Wesley’s Summer Vacation

Fiction by Tom Evans   

          When Wesley Barnes woke up on that Saturday morning, little did he know how portentous a day it would prove to be, altering his life so greatly he would never be the same boy again. It started out normally enough, with Wesley and his twin brother Rory getting up early and going downstairs to work on an airplane model they had been constructing for some time now, and then to watch cartoons, being extra quiet all the while so as not to wake up Mr. and Mrs. Barnes, who had had a terrible row the previous evening, and were asleep upstairs in their bedroom.

          As was often his wont, Wesley went immediately to the back door and got the paper wedged in between it and the screen door, only to be captured by its bold headline:

                                                  BUFFALO BOY, 3, KIDNAPPED

          He began to read the accompanying story right away and became entranced, so much so that Rory noticed his absence and called out to him, Wesley, what are you doing?

          Shhhh, Wesley replied, in a stage whisper. I’m looking at the paper. I’ll be right in. He paused for a moment to listen, making sure Mr. and Mrs. Barnes weren’t stirring, and when he was satisfied everything was fine, went back to the article, rapt with fascination. He pored over it, reading fast but digesting every word/item in it. There was a picture of the boy, with his blonde brush cut and Sunday-best suit coat replete with bow tie, impish smile with a missing front tooth. Wesley’s heart went out to him. His first inclination was to help look for him. Maybe he’d be a hero and find him all by himself. What would Mrs. Barnes think about that? Should he tell Rory? Something told him he shouldn’t. He went into the living room and sat down next to Rory, who was watching Lassie, saying nothing about the kidnapping.

         At breakfast he watched as Mr. Barnes picked up the paper (which Wesley had put back in the door), opened it and, seeing the headline said, Hmmm, a little boy’s missing.    Gee, that’s too bad. Did you see this, dear?

          Now how would I have seen it? replied Mrs. Barnes testily, pouring each of them a cup of coffee. I just got up, as you very well know. What’s it say?

         A little boy got kidnapped near the Buffalo Zoo, Wesley interjected. They’re looking for a middle-aged woman who was last seen with him.

         Wesley! Mind your own business! Mrs. Barnes remonstrated. How many times have I told you children should be seen and not heard?

         Wesley reddened and lowered his head in shame, looking over at Rory, who pretended he hadn’t heard.

                                                                     —–o—–

         All that day Wesley thought about it, how they were looking for the little boy right now, in the big city park by the zoo he’d been to several times. He was itching to help out, burning to know what was going on, while he, a boy of ten, stood by and did nothing. He had enough to do as it was, however, keeping this news from Mr. and Mrs. Barnes, who would no doubt find out about it soon enough, either from reading it in the newspaper or seeing it on the news. He wasn’t sure why it mattered if they knew or not, it just did. He’d learned from painful experience to keep these things to himself. Still, he intended to stick close by them in hopes of getting more information.

         And so he did, sneaking peeks at the television news whenever he could, poring over the newspaper reports a day later from the pile kept for the school paper drive, all the while trying to remain as unobtrusive as he could.

         The denouement came Sunday morning just after they had returned from church and were settling into their lazy Sunday routine: Rory and Wesley lying on the living room floor poring over the comics, Mr. and Mrs. Barnes in the kitchen making lunch, listening to Sinatra and Strings as was their wont, when suddenly the broadcast was interrupted by the announcement that the kidnapped boy’s body had been found in the park lake. Wesley, who had heard this clearly, as the radio was piped into the living room, immediately dropped what he was reading and bolted to attention, straining to hear through the now scratchy reception. The boy had been bound and gagged then thrown in the park lake late Friday afternoon. A middle-aged woman had been spotted walking hand in hand with the boy across the park meadow just before, it was ascertained. An all-points bulletin has been put out for her, a middle-aged white female, light complexion, slim, with brown hair pulled back in a pony-tail, wearing a tan raincoat, in itself a bit of an anomaly as the day was warm and cloud free. The boy had shown a definite reluctance to go with her, the eyewitness (a neighborhood resident) said, but he thought nothing of it at the time, thinking it was merely a family squabble.

         They were called into lunch then, and Wesley reluctantly followed Rory into the kitchen.

         Why the glum face, son? Mr. Barnes asked.

         Wesley didn’t reply immediately so Mrs. Barnes said sharply, Answer your father young man!

         Wesley was so unused to being the center of attention that he didn’t know what to say. Instead he blushed and was about to stammer something when, very uncharacteristically, Rory blurted out, That missing boy died.

         Wesley was very grateful for that, and feeling emboldened, added, Yes, that’s right, that little boy died.

         So we heard, Mr. Barnes said. It’s a shame. But don’t you fellas worry, it happened far away and nothing like that’s going to happen in Wilsonville.

