Welcome to the Tom Sheehan Festival. Tom has reached the unprecedented plateau of 200 stories with us–fifty one this year alone. So, for those who do and do not feel a bit shorted by the tree this morning, Tom has brought six gifts. Today numbers 194-199 appear to bolster the holiday. And please return tomorrow for Tom’s historic 200th appearance, which should go down well with the leftovers.
If you come away as thankful as we are for somehow getting this immense post up and ready, you are indeed blessed.
Happy Holidays to All!
Diane, Hugh, Leila, Eds. at Literally Stories
194: Lady with Child
Yelling came from the street. “There’s a big fight at the saloon. Someone’s gonna get killed.”
Sabine Thompson, sheriff of Indigo Falls, leaped from his desk to the gun rack and grabbed a Winchester, his hand at the balance point, and rushed from his office. “Probably Toss Devine again, drunk as ever.” Never was any part of Kansas quiet when Toss Devine was at the hard stuff.
Thompson stepped into the Black Carriage Saloon, just before a body came crashing down from the second floor, the ladies floor. But the falling body was the houseman. Toss Devine, indeed, was at wild work again, and only one sound would slow him down long enough to listen to any neutral party. Thompson fired a round over Devine’s head and the slug slammed into the woodwork not more than a foot away from the furious drunk.
Devine stopped screaming, as though sober, but of course he wasn’t. Bleary-eyed he looked down into the saloon and the sole image he could make sense of was Thompson waving the rifle at him, threatening another round, the bore pointed straight at him.
“She says she’s gonna have a kid and I got to get out of here.” He slammed a fist against the wall and the whole building carried the sound along the framework. Thompson had seen Devine this angry a half dozen times and knew he’d have him in a cell for a couple of days at least.
“C’mon down, Toss. No more carrying on. Don’t blame the lady.”
“Hell, yelled Devine, slobbering in his speech. “I ain’t blaming her, they’re gonna throw her out.”
“We’ll take care of that, Toss, me and you,” Thompson said as he placed the Winchester on a table and walked to the foot of the stairs.
At that same time, outside of Indigo Falls and coming along the river, was a covered wagon loaded to the hilt with household goods, supplies, one man at the reins, and two children, a girl of 4 and her brother, 5, playing in a tight space directly behind the driver. He was a good-looking man with dark hair, a partial beard that filled out his face, large hands and wrists to match. He wore a gray Stetson sitting at an angle, a gray shirt needing some care, black pants and boots that the pants were tucked into. A Colt revolver sat in a shoulder holster and a rifle lay beneath his feet.
A smile fluttered occasionally on his face as he listened to his children playing.
His name was Clayton Shelburne, 35, widowed a mere month, his wife Adelaide buried back down the trail from rocks that rolled downhill at a campsite and killed her instantly. She was pregnant at the time. Now, mere miles from the next town, on his way wherever he’d find some kind of solitude and hope, the kind that Addy was always talking about … “a cabin on a small hill, Clay, and a garden out front, and a barn, and a look out over the prairie in spring and summer when the color is as wild as the flowers. That’s all I want for you and me and the kids.”
She’d clasp her hands at that summation and Shelburne knew she was saying her prayers again.
The scene haunted him every moment of the day that the children were not making demands on him.
He drove into Indigo and arranged to set his wagon behind the livery after talking to the livery owner, Burt Palermo, himself widowed but his children grown and moved on. They had shared some of their tales when Palermo asked where the mother of the children was.
“Look here,” Palermo said, like negotiating his proposal, “I have a woman living-in who takes care of the place and she’d love to have the kids around her for a couple of days, if you’re of a mind to look about, wet your whistle, treat your bones, whatever. It’d be our pleasure ‘because I know how you’re feeling right about now.”
Shelburne agreed and the children were set down at a dinner table for the first time in a long while. They appeared ravenous, ate well, crouched back against pillows to settle themselves, and fell asleep. Their father went to look at Indigo Falls.
In the Black Carriage Saloon, a small hearse-type vehicle painted at the end of the sign with a flourish, the new visitor to town ordered a drink at the bar.
The bartender said, “I ain’t seen you before, mister. You passing through or staying a spell?”
“Oh,” Shelburne said, “probably just passing through on my way to wherever, me and my family. But it looks like a nice town. Kind of quiet, but nice folks so far.”
“Should have been here earlier. We had a wild drunk throw the houseman through that rail up there,” and he pointed overhead where the broken rail showed. “He got tossed right through that broke part.”
“Raising hell up there, was he?”
“Yep, he was really mad that one of the ladies is pregnant and she won’t have a place here for long. The boss is gonna put her out. That set him off, ‘cause he kind of favored her. The sheriff’s arranging for her to get a ride out of town, make a new start down the trail a way. He’ll find someplace for her. He’s done it before.” He shrugged his shoulders and added, “They come and they go, and life moves on.”
Shelburne didn’t like the tone of voice but held his feelings to himself. Life was tough enough for anybody in a small town.
He had a couple of drinks and walked back to the livery. Evening shadows were settling down in places next to the tallest structures, a soft breeze swirled dust into small zephyrs in the street, and lamps or candles began to show color in a few windows. The ease of the town, in general, came on him like a glove in place, and he felt the soft arrangement of comfort might be worth noting, but the lady’s trouble at the saloon sat sore and cumbersome, as though hidden behind some other parts.
At the general store, the sign over the top of the door saying Whitby’s, half a dozen people mingled on the front boardwalk, and the interior of the newspaper office next door, behind a large window, shone with the brightest light he had seen. He could see the man inside working with the tools of his trade, several lamps lit. Shelburne wondered about the headlines in the coming issue. He was sure it would not be about the lady being “shown out of town.”
He discovered the sore spot again down in his gut, and a foul taste rising in his throat. Looks, he thought, were so deceiving. He stared about him again, at all he could see of the town, and knew he was missing the most important parts of all.
Indigo Falls had two spirits, two lives, two flavors. It was disconcerting, and it hit him with heavy notice. He could not shrug it off.
At the livery, Palermo said, “How’d you like the town? Mostly quiet, isn’t it?”
“I saw the newspaper being set up and wondered what the headlines on the next issue will be. It won’t be about
the lady being sent out of town or the drunk who had the big fight about her, will it?”
“Most likely not,” Palermo said. “The editor sort of ‘manages things,’ if you know what I mean. Some things are best hidden, as they say about rattlers and such.”
“How’d she come here?” Shelburne said. “What’s her name? She have a life before she got here?”
“From what I hear, she was found on the bank of the big river, almost dead. Must have come awful close to drowning, maybe fell or pushed off one of them river boats.”
“Nothing before that? No previous place? No family someplace?”
“Only from back east and nothing else she ever offered up, even to the other ladies there at the Black Carriage. Stories don’t get told much except the big lies and you know them right off the first smile. When they don’t want nothing else known, they bury it like under a landslide, and it never gets out.”
“Got to be some mother or father wondering somewhere about her, or a sister or a brother. Everybody should have family.” Palermo saw the sudden shift of pain cross Shelburne’s face, the way only a memory can do the job, quick and to the point.
Palermo said, “C’mon, let’s go see the kids and Maria and get something to eat. The woman’s a great cook and can make something out of nothing almost. I bet she had a time of it with the kids. She misses her own, off wandering out there she once said, and me knowing she was wishing otherwise. I’m damned lucky I found her.”
“How’d that happen?”
“A wagon master came through needing a bad wheel fixed and I had one for him all done off a half-burned wagon. We got talking and I told him about my wife dying and he said there was a woman without a man or a wagon they had found at an old camp and took her along, only with the promise to drop her someplace that’d give her a chance. I took that chance and lucked out.
Let’s go eat.”
Maria shushed them as they entered the small cabin. “They are so sweet, but they’re still sleeping, and on my bed. I’ll let them sleep there all night.”
Palermo, with a smile, said, “You can bunk in my room, Maria. I’ll go back out to the livery with their father. We’ll spend the night there and be in for breakfast. I got half a dozen horses to do in the morning.”
“I’ll help there,” Shelburne said, and they sat down for the meal, the aromas teasing Shelburne before he had come into the cabin. He kept nodding as he ate, and Maria kept smiling.
Palermo kept nodding too, but his mind elsewhere.
Maria finally, dishing out another helping of steak and potatoes and greens to both men, said, “tell me what’s happening with Dominique at the Black Carriage. I heard she’s going to have a baby and they’re going to put her out of town.”
“Is that her name?” Shelburne said. “First time I heard it.”
“Oh,” Maria said, “I don’t think that’s her real name. It’s like a stage name, I’d guess. I talked to her once at the store. She’s pretty as a picture, but carries a lot of pain about with her, like a leash tied on her, or hard reins.” Her voice caught a breath, and she resumed. “I heard the sheriff has got space for her on the afternoon stage. It’s going to Livermore, which might be the end of the world for her.”
Shelburne said, “She ever tell you about where she came from? About her family?”
“Not a word.” Maria said, “like they don’t want anything about where they’re at now getting back to the family. That’s real sad. I wish my family could find me again, my son and my daughter. I hope they’re still alive. I hope they have kids of their own and that’s why they can’t come looking for me.”
She looked across the room and she could see into the room and the two children asleep in the bed, but the boy beginning to stir.
“I think he smells the steak,” she said, and the smile came back.
Palermo smiled too.
In the livery, Palermo said, “You climb up, Clay, and get comfortable. I got a few things to do, but I’ll wake you early. We can rush the day.” He slapped Shelburne on the back.
In the comfort of the hay soft as a mattress under him, Shelburne went to sleep quicker than he had in months. He slept deeply, soundly.
In the morning the two men did the work needed to be done, moved horses as necessary, Palermo conducting his business as usual, then the two of them headed back for breakfast. Shelburne could smell the meal just as they stepped out of the livery into the clear air. A vision of Adelaide at morning preparations accosted him and made him inhale deeply.
At the audible inhalation, Palermo, smarter than a lot of men Shelburne had met, said, “That’s more than smelling breakfast, Clay, ain’t it? I know just what it’s like. I’ve been there lots of time.”
Maria couldn’t hold the kids back, and both of them scrambled to meet their father.
The boy, Todd, said, “Molly was crying last night and almost kept me awake.” He hugged his father and clarified his story, “But she wasn’t hurt, just sad. Said Maria cooks just like Momma.”
Molly hugged her father when he picked her up.
Maria, on the small porch, said, “Clay, they are beautiful, and so well-mannered. They’ll bring the graces to anyplace you settle down.
After breakfast, without a word being said, Shelburne went ahead of Palermo back to the livery and began to do some of the odd jobs yet to be done. As he worked, he kept thinking about what Maria had said about “bringing the graces” to anyplace where he’d settle down. He wondered where that would be, how far away, how the journey would pass.
When Palermo came back to the livery, he said, “Oh, my, that woman loves those kids. If you ever have a problem with leaving them anyplace, here with her would be the best place of all. She’s been ecstatic since they came here.
Shelburne had no comment and continued working.
Suddenly, from a fit of extensive effort at moving some of the manure and taking it to the back of the cabin and a little garden sitting in bright sunlight, Shelburne dropped the shovel and walked off into town.
Palermo watched him striding off without saying a word. “He’s made up his mind about something,” he said to the mare he was brushing down, “and that’s a good sign, old girl.” He patted the horse on the rump, looked out the rear door and saw Maria sitting on the small porch, the children beside her. He thought he heard them laughing but was not sure of the sound. It seemed most proper and likely, a mother at work of being warmer than her surroundings.
Shelburne, in a full stride, headed right to the sheriff’s office, passing the Black Carriage Saloon on the way, almost changing his stride to go to the saloon, but he didn’t change.
He stepped into the sheriff’s office and the first thing he saw was Sheriff Sabine Thompson sitting back in a chair at a desk with a single piece of paper on the top of the desk, a ring of keys, and a revolver. The essence of a woman, a secret of perfume, crawled under Shelburne’s skin as unnerving as it could be. He swung about and Dominique, beautiful Dominique, sat in a chair against the front wall, a bag at her feet, a wrap or coat lying atop the bag, tears falling on her cheeks.
She was the loneliest and loveliest woman Shelburne had seen in a long time, and her tears crushed him.
Thompson, in deep thought himself, looked up and said, “You the fella helping Burt at the livery? I heard you were doing some work for him and he’s mighty pleased. That your wagon parked out back of his place? What brings you here?”
“Well, Sheriff,” Shelburne said, “I have to talk to you and her,” and he pointed to Dominique, “whatever her real name is.”
“About what?” the sheriff said, surprise running across his face, standing beside his desk like something was getting away from him, or getting past him.
“I got a proposition for the lady,” Shelburne said.
She looked up, no expression on her face at first.
Thompson said, “Well, let’s hear it.”
“It’s for me and the lady first, Sheriff, if you don’t mind. Just for her and me for starters. We can fill you in later, but I’d like some privacy for me and the lady.”
Dominique was open-mouthed, hearing this stranger say “lady” two or three times to the sheriff and asking the sheriff to leave the office as politely as he could ask. A stirring began to move in her body that was more than surprise.
The sheriff was about to say, “Well, this is my office,” but didn’t. Something about Shelburne had pulled at him with surprising force. He assented, took his revolver off the desk, slapped it into his holster, and said, “Good luck,”
He walked out of the office, saying, “I’ll be back in an hour or so. Anybody looking for me, I’ll be in the saloon or the barbershop.”
The door closed firmly behind him.
“Ma’am, Dominique or whatever your name is, I have something to say that I want you to listen to very carefully. I’ll try not to rush it, but please listen.”
“But I don’t know who you are,” she said.
“That’s all the better,” he said, then he added, “I’d like to know what your real name is. I don’t want any stage names hanging out in the air between us. My name is Clayton Shelburne, and all folks call me Clay. I’m a widower and my wife was killed a while ago under a landslide and that’s where she’s buried, probably forever.”
“Oh, how horrible,” she said. The look on her face said it was an honest reaction. A new tear started in her right eye and moved onto her cheek.
“And I have a boy and a girl, 5 and 4, and my wife was with child when she died.”
The next tear was alive, too, and began its course on her other cheek. “I’m so sorry about your wife, but you have something from her. That counts a lot. I bet she was a grand lady and the children must miss her.”
Another tear started. “My name is Rosalie and I am with child. They are putting me out of town.”
“I know all that,” he said, “and here’s my proposition; you come with me, wherever I’m headed, to find the perfect place that my wife used to dream about, and I’ll raise your baby as mine and you raise my kids as yours. That’s all I ask. I’m a hard worker. I know cows and horses and the land under my feet. I’ve farmed and drove cows and gathered horses and used some tools to good advantage. I like steak and potatoes and corn and anything green on my plate and a good stiff drink once in a while, but mostly for occasions.”
Tears were not in volume, but more flowed, as she said, “Would you marry me? Are you saying that too?”
“You’re damned tooting I am,” Shelburne said, “but we won’t get married here in Indigo Falls. We’ll get married down the line somewhere. The honeymoon will be in a covered wagon heading someplace beyond.”
He smiled at her as more tears began to fall, and an expression of joy passed on her face as full realization came to her.
But his sincerity, she felt, was above her joy. Trust began building in her on the spot, where trust had longed for some place to roost within her.
“Is it real?” she said.
“It is,” he replied, his hand taking her hand, and each of them knew a newness passing into the other. It carried trust, belief, free choice in the matter, respect longed for in her and given at last by him.
There was an exquisite moment for each of them, when the door suddenly burst open, and Toss Devine, utterly drunk and stupid-looking once more, pounded into the office.
“I heard you was in here with him. You’re comin’ with me right now. Right now, or I’ll knock you silly again.”
