Deep Waters: What is a man’s life? What does a man have control over as his life unfolds before and behind him? Life starts us out with endless possible paths, then narrows our choices from paths that are desired to those that are often forced upon us. Follow Jack as his life evolves from a high school football quarterback in Janesville, a small town in Wisconsin, to a crew member of the USS Indianapolis—the ship that delivered the nuclear bomb that helped end World War II and then suffered the worst open ocean disaster in U.S. naval history. Watch how his life is entangled in questions of a possible second bomb on the Indianapolis and whether it leads to the nuclear destruction of a beloved American city or helps to bring to light a 700-year secret known only to the descendants of a lone Knight Templar on a remote Japanese island. Follow the decisions Jack makes to survive and the paths he then has available to him as they narrow and lead him toward becoming a man he does not know. Find out if he will choose the right paths to survive a life not under his control.
Targeted Age Group:: 21 and up
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was inspired to write this book by the story of the USS Indianapolis. How this heroic story went mostly untold for decades. I thought about a “what if” scenario—what would the life of one of these men be like having this terrible tragedy in their past and what if there was more to the story. The book “may” also have some back story to my first book, but is a totally standalone read.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I pictured the life of a man who went through the tragedy of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis—four days in the water attacked by sharks and worn down by hunger, thirst and the elements. What was his life like? What if his life was filled with tragedy and disappointment—an odyssey-like life arc? How would he handle these setbacks and how would it shape him as a man? What if there were evolving good and evil strands twisting around his life story that he had no control over, but could prove to be his ultimate undoing? I then built people around him to support his life paths and this book especially has characters from my life. Jack’s family is in homage to my Janesville cousins. I like to have fun with names and you will find it throughout this book. The Gardener, Marino Danielson, is named after my favorite quarterback (Dan Marino – sorry Peyton and Drew, but you are tied for #2) and there are many other names where the reader might catch some hidden meaning. Most every name in the book has a story, but it certainly may not be the same as the character experiences in the book. Also, there are at least four Billy Joel song titles in the story and I may eventually have a contest to see if someone can find them all.
April 1, 2007
Blood dripped down the side of his mouth as he hung his head trying to buy some time between punches. Well, first came the questions and then came the punches. Questions that made no sense coming from two men dressed as nin-jas—one young, amber-eyed and full of angry energy and the other an older, more settled, more patient, more cal-culating version of a ninja action figure. The angry one was the shorter of the two by several inches and jumped around the room like a wind-up toy, bouncing on his toes while he asked questions that seemed to float to him from above, but were definitely coming directly from his older compatriot who was feeding him suggestions by occasion-ally speaking into his sleeve. Who did they think they were, the CIA?
The older of the two, who was leaning against the kitchen stove casually taking in the inquisition, pushed off his perch and walked across the room. Chester Best, or Gerbil as he was known to his close navy pals, noted a barely perceivable limp as the man made his way to the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room. Ches-ter sensed this man was much older than his wind-up part-ner, but could not distinguish much more through their dark fabric masks.
“Where are you going, Jiji?” the inquisitor asked as he let go a punch that sprayed more blood along the wall be-hind his captive.
Chester’s head swung back to its original position, hang-ing forward, chin on his chest, before a sudden coughing fit caught him and he forcefully expelled blood droplets and chunks of congealed goo onto the bright white enamel of the refrigerator and aligning cabinetry. These loud, wet barks prevented Chester from observing the older man’s response to his partner’s query; it was a look that could have melted enamel—bloody or not.
It was not that the taller man felt disrespected by the ti-tle. After all, Jiji, or Old Man, was his given name these days, replacing the original Japanese name given to him in 1945. Umibozu was no more flattering than Jiji, but that was a story for another day. No, it was not the name-calling, but any reference to him at all. To anyone who knew the language of its origin, Jiji was likely to be taken as a derogatory term used in jest by the younger man. However, a smarter target might interpret details as small and seemingly insignificant as a name into useful facts that could be detrimental to their cause.
Rai, a name that meant storm in his native tongue, bowed his head to show respect for his indiscretion. Rai Mizushima, born at noon on May 26, 1983 during a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in the Sea of Japan, started life with a black cloud over his head and it became darker and darker with each passing year. The Nihonkai-chubu Earth-quake itself only killed four people in Japan, but sent near-fifty-foot tsunami waves crashing into the northern shore of the Oga peninsula and the northeastern shore of Hon-shū, the main island of Japan, killing 100 people. This was Rai’s namesake and the reason for his nickname, Chīsana Jishin, or Little Quake. He preferred Rai—dark clouds and all. In reality, there were no dark clouds on the day Rai was born. The sky had held no warning of the impending disaster and this was Rai’s modus operandi: no warning, just an explosion of anger, hate and violence when his ex-terior crust cracked.
Jiji had a scar that gave him a permanent smirk, which was more a sign of the evil within than an expression of contentment. True happiness would only come when he finally found what he was looking for now that he had led Rai fully down the rabbit hole with promises of heartless revenge. Jiji was Rai’s twisted Cheshire Cat and White Rabbit all rolled into one, whose promised revenge was more for him and less for Rai, but Rai would not likely live long enough to figure this out. Rai was just a tool, a cog, in Jiji’s 60-year sojourn. Jiji knew he owed his freedom to Rai—feeding into his true-believer syndrome had been easier to execute than even plan—but now because of this deception, the journey toward their ultimate solution had truly begun. With today’s interview, they were so close Jiji could taste it—and it tasted refined, like a rare wine. Eventually, Rai would have to pay for his family’s trans-gressions—this was part of Jiji’s ultimate solution—however, for now Rai would have to wait his turn because there were others who were way ahead of him in line.
