All That I Have
By Castle Freeman Jr.
Steerforth Press Copyright © 2009 Castle Freeman Jr.
All rights reserved.
THE NEW MALE AND THE MORNING BACK
Sharp at seven Tuesday morning, Clemmie, barefoot in her robe, was standing at the kitchen counter putting cream in her coffee when the squawker went. Clemmie listened. She took a sip of coffee. The squawker quit. Clemmie turned from the counter.
"What's a new male?" she asked.
I was sitting at the breakfast table, behind Clemmie. I was looking at her back. Her morning back. We'd had another of our little go-rounds the night before, nothing too serious: a club match, an exhibition. Still, this morning here I was looking at her back. When she wants to, Clemmie can show you a back like the north side of Mount Nebo.
It was Trooper Timberlake on the squawker, from someplace way to hell and gone out on the Diamond Mountain road in Ulster. He sounded puzzled.
"That was young Timberlake," I said. "I'd better go."
"He said a new male, though," Clemmie said. "What did he mean? What's a new male?"
"I am," I said. "I'm a new male. You didn't know that?"
"Sure, you are," said Clemmie.
That sounded pretty good, I thought. If I can get the door open that far, I can get her to come through it. I thought I'd try to push it for another inch.
"There's a new kind of male," I said. "I'm one of them. One of him."
"If that's so," said Clemmie, "then things are worse than anybody knew."
There she was. She's back on the premises, it looks like, back on the reservation — or soon will be. I drank my coffee and got up from the table.
"I'd better go ahead," I said.
"Have some breakfast first," said Clemmie. "Have some toast."
"The new male don't eat breakfast," I said. I went to the kitchen door and got the truck keys from their hook.
"But, really," said Clemmie, "he did say something about a new male, didn't he? What did he mean?"
"I don't think that's what he said," I told her.
* * *
Trooper Timberlake was in the turnout for the snowplows right at the Ulster town line. I pulled the truck in behind him. I could see he had somebody in the rear of the patrol car, behind the grill. Timberlake left the patrol car and came back to me.
Timberlake was probably twenty-five. He had the state police thing about down: six-four or -five, blond, fit, head cropped so close it was nearly shaved. He looked like the world's largest baby, a baby who had come out of his mother's belly doing one-arm pushups. Timberlake had come to the state police from the Marine Corps. A lot of them did at the state police. You don't have to be General Patton come back from the dead to rise in that organization, but it don't hurt you if you are.
"Subject's been in a fight, Sheriff," Timberlake said. "Somebody driving by found him, called it in. He was tied to a tree over there. He's got a bump on his head, got a big shiner, and plus his arm's hurt somehow. Ambulance is en route."
"Good morning to you, too, Trooper," I said.
"Can't get much out of him," Timberlake went on. "One thing: he's not from around here. He can't even speak English — can't or won't. Yelling and carrying on in some language I can't make anything of. Some garbage."
"That's affirmative, Sheriff. Not a patch on him."
"Tied to a tree?"
"That's affirmative, Sheriff. Tied to a tree, shit beat out him, and raving butt naked."
"Let's have a look at him," I said.
Timberlake stepped away, and I got down from the truck. The two of us went up to Timberlake's patrol car and the man sitting in the rear.
"Best keep back a little, Sheriff," said Timberlake.
The man in the patrol car was handcuffed behind his back. He had a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, the ends folded across his lap. He was short and skinny. He had long greasy blond hair and skin that was too white, as though he lived in your cellar or at the bottom of your well. He wore no clothes, nothing, not even his socks. When Timberlake and I came up to the patrol car, he turned his head and spat toward us out the half-open window.
"He spits, Sheriff," said Timberlake.
The naked man commenced to thrash around and kick the seat in front of him. He beat his head against the window glass. He shouted and cursed at us. Whatever language he was speaking sounded like you're going through a big log of rock maple with a chain saw and you hit an old iron sugar tap in there.
"What's that he's talking, Sheriff?" Timberlake asked.
"That's Russian," I said.
"Sure," I said. "Don't you know Russian when you hear it, Trooper?"
"Negative, Sheriff," said Timberlake.
"I thought they trained you kids today," I said.
"Come on, Sheriff," said Timberlake.
"Who did you say called it in?"
"I couldn't say, Sheriff. They didn't leave a name."
"Here's your medics," I said.
The ambulance from Cumberland drove up, and the medical team piled out and came over to the patrol car. They took one look at Trooper Timberlake's passenger, yelling nobody knew what at them and kicking and spitting and snapping like a snake in the back of the patrol car, and refused to go anywhere near him. But the driver was a big strong fellow, and Timberlake was another, and between the three of us we managed to get a bag on the Russian's head and wrestle him out of the car. Even so, we almost lost him when he head-butted the ambulance driver, kicked Timberlake where you don't want to be kicked, and took off running full tilt for the road. He had to get past me, though, and as he tried to do that I sidestepped and stuck out my foot. The Russian tripped and went down hard on his face, with Timberlake and the driver right on top of him, neither of them feeling too kindly toward him anymore. They got him onto a stretcher, got him strapped down good and tight. Then we shoved him into the ambulance. They took him to Brattleboro. Timberlake's barracks commander thought the International School down there might have somebody who could talk to him.