He had her by the arm and was about to grip her wildly about her waist, the slightly plump waist, when Shelburne, in a fit of anger, swung his fist once in a round-house arc and slammed Devine flush on the jaw. He went down like a cow with two front legs trussed in a lariat and stayed still.
Shelburne, looking around, spotted the cell keys hanging on the wall. He grabbed them, then hefted Devine and lugged him into a cell, put his hat on his head, and locked the door behind him when he left the cell.
“I’ll go get the sheriff,” he said, just as the door opened and Thompson came in. “I heard Toss Devine was here. Where’d he go?”
Over his shoulder, pointing, Shelburne said, “He’s in a cell, Sheriff, locked in. He assaulted the lady here and I had to bang him a good one. He’s not hurt much, but he’ll be out of it for a while.”
“Well, that’s good work, Clay, and quick. Couldn’t do better myself.” He looked at her and said, “What happens now?”
She said, “We’re leaving here, Sheriff. I’m going with him. We’re getting married.”
“Oh,” he said, “that’s great. Where are you getting married?”
Shelburne said, “Down the trail some place, but away from here,” and he pointed over his shoulder, “and him.”
“I can do it here,” Sheriff Sabine Thompson said, and free of cost. It’s legal. The town council gave me the right since we ain’t got any ministers here.”
“Don’t we need a witness?” she said.
“We got one,” the sheriff said, ‘and he’s just fallen asleep, but he’s a witness. And it’ll sure burn the hell out of him when he finds out, I hope.”
“You do that for us, Sheriff, and keep him in there for a while. He might be a bit nasty when he wakes up. Me and the lady will really appreciate it.”
“Okay, Clay, do you take Dominique to be your wife, all legal and such?”
She said, “My name is Rosalie Bertrand, Sheriff. My honest to goodness name.”
“Okay,” the sheriff said. “Do you Clay Shelburne take Rosalie Bertrand to be your lawful and legal wife?”
“Do you, Rosalie Bertrand take Clay Shelburne to be your husband, lawful and legal all the way?”
“Kiss her,” the sheriff said, “She’s now your wife and I give you my best wishes, and my promise to keep him here for a few days. If he raises any hell, I’ll keep him longer. He ain’t a real bad guy when he’s not drinking, but otherwise, he’s hell and twice the pain. Now you two mosey back to the livery and get out of town as soon as you can.”
Palermo and Maria were happy at the news, and Maria hugged Rosalie and told her, “You got two great kids coming to your skirts. You’ll love them. And good luck with the next one. You’ll have a fine family, I know.” They hugged each other.
In the first streak of dawn’s light, Mr. and Mrs. Clayton Shelburne, nee Rosalie Bertrand, soon to be mother, were on their way out of Indigo Falls and heading further west.
Three weeks later, Rosalie idyllic, her husband finding new love in his whole person, the children at comfort with their new mother, they joined up with a wagon train. They liked their new companions and enjoyed their company in the evenings and at chores during the day. Most nights the children slept in the covered wagon and the newlyweds slept under the wagon in a tussle of blankets.
Often, she’d say things he loved to hear, “Oh, Clay, look at the stars tonight, how they gather up like bouquets just for us, coming down on us like we’re on the bridal path.” She’d hug him dearly, and often try to bring up her past in a kind of penance. He would shush her, and say, “We’re into a new life, with our children. I promise to do the best possible for you and them.”
“Clay, you came along when I had no hope. Now I know that whenever I need you, you’ll be there.”
He went to sleep hearing her words repeated again and again.
In the morning, about to get on the way, he came back from communal tasks and said, “We’re leaving the wagon train just down the road, Rosalie. I just found out that one of the riders who came in yesterday is on his way back to Indigo Falls. I think he recognized you, said something to one of the gents who told me. He looks like he wants to wave his tongue like a sheet on the line. It’s best we leave the train. I don’t trust Devine, not knowing how long he spent in jail or what he’s really thinking.”
Rosalie leaned on him. “Oh, Clay, will it ever leave us?” She hugged him and he felt the shiver course through her now ample frame.
In a few more weeks, after leaving the train, they hitched up with another train and were approaching the Rockies, the wagon master saying they would come to a special pass that would allow them to save some time.
Shelburne, talking to many men on the way west, some of whom had crossed over, had serious reservations about the special way through the mountains. He tossed a decision over in his mind a number of times but knew that he’d not go that special way.
He pulled his wagon off with another wagon and the two men decided on another route. A day on their new route, the woman on the other wagon fell ill, and her husband said he’d ride back and get the doctor who rode with the previous wagon train. Shelburne and his family would stay with the sick woman.
That evening Shelburne went off a way to see if he could kill a deer or a sheep. He was anxious that he didn’t see or hear any game and was worried about the women and the children. He started on the way back and was not far away from the wagons when he heard a scream.
It was Rosalie, he was sure, and spurred his horse to greater speed. He halted a way off from the wagon when he heard the yells coming from a male. It was, of course, Toss Devine screaming his anger, having traced them most likely from the day he got out of jail.
Rosalie was screaming too. “The baby. Don’t hurt my baby. Don’t hurt my baby.”
“Hell,” Devine screamed back at her, “it might be mine too.” He grabbed her again. The other woman screamed.
Rosalie screamed, “Clay, Clay, where are you?”
Devine let her go when he heard Shelburne say, “I’m right here, Rosalie. Don’t worry, he’s not going to hurt you anymore.” He came into the flickering light of the campfire, his rifle leveled at Devine.
Devine grabbed Rosalie again and shoved her ahead of him. At that precise moment, when he moved to shift her more in front so she’d become the perfect shield, the sick woman jammed a stick from the fire between his legs. He stumbled, let go of Rosalie, swing his gun up to shoot Shelburne who now had his rifle dead on Devine.
Two shots roared out. The women screamed. The children screamed. Toss Devine let out an ungainly cry, stepped forward and fell on his face, the rifle bullet hitting him right above his heart. He was dead before he hit the ground.
“Oh, Clay, you promised you’d be here when I needed you, and you were.” She hugged him.
“I love you more than anything I’ve ever known in my life.” She hugged him again as the sick woman, feeling better, smiled and hugged the children, both mothers at their work.
The stars overhead were dazzling in the black sky, the campfire glittered and glowed on leaves in nearby trees, a coyote said hello downrange somewhere, another answered, one shooting star ablaze fled ahead of its flame across the sky and lost itself in myriad peaks poking the sky.
Clay Shelburne said, “I was thinking out there that the place I saw yesterday, on the rise on the other side of the valley, is the place Adelaide was talking about. Looks just like it from another angle. After the doctor gets here to take care of our heroine, we’re going to take another look. Maybe our traveling days are done.”
Each of them felt “home” settling around them, and in the distance, they heard, coming from the darkness when the sick woman’s husband and doctor identified themselves in a familiar voice, “Hello, the campfire.”
Rosalie Shelburne, a long way from a riverboat and the Black Carriage Saloon, in love with as fine a man as she had ever met, felt the rumblings inside her waistline. The rumblings were unmistakable.
195: A Final Relocation
It was July of 1936, sticky hot, perhaps ice cream someplace I hoped, but I was acutely aware that ice cream might not happen this day. The steel bars of Boston’s old Mystic Bridge in my hands were hard and warm, as the sun had hours of penetration and I had one hour to spare within my dramatic playground out over the Mystic River we called “The Oily” with observant regard for its rainbowed surface. Having slipped inside the girder work of a cage-like support angled at 45 degrees, my eyes went directly down on a boat about to pass under the bridge loaded with iron junk, old cold steel, surely lots of brass and copper from junk yards and junk wagons all over the city and local areas. Long lengths of copper and brass, gleaming in the mess, looked like sandwich parts between dark iron crusts.
The bridge sat between Boston’s Charlestown borough, proud as the Bunker Hill Monument, off across the borough and uphill from me, and Chelsea, a city as small in area as one can imagine, but lined with petrol tanks and ship piers, ships that traveled the high seas from countries around the globe … the coming-from and the going-to so different.
I wondered where this ship was going, why junk was the cargo, all that clap-trap debris of the deserted, from wayside conglomerations and ruins and cast-offs that old men in thick white whiskers and beards picked up in horse-drawn wagons and now and then a small red truck with high red sideboards, a step up from the horse vehicle, for delivery and sale at junkyards in the area.
The answers came later, in one fell swoop of destiny. There was a singular difference in the cargo of outgoing ships and the junk wagons; the ships only carried metal while the junk wagons also carried scrap paper and cardboard baled tight with rope or wire or old neckties whose patterns still showed off their styles, and bales of old rags in new patterns.
That July of 1936 saw me on vacation from Miss Finn’s first grade class at the Kent School, not far from Hobie’s Beanery, in a garage of all places, nor far from Abie’s Market on one strategic corner of the Loop-the-Loop, and the Bond Bread factory. All of them memorable for one or more reasons, and I still have the note Miss Finn sent home to my parents: “Please don’t move away until I have taught all the Sheehans.”
Miss Finn thought my sister Patricia and I were her bright stars; we were readers at this early age, taken in hand by a paternal grandmother and a paternal grandfather for the grasp of one of “the three Rs.” (We had no idea, my sister Pat and I, that we were bound for Marleah Graves’ second grade class at the Cliftondale School in Saugus, only a dozen miles away, and a host of new classmates bound to be SHS ’47.)
And yet here I was adventuring within the structure of a monster bridge, a structure that continually enticed me with solid come-ons. Once, a few months earlier, I had traversed over the river’s water as the bridge opened to let a ship pass under its span. That one-time terror became, for a free lancer kid, a constant challenge to do it again, to out-do my first fear, to be, as my father used to say, “One of the survivors of the times that flag about us.” I knew what he was referring to … always hungry for the thin meals that came from nowhere into my mother’s hands in our third level kitchen on Bunker Hill Avenue; some of those Depression-era meals so immemorial they are most memorable the longer I hold onto them. Let’s say about 87 years now, stretching on, keeping cover. An instance would be a Sunday meal purchased for a dollar after church: at Hobie’s Beanery a quart of baked beans and a loaf of brown bread and the balance spent in Abie’s Market, closed on Sunday but entered via the back door for all the lamb kidneys I could get from Abie. Abie favored us too, for my sister once told him, “You grow the best lamb kidneys of all, but they still stink up the house when they’re getting cooked.” He loved her honesty and winked his appreciation for me, and I couldn’t wait to tell my parents; good news was always in order.
If my father knew I was in that cage-like support, he’d whale the tar out of me; my mother would cast a stern look, shake her head, begin to cry at the possibilities. But … and a big imaginative BUT, my grandmother, likely on that same July day, put on her pert little black hat, grabbed her black shiny pocketbook and took the first bus that came by her corner of Highland Avenue and Trull Lane in Somerville, a few miles away, the tall, elegant lady of manners, most correct speech, possibly the softest hands I’ve ever known, and words that often said, “We are born to read.”
More than three-quarters of her life were spent binding books at Ginn & Company in Cambridge, with hundreds of rejects landing on our shelves from inside her shiny black pocketbook, those very books calling out, making demands, crying for attention to favored paragraphs beginning the longest lingering that bunches of words ever had. (The High Lama saying in Lost Horizon, “For when that day comes, the world must begin to look for a new life. And it is our hope that they may find it here. For here, we shall be with their books and their music, and a way of life based on one simple rule: Be Kind! When that day comes, it is our hope that the brotherly love of Shangri-La will spread throughout the world. Yes, my son; When the strong have devoured each other, the Christian ethic may at last be fulfilled and the meek shall inherit the earth.”)
She was, on that day or one just like it, bent on travel and transportation and relocation … of our family. “Find some grass and trees for the boy, friends for the girls, room to breathe, throw arms and yells into the sky, climb the hills, fish the ponds, let them be.” A hundred times I had heard her say to my father, “Let them be, James. Let them be,” That BE was stretched as far as she could send it. Too much too soon she had seen more than once; in our own doorway the drunk of early morning advertising his hard, harsh night, half alive, meaning half dead, sprawled in his helplessness, his loss, extravagance afoot gone prone, a disastrous sight for an elegant grandmother, bookbinder, dreamer, mover of families. There was a better place. Perhaps she had paused as I had on that same elocution of the High Lama, where each of us had seen Hugh Conway nod his head in universal agreement, in solitude’s assessment. Some grandmothers are like that; lucky us.
That grand day of decision, she went via Somerville/Everett Station/Malden Square to find a big silver Hart Lines bus that simply said “Saugus” on its destination sign. She found a third-floor apartment in Cliftondale Square beside Hanson’s Garage, near Joe Laura’s Barbershop and Louie Gordon’s Tailor Shop, and gave acute directions to my father … take them elsewhere. That’s how we were bound for Saugus, where the green grass grew, huge fields of it.
We had, of course, moved before … several moves ahead of unpaid landlords, in the midst of Prohibition and the Great Depression, and my father’s pay of $28.00 a month as a Marine. We weren’t taught frugality; we learned it first-hand.
Ahead of the moving van, he took me for my first ride to Saugus. We crossed “my bridge” on the way. Eventually we went along the river and a small fleet of lobster boats (I mentioned that I’d never had lobster and my father said, “Don’t worry anymore,” as he tousled my hair), cruised through the awed parts of town full of green grass in exorbitant spreads, lusty farms teeming with crops taller than me, rode the Turnpike that headed all the way to Newburyport. and beyond? I heard the hum of traffic in prolonged sprints rather than the in-town screeches of a daring rider performing a Loop-the-Loop, tire cries as high-pitched as police whistles.
Then we circled around until we had seen the three ice houses along the banks of Lily Pond and huge fish, which were carp, roiling in wide circles on the surface and kids jumping off a rocky place into the pond. A few older folks, on the far side, were almost in the darkness of trees as thick as parade crowds, swinging their fishing lines out over the pond where the leaning sun leaped westward back across the Turnpike. And one canoeist, motionless, most distant but ever since a part of this history, dazzled in the sun’s rays, such a far cry from the drunk in the doorway who startled and started my grandmother on her own crusade, her own trek here … a journey for family preservation.
I was locked into Saugus already, the images flying through me from the river and the pond and a small, decrepit building with high black letters on its gray side that almost squawked out “Shadowland.”
“It used to be a ballroom,” my father said, qualifying my curiosity. “Looks like it’s gone into the Nevernever land.”
But I could tell he was up to something, something special, something to fit, “Find some grass and trees for the boys.” It was the male connection. It would not be a place where he’d say to the girls, “This is where you’ll play with your dolls, or practice early make-up treats, wear dresses and gowns and high heels that are too many years bigger than you.”
We spun a quick left-hand turn and a broad field swept out in front of me, with uniform chalk lines at uniform distances, a gridiron. Then and still now, longer than I could run ahead of others, a baseball diamond in one corner backstopped by a huge tree looking surely able to trap foul balls in its thick spread.
In the air was a hush, minutes long, a declaration, a testament. He waited while the images came and went, then simply added, “This’ll be for your brother and you. The girls will find their own places. They always will.”
