The Washington Post
Aftermathby Brian Shawver
"Aftermath is set in East Breed's, Pennsylvania, a blue-collar town that simmers with barely concealed prejudices and unspoken rules. One Friday night in the parking lot of a chain restaurant, class tension erupts in a brutal fight between the priveleged boys from St. Brendan's and a group of kids from the local high school. Casey Fielder, the restaurant's manager,… See more details below
- Checkmark B&N Discover Great New Writers Shop Now
"Aftermath is set in East Breed's, Pennsylvania, a blue-collar town that simmers with barely concealed prejudices and unspoken rules. One Friday night in the parking lot of a chain restaurant, class tension erupts in a brutal fight between the priveleged boys from St. Brendan's and a group of kids from the local high school. Casey Fielder, the restaurant's manager, watches the melee but does nothing to stop it. When the fight ends, Colin Chase, a handsome, cocky student at St. Brendan's, is left severely brain-damaged." Brian Shawver portrays the lasting effects of one night. Casey, ostracized by his unforgivable behavior, loses his job and dedicates himself to investigating the causes of the fight, hoping that his discoveries will provide some justification for his failure to act. For Lea, Colin's mother, the incident ironically offers a way to reclaim the defiant, arrogant son she hardly knew and could barely love. Although she hopes that the guilty boy will be found and punished, Lea can't escape the feeling that Colin somehow brought the horror upon himself. As she looks for clues that will help her understand him, she discovers his apparent devotion to a young woman named Jenny, and she seizes on this relationship as the key that will finally allow her to love her son unconditionally.
The Washington Post
“A moving study of class division and its tension. . . . Often heartbreaking and sometimes shocking, Aftermath is an intense, harrowing look at not only an ugly crime but its agonizing consequences.” —Library Journal (starred review)
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.56(w) x 9.54(h) x 1.11(d)
Read an Excerpt
twoHe pretended not to understand at first, which was ridiculous, and probably underscored his own panic. Upon realizing this, he stood and said, “How many of them?” in as even a voice as he could manage. “I don’t know. A bunch. More than last time, I think.” She opened the door wider and started to back away, signaling that he should come with her. When he stepped out of the office, he felt himself entering a world of eyes. It was as if Jenny had pressed the record button of a video camera that would be focused on him for the rest of the night. He felt himself being observed, not just by Jenny but by the world in general, by headquarters and the Howards, by whatever customers might remain on the floor, by the cooks and the handful of servers now in the break room, wrapping silverware in napkins. Though few people would actually see him, he knew that his actions would eventually come under scrutiny. He felt the pull of the handbook -- how nice it would be to scamper back and thumb through its index. But he knew that nothing would be there; he had checked after the first incident. Nothing under “fights,” “brawls,” “conflicts,” “teenagers.” He would have no guidance tonight. The boys that Jenny referred to were the same age as she, some of them her schoolmates and the others from St. Brendan’s Academy. Exactly three weeks earlier, they had assembled in the O’Ruddy’s parking lot to brawl. The shift manager that night, Chad Richardson, had called the police almost as soon as he had noticed them congregating. But the restaurant sat on the south side of Arthur Avenue, in East Breed’s, where police response was sluggish. In this case, one ineffectual cruiser had arrived after fifteen minutes. In that span the twelve boys had punched themselves to exhaustion; some of them had fled by the time the cops arrived. The remaining boys had been lectured by a sergeant who was too cold to get out of the car and then had been sent on their way. All in all, a minor affair. Minimal media coverage -- mostly in the Breed’s Township Beacon, which was perpetually cursed with slow news days -- and no harm to person or property. Certainly nothing to make Casey panic now, nothing to make him think tonight would present him with something he could not handle. But there had been a police report. This was the damage. The policeman had given Richardson a copy, and he had passed it on to Casey. Casey had followed protocol by sending copies to the Howards and to the headquarters in Dallas. Under the terms of the franchise contract and the insurance papers, this had to be done. The handbook was unambiguous -- it was virtually the only directive in there about how to deal with police matters. But the Howards were displeased. The authority of the handbook was not absolute to them, they did not understand that their restaurant relied on its dogma. Casey now walked briskly through the kitchen, taking off his coat and scarf as he moved, and Jenny followed. The cooks, distracted by the radio’s salsa music and the elaborate process of shutting down the kitchen, paid no attention to him. Out on the floor, once the swinging doors shut out the noise of the kitchen behind him, the world seemed silent and softly lit. He scanned the restaurant quickly, out of habit, and noted only one occupied table, where a short, curly-headed couple in their fifties hunched over coffee