park in Savannah, Georgia,’ her mother impregnated by a Marine the first night home from Viet Nam via the Walter Reed Hospital with one hand long gone over to a grenade and to the green jungle and the other in an abortive sling.” At all this, Harry noted that Magnolia Comfort was completely at ease, no sense of urgency in her make-up, embers at the bottom of the pile just waiting for new ignition. He wondered where her hand was under the table, was it talking. Kyle Bronte tried to separate impressions. The first was of Magnolia, some nights earlier, holding him with two hands, one on his rigid self, one cupping the jewels gently underneath, saying without design, “When I am in this position, I am head of the firm. When you have my two hips in your hands, then you can be boss,” her hair like Fall leaves, her eyes wickedly beautiful. Magnolia’s mother came back to him. “And her mom says, even to me,” Kyle continued, “‘I did all the touching, all of it, for both of us. I knew exactly what I was doing, what I would get out of it, because he was the most handsome man I’d ever seen in my whole life, and the saddest. And I was no virgin, had no pretenses, not puffed up about a little piece of ass with a lovely looking boy who was able to get me going as quick as any boy I’d known. Ever. All three of them to that point, as a matter of fact. All absolute incompetent boors, as I’ve since found out and made sure that she’d find out without going the hard route. Anyway, I liked what I was looking at, loved it, knew I’d love what I’d be doing, getting right down to grassing the old way. Red hair he had like some god I swear come risen out of one of those rocky-mound cairns in old Ireland, Western Ireland, Percy Spencer’s slopes, a god who’d swung his sword at the goddamn Norsemen right down there on the goddamn beach, outside the Pale. Or the Vikings or the Picts or whatever the hell they were at that time, coming at his place, coming on his piece of the earth! A god, a king of a redhead. A warrior. Ready. Willing. Able. The kind they’d sung the caoine for, the keen, the death song, rhymed or unrhymed doesn’t matter. That’s what he made me think of. And that lovely boy’s still sad except when she walks back into his life every so often. Not me, but her. I think we both knew what was coming to us, like it was a picture show just unfolding right out in front of us, old black and white. Said he’d never marry me. Could never support me. So, I let him be. Did not put that weight on him, not even on a king, a redhead king at that, king of love. King of the one-night stand, but king laying down too. I’ve always loved him, my boy of Savannah, my cairn boy. Have always let him love his girl, what he might call in the old tongue his gradh mo chroidhe, gramachree, love of my heart.’ “ Maxine loved meeting Kyle’s friends, especially his girlfriends and the stories that came around them like auras let loose from some place not quite on earth. There had been a few very special people in that caste. This one, Magnolia Comfort, tall, warm, striking in any crowd, any setting, sensual, was no exception to that rule. Her red hair was radiant, spoke of a fire, told Maxine at the doorway that Kyle was special to her. “He’ll always be special to me he keeps using the Brillo Pad or sandpaper or whatever the household toy he uses for fun and games. Makes life interesting.” The first pizza had come and gone. Gone also was a bottle of red wine Bobby Pag’s had sent over with a handwritten note because he had to step out for a quick visit to a sick friend, “Special delivery right from the vines of Emilia-Romagna, where my family’s roots go into the Byzantine authority of the fifth or sixth century. This jug, though, is mere 1969. But a great part of my Italia. Dig it! Drink it! Dip your bread in it if you have the urge...and the nerve. If you want more, yell! Carmen will fetch.” It was signed, “Bobby Pags, I.R.” Maxine asked Harry, “What’s with the I.R., Harry? Is that code? Is that part of the P.I. business? Is this more than eating? Are we here on business? You work and date at the same time?” She held the note in her hands, studying it. She looked up, a mover of numbers and statistics, bird watcher, new love of his life, the face of a Nordic cameo beauty, lips not red but a damp pearl, wet, glistening, saucy, and said, “That’s only six or so questions.” She added, “Gyrfalcon,” almost