Monday, May 6, 2013

Zebulon - Days 1-47- Historical Fiction

Alone.  That's how I've spent most of my life, or so it seems. I live in a small southern town, that has remained small, I suppose, because the economy has apparently passed us by. 

I came to this town a long time ago, searching for a long-lost  friend, and remained. Little did I know when I came, that I would be spending the rest of my life here.

Being born into a dysfunctional family, sorry to say, did not get me off to a good beginning. I was born in the northeastern part of the United States to a father who knew only hard work and beatings, influenced by a father of the same ilk. 

My mother, on the other hand, was kept so busy bearing children and wiping our noses and behinds, that she had no time for wrapping her arms around us, when our backs were sore from his belt. She would just caution us to stay out of his way when he was "in his cups". 

Of course, since he worked so hard, he felt like he was entitled to "stop off with the boys" on his way home from the steel mills. By Saturday morning, all the currency remaining in his pockets was barely enough to purchase groceries for a few days, if my mother was clever enough to make it stretch. 

I'm sure there must have been meals that she skipped in order to provide enough food for us kids. I was somewhere in the middle of the number of children she bore to my old man. I was only one of the two boys she had that lived. 

They buried three children by the time I left. I was only eighteen when I left home to find work. I was determined to make something of myself, and perhaps, partly because my Da was fond of saying, "you'll never amount to anythin', cause you've not the guts to stand up fer yerself!" 

I knew, that somehow, someday, I'd be a man a father could be proud of. I never got the chance to show him or my Ma. I do remember one day that my Da and I had a really good time, though. It is a day that will live forever in my memory.

He came home from work all excited and could hardly contain his joy. He was waving his hands all about, and came in laughing. My Da picked up my Ma in his arms and swung her about. We all thought he'd gone daft. 

He was holding some pieces of paper in his hand and I was only somewhere around ten years old at the time. Standing behind a chair, I was waiting to see what it was he had in his hands, and if maybe he was drunk, to boot.

"Look!" he shouted, "these are free tickets! We had a lottery at work, and I won!" 

I remember thinking that it must be the only time my old man ever won anything in his life and it was only a miracle he hadn't stopped to "celebrate" the winning before he got home from work.

However, miraculously, he apparently was so excited and happy that he came straight home to share the news with us. I suspect that, really, in his own way, he did love us and he showed it mostly by working really hard during the week, but he just was held so strong in the grip of the taste of liquor, it kept him weak and dependent on it.

The year was 1956 and on Monday, he was taking me and my little brother to the game, to see the Yankees playing against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the fifth game of the World Series. 

We were all Yankees fans in our household...that was the one thing that we did as a family. We couldn't afford a television, but we had the radio, and we never missed a game, even when my Da was a bit sloshed. 

I'd never been to a game before and this was the chance of a lifetime for me and my little brother, as well as our Da. To get to go see the greats play baseball...Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle...we just couldn't believe it.

The day dawned bright and clear...hot as could be for that time of year. We were so excited...little did we know we were going be present for history in the making. That day will live forever in my mind and that of all those dyed-in-the-wool Yankee fans like me. 

When we got to Yankee Stadium, my little brother, Les,who was only 8, and I just couldn't get our eyes filled with everything that was going on. The crowd was enormous. I heard later that there were over 64,000 people there that day. I had never seen so many people all in one place. It was scary and exciting at the same time. Les and I held on to our Da's hands. I remember looking up at him and wondering if I would ever be as big and strong as he was.

We found our seats with just a little difficulty; they were up in the nosebleed section, but that was okay. We were at a World Series Game!

Wonder of wonders, our Da got us each a hot dog and a cold drink. We were in seventh heaven. A lady came out to sing "The National Anthem" and everybody stood up and put their hand over their heart. 

The referee shouted "Play Ball" and somebody important threw out the first ball. From then on, the crowd was
intermittently on its feet and sitting down. I have never in my life seen or been a part of such excitement.

As we watched, we saw Yankee pitcher, Don Larsen, refusing to allow any of the Dodger players make it to first base, inning by inning. We could see him wiping the sweat from his face, trying to keep it from running into his eyes. He kept pitching and they kept striking out! 

In the fourth inning when the Yankees were up to bat, the great Mickey Mantle made a home run. I looked up at my da and he was grinning and jumping up and down.

Then in the sixth inning, Hank Bauer made a home run for the Yankees. The score then was 2-0 in favor of the Yankees!