cups. Tables five through nine, which lined the wall that overlooked the parking lot, had booth seating, and when Casey reached them he slid into the dark faux-leather booth of table eight, resting on his knees and holding himself erect as a prairie dog. This section had been closed down an hour earlier, the lights dimmed and the candles extinguished, so the tableau of the fluorescently lit parking lot presented itself clearly to those inside. The glass, a few inches in front of him, radiated cold, and he felt his chest absorb the frozen vapor. He thought about the exorbitant January heating bills, how he should have mentioned that in the memo. Jenny slid into the same booth, resting on her knees on the seat opposite him, also facing the window. He gave her a quick, surprised look, slightly annoyed by her presence. She reminded him of the video camera, of the unseen eyes that would watch his performance in retrospect. He closed his gaping mouth and tried to adopt a purposeful frown. He noticed that she smelled like the kitchen -- vegetable oil and lemon Fantastik. The front of her apron was smeared with mashed potatoes. Her nametag, askance, drifted on a breast that brushed against the window. “Who are they, Jenny? The same kids?” “More or less.” She sounded unconvinced. “It’s hard to say. They’re all bundled up. Maybe if I saw their faces.” They both could tell which kids represented which schools. The St. Brendan’s group held their position on the north side of the lot around a small number of SUVs, cars they had probably talked their parents into buying for safety’s sake. The rich kids didn’t drive Alfas anymore, the way they had when Casey had gone to Breed’s Township High. The rich kids drove Yukons and Grand Cherokees, and the poor kids walked or rode in uninsured Ford hatchbacks. The boys had not begun fighting, although they were well into their prelude: the nervous jabbering, the taunts and laughter. They reclined against their bumpers and hoods, as if lounging in this parking lot, in this cruel weather, might be something they would do regardless of the enemy presence. But this appearance was betrayed, more frequently as the minutes passed, by the shouting of insults and promises rising in calculated menace. The shouts came through the glass clearly enough, drowning out the overhead Top 40 from the cassette tapes that headquarters sent to their franchises. Each boy’s mouth expelled puffs of vapor as he threatened war. At first the fog dissipated, but then the frozen air began to congregate and jostle above them as the shouting heightened, and soon there would be nothing for the boys to do but run at each other and strike. Casey counted about a dozen on each side. They had more numbers tonight than they’d had in December. He had not been there, but he had thought about it often, and the morning after the incident he’d called Chad Richardson in to narrate the scene for him. During the past few weeks, in moments of idleness, he had stared out the window and imagined the wrangling boys. He had wondered what he would have done in Chad’s position, then abandoned the thought. Casey did not work well with theoretical scenarios. The taunts increased, and the boys spread themselves out in a rough formation. The swearing had taken on a sinister feel, the shouts so foul that the frozen vapor that carried them seemed to be a very real kind of pollution. Casey broke from the spell of the spectacle and looked around him. Jenny was staring dumbly, hypnotized, as he had been. He looked toward the smoking section and saw that the couple who had come to drink coffee were transfixed by the scene as well, though they stayed in their distant booth. Chad Richardson had called the police before it had even come to this, he thought. But Chad Richardson had been wrong -- wasn’t that the consensus? Hadn’t he called too early? Hadn’t he shirked his responsibility? “I think they’re about to go at it,” said Jenny. He wondered what she meant by stating such an obvious thing. Was she trying to indicate that he was not playing his part? “The Howards really scared me at that meeting,” she said. “I mean, they sounded so serious. Oh my god, Mr. Fielder, I can’t lose my job. Seriously, I can’t.” Melodrama, thought Casey. If she thought she was the one who had been scared by the Howards’ meeting, then she didn’t know what scared was. But of course she didn’t think much about him. She was simply laying another problem at his feet, formally passing on yet another crisis to the manager, who knew how to fix things. She didn’t see it the way he did. The fight could not be allowed to happen, of course . . . but that meeting, the Howards’ emphatic stance on the matter: no more police reports. Outside the boys continued to yell, continued to inch toward collision. The screams overlapped, the voices competing, climbing on top of each other like rats escaping a swollen well. The bass was leaving them, the booming juvenile threats collapsing into a shrillness that indicated an inability to articulate, a need to shriek and rise, a need that would finally manifest itself in the beating of other boys. The Howards had called the meeting upon receiving the memo, which had come via certified mail eight days after the December fight. Their understanding of the situation, Casey felt, was typical of them, typical of any couple who had made it into their eighties without ever living east of Keystone Avenue, who had sunk an afterthought of stock earnings into a chain restaurant