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Finders Keepers / , (by Stephen King, 2015) -

Finders Keepers /  ,   (by Stephen King, 2015) -

Finders Keepers / , (by Stephen King, 2015) -

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Bill Hodges Trilogy 1
Bill Hodges Trilogy 3
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Finders Keepers / , (by Stephen King, 2015) -
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2015
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King Stephen Edwin
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Will Paton
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upper-intermediate
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13:03:17
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Finders Keepers / , :

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audiobook (MP3) .


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PART 1: BURIED TREASURE 1978 Wake up, genius. Rothstein didnt want to wake up. The dream was too good. It featured his first wife months before she became his first wife, seventeen and perfect from head to toe. Naked and shimmering. Both of them naked. He was nineteen, with grease under his fingernails, but she hadnt minded that, at least not then, because his head was full of dreams and that was what she cared about. She believed in the dreams even more than he did, and she was right to believe. In this dream she was laughing and reaching for the part of him that was easiest to grab. He tried to go deeper, but then a hand began shaking his shoulder, and the dream popped like a soap bubble. He was no longer nineteen and living in a two-room New Jersey apartment, he was six months shy of his eightieth birthday and living on a farm in New Hampshire, where his will specified he should be buried. There were men in his bedroom. They were wearing ski masks, one red, one blue, and one canary-yellow. He saw this and tried to believe it was just another dream the sweet one had slid into a nightmare, as they sometimes did but then the hand let go of his arm, grabbed his shoulder, and tumbled him onto the floor. He struck his head and cried out. Quit that, said the one in the yellow mask. You want to knock him unconscious? Check it out. The one in the red mask pointed. Old fellas got a woody. Must have been having one hell of a dream. Blue Mask, the one who had done the shaking, said, Just a piss hard-on. When theyre that age, nothing else gets em up. My grandfather Be quiet, Yellow Mask said. Nobody cares about your grandfather. Although dazed and still wrapped in a fraying curtain of sleep, Rothstein knew he was in trouble here. Two words surfaced in his mind: home invasion. He looked up at the trio that had materialized in his bedroom, his old head aching (there was going to be a huge bruise on the right side, thanks to the blood thinners he took), his heart with its perilously thin walls banging against the left side of his ribcage. They loomed over him, three men with gloves on their hands, wearing plaid fall jackets below those terrifying balaclavas. Home invaders, and here he was, five miles from town. Rothstein gathered his thoughts as best he could, banishing sleep and telling himself there was one good thing about this situation: if they didnt want him to see their faces, they intended to leave him alive. Maybe. Gentlemen, he said. Mr Yellow laughed and gave him a thumbs-up. Good start, genius. Rothstein nodded, as if at a compliment. He glanced at the bedside clock, saw it was quarter past two in the morning, then looked back at Mr Yellow, who might be the leader. I have only a little money, but youre welcome to it. If youll only leave without hurting me. The wind gusted, rattling autumn leaves against the west side of the house. Rothstein was aware that the furnace was running for the first time this year. Hadnt it just been summer? According to our info, you got a lot more than a little. This was Mr Red. Hush. Mr Yellow extended a hand to Rothstein. Get off the floor, genius. Rothstein took the offered hand, got shakily to his feet, then sat on the bed. He was breathing hard, but all too aware (self-awareness had been both a curse and a blessing all his life) of the picture he must make: an old man in flappy blue pajamas, nothing left of his hair but white popcorn puffs above the ears. This was what had become of the writer who, in the year JFK became president, had been on the cover of Time magazine: JOHN ROTHSTEIN, AMERICAS RECLUSIVE GENIUS. Wake up, genius. Get your breath, Mr Yellow said. He sounded solicitous, but Rothstein did not trust this. Then well go into the living room, where normal people have their discussions. Take your time. Get serene. Rothstein breathed slowly and deeply, and his heart quieted a little. He tried to think of Peggy, with her teacup-sized breasts (small but perfect) and her long, smooth legs, but the dream was as gone as Peggy herself, now an old crone living in Paris. On his money. At least Yolande, his second effort at marital bliss, was dead, thus putting an end to the alimony. Red Mask left the room, and now Rothstein heard rummaging in his study. Something fell over. Drawers were opened and closed. Doing better? Mr Yellow asked, and when Rothstein nodded: Come on, then. Rothstein allowed himself to be led into the small living room, escorted by Mr Blue on his left and Mr Yellow on his right. In his study the rummaging went on. Soon Mr Red would open the closet and push back his two jackets and three sweaters, exposing the safe. It was inevitable. All right. As long as they leave the notebooks, and why would they take them? Thugs like these are only interested in money. They probably cant even read anything more challenging than the letters in Penthouse. Only he wasnt sure about the man in the yellow mask. That one sounded educated. All the lamps were on in the living room, and the shades werent drawn. Wakeful neighbors might have wondered what was going on in the old writers house if he had neighbors. The closest ones were two miles away, on the main highway. He had no friends, no visitors. The occasional salesman was sent packing. Rothstein was just that peculiar old fella. The retired writer. The hermit. He paid his taxes and was left alone. Blue and Yellow led him to the easy chair facing the seldom-watched TV, and when he didnt immediately sit, Mr Blue pushed him into it. Easy! Yellow said sharply, and Blue stepped back a bit, muttering. Mr Yellow was the one in charge, all right. Mr Yellow was the wheeldog. He bent over Rothstein, hands on the knees of his corduroys. Do you want a little splash of something to settle you? If you mean alcohol, I quit twenty years ago. Doctors orders. Good for you. Go to meetings? I wasnt an alcoholic, Rothstein said, nettled. Crazy to be nettled in such a situation or was it? Who knew how one was supposed to react after being yanked out of bed in the middle of the night by men in colorful ski masks? He wondered how he might write such a scene and had no idea; he did not write about situations like this. People assume any twentieth-century white male writer must be an alcoholic. All right, all right, Mr Yellow said. It was as if he were placating a grumpy child. Water? No, thank you. What I want is for you three to leave, so Im going to be honest with you. He wondered if Mr Yellow understood the most basic rule of human discourse: when someone says theyre going to be honest with you, they are in most cases preparing to lie faster than a horse can trot. My wallet is on the dresser in the bedroom. Theres a little over eighty dollars in it. Theres a ceramic teapot on the mantel He pointed. Mr Blue turned to look, but Mr Yellow did not. Mr Yellow continued to study Rothstein, the eyes behind the mask almost amused. Its not working, Rothstein thought, but he persevered. Now that he was awake, he was pissed off as well as scared, although he knew hed do well not to show that. Its where I keep the housekeeping money. Fifty or sixty dollars. Thats all there is in the house. Take it and go. Fucking liar, Mr Blue said. You got a lot more than that, guy. We know. Believe me. As if this were a stage play and that line his cue, Mr Red yelled from the study. Bingo! Found a safe! Big one! Rothstein had known the man in the red mask would find it, but his heart sank anyway. Stupid to keep cash, there was no reason for it other than his dislike of credit cards and checks and stocks and instruments of transfer, all the tempting chains that tied people to Americas overwhelming and ultimately destructive debt-and-spend machine. But the cash might be his salvation. Cash could be replaced. The notebooks, over a hundred and fifty of them, could not. Now the combo, said Mr Blue. He snapped his gloved fingers. Give it up. Rothstein was almost angry enough to refuse, according to Yolande anger had been his lifelong default position (Probably even in your goddam cradle, she had said), but he was also tired and frightened. If he balked, theyd beat it out of him. He might even have another heart attack, and one more would almost certainly finish him. If I give you the combination to the safe, will you take the money inside and go? Mr Rothstein, Mr Yellow said with a kindliness that seemed genuine (and thus grotesque), youre in no position to bargain. Freddy, go get the bags. Rothstein felt a huff of chilly air as Mr Blue, also known as Freddy, went out through the kitchen door. Mr Yellow, meanwhile, was smiling again. Rothstein already detested that smile. Those red lips. Come on, genius give. Soonest begun, soonest done. Rothstein sighed and recited the combination of the Gardall in his study closet. Three left two turns, thirty-one right two turns, eighteen left one turn, ninety-nine right one turn, then back to zero. Behind the mask, the red lips spread wider, now showing teeth. I could have guessed that. Its your birth date. As Yellow called the combination to the man in his closet, Rothstein made certain unpleasant deductions. Mr Blue and Mr Red had come for money, and Mr Yellow might take his share, but he didnt believe money was the primary objective of the man who kept calling him genius. As if to underline this, Mr Blue reappeared, accompanied by another puff of cool outside air. He had four empty duffel bags, two slung over each shoulder. Look, Rothstein said to Mr Yellow, catching the mans eyes and holding them. Dont. Theres nothing in that safe worth taking except for the money. The rest is just a bunch of random scribbling, but its important to me. From the study Mr Red cried: Holy hopping Jesus, Morrie! We hit the jackpot! Eee-doggies, theres a ton of cash! Still in the bank envelopes! Dozens of them! At least sixty, Rothstein could have said, maybe as many as eighty. With four hundred dollars in each one. From Arnold Abel, my accountant in New York. Jeannie cashes the expense checks and brings back the cash envelopes and I put them in the safe. Only I have few expenses, because Arnold also pays the major bills from New York. I tip Jeanne once in awhile, and the postman at Christmas, but otherwise, I rarely spend the cash. For years this has gone on, and why? Arnold never asks what I use the money for. Maybe he thinks I have an arrangement with a call girl or two. Maybe he thinks I play the ponies at Rockingham. But here is the funny thing, he could have said to Mr Yellow (also known as Morrie). I have never asked myself. Any more than Ive asked myself why I keep filling notebook after notebook. Some things just are. He could have said these things, but kept silent. Not because Mr Yellow wouldnt understand, but because that knowing red-lipped smile said he just might. And wouldnt care. What else is in there? Mr Yellow called. His eyes were still locked on Rothsteins. Boxes? Manuscript boxes? The size I told you? Not boxes, notebooks, Mr Red reported back. Fuckin safes filled with em. Mr Yellow smiled, still looking into Rothsteins eyes. Handwritten? That how you do it, genius? Please, Rothstein said. Just leave them. That material isnt meant to be seen. None of its ready. And never will be, thats what I think. Why, youre just a great big hoarder. The twinkle in those eyes what Rothstein thought of as an Irish twinkle was gone now. And hey, it isnt as if you need to publish anything else, right? Not like theres any financial imperative. Youve got royalties from The Runner. And The Runner Sees Action. And The Runner Slows Down. The famous Jimmy Gold trilogy. Never out of print. Taught in college classes all over this great nation of ours. Thanks to a cabal of lit teachers who think you and Saul Bellow hung the moon, youve got a captive audience of book-buying undergrads. Youre all set, right? Why take a chance on publishing something that might put a dent in your solid gold reputation? You can hide out here and pretend the rest of the world doesnt exist. Mr Yellow shook his head. My friend, you give a whole new meaning to anal retentive. Mr Blue was still lingering in the doorway. What do you want me to do, Morrie? Get in there with Curtis. Pack everything up. If there isnt room for all the notebooks in the duffels, look around. Even a cabin rat like him must have at least one suitcase. Dont waste time counting the money, either. I want to get out of here ASAP. Okay. Mr Blue Freddy left. Dont do this, Rothstein said, and was appalled at the tremble in his voice. Sometimes he forgot how old he was, but not tonight. The one whose name was Morrie leaned toward him, greenish-gray eyes peering through the holes in the yellow mask. I want to know something. If youre honest, maybe well leave the notebooks. Will you be honest with me, genius? Ill try, Rothstein said. And I never called myself that, you know. It was Time magazine that called me a genius. But I bet you never wrote a letter of protest. Rothstein said nothing. Sonofabitch, he was thinking. Smartass sonofabitch. You wont leave anything, will you? It doesnt matter what I say. Heres what I want to know why in Gods name couldnt you leave Jimmy Gold alone? Why did you have to push his face down in the dirt like you did? The question was so unexpected that at first Rothstein had no idea what Morrie was talking about, even though Jimmy Gold was his most famous character, the one he would be remembered for (assuming he was remembered for anything). The same Time cover story that had referred to Rothstein as a genius had called Jimmy Gold an American icon of despair in a land of plenty. Pretty much horseshit, but it had sold books. If you mean I should have stopped with The Runner, youre not alone. But almost, he could have added. The Runner Sees Action had solidified his reputation as an important American writer, and The Runner Slows Down had been the capstone of his career: critical bouquets up the wazoo, on the New York Times bestseller list for sixty-two weeks. National Book Award, too not that he had appeared in person to accept it. The Iliad of postwar America, the citation had called it, meaning not just the last one but the trilogy as a whole. Im not saying you should have stopped with The Runner, Morrie said. The Runner Sees Action was just as good, maybe even better. They were true. It was the last one. Man, what a crap carnival. Advertising? I mean, advertising? Mr Yellow then did something that tightened Rothsteins throat and turned his belly to lead. Slowly, almost reflectively, he stripped off his yellow balaclava, revealing a young man of classic Boston Irish countenance: red hair, greenish eyes, pasty-white skin that would always burn and never tan. Plus those weird red lips. House in the suburbs? Ford sedan in the driveway? Wife and two little kiddies? Everybody sells out, is that what you were trying to say? Everybody eats the poison? In the notebooks There were two more Jimmy Gold novels in the notebooks, that was what he wanted to say, ones that completed the circle. In the first of them, Jimmy comes to see the hollowness of his suburban life and leaves his family, his job, and his comfy Connecticut home. He leaves on foot, with nothing but a knapsack and the clothes on his back. He becomes an older version of the kid who dropped out of school, rejected his materialistic family, and decided to join the army after a booze-filled weekend spent wandering in New York City. In the notebooks what? Morrie asked. Come on, genius, speak. Tell me why you had to knock him down and step on the back of his head. In The Runner Goes West he becomes himself again, Rothstein wanted to say. His essential self. Only now Mr Yellow had shown his face, and he was removing a pistol from the right front pocket of his plaid jacket. He looked sorrowful. You created one of the greatest characters in American literature, then shit on him, Morrie said. A man who could do that doesnt deserve to live. The anger roared back like a sweet surprise. If you think that, John Rothstein said, you never understood a word I wrote. Morrie pointed the pistol. The muzzle was a black eye. Rothstein pointed an arthritis-gnarled finger back, as if it were his own gun, and felt satisfaction when he saw Morrie blink and flinch a little. Dont give me your dumbass literary criticism. I got a bellyful of that long before you were born. What are you, anyway, twenty-two? Twenty-three? What do you know about life, let alone literature? Enough to know not everyone sells out. Rothstein was astounded to see tears swimming in those Irish eyes. Dont lecture me about life, not after spending the last twenty years hiding away from the world like a rat in a hole. This old criticism how dare you leave the Fame Table? sparked Rothsteins anger into full-blown rage the sort of glass-throwing, furniture-smashing rage both Peggy and Yolande would have recognized and he was glad. Better to die raging than to do so cringing and begging. How will you turn my work into cash? Have you thought of that? I assume you have. I assume you know that you might as well try to sell a stolen Hemingway notebook, or a Picasso painting. But your friends arent as educated as you are, are they? I can tell by the way they speak. Do they know what you know? Im sure they dont. But you sold them a bill of goods. You showed them a large pie in the sky and told them they could each have a slice. I think youre capable of that. I think you have a lake of words at your disposal. But I believe its a shallow lake. Shut up. You sound like my mother. Youre a common thief, my friend. And how stupid to steal what you can never sell. Shut up, genius, Im warning you. Rothstein thought, And if he pulls the trigger? No more pills. No more regrets about the past, and the litter of broken relationships along the way like so many cracked-up cars. No more obsessive writing, either, accumulating notebook after notebook like little piles of rabbit turds scattered along a woodland trail. A bullet in the head would not be so bad, maybe. Better than cancer or Alzheimers, that prime horror of anyone who has spent his life making a living by his wits. Of course there would be headlines, and Id gotten plenty of those even before that damned Time story but if he pulls the trigger, I wont have to read them. Youre stupid, Rothstein said. All at once he was in a kind of ecstasy. You think youre smarter than those other two, but youre not. At least they understand that cash can be spent. He leaned forward, staring at that pale, freckle-spattered face. You know what, kid? Its guys like you who give reading a bad name. Last warning, Morrie said. Fuck your warning. And fuck your mother. Either shoot me or get out of my house. Morris Bellamy shot him. 2009 The first argument about money in the Saubers household the first one the kids overheard, at least happened on an evening in April. It wasnt a big argument, but even the greatest storms begin as gentle breezes. Peter and Tina Saubers were in the living room, Pete doing homework and Tina watching a SpongeBob DVD. It was one shed seen before, many times, but she never seemed to tire of it. This was fortunate, because these days there was no access to the Cartoon Network in the Saubers household. Tom Saubers had canceled the cable service two months ago. Tom and Linda Saubers were in the kitchen, where Tom was cinching his old pack shut after loading it up with PowerBars, a Tupperware filled with cut veggies, two bottles of water, and a can of Coke. Youre nuts, Linda said. I mean, Ive always known you were a Type A personality, but this takes it to a whole new level. If you want to set the alarm for five, fine. You can pick up Todd, be at City Center by six, and youll still be first in line. I wish, Tom said. Todd says there was one of these job fairs in Brook Park last month, and people started lining up the day before. The day before, Lin! Todd says a lot of things. And you listen. Remember when Todd said Pete and Tina would just love that Monster Truck Jam thingie This isnt a Monster Truck Jam, or a concert in the park, or a fireworks show. This is our lives. Pete looked up from his homework and briefly met his little sisters eyes. Tinas shrug was eloquent: Just the parents. He went back to his algebra. Four more problems and he could go down to Howies house. See if Howie had any new comic books. Pete certainly had none to trade; his allowance had gone the way of the cable TV. In the kitchen, Tom had begun to pace. Linda caught up with him and took his arm gently. I know its our lives, she said. Speaking low, partly so the kids wouldnt hear and be nervous (she knew Pete already was), mostly to lower the temperature. She knew how Tom felt, and her heart went out to him. Being afraid was bad; being humiliated because he could no longer fulfill what he saw as his primary responsibility to support his family was worse. And humiliation really wasnt the right word. What he felt was shame. For the ten years hed been at Lakefront Realty, hed consistently been one of their top salesmen, often with his smiling photo at the front of the shop. The money she brought in teaching third grade was just icing on the cake. Then, in the fall of 2008, the bottom fell out of the economy, and the Sauberses became a single-income family. It wasnt as if Tom had been let go and might be called back when things improved; Lakefront Realty was now an empty building with graffiti on the walls and a FOR SALE OR LEASE sign out front. The Reardon brothers, who had inherited the business from their father (and their father from his), had been deeply invested in stocks, and lost nearly everything when the market tanked. It was little comfort to Linda that Toms best friend, Todd Paine, was in the same boat. She thought Todd was a dingbat. Have you seen the weather forecast? I have. Its going to be cold. Fog off the lake by morning, maybe even freezing drizzle. Freezing drizzle, Tom. Good. I hope it happens. Itll keep the numbers down and improve the odds. He took her by the forearms, but gently. There was no shaking, no shouting. That came later. Ive got to get something, Lin, and the job fair is my best shot this spring. Ive been pounding the pavement I know And theres nothing. I mean zilch. Oh, a few jobs down at the docks, and a little construction at the shopping center out by the airport, but can you see me doing that kind of work? Im thirty pounds overweight and twenty years out of shape. I might find something downtown this summer clerking, maybe if things ease up a little but that kind of job would be low-paying and probably temporary. So Todd and mere going at midnight, and were going to stand in line until the doors open tomorrow morning, and I promise you Im going to come back with a job that pays actual money. And probably with some bug we can all catch. Then we can scrimp on groceries to pay the doctors bills. That was when he grew really angry with her. I would like a little support here. Tom, for Gods sake, Im try Maybe even an