Authors: Gahan Hanmer
Copyright © 2012 by Gahan Hanmer
Two Harbors Press
212 3rd Ave North, Suite 290
Minneapolis, MN 55401
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior permission of the author.
"Of course there is nothing illegal about what you did," said the sheriff, "keepin' in mind that it could've got you killed."
"I'm sorry about what happened, Sheriff. I lost my temper." And I
sorry to be making trouble for myself in the state I was in.
"Those men should not have been using your house like that without permission. But it had been vacant for a number of years. And according to what we heard, they were trying to clear out of there when the trouble started."
"The trouble started when they stopped me in the road with guns and searched my car."
"Oh, yes, that can be annoying, I know. We have been trying to discourage that kind of behavior. But the militia serves its purpose here, if you want my opinion. Things being how they are, it's good to know who is coming into Marysville, and if possible, why. So I'll come right out and ask you what brings you to our quiet little town? You don't have to answer me if you don't want to. It's just a friendly question. We want everybody to get along and be happy here."
So what was I supposed to tell him? Did I even know? The bottom had fallen out of my life, and I needed to regroup somehow. I needed to find some balance, some reason to carry on. I had been clinging to a fantasy about a little house that I had inherited years before in the boondocks of New York State, a house I had never seen. I thought if I could just get there, I could cool my brains a little, soak up some nature and sunshine, and maybe start feeling a little better. It wasn't anything I was going to try to explain to this sheriff.
"I came to take possession of this house."
"Well, you did that! But Tom Herman has got such a bad sprain, he couldn't go to work today."
"It was an accident." Herman had to have been the militiaman who had gone over the card table covered with moldy fast-food garbage and militia leaflets on his way out the door. It was sort of an accident. That yahoodie had enjoyed pointing his shotgun in my face while they were searching my car and questioning me. When they found out that I was actually a property owner in Marysville, then according to our quaint customs, he wasn't allowed to point his shotgun in my face anymore. What's more, I was also allowed to throw them and all their stuff out of my house abruptly and rather tactlessly because they had been trespassing and using it for a militia H.Q. and fast-food garbage dump. It's funny how fast things can change sometimes. Or perhaps I should say instead that it's sometimes funny how fast things can change, and sometimes not, as you will see.
I wasn't happy about what had happened. If I had it to do over again, maybe I would have more sense. It frightened me that I hadn't any better control over myself than that. The sheriff was certainly right when he said I could have gotten myself killed. I didn't know who I was dealing with, and there were certainly enough weapons on hand.
So now what? Everybody in that little town would have heard about it by now. I was off to a hell of a start in Marysville! But the worst thing about it was feeling afraid of my own state of mind.
"How long are you planning to remain in Marysville, if you don't mind my asking a friendly question?"
"I don't know, Sheriff. I just need a little peace and quiet right now. I need to work some things out. I don't have any definite plans."
"Well, all right, I won't pry. I just wanted to stop by and have a look at you after what happened. Just one more friendly question, Mr. Darcey. What exactly do you do?"
"I'm kind of betwixt and between right now, Sheriff."
"What did you do before you came here?"
"I owned a little theater, but it . . . well, it burned down."
"A movie theater?"
"No, the other kind."
"Yes, that kind."
"Oh! Well, I don't suppose there would be much need for one of those in Marysville." He tried to say it pleasantly enough, but I think if I'd said I used to own a transvestite bar, it would have made about the same impression.
"I'm not planning to build one here."
"I just don't think there would be much interest in such a thing." The sheriff looked at his watch and hitched up his belt. He looked over his shoulder at his police car and gave me a grim smile and a nod. "All right, Mr. Darcey, I won't take up any more of your time. I will say that it would probably be just as well if you didn't tangle with the militia. Just a little friendly advice, that's all."
After the sheriff was gone I walked up onto my little porch feeling tired and confused. I sat down in a rickety chair and leaned back against the wall. I was off to a pretty bad start in Marysville, but I was pleased with my little house. It had a stove. It had a fridge. It had a toilet and a shower and a bed. I had everything I needed for the time being, and maybe after awhile I would even have a life again. Okay, I have a little bit of a temper, and it was not the first time in my life it had got me into trouble. But I supposed the trouble would pass in time. Peace and quiet was what I needed, and that would be abundant in this tiny country town.
So there I was, minding my own business, sitting in my rickety chair, my arms dangling limply, soaking up the sunshine and the gentle rhythms of the rural countryside, when I had another visitor; this one drove up in a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud and parked under the maple tree.
It was the sound of the car door closing that made me open my eyes, so I must have been dozing. There was the Rolls, just as if it had appeared from nowhere, and there was this man who had probably seen the last of his twenties. Four or five inches over five feet tall maybe, he was nicely built, well-proportioned, and very bold in his fashionable and expensive duds. He took up his position at the bottom of the steps, very still and composed, not tilting his head back to look up at me, but keeping his chin level and looking out from under his brows. It made a businesslike, even sinister impression and it made me smile to myself to see this man taking himself so seriously, Rolls-Royce and all.
"Jack Darcey?" he said, and that surprised me very much because I hadn't told a soul where I was going. Looking this man up and down, I couldn't find a clue as to who he might be and what kind of trouble he might be bringing with him, so I chose the voice of a country hayseed from my actor's bag of tricks and said, "Nope, not me."
That caused him to smile a little ghost of a smile, and he said, "Well, if you know where I can find him, I've got some good news for him." The accent was hard to place. Cleveland? Detroit? It made me think of professional gamblers, the prize ring, and the track, and that made me nervous. I had made a couple of shady loans to create my little theater, and I was planning to make some provision for them; unfortunately, I hadn't gotten around to it yet. Could that be it? I didn't believe for one second that anybody had chased me all the way to Marysville to give me good news.
