Authors: Cylin Busby
But pretending to be an ignorant summer special only worked for so long. After a couple of years, I’d become quite well known to the local residents and couldn’t play the RAC anymore. Instead, when I took out my citation book, they’d look at me knowingly and say, “Hey, do you know Monty?” I’d just say, “Yes, I know Monty. And I’d like to see your license and registration for this vehicle.” Which usually brought a good deal of hemming and hawing. When I was done with the official business, I’d close with, “You have a nice day now, and please tell Monty I said hello next time you see him.” Always trying to promote good relations with the public.
But all of these locals, bums, deadbeats, and half-assed cops like Monty were small-time compared to our resident ex-con Raymond Meyer. He was the real deal, pointed out to me early on by my fellow officers. When I started on the force, Ray had already served a few years in Walpole Prison for burglary and arson—he’d burgle a place, then burn it to the ground. No one knows what’s missing, right? The only problem being that he was selling all kinds of stuff, some of which was recognized by the former owners. He was also a bit of a firebug—his conviction on
arson included some fires he’d set purely for intimidation purposes. Burning someone’s house or torching their car right in their driveway worked well for keeping most folks quiet.
In 1968, during a three-week arson spree, Meyer burned twelve buildings and a car. The Shorehaven Motor Lodge on Shore Street. The Wood Lumber fire was so big, it could be seen across the bay in New Bedford. The Pomeroy Day estate on Fay Road, and seven other palatial summer homes. And for icing on the cake: the police chief’s car was burned in his own driveway.
A seventeen-year-old kid employed by Meyer’s trash-hauling business finally testified against him. Meyer was found guilty and given five to eight hard time in Walpole, of which he served only a year and a half. The teenager knew Meyer was out of jail when he found his new car, a Pontiac convertible, torched in his driveway. He got out of town quick.
The year I started on the force, the detective branch was looking for a missing woman, Brenda Meyer, Raymond’s wife. Ray had been out of jail a year or so, and the trash hauling business he’d set up was growing pretty quickly. Word was that he’d made a few connections on the inside, because he started doing really well for himself, with a whole fleet of trucks and employees to drive them.
According to Ray, he and his wife had an argument, and she’d taken three hundred dollars and disappeared. But then he changed his story and said that she had asked him to drop her at the bus station so she could go visit a cousin of hers in Wareham.
Trouble was that the family said they have no relatives in Wareham. And there weren’t any buses to Wareham from that station anyhow. The seventeen-year-old babysitter, Laverne Linton, who was left at home with Brenda’s two little boys, aged four and seven, said Brenda went to visit her mom. Brenda’s mom said no chance—that her daughter never went anywhere without her kids. Most unusual.
It wasn’t long after this that the babysitter, Laverne, moved in with Ray and family—to help take care of the kids, of course. When Laverne turned eighteen, she became more than the babysitter and officially took on the role of girlfriend. Ray was the chief suspect in his wife’s disappearance, but no one was really questioning him. The town dump was searched since Ray was in garbage disposal and could have easily put her body into a truck, compressed it into a load, and put her out to be plowed under the rest of the city’s trash. Ray was also in construction and it seemed that he had recently poured a new cement floor in his garage. So the state and local detectives got a search warrant to look for “stolen goods,” but really it was a ruse to check out the newly poured concrete. When they got there, they decided to start digging. They didn’t get far before Ray came out and reminded them that their search warrant didn’t cover digging up a cement floor. Ray had been on the wrong side of the law for so long, he really knew his loopholes. The guys backed off; they never did find Brenda or her body.
All this was going on right around the time I joined the
force. So here was someone to really look out for. Meyer was building a power base with his garbage company, he employed a number of bad actors—some guys he met in jail, some on the outside—and kept them loyal with threats and intimidation. His power base spread to include relatives—legit and not. Ray was similar to Monty—you could stop a car and hear all about “Uncle Ray.” Again this was to impress on the cop that if he didn’t want trouble, he’d ignore whatever he’d stopped the perp for. This worked with some of the force then, and as far as I know, it works to some extent even now.