under her breath, a hurried nickname for Harry. “I could think of a lot more if you want me to.” Harry blushed. She had a way of making him nervous. “Nothing so deep,” he said. “I.R. just means I remember.” He didn’t say any more, not then, but sent Maxine, with a slight tremor, remembering things herself, thinking she could always wait on him, oftentimes did at the very edge, but where he called it precipice she called it scarp, an inversion itself she thought. Her face, she realized, was a bit telling, not yet used to the feelings this man brought out in her, old hay mow stuff and bunched linen and moonlight falling atop them on a sixth green a quick step off the pavement of Route One just north of Ellsworth, Maine. But she’d get used to it. She was sure of that. Magnolia Comfort caught Kyle’s eyes, rolled her own eyes, tossed her chin with a flair, and said, “What’s with the bird calls? Are we in for a lot of this aviary shit?” The tip of her tongue was visible with every word, poking more fun at Maxine, who broadened an already broad smile. The girls had missed the shooting when they were ten minutes in the ladies’ room, Maxine still laughing at and with Kyle’s new friend. The incident happened, while they were gone, in a small parking lot directly across the street from the window booth Harry and Kyle sat at, trying to focus on Pete Goodyard. The sudden shooter was known to both of them and, obviously, to the victim, the straight brother of a rather crooked and bent older brother, “smoking gun in hand” as they might say in court, and “just another night in town.” The girls had missed all of it. Only a single blue light flickered across the windows when they came back to the booth. Maxine had said, “Some excitement while we were gone?” Blue lights somehow no longer bothered the deep Maine transplant, did not pique her interest so much, too long now on the Boston scene. “A night in Boston means blue lights, coming from one direction or the other. Sirens sometimes come before you see the blue lights, opposite of lightning.” Now, apparently, it was old hat to the girl from Wallagrass, Maine, so far up there you can’t get there from here, at least, not today. Magnolia Comfort, sipping the last of her wine, eyes cool, tipping her head ever so slightly at the whole North End out the window, said, “What’s the body count?” Harry and Maxine had early noted the redhead was a smoking redhead, Kyle’s appreciative style, who used a lot of subtleties that might have come right out of a dark Savannah park. And they would believe she could say in a voice distinct forever, “Move over. Move down. Move your hand. Lower. Lower. That’s better. Oh, that’s something new for a big boy, now isn’t it?” or “What darling thing are you up to now?” If Kyle told them so. To herself Maxine said, not surprisingly, “This is one girl I’ll meet in Harry’s business I can get to like, if I get to know her more,” not knowing the chance was coming her way soon. Kyle said, “One,” to her body count question. Maxine’s eyes opened wider. So did Harry’s, not at the ‘one’ but at the question. Magnolia swung slowly to Kyle, her head tipping, not a can-you-see-this-tipping-of-my-head, but a sincere tipping. “What are you boys working on now?” Her eyes went deep with interest, her mouth, slightly open, slightly lascivious about the tip of her tongue, was saying, “I am very interested. I’m waiting for you to tell me what you’re working on.” Her face was loaded with promise, cheeks high and full of shine, lips puffy, a redder redness you knew she had sufficient control over. ” Does your work chase you?” she said. “Are you that much in demand?” Casually she pointed her chin at the scene outside, then looked directly into Kyle Bronte’s lap. “We were just getting around to that while you ladies were in the ladies’,” Harry said, so Kyle could study his date, still finding out things about her, always hoping, as he often said, “Never wanting to know anybody completely, never quite getting to turn the last corner, never seeing the full promise.” “You going to tell us?” Magnolia said. Her hand touched Maxine’s arm, sister enlisting sister in a project, in an association, becoming us. “A friend of ours.” Harry said, “is the principal owner of a professional team. One of his players, name of Mal Campbell, was shot in the chest the other night, down in Canton. Sounds like he was lured from his house, sometime