Three more innings and the game was over! Don Larsen had pitched a perfect game...a no-hitter and a shut-out! History was made that day. There has never before or since been a perfect game in World Series play. 

Yogi Berra was so excited that he jumped joyously into the arms of Don Larsen. I don't think I'll ever forget that wonderful day in my life. As we went home on the subway, we were full of the game, and all around us, people were talking about it. Our Da had bought Les and me each a Yankee's baseball cap. I don't know about Les, but I still have mine. I take it out once in a while and look at it, thinking about that unforgettable day. Bittersweet memories come flooding into my mind.

When we got home, our Ma was waiting for us, anxious to hear how the day had gone. As Les and I began telling her about the game, our Da said, "Ellen, I wish you coulda' been there. I just can't wait to tell the fellas about it! I'll see you all later." 

With a knowledge born of experience, we all looked at one another as my Da left the house. We knew not to expect him anytime soon, and that when he did come home, he would either be belligerently drunk or almost too wasted to walk. What we did not expect was to wait all night and then get a visit from the police.

When the policemen came, we were struggling to understand where my Da might be. He had never been out overnight before. This was something new. The thing was, a life had been snuffed out, and when the police showed up at our door, we knew that our lives would be changed forever. After all, when the police appear, you know someone in your family is either in big trouble or is dead. 

In our case, it happened to be someone was dead. My Da had gotten into an argument with one of the men in the bar he frequented and they both had knives. Of course, the argument was over the game we had seen that day. It so happened that my Da ended up missing, and that was why the police were at our home...they were looking for him. 

Witnesses at the bar had told them that my Da had killed the other man. No one knew for sure who had started the fight or the argument. It seems that more than one person was involved in the argument and the fight that ensued. Somehow, it was all being blamed on my Da being the killer. 

My Da didn't stay around to answer any questions, and so... he became the logical suspect. After all, they reasoned, it was only natural that my Da would be the main suspect. His running away pointed to his guilt, and now, we were drawn into the web of suspicion. 

The police who came to the door had a search warrant and, when they saw the innocence that was evident on our faces, mixed with the horror and obvious acceptance of the truth of their claim, dealt with us a little more kindly than they might have done at first. 

"Ma'am," one of them said gently to my Ma, " we have a warrant to search your home for your husband. Please move aside." 

As Les and I, along with our sisters. stood there looking at them in awe, with my Ma crying, "Oh no, now what...now what?", I saw one of the policemen offer his handkerchief to her. 

It struck me then, that, even as a stranger, he had opted to show compassion to a person who could be hiding a fugitive murderer. It struck me to such a degree that it influenced my choices in later life. 

"How?" you may ask, but I will wait a while before I divulge that particular answer. 

Anyway, as the policemen came in, they searched through our small living quarters, but found no clue as to where my Da might be. We were ordered to let them know if and when he returned; then they left. 

As the oldest son, I felt it my duty to take charge of matters, and began bossing the others around, even though I had a sister older than I. She soon let me know that I was about to get too big for my britches and that she could outdo me any time. After all, I was only ten and still small for my age. 

My Ma displayed the greatest of patience and pride in our behavior. Although we were missing our Da, and were very worried about him and his safety, there was a certain amount of relief from his coming home drunk and abusive on Friday nights. 

We were only kids, after all, and had no idea of the stress our Ma was going through, with extra worry about where he was, and what we were going to do for food. She was expecting we would be thrown out of our home before long, too, with no money coming in. 

It only took a couple of days for the news to get around that our Da was being accused of manslaughter, and so, at school, we soon were being questioned and hounded by our classmates about our Da. Even though we were well-liked by most of the kids, there were those few insensitive bullies that loved to pick on others, and back then, they were just the same as the kids today. 

I soon took on the role as protector of my younger siblings, and it wasn't long before I was in the principal's office every day for getting into fights. 

My Ma told me, "Son, this has got to stop! I can't afford to lose my job at the grocery store. I can't be running to the school every day. Mr. Hopkins was kind enough to let me work there without my having any experience." I knew he was just letting her work there because he had always given her the 'glad eye' when we went there to get groceries. 

I knew she was right, but I also knew I was determined to be
reliable and responsible for my family's safety and well-being. I was not going to let bullies push my siblings around like so many push-pins. I thought about my situation long and deliberately. I was, after all, only a small fifth-grader, and not much going for me except determination and brains. 

To be quite honest, I was getting tired of getting bashed about by bigger kids, so I went to the police station, to consult with the very kind policeman who had come to my home searching for my Da. 