“I do not believe this animal—what comes out of his mouth are lies.”
“Take caution, Little Quake,” Jiji said quietly enough not to be overheard by their detainee, but loud enough to get the barb across to his companion. “We have not achieved what we have come for, but may be on a trail of great for-tune.”
Jiji knew Rai got off on the thought of fortune and re-venge, so he stoked the flame after each barb to reset him on their intended path.
Jiji grabbed Rai’s arm as he started to walk to the front door.
“Are you crazy? Look at your pants and shoes.”
Rai could see Chester’s coughing fit had spayed more than the refrigerator and he kicked Chester hard in the shin for effect.
“What do we do?” Rai asked with some trepidation in his voice.
“Well, as I said, I believe we are done here.” Jiji grabbed Chester by the hair, pulling his face to his, and asked, “Are we done here?”
“But we know nothing of the second bomb?” Rai ques-tioned.
“Do not worry, my friend, we are one step closer to my—our dream now that I have this,” Jiji said as he patted a square outlined in his clothes at his torso.
No expression came from the puffy, bloody mess Ches-ter used to jokingly call his moneymaker. He just drooled out the side of his mouth, over a broken tooth and out through a tear in his lip. He had wanted to spit, but he could no longer control his jaw or lips and he had to settle for the natural river of bloody goo that his mouth could no longer contain. He knew Jiji had found his hidden address book and he racked his brain trying to think of who these monsters could want next. Chester began thinking of how he was going to warn them, then he closed his eyes in an-guish, thinking, How am I going to save anyone when I can’t even save myself? As hopelessness washed over him, he began to fade into unconsciousness.
Jiji pulled back harder on Chester’s hair and bent to whisper in his ear, this time for only Chester to hear.
“Good night, my sweet . . . Gerbil. Sleep tight.”
Jiji could not read an expression on Chester’s excessive-ly swollen face, but he knew referring to him as Gerbil set his mind racing. Well, it did not really matter now anyway. Let his mind race—he is not going anywhere. He released Chester’s golden mane and let his head bob back to his chest before turning to Rai and saying, “Burn it! Burn it all!”
Rai lit the candle that sat in the middle of Chester’s kitchen table. The flame of the candle reflected in Rai’s amber eyes as he took one final look at the man he had tortured for the last four hours. Satisfied with his work, he turned to the stove and with a sharp twist of the knobs, turned on all four gas burners before following Jiji out the back door.
Thursday, October 12, 1307
It was a quiet night on the island of Cyprus. Clouds car-peted the sky, lending a deepened blackness to the night. A steady stream of men carrying crates from Kolossi castle to waiting wagons nodded their heads as they paraded past Aimo of Oiselay. Kolossi castle had been the head-quarters of the Knights Templar for a year now, but it was abruptly evident it was time to find a safer place for that which they guarded with their lives.
In 1291, the Templars lost Acre—their last true strong-hold in the Holy Land. During the siege, Acre, the current Templar headquarters since the fall of Jerusalem, was completely emptied of its treasure. With the fall of Tor-tosa, Atlit and the island of Arwad soon to follow, the Templars reluctantly relocated back to Nicosia castle in Limassol on the southern coast of Cyprus.
Cyprus had been in the Templars’ history for 100 years at this point and the island housed many Templar fortress-es. They had bought the island in 1191 from King Richard the Lionheart of England for a down payment of 40,000 gold bezants and the promise of 60,000 more to follow. Richard had taken the island in retaliation when some of his fleet and his betrothed, Berengaria of Navarre, were taken prisoner after their ships had either run aground or were too storm-battered to sail further. Richard and Ber-engaria were later married on the island in May of that same year in Limassol castle, where they and their wed-ding party enjoyed Commandaria, the sweet wine unique to the island—a wine Richard declared to be the Wine of Kings.
Upon taking control of the island, the Templars initially set up base in Nicosia castle and left 14 Templar knights to administer the island as the bulk of the brotherhood con-tinued to support the Third Crusade. Less than a year later, the Templars discovered Richard had taken the island nearly without bloodshed because the Cypriots hated op-pressive rulers and did little to stop Richard from captur-ing Isaac Komnenos, the hated Byzantine Greek governor, who thought himself an emperor. In record time the Tem-plars had become the new hated rulers and the revolt be-gan, finally resulting in a siege upon the Templar castle. Then on Easter Sunday of 1192, the remaining Templars did what Templars do best: they massacred the Cypriots and put an end to the uprisings. However, this did not pre-vent the islanders from demolishing Nicosia castle while the Templars were away cutting down people in the coun-tryside.
With grave realization, the Templars began to under-stand governing an island took more than brute force and they sought to have Richard buy back the island. Richard, now knee-deep in the Third Crusade, wanted no part of the island and resold the island to Guy de Lusignan, the prior King of Jerusalem. So, in the end, the Templars rented the island of Cyprus for less than a year for the price of 40,000 gold bezants. However, this did not end their presence in Cyprus—it was only the beginning. Hence, Cyprus was their landing site when Acre fell.
Aimo thumbed a parchment he held in his hand as if he were trying to wear a hole in it or rub out a word in the text. In truth, he would love to remove all the words of this secret communiqué from his Grand Master, Jacques “James” of Molay. Aimo could not believe the treachery of the French ruler, King Philip IV. He could not believe the world would turn on the Templars after all that they had offered, bled for, died for in the name of God. Still, orders were orders and he followed through like a good soldier, not knowing what was to come. Only time would tell if these words were truth, conjecture, or fable.
“We are ready, sir.”
“Both ships are loaded?” Aimo queried.
“Yes, sir.” The young man spoke with a dry rasp, his face marked with sweat and grim, evident even in the darkness.
