Tuesday, September 13, 2011

FIFTEEN: Twist and Shout

Les went to the counter at the front desk of the old gym and he called the police. Desk Sergeant Whoever had the same response as Principal Whatever, Breznick.
            Have you talked with Mrs. Overchord?
            Have you checked at home? Lots of times kids just go home.
            I know you’re worried, sir, but there’s probably nothing to worry about. Call your wife. Call home.
            Yes, sir, in the meantime, if you want, I will send an officer over to the school.
            Les called home. The phone rang. And rang.
Anger, Les taught his acting students, is the word we use to describe the powerful emotional effects generated by a clash of conflicting urges to take elemental direct action, especially when we must restrain ourselves from taking action because of lesser, though equally powerful, forces. Good actors, he said, focus on action and not on emotion. 
Les wanted to smash the telephone against the wall. He wanted to take Sergeant Fuckoff by the front of his pale blue shirt and punch his stupid pig face. He wanted to grab Lydia at whatever goddamn coffee date or shopping mall or pedifuckingcure palace she was and drag her ass home. He wanted to hold Patti and hug her and he wanted to shake her til her bones dislocated. He wanted—
“Professor Overchord, hi!”
He was gripping the edge of the counter. He lifted his head and turned. It was Douglas Wrythe.
“Or can I still say ‘Les’ even though we’re not in rehearsal?” He was smiling but he wasn’t friendly.
Les wanted to push the smug asshole out of the way and get out of the building. “It’s ‘Les’ wherever,” he said. “The sixties decided that.”
Douglas laughed. “What brings you to this part of campus? Tennis lessons?" He was holding a racquet in one hand and two tennis balls in the other.
            "Huh? Oh. No."
            "Too bad. I'd like to turn the tables on you.” He laughed again and in a passable Southern accent he said, “The tables have turned with a vengeance.”
“No,” Les said, “I—“
“Love to be the teacher and you the student.” Douglas was still smiling and something in his eyes still wasn’t playing along.
“I’m sorry, Douglas, I apologize if I’m being rude, but I have to—“ and he was going out the door.
“Hey, Les!” Douglas called. “Tell Lydia I hope everything's okay!”
If he had hurled a javelin into Les’s spine he couldn’t have stopped him colder. Les turned. He came back.
“You've seen Lydia?”
“Uh huh.” Douglas swung the tennis racquet.
You’re her--?”
“Hey, guy’s gotta find a way to pay for summer classes somehow.”
“You saw her today?”
“Yup. Was her first time. She’s pretty good. But then, she didn’t stay the whole hour.”
“When? When was this?”
            "One o'clock. She was supposed to stay til two--"
            "What happened?"
            "Patti came--"
            "She came onto the court right during the lesson. Something was up.”
“Where are they? What did they say?”
“I didn’t listen. Patti was crying and Lydia cancelled, they both left.”
“How did Patti get here?”
“Dunno. All of a sudden she was on the court and she was crying and Lydia went over to her and I backed off.”
They were together! Why weren't they at home? Maybe he should call the mall. Where did she go when she took the kids out? When she went out with friends? With Jean Balfour?
            He was in the car and driving home before he was conscious of having made a decision to do it. 
            There was no one there. He went upstairs to the bedroom. It smelled like her. Her perfume. Or shampoo. What was he looking for? Open drawers? Clothes? Kidnapping!
He went to Patti’s room. The bed was made. There was a doll on the floor by the dresser. How long was it since he'd been--? If he stopped moving, he knew he would collapse, maybe stop altogether.
He was down the stairs and out the door. As he was unlocking the car, he realized he’d forgotten to lock the front door, he’d left the house wide open. He ran back and locked the door. He was breathing fast and hard.
He drove as calmly as he could--he knew it wasn’t calm at all--to the Falkes Hollow playing fields. It wasn’t game day, was it? Just practice, right?
He found the Little League field and walked across to the coach. What was his name?
“Hi, Coach, I’m Derek Overchord’s father. Where is he? I have to talk to him.”
Derek was in right field. The coach called him in. He was mortified and Les could see he was also scared. They walked to the sidelines. Derek looked up at Les with his mouth open. Les knelt on one knee.       
“Do you know where your mother and Patti are?”
“Dad, what’s happening?”
“I don’t know, buddy. Maybe nothing. Do you know where Patti is?”
“No, where is she?” There were tears in his eyes. "What's happening?" He tried not to, but he started to shake. He turned his back to the field so no one would see him.
Les grabbed him, held him. “No, no, no, buddy, don’t get upset. I’m just trying to find them.”
And then Derek was sobbing. “Why! What happened!” He held tight to Les and part of him was also trying to get away.
 “Do you know why Patti left school today?”
“No, huh uh, I don’t know.” 
            He wouldn't look directly at Les.
“She’s just sad, we’re sad.”
“Dad, please, I dunno. The kids said she peed herself.”
“Mrs. Short told her she should wait til lunch and I guess she tried to but she didn’t make it.”
“Holy Jesus Christ.” Les grabbed Derek’s arm at the elbow and started walking.
“Dad, please, I want to stay at practice.”
“Get your stuff.”
“Dad, please!”
“Do it, goddamnit!”
The coach was walking toward them and Les shouted, “Not now!”
They were on the way to Falkes Hollow Elementary, neither with a seatbelt fastened, when Les drove through a red light as a motorcycle came into the intersection and he jammed the brake and swerved the car and smashed into a mail collection box. 
Both the motorcyclist and a friend on a second bike kept speeding on down the street and out of sight.
They were taken to the hospital and released some time later. Lydia came for them. Patti was with her.

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