"Twenty-five years ago," Dave said, "back in ’80, there were two
kids who took the six-thirty ferry to school instead of the seven-thirty.
They were on the Bayview Consolidated High School Track Team, and they
were also boy and girlfriend. Once winter was over—and it
doesn’t ever last as long here on the coast as it does
inland—they’d run cross-island, down along Hammock Beach to
the main road, then on to Bay Street and the town dock. Do you see it,
She did. She saw the romance of it, as well. What she didn’t
see was what the "boy and girlfriend" did when they got to the Tinnock
side of the reach. She knew that Moose-Look’s dozen or so
high-school-age kids almost always took the seven-thirty ferry, giving
the ferryman—either Herbie Gosslin or Marcy Lagasse—their
passes so they could be recorded with quick winks of the old laser-gun
on the bar codes. Then, on the Tinnock side, a schoolbus would be
waiting to take them the three miles to BCHS. She asked if the runners
waited for the bus and Dave shook his head, smiling.
"Nawp, ran that side, too," he said. "Not holdin hands, but might as
well have been; always side by side, Johnny Gravlin and Nancy Arnault.
For a couple of years they were all but inseparable."
Stephanie sat up straighter in her chair. The John Gravlin she knew
was Moose-Lookit Island’s mayor, a gregarious man with a good
word for everyone and an eye on the state senate in Augusta. His
hairline was receding, his belly expanding. She tried to imagine him
doing the greyhound thing—two miles a day on the island side of
the reach, three more on the mainland side—and couldn’t
"Ain’t makin much progress with it, are ya, dear?" Vince asked.
"No," she admitted.
"Well, that’s because you see Johnny Gravlin the soccer player,
miler, Friday night practical joker and Saturday lover as Mayor John
Gravlin, who happens to be the only political hop-toad in a small
island pond. He goes up and down Bay Street shaking hands and grinning
with that gold tooth flashing off to one side in his mouth, got a good
word for everyone he meets, never forgets a name or which man drives a
Ford pickup and which one is still getting along with his Dad’s
old International Harvester. He’s a caricature right out of an
old nineteen-forties movie about small-town hoop-de-doo politics and
he’s such a hick he don’t even know it. He’s got one
jump left in him—hop, toad, hop—and once he gets to that
Augusta lilypad he’ll either be wise enough to stop or
he’ll try another hop and end up getting squashed."
"That is so cynical," Stephanie said, not without
youth’s admiration for the trait.
Vince shrugged his bony shoulders. "Hey, I’m a stereotype
myself, dearie, only my movie’s the one where the newspaper
feller with the arm-garters on his shirt and the eyeshade on his
forread gets to yell out ‘Stop the presses!’ in the last
reel. My point is that Johnny was a different creature in those
days—slim as a quill pen and quick as quicksilver. You would
have called him a god, almost, except for those unfortunate buck
teeth, which he has since had fixed.
"And she...in those skimpy little red shorts she wore...she was
indeed a goddess." He paused. "As so many girls of seventeen surely
"Get your mind out of the gutter," Dave told him.
Vince looked surprised. "Ain’t," he said. "Ain’t a bit.
It’s in the clouds."
"If you say so," Dave said, "and I will admit she was a looker, all
right. And an inch or two taller than Johnny, which may be why they
broke up in the spring of their senior year. But back in ’80
they were hot and heavy, and every day they’d run for the ferry
on this side and then up Bayview Hill to the high school on the
Tinnock side. There were bets on when Nancy would catch pregnant by
him, but she never did; either he was awful polite or she was awful
careful." He paused. "Or hell, maybe they were just a little more
sophisticated than most island kids back then."
"I think it might’ve been the running," Vince said judiciously.
Stephanie said, "Back on message, please, both of you," and the men
"On message," Dave said, "there came a morning in the spring of
1980—April, it would have been—when they spied a man
sitting out on Hammock Beach. You know, just on the outskirts of the
Stephanie knew it well. Hammock Beach was a lovely spot, if a little
overpopulated with summer people. She couldn’t imagine what it
would be like after Labor Day, although she would get a chance to see;
her internship ran through the 5th of October.