before midnight, by a female, hot to trot it sounds like. He was found stone cold dead, two big holes six inches apart in his chest, in his roommate’s car, beside a phone booth, by the locals. No apparent suspects on-line as yet.” “Just another road kill?” Magnolia said, which made Harry smile and Harry nod. “That’s the one which hit the papers,” Kyle offered, still finding out new things about his date. “There’s more than one?” Maxine said. A quizzical look went Magnolia’s way. Maxine wanted to tip her head but thought she’d be copy-catting. Harry nodded again. “Pete said he was very nervous about the whole situation. Moreso after the second death. A hit and run. One of his players slated for the taxi squad, if that, one of the last draft picks. Way down near the bottom of the pickings. An interior lineman, guard probably, from some small college in New Mexico. Aldo Mercantonio, called ‘Do Re’ by his friends back at school and up here. Very popular among his teammates, very spirited but at least a couple of years away from seeing any big-league action, if ever, at least so said by Pete and his drafting personnel.” “Why’d they draft him,” Magnolia said, “if he was so goddamn hopeless?” She could hunch her shoulders so that her breasts were more visible. Maxine got an impression that the redhead was not wearing any underpants. If she tried that, Harry would go nuts. “I got the feeling, though Pete wouldn’t say it outright, that they really drafted him to spark up the preseason, the doldrums days, the two-a-day practice sessions that are pure torture to some of the players, especially veterans, pure and unadulterated drudgery from what we hear. Give the team some life from another aspect’s what they wanted. Kid was a great kid. Lots of spirit, great line of chatter, would fight an alligator if he had to.” “Sacrificial lamb or court jester.” Magnolia Comfort toasted Do Re Mercantonio with a sip of Emilia-Romagna after she held her glass on high. “Some guys hardly ever get what they want in life. Others get it all. Where’s Justice when you’re looking for her, out taking a pee?” “This death is supposed to be different from the other one, that Mal person”, Maxine said, “because one is a starter jock and the other has little if any chance of playing? The other’s funny? He’s got good lines?” Up straighter in her seat she sat, face lit up, eyes igniting. “This whole out-of-line approach to big time sports really bothers me. It locks you guys in with all the other beer-swilling end-zone Jimbos wearing their fucking dogface masks or cheese head hats, the sports macho buffs, adoring their little gods, or their vastly overweight and over-rated gods, their out-of-sight-pay gods. I think it’s despicable.” Magnolia Comfort, much of her exposed in a barely enclosing black dress, the tops of her breasts pure as snow on Kilimanjaro, put her hand on Maxine’s arm, and said, “Go get ‘em, girl. I’m with you. We got solidarity this issue. I won’t pay a nickel to see a guy boot a ball who’s getting a million or more dollars a year for game-playing and some days outright stinks at his job. We’re supposed to accept this crappy attitude and posturing and keep paying? He doesn’t want to play, doesn’t feel like it, poor baby, thinks it’s his time of the month, huh? It outright stinks!” Her mouth was perfectly oval as she stressed stinks. “You think we’re supposed to sit there and take that kind of crap. Take another effing guess, sweetheart.” She threw her head again, but not so subtill. The union of Maxine Humdroph and Magnolia Comfort was confirmed at least on one issue of big time sports, big business sports. “That’s the point of the issue,” Harry countered, the tooth showing itself off. “That’s what’s bothering Pete. I admit, so does he, he shoots from the hip a lot. Obeys gut reactions. Always has. You have to say he’s done remarkably well with hip-shooting, gut reactions. His empire’s still building, still growing. Christ, some days he thinks the whole enterprise is in orbit it moves so well. Could be global one day. But this thing bothers him no end. Not just the loss of two players, but something else, something macabre about it. Says it’s twisted his guts out of kilter. Feels it like he’s felt no other incident or situation. Never, he says. One death forces a domino roster change, right at the first team and back down the ranks, Mal Campbell’s death. The other