I didn’t know the names yet of coming heroes and teammates, but I knew right then, beforehand, what would be the robust images of Iron Mike Harrington, Eddie Shipwreck Shipulski, Bazooka Bob Burns, Heavenly Gates, and then Doug and Bruce Waybright (Notre Dame), Art Spinney (BC and the 1958 game with his Baltimore Colts beating the New York Giants), Frank Pyszko (with 5 interceptions in one game), Bob Kane, Ernie Anganis (teammate forever), John and Fred Quinlan (John the best of the lot of them), Soupy
Campbell (born to work and suffer and be admired), Gene Decareau, George Miles (Guts and Glory himself), Andy and Frank Forti, Sardie and Richie Nicolo, Cushy Harris, Saugus 14-Lynn Classical 12, Saugus 13-undefeated Melrose 0 (twice- 1941 & 1944), Saugus 21-undefeated Revere 0, the sharing, the warmth of friendship, hard working two-a-day practices starting in 1943 with Coach Dave Lucey), trekking off to Korea with four years’ worth of opponents, sharing the Main Supply Route in a single file walk with Lynn Classical’s Jimmy Varzakis as we swapped positions in the Iron Triangle of 1951 under the leadership of Young-Oak Kim, Korean-American, for whom I carried a 300 command radio as he directed the whole Iron Triangle attack. Once a highly decorated officer in WW II Europe in the Nisei 442nd Battalion, a lieutenant when I first saw him and a Lt. Colonel when we parted. That day of parting he stood at the tail end of a six-by truck of home-bound soldiers, deep in Korea, having earned “rotation status,” and asking, “Is Sgt. Sheehan aboard?” I wanted to duck. I wanted to get home. I wanted to write. I had things to say, and I thought he wanted to keep me for another tour.
All of this history is traceable to that elegant lady with a shiny black pocketbook, soft hands, a thirst for the good word of the language, who bound books for more than half a century, who dreamed of a place of green fields and thick trees, never knowing at the outset it was Saugus, where Indians once danced and prayed on Round Hill, where Captain Kidd might well have come up the river with his catch to bury, where young Scots were surely indentured at the First Iron Works in America, where a Yankee carpenter or builder did leave a talisman coin on a sill of my house built in 1742 and a worn high-button shoe of his daughter square-nailed to a beam above our kitchen window, another fetish, which my father called an “anting-anting” from his Philippine days in the Marine Corps.
The junk collectors never knew they were selling parts for Tokyo Tojo’s battleships, aircraft carriers, Zeros in quick flight. Neither did I. In other forms that load of junk hit me for years on end. Images, couplets, lines came and were gathered, remain yet like pieces of this wall of me … but a long time before things fell into place, when hearing my father’s advice; “Crow a little bit when you’re having good luck; Own up, pay up, and shut up when you’re losing. Fishing is the great solace in sports. It’s for the mind, not the hook. It’s the time when you measure wins and losses in the truest angle of all, a slant of unbearably beautiful Saugus sunlight through morning’s alder leaves, water’s whisper of confidence on rocks you think you can hear later in the night, the pointed miracle of a trout beating you at his game, letting you know the wins and losses do come and do pass by, even when you’re standing still.”
It’s like the game of golf or the game of pool … the green is highly coincident. And early in sports, at the edge of my first failure, marked by the touch of his hand on my shoulder: “You come into this life with two gifts, love and energy, and words and sports are going to take both of them for all you’ve got.” I think his heart remembered a loss, his knees their pain. When they took his leg off, the pain did not leave him.
But the reminders stick like old gum under theater seats on late Saturday evenings … I who lost a brother and nearly lost another remember the headlines, newsreels, songs of bond-selling, gas-griping, and movies too true to hate, the whole shooting match of them. The entire Earth bent inwards, imploding bombs, bullets, blood, shrieking a terrible bird cry in my ears only sleep could lose. Near sleep I could only remember the nifty bellbottom blues he wore in the picture my mother cleaned and cleaned and
cleaned on the altar of her bureau as if he were the Christ or the Buddha, a new tall, skinny statue finding a pedestal in my mind, but he was out there in the sun and the sand and the rain of shells and sounds I came to know years later moving up from Pusan, breaking out of the perimeter, bound north to the Yalu River. I never really knew about him in the globular way until he came home from the Navy, stepped off the train in Saugus Center and I saw his sea bag decorated with his wife’s picture drawn by his hand, and a map and the names Saipan, Iwo Jima, Kwajalein … the war.
The memories stand still at times, forced into place, hardening me, stiffening the joists I rest upon, bearing recall, the fast moment being retrieved, lost, found again, fireworks on the Fourth, a May Monday of silence at Riverside Cemetery, a friendly-forces face from Bethlehem or McKees Rocks or the Windy City knocking at my door several times near midnights, the lasting moments caught again in surprise, elegant, heroic, so sassy, talking back to me later on a Saturday afternoon as I drink a beer, as it comes again without prejudice, in this new millennium where I know again full well the weight of an M-1 rifle on a web strap hanging on my shoulder, the awed knowledge of a ponderous steel helmet atop my head, press of a tight lace on one boot, wrap of a leather watch band on my wrist, and who stood beside me who stand no more.
The old Mystic River Bridge is gone, replaced by new a new structure with photographic toll collection; so are some cities I have visited in khaki, those blasted to smithereens saving a million lives here, losing unknown thousands there, still know about Young-Oak Kim, now celebrated by the name of a school in California, talk now and then to Pete Leone in McKees Rocks and Frank Mitman in Bethlehem, both in PA, and Bob Breda in North Riverside, Illinois, and wonder about them, and know most of all those who have moved with eternal motivation … who stand beside me no more.
Like Stan Kujawski, star Chicago softball pitcher, the Mechanical Wrist, radioman from three wars, who wore down from his wars and rests now in Calumet City, Illinois … Rest, Ike, forever.
Nor stands that elegant lady with the huge, shiny black pocketbook, bookbinder, director of traffic, mover of families, steadfast reader, enforcer of the trade, who opened so many doors with her work, her sly gifts, her coverless books, those rejects for the poor lot of readers still carrying the hunger for word upon word, sound upon sound, hearts wrapped with consummate adjectives.
Nor do I see too many guys in sun tans anymore; you know, the old summer Class A uniforms they saved from their promised long weekend leaves, those killers, those formidable young warriors, those hot Omaha Beach swimmers with salt in their noses and into gun barrels and curing half the ills and evils they had ever known as if all were the sole balm from the living god, those St. Lo low flyers of updrafts of gray dawn, Bastogne’s Bullies, bridge-wreckers at Germany’s inevitable edge; friends who passed through my Seoul immemorial times leaving their footprints for my wayward boots to over-shadow, fill in, pass on to this destiny. Of course, they have popped the belt line button, split the crotch in hell’s anxieties, who let their quick waistlines go fallow with beer and dreams’ nutrients, those old warriors of Sundays past without other salves, or Saturday evening’s shelling or unconsumed bombs that threaten Wednesdays sixty years later; those slim-legged survivors who later wore them with their collegiate jackets, myriad sport coat ensembles, slick-cigarette’d, crew-cut topped, freshly shaven, but hinting of slight old world-in-the-face looks that could have toppled their young empires.
You know them, some even now, on a near corner, a block away, just over a mountain or the far side of a simple river, how they came back to play on the green fields as if they had never left the chalk-striped confines, showed the kids how the game used to be played, those Sun Tanners hitting behind the runners, bunters of the lost art when the whole world sat back on its heels that the big sound was now over, put their muscle on the line late in the game when the only thing left was heart and horror at losing, having seen too much for their time, but making do.
Remember them on baked diamonds of the quiet Earth, how there was an urgency to collapse time into a controllable fist, yet how free they were, breathing on their own, above salt water, the awful messages buried behind their brows for all time to come, unstitched wounds and scars amber in late evening’s breezes, like chevrons from their Elsewheres. The truest badges they wore were the sun tans carried home from Remagen and Mount Casino leaves, the march out of the Pusan Perimeter or off Old Baldy and Heartbreak Ridge, out of Yangu and the Frozen Chosen and the long marches along the MSRs, those slim, fit-all occasion trousers, press-worthy, neat, signally-marked with angst and annihilation and world freedom; those narrow-waist emblems of the Forties, the Fifties, neat with tie and shirt, wore cement on summer days of their labors, or roofing tar, some to class and some not, collapsing time again. I write this to celebrate the dual days, a Monday in May when a hush and a soft-shoed parade passes through the middle of town and the middle of memory, and a cooler day in November, a later observation, when old faces come leaping back from a distance, just wanting a moment to be known again.
The hawkers will sell their bright wares, wearing their municipal permits as badges, filling balloons, authorizing plastic toy gun purchases, leaving their remnant discards in cluttered gutters the early sweeper will gather, making money on the sad memorial, dreaming of next Flag Day and the Fourth of July. Popcorn will burst its tiny explosions, ice cream bars will melt, children will think they gambol in a ballpark. Then, then only apparent, I will see some old ball players, the Earth-savers, underground or remembering, chino-less and walking among the very memorable names; comrade, comrade, comrade or one’s teammate, teammate, teammate, illusions of the noisy past, clad in somber pin stripes or cedar, carrying grandchildren, bearing them up from under grass, evoking Monday of all Mondays, those swift ball hawks, those young Earth-dreamers, who survive in so many ways, that legion of names falling across Saugus and every town the way we remember them, a litany of summer evenings full of first names gone past but called for the First Sergeant’s roster: Basil P., Thomas A., Lawrence D., Edward M., Guy C., Hugh M., Arthur D., Edward D., James W., John K., Walter K., William M., Frank P., Howard B., names, settled, softly called, reverent even for this day, across our sun-drenched Stackpole Field and fields everywhere, bat on ball and the echo of a thousand games swung about the air as if time itself has been compressed into late innings, those swift ball hawks in pursuit of the inevitable; oh, young, in May, the whole Earth suddenly gone silent, but bound, bound, Oh bound to build memories, in May, in May, and then, in November, when all the leaves come back to earth.
I remember so many of them caught in the rags of war when the day had gone over hill, but that still, blue light remained, cut with a gray edge, catching corners rice paddies lean out of. In the serious blue brilliance of battle, they’d become comrades becoming friends, just Walko and Williamson and Sheehan sitting in the night drinking beer cooled by Imjin River waters in August of ‘51 in Korea. Three men drably clad, but clad in the rags of war. Stars hung pensive neon. Mountain-cool silences were being earned, hungers absolved, a ponderous god talked to. Above silences, the ponderous god’s weighty as clouds, elusive as soot on wind, yields promise. They used church keys to tap cans, lapped up silence rich as missing salt, fused their backbones to good earth in a ritual old as labor itself, these men clad in the rags of war. Such an August night gives itself away, tells tales, slays the rose in reeling carnage, murders sleep, sucks moisture out of Mother Earth, fires hardpan, sometimes does not die itself just before dawn, makes strangers in one’s selves, those who wear the rags of war. They had been strangers beside each other, caught in the crush of tracered night and starred flanks, accidents of men drinking beer cooled in the bloody waters where brothers roam forever, warriors come to that place by fantastic voyages, carried by generations of the persecuted or the adventurous, carried in sperm body, dropped in the spawning, fruiting womb of America, and born to wear the rags of war.
Walko, reincarnate of the Central European, come of land lovers and those who scatter grain seed, bones like logs, wrists strong as axle trees, fair and blue-eyed, prankster, ventriloquist who talked off mountainside, rumormonger for fun, heart of the hunter, hide of the herd, apt killer, born to wear the rags of war.
Williamson, faceless in the night, black set on black, only teeth like high piano keys, eyes that captured stars, fine nose got from Rome through rape or slave bed unknown generations back, was cornerback tough, graceful as ballet dancer (Walko’s opposite), hands that touched his rifle the way a woman’s touched, or a doll, or one’s fitful child caught in fever clutch, came sperm-tossed across the cold Atlantic, some elder Virginia- bound bound in chains, the Congo Kid come home, the Congo Kid, alas, alas, born to wear the rags of war.
Sheehan, reluctant at trigger-pull, dreamer, told deep lies with dramatic ease, entertainer who wore shining inward a sum of ghosts forever from the cairns had fled; heard myths and the promises in earth and words of songs he knew he never knew, carried scars vaguely known as his own, shared his self with saint and sinner, proved pregnable to body force, but born to wear the rags of war.
Walko: We lost the farm. Someone stole it. My father loved the fields, sweating. He watched grass grow by starlight, the moon slice at new leaves. The mill’s where he went for work, in the crucible, drawing on the green vapor, right in the heat of it, the miserable heat. My mother said he started dying the first day. It wasn’t the heat or green vapor did it, just going off to the mill, grassless, tight in. The system took him. He wanted to help. It took him, killed him a little each day, just smothered him. I kill easy. Memory does it. I was born for this, to wear these rags. The system gives, then takes away. I’ll never go piecemeal like my father. These rags are my last home.
Williamson: Know why I’m here’ I’m from North Ca’lina mountains, sixteen and big and wear size fifteen shoes and my town drafted me ‘stead of a white boy. Chaplain says he git me home. Shit! Be dead before then. Used to hunt home, had to eat what was fun runnin’ down. Brother shot my sister and a white boy in the woods. Caught them skinnin’ it up against a tree, run home and kissed Momma goodbye, give me his gun. Ten years, no word. Momma cries about both them all night. Can’t remember my brother’s face. Even my sister’s. Can feel his gun, though, right here in my hands, long and smooth and all honey touch. Squirrel’s left eye never too far away for that good old gun. Them white men back home know how good I am, and send me here, put these rags on me. Two wrongs! Send me too young and don’t send my gun with me. I’m goin’ to fix it all up, gettin’ home too. They don’t think I’m coming back, them white men. They be nervous when I get back, me and that good old gun my brother give me, and my rags of war.
Sheehan: Stories are my food. I live and lust on them. Spirits abound in the family, indelible eidolons; the O’Siodhachain and the O’Sheehaughn carved a myth. I wear their scars in my soul, know the music that ran over them in lifetimes, songs’ words, and strangers that are not strangers: Muse Devon abides with me, moves in the blood and bag of my heart, whispers tonight: Corimin is in my root cell, oh bright beauty of all that has come upon me, chariot of cheer, carriage of Cork where the graves are, where my visit found the root of the root cell—Johnny Igoe at ten running ahead of the famine that took brothers and sisters, lay father down; sick in the hold of ghostly ship I have seen from high rock on Cork’s coast, in the hold heard the myths and music he would spell all his life, remembering hunger and being alone and brothers and sisters and father gone and mother praying for him as he knelt beside her bed that hard morning when Ireland went away to the stern. I know that terror of hers last touching his face. Pendalcon’s grace comes on us all at the end.
Johnny Igoe came alone at ten and made his way across Columbia, got my mother who got me and told me when I was twelve that one day Columbia would need my hand and I must give. And tonight, I say, ‘Columbia, I am here with my hands and with my rags of war.’ I came home alone. They are my brothers. Walko’s my brother. Williamson’s my brother. Devon’s my brother. Corimin’s my brother. Pendalcon’s my brother. God, too, is my brother. I am a brother to all the dead; we all wear the rags of war.
Thunderous rain kills you, freezing snow fights its way through. Fragmentation waits no one.
Rain’s umbrella spread is odd June’s greatest havoc. You’re one zone distant like a sniper’s bullet beats a thirty ought-six at work, a narrowed focus. Do not know who’s gone dead. Find a medal’s pinned with first hole put on this man’s chest. You were so advised by veterans’ shaking shaggy eyes walking down the trail from mountain horror. Memory carries no foe’s face. Memory’s terror is like a wound, is permanent. It won’t let you sleep but it will wake you at one night’s movie with dead eyes and a comrade’s reaching hand.
Oh, I’ve gone elsewhere at war’s end, at comrade’s loss, as I did when trout fishing with Rommel’s last-known foe when the alders went bare above us, ran blue lightning jagged and ragged as scars on his arms, the proud chest, not a welt in the beginning but Swastika-made, bayonet-gathered somewhere south of France, high-dry Saharan. Leaves, forsaken, set false blasts about limbs; from small explosions came huge expulsions. Frank recalled the remarkable incumbent grace and energy of hand grenades, the godness of them, ethereal, whooshing off to nowhere unless you happened to get in their way, conclusively, incisively. He said, “The taste of shrapnel hangs on like a pewter key you mouthed as a sassy child, a wired can your father drank from which you’d sneak a few deep drafts for yourself in the cellar, nails you mouth-cached, silvered, lead-painted, wetted, iron-on-the-tongue gray-heavy metal you’ve only dreamed of since. Yet, where he’s come to since that eventful sand wasn’t all he knew. On our backs, the bare alder limbs mere antennae in the late afternoon above us, October’s flies grounded for illustrious moments, the squawking at our trespass merely a handful of crows in their magnificent tree kingdom, he brought home the last of his brothers, goggle-eyed veteran tankers, Tinker Tommies under the Union Jack, raw Senegalese old sentries still worry about, dry bodies seventy years under a mummifying sand, perhaps put away forever, and then some.
