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Free – CHAPTER 2 – Enjoy!
Early the next morning, Justin and William stood outside the Sherry-Netherland on 5th and 59th, waiting for a limo. They were dressed alike in khakis, sport coats and open-collared white shirts. The boy stared through sandy bangs at the screen of his game player, thumbs tapping a furious pace against the keyboard, lost as usual in a video game. Now that Ashley was leaving for Europe, William was his and he had to take the kid back with him. Troubles came in bunches.
William said something to him.
“What?” He regretted the irritated edge to his voice.
“What do you want?”
“I don’t want to go. Do I have to?”
“If you hadn’t gotten expelled, you wouldn’t have to go, would you?”
The corner of the boy’s lip curled upward in a dismissive way and then he returned to his computer game. Justin had no idea what to do with his son – especially after the disaster at school.
Justin paced next to the four-foot clock perched atop a fluted column and then glanced up the street for the limo.
The damn driver was late. Every time Justin turned he either saw William engrossed in his game or the clock moving ever-so-quickly forward. The limo was to take them to the Teterboro airport to fly more than two thousand miles west to Missoula, the closest airport to Cora and the ranch. He dreaded going back. He looked at his watch and then at Alex, the Sherry-Netherland’s doorman.
“It’s coming, Mr. Thatcher.”
Alex had been staring at William. It wasn’t often the boy was with Justin, and the doorman, like a keen eyed hunter, could tell arrangements had changed. They had, and Justin’s life would be more complicated now.
A blasting horn – a taxi driver, impatient to move when the light changed, gave a motorist hell. Justin looked in vain for his limo.
“Yes!” William said.
“I just beat level nine,” the boy said without taking his eyes off the screen.
“That’s just great.”
William returned to his game.
Across the street, on the edge of Central Park, a squirrel scampered down the trunk of a maple tree and scurried across the sidewalk. It paused at the curb, tail flicking as it watched traffic, waiting for the light to change. The squirrel looked into Justin’s eyes as if asking permission to cross. Justin felt himself tense.
The animal leaped into the street and scurried past still tires and then under a tourist bus. The light changed. Traffic spurted forward. The squirrel froze amid the spinning wheels of machines rushing past and then made its decision. It hopped toward Justin, tail high. Justin saw the car and felt himself twist, knowing what was going to happen. A sedan’s front left tire crushed the little animal flat. And then the back tire thumped over the body. Its tail rose from the blacktop like a quivering exclamation point.
William’s laughter edged up at him.
“What are you laughing at?”
William nodded toward the carcass. “Looks like someone lost at Frogger.”
“Don’t you have any damned feelings?”
“For what, a stupid squirrel that runs across the street?”
Justin clenched his fists. His father would have done a lot more than clench his fists. His dead father. He watched his son return to the video game. William acted as though the squirrel’s death was nothing more than a scene from one of his digital games, not knowing which was reality, not caring.
It was more than a lack of respect that bothered Justin – his son didn’t understand social graces, the common thoughtfulness that allowed one to move through the world, the consideration that helps others give you what you want and what you need. William seemed to specialize on how to not get what he wanted.
Justin looked at the little body of the squirrel in the street and a pain shot through his chest. What dignity was there in being crushed to death between rubber and asphalt?
The doorman moved up beside him.
“Did you see what happened?” he asked Alex.
“Feed him every day. I’ll miss him,” the doorman pulled a peanut from his pocket, a single one on his open palm – and then Justin understood – the squirrel hadn’t been coming to him, it was crossing the street for a peanut. For some reason, that made him feel sadder.
He slipped Alex a twenty.
“Would you take his body over to the Park and bury it someplace?”
“Yes sir. Better than rotting in the street.”
The doorman opened a closet and found a long-handled pan used for picking up cigarette butts. He waited for traffic to stop for a red light, walked onto the street, scraped the squirrel’s body into the pan with the side of his shoe and then hid the pan in the corner by the revolving doors. The dead squirrel’s bushy tail protruded.
“I’ll bury him on break.”
William rolled his eyes. “Nobody buries squirrels.”
Justin clamped his jaw.
William returned to his game.
The limo arrived and the driver popped the trunk open. The doorman picked up William’s overnight suitcase and put it in. Next to it, he tossed Justin’s suitcase, containing starched shirts, two pair of boxer shorts and two pairs of socks. Eight new shirts should be enough for a three-day trip.
Copyright 2011, JB Winsor