one, Do Re’s, won’t do a thing that anybody’ll notice except for his parents, family, maybe a few guys who stood in the huddle with him down there in New Mexico, held the line in a big game. Some frat brothers maybe or a special girl.” Bobby Pag’s night manager Carmen placed the second bottle of Emilia-Romagna wine on the table, the cork gone, the label like old parchment of a yellow-gray, but no note, only a smile and a nod to Harry, and one at the redhead Magnolia Comfort, who’d made another mark for the evening. The waitress placed the second pizza with anchovies on the table, along with a set of clean plates and a new pile of napkins. The air kicked itself with the odor of the anchovies. Kyle took the waitress’s hand and exchanged a ten-dollar bill with her. No one seemed to notice. Magnolia said, leaning lots of whiteness over the table, “What’s the greengrocer really saying to you, birdman?” She and Maxine exchanged smiles. Kyle kicked Harry under the table. Harry, as if ignoring both pun and kick, said, “He has this crazy feeling, straight out of his gut, Marcantonio’s death was a cover-up for Cantrell’s murder. A dilution of sorts.” Maxine said, “Harry, you’re still at it! One you call a death, the other a murder. One you use the full name of the big star, then just the last name of the lesser known. You’re a sports bigot, even though I do love you.” “Give him no quarter, girl,” Magnolia said, looking Maxine right in the eyes, then looking at Kyle and offering him the weakest of smiles, as if to say, “How’s that, chile?” Harry moved on. “One was murder, was planned, is apparent, bullet holes and such. The other may or may not have been an accident. Pete doesn’t think it was an accident. Has this feeling, insatiable feeling he says, that it’s a cover-up. Hardly a ripple in the team framework with Marcantonio’s death. Thinks someone who knows football, team chances, value of players to the team goals, is behind it. Thinks it’s planned, intentional, perhaps a bit of sabotage the way things were the last time we worked for him.” He nodded at Kyle as he said, “Pete hit it right on the nail head that time. Convinced he’s hitting again this issue.” Maxine took a sip of Emilia Romagna and said, “How does he come up with cover-up? What does that say? To make the Mal thing less than it was? To hide its purpose and intention? How do you hide murder with murder? Tell me, birdman.” Her laugh was not self-conscious, as if a reaction was expected. It came from Magnolia. She made funny sounds in her throat, blowing air, her lips pursed and oval, sounding exactly like wings taking off... ”wooshwooooshwooshwooo,” the last sounds fading away, “shwoo shwooo shoooo,” as if flight was out of sight, out of hearing range, wing fluttering gone. Maxine kicked her under the table. The others laughed, for her, with her, at her, with the Emilia Romagna, at unionizing. Kyle pulled his mind away from Magnolia’s whiteness and sound effects and all the endless possibilities. “Right on, Maxine,” he said. Pete thinks it so incidental, so accidental, so inconsequential, for the team, but not the player, that he thinks that way: that it was done only to mask over Mal Campbell’s murder. Says, and I quote, ‘Came right into my gut like so many other things do when I’m at a loss. And I’m at a loss more often than you think. And out of a clear blue sky. Had no idea my mind could contrive the thought, and there it was.’” Kyle want on to explain how Pete Goodyard had carried on in their office in their morning meeting, his insisting that they take the job, even though he had nothing concrete to offer them, Pete saying, “Nothing more than a gut reaction which you can never take to court nor get a summons or a subpoena for, something so far out of the end zone it’s off the whole field of the arena.” “Kept on insisting that we make out our own retainer price right on a blank check he tossed down on the desk. ‘Fill it in,’ he says. ‘Name your price. My whole future’s riding on this, I can feel it. I don’t want to come up short. You guys did it before, I want you to do it again. Find out what’s going on. Find out if there is a connection. Make my gut feeling disappear if you can.’” Magnolia said, more breast exposed from the black dress than was hidden in it, “The pair of you going to be his tonic, his pink stuff in the bottle tastes like sweet chalk, his new yet-to-be-named drug Uncle’s waiting to flood the market with, along with a couple of chemical houses, chemists soon to be godawful rich, some druggists the same, a few labs thrown in for cover? You take the job?” “We took the job,” Kyle said. “We just had to get the female fans’ points of view, their ideas on collusion, conspiracy, whitewash. Magnolia kicked him under the table. Maxine kicked Harry. The second bottle of Emilia-Romagna was gone.