Of course, my Da was still on the run somewhere, but I knew I needed some help with my problem at school. After all, the police were there to protect and to serve, weren't they? 

When I arrived at the police station, they looked very busy and I was frightened, and when they tried to shoo me away, I

stood on trembling legs, asking for the kind policeman who had come to search our house for my Da. 

"My Da is Seamus O'Hanlon," I said, turning my head so as not to look directly at the desk sergeant. I was ashamed and embarrassed to speak of my father so, but I had to find the man who had been so kind to my mother. 

The desk sergeant called out to a couple of policemen who had just come into the station. 

"Hey, Finley! You and your partner come over here just a minute...I got a kid here that wants to talk to you...maybe he is going to  turn in his old man. I'll bet the guy beats his wife and kids. It's usually that kind of fellow that gets into bar room fights with other customers. Always aggressive, ready to act out his anger instead of dealing with it."

My face burned with shame upon hearing the desk sergeant's words, but I couldn't deny the fact that they were true.

Sgt. Finley and his partner came over to me, and since I was so short, the Sgt. squatted down near me, and said, "Now, boyo, what can we do for ya? Have you heard anything from your father? Has he come back to threaten ya?" 

I looked into his blue eyes, and could see he was an honest man, just like I had thought. 

"No, sir, but I thought maybe, since you being the police and all, you might could help me with a problem I'm having at school. You see, the kids are always making fun of me and my brother and sisters. Things are getting (to be continued)
unbearable for us, and we need only the kind of help policemen can give to us. Can you help, please?" 

It seemed that my plea really touched his heart, and I could see him struggling to come up with an answer for me, trying not to let me down. Even as a kid, I had learned to read the expressions on others' faces, mostly because of my Da and never knowing what to expect from him. 

The very kind sergeant looked me in the eyes, and said, "Young man, I can give you some advice to begin with. Always scout out your situation, and decide on a course of action, but have an alternative plan in case the first one falls through. Never back down; stand your ground; be honorable in whatever you do. Most of all, don't let vengeance control your actions. Do you know what I mean?"

I looked at him without understanding in my heart and my eyes. He saw that he needed to explain further.

"Listen, son...I know that because of all that has happened to you, you will want revenge more than anything else against the boys who have been bullying you. My partner and I are going to show you some moves that will help you take those boys out, but you mustn't let wanting to get even with them control your actions. In other words, when you learn how to defeat them, you don't want to become them. Once you have beaten them, and you will, don't let anger take over and try to pulverize them."

Somehow, considering the size of the bullies, I didn't believe that I could get the better of them, anyway, but I listened carefully to what he told me.

"One time beating them should take care of them, because at heart, bullies are just big cowards. One time is all you will have to do it. If it doesn't, come see me again, and we'll take another tack. Okay?"

Nodding my head, I followed them into a large room that I found out later was their break room. They moved back some desks to clear a space, and proceeded to teach me some defense moves, plus a few attack moves. Then they practiced with me. It must have looked funny with a little guy like me, running around, learning boxing moves; because that it what it was. 

Just before I left, Sgt. Finley told me something that helped shape my life, more than anything else, "A  wise and wonderful Savior, by the name of Jesus Christ, said, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord'. Do you know what that means, young man?" 

"Well, not exactly. I've heard of Jesus Christ, though. Does he have a middle initial of H.? My Da says his name all the time, when he is mad at us. I've never met him, though."

I saw all kinds of expressions flit over the Sgt.'s face when I said that. He seemed to be struggling with what to say in return to my innocent remarks. In the end, he finally came out with, "Jesus is the name of God's only Son, and the Savior of people's souls. Here is a little book that will tell you about Him, if you will read it. He tells us that His Father, God, will take care of paying back those who mistreat us." 

He gave me a small New Testament of the kind passed out by Gideons. As I was taking it, I heard the phone ringing on a desk, and an officer answered it, then shouted at Sgt. Finley.

"Hey, Fin! That old xanthippe out on Twenty-eighth is throwing knives at her old man again. You guys need to go out and rescue him again. This time, bring the old woman in. Nah, maybe bring 'em both in for disturbing the peace."

Looking in amazement at Sgt. Finley, I asked, "What was that word he used? What is one of them things, anyway?" 