where they had never eaten. They wanted this thing dealt with, they said. They ranted to Casey without acknowledging the reasonableness of his response, his deference to the handbook. There could be no more fights, they said, over and over again, so the employees were to do what they had to, whatever that meant. Their strategy hadn’t worked, evidently. As dangerous as this could be for him, Casey couldn’t help but feel a small victory: the old couple who managed to control a thousand aspects of his life could not manage this handful of teenagers, they could not mandate them out of existence. The message had been clear, at least from headquarters. The insurance would be revoked if there was another incident. End of story. They had heard about the news coverage, read the reports Casey had dutifully filed. It was an intractable situation, headquarters said. The margins were already too narrow, the premiums almost too high to sustain. With another fight, the insurance would go, and this would be the end of the Breed’s Township O’Ruddy’s. A sandy-haired St. Brendan’s boy, his muscular build evident despite his bulky black winter clothes, stepped forward, breaching a line that had been tacitly defined. Now the chaos of the screams accompanied action. A short, thin boy from Breed’s Township High, wearing a ludicrous teal parka -- Casey knew it was likely to be a Starter jacket for some expansion sports franchise -- approached the one who had crossed the line. These two vanguards mirrored each other from a distance of five feet, spraying bad language and spittle so emphatically that the air between them soon became clouded. Jenny spoke, and Casey’s body jerked. “Oh shit,” she said. “What?” he said. “What? You know them, right? Do you know them?” “A couple of them, yeah,” she said. “What’s going to happen?” he said, but she didn’t answer. “Jenny, are these kids really going to hurt each other, or is this for show? Are they just showing off?” She squinted at the glass, which her warm breath had fogged. She wiped the window with the hem of her apron. “Who would they be showing off for?” “For each other? You know, a turf war kind of thing? To show who’s in charge?” She thought before answering. “They don’t really care about that. The ones I know don’t, anyway. Everyone usually just sticks to their own business. I don’t really know what this is about, Mr. Fielder.” The window fogged again as she spoke. She pulled her face back like a snake about to strike, then touched her index finger to her blurred reflection. She absently traced her initials into the fog, then wiped the design away, sheepish. “What are you going to do, Mr. Fielder?” He didn’t answer. The boys were still barking threats. The two at the middle had moved even closer together, both waiting for the tinder to catch. “I can’t lose my job.” “Goddammit, Jenny, neither can I,” he said. “That’s not what this is about, anyway.” He bit his lower lip and squinted again at the parking lot. Chad Richardson wasn’t the kind of person who liked to handle crises. Chad Richardson seemed to manage the restaurant with the perpetual hope that nothing would go wrong, which was why he’d been stuck on the weekday shifts for two years now; on the night of the December fight, he’d been filling in because Casey had had strep throat. So while it was true, Casey thought, that Chad had called the police by this stage, the eyes that had watched Chad had not judged him kindly. He had paused to tell himself this, to collect himself. He didn’t like having said “goddammit” to an employee. There was something in the handbook about swearing, but he couldn’t remember the exact wording. “We’ve got to do something, though,” he said to Jenny, in a much softer tone. They looked at each other now, and her face was honest and fearful. Seconds earlier, in her schoolgirl flightiness, she had written her initials in the fog of the glass, and the memory of this strange innocence, and the untouchable prettiness of the look she gave him, spurred him to make a bold claim. “We should call the police,” he said. She didn’t respond for a few seconds, not until the boy in the teal jacket had knocked his coiled fist against the shoulder of the muscular boy from St. Brendan’s. “Do it if you think you should,” she said. “I’m just saying, I can’t lose my job.” The St. Brendan’s boy swiped wildly with an open hand at his opponent, knocking off the teal baseball hat that matched the Starter jacket. The Township boy had shaggy dark hair that bobbed as he ducked and struck back. His punch landed south of his enemy’s face, striking him in the neck. A punch was returned, similarly off-mark. Once each had thrown a fist, the others raced toward the center, and the two lines of boys crashed together like cymbals. In this way the fight began and continued, the fists flying about with terrible randomness, punches landing everywhere and nowhere. Casey, never having witnessed such an event, watched with fascination. He had thought that a brawl might be more ordered, the brutality more expertly directed. He was now learning that rage is at its heart a graceless, inef- ficient thing. It seemed clear to him that the fight would continue in this way -- chaotic, mismanaged -- until the fighters fell from exhaustion and cold. This was one hope the night offered. While it was true that the clashing fighters outside his window were intent on damaging each other, they were simply not very good at it. It was possible that in the end nothing would come of it, and