         Somehow that didn’t make Wesley feel any better. He managed to choke down his sandwich and drink his milk, then asked to be excused so he could go upstairs and change into his regular clothes. When he got there he flopped down on his bed and stared up at the ceiling. He was not only sad for the little boy and his family, he had a very uneasy feeling about the whole thing, though he didn’t know why.

         As usual at times like these, sad or scared or confused, he soon got up, went to his dresser drawer and took out a pair of rolled up black socks, which he proceeded to shoot into the space behind the open bedroom door and the bedroom wall, keeping track of the makes and misses. Oftentimes he and Rory did this together, but he could tell Rory wasn’t about to come up very soon. When he’d almost worked himself into a sweat, he looked in the mirror and stared at himself, thinking all the while of the little boy. Soon tears came to his eyes and the furrow in his brow deepened.  He knew somehow right then that the little boy’s death had something to do with him, he didn’t know how or what, but it scared him a lot. He’d often had this feeling before, faint intimations from his past, though he could make no sense of them so tried to squelch them before they began, he and Rory having been adopted at the age of six by Mr. and Mrs. Barnes, their past concealed in the sealed adoption records and deafening silence on the topic. It was as if they’d committed some crime everyone was ashamed of. 

         Just then Wesley heard Rory calling for him outside by the apple tree below their bedroom window, and he went outside to play, forgetting his troubles for a while.

                                                              ——o——

         All that week the city was on edge, as was Wesley. Who was she? Would she do it again? Mothers kept their children indoors even though it was the beginning of summer as well as school vacation. The papers, radio, and television were bombarding everyone who had eyes to see or ears to listen with details of the investigation, as well as innuendo. Rumors abounded: she was an escapee from the nearby mental institution; she had lost her own child and was trying to make up for that by kidnapping another; other children from other parts of the city were reported missing and only to be found shortly after, not to be missing at all.

          Somehow Wesley knew better. He had a prescient feeling that he knew exactly who she was, unfounded but unshakeable, as would Rory, if he paid any attention at all, which he was avoiding at all cost. Wesley wanted-needed-so much to remember but he couldn’t just then. He wished he could talk to Rory, confide in him, as he usually did, reiterate the events of their past, but Wesley sensed Rory wanted no part of it and didn’t even ask. He bore the burden alone, as Rory spent less and less time with him, playing outside every waking moment, it seemed, until it became so oppressive he began to imagine/dream all sorts of things which seemed to be about his past although he had no way of knowing if there was anything to them. Until the day they finally announced they had a suspect and Wesley’s world came crashing down: a fifteen-year-old girl who lived fairly near the park named Caril Bowles. Wesley almost fainted when he heard the name, the shock of recognition was so powerful. Mr. Barnes noticed he had turned as white as a ghost and asked if anything was wrong.

         I don’t know, Wesley said, I think I’ll go upstairs and lie down, if that’s all right.

         Of course, said Mr. Barnes, I’ll tell your mother.

         Wesley felt so awful he didn’t even cringe to hear Mrs. Barnes called mother (early on she made Wesley and Rory refer to them as ‘Mr. and Mrs. Barnes’ or ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’) as he normally would, but went upstairs to his room and fell onto the bed in a swoon.

         When he awoke (it was the next day he found out later), Mr. Barnes was sitting in a chair across the room. We thought we’d lost you, he said. Called Dr. Bundrick and he said it was the darndest thing he’d seen, wasn’t quite sure what was wrong with you. How you feeling now, son?

         Wesley loved it when Mr. Barnes called him that, his voice was so gentle, but he was very tired again, and relieved when Mr. Barnes said, You’d better get some more rest, and I’ll look in on you a little later, maybe you’ll be ready to eat a little something by then. OK? Wesley tried as hard as he could to remember the dream he’d been having, about a gigantic woman who towered over buildings, ripping telephone poles out of the ground by pulling on the telephone wires. Everything was chaos: cars crashing into one another as they came to a screeching halt, people running everywhere in an attempt to escape, fires raging throughout the city, until suddenly the gigantic woman became a fire-breathing green-skinned witch with a booming voice, seeking him out.

         As he drifted off to sleep he found himself remembering/dreaming something from a much more definite past…