"Ah, that Haskins started a new plan several weeks ago. He believes in improving his vocabulary and is trying out a new word every day. He just opens the dictionary and puts his finger on a word, and whatever comes up, he uses it all day. Frankly, I'm getting tired of it. A Xanthippe is an ill-tempered old woman, and I guess it does fit the lady that is fighting with her husband right now. Well, we have to roll, but you remember what I told you, okay?" 

"Thanks, Sgt. I will, now I have to get home or my Ma will be
yammering at me and yanking my ears, letting me know I've been unthoughtful again. She counts on me being there while she is working overtime, so we won't get thrown out of our place. She is worried about my Da, as well. Thank you for the book and for the help." 

Sgt. Finley looked at me and said, "Begin reading it in the part called 'the Epistle of St. John'. That is a really good place to start. I'll be praying for you. Come back and see me anytime. You may have some questions."

Leaving the station, I hurried home. My Ma had not come in from work yet, so I helped my older sister make some supper, then did my homework and after I crawled into bed, I opened the New Testament, curious to find out what it had to say. I went to sleep holding it in my hand. My Ma must have come in and taken it out of my hands, because I found it on the end table next to my bed the next morning.

That day after school, the bullies were waiting, just like I knew they would. I looked at all of them and then, walking over to them, I
zeroed in on the biggest of them. After talking with Sgt. Finley, I knew that the biggest would want to bully me by himself. The others would just stand around, jeering and watching. If I could take him out and get him down and beaten, the others would back off and leave me alone. 

We circled around each other, taking each others' measure. He lunged, I feinted, dodging his punches, making him think I was afraid (actually, I was sweating bullets) and then ran under and gave him an uppercut to the jaw, tripping his feet at the same time. I had him on his back, and jumped on top of him, pounding away at his head. 

When the other boys saw him flat on his back, they started yelling at him to punch me back, but I had so much pent-up anger, he didn't stand a chance. All he could do was put his arms up to protect his face. As he did that, I was punching him in the ribs and in the neck; anywhere that I could hit him, I was. They finally pulled me off; I asked them then if there was anyone else that wanted to try it with me. Nah... they were all finished with bullying me. I was remembering the words that Sgt. Finley had warned me with: "Lad, don't become them." 

I walked away, and went home. When I got there my Ma was waiting for me to get home. The police had come to the store where she was working, and brought her back to the house. She looked at me with disappointment in her eyes, which were reddened from crying. 

"Oh, son! You've been fighting again! What am I going to do with you? You never listen; you're as bull-headed as your Da was!"

"What do you mean, 'was'? What happened?" I looked at Sgt. Finley, who was one of the policemen there. It didn't take a genius to see that it was bad news. My brother and sisters were standing around crying, too.

"Son, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but your father... well...there's no other way to say it... he was found beaten to death on one of the back streets down in the worst part of town. He'd been dead for about three days or so. We don't know yet who did it."  

He put his arms around my shoulder as he was giving me the news.

Running over to my Ma, I put my arms around her and assured her we would be okay. I would take care of her, of all of us, somehow!

She looked at me and replied, "Zebulon, how can you take care of me? You can't even take care of yourself! Look at you! Fighting again! Go to your room, now!"

"But, Ma! Wait! Listen...I want to tell you..." I gazed at her in despair.

My glance darted over to Sgt. Finley, and he nodded to me, as though he understood that I had been successful in my fight against the bullies. He looked encouragingly at me, and lifted his eyebrows as though asking the question. I simply nodded, with a half-smile to him, and left the room when he gave me a thumbs-up and a smile.

Heart heavy, aching for my Da and realizing that my life had just changed forever, I went into my room and threw myself on my bed. I couldn't even feel good about beating those bully-boys any more, because anger and sadness filled my heart so. 

"Now, what?" I was asking myself. "What are we going to do? What can we do? I'm not old enough to get a job. My oldest sister, Rose, is only fifteen. She's beginning to look at boys and wearing lipstick. She and Ma are always getting into fights over that. My life stinks!" I was really on a downward spiral. 

Just then, a knock came on my door. 

Sitting up on my bed, I wiped my eyes with the back of my sleeve, and quietly said, "Come in, Les." 

"How do you always know when it's me knockin' ? How can you tell?"

"Oh, it's just the easy way you knock and you always tap on the door three times." 

"What happened at school this afternoon? You get into another fight with them boys again?"

"Yeah," I grinned, "but this time, I licked 'em!" 

His eyes lit up, and he got real close to me, admiration shining in them, "Really?!!" 

