The Gun Also Rises
by Jeffrey Cohen
AHMM Jan/Feb 2011
“So he pulled the gun out of his pocket.” I stared into her eyes for a sign of uncertainty; there was none.
“Yes,” she said.
“He aimed it straight at Jeremy.”
“And he pulled the trigger.”
Again, not so much as a blink. “Yes.”
“And what happened to Jeremy?”
“He got wet and started to cry.” Anne Mignano, assistant principal of the Sydney Primary School in Midland Heights, New Jersey, stood up from her desk and exhaled audibly. Nobody could remember who Sydney was anymore, and only a select few of us ever thought to ask. “Jeremy doesn’t like being wet.”
I’d only met Ms. Mignano once before, at back-to-school night the first week of classes. This was only two weeks later, and already I’d been called back to her office for a report on my son Ethan, a six-year-old first grader back then. It wasn’t a good sign.
We knew Ethan wasn’t like other kids; we just didn’t have a name to put on the difference that year. The following May, he’d be diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. This September, he was just a kid who’d broken the rules.
“It was just a water pistol, Ms. Mignano,” I said. “Ethan wasn’t trying to be mean. He was just playing.”
“This is 1999, Mr. Tucker. We have a zero tolerance policy for bringing toy guns to school,” she reminded me. “I’m going to have to suspend Ethan for two days.”
I gave her my best give-me-a-break look, mostly because I really
wanted her to give me a break. “Two days!” I protested. “Isn’t that a little severe?”
“I don’t have any leeway here. It’s a district-wide rule. Parents in Midland Heights . . .”
Inwardly, I rolled my eyes. It isn’t pretty, but you get to see the inside of your skull that way. “Don’t get me started on parents in Midland Heights, New Jersey,” I said. “They think that if a child brings a water gun to school when he’s six, he’s not only destined to become Charles Manson in later life, he’s probably going to watch the Three Stooges, vote Republican, and other unspeakable things, right?”
Ms. Mignano smiled. “Something like that. I’m sorry, Mr. Tucker.”
“Aaron,” I said. “I have a feeling we’re going to get to know each other. Call me Aaron.”
She nodded. “But it will have to be two days. Even if I call you by your first name.”
I sighed. It would be bad enough that I’d have to work in the house with an overactive six year old for the next two days. On top of that, I’d have to inform my wife the attorney that I was unable to deflect this violation of our child’s civil rights. “Can I at least get the water gun back?” I asked. “Maybe he can take target practice on the plants until Friday.”
“Of course,” she said. “But the point is, he must never bring it to school again.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I intoned. I wanted to hate Mignano just for being a school system functionary who couldn’t see my son was troubled and didn’t need more discipline, but more understanding. But she exuded enough humanity to make that impossible. Dammit.
She opened a drawer on her desk and reached in for the offending piece of wet plastic. And when she handed it to me, I stood up, shook my head, and put my palms on the edge of her desk.
“This isn’t Ethan’s,” I said.
After convincing Ms. Mignano that my son would never under any circumstances own a yellow water pistol (he hated yellow and owned only blue and red plastic toys, except dinosaurs, because of the alleged accuracy issue), I won a reprieve of three days for Ethan. If the real guilty party was not exposed by then, Ethan would have to do his two-day suspension starting the following Monday. A humiliation from which my son might never recover.
So walking back to the house, where I had two assignments for Tech Week waiting and a proposal for a ghostwriting assignment (the memoir of a businessman who had never done one interesting thing in his entire life) gathering dust on my hard drive, I considered ways to expose the little rat who was turning my kid into a hardened criminal. It was important, I’d decided, to maintain objectivity in the matter.
I’m a freelance reporter. I was once a newspaper reporter, but it turned out I was much better at writing the news than I was at gathering it, and they frown on that in the newspaper business. I also write screenplays that have what baseball players call “warning track power,” meaning that they manage to generate some interest, but don’t get sold so much. Mostly, I work on feature articles about electronics and technology, and I sell my talents (such as they are) to the highest, or to be honest, any, bidder. It’s a living. Sort of.
I’d barely dodged the encroaching debris that is my office when I noticed a red flashing light reflecting off a couple old copies of Daily Variety. I pushed the button on my phone to hear the messages, and was rewarded with a voice I did not recognize.
“I’m looking for Aaron Tucker,” the man’s voice said. “Is this his machine?” I’d never changed the outgoing message from one in which Ethan sang the first lines of the Groucho Marx classic “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It,” while his baby sister Leah laughed in the background. I just loved hearing that girl laugh. “If it is,” the voice continued, “please call Jim Furda at Infield Magazine about a possible assignment.” He left a phone number.
Infield, I knew, was a baseball magazine for fans—I’d subscribed to it when I was a kid—that never said anything bad about players and never got too heavily into statistics. It was all about how cool it all was to be a Major League player. After you’re finished being eleven, it’s the kind of thing you pretend to be too old to enjoy.
“We’re trying to change that image,” Furda explained when I called back. “We’ve been growing up a little, writing about betting on games and players taking amphetamines, things like that. Anyway, I got your name from Mitch Davis at USA Today.” (Mitch was a college buddy who stuck with newspapers because he’s actually, you know, good at it.) “He says you’re good. And I’ve got a story I need covered in your area.”
In my area? The Major League teams near here were the Yankees, the Mets, and the Phillies. I was hoping, in my partisan heart, for a Yankees story. “I’m listening,” I managed to croak out.
“It’s in Edison, right near where you live,” Furda said, reading off a paper. Edison? Edison, New Jersey? Had the Montreal Expos finally moved? “Minor league team called the Kilowatts. Kid pitcher called Ramon Escobar.”
“I thought you guys only covered the Majors,” I said, a little off balance. “What happened?”
“Our readers grew up. They want information on the farm systems too.”
“So what about this Escobar kid? He really good?” A profile of a minor league pitcher? I was a baseball fan, but not a sportswriter. Anybody bigger than me—and that’s roughly ninety percent of the adult population—was going to look impressive to me. I had decided that very morning to lose some of the weight I’d gained since I’d married Abby and started eating actual food. In fact, I’d made the same decision every morning for the past eight years.
“He was,” Furda said.
“Sort of. He’s dead.”
It was a short drive Kilowatt Park, where the Kilowatts (get it? Edison? Electricity?) played. The Infield press pass Furda had faxed me got me through the gates and into the office of Mel Paterson, security chief (and traveling secretary) for the team. Paterson could be described in no other way than “grizzled.” I’ve never seen someone with a better grizzling job than Paterson. Bottom line: The man could grizzle.