Falmouth was a lot like many other small towns, I imagine. I never worked as a cop anywhere else, so I have no proof. Just a feeling there’s politics, untouchables, bad guys, and assholes in all towns, no matter what size. And then there are power bases built by certain people, the kind of people who like to be in charge and have folks working under them, who run the big-time scams, not just petty crimes. Who bring in the city contracts, bid rigging, construction deals, plus a few legit businesses to clean the profits made elsewhere. Our town was small enough that we had only one guy running a game like that. And that guy was Raymond Meyer.
WHEN we got back into Uncle Joe’s car to drive to the hospital, Mom turned around and looked at the three of us in the backseat. “Some of your dad’s friends from the force will probably be at the hospital today,” she said. “If they ask you where we’re staying, don’t tell them.” Then she turned back around in her seat.
“Why?” Shawn asked.
“We just don’t want anyone to know where we’re staying . . .” Mom started to explain.
“It’s nobody’s business,” Uncle Joe said in a gruff voice. He sounded mad, but I didn’t understand who he was mad at.
“What about Don, or Arthur, what if they ask us?” Shawn said, mentioning two of Dad’s best friends on the force.
“I don’t know,” Mom said, and looked over at Uncle Joe. He shook his head. “Let’s just keep it to ourselves for now, from everyone. It’s just easier that way,” she finally said.
We parked the car in an underground lot, then took a series of elevators to get to the floor where Dad was staying. Mom and Uncle Joe seemed to know the hospital pretty well—where all the elevators were and exactly where we needed to go. We rounded a corner and saw a guy in a Falmouth Police uniform sitting on a folding chair in the hallway. It felt funny to see someone in that uniform, the same one Dad always wore. “Polly,” the man said, standing up. “He’s gonna be happy to see these guys!” He gave me and Eric and Shawn a huge grin, then grabbed a clipboard from a hook on the wall and started writing something on it.
We walked into the room, and there was a man lying on a big white bed. Around him on both sides were lots of machines and poles with plastic bags hanging from them. There were cards and flowers all over the room. The man on the bed did not look like Dad. His head looked funny; it was all wrapped up in gauze, like a mummy’s. And it looked smaller; his head didn’t look right, like his eyes were in the wrong place or his face was shorter. Maybe they had just wrapped him up too tightly, I thought. The guy in the bed lifted one hand and gave us a thumb’s-up sign. Mom went over and kissed him on the forehead, then held up a clipboard for him. He had a tube going into the back of his hand, which was held in place with a big piece of white tape. He wrote, “Thanks for the cards.” It did look like Dad’s small, angular writing. I was trying really hard to believe that this person in the bed was him, but I just couldn’t.
“Do you want to say anything to your dad?” Mom asked us.
“That’s not my dad,” I heard myself say quietly, before I could stop it from coming out of my mouth. Then Shawn turned and darted from the room before Uncle Joe could grab him. I heard his sneakers screech as he tore down the tiled hallway. Uncle Joe took off after him while Eric and I just stood there.
Mom let out a weak laugh. “This is your dad, he’s just bandaged up right now. I told you that, remember?”
Dad waved me over to show me the board. “I love you. I’m OKAY,” he had written in capital letters. Once I read it, he motioned to Mom. “I’m scaring them. Do I look that bad?” he wrote, and looked at her. I took the bag of M&M’S out of my pocket and put it on the table next to his bed without a word. Uncle Joe walked in with Shawn, who looked like he had been crying. That made me start crying. Eric just stood at the foot of the bed; his face was blank but I could tell he was chewing the inside of his mouth like he did when he was really mad.
“I think it’s time to get these kids some lunch,” Uncle Joe announced, and I saw Mom nod. “Let’s go, you guys. Say goodbye to your dad.”
“Bye,” I said, but I didn’t look up from the floor. I didn’t want to look at whoever that was in the bed, even if it was my dad. We walked out of the room and made our way back to the elevator.
“Oh, aren’t you pretty. Look at that hair, would you?” I heard one nurse say to another about my long honey blond hair as we walked by them.
“Wow, I’d love to have hair like that,” the other nurse said, trying to meet my eyes.
I wondered if they were just being nice to me because they felt sorry for me, so I kept walking.
“You should say thank you,” Uncle Joe reminded me, then murmured under his breath, “Aw, who gives a damn, right?” He had his pack of cigarettes out as we got into the elevator and lit one up the second we reached the parking garage.
