From GONE, a novel
Friday, November 19, 1993
Things didn't go too badly from there. Not perfectly, but not badly.
I changed my mind and allowed S&G into the meeting, Edith remained with us -- mediating, essentially -- until Sheila and I had thrashed our way through a lot of difficult issues. Which finally sent Edith home and the rest of us to our respective motel rooms around 10 p.m. Gerry kept Colin company during much of the process, accompanying him to the men's room when necessary, taking him for walks, including an expedition to grab some take-out. They seemed to do pretty well together. And apart from a sharp look or two, the Hulk never gave me a hard time about the elbow to the nose. For which I was grateful.
The next morning Edith got us together with a Sergeant Harris, who helped clear things up with the Cambridge Police. Not a comfortable process, but at the end of it no charges were brought against anyone. A call to my attorney came next, also uncomfortable. Turned out that Steve had returned the increasingly concerned messages left by Cheryl on my answering machine, so she wasn't entirely in the dark about the road trip. She expressed sharp displeasure re: my unilateral course of action, I countered with groveling apologies which, after a while, seemed to take the edge off her understandable pique.
Part of the upshot of the hashing-out session with Sheila was that Colin would stay with me until his mother found a new place to live in the Cambridge area. From there we would resume shared custody. Cheryl suggested changing that agreement so that I would be the primary parent, as a hedge against future difficulties. She seemed confident we'd be able to implement it. I wasn't so sure and decided to forgo any such moves for the time being, reasoning we could always go to court if problems arose. I had a feeling the way was going to be smoother than it had been in the past. Cheryl thought my decision unwise, but didn't push.
With those calls out of the way, I asked Edith about local banks. She supplied addresses for three, I paid each a brief visit, brandishing the mystery key from my father's key-ring. They all confirmed that it was a safe deposit key, though none had the box it went to. I'd entertained the vague hope that Bernie Ohls might have put some valuables of my father's in safe keeping, that fact getting lost amid the tide of events around Bernie's passing. No dice. If such possessions existed, it didn't look like they were in Oberlin.
Sheila and Gerry caught a flight back to Long Island that afternoon, Colin and I found ourselves on a plane to Boston soon after. The process of trying to return the rental car turned out to be so torturous that it seemed we might miss the flight -- the rental company had expected the Swift to show up at Logan Airport in Boston, was not pleased at its appearance in Cleveland. I pleaded, reasoned, begged, they grumblingly gave in, Colin and I made the flight with five minutes to spare. The cabin attendants fawned all over my progeny and, by association, over me, which compensated a bit for the pre-flight torture.
By the time we ascended the stairs in my apartment building, the hour had just struck 9 p.m. When we reached our floor, my boy ran ahead, me proceeding more slowly, pulling keys from a pocket. He grasped the door handle with both hands, the door responded by swinging open, revealing the small entrance hallway, softly illuminated from lights in the living room. Colin went quickly in, vanishing off to the left through the living room doorway. Voices there immediately started up in jubilant surprise. By the time I'd dropped my bag at my bedroom door, Colin was in Boo's arms. Steve stood nearby, smiling, a glass of soda in hand. When he saw me, his eyebrows shot up, his smile broadened.
"Hey," said I, a tired smile of my own taking form.
"It's great to see you!" he said, striding across the room, grabbing my hand to shake it, the liquid in his glass moving jerkily around. Relieved emotion swept through me at finding myself in the middle of all this, my boy in a friend's embrace, another friend welcoming me home.
"I'm glad you're okay, man."
"That makes two of us," I said, meaning it.
"How'd everything go?" I tried to pull together a reply, nothing came immediately forth. "I mean," Steve quickly said, "you're here, no visible injuries, Colin in tow. These are all good signs. At least they seem good to me."
"They seem pretty good to me, too," I agreed.
"Listen, sorry, I don't mean to push. Tell us about it when you're ready. I know you just walked in the door." Boo and Colin were talking, the little guy stifling a yawn. "Did you hear about what happened here?" Steve asked.
"Here?" I answered uncertainly. "Not yet."
"No, of course not. Sheila showed up a couple of nights ago. With someone else, Gerry maybe. Just as Boo and I were leaving the apartment."
Colin and Boo had unclinched, Colin moved past me on his way to the bathroom. Boo watched him go, then waved at me. "He wuz big," she said.
"Colin?" I said, confused.
"Th' guy wi' Sheila."
"Ah, that would be Gerry. He's a sizeable human being, all right." I took off my coat, hung it over one of the chairs at the dining table. "What happened when they showed?"
"Sheila stop' righ' in fron' of us, said she wanneda know whe' you were."
"And of course we didn't know zip," said Steve. "Sheila wanted to know if you'd come back yet, we said we hadn't seen you. I think we looked as clueless as we felt 'cause she got this disgusted expression, then brushed by us and went inside. The guy..."
"Gerry," said Boo.
"...yeah -- he told us to take a hike. Boo started to protest, he holds up a hand, says something like, 'Look, no big deal, all right? You were going out anyway.'"
"He tol' us t' go 'way fa, like, anouwa," said Boo. "Said when we ga' back, should knock firs', make sure they weren' there b'faw goin' in."
She shrugged. "'Cawse. Wuzza big guy."
I glanced around. The place appeared to be in a more advanced state of disorderliness than when I'd left Monday night. "So they looked around the apartment?"