       A hot August morning in a dull flat land, the hum of telephone wires, bees buzzing as they fumbled over dead weeds in a brown field across the way, hollow stalks of milkweed cross-hatched randomly in ditches alongside the deserted road…then a girl in a yellow dress, the new girl named Carol…or was it Caryl Chessman, the red-light bandit, condemned to die in the gas chamber at San Quentin? Being chased around a picnic table by her because he’d switched on her transistor radio, raking the underside of his wrist on a rusty nail sticking out of it in the process… Evening cooled near dusk, flies captive in the screen door of a silent grey house, sticky drops from a blueberry pie in the kitchen drying on a faded linoleum. The accidents of a childhood in summer: Calamine lotion for the insect bites, Bactine for the cuts and scrapes. It had been a hectic day. He was terrified of falling asleep for fear of getting lockjaw, his wrist wrapped in gauze soaked with hydrogen peroxide, swollen, throbbing, something they’d kidded about that night at supper… Caryl Chessman, Caryl Chessman, couldn’t get away from the Elliott Ness men…TOWN DAYS BASEBALL GAME TONITE 6:30 MAYFIELD PARKMayfield? Mayfield?…Yes, there was a silver water tower with blue letters reading TOWN OF MAYFIELD looming over his shoulder as the runner dug furiously for home to crash inevitably into the catcher, his spikes flashing through the resultant cloud of dust from which the ball flew one way, his cap the other, long blonde hair cascading over the shoulders of the prone centerfielder, a girl…The crowd, stunned at first, suddenly stood up as one, Wesley and Rory joining in, and next to them the new girl, still sitting, her fists beating her knees, the roar of the crowd drowning out her NO! NO! NO!…It didn’t seem much longer after that Rory and she were walking down a hot dusty road on their way to church (?) in their Sunday best, the new girl in a vivid yellow dress with a matching wide sash and white gloves…They walked side by side but did not speak, moving at a leisurely pace down the middle of the road until they neared a small wooden bridge over a creek with a blue sign with gold lettering just before it that read AMERICA REPENT OR PERISH, flanked by a red cross on the left and a gold sword on the right. Rory could even see the white spire of the church from there. Suddenly, without saying a word, the new girl grabbed his arm and led him down a dirt path leading to the water. He resisted at first, but she was surprisingly strong, and something told him he’d better go along with her. She pushed and pulled him until she got him to a bank under the bridge where she told him to sit down, untied the yellow sash from her dress and bound his legs tightly, then yanked the pale yellow ribbon from her hair and tied his hands together behind his back. Out of her purse she took a man’s white handkerchief and stuffed it in his mouth. To his many entreaties she finally replied, It’s only a game. Play it right and you won’t get hurt. I’ll be back, I have to do something…

      Wesley woke with a start, his sheets damp with sweat. He didn’t remember much of what he’d dreamt except the last part, which was enough to terrify him. Had that really happened or had he just dreamt it? It seemed so real.

       Just then he heard a knock on the door and Mr. Barnes came in the room with a glass of milk and some graham crackers. Wesley, who was famished, ate and drank until it was all gone.

        How you feeling now, son? Mr. Barnes asked. You still look pretty pale.

        I’m feeling much better, Wesley replied. I just had a bad dream is all. Immediately after that he made as if to get out of bed but sank right back down he felt so dizzy.

        Whoa there, partner, Mr. Barnes said. You like right back there for a while. You’ve still got to take it easy.

         But Wesley didn’t want to take it easy, the summer was going by so quickly, or so it seemed. What little he saw of Rory was enough to show him how much fun he was having. He was as dark as an Indian savage from being outdoors all day playing baseball, and then after dinner back outside to play hide and seek with the neighborhood kids, while Wesley was as white as the underbelly of a fish from languishing indoors trying to make sense of the last few days.

         This actually proved to be an unforeseen boon, however, as he was in the living room watching the evening news with Mr. Barnes when a sudden news flash interrupted the regular newscast: A 15-year-old Buffalo girl had been charged with the kidnapping/murder! Mr. Barnes hardly reacted at all while Wesley was very upset though trying hard not to show it. When the paper came the next morning he was the first to get it-and there was a picture of the girl on the first page. Wesley’s heart sank when he saw it because he knew it could very well be the girl in his dream. And then he read in the accompanying story how she had once tied up a boy at one of the foster homes she was at who was reported missing until she finally led the foster parents to where she’d left him. I forgot him, was all she’d say about it. We were playing a game and I forgot him. When he read that a chill went down his spine; he felt as if he was about to burst. He just had to find out if she was the same girl-but how? He decided he had to go where they were keeping her and see her somehow. No one must know about this, not even Rory, though he was dying to tell him.

          The article went on to say she was to be arraigned at the County Court House the day after next at 11 AM. Wesley asked Mr. Barnes what arraigned meant and when he told him, Wesley decided then and there he had to go see her, not realizing he didn’t even know where the County Court House was, how he’d get there, or how to get out of the house without Mr. or Mrs. Barnes knowing?

          He excused himself and went up to his room to think about it. He quickly thought of his friend Glen’s mother, Mrs. Cook, who was always very nice and easy to talk to, much easier than most adults. Maybe he could ask her where the Court House was and how to get there; she’d know, she worked in the city. He decided he’d take the city bus, something he’d never done before. He was sure Mrs. Cook would let him use their telephone to call the Transit Company about bus routes and schedules. He was eager to get started right away now that he had a rudimentary plan, but he had to be very careful he wasn’t detected, and hope they’d even let him go outdoors the next day. A lot had to go right for it to work, he thought, with great trepidation, but he had to at least try.