“There’s nothing to tell you,” Paterson began, always an encouraging sign for a reporter. “The kid was our closer, so he was on the mound when we won the championship Tuesday night. They all piled up on top of him, like they see the big guys do on TV. And then everybody got up to go spray cheap Champagne on each other, except Ramon didn’t get up.”
I looked out onto the empty field, already looking lonely until next spring, and tried to picture it. “They were all on the pitcher’s mound?” I asked.
Paterson nodded. “I was the first one to realize something was wrong, and I got to him first, tried to give him CPR, but . . .” His voice trailed off, and he looked like he might tear up.
“You can’t blame yourself,” I told him. “The kid suffocated under a pile of other players.” Silence. “Didn’t he?”
“They’re doing an autopsy today,” Paterson said, looking away. “We’ll see when the results come back. But I’ll tell you something, Mr. Tucker. I’ve seen players pile up on each other like that before. I’ve seen it on TV every year for forever. And I’ve never seen one get slightly injured, let alone killed. They know how to protect each other.”
“So what do you think happened?” I asked. Hell, the guy knew what didn’t happen; I figured he’d have a really interesting idea.
“I have absolutely no idea,” Paterson said.
That didn’t help much, but it was starting to smell like a good story. I thanked Paterson, made an appointment to talk to Dave Crenshaw, the president of the Kilowatts, early the next morning, and drove the three and a half miles back to Midland Heights. There are days I seriously contemplate riding a bicycle around instead of taking the car.
It was almost time for the Ethan to get home from school, so I picked Leah up at Kimmy the babysitter’s and, as usual, was given a look from my daughter that indicated she would have preferred to stay with the paid caregiver. Toddlers are at best a fickle lot, though, so by the time I’d strapped her into the car seat, Leah was giggling and singing a song to me. She didn’t actually know the words—she didn’t actually know all that many words at all—but she could mimic the sounds, and for her, that was enough. The song, which I’d taught her, was “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide (Except Me and My Monkey).”
Leah continued to sing for the three entire minutes it took to get home (now I remembered why I didn’t ride a bicycle—I’d have nowhere to put my daughter), and we sat down in front of the house and waited for Ethan to get off the bus.
He did, about three minutes later, in a full Asperger’s rage, which I recognized at the time as “a snit.” “It’s NOT FAIR!” he shouted before he even made it all the way off the bus. A few other kids gave him looks that indicated he would not be the first one invited to their birthday parties.
I waited until the bus pulled away. “Okay, what’s not fair?”
This was going to take a while, so I took Leah’s hand and we all walked into the house. Ethan slammed his backpack, with one book in it, down on the dining room table, sat down on the floor, and did his best to look miserable.
I decided to concentrate on Leah and let him stew, but Ethan was intent on getting a reaction. He’d scripted something in his head, and I wasn’t playing my role. I finally set my daughter up with a Sony device that draws pictures on the TV (she never really got the hang of doing it herself, but loved watching the demonstration video), and sat down at my desk to make phone calls about the Escobar story.
Beginning with the Edison police, who told me nothing except that they had a public information officer who was off until tomorrow, I ran into brick walls with the office of the Atlantic League, the independent organization to which the Kilowatts belonged, the staff at the emergency room at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, where Escobar had been taken, and the Middlesex County prosecutor’s office.
I started to understand Ethan’s frustration—I couldn’t get a rise out of anybody either.
He sat down next to my desk, still in his jacket, zipped up to his Adam’s apple. And his face read complete and total revulsion with the idea of life on planet Earth.
After hanging up on the last call of the day (or at least, the last one I could think to make right now), I looked down at my son, the bundle of anxiety he was, and I decided I’d give him what he wanted.
“It’s none of my business, Ethan,” I told him. “But isn’t it kind of warm to be wearing that jacket in the house?”
That was it: Ethan put his script into production. He stood up, tore the zipper all the way down, ripped his jacket off his shoulders, and threw it to the floor. “You make me do everything around here!” he screamed, and stomped up the stairs to his room.
I was happy to have helped.
The question, really, was who had handed the water gun to Ethan. Now, most parents faced with such a conundrum would probably just ask their sons, but they don’t know Asperger’s kids as well as I was about to. Asking Ethan would have been a worthless exercise; he would have denied even having seen the yellow water pistol, and would never give up someone he thought was a friend, even someone who in all likelihood was purposely framing him. One thing I already did know was that my son was a really easy target.
I took out the list of his classmates the Parent Teacher Organization had sent home. I hadn’t known many of the kids for long—it was still September, after all—but I did recognize a few names from Ethan’s kindergarten class. I didn’t know enough to narrow the pack.
So I decided to check with my inside source on all things Sydney Primary School: the president of the PTO, Carole Drabek. I knew Carole first as Danny Drabek’s mom, back when Danny and Ethan had played together on occasion.
“Carole, it’s Aaron Tucker,” I began, since only one of us knew who was calling. “How’s Danny doing?” You never ask about the parents; we’re all irrelevant. You ask about the kids.
“Oh, he’s adjusting so beautifully to first grade!” Carole gushed. Danny was one of those kids you knew would turn down Yale for Brown in eleven years. I made a mental note to transfer some money into Ethan’s tuition fund, which currently stood at a hundred and seventy-eight dollars, earning two-percent interest. “He just loves Ms. Turner! I heard there was some trouble with a water gun at school today.” Carole misses nothing.
“Yeah, that’s what I was calling about,” I told her. “Ethan got caught with a water gun that wasn’t his; he’s facing a two-day suspension unless I find out who owns it, and of course . . .”
“Ethan won’t tell you.” Carole was quick on the uptake.
“Right. So I’m wondering if you have any ideas.”
There was silence. Was she appalled at my suggestion that she rat out a first-grader for my own selfish purposes? Nah. She was thinking. Carole knew everyone in Midland Heights, and she appreciated nothing better than being thought of as “in the know.”
“It’s hard, because you know we don’t allow violent toys in the house, and Danny’s friends who have them know to leave them home when they come here.” Carole and her husband Richard were so crunchy-granola that they wouldn’t allow Danny and his younger brother Jake to watch any television that wasn’t on PBS. I thought of that as my two-year-old daughter watched Pinky and the Brain in the next room.