“We must . . .” Aimo stopped, not wanting to make the final call to battle, though it felt more like a game of chess in this case—a move that could save the Templars or, by chance, help with their demise. He knew this was just as important as defending a siege—in truth, even more since fortresses lost could be recaptured, whereas treasures lost might be lost forever.
“Take these to the captain of each ship. One to sail east and one to sail west,” Aimo said as he handed two enve-lopes to the young brother.
“With my life, sir,” the young man said and turned to run back to the ships.
Aimo looked out over the endless horizon as a hint of light crept toward the island. He knew from James’ corre-spondence that on this same day a fleet of Templar ships were leaving the harbor of La Rochelle in France laden with the bulk of the Templars’ wealth in gold, silver, jewels and priceless treasures. The La Rochelle fleet would pro-tect the Templar wealth, but he was charged with their history and their future, if there was to be one.
At 3:33 a.m., the Warhorse and the Liberté, true ocean galleons, left the shores of Cyprus, never to return: The Warhorse with secret orders to sail west to the land known as Greenland and the Liberté to sail east to the origin of the Silk Road. Two places on the other side of the world and far, far away from the turmoil of Europe and the Holy Land.
The next morning on Friday the 13th, the last Templar Grand Master, James de Molay, was arrested in France without a fight.
Seven years later, after a trial was held in France—ruthless torturers prompting a witness’ willing involvement in the inquisitionary process—James, believing he was al-ready absolved by the pope, was burned at the stake in Paris by the order of King Philip IV. James called to his God for Pope Clement V and King Philip IV to join him on the other side; within the year, they both did.
What had started as a ploy by King Philip IV to get out of his debts with the Templars, ended in false heresy, perpet-uated hearsay and the eventual total destruction of the Knights Templar. Or did it?
A stiff Wisconsin wind rusted the leaves as it blew through the trees next to the two-story farmhouse. Foliaged ap-plause resounded throughout the air as if a giant were rushing through a forest without a care in the world.
Butch sat atop a tractor revving the engine as his fa-ther, Jake, wrenched some settings.
“Punch it and then let it run!” Jake shouted over the noise.
Jake ducked his head under the engine compartment and smoothed the idle to his liking.
Butch took this as a sign to cut the engine. Once he did, the engine noise was immediately replaced by his father’s booming voice.
“What the hell you doing, boy? I want you to plow the side field.”
“What about Arthur?” Butch questioned.
“Arthur is working at the garage. Why the heck you think you’re helping me tune the tractor rather than your older brother? You think I like telling my helper what every tool I need looks like? Life is too short to work with fools, but you’re all I got.”
Feeling more than a little deflated and dejected, Butch started up the John Deere and waited for his father to open the main barn doors so he could plow the side field to prepare it for planting. Butch hated driving the tractor and hated farm work in general. How could you enjoy be-ing rattled to your bones for hours on end as dust flew at your face, eyes and teeth? Sometimes he would dislodge a speck of field grit from his teeth days after he had plowed a field.
Butch was from a large farm family and now that Ar-thur had found a good paying job outside the family farm, Butch was next in line to pull more than his weight, even though he was only 15. He much more enjoyed his part-time job at the local pharmacy during the winter months—brains over brawn would always be his choice, even though he had both.
Butch pulled the brim of his hat low over his brow and prepared for three hours of sinew-loosening tractor work. He wished he could listen to the radio while working the fields, but his father had forbidden it, going as far as re-moving the factory-installed radio. Plus, he would likely have to tape his little transistor radio directly over his ear to have any hopes of hearing over the loud roar of the tractor’s engine. So, as usual, daydreams would need to be his entertainment as he plowed.
Butch, a healthy-looking dark-haired adolescent, had what could be referred to as an athletic body and was tall for his age. Maturing earlier than his other classmates made him fodder for jokes until high school football, where he took control in a time of depleted upper-classmen and was subsequently named the varsity quar-terback in his sophomore year.
Partially due to the thin upper-class talent pool and par-tially to his natural given talent, he shined at quarterback and his team went on to win the Wisconsin state regionals, ultimately losing to Platteville in the finals. This had cer-tainly turned the tables on his fellow students mocking him, but did nothing to help his father’s over expectations of his current oldest child who he still controlled, yet did not seem to appreciate or even like.
Butch pulled the tractor into the barn and cut the en-gine. He took off his sunglasses and the bandana he had tied around his mouth and nose as an attempt to filter out some of the windblown grit, but still felt some in his teeth. He spit out a gob of speck-filled saliva on the barn floor and scuffed it in the dirt with his boot, not wanting his fa-ther to have any more reasons to berate him.
As he was closing the barn door, he heard his mother calling.
“Dinner! Butch, you hear me? Dinner is on.”
“Yes, mama. I’m coming in now.”
“Well, shake off that field dirt and come in the back so you don’t track that cloud following you into the house.”
Butch just smiled. How was it that when his mother told him the obvious, he listened with a smile, with almost ea-ger acceptance. Whereas, when his father barked out the same orders day after day—things he could now do in his sleep—an unknown emotion crept over his scalp and took refuge at the base of his neck.
Maria, Butch’s mother, was a gift to the family and to the Janesville area at large. She worked the farm, fed the family, and participated in community, church and school committees. Everyone who knew her or met her for the first time, loved her more and more each day. She would have opened a restaurant long ago, but pushing out a child every 12 to 18 months does tend to take up your spare time, so she was content to play her part for the family.
After removing his overalls outside the back porch and banging them against a pole to release some of the dust, Butch came in through the back door and walked directly to the dining room. He grabbed the pewter pitcher from the middle of the table and immediately felt its warmth.
“Warm milk, again?” he questioned.