"Nope," I said finally, using the same hayseed persona. "Nobody by that name lives here in Marysville, mister."
He put his head a little over to one side and continued to regard me with the same ghost of a smile for a few moments. Then he reached inside his jacket, and I had a strong impulse to vault the porch railing and make a break for the woods. But instead of a weapon, he produced a photograph; and after glancing at it, he walked up the porch steps over to where I was still leaning against the wall in my rickety chair and held it out to me. I hadn't much choice but to take it, and there before me was a clear and recent photo of myself loading stuff into my car; in the background was one corner of my little theater, or what was left of it after the fire. I had been completely alone at that moment, very much alone, because every single person who had been part of that enterprise had scattered to the four winds of heaven since there was nothing to hold them any longer. In that moment I had felt as alone as a man can feel, and so I wondered very much who could have taken that photo.
When I looked up, the man had put his hands behind him and he was leaning comfortably against one of the porch posts. The ghost of a smile was gone, but his attitude said he would be content to wait as long as need be. He could have been a process server, or a private investigator, or a cop, or a goon. But driving a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud?
"Okay," I said finally in my own real voice, "who are you, and what do you want?"
"My name is Rudy Strapp. An old friend of yours, Albert Keane, sent me down with his car to get you and bring you up to the old homestead for a little study break."
Now there was no disguising my surprise. "The old homestead" was the Keane family nickname for one of the largest country estates on the eastern seaboard; "a study break" was a weekend away from private school. Those were words from my distant past; I hadn't seen Albert Keane in over twenty years. I did, however, happen to know that his parents had both died in a plane crash, and that he was now a stupendously wealthy man.
In my memory I could see that neat quadrangle of buildings around a grassy lawn: classrooms at one end, dining hall for four hundred people at the other, dormitories on the sides. All heavy red brick edifices in the federal style, with oak trim and tall white pillars, everything well maintained and in excellent taste: The Chesham School, a bastion for the careful breeding of the privileged few.
Beyond the quad were the athletic fields; beyond that a meadow and a thick border of trees. A lane of blacktop ran you out to the front gate, the highway, and the edge of a tiny and boring Connecticut town where most of the girls had either married or run away by the time they were sixteen. If you'd been a good boy (according to some stiff institutional definitions of what that meant) and weren't on restrictions of any kind, you could walk into town on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons to sneak cigarettes or try to get a feel off some town girl in the movie house or out in the fields. The rest of the time you were confined within the perimeter of the institution, and the teachers did their best to see that your parents got their money's worth.
Children wound up in such schools for two main reasons. Some parents were anxious to make lawyers or doctors or corporate superstars out of their kids and were willing to pay for the huge advantage a school like Chesham provided. Other parents, for a variety of reasons, couldn't keep a real home for their children, and were willing to pay other people to take over their responsibilities. My parents were in show business and they were as nutty and unstable as show business people usually are. When I was thirteen or so, they were going through a screaming, cut-throat divorce, and I was languishing around Hollywood with a rowdy set of friends, trying out the new drugs and getting into fights. My parents saw the writing on the wall and tried to do the best they could for me. Somebody knew somebody who knew the headmaster of this particularly good school. Arrangements were made, a small wardrobe of appropriate clothing was selected to replace what I was accustomed to wearing, and off I went to New England.
"So you work for Albert, do you?" I asked my visitor.
"Yeah, you could say that."
"You're not his chauffeur."
"No, no. I drive him around sometimes, but I'm not his chauffeur. Mr. Keane doesn't have a chauffeur."
"Are you his bodyguard?"
Instead of replying, he gave me an enigmatic look, as if the answer might be both yes and no. "What do you usually do for him?"
"Whatever needs to be done."
"You're a man of many talents."
"You could say that."
"Did you take that photo of me?"
"No, that was taken by a pro."
"Why would Albert send someone to take a photo of me?"
"Why don't you ask him? He'll tell you anything you want to know. If you want my opinion, you're very lucky he's interested in you."
"What's he interested in, exactly?"
"Ask him. Maybe he wants to be your friend."
In the beginning it had been Albert who needed a friend. According to a peculiar boys' school prejudice, he was what was known as a rich bitch. He was the only child of a family that was so astronomically wealthy that he was already, in theory, set for life; to boys whose parents had sent them there to sweat the climb to the highest pinnacle of success or die trying, it looked like he had it made from the start. That he was a natural straight-A student; that intellectually there was no one in the school more committed to the life of the mind; that he had his sights set on Harvard and would doubtless be accepted when the time came not only for his scholastic achievement but also for his impeccable character—none of these factors gained him any favor. He was still a rich bitch who already had it made.
He was not a social climber; he was not an athlete. His upper-class manners, which were so stylized that they came off as affectations, made him seem aloof when he really wasn't at all. And the aspect of his personality most infuriating to his peers was that he didn't seem to realize or care that he didn't fit in. He went back and forth to his classes completely absorbed and fascinated by everything he was learning, and he was always polite to everyone in a manner that was cordial and delicate. He was an oddball, he was a rich bitch, and he was alone.
Meanwhile, I was also doing a good job alienating myself from my peers at that school. I had grown up believing (thanks to my bohemian family) that if anybody had scads of money, they had probably acquired it through the exploitation of all the helpless and innocent lambs that my parents felt sorry for. These exploiters, basically the entire upper-class of America except for a handful of rich artists who had acquired their wealth
were by definition callous and heartless; good people, soulful people, did not have them over for dinner unless perhaps it was necessary for business reasons.