“But you have suspicions.” I led the witness.
“Okay, yeah. I think it’s possible Leopold Brinker might have brought in the water gun.”
“Leopold?” This was a kid whose name I had not heard before. And it was a corker.
“Yeah, Alistair and Connie’s son. He transferred in just before the school year started. I know they’ll let their kids use those big water guns, and I always have to let them know that Danny can’t have any sugary snacks when he’s at their house.” The kid’s been living in town for a month, and she already knows them well enough for “always.” “You want their number?”
Given proper contact information, I was about to call the Brinkers when the daily Mardi Gras near my front door (Leah screaming, Ethan calling down from his room) indicated that my wife had once again returned home from work.
Abigail Stein, Esquire, surveyed the living room: two year old reaching out for a hug while animated mice planned to take over the world on the TV in front of her; six-year-old boy, with tear-stained face, stopped halfway down the stairs, as if surveying all that will one day be his, and a short, under-earning husband, unable to contain his glee at seeing her walk through his door again.
“So,” she said. “Tuesday.”
I filled Abby in on Ethan’s misadventure with a nautical weapon and my latest assignment while she and I were cleaning up from the circus act we call dinner. My wife, besides being beautiful and brilliant (and probably other things that start with “B”), is also one of the best listeners I’ve ever met.
Abby, of course, was more concerned with our son’s impending suspension than my dead baseball player story. She’s a mom.
“So your only lead is this Leopold kid that Carole Drabek suggested?” she asked, wiping the kitchen table of the debris only a six year old with an autism-spectrum disorder and his two-year-old sister eating like a two year old can create.
“Lead?” I asked. “Yes, Mrs. Columbo, that’s the only lead I could drum up in close to an hour of work. What do you suggest?”
“Well, if the principal can’t help you . . .”
“I haven’t spoken to Mr. Breen. He’s at a conference in Denver until Monday, which you’ll recall will be too late.”
“Okay, then.” Abby sat down at the table to think while I filled the
dishwasher. If I let her do it, the knives all point up and the person who empties it (me, again) is in constant danger of impalement. “We can eliminate at least half the parents in town, since they don’t allow toy guns of any kind.”
“You know,” I interjected, “I had a whole set of toy guns from the Magnum, P.I. play set when I was a kid, and so far I haven’t shot so much as one person.”
“There was that time they interrupted the Yankee game with election results,” she reminded me.
“I just said I wanted to shoot someone. Besides, it was the ninth inning of a tie game, and there were two men . . .”
“Anyway, those parents can be eliminated.” Abby is nothing if not focused. “So let’s see the class roster.”
I closed the dishwasher, hit start, and then handed her the roster, which I’d left on the kitchen counter, now freshly cleaned. I sat down across from Abby so I could ogle her more efficiently.
She scanned the roster. “I don’t know a lot of these names,” she said. “How about you?”
“I’m probably about ten percent behind you,” I admitted.
Abby pursed her lips. That made it hard for me to concentrate on the task at hand, but I managed.
“I’ll start with the name Carole gave me,” I said. “If that’s a dead end, I’ll think of something else. But you know Carole knows something, or she wouldn’t have passed that along.”
Abby nodded. “I can’t think of anything else either,” she said, and stood up. It was still warm enough for her to be wearing shorts, which was entirely unfair on her part. Her legs made me think thoughts that could not be printed in a family newspaper. do you want to do later?” she asked me.
“Depends. Before or after the kids are asleep?”
She saw the look on my face. “You’re impossible,” she said.
“No. Just highly improbable.”
The next morning, after dropping the children off at their various storage facilities for the day, I drove back to Kilowatt Park to talk to Dave Crenshaw, the team president. He started out with the same stunned confusion that Paterson had expressed, but when I asked if there were any question that his star closer Escobar had suffocated under the weight of his teammates, Crenshaw bristled.
“Don’t blame his teammates,” he scolded me. Crenshaw was a thin man, dressed in a suit with no tie, and already a small “47” band around his left arm, Escobar’s team number. “He didn’t die because of them.”
“I wasn’t suggesting . . .”
But Crenshaw was on a roll. “We do more than just train these boys to be ballplayers, you know,” he said. “Most of them aren’t ever going to get a sniff of the Major Leagues. So we try to give them a feeling for how to get through life. We connect with the community. We watch out for their welfare. I don’t want you writing some crazy article that blames them for a freak accident that took the life of one of their own.”
That seemed like an awful lot of defense in response to very little offense, and it threw me off. “I’m not blaming anybody,” I said. “I’m just trying to understand what happened.”
“What happened is that Ramon died,” Crenshaw said. “I had a team that had won a championship, league officials waiting in the clubhouse to hand me a trophy, the first one we’ve taken here in the twelve years I’ve owned the team, and Ramon just . . . died. You tell me what to make of that, Tucker.”
The interview didn’t really go anywhere, but it was interesting that both Paterson and Crenshaw had offered reasons the teammates piling on to Escobar wouldn’t be a factor in his death.
On the way back to my car, though, I noticed two young men getting out of an SUV in the parking lot. You could tell they were athletes; they had the requisite swagger and an air of invincibility.
I approached them, and spoke to the smaller of the two, mostly because I could actually see his face without standing on the hood of the car. He was a very young man, probably not yet twenty, with a dark complexion and the kind of build that suggested to me he was an infielder.
“What happened to Escobar is very sad,” he said, making a sad face to illustrate. “Very sad.”
He identified himself as Melvin Montenegro, the Kilowatts’ second baseman (so I mentally patted myself on the back for guessing). And he said he and his companion, the outfielder Armando Cortez (who spoke no English) were in the pile-up the night Escobar had died.
“What happened?” I asked.
“He just didn’t get up,” Montenegro said with a shrug. “Everybody else got up, but not Ramon.” He repeated the sad face, in case I’d missed it the first time.
The other ballplayer, who resembled a giant redwood, began to speak very quickly in Spanish, and his companion turned to listen to him. I don’t speak Spanish (I took Latin for four years in high school, so I’m covered if I ever run into a ballplayer from ancient Rome), but occasionally, Cortez sprinkled English words into his soliloquy, and my ears would prick up. After at least half a minute, Montenegro turned back toward me to translate what Cortez had said.
“He says he’s very sad about Ramon, but he didn’t see anything special, either,” Montenegro told me.
I waited a few seconds. “That’s it? He talks for half a minute, and I get one line?”