Chapter Three Kelvar Hobbins was on the telephone. “I try you yeserday, you wuz out, Grandma. Say I call anything new. Got me to first team today. First team offense, Grandma!! Gonna start big exhibition game again Green Bay.” Inside he felt a liquid fire. “Feeling good. Feeling good. That old blood running way it suppose to, thigh down, like you say, ankle up. Tonka Teal loose New England, gonna run me new contract you wait and see. One these days old Fatpockets coming home see you, one these days the season over.” “Chile, you makes me happy. Told you it coming long time now. You works hard, you gets paid long green stuff. I did a little shopping yesterday, over near that big flea market, Brunelle, someplace like that, whole mile a tables loaded with alla stuff they makes in the world, everything I need and then some. It so big, Chile, it go on forever seems. They gets stuff ain’t dreamed a yet.” “You spend some that money I send you, what’s for, like I promise. More coming, lot more coming. I turn this town its ear, catch some them balls they think no one gonna catch. I’m flying, Grandma, flying, free and loose, he in me alla time now, talking me, making me go.” “Tears is what I gets, Chile. Tears. So happy. Today I make loose some more money. Buy that dresser allus wanted, with that big mirror show alla me. You call me tomorrow any day with new news.” “How your friends, Grandma, them you go see?” “They keeps, Chile. They keeps. Sadie Janelle spin them propellers, they fly high in the sky.” Her laughter was warm and filling in his ear, made him feel warm all over. “Let you meet my roommate sometime, Grandma. Name Ephrada Jollapawatt. Don’t know any tribe can think of but like to hear ‘bout Tonka Teal. He a running back outta Texas, a rookie, too. His eyes light up, swear to alla that holy, when I say ‘bout Tonka Teal. Afriker knocking on his door alla time, he hear sound in the night, he can’t say what is it. Think he fraid to leave the window open nighttime.” “Sounds like a luscious boy, Chile. I meet him sometime. Come up there, see what New England like, Boston, get me a lobster feed, ride on a swan boat in that piddly pool, go Filene’s Basement Gwendolyn Gal tells me alla ‘bout alla time like she to show off her son-in-law who’s working Boston for year now. You go and tell that Ephrada boy, sound like a sweet ‘nother chile, I send some Tonka Teal up to him any ways I can. Tell him he to leave the window open so he gets in he gets there.” There was a pause in her voice. “God ain’t hard to find.” The sport pages next day, in both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald, announced a trade between the Phantoms and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “Phantoms’ Director of Player Personnel Dick Rhemus and Head Coach Calvin Rocky Krier, concerned about lack of depth in their receiving corps, and not wanting to throw the weight of the season on the back, shoulders and hands of rookie receiver Kelvar Hobbins (4.26/40) out of Florida, late yesterday announced a trade with Tampa Bay. The Phantoms lose their promising offensive lineman Merlin Arthurs, second year man out of Nebraska, who started the final seven games last year, and cornerback Lonnie Freytag, four-year veteran from Augustana Presbyterian, who would have been a starter this year. In return the home town team gets a four-year veteran receiver, Ignatio del Flores, LSU, whose stats last year said he was coming to the top of his game; sixty-two catches, eleven touchdowns, and a thirteen-yard average per catch. Though not a Pro-Bowler yet, losing out to the likes of Barry Price and Campton Mitchell-Ayres, among others, Flores had some heavy support from around the league as a ‘gamer’. He had two late-game game winners in his eleven TD catches, one being the spectacular behind-the-back grab against the Bears, some believing the Monsters of The Midway are returning to the NFL fold, to put the Tampa Bay into the post-season arena.” Before he could