Chester and I saw the yellow search-and-rescue truck at the same time, and pedaled faster to where a little knot of people had gathered at the edge of the quarry. It was nine a.m., and already hot, even for July. Two divers were in the water and we tracked their progress, following the bubbles that burst to the surface.
Bad things happened at the quarry. That was one reason we liked to go there. It was hard to find other places to swim; we only had our bikes. The water was dirty, and when I came out, I was covered in a layer of scum, one I could feel more than see.
“They’re probably already at the bottom,” Chester said.
“Bullshit. No one’s ever been to the bottom,” I said.
It might have been only a few hundred feet deep, but some kids said it went down further. In the sixties, two girls from Concord had disappeared. Kids said that the divers stuck to the east side, where there were tunnels that honeycombed the walls. Water mocassins got thick in the tunnels, like reeds.
I liked swimming and diving there, although it was scary diving off the high cliffs. The summer after my freshman year at Nashoba Regional High School I felt indestructible. A heat wave gripped Massachusetts, and mornings the dark clouds and humidity built into booming afternoon thunderstorms. When the storms hit, people scrambled out of the quarry, and took cover. We didn’t care.
Chester and I tried to hassle the EMT who sat in the yellow truck, a Winston wedged in the corner of his mouth.
“What’s going on?” I said.
“Routine water safety inspection. Nothing to see,” he said, exhaling smoke through his nose.
“Yeah, right. You guys are looking for somebody. Who you looking for?” I said.
“I already told you, kid. Now get out of here, I’m working.”
“You think we’ve never seen someone pulled out of there before?” I looked at Chester to back me up.
“Happens all the time,” I said, reaching for his cigarettes on the bench seat of the truck. I acted like I was from around here, even though Mom and I had lived in Carlisle for only three years.
Before he could knock my hand away, we heard the surface of the water break as the divers came up. Everyone pushed up to the edge of the cliff, to see what they had with them.
The EMT flicked his cigarette out the window, and reached under the dash for the radio. “Bedford base, this is Unit 3, we’ve got a wet one. Copy?”
He snapped on white latex gloves, and started to wheel a stretcher awkwardly down the rocky path to the water.
The cops showed up. The divers swam the body to the part of the quarry we called ‘West Beach’. It was a wide, granite ledge only a four foot drop or so into the water, where people hung out on towels and drank beer.
The cops tried to keep everyone away while the body came out. I had lied to the EMT, never having seen a body here or anywhere else. We scrambled around the path to where we could watch. Chester was panting, from excitement or exhaustion, his gut heaving under his tee shirt.
The EMT hoisted the body up, and it flopped bonelessly onto the rocks. His wet jeans looked black in the hazy sunshine, in contrast to his pale feet and hands. It was the thick brown belt, and the Buck knife still sheathed on the hip that confirmed what I had already suspected.
“It’s Wesley,” Chester said. “Stan, it’s Wesley.”
“What do you know about that?” I said.
Wesley Palmer wore a Buck Hunter on his belt, in a faded black leather sheath. He had a move where he could open it with one hand, flicking his wrist and making the stainless steel blade snap out. He showed it to me one time when he came to take out my older stepsister, Betsy, a year or so before Wes and I became partners, of sorts. Wesley and Jack, my stepfather, always acted like friends, splitting six packs and talking about who said what to who at The Willow Pond Tavern, even though Wes was too young to drink there legally.
My room in Jack’s house was off the kitchen. It had once been a pantry, with a small window that I used as a nighttime entrance and exit. There was space for a cot and a chest of drawers for my clothes. Along the one wall were the shelves from when it was a real pantry and you could have stacked your cans or jars. Most of the shelves were empty.
Betsy had the upstairs bedroom next to Jack and Mom. There was no basement, or I might have been able to live down there. It would have been cooler. The night we moved in from Somerville, Jack and Mom sat at the kitchen table drinking Beam and Coke, long after we had finished the dinner dishes. It had been a day of driving and carrying boxes up into the faded green house.