“I’m boiling it down,” Montenegro answered. “He’s real upset.”
“I heard some words of English. He said ‘cream,’ and he said ‘clear.’ Now, how do those words enter into how he’s sad and didn’t see anything?”
Montenegro’s face clouded over. “We don’t wanna talk no more,” he said. He gestured to Cortez, and they started toward the entrance.
“Hey, come on!” I tried. “Just tell me what it means.” But they were gone. “You’re never going to make it to the Show if you don’t know how to do an interview,” I said, but I’m not sure whether I was talking to the two men who had just walked away, or to myself.
I called the public information officer at the Edison police as soon as I got back to my phone. I’d never spoken with Dorothy Levin before, but she was cut from the same cloth as every other police spokesperson I’d ever known. The minimum of information was offered, requiring the maximum of effort on my part. It’s not an unusual game, just a tiring one.
“Ramon Escobar’s post-mortem report is not yet available,” she said immediately on hearing the reason for my call. “There’s no evidence of foul play at this time.”
“That’s an ironic baseball metaphor, don’t you think?” I asked. Sometimes humor will help loosen up a source.
“I apologize if my turn of phrase was inappropriate.” I didn’t say it worked every time.
Against all logic, I decided to push on. “The information officer at the hospital said Escobar had probably suffocated. Is that the police department’s assumption as well?”
“The M.E.’s report is not available,” Levin repeated. “We can’t make a determination until that report has been released.”
Well, that was tremendously helpful.
It had been too late yesterday to call Dr. Randall Medavoy, so I placed the call now. Randy was an invaluable source, since he actually worked at the Middlesex County Medical Examiner’s office, and he always answered my calls because I dated his wife in college and he thinks I know something he doesn’t. Which I don’t. But there’s no reason to tell him that.
“What is it this time, Tucker?” Randy began. We have a very warm relationship.
“Ramon Escobar of the Edison Kilowatts,” I said. “And it’s nice to talk to you too.”
“Hasn’t been released yet. Tell me something I haven’t heard from the cops.”
“You know I can’t do that, Tucker,” Randy answered. “I can lose my job.”
“I’m not going to quote you,” I assured him. “I’ll refer to sources within the medical examiner’s office.”
“And you think they won’t know who that is? How many people work here who would have access to an autopsy like that?”
“All right, Randy,” I said. “I had to ask. By the way, is your home number still the same? I was thinking of calling Renee, and I wanted to make sure I had the right number.”
Now, my history with Renee Medavoy (then Renee Klimowitz) consisted of going to maybe three movies and a dinner, and got as intimate as teenagers become in a PG-13 film about something other than teenagers getting intimate. But I’ve never told Randy that, and for reasons that escape all explanation (except that she likes to mess with his mind), neither has his wife. Part of that misconception is based on the fact that he’s never seen Abby, and doesn’t realize I wouldn’t jeopardize my own marriage for Heather Graham, Halle Berry, and Salma Hayek all at once. Let alone Renee Klimowitz.
“Give me a break, Tucker,” Randy whined. “I don’t know anything about Escobar except that it looks like he died from a pulmonary problem, like large air bubbles in his lung.”
“Is that consistent with a bunch of players piling on top of him?” I asked.
“Not really,” he said. “It’s more consistent with junkies, actually. They don’t know how to do intravenous injections.”
“That would do it?”
“Only if you inject yourself with air, and who does that?” Randy sounded impatient. Imagine—someone impatient with their friendly freelance reporter.
“So was Escobar a junkie?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” Randy said. “No track marks on his arms or any of the usual spots.”
“Any idea what ‘clear’ or ‘cream’ might have to do with it?”
“No, but it sounds delicious.” Randy thinks he’s witty.
“He came to the E.R. in his uniform. Did they find anything in his pockets? Anything he had with him?”
“Nothing,” Randy said. “Except a small tin of chewing tobacco, and yes, it was chewing tobacco. Gross, even dangerous in the long term, but it
didn’t cause air bubbles in his lungs.”
“How long before you know for sure?” I asked.
“Couple of days. But by then, I’ll have changed my phone number. Good-bye, Tucker.”
Some people have no sense of humor.
The Escobar story was going so well (that’s sarcasm) that I decided to concentrate my attention on the Water Gun Caper, and I walked the six blocks to the Brinker residence (where I would have to exercise extreme self-control—not one of my strong suits—to not ask if Hans could come out and skate).
A woman a few years younger than me (so about thirty-three), dressed perfectly for cleaning a house (minus the rubber gloves), opened the door and considered me. She looked puzzled. This was natural, as we’d never seen each other before.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“I certainly hope so,” I answered. “I’m Aaron Tucker. My son Ethan is in your son—” Here I really had to work hard not to chortle. “—Leopold’s class at school.”
She smiled. “Hi, Mr. Tucker. I’m Constance Brinker. Come on in, but please excuse the way the place looks.” She stood to one side and gestured me into an immaculate living room. Every object in the room had been dusted within an inch of its life, and the carpet had probably been vacuumed twice already today. I felt like I was walking on virgin snow, except without the ice that makes your socks wet.
And they had just moved in a month ago. We’d been living in our house for seven years, and I was pretty sure there were still some unpacked boxes in the basement.
“It’s amazing you’ve done so much with the house in such a short time,” I said. Open with a compliment; people will follow you anywhere from there.
“Oh, we’ve barely scratched the surface,” Constance said. “The place is in total chaos.”
I looked around at the total chaos, a room with every book in place, every wooden surface gleaming, every window freshly washed. “If this is chaos, what does order look like?”
Her mouth tightened a bit, and I imagined she was sizing me up and finding me wanting. “Come back in a couple of weeks and see,” she said. “Now, what can I do for you, Mr. Tucker?”
People don’t like it when you suggest their children are anything other than perfect. So you have to ease your way into it. “Well, I was just wondering,” I said, “if Leopold . . .”
“We just call him Leo,” Constance informed me. “And I’m Connie.”
“Thanks, Connie; I’m Aaron. I was wondering if Leo owned a water pistol that looked like this one.” I reached into my jacket pocket and produced the offending piece of plastic.
But before I could brandish it, Connie’s face flattened into an irritated frown. “Is that what this is about?” she asked. “The water pistol thing? You’re all bent out of shape because some kid brought a little water gun to school?”
“Actually, no,” I said. “I’m all bent out of shape because my son is being suspended for bringing it, and he didn’t bring it.”
