Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Visitor

The continuation of the Novel, "Jack," serialized. Full novel to be published in May, 2013. (Read earlier chapters in the January, 2013, archives above)

 Chapter 17
 The Visitor
Charleston, South Carolina, during the Civil War. 
Charleston Harbor
 in background. Civil War
era lithograph
 At four o’clock that day a knock on the door came that I’d been a’fearin' all afternoon. I waited on my belly at the top of the stairs, having earlier decided to stay in my room all afternoon like I was sick. I listened, my ears straining to hear any of the conversation.
     “Good afternoon Mrs. Foster. Sorry to intrude but there was an incident today involving some malicious damage to the school and there is some evidence that, unfortunately, Jeremy may have been involved.”

      “But no Mr. Whittemore, he couldn’t have been involved because he was home all day up in his room sick, I checked on him several times and he never left his room sir. He‘s been coughing and has a fever.”
      “Oh, I see,” said Mr. Whittemore. “I apologize. It’s just that I had information from one of my students, he was pretty certain. Do you mind if I just have a word with him?”
     “Well, I know he’s sleeping because I just came down from his bedroom and his father will be home soon and…well…if his father found out he was suspected even of something like that he’d beat him just in case. His father’s a severe man and so I have to hide a lot from him.”
     “I understand Mrs. Foster. I’ll only be one minute. I'd so much it rather be me than the constable. It's a criminal matter and I'd like to spare the boy any unnecessary questions.”
     “A criminal matter you say? Oh heavens. Well okay then, a minute shouldn’t hurt none,” my mother said. “I’ll take you straight up.”