“The pantry?” my Mom said.
“Stan doesn’t mind, do you Stan?” Jack asked. He poked my shoulder.
I looked at the cot and the bureau drawers with mismatched knobs, some with beveled glass, and some that looked like old spools of thread.
“I don’t care where I stay,” I said.
“Jack, why doesn’t he sleep in the living room? Till you put on the addition, I mean. How’s he going to breathe in here?”
“A boy his age needs some privacy, Helen. He can’t be sleeping on the sofa with all of us coming and going. I wish we had another bedroom now, but we don’t. Besides, look at all the shelf space he’s got,” Jack said, nudging me in the back of the neck so I laughed.
“Yeah, there’s the shelf space. It’s got that going for it,” I said.
The pantry was painted a faded yellow, and there was red checked paper on the shelves, something Jack’s first wife put down. She died. I guess Jack felt bad about me sleeping in the pantry, because he gave me something that first day to make up for it. This was, of course, before I started stealing from him.
In the woods behind his house, I saw all of Jack’s abandoned projects. Stacks of empty mesh cages from when he had tried to raise chinchillas rusted in the open air.
“Nasty little fuckers,” he said, showing me white crescent shape scars on his knuckles. “Dogs got at them. Fur wasn’t worth much after that,” he explained.
A weatherbeaten Olds Tornado rested up on cinder blocks, its greasy, worn engine parts scattered on newspapers beneath it.
“That’s a classic. 1969. Pure Detroit muscle,” Jack said. He pronounced it DEE-troit. I don’t think he noticed that I wasn’t saying much. I was thinking of the stuffy pantry that smelled like rotten onions, where I was supposed to sleep.
It seemed to me then like another country, walking in Jack’s dense and overgrown backyard. It was probably only fifteen miles from Somerville and its cozy triple decker houses and basketball courts with chain link nets. All I could see was trees and rusty cars.
“Stan, I’m glad to have another man around here. You and me, we’re going to make some things happen. Betsy doesn’t care about this kind of stuff at all.”
Down a short path was the body of a battered International Harvester pick up truck. Vines and creepers had grown over the sagging tires.
“That’s yours. From me to you, Stan The Man!” Jack said.
“I don’t even know how to drive,” I said.
“That’s OK. She doesn’t really go anywhere.”
He showed me the cap on the back that turned the bed of the pickup into a kind of little room.
“You clean the crap out of there, and you got yourself a clubhouse,” he explained. I sat in the driver’s seat of the old truck, before I went to finish unpacking, handling the rusty gear shift knob and enjoying the smell of ancient, sun-dried motor oil. I spent a lot of time in the back of that abandoned pickup. I salvaged things like a bench seat from the junkyard behind Farrell’s garage, and a kerosene lantern from Jack’s basement. It kept the rain off of me and was far enough away from the house so that no one could keep tabs on where I was.
That first night in Carlisle, I lay on the thin cot, missing the traffic sounds from Inman Square that had filled my old bedroom. Jack and Mom were laughing and talking over each other. I came out of the pantry to get a drink. My face must have given me away.
“Are we too loud, honey?” Mom asked.
“You got a door,” Jack said. “Use it.”
Chester and I stayed at the quarry after the cops left. We were the experts, having seen the body pulled out of the water, instead of hearing about it second hand.
“He was probably shit-faced,” Chester said.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“They’re always shit-faced when they drown. Remember O’Brien?”
O’Brien had tried a cannonball into the water one night, but didn’t jump out far enough, and landed on a ledge. People said they could see his spine poking through his back.
It was the first summer Jack and Mom didn’t care when I came home. Finding things missing around the house, Jack had said something about his wallet springing a leak, and it better fix itself fast. I was a much better liar than Betsy, and had perfected the pose of injured innocence when accused. It helped a lot that she had strings of goateed boyfriends around the house, guys with bottle openers on their key rings. I started coming to the quarry after dark. At night, the quarry was a completely different story.