                                                              —– o —–

          As with most things, he needn’t have worried so much. Mr. Barnes had left early for an unplanned trip to his office and Mrs. Barnes seemed only too glad to have him out of the house, which meant her drinking pal Mrs. Toberman was probably coming over. Excited that things were working out so well, and chomping at the bit to put his plan into action, Wesley went with Rory to Glen’s house right after breakfast, so early that Mrs. Cook had already left for work. In spite of this slight crimp in his plan, Wesley was determined to go ahead with it, so when Glen and Rory, both eager to get to the baseball diamond, made ready to go, he asked Glen if he could stay behind and make a couple of phone call. He would catch up with them later. Rory looked questioningly at him, but Glen readily assented, saying dryly, Okay, just don’t steal anything.

         Once they were gone, Wesley got out the phone book and looked up the address of the County Court, which, not surprisingly, was located on Court Street. Then he looked up the Transit Bus Company number and called them; the man who answered gave him precise instructions on how to get there. That was easy, Wesley said, straight out Main Street downtown, where he’d been many times at Christmas time and going to the library. He was eager to set out that very moment, but realized he couldn’t without more careful planning. Definitely tomorrow, he thought. If I wait any longer I might lose my nerve. He joined Rory and Glen at the baseball diamond shortly after, careful not to let on what he’d been doing, although Rory and Glen, absorbed in the game, couldn’t have cared less.

        When he got home, Wesley began to plan out how he would get away the next morning. He would tell Mrs. Barnes he was going over to Glen’s as he usually did-she wouldn’t suspect anything-but Mr. Barnes, who was on vacation that week, might be another story. He had to hope he would have to go to the office again, or play golf, as he normally did, leaving early in the morning. He slept very little that night (unlike Rory), his adrenaline flowing as he realized the immanent danger and boldness his little plan entailed. Undaunted, he was still more determined to this than anything he’d ever done in his life, damn the consequences. He’d worry about those later.

       The next morning it was quiet at breakfast, just Mr. Barnes and Wesley

        So Wesley, Mr. Barnes said. What do you and your brother have planned on this fine summer day?

        A bunch of us are going to play baseball over at the little league diamond around 10, Wesley replied. He told himself he wasn’t really lying-Rory was going.

        That’s fine, Mr. Barnes said, chuckling at his earnestness, just be sure Mrs. Barnes knows where you’re going.

        Wesley cringed when Mr. Barnes said that, suddenly not so sure Mrs. Barnes would let him go anywhere when he remembered what had happened yesterday afternoon. He still couldn’t believe he’d barged right into the living room where Mrs. Barnes was talking with Mrs. Toberman. He hadn’t even noticed her car in the driveway when he got home and wished he had, as it might have prevented him from interrupting their conversation by blurting out, What does the word rape mean? It got totally silent in the room. Wesley knew he was in trouble when Mrs. Barnes’s eyes grew narrow and cold. Mrs. Toberman looked stunned, and he realized he’d made a mistake of epic proportions and just wanted to slink out of there before Mrs. Barnes could answer, but he was too late, of course. It was something he’d just heard on the playground and Mrs. Barnes had told him to always ask if he came across a word he didn’t understand while reading. That was all he’d done but Mrs. Barnes obviously didn’t see it that way. She merely cleared her throat, looked him directly in the eye, smiled her assassin’s smile and said quietly, evenly, I think you had better look it up in the dictionary, Wesley, and we’ll discuss it later, you and I.

        Wesley knew what that meant-getting his mouth washed out with soap or, at the very least, a tongue-lashing. But, as it turned out, Mrs. Barnes didn’t eat dinner with them that evening, she just cooked it and left it on the stove and went straight to bed, as she often did after spending an afternoon with Mrs. Toberman. Later Wesley had heard Mr. and Mrs. Barnes arguing (another common occurrence after a Mrs. Toberman visit), just quietly enough so he couldn’t hear what was being said, when he remembered with immense relief, that, if things held true to form, Mrs. Barnes wouldn’t join them for breakfast either.

         Which is exactly what happened; things couldn’t have gone more smoothly. After breakfast, he went up and roused Rory. While he went downstairs to eat, Wesley lay calmly on his bed, pretending to read, though he was churning inside. He heard Mr. Barnes leave for his golf game and looked at his watch, which said 9:30. After a bit, he went to the Barnes’s bedroom, knocked softly on the door and announced, We’re going to North Forest diamond with Glen to play baseball. We’ll be home around four. There was no answer. He knocked again, a little more firmly this time. OK? He waited a little while longer, not knowing what he would do if she didn’t answer. Finally Wesley heard her reply, Don’t OK me. Go, already. Just stay out of my hair.