attaboy. Way to show some initiative, Tom. Were glad youre going the extra mile for the family, Tom. That sort of thing. If its not too much to ask. All Im saying But the kitchen door opened and closed before she could finish. Hed gone out back to smoke a cigarette. When Pete looked up this time, he saw distress and worry on Tinas face. She was only eight, after all. Pete smiled and dropped her a wink. Tina gave him a doubtful smile in return, then went back to the doings in the deepwater kingdom called Bikini Bottom, where dads did not lose their jobs or raise their voices, and kids did not lose their allowances. Unless they were bad, that was. Before leaving that night, Tom carried his daughter up to bed and kissed her goodnight. He added one for Mrs Beasley, Tinas favorite doll for good luck, he said. Daddy? Is everything going to be okay? You bet, sugar, he said. She remembered that. The confidence in his voice. Everythings going to be just fine. Now go to sleep. He left, walking normally. She remembered that, too, because she never saw him walk that way again. At the top of the steep drive leading from Marlborough Street to the City Center parking lot, Tom said, Whoa, hold it, stop! Man, theres cars behind me, Todd said. Thisll just take a second. Tom raised his phone and snapped a picture of the people standing in line. There had to be a hundred already. At least that many. Running above the auditorium doors was a banner reading 1000 JOBS GUARANTEED! And We Stand With the People of Our City! MAYOR RALPH KINSLER. Behind Todd Paines rusty 04 Subaru, someone laid on his horn. Tommy, I hate to be a party pooper while youre memorializing this wonderful occasion, but Go, go. I got it. And, as Todd drove into the parking lot, where the spaces nearest the building had already been filled: I cant wait to show that picture to Linda. You know what she said? That if we got here by six, wed be first in line. Told you, my man. The Toddster does not lie. The Toddster parked. The Subaru died with a fart and a wheeze. By daybreak, theres gonna be, like, a couple-thousand people here. TV, too. All the stations. City at Six, Morning Report, MetroScan. We might get interviewed. Ill settle for a job. Linda had been right about one thing, it was damp. You could smell the lake in the air: that faintly sewery aroma. And it was almost cold enough for him to see his breath. Posts with yellow DO NOT CROSS tape had been set up, folding the job-seekers back and forth like pleats in a human accordion. Tom and Todd took their places between the final posts. Others fell in behind them at once, mostly men, some in heavy fleece workmens jackets, some in Mr Businessman topcoats and Mr Businessman haircuts that were beginning to lose their finely barbered edge. Tom guessed that the line would stretch all the way to the end of the parking lot by dawn, and that would still be at least four hours before the doors opened. His eye was caught by a woman with a baby hanging off the front of her. They were a couple of zigzags over. Tom wondered how desperate you had to be to come out in the middle of a cold, damp night like this one with an infant. The kiddo was in one of those Papoose carriers. The woman was talking to a burly man with a sleeping bag slung over his shoulder, and the baby was peering from one to the other, like the worlds smallest tennis fan. Sort of comical. Want a little warm-up, Tommy? Todd had taken a pint of Bells from his pack and was holding it out. Tom almost said no, remembering Lindas parting shot Dont you come home with booze on your breath, mister and then took the bottle. It was cold out here, and a short one wouldnt hurt. He felt the whiskey go down, heating his throat and belly. Rinse your mouth before you hit any of the job booths, he reminded himself. Guys who smell of whiskey dont get hired for anything. When Todd offered him another nip this was around two oclock Tom refused. But when he offered again at three, Tom took the bottle. Checking the level, he guessed the Toddster had been fortifying himself against the cold quite liberally. Well, what the hell, Tom thought, and bit off quite a bit more than a nip; this one was a solid mouthful. Atta-baby, Todd said, sounding the teensiest bit slurry. Go with your bad self. Job hunters continued to arrive, their cars nosing up from Marlborough Street through the thickening fog. The line was well past the posts now, and no longer zigzagging. Tom had believed he understood the economic difficulties currently besetting the country hadnt he lost a job himself, a very good job? but as the cars kept coming and the line kept growing (he could no longer see where it ended), he began to get a new and frightening perspective. Maybe difficulties wasnt the right word. Maybe the right word was calamity. To his right, in the maze of posts and tape leading to the doors of the darkened auditorium, the baby began to cry. Tom looked around and saw the man with the sleeping bag holding the sides of the papoose carrier so the woman (God, Tom thought, she doesnt look like shes out of her teens yet) could pull the kid out. What the fucks zat? Todd asked, sounding slurrier than ever. A kid, Tom said. Woman with a kid. Girl with a kid. Todd peered. Christ on a pony, he said. I call that pretty irra irry you know, not responsible. Are you drunk? Linda disliked Todd, she didnt see his good side, and right now Tom wasnt sure he saw it, either. Lil bit. Ill be fine by the time the doors open. Got some breath mints, too. Tom thought of asking the Toddster if hed also brought some Visine his eyes were looking mighty red and decided he didnt want to have that discussion just now. He turned his attention back to where the woman with the crying baby had been. At first he thought they were gone. Then he looked lower and saw her sliding into the burly mans sleeping bag with the baby on her chest. The burly man was holding the mouth of the bag open for her. The infant was still bawling his or her head off. Cant you shut that kid up? a man called. Someone ought to call Social Services, a woman added. Tom thought of Tina at that age, imagined her out on this cold and foggy predawn morning, and restrained an urge to tell the man and woman to shut up or better yet, lend a hand somehow. After all, they were in this together, werent they? The whole screwed-up, bad-luck bunch of them. The crying softened, stopped. Shes probably feeding im, Todd said. He squeezed his chest to demonstrate. Yeah. Tommy? What? You know Ellen lost her job, right? Jesus, no. I didnt know that. Pretending he didnt see the fear in Todds face. Or the glimmering of moisture in his eyes. Possibly from the booze or the cold. Possibly not. They said theyd call her back when things get better, but they said the same thing to me, and Ive been out of work going on half a year now. I cashed my insurance. Thats gone. And you know what we got left in the bank? Five hundred dollars. You know how long five hundred dollars lasts when a loaf of bread at Krogers costs a buck? Not long. Youre fucking A it doesnt. I have to get something here. Have to. You will. We both will. Todd lifted his chin at the burly man, who now appeared to be standing guard over the sleeping bag, so no one would accidentally step on the woman and baby inside. Think theyre married? Tom hadnt considered it. Now he did. Probably. Then they both must be out of work. Otherwise, one of em would have stayed home with the kid. Maybe, Tom said, they think showing up with the baby will improve their chances. Todd brightened. The pity card! Not a bad idea! He held out the pint. Want a nip? He took a small one, thinking, If I dont drink it, Todd will. Tom was awakened from a whiskey-assisted doze by an exuberant shout: Life is discovered on other planets! This sally was followed by laughter and applause. He looked around and saw daylight. Thin and fog-draped, but daylight, just the same. Beyond the bank of auditorium doors, a fellow in gray fatigues a man with a job, lucky fellow was pushing a mop-bucket across the lobby. Whuddup? Todd asked. Nothing, Tom said. Just a janitor. Todd peered in the direction of Marlborough Street. Jesus, and still they come. Yeah, Tom said. Thinking, And if Id listened to Linda, wed be at the end of a line that stretches halfway to Cleveland. That was a good thought, a little vindication was always good, but he wished hed said no to Todds pint. His mouth tasted like kitty litter. Not that hed ever actually eaten any, but Someone a couple of zigzags over not far from the sleeping bag asked, Is that a Benz? It looks like a Benz. Tom saw a long shape at the head of the entrance drive leading up from Marlborough, its yellow fog-lamps blazing. It wasnt moving; it just sat there. Whats he think hes doing? Todd asked. The driver of the car immediately behind must have wondered the same thing, because he laid on his horn a long, pissed-off blat that made people stir and snort and look around. For a moment the car with the yellow fog-lamps stayed where it was. Then it shot forward. Not to the left, toward the now full-to-overflowing parking lot, but directly at the people penned within the maze of tapes and posts. Hey! someone shouted. The crowd swayed backward in a tidal motion. Tom was shoved against Todd, who went down on his ass. Tom fought for balance, almost found it, and then the man in front of him yelling, no, screaming drove his butt into Toms crotch and one flailing elbow into his chest. Tom fell on top of his buddy, heard the bottle of Bells shatter somewhere between them, and smelled the sharp reek of the remaining whiskey as it ran across the pavement. Great, now Ill smell like a barroom on Saturday night. He struggled to his feet in time to see the car it was a Mercedes, all right, a big sedan as gray as this foggy morning plowing into the crowd, spinning bodies out of its way as it came, describing a drunken arc. Blood dripped from the grille. A woman went skidding and rolling across the hood with her hands out and her shoes gone. She slapped at the glass, grabbed at one of the windshield wipers, missed, and tumbled off to one side. Yellow DO NOT CROSS tapes snapped. A post clanged against the side of the big sedan, which did not slow its roll in the slightest. Tom saw the front wheels pass over the sleeping bag and the burly man, who had been crouched protectively over it with one hand raised. Now it was coming right at him. Todd! he shouted. Todd, get up! He grabbed at Todds hands, got one of them, and pulled. Someone slammed into him and he was driven back to his knees. He could hear the rogue cars motor, revving full-out. Very close now. He tried to crawl, and a foot clobbered him in the temple. He saw stars. Tom? Todd was behind him now. How had that happened? Tom, what the fuck? A body landed on top of him, and then something else was on top of him, a huge weight that pressed down, threatening to turn him to jelly. His hips snapped. They sounded like dry turkey bones. Then the weight was gone. Pain with its own kind of weight rushed in to replace it. Tom tried to raise his head and managed to get it off the pavement just long enough to see taillights dwindling into the fog. He saw glittering shards of glass from the busted pint. He saw Todd sprawled on his back with blood coming out of his head and pooling on the pavement. Crimson tire-tracks ran away into the foggy half-light. He thought, Linda was right. I should have stayed home. He thought, Im going to die, and maybe thats for the best. Because, unlike Todd Paine, I never got around to cashing in my insurance. He thought, Although I probably would have, in time. Then, blackness. When Tom Saubers woke up in the hospital forty-eight hours later, Linda was sitting beside him. She was holding his hand. He asked her if he was going to live. She smiled, squeezed his hand, and said you bet your patootie. Am I paralyzed? Tell me the truth. No, honey, but youve got a lot of broken bones. What about Todd? She looked away, biting her lips. Hes in a coma, but they think hes going to come out of it eventually. They can tell by his brainwaves, or something. There was a car. I couldnt get out of the way. I know. You werent the only one. It was some madman. He got away with it, at least so far. Tom could have cared less about the man driving the Mercedes-Benz. Not paralyzed was good, but How bad did I get it? No bullshit be honest. She met his eyes but couldnt hold them. Once more looking at the get-well cards on his bureau, she said, You well. Its going to be awhile before you can walk again. How long? She raised his hand, which was badly scraped, and kissed it. They dont know. Tom Saubers closed his eyes and began to cry. Linda listened to that awhile, and when she couldnt stand it anymore, she leaned forward and began to punch the button on the morphine pump. She kept doing it until the machine stopped giving. By then he was asleep. 1978 Morris grabbed a blanket from the top shelf of the bedroom closet and used it to cover Rothstein, who now sprawled askew in the easy chair with the top of his head gone. The brains that had conceived Jimmy Gold, Jimmys sister Emma, and Jimmys self-involved, semi-alcoholic parents so much like Morriss own were now drying on the wallpaper. Morris wasnt shocked, exactly, but he was certainly amazed. He had expected some blood, and a hole between the eyes, but not this gaudy expectoration of gristle and bone. It was a failure of imagination, he supposed, the reason why he could read the giants of modern American literature read them and appreciate them but never be one. Freddy Dow came out of the study with a loaded duffel bag over each shoulder. Curtis followed, head down and carrying nothing at all. All at once he sped up, hooked around Freddy, and bolted into the kitchen. The door to the backyard banged against the side of the house as the wind took it. Then came the sound of retching. Hes feelin kinda sick, Freddy said. He had a talent for stating the obvious. You all right? Morris asked. Yuh. Freddy went out through the front door without looking back, pausing to pick up the crowbar leaning against the porch glider. They had come prepared to break in, but the front door had been unlocked. The kitchen door, as well. Rothstein had put all his confidence in the Gardall safe, it seemed. Talk about failures of the imagination. Morris went into the study, looked at Rothsteins neat desk and covered typewriter. Looked at the pictures on the wall. Both ex-wives hung there, laughing and young and beautiful in their fifties clothes and hairdos. It was sort of interesting that Rothstein would keep those discarded women where they could look at him while he was writing, but Morris had no time to consider this, or to investigate the contents of the writers desk, which he would dearly have loved to do. But was such investigation even necessary? He had the notebooks, after all. He had the contents of the writers mind. Everything hed written since he stopped publishing eighteen years ago. Freddy had taken the stacks of cash envelopes in the first load (of course; cash was what Freddy and Curtis understood), but there were still plenty of notebooks on the shelves of the safe. They were Moleskines, the kind Hemingway had used, the kind Morris had dreamed of while in the reformatory, where he had also dreamed of becoming a writer himself. But in Riverview Youth Detention he had been rationed to five sheets of pulpy Blue Horse paper each week, hardly enough to begin writing the Great American Novel. Begging for more did no good. The one time hed offered Elkins, the commissary trustee, a blowjob for a dozen extra sheets, Elkins had punched him in the face. Sort of funny, when you considered all the non-consensual sex he had been forced to participate in during his nine-month stretch, usually on his knees and on more than one occasion with his own dirty undershorts stuffed in his mouth. He didnt hold his mother entirely responsible for those rapes, but she deserved her share of the blame. Anita Bellamy, the famous history professor whose book on Henry Clay Frick had been nominated for a Pulitzer. So famous that she presumed to know all about modern American literature, as well. It was an argument about the Gold trilogy that had sent him out one night, furious and determined to get drunk. Which he did, although he was underage and looked it. Drinking did not agree with Morris. He did things when he was drinking that he couldnt remember later, and they were never good things. That night it had been breaking and entering, vandalism, and fighting with a neighborhood rent-a-cop who tried to hold him until the regular cops got there. That was almost six years ago, but the memory was still fresh. It had all been so stupid. Stealing a car, joyriding across town, then abandoning it (perhaps after pissing all over the dashboard) was one thing. Not smart, but with a little luck, you could walk away from that sort of deal. But breaking into a place in Sugar Heights? Double stupid. He had wanted nothing in that house (at least nothing he could remember later). And when he did want something? When he offered up his mouth for a few lousy sheets of Blue Horse paper? Punched in the face. So hed laughed, because that was what Jimmy Gold would have done (at least before Jimmy grew up and sold out for what he called the Golden Buck), and what happened next? Punched in the face again, even harder. It was the muffled crack of his nose breaking that had started him crying. Jimmy never would have cried. He was still looking greedily at the Moleskines when Freddy Dow returned with the other two duffel bags. He also had a scuffed leather carryall. This was in the pantry. Along with like a billion cans of beans and tuna fish. Go figure, huh? Weird guy. Maybe he was waiting for the Acropolipse. Come on, Morrie, put it in gear. Someone might have heard that shot. There arent any neighbors. Nearest farm is two miles away. Relax. Jailsre full of guys who were relaxed. We need to get out of here. Morris began gathering up handfuls of notebooks, but couldnt resist looking in one, just to make sure. Rothstein had been a weird guy, and it wasnt out of the realm of possibility that he had stacked his safe with blank books, thinking he might write something in them eventually. But no. This one, at least, was loaded with Rothsteins small, neat handwriting, every page filled, top to bottom and side to side, the margins as thin as threads. wasnt sure why it mattered to him and why he couldnt sleep as the empty boxcar of this late freight bore him on through rural oblivion toward Kansas City and the sleeping country beyond, the full belly of America resting beneath its customary comforter of night, yet Jimmys thoughts persisted in turning back to Freddy thumped him on the shoulder, and not gently. Get your nose out of that thing and pack up. We already got one puking his guts out and pretty much useless. Morris dropped the notebook into one of the duffels and grabbed another double handful without a word, his thoughts brilliant with possibility. He forgot about the mess under the blanket in the living room, forgot about Curtis Rogers puking his guts in the roses or zinnias or petunias or whatever was growing out back. Jimmy Gold! Headed west, in a boxcar! Rothstein hadnt been done with him, after all! Thesere full, he told Freddy. Take them out. Ill put the rest in the valise. That what you call that kind of bag? I think so, yeah. He knew so. Go on. Almost done here. Freddy shouldered the duffels by their straps, but lingered a moment longer. Are you sure about these things? Because Rothstein said He was a hoarder trying to save his hoard. He would have said anything. Go on. Freddy went. Morris loaded the last batch of Moleskines into the valise and backed out of the closet. Curtis was standing by Rothsteins desk. He had taken off his balaclava; they all had. His face was paper-pale and there were dark shock circles around his eyes. You didnt have to kill him. You werent supposed to. It wasnt in the plan. Whyd you do that? Because he made me feel stupid. Because he cursed my mother and thats my job. Because he called me a kid. Because he needed to be punished for turning Jimmy Gold into one of them. Mostly because nobody with his kind of talent has a right to hide it from the world. Only Curtis wouldnt understand that. Because itll make the notebooks worth more when we sell them. Which wouldnt be until hed read every word in them, but Curtis wouldnt understand the need to do that, and didnt need to know. Nor did Freddy. He tried to sound patient and reasonable. We now have all the John Rothstein output theres ever going to be. That makes the unpublished stuff even more valuable. You see that, dont you? Curtis scratched one pale cheek. Well I guess yeah. Also, he can never claim theyre forgeries when they turn up. Which he would have done, just out of spite. Ive read a lot about him, Curtis, just about everything, and he was one spiteful motherfucker. Well Morrie restrained himself from saying Thats an extremely deep subject for a mind as shallow as yours. He held out the valise instead. Take it. And keep your gloves on until were in the car. You should have talked it over with us, Morrie. Were your partners. Curtis started out, then turned back. I got a question. What is it? Do you know if New Hampshire has the death penalty? They took secondary roads across the narrow chimney of New Hampshire and into Vermont. Freddy drove the Chevy Biscayne, which was old and unremarkable. Morris rode shotgun with a Rand McNally open on his lap, thumbing on the dome light from time to time to make sure they didnt wander off their pre-planned route. He didnt need to remind Freddy to keep to the speed limit. This wasnt Freddy Dows first rodeo. Curtis lay in the backseat, and soon they heard the sound of his snores. Morris considered him lucky; he seemed to have puked out his horror. Morris thought it might be awhile before he himself got another good nights sleep. He kept seeing the brains dribbling down the wallpaper. It wasnt the killing that stayed on his mind, it was the spilled talent. A lifetime of honing and shaping torn apart in less than a second. All those stories, all those images, and what came out looked like so much oatmeal. What was the point? So you really think well be able to sell those little books of his? Freddy asked. He was back to that. For real money, I mean? Yes. And get away with it? Yes, Freddy, Im sure. Freddy Dow was quiet for so long that Morris thought the issue was settled. Then he spoke to the subject again. Two words. Dry and toneless. Im doubtful. Later on, once more incarcerated not in Youth Detention this time, either Morris would think, Thats when I decided to kill them. But sometimes at night, when he couldnt sleep, his asshole slick and burning from one of a dozen soap-assisted shower-room buggeries, he would admit that wasnt the truth. Hed known all along. They were dumb, and career criminals. Sooner or later (probably sooner) one of them would be caught for something else, and there would be the temptation to trade what they knew about this night for a lighter sentence or no sentence at all. I just knew they had to go, he would think on those cellblock nights when the full belly of America rested beneath its customary comforter of night. It was inevitable. In upstate New York, with dawn not yet come but beginning to show the horizons dark outline behind them, they turned west on Route 92, a highway that roughly paralleled I-90 as far as Illinois, where it turned south and petered out in the industrial city of Rockford. The road was still mostly deserted at this hour, although they could hear (and sometimes see) heavy truck traffic on the interstate to their left. They passed a sign reading REST AREA 2 MI., and Morris thought of Macbeth. If it were to be done, then twere well it were done quickly. Not an exact quote, maybe, but close enough for government work. Pull in there, he told Freddy. I need to drain the dragon. They probably got vending machines, too, said the puker in the backseat. Curtis was sitting up now, his hair crazy around his head. I could get behind some of those peanut butter crackers. Morris knew hed have to let it go if there were other cars in the rest area. I-90 had sucked away most of the through traffic that used to travel on this road, but once daybreak arrived, there would be lots of local traffic, pooting along from one Hicksville to the next. For now the rest area was deserted, at least in part because of the sign reading OVERNIGHT RVS PROHIBITED. They parked and got out. Birds chirruped in the trees, discussing the night just past and plans for the day. A few leaves in this part of the world they were just beginning to turn drifted down and scuttered across the lot. Curtis went to inspect the vending machines while Morris and Freddy walked side by side to the mens half of the restroom facility. Morris didnt feel particularly nervous. Maybe what they said was true, after the first one it got easier. He held the door for Freddy with one hand and took the pistol from his jacket pocket with the other. Freddy said thanks without looking around. Morris let the door swing shut before raising the gun. He placed the muzzle less than an inch from the back of Freddy Dows head and pulled the trigger. The gunshot was a flat loud bang in the tiled room, but anyone who heard it from a distance would think it was a motorcycle backfiring on I-90. What he worried about was Curtis. He neednt have. Curtis was still standing in the snack alcove, beneath a wooden eave and a rustic sign reading ROADSIDE OASIS. In one hand he had a package of peanut butter crackers. Did you hear that? he asked Morris. Then, seeing the gun, sounding honestly puzzled: Whats that for? You, Morris said, and shot him in the chest. Curtis went down, but this was a shock did not die. He didnt seem even close to dying. He squirmed on the pavement. A fallen leaf cartwheeled in front of his nose. Blood began to seep out from beneath him. He was still clutching his crackers. He looked up, his oily black hair hanging in his eyes. Beyond the screening trees, a truck went past on Route 92, droning east. Morris didnt want to shoot Curtis again, out here a gunshot didnt have that hollow backfire sound, and besides, someone might pull in at any second. If it were to be done, then twere well it were done quickly, he said, and dropped to one knee. You shot me, Curtis said, sounding breathless and amazed. You fucking shot me, Morrie! Thinking how much he hated that nickname hed hated it all his life, and even teachers, who should have known better, used it he reversed the gun and began to hammer Curtiss skull with the butt. Three hard blows accomplished very little. It was only a .38, after all, and not heavy enough to do more than minor damage. Blood began to seep through Curtiss hair and run down his stubbly cheeks. He was groaning, staring up at Morris with desperate blue eyes. He waved one hand weakly. Stop it, Morrie! Stop it, that hurts! Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Morris slid the gun back into his pocket. The butt was now slimy with blood and hair. He went to the Biscayne, wiping his hand on his jacket. He opened the drivers door, saw the empty ignition, and said fuck under his breath. Whispering it like a prayer. On 92, a couple of cars went by, then a brown UPS truck. He trotted back to the mens room, opened the door, knelt down, and began to go through Freddys pockets. He found the car keys in the left front. He got to his feet and hurried back to the snack alcove, sure a car or truck would have pulled in by now, the traffic was getting heavier all the time, somebody would have to piss out his or her morning coffee, and he would have to kill that one, too, and possibly the one after that. An image of linked paper dolls came to mind. No one yet, though. He got into the Biscayne, legally purchased but now bearing stolen Maine license plates. Curtis Rogers was slithering a slow course down the cement walkway toward the toilets, pulling with his hands and pushing feebly with his feet and leaving a snail-trail of blood behind. It was impossible to know for sure, but Morris thought he might be trying to reach the pay telephone on the wall between the mens and the ladies. This wasnt the way it was supposed to go, he thought, starting the car. It was spur-of-the-moment stupid, and he was probably going to be caught. It made him think of what Rothstein had said at the end. What are you, anyway, twenty-two? Twenty-three? What do you know about life, let alone literature? I know Im no sellout, he said. I know that much. He put the Biscayne in drive and rolled slowly forward toward the man eeling his way up the cement walkway. He wanted to get out of here, his brain was yammering at him to get out of here, but this had to be done carefully and with no more mess than was absolutely necessary. Curtis looked around, his eyes wide and horrified behind the jungle foliage of his dirty hair. He raised one hand in a feeble stop gesture, then Morris couldnt see him anymore because the hood was in the way. He steered carefully and continued creeping forward. The front of the car bumped up over the curbing. The pine tree air freshener on the rearview mirror swung and bobbed. There was nothing and nothing and then the car bumped up again. There was a muffled pop, the sound of a small pumpkin exploding in a microwave oven. Morris cut the wheel to the left and there was another bump as the Biscayne went back into the parking area. He looked in the mirror and saw that Curtiss head was gone. Well, no. Not exactly. It was there, but all spread out, mooshed. No loss of talent in that mess, Morrie thought. He drove toward the exit, and when he was sure the road was empty, he sped up. He would need to stop and examine the front of the car, especially the tire that had run over Curtiss head, but he wanted to get twenty miles farther down the road first. Twenty at least. I see a car wash in my future, he said. This struck him funny (inordinately funny, and there was a word neither Freddy nor Curtis would have understood), and he laughed long and loud. He kept exactly to the speed limit. He watched the odometer turn the miles, and even at fifty-five, each revolution seemed to take five minutes. He was sure the tire had left a blood-trail going out of the exit, but that would be gone now. Long gone. Still, it was time to turn off onto the secondary roads again, maybe even the tertiary ones. The smart thing would be to stop and throw all the notebooks the cash, too into the woods. But he would not do that. Never would he do that. Fifty-fifty odds, he told himself. Maybe better. After all, no one saw the car. Not in New Hampshire and not at that rest area. He came to an abandoned restaurant, pulled into the side lot, and examined the Biscaynes front end and right front tire. He thought things looked pretty good, all in all, but there was some blood on the front bumper. He pulled a handful of weeds and wiped it off. He got back in and drove on west. He was prepared for roadblocks, but there were none. Over the Pennsylvania state line, in Gowanda, he found a coin-op car wash. The brushes brushed, the jets rinsed, and the car came out spanking clean underside as well as topside. Morris drove west, headed for the filthy little city residents called the Gem of the Great Lakes. He had to sit tight for awhile, and he had to see an old friend. Also, home was the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in the gospel according to Robert Frost and that was especially true when there was no one to bitch about the return of the prodigal son. With dear old Dad in the wind for years now and dear old Mom spending the fall semester at Princeton guest-lecturing on the robber barons, the house on Sycamore Street would be empty. Not much of a house for a fancy-schmancy teacher not to mention a writer once nominated for the Pulitzer but blame dear old Dad for that. Besides, Morris had never minded living there; that had been Mothers resentment, not his. Morris listened to the news, but there was nothing about the murder of the novelist who, according to that Time cover story, had been a voice shouting at the children of the silent fifties to wake up and raise their own voices. This radio silence was good news, but not unexpected; according to Morriss source in the reformatory, Rothsteins housekeeper only came in once a week. There was also a handyman, but he only came when called. Morris and his late partners had picked their time accordingly, which meant he could reasonably hope the body might not be discovered for another six days. That afternoon, in rural Ohio, he passed an antiques barn and made a U-turn. After a bit of browsing, he bought a used trunk for twenty dollars. It was old, but looked sturdy. Morris considered it a steal. 2010 Pete Sauberss parents had lots of arguments now. Tina called them the arkie-barkies. Pete thought she had something there, because that was what they sounded like when they got going: ark-ark-ark, bark-bark-bark. Sometimes Pete wanted to go to the head of the stairs and scream down at them to quit it, just quit it. Youre scaring the kids, he wanted to yell. There are kids in this house, kids, did you two stupes forget that? Pete was home because Honor Roll students with nothing but afternoon study hall and activity period after lunch were allowed to cut out early. His door was open and he heard his father go thumping rapidly across the kitchen on his crutches as soon as his mothers car pulled into the driveway. Pete was pretty sure todays festivities would start with his dad saying Gosh, she was home early. Mom would say he could never seem to remember that Wednesdays were now her early days. Dad would reply that he still wasnt used to living in this part of the city, saying it like theyd been forced to relocate into deepest darkest Lowtown instead of just the Tree Streets section of Northfield. Once the preliminaries were taken care of, they could get down to the real arking and barking. Pete wasnt crazy about the North Side himself? but it wasnt terrible, and even at thirteen he seemed to understand the economic realities of their situation better than his father. Maybe because he wasnt swallowing OxyContin pills four times a day like his father. They were here because Grace Johnson Middle School, where his mother used to teach, had been closed as part of the city councils cost-cutting initiative. Many of the GJ teachers were now unemployed. Linda, at least, had been hired as a combination librarian and study hall monitor at Northfield Elementary. She got out early on Wednesdays because the library closed at noon that day. All the school libraries did. It was another cost-cutting initiative. Petes dad railed at this, pointing out that the council members hadnt cut their salaries, and calling them a bunch of goddam Tea Party hypocrites. Pete didnt know about that. What he knew was that these days Tom Saubers railed at everything. The Ford Focus, their only car now? pulled up in the driveway and Mom slid out, dragging her old scuffed briefcase. She skirted the patch of ice that always formed in the shady spot under the front porch downspout. It had been Tinas turn to salt that down, but she had forgotten, as usual. Mom climbed the steps slowly, her shoulders low. Pete hated to see her walk that way, as if she had a sack of bricks on her back. Dads crutches, meanwhile, thumped a double-time rhythm into the living room. The front door opened. Pete waited. Hoped for something nice like Hiya, honey, how was your morning? As if. He didnt exactly want to eavesdrop on the arkie-barkies, but the house was small and it was practically impossible not to overhear unless he left, that is, a strategic retreat he made more and more frequently this winter. And he sometimes felt that, as the older kid, he had a responsibility to listen. Mr Jacoby liked to say in history class that knowledge was power, and Pete supposed that was why he felt compelled to monitor his parents escalating war of words. Because each arkie-barkie stretched the fabric of the marriage thinner, and one of these days it would tear wide open. Best to be prepared. Only prepared for what? Divorce? That seemed the most likely outcome. In some ways things might be better if they did split up Pete felt this more and more strongly, although he had not yet articulated it as a conscious thought but what exactly would a divorce mean in (another of Mr Jacobys faves) real world terms? Who would stay and who would go? If his dad went, how would he get along without a car when he could hardly walk? For that matter, how could either of them afford to go? They were broke already. At least Tina wasnt here for todays spirited exchange of parental views; she was still in school, and probably wouldnt be home directly after. Maybe not until dinner. She had finally made a friend, a bucktoothed girl named Ellen Briggs, who lived on the corner of Sycamore and Elm. Pete thought Ellen had the brains of a hamster, but at least Tina wasnt always moping around the house, missing her friends in the old neighborhood, and sometimes crying. Pete hated it when Tina cried. Meanwhile, silence your cell phones and turn off your pagers, folks. The lights are going down and this afternoons installment of Were in Deep Shit is about to begin. TOM: Hey, youre home early. LINDA (wearily): Tom, its TOM: Wednesday, right. Early day at the library. LINDA: Youve been smoking in the house again. I can smell it. TOM (getting his sulk on): Just one. In the kitchen. With the window open. Theres ice on the back steps, and I didnt want to risk a tumble. Pete forgot to salt them again. PETE (aside to the audience): As he should know, since he made the schedule of chores, its actually Tinas week to salt. Those OxyContins he takes arent just pain pills, theyre stupid pills. LINDA: I can still smell it, and you know the lease specifically prohibits TOM: All right, okay, I get it. Next time Ill go outside and risk falling off my crutches. LINDA: Its not just the lease, Tommy. The secondary smoke is bad for the kids. Weve discussed that. TOM: And discussed it, and discussed it LINDA (now wading into even deeper water): Also, how much does a pack of cigarettes cost these days? Four-fifty? Five dollars? TOM: I smoke a pack a week, for Christs sake! LINDA (overrunning his defenses with an arithmetic Panzer assault): At five a pack, thats over twenty dollars a month. And it all comes out of my salary, because its the only one TOM: Oh, here we go LINDA: weve got now. TOM: You never get tired of rubbing that in, do you? Probably think I got run over on purpose. So I could laze around the house. LINDA (after a long pause): Is there any wine left? Because I could use half a glass. PETE (aside): Say there is, Dad. Say there is. TOM: Its gone. Maybe youd like me to crutch my way down to the Zoneys and get another bottle. Of course youd have to give me an advance on my allowance. LINDA (not crying, but sounding on the verge): You act as though what happened to you is my fault. TOM (shouting): Its nobodys fault, and thats what drives me crazy! Dont you get that? They never even caught the guy who did it! At this point Pete decided hed had enough. It was a stupid play. Maybe they didnt see that, but he did. He closed his lit book. He would read the assigned story something by a guy named John Rothstein that night. Right now he had to get out and breathe some uncontentious air. LINDA (quiet): At least you didnt die. TOM (going totally soap opera now): Sometimes I think it would be better if I had. Look at me hooked through the bag on Oxy, and still in pain because it doesnt work for shit anymore unless I take enough to half-kill me. Living on my wifes salary which is a thousand less than it used to be, thanks to the fucking Tea-Partiers LINDA: Watch your lang TOM: House? Gone. Motorized wheelchair? Gone. Savings? Almost used up. And now I cant even have a fucking cigarette! LINDA: If you think whining will solve anything, be my guest, but TOM (roaring): Is whining what you call it? I call it reality. You want me to drop my pants so you can get a good look at whats left of my legs? Pete floated downstairs in his stocking feet. The living room was right there at the bottom, but they didnt see him; they were face-to-face and busy acting in a dipshit play no one would ever pay to see. His father hulking on his crutches, his eyes red and his cheeks scruffy with beard, his mother holding her purse in front of her breasts like a shield and biting her lips. It was awful, and the worst part? He loved them. His father had neglected to mention the Emergency Fund, started a month after the City Center Massacre by the towns one remaining newspaper, in cooperation with the three local TV stations. Brian Williams had even done a story about it on NBC Nightly News how this tough little city took care of its own when disaster struck, all those caring hearts, all those helping hands, all that blah-blah-blah, and now a word from our sponsor. The Emergency Fund made everybody feel good for like six days. What the media didnt talk about was how little the fund had actually raised, even with the charity walks, and the charity bike rides, and a concert by an American Idol runner-up. The Emergency Fund was thin because times were hard for everyone. And, of course, what was raised had to be divided among so many. The Saubers family got a check for twelve hundred dollars, then one for five hundred, then one for two. Last months check, marked FINAL INSTALLMENT, came to fifty dollars. Big whoop. Pete slipped into the kitchen, grabbed his boots and jacket, and went out. The first thing he noticed was that there wasnt any ice on the back stoop; his father had been totally lying about that. The day was too warm for ice, at least in the sun. Spring was still six weeks away, but the current thaw had gone on for almost a week, and the only snow left in the backyard was a few crusty patches under the trees. Pete crossed to the fence and let himself out through the gate. One advantage to living in the Tree Streets of the North Side was the undeveloped land behind Sycamore. It was easily as big as a city block, five tangled acres of undergrowth and scrubby trees running downhill to a frozen stream. Petes dad said the land had been that way for a long time and was apt to stay that way even longer, due to some endless legal wrangle over who owned it and what could be built on it. In the end, no one wins these things but the lawyers, he told Pete. Remember that. In Petes opinion, kids who wanted a little mental health vacation from their parents also won. A path ran through the winter-barren trees on a meandering diagonal, eventually coming out at the Birch Street Rec, a longtime Northfield youth center whose days were now numbered. Big kids hung out on and around the path in warm weather smoking cigarettes, smoking dope, drinking beer, probably laying their girlfriends but not at this time of year. No big kids equaled no hassle. Sometimes Pete took his sister along the path if his mother and father were seriously into it, as was more and more often the case. When they arrived at the Rec, theyd shoot baskets or watch videos or play checkers. He didnt know where he could take her once the Rec closed. There was noplace else except for Zoneys, the convenience store. On his own, he mostly just went as far as the creek, splooshing stones into it if it was flowing, bouncing them off the ice when it was frozen. Seeing if he could make a hole and enjoying the quiet. The arkie-barkies were bad enough, but his worst fear was that his dad now always a little high on the Oxy pills might someday actually take a swing at his mother. That would almost certainly tear the thin-stretched cloth of the marriage. And if it didnt? If she put up with being hit? That would be even worse. Never happen, Pete told himself. Dad never would. But if he did? Ice still covered the stream this afternoon, but it looked rotten, and there were big yellow patches in it, as if some giant had stopped to take a leak. Pete wouldnt dare walk on it. He wouldnt drown or anything if the ice gave way, the water was only ankle deep, but he had no wish to get home and have to explain why his pants and socks were wet. He sat on a fallen log, tossed a few stones (the small ones bounced and rolled, the big ones went through the yellow patches), then just looked at the sky for awhile. Big fluffy clouds floated along up there, the kind that looked more like spring than winter, moving from west to east. There was one that looked like an old woman with a hump on her back (or maybe it was a packsack); there was a rabbit; there was a dragon; there was one that looked like a A soft, crumbling thump on his left distracted him. He turned and saw an overhanging piece of the embankment, loosened by a weeks worth of melting snow, had given way, exposing the roots of a tree that was already leaning precariously. The space created by the fall looked like a cave, and unless he was mistaken he supposed it might be just a shadow there was something in there. Pete walked to the tree, grabbed one of its leafless branches, and bent for a better look. There was something there, all right, and it looked pretty big. The end of a box, maybe? He worked his way down the bank, creating makeshift steps by digging the heels of his boots into the muddy earth. Once he was below the site of the little landspill, he squatted. He saw cracked black leather and metal strips with rivets in them. There was a handle the size of a saddle-stirrup on the end. It was a trunk. Someone had buried a trunk here. Excited now as well as curious, Pete grabbed the handle and yanked. The trunk didnt budge. It was socked in good and tight. Pete gave another tug, but just for forms sake. He wasnt going to get it out. Not without tools. He hunkered with his hands dangling between his thighs, as his father often used to do before his hunkering days came to an end. Just staring at the trunk jutting out of the black, root-snarled earth. It was probably crazy to be thinking of Treasure Island (also The Gold Bug, a story theyd read in English the year before), but he was thinking of it. And was it crazy? Was it really? As well as telling them that knowledge was power, Mr Jacoby stressed the importance of logical thinking. Wasnt it logical to think that someone wouldnt bury a trunk in the woods unless there was something valuable inside? It had been there for awhile, too. You could tell just looking at it. The leather was cracked, and gray in places instead of black. Pete had an idea that if he pulled on the handle with all his might and kept pulling, it might break. The metal binding-strips were dull and lacy with rust. He came to a decision and pelted back up the path to the house. He let himself in through the gate, went to the kitchen door, listened. There were no voices and the TV was off. His father had probably gone into the bedroom (the one on the first floor, Mom and Dad had to sleep there even though it was small, because Dad couldnt climb stairs very well now) to take a nap. Mom might have gone in with him, they sometimes made up that way, but more likely she was in the laundry room that doubled as her study, working on her r?sum? and applying for jobs online. His dad might have given up (and Pete had to admit he had his reasons), but his mom hadnt. She wanted to go back to teaching full-time, and not just for the money. There was a little detached garage, but his mom never put the Focus in it unless there was going to be a snowstorm. It was full of stuff from the old house that they