"You know Sgt. Finley out there in our living room... well, I went to the station yesterday to get some advice from him...he was so kind, to Ma last week, you know... I asked him for some help in beating those kids. The men at the station showed me some moves, and the Sgt. told me to pick out the biggest one and whip him. When I did that, they all decided that they didn't want to pick on me anymore." 

Right then, talking to my little brother, I felt ten feet tall. Then another knock sounded. 

"Come on in, Rosie!" I knew it was her because she always knocked like she was trying to bust the door down. Oh, yeah, bossy to the nth degree, it even carried to her knocking on my door. Little sister, Marie, who was six years old, came in with Rose. Marie had her two fingers stuck in her mouth, and was carrying a ragged doll with her.

"I want to know, young man, why you are all bruised up again! You know it upsets our Ma when you come home like that. She can't afford to lose her job now that Da....now that Da..." 

Rose left the sentence unfinished and burst into tears. She was the only one that ever escaped Da's wrath. I don't know if it was because she was the first girl they had that had lived past infancy, or what. I do know she was the spittin' image of my grandma, Da's mother. Maybe that was it, but he never got mad at our Rosie.

"I know, Rosie, but this time, I beat the bully and he won't be botherin' me again, nor any of his buddies. We're safe now!"

She looked at me, disbelieving my words. "Oh, yeah? How did you do that? I've seen that Benny Brooks and he's twice your size!" 

"Well, you can take my word for it, or you can just wait and see. I got some super advice from a fella that knew what he was talkin' about, and it worked."

Les and Marie looked at me with admiration in their eyes, while Rosie's look was more of doubt.

Another knock on the door. Oh, no, it was beginning to look like Grand Central Station in my room.

Of course, the only one left that it could be was my Ma. I said, "Come in, Ma" and expected that she was going to chew me out some more, so I got myself ready mentally for the harangue, but she surprised me by saying gently, "You children come out into the living room. We need to talk."

We left my bedroom, wondering what she was going to say to us, looking at one another with the question in our eyes, but not saying anything out loud.

Sitting down in the living room without another word, we waited for her to speak. I noticed the policemen had left by then. I looked at my Ma and saw she was no longer sniffling, but her eyes were bright with what looked like unshed tears.

There we were on the couch, waiting. Rosie sat on one side of me; Les was sitting on the other side of me; Marie was leaned up against me. Ma pulled up a chair so she could face us and look us directly in the eyes.

"Children," she said, "things are going to have to change around here. We know for sure now that your Da will not be coming home. Sgt. Finley told me that someone had beaten and killed him not long after he left the bar. They have several suspects but are not sure about any of them. We are going to have to work together to survive."

At that moment, a new idea came to me.
I was going to do some detecting work and find the person or persons who had beaten and killed my Da! Yeah, I realized that I was only ten years old, but I knew I could do it, if I planned it right. Oops! I had zoned out my Ma...what was she saying while I had been daydreaming?

"Zebulon Seamus O'Hanlon! Are you listening to me? What did I just tell you?" 

Looking guiltily at my Ma, I replied, "You said we are going to have to work together, now that our Da is gone."

"Yes, but that was five minutes ago! You are going to have to find some small jobs like running errands for people. You are big enough to go places and carry messages. Your sister, Rose, is going to have to be responsible for taking care of your brother and sister. I will have to be working late many evenings. Mr. Hopkins, my boss, changed my schedule today."

"Oh, I'll just bet he did," I said to myself. I may have been young, but I knew I didn't like the way her boss was always giving her the glad eye, with his eyes lingering in the wrong places. I sure didn't trust him, and now that my Da was gone, she had no one to protect her, except for me. 

"Now, you kids get washed up and ready for supper! Then after supper, you can all help me clean up the kitchen, and do your homework. And, young man, don't forget that we still have to talk about the fighting you've been doing!" 

Uh, Oh, seems like I was still in hot water over that; but, in the meantime, I was thinking about how to solve my Da's murder.
You may be wondering about my wanting to solve my Da's murder... after all, most of the time he spent with us, he was angry and beating one of us... but he was our Da, and we knew he was addicted to drink. It was the drink that made him so. Of course, he worked hard every day to provide for us, but fell short when he drank. You may think I make excuses for him, and I may be, but we loved him. Now, we had no idea what was going to happen to us.

"Ma, could I please tell you something important?" I asked her while we were clearing away the dishes.

"You could tell me why you were fighting again today, after I told you that under no circumstances were you to fight any more."