         Wesley corralled Rory and they rode their bikes up the street; he was home free, finally, it seemed, it was a beautiful day, and he was on his way to carry out his secret plan, and he was excited about it. True, he felt a slight twinge of conscience as they neared the top of the street and he realized it meant ditching Rory. He got off his bike suddenly and pushed it into Mr. Gangnagle’s bushes. It would be safe there, he figured, the bushes were so thick you couldn’t even see the bike from the sidewalk. The Gangnagle’s were elderly and almost never went outside any more, so they wouldn’t notice it either. Rory, whom Wesley had almost forgotten about by then, must have realized he wasn’t with him and came back looking for him. Welsey would just as soon he hadn’t noticed and had kept on going, but he spied him in the bushes and asked what he was doing.

        I have to go somewhere, Wesley said. I’ll tell you all about it later. I’ll meet you at the diamond or Glen’s afterwards. Just don’t tell anyone, OK?

        Where’re you going? Rory asked.

         I can’t tell you that right now, Wesley replied. Just go on over to Glen’s like usual, and don’t say anything to anybody. If anyone asks where I am, just say I’m still sick. All right?

        I guess so, Rory said dubiously, as he reluctantly began to ride away. But I bet she finds out anyway, he called back over his shoulder.

         Probably, Wesley responded, his hands cupping his mouth, that’s one reason I don’t want you to come. I’ll see you later, okay?

        Sure, Rory said, I’ll see you later. His voice faded in the distance.

        Wesley walked the rest of the way to the bus stop from there, a distance of two blocks. 

        The bus stop was on Main Street, directly in front of a Rexall pharmacy. As he sat there on a bench waiting for the bus to come, he felt not unlike Opie Taylor in Mayberry, watching the traffic trudge by on this somnolent, sunny day in small town Wilsonville, so small he began to worry someone he knew or knew his parents might see him. Thankfully his bus came shortly afterward. When he got on, he said hello to the driver and was about to hand him his quarter, when he pointed to the coin slot indicating Wesley should drop it down there, which he did, watching it slide down the chute and nestle in among all the others.  He slid into the seat right behind the driver, the better to hear him when he called out the street names as they passed by, concentrating on getting his wits about him as well as seeing the sights.

        Soon he passed his church, and Wesley realized the bus was going the same way he did when he went to school, except much further down Main Street. Before he knew it, they passed the City University campus, across from which was a plaza with a Grant’s store, an Italian restaurant, and a movie theatre showing a Disney movie, Third Man on the Mountain, which he was eager to see. Wesley was just beginning to settle back to enjoy the bus ride, trying not to think about what he had to do, or whether he would get there on time, or if he might get lost. He just wanted to get to his destination and let the chips fall where they may, as Mr. Barnes often said.

        He watched as people got on and off, imagining what their lives might be like, and carefully read all the street signs as they went by, until suddenly he saw one that made him start: JEWEL PKWY. That was the street the little boy who was kidnapped and murdered lived on. He was sorely tempted to get off and explore the area, though he knew he couldn’t; he didn’t have time, with only a little more than a half-hour to get to the Court House. It was only a momentary urge, but a very powerful one, until Wesley realized he had to stick to his plan or all would be lost.

        Next they went by a Sears store, which he recognized as the one they used to go Christmas shopping and visit Santa at when they were younger, which seemed a lifetime ago at that moment. It was odd to think it was so near to where the little boy lived, that things could be so connected-city, suburb, country lane, a childhood memory or present reality-it didn’t seem to matter where his life was concerned, they all seemed to come back to haunt him. Just then the driver intoned, Now entering the downtown area. So he sat up in his seat and began to pay close attention. It was very busy with a lot of cars and pedestrians, mostly shopping or heading to lunch by the looks of things, with a steady stream of people going through the revolving doors of the bigger stores. When he heard the driver say Theatre District he looked at his watch and saw that he only had fifteen minutes to get to the Court House. Passengers were beginning to disembark now as each stop went by, and he began to get nervous, anticipating the moment when it would be time for him to get off. Then the driver called out Lafayette Square, Library and Wesley knew it was almost time. When the driver finally said Court Street, he breathed a sigh of relief, waited for the bus to come to a complete stop, rushed ahead past the driver, blurted out Thank You as he grabbed the railing, ran down the steps, swung himself down to the last step, and alit safely on the sidewalk.

        Once there, Wesley looked around to get his bearings, glancing quickly at his watch once more as the crowd surged by. Only five minutes had elapsed since he last looked so he had plenty of time, but he still wanted to get there as soon as possible. He turned up Court Street and saw the County Court House, a tall square building the color of wet cement, with many recessed windows, and a small plaza with benches leading up to its wide revolving doors. Wesley watched as many official-looking people carrying briefcases went it and out, and decided he would just stand around for a while and see what happened, not exactly sure what to do next.