Her expression went from annoyed to offended. “And because Leo is the new kid in school, you figured that he had?” she asked.
“Look, I’m not suggesting anything. If it’s not his water gun . . .”
Connie looked at the yellow plastic in my hand and smiled condescendingly. “Leo wouldn’t bother with something that small,” she said. “He likes the ones that take about a gallon of water. He can barely lift them when they’re full.” She pointed toward the back door of the house, through the kitchen, where a truly massive plastic weapon, marked “Soakin’ Suds,” leaned against the doorframe.
“Ah yes,” I said. “Ethan loves those.”
“Oh sure,” Connie said. “The name didn’t register before. You’re Ethan Tucker’s dad. Leo talks about him.”
When you have a kid like Ethan, that’s not necessarily what you want to hear. But I tried to be casual. “Oh really? What does he say?” So maybe there was a little edge evident in my tone, but not a lot.
Connie looked a little reluctant and said, “He says Ethan always has a different way to look at things.”
“He says Ethan’s weird,” I offered.
She blushed. No, really. “Leo didn’t say weird,” Connie said. “He said wacky.”
Connie looked me straight in the face and smiled. “Leo’s a little . . . wacky himself,” she said, and the atmosphere in the room relaxed significantly. “He used to love this computer game called Wacky Jacks, and he adopted the word. He thinks most things are wacky.”
“He’s right,” I told her.
She leaned on the edge of the absolutely spotless, mirror-shined piano and seemed to be thinking. “So who did bring the water gun to school?” she asked herself.
“A good question. Who lets their kids have such destructive, dangerous toys?” I allowed myself a slight ironic grin.
“I’ve only been in town a few weeks,” Connie said in a confidential tone, “but if I had to guess, I would say the gun belongs to Britty McCawley.”
“Britty?” I asked.
“I think it’s short for Brittany. I met her parents at Back to School night, and the kids played once. She seemed pretty rough-and-tumble.”
“Thanks, Connie. We should get the boys together sometime,” I suggested, being careful as always to avoid the term “play date” because it sounds like it involves play dinner and a play movie. “If Leo doesn’t think Ethan’s too wacky.”
“I think Leo would like that,” Connie said. “And you can see the house when it’s not such a mess.”
I spotted an eyelash on the windowsill across the room. “Yeah,” I told her. “That’d be a treat.”
It was a couple of hours before I’d have to pick up Leah and deal with Ethan’s inevitable crisis of the day, so I called Jim Furda at Infield to give him an update on the Escobar story. He listened patiently, and then asked a question I wasn’t really expecting.
“Why are you concentrating on the cause of death?”
I took a moment before answering. “Isn’t that what the story’s about?”
“No. The story’s about a promising young player’s life cut short and what it does to his teammates, his coaches, and the organization,” Furda answered. “We’re not a news magazine; we talk about baseball.”
“The kid might have been murdered, Jim,” I reminded him.
“Good. So you can write us the piece we asked for, and sell that side of the story to True Crime.”
“You mean even if it turns out something was up, you don’t want to know about it?” That couldn’t be right.
“That’s exactly right,” Furda said.
“It would be all over the newspapers, on TV, even some of the Internet sites might pick it up.” If I could convince him his publication was getting scooped on a story it had assigned, Furda might very well relent.
“And we’ll come out six weeks later than all those, anyway,” he answered. “Write the puff piece, Aaron. It’s what I hired you to do.”
“I know that, but . . .”
“But nothing. Go talk to the players, get some weepy reaction, and then file the story. You have until Monday.” And he hung up.
This left me with something of a conundrum. I’d been working the news angle on the story, something I’d been trained to do when I was a newspaper reporter, and my editor—my boss—was saying he didn’t want that. The easy thing would be to do exactly what Furda said and simply write a standard feature on a young life cut short.
And whoever said I couldn’t do the easy thing?
“Your problem,” Jeff Mahoney said, “is that you don’t speak Spanish.” He threw a softball to me, and I, on cue, dropped it. Luckily, we were outside in my backyard (which isn’t so much a yard as a patio with a press agent), so I didn’t break anything.
“Yup,” I answered, tossing the ball back, a little wide of Mahoney, but close enough that he could catch it barehanded without lunging. “That’s always been my problem.”
Mahoney is my closest friend, and has been since high school. Despite advanced degrees in marine biology and economics, he has chosen to devote his life to repairing cars for a rental company. That, he says, is a challenge.
It’s not the only time we see each other, but when one of us has a perplexing problem, we throw a ball around and hash it out.
“If you spoke Spanish,” Mahoney explained, “you could talk to the outfielder, who clearly knows more about what happened to Ramon Escobar than his little infielder friend wants to tell you.”
“You should see this ‘little infielder.’ He’s eight inches taller than me.”
“Who isn’t?” Mahoney asked as he tossed the softball back. Mahoney is well over six feet tall, and doesn’t mind reminding me of that.
“Nonetheless, if he doesn’t want me to know what his friend is saying, I really can’t insist very well. Besides, the editor doesn’t want a story about how Escobar died. He wants a story about how sad it is that Escobar died, and what his ERA might have been if he’d made it to the majors.”
“That’s one editor,” Mahoney said, reaching up effortlessly for a high toss that would have ended up going through my storm door if he hadn’t. “Don’t you always say the best part of being a freelance writer is that you can sell a story to anybody?”
“I don’t even know if there is a story yet,” I said. “The kid might have died from being under all those other kids.”
“That’s not what the coroner told you,” Mahoney reminded me. I put up my glove, and his throw just fell into it. That’s Mahoney. “He said there were air bubbles in Escobar’s lungs. What does that mean?”
“How do I know? Who died and left me Trapper John, M.D.?”
Mahoney raised an eyebrow, something he’d learned to do by watching Star Trek reruns religiously when we were kids. And his expression said it all. He didn’t even seem bothered by the fact that my throw was four feet wide of the target, and he actually had to lunge to catch it.
“Okay,” I said to his eyebrow. “So I could find out. I know some doctors. But who made it my responsibility to solve Ramon Escobar’s murder, if it was a murder?”
The eyebrow stayed raised.
“Fine,” I told it. “Nobody else is reporting on it, and I have a couple of questions. I’ll ask them, but as you so accurately pointed out, I don’t speak Spanish, and there’s a man considerably more in shape than I am who seems to want me to stay out of the conversation.”