eventually they would accept something less than total victory. He could imagine it happening because it would have happened before, he now was certain, if Chad Richardson had not been so eager to call the authorities. Casey was not Chad. The Howards only put up with people like Chad, he thought, because they knew Casey was there to rein them in, fix their errors. What they had meant, when they said that it couldn’t happen again, was that Casey could not let it happen again. But what was it? Casey did not know whether they had meant that there could not be any more fights or simply any more police, and the ignorance seared him. He knew, or thought he knew, that there could be the fight without the police. This was the hope. It was below zero, he thought, or close to it. Even with the exercise of fighting, their bodies could not hold out long. Hats were knocked off in the scuffling, and they had shed their gloves early on. In time the extremities would go numb and the fighters would be made useless. Blows to exposed skin would sting like acid, and both the puncher and the victim would suffer. The cold had also forced them into these puffy outfits -- they were swaddled in bulky parkas and sweaters -- so the arms they thrashed about were constricted, and their punches often landed harmlessly on their enemies’ bulk. The bodies they threw at each other looked like those of upright weevils. At this point they fought the way hockey players fight, hanging on to each other for balance and leverage. A few had already fallen and were wrestling on the ground; their only goal was to find the fulcrum that might allow them to swing themselves on top of the other and start flailing away. The muscular boy from St. Brendan’s had his opponent in a headlock and drove repeated strikes into the exposed face. The fighters kept to their zones and assignments, they fought in pods and pairs. “I really need to call the police,” Casey said, but they were empty words. He may have said them only because they were the last words he had spoken, a full minute before, the only words still in his brain. He did not really acknowledge what it might mean to call the police, what physical action this might entail. The ugly ballet outside the window held him rapt, and the eyes, the absent observers, were forgotten now. He had become the spectator, and there was no room left in his trance for whoever was watching him, whoever would watch him. He did not notice when Jenny scooted out of the booth. He registered her absence only when she spoke. Her voice came from several feet behind him, but his mind did not process what she said. He swiveled his head to look at her and saw that she was at the server stand, with the phone receiver pressed to her ear. She repeated herself. “The phone’s out again, Mr. Fielder. We can’t call the cops.” He turned back to the window and heard Jenny set down the receiver and return to her position in the booth. She settled herself there carefully, as if trying not to wake him. Outside the restaurant, only a few of the boys remained standing, circling each other and thus marking geometric shapes on the thin layer of snow that had fallen in the morning. They would have looked like weary boxers but for the fact that they could not keep their arms up, and so instead they looked like drunks searching for a place to pass out. The parking lot was speckled with coupled figures -- one boy prone and protective, his counterpart thrashing above him, lost in a dream of fury. One of these fighters, a stout, black-haired boy, rose with a grimace and deliberate slowness, like an old man with a bad back. His victim rolled over and spit bloody goop onto the snow. The wide boy summoned two other boys from his crowd. These friends made their way toward him, huddled together, and then the three of them walked toward a light blue sedan. This is how it should end, Casey thought, snapping out of his haze. One of the victors, afraid of getting caught or simply wasted by the cold, would have to leave. There would be no shame in it for him, since he had been winning, consistently and obviously. The other boy, the beaten one, could not be the first to run off. In Breed’s Township, a reputation for cowardice circulated too quickly and stuck too permanently. With something like glee, Casey watched this boy, together with his staggering friends, climb into the sedan and drive out of the parking lot. He had to weave around fallen, wriggling pairs of bodies, and someone shot a snowball at his windshield, but in five seconds he was gone, and Casey watched the taillights fade away down Arthur Avenue. Soon others left. Using the diversion of the fleeing sedan, two St. Brendan’s kids sought refuge in a Pathfinder. They escaped notice until the engine started and all the St. Brendan’s boys, recognizing the highly tuned motor of one of their own, turned their heads and saw the abandonment. One of the boys scuttled in front of the Pathfinder as it drove toward the exit, patted the hood, then hopped into the backseat. Now that the precedent had been established, there were more defections, although they did not happen at once. Though depleted of the energy that had made it spectacular, the fight continued, and Casey continued to watch it from his perch. It seemed that he, rather than any of the teenagers, had won the day. After two haggard Township boys finally managed to start the engine of a brown Pontiac, twelve boys remained in the lot, only a handful of them still engaged. One pair