"Well, Ma... It's like this... you see, I knew they wouldn't leave me alone until I beat one of them. So I picked out the biggest one and beat the stuffin's outta him. They won't be botherin' me any more. There won't be any more fights." 

She looked at me the same way that Rosie had, unbelieving, and so, I went on to explain about the help I had gotten from Sgt. Finley.

I could see the pride in her eyes, mixed with a look of horror that I might be killed. 

"No, Ma. I won't be hurt any more now and I'll be careful. I promise."

Little did she know (or even I realize) that I would soon be walking into more danger than I had ever been while fighting with kids at school.

It was around mid-October, and I had  begun hanging around in the area near the bar where my Da was killed, but since I was fairly small, I kind of melted into the crowds that drifted in and out of the bars. I rode my bicycle down to that area. Not living very far from the area, I was able to fit in as just another kid riding around. I tried never to get into anyone's way. 

Because I was small, I could become like a fly on the wall, and listen to conversations taking place outside the bars. I knew that sooner or later, I would hear something that I could take to Sgt. Finley, and I realized he would believe what I told him. Little did I know that I was learning skills that would last a lifetime. 

The upcoming Presidential election was in full swing; it was all that we heard on the radio and television. Television was still kind of in its infancy, so to speak, and Americans were getting tired of hearing the merits of Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson, who were opponents in the race. 

However, I saw an opportunity to make a little money. I went down to one of the campaign centers, and they asked me if I would like to make some money passing out flyers. Although it didn't seem like it at the time to me, the economy was doing quite well. Somehow, it didn't quite reach our level on the scale of life.

"Sure!" I replied. "What do I have to do?"


 "Okay, sonny, all you have to do is take these flyers and hand them out to people you see, and go into the neighborhood around here and stuff them between people's doors and the frame, or slip them under the doors. It's going to take you some time, but when you have finished, come back and you'll get two dollars. Got that?"

"Yes, sir!" I was soon on my way, riding my bicycle, threading it through narrow alleyways, and up and down streets. I hurried because I wanted to get back in time to get my money. It was a Saturday and I wanted to make as much as I could, to show my Ma that I could be counted on to do my part.

I was getting rid of those flyers as fast as I could; even put some under the doors of businesses. I also took some into the bars along one of the streets.

"Hey, kid!" One of the barkeepers shouted at me. "You can't come in here! You're not old enough; now get out!" 

I happened to hear one of them remark, "Hey, ain't that O'Hanlon's brat? He's the spittin' image a' him. Come over here, kid. Ya wanta' earn some money? I see you're passin' out them flyers, probably for money...right?"

Cautiously, I approached the man. He had a florid face that came from too much alcohol and he had a cigarette dangling from his lip.

"Well," I spoke up, looking candidly at him, "I ain't doin' it for my health." 

"Hah! Got a smart mouth on ya, jist like yer old man, hey? Well, I reckon you're all right." 

I just stood looking at him, waiting for his next comment.

"I got a little job for ya, if'n you're interested, that is. I need a boy to do a daily errand for me, if you can be trusted. I'll try ya out tomorrow, if ya are." 

"Well, okay, what time do you want me and what do you want me to do? How much does it pay? Is it dangerous?"

"Hmmm, jist full a' questions, ain't ya, boy? Sometimes curiosity kills the cat, ya know. You'll jist have ta trust me to do right by ya. I promise I won't do ya wrong."

Well, it certainly sounded intriguing to me, and a little dangerous. After all, I had beat up a bully at school, I thought I could do just about anything. Little did I know what I was headed for.

"Okay, kid.. first, what's yer name? I know yer O'Hanlon's kid, cause yer a dead ringer for him."

I bristled at his choice of words, speaking of death. He was insensitive at best. "You can just call me O'Hanlon, then, you don't need my first name," I replied with an attitude.

"All right, O'Hanlon, don't get all bent outta shape over it. Now, here's what I want ya to do. Every day, I'm gonna give ya a paper sack with some stuff in it. All ya have ta do is take it over to Bill's Barber Shop and give it to the fellow working at the last chair in the shop, the chair next to the back door. Got it? Ya don't look in the bag or take nothing out of it. Understand?"

"Yeah, what's not to understand, anyway?" I was feeling really cocky and emboldened. 

He reached over and grabbed me by the shoulder. "Listen, kid, here I am doin' you a favor and you're mouthin' off at me? You have no idea who you're talkin' to, and if yer smart, you'll learn to keep yer trap shut and do like yer told! Now do ya want the job or not?" 