He thinks old Egypt has a whole new strain of sleepers all these years down the road of their own making, the wrap of sand as good as Tutankhamen had at hand, their khaki blouses coming up a detective’s work, with a special digger’s knowledge, at last citing army, corps, division, regiment, battalion, company, father, brother, son, neighbor, face, eye, lip, hand, soul, out there on the everlasting shift of sand, the stars still falling, angular, apogean, trailing across somewhere a dark night. Here, our worms, second place to uniqueness of fashioned flies, keen hackles, are ready for small orbits, small curves, huge mouths. And his last battle, faded into the high limbs, a flag run up after all this recaptured war, says he knows yet and ever Egypt’s two dark eyes. Frankie’s plaque is flat in cemetery’s clipped green, a soldier still who knows a volunteer cuts the grass for his comrades ranked in rows
196: A Shadowed Amulet
Garcy Pewter, owner of the small Box B spread, squeezed himself into a ball, pulled his legs up as tight as he could, and held his breath. He could smell the moisture on his body. If the Indians with their keen sense of smell found him, he didn’t know how long he’d last. “They have ways,” he kept hearing from all the old timers of the area, and they always raised their eyebrows when they made that statement. He was on a ledge under an overhang in the canyon. His horse was dead on the floor of the canyon after the fall, ready to feed whatever animals fed on dead horsemeat. The bullet had missed him by inches, but the horse was not so lucky. When the old gray went down, Pewter was hanging on to the reins, and was able to swing inward and land on the ledge. The horse kept going. Pewter never heard him hit the bottom.
He had other things on his mind, which tried to wrap around the whole scene, measuring as he always did. When he shook his head at the implausibility of his situation, he said, “I don’t know where you are, Lord, but I hope you’re near and listening to me.”
In the first place, he remembered, there had been his foray into the hills above Noshegan, a small town in southern Idaho. It was stupid to go alone, he was admitting, for the renegades were all around, stealing, kidnapping, and causing misery. But he was too damned rambunctious to sit still and wait for justice … and justice is what his soul clamored for.
He had been plain mad for a week. His best horses were taken in the raid on the Box B, the two swaybacks and the mules left behind, as if to say they couldn’t be bothered with trash animals. On the ledge, fearful of capture, he was still mad, even as he heard them passing overhead, talking in a language he didn’t understand. Not a word of it. Except a kind of wild threat seemed to be cast about. His interpretation made him reach to see if his side arms were still in their holsters. Moving his hands as slowly as possible, he reached to see if he was armed. The sigh of relief almost escaped from him in a rush as he found the Colts still in place. It was a miracle. “Yes,” he said, “a miracle of good leather-making.”
The morning came back to him in vivid as a painting; he cresting the hill above the ranch house and seeing the raid in progress, the corral gate lowered and two Indians were driving the horses out of the corral. Another brave made sure the swaybacks and the mules stayed where they were. From where Pewter was, a hundred yards away, he began firing at them. They fled with his horses.
His two ranch hands, he figured, had been drawn off on a ruse so they would not deter the horses being stolen. He guessed his help to be up the canyon a ways and would be rushing back at the sound of the gunfire. They did not come back to check on the ranch or the stock, or him. That bothered him. He’d have to check, hoping they were holed up someplace, still in one piece. He closed the gate at the corral and the door to the barn. Two of his large pigs were loose at the back of the barn and he brought them back to the pen with a heavy share of grain mix.
Anger could well be tempered by hard work, expending energy, he told himself, but that argument was raising other arguments
With anxiety building inside him, he went looking for his ranch hands in the north pastures. They were good old boys who had been with him for a few years, the pair of them good with guns, courage and each one carried a good deal of horse sense. Yet he suspected they had been drawn to the north quarter by a bogus raid.
Nothing was moving in the broad sweep of his view: no cows, no horses, and no cowboys. His nerves belted him with a new onslaught. He hungered for fairness, for chance, for the yield of long hard hours of work, for the safety of his two ranch hands.
Pewter knew he was continually caught up in arguments within himself. Life was rife with such dictates: good horse or bad horse, good gun or bad gun, good worker or bad worker, good Indian or bad Indian, good idea or bad idea, good feeling or bad feeling. Life came with choice, options, chance. He wondered, had he misplaced something along the way?
“Lord,” he muttered, almost so he wouldn’t hear his own voice, “I hope you keep me and the boys company.”
Even as he spoke, the quandary seemed to follow him, ride in the same saddle with him, and hang on him sure as leather.
Overhead the sun moved in a slow arc from its morning introduction, heading to the Rockies in the far west. A wide-winged hawk rode a thermal in a bright scrap of sky and a coyote called for attention in one of the ravines. In the air he caught an unknown aroma and thought of the adventures that came to a man in newness, in something as minimal as an odor on the air. In a perfect world he could enjoy all that bloomed around him … sound, beauty, essence of some order he vaguely understood as belonging to a man who cared.
That reverie shook him awake.
If his boys were not visible, “not dead” he said half aloud, they had to be hidden somewhere along the cliff line. He fired a shot and called their names, cupping his mouth as he called out. Holding the reins in place, to still his mount, he listened for any reply. All remained quiet, the silent hawk, the coyote for the while, his ranch hands wherever he hoped they had hidden from the raiding Indians that had run off his horses, the good ones.
He called again, fired another shot. Heard nothing.
In a few moments tracks showed in the grass when he crossed them, leading to the steep climb to the tree level. Then faces of his ranch hands, Smithburg and Stallings, lit the back of him mind with smiles. He said another prayer, for he had heard nothing in response to his signals, his cries. As he crowned a lip of a sudden wadi he saw two horses dead on the slight downhill slope. He saw no ranch hands. No bodies. No signs of a struggle except for the dead horses.
Then, from a distance, from higher than his level, came a slight flash, a reflection off the edge of the tree line. He froze in his seat. If it was an Indian with a rifle he might be aiming at him now, but he had to assume one Indian would not fire at him, not give away his hiding place; the trade- off was not good enough.
On the other hand, if it was one of his boys, it could be a signal that there was someone in the way of rescue. He thought over carefully the new set of options, enemy or friend making a signal; an Indian inadvertently causing a reflection, one of his ranch hands sending a warning that he should not ignore for one moment. Life was full of options, choices, opportunities, and the endless quandaries.
The flash came again. Then again. Moving a few paces he found it stopped. He went back to where he was, and the signal came again. He had to be in the line of sight of the sender who had to be in the edges of the tree line. So, he guessed, an enemy had to be hidden between the two points.
Pewter slipped out of the saddle, hobbled his horse to a clump of bush, rubbed his neck to gentle him, and crawled forward. He went past the dead horses, saw the blood flow on the grass, and saw tracks heading to the woods. He circled to his right, keeping an eye on the ground between him and the point where the signal had been sent.
No movement caught his eye, but he saw an Indian brave behind a stump, still, as if he was protecting himself from gunfire from up the hill. Pewter, putting his rifle sight on the back of the brave, wanting to squeeze off a round, found himself locked into another situation … the brave did not seem to move at all, as if he was dead already. He eased off the trigger and watched. The Indian did not move, not a muscle. Pewter studied him, wondered how old he was, did he have a wife, or children. How many scalps were hung on his teepee pole? Why didn’t he move? Could other than a dead man stay so still?
Pewter aimed at the stump, at the demand of something inside him. He squeezed the trigger, and fired the round. The slug hit the stump and the Indian did not move. He must be dead, Pewter thought. He rose slowly and walked toward the Indian leaning against the stump. The brave was dead, his mouth open wide, his eyes closed as if in prayer. He looked to be in his mid-thirties, had large hands, good-sized arms, a thick mass of black hair, paint on his face, and blood on his chest. An amulet of some sort he wore around his neck. It was not made of teeth. Pewter had no idea what it was, but he took the amulet as a souvenir or a sign of conquest. Some good horses he had lost this day. He was not sure about his men. One of his men must have killed the brave. He put the amulet around his own neck.
A voice called from uphill. “Hey, Boss, I been hit. Stallings, too. He might be dead or real bad off, Boss. He’s in another hole near me, but I can’t get to him. I’m glad you saw the reflections. That bozo down there has had us pinned down for a few hours. Did you get him with that one shot?”
Pewter replied, “I think you got him, Smitty. He was dead already. I’m coming up.”
They brought Stallings home across the saddle behind Smithburg. Pewter walked the whole way, leading the horse.
At the Box B, Smitty’s wounds tended, Pewter asked, “How many were up there with you?” “Just the one. I didn’t see any others.”
Pewter said, “I saw only two down here, so it was a small party using their numbers best they could. They got my best horses. I’m going after them.”
“I wish I could go with you, Boss, but I’d only drag on you.”
“You just keep a keen eye out here at the ranch. I’ll be back tomorrow, or the next day. If I don’t get back, you got yourself a new ranch. I’ll sign a paper to that effect. If I don’t do something now, they’ll only come back again, us being a soft touch for them.” His voice changed. “It ain’t gonna be that way.”
He rode off on the one good horse left on his ranch.
Which was now dead more than 100 feet below him.
Pewter was fit to be tied, but mostly mad at himself for being so exposed, being a soft touch for a small group of Indians. He suspected they were a minor renegade party, but had a smart leader.
He moved his arms and legs, arched his back, wanted to make sure he was able to do something to protect himself, try to get his horses back. A man without horses was lost out here. In the back end of a canyon he finally had seen them, and his horses. Three braves were sharing food, while a fourth one kept the horses tightly in against the canyon wall, holding them in a make-shift corral of brambles, brush and a few branches.
From the top of the trail he had spotted them as he moved warily along an old pathway. None of them, he thought, had seen him, but the round had come from somewhere else, from another brave on lookout, perhaps, or a new arrival.
But his last horse was gone. And he was lucky. He cursed the anger that had driven him to come this far alone.
Pewter got to his feet, shaking and shivering in his bones, afraid of falling off the edge. He had to get to a point of maneuvering, get an edge back that was lost for a couple of days. Along the wall the ledge was wide enough to shuffle as long as he held on with a tight grip. How long before they spotted him he had no idea, but it wouldn’t be long. For thirty or so feet he moved on the ledge until he saw a cleft he could slide into.
He slipped inside the crevice. It widened, had more room overhead, allowed him to stand fully upright and promised even a bigger opening further on. It was a cave he had entered. No growls came, or hisses, no animal sounded out its possession of the cave. It was dark but Pewter felt around him the tumble of stones and boulders. With lots of effort, he blocked the way behind him with good-sized rocks; there was no way he could let himself be captured. If an exit came up ahead of him, a getaway loomed possible. His guns were at his side; all he needed was one horse to get home. Yeh, one horse loose on the mountain. Chance, choice, opportunity might not come along so often. The questions and the doubts came from every direction.
In some manner his anger began to slip away from him. He thought the anger must be dissipated by the adventure ahead of him. The grasp for continued life.
So, he thought.
At the end of the cave, as it narrowed down to a small opening allowing him to slip through, Pewter felt a cool freshet of air circulated around him. Outside the cave he saw, below him, a small valley covered with green grass, a small waterfall about a hundred yards away, three Indians sitting by fire, and a bunch of horses tied to a loose line. He wondered if any of them were his.
Well, he thought, I’ve come this far. Might as well find out. He looked around him for a way down. The one certain belief he had was that he had to get onto a horse. He was lost without a horse. He wished he had his rifle, but that was with his horse at the bottom of the canyon behind him.
Off to the left was a jagged line against the cliff face, and it angled down to the floor of the valley. Most likely an old trail he surmised. “Downward, and onward,” he said to himself, and made his way as soundless as he could, moving very slowly, often immobile. He kept his eyes on the Indians who stared into the fire. Around a tall stone pillar he went, out of sight of the Indians, and came onto ground level after a slow and clumsy descent. A horse snickered. Guttural speech of one brave came to his ears. Meat of some kind was cooking, and the aroma was delicious.
A horse snickered again. A pebble fell onto a stone, the faint sound alarming. He meant to turn, but his arms were suddenly pinned by arms stronger than his own. He smelled the breath of the Indian who embraced him from behind and who was hooting and hollering as loud as possible. The braves at the fire sprang to help horse collar him further. They tied him tightly and dragged him to the fire, laughing all the way, their faces painted, their movements menacing, their cries nothing but jubilation.
He swore he blacked out. It might have been from the surprise, the rough handling, the leather binds tight all over his body, breathing at times as hard as if a horse kicked him. When he was fully conscious, Garcy Pewter found himself tied between two rugged saplings, with his arms extended and parallel to the ground. Dryness scoured his throat.
The noise at the campfire was on-going, with a great dash of vengeance in it. He agreed that that determination was a liberal choice of his own … many Indians were due for justice, but this particular group probably didn’t qualify. He had one dead ranch hand and some missing horses to find, scores to settle.
Once in a while one of the braves would walk past him and jab him with a stick or throw water at his feet but never in his face. For the first time Pewter realized Indians laughed like some of his pals in a saloon on Saturday night. His captives laughed continually, one of them pointing out and obviously counting the horses in the make-shift corral. An education was coming at him and he took it all in.
One of them laughed and threw more water on his boots when Pewter said, “Do you believe in the same God I do?” Laughter and understanding did not seem to go together. “Why do you throw water at my feet and not at my mouth?” There was more laughter and he was sure none of them understand his words.
He passed out a couple of times. Each time he came to he could feel pains all over his body, not sure how they had been delivered to him.
This last time he remembered they started using sticks on him, slashing and beating him and poking him where it really hurt. He could only cry out. It went on for hours at a time, then they’d eat and work on the horses and gather firewood and one or another would come back from hunting with a rabbit or a bird. No big game. They cooked, ate, laughed, and then began hurting him again
None of the food was offered to him. The beatings did not stop. The laughter did not stop, and the wild language they used.
Pewter called on his God as often as he could, as loud as he could. One of the Indians jabbed him with his stick and tore his shirt. He laughed at that and was about to jab him again when he screamed out and fell to his knees. Pewter remembered that moment ever afterward. Chance. Choice. Opportunity. God at hand.
The other braves rushed from the campfire and the Indian torturing Pewter yammered again and pointed at Pewter. He was almost hysterical.
The others stared with open-mouths at the amulet hanging on Pewter’s neck. One of them seemed to be hypnotized and stayed on his knees for a long while. When he rose he went to the small corral and broke down a part of the barrier, tossing limbs and brush aside. The horses drifted out through the break, a few at first, and then all of them after he hollered loudly and waved them out. In a smooth move, attesting to horse experience, the Indian roped one horse and brought it to the campfire.
All the Indians fell to their knees, talking and yacking and yammering one atop the other, and then all together, as if in a chorus, they chanted one word in their language. It sounded like ‘Wakatanka’ to Pewter who did not understand the word.
And they kept looking up at the sky.
But everything had changed. God, who was around, had answered.
An ax swung in the air, cutting the leather binds on one tree, and then it bit into the other tree. Pewter’s arms fell like rocks. Two of the braves caught him as he fell and brought him to the campfire, looking overhead all the time. Water was given to him from a gourd, a little at a time, and then he was given some cooked meat that he ate ravenously. More jabbering went on between the Indians and one by one, in sudden silence, each of the braves touched the amulet still sitting on Pewter’s chest.