We found a spot near West Beach, and Chester tried to scrape some resin out of his pipe for us to smoke.
“Didn’t Betsy go out with him?” he asked.
“I wouldn’t call it going out.”
“Did he hang out at your house?”
“Was he nice to you?”
“Yeah. Sort of.”
“They went out,” he said.
“So, you think he drowned?”
“Yeah. What else?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It looked like his head was bashed in.”
“Maybe he just fell,” Chester said.
“Or someone bashed him with a rock.”
“Why would someone kill Wesley?”
“Cause he was an asshole,” I said.
“You’re kind of an asshole,” Chester said, flatly, “and no one’s killed you.”
“Wesley was a bigger asshole.”
It was easy to tell who was from Bedford or Carlisle at the quarry and who wasn’t. Locals swam wearing old sneakers, instead of going barefoot. If you jumped from past a certain height, maybe thirty feet, the impact of the water on the soles of your feet was intense. If you jumped from the really high ledges, like ‘El Capitan’, you could hurt yourself.
We knew where it was O.K. to park. I never touched the cars on the Arlebemarle Street side off the quarry. Visitors who parked in the dirt lot off the east side were fair game, and sometimes I got wallets and radar detectors out of them, or stereos if it seemed like there was enough time. Whatever I thought I could sell. It occurred to me that Wesley wouldn’t be buying any more of my radar detectors.
‘El Capitan’ measured sixty-one feet to the surface of the water, and was like stepping off the roof of a six-story building. It was important to keep your legs together and to hit the water as straight as possible, so you could knife right in, and surface with your balls still attached. Jumping was a rite of passage in the town, and I liked to watch some guy pace back and forth on the edge for twenty minutes, deciding whether or not to go until someone yelled, “Jump, you homo!”
Even guys like Wesley, or Franco, the runaway who lived by himself in the woods, didn’t jump off the high ledges at night. At night there were other things that could happen. Swimming through the thick, murky water in the dark seemed dangerous enough to me. A rope swing hung from a tree on the east bank, and drunk people would swing out and be afraid to let go. They came slamming back into the edge of the cliff, and scraped down the side.
One thing Jack and I both liked was watching the nature shows on TV. They were exotic, and neither one of us had been anywhere besides New Hampshire. We loved shows where the guys went through a rain forest or down a river in a canoe, looking for something dangerous, like a gorilla or a giant snake. We figured they had guns someplace, just off camera, so if they got charged by wild animals they could defend themselves. The guys on the show wanted you to think all they had was a camera, but Jack and I didn’t believe it. Going to the quarry at night always made me feel like those jungle guys on the nature shows.
The quarry wasn’t far outside of Carlisle, if you went west on 225 towards the Concord River. Just before you crossed into Bedford there was a dirt road on the right, and you stayed on it for a half mile. It was the same road the trucks had used years ago to remove the slabs of granite they cut at the quarry. Every time something happened out there, the town would chain the road, or sink steel posts to try and block cars, but people always found a way in. People from several outlying towns showed up there at night during the summer, especially when it was hot. Some people lit fires, just to have some light, and others would lounge on the hoods of their cars, with the stereos playing loudly. It was safer to break into cars during the day, believe it or not. You could never tell, with the thick woods and shadows that ringed the place, who was watching.
Wesley had a day job pulling parts from the enormous junkyard behind Farrell’s Garage. Rusting cars were triple stacked over a lot surrounded by a ten foot chain link fence. If a customer needed motor mounts for a 1976 Monte Carlo, Farrell would send Wesley out with his toolbox to remove them. Wesley and I had gotten to know each other when I had climbed the fence, and he caught me taking the chrome emblems off of some of the older muscle cars. Idiots at a local flea market actually collected these. Instead of turning me in, he made me pay him for the emblems instead of giving the money to Farrell, and the nature of our relationship was defined by this first deal.
I loved the junkyard. We called it the boneyard. Wesley let me tag along while he pulled parts, and we discussed ways of making money. After a few weeks of practice I could open the locks on just about any kind of car, using a slim jim or even a bent coat hanger.