get out of Tampa Bay, before he could meet any of his new teammates in the New England Colonies, “Ignatio del Flores,” according to a newspaper report, “having a last meal with four of his teammates at a popular Tampa Bay restaurant, Teddy Tapadero’s the Noisy Cajun, died on the floor of the restaurant, victim of an alleged food poisoning, though that pronouncement was later changed. Diners, to a person, said del Flores’ death was an excruciatingly painful one. A local doctor, Yssef Hanovan, transplanted Bostonian, dining as he has at Teddy’s place for a number of years, pronounced del Flores dead before the ambulance arrived with EMT’s.” Tampa Bay Police Chief Lyle Bergeron, in the same newspaper, was quoted as saying that the poison was not strychnine, but a close relative of it, from an unknown source, but possibly was nightshade, remains of which were supposedly found in a small bottle of wine that del Flores drank. It was the only kind of wine he would drink. All restaurant personnel have been checked out, from chef to dishwasher and bus boy, few of them having contact with the poison source, the bottle, which has been tested and supposedly affirmed by a local laboratory as the conveyor of the deadly dosage. Teammates and other officials of the Tampa Bay club say del Flores had no known enemies and was a very popular player on the local sports scene. “Some question exists.” the chief said, “that the poisoning may have been entirely accidental, as there was no apparent method of how the poison was introduced into the bottle.” The chief went on to say that the heavily toxic substance, little known in local laboratory investigations, “as it has never been reported as the cause of any death locally, may have been introduced accidentally or otherwise into the container in the final preparation process prior to being filled with the wine.” Kelvar Hobbins called his grandmother with the good news/bad news. ” They was bringing in ‘nother long receiver, Grandma, del Flores from Tampa Bay, boy can fly too, but he got killed down that way by poison. ‘Mind me not to go eat out anyplace just for fun. Think they was gonna put him up ‘head a me but now they can’t do that because he ain’t catching too good today. Gonna still have a great year, Grandma, and get that BIIIIG contract we dream ‘bout alla time. I feel like dancing, Grandma. Nothing gonna stop me now. Could dance right here phone booth, alla ‘em looking at me wond’ring what happen make a guy so happy even though a guy gotta to die make me this happy.” “Chile, that Tekla, that Tekla, he still with you, Chile. he ain’t never gonna leave you the fire of hell come calling in the middle of the night. You know he there alla time. You tell that Ephrada boy, what sound so luscious also, he got to leave the window open he get in he come that way for him, that old Tekla, coming right from the home bone, Chile, right from the heart the Black Continent. Chile, you a good boy call old not so old grandma every chance you get. Tell me all what goes on up there. Hug that Ephrada for me. Sound like a nice boy.” Pete Goodyard called the offices of Krisman-Bronte Private Investigations, Prudential Building, downtown Boston, within hours of del Flores’ death. The call was a message, left after midnight, on the answering machine of the Krisman-Bronte office: “Harry, Judge, Pete here. It’s just past midnight. We had a trade just completed and agreed upon with Tampa Bay. We were supposed to get one of their receivers, a good one. Was poisoned in a restaurant down in Tampa Bay having a last dinner with some teammates. It stinks to high heavens. Poison seems old fashioned for these days. It’s got my sensitive gut rolling to a fare ye well. It’s like I already told you guys, something is fucking rotten in the Phantom woodpile and it ain’t Hamlet or Rosenkranz or Guildenstern. The trade was real secret up here, our way, our front office. Not a speck in the papers, but down there in Tampa Bay it was leaked out somehow. I heard it was kicking around a day or two down there, maybe just on the fringes of the team, the buffs who hang on at practice sessions, but was not in their papers either. Four, Five and Seven didn’t air it up here. Looks like their counterparts in Tampa Bay were dogging it too, didn’t pick up this tidbit. I don’t know where to look, but it keeps coming at me inside and nasty. It’s all that I said when we