The horse brought to the campfire was one of Pewter’s mares, a rugged gray, and one brave hung a gourd on Pewter’s shoulder and three of them hoisted him up on the horse. The braves stared into the sky as they put him up on the horse. They all stood back as one young brave pointed the way out, where the horses, a dozen of them, were drifting off.
Bareback, clutching the horse’s mane, Pewter nudged the horse forward. The big gray, with a known weight on its back, caught up with the freed horses. Pewter yelled them on and waved his arms and all the horses went into a quick trot and headed to the pass that lead to the great prairie beyond.
Pewter did not look back, glad to be out of there, to be on the move, to be on a horse, to have his horses back. He kept thinking of the sudden change in the Indians, realizing the amulet he had taken from the dead Indian had some kind of power over them, or which they held in some kind of reverence. None of the other Indians wore such an amulet, he had checked that out as they had set him up on the gray.
Why had that one Indian, driving Smitty and Stallings to cover, killing Stallings, getting killed by either one of them, been alone at his end of the raid? Pewter figured he had been alone, as he had seen only the four others in the camp, including the one that had caught him coming down the trail. He also assumed the Indians believed he had killed the brave who wore the amulet he now on his own chest.
He touched his hand to it and felt nothing. When he looked down at it extended onto his hand by its leather string, he noted it was not a tooth, not a piece of bone or a piece of wood, but a piece of odd stone in a strange shape. He saw or smelled nothing from the piece of stone.
But something touched him.
The first actual thought that came at him was the many stories of stray stars or pieces of stone that had come out of night skies bound for Earth. Mountain men and trappers and night riders of cattle herds and late customers in saloons had often spoken of streaks of fire falling from the skies to any place beyond them, in the mountain or out on the wide grass. Few of those who saw such sights had time to chase down the places where the objects had hit and burrowed into the land. Now and then, some Indian must have followed the arrow of fire hitting the earth, perhaps quite near him.
He wondered about the piece of stone, an odd stone he agreed, that he now wore hanging on his neck. When he got settled down again, he’d go looking for plausible answers. His rescue deserved some explanation, but he didn’t know where to start.
In a day’s work he managed to get the horses back to his spread and into a corral. Smitty was up and about, and had taken care of Stallings and his burial. He said, on greeting him, “Boss, I thought I had seen the last of you and might be a new ranch owner, but no such luck.”
They both had a hearty laugh over it, and laughed again over dinner after all their work was done for the day.
After Pewter had told the whole story of his time in the secret valley, Smitty said, “Boss, I heard once way back, from that old buck Indian who camps way out on Luke Jurgen’s spread, that something fell out of the sky one night when he was a tyke. He said the moon was bright and then went behind a cloud and things got scary, and it was like a falling star coming across the whole world, silent but red as fire. Damned thing, whatever it was, suddenly came down, and went right through the hands of an old sachem who was asking for a sign from the gods. The old sachem, without a cry of pain, stood and said one word, ‘Wakatanka.’“
Smitty finished his tale. “That was the end of his story. I never heard the word again from him, or the old buck would never tell me again. Spooky stuff if you ask me. Wakatanka.”
Pewter, something suddenly clicking in his mind, jumped at the word from Smitty’s mouth. “That’s what the Indians said up there in that valley, ‘Wakatanka.’ I’m sure of it. Sure as hell.”
“That’s a strange testament to heaven,” Smitty said. “We better go see that old buck one day soon.”
With such knowledge at hand, Pewter could not delay his visit to the old Indian. In the morning he and Smitty were on their way to Luke Jurgen’s spread. It was up-range about a dozen miles. They arrived after an easy ride and Smitty pointed out an old shack up against a sharp-rising cliff.
“That’s where he lives, Boss. His name is Slow Dog and Luke lets him stay here. Says his whole tribe is almost gone from the area now. Only a few of them around. He’s a Cherokee. Once he was the shaman for them.” He helloed the shack and the old Indian came out.
Slow Dog was about 85 years old, blind in one eye, few teeth left, but carried himself with a confident grace. The smile across his face was authentic, and he held out both of his hands, one for Smitty and one for Pewter, and he pointed at a sitting log in front of the shack. An Indian woman, much younger, carried out a pipe and gave it to the old one, and set down a board with three mugs on it.
They sat on the log and sipped a rare kind of tea. The wind was mute. The sun was almost straight overhead. Peace was spread far and wide by silence.
Pewter remembered the other Indians and how they stared at the sky. Something else clicked in his mind and he reached inside his shirt and pulled out the stone amulet. He held it up for Slow Dog to see.
With one hand held like a visor over his good eye, Slow Dog looked overhead, seeing where the sun was. Tremors shook him visibly and he said, “You must go quick before the sun gets long and throws your shadow on me. Do not throw your shadow on me. I am too old and only have a few days to feel the wind and to stick my hands in the earth. Do not throw your shadow on me.” He was pointing at Pewter. “Wakatanka watches. Wakatanka listens. Wakatanka waits for his shadow to catch up to him. Do not throw your shadow on me. I have seen the stone from the skies that calls for men in the shadows.
Pewter, understanding all that had happened to him, around him, knew that God, by whatever name he was called, had made an appearance. And Slow Dog, the last shaman of the Cherokee, knew what would bring him down from the skies and make new demands in the shadows.
197: Murder, Wherever, Whenever, is Murder
Regularly I’m a Saugus cop, but get what extra work I can. None of it was ever like this one day’s work, back in 1952, more than half a century ago. It was a special detail at the reconstruction site of America’s first iron works in my hometown of Saugus, Massachusetts. I was sharp as a tack then, kept my eye and ears open, loved new causes, new cases.
At one moment I had my eye on 72-year old Napol Desmer, an earth surgeon with one glass eye and one wooden leg, but a steady machine with a shovel in his hands. I swore I could sense some curiosity and sudden coldness when his long-handled shovel painstakingly pried up a buried object.
I saw, as quickly as he did, that it was disinterment! White of bone came up at him, right from the grave. It was a human skull, opened at a wedge in the frontal lobe, and he and I knew it most likely had been murder. The skull, and apparently some of its bones holding on to the last known form, lay at the end of his half day’s work, a trench at the First iron Works, a mere dozen miles from Boston’s Freedom Trail. The site was being excavated for and from history. It was September of 1952. Excavation had been under way since 1948, on a small scale, but steadily. Not a single piece of diesel-driven power equipment had been allowed in there as yet. It was a pick and shovel site, a whiskbroom site, toothpick and cotton swab country.
Now it was a graveyard and I was a new guard on duty, with old crime on my rounds.
Napol, for all his years, for all his toted calamities, felt nauseous.
Three people of varying importance were at the Iron Works site when the grisly discovery was made: Napol Desmer, the seventy-two year old, one-eyed, one-legged earth surgeon; Dr. Roland Wells Robbins, site archeologist who had found Thoreau’s cabin ruins at Walden Pond a few years earlier, now in charge of unearthing the site of our first iron works which brought to America all the experience Europe could muster back in the 1600’s; and me, Harris Jenkins, police officer of the town, on the force only a matter of six years after my service in the Marine Corps in the once-noisy Pacific.
On that high-blue September day, clouds lain over elsewhere, faint breath of salt coming off the river, at eleven o’clock in the morning, Napol Desmer droppe his shovel. It was a half-hour to lunchtime and he never stopped work, he never cursed his place in life, he never gave cause to any boss. Here, at the Iron Works, at $2.35 an hour and the best wage he had ever gotten, where he thought he could shovel until he was eighty, he put his work aside.
He looked out over the First Iron Works in America, on the banks of the Saugus River above Boston. The site, a conglomeration of excavations, mounds, slag piles, marked stone walls had been retrieved from history, a half-dozen trenches cutting across a small chunl of Saugus crooked as lightning, ragged as crossword puzzles, and piles of artifacts yet to be cataloged and put away.
Napol walked up the site with the marked limp he had carried with him for more than half a century. The broad band of a suspender hooked over one shoulder and slipped into his belt line where, down inside his pants, it connected to the crude wooden leg he had worn for so long. In reality, this one was his third, and no lighter than the first. Around the site he looked for Rollie Robbins, boss man, a little prissy Napol had often thought, but more knowledgeable than any man in town on this kind of an excavation. Often enough he’d seen the light go on in Rollie’s eyes when a new discovery was made, when a ditch gave up clues or artifacts, when the 17th Century struggled up out of a pile of dirt or the bottom of a hole like a woodchuck checking the lay of the land.
Now, Napol had found this new discovery. With effort he tried to reach back into history the way Rollie did. Long had he marveled at how much Rollie could pull out of a small find, the way a rock sat on its neighbor or what it was made of or how the demarcation in a trench of the natural soil line could tell time as good as a calendar.
Napol used his head to signal Rollie, as if giving signals to his dog, and nodded to his current digging spot.
Roland Wells Robbins, dark-haired, round faced, handsome in his ruddy outdoors way, just now beginning to widen at the belt line a bit, tipped dark-rimmed glasses off his face and looked at Avoleon. From long standing he admired the old man, who kept his shovel moving more industriously than any two of the other laborers. Napol was also a good luck talisman for Rollie, his charm piece. He remembered the day he had hired the old man, who began methodically shoveling his way through three hundred years of fill. His single eye was a marvelously good organ. A cannon ball popped off his shovel that first day; a half dozen clay pipe remnants (with one bowl intact) turned up an hour later, on the second day the crusted remains of a matchlock pistol were held in the air just as the crew broke for lunch. For that one moment Rollie the archeologist had palmed devilish antiquity.
“What is it, Napol?” Sweat was a dark stain on Napol’s shirt under the one-strap suspender. An off-yellow color it was, almost like an old tobacco stain, and made Rollie think of his grandfather for the first time in many years.
“Where I’m digging, boss. Down where you sent me yesterday to trench out. There’s a skeleton.” The old man’s one eye had remoteness in it. “It’s in the fill. It’s in some clay. I don’t think I hit it with my shovel, but the front of the skull has been crushed. I didn’t tell any of the others. It must have been a nasty death.”
A story wagged deep behind his one eye, his brow leaning over it darkly.
Rollie looked at his watch, smiled at Napol. “Thanks, Napol. Tell the others they can go for lunch. I’ll check it out myself.” Down the slope Rollie’s gait was deliberate, drawing no eyes.
Down into the trench Napol had cut he eased himself. Neatness came at him immediately; the floor of the trench was level; the five-foot sides were cut down as if they had been carved or sculpted out of the sand and gravel and blue-gray hardpan. The pile thrown out humped a long mound stretching away from the trench. The neat trench itself was about eighteen feet long. Beneath him he saw the bones of the skeleton Napol had unearthed. The skull indeed was crushed in at the forehead. Arm bones and torso bones had been exposed. A quick little chill spun on Rollie’s skin and danced off someplace. Never before in any of his digs had he seen this. There’d been pots and pans and rocks and stones and clay pipes and glass bottles of every sort and pieces of wood with enough left of their grain that stories could still be extracted from them. But never the hard remains of a human being; just the subtle remains, the storied remains, never the boned and final remains.
The other workers thought it odd that Rollie and Napol during lunch had quickly set up a canvas tent over the trench. They hadn’t seen a tent on-site in almost a year. It was, obviously, now out of bounds for them.
The third party on the scene, a daily visitor to the site, was Officer Harris Jenkins of the Saugus Police Department. For a couple of years, he had watched as Rollie Robbins pieced together so much of the original site from piles of rock and slag heaps and baskets full of artifacts, and now wondered what a tent signified. Curious, he made his way down to the tent, stepping over trenches with his long legs, jumping over small piles of slag or rocks, avoiding larger holes and pits. Rollie and he had become, if not friends, at least daily conversationalists on the topic of excavation. Each loved the way details and mysteries worked on them and each found in the other a sense of mirror. The particulars of each calling worked resolutely.
Harris Jenkins slipped aside the canvas door flap of the tent and stepped inside. Rollie looked up at him from the bottom of the trench, a nonplused look on his face as if a policeman was absolutely the last person he wanted on site. With some effort Rollie climbed the ladder out of the trench. Touching the blue sleeve of Harris’ shirt, a pained look, as if he had been surprised at the cookie jar or caught peeking in the girl’s bathroom, flooded his face. In the hanging light of a Coleman lamp buzzing its ignition as noisy as bees his face reddened deeply.
“Harris, we just can’t let too many people in on this until we found out what it’s all about!” His eyes affected beseeching. “They’ll trample the hell out of the place. It’d take us months to recover. We can’t let strangers in here.”
“Find out what’s what all about?” Harris said, and then, swiftly directed, he looked along the length of Rollie’s arm pointing at the skull in the bottom of the trench, its forehead obviously crushed at a point of history.
Six years on the force and this was Si Jenkins’s first skull and, moreover, his first skeleton. Bodies he’d seen, that’s for sure, in the islands on the turnpike at crash scenes, laid out on the median strips more times than he cared to remember. This, though, was a new mystery to him; an unknown, a victim how long in the historic grave no one knew or might never know. Something told him that Rollie had made assessments, that one or more leads had already surfaced, that this gruesome crime would be solved. It was second nature to the archeologist. This could be most interesting, a bizarre and intriguing find at the archeological site, more than history unfurling itself.
Jenkins spoke again. “It’s my town, Rollie, and it’s murder clear as a bell, and I’ve got to report it. You know that. No matter how old it is.” The former Marine, the military man, early in this new episode, could see lines being crossed, basic command structure being aborted.
Rollie had seen the quizzical light in Harris’ eyes before. Again, he touched him on the arm. This time it was as if he were drawing the young policeman into a strictest confidence; the secret of King Tut’s tomb, a hidden room beneath the Sphinx, a new Rosetta Stone unearthed in old Yankee Saugus. Consciously he decided not to tell Harris of the other waiting discovery; there were stars to be earned! Treach had paved the way.
Rollie stood beside the trench looking down at the skeleton, down where history was always telling him stories. A storyteller might have been reciting the sad and gruesome tale to him, a tale of love turned sour, of madness, a tale of clandestine deeds performed or perpetrated under cover of darkness. In the air he could feel hatred, and despair.
A man, he thought, a seaman perhaps, had come home from the high angry seas only to find more trouble at the hearth. His mind kept telling him it had a will of its own, despite the training, the years of experience. Mystery, he knew, did it. But, he thought with some eagerness, he lived on mysteries.
Robby still held Harris by the arm, working on the mystery, the love of details in the policeman which made his own life go ‘round. “I’m going to get Professor Hartley out here from Harvard. Loves this place he does and he’ll love this challenge. I can see him marshaling the forces at Harvard, getting his cronies in the labs to do us a few favors. His forensic friends will have a small busman’s holiday on this, their own little murder to play with. They’ll love it, the boys of the old school, in a deep, dark secret, rolling up their pant legs and getting down and dirty. They’ll give us the answer to every question we can come up with, you and I. Then, with it all laid out, you can go to the chief or the State or whoever else and lay a clean solved case right on the blotter.” There was affirmation in his eyes, in his voice.
He squeezed Harris’ arm. They were standing there on the edge of history. It could have been The Valley of Kings under their feet, or Chitzen-itsa or a Ming Dynasty tomb somewhere in China. Again, he squeezed Harris’ arm, brothers of the mystery.
Early Sunday morning two station wagons rolled into the parking area of the Iron Works. Rollie and Harris met Professor D’Jana K. Hartley, tall, effectively studious-looking in his tweed leathered elbows, but not in a boring way, and his cohorts from the ivy halls; two more archeologists, a forensic expert and his young sidekick with blond hair and extremely bright eyes, a professor of Humanities who looked to be the most intelligent of all, a man who carried from the trunk of one car a canvas bag of assorted gear, and a young good looking woman wearing denim, boots and a yellow blouse fitting her so well that most others would not believe she was from Harvard. None of the site diggers, that’s for sure, noting how compelling yellow was.