“Cobra is a good brand. I’ll take those,” he said. “The other brands I can only give you maybe ten bucks.”
“What about tapes?” I asked.
“What kind of tapes?”
“You know. Cassettes. There’s always tons of cassettes,” I said.
“What kind of nickel-dime bullshit do you think I want to deal with?” Wesley said.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, no tapes. Stick to the radar detectors, and the decks, if you can get them.”
I had almost one thousand dollars hidden near the International Harvester pickup in Jack’s backyard. Once a week I’d add to it or take some out. It was mostly tens and twenties that I kept in a tight roll with rubber bands. I called it the ‘Escape Fund’. I thought if I got my license the next year, I’d get a decent car.
I tried to work more conventional jobs, like the one I had at the CVS in Bedford Center. Everybody that worked there was robbing cigarettes and chrome Zippo lighters. I threw Sony Walkmen and clock radios into the dumpster out back. It had worked for a while, and the ones I couldn’t sell, I traded for dime bags. Then I got caught.
Some other kids we knew showed up at West Beach around noon that same day they pulled out Wesley. We told them the story about seeing the scuba divers. A kid named Ed Meyers thought it was funny.
“What are you going to do now, Stan?” he asked me. Ed’s father had a huge sports memorabilia shop at the Liberty Tree Mall called ‘Field Of Dreams’ and Ed was always wearing a Red Sox or Patriots jersey, real ones that cost seventy five dollars. Today he had on number 24, Dwight Evans, the Sox right fielder.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“You’re a klepto, and he was a klepto, too, so aren’t you going to like, miss him or something?”
Most of the kids who laughed were kids whom I had ripped off at one point or another. I decided to go home for lunch. Chester stayed, and we agreed to meet after dinner and try to get something to drink.
I unchained my bike and rode out through the center of Carlisle towards Jack’s house. A couple of times, I had told Wesley that I was done being a thief. It was like when Jack decided to stop drinking. Quitting’s easy, Jack told me, I’ve done it hundreds of times. I was scared at night, when I would hear cars pull up, and wonder if someone I had ripped off was after me. The kitchen was full of knives. Jack shot a deer every fall, or at least he tried to, and he would hang the carcass out by the garage, and butcher it himself. I knew how to put an edge on Jack’s butcher knives with the worn, wooden handles. Sometimes I put a knife on one of the shelves above my bed, but I didn’t know how smart it was, because if anyone did break into my room, maybe they would use it against me. I also couldn’t wear a knife on my belt like Wesley had, because someone would have just taken it from me. It had taken me quite a while to get used to how quiet it was in Carlisle, as opposed to my room in Somerville where I could lie on my bed, and watch the cars tear through Davis Square.
I came home hoping to find some lunch. It was hot in the kitchen, which meant my room was the temperature of an old paint can left in the sun. No one was around, and I took the last soda from the fridge, and began to sort through the bread bags piled around the toaster. Each bag contained just a slice or two, and so I had to mix and match to get a couple of edible pieces. I dug a spoon into the peanut butter container, a plastic yellow bucket that resembled what a kid would bring to the beach.
I made a dry sandwich, and was working on it when Jack pulled up to the house and got out of his van. He worked for New England Telephone, driving a support truck for the guys who climbed the poles. He walked through the back door with a white and red bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. He was chewing, wiping his mouth, and looking for a place to put the bucket down all at once. His foreman had sent him home because he was drinking.
“Stan the Man. Grab a piece before I eat the whole goddamn thing,” he said, knocking newspapers off of the seat across from me and slumping onto it.
“Thanks.” I reached into the bucket and took a thigh. The chicken was still hot, and not something I got to eat as often as I wanted to. Jack was eating quickly, stopping every once in a while to grin, and catch his breath.
“Good shit, huh? Secret herbs and spices,” he said.
“I like the side orders.”
“You know, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, coleslaw. That stuff’s good, too,” I said.
