David asks them to leave the newspapers on their desks, and he uses the same speech for the rest of the day, making small improvements as he goes. Towards the end, however, he begins to feel a little worn down by the central truth: that his friend will continue to suffer at the hands of history.
At the end of his final class, he dismisses everyone early and heads for Point Damon. Even after ditching his tie he is vastly overdressed, like a lawyer out beachcombing on his lunch hour. The walk is painfully slow, the chance of seeing Billy diminishing with each step, but the sky offers an armada of small, puffy clouds coasting in from the Pacific. He passes a young mother, hiking with two small children, and gives them a nod.
David envisions the driftwood teepee, leveled or burned to cinders, but discovers it untouched. The interior, too, is unchanged: the low table, the log bench, the dangling pot. He takes a seat, hoping to read the room: occupied abode, or abandoned hovel? He’s about to give up and head back to his car when he finds two words scrawled on the table in black marker: David Pot. His brain conjures some little-known cousin to Cambodian dictator Pol Pot, but soon the words take their intended form. David looks in the pot to find a manila envelope. The cover offers a note:
Hi Coach –
I guess you’ve figured out that the Aberdeen exposé has sent me packing and quick. Sorry I couldn’t stick around for a goodbye, but that party was a pretty good sendoff. A wise performer leaves the stage while he’s still hot.
This has been my best summer since the Enormous Idiot Two-Baser. I have had a blast, and I only hope I’m not leaving the trio in the lurch. Don’t be too hard on Derek. He knew not what he dood, and besides, I look awesome in those photos!
Take care, David. You’re a great friend.
- Billy Saddle
PS Inside, another matter entirely.
David opens the envelope and finds two items, two sheets of notebook paper and a CD in a cardboard sleeve.
A few weeks ago, I borrowed Abbey’s truck and drove into Aberdeen for some errands. I had just parked at the big mall when I saw Elena with a middle-aged man – balding in the horseshoe style, paunchy but not fat, perhaps five-foot-eight, long torso, short legs, not unattractive. They were walking hand-in-hand, which of course I found somewhat alarming. They entered a restaurant with large windows. I came as close as I could and watched as they ordered a meal that seemed to go on and on, one dish after another. They sat side-by-side, and as they ate they exchanged kisses, and caresses, in the manner of new lovers. Every so often they would pick up morsels of food with their fingers and feed each other.
It occurred to me that this would explain Elena’s recent behavior: her relative absence, her inability to lose weight. I’ve got this guy pegged as a “chubby chaser.” Faced with the hard work of dieting, and a man who evidently loves her exactly as she is, it could be that she has taken the easiest option.
Knowing I could not deliver this kind of news to you without some sort of hard evidence, I borrowed Abbey’s video camera and followed Elena on a subsequent trip. She drove to the same shopping mall, where she met the same man. They went into an ice cream parlor, and I managed to capture a few minutes of them eating and, as the tabloids say, “canoodling.” I copied it onto the enclosed DVD, which you should be able to play on a computer.
I wanted to tell you about this earlier, but I saw no reason to ruin the playoffs for you. I hope this revelation does not cause you too much pain, or disrupt your household. I do hope it eases your feelings of guilt about Elena’s weight. I would also be very glad if it allows you more freedom in sharing your affections with Abbey. I adore that girl, and the hope that you will be looking after her will give me some comfort as I flee the scene.
Whatever you do, don’t act too quickly on any of this. Give the geoduck a chance before you go throwing out the gumbo.
Your devoted friend –
David takes the DVD from its sleeve and watches the rainbow refractions on its surface. He notices that Billy has twice signed his full name. He probably doesn’t get too many chances to do that.
The next item on David’s agenda (almost too ironic to mention) is the ice cream shop. He is grateful when they are swamped by the North Beach football team, fresh from a grueling practice. It also gives him the chance to talk with some of his students in a casual setting. One of his favorites is the quarterback, George Baraksin, who puts the lie to the dumb-jock stereotype. George stays at the counter for a while, licking a cone of Rocky Road as Pablo handles the next customer.
“That speech you gave today was rockin’. You should write that up and send it to a magazine. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to tell people how much of a football game is sheer stupid luck.”
“Thanks. That speech was a bit of luck, too. I was sort of making it up as I went along.”
“Wow! Wish I could do that.”
“Don’t you call audibles?”
George smiles. He’s got enormous teeth, dark Mediterranean features. Ought to be a model.
“I’d rather face a blitz than a room full of bored students. So that friend of yours. Did he split town?”
“I think so.”
“Bummer. I woulda liked to meet him. I totally understand how nasty sports fans can be.”
George salutes him with his cone and heads for a table occupied by a large, luscious redhead. She’s a big-boned gal for a quarterback, but she sure looks like fun.
He’s a cuckold. Horns on his head. Mr. Chubby Chaser covering her in ice cream and licking it off. He envisions the way she looked sideways at him in Spanish class, round dark eyes under bangs of black hair.
Fucking ice cream. Pablo may have saved them, but even his paltry minimum wage threw off the books. Their sum profit for August – August! – was two hundred dollars. With school starting, it’s clear that the place is nothing but a leech, sucking away their time and money.
“Hey Dad. Sorry about the Billy thing. Damn! This whole time, I’m playing next to a legend and I don’t even know it.”
“Sorry ‘bout that. I was sworn to secrecy.”