last talked. It’s gut with me, now sore and tender and still talking. I’m cutting loose any tethers I might have placed on your remuneration for this, though I did give you a blank check for the retainer.” A pause in the delivery. “This is Cost Plus for you. Wide open. Sky’s the limit. Bring this dog to bay and there’s reward coming your way. Only thing else I can say is please. I’ll be in my office, at the stadium within the hour. It’s twelve-thirty-two in the ay em now, Tuesday. Catch me quick as you can. I want a run-down on anything and anyone in or out of the organization who has a speck of anything to gain from these circumstances, if indeed there is any gain ... that means our whole office organization, team members, etc. I’d suggest player agents, too, you name it. I am paying top dollar to protect this investment. This might atone for some of the Freebies the judge mentioned as throwing sand in your economic gears. Plus, I think as an AFC entry in the NFL we can continue the good work we did last year, but we won’t be able to do that if we keep getting sudden losses thrown our way.” There was a pause in the message. “Boston deserves a winner. It’s time for one, a good one. Perhaps we’re a year away yet, I’m not sure. But it’s more than an injury list now. The body count is mounting. It frightens the hell out of me. Bagging groceries was never like this. Call me. I’m waiting” Over the Revere-Saugus line they road, Harry and Kyle in Kyle’s black Bentley, after dipping around the rotary onto Route 107, the Marsh Road, which headed straight as a yard marker toward Lynn. 107 went over a few bridges where stripers could be caught at the right time, flounder as often as not. Out in front of them, off to the right, could be seen the huge Resco incinerator, still undergoing modernization, and the River Works facility of General Electric Company, for years the heart and soul of local economics. They popped up over the special access overpass, going due north over what was reclaimed marshland where the Big Sandy and Little Sandy swimming holes used to be and onto the huge Patriot complex that spread up against Saugus Avenue at the foot of Baker Hill. Phantoms’ Country had moved north from south of Boston when Pete Goodyard got his hands on all the votes he needed. Harry had a pad in his lap with several handwritten entries on it. While he was studying it, Kyle Bronte, as he had learned from Harry in a number of narrow escapes, kept checking the road behind them; “Whatever you do, Judge, wherever you go, no matter what kind of a case we’re working on, check your back door. Not to do so is laziness. Always check your back door. Never know who’s hanging around on your back stoop, wanting to get in the kitchen and see what’s cooking.” Kyle’d been checking it all the way from their office in the Prudential Building and believed he was getting good at it. The black Chevie faded away behind them, the mini-vans, first the blue one and then the new metallic green one, dropped off at the last rotary, like change had been made at a coin machine. He’d keep his eye on the topless jeep coming up on them, only a roll-bar visible at the top of the windshield line. Maxine had said a number of times, during evening talk, talk over a bottle of wine, a pizza, over a fish special at Bobby Pag’s, “The numbers will prove out Harry’s theory.” She had looked, for the moment, professorial, statistical. “Out of hundreds and hundreds of cars that’ll be behind you in traffic, in the city or out on 93 or 95 or 495, one day one of them you’ll notice and be glad. It’ll pay off not being lazy when you’ve got nothing much else to do except drive the car. Harry’s often right about these things,” she’d said, and then exclaimed. “My numbers never lie! They keep coming back, making a place for themselves, making believers out of those who pay attention. The driving’s easy. Watching takes skill.” She had, Kyle knew, dared him on, Harry’s old ally lining up Harry’s new ally. It was good business, he thought. It was also a chunk of her love being extended, like a mother’s apron, or the shroud of Olympus. He’d tell Magnolia about this. Hell, he’d tell Lucille down Maine and the other redhead at the Four Seasons. Life was too short to keep too much under the hat. Magnolia’d probably say something like, “Hey, Buster, tell me something I don’t know.” Lucille’d most likely smile. The other redhead’d