I winced as he sqeezed my shoulder relentlessly. I replied, "Yes, sir, thank you, sir."

"What's wrong, Buddy?" That is what I called him most of the time instead of his given name of Lester.

He sat up and threw his arms around me. 

"I miss you, Zeb! You're gone all the time since our Da died. We never do anything together any more. You were going to teach me how to make a flip and shoot it, remember?"

I realized then that I was neglecting a lot of things. I hadn't read from that little testament in a long time, and I hadn't been there for my little brother. I didn't know what was going on with my Ma. There was detecting I had to do at home. 

Since I had been doing several runs a day for Benny (that's what everyone called him, and I didn't know any more of his name than that), I knew I had to cut back and just do the one right after school. My school work had been suffering, along with my relationships at home, so I told Benny my decision. 

"Sorry, O'Hanlon, ya got a job ta do now, and I can't let ya off the hook; I'm dependin' on ya. Ain't ya makin' good money; ain't I payin' ya plenty fer jist runnin' ta the barber shop? Remember, a guy don't welsh on his duties, if he wants ta be considered reliable. Whatever's causin' ya ta think ya can quit on me, ya'd better think again." 

By now, he had grabbed my shoulder in his meaty hand again, and I was squirming. I had to come up with a different solution, somehow. 

Later that evening, as I was bicycling along the streets with the paper bag in my basket, Sgt. Finley spotted me, and hailed me down. 

"Hey, Zeb! What are you doing down in this part of town? Does your Mom know where you are? Aren't you out awfully late?"

As I stood there, with my feet on the ground and my behind resting on the seat of my bike, I looked up into his face; and all at once, I knew he was just the person I needed to talk to.

"What's in the paper bag, Zeb?"

An attack of nerves hit me square in the gut, as I looked at the paper bag, and then at Sgt. Finley. How much should I tell him? Would he understand? I wasn't even sure what was in the paper bags I carried  back and forth between the bar and the barber shop; but I knew it must be something wrong in it. 

I had looked once in the paper bag I was carrying to the barber shop, but all I could see were some slips of paper with numbers on them. I didn't know what the numbers were for, so I decided that it wasn't any of my business, as long as I was getting good money for carrying them.

So, looking up at Sgt. Finley, I said, "Only some little slips of paper with some numbers on them." 

"Um-hmm, I see! And where might you be taking them, Zeb, and from where?"

"Well, from the bar down the street where my Da got into a fight, and to Bills's Barber Shop."

"Zeb, do you know what it is you are doing? You're breaking the law! You're on your first step into crime, and once you're in, it's mighty hard to get away from it. What could you be thinking, lad? This is the numbers racket you're involved in. It's illegal. The next thing they'll be having you do is drug running. Do you want to be adding to your mother's worries?"

I felt the guilt and shame wash over me. My eyes began filling with tears, and the Sgt. put his arm around the same shoulder that Rafferty from the bar had been squeezing with his rough hand. 

By now, Sgt. Finley was squatting by me, looking into my eyes.
 

"We're going to do something about it, right now. Just follow my lead, okay?"

Nodding my head in assent, I waited to see what was going to happen.
 
Taking me by the shirt collar, he took the bike in his other hand, rolling it along, back to the bar. He was holding me up almost off my feet, almost carrying me along, and just fussing at me something terrible. It wasn't hard for me to act like the injured party. I was acting up as though I was fighting him.

"Officer... what are you doing? Where are you taking me? I ain't done nothin' wrong!" I shouted.

Heading into Dooley's bar with me, he walked over to Benny Rafferty, and asked, "Do you know this boy? Is he working for you these days, Rafferty?" 

"Did he say I did?"

"I'm just trying to find out where it came from. The kid's not talking, but I know about your numbers racket, Rafferty! You use kids to do the dirty work. It has got to stop! One day, we'll catch you red-handed; in the meantime, do your own dirty dealing without involving innocent kids. Come on, boy, let's get out of here; it stinks to high heaven!" 

We left the bar, and Sgt. Finley walked with me back to my house, and as we went, we talked.

"Zeb, we need to discuss a few things, if you don't mind."

Looking up into his face, which was lined with concern, I knew I might not like what he was going to say, but I was willing to listen. In my heart, I realized that he cared about my welfare; if he had not, he would never have stopped me from getting deeper into trouble. I was really going to miss the money I had been making, though. So, I was rather mad about that. 