         He was sure he would know when she arrived, and was thinking he couldn’t miss her because he was standing right out in front of the very same building she was going to, and she would have to pass right by him, wouldn’t she? Then suddenly he remembered a case on Perry Mason where he had his client taken to the back of the court house to avoid all the notoriety, and, since nothing seemed to be happening here, thought he would take a walk around to the back of the Court House and see if there was a back entrance. What he would do when he saw her Wesley didn’t know. Just then a blue station wagon pulled to the curb and out of nowhere men with cameras, microphones and notebooks suddenly converged on it. The doors opened, and several burly men got out of the front and rear. Wesley saw a flash of white then dark, shiny hair, and there she was! When she stood up she covered her face, one of the men ducked her head down, and all the men with cameras and microphones and notebooks engulfed her. But just as quickly the burly men moved the crowd forward and emerged with her in their midst, wearing a white sweater, not looking unlike young Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet. The crowd surged forward in unison with her but couldn’t get at her.

         Wesley had stepped back to let them by, and, in so doing, managed to get a good look at her. He called out her name, but his voice sounded like a bleat amidst all the hubbub. He doubted she had heard it, though she must have, because she looked right at him, smiled, and even seemed about to wave when her eyes grew very wide. She stared at him for an instant, as though in recognition, until finally a quizzical look came over her face, and she lowered her eyes as they whisked her away.

          It was over so soon Wesley didn’t know what to think or do, or if he would ever get another chance to see her again. The reporters had all followed in her wake as she was shepherded into the Court House, but the doors were barred and their rush aborted on the Court House steps. Wesley could see they felt much the same as he did-cheated. Many lingered there for a bit talking among themselves, then slowly, grudgingly dispersed.

         Discouraged, Wesley trudged back to the bus stop, the hopes of a morning dashed, knowing it would be soon time to face the music, not daring to think what might happen if he was found out

                                                                  —–o—–

          Surprisingly (and to Wesley’s immense relief), things couldn’t have gone any smoother that day, and his little trip went undiscovered, although Wesley worried the rest of the summer it still might be, at any time. He’d taken the bus home, got his bike from the Gangnagle’s bushes, and rode to the baseball diamond as if nothing had happened. Rory and Glen didn’t ask any questions, even though he’d been acting very strangely lately.

          Once school began again in the fall, Wesley actually found himself so busy with that and all its ancillary activities, his attention became focused on other things. He supposed that was good in a way, as he had perhaps become too obsessed with his past and the little boy’s murder, and was bound to run afoul of Mr. and Mrs. Barnes sooner or later, though he missed the excitement of being on the case, as it were, each morning. But how could he, a 10-year old boy, with only his own resources to fall back on, ever hope to accomplish the unraveling his mysterious past?

          That fall was also when the Kennedy-Nixon election and the Pirate-Yankees World Series took place. Wesley equated both in his mind because it was the first time he’d had a rooting interest in either event; Kennedy because Mr. and Mrs. Barnes were for him, had even put up an election poster with his picture on it in their front window, and the Pirates because he’d been following them since he got Roberto Clemente’s baseball card earlier that summer. What a pennant race it had been, with the Pirates’ acquisition of Vinegar Bend Mizell from the Cardinals being the turning point in a tight race, like in no other sport, a long, protracted siege in stifling heat, rife with tension and intrigue, culminating in the two best teams competing in the World Series. Their cut-off jerseys, hard fuzzy batting helmets, and the names: Vern Law Bob Friend Elroy Face Gino Cimoli Harvey Haddix Bob Skinner Don Hoak Bill Virdon Dick Groat Smokey Burgess Rocky Nelson Hal Smith-the Battlin’ Bucs!!!! They had won him over long before Bill Mazeroski hit the Series winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh game, but when he did, even though he felt badly when Rory ran up to our room and cried, and feared lest he spill the beans to the Barnes’ he was so angry, Wesley knew he had found his team, and would root for them come hell or high water (as Mr. Barnes would say).

          In addition to this, Mr. Barnes, a Yankee fan, just happened to be on a business trip in Pennsylvania at the time, and decided to go to the first game on the spur of the moment, managing to get a ticket from a scalper in front of Forbes Field for a pretty reasonable price at that (he didn’t say how much) because the game had already started. Furthermore, as he was entering the stadium, he saw Roger Maris rounding the bases after hitting a home run. He told them later all he could think was the Pirates had no chance (they were heavy underdogs at that), and it had gotten pretty quiet, but the Pirates went on to take the lead and win the game. Mr. Barnes brought them sets of newly minted baseball cards, black and gold for the Pirates, blue and white pinstripes for the Yankees, printed especially for the World Series. When Rory and Wesley saw them they were both ecstatic, they were the best presents they’d ever gotten, except for the books Grammie and Popsie had given them. Wesley immediately thought of Glen and was busting to show them to him right away, but held off as long as he could, because he felt funny about it, his dad having died and all.