* * *
The thing is, Clemmie says I don't like her father. She's right: I don't. He don't like me either, though, so that's okay, we're even. You don't have to like your wife's father. He don't have to like you. It's not a problem, really, but Clemmie sees it as one. And then, she says I don't like her father and never have. That's not right. I did like him. I liked him fine for five, ten minutes after the two of us were introduced by Clemmie. It took me that long to figure out that Addison Jessup didn't approve of me, didn't think I was anywhere near good enough for his only daughter, didn't like the idea of her taking up with a half-assed woodchuck cop — didn't like much of anything about Clemmie and me.
The fact that the week before we met I had busted Addison for driving under the influence probably didn't help us get along real smooth. But there again, it didn't have to have been a problem. It wasn't for me. The sheriff's department is different from other law enforcement work in some ways, as I will explain by and by, but it's like all the rest in this: the people want you to do your job, and they want you not to do your job. They want you to do your job, but not on them.
"If you could just make a little bit of an effort with him," Clemmie said. "If you could, just once, meet him halfway. He's not young, you know. His health isn't great. He won't be around forever."
"He won't?" I asked her. "Are you sure?"
"I can't be on your side and on his side, too," Clemmie said. "I'm right in the middle here all the time."
"You ain't in the middle of nothing," I said. "I'm the illiterate redneck that's putting the blocks to your dad's only daughter, his little girl. He don't like that. I can't make him like it. You can't. Quit worrying about it."
"He doesn't think you're an illiterate redneck."
"Sure, he does. He's right, too."
"If he's right, then what does that make me?"
"The wife of an illiterate redneck, it looks like."
"Exactly. You see? You don't think about that."
"No. You don't. Never. You just go ahead the way you do, the way you always have. You're that sure. You don't see me."
"I see you fine."
"You don't. You don't see me. You don't see anyone."
"I see you. I see your dad. You want to know what I see?"
"No. Forget it."
"You want to know?"
"Just forget it."
"I'll tell you if you want to know."
"I don't want to know. My Lord. You know what I want? What I'd like? I'd like to be like you. Don't laugh: I really would. Calm. Sure. Mister Law. That would be great. I'd love that. I really would. How do you do it? How do you get that way?"
"I took a course."
I slept on the couch that night, and then the next day I got the morning back from Clemmie. Naturally, I got it. If I hadn't, I would have worried. I would have missed the back. How Addison felt about me, how I felt about Addison, what it all meant to Clemmie, what it meant to me, how it all went round and round, was the gift that keeps on giving to Clemmie and me. We had hunted those woods many a time and left behind a lot of fur and feathers and a lot of spent brass.
But joy cometh in the morning, as they used to say in church — and if it don't, at least you can get out of the house and go to work. Thank God for the new male.
THE RUSSIANS AT DISNEYLAND
Do I know Russian?
I do not, no more than Trooper Timberlake does. 'Course I don't. With my crack about how he hadn't been trained right and I had, I was taking a little shot at Timberlake. I was sticking it to him, a little. Sure, I was. With the Timberlakes of this world, you almost have to stick it to them when you can, don't you? Timberlake don't mind. He's — what are you when you're padded all around, when they can't get to you? He's invulnerable. Taking a little shot at Timberlake is like shooting an elephant in the hindquarters with a BB gun: not only is he not hurt, you can't tell for sure whether he knows he's been hit.
So no, I didn't know Russian was what Timberlake's under-dressed customer was talking up on Diamond Mountain. I didn't know, but I did. Because as soon as Timberlake had asked me what the fellow was talking and I'd heard myself say Russian, I knew I was right, and I knew why. A wire had arced to another wire in a different part of the panel, and a whole new section of the board had lit up. A Russian. A naked Russian. Another naked Russian.
* * *
It was the Friday before Timberlake's Russian turned up that we had responded to an automatic alarm from a vacation place in Grenada. The alarm was relayed from a private security company I'd never heard of. That wasn't unusual. A good many of the newer properties contracted for surveillance and security service with outfits in all kinds of places; in fact, it seemed as though the bigger and fancier the house, the farther away its security was apt to be.
The house this alarm had come from was most of an hour's drive from the sheriff's department, but one of my deputies, Deputy Keen, was patrolling in Grenada that morning, so I had Beverly, our dispatcher, get him on the radio and tell him to take the call. I went back to work. I had a stiff letter that morning from the first selectman in Ambrose. It had come to his attention that one of my deputies, in apprehending a speeder in his town, had pursued the violator for one-half mile into the neighboring town of Gilead. Why, the selectman wanted to know, was the entire pursuit charged against Ambrose's contract with the sheriff's department? Why couldn't Gilead pay its fair share of the charges incurred in this action? Did I not realize that the funds I expended came out of the pockets of overburdened property taxpayers? Did I not understand the need for the strictest accounting and oversight of the monies entrusted to me? Was I not little more than an embezzler, little better than a pirate? If you're the sheriff, you get letters like this one, and if you want to go on being the sheriff, you answer them. But they can grind you down, no question.