Napol Desmer watched them approach. Leaning on his shovel near the tent, he was still on the clock, still at $2.35 an hour, and no one, not one soul, had entered the tent since he’d received his orders from Rollie. Perhaps the victim was as old as he was, perhaps a person he had known in his youth. His mind went skipping back through the years for a noted loss. Nothing came to mind. Napol watched the Harvards at work and admired the deftness of their hands with the small trowels and brushes they employed, yet was certain the soft leather boots they wore must have cost a week’s pay. He tried to hear the whispers and small asides that connected them, made them such outlanders down in the hole he had cut into the earth.
Professor D’Jana Hartley’s people were crack specialists. Quietly they went their turn back into the minor history of the skeleton in the trench of the Iron Works. Small talk amongst them, as much whisper as anything could be, as if covering a trail of a known confidant, had scanned a series of possibilities: an indentured servant, probably a Scot, a slag toter or bog digger or barrow pusher, who had fallen astray, perhaps with another slave’s woman or the Iron Master’s wife, and they tittered at a remark about a new ax of Cane manufactured on the very spot and which had done the improbable deed; a late visitor to the site, pocketbook or pouch laden with crown coin or Spanish gold pieces, fallen under the swing of a metal bar, come slowly as an ingot of first life out of the very furnace whose ruins lay at their backs, in the hands of another indentured servant waiting to buy his way out of contract.
Now and then a giggle caught itself on the tall air. Napol, intently watching every move, hearing every sound, thought of his grandchildren at the cookie jar and smiled at the likeness of things. He’d work till ninety if they let him, and if the other leg would hold its own, here in this affable cradle of history. On the way home, he’d buy a box of cookies for the cookie jar; it was a fair swap.
The dig, though, was a Chinese checkerboard of ups and downs, holes and trenches and piles and mounds of earth, almost a battle zone of sorts. The slag pile looked like it might have oozed out of the place where Rollie had said the furnace originally was. It was twenty feet high or thereabouts and ran towards the river for ninety or more feet. When the sun caught a slick side of slag, like a shiny piece of coal with an enamel surface, one would think of a semaphore signal leaping from darkness. The land sloped away from the Iron Master’s House on the high point to where the salt water reached at high tide, a good two miles and a half up the Saugus River from the Atlantic Ocean, itself a trove of history. Legend had it that a pirate captain, Treach or Langton perhaps, had brought his ship a good way up the river and then landed a long boat further up, a boat which had carried much of his plunder to be buried in Dungeon Rock, now a huge hole 135 feet down in solid rock and bare miles away in the Lynn Woods Reservation.
The young policeman, at the same time, was not standing still. A minor conviction had told him that the skeleton was not too old; at least, not of Colonial age. This conviction he accepted as coming from intelligence and a feel for things that he had cultivated while on the job and while in the military. Immediately he had gone to a retired postman, a neighbor of his for years, who was a veritable historian of the town, gossip or rumor or fact. Harris had found out that the stagecoach road from Boston to Newburyport had, at one time, run right past the backside of the Iron Works.
That, too, was on what was now Central Street. That Central Street, still clear in Harris’ mind, had once swept right on by the front of the Iron Works. Somewhere in town, a long time ago, but not as long as some might think it, a person had disappeared, or had been murdered, or had been buried in the lap of history. Harris Jenkins made his mind up that he was going to solve this case, that he would find out whose bones had been buried at the Iron Works.
The weekly Saugus Advertiser and the Lynn Daily Evening Item seemed to be his best choices and he began a one-man search for a person who had suddenly gone unaccounted for. Through reams and reams of old copies he labored. To old time reporters and editors, he talked and in turn haunted the cracker barrels and barroom back rooms and sundry other locations they had directed him to. These were places where history walked, where history talked, where the tongues of history carried on the legends and the lineage that might never make its way into print. Over-the-fence stuff. Dark alley stuff. Stories he never heard before surfaced, debris riding up on the tide, swollen drains dumping pieces of the town into the river, silt of lives streaming away. Old copies of Saugus Gazette and Saugus Herald and Lynn Transcript, Lynn being the next being town over, to the east, brought nothing to light. No headlines, no want ads for a lost person, no missing person with no single accounting. No melodramas in the local library of a missing girl or boy or a triangle affair gone haywire.
But he was resolute.
It was Ars Veritas that brought things into focus after Rollie’s discovery of the coin.
An informal, unsigned, handwritten report came to Rollie Robbins a mere three days after the Harvard entourage had first hit the Iron Works. Line by line, item by item, he considered the information set forth:
The subject is male, thirty-one years of age, dead of a savage blow to the frontal lobe of the skull. Death was immediate. It is estimated that he has been covered (Rollie almost giggled at the word) since mid year of 1905. His watch stopped at 2:17 of a day, in the AM we would assume, and was German, a Gersplank, very limited in production and rarely seen this side of the Atlantic. He carried a small sum of coin. One leg, the right, was 3/4 inch shorter than the other. He had been an accident victim prior to his demise, his hip and thigh bone both having been fractured, the right side, and most likely about two years prior to his end. He was perhaps in military uniform at the time of his death, as determined by tunic buttons found at the site, an officer of a captain’s rank, United States Cavalry, 22nd Regiment Massachusetts. No military identification was found on-site, which we find questionable and suspicious in nature, inasmuch as his pouch was neither emptied nor removed. Two bones in right index and right middle finger were broken which we assume to have happened at or close to the scene of discovery, at time of death, meaning struggle. A length of chain had been dropped or had fallen onto the body and was found, remains of it, rusted solid on top of the spinal column. No other objects or material were found in proximity of the remains except for a small figure of jade of unknown origin discovered a mere two feet from the left hand, the figure tending towards Chinese but not yet confirmed, but probably pre-Ming.
In summation we offer the following: Victim was a 31-year-old professional military man with healed bone fractures of hip and leg and was probably in uniform at death but must have been on a limited duty roster; did struggle at time of death as evidenced by broken fingers but was mortally wounded and died immediately from severe trauma to forehead. May have had Chinese or Far East connection, if indeed the jade piece found nearby does not prove to be Incan or pre-Incan. Our camp is exactly halved on this last point.
The lack of any evidence of fabric, other than his pouch, gathers suspicion the more we have thought about it, especially concerning tunic buttons and no tunic residue of note. It is possible that his uniform was biodegradable and has passed on, but we doubt that. Therefore, we think he may have been nude (stripped under duress) and pushed bodily into a hole. If he was nude, the evidence of tunic buttons indicates they may have been placed there to mislead any subsequent authority inquest, and we must ask why. Certainly, the person who committed this deed did not expect it to be discovered in the foreseeable future, but was covering tracks for any discovery some years down the road. It therefore causes us to think he was known to the victim, was himself in the military, tried to put sand in the gears (so to speak) (Rollie giggled), or, as D’Jana Hartley said on last resort, it was a military man who killed a civilian and tried to thwart any future identification by throwing in the tunic buttons, like the proverbial hand of gravel as in dust unto dust, probably off his own shirt, a kindly killer who took the shirt off his own back.
We have a world-wide network working on the jade figure and feel that it was indeed a portion of loot from some local robbery. We shall keep you advised as to all incoming information or any changes in our collective thinking. In close proximity to the remains was found a 1903 one cent piece, but we do not know if this coin was interred with the remains or had later fallen into the hole during excavation.
Archeologist Rollie Robbins, giggling at much of the report, finding the humor effective, the conclusions as palpable as his own, and, for the most part, felt the mystery deepen.
Saugus patrolman, and armchair detective when he had to be or needed to be, Harris Jenkins, at receiving the report and the information on the 1903 cent, found his new starting point and went right to it. For no reason apparent to himself, he gave a grace year to the passage of time, skipped 1904 and went right to 1905. 1905, it appeared, after much scrutinizing of papers and books and magazines and other information almanacs, was the year of the Russias, or, as he quipped to himself, the year the Russias didn’t do too well. The Japanese whipped their butt all over hell in their war; they lost 200,000 in the Mukden battle alone, had their naval fleet destroyed in the Strait of Tsushima, lost Sakhalin Island outright, got badly overrun in Manchuria, and a number of other places. Crewmen of the great battleship Potemkin mutinied and eventually turned the ship over to Rumanian authorities. The Russian Grand Duke, Sergei Aleksandrovich, the uncle of Czar Nicholas II, was assassinated by a bomb thrown into his lap by a revolutionary. The Russian pot certainly was stirring and much of the world was in turmoil, and, of course, he realized, being on this side of the information trail one could see to where a lot of all this was leading.
A few other events attracted his eye, disparate events, no obvious ties between them, but events that rode on top of tidal debris, like cheese boxes or pieces of flotsam, bobbing to be noticed: the Cullinan Diamond, all 3,106 carats of it, was discovered in Transvaal and insurance underwritten by a U.S. company; the body of American Naval hero John Paul Jones was found in a cemetery in Paris and was moved to the United States, perhaps in a cask of rum for a preservation attempt; the Russian-Japanese War was ended by a pact signed practically in Saugus’ own back yard, at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, after a key role was played by the old stick-swinger himself, President Teddie Roosevelt, and closer to home, just a few miles away, the palatial home of W. Putnam Wesley, on the Saugus-Wakefield line in what had become the Breakheart Reservation, was robbed in the dead of night by an unknown male who threatened three servants with bodily harm or death if they tried to escape from a pantry they had been locked into, chopping off a butler’s finger with an old sword to prove his vow.
Harris Jenkins went to sleep that night after chewing all these things over in his mind, locked in on all the international stuff, he knew he was out of his element. But down deep something fervent told him he was going along for the whole ride. All the way. And a bare thread of light, the thinnest lisle possible, gossamer at best, seemed to be pulling at these disparate events. Upon W. Putnam Wesley he settled for his first stepping stone towards a solution. Filthy rich to say the least, much of it come by way of his grandfather from the California gold fields and parlayed by his father, Wesley had various shades of darkness sitting around him. He had journeyed far and wide, especially in Europe and the Far East, often with a large entourage. His interest included, after money, artifacts of historical intrigue (such as dueling swords or dueling pistols from famous encounters), objects d’art tending to explicit sex of any selection, gems so special that there might not have been a match with another, all things Chinese that might be described by one or more of the aforementioned. He had had four wives, three of which died in the midst of a long trip or voyage. Harris found one report of his fourth wife having taken a shot at him, in jest as they declared. Harris figured the threat of that single shot to have saved her life.
Wesley was called Puttee from his earliest days, both from his middle name and from his adventurous youthful habit, when playing soldier games, of wearing strips of cloth which circled his legs from ankle to knee, much in the manner of real soldiers. His name he wore well.
The sixth sense was working overtime for Harris a few days later when he sat with Rollie under a tarp at the Iron Works site. They discussed their points of view and all the data of the Ars Veritas report.
“It’s a crime of passion,” Rollie finally affirmed, his voice steady, convincing in its stoic way, his dark serious eyes looking out over the site and seeing, oblivious to Harris Jenkins, what the site would eventually look like. His baby, Rollie’s baby, put to bed.
“A marriage is involved,” he continued, “a triangle affair. I think we must look to the Hawkridges. Powerful, money by the handfuls, owners of the site for a long time, their papers still scattered throughout the Iron Master’s house like they’ve just gone away for the weekend and will be back on Monday to square things away.”
He seemed to mull over his own words before he added, “Perhaps the Hawkridges were so powerful that the absence of one of the family could easily be explained.”
“You’ve found something?” Harris said, turning to face Rollie as they sat on a fence rail. The light in Rollie’s eyes was amber, obvious. Harris, from day one of their acquaintance, knew that Rollie’s bent was to the romantic, to the clandestine, Rollie’s eye having that other light in them.
“Yes,” Rollie said. “One of the Hawkridges, Carlton Theophus Hawkridge. About thirty years of age that I know of. Went off on a trip somewhere around 1905, perhaps a bit later, and was never heard from again.”
“How do you know that?”
“From a few letters I found in a box in the upper rooms. Went off supposedly very quickly on a trip for his health. Not the most likable fellow, not from what I gather, but family.”
“Do you think the family did him in?” Si’s eyes were deep with question, his scowl like punctuation.
“I really don’t know that, but we scrambled at the beginning of all this to go a lot further back than we thought we could. “What have you come up with?”
As though he expected no reply, Rollie looked away from Harris, seeing the sun catch on the water of the river, an angular slicing of light in the late afternoon, sometimes gold, sometimes blue, that leaped across the river and onto Vinegar Hill where he just knew Treach’s treasure was buried. The hole being dug he could picture, the chest being lowered, the rocks being piled up. He could see the descent of the crew back down to the longboat, could see their soft and easy float down the river to the ship shifting slightly at anchor. He knew where his next job was coming from. And if the skeleton in the trench was one, or could safely assume to be so, Carlton Theophus Hawkridge knew the move to the next dig would be a cinch. So much depended on the young policeman sitting beside him. Spoon feeding him would be a challenge. Subtle as a snake it would need to be.
Harris Jenkins gave nothing away. Not even the fact that he knew he was not a rank amateur, that knots in spite of all apparent were being slowly tied, that the gossamer thread would come to rope. If Roland Robbins had his blind romance, he had his own.
“I just keep poking along, Rollie, trying to tie things together. It’s all so far away, as if never touching us with reality.”
“If it’s Hawkridge, I can see a spread in the Boston papers for you. Perhaps a magazine article. You could turn this old Yankee town right up on its ear! They’ll be beating a path to your door. You couldn’t beat them off.” His smile was broader than a shovel blade. And the shovel blade was slicing deep into a pile of manure.
“The Japanese tried that, Rollie. It didn’t work for them either.” There was a declaration he hoped Rollie would understand. Edging off the fence rail, he waved slightly, almost half-heartedly. “I’ll keep you posted, Rollie. You do the same.”
There was another one.
As Jenkins walked off, Rollie looked out over the site, saw a glancing shaft of light leap off the river and leap up to the crest of Vinegar Hill. Treach just knew he was coming after him! Bet on it!
The gossamer thickened indeed later that week for Harris Jenkins. An article in an old issue of a discontinued Boston paper, about Old Ironsides and the Charlestown Navy Yard, tied together John Paul Jones and W. Putnam “Puttee” Wesley. It was a single line implying that the container bringing home the body of the hero was used to illegally convey some priceless artifacts. And Puttee Wesley was accompanying the body home, a service he so graciously volunteered to perform, inasmuch as he was in Paris and on his way home. President Roosevelt accepted the offer. The thin line of gossamer, with a little more body to it, seemed to fall like a shadow of netting on the piece of jade that had lain so long in the earth beside another body.
Harris had come to abrupt attention, as if the old Commander-in-Chief himself had walked in on him. Life was full of little pieces of goodness. Find them, that’s all you had to do. They were at your feet, in your back pocket, around the corner.
Puttee Wesley, he decided from all that he ingested of him, was not afraid of playing either the pirate or the brigand or the smuggler to get any of the items his heart desired. If money wouldn’t buy them, he’d get them one way or another. In 1919 he had died suddenly, unprotected by his money or his treasures, from a bout with influenza. The family then, as many families do under pressure, had scattered, their fortunes wasted, and little evidence of Puttee Wesley’s existence hung on. Breakheart had become pond and forest and a scattering of trails, the huge mansion gone to ground, a bare bit of stone foundation thrusting out of brush. But to Harris there came echoes repeating themselves like gunshots down between canyon walls, the continuing onslaught of the same notion…all these things, Jones and Puttee and the jade piece and the skeleton, were caught up in the same web, the same gossamer spinning out of his mind, spinning out of the twist of all the years.