Mahoney reached down for my throw and picked it up on one hop. “I might be able to arrange being near the ballpark tomorrow, if you want me to,” he suggested.
“And what good will that do, besides my not having to worry about a middle infielder turning me into guava jelly?”
I’m not sure exactly what Mahoney said after that.
It was in Spanish.
And so it was that the next morning Mahoney’s enormous work van, stocked to the brim with tools, oil, and other things people of my heritage don’t understand, was parked in the lot outside Kilowatt Park. He and I staked out the area in my Saturn, which was only three years old at the time, and had only one scratch I knew about. Things have changed since.
“You don’t have a call you’re supposed to be on?” I asked him. Mahoney is constantly on call from the rental company—if one of their cars breaks down on the highway, the renter simply calls the company and a replacement car is on its way in minutes. Then Mahoney shows up to do a quick repair or, much less frequently, tow the busted vehicle back to the shop for a more serious going-over.
“Everything’s quiet for a while,” he said. “Summer’s over, and the holidays haven’t started yet. Not that much renting going on.”
“Some people have it dead easy,” I said.
“While others toil away with the grueling commute from the bedroom to the dining room,” he countered. Touché.
Luckily, the witty banter didn’t have a chance to go on. A limousine (black, naturally) followed by another and then a line of cars ranging from Lexuses to battered Pontiacs came streaming into the lot. They stopped near the entrance to the park’s offices.
“People always show up like this when you’re interviewing?”
“Yeah. I usually wear a tuxedo, but it’s casual Thursday.” I watched as Dave Crenshaw got out of the limo, wearing the exact black suit you’d expect from a team owner. “They must have just gotten back from Escobar’s funeral.”
“More likely a memorial service,” Mahoney said. “I’ll bet he was buried back at home, either the Dominican or Puerto Rico.”
He’s annoyingly right almost all the time.
We got out of the car and walked toward Crenshaw as the other cars emptied, with Paterson, a few older men in suits who clearly were executives or coaches, and a group of players gathered in clusters around the lot. I nodded on the way toward Montenegro and Cortez, so Mahoney would know which ones I’d spoken to before. They were standing with two other players, Montenegro wearing that patented “sad” face and Cortez looking dreadfully serious.
From the look of it, Montenegro was doing the bulk of the talking.
I approached Crenshaw, and he shook his head when he saw me coming. “We just got back from a memorial, Tucker,” he said. “Couldn’t you find a better time?”
“I’ve got a deadline,” I explained, although I didn’t mention that I had no idea which publication I’d be sending anything I’d write. Sometimes it’s best to leave out details the layman wouldn’t necessarily understand. “Besides, I didn’t know you were all going to a service this morning.”
Mahoney drifted over toward Montenegro and Cortez’s group. In his green rental company jumpsuit, anyone else would have looked laughably out of place. Mahoney’s bearing and his absolute inability to be embarrassed made him look completely natural. He listened to the group’s conversation for a moment, then said something that obviously got Cortez’s attention.
“Let’s make it quick, Tucker. What do you need?” Crenshaw wasn’t looking in Mahoney’s direction, which was helpful.
“Can you tell me why there’d be air bubbles in Escobar’s lungs?” I asked.
Crenshaw stared at me a moment, then shook his head. “What am I, a doctor?” he said. “I’d think there’d be no air in his lungs, the way he died. What else?”
“Who paid for the funeral?”
“The Kilowatts sent the body back to the Dominican Republic after Ramon’s mother claimed it. She was pretty shook up. They don’t have a lot of money, so of course the club paid the interment expenses.” Crenshaw puffed up his chest a little to show off what a great guy he was, and by extension what a fine organization the Edison Kilowatts was.
Time to try and catch him off guard, while he’s feeling so good about himself. “What do you think the words clear and cream mean, when you put them together?” I asked.
Crenshaw was a professional, so he tried not to look like he’d been blindsided, but his eyes widened just a bit. Unfortunately, that was also the moment that Mel Paterson appeared at his shoulder, and pointed toward Cortez’s coterie.
“Who’s that talking to Ricardo?” Paterson asked.
By now, Mahoney was deep in conversation with Cortez, with Montenegro and the other two players, perhaps wanting to distance themselves, about twenty feet away, leaning on the second limousine. Paterson headed toward Mahoney and Cortez.
I walked toward them, Crenshaw behind me, trying to tell the reporter that it wasn’t necessary to become involved. I ignored him, which made me feel good. By the time I got to Mahoney, he was holding up his palms in a conciliatory gesture.
“What’s going on? Who are you?” Paterson insisted. He turned toward me. “Do you know this man?”
Over his shoulder, I could see Mahoney lift that eyebrow again.
“Never saw him before,” I said, hoping nobody had noticed us both
getting out of the van at the same time.
Paterson turned back to Mahoney. “What are you doing here? Why are you bothering our players?”
Mahoney looked blank.
“Who are you?” Paterson demanded.
Mahoney answered him back in great detail, but neither Paterson, Crenshaw (or for that matter, I) could make out his reply.
It was in fluent, unaccented French.
Mahoney and I got into our respective vehicles, and drove away in opposite directions. Then we both turned and met halfway down the opposite block. I got out of the car and he approached from the van.
“So?” I asked. “What’s up with Cortez?”
Mahoney grinned; he loves being the guy who solves the problem. “A lot,” he said. “He didn’t want to talk at first, but I convinced him you’re trying to do right by his friend Escobar. He says everybody’s covering up what happened to the guy.”
“Okay, so what happened to the guy?”
“Cortez doesn’t know, exactly. But he did tell me that clear and cream referred to drugs, something players either rub into their skin or inject themselves with.”
That was a stumper. “Why?” I asked.
“They say it makes them play better. The guys in the minors, especially, are so desperate to get noticed, to get their numbers up, that they’ll take the risk on something that might do them damage in the long term.”
“What kind of damage?” This was getting weird.
“Cortez says you can get tumors.”
“So Escobar was a user?”
“I didn’t get that far. But you can ask Cortez later.” Mahoney smiled. He knew that would catch me off guard.
“He’s meeting us for lunch at one.”
I had a couple of hours to kill before the meeting with Cortez, so I went home and made some phone calls on the stories for Tech Week. Then, after having procrastinated as much as I could (and freelancers are the most accomplished procrastinators on Earth), I opened up the PTO directory and called Melanie McCawley, mother of the suspected water gun bandit, Brittany “Britty” McCawley.
