Page 9 of Mystic River


Dave hardly saw Jimmy after that, maybe once or twice a year until they reached their teens. Dave's mother wouldn't let him leave the house anymore, except to go back and forth from school. She was convinced those men were still out there, waiting, driving that car that smelled of apples, and homing in on Dave like heat-seeking missiles.

Dave knew they weren't. They were wolves, after all, and wolves sniffed the night for the nearest, lamest prey, and then they hunted it down. They visited his mind more often now, though, the Big Wolf and the Greasy Wolf, along with visions of what they'd done to him. The visions rarely attacked Dave's dreams, but they slipped up on him in the terrible quiet of his mother's apartment, in the long stretches of silence during which he'd try to read comic books or watch TV or stare out the window at Rester Street. They came, and Dave would try to shut them out by closing his eyes, and trying not to remember that Big Wolf's name had been Henry and Greasy Wolf's name had been George.

Henry and George, a voice would scream along with the rushing of visions in Dave's head. Henry and George, Henry and George, Henry and George, you little shit.

And Dave would tell the voice in his head that he was not a little shit. He was the Boy Who'd Escaped the Wolves. And sometimes to keep the visions at bay, he'd replay his escape in his head, detail by detail? the crack he'd noticed by the hinge in the bulkhead door, the sound of their car pulling away as they went out for a round of drinks, the screw with the missing head he'd used to pry the crack open wider and wider until the rusty hinge snapped and a chunk of wood in the shape of a knife blade cracked away with it. He'd come out of the bulkhead, this Boy Who Was Smart, and he'd scrambled straight off into the woods and followed the late afternoon sun to the Esso station a mile away. It was a shock to see it? that round blue-and-white sign already lit for the night, even though there was still some daylight left. It stabbed something in Dave, the neon white. It made him drop to his knees at the place where the woods ended and the ancient gray tarmac began. That's how Ron Pierrot, the owner of the station, found him: on his knees and staring up at the sign. Ron Pierrot was a thin man with hands that looked like they could snap a lead pipe, and Dave often wondered what would have happened if the Boy Who Escaped the Wolves had actually been a character in a movie. Why, he and Ron would have bonded and Ron would have taught him all the things fathers teach their sons, and they would have saddled up their horses and loaded up their rifles and gone off on endless adventures. They would have had a great old time, Ron and the Boy. They would have been heroes, out in the wild, conquering all those wolves.

* * *

IN SEAN'S DREAM, the street moved. He looked into the open doorway of the car that smelled like apples, and the street gripped his feet and slid him toward it. Dave was inside, scrunched up on the far side of the seat against the door, his mouth open in a silent howl, as the street carried Sean toward the car. All he could see in the dream was that open door and the backseat. He couldn't see the guy who'd looked like a cop. He couldn't see his companion who'd sat in the front passenger seat. He couldn't see Jimmy, though Jimmy had been right beside him the whole time. He could just see that seat and Dave and the door and the trash on the floor. That, he realized, had been the alarm bell he hadn't even realized he'd heard? there had been trash on the floor. Fast-food wrappers and crinkled-up bags of chips and beer and soda cans, Styrofoam coffee cups and a dirty green T-shirt. Only after he'd woken up and considered the dream did he realize that the floor of the backseat in his dream had been identical to the floor of the car in real life, and that he hadn't remembered the trash until now. Even when the cops had been in his house and asked him to think? really think? about any detail he might have forgotten to tell them, it hadn't occurred to him that the back of the car had been dirty, because he hadn't remembered it. But in his dream, it had come back to him, and that? more than anything? had been why he'd realized, without realizing it, somehow, that something was wrong about the "cop," his "partner," and their car. Sean had never seen the backseat of a cop car in real life, not up close, but a part of him knew that it wouldn't be filled with trash. Maybe underneath all the trash had lain half-eaten apple cores, and that's why the car smelled as it had.

His father would come into his bedroom a year after Dave's abduction to tell him two things.

The first was that Sean had been accepted to Latin School, and would begin seventh grade there in September. His father said he and Sean's mother were real proud. Latin was where you went if you wanted to make something out of yourself.

The second thing he said to Sean, almost as an afterthought, when he was halfway out the door:

"They caught one of them, Sean."

"What?"

"One of the guys who took Dave. They caught him. He's dead. Suicide in his cell."

"Yeah?"

His father looked back at him. "Yeah. You can stop having nightmares now."

But Sean said, "What about the other one?"

"The guy who got caught," his father said, "he told the police the other one was dead, too. Died in a car accident last year. Okay?" His father looked at him in such a way that Sean knew this was the last discussion they'd have on the subject. "So wash up for dinner, pal."

His father left and Sean sat on his bed, the mattress lumpy where he'd placed his new baseball glove, a ball wrapped inside, thick red rubber bands wrapped tightly around the leather.

The other one had died, too. In a car wreck. Sean hoped he'd been driving the car that had smelled of apples, and that he'd driven it off a cliff, took that car straight down to hell with him.

II

SAD-EYED SINATRAS

(2000)

3

TEARS IN HER HAIR

BRENDAN HARRIS LOVED Katie Marcus like crazy, loved her like movie love, with an orchestra booming through his blood and flooding his ears. He loved her waking up, going to bed, loved her all day and every second in between. Brendan Harris would love Katie Marcus fat and ugly. He'd love her with bad skin and no breasts and thick fuzz on her upper lip. He'd love her toothless. He'd love her bald.

Katie. The trill of her name sliding through his brain was enough to make Brendan feel like his limbs were filled with nitrous oxide, like he could walk on water and bench-press an eighteen-wheeler, toss it across the street when he was finished with it.

Brendan Harris loved everyone now because he loved Katie and Katie loved him. Brendan loved traffic and smog and the sound of jackhammers. He loved his worthless old man who hadn't sent him a single birthday or Christmas card since he'd walked out on Brendan and his mother when Brendan was six. He loved Monday mornings, sitcoms that couldn't make a retard laugh, and standing in line at the RMV. He even loved his job, though he wouldn't be going in ever again.

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