Rollie Robbins had tried to plumb Harris’ mind a number of times, tried to steer him to the Hawkridges, but fell short with each attempt. The stubbornness of the young policeman, though a craggy veteran, bothered him more than he let on.
Treach had waited this long, but he might not wait forever. Even in death the pirate might be a most rambunctious ghost.
It took a strange turn of events to swing matters in the correct direction, the kind of luck that Harris Jenkins knew would come of endless scratching, endless probing, endless digging, his own l’affair archeology. If his French were much better he’d be able to spell it right.
It was a naval clerk at the Pentagon who remembered Harris Jenkins’s numerous inquiries about the John Paul Jones transfer, who had seen Harris’ letter concerning the suspicions surrounding the hero’s remains being brought home, who a long time earlier in his current assignment had begun reading old documents in the Navy archives.
Seaman First Class Peter J. Leone wrote the following to Officer Harris Jenkins of the Saugus Police Department:
This is not an official document and is only sent to you on a personal basis because of the interest you have excited in me about the Admiral John Paul Jones situation. I have come across a number of old documents and communiqués concerning the Admiral’s coming home to where he should have been. If there is anything else I might furnish, I will try, but I think you will be interested in what has caught my eye in the files. The president at the time, Theo. Roosevelt, was advised of certain shady deals that might be attached to the movement of the Admiral’s remains. The information came in a letter to him from a Bruce Jacob Bellbend, a captain in British intelligence, who had accidentally come on the information while on a separate assignment. It did mention illegal movement of precious artifacts that had been taken from unknown sources. The president assigned a personal representative, Captain Arthur G. Savage, U.S. Navy, to proceed to Paris and accompany the remains home and to investigate and report to him any and all findings he might come across. None of the captain’s reports are in file, but I did find the following information about him: he was from Grand Hawk, Minnesota, was a graduate of the Naval Academy, was captain of the U.S.S. Standish at one time, did suffer a serious accident aboard ship that required medical leave (hip and leg injury in a fall, right side), had a deep scar on his left cheek of unknown cause, was a gutsy and devoted leader of men, and loved nothing better than his country. He was reported as being missing in July of 1905 and nothing more is known of him, as though he had gone off the face of the Earth.
Harris Jenkins brought his case to rest, though it lay at his feet for a few days, being stepped on, turned over, and cemented back into place. He could see Puttee Wesley or one of his henchmen knock the captain on the head, take him under cover of darkness to where Central Street was being filled in, dropping him in the hole, throwing on top of his bare body the buttons of some army tunic to throw leads elsewhere in case the body might be discovered. The jade piece, still unidentified, was sacrificed to help the scattering of leads. The remnants of chain continued to be nothing more than a corrosive coil in his mind. The precious artifacts put away for the time being.
Harris Jenkins told it all to his wife Phyllis and none of it to Rollie Robbins.
Napol Desmer, with the help of two grandchildren and two sons-in-law, held sway over the tent for another week until the remains of the unknown body, as it was officially treated, were laid quietly to further rest in a shaded area of Riverside Cemetery, just outside of Saugus Center, alongside the railroad tracks no longer in use.
One evening thereafter, Rollie Robbins, maverick archeologist, ramrod of stones and bones, continued to watch the late afternoon sun glance off the river with surprising richness. Flares of light flew like spears; shy sparks reigned as though diamonds had been loosed from chest or pouch. Gallant red wing blackbirds from both sides of the river flew across and through shafts of late light like arrows onto their targets. Dusk, as part of shadow, settled itself softly, a dust, atop the colonial town. Vinegar Hill and Round Hill and Hemlock Hill and Indian Slide and dark passages of Breakheart Reservation shifted into the shadows that history continually lends to its constituents. Treach had such a night, he was sure. And he was out there, his subtle remains, waiting for him in those shadows.
And one night a few weeks later, when all was quiet, the sky a dark canopy, Harris Jenkins, a policeman always, a Marine forever, a patriot feeling the pains of wounds he had long forgotten, his eyes raw with sadness, thinking of the admiral and the captain and the president and the seaman at the Pentagon, knowing the town he loved would cement the ultimate resolve, affixed above that single grave at the Veteran’s Section of Riverside Cemetery a wooden sign he had carved one long night filled with the deepest of thoughts. It read: Arthur G.Savage, Captain in the U.S. Navy who died in the service of his country.
There would be no fanfare, no clarions or trumpets or drums. No gunfire. The captain would sift into the past, along with all the other veterans from all the other wars, all the warriors the town had ceded to history. He’d have a flag atop his grave on Memorial Day, put there by the American Legion. The breeze and the sunlight would catch at it, flapping it about. Children would wave back. A few seniors, offering up their own kinds of parades, would offer serious nods. The wind would come back again and again, a rapture of touch, a salute of sorts. Nights would accept the continual silence abounding in Riverside.
Harris Jenkins thought he could give Captain Arthur Savage nothing more precious than that.
When he told his wife, she loved him all over again.
198: A Book for the Century
In time much of what we know fades away, moves away, continually moves around us, blinking and scattering, but with a breath of air touches back. It’s a face, a name, a childhood haunt in momentary dispose, each waiting to be identified or merely given the solace of place. Though we cannot name it at first, cannot frame it visually clean or bring it to contoured image, we yet strike out for it. Our hometown of Saugus kept touching back at us like this. We wanted to hold tight to all that came our way, had come our way.
The word then had gone out nationwide: we were looking for articles, vignettes, pictures, graphics, anything that would lend both resonance and nostalgia to a book we had dreamed up, a book on Things Saugus in the 20th Century. Out of nowhere Adrienne Linstrom-Young came suddenly into being again. I had not seen her in thirty years or more. Yet John Burns, my co-editor and co-dreamer for this book, a fixture in the Saugus High School scheme of things for more almost seventy years, who commands wide respect, had spoken. That word, as much a dictate as could be, was out. Adrienne, like so many others, had heard of John Burns’ needs for the book that was to be titled, at his suggestion, A Gathering of Memories, Saugus 1900-2000.
She responded quickly, repeatedly, with an affluence of memorable pictures of her father, studies of a man and his time. He was a man obviously revered by his daughter, and remembered in a special collection of photos she said had come from different caches within the family; four places in four states.
Leon Young, her father, had been the sub-master at SHS during all my school years, and was now a sort of beloved specter of the past, a man of many faces, many uniforms, as if he were on stage all the time, playing out again his own life’s drama. The pictures, all black and white, are of great contrast, some of them almost revealing the inner man and his wide interests. No longer is he a stern figure decidedly bent on detention, social improvements, and behavioral rudiments.
I remembered him in detention rooms as well as in and about the high school hallways in the bustling and relentless ‘40s, a time for all times, our football teams doing well, but the world itself going badly even from a poor start. Joe Pace, we were told, was the first of ours to fall in the madness of the early part of the decade; at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese planes from Yamamoto’s aircraft carriers dipping in over the fleet that quiet and peaceful Sunday morning none of us should ever forget.
From her innumerable sources she brought forth an exquisite selection of pictures: her father in seafarer’s garb; on a fishing trip (inland) with Buzz Harvey, then our high school football coach; in his Arthur Treacher get-up, complete with vest (and spats, we were willing to bet). In cadet uniform he stood on the deck of an unnamed ship, his arms folded in a pose, the world out there beyond his gaze, the horizon promising and open. Fifty years later he has another look and is on another plane. Now he graces the pages of our book.
Adrienne Linstrom-Young’s infusion into our book was but one of the many pleasantries and minor excitements which had come our way in the two years doggedly spent on this project, from the day in October, 1998 when the idea first burst forth. That day, coming off a six-mile walk around our town, I paid one of my numerous late-day social calls on an old friend at his school office. It was here where we had generally discussed our past in this town we so dearly love, which has been so good to us. But for that matter, names of people and places often eluded our memories, slipping into some unconfined space of the mind where retrieval was hesitant, unsure. John once mentioned Charlie’s Pond. To me it had been “lost” for more than fifty years. In turn I cited Cinder Path as a place of endless winter excitement where we steered our old Flexible Flyer sleds down the long and twisting run from the site of the old Stand Pipe on top of Baker Hill. That ride, so clearly impressed on my mind to this day, the wind wild and cold on my face, the careening like electricity running the whole gamut of my body, went clear down to Cliftondale Square. It was an exhilarating and headless ride, now and then under a splash of weekend moonlight or brittle starlight.
He had forgotten the place, it seems, or had not been there. Perhaps those years so memorable to me he had spent in the South Pacific creating other memories.
Other names and places came and then went flitting away in a number of our meetings, like meager and endangered moths caught up in late October. They were like air around us, barely touching, but being known, having names, a place to hold onto, a corner of the mind.
The past we wanted to respect, to remember, was surely slipping away from us. Pieces came and went in the relentless tumble, some of them crying for recognition. Muckles Brown, at length and only after some eventful prodding, came back to life as he was, enormous across the chest, shoulders like Atlas, but faint Anna Parker was just about gone forever, her and the first electric car in town. And The Pigeon Plucker and Hoag’s Castle had also done their dance. The names and faces of memorialized heroes were more surely cemented in place. The Kasabuski brothers (killed within two weeks of each other in the Italian Campaign), for whom our hockey rink is named and where I had spent more than ten years with my sons, are linked forever in my mind. The VFW Post bears the name of a Baker Hill boy, Arthur DeFranzo, who was decorated posthumously with the Medal of Honor for his heroics not long after D-Day. Arthur, of course, is not forgotten. But other names too quickly failed at the tip of the tongue, a host of them from all corners of our town (Lick, Skink, Doggie, Big Syd, Paints Brown, Sinagna, Tarzan Doyle, Crazy Albert, Leonard the Blind Man, The Indian). A face would come back mysteriously in a fleck of light and leap away, on a silent ride into complete darkness. Sometimes a place that was, a favorite place of youthful years … disrupted, dug out, filled in, carried off … no longer existed. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. Doubts, we knew, did exist. About ourselves. About our memories. About our ability to muster a true respect for the past. About duty and what it calls for.
That giant of a day finally came. I walked into John’s office, my six-mile trek behind me, a few faces and a few names remembered in my course about town, down the Turnpike, easterly on Essex Street, through Cliftondale Square, down Central Street past the new Senior Center, to Saugus Center. My quick searches down side streets collected a few names and faces, lost others. I did not find a host of that which was once known.
John, his face as red as mine, his eyes like relays, looked up at me as I walked into his office. He has a way of smiling an announcement, perhaps the teacher pleasantly at his work, the corners of his mouth like punctuation. For a moment I saw it, then heard it. On the edge of his chair, as if he had been the long day waiting for me, he said, “Let’s write a book.” The blue eyes zapped electric again. They went into a further spectrum; his usual excitement and keenness for every day was hyper, and then some.
“Before it’s all gone,” he added. “Before we forget what we’re supposed to remember.” He was doing what I had so often done, measuring time. It had crept quite often into my poetry, like a Jersey barrier on the loose in my stream of thought.
John, it was easy to see, was there. And if there’s anything in this world that he can lay claim to, it’s a sense of justice, a sense of honesty, a sense of duty. And his spirit and energy are compelling. In mere moments, after a minor and unspoken assessment of where such a decision might take us, a kind of nostalgic Limbo possibly being our destination or assignment, we were off and running.
Of course, we knew we could not do it by ourselves. That would have been fatal, would have been incomplete, would have been parochial to our mind-set.
Slowly a committee came into being. And another eventful day came into focus. Early on, a hesitant member of our committee asked, “Where are we going to get the pros to write this book?” He seemed serious about it. So, were we? Both published and unpublished writers and poets quickly came into the fold. Teachers and historians and artists and cartoonists and illustrators came along with them. Neil Howland, a classmate and teammate of mine, and a lawyer with offices in the town, became our legal man and a valuable contributor. We had also attracted some young blood, to go along with our old blood; we crossed the century in our make-up. Clayton Trefry, who had been through a hundred town campaigns, brought with him his long love for the town, and his memories. A recent SHS graduate, now at Yale, made a contribution. Vicariously we were underway.
The pros, as it turned out, were gracious and many and varied. A former SHS football player and teammate, with sixteen books to his credit as well as the UMASS career interception record still in his back pocket, came from the western part of the state with his offerings. An SHS Sports Hall of Famer, currently coaching in Division 1 hockey and recently in the NCAA Finals, who writes poetry and his own music, made a number of contributions. We found, in our musings and wanderings, that Elizabeth Bishop, Pulitzer Prize poet, had spent her freshman year at SHS. We saw her report card, a signal of things to come, and found in her poems places that surely must have been parts of Saugus urging her roots at poetry. A local and active historian, loving Saugus and trains, brought from his files a host of excellent transportation photos. A cartoonist and an illustrator contributed an exceptional array of material to grace our pages, to line our inner covers. Renowned artist Bill Maloney, once of our Hull Drive, revisited Saugus Center, the Town Hall and the Soldiers Monument with a most nostalgic oil painting, making it the cover of our book. We found that Saugonians had graced the fields with the likes of Bob Waterfield, Johnny Unitas, and Doug Flutie; that friends had found each other on the sands of South Pacific islands in moments of abject silence, on Kwajalein and Iwo Jima and Okinawa, before they were parted forever. We kept seeing that happiness and loneliness and pain had not left our town untouched, not by a long shot. But it still was Saugus.
We had, it proved, marshaled the pros from our community … no matter where they were, no matter where this life had taken them, Saugonians moved on: Wilsonville, Oregon; Berwick, Maine; Orlando, Florida; small rural corners of New Hampshire and Vermont, we found them, or they found us. And the material came on.
Anthony Scire, who for years has been studying various parts of Saugus history, who years earlier had already done a major paper on the Saugus Marshes, tipped open his treasure house of collectible histories, spilled his memories, and wet his pen again. We found out he could crank things wide open with his energy.
Bob Wentworth, SHS ’48, retired, an old friend, was a volunteer. He was welcomed to the committee with open arms. Then a few days later, his mind playing with ideas, thinking himself short of writing talent, he asked to be relieved of any promise to contribute. John positioned him quickly, and from a minute suggestion Bob Wentworth spent hundreds of hours in the library looking at microfilm. His contribution became a major part of the book as he culled history and politics and town data from the microfilms of old newspapers. And when there appeared to be a breach in the committee structure, Bob volunteered to head the fundraising drive to get the money to print the book. His approach to John Dean, president of the Saugus Co-operative Bank, assured us of the necessary start-up and printing funds. $60,000 is not peanuts, not on the premise of selling an unwritten book.
On June 12th of the year 2000, somewhat spent from arduous and long hours, our eyes bleary from life in front of new screens, poring over photos and names we once thought might have been gone forever to a lot of people (oh where was Piggery Road and Little Sandy and Pick Hawkins’ Swamp and Poo Chak Road and The Old Rezzie and Shipwreck Eddie and Iron Mike?), we delivered our manuscript to the printer’s representative. Tom Keeley of Josten’s Company had guided us on our way, after being one of our original contacts. In that one moment of deliverance a weight had shifted, ballast moved, other obligations coming back into rightful play.
If we were to forget, we’d make sure others would remember.
Day of days this was, looking forward to Founders’ Day, the second Saturday in September when thousands gather in Saugus Center to celebrate who and what we are, as our target date for publication. That is a raucous, joyous day in town. Tables and booths are spread throughout the Center, odors rise rich and pungent from innumerable grills, runners flash by in the annual road race. Old friends are met, relocated Saugonians coming back for the whole day; and lots of handshaking and backslapping welcomes are made, smiles going electric across the crowd as old classmates or teammates are spotted.