                                     Chapter Eighteen


     At that moment I charged toward my bedroom and leaped into my bed, shoes and all, and pulled the covers up to my neck and waited breathlessly for what was coming. Whittemore was suspicious despite what mom had told him and he was gonna try to get it out of me, that was clear. He was smart enough never to fully trust what a mother said about her son or daughter knowin' that either they’d lie for them or else they were so tricked themselves they really didn’t know enough about their kids’ activities, good or bad. But Whittemore knew kids and he was always a'lookin' to catch'em red-handed in a lie and he was good at it. Had Brooks really told him anythin' or was he just sayin' that on the hunch that I was listenin' somewhere like I was where he couldn’t see me? I believe he was bluffin' cuz I think Jack was right: Brooksy would do anythin' to become a Midnight Raider and besides, we gave him a perfect story to make up. Still, master might not be makin' it up. I heard them a’climbin' the stairs and I slapped myself across my cheeks to make the blood come to the surface to make it look like I was sick. That neat trick fools my mom all the time but Whittemore might not be fooled. The door creaked and I closed my eyes.
     “See he is still a’sleepin', poor boy,” said mom. “Jeremy dear boy, Jeremy. Master Whittemore is here and would like a word with you son…something about some incident at the school today. I told him you knew nothing about it because of you being sick and all.”
     Whittemore approached. “Thank you ma’am, I’ll be only a minute. If I could just have a word in private,” he said closing the door on mom.
      “Oh!” said Whittemore, “you do look like a poor ole sick boy. And your face is flushed. You do have a fever." And he placed his hand on my forehead. “Well, maybe not." Then he tried to pull the covers off, sayin', "son you’re too warm-you shouldn’t have blankets on such a hot day.“
      “No I want ‘em,” I said yankin' them to my neck. "I have chills!” I yelled.
      Mom came to the door, asking, “Is everything all right Mr. Whittemore?”
      “Oh yes, Everything’s fine ma’am. I’ll be done shortly.”
      He looked stunned like he didn’t know what to do or like he just ran into a tree or something. His eyebrows went up and then down as if he was trying to figure it out. His long pointed nose seemed to be sniffin' me out for lies.
     “Sir, thank you for checkin' up on me. I did want to go to school today but I just felt so bad. I hope it won’t count against me. I’ll try to do extra homework tonight.” I waited to see what effect that would have on that crafty old fox. I couldn’t lie half as good as Jack but with his help I was sure learnin'. Jack was masterful at lyin'. I never met anyone who could lie as good as Jack. My mom had placed a pitcher of drinkin' water on the dresser with some daisies in a vase to make me feel better. But I wasn’t going to feel good until Whittemore left.
     “May I have some water?” I asked him. “I have a powerful thirst sir.”
     “Oh, yes, yes of course,” said master and he poured it in a glass and gave it to me still lookin' confused. He stared at me as though not knowin' what else to say sort of awkward-like or maybe he was just a’waitin' for me to confess. I wasn’t sure. So I said, “What happened at the school today sir? Did someone get hurt? I hope not. Sometimes the kids play too rough.”
     “Oh no, not to worry. But I came here because Mr. Brooks said something to me after he told me today that he was sick.” Master paused here and waited to see what I might say next, it seemed. His deep beady eyes measured my response looking for some sign of guilt, I felt, and trying to draw the truth out of me through his eyes which seemed to spit fire but I continued to play dumb. “Yes sir Mr. Foster, what he said to me caused me to think that you had been directly involved in the incident. But that couldn’t be, right? Because here you were home in your bed all day, right? Sick?”
     “Of course I was sir. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it. I wanted to.”
     “Jeremy, Mr. Brooks said you were his best friend now and that I couldn’t expect him to tattle on you.”
     “What? Is he dreamin'?” I asked. “We’re not really friends at all.”
     “So I had gathered. So I had gathered, Mr. Foster, from my own observations. But I wonder what caused him to say it, to say that you were now his best friend and that Jack was a good friend too. Why do you think he said that at that particular time?”
     “I haven’t the foggiest notion sir, really I don’t. I’m just as surprised as you. And I bet if you talk to Jack he won’t know either.”
     “Well Jeremy it turns out that I did have some words today with Mr. Stone and I was very surprised to hear what he said about you and about the incident.”
     “Sir, what are you sayin'?”
     “He implicated you, he did. Not that he really knew he was implicating you but I believe he did it without realizing it. And then I confronted him with the truth and he was unable to stand up in any positive way to it. His guilt shone directly through his words. He said you were the one I should talk to after him. It seemed as if he just wanted to shift all the blame upon you poor boy. And so that’s why I am here Jeremy, so that you can also confess your role in today’s affair.”
     “But sir,” I fumbled, wonderin' what Jack had said. But then I recalled that Jack said don’t let master try to trick me and that master would tell any lie about Jack to make me talk but Jack had said he’d never give master an inch.
     “But sir I told you,” I said as firmly as I could muster, “I was here all day. Ask my mom as she was with me much of the time. Sir I’m sorry you don’t believe, no I’m deeply disappointed you’d think so of me, but really I had nothin' to do with any affair today at the school. Nothin' sir. Please don’t think bad of me. It pains me Mr. Whittemore sir.” I looked into those cool grey-blue eyes and I could tell, he still believed nothin' I said. “I don’t know what in tarnation Mr. Brooks is talkin' about.”
     “Right,” said master. “Nor do I at this particular moment. But by heaven I’m going to find out. Well I’ve got to go. I hope you feel better, Mr. Foster.”
     “Thank you master,” I said.
     As he turned the large brass door knob on his way out, his large bushy eyebrows suddenly furrowed again, one up, one down. Master Whittemore said, “Doesn’t Mr. Brooks dislike Mr. Stone because Mr. Stone torments him mercilessly?”
     “Um. Possibly,” I said. “I don’t really know.”
     “Oh come on Mr. Foster, certainly you do know. Are you being secretive with me?”
     “No sir, I simply thought that Brooksy doesn’t really hate Jack…he would really like to be friends with him.”
     “Interesting,” said master. “Because Mr. Brooks said something very similar-that he and Mr. Stone were going to be very good friends. That all three of you were going to be very good friends. Now isn’t that curious that such an unimaginative fellow like Mr. Brooks would say something like that?”
     “It’s interestin' alright,” I said. “Especially when there ain’t no good reason for Brooksy a'sayin' it.”
     “Oh but maybe there is a good reason Jeremy. Maybe promises were made. And Mr. Brooks is so easily manipulated by those in society and by his fellow classmates, and especially by Mr. Stone and sometimes there are those in our own very class who unscrupulously, Mr. Foster, place their own selfish interests ahead of the welfare of this rather poor unfortunate and stupid child. At any rate, the constable is going to be talking to Mr. Brooks. If he’s been manipulated, the constable will find out. He is a very skilled interrogator of twenty years experience knowing personally hundreds, maybe thousands of criminals from all over the Charleston area and beyond. He’ll get to the truth of the matter. And then Jeremy, we’ll have another talk. In the meantime, if you hear of or know anything, you can earn yourself an A for the year if you come forward with evidence against Jack Stone. But you can never tell anyone about this conversation. I’ll simply deny it. After all, you are one of my better students and might deserve one anyway if we stretched things here and there. Goodbye sir.” 
     “Goodbye master."
     “And Jeremy."
     “Don’t be unwise in this matter. Do the right thing. Think about your future-maybe you could be a doctor or a lawyer. Don’t go down the path of perfidy with Jack Stone because that’s exactly where he’s leading you. Son, cut him loose and come clean.”
    With that, master left. I was a'sweatin' and now I really was sick.