“That’s how you know it’s fresh, stupid,” his father said, glaring at Butch as he spoke.
“Yep. That’s how you know,” Butch said as he poured a big glassful.
Butch sat around the table with his entire family, save his brother Arthur. His older sister, Rita, was helping Ma-ria cook and set up the serving bowls. His little brothers, Bobby, Thomas and Owen, were eager to get started and Owen had his hand slapped back by his father when he tried to grab a roll before the family grace. The twins, Gi-na and Julie, were parked together on a piano bench at the far end of the table, directly across from their father.
Maria said the grace.
“Dear God, thank you for this bountiful feast you lay out before us. Please make us soldiers in your army of truth, justice and forgiveness. Amen.”
At that moment hands shot out from under the table and even their father’s glaring stare could not calm the hungry masses as they set out to satiate themselves on the beautiful bounty set before them.
After Butch finished his dinner, he gathered his plate and silverware and walked them into the kitchen. He knew since he had plowed the side field, he would not be asked to do any kitchen duties, which were almost always allot-ted to his sisters unless his father had a punishment in mind.
“Where are you off to so fast?” his mother asked.
“Candy and I are going to go for a ride since it’s such a beautiful day.”
“Well, you don’t have a lot of daylight left, so don’t be long.”
“Yes, mama,” Butch said as he kissed his mother on the cheek.
As Butch waited, he thought back to Homecoming last Oc-tober and his first night with Candy. He had just executed an exciting comeback win in the last quarter of their high school Homecoming game, hurling himself into the end zone to put his team on top 31-28. He was 23 for 28 with 239 yards in the air and 123 on the ground. It was a great game against a tough opponent, but in the end, the Ja-nesville Bluebirds beat Beloit for another year of bragging rights.
That was the night Candy, a senior and the head cheer-leader, finally decided Butch was the real deal and gave into the tradition of small towns, and even big ones, where the head cheerleader and the football quarterback dated as a rule or a rite of passage.
She had led with, “So, sexy,” and the craziest night he had ever been a part of started off with a bang, or a kiss more accurately, as Candy planted one on Butch’s lips in case her So, sexy did not generate sufficient attention.
“Well, hello,” Butch replied once he had use of his mouth again.
“Do you want to go to the Hill?” Candy asked.
“Sure, that would be swell. The Hill is always a good time,” Butch responded, hoping not to sound anxious. He had been to the Hill many times, but never with the head cheerleader.
The Hill was the highest point in the woods behind the DuPree family farm. In addition to the hilltop clearing, Butch and Riff Dupree, his best friend, had carved out a clearing just off the dirt road that circled the farm so any parked cars would be hidden from view behind the mass of honeysuckle, huckleberry, dogwood and buckthorn that surrounded the woods. From the car park, it was a short walk up the path to the Hill where they would party with their friends. Most of the kids in Butch and Riff’s circle knew about the Hill, but only a special few knew about the Rock. The Rock was a more distant place on the shore of the stream that ran along the base of the Hill and through the woods. The Hill is where you went to have a good time, but the Rock is where you went to have a better, more pri-vate, time.
“I can drive,” Candy said with a smile.
“And I can’t, so you’re it,” Butch returned.
When they arrived at the Hill, there was already a fair-sized group occupying the clearing at the crest of the Hill. Riff was there with his girlfriend, Laura, and Riff’s sister, KK, was there with her boyfriend who Butch did not know. KK was a freshman, so it was not unusual to be unfamiliar with someone in her class, but still Butch felt he looked a bit out of place. A handful of football players and cheer-leaders filled out the rest of the dance card for the group. Once they were amidst the crowd, Candy tugged on Butch’s hand to pull him to a stop.
“So, soldier—you want to neck?”
“I cannot tell a lie,” was all he could get out before Candy covered his mouth with hers.
That night there was kissing, drinking, dancing and an experience Butch had not yet encountered: second base. God, he was in love. Candy kissed like a goddess and her boobs were—Christopher Columbus, he was in love with boobs. He could not wait to get his mitts full of Candy again.
Butch lay against one of the many large fallen tree trunks placed throughout the clearing with Candy in his arms as one of the football players threw another log on the fire. Sparks exploded into the air and lazily circled back to the ground. As the night grew late, those who remained on the Hill were all a little sauced—some more than oth-ers.
Butch could feel Candy breathe, the slow repetition causing him to succumb to the rest he sorely needed. As he began to slip into his reward of sleep, he was suddenly snapped awake by a scream that echoed through the clearing. Butch attempted to guide Candy’s body gently to the log as he stood, but she slipped from his hands and her head bounced off the log, waking her in a most unpleasant fashion.
“Ow,” Candy cried and then sat up to rub her head.
“What was that?”
“Who was that?”
“Where did it come from?”
Questions shot across the clearing as the football play-ers all jumped up ready to answer this call for help, but another scream never came.
“Riff, you go back to the cars and Joey, you go down the north side of the Hill. Todd and Jeremy, you cover the south side.”
“Butch, what the heck. I have a bump on my head.”
“Sorry, babe, someone is screaming for help.”
Candy tried to complain more, but Butch disappeared into the thicket.
Once Butch cleared the thick brush, he stood on the path that led to the Rock. After waiting a moment for his eyes to adjust to a night sky without a fire in his peripheral vision, he continued down the path. He listened as he quickly traversed the path, but did not hear another scream or call for help. At about 50 yards from the Hill, he heard a muffled voice followed by a threatening whisper. He stopped and listened, again hoping to identify the di-rection he should take when he heard a louder cry that gave up the location.
“Ouch! What the heck, bitch,” KK’s boyfriend swore and lifted his hand to slap her.