“Your dad isn’t like Baretta, you know,” Uncle Joe said, blowing out some cigarette smoke. “That guy gets shot up one week and he’s back the next week. That’s fake. When you get shot, it takes time to get better. Your dad is going to need some time.”
We were silent as we walked over to the car. The three of us climbed into the backseat together, even though one of us could have sat in the front.
When Uncle Joe started the car, Shawn turned to me. “I don’t think that was actually Dad, do you?” he asked.
I shook my head. But part of me knew the truth: that
Dad. That was how Dad looked now. I couldn’t even imagine a time when he wouldn’t be lying in that bed attached to all those machines. How could he come home again, go to work again, go to the beach with us? And what was wrong with his face under all those bandages? I didn’t want to think about it, how his head looked too small.
When we got home, Lauren and Cassie were still at school, so Uncle Joe made us some sandwiches and told us we could go
swimming if we wanted to. He sat outside by the pool and drank a Tab and smoked another cigarette. We took our sandwiches into the den and put on the TV, but there wasn’t a lot on, just soap operas and some dumb science fiction movie that was in black and white.
“Do you think Mom will remember to give him the
?” Eric asked suddenly, eating some potato chips. I had forgotten all about our gifts. I hoped that Mom would remember it—she had been carrying the bag. It made me sad to think that we wouldn’t get to see Dad’s face when he opened the present, but then I realized that even if we had been there, it would have been hard to tell what was going on under all those bandages, so what did it matter?
Lauren and Cassie came home from school, and then Aunt Kate came back too. Uncle Joe left to pick up Mom from the hospital. Even though they got back in time to eat dinner with us, Mom went straight up to the guest bedroom and went to sleep without seeing us. I wondered if she was mad about what I’d said at the hospital, about that not being Dad. Uncle Joe said she didn’t feel well, and we should try to keep it down.
I had been in Mom’s room earlier that day, and it was very messy—clothes that she had borrowed from Aunt Kate were all over the place, and an old bra was hanging over the back of the chair. By the bed was a beautiful crystal vase with one perfect red rose in it. The rose was a few days old now; Uncle Joe had bought it for her over the weekend. The tips of the petals were turning a little bit brown, but they were still velvety soft.
That night, Aunt Kate made something for dinner that smelled horrible. “You like meatballs in spaghetti, right?” she said to me. “This is just like a meatball, a big meatball,” she explained, putting some on my plate. It was meat and some kind of a red sauce. The meat had all kinds of things in it, like ground up leaves or something. Everyone else was eating it, but even the smell made me feel sick.
“Oh, Cylin, you’re skin and bones. Eat something,” Aunt Kate finally said.
I looked over at Eric and Shawn and saw them happily eating the meat and pasta on their plates. I put my fork down and sat quietly, trying not to breathe through my nose. “How about a bowl of cereal?” Uncle Joe asked, and I nodded. As he got up to fix my cereal, Lauren said, “That’s not fair! Why does she get to eat Cocoa Puffs?”
“She had to see her dad in the hospital today. Leave her alone!” Uncle Joe snapped. But I didn’t want cereal because of Dad—I wasn’t even thinking about him. I just hated my aunt’s cooking. Still, it made me feel special that I was getting my way without even trying.
After dinner, I helped Aunt Kate clean up and load the dishwasher, just like I always did at home. I liked cleaning up; I got some satisfaction from scraping the leftovers into the garbage, where they belonged. I was glad the battle over this meal was done. When I was finished helping my aunt, I went into the TV room where Lauren and Cassie were watching TV with my
brothers. “Your mother has had a nervous breakdown,” I heard Lauren tell Shawn.
“I know,” Shawn said. He looked very serious. We had a priest at our church back on the Cape named Father Mark. He was my favorite—he was everyone’s favorite. When he first came to Saint Patrick’s, it was like he woke the place up. Sunday was no longer boring. He would ask the kids to all come and sit up front during Mass. He really talked to us about God and Jesus and religion and made it seem like it was actually something to care about. He had a nice face, but he wasn’t so handsome that you were scared of him—brown eyes, dark hair, a trimmed dark beard. And sometimes, when it wasn’t Sunday, we would see him in town wearing jeans with his shirt and collar. This was totally unheard of for the other priests at our church. Dad liked Father Mark too, and he especially liked that we now had doughnuts and coffee after church in the basement—Father Mark’s idea of “building community.”