         Everyone claims to remember where they were when Maz hit that historic home run, but Wesley knew exactly where he was: Rory and he were watching the game in the living room on television after school (he didn’t remember where Mrs. Barnes was, he doubted she would have let them watch, maybe Mr. Barnes was home) until the home run, after which, Wesley was so busy jumping up and down in celebration, he didn’t even realize Rory had left the room. Figuring where he had gone, Wesley called up to him several times and got no response. Listening carefully for a moment he thought he heard him crying, and briefly felt bad, but not for long, because he knew the Yankees would be back plenty of times, and who knew if the Pirates would ever repeat? Rory couldn’t even talk about it for a long time, and Wesley understood and respected that, not rubbing it in too much, at the same time being very happy and relieved to have finally found his team and that they had won.

                                                             ——-o——-

         As for the Kennedy-Nixon election, they went to bed on election night not knowing who had won, but someone must have disagreed with the outcome, because late that night a rock came through the window displaying their Kennedy poster. Wesley heard it first, waking up from a sound sleep to the sound of crashing glass, then Mr. Barnes heard it, and uttered a sharp uncharacteristic expletive, telling everyone to stay in their rooms while he investigated. He was still pretty angry when he called the police, but by the time they arrived and began talking quietly to him in the downstairs vestibule, he had calmed down some. They ascribed it to some crackpot, and assured Mr. Barnes they would patrol the neighborhood for a few hours and see if they spotted anything suspicious to make sure whoever did it didn’t come back.

         Wesley felt proud and defiant when he got up the next morning and saw the broken window and the Kennedy poster lying among the shards of broken glass. It was very unusual for anything like this to happen in Wilsonville, an extremely homogeneous community, to say the least, but feelings had run high during this particular election, with a lot of anti-Catholic sentiment. Ironically, the Barnes family experienced the other side, as they were Protestants who wanted Kennedy living in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood who all wanted Nixon and nothing to do with Kennedy. Mr. Barnes said he didn’t think it was anyone from the neighborhood, though Mrs. Barnes strongly disagreed, muttering under her breath about “those dirty Catholics” and even suggesting a few people she thought could have done it.

                                                               ——o——-

         One Saturday later that fall Wesley and Rory were playing over at Glen’s house as usual.  Glen and Wesley went in the living room to play Stat-o-Matic baseball, with Rory waiting to play winners. Wesley was doing very well with his American League team; Virgil Trucks was pitching a shutout against Glen’s National League hitters while Ferris Fain was tearing it up at bat. Glen (whose red hair matched his fiery temper) was getting annoyed, so they were just about to take a break when they heard Mrs. Cook, who had the television on, say something. They thought she was talking to them, and when Glen asked her what she had said she replied, Come over here boys, and watch this. They’re just announcing the outcome of that case where the little boy was drowned over the summer. Glen, you know, the one you’ve become so interested in lately. That surprised Wesley, as he had no inkling that Glen knew anything about it. He looked over at him, but Glen avoided looking at him, and instead went into the kitchen, ignoring his mother altogether. Rory followed him soon after.

         Wesley went over and sat on the floor in front of the television just in time to hear the announcer conclude the report by saying that the girl was to be transported to the State Mental Hospital tomorrow. The report over, Mrs. Cook turned the television off.

         Wesley immediately asked her, Do you know what it all means? Do they know if she did it?

         Mrs. Cook replied, Not really, it doesn’t prove anything either way. They’re saying that she’s too mentally ill to stand trial and are putting her in a place where she can’t hurt anybody else.

        Wesley understood that much, but it only engendered more questions: Will she be there the rest of her life? Will she get better? If she gets better will she get out?
   

       Instead of asking Mrs. Cook all these questions, he asked, Do you think the girl did what they said she did?

         Mrs. Cook replied, I have no way of knowing for sure, but it looks like she may have, although she is very sick and may not be responsible for her actions. She needs all the help she can get, which I am afraid she won’t have where she is going.
   

        Wesley asked, What do you mean?

          That the place she is going to is more like a prison than a hospital, which is what she needs, she replied.
   

        Why isn’t she going to a hospital? Wesley asked.

         Because she’s being punished for what she has done, and to make sure it never happened again, Mrs. Cook said.

         As they went out into the kitchen where Glen and Rory were, Wesley said Oh, it won’t.

         Mrs. Cook responded, half kiddingly, Wesley, you almost sound as if you know her.

         His ears burned when she said that, and he looked defiantly at Glen and Rory and said, I do, we both do, whether Rory wants to admit it or not. Let me prove it to you, he said, challenging them both. I can find out when she’s leaving and where she’s leaving from tomorrow. It’ll be our last chance to see her. I can prove I know her, and if you’ll both come with me I’ll show you. Neither of them said a word in reply, they just left Wesley  hanging there. Wesley looked at Mrs. Cook, imploring her with his eyes to say something.