At least, I intended to call Melanie.
“Hello?” The voice was deep and gravelly.
“Hi . . . Is Melanie there?” One thing freelancers have to do on almost a daily basis is make phone calls to people we don’t know. You’d think we’d be less awkward about it.
There was a pause. “Who’s calling?” The sound of a man wondering why another man is asking for his wife.
I gave him my name and explained, without making any accusations, Ethan’s situation. The man, who had identified himself as Bill McCawley (Britty’s therapist dad), sounded relieved.
“Yeah, I heard about that,” he said. “Honestly, water guns at school, and they make a big deal out of it. Can you figure it?”
“You’re the shrink,” I reminded him. “That’s your job.”
Bill laughed. “So, what can I do for you, Aaron?”
I took a breath. “I hate even saying this, Bill, but does Brittany—” I didn’t know her well enough to call her by her supposedly adorable nickname. “—own a yellow water gun?”
There was an uncomfortable (for me, at least) silence. “Aaron, have you ever had a six-year-old daughter?” Bill asked.
“Not yet, but I have one warming up in the bullpen.”
“Then let me tell you about it. They don’t own anything that isn’t pink, or that doesn’t have a picture of one of the Disney princesses on it. Nothing. Britty doesn’t even like pink that much, but people keep giving her stuff that’s pink. Because she’s a girl. The cultural stereotypes are absolutely . . .”
“I’m sorry I had to ask, Bill. Do you have any idea who might have planted that water gun in Ethan’s hand?”
Bill took a moment to think. “The problem is, there are any number of parents who think this is a stupid rule, so there are only three or four
families that don’t allow plastic guns. I mean, I had an A-Team set when I was a kid, and how many people have I shot?”
“Mine was from Magnum, P.I.,” I volunteered.
“How many have you shot?” Bill asked.
“Not a one, but there was this one Yankee game . . .”
“When they interrupted with election results?” Bill sounded aghast. “Could you believe that?”
“Ramon called it ‘the clear’ and ‘the cream,’” Armando Cortez said in Spanish, translated by Jeff Mahoney. “There are other kinds. Some of the guys use them. I don’t.”
We sat in a banquette at the Plaza Diner in Edison, on the opposite side of town from Kilowatts Park. Cortez had insisted on the location and the time, to assure himself he would not be seen by teammates or team officials. Mahoney, deep into a Greek salad, would be careful to eat when Cortez was talking so he could translate afterward. But I could tell he was hungry, because the occasional word was stifled by feta cheese.
“Why don’t you use it?” I asked Cortez. He waited for Mahoney to translate. So did I.
“Because you can get cancer, tumors in your liver. Your hair can fall out. You can get breasts. Your testicles can shrink. I love this game, but I don’t love it that much. I can go home and be poor; I’ve been poor before.”
“Are you sure Escobar was using steroids?” I’d done a little research by calling Randy Medavoy, who had not changed his phone number, before coming to lunch. I found out we were discussing anabolic steroid usage, which Randy said would definitely not cause air bubbles in the lungs.
“I see things,” Cortez said. “They inject each other. They worry people will find out. They hide it from the league, from the owner, maybe even from the manager. But we share a locker room. I see. I’ve seen Montenegro inject Ramon. But I don’t do that stuff.”
“I don’t understand how that would kill him, though,” Mahoney offered on his own.
Cortez shrugged. “I have no idea,” he said. “All I know is, I take care of my body.” He bit into his patty melt with extra cheese.
“Did you see him using the night he died?” I asked Cortez.
He shook his head. “No. But I did see him sneaking his needle out of his locker. He was worried the league guys who came for the championship game would see it.”
And suddenly, I had a theory.
We parted ways in the diner parking lot. Cortez said he was heading home now that the season and the memorial service were over. He didn’t know if he’d be back in the spring, but he guessed he would.
I thanked Mahoney for his help—the six hundred and seven thousandth time, by my count—and drove the Saturn to Kilowatt Park, where I was lucky enough to find Mel Paterson packing up his office for the off-season.
I had no time for niceties: “What did you do with the syringe, Mel?”
His head snapped up toward me. He was sitting down, or his head would have snapped down toward me. “What are you talking about?”
“The syringe. The one Ramon Escobar was carrying, I’m guessing, in his back pocket during the game. The one he used to inject himself with steroids. The one he took out of his locker so the league brass wouldn’t catch him. You got to the body first; you didn’t want anyone to see he’d been using drugs. Maybe you didn’t even know what he was using, and thought he was into heroin. But you took the syringe out of his pocket before the EMTs got there. What’d you do with it?”
Paterson’s face closed; he didn’t have it in him to deny it. “I threw it out. On my way home that night. In a garbage can I chose at random in Piscataway. Go find it.”
“You knew Escobar was using steroids. Why didn’t you do anything about it?”
Paterson shrugged. “There’s no rule against it,” he said. “The players think it makes them better. What do you want me to do?”
“Crenshaw goes on and on about how you’re preparing these kids to be good citizens,” I reminded him. “How is this doing that?”
“Oh, cry me a river,” Paterson said. “Some of the players use. I don’t see how that killed Escobar. He didn’t use any that night.”
“No,” I said, “but he stuck the syringe into his back pocket because he was afraid he’d be found out. And when they won the championship, and everybody piled onto him, I’m guessing the needle was pushed into him and the syringe pushed down. Air got pumped into a vein. And that led to air bubbles in his lungs, and he died.”
Paterson sat silently. “Oh my god,” he said. “I did have to pull it out of him. But there wasn’t anything in the syringe, not even a trace, so I thought . . .”
“I’m going to write about it,” I told him. “You’d better tell the cops what you know because I’m going to write about it. You tell them ahead of time, and maybe you’ll get a better deal.”
His eyes widened. “Jail?” he said. “Because I pulled a needle out of a kid who was already dead?”
“You withheld evidence. Tell them now, Mel. Tell them before they come looking for you.”
Paterson looked at the phone. “It’s no crime, Tucker,” he said.
“The whole thing is a crime,” I told him, playing my self-righteous card for the year. “Call the cops.”
And he did.
“So you solved the mystery.” Abby, as radiant as a woman who had just come home and cooked dinner for a Philistine and two children could be, sat across the table from me and smiled. “You figured it out.”
“Yeah, that one,” I said. “Because someone told me what I needed to know.”
“Isn’t that your job? Getting people to tell you stuff?”
“Not according to Furda at Infield. He’s not buying the story. Too downbeat, he says.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I sold it to the Press-Tribune,” I said. “It’s not as much money, but it’s an in there. The editor, Mark Harrington, said it could lead to more work.”
“Not a total loss,” Abby grinned at me. Grin at me, and the world is mine, Abigail.
Ethan walked in from the living room, an indication that there was a commercial in tonight’s broadcast of Rugrats. Ignoring our conversation entirely, or the idea that we might be having one, he used his time efficiently. “Dad, why don’t other kids like me?” he asked.
Abby did her best not to look startled, but realizing he’d asked me, she got up from the table and went to talk to Leah in the living room. The coward.
I could have denied that the other kids didn’t like Ethan, but he is very smart, and would have seen through me. “People are put off by what they don’t understand, Ethan,” I told him.
“They don’t understand me?” He was baffled enough to sit down at the table, but I think better on my feet, so I stood up.
“Do you think you act like everybody else?” I asked.
“No, but I think they’re the ones acting strange,” Ethan answered after a second.
I smiled. “You’re probably right,” I said. “But the fact is, they act like most people, and they’re going to think it’s odd when you don’t.”
“Is there something wrong with me?” He didn’t sound concerned, just interested.
“No. You’re fine. But we’ll talk to some doctors, maybe, and see what we can find out. It doesn’t mean you’re sick. It means your brain works differently. Maybe you have to learn things differently. But you’re really smart, and you can do it.”
“Can I learn to get the other kids to like me?” he asked.
Kids. Love them, and they’ll tear your heart out. “I’ll bet you can,” I managed.
Ethan stood up. “Okay.” And he went back inside to see what Tommy and Chuckie were up to now.
Abby walked back in, and assessed my face. “Wow,” she said. “You okay?”
“I think so. But I feel bad. I never found out about the water gun.” And I told her about today’s conversation with Bill McCawley, and with two other parents I’d called late in the afternoon, who shared his feelings pretty closely.
Abby sat down and her lovely face was dedicated to thought. “What’s funny,” she said finally, “is that everybody seems to think it’s okay for kids to have water guns.”
“Why is that funny? What’s a little water gun going to do . . .”
“You’re missing the point. You’ve been trying to find out who broke the rule.”
“Right. To save Ethan a suspension.”
Abby nodded. “Maybe our problem is with the rule, not the rule-breaker.”
It took a second to set in. “You mean because just a few parents care about the water gun rule . . .”
“Exactly. The majority thinks it’s stupid.”
I walked over and kissed her seriously, and not for the usual reasons. “You’re exactly right,” I said. “It’s time for a little civil disobedience.” And I spent the next ninety minutes on the phone, distributing water guns to children through their parents.
The protest worked exceptionally well, although Ms. Mignano was a little nonplused when she summoned me to her office the next day. “Every child in the first grade except two showed up in school with a water gun today, Mr. Tucker,” she said. “Why do I think this might have something to do with you?”
I did my best to appear wide eyed. “I thought you were calling me because Ethan was one of the children with the water guns,” I said. In fact, the other parents had suggested leaving Ethan out of our protest effort, but he had insisted on violating the rule, appalled at the idea that he’d appear “different.” “I figured he’d be suspended. And I thought we had agreed you’d call me Aaron.”
“We can’t suspend the entire first grade,” Ms. Mignano countered. “Which you and the other parents counted on, didn’t you?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said. “But it is a silly rule.”
“It’s going to be re-examined when Mr. Breen comes back next week,” she said. “Now, take your son’s blue water gun and go home, Aaron. Ethan’s off the hook; he can come to school as usual next week.”
Since Carole Drabek had been the only parent I’d called who had been against the Water Gun Gambit, I decided to drop by her house after school that day, and I brought Ethan and Leah with me, mostly because there wasn’t anyone else to watch them this time of day. Carole opened the door with a wary smile.
“I just wanted to apologize,” I said after she let us in, and Ethan ran off to see what Danny was up to. Leah stood next to me, and attached herself to my right leg. “I know you weren’t crazy about the idea of the water guns, but—”
“You had to do what you thought was right,” she said, smiling. “I know how it feels to want to help your child.”
She ushered me into the kitchen, where she was cooking dinner. It was hard walking with a two-year-old girl on my leg, but I managed.
Carole stuffed something into the oven, then gestured toward glass doors opening onto the rear deck. “Let’s go outside,” she said. “Jake’s out there, and maybe Leah would like to play with him.”
We walked out, to where Jake, Carole’s three year old, was walking around the backyard, eschewing millions’ worth of toys, swings, and other amusements left around the yard in favor of a two-foot branch that had fallen off the oak tree. He was using it as a walking stick.
Leah, of course, refused to budge off my leg.
“I hope Ethan didn’t bring a toy gun here today,” Carole said. “We still insist on no violent toys, you know.”
“Oh, no,” I told her. “We respect your right to have things the way you want them in your house.”
“Just not in my school?” Carole said. The smile didn’t dim.
“It’s a democracy,” I tried. “Majority rules, up to a point.”
Carole nodded. “I understand that. And I’m okay with it. But not for Danny and Jake . . .”
There was a shout from upstairs. “Mom!” a voice yelled. “Ethan scraped his knee on the rug!”
I was about to head for the stairs. Leah, thrilled with the thought of some action after all this grownup talk, forgot to be bashful and ran toward Danny’s voice. Carole looked at me.
“It’s just a scrape,” she said. “I’ll take care of it; I know where the washcloth and the Band-aids are. Do me a favor, keep an eye on Jake, would you?” And without waiting to see if I agreed, she headed inside.
I couldn’t hear Ethan crying or shouting, so my guess was he was more embarrassed than hurt. I decided, for once, to let someone besides Abby or me help him. I’d have to get used to that, I supposed.
I sat back on a deck chair and watched Jake for a minute, reveling in my lack of responsibility. All I had to do was watch.
Jake and his walking stick were involved in some great inner drama, as he was talking to himself and wandering around the yard. Finally, he noticed me on the deck, and walked toward me, an expression on his face that was serious, and dedicated.
I smiled, and stood up. Show him you’re friendly, and the child won’t be afraid of you.
Jake stopped about fifteen feet from where I stood, and raised the walking stick parallel to the ground. He pointed it at me.
“Bang,” he said.