                                                      Chapter Nineteen

                                Victory Celebration

       Late that day, we all got together in Jack’s barn just as planned.
     “Did you tell him anythin'?” Jack asked nervously as soon as we met. Brooksy was already there and so it was clear to me before I even talked to Brooksy that master didn’t get what he wanted from Brooksy even if he did get some.
     “No. I just denied everythin' that crafty old badger was tryin' to make me admit. I didn’t think I could endure it much longer, my mouth was so dry from lyin' I felt there was sand in it and it’s a good thing that I told master I was sick as a dog. But he has strong suspicions that we’re all lyin' and said the constable was goin' to get the truth out of us.”
     “Huh!” said Jack victoriously. “We beat him and beat him good and he knows it.”
     Jack had given Brooksy a tongue-lashin' for a'sayin' more than he was supposed to say and Jack had told him that he was just not smart enough to try to color the story anythin' beyond what he was ordered to say. Still our position was pretty solid.
     "We hold the high ground in this battle,” said Jack who added that "Whittemore's  a'lyin' at the bottom of the hill so to speak, a’brusied and a’bleedin' and with his face in the mud." That’s how Jack saw the victory.
     “We’ve got to celebrate this one,” said Jack. “I’ve got an idea, you’re going to just love this one.”
     “Jack forget it. Leave it for a while,” I said.
     “No way. This is the last part of the plan and we have to follow it all the way through so that we can say we stuck through it all the way, through thick and thin, and never gave up. And besides, a victory over an enemy isn’t really a victory unless he knows he’s been beat and we want that snivelin' old fool to know it. Tonight after we’re done celebratin' on our own, we go by master’s house underneath his bedroom window in the woods which are right there beneath his window. We light off three big bangin' cherry bombs and then right away Jeremy you start a’blowin your trumpet and I’ll play my harmonica to a high pitch and you Brooksy will bang a drum as loud as you can, you can use a pale and a big ole iron soup spoon that’s in my mom’s soup pot. Sound like fun kiddies?”
     “I’ve already had too much fun today Jack at master’s expense. Can’t we just…”
     “No we can’t. We’ve got to put on the finishin' touch. So he’ll never forget it. When he’s old and crotchety and a’smokin' his pipe and a’sittin' in his rockin' chair and a’spittin' in his filthy spittoon, he’ll remember with a glint in his eye, I think, the day he tried to get one over on Jack Stone and his band of Midnight Raiders. And he’ll have one more note to add to his collection. It says, “Don’t try to play with the big boys son-stick to the little kiddies! Signed. The Midnight Raiders.
                                         Chapter 20

                                    Midnight Musical

      So there we were-Jack, me and Brooksy - just a'waitin' underneath master’s bedroom window on a beautiful starry night for the midnight hour so we could begin the festivities. I talked Jack out of throwin' the first cherry bomb onto the second-floor porch which was right next to master’s bedroom. Jack said he knowed it was master’s bedroom cuz he “investigated” master’s house one day while master was at school. He said he didn’t take anything, just looked, except for a pewter coffee cup and a pewter letter opener and that was only because he wanted some souvenirs.
     So it was Jack’s job to light the cherry bombs and throw them out onto the grass near the house underneath master’s bedroom. That was to announce that the celebration had begun, Jack said. So when it was two minutes away from midnight, Jack took the cherry bombs out of his little burlap bag and Brooksy started sayin' how this was the most fun he’d ever had and couldn’t wait to be sworn in tomorrow as a Midnight Raider, even though tonight was his unofficial initiation.
     “You can do the countdown Brooksy,” said Jack, and just so we know you’re on our side for certain we want you to do the honor of throwing the first cherry bomb. Count down from ten now.”
     “Oh thanks a lot!" Brooksy said. "Oh good! Good! Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one…”
     And Jack lit the first one, the short wick a'sizzlin' with sparks and blue-white light in the darkness. “Here you go sonny boy, set her off!” Jack said as he handed it over to Brooksy.
     “Throw it you idiot!” Jack yelled as Brooksy held onto it and then finally threw it and a big boom like cannon-fire thundered through the night not five feet away. Then Jack lit both the other two and now threw them way up into the darkness, the blue light trailing sparks and they exploded in the air one after the other.
     Then Jack roared out this deep hideous laugh and began playing his harmonica in a loud, non-harmonious, raucous way and Brooksy beat his pale as loud as he could with Jack’s mother’s iron soup pot spoon and I blared on my horn but I was feeling a little sorry for master at this point, although he did deserve everythin' he was a'gettin'.
     Then we heard master’s voice boom out the window, “Just you wait Stone you malicious criminal! You’re going to jail just like I said and that’s where you belong!” And he slammed the window down. Jack ordered Brooksy to run over and pin the note onto the front door where there was another porch. 
     “So he won’t be forgettin' his lesson any time soon,” said Jack. And we left.

Look for the next set of chapters in the series to be published next week - "The Midnight Raiders" and "A Tree House just like Mike's." 


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