        She cleared her throat and said, Well, I don’t know Wesley, tomorrow’s a school day and all. I don’t see how…

         He interrupted her and said I don’t care, I have to see her off. I’ve already seen her, you know, down at the County Court House a few weeks ago, and she recognized me.

         Rory and Glen had gone into the living room to play another game of Stat-o-matic. Wesley could see it was hopeless with them. He could also see Mrs. Cook was feeling sorry for him. She started to ask, Have you talked to your parents about all this, but when she said that word he said, I have to go. He waved goodbye briefly and said, Thanks, anyway Mrs. Cook.

        Undeterred, even with no discernable plan, Wesley went to the bus stop the next morning as if it were any other morning, Rory in tow, knowing he was going to have to come up with something and fast. When the school bus came, Rory pleaded with him to get on it and forget all this nonsense, the biggest mouthful Wesley’d ever heard him utter. I’ve got to do this, he suddenly realized, it’s my last chance. I have to. As the bus drove away, he couldn’t help but feel alone and forlorn, wondering what he was getting himself into, yet trying not to think about all the possible consequences so as not to lose his nerve. He was looking down the street nervously, as a neighbor might drive up the street any minute, on their way to work, and recognize him. He was ready to dive into the Gangnagels’ bushes any second if need be. Suddenly he heard Mr. Booth, their next door neighbor, chugging up the street in his rusted out pickup and he made himself scarce, getting in the middle of a big bush, his heart thudding as he watched Mr. Booth stop at the corner, puffing on his cigarette, waiting to turn. Wesley could see him clearly, and felt like he was close enough for him to touch, or at least that he must be able to hear his heart pounding over the familiar rumble of the truck’s engine. He dared not breathe for what seemed like an eternity, though it was only a matter of seconds until he wheeled around the corner and left him in a wake of exhaust fumes and sudden silence.

        There was always the bus, he suddenly thought, but, feeling in his pockets, found them empty. He was beginning to grow frantic and ready to cry when suddenly, his heart went into his mouth as a battered station wagon pulled up to the curb, and he heard a woman’s voice ask, Wesley, it’s Mrs. Cook, going my way? 

         Thinking this must be a miracle-thank you, God-Wesley jumped right in when she opened the front door.

         I got to thinking about our talk yesterday, Mrs. Cook said, and decided you could use a little help. I want take you there.

         Wesley felt awkward knowing that she knew he was skipping school, and thinking this was really an imposition on her, but Mrs. Cook didn’t let on, she was good like that, and before he knew it, he was telling all her all about Caril and what had happened that summer, and all of a sudden they were there in front of the Court House. Wesley couldn’t thank her enough as he jumped out of the car; as he turned to go Mrs. Cook called out, Come over sometime and we’ll talk. Good luck!

        There was already a crowd of media people congregated on the jail steps. Once again, he stuck out like a sore thumb. Aside from the media there was not another soul there, much less anyone his age. That didn’t stop him one bit, though, his adrenalin was flowing, he’d already got himself placed, and knew exactly what he was going to do. He couldn’t believe how clear-headed he was. As he stood on the sidewalk by the Court House steps there was suddenly a commotion and the doors opened. Someone in the crowd yelled out, There she is! Wesley saw Caril, wearing a long coat, black gloves, and a pill box hat, being led down the steps by two policemen. She kept patting her hair and looking all around her, surprised at all the attention and notoriety she had attracted, a wry smile playing at her lips that quickly changed to startled confusion. The policemen were hurrying her along with grim looks on their faces, but Wesley suddenly saw what might be his last clear shot at her, so when she reached the sidewalk he looked right at her and, cupping his hands around his mouth to be better heard, said loudly and clearly, Caril, it’s Wesley, Before he could say anything more, someone grabbed him from behind and said, Beat it, kid! He knew she had heard him though, because just before she got in the car she looked back at him, smiled and said, unmistakably, Yes, I know, and then, Goodbye.

         Wesley knew then without a doubt that she was the girl who had bound and gagged Rory at one of their foster homes, just like the paper had said. It was an immense relief to him, such a great feeling to finally know something, however little or horrible it was, about their past-something that proved they were real, that these things had happened, he wasn’t just imagining them, and could make some (however slight) sense out of them. He finally had a context, no matter how bleak, he hadn’t suddenly just appeared, washed up on shore like some evolutionary slime. That was enough for now.

        He didn’t know what he’d do next, other than enjoy next summer to the fullest, but suddenly realized that nobody ever really cared about you or what you cared about in this world, and so you had to find out the answers for yourself (if there were any), and he would, someday, find out who he was.

 Tom Evans is a librarian from Buffalo, NY. This, his second published story, is a revised excerpt from his first unpublished novel; he has also written a second unpublished novel, and a collection of linked stories, and is currently working on a novella and a third novel.

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