Butch could see enough in the dark to tell the boy had had his hand over KK’s mouth in an attempt to keep her quiet. From his reaction, KK, who had been struggling to talk through his hand, had made her statement silently by biting his palm. Butch made it to the pair just in time to grab the boy’s wrist in midair. He then used the boy’s own momentum to turn him right into his fist which landed squarely on the boy’s nose. The boy fell like a thrown stone into the mud before he knew what hit him.
“Wha—” was all he could get out before KK stomped on his head with her boot.
“KK, what’s going on? Are you hurt?”
“No. This king-sized asshole thinks just ‘cause he can kiss me that he doesn’t need to stop when I say to stop.”
Butch could see KK’s cardigan was unbuttoned or torn open and her blouse was muddy. Butch pressed his foot into the boy’s back and asked, “So, you have a name?”
“His name is Derick. He’s from Beloit.”
Butch rolled the boy over and stared down into a sparsely bearded face that was not that of a freshman—more a fresh man.
Butch stared into Derick’s eyes and spoke very slowly.
“I don’t know how you get your kicks, Derick . . . but you can see KK plans to give you no more than the sole of her boot tonight, so I think you should take this opportunity to split and never come back. Got it?”
Derick nodded and once released ran into the night.
“It’s a long walk back to Beloit, loser,” KK yelled after him.
Butch just smiled and gave KK a hug. He then turned around so KK could straighten up her top.
“I know you had him where you wanted him. I was just helping.”
“Thanks, Butch, honey. I didn’t expect him to go ape on me. I was just lookin’ for some fun.”
“Well, you still have many nights of fun ahead of you, but you have to be smart.”
“Don’t tell Riff. He’ll snap a cap over this.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll tell him you saw a snake.”
KK smiled and started back toward the clearing with Butch.
When they got back to the Hill, Candy was gone.
The next afternoon while Butch was working in the barn to prepare for the fall harvest, Candy pulled up in her fa-ther’s Mercury Club Coupe.
“Sorry I had to cut out last night, but I got a terrible headache after someone dropped my head on a log.”
“Yeah—sorry about that.”
“I’ll forgive you if you come cruising with me,” Candy expressed with a raised eyebrow.
“Give me 20 minutes and I’ll take you up on that deal.”
Butch ran into the house, told his mother he was off to run some errands, jumped into the shower and was back at Candy’s car short of 14 minutes.
“Hop in,” Candy called out the window as Butch ap-proached her car.
“Candy, I was thinking we could take the Model T out for a quick ride before it gets dark.”
“You don’t just want to go up in the woods and neck?” she said with a smile.
“Yeah, we can do that too, but I really wanted to take out my brother’s Model T before he gets back. I know he finished working on it and it should run like a rabbit with the new engine he put in it.”
“Boys and cars . . . I just don’t get it,” she said as she pulled her car around to the far side of the smaller barn.
“Wait here,” Butch told her as he threw his weight hard to the right to help leverage the door open and then slid it out of the way.
Within a minute, Butch emerged in a 1926 Model T Runabout—top down, painted kelly green with yellow wheel spokes.
“Whoa—now this is a car,” Candy exclaimed as she climbed into the passenger’s seat.
“Let’s see what this baby can do.” Butch said before he stomped the gas pedal to the floor, sending both of their heads snapping back. They both exploded in laughter as the car slowed to a stop once Butch released the accelera-tor.
“Shit, what has my brother created? I bet this thing could rival your father’s car.”
“Well, let’s not get too carried away—and no, we’re not going to find out ‘cause I’m not racing my father’s car against anyone at any time.”
“I know. I was just saying. Let’s take it for a spin and see what more it has to offer.”
Candy just smiled, not stating the obvious: that she like-ly had a lot more to offer than the car.
Butch pressed down on the gas pedal more judiciously this time, hoping to find a spot that was a little less punchy, then took the car down the back road to a gate that let out onto Avalon Road.
“This was a good choice, Butch,” Candy said as she cud-dled under his arm. “Open windows are one thing, but no windows is an entirely different experience.”
“Yes, wind in your hair and bugs in your teeth. This is cooking with gas.”
Butch and Candy leaned back in the seats with their sunglasses on and just enjoyed the fresh air that whipped around them.
The Ford Model T Runabout cost $365 brand new and had a top speed of 42 mph. Arthur picked it up as a trade for some tractor engine work he did for a nearby farmer who had the Model T just sitting in his barn. After Arthur was finished tinkering with the engine, replacing it with a V-6 and modifying various components with Ford motor parts he obtained for free from the junkyard behind the garage where he worked, he had a jalopy with unknown capabilities that he could call his own.
After making a wide circuit through the surrounding farmland, Butch turned down East Creek Road to start the trek homeward.
“This is a gas, Butch. I feel like I’m flying.”
“Oh, you want to fly?” Butch answered and pressed the pedal down past the sweet spot he had found. The car lurched and almost bounced off the road, but Butch kept on it like a bucking bronco that he refused to let throw him.
“Whoa-wee,” Candy screamed, holding tightly to Butch’s arm and even tighter to her seat.
Butch kept the pedal to the floor as they rounded a bend and hit a bridge spanning a stream. Now there is a lesson here any Wisconsin driver should understand: Wis-consin roads cannot be trusted to be straight. You may go up a hill and then have to turn left at the peak to avoid hit-ting a tree growing where the road should be, or a seem-ingly straight road may turn ever so slightly to better line up with a bridge. Well, this was the case here for Butch—a fifteen-year-old who did not have his license and had not yet experienced these Wisconsin back road subtleties firsthand.