had no room for in this smaller rented place. His dads toolbox was in there (Tom had listed the tools on craigslist or something, but hadnt been able to get what he considered a fair price for them), and some of Tinas and his old toys, and the tub of salt with its scoop, and a few lawn-and-garden implements leaning against the back wall. Pete selected a spade and ran back down the path, holding it in front of him like a soldier with his rifle at high port. He eased his way almost all the way down to the stream, using the steps hed made, and went to work on the little landslide that had revealed the trunk. He shoveled as much of the fallen earth as he could back into the hole under the tree. He wasnt able to fill it all the way to the gnarled roots, but he was able to cover the end of the trunk, which was all he wanted. For now. There was some arking and barking at dinner, not too much, and Tina didnt seem to mind, but she came into Petes room just as he was finishing his homework. She was wearing her footy pajamas and dragging Mrs Beasley, her last and most important comfort-doll. It was as if she had returned to the age of five. Can I get in your bed for awhile, Petie? I had a bad dream. He considered making her go back, then decided (thoughts of the buried trunk flickering in his mind) that to do so might be bad luck. It would also be mean, considering the dark hollows under her pretty eyes. Yeah, okay, for awhile. But were not going to make a practice of it. One of their moms favorite phrases. Tina scooted across the bed until she was against the wall her sleeping position of choice, as if she planned to spend the night. Pete closed his Earth Science book, sat down beside her, and winced. Doll warning, Teens. Mrs Beasleys head is halfway up my butt. Ill scrunch her down by my feet. There. Is that better? What if she smothers? She doesnt breathe, stupid. Shes just a doll and Ellen says pretty soon Ill get tired of her. Ellens a doofus. Shes my friend. Pete realized with some amusement that this wasnt exactly disagreeing. But shes probably right. People grow up. Not you. Youll always be my little sister. And dont go to sleep. Youre going back to your room in like five minutes. Ten. Six. She considered. Okay. From downstairs came a muffled groan, followed by the thump of crutches. Pete tracked the sound into the kitchen, where Dad would sit down, light a cigarette, and blow the smoke out the back door. This would cause the furnace to run, and what the furnace burned, according to their mother, was not oil but dollar bills. Are they gonna get divorced, do you think? Pete was doubly shocked: first by the question, then by the adult matter-of-factness of it. He started to say No, course not, then thought how much he disliked movies where adults lied to children, which was like all movies. I dont know. Not tonight, anyway. The courts are closed. She giggled. That was probably good. He waited for her to say something else. She didnt. Petes thoughts turned to the trunk buried in the embankment, beneath that tree. He had managed to keep those thoughts at arms length while he did his homework, but No, I didnt. Those thoughts were there all the time. Teens? You better not go to sleep. Im not But damn close, from the sound. What would you do if you found a treasure? A buried treasure chest full of jewels and gold doubloons? What are doubloons? Coins from olden days. Id give it to Daddy and Mommy. So they wouldnt fight anymore. Wouldnt you? Yes, Pete said. Now go back to your own bed, before I have to carry you. Under his insurance plan, Tom Saubers only qualified for therapy twice a week now. A special van came for him every Monday and Friday at nine oclock and brought him back at four in the afternoon, after hydrotherapy and a meeting where people with long-term injuries and chronic pain sat around in a circle and talked about their problems. All of which meant that the house was empty for seven hours on those days. On Thursday night, Pete went to bed complaining of a sore throat. The next morning he woke up saying it was still sore, and now he thought he had a fever, too. Youre hot, all right, Linda said after putting the inside of her wrist to his brow. Pete certainly hoped so, after holding his face two inches from his bedside lamp before going downstairs. If youre not better tomorrow, you probably should see the doctor. Good idea! Tom exclaimed from his side of the table, where he was pushing around some scrambled eggs. He looked like he hadnt slept at all. A specialist, maybe! Just let me call Shorty the Chauffeur. Tinas got dibs on the Rolls for her tennis lesson at the country club, but I think the Town Car is available. Tina giggled. Linda gave Tom a hard look, but before she could respond, Pete said he didnt feel all that bad, a day at home would probably fix him up. If that didnt, the weekend would. I suppose. She sighed. Do you want something to eat? Pete did, but thought it unwise to say so, since he was supposed to have a sore throat. He cupped his hand in front of his mouth and created a cough. Maybe just some juice. Then I guess Ill go upstairs and try to get some more sleep. Tina left the house first, bopping down to the corner where she and Ellen would discuss whatever weirdo stuff nine-year-olds discussed while waiting for the schoolbus. Then Mom for her school, in the Focus. Last of all Dad, who made his way down the walk on his crutches to the waiting van. Pete watched him go from his bedroom window, thinking that his father seemed smaller now. The hair sticking out around his Groundhogs cap had started to turn gray. When the van was gone, Pete threw on some clothes, grabbed one of the reusable grocery shopping bags Mom kept in the pantry, and went out to the garage. From his fathers toolbox he selected a hammer and chisel, which he dumped into the bag. He grabbed the spade, started out, then came back and took the crowbar as well. He had never been a Boy Scout, but believed in being prepared. The morning was cold enough for him to see his breath, but by the time Pete dug enough of the trunk free to feel he had a chance of pulling it out, the air had warmed up to well above freezing and he was sweating under his coat. He draped it over a low branch and peered around to make sure he was still alone here by the stream (he had done this several times). Reassured, he got some dirt and rubbed his palms with it, like a batter getting ready to hit. He grasped the handle at the end of the trunk, reminding himself to be ready if it broke. The last thing he wanted to do was tumble down the embankment ass over teapot. If he fell into the stream, he really might get sick. Probably nothing in there but a bunch of moldy old clothes, anyway except why would anyone bury a trunk filled with old clothes? Why not just burn them, or take them to the Goodwill? Only one way to find out. Pete took a deep breath, locked it down in his chest, and pulled. The trunk stayed put, and the old handle creaked warningly, but Pete was encouraged. He found he could now shift the trunk from side to side a little. This made him think of Dad tying a thread around one of Tinas baby teeth and giving a brisk yank when it wouldnt come out on its own. He dropped to his knees (reminding himself he would do well to either wash these jeans later on or bury them deep in his closet) and peered into the hole. He saw a root had closed around the rear of the trunk like a grasping arm. He grabbed the spade, choked up on the handle, and chopped at it. The root was thick and he had to rest several times, but finally he cut all the way through. He laid the spade aside and grabbed the handle again. The trunk was looser now, almost ready to come out. He glanced at his watch. Quarter past ten. He thought of Mom calling home on her break to see how he was doing. Not a big problem, when he didnt answer shed just think he was sleeping, but he reminded himself to check the answering machine when he got back. He grabbed the spade and began to dig around the trunk, loosening the dirt and cutting a few smaller roots. Then he took hold of the handle again. This time, you mother, he told it. This time for sure. He pulled. The trunk slid forward so suddenly and easily that he would have fallen over if his feet hadnt been braced far apart. Now it was leaning out of the hole, its top covered with sprays and clods of dirt. He could see the latches on the front, old-fashioned ones, like the latches on a workmans lunchbox. Also a big lock. He grabbed the handle again and this time it snapped. Fuck a duck, Pete said, looking at his hands. They were red and throbbing. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound (another of Moms favorite sayings). He gripped the sides of the trunk in a clumsy bearhug and rocked back on his heels. This time it came all the way out of its hidey-hole and into the sunlight for the first time in what had to be years, a damp and dirty relic with rusty fittings. It looked to be two and a half feet long and at least a foot and a half deep. Maybe more. Pete hefted the end and guessed it might weigh as much as sixty pounds, half his own weight, but it was impossible to tell how much of that was the contents and how much the trunk itself. In any case, it wasnt doubloons; if the trunk had been filled with gold, he wouldnt have been able to pull it out at all, let alone lift it. He snapped the latches up, creating little showers of dirt, and then bent close to the lock, prepared to bust it off with the hammer and chisel. Then, if it still wouldnt open and it probably wouldnt hed use the crowbar. But first you never knew until you tried He grasped the lid and it came up in a squall of dirty hinges. Later he would surmise that someone had bought this trunk secondhand, probably getting a good deal because the key was lost, but for now he only stared. He was unaware of the blister on one palm, or the ache in his back and thighs, or the sweat trickling down his dirt-streaked face. He wasnt thinking of his mother, his father, or his sister. He wasnt thinking of the arkie-barkies, either, at least not then. The trunk had been lined with clear plastic to protect against moisture. Beneath it he could see piles of what looked like notebooks. He used the side of his palm as a windshield wiper and cleared a crescent of fine droplets from the plastic. They were notebooks, all right, nice ones with what almost had to be real leather covers. It looked like a hundred at least. But that wasnt all. There were also envelopes like the ones his mom brought home when she cashed a check. Pete pulled away the plastic and stared into the half-filled trunk. The envelopes had GRANITE STATE BANK and Your Hometown Friend! printed on them. Later he would notice certain differences between these envelopes and the ones his mom got at Corn Bank and Trust no email address, and nothing about using your ATM card for withdrawals but for now he only stared. His heart was beating so hard he saw black dots pulsing in front of his eyes, and he wondered if he was going to faint. Bullshit you are, only girls do that. Maybe, but he felt decidedly woozy, and realized part of the problem was that since opening the trunk he had forgotten to breathe. He inhaled deeply, whooshed it out, and inhaled again. All the way down to his toes, it felt like. His head cleared, but his heart was whamming harder than ever and his hands were shaking. Those bank envelopes will be empty. You know that, dont you? People find buried money in books and movies, but not in real life. Only they didnt look empty. They looked stuffed. Pete started to reach for one, then gasped when he heard rustling on the other side of the stream. He whirled around and saw two squirrels there, probably thinking the weeklong thaw meant spring had arrived, making merry in the dead leaves. They raced up a tree, tails twitching. Pete turned back to the trunk and grabbed one of the bank envelopes. The flap wasnt sealed. He flipped it up with a finger that felt numb, even though the temperature now had to be riding right around forty. He squeezed the envelope open and looked inside. Money. Twenties and fifties. Holy Jesus God Christ in heaven, Pete Saubers whispered. He pulled out the sheaf of bills and tried to count, but at first his hands were shaking too badly and he dropped some. They fluttered in the grass, and before he scrambled them up, his overheated brain assured him that Ulysses Grant had actually winked at him from one of the bills. He counted. Four hundred dollars. Four hundred in this one envelope, and there were dozens of them. He stuffed the bills back into the envelope not an easy job, because now his hands were shaking worse than Grampa Freds in the last year or two of his life. He flipped the envelope into the trunk and looked around, eyes wide and bulging. Traffic sounds that had always seemed faint and far and unimportant in this overgrown stretch of ground now sounded close and threatening. This was not Treasure Island; this was a city of over a million people, many now out of work, and they would love to have what was in this trunk. Think, Pete Saubers told himself. Think, for Gods sake. This is the most important thing thats ever happened to you, maybe the most important thing that ever will happen to you, so think hard and think right. What came to mind first was Tina, snuggled up next to the wall in his bed. What would you do if you found a treasure? he had asked. Give it to Daddy and Mommy, she had replied. But suppose Mom wanted to give it back? It was an important question. Dad never would Pete knew that but Mom was different. She had strong ideas about what was right and what wasnt. If he showed them this trunk and what was inside it, it might lead to the worst arkie-barkie about money ever. Besides, give it back to who? Pete whispered. The bank? That was ridiculous. Or was it? Suppose the money really was pirate treasure, only from bank robbers instead of buccaneers? But then why was it in envelopes, like for withdrawals? And what about all those black notebooks? He could consider such things later, but not now; what he had to do now was act. He looked at his watch and saw it was already quarter to eleven. He still had time, but he had to use it. Use it or lose it, he whispered, and began tossing the Granite State Bank cash envelopes into the cloth grocery bag that held the hammer and chisel. He placed the bag on top of the embankment and covered it with his jacket. He crammed the plastic wrap back into the trunk, closed the lid, and muscled the trunk back into the hole. He paused to wipe his forehead, which was greasy with dirt and sweat, then seized the spade and began to shovel like a maniac. He got the trunk covered mostly then seized the bag and his jacket and ran back along the path toward home. He would hide the bag in the back of his closet, that would do to start with, and see if there was a message from his mother on the answering machine. If everything was okay on the Mom front (and if Dad hadnt come home early from therapy that would be horrible), he could whip back to the stream and do a better job of concealing the trunk. Later he might check out the notebooks, but as he made his way home on that sunny February morning, his only thought about them was that there might be more money envelopes mixed in with them. Or lying beneath them. He thought, Ill have to take a shower. And clean the dirt out of the bathtub after, so she doesnt ask what I was doing outside when I was supposed to be sick. I have to be really careful, and I cant tell anyone. No one at all. In the shower, he had an idea. 1978 Home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in, but when Morris arrived at the house on Sycamore Street, there were no lights to brighten the evening gloom and no one to welcome him at the door. Why would there be? His mother was in New Jersey, lecturing about how a bunch of nineteenth century businessmen had tried to steal America. Lecturing to grad students who would probably go on to steal everything they could lay their hands on as they chased the Golden Buck. Some people would undoubtedly say that Morris had chased a few Golden Bucks of his own in New Hampshire, but that wasnt so. He hadnt gone there for money. He wanted the Biscayne in the garage and out of sight. Hell, he wanted the Biscayne gone, but that would have to wait. His first priority was Pauline Muller. Most of the people on Sycamore Street were so wedded to their televisions once prime time started that they wouldnt have noticed a UFO if one landed on their lawn, but that wasnt true of Mrs Muller; the Bellamys next-door neighbor had raised snooping to a fine art. So he went there first. Why, look who it is! she cried when she opened the door just as if she hadnt been peering out her kitchen window when Morris pulled into the driveway. Morrie Bellamy! Big as life and twice as handsome! Morris produced his best aw-shucks smile. How you doin, Mrs Muller? She gave him a hug which Morris could have done without but dutifully returned. Then she turned her head, setting her wattles in motion, and yelled, Bert! Bertie! Its Morrie Bellamy! From the living room came a triple grunt that might have been how ya doin. Come in, Morrie! Come in! Ill put on coffee! And guess what? She gave her unnaturally black eyebrows a horrifyingly flirtatious wiggle. Theres Sara Lee poundcake! Sounds delicious, but I just got back from Boston. Drove straight through. Im pretty beat. Just didnt want you to see lights next door and call the police. She gave a monkey-shriek of laughter. Youre so thoughtful! But you always were. Hows your mom, Morrie? Fine. He had no idea. Since his stint in reform school at seventeen and his failure to make a go of City College at twenty-one, relations between Morris and Anita Bellamy amounted to the occasional telephone call. These were frosty but civil. After one final argument the night of his arrest for breaking and entering and assorted other goodies, they had basically given up on each other. Youve really put on some muscle, Mrs Muller said. The girls must love that. You used to be such a scrawny thing. Been building houses Building houses! You! Holy gosh! Bertie! Morris has been building houses! This produced a few more grunts from the living room. But then the work dried up, so I came back here. Mom said I was welcome to use the place unless she managed to rent it, but I probably wont stay long. How right that turned out to be. Come in the living room, Morrie, and say hello to Bert. I better take a rain check. To forestall further importuning, he called, Yo, Bert! Another grunt, unintelligible over the laugh track accompanying Welcome Back, Kotter. Tomorrow, then, Mrs Muller said, her eyebrows once more waggling. She looked like she was doing a Groucho imitation. Ill save the poundcake. I might even whip some cream. Great, Morris said. It wasnt likely Mrs Muller would die of a heart attack before tomorrow, but it was possible; as another great poet said, hope springs eternal in the human breast. The keys to house and garage were where theyd always been, hanging under the eave to the right of the stoop. Morris garaged the Biscayne and set the trunk from the antiques barn on the concrete. He itched to get at that fourth Jimmy Gold novel right away, but the notebooks were all jumbled up, and besides, his eyes would cross before he read a single page of Rothsteins tiny handwriting; he really was bushed. Tomorrow, he promised himself. After I talk to Andy, get some idea of how he wants to handle this, Ill put them in order and start reading. He pushed the trunk under his fathers old worktable and covered it with a swatch of plastic he found in the corner. Then he went inside and toured the old homestead. It looked pretty much the same, which was lousy. There was nothing in the fridge except a jar of pickles and a box of baking soda, but there were a few Hungry Man dinners in the freezer. He stuck one in the oven, turned the dial to 350, then climbed the stairs to his old bedroom. I did it, he thought. I made it. Im sitting on eighteen years worth of unpublished John Rothstein manuscripts. He was too tired to feel exultation, or even much pleasure. He almost fell asleep in the shower, and again over some really crappy meatloaf and instant potatoes. He shoveled it in, though, then trudged back up the stairs. He was asleep forty seconds after his head hit the pillow, and didnt wake up until nine twenty the following morning. Well rested and with a bar of sunlight pouring across his childhood bed, Morris did feel exultation, and he couldnt wait to share it. Which meant Andy Halliday. He found khakis and a nice madras shirt in his closet, slicked back his hair, and peeked briefly into the garage to make sure all was well there. He gave Mrs Muller (once more looking out through the curtains) what he hoped was a jaunty wave as he headed down the street to the bus stop. He arrived downtown just before ten, walked a block, and peered down Ellis Avenue to the Happy Cup, where the outside tables sat under pink umbrellas. Sure enough, Andy was on his coffee break. Better yet, his back was turned, so Morris could approach undetected. Booga-booga! he cried, grabbing the shoulder of Andys old corduroy sportcoat. His old friend really his only friend in this benighted joke of a city jumped and wheeled around. His coffee overturned and spilled. Morris stepped back. He had meant to startle Andy, but not that much. Hey, sor What did you do? Andy asked in a low, grinding whisper. His eyes were blazing behind his glasses hornrims Morris had always thought of as sort of an affectation. What the fuck did you do? This was not the welcome Morris had anticipated. He sat down. What we talked about. He studied Andys face and saw none of the amused intellectual superiority his friend usually affected. Andy looked scared. Of Morris? Maybe. For himself? Almost certainly. I shouldnt be seen with y Morris was carrying a brown paper bag hed grabbed from the kitchen. From it he took one of Rothsteins notebooks and put it on the table, being careful to avoid the puddle of spilled coffee. A sample. One of a great many. At least a hundred and fifty. I havent had a chance to do a count yet, but its the total jackpot. Put that away! Andy was still whispering like a character in a bad spy movie. His eyes shifted from side to side, always returning to the notebook. Rothsteins murder is on the front page of the New York Times and all over the TV, you idiot! This news came as a shock. It was supposed to be at least three days before anyone found the writers body, maybe as long as six. Andys reaction was even more of a shock. He looked like a cornered rat. Morris flashed what he hoped was a fair approximation of Andys Im-so-smart-I-bore-myself smile. Calm down. In this part of town there are kids carrying notebooks everywhere. He pointed across the street toward Government Square. There goes one now. Not Moleskines, though! Jesus! The housekeeper knew the kind Rothstein used to write in, and the paper says the safe in his bedroom was open and empty! Put it away! Morrie pushed it toward Andy instead, still being careful to avoid the coffee stain. He was growing increasingly irritated with Andy POd, as Jimmy Gold would have said but he also felt a perverse sort of pleasure at watching the man cringe in his seat, as if the notebook were a vial filled with plague germs. Go on, have a look. This ones mostly poetry. I was paging through it on the bus On the bus? Are you insane? and its not very good, Morris went on as if he hadnt heard, but its his, all right. A holograph manuscript. Extremely valuable. We talked about that. Several times. We talked about how Put it away! Morris didnt like to admit that Andys paranoia was catching, but it sort of was. He returned the notebook to the bag and looked at his old friend (his