of boys fought by falling into each other, like trees crashing together in the wind. If he called the cops now, they would laugh at him. He was handling it, he was letting it play out. It was the sort of advice the handbook might have given. The eyes would approve, he thought. It didn’t occur to Casey, as it later would, that he could have shooed them off. It would be obvious to those who judged him in hindsight, the retrospective eyes, but it just never entered his mind. There may have been subconscious reasoning behind it, he told himself later. For one thing, it probably wouldn’t have done any good. He had no confidence in his ability to scare teenagers, or even to talk to them; they seemed like deer who had long gotten over their instinctive fear of humans. But in truth he just never thought about going out to speak to them. He was an observer tonight, a fascinated spectator of a remarkable pageant, a show that he’d never seen before. The idea that he might participate in this scene, play his own role in it, had become ludicrous even before he went through the motions of telling Jenny he would call the police. One Township boy, who had spent most of the fight pinned to the cold ground by a fat St. Brendan’s kid, finally freed himself and stood, shaking off the chill and the wounds. He seemed to notice for the first time that the numbers had dwindled, and upon realizing this he raced for his car, pausing only long enough to open the door for a comrade. Within twenty seconds another car left, this one a RAV4 holding two boys from St. Brendan’s. After the flight of this last SUV, only four boys remained in the lot. In the span of two minutes most of the combatants had fled in shame and pain. Casey waited for the simple problem of four boys to resolve itself. But something had changed in the scene outside the window. The boys were not fighting. They all looked the same to Casey, all of them hatless now, their hair tousled and powdered with snow, their faces red, swelling, trickling blood. Frozen vapor now came from their bodies as well as their mouths, though they weren’t speaking. Jenny pressed her face to the glass and cupped her hands around her eyes to see better. It had just struck Casey that of the four boys, three of them were from Breed’s Township High School -- one of them even had a letter jacket on -- and only one was from St. Brendan’s. He had been left behind. It was the boy from the beginning, the muscular, handsome boy with short sandy hair and expensive black clothes. He held his hands at his sides and stood tall, but he moved backward as the three approached, trying to steer himself in the direction of a Jeep that sat alone at the south end of the lot. “He’s all by himself,” said Jenny. Casey moved away from the window, his eyes still focused on the parking lot. Like the boy from St. Brendan’s, he backed away slowly, as if walking in the dark. “I need to call the police,” he said. And he would have found a way to do this, he believed he would have, but at that moment one of the three sprang at the tall St. Brendan’s boy, driving a fist into his crotch, and the boy fell onto his side. Jenny had her hands over her face, looking through her fingers as if she were watching a horror movie. Now the three from Township High stood like points of a triangle above the fallen boy, and they spoke to each other, gray breath darting from their mouths. One boy, wearing a puffy yellow jacket, jogged to a car. They’re going, Casey thought. Just one last cheap shot at their rival, and now he’s starting the car. They will leave. The cops could do nothing now except necessitate a report. Get the restaurant closed down. Cost him his job. But instead of leaving, one of the remaining attackers got behind the sandy-haired boy and pulled him to his feet. He kept his captive’s arms pinned behind his back and accepted his weight. “That’s it,” said Casey. He had now retreated to the server stand and put his hand on the phone receiver. But then he froze where he stood, afraid that any movement would disturb his view, and he had to watch. He saw a figure dart from the black car, sprint across the parking lot to the others. The figure held a gray rod in his hand. The boy who held the captive’s arms ducked, and the attacker swung the rod laterally, like a side-armed pitcher, and struck the sandy-haired boy in the jaw. Unconscious, the boy slumped to his right, but he was kept off the ground by the one who held him from behind. A sticky string of red dropped from his mouth onto his coat. The boy in the yellow jacket calculated his next strike based on the new angle of the victim’s face, held the rod with both hands, and swung from the left, up and to the right, smashing the side of the head. The boy crumpled now, in spite of the efforts of the one holding him, and lay on the ground. The three from Township ran toward the black sedan, and the car jolted out of the lot, running over the curb and hedges directly onto Arthur Avenue, at about the same time Casey and Jenny broke from their stupor. “Jesus!” Jenny gasped, in a voice already debilitated by an onslaught of tears. “Bleeding!” Casey ran. “Call 911!” he shouted on his way out, once to Jenny and once to the stupefied couple who still sat with their hands around their coffee cups. He jerked open the two sets of doors that led outside, slipped on a patch of ice, then sprinted toward the fallen boy, whose head had leaked a dark puddle on the snow.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >