10

(1)
Allen got a job at a flower shop in Lancaster, and things started out fine. “Timothy,” who loved flowers, did most of the work, though Adalana came out from time to time to do the flower arranging. Allen convinced the owner it would be a good idea to hang some of his paintings in the window, and if one sold, he could take a commission. The idea of making money from his artwork appealed to Tommy, and after the first few paintings sold, Tommy worked harder than ever, investing some of the income to buy more paints and brushes, He turned out dozens of landscapes, which sold more quickly than Allen’s portraits or Danny’s still lifes.

One Friday evening in June, after closing, the owner, a middle-aged man, called Timothy into the back office and made a pass at him. Frightened, Timothy left the spot and withdrew into his own world. Danny looked up and saw what the man was trying to do. Remembering what had happened to him on the farm, Danny screamed and fled.

When Tommy came to work the following Monday, eager to see if any of his paintings would be sold that day, he discovered the store was empty. The owner had moved out, leaving no forwarding address, and taken all the paintings with him.

“Goddamned son of a bitch,” shouted Tommy at the empty store window. “I’ll get you, you bastard!” He picked up a rock, threw it through the window and felt better.

“Rotten capitalist system is to blame,” Ragen said.

“I don’t see the logic in that,” Arthur said. “The man was obviously afraid of being exposed as a homosexual. What does one frightened man’s dishonesty have to do with the economic system?”

“Is result of profit motive. Is contaminate the minds of young people like Tommy.”

“I say, I didn’t know you were a bloody communist.” “Someday,” said Ragen, “all capitalist societies vill be destroyed. I know you are capitalist, Arthur, but I vam you. All power belongs to the people.”

“Be that as it may,” Arthur said in a bored voice, “the florists shop is gone, and somebody’s going to have to find another bloody job.”

Allen got a job as an orderly on the night shift at the Homestead Nursing Home on the east end of Lancaster. It was a modem low brick building with a wide glass-fronted lobby always filled with elderly residents wearing their bibs, parked in their wheelchairs. Most of the work was menial, and “Mark” handled it without complaint, sweeping and mopping the floors’, changing the linens and the bedpans.

Arthur was most interested in the medical aspects of the position. When he found that some of the nurses or attendants were loafing on the job, playing cards, reading or dozing, Arthur would make the rounds himself, attending to the sick and dying. He listened to their complaints, cleaned infected bedsores and generally devoted himself to what he felt was his destined profession.

One night as he watched Mark on his knees, scrubbing the floors in a room from which someone had been taken away, Arthur shook his head. “That’s all you’ll spend your life doing—manual labor. Bloody slave work that could be done by a zombie.”

Mark looked at his rag, then at Arthur, and shrugged. “To control one’s own destiny takes a mastermind. To execute the plans takes a fool.”

Arthur raised his eyebrows. He had not giyen Mark credit for such insight. But it made it all the worse, to see a mind with a spark of intelligence wasted on mindless work.

Arthur shook his head and strolled off to see his patients. He knew Mr. Torvald was dying. He went into the old man’s room and sat beside his bed, as he had done every night for the past week. Mr. Torvald talked of his youth in the old country, of coming to America and settling on the land in Ohio. Blinking his rheumy, heavy-lidded eyes, he said wearily, “I am an old man. I talk too much.”

“Not at all, sir,” Arthur said. “I have always believed that older people, who are wiser and have had much experience, should be listened to. Your knowledge, which cannot be written down in books, should be passed on to the young.”

Mr. Torvald smiled. “You’re a good boy.”

“Are you in much pain?”

“I don’t believe in complaining. I’ve lived a good life. I’m ready to die now.”

Arthur put his hand on the withered arm. “You are dying very gracefully,” he said, “with great dignity. I would have been proud to have you for a father. ” .

Mr. Torvald coughed and pointed to his empty water pitcher.

Arthur went out to fill it, and when he came back, he saw Mr. Torvald staring upward blankly. Arthur stood there silently for a moment, gazing at the serene old face. Then he brushed the hair out of the eyes and closed them.

“Allen,” he whispered, “call the nurses. Tell them Mr. Torvald is deceased.”

Allen took the spot and pressed the button over the bed. “That,” whispered Arthur, stepping back, “is proper procedure.”

Allen thought for a moment that Arthur’s voice was husky with emotion. But he knew that couldn’t be. Before Allen could question him, Arthur was gone.

The job at Homestead lasted three weeks. When the administration office discovered Milligan was only sixteen, they informed him he was too young to work the night shift, and he was discharged.

A few weeks after the fall term began, Chalmer said Billy had to go down to the farm that Saturday to help cut the grass. Tommy watched as Chalmer backed his new yellow tractor-mower up two boards onto the back of the truck.

“What do you need me for?” Tommy asked.

“Don’t ask dumb questions. You’re coming. You wanna eat, you’re gonna work. I need someone to rake up the leaves before I mow. That’s about all you’re good for, anyway.” Tommy watched as Chalmer secured the tractor in the truck by setting it in reverse gear and slipping the U-pin into place to keep the lever from popping out.

“Now pick up them goddamn boards and get them into the truck.”

Shit, Tommy thought, pick ’em up yourself. And he left the spot.

Danny stood there, wondering why Chalmer was glaring at him.

“Well, get them boards in, stupid.”

Danny wrestled with the two huge boards, even though they were too big and heavy for a fourteen-year-old.

“Goddamn clumsy bastard,” Chalmer said. Knocking him to the side, he pushed the boards in himself. “Get in before I beat your ass.”

Danny scrambled into the seat and looked straight ahead. But he could haear Chalmer popping the top of a can of beer, and as he smelled it, a cold fear went through him. When they got to the farm, Danny was relieved that he was put right to work raking leaves.

Chalmer mowed and Danny was afraid when the tractor came too close to him. He’d been terrorized by tractors before. Chalmers new yellow one frightened him. He switched to David and then to Shawn, switching back and forth until the work was done and Chalmer finally shouted, “Get them boards outta the truck. Let’s go!”

Danny stumbled forward, still terrified of the tractor, and used all his strength to pull the heavy planks out of the truck. With the planks in place, Chalmer backed the tractor up onto the truck bed. After he hauled the planks back in, Danny waited while Chalmer popped another can of beer, finishing it before he was ready to take off.

Tommy, who had seen what happened, took the spot. That sonofabitchin’ tractor frightened Danny. That tractor had to go. Quickly, while Chalmers head was turned, Tommy climbed up into the truck bed, pulled the U-pin out and popped the clutch into neutral. As Chalmer went around to the driver’s seat, Tommy jumped down and flipped the U-pin into the bushes. Then he got in the front, stared straight ahead and waited. He knew the minute Chalmer made one of his jack-rabbit starts, that new yellow tractor of his would be gone.

Chalmer started out slowly and drove without a stop into Bremen. Nothing happened. Tommy thought it would go after they stopped in front of the General Mills plant. But Chalmer pulled away real easy and drove all the way into Lancaster. All right, thought Tommy, it’ll happen the first time he stops for a red light.

It happened in Lancaster. When the light turned green, Chalmer took off squealing his tires, and Tommy knew the tractor was gone. He tried to keep his face straight, but he couldn’t. He looked away, toward the window, so the old fart wouldn’t see his grin. When he glanced back, he saw the little yellow tractor tumbling back down the street, end over end. Then he saw Chalmer looking in his rear-view mirror, his mouth wide open. He jammed the brakes, stopped the truck, jumped out and started running back, picking up pieces of metal scattered on the street.

Tommy broke up with laughter. “Goddamn you,” he said. “That tractor’ll never hurt Danny or David again.” Double revenge with one blow. He had gotten the machine, and at the same time he got Chalmer.

Most of the grades sent home on Billy’s report cards were C s, D’s and F’s. In all his school years he got an A only once: the third quarter in tenth-grade biology. Arthur, who had developed an interest in the subject, started paying attention in class and doing the homework.

Knowing people would laugh if he spoke, he had Allen answer for him. He amazed the teacher by his sudden change, his brilliance. Though Arthur never lost his interest in biology, things at home got so bad that the spot kept changing. Much to the regret of the biology teacher, the flame died out and the last two quarters were failures. Arthur drifted off to study on his own, and the final report card registered a D.

Arthur was having his hands full with the others coming and going on and off the spot more and more frequently. He diagnosed this period of mental instability as “a mix-up time.”

When the school had to be evacuated because of a bomb scare, everyone suspected it was Billy Milligan, though no one could prove it. Tommy denied making the bomb. It wasn’t a real one anyway, though it might have been if the liquid in the flask had been nitro instead of water. Tommy hadn’t lied about not making it. He would never have lied. Though he had taught one of the other boys how to do it, even drew the diagram, he had never touched it himself. He wasn’t that stupid.

Tommy enjoyed the excitement and the chagrin on the principals face. Principal Moore looked like a man with a lot of problems, like someone who couldn’t solve all the things that were bothering him.

He solved one of them by expelling Milligan, the troublemaker.

So, five weeks after Billy Milligan turned seventeen—a week before Jim was to leave for the Air Force—-Tommy and Allen joined the Navy.

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