"Well, not exactly sitting," Dave amended. "Half-sprawling was
how they both put it later on. He was up against one of those litter
baskets, don’t you know, and their bases are planted down in the
sand to keep em from blowing away in a strong wind, but the
man’s weight had settled back against this one until the can
was..." Dave held his hand up to the vertical, then tilted it.
"Until it was like the Leaning Tower of Pisa," Steffi said.
"You got it exactly. Also, he wa’ant hardly dressed for early
mornin, with the thermometer readin maybe forty-two degrees and a
fresh breeze off the water makin it feel more like thirty-two.
He was wearin nice gray slacks and a white shirt. Loafers on his feet.
No coat. No gloves.
"The youngsters didn’t even discuss it. They just ran over to
see if he was okay, and right away they knew he wasn’t. Johnny
said later that he knew the man was dead as soon as he saw his face
and Nancy said the same thing, but of course they didn’t want to
admit it—would you? Without making sure?"
"No," Stephanie said.
"He was just sittin there (well...half-sprawlin there) with one hand
in his lap and the other—the right one—lying on the sand.
His face was waxy-white except for small purple patches on each cheek.
His eyes were closed and Nancy said the lids were bluish. His lips
also had a blue cast to them, and his neck, she said, had a kind of
puffy look to it. His hair was sandy blond, cut short but not
so short that a little of it couldn’t flutter on his forehead
when the wind blew, which it did pretty much constant.
"Nancy says, ‘Mister, are you asleep? If you’re asleep,
you better wake up.’
"Johnny Gravlin says, ‘He’s not asleep, Nancy, and
he’s not unconscious, either. He’s not breathing.’
"She said later she knew that, she’d seen it, but she
didn’t want to believe it. Accourse not, poor kid. So she says,
‘Maybe he is. Maybe he is asleep. You can’t always tell
when a person’s breathing. Shake him, Johnny, see if he
won’t wake up.’
"Johnny didn’t want to, but he also didn’t want to look
like a chicken in front of his girlfriend, so he reached down—he
had to steel himself to do it, he told me that years later after
we’d had a couple of drinks down at the Breakers—and shook
the guy’s shoulder. He said he knew for sure when he grabbed
hold, because it didn’t feel like a real shoulder at all under
there but like a carving of one. But he shook it all the same and
said, ‘Wake up, mister, wake up and—’ He was gonna
say die right but thought that wouldn’t sound so good
under the circumstances (thinkin a little bit like a politician even
back then, maybe) and changed it to ‘—and smell the
"He shook twice. First time, nothing happened. Second time, the
guy’s head fell over on his left shoulder—Johnny had been
shakin the right one—and the guy slid off the litter basket
that’d been holding him up and went down on his side. His head
thumped on the sand. Nancy screamed and ran back to the road, fast as
she could...which was fast, I can tell you. If she
hadn’t’ve stopped there, Johnny probably would’ve
had to chase her all the way down to the end of Bay Street, and, I
dunno, maybe right out to the end of Dock A. But she did stop
and he caught up to her and put his arm around her and said he was
never so glad to feel live flesh underneath his arm. He told me
he’s never forgotten how it felt to grip that dead man’s
shoulder, and how it felt like wood under that white shirt."
Dave stopped abruptly, and stood up. "I want a Coca-Cola out of the
fridge," he said. "My throat’s dry, and this is a long story.
Anyone else want one?"
It turned out they all did, and since Stephanie was the one being
entertained—if that was the word—she went after the
drinks. When she came back, both of the old men were at the porch
rail, looking out at the reach and the mainland on the far side. She
joined them there, setting the old tin tray down on the wide rail and
passing the drinks around.
"Where was I?" Dave asked, after he’d had a long sip of his.
"You know perfectly well where you were," Vince said. "At the part
where our future mayor and Nancy Arnault, who’s God knows
where—probably California, the good ones always seem to finish
up about as far from the Island as they can go without needing a
passport—had found the Colorado Kid dead on Hammock Beach."
"Ayuh. Well, John was for the two of em runnin right to the nearest
phone, which would have been the one outside the Public Library, and
callin George Wournos, who was the Moose-Look constable in those days
(long since gone to his reward, dear—ticker). Nancy had no
problem with that, but she wanted Johnny to set ‘the man’
up again first. That’s what she called him: ‘the
man.’ Never ‘the dead man’ or ‘the
body,’ always ‘the man.’