"They did," said Steve.
"They leave a mess?"
"Well, they kind of tossed the place, so yeah. It could have been worse -- they didn't dump food on the kitchen floor or anything, but they were apparently looking for something that might give them an idea of where you were."
"They pull things out of drawers?"
"In your bedroom, yeah. We cleaned most of it up but didn't know for sure where stuff went, so you'll have to check over all that."
"So...," said Boo, drawing out the word.
"...did they find you?" said Steve, finishing the thought.
"Yes," I answered. "Yes, they did."
The toilet flushed, the bathroom door opened, Colin materialized at my side, leaning against my leg. "Hey," I said to him, "you hungry?"
"No." He leaned more heavily against me, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn.
"Maybe it's time to hit the hay."
"Maybe." When he responds to a suggestion re: sleepytime without contradiction, he's ready to go.
"Let me put him to bed," I said to Boo and Steve. "Then I'll give you the big recap, maybe we can scare up some chow, all right?"
"Shuwa," said Boo, watching Colin, eyes soft. Steve nodded in resigned agreement.
Into the bathroom to get my progeny washed up, then to the bedroom (Steve and Boo receiving good-night hugs along the way), into p.j.'s, into bed. I sat by him, the urchin under the covers, curled up against me. A moment of glancing around the room, reacquainting myself with its friendly clutter, noticing the empty picture frame. I'd have to retrieve the photo from the police and put it back. "How are you doing there, buddy?" I finally said.
"Okay," he answered sleepily.
"I'm glad you're here, you know that?"
"Me, too." A tired murmur.
"Want me to read you anything?"
A brief look-see in the closet led to his stash of books. I found one of the Elmo titles, pulled it out. "This one okay?" I asked, settling back down by him.
"Which one is it?"
"Elmo at the Patisserie." Elmo gets a job at a financially shaky Montreal bakery. Knobby comes up with an idea for Moose Print cookies -- shaped like moose hoofprints, containing peanut butter and chocolate chips. Wild success follows, the owners take Elmo as a business partner, Knobby gets free cookies whenever he wants, happiness reigns.
Colin gave the okay for the book. By the time I'd gotten halfway through, he was out. I listened to him breathe for a minute, placed the book on his desk, gave him a kiss and slipped quietly away, leaving the door partway open.
In the living room, the television had been turned on. A courtroom drama played, Steve watching from a spot on the floor, eating crackers. Boo watched from a nearby chair. I picked my bag up from where I'd dropped it and happened to glance at the answering machine, whose blinking red light caught my eye. Playback revealed several communications from Cheryl, inducing pangs of guilt I did my best to ignore. A moment of silence followed Cheryl's final message, then another female voice spoke from the machine, soft and tentative. "Hello?" it started out, "That was a lot of beeps. You must have a pile of messages. Anyway, this is Maryanne. Calling from down on Long Island." Brief hesitation. "I hope you remember who I am, otherwise I'll feel awfully stupid." A breath, then, "It looks like I'm going to be up in your area visiting family next week, and I wanted to see if you were still interested in a cup of coffee or something. I know it'll be Thanksgiving and all, and if you're too busy that's okay. But if you have free time I thought it might be nice to take you up on your invitation." Slight pause "God, this feels strange. Anyway, let me know what you think." She left a phone number, said a soft "'Bye," the message terminated.
I rewound the tape, noticing a faint, feathery sensation down in my solar plexus. A touch of hopeful, slightly nervous anticipation. Me thinking about the way life delivers surprises, grateful for the nice ones, wondering where this one would lead.
My bedroom didn't look much more chaotic than normal. I pulled clothes out of my bag, came across the packet of newspaper clippings. A quick peek through them brought me to a business card, the print style clean, uncluttered, looking very retro. "JULES AMTHOR," it read, "Psychic Consultant. By Appointment Only." I walked out into the living room, handed the packet to Boo. "Take a look through that," I said. "It's some stuff of my father's."
"What kind of stuff?" asked Steve.
"Clippings, mostly. Newspaper articles from the '30s and '40s."
"Yeah?" He got up to stand by Boo, who gently poked her way through the cuttings with a thick finger.
"Who wuz Gen'ral Guy Sternwood?"
"I'm not sure. Someone my father must have had a connection with."
"This's his obitchwary."
"A person from one of his cases maybe. I don't remember right now."
I noticed the box against the wall by the end of the couch. Someone had put all the newsprint back inside in orderly fashion. The shoes sat neatly adjacent, still looking sad, exhausted. The rest of the stuff had been deposited on the dining table, the snow-globes prominently displayed.
A glance at the clock showed the hour to be either 9:30-something or a quarter to seven-ish. Both early enough for a call to Long Island.
TV dialogue continued in the background as I located the phone, dragged it into my bedroom. I realized I hadn't written down Maryanne's number, replayed her message. With the magic string of numerals on paper, I sat down on the bed. Across the hall, Steve and Boo exchanged comments about something they'd come across as voices on the TV argued a point of law. I was back home -- my boy under the same roof, friends close by, me about to try a number I hoped would connect me with a nice woman. Life feeling like a comfortable place to be for the first time in a while, a place with possibilities.
I drew a breath and let it out. The phone found its way into my hands, I took the plunge.
© 2002, 2009 by runswithscissors