“It’s always something with you, isn’t it?” Jack said, putting the tips of his fingers into his mouth, and sucking off the grease.
“What?” I asked.
The back door opened, and Betsy came in. She looked at her father’s encrusted mouth, his open shirt, and the little pile of bones accumulating on the table in front of him.
“You disgust me,” she said, before cutting through the kitchen and going upstairs.
I wondered if Betsy had heard about Wes. Jack thought their relationship was great, and that with Wesley’s help he might be able to get his Olds off of the cinder blocks, where it had rested since the Ford administration. My Mom tried not to involve herself in Betsy’s affairs, although she made it clear by her tight facial expressions, when Wes and Jack would drink Millers at the kitchen table, that she thought Betsy could at least try for someone with a regular paycheck. She was afraid that if Betsy got pregnant before graduation, all she would do was hang around the house with a baby.
“Am I disgusting?” Jack said, narrowing his eyes at me.
“No,” I said.
“Christ, all I’m doing is putting food on the table. You didn’t seem to mind.” He picked a thick and greasy breast out of the bucket.
“Do you think Betsy wants some chicken?” he said to me. Before I could reply he got out of his chair, and walked up the stairs to face Betsy’s bedroom door.
“Hey Bets?” he said. “I got some chicken here for you.”
“Go away!” she called, from inside.
“Hey Bets? Lunch time,” he said. He cocked his arm, and fired the piece of chicken at her door, where it hit with a thud. He walked out of the kitchen and got in his van and drove away. I stood at the bottom of the stairs, looking at the grease stain the breast had left on the door. Betsy peeked out, and looked at the piece of chicken on the worn hallway carpet.
“Is there any other chicken?” she asked.
“He took it with him.”
“Well, shit,” she said.
Betsy came down to the kitchen and went through the same motions I had to get some food. She felt around the back of the Crisper drawer at the bottom of the fridge and pulled out an apple.
“I didn’t see that,” I said.
“I hid it,” she said.
“Oh. Betsy, listen…”
“I know about Wes, if that’s what you’re about to say.”
“Yeah, well, I was there when they fished him out, O.K?”
“How did he look?”
“You know,” I said, “like they look on TV. Pale, I guess.”
“They’re doing an autopsy,” she said.
“How do you know?” I asked
“I heard it at the store,” she said. Betsy worked mornings at Christy’s Convenience. She heard things.
“Why are they doing one?”
“Probably to find out whether someone killed him and dumped him there, or if he was enough of a drunk asshole to fall in on his own,” she said.
“You really seem broken up about it,” I said.
“He wasn’t exactly boyfriend material. You should know that. I’d rather not have to watch my purse on dates, you know?” She threw her apple core into the trash bin across the kitchen.
Unlike Betsy, who was in some senior honors classes, my first year at Nashoba Regional had been a joke from the start. I was tracked into remedial classes, where we filled out stacks of worksheets that were seldom returned. My advisor suggested I take some of the trade courses, like Auto Shop, or Refrigeration. There was no way in three years I would be going anywhere except to work. Betsy had a shot at going to UMass, but needed to work for a year to get tuition.
“At least I’m getting out of here,” she said, not knowing how close she was to reading my mind.
It was early evening, and I lay on the bench seat in the back of the pickup, my hideout for the last three years. The cap on the truck provided shade, but made the air seem still even with a breeze outside. I checked my Hills Brothers coffee can on the floor stuffed with money. It didn’t matter what had happened to Wes, I realized. I didn’t need to stick around long enough for his autopsy results to filter down through the town rumor mill. I imagined a car had waited for him to stumble out of The Willow Pond, and some guys putting him in the back, and asking questions about an ‘85 Buick Regal Grand National that had disappeared, or about stolen Blaupunkt tape decks. Then I imagined him having climbed ‘El Capitan’ alone to watch the sunrise on a stomach full of Ancient Age bourbon, and falling in as he vomited over the side.