"Johnny says, ‘I don’t think the police like you to move
"Nancy says, ‘You already moved him, I just want you to
put him back where he was.’
"And he says, ‘I only did it because you told me
"To which she answers, ‘Please, Johnny, I can’t
bear to look at him that way and I can’t bear to think of
him that way.’ Then she starts to cry, which of course seals the
deal, and he goes back to where the body was, still bent at the waist
like it was sitting but now with its left cheek lying on the sand.
"Johnny told me that night at the Breakers that he never could have
done what she wanted if she hadn’t been right there watchin him
and countin on him to do it, and you know, I believe that’s so.
For a woman a man will do many things that he’d turn his back on
in an instant when alone; things he’d back away from, nine times
out of ten, even when drunk and with a bunch of his friends egging him
on. Johnny said the closer he got to that man lying in the
sand—only lying there with his knees up, like he was sitting in
an invisible chair—the more sure he was that those closed eyes
were going to open and the man was going to make a snatch at him.
Knowing that the man was dead didn’t take that feeling away,
Johnny said, but only made it worse. Still, in the end he got there,
and he steeled himself, and he put his hands on those wooden
shoulders, and he sat the man back up again with his back against that
leaning litter basket. He said he got it in his mind that the litter
basket was going to fall over and make a bang, and when it did
he’d scream. But the basket didn’t fall and he
didn’t scream. I am convinced in my heart, Steffi, that we poor
humans are wired up to always think the worst is gonna happen because
it so rarely does. Then what’s only lousy seems
okay—almost good, in fact—and we can cope just fine."
"Do you really think so?"
"Oh yes, ma’am! In any case, Johnny started away, then saw a
pack of cigarettes that had fallen out on the sand. And because the
worst was over and it was only lousy, he was able to pick em
up—even reminding himself to tell George Wournos what he’d
done in case the State Police checked for fingerprints and found his
on the cellophane—and put em back in the breast pocket of the
dead man’s white shirt. Then he went back to where Nancy was
standing, hugging herself in her BCHS warmup jacket and dancing from
foot to foot, probably cold in those skimpy shorts she was wearing.
Although it was more than the cold she was feeling, accourse.
"In any case, she wasn’t cold for long, because they ran down
to the Public Library then, and I’ll bet if anyone had had a
stopwatch on em, it would have shown a record time for the half-mile,
or close to it. Nancy had lots of quarters in the little change-purse
she carried in her warmup, and she was the one who called George
Wournos, who was just then gettin dressed for work—he owned the
Western Auto, which is now where the church ladies hold their
Stephanie, who had covered several for Arts ’N Things, nodded.
"George asked her if she was sure the man was dead, and Nancy said
yes. Then he asked her to put Johnny on, and he asked Johnny the same
question. Johnny also said yes. He said he’d shaken the man and
that he was stiff as a board. He told George about how the man had
fallen over, and the cigarettes falling out of his pocket, and how
he’d put em back in, thinking George might give him hell for
that, but he never did. Nobody ever did. Not much like a
mystery show on TV, was it?"
"Not so far," Stephanie said, thinking it did remind her just
a teensy bit of a Murder, She Wrote episode she’d seen
once. Only given the conversation which had prompted this story, she
didn’t think any Angela Lansbury figures would be showing up to
solve the mystery...although someone must have made some
progress, Stephanie thought. Enough, at least, to know where the dead
man had come from.
"George told Johnny that he and Nancy should hurry on back to the
beach and wait for him," Dave said. "Told em to make sure no one else
went close. Johnny said okay. George said, ‘If you miss the
seven-thirty ferry, John, I’ll write you and your lady-friend an
excuse-note.’ Johnny said that was the last thing in the world
he was worried about. Then he and Nancy Arnault went back up there to
Hammock Beach, only jogging instead of all-out runnin this time."
Stephanie could understand that. From Hammock Beach to the edge of
Moosie Village was downhill. Going the other way would have been a
tougher run, especially when what you had to run on was mostly spent
"George Wournos, meanwhile," Vince said, "called Doc Robinson, over
on Beach Lane." He paused, smiling remembrance. Or maybe just for
effect. "Then he called me."
Copyright © 2005 by Stephen King.