Butch hit the joint of the road and the bridge at a speed in excess of 60 miles per hour and the car bucked, then bucked again when the back wheels hit. This caused the car to literally bounce and shimmy across the bridge on shocks that were not built for such speeds. This would have been no more than a simple lesson in straight-on physics until he saw the road ahead took a slight left. Now he had to turn a bouncing car and he knew he was not going to make it. After the bridge, a combination of bouncing, mo-mentum, loose gravel and a slight turn of the wheel caused the car to catch its front right tire and go airborne.
Butch and Candy flew through the air at nearly the same speed as the car and after what seemed to be a fro-zen moment in time, landed upside down in the roadside cornfield. The car continued to bounce and cartwheel along the road until it finally came to rest at their feet.
Butch and Candy, both dazed by the experience, looked out at the now upside-down world and started to laugh. Feeling no pain with the sudden expression of joy, they burst out even louder.
Butch was the first to right himself and he crawled across the flattened corn stalks to help Candy.
“You OK, babe?” he asked.
“I can’t feel anything that really hurts. I think you hurt my head worse the other night than flying through the air did.”
Candy then turned and looked at the car.
“You think the car is OK?”
All the momentary joy quickly drained from Butch’s body and he felt like his skin was two sizes too small. Jeez, I’m done for if Arthur’s car is broken, he thought to him-self. Keeping a brave face, he answered, “Let’s find out,” and took her hand to help hoist her out of the corn.
Upon initial inspection, it looked as if the car had mostly bounced on its wheels as it flipped since all Butch could see as evident damage was the right front fender which was bent down to the wheel. Butch walked to the fender and pulled up hard; it budged begrudgingly, but did move enough to free the wheel.
“Let’s see if she starts.”
Candy crossed her fingers as Butch climbed into the driver’s seat and cranked the engine. The engine zoomed to life without falter and an ocean of relief washed over Butch, returning his skin to its original size.
“You got moxie, Butch. I’ll give you that,” Candy said as she took the seat next to him. “I thought you were in the hot seat for sure, but you just kept your cool and carried on like it was nothing. Like a real soldier.”
This was the moment where Butch had learned inward emotions and outward expressions should remain separat-ed in their own part of his brain so he could look calm even when his brain was carrying on inside his head.
“Well, that was fun, but I think it’s time to go home.”
“Where are my cheaters?” Candy asked as she pawed her head looking for her sunglasses in the place they usu-ally resided.
They both turned to look at the cornfield at the same moment. Knowing finding their sunglasses in a cornfield as the evening crept upon them was as likely as finding a needle in—they did not even need to finish their thought. Butch pressed down on the gas pedal and steered the car back onto East Creek Road to take the slow ride home.
Once they had the Model T back in the barn, Candy gave Butch a big smooch and said, “More to come,” then left Butch to figure out what to do about the fender.
The next morning Arthur had a day off and planned to take his Model T down to the quarry to visit some of his friends. When he opened the side barn, he saw his car in the same spot he left it with a pile of boards on the barn floor next to the front right wheel.
“Dagnabbit,” he cursed. “Who’s the fool that piled these boards here?”
Arthur could see several boards remained stacked against a support beam for the upper level, which told him something had caused them to fall on his car. He bent to observe the front of the car and after finding a slight dent on both sides of the fender where he surmised the boards hit, he cursed again.
“Jeez, I’m surrounded by stupid people.”
Arthur took out his handkerchief to wipe the fender and after seeing it was likely he could pound out the dents without issue, he climbed in and headed for the quarry.
Arthur did not understand the boards could not have caused a dent on the inside of the fender and never knew that there was a stalk of corn, ear and all, wedged be-tween the radiator and the engine block because the stalk fell out on his way to the quarry.
Butch’s reverie of last fall was broken by Arthur as he passed on his way to the side barn.
“So, you gonna pluck that bird of yours? She’s a stacked skirt if I’ve ever seen one.”
Butch had learned to not give Arthur a reason to fight ever since Arthur almost busted Butch’s cheekbone for no good reason, so he just let the comment slide, hoping he would just keep on moving on.
“You best hurry, son—able grables don’t wait forever.”
“Thanks for the advice,” Butch responded as Arthur walked away snickering.
Moments later Candy pulled into the drive and circled to let Butch climb in. Not knowing Arthur had stopped to watch them, Butch leaned in to give Candy a kiss, which she eagerly returned.
“Thanks, soldier,” she said.
Arthur continued to watch them from behind the barn as they drove off to start their date.
Their night started off well enough—time at the diner, time at the movies and eventually time at the Rock—but Butch did not feel right. Arthur’s comments continued to play in his head and he wondered if he was on the beam of his choosing. Sure, he was neat and now that he was a suc-cessful quarterback, the school loved him. But was he in control? Candy had chosen him and in most all choices—other than the cornfield flight night—she had been the controlling force. Now, tonight, she wanted to go the whole way and he did not know if he was ready or even willing for her to be his first. He always imagined his first time being with a cute, leggy blonde like the ones he saw in the magazines: a pinup girl or a Vargas girl. Candy was 5’3” with dark brown hair. Sure, she was a doll, but he thought they were just having fun, not anything more seri-ous.
Candy played with Butch’s hair as he lay with his head in her lap, both lying back to admire the spring sky.
“What you thinking about?” Candy asked.
“Nothing much,” Butch replied, keeping his brain com-partments as far apart as he could manage.
“Well, I was hoping tonight would be the night we could hit the hay,” she said as she moved her other hand that had been wrapped around him down to the front of his jeans.
“Candy . . .” he started and then paused.
Candy pushed him off her lap and started yelling.
“Why are you always putting me off? You think all those tongue baths I gave you were free without any effort on your part. What’s wrong . . .” she said, then started to cry, “. . . am I not pretty enough for you?”