one friend) sulkily. Its not like I was suggesting we have a sidewalk sale, or anything. Where are the rest? And before Morris could answer: Never mind. I dont want to know. Dont you understand how hot those things are? How hot you are? Im not hot, Morris said, but he was, at least in the physical sense; all at once his cheeks and the nape of his neck were burning. Andy was acting as if hed shit his pants instead of pulling off the crime of the century. No one can connect me to Rothstein, and I know itll be awhile before we can sell them to a private collector. Im not stupid. Sell them to a col Morrie, do you hear yourself? Morris crossed his arms and stared at his friend. The man who used to be his friend, at least. You act as if we never talked about this. As if we never planned it. We didnt plan anything! It was a story we were telling ourselves, I thought you understood that! What Morris understood was Andy Halliday would tell the police exactly that if he, Morris, were caught. And Andy expected him to be caught. For the first time Morris realized consciously that Andy was no intellectual giant eager to join him in an existential act of outlawry but just another nebbish. A bookstore clerk only a few years older than Morris himself. Dont give me your dumbass literary criticism, Rothstein had said to Morris in the last two minutes of his life. Youre a common thief, my friend. His temples began to throb. I should have known better. All your big talk about private collectors, movie stars and Saudi princes and I dont know who-all. Just a lot of big talk. Youre nothing but a blowhard. That was a hit, a palpable hit. Morris saw it and was glad, just as he had been when he had managed to stick it to his mother once or twice in their final argument. Andy leaned forward, cheeks flushed, but before he could speak, a waitress appeared with a wad of napkins. Let me get that spill, she said, and wiped it up. She was young, a natural ash-blonde, pretty in a pale way, maybe even beautiful. She smiled at Andy. He returned a pained grimace, at the same time drawing away from her as he had from the Moleskine notebook. Hes a homo, Morris thought wonderingly. Hes a goddam homo. How come I didnt know that? How come I never saw? He might as well be wearing a sign. Well, there were a lot of things about Andy hed never seen, werent there? Morris thought of something one of the guys on the housing job liked to say: All pistol and no bullets. With the waitress gone, taking her toxic atmosphere of girl with her, Andy leaned forward again. Those collectors are out there, he said. They pile up paintings, sculpture, first editions theres an oilman in Texas whos got a collection of early wax-cylinder recordings worth a million dollars, and another one whos got a complete run of every western, science fiction, and shudder-pulp magazine published between 1910 and 1955. Do you think all of that stuff was legitimately bought and sold? The fuck it was. Collectors are insane, the worst of them dont care if the things they covet were stolen or not, and they most assuredly do not want to share with the rest of the world. Morris had heard this screed before, and his face must have shown it, because Andy leaned even farther forward. Now their noses were almost touching. Morris could smell English Leather, and wondered if that was the preferred aftershave of homos. Like a secret sign, or something. But do you think any of those guys would listen to me? Morris Bellamy, who was now seeing Andy Halliday with new eyes, said he guessed not. Andy pooched out his lower lip. They will someday, though. Yeah. Once I get my own shop and build up a clientele. But thatll take years. We talked about waiting five. Five? Andy barked a laugh and drew back to his side of the table again. I might be able to open my shop in five years Ive got my eye on a little place in Lacemaker Lane, theres a fabric store there now but it doesnt do much business but it takes longer than that to find big-money clients and establish trust. Lots of buts, Morris thought, but there were no buts before. How long? Why dont you try me on those notebooks around the turn of the twenty-first century, if you still have them? Even if I did have a call list of private collectors right now, today, not even the nuttiest of them would touch anything so hot. Morris stared at him, at first unable to speak. At last he said, You never said anything like that when we were planning Andy clapped his hands to the sides of his head and clutched it. We planned nothing! And dont you try to lay this off on me! Dont you ever! I know you, Morrie. You didnt steal them to sell them, at least not until youve read them. Then I suppose you might be willing to give some of them to the world, if the price was right. Basically, though, youre just batshit-crazy on the subject of John Rothstein. Dont call me that. His temples were throbbing worse than ever. I will if its the truth, and it is. Youre batshit-crazy on the subject of Jimmy Gold, too. Hes why you went to jail. I went to jail because of my mother. She might as well have locked me up herself. Whatever. Its water under the bridge. This is now. Unless youre lucky, the police are going to be paying you a visit very soon, and theyll probably arrive with a search warrant. If you have those notebooks when they knock on your door, your goose will be cooked. Why would they come to me? Nobody saw us, and my partners He winked. Lets just say that dead men tell no tales. You what? Killed them? Killed them, too? Andys face was a picture of dawning horror. Morris knew he shouldnt have said that, but funny how that but kept coming around Andy was just being such an asshole. Whats the name of the town that Rothstein lived in? Andys eyes were shifting around again, as if he expected the cops to be closing in even now, guns drawn. Talbot Corners, right? Yes, but its mostly farms. What they call the Corners is nothing but a diner, a grocery store, and a gas station where two state roads cross. How many times were you there? Maybe five. It had actually been closer to a dozen, between 1976 and 1978. Alone at first, then with either Freddy or Curtis or both. Ever ask questions about the towns most famous resident while you were there? Sure, once or twice. So what? Probably everybody who ever stops at that diner asks about No, thats where youre wrong. Most out-of-towners dont give a shit about John Rothstein. If theyve got questions, its about when deer season starts or what kind of fish they could catch in the local lake. You dont think the locals will remember you when the police ask if there have been any strangers curious about the guy who wrote The Runner? Curious strangers who made repeat visits? Plus you have a record, Morrie! Juvenile. Its sealed. Something as big as this, the seal might not hold. And what about your partners? Did either of them have records? Morris said nothing. You dont know who saw you, and you dont know who your partners might have bragged to about the big robbery they were going to pull off. The police could nail you today, you idiot. If they do and you bring my name up, Ill deny we ever talked about this. But Ill give you some advice. Get rid of that. He was pointing to the brown paper bag. That and all the rest of the notebooks. Hide them somewhere. Bury them! If you do that, maybe you can talk your way out of it, if push comes to shove. Always supposing you didnt leave fingerprints, or something. We didnt, Morris thought. I wasnt stupid. And Im not a cowardly big-talking homo, either. Maybe we can revisit this, Andy said, but it will be much later on, and only if they dont grab you. He got up. In the meantime, stay clear of me, or Ill call the police myself. He walked away fast with his head down, not looking back. Morris sat there. The pretty waitress returned to ask if she could get him anything. Morris shook his head. When she left, he picked up the bag with the notebook inside it and walked away himself. In the opposite direction. He knew what the pathetic fallacy was, of course nature echoing the feelings of human beings and understood it to be the cheap, mood-creating trick of second-rate writers, but that day it seemed to be true. The mornings bright sunlight had both mirrored and amplified his feeling of exultation, but by noon the sun was only a dim circle behind a blear of clouds, and by three oclock that afternoon, as his worries multiplied, the day grew dark and it began to drizzle. He drove the Biscayne out to the mall near the airport, constantly watching for police cars. When one came roaring up behind him on Airline Boulevard with its blues flashing, his stomach froze and his heart seemed to climb all the way into his mouth. When it sped by without slowing, he felt no relief. He found a news broadcast on BAM-100. The lead story was about a peace conference between Sadat and Begin at Camp David (Yeah, like thatll ever happen, Morris thought distractedly), but the second one concerned the murder of noted American writer John Rothstein. Police were saying it was the work of a gang of thieves, and that a number of leads were being followed. That was probably just PR bullshit. Or maybe not. Morris didnt think he could be tracked down as a result of interviews with the half-deaf old codgers who hung out at the Yummy Diner in Talbot Corners, no matter what Andy thought, but there was something else that troubled him far more. He, Freddy, and Curtis had all worked for Donahue Construction, which was building homes in both Danvers and North Beverly. There were two different work crews, and for most of Morriss sixteen months, spent carrying boards and nailing studs, he had been in Danvers while Curtis and Freddy toiled at the other site, five miles away. Yet for awhile they had worked on the same crew, and even after they were split up, they usually managed to eat lunch together. Plenty of people knew this. He parked the Biscayne with about a thousand others at the JC Penney end of the mall, wiped down every surface he had touched, and left the keys in the ignition. He walked away fast, turning up his collar and yanking down his Indians cap. At the malls main entrance, he waited on a bench until a Northfield bus came, and dropped his fifty cents into the box. The rain grew heavier and the ride back was slow, but he didnt mind. It gave him time to think. Andy was cowardly and full of himself, but he had been right about one thing. Morris had to hide the notebooks, and he had to do so immediately, no matter how much he wanted to read them, starting with that undiscovered Jimmy Gold novel. If the cops did come and he didnt have the notebooks, they could do nothing right? All theyd have would be suspicion. Right? There was no one peeking through the curtains next door, which saved him another conversation with Mrs Muller, and perhaps having to explain that he had sold his car. The rain had become a downpour, and that was good. There would be no one rambling around in the undeveloped land between Sycamore and Birch. Especially after dark. He pulled everything out of the secondhand trunk, resisting an almost overpowering urge to look into the notebooks. He couldnt do that, no matter how much he wanted to, because once he started, he wouldnt be able to stop. Later, he thought. Must postpone your gratifications, Morrie. Good advice, but spoken in his mothers voice, and that started his head throbbing again. At least he wouldnt have to postpone his gratifications for long; if three weeks went by with no visits from the police a month at most he would be able to relax and begin his researches. He lined the trunk with plastic to make sure the contents would stay dry, and put the notebooks, including the one hed taken to show Andy, back inside. He dumped the money envelopes on top. He closed the trunk, considered, and opened it again. He pawed the plastic aside and took a couple of hundred dollars from one of the bank envelopes. Surely no cop would think that an excessive amount, even if he were searched. He could tell them it was his severance pay, or something. The sound of the rain on the garage roof was not soothing. To Morris it sounded like skeletal tapping fingers, and made his headache worse. He froze every time a car went by, waiting for headlights and pulsing blue strobes to splash up the driveway. Fuck Andy Halliday for putting all these pointless worries in my head, he thought. Fuck him and the homo horse he rode in on. Only the worries might not be pointless. As afternoon wound down toward twilight, the idea that the cops could put Curtis and Freddy together with Morris Bellamy seemed more and more likely. That fucking rest area! Why hadnt he dragged the bodies into the woods, at least? Not that it would have slowed the cops down much once someone pulled in, saw all the blood, and called 911. The cops would have dogs Besides, he told the trunk, I was in a hurry. Wasnt I? His fathers hand dolly was still standing in the corner, along with a rusty pick and two rusty shovels. Morris tipped the trunk endwise onto the dolly, secured the straps, and peered out of the garage window. Still too much light. Now that he was so close to getting rid of the notebooks and the money Temporarily, he soothed himself, this is just a temporary measure he became more and more sure that the cops would be here soon. Suppose Mrs Muller had reported him as acting suspicious? It didnt seem likely, she was thicker than an oak plank, but who really knew? He forced himself to stuff down another frozen dinner, thinking it might soothe his head. It made the headache worse, instead. He looked in his mothers medicine cabinet for aspirin or Advil, and found nothing. Fuck you, Mom, he thought. Really. Sincerely. Fuck you. He saw her smile. Thin as a hook, that smile. It was still light at seven oclock goddam daylight saving time, what genius thought that up? but the windows next door were still dark. That was good, but Morris knew the Mullers might be back at any time. Besides, he was too nervous to wait any longer. He rooted around in the front hall closet until he found a poncho. He used the garages rear door and yanked the dolly across the back lawn. The grass was wet, the ground underneath spongy, and it was hard going. The path he had used so many times as a kid usually going to the Birch Street Rec was sheltered by overhanging trees, and he was able to make better progress. By the time he got to the little stream that flowed diagonally across this block-sized square of waste ground, full dark had arrived. He had brought a flashlight and used it in brief winks to pick out a likely location on the embankment of the stream, a safe distance from the path. The dirt was soft, and it was easy digging until he got to the tangle of roots from an overhanging tree. He thought about trying a different spot, but the hole was almost big enough for the trunk already, and he was damned if he was going to start all over again, especially when this was just a temporary precaution. He laid the flashlight in the hole, propping it on a rock so the beam shone on the roots, and chopped through them with the pick. He slid the trunk into the hole and shoveled the dirt back around it and over it quickly. He finished by tamping it down with the flat of the shovel. He thought it would be okay. The bank wasnt particularly grassy, so the bald spot wouldnt stand out. The important thing was that it was out of the house, right? Right? He felt no relief as he dragged the dolly back along the path. Nothing was working out the way it was supposed to, nothing. It was as if malignant fate had come between him and the notebooks, just as fate had come between Romeo and Juliet. That comparison seemed both ludicrous and perfectly apt. He was a lover. Goddam Rothstein had jilted him with The Runner Slows Down, but that didnt change the fact. His love was true. When he got back to the house, he went immediately to the shower, as a boy named Pete Saubers would do many years later in this very same bathroom, after visiting that very same embankment and overhanging tree. Morris stayed in until his fingers were pruney and the hot water was gone, then dried off and dressed in fresh clothes from his bedroom closet. They looked childish and out of fashion to him, but they still fit (more or less). He put his dirt-smeared jeans and sweatshirt in the washer, an act that would also be replicated by Pete Saubers years later. Morris turned on the TV, sat in his fathers old easy chair his mother said she kept it as a reminder, should she ever be tempted into stupidity again and saw the usual helping of ad-driven inanity. He thought that any of those ads (jumping laxative bottles, primping moms, singing hamburgers) could have been written by Jimmy Gold, and that made his headache worse than ever. He decided to go down to Zoneys and get some Anacin. Maybe even a beer or two. Beer wouldnt hurt. It was the hard stuff that caused trouble, and hed learned his lesson on that score. He did get the Anacin, but the idea of drinking beer in a house full of books he didnt want to read and TV he didnt want to watch made him feel worse than ever. Especially when the stuff he did want to read was so maddeningly close. Morris rarely drank in bars, but all at once he felt that if he didnt get out and find some company and hear some fast music, he would go completely insane. Somewhere out in this rainy night, he was sure there was a young lady who wanted to dance. He paid for his aspirin and asked the young guy at the register, almost idly, if there was a bar with live music that he could get to on the bus. The young guy said there was. 2010 When Linda Saubers got home that Friday afternoon at three thirty, Pete was sitting at the kitchen table drinking a cup of cocoa. His hair was still damp from the shower. She hung her coat on one of the hooks by the back door, and placed the inside of her wrist against his forehead again. Cool as a cucumber, she pronounced. Do you feel better? Yeah, he said. When Tina came home, I made her peanut butter crackers. Youre a good brother. Where is she now? Ellens, where else? Linda rolled her eyes and Pete laughed. Mother of Mercy, is that the dryer I hear? Yeah. There were a bunch of clothes in the basket, so I washed em. Dont worry, I followed the directions on the door, and they came out okay. She bent down and kissed his temple. Arent you the little do-bee? I try, Pete said. He closed his right hand to hide the blister on his palm. The first envelope came on a snow-showery Thursday not quite a week later. The address Mr Thomas Saubers, 23 Sycamore Street was typed. Stuck on the upper-right-hand corner was a forty-four-cent stamp featuring the Year of The Tiger. There was no return address on the upper left. Tom the only member of Clan Saubers home at midday tore it open in the hall, expecting either some sort of come-on or another past due notice. God knew there had been plenty of those lately. But it wasnt a come-on, and it wasnt a past due. It was money. The rest of the mail catalogues for expensive stuff they couldnt afford and advertising circulars addressed to OCCUPANT fell from his hand and fluttered around his feet, unnoticed. In a low voice, almost a growl, Tom Saubers said, What the fuck is this? When Linda came home, the money was sitting in the middle of the kitchen table. Tom was seated before the neat little pile with his chin resting on his folded hands. He looked like a general considering a battle plan. Whats that? Linda asked. Five hundred dollars. He continued to look at the bills eight fifties and five twenties. It came in the mail. From who? I dont know. She dropped her briefcase, came to the table, and picked up the stack of currency. She counted it, then looked at him with wide eyes. My God, Tommy! What did the letter say? There was no letter. Just the money. But who would I dont know, Lin. But I know one thing. What? We can sure use it. Holy shit, Pete said when they told him. He had stayed late at school for intramural volleyball, and didnt come in until almost dinnertime. Dont be vulgar, Linda said, sounding distracted. The money was still on the kitchen table. How much? And when his father told him: Who sent it? Thats a good question, Tom said. Now for Double Jeopardy, where the scores can really change. It was the first joke Pete had heard him make in a very long time. Tina came in. Daddys got a fairy godmother, thats what I think. Hey, Dad, Mom! Look at my fingernails! Ellen got sparkle polish, and she shared. Excellent look for you, my little punkin, Tom said. First a joke, then a compliment. Those things were all it took to convince Pete that he had done the right thing. Totally the right thing. They couldnt exactly send it back, could they? Not without a return address, they couldnt. And by the way, when was the last time Dad had called Teens his little punkin? Linda gave her son a piercing look. You dont know anything about this, do you? Uh-uh, but can I have some? Dream on, she said, and turned to her husband, hands on hips. Tom, someones obviously made a mistake. Tom considered this, and when he spoke, there was no arking and barking. His voice was calm. That doesnt seem likely. He pushed the envelope toward her, tapping his name and address. Yes, but But me no buts, Lin. We owe the oil company, and before we pay them, we have to pay down your MasterCard. Or youre going to lose it. Yes, but Lose the credit card, lose your credit rating. Still not arking and barking. Calm and reasonable. Persuasive. To Pete it was as if his father had been suffering from a high fever that had just broken. He even smiled. Smiled and touched her hand. It so happens that for now, your credit rating is the only one weve got, so we have to protect it. Besides, Tina could be right. Maybe Ive got a fairy godmother. No, Pete thought. A fairy godson is what youve got. Tina said, Oh, wait! I know where it really came from. They turned to her. Pete felt suddenly warm all over. She couldnt know, could she? How could she? Only hed said that stupid thing about buried treasure, and Where, hon? Linda asked. The Emergency Fund thingy. It must have got some more money, and now theyre spreading it out. Pete let out a soundless breath of air, only realizing as it passed his lips that he had been holding it. Tom ruffled her hair. They wouldnt send cash, punkin. Theyd send a check. Also a bunch of forms to sign. Pete went to the stove. Im making more cocoa. Does anyone want some? Turned out they all did. The envelopes kept coming. The price of postage went up, but the amount never changed. An extra six thousand dollars per annum, give or take. Not a huge sum, but tax-free and just enough to keep the Saubers family from drowning in debt. The children were forbidden to tell anyone. Tina will never be able to keep it to herself, Linda told Tom one night. You know that, dont you? Shell tell her idiot friend, and Ellen Briggs will broadcast it to everyone she knows. But Tina kept the secret, partly because her brother, whom she idolized, told her she would never be allowed in his room again if she spilled the beans, and mostly because she remembered the arkie-barkies. Pete stowed the cash envelopes in the cobweb-festooned hollow behind a loose baseboard in his closet. Once every four weeks or so, he took out five hundred dollars and put it in his backpack along with an addressed envelope, one of several dozen he had prepared at school on a computer in the schools Business Ed room. He did the envelopes after intramurals one late afternoon when the room was empty. He used a variety of city mailboxes to send them on their way to Mr Thomas Saubers of 23 Sycamore Street, going about this family-sustaining charity with the craft of a master criminal. He was always afraid that his mom would discover what he was up to, object (probably strenuously), and things would go back to the way