There was a major hole, though, in finalizing the book. Presentation to the printer had to be electronic, in the genre of the new order of things rising about us. Neither John nor I had the computer knowledge or expertise to undertake that massive task. Mine was recently meager with a system gift from my children, John’s just coming aboard with a most recent purchase of a computer, as a need for the final detail of the book, perhaps at some kind of insistence from others and myself that he write his memoirs.
But, as always, in some corner of Saugus, there is an energy waiting to be tapped. Eric Brown was that energy. And he had the expertise, the knowledge, to be the final hand in the formation of our book. Eric runs Saugus.net, his local entity. That is his baby. And it is Eric who laid out the book, scanned the hundreds of photographs, rejected some, found second sources with better density or clarity, spent hundreds of hours himself hunched over the machines of the new generation. Like John Burns, he is a man of detail, of uniformity, of clarity. Their imprint sweeps through our pages, letting others’ personal traits be known where they count, demanding some traits be corrected or brought into uniformity.
We know there are holes and vacuums in our thoughts, in our pages. That is what brought us to the book in the first place. It is most difficult to let go what is precious, even when it threatens to slide off by itself into a gray and uneventful place, as if something concrete can suddenly dissipate like a summer cloud at a fresh breeze. But everything mentioned, every single person named for one bright moment, becomes representative of each and every part of Saugus, all that which has had its way in helping to form our memories, letting us become what we have become.
On the 6th day of September, the year of our Lord 2000, the skids of book boxes came off the rear end of an 18-wheeler that had crossed half the country from Kansas. In print we were, glorious print, and setting about in our warehousing and packaging and mailing processes. For the shortest time we reveled in he-man Muckles Brown, poet Elizabeth Bishop, warrior Frank Parkinson the tanker and tiger of Tobruk, footballer Art Spinney out in front of Johnny Unitas in that 1958 game of the century, Sgt. Al de Steuben catching a round in the hedgerows of Europe, old storekeeper Jack Winters alone with his man-killer kerosene stove. Pictures leaped off our pages, poems gave rhythm, drawn lines etched a history, scored words moved the blood of a whole community. Work beckoned.
We had delivered.
Postscript to publication:
On September 6, 2000, we received the first 500 copies of our 2,000 copies ordered from the printer, off the back end of a truck from the printer in Kansas and right in my driveway. On Founders Day in Saugus Center, an annual gathering of townsfolk, we sold 400 copies. Four weeks later, doing our own warehousing, packaging, mailing by diverse methods, we paid the loan back to the Saugus Bank. The book went like hot cakes. Every copy was sold, including the last five copies that had been damaged in transport. An article made the back inside cover of The Boston College Magazine, John and me being old-time Eagles off the Chestnut Hill campus, John in ’38 and me in ‘56.
So, now we did a second printing of 500 copies, John having great difficulty in saying “sorry” to people or “there’s no more left.” When they were all gone, we started a sequel, Of Time and the River, Saugus 1900-2005, 2000 copies, all gone, at $40. a copy, all proceeds for the John Burns Millennium Book Associates Scholarship to honor John Burns, 61 years in the school system, 45 years as head of the English Department (who passed on at 93, September 24, 2009.) Copies went to 47 states, 8 countries and three territories, and a copy online in the National Library in Paris. Nowadays people search for copies and find them on eBay, Craig’s List and an odd bookstore handling used books. When John Burns and Neil Howland died, Bob Wentworth arranged for all funds to be transferred to the Saugus High School Alumni Association to maintain the John Burns Scholarship.
Then Bob Wentworth passed on, the finance man, the mailman, the storekeeper, the one who said, after volunteering, “I don’t belong here. I don’t write.”
“Not so fast,” John said, “there are other jobs you can do.” Oh, how well he did those tasks.
The accolades keep coming.:
199: How the Egg Caught up to the Chicken
For seven long years, at least by my count, Creighton Manning, architect and music lover, had been trying to solve a puzzle on a morning train ride to his job in the city. Finally, he relented and began thinking of it as his seven-year itch, knowing what it was doing to him, but not what it had done to him. That itch, though, had worn him down, and he had, in turn, been passed over for promotion during those years, and just as casually ignored by others. But contentment, he understood with a grain of reality, comes in strange shapes, often keeps strange company.
Neat in dress, rarely noticeable in any larger-than-usual gathering, his steady move into anonymity did not bother him. Creighton was clean in habit, healthy, and bought a new suit every ten months, giving his oldest one to a charity collection; this action, inside of a year’s time, was a sign of contented affluence with him. On Saturday evenings he shined his three pairs of dress shoes while listening to his favorite opera or one of his classical musical composites, or, now and then, watching an old black and white mystery film. There were moments during such films that, with his eyes closed and concentrating on the music, he would be able to “see” the action, swore he could script it, could put Dick Powell without a song or Grade-B Chester Morris’ Boston Blackie into an appropriate atmosphere.
This morning was a morning like all others; he collected his newspaper and his decaf coffee at the variety store less than a block from the train station, now elegantly squeezed in between two much taller but artless buildings. His black leather briefcase bounced at one knee. He carried no umbrella, though he found the sky dreary and gray and believed the smell of rain sat in the air, a kind of immovable notification. With that set of minds, he studied the leaves on tree and bush and saw their attitudes fully in place. The thirsty would drink when needed, he acknowledged, and, reflecting on his own schedule, did not hurry his steps.
Timing for train departure was ingrained in him, posed all around him in varying evidence; the silent and sometimes erratic clock on the classic Georgian church tower was there, and the bells over at the Wellborne Grade School, and the village bus, with a puff of smoke and sounding as if its pistons were abrading each other, would start abruptly on schedule on its way up to Mt. Hebron.
Ultimately, as if driven by an internal primal clock, there was Jake Manther the house builder coming back home at seven-thirty on the button every morning, supposedly for coffee with his wife Corine, but everybody knew the kids had gone to school for the day, all four of them. Creighton had heard it said that if Corine worked a pillow the way she walked, even down the grocery aisle, it was no wonder Jake was faithful and punctual. Creighton had never seen Corine in the grocery store, though he had once seen her standing in line at the post office in that sort of provocative one-legged stance some women have mastered. Once he had uttered the term “hip thruster,” he never let it go. Corine was a “hip thruster.” Occasionally that observation made his throat dry.
Creighton sat in the last chair in the first car, where he had sat practically every workday for the seven years he’d spent at Carmody, Halliburton & Sands, Architects of Note. Oh, how he loved the inside joke of that title and had composed a little music for it that not one other person in the world had any knowledge of. None of the other passengers, many of them along for the same ride to the city for work, paid much attention to him, or to his occasional whistle, except for conceding Creighton his usual seat. Other than a cursory nod, they had given that up long ago.
None of them knew about the puzzle, which he would set up on his briefcase as soon as everybody was seated. This ascertainment was not seen, but felt; he never looked up fearing someone, at discovery, would be looking into his eyes, as if the puzzle, oh abomination, would be reflected there. The puzzle was his alone to decipher; his alone. He whistled softly at his work. When the music went wrong, when Halliburton started off on the wrong note, he’d put the puzzle away.
On the upside, the puzzle appeared to be a common crossword puzzle, but it had never come out right. He had been into huge dictionaries, gone through strange adaptations found in the dictionary from Latin and the French, or like cwm and crwth from the Welsh. Nothing fit two exasperating corners of the puzzle. Nothing at all! In his architect’s mind, the plot plan of blank and solid squares was scribed and burned into his mind. He could tile a bath with them.
With a clarity he found unfathomable, he could close his eyes, see the puzzle on a sheet of mechanical drawing paper on his high school desk and could feel old Mr. Bund looking over his shoulder, grading his work. What would that long-gone teacher of isometric drawings have to say about a lineal puzzle? Once he said to himself that he could write the graphic and text of the puzzle without a miss, and could do it in fifteen minutes. He had worn words and pencils down to their nubs, made copy after copy of the puzzle, at times he knew its clutches were rhythmic and constant, like a piece of music had been tapped into his brain, as though a piece of nostalgic music was at once known and unknown, but waiting to be caught up to, the way an egg rolls free on a counter.
Melanie his wife, on about the fourth year, having seen the incomplete puzzle on a number of occasions (like falling out of an inner pocket from one of his suit coats, or scattered in his jewelry draw like quaint intruders), finally asked him about the rote he was apparently caught up in.
“Creighton, I swear I’ve seen this same puzzle at least a dozen times. It’s never done. Can’t you finish it? Can I help?” They were watching a Thin Man movie, and she added, “It’s like the egg chasing the chicken, trying to beat what it’s becoming, flattened on a frying pan.”
God forbid, Creighton thought. Not after all of this. “It’s but a game, Melanie. Like notes out of place and you’re positive you know the score, but it eludes you. No, no great importance, dear. I wile my time away with it, but only on the train. It’s easier than watching the backsides of houses or clothes hanging on porches or on clotheslines like sails trying for the wind, or seeing how long one deserted Buick can stay in one place for years on end.” He figured that would put her off the track.
She had picked up the newspaper after he had shined his shoes and folded it and placed it in the wastebasket. “If ever,” she said, and went back to William Powell with his hair never out of place, his suit immaculate. The puzzle was not mentioned again by her, as if it had been blown away in the wind mere as an October leaf.
Creighton closed down on his seventh year with the puzzle, ultimately content with knowing that he had something to do on the train ride both ways, that life had certain promises and perils, and that time had certain dictates all its own. He never saw the Buick chained onto a truck bed, only once had forgotten into the eleventh month about buying another suit, and closed that fault in a hurry; and always felt a flurry of joy when Halliburton came perfectly from his lips regardless who was about him, even at the office.
Peak of frustration in Creighton Manning’s odyssey comes the night, late for one train, early for the next one, he drops into a small cafe to have a drink. Daringly, time floating in the air, the puzzle forgotten for the moment, he decides on Scotch, untouched by him for years. Two older men at the bar, both bearded and a bit crusty, holding beer bottles in their hands like handles of bayonets, are talking about the time when they were in the Marines, in another country with a Marine Legation. Creighton hears how they as editors used to make up crossword puzzles for the Legation’s small mimeographed newspaper and the first Marine in with the completed puzzle would get a bottle of whiskey.
With their own bottle of whiskey, the two editors used to lock themselves in the squad tent that housed the company clerk’s office, and that of the newspaper, and make up the paper and the crossword. Their guffaws are loud and boisterous and they take turns in slapping the bar top. They laugh heartily and continually about a puzzle they’d made up once when they had been drinking heavily and there had been no winner and they couldn’t solve the puzzle themselves when the whole Legation stormed the entrance to the squad tent and demanded the solution be made public.
That night Creighton Manning took a cab home, figuring the egg had caught up with the chicken. Melanie would be glad to hear the truth of the matter.
196, A Shadowed Amulet [was] first seen on Rope and Wire Western Magazine, now
defunct, but up for sale as I last heard.
197, Murder Wherever, Whenever I pulled back from another site, with joy
at a re-read.
198, A Book for the Century [is] a local favorite when my former English
teacher at SHS, John Burns, 40 plus years as Head of the English Department,
and I published two Saugus books, and sold all 4000 copies of “A Gathering
of Memories” and “Of Time and the River” with all funds received donated to
the high school, the last 400 dumped in my driveway by the publisher which
we sold from a tented counter in Saugus Center as we celebrated Founders’
Day, a yearly event until Covid broke it off.(People still seeking copies,
some being treasures in some families.)
199, The chicken and egg bit written at this table I made on a fun-day
morning, 72″ by 36″ in a house room/kitchen that used to be two rooms in
1742 and is now one house-long room after I took down a wall, put up beams I
ran through an old wringer washing machine with the roller replaced by a
cutter to treat beams as if they had been chopped and chiseled by ax, then
made every door, drawer, cabinet, shelf from scrap wood (all free) from my
employer’s trash pile, my van loaded inside, outside, topside, all tied down
for several of my 30 mile rides home.
And as a P.S. we present a Christmas Greeting from the author–L.A.
Merry Christmas, Friend
May the day be bright and shiny,
the winds come soft as a foxglove,
the silence in early time of day
prepare you for the ones you love.
May music be sweetest sound you hear
through the clutter of a special day,
the drums though keep rolling, and horns,
oh distantly on clouds, signal sweet array,
and in background where music & #39;s played,
may you hear the softest old melodies,
where humming is the most proper sound,
locked up in the gifts you get, and the keys
to a puzzle of proportioned grace, though dim
when you start to resolve the constant clues
set up most neatly in matter of square boxes,
where you start out on tips and myriad cues,
or you find a blue or a lovely shade of red,
or glance at pencil tips so graced in pink,
or a yellow hint from a flower’s heart
or a lavender drawing you to the brink.
Merry Christmas, dear girl of guts,
and no ifs or ands or buts.
Merry Christmas from Saugus
When each tree is snowed upon each limb,
when children lie sleeping waiting him,
when Lily Pond gives up quick owl’s hoot
and snow is crunching beneath my boot,
know I walk here and think now of you
who sometimes or not knew this view;
who by this pond and this water wide
may have walked here along its side;
who one summer may have lately cast
for bass or pickerel that quickly passed,
or whose shorewide winds of December ilk
dared touch your cheek with a dash of silk;
or when plush leaves were turned to gold
as pure-flung Autumn engaged its hold.
Be sure all seasons of your younger grace
walk beside me in this near-silent place,
know I think, while Christmas spreads
from angel’s top to children’s beds,
of all my friends whom I correspond
and wish visitation beside this pond.
Come to Lily Pond again, to Saugus town
where Christmas once was tender known,
where we gather in childhood memories
this pond’s air and smell and winter breeze,
where all our younger lives were spent
about the shores where curving went,
and on the slickered ice we slickered flew
fair to the Turnpike and out of view.
Welcome Christmas back as it was then,
the songs we sang, the friends we’ve been,
the wishes springing now full on air,
for you all the hopes the heart can bear.
Tom Sheehan and Jamie Sheehan
7 thoughts on “The Tom Sheehan Christmas Festival”
I read the wonderful poems between pre-meal snacking and family conversations. Thanks to LS and the Sheehans for sharing those with us.
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I meant 194-199 today . I will fix that unless further tinkering with this vast file gets too dicey to mess with such a small error.
But mostly, congratulations once more to Tom. And merry Christmas to Tom and all. One great thing: this means I won’t be hearing that “Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart” abomination again until 1 November 2023 at the grocery store.
A huge congratulations!!!
When we started this, I thought twenty would be good. When I got to twenty, I reckoned fifty was achievable. But when I got to fifty, I had no hope in doing the hundred but when I managed eighty, I knew I could make it.
However… Once I managed one hundred, I knew that there was no-way for two!!!
I am around forty years your junior but I still reckon that two or so stories a year is out of my reach.
Long story short – Your output mystifies me. The quality that you display, the interest that you instigate is beyond description my fine friend!!!
A very merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of your clan.
It is an absolute pleasure sharing this site with you!
Out of time for reading tonight, but Cool Yule, and righteous riting, ranting, rocking, and rolling, and reading in the Nappy New Year.
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Ha! Managed to change 194-200 to 194-199. Although history may be mystified by this little add on, for me it marks something like the eightieth and LAST goof I made in setting up Tom’s work in this file, that I had to fix. Off to posterity with you Christmas Special ’22, may you attract many readers over the days and years to come.
Thanks Leila – this was a mamoth task and well done Tom – Legend.
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Congratulations and thank you, Tom Sheehan. Only so far had the opportunity to read the hard-talking, warm-hearted western (Lady with child), but loved. I’m as far from Kansas as Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road, but I loved all the westerns they used to show on the Saturday morning kids’ matinee at the local flea pit. You brought it all back. Thanks again!
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