“No, Candy—you are beautiful. I just don’t know if it’s the right thing to do. I mean, I’m just a sophomore and you’re a senior. I don’t know if I’m ready.”
“What are you talking about? You act all doll dizzy in public, but you’re not willing to go the whole way with your girl?”
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t—I mean, I just—”
Candy cut him off there. “Well, I thought you were the man in this relationship. I thought you would take control to help a woman out, but it looks like you’re going to have to take things into your own hands now . . .” she said as she kicked her feet free of their entanglement and stood over him as Butch stared up at her quizzically, “. . . and I mean literally,” she finished and then marched off up the path to her car.
“What about the dance tomorrow?” he called after her.
“You can be-bop at the dance with someone else. And I’ll be looking for another king for prom.”
Butch’s heart sank with a thud and he lay back down to stare at the deep blue and white sky through the leaves as they danced in the wind—the leaves probably dancing more than he would be doing anytime soon.
* * *
It was Saturday night and the high school quarterback was being dropped off at the Harvest Dance by his mother. Butch could not think of a more ideal situation to improve his status than being dumped by the head cheerleader and being dropped off by his mother, but this was his life at the moment and one side of his head told him it was nothing but up from here.
“You have fun, honey . . . and be a good boy,” Maria said, then leaned in to kiss him on the cheek.
“Don’t worry—I’m on the beam, mom.”
“OK. I trust that means you will be good.”
One side of Butch’s brain said, “It means I’ll be great, mom,” while a voice inside shouted, You fathead!
Butch thanked his mom for the ride, then trotted over to where Riff was standing with a group of kids.
“What’s buzzin’, cousin?”
Riff looked up from his conversation and immediately pulled Butch aside.
“I heard about your break up.”
“Already?” Butch was hoping to keep the news out of the public ear for a while at least.
“Yeah, she’s saying you couldn’t get it up and she’s done with you.”
Butch wanted to have a stern conversation with the hopeful side of his brain because it was certainly not look-ing better, but he did his best to turn the tide.
“Well, you know that’s all gobbledygook. She’s just mad we broke up. That girl is bonkers, so don’t be busting my chops over her.”
“So, give me the dope. Why did you break up?” Riff in-sisted.
“Time for a change, Riff. Time for a change,” Butch said with unfelt confidence, then slapped Riff on the shoulder and led him toward the gym.
The dance was going surprisingly well. Butch was sur-rounded by cheerleaders and girls who never seemed to have noticed him before, then suddenly, the cheerleaders split like a flock of scared pigeons. Butch looked up to see Candy entering the dance and understood the others did not want Candy to catch them picking at her leftover car-rion. Butch then watched with some appreciation as the scattered cheerleaders came together from different parts of the gym and swelled upon Candy, covering her with praise about her dress and her hair, trying to calm the beast they knew her to be when she was mad or upset.
“So, I see my ex-meatball is here.”
“Yes, Candy. Do you want some punch? I know for a fact Jimmy Butler spiked it, so it should give you a buzz after just a few glasses. I think that’s what you need, babe—a buzz. Right?”
“What I need is for everyone to know about what I said about his johnson. Got it, Rose?”
Rose swallowed hard and wished she could just go home. In another five years, she would have tried to click her heels, but that trick was yet to come and only worked in the movies.
“Rose,” Candy said as she grabbed Rose’s arm to pull her close so she could speak directly into her ear. “You know what I told you. I want you to go tell him in front of all those fat Nancys.”
Rose tried to swallow again, but came up with so little saliva that she found it difficult and instead just nodded acknowledgment.
Rose then grabbed Carol by the arm in a likewise fash-ion and pulled her along with her on the way toward Butch and what was left of his female entourage.
Candy watched from the punch table across the room as Rose gave the group the news and was flooded with glee when she saw every girl in the group react in the same surprised manner. However, they also had a likewise uniform reaction when Butch answered Rose’s statement with his own—they all laughed even harder and placed an endearing hand on Butch’s arm, shoulder and back.
Candy exploded and walked toward the group a bit too fast for her high heels. She did not fall, but looked a bit like a duck as she hurried across the gym floor.
“What’s so funny?” Candy yelled. “Rose?”
Rose, knowing she had nothing more to swallow, just stared back in silence. Butch wanted to repeat his com-ment, but one side of his brain was holding him back and before he finally decided to let it fly, he heard it come from behind him.
“He said, ‘If there’s a problem with my johnson, it’s like-ly her problem and not mine.’”
“Whaaa,” Candy screamed and then launched her drink into Butch’s face before storming off, duck-like, out of the dance.
Butch used the sleeve of his suit coat to wipe the fruit punch from his eyes and turned to see KK laughing at him.
“Wow, girl. You sure pack a punch,” he said smiling.
“Looks like you’re the one packin’ the punch,” KK re-plied with a giggle.
“Would you like to dance?”
“If you promise not to get me sticky.”
“I can only hope,” he smirked.
Riff offered to drive Butch home after the dance, but Riff was a little too drunk, so Butch suggested now that he offi-cially had his learner’s permit, he would drive Riff’s car and take Riff and KK home.
“Or, I can drive,” KK said as they walked to the car.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to have a 14-year-old girl driving her family car after drinking at the dance either.”
“Well, first off, is that ‘cause I’m a girl or ‘cause I’m 14?”
“KK, you know being a girl doesn’t matter much any-more. These are modern times.”
“It’s good to hear you say that, Butch, ‘cause I just turned 15.”
“About an hour ago—officially, but today is my birth-day.”
“Happy birthday, KK,” Butch followed up his felicitations with a big hug for the birthday girl. “We should celebrate.”