they had been. Things werent perfect now, there was still the occasional arkie-barkie, but he supposed things werent perfect in any family outside those old TV sitcoms on Nick at Nite. They could watch Nick at Nite, and Cartoon Network, and MTV, and everything else, because, ladies and gentlemen, the cable was back. In May, another good thing happened: Dad got a part-time job with a new real estate company, as something called a pre-sell investigator. Pete didnt know what that was, and didnt give Shit One. Dad could do it on his phone and the home computer, it brought in a little money, and those were the things that mattered. Two other things mattered in the months after the money started coming in. Dads legs were getting better, that was one thing. In June of 2010 (when the perpetrator of the so-called City Center Massacre was finally caught), Tom began walking without his crutches some of the time, and he also began stepping down on the pink pills. The other thing was more difficult to explain, but Pete knew it was there. So did Tina. Dad and Mom felt well blessed, and now when they argued they looked guilty as well as mad, as if they were shitting on the mysterious good fortune that had befallen them. Often they would stop and talk about other things before the shit got deep. Often it was the money they talked about, and who could be sending it. These discussions came to nothing, and that was good. I will not be caught, Pete told himself. I must not, and I will not. One day in August of that year, Dad and Mom took Tina and Ellen to a petting zoo called Happydale Farm. This was the opportunity Pete had been patiently waiting for, and as soon as they were gone, he went back to the stream with two suitcases. After making sure the coast was clear, he dug the trunk out of the embankment again and loaded the notebooks into the suitcases. He reburied the trunk and then went back to the house with his booty. In the upstairs hall, he pulled down the ladder and carried the suitcases up to the attic. This was a small, low space, chilly in winter and stifling in summer. The family rarely used it; their extra stuff was still stored in the garage. The few relics up here were probably left over from one of the previous families that had owned 23 Sycamore. There was a dirty baby carriage listing on one wheel, a standing lamp with tropical birds on the shade, old issues of Redbook and Good Housekeeping tied up with twine, a pile of moldy blankets that smelled like yuck. Pete piled the notebooks in the farthest corner and covered them with the blankets, but first he grabbed one at random, sat under one of the attics two hanging lightbulbs, and opened it. The writing was cursive and quite small, but carefully made and easy to read. There were no cross-outs, which Pete thought remarkable. Although he was looking at the first page of the notebook, the small circled number at the top was 482, making him think that this was continued not just from one of the other notebooks, but from half a dozen. Half a dozen, at least. Chapter 27 The back room of the Drover was the same as it had been five years before; the same smell of ancient beer mingled with the stink of the stockyards and the tang of diesel from the trucking depots that fronted this half of Nebraskas great emptiness. Stew Logan looked the same, too. Here was the same white apron, the same suspiciously black hair, even the same parrots-and-macaws necktie strangling his rosy neck. Why, its Jimmy Gold, as I live and breathe, he said, and smiled in his old dislikeable way that said we dont care for each other, but lets pretend. Have you come to pay me what you owe, then? I have, Jimmy said, and touched his back pocket where the pistol rested. It felt small and final, a thing capable if used correctly, and with courage of paying all debts. Then step in, Logan said. Have a drink. You look dusty. I am, Jimmy said, and along with a drink I could use A horn honked on the street. Pete jumped and looked around guiltily, as if he had been whacking off instead of reading. What if theyd come home early because that doofus Ellen had gotten carsick, or something? What if they found him up here with the notebooks? Everything could fall apart. He shoved the one he had been reading under the old blankets (phew, they stank) and crawled back to the trapdoor, sparing a glance for the suitcases. No time for them. Going down the ladder, the change in temperature from boiling hot to August-normal made him shiver. Pete folded the ladder and shoved it up, wincing at the screek and bang the trapdoor made when it snapped shut on its rusty spring. He went into his bedroom and peered out at the driveway. Nobody there. False alarm. Thank God. He returned to the attic and retrieved the suitcases. He put them back in the downstairs closet, took a shower (once more remembering to clean up the tub afterwards), then dressed in clean clothes and lay down on his bed. He thought, Its a novel. With that many pages, its pretty much got to be. And there might be more than one, because no single novels long enough to fill all those books. Not even the Bible would fill all those books. Also it was interesting. He wouldnt mind hunting through the notebooks and finding the one where it started. Seeing if it really was good. Because you couldnt tell if a novel was good from just a single page, could you? Pete closed his eyes and began to drift napward. Ordinarily he wasnt much of a day-sleeper, but it had been a busy morning, the house was empty and quiet, and he decided to let himself go. Why not? Everything was right, at least right now, and that was his doing. He deserved a nap. That name, though Jimmy Gold. Pete could swear hed heard it before. In class, maybe? Mrs Swidrowski giving them background on one of the authors they were reading? Maybe. She liked to do that. Maybe Ill google it later on, Pete thought. I could do that. I could He slept. 1978 Morris sat on a steel bunk with his throbbing head lowered and his hands dangling between his orange-clad thighs, breathing in a poison atmosphere of piss, puke, and disinfectant. His stomach was a lead ball that seemed to have expanded until it filled him from crotch to Adams apple. His eyes pulsed in their sockets. His mouth tasted like a dumpster. His gut ached and his face hurt. His sinuses were stuffed. Somewhere a hoarse and despairing voice was chanting, I need a lover that wont drive me cray-zee, I need a lover that wont drive me cray-zee, I need a lover that wont drive me cray-zee Shut up! someone shouted. Youre drivin me crazy, asshole! A pause. Then: I need a lover that wont drive me cray-zee! The lead in Morriss belly liquefied and gurgled. He slid off the bunk, landed on his knees (provoking a fresh bolt of agony in his head), and hung his gaping mouth over the functional steel toilet. For a moment there was nothing. Then everything clenched and he ejected what looked like two gallons of yellow toothpaste. For a moment the pain in his head was so huge that he thought it would simply explode, and in that moment Morris hoped it would. Anything to end the pain. Instead of dying, he threw up again. A pint instead of a gallon this time, but it burned. The next one was a dry heave. Wait, not completely dry; thick strings of mucus hung from his lips like cobwebs, swinging back and forth. He had to brush them away. Somebodys feelin it! a voice shouted. Shouts and cackles of laughter greeted this sally. To Morris it sounded as if he were locked up in a zoo, and he supposed he was, only this was the kind where the cages held humans. The orange jumpsuit he was wearing proved it. How had he gotten here? He couldnt remember, any more than he could remember how hed gotten into the house hed trashed in Sugar Heights. What he could remember was his own house, on Sycamore Street. And the trunk, of course. Burying the trunk. There had been money in his pocket, two hundred dollars of John Rothsteins money, and he had gone down to Zoneys to get a couple of beers because his head ached and he was feeling lonely. He had talked to the clerk, he was pretty sure of that, but he couldnt remember what they had discussed. Baseball? Probably not. He had a Groundhogs cap, but that was as far as his interest went. After that, almost nothing. All he could be sure of was that something had gone horribly wrong. When you woke up wearing an orange jumpsuit, that was an easy deduction to make. He crawled back to the bunk, pulled himself up, drew his knees to his chest, and clasped his hands around them. It was cold in the cell. He began to shiver. I might have asked that clerk what his favorite bar was. One I could get to on the bus. And I went there, didnt I? Went there and got drunk. In spite of all I know about what it does to me. Not just a little loaded, either standing-up, falling-down shitfaced drunk. Oh yes, undoubtedly, in spite of all he knew. Which was bad, but he couldnt remember the crazy things afterward, and that was worse. After the third drink (sometimes only second), he fell down a dark hole and didnt climb back out until he woke up hungover but sober. Blackout drinking was what they called it. And in those blackouts, he almost always got up to well, call it hijinks. Hijinks was how hed ended up in Riverview Youth Detention, and doubtless how hed ended up here. Wherever here was. Hijinks. Fucking hijinks. Morris hoped it had been a good old-fashioned bar fight and not more breaking and entering. Not a repeat of his Sugar Heights adventure, in other words. Because he was well past his teenage years now and it wouldnt be the reformatory this time, no sir. Still, he would do the time if he had done the crime. Just as long as the crime had nothing to do with the murder of a certain genius American writer, please God. If it did, he would not be breathing free air again for a long time. Maybe never. Because it wasnt just Rothstein, was it? And now a memory did arise: Curtis Rogers asking if New Hampshire had the death penalty. Morris lay on the bunk, shivering, thinking, That cant be why Im here. It cant. Can it? He had to admit that it was possible, and not just because the police might have put him together with the dead men in the rest area. He could see himself in a bar or a stripjoint somewhere, Morris Bellamy, the college dropout and self-proclaimed American lit scholar, tossing back bourbon and having an out-of-body experience. Someone starts talking about the murder of John Rothstein, the great writer, the reclusive American genius, and Morris Bellamy drunk off his tits and full of that huge anger he usually kept locked in a cage, that black beast with the yellow eyes turning to the speaker and saying, He didnt look much like a genius when I blew his head off. I would never, he whispered. His head was aching worse than ever, and there was something wrong on the left side of his face, too. It burned. I would never. Only how did he know that? When he drank, any day was Anything Can Happen Day. The black beast came out. As a teenager the beast had rampaged through that house in Sugar Heights, tearing the motherfucker pretty much to shreds, and when the cops responded to the silent alarm he had fought them until one belted him unconscious with his nightstick, and when they searched him they found a shitload of jewelry in his pockets, much of it of the costume variety but some, carelessly left out of madames safe, extraordinarily valuable, and howdy-do, off we go to Riverview, where we will get our tender young buttsky reamed and make exciting new friends. He thought, The person who put on a shit-show like that is perfectly capable of boasting while drunk about murdering Jimmy Golds creator, and you know it. Although it could have been the cops, too. If they had IDd him and put out an APB. That was just as likely. I need a lover who wont drive me cray-zee! Shut up! This time it was Morris himself, and he tried to yell it, but what came out was nothing but a puke-clotted croak. Oh, his head hurt. And his face, yow. He ran a hand up his left cheek and stared stupidly at the flakes of dried blood in his palm. He explored again and felt scratches there, at least three of them. Fingernail scratches, and deep. What does that tell us, class? Well, ordinarily although there are exceptions to every rule men punch and women scratch. The ladies do it with their nails because more often than not they have nice long ones to scratch with. Did I try to slap the make on some twist, and she refused me with her nails? Morris tried to remember and couldnt. He remembered the rain, the poncho, and the flashlight shining on the roots. He remembered the pick. He sort of remembered wanting to hear fast loud music and talking to the clerk at Zoneys Go-Mart. After that? Just darkness. He thought, Maybe it was the car. That damn Biscayne. Maybe somebody saw it coming out of the rest area on Route 92 with the front end all bloody on the right, and maybe I left something in the glove compartment. Something with my name on it. But that didnt seem likely. Freddy had purchased the Chevy from a half-drunk bar-bitch in a Lynn taproom, paying with money the three of them had pooled. She had signed over the pink to Harold Fineman, which happened to be the name of Jimmy Golds best friend in The Runner. She had never seen Morris Bellamy, who knew enough to stay out of sight while that particular deal went down. Besides, Morris had done everything but soap PLEASE STEAL ME on the windshield when he left it at the mall. No, the Biscayne was now sitting in a vacant lot somewhere, either in Lowtown or down by the lake, stripped to the axles. So how did I wind up here? Back to that, like a rat running on a wheel. If some woman marked my face with her nails, did I haul off on her? Maybe break her jaw? That rang a faint bell behind the blackout curtains. If it were so, then he was probably going to be charged with assault, and he might go up to Waynesville for it; a ride in the big green bus with the wire mesh on the windows. Waynesville would be bad, but he could do a few years for assault if he had to. Assault was not murder. Please dont let it be Rothstein, he thought. Ive got a lot of reading to do, its stashed away all safe and waiting. The beauty part is Ive got money to support myself with while I do it, more than twenty thousand dollars in unmarked twenties and fifties. That will last quite a while, if I live small. So please dont let it be murder. I need a lover who wont drive me cray-zee! One more time, motherfucker! someone shouted. One more time and Ill pull your asshole right out through your mouth! Morris closed his eyes. Although he was feeling better by noon, he refused the slop that passed for lunch: noodles floating in what appeared to be blood sauce. Then, around two oclock, a quartet of guards came down the aisle between the cells. One had a clipboard and was shouting names. Bellamy! Holloway! McGiver! Riley! Roosevelt! Titgarden! Step forward! Thats Teagarden, sir, said the large black man in the box next to Morriss. I dont give a shit if its John Q. Motherfucker. If you want to talk to your court-appointed, step forward. If you dont, sit there and stack more time. The half dozen named prisoners stepped forward. They were the last ones left, at least in this corridor. The others brought in the previous night (mercifully including the fellow who had been butchering John Mellencamp) had either been released or taken to court for the morning arraignment. They were the small fry. Afternoon arraignments, Morris knew, were for more serious shit. He had been arraigned in the afternoon after his little adventure in Sugar Heights. Judge Bukowski, that cunt. Morris prayed to a God he did not believe in as the door of his holding cell snapped back. Assault, God, okay? Simple, not ag. Just not murder. God, let them know nothing about what went down in New Hampshire, or at a certain rest area in upstate New York, okay? That okay with you? Step out, boys, the guard with the clipboard said. Step out and face right. Arms length from the upstanding American in front of you. No wedgies and no reach-arounds. Dont fuck with us and we will return the favor. They went down in an elevator big enough to hold a small herd of cattle, then along another corridor, and then God knew why, they were wearing sandals and the jumpsuits had no pockets through a metal detector. Beyond that was a visitors room with eight walled booths like library carrels. The guard with the clipboard directed Morris to number 3. Morris sat down and faced his court-appointed through Plexiglas that had been smeared often and wiped seldom. The guy on the freedom side was a nerd with a bad haircut and a dandruff problem. He had a coldsore below one nostril and a scuffed briefcase sitting on his lap. He looked like he might be all of nineteen. This is what I get, Morris thought. Oh Jesus, this is what I get. The lawyer pointed to the phone on the wall of Morriss booth, and opened his briefcase. From it he removed a single sheet of paper and the inevitable yellow legal pad. Once these were on the counter in front of him, he put his briefcase on the floor and picked up his own phone. He spoke not in the tentative tenor of your usual adolescent, but in a confident, husky baritone that seemed far too big for the chicken chest lurking behind the purple rag of his tie. Youre in deep shit, Mr he looked at the sheet lying on top of his legal pad Bellamy. You must prepare for a very long stay in the state penitentiary, I think. Unless you have something to trade, that is. Morris thought, Hes talking about trading the notebooks. Coldness went marching up his arms like the feet of evil fairies. If they had him for Rothstein, they had him for Curtis and Freddy. That meant life with no possibility of parole. He would never be able to retrieve the trunk, never find out Jimmy Golds ultimate fate. Speak, the lawyer said, as if talking to a dog. Then tell me who Im speaking to. Elmer Cafferty, temporarily at your service. Youre going to be arraigned in He looked at his watch, a Timex even cheaper than his suit. Thirty minutes. Judge Bukowski is very prompt. A bolt of pain that had nothing to do with his hangover went through Morriss head. No! Not her! It cant be! That bitch came over on the Ark! Cafferty smiled. I deduce youve had doings with the Great Bukowski before. Check your file, Morris said dully. Although it probably wasnt there. The Sugar Heights thing would be under seal, as he had told Andy. Fucking Andy Halliday. This is more his fault than mine. Homo. Cafferty frowned. What did you say? Nothing. Go on. My file consists of last nights arrest report. The good news is that your fate will be in some other judges hands when you come to trial. The better news, for me, at least, is that by that point, someone else will be representing you. My wife and I are moving to Denver and you, Mr Bellamy, will be just a memory. Denver or hell, it made no difference to Morris. Tell me what Im charged with. You dont remember? I was in a blackout. Is that so. It actually is, Morris said. Maybe he could trade the notebooks, although it hurt him to even consider it. But even if he made the offer or if Cafferty made it would a prosecutor grasp the importance of what was in them? It didnt seem likely. Lawyers werent scholars. A prosecutors idea of great literature would probably be Erle Stanley Gardner. Even if the notebooks all those beautiful Moleskines did matter to the states legal rep, what would he, Morris, gain by turning them over? One life sentence instead of three? Whoopee-ding. I cant, no matter what. I wont. Andy Halliday might have been an English Leather-wearing homo, but he had been right about Morriss motivation. Curtis and Freddy had been in it for cash; when Morris assured them the old guy might have squirreled away as much as a hundred thousand, they had believed him. Rothsteins writings? To those two bumblefucks, the value of Rothsteins output since 1960 was just a misty maybe, like a lost goldmine. It was Morris who cared about the writing. If things had gone differently, he would have offered to trade Curtis and Freddy his share of the money for the written words, and he was sure they would have taken him up on it. If he gave that up now especially when the notebooks contained the continuation of the Jimmy Gold saga it would all have been for nothing. Cafferty rapped his phone on the Plexi, then put it back to his ear. Cafferty to Bellamy, Cafferty to Bellamy, come in, Bellamy. Sorry. I was thinking. A little late for that, wouldnt you say? Try to stick with me, if you please. Youll be arraigned on three counts. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to plead not guilty to each in turn. Later, when you go to trial, you can change to guilty, should it prove to your advantage to do so. Dont even think about bail, because Bukowski doesnt laugh; she cackles like Witch Hazel. Morris thought, This is a case of worst fears realized. Rothstein, Dow, and Rogers. Three counts of Murder One. Mr Bellamy? Our time is fleeting, and Im losing patience. The phone sagged away from his ear and Morris brought it back with an effort. Nothing mattered now, and still the lawyer with the guileless Richie Cunningham face and the weird middle-aged baritone voice kept pouring words into his ear, and at some point they began to make sense. Theyll work up the ladder, Mr Bellamy, from first to worst. Count one, resisting arrest. For arraignment purposes, you plead not guilty. Count two, aggravated assault not just the woman, you also got one good one in on the first-responding cop before he cuffed you. You plead not guilty. Count three, aggravated rape. They may add attempted murder later, but right now its just rape if rape can be called just anything, I suppose. You plead Wait a minute, Morris said. He touched the scratches on his cheek, and what he felt was hope. I raped somebody? Indeed you did, Cafferty said, sounding pleased. Probably because his client finally seemed to be following him. After Miss Cora Ann Hooper He took a sheet of paper from his briefcase and consulted it. This was shortly after she left the diner where she works as a waitress. She was heading for a bus stop on Lower Marlborough. Says you tackled her and pulled her into an alley next to Shooters Tavern, where you had spent several hours imbibing Jack Daniels before kicking the jukebox and being asked to leave. Miss Hooper had a battery-powered Police Alert in her purse and managed to trigger it. She also scratched your face. You broke her nose, held her down, choked her, and proceeded to insert your Johns Hopkins into her Sarah Lawrence. When Officer Philip Ellenton hauled you off, you were still matriculating. Rape. Why would I Stupid question. Why had he spent three long hours tearing up that home in Sugar Heights, just taking a short break to piss on the Aubusson carpet? I have no idea, Cafferty said. Rape is foreign to my way of life. And mine, Morris thought. Ordinarily. But I was drinking Jack and got up to hijinks. How long will they give me? The prosecution will ask for life. If you plead guilty at trial and throw yourself on the mercy of the court, you might only get twenty-five years. Morris pleaded guilty at trial. He said he regretted what hed done. He blamed the booze. He threw himself on the mercy of the court. And got life. 2013 2014 By the time he was a high school sophomore, Pete Saubers had already figured out the next step: a good college in New England where literature instead of cleanliness was next to godliness. He began investigating online and collecting brochures. Emerson or BC seemed the most likely candidates, but Brown might not be out of reach. His mother and father told him not to get his hopes up, but Pete didnt buy that. He felt that if you didnt have hopes and ambitions when you were a teenager, youd be pretty much fucked later on. About majoring in English there was no question. Some of this surety had to do with John Rothstein and the Jimmy Gold novels; so far as Pete knew, he was the only person in the world who had read the final two, and they had changed his life. Howard Ricker, his sophomore English teacher, had also been life-changing, even though many kids made fun of him, calling him Ricky the Hippie because of the flower-power shirts and bellbottoms he favored. (Petes girlfriend, Gloria Moore, called him Pastor Ricky, because he had a habit of waving his hands above his head when he got excited.) Hardly anyone cut Mr Rickers classes, though. He was entertaining, he was enthusiastic, and unlike many of the teachers he seemed to genuinely like the kids, who he called my young ladies and gentlemen. They rolled their eyes at his retro clothes and his screechy laugh but the clothes had a certain funky cachet, and the screechy laugh was so amiably weird it made you want to laugh along. On the first day of sophomore English, he blew in like a cool breeze, welcomed them, and then printed something on the board that Pete Saubers never forgot: What do you make of this, ladies and gentlemen? he asked. What on earth can it mean? The class was silent. Ill tell you, then. It happens to be the most common criticism made by young ladies and gentlemen such as yourselves, doomed to a course where we begin with excerpts from Beowulf and end with Raymond Carver. Among teachers, such survey courses are sometimes called GTTG: Gallop Through the Glories. He screeched cheerfully, also waggling his hands at shoulder height in a yowza-yowza gesture. Most of the kids laughed along, Pete among them. Class verdict on Jonathan Swifts A Modest Proposal? This is stupid! Young Goodman Brown, by Nathaniel Hawthorne? This is stupid! Mending Wall, by Robert Frost? This is moderately stupid! The required excerpt from Moby-Dick? This is extremely stupid! More laughter. None of them had read Moby-Dick, but they all knew it was hard and boring. Stupid, in other words. And sometimes! Mr Ricker exclaimed, raising one finger and pointing dramatically at the words on the blackboard. Sometimes, my young ladies and gentlemen, the criticism is spot-on. I stand here with my bare face hanging out and admit it. I am required to teach certain antiquities I would rather not teach. I see the loss of enthusiasm in your eyes, and my soul groans. Yes! Groans! But I soldier on, because I know that much of what I teach is not stupid. Even some of the antiquities to which you feel you cannot relate now or ever will, have deep resonance that will eventually reveal itself. Shall I tell you how you judge the not-stupid from the is-stupid? Shall I impart this great secret? Since we have forty minutes left in this class and as yet no grist to grind in the mill of our combined intellects, I believe I will. He leaned forward and propped his hands on the desk, his tie swinging like a pendulum. Pete felt that Mr Ricker was looking directly at him, as if he knew or at least intuited the tremendous secret Pete was keeping under a pile of blankets in the attic of his house. Something far more important than money. At some point in this course, perhaps even tonight, you will read something difficult, something you only partially understand, and your verdict will be this is stupid. Will I argue when you advance that opinion in class the next day? Why would I do such a useless thing? My time with you is short, only thirty-four weeks of classes, and I will not waste it arguing about the merits of this short story or that poem. Why would I, when all such opinions are subjective, and no final resolution can ever be reached? Some of the kids Gloria was one of them now looked lost, but Pete understood exactly what Mr Ricker, aka Ricky the Hippie, was talking about, because since starting the notebooks, he had read dozens of critical essays on John Rothstein. Many of them judged Rothstein to be one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century, right up there with Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, and Roth. There were others a minority, but a vocal one who asserted that his work was second-rate and hollow. Pete had read a piece in Salon where the writer had called Rothstein king of the wisecrack and the patron saint of fools. Time is the answer, Mr Ricker said on the first day of Petes sophomore year. He strode back and forth, antique bellbottoms swishing, occasionally waving his arms. Yes! Time mercilessly culls away the is-stupid from the not-stupid. It is a natural, Darwinian process. It is why the novels of Graham Greene are available in every good bookstore, and the novels of Somerset Maugham are not those novels still exist, of course, but you must order them, and you would only do that if you knew about them. Most modern readers do not. Raise your hand if you have ever heard of Somerset Maugham. And Ill spell that for you. No hands went up. Mr Ricker nodded. Rather grimly, it seemed to Pete. Time has decreed that Mr Greene is not-stupid while Mr Maugham is well, not exactly stupid but forgettable. He wrote some very fine novels, in my opinion The Moon and Sixpence is remarkable, my young ladies and gentlemen, remarkable and he also wrote a great deal of excellent short fiction, but none is included in your textbook. Shall I weep over this? Shall I rage, and shake my fists, and proclaim injustice? No. I will not. Such culling is a natural process. It will occur for you, young ladies and gentlemen, although I will be in your rearview mirror by the time it happens. Shall I tell you how it happens? You will read something perhaps Dulce et Decorum Est, by Wilfred Owen. Shall we use that as an example? Why not? Then, in a deeper voice that sent chills up Petes back and tightened his throat, Mr Ricker cried: Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, / Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge And so on. Cetra-cetra. Some of you will say, This is stupid. Will I break my promise not to argue the point, even though I consider Mr Owens poems the greatest to come out of World War I? No! Its just my opinion, you see, and opinions are like assholes: everybody has one. They all roared at that, young ladies and gentlemen alike. Mr Ricker drew himself up. I may give some of you detentions if you disrupt my class, I have no problem with imposing discipline, but never will I disrespect your opinion. And yet! And yet! Up went the finger. Time will pass! Tempus will fugit! Owens poem may fall away from your mind, in which case your verdict of is-stupid will have turned out to be correct. For you, at least. But for some of you it will recur. And recur. And recur. Each time it does, the steady march of your maturity will deepen its resonance. Each time that poem steals back into your mind, it will seem a little less stupid and a little more vital. A little more important. Until it shines, young ladies and gentlemen. Until it shines. Thus endeth my opening day peroration, and I ask you to turn to page sixteen in that most excellent tome, Language and Literature. One of the stories Mr Ricker assigned that year was The Rocking-Horse Winner, by D.H. Lawrence, and sure enough, many of Mr Rickers young ladies and gentlemen (including Gloria Moore, of whom Pete was growing tired, in spite of her really excellent breasts) considered it stupid. Pete did not, in large part because events in his life had already caused him to mature beyond his years. As 2013 gave way to 2014 the year of the famed Polar Vortex, when furnaces all over the upper Midwest went into maximum overdrive, burning money by the bale that story recurred to him often, and its resonance continued to deepen. And recur. The family in it seemed to have everything, but they didnt; there was never quite enough, and the hero of the story, a young boy named Paul, always heard the house whispering, There must be more money! There must be more money! Pete Saubers guessed that there were kids who considered that stupid. They were the lucky ones who had never been forced to listen to nightly arkie-barkies about which bills to pay. Or the price of cigarettes. The young protagonist in the Lawrence story discovered a supernatural way to make money. By riding his toy rocking-horse to the make-believe land of luck, Paul could pick horse-race winners in the real world. He made thousands of dollars, and still the house whispered, There must be more money! After one final epic ride on the rocking-horse and one final big-money pick Paul dropped dead of a brain hemorrhage or something. Pete didnt have so much as a headache after finding the buried trunk, but it was still his rocking-horse, wasnt it? Yes. His very own rocking-horse. But by 2013, the year he met Mr Ricker, the rocking-horse was slowing down. The trunk-money had almost run out. It had gotten his parents through a rough and scary patch when their marriage might otherwise have crashed and burned; this Pete knew, and he never once regretted playing guardian angel. In the words of that old song, the trunk-money had formed a bridge over troubled water, and things were better much on the other side. The worst of the recession was over. Mom was teaching full-time again, her salary three thousand a year better than before. Dad now ran his own small business, not real estate, exactly, but something called real estate search. He had several agencies in the city as clients. Pete didnt completely understand how it worked, but he knew it was actually making some money, and might make more in the years ahead, if the housing market continued to trend upward. He was agenting a few properties of his own, too. Best of all, he was drug-free and walking well. The crutches had been in the closet for over a year, and he only used his cane on rainy or snowy days when his bones and joints ached. All good. Great, in fact. And yet, as Mr Ricker said at least once in every class. And yet! There was Tina to think about, that was one very large and yet. Many of her friends from the old neighborhood on the West Side, including Barbara Robinson, whom Tina had idolized, were going to Chapel Ridge, a private school that had an excellent record when it came to sending kids on to good colleges. Mom had told Tina that she and Dad didnt see how they could afford to send her there directly from middle school. Maybe she could attend as a sophomore, if their finances continued to improve. But I wont know anybody by then, Tina had said, starting to cry. Youll know Barbara Robinson, Mom said, and Pete (listening from the next room) could tell from the sound of her voice that Mom was on the verge of tears herself. Hilda and Betsy, too. But Teens had been a little younger than those girls, and Pete knew only Barbs had been a real friend to his sister back in the West Side days. Hilda Carver and Betsy DeWitt probably didnt even remember her. Neither would Barbara, in another year or two. Their mother didnt seem to remember what a big deal high school was, and how quickly you forgot your little-kid friends once you got there. Tinas response summed up these thoughts with admirable succinctness. Yeah, but they wont know me. Tina You have that money! Tina cried. That mystery money that comes every month! Why cant I have some for Chapel Ridge? Because were still catching up from the bad time, honey. To this Tina could say nothing, because it was true. His own college plans were another and yet. Pete knew that to some of his friends, maybe most of them, college seemed as far away as the outer planets of the solar system. But if he wanted a good one (Brown, his mind whispered, English Lit at Brown), that meant making early applications when he was a first-semester senior. The applications themselves cost money, as did the summer class he needed to pick up if he wanted to score at least a 670 on the math part of the SATs. He had a part-time job at the Garner Street Library, but thirty-five bucks a week didnt go far. Dads business had grown enough to make a downtown office desirable, that was and yet number three. Just a low-rent place on an upper floor, and being close to the action would pay dividends, but it would mean laying out more money, and Pete knew even though no one said it out loud that Dad was counting on the mystery cash to carry him through the critical period. They had all come to depend on the mystery cash, and only Pete knew it would be gone before the end of 14. And yeah, okay, he had spent some on himself. Not a huge amount that would have raised questions but a hundred here and a hundred there. A blazer and a pair of loafers for the class trip to Washington. A few CDs. And books. He had become a fool for books since reading the notebooks and falling in love with John Rothstein. He began with Rothsteins Jewish contemporaries, like Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, and Irwin Shaw (he thought The Young Lions was fucking awesome, and couldnt understand why it wasnt a classic), and spread out from there. He always bought paperbacks, but even those were twelve or fifteen dollars apiece these days, unless you could find them used. The Rocking-Horse Winner had resonance, all right, bigtime resonance, because Pete could hear his own house whispering There must be more money and all too soon there would be less. But money wasnt all the trunk had contained, was it? That was another and yet. One Pete Saubers thought about more and more as time passed. For his end-of-year research paper in Mr Rickers Gallop Through the Glories, Pete did a sixteen-page analysis of the Jimmy Gold trilogy, quoting from various reviews and adding in stuff from the few interviews Rothstein had given before retreating to his farm in New Hampshire and going completely dark. He finished by talking about Rothsteins tour of the German death camps as a reporter for the New York Herald this for years before publishing the first Jimmy Gold book. I believe that was the most important event of Mr Rothsteins life, Pete wrote. Surely the most important event of his life as a writer. Jimmys search for meaning always goes back to what Mr Rothstein saw in those camps, and its why, when Jimmy tries to live the life of an ordinary American citizen, he always feels hollow. For me, this is best expressed when he throws an ashtray through the TV in The Runner Slows Down. He does it during a CBS news special about the Holocaust. When Mr Ricker returned their papers, a big A+ was scrawled on Petes cover, which was a computer-scanned photo of Rothstein as a young man, sitting in Sardis with Ernest Hemingway. Below the A+, Mr Ricker had written See me after class. When the other kids were gone, Mr Ricker looked at Pete so fixedly that Pete was momentarily scared his favorite teacher was going to accuse him of plagiarism. Then Mr Ricker smiled. That is the best student paper Ive read in my twenty-eight years of teaching. Because it was the most confident, and the most deeply felt. Petes face heated with pleasure. Thanks. Really. Thanks a lot. Id argue with your conclusion, though, Mr Ricker said, leaning back in his chair and lacing his fingers together behind his neck. The characterization of Jimmy as a noble American hero, like Huck Finn, is not supported by the concluding book of the trilogy. Yes, he throws an ashtray at the television screen, but its not an act of heroism. The CBS logo is an eye, you know, and Jimmys act is a ritual blinding of his inner eye, the one that sees the truth. Thats not my insight; its an almost direct quote from an essay called The Runner Turns Away, by John Crowe Ransom. Leslie Fiedler says much the same in Love and Death in the American Novel. But Im not trying to debunk you, Pete; Im just saying you need to follow the evidence of any book wherever it leads, and that means not omitting crucial developments that run counter to your thesis. What does Jimmy do after he throws the ashtray through the TV, and after his wife delivers her classic line, You bastard, how will the kids watch Mickey Mouse now? He goes out and buys another TV set, but Not just any TV set, but the first color TV set on the block. And then? He creates the big successful ad campaign for Duzzy-Doo household cleaner. But Mr Ricker raised his eyebrows, waiting for the but. And how could Pete tell him that a year later, Jimmy steals into the agency late one night with matches and a can of kerosene? That Rothstein foreshadows all the protests about Vietnam and civil rights by having Jimmy start a fire that pretty much destroys the building known as the Temple of Advertising? That he hitchhikes out of New York City without a look back, leaving his family behind and striking out for the territory, just like Huck and Jim? He couldnt say any of that, because it was the story told in The Runner Goes West, a novel that existed only in seventeen closely written notebooks that had lain buried in an old trunk for over thirty years. Go ahead and but me your buts, Mr Ricker said equably. Theres nothing I like better than a good book discussion with someone who can hold up his end of the argument. I imagine youve already missed your bus, but Ill be more than happy to give you a ride home. He tapped the cover sheet of Petes paper, Johnny R. and Ernie H., those twin titans of American literature, with oversized martini glasses raised in a toast. Unsupported conclusion aside which I put down to a touching desire to see light at the end of an extremely dark final novel this is extraordinary work. Just extraordinary. So go for it. But me your buts. But nothing, I guess, Pete said. You could be right. Only Mr Ricker wasnt. Any doubt about Jimmy Golds capacity to sell out that remained at the end of The Runner Goes West was swept away in the last and longest novel of the series, The Runner Raises the Flag. It was the best book Pete had ever read. Also the saddest. In your paper you dont go into how Rothstein died. No. May I ask why not? Because it didnt fit the theme, I guess. And it would have made the paper too long. Also well it was such a bummer for him to die that way, getting killed in a stupid burglary. He shouldnt have kept cash in the house, Mr Ricker said mildly, but he did, and a lot of people knew it. Dont judge him too harshly for that. Many writers have been stupid and improvident about money. Charles Dickens found himself supporting a family of slackers, including his own father. Samuel Clemens was all but bankrupted by bad real estate transactions. Arthur Conan Doyle lost thousands of dollars to fake mediums and spent thousands more on fake photos of fairies. At least Rothsteins major work was done. Unless you believe, as some people do Pete looked at his watch. Um, Mr Ricker? I can still catch my bus if I hurry. Mr Ricker did that funny yowza-yowza thing with his hands. Go, by all means go. I just wanted to thank you for such a wonderful piece of work and to offer a friendly caution: when you approach this kind of thing next year and in college dont let your good nature cloud your critical eye. The critical eye should always be cold and clear. I wont, Pete said, and hurried out. The last thing he wanted to discuss with Mr Ricker was the possibility that the thieves who had taken John Rothsteins life had stolen a bunch of unpublished manuscripts as well as money, and maybe destroyed them after deciding they had no value. Once or twice Pete had played with the idea of turning the notebooks over to the police, even though that would almost surely mean his parents would find out where the mystery money had been coming from. The notebooks were, after all, evidence of a crime as well as a literary treasure. But it was an old crime, ancient history. Better to leave well enough alone. Right? The bus had already gone, of course, and that meant a two-mile walk home. Pete didnt mind. He was still glowing from Mr Rickers praise, and he had a lot to think about. Rothsteins unpublished works, mostly. The short stories were uneven, he thought, only a few of them really good, and the poems hed tried to write were, in Petes humble opinion, pretty lame. But those last two Jimmy Gold novels were well, gold. Judging by the evidence scattered through them, Pete guessed the last one, where Jimmy raises a burning flag at a Washington peace rally, had been finished around 1973, because Nixon was still president when the story ended. That Rothstein had never published the final Gold books (plus yet another novel, this one about the Civil War) blew Petes mind. They were so good! Pete took only one Moleskine at a time down from the attic, reading them with his door closed and an ear cocked for unexpected company when there were other members of his family in the house. He always kept another book handy, and if he heard approaching footsteps, he would slide the notebook under his mattress and pick up the spare. The only time hed been caught was by Tina, who had the unfortunate habit of walking around in her sock feet. Whats that? shed asked from the doorway. None of your beeswax, he had replied, slipping the notebook under his pillow. And if you say anything to Mom or Dad, youre in trouble with me. Is it porno? No! Although Mr Rothstein could write some pretty racy scenes, especially for an old guy. For instance the one where Jimmy and these two hippie chicks Then why dont you want me to see it? Because its private. Her eyes lit up. Is it yours? Are you writing a book? Maybe. So what if I am? I think thats cool! Whats it about? Bugs having sex on the moon. She giggled. I thought you said it wasnt porno. Can I read it when youre done? Well see. Just keep your trap shut, okay? She had agreed, and one thing you could say for Teens, she rarely broke a promise. That had been two years ago, and Pete was sure shed forgotten all about it. Billy Webber came rolling up on a gleaming ten-speed. Hey, Saubers! Like almost everyone else (Mr Ricker was an exception), Billy pronounced it Sobbers instead of SOW-bers, but what the hell. It was sort of a dipshit name however you said it. What you doin this summer? Working at the Garner Street libe. Still? I talked em into twenty hours a week. Fuck, man, youre too young to be a wage-slave! I dont mind, Pete said, which was the truth. The libe meant free computer-time, among the other perks, with no one looking over your shoulder. What about you? Goin to our summer place up in Maine. China Lake. Many cute girls in bikinis, man, and the ones from Massachusetts know what to do. Then maybe they can show you, Pete thought snidely, but when Billy held out his palm, Pete slapped him five and watched him go with mild envy. Ten-speed bike under his ass; expensive Nike kicks on his feet; summer place in Maine. It seemed that some people had already caught up from the bad time. Or maybe the bad time had missed them completely. Not so with the Saubers family. They were doing okay, but There must be more money, the house had whispered in the Lawrence story. There must be more money. And honey, that was resonance. Could the notebooks be turned into money? Was there a way? Pete didnt even like to think about giving them up, but at the same time he recognized how wrong it was to keep them hidden away in the attic. Rothsteins work, especially the last two Jimmy Gold books, deserved to be shared with the world. They would remake Rothsteins reputation, Pete was sure of that, but his rep still wasnt that bad, and besides, it wasnt the important part. People would like them, that was the important part. Love them, if they were like Pete. Only, handwritten manuscripts werent like untraceable twenties and fifties. Pete would be caught, and he might go to jail. He wasnt sure exactly what crime he could be charged with not receiving stolen property, surely, because he hadnt received it, only found it but he was positive that trying to sell what wasnt yours had to be some kind of crime. Donating the notebooks to