The nights I spent in Somerville as a kid were different when Mom lived with Roger, a cop. I used to slide down the pillar of the front porch of our triple decker, and join the kids in Olmstead Park, where we’d form a little pack. We ran to Central Square, and Davis Square, throwing bottles and getting chased by older kids. I was just another black-haired kid in a hooded gray sweatshirt and a denim jacket. I was a face, not Stan the thief, who slept in a pantry at the end of Kirkstall Road. I didn’t think anyone needed to paint me a clearer picture of the future in Carlisle after seeing Wesley’s grotesque, lolling head come out of the water.
If I went back to Somerville, I wondered how long I could hold out with just my coffee can money. I could see into the back windows of Jack’s kitchen,where Mom was at the sink. I walked to the back door, and up the unpainted steps.
“Hi Stan,” Mom said. “I don’t suppose you’re staying for dinner?”
“Can’t,” I said, slipping into the pantry. I shoved some jeans and shirts into the bottom of my blue school backpack. There was no need to take much with me.
Mom knocked, came in and sat on the edge of my cot. I had tossed the daypack aside and pretended to read a car magazine.
“I heard your friend Wesley is dead,” she said.
“Yeah, Chester and I saw him pulled out.”
“How am I supposed to know?”
“Do you know what you’re doing to this family?”
“Yeah,” I said, “I have a pretty good idea.” She had never accused me of being stupid.
I biked to the quarry that night for what I thought would be the last time. The coffee can was in my backpack, stashed out by the truck. Money was my only real concern, and I decided to steal Ed Meyer’s baseball card collection before I left. I had always saved the idea of stealing his cards, and I never discussed it with Wesley. It meant breaking into the Meyer’s split level on Watson Street, which I felt confident about, having been Ed’s guest once or twice, before he recognized me for what I was. I waffled about stealing the collection. I would have immediately been the prime suspect, and so it seemed like a stupid thing to do.
Now was a perfect time. Ed’s mint condition baseball cards were neatly organized for travel in three ring binders and protected in plastic sleeves. He had hundreds in his collection, and some of them, like his Nolan Ryan rookie cards, were worth one hundred dollars each. The whole thing was easily worth five grand, and I could sell them piece by piece at the card shops all over Somerville, Cambridge and Boston. It wasn’t like pawning a stereo where they’d harass you for a receipt. All I needed was a watchdog to cover me when I went in, and I knew I could find someone at the quarry.
I locked my bike, and slipped through the hole in the chain link that bordered the east side of the quarry. It was dark, and I moved cautiously down the gravel trail that led to the water. I heard raucous, drunken voices, and an occasional splash of someone jumping, or being thrown into the water. The last thing I wanted to do was drink with Chester, but I figured he could watch the front of the Meyer house while I went in. I had two hundred in twenties shoved into my front pocket, to show him I was serious. Someone stepped on the dark path in front of me.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me, Franco.” Franco was the Carlisle dropout who squatted in the vast Estabrook Woods nature preserve. He would wander from group to group at the quarry and beg for beer or cigarettes. Nicknamed ‘The Prophet’, he carried Tarot cards, and would try and get you to pay him for telling your fortune.
“Where are you going?” Franco said.
“Nowhere,” I said. “Have you seen Chester?”
“I saw your friend Wesley.”
“When did you see him?” I said.
“Last night. He was walking around with some guys. You think the cops would pay to hear something like that? You know, like a tip?”
“I don’t know, Franco.”
“Got a smoke?”
“Oh, fine. Jesus, you’re a pain in the ass, you know that, Franco?” I gave him a cigarette. He stood there, waiting, with the cigarette in his lips, needing a light, but not asking for one. I had to take out the sheaf of twenties I was planning to bribe Chester with to get at the book of paper matches at the bottom of my pocket. I handed Franco the matches, and he lit his cigarette.
“That’s a lot of money. Can I have some?”