“My idea exactly. How ‘bout we drop off my brother and go to the Rock?”
“A brainchild if I ever heard one.”
After aiming Riff toward the front door, KK took the keys from Butch and drove them to the hidden clearing where they parked their car and started the long, dark walk to the Rock.
“Hey, KK, since it’s an overcast night, maybe we should just take the simple way out and head to the Hill.”
“Sounds OK to me. I’ve learned that it’s not the place, but the person anyway.”
Butch felt the back of his neck tingle in strange anticipa-tion as he trekked up the hill after KK. As he followed he started to ponder if KK was what he was actually looking for in a girl. He could not actually see her clearly now in the darkness of the tree-covered path, but he envisioned her as he saw her at the dance: a blonde who took no pris-oners. While Candy was 5’3” and likely to stay there, KK was 5’5” and still growing; while Candy was bossy, KK was confident; while Candy was prissy, KK was outgoing; while Candy was pretty and judgmental, KK was cute and kind. All this time she had been hiding in plain sight.
Once they were atop the Hill, Butch made a fire to light their conversation and keep them warm. After several minutes of small talk, KK reached into her bra exposing the top of her right breast and pulled out a cigarette.
“Do you want to smoke some?” she asked.
“I don’t smoke, but thanks.”
“This isn’t a ciggy. This is Mary Jane.”
“Where did you get weed from?”
“Have you ever heard of Hemp for Victory?”
Butch returned a vacant stare, so KK continued.
“Well, my friend’s dad now grows hemp for the gov-ernment. For the soldiers.”
“They’re sending weed to the soldiers?” Butch asked with some amazement, finally thinking he grasped the concept.
“No, they’re growing hemp for the Army to make ropes and material, like parachutes. His father just works a little Mary Jane into the mix and then sells it for kicks.”
“Aren’t you afraid it will . . .”
“Will what? Show me a good time? Don’t believe all that stuff they’ve been tellin’ us in school. Just last year a medical school in New York reported that weed wasn’t the Grim Reaper and that no one was goin’ to go mad from smoking it.”
“Where did you hear that?”
“I read it. I may be a girl, but I can still read.” KK fol-lowed up her jest with a smile.
“So, how do you get it? Do you have to go to a . . . push-er?” Butch asked, uncertain of the term.
“Heck no. I steal it from the field before they harvest it. I ain’t no viper.”
“Wow! I don’t know what to say.”
“Just say yes.”
“OK, KK,” Butch said with dwindling hesitation.
They both lay back against a log and shared a smoke as the fire cracked in the quiet of the night. After catching more than a little buzz, they talked about things—their parents, their siblings, their dreams and disappointments. They cracked up over the littlest things—a mispronounced word or self-deprecating story. Then finally as the night grew cooler and the fire started to dwindle, they moved into each other’s arms.
“You know, you ain’t too shabby for a boy.”
“And you aren’t so bad for a dame.”
“You really think I’m a dame—not just a girl.”
“I think you’re so much more than just a girl.”
“Really?” KK smiled, then followed up with a tickle at-tack that sent them both rolling and laughing until they finally came to a stop with KK straddling Butch’s torso and pinning his arms to the ground.
“So, you think you got me?”
“I hope so,” KK answered and then lowered her face to kiss him.
They both fell into a maze of tangled legs and twisted clothes. They kissed and petted until KK finally came up for air and looked deeply into Butch’s eyes. At that moment he knew what it was like to be in love and that he was about to lose his virginity on the Hill.
After it was all over, they continued to cuddle in each other’s arms by the dying fire until they nodded off, both reliving their lovemaking in their dreams.
Butch came awake with a start.
“What was that?”
They both sat up and looked around into the darkness, but did not see any movement. The evening air was silent; even the bugs and the fire had succumbed to the night.
“It could have been anything, but we should go.”
They both gathered their clothes and dressed in the darkness. They drove to Butch’s house in silence and after a 15-second kiss that neither wanted to end, KK dropped Butch off at the top of his driveway.
Tomorrow was going to be an interesting day since he was going to have to tell Riff that he was dating his sister. Riff was his best friend, so he hoped this would not be a problem. He considered if Riff wanted to date one of his sisters that it would be OK with him, but then again, his sister Rita was eighteen and the twins were nine, so it was not likely this belief would ever be tested.
Yes, tomorrow will be an interesting day, he thought to himself, not knowing it was already tomorrow and it was going to be a lot worse than interesting. It was going to change his life forever.
Butch started a slow walk down the dark, tree-covered drive toward his house. After about 50 yards, just past the gate to the horse training pen, he noted a flash to his left just within his peripheral vision. Thinking it was a firefly, he continued on his trek, then stopped abruptly as it came to him that it was early April and the fireflies were not due for another two months. His heart skipped a beat when he again saw the flash and realized it was a torch held high by the outstretched arm of a dark figure trying to open the rear door to the main barn.
Butch broke into a run, taking the most direct route through the horse pen, then jumped the back fence to fol-low the intruder into the main barn. When Butch came to the rear door, he took a deep breath before ducking into the barn, then immediately crouched down in case the un-known stranger heard him enter. In the darkness of the barn, Butch was at a huge advantage—not only did he know the barn with his eyes closed, but the stranger was wielding a torch that cast a glow everywhere he went.
The man—Butch assumed it was a man from his height and the way he walked—paused after passing the six ani-mal stalls: horses on the right and the milk cow on the left. Butch watched from the shadows as the man looked back, not as if in search of someone following him, but as a momentary pause to consider the animals’ role in what he was about to do. Seeming to have decided, the man turned and walked over to the muck stall that contained the mucking tools and a supply of straw to replenish the stalls once cleaned. He then lifted the torch.
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