“Yeah. Well, uh, the other thing…”
Uh-oh. Pablo’s stuttering. Pablo never stutters.
“Um… Mr. Laney is retiring, and he wants me to manage the pizza parlor.”
“Pablo! That’s great. When do you start?”
“Um… Next Monday okay?”
“Will the shop be okay?”
David puts a hand on Pablo’s shoulder and lowers his voice. “Son, fuck the shop.”
This brings forth the big goofy grin, the one that Pablo first produced at the age of four.
“Dad! An F-bomb. Impressive!”
“A wise teacher learns from his students.”
“Just don’t make it a habit. You might start creepin’ me out.”
A couple hours later, David is beginning the final mop when somebody raps on the front door.
“Closed!” calls David. He looks up to see that it’s Derek, and heads over to undo the lock.
“Dad, I am so…”
“Now, now. Before you go into your opening argument, counselor, we’ve already figured out that it wasn’t your fault. It’s not like I banned you from taking photos at the games.”
Derek looks relieved, but then his face tightens up again. “No. I’m sorry anyway. I’m sorry it happened, I’m sorry I couldn’t figure out what that reporter was really getting at. How come he didn’t tell me about Billy? Isn’t there some law about full disclosure?”
David goes back to his mopping. “You’re mistaking jurisprudence for journalism. He’s not looking for evidence – just facts.”
“Oh. Well, now I know. So… is Billy gone?”
“Yes. But he left a note. In fact, he wanted to thank you for those photos. Sort of allowed him to go out in a blaze of glory.”
Derek laughs nervously. “That’s pretty cool. Um… well…”
Will there be no end of stuttering sons?
“Spit it out, Derek!”
“It’s the Associated Press. They want the photos.”
David leans on his mop handle. “Well holy shit.”
Pablo, wiping the counter, takes a theatrical pause. “Dad! What have I told you about language?”
David ignores him. “How much?”
“A thousand bucks.”
David stops to consider the ethical ramifications, but he can’t see for all the dollar signs.
“Well… hell. I guess if Billy likes those pictures so much, you may as well share them with the world.”
He expects Derek to be happy about this, but finds him staring at the floor.
“I’m a graverobber. I’m a war profiteer.”
“Oh Jesus, son. Could you occasionally just be shallow and superficial like the rest of us? Billy liked you a lot. When you consider all the primo a-holes who have profited from his misfortune, I imagine he’ll see this as a bit of payback. Now get the hell out of my shop so I can close.”
He plants the mop in its squeezer, but finds that Derek hasn’t moved.
“Is there more?”
Derek runs a hand through his Mexican hair.
“Um, yeah. I called the sports editor to complain about the story, and… he hired me.”
David feels the urge to make like a cartoon character and shake his head around like a baby rattle.
“He wants me to take photos for the high school football season.”
David grins. “If we ever see Billy again, you are so buying him a steak dinner.”
Derek laughs. “No problemo.”
“Now,” says David. “Are we done?”
“No. The guy from the AP wants to talk to you.”
David wraps his arms around the mop handle and sighs. “You ever have one of those days?”
Derek chuckles. “Yeah.”
“You got the phone number?”
“Okay. I probably need to check with Billy’s niece. You might know her, by the way. She’s your poetry teacher.”
Pablo, emptying a wastebasket, takes a theatrical pause. “Derek! Language!”
“See you, Dad.”
“Good night, ambulance chaser.”
Derek heads out across the parking lot. David notes a decided lift in his step.
He arrives to find a dot of orange light hovering on the porch. Abbey’s on the swing, smoking. David sits next to her and wraps her up. She’s been crying. He waits a while before speaking.
She takes a puff and lets it go. “Yep.”
“Fucking baseball fans.”
“My feelings exactly.”
A car drives past on Chance La Mer, pushing a triangle of light into the damp air.
“Any other news?”
“Pablo’s going back to manage the pizza parlor. I’m closing down the ice cream shop. The Daily World hired Derek as a photographer. The Associated Press is paying him three thousand dollars for those photos of Billy…”
Abbey straightens up, her eyes getting wider.
“…and the AP also wants to interview me. What do you think?”
Abbey rubs a finger and thumb along her forehead, trying to work this massive info-dump through her brain.
“Good! Good for Derek. And yes, talk to them. Tell them everything. Let those motherfuckers know what they’ve done to a perfectly wonderful…” She loses her sentence to tears. “Oh God, David. I’m going to miss him.”
David holds her tighter, then takes her cigarette and gives it a puff. It doesn’t take her long to recover, so he continues with his list.
“My wife is cheating on me.”
Abbey looks up and wipes her eyes.
“You remember Billy borrowing your video camera?”
“Yeah. He was going to film Derek’s swing.”
“And follow Elena to a rendezvous.”
“With a chubby chaser.”
Abbey lets out a burst of laughter and immediately covers her mouth. David laughs, too.
“Yeah. The whale is cheating on the butterfly. Billy wanted to make sure I had some evidence. It was very thoughtful… in a demented sort of way. Abbey? Do you love me?”
Abbey gives him a long, tender kiss.
“Yes, you moron.”
“Well. Tell you what. Give me a couple weeks to reassemble my brain, and I will probably love you, too.”
“Screw that. I want sex.”
David laughs, and feels the long, improbable day escaping through the ends of his hair.
“I don’t think that’ll be a problem.”
Photo by MJV