Rothsteins alma mater seemed like a possible answer, only hed have to do it anonymously, or it would all come out and his parents would discover that their son had been supporting them with a murdered mans stolen money. Besides, for an anonymous donation you got zilch. Although he hadnt written about Rothsteins murder in his term paper, Pete had read all about it, mostly in the computer room at the library. He knew that Rothstein had been shot execution-style. He knew that the cops had found enough different tracks in the dooryard to believe two, three, or even four people had been involved, and that, based on the size of those tracks, all were probably men. They also thought that two of the men had been killed at a New York rest area not long after. Margaret Brennan, the authors first wife, had been interviewed in Paris not long after the killing. Everyone talked about him in that provincial little town where he lived, she said. What else did they have to talk about? Cows? Some farmers new manure spreader? To the provincials, John was a big deal. They had the erroneous idea that writers make as much as corporate bankers, and believed he had hundreds of thousands of dollars stashed away on that rundown farm of his. Someone from out of town heard the loose talk, thats all. Closemouthed Yankees, my Irish fanny! I blame the locals as much as the thugs who did it. When asked about the possibility that Rothstein had squirreled away manuscripts as well as cash, Peggy Brennan had given what the interview called a cigarette-raspy chuckle. More rumors, darling. Johnny pulled back from the world for one reason and one reason only. He was burned out and too proud to admit it. Lot you knew, Pete thought. He probably divorced you because he got tired of that cigarette-raspy chuckle. There was plenty of speculation in the newspaper and magazine articles Pete had read, but he himself liked what Mr Ricker called the Occams razor principle. According to that, the simplest and most obvious answer was usually the right one. Three men had broken in, and one of them had killed his partners so he could keep all the swag for himself. Pete had no idea why the guy had come to this city afterwards, or why hed buried the trunk, but one thing he was sure of: the surviving robber was never going to come back and get it. Petes math skills werent the strongest it was why he needed that summer course to bone up but you didnt have to be an Einstein to run simple numbers and assess certain possibilities. If the surviving robber had been thirty-five in 1978, which seemed like a fair estimate to Pete, he would have been sixty-seven in 2010, when Pete found the trunk, and around seventy now. Seventy was ancient. If he turned up looking for his loot, hed probably do so on a walker. Pete smiled as he turned onto Sycamore Street. He thought there were three possibilities for why the surviving robber had never come back for his trunk, all equally likely. One, he was in prison somewhere for some other crime. Two, he was dead. Three was a combination of one and two: he had died in prison. Whichever it was, Pete didnt think he had to worry about the guy. The notebooks, though, were a different story. About them he had plenty of worries. Sitting on them was like sitting on a bunch of beautiful stolen paintings you could never sell. Or a crate filled with dynamite. In September of 2013 almost exactly thirty-five years from the date of John Rothsteins murder Pete tucked the last of the trunk-money into an envelope addressed to his father. The final installment amounted to three hundred and forty dollars. And because he felt that hope which could never be realized was a cruel thing, he added a one-line note: This is the last of it. I am sorry theres not more. He took a city bus to Birch Hill Mall, where there was a mailbox between Discount Electronix and the yogurt place. He looked around, making sure he wasnt observed, and kissed the envelope. Then he slipped it through the slot and walked away. He did it Jimmy Gold-style: without looking back. A week or two after New Years, Pete was in the kitchen, making himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, when he overheard his parents talking to Tina in the living room. It was about Chapel Ridge. I thought maybe we could afford it, his dad was saying. If I gave you false hope, Im just as sorry as can be, Teens. Its because the mystery money stopped coming, Tina said. Right? Mom said, Partly but not entirely. Dad tried for a bank loan, but they wouldnt give it to him. They went over his business records and did something A two-year profit projection, Dad said. Some of the old post-accident bitterness crept into his voice. Lots of compliments, because those are free. They said they might be able to make the loan in 2016, if the business grows by five percent. In the meantime, this goddam Polar Vortex thing were way over your moms budget on heating expenses. Everyone is, from Maine to Minnesota. I know thats no consolation, but there it is. Honey, were so, so sorry, Mom said. Pete expected Tina to explode into a full-fledged tantrum there were lots more of those as she approached the big thirteen but it didnt happen. She said she understood, and that Chapel Ridge was probably a snooty school, anyway. Then she came out to the kitchen and asked Pete if he would make her a sandwich, because his looked good. He did, and they went into the living room, and all four of them watched TV together and had some laughs over The Big Bang Theory. Later that night, though, he heard Tina crying behind the closed door of her room. It made him feel awful. He went into his own room, pulled one of the Moleskines out from under his mattress, and began rereading The Runner Goes West. He was taking Mrs Daviss creative writing course that semester, and although he got As on his stories, he knew by February that he was never going to be a fiction-writer. Although he was good with words, a thing he didnt need Mrs Davis to tell him (although she often did), he just didnt possess that kind of creative spark. His chief interest was in reading fiction, then trying to analyze what he had read, fitting it into a larger pattern. He had gotten a taste for this kind of detective work while writing his paper on Rothstein. At the Garner Street Library he hunted out one of the books Mr Ricker had mentioned, Fiedlers Love and Death in the American Novel, and liked it so much that he bought his own copy in order to highlight certain passages and write in the margins. He wanted to major in English more than ever, and teach like Mr Ricker (except maybe at a university instead of in high school), and at some point write a book like Mr Fiedlers, getting into the faces of more traditional critics and questioning the established way those traditional critics looked at things. And yet! There had to be more money. Mr Feldman, the guidance counselor, told him that getting a full-boat scholarship to an Ivy League school was rather unlikely, and Pete knew even that was an exaggeration. He was just another whitebread high school kid from a so-so Midwestern school, a kid with a part-time library job and a few unglamorous extracurriculars like newspaper and yearbook. Even if he did manage to catch a boat, there was Tina to think about. She was basically trudging through her days, getting mostly Bs and Cs, and seemed more interested in makeup and shoes and pop music than school these days. She needed a change, a clean break. He was wise enough, even at not quite seventeen, to know that Chapel Ridge might not fix his little sister but then again, it might. Especially since she wasnt broken. At least not yet. I need a plan, he thought, only that wasnt precisely what he needed. What he needed was a story, and although he was never going to be a great fiction-writer like Mr Rothstein or Mr Lawrence, he was able to plot. That was what he had to do now. Only every plot stood on an idea, and on that score he kept coming up empty. He had begun to spend a lot of time at Water Street Books, where the coffee was cheap and even new paperbacks were thirty percent off. He went by one afternoon in March, on his way to his after-school job at the library, thinking he might pick up something by Joseph Conrad. In one of his few interviews, Rothstein had called Conrad the first great writer of the twentieth century, even though his best work was written before 1900. Outside the bookstore, a long table had been set up beneath an awning. SPRING CLEANING, the sign said. EVERYTHING ON THIS TABLE 70% OFF! And below it: WHO KNOWS WHAT BURIED TREASURE YOU WILL FIND! This line was flanked by big yellow smiley-faces, to show it was a joke, but Pete didnt think it was funny. He finally had an idea. A week later, he stayed after school to talk to Mr Ricker. Great to see you, Pete. Mr Ricker was wearing a paisley shirt with billowy sleeves today, along with a psychedelic tie. Pete thought the combination said quite a lot about why the love-and-peace generation had collapsed. Mrs Davis says great things about you. Shes cool, Pete said. Im learning a lot. Actually he wasnt, and he didnt think anyone else in her class was, either. She was nice enough, and quite often had interesting things to say, but Pete was coming to the conclusion that creative writing couldnt really be taught, only learned. What can I do for you? Remember when you were talking about how valuable a handwritten Shakespeare manuscript would be? Mr Ricker grinned. I always talk about that during a midweek class, when things get dozy. Theres nothing like a little avarice to perk kids up. Why? Have you found a folio, Malvolio? Pete smiled politely. No, but when we were visiting my uncle Phil in Cleveland during February vacation, I went out to his garage and found a whole bunch of old books. Most of them were about Tom Swift. He was this kid inventor. I remember Tom and his friend Ned Newton well, Mr Ricker said. Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle, Tom Swift and His Wizard Camera when I was a kid myself, we used to joke about Tom Swift and His Electric Grandmother. Pete renewed his polite smile. There were also a dozen or so about a girl detective named Trixie Belden, and another one named Nancy Drew. I believe I see where youre going with this, and I hate to disappoint you, but I must. Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden all interesting relics of a bygone age, and a wonderful yardstick to judge how much what is called YA fiction has changed in the last eighty years or so, but those books have little or no monetary value, even when found in excellent condition. I know, Pete said. I checked it out later on Fine Books. Thats a blog. But while I was looking those books over, Uncle Phil came out to the garage and said he had something else that might interest me even more. Because Id told him I was into John Rothstein. It was a signed hardback of The Runner. Not dedicated, just a flat signature. Uncle Phil said some guy named A1 gave it to him because he owed my uncle ten dollars from a poker game. Uncle Phil said hed had it for almost fifty years. I looked at the copyright page, and its a first edition. Mr Ricker had been rocked back in his chair, but now he sat down with a bang. Whoa! You probably know that Rothstein didnt sign many autographs, right? Yeah, Pete said. He called it defacing a perfectly good book. Uh-huh, he was like Raymond Chandler that way. And you know signed volumes are worth more when its just the signature? Sans dedication? Yes. It says so on Fine Books. A signed first of Rothsteins most famous book probably would be worth money. Mr Ricker considered. On second thought, strike the probably. What kind of condition is it in? Good, Pete said promptly. Some foxing on the inside cover and title page, is all. You have been reading up on this stuff. More since my uncle showed me the Rothstein. I dont suppose youre in possession of this fabulous book, are you? Ive got something a lot better, Pete thought. If you only knew. Sometimes he felt the weight of that knowledge, and never more than today, telling these lies. Necessary lies, he reminded himself. I dont, but my uncle said hed give it to me, if I wanted it. I said I needed to think about it, because he doesnt you know He doesnt have any idea of how much it might really be worth? Yeah. But then I started wondering What? Pete dug into his back pocket, took out a folded sheet of paper, and handed it to Mr Ricker. I went looking on the Internet for book dealers here in town that buy and sell first editions, and I found these three. I know youre sort of a book collector yourself Not much, I cant afford serious collecting on my salary, but Ive got a signed Theodore Roethke that I intend to hand down to my children. The Waking. Very fine poems. Also a Vonnegut, but thats not worth so much; unlike Rothstein, Father Kurt signed everything. Anyway, I wondered if you knew any of these, and if you do, which one might be the best. If I decided to let him give me the book and then, you know, sell it. Mr Ricker unfolded the sheet, glanced at it, then looked at Pete again. That gaze, both keen and sympathetic, made Pete feel uneasy. This might have been a bad idea, he really wasnt much good at fiction, but he was in it now and would have to plow through somehow. As it happens, I know all of them. But jeez, kiddo, I also know how much Rothstein means to you, and not just from your paper last year. Annie Davis says you bring him up often in Creative Writing. Claims the Gold trilogy is your Bible. Pete supposed this was true, but he hadnt realized how blabby hed been until now. He resolved to stop talking about Rothstein so much. It might be dangerous. People might think back and remember, if If. Its good to have literary heroes, Pete, especially if you plan to major in English when you get to college. Rothstein is yours at least for now and that book could be the beginning of your own library. Are you sure you want to sell it? Pete could answer this question with fair honesty, even though it wasnt really a signed book he was talking about. Pretty sure, yeah. Things have been a little tough at home I know what happened to your father at City Center, and Im sorry as hell. At least they caught the psycho before he could do any more damage. Dads better now, and both he and my mom are working again, only Im probably going to need money for college, see I understand. But thats not the biggest thing, at least not now. My sister wants to go to Chapel Ridge, and my parents told her she couldnt, at least not this coming year. They cant quite swing it. Close, but no cigar. And I think she needs a place like that. Shes kind of, I dont know, lagging. Mr Ricker, who had undoubtedly known lots of students who were lagging, nodded gravely. But if Tina could get in with a bunch of strivers especially this one girl, Barbara Robinson, she used to know from when we lived on the West Side things might turn around. Its good of you to think of her future, Pete. Noble, even. Pete had never thought of himself as noble. The idea made him blink. Perhaps seeing his embarrassment, Mr Ricker turned his attention to the list again. Okay. Grissom Books would have been your best bet when Teddy Grissom was still alive, but his son runs the shop now, and hes a bit of a tightwad. Honest, but close with a buck. Hed say its the times, but its also his nature. Okay I assume youve checked on the Net to find out how much a signed first-edition Runner in good condition is valued at? Yeah. Two or three thousand. Not enough for a year at Chapel Ridge, but a start. What my dad calls earnest money. Mr Ricker nodded. That sounds about right. Teddy Junior would start you at eight hundred. You might get him up to a grand, but if you kept pushing, hed get his back up and tell you to take a hike. This next one, Buy the Book, is Buddy Franklins shop. Hes also okay by which I mean honest but Buddy doesnt have much interest in twentieth-century fiction. His big deal is selling old maps and seventeenth-century atlases to rich guys in Branson Park and Sugar Heights. But if you could talk Buddy into valuing the book, then go to Teddy Junior at Grissom, you might get twelve hundred. Im not saying you would, Im just saying its possible. What about Andrew Halliday Rare Editions? Mr Ricker frowned. Id steer clear of Halliday. Hes got a little shop on Lacemaker Lane, in that walking mall off Lower Main Street. Not much wider than an Amtrak car, but damn near a block long. Seems to do quite well, but theres an odor about him. Ive heard it said hes not too picky about the provenance of certain items. Do you know what that is? The line of ownership. Right. Ending with a piece of paper that says you legally own what youre trying to sell. The only thing I know for sure is that about fifteen years ago, Halliday sold a proof copy of James Agees Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and it turned out to have been stolen from the estate of Brooke Astor. She was a rich old biddy from New York with a larcenous business manager. Halliday showed a receipt, and his story of how he came by the book was credible, so the investigation was dropped. But receipts can be forged, you know. Id steer clear of him. Thanks, Mr Ricker, Pete said, thinking that if he went ahead with this, Andrew Halliday Rare Editions would be his first stop. But he would have to be very, very careful, and if Mr Halliday wouldnt do a cash deal, that would mean no deal. Plus, under no circumstances could he know Petes name. A disguise might be in order, although it wouldnt do to go overboard on that. Youre welcome, Pete, but if I said I felt good about this, Id be lying. Pete could relate. He didnt feel so good about it himself. He was still mulling his options a month later, and had almost come to the conclusion that trying to sell even one of the notebooks would be too much risk for too little reward. If it went to a private collector like the ones he had sometimes read about, who bought valuable paintings to hang in secret rooms where only they could look at them it would be okay. But he couldnt be sure that would happen. He was leaning more and more to the idea of donating them anonymously, maybe mailing them to the New York University Library. The curator of a place like that would understand the value of them, no doubt. But doing that would be a little more public than Pete liked to think about, not at all like dropping the letters with the money inside them into anonymous streetcorner mailboxes. What if someone remembered him at the post office? Then, on a rainy night in late April of 2014, Tina came to his room again. Mrs Beasley was long gone, and the footy pajamas had been replaced by an oversized Cleveland Browns football jersey, but to Pete she looked very much like the worried girl who had asked, during the Era of Bad Feelings, if their mother and father were going to get divorced. Her hair was in pigtails, and with her face cleansed of the little makeup Mom let her wear (Pete had an idea she put on fresh layers when she got to school), she looked closer to ten than going on thirteen. He thought, Teens is almost a teen. It was hard to believe. Can I come in for a minute? Sure. He was lying on his bed, reading a novel by Philip Roth called When She Was Good. Tina sat on his desk chair, pulling her jersey nightshirt down over her shins and blowing a few errant hairs from her forehead, where a faint scattering of acne had appeared. Something on your mind? Pete asked. Um yeah. But she didnt go on. He wrinkled his nose at her. Go on, spill it. Some boy youve been crushing on told you to buzz off? You sent that money, she said. Didnt you? Pete stared at her, flabbergasted. He tried to speak and couldnt. He tried to persuade himself she hadnt said what shed said, and couldnt do that, either. She nodded as if he had admitted it. Yeah, you did. Its all over your face. It didnt come from me, Teens, you just took me by surprise. Where would I get money like that? I dont know, but I remember the night you asked me what Id do if I found a buried treasure. I did? Thinking, You were half-asleep. You cant remember that. Doubloons, you said. Coins from olden days. I said Id give it to Dad and Mom so they wouldnt fight anymore, and thats just what you did. Only it wasnt pirate treasure, it was regular money. Pete put his book aside. Dont you go telling them that. They might actually believe you. She looked at him solemnly. I never would. But I need to ask you is it really all gone? The note in the last envelope said it was, Pete replied cautiously, and there hasnt been any more since, so I guess so. She sighed. Yeah. What I figured. But I had to ask. She got up to go. Tina? What? Im really sorry about Chapel Ridge and all. I wish the money wasnt gone. She sat down again. Ill keep your secret if you keep one Mom and I have. Okay? Okay. Last November she took me to Chap thats what the girls call it for one of their tour days. She didnt want Dad to know, because she thought hed be mad, but back then she thought they maybe could afford it, especially if I got a need scholarship. Do you know what that is? Pete nodded. Only the money hadnt stopped coming then, and it was before all the snow and weird cold weather in December and January. We saw some of the classrooms, and the science labs. Theres like a jillion computers. We also saw the gym, which is humongous, and the showers. They have private changing booths, too, not just cattle stalls like at Northfield. At least they do for the girls. Guess who my tour group had for a guide? Barbara Robinson? She smiled. It was great to see her again. Then the smile faded. She said hello and gave me a hug and asked how everyone was, but I could tell she hardly remembered me. Why would she, right? Did you know her and Hilda and Betsy and a couple of other girls from back then were at the Round Here concert? The one the guy who ran over Dad tried to blow up? Yeah. Pete also knew that Barbara Robinsons big brother had played a part in saving Barbara and Barbaras friends and maybe thousands of others. He had gotten a medal or a key to the city, or something. That was real heroism, not sneaking around and mailing stolen money to your parents. Did you know I was invited to go with them that night? What? No! Tina nodded. I said I couldnt because I was sick, but I wasnt. It was because Mom said they couldnt afford to buy me a ticket. We moved a couple of months later. Jesus, how about that, huh? Yeah, I missed all the excitement. So how was the school tour? Good, but not great, or anything. Ill be fine at Northfield. Hey, once they find out Im your sister, theyll probably give me a free ride, Honor Roll Boy. Pete suddenly felt sad, almost like crying. It was the sweetness that had always been part of Tinas nature combined with that ugly scatter of pimples on her forehead. He wondered if she got teased about those. If she didnt yet, she would. He held out his arms. Cmere. She did, and he gave her a strong hug. Then he held her by the shoulders and looked at her sternly. But that money it wasnt me. Uh-huh, okay. So was that notebook you were reading stuck in with the money? I bet it was. She giggled. You looked so guilty that night when I walked in on you. He rolled his eyes. Go to bed, short stuff. Okay. At the door she turned back. I liked those private changing booths, though. And something else. Want to know? Youll think its weird. Go ahead, lay it on me. The kids wear uniforms. For the girls its gray skirts with white blouses and white kneesocks. There are also sweaters, if you want. Some gray like the skirts and some this pretty dark red hunter red they call it, Barbara said. Uniforms, Pete said, bemused. You like the idea of uniforms. Knew youd think it was weird. Because boys dont know how girls are. Girls can be mean if youre wearing the wrong clothes,