Half an hour later, Beverly called me from her desk. "It's Lyle," she said. "Can you talk to him?"
I got on the radio. "Deputy?" I said.
"Sheriff?" said Deputy Keen. He sounded like he couldn't hear me well. Our radios are US military surplus, from the Army of the Potomac.
"I hear you fine, Deputy," I said.
"Can you get up here?" the deputy asked. "I'm at the auto-alarm in Grenada."
"What have you got?"
"Break-in," said Keen. "Can you get up here? You might want to have a look."
"What for?" I asked him. "Was somebody in the place?"
"Nope. Place is empty. They have a caretaker. I called him. He's on his way. Can you get up here?"
"Your boy's been working," said Lyle. "You might want to see for yourself."
"I'd guess so," said the deputy. "I'll show you. See what you think."
Deputy Keen gave me directions, and I set out about eleven. I cranked the truck right up and used the blue light. "My boy," the deputy had said. I knew who he meant.
* * *
When I turned off the falls road in Grenada and took the old stage road that goes back into the hills, I realized that the place I was going to must be Disneyland.
Driving at night on the highway that takes you under Stratton Mountain and south toward the valley, you see, as you come over a hill, a brightly lit house far off to your right, to the west, on top of the ridge. Whosever place it is, they must own stock in the power company, you think, because they've got not only inside lights, but yard lights, spotlights, floodlights. They've got the whole light store up there. Standing all alone on top of its ridge in the darkness, the place looked like a night game at Fenway Park. People around here called it Disneyland.
I found the driveway to the house five miles up the stage road. There was a gate, the kind you see at a railway crossing: a single bar swung up and down from one end by an electric control on the gatepost. The gate was up. Whoever raised it had known the code you had to punch into the panel on the post to work the gate. Some owners of vacation places give their security codes to the sheriff's department, to the local fire department, but we didn't have a code on file for this place, never had. As I went through the gate and up the drive, I thought about that.
It was quite a driveway. It went up the hill through the woods in a bend, then down, over a brook on a concrete bridge, and up some more. I remembered Beverly saying that driveway was just short of a quarter-mile long. Her son-in-law worked for the excavator who had put it in. I once asked Beverly if he'd told her what the sticker was on a quarter-mile driveway with a bridge to it. She said yes, he had. I asked her for the number, but she wouldn't give it to me. You're my boss, said Beverly. If I told you, you'd think I was a liar or been drinking or both. You'd have to fire me.
The drive ended in a circle in front of the house. The house was, after that approach, a disappointment for a minute. Only for a minute. It was made of glass and some dark wood, and though it didn't seem to have a full second story, it had any amount of towers, peaks, balconies, porches, and bays. I mean, the place went on and on.
Deputy Keen's patrol car was parked in the circle. He came out of the house as I was leaving the truck. Keen was by himself.
"Caretaker not here yet?" I asked him.
"Not yet," said the deputy.
We started for the house, walking side by side.
"Gate was open," Keen said. He had his head turned and was looking at me.
"Yes, it was," I said.
"What's that tell you?"
"Where's the break-in?" I asked him.
"Around back," said Keen. "It's an easy one."
"An easy one?"
"Easy as pie, Sheriff," said Deputy Keen.
He led the way around the house and onto a deep porch that went along the rear of the building and overlooked a lawn that must have covered five acres, sloping down from the house to woods in the distance. I saw a tennis court to the left, a swimming pool to the right. There was even a driving range: four tees side by side on a little rise and yellow flags set up down the lawn in front to show you how far you'd hit the ball.
In the corner of the porch lay several rolls of tar paper, bundles of shingles, and a couple of toolboxes. Somebody had set up one of those long racks roofers use to cut and bend sheet metal.
Deputy Keen stopped at the glass door that let into the house from the porch.
"Here you go," he said.
The door had been broken in. It had been destroyed: glass all over the porch, all over the room inside, busted woodwork. Beside the door was a row of four concrete garden planters with some kind of ferns growing in them. The planters were maybe three feet high. Made of cement and full of dirt, the way they were, each one would have had to weigh well over a hundred pounds. Somebody had picked one of the planters up and thrown it through the porch door. He'd more than shattered the glass and the woodwork. He'd ripped the door and its upper hinge right out of the frame.
"Cat burglar, here, it looks like," I said.
Deputy Keen was looking at me. "That must have set off every house alarm in the state," he said.
"Man in a hurry," I said.
"Who do we know's in a hurry like that?"
"Here's your caretaker," I said.
A stout middle-aged man wearing a Red Sox cap came up onto the porch and joined us. I didn't know him.
"Buster Mayhew," said the man. He shook hands with me, nodded to the deputy. He looked at the ruined door and shook his head.
"Boy," he said. (Continues...)
Excerpted from All That I Have by Castle Freeman Jr.. Copyright © 2009 Castle Freeman Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Steerforth Press.
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