"Yes, sir," I replied. "I'm in big trouble, ain't I?"

"Well, Zeb, you could be; but this time, I'm just seeing that you get home. I won't be saying anything to your mother, however, because I'm sure she has enough on her mind without your adding to her worries. I'm going to leave you about a block from your house and trusting you to go on home. Understand?" 

"Yes, sir." I gulped in relief. 

"Now, another thing... you are to stay away from that part of town. Just what were you doing down there in the first place? What were you thinking?" 

"I was down at near election headquarters one day, and they let me pass out some flyers for money; then I went into that bar, and met Benny, and well, you know the rest. I also thought I might find out some stuff about who killed my Da, cause he went in there a lot." 

Sgt. Finley's face mirrored his thoughts like a reflecting pool.

I could see he was struggling with the right words to say to me. When I had told him I thought maybe I could pick up some clues on who had killed my Da, his face had turned a peculiar shade of grey, then white, then slowly back to normal.

He stooped again, squatting down so he could look directly into my eyes. The serious look on his face could have stopped a watch from ticking, if it were possible.

"Son, you must stop thinking that way. Please, let us do our jobs; don't try to do them for us. We have picked up a few clues. We have men who are working undercover to break up the illegal things that are going on in our part of town. Sooner or later, we're going to find the person or persons who killed your father. Do you understand? Have you been reading the testament I gave you a few weeks ago?"

"Well, yes, I've been reading it some, but I don't understand it much. Maybe sometime, we could talk about it?"

"Sure, lad, we can do that. Now, about the other business, are you understanding me on that?"

"Yes, but what is undercover? What does that mean? How does a policeman do that? Is he under some kind of something?" 

Sgt. Finley smiled at me. "It means he dresses like them and becomes one of them, so to speak, so that he is accepted as a friend to them. Then he can find out information when he fits in."

"Just like I was doing!" I exclaimed. (To be continued)

Then I remembered something that I was going to tell Sgt. Finley the next time that I saw him. 

"I overheard something yesterday that I thought might be important. Benny was telling someone in the bar that he'd better not be 'Welshing on a bet like O'Hanlon had, or else he knew what would be coming to him.' What did he mean? Do you think he was threatening the man? I was going to be listening closer to see if I could hear anything else, but Benny saw me, and told me I needed to get home, that I was through for the day. What do you think?"

"I think you'd best be getting on home right now, young man, and don't be going back to that place, or I'll have to run you in. That is, if I don't find you in worse shape than you were when you were getting into fights at school first. Stay away from that part of town! I will stop by and see you on Saturday. Okay?" 

"Yes, sir." 

Now I was going to have to find another way to make money.

When I got home, my Ma still wasn't home, but there was some food in the oven, being kept warm for me. Good old Rosie had left it for me, knowing I'd probably be late coming home. We seemed to be eating better these days, since Ma had been working for the neighborhood grocer. It was getting later and later that she was getting home from work. What was going on, I asked myself.

I sat there at the table eating my supper, and thinking about Ma when she came in the kitchen door. She had a funny look on her face, but when I asked her about it, she just told me she had had a busy day, and to mind my own business. Then she did a funny thing; she put her hand on my shoulder and kissed me on the top of my head. I looked up at her with a question on my lips, but she just smiled and went to her room.

Taking out my school books, I got busy with my homework, but couldn't get my mind settled on it, because my thoughts kept going back to my Ma's peculiar behavior. What was going on with her?

The rest of the week passed without any unusual incidents, except my Ma kept getting home late, and we were left on our own more often. I stopped looking for afternoon jobs, although I didn't stop thinking about it. I began reading from the little testament some each night, again. Sometimes, I would awaken in the mornings to find it on the end table, and the covers pulled up under my chin. 

Saturday dawned with rain dripping from the gutters on the eaves of the house. I crawled out of bed, and went over to the bed where my little brother, Lester, was sleeping. I was going to wake him, but decided against it. He and my little sister were both suffering more than I from our mother's absences from home. I had been going to discuss it with him, but realized it would only worry him. 

I knew we needed her, just as much as Rosie and Marie did. What could we do, anyway? 

Going into the bathroom, I used it, then washed my hands and rinsed the cottony feeling from my mouth, swallowing the last gulp of water. Something was supposed to happen today...  What was it? Oh, yeah. Sgt. Finley was supposed to come over. 

Little did I know what would take place on Sunday, though.

1 comment:

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

You are indeed the master of the cliffhanger.