“No, you fucking moron,” I said. “See ya…”
“Then allow me to bless your voyage,” he said. He started moving his hands around like he was doing some kind of dance. I pushed past him and found Chester near West Beach where I had left him earlier in the day. He was sitting in a circle with three other kids, passing a warm bottle of Richard’s Wild Irish Rose. There was a sack at his feet that I knew held a few more.
“Stan the Man!” he said, extending the rectangular bottle in welcome.
I grabbed his shirt, pulled him to his feet, and hoped he was sober enough to recognize a good business opportunity.
We waited in the vacant lot the next morning at the corner of Watson and Park, until we saw Meyer and his wife drive away in their Lincoln. The two of them ran the store together, and were supposed to be gone all day. Ed had no brothers or sisters, and when he left the house a half an hour later, we knew it was empty. We walked down the driveway, and slipped behind the garage. Their yard had a stockade fence around it, and no one could see us. I knew if Chester stayed by the back door, he could see the driveway, and stay out of sight.
“If you ring the bell twice, I’m going to bail,” I said.
“Easiest two hundred I ever made,” Chester said.
I took a screwdriver out of the waistband of my jeans, wedged it into the door jamb, and snapped the flimsy lock. The air conditioning was on, and it dried the sweat on my arms and neck. I went upstairs quickly, moving past the fancy entertainment center, with a big TV and stereo VCR. I went down the hallway to Ed’s bedroom, padding down the thick , gray carpet. His room looked into the back yard, and he had a little TV on his desk, where it looked like he could watch it from his bed. I sat down for a second on the black and gold Boston Bruins bedspread. It was a pretty nice bed.
The three-ring binders with the cards were on the top of a bookshelf that also held trophies and autographed baseballs in clear, plastic globes with fake gold bases. The names on the balls didn’t mean much to me, although I recognized a picture on the desk of Ed shaking hands with Roger Clemens, who pitched for the Red Sox. I grabbed all three of the thick binders and put them in the brown Star Market grocery bag I brought with me. It was exciting being in the house, like the TV shows where someone wins a shopping spree, and runs around grabbing everything in sight. I thought about Mrs. Meyer’s jewelry, and about the drawer on her husband’s side of the bed, where Ed had once showed me a loaded .38 Special. I didn’t know how you went about selling jewelry, so I left it. I felt for the gun in the bottom of the nightstand drawer, but it was empty. I stepped into the hall and heard dishes rattle in the kitchen.
Chester had come in the back door, and was heating something up in the Meyer’s microwave. I walked into the kitchen. I saw a little pizza rotating on its tray.
“Put it back, and wipe the microwave where you touched it,” I said. I had only touched what I was going to take.
“Oh, OK Mr. house burglar. I got hungry, OK? I’m still watching the driveway,” he said.
We both looked at the clock on the microwave. Outside the kitchen window we saw the Meyer’s Lincoln pull in silently. There was no way out the back door without going past them.
Chester’s first instinct was to try and shove the white cardboard pizza box back in the fridge, as if that would somehow hide the fact that we had been there. I could hear Mr. Meyer jingling his key ring as he walked towards the back door. Chester kept slamming the door to the refrigerator, which wouldn’t close on the box.
“Come on,” I said. I ran for the front door, still hoping as I fumbled with the bolts and latches.
Chester took the more immediate route, knocking down Mr. Meyer as he swung open the back door, moving for once, I noticed, with animal speed. I realized that the front door had a deadbolt at about the same time the bewildered Meyers made it into the house, trapping me in the elegant foyer. My hand rested on the handle of the screwdriver still tucked in the waistband of my jeans. If I’d had a ski mask or something I might have done it, but I decided not to.
The microwave’s timer went off. Mr. and Mrs. Meyer stared at me from across the hall. He wore a grim look of satisfaction, his right hand tucked in his leather coat pocket. I thought about the story Jack told every hunting season, how he had dropped his rifle crawling under a fence. The gun went off, and shot his brother in the ass. It seemed funny at the time.
“The pizza’s ready,” I said, tossing the screwdriver onto the floor.