be at somebody’s buttons, his or her own. Time marches on at its own pace. Across the back seat was thrown another of his capes, black with gray trim. It matched the interior of the Bentley, though it was casually tossed across the seat’s fabric. “Anything coming to light out of all this, Harry?” Kyle Bronte shifted slightly in his seat, a cigar in his mouth. Harry could see another tie on the judge he had never seen before. Unlimited resources, he was saying to himself while he was smiling. Maxine had said, some nights earlier after another double-date with Kyle and Magnolia Comfort, “I think he must recycle his ties and his shirts after one wearing. Some of his suits, some of them, I’ve seen before, but never a tie, or a shirt I could be sure of. Must have a recycling system right down in the cellar, sends his ties down there, breaks them down, has new material processed, a new design set up, a new tie made. God, he’d have trouble just spending his time shopping for ties and shirts he’s worn unless he buys a truckload at a time. Do you think some of his old friends, and I say old friends advisedly, some of those who have stood up in front of him in court for the greater or lesser of his judgments might, once in a while, swing by with a whole trailer truckload of contraband apparel for his intimate selection?” “Nothing in the woodpile I can see, Judge,” Harry said, coming back from his reverie. Pete’s probably more right in his gut feelings than we’ll be for a while. Not that I’m uncomfortable in this, hitting at flies, fleas, guessing, looking under rugs. Like you’ve said before, there’s better and more ways of earning a living.” “Your response is appreciated, gents,” Pete Goodyard said as he met them under the huge Patriot logo hanging half way up the four-floor office building which housed the whole Phantoms’ organizational system, offices, club store, gym, team rooms, tickets, publicity, “all the stuff that pays off when you have a good product,” Pete said as he directed them on a mini-tour. In one office he introduced them to Clyde Allen, a sharp looking thirty year older he had conscripted out of the green-grocer business. “Clyde has every scrap of information on hand about team members, coaches past and present, scouts, office personnel, agents and reps we’ve had contacts with over the last few years, vendors in case you might find a crank who’s gone real sour over some misfortune he maintains was our fault or gone out of orbit for some other mystery...all as you say, tbd, to be determined. He’s dug up the records of every player who’s ever worn the Phantom jersey from when they were the early Boston team in the old AFL; Houston Antwine, Bob Dee, Larry Garron, Chuck Shonta, Babe Parilli, Joe Bellino, Earthquake Jim Hunt, Artie Graham, Jimmy Colclough, on and on, the good and the not-so-good, but hardly ever indifferent. If there’re any sour grapes about old injuries or disputes, he’ll have it. Personally, I know of nothing in that area, but you said you wanted to cover every contingency possible. He’ll make that possible. I don’t think it’s inside, like in the grocery thing, but I know you want to cover it all. Excuse me while I go tend the store.” Pete Goodyard walked away in a hurry, pointing to his man Clyde, the ball bouncing at Clyde Allen’s feet. Allen faked scooping it on one bounce. “Tricky dribble,” he said. Six hours later, a mountain of material, read, sorted, put back in order, Kyle said, “Outside of a few lengthy injury complaints, perhaps tracked too long in light of the services rendered, I’ve found dick. You see anything, Harry? “None that register murder by the side of the road, poison by a bottle of wine, or by any stretch of this imagination. I’ve got two stinky little notes and I’m throwing them away because I know I’ve been grasping at straws here. Nothing’s coming together. Like it’s all helter-skelter. No knuckles to make connections with or on, which, as we’ve seen before, is good planning on somebody’s part. Let’s knock it off for today, Judge. You lined up for tonight?” “The Magnolia comes into bloom this evening. We’ll be at Great Woods. I’ll be sure to ask her what she thinks about this whole situation. She’s proven to be a most remarkable woman, some special insights. And her and Mal have really hit it off, haven’t they? It’s nice to see the species respond in that fashion.” “Nice if it lasts,” Harry said.