Duality Part 2
A Four Visitors Story
Start at the beginning of the Four Visitors series
"You're the guy." Steve Gem's voice had a coarseness to it, an edge that suggested a smoker or someone who'd been too long out in the cold.
"Fuck, no." Nick Lorem was leaning against the hood of his wrecked pickup truck and there were wisps of steam coming up from the radiator that revealed the beams of the mini maglight that Nick had pulled out of the glove box after smashing the passenger side window with a rock.
"You sound pretty sure about that." Gem was bundled in an old trenchcoat and a Sox cap. He kicked sticks around as he paced back and forth at the bottom of the ditch where Nick's truck had come to an abrupt stop.
"This is simple. This is a yes or no answer." Nick searched back in his head for the term from his Sunday school class. "It's duality. And no, I'm not your guy. I don't know what Una told you."
"Then you're on the other side? That's duality for you, Nick. Like President Bush. Either you're with us or you're with the terrorists."
"Are you terrorists? Is that what this is about?" Nick got right in Gem's face.
"No, Nick. We're not here to spread terror. Some other things maybe, but we're not anything to fear. We're like you. We're opening our eyes and realizing there's more to the world than what we thought there was. And we're helping others to see. I'll be doing a little bit of that at your school next Monday."
So Steve Gem was the guest speaker that Mr. Malone had lined up for his history classes and for the GSA meeting on Monday. Nick was still unnerved about how connected events had become, but he was beginning to expect it. This drifter who'd appeared out of the woods in just the spot that Nick happened to have crashed his truck was going to be making a special guest appearance in Nick's school in three days.
"Special guest appearance in my life is more like it," Nick muttered. He hadn't meant to say it out loud and he looked up to see Gem's reaction.
Gem was gone. A spotlight beam shone down from the road above.
"Police! Are you okay down there?"
Tina Cronin didn't get a chance to talk to Nick until Sunday night. She spent the last Saturday of her summer vacation helping Georgia Tabbot sort and organize her late uncle's artwork for a hastily organized posthumous auction and gallery opening.
Richard Gem was organizing the whole thing. He came and went, returning from town on the back of a Harley Davidson ridden by a man that Tina recognized as the owner of the little skateboard shop down on South Main Street. Tina didn't hang out there, but a couple of freshmen she knew from the Gay/Straight Alliance were regulars.
There were other people too. People that Nick would have described as weird if he were trying to stay polite for Tina's sake. She knew he'd have used different words around his buddies.
The people that Richard Gem brought were there to look at the artwork, and to touch it of course. The artist, John Crowell, had painted canvases black and drawn pictures in textured layers that could be felt even if they could not be seen.
The visitors debated the subject matter of the paintings.
"I'm not sure. An animal, maybe? A dog?"
"I think this one is a flower."
Richard Gem led them from canvas to canvas, and he left Tina and Georgia to do most of the actual work of cleaning up the barn. Georgia didn't seem to mind. There was excitement building among the visitors, and it suddenly looked like next weekend's opening was going to be a big event seemingly out of nowhere.
"I've never been part of anything like this." Georgia told Tina. "I just wish Uncle John could be here. He worked so hard, and never had any recognition. And now this."
"I wish he was here too." Tina suddenly turned away, fighting back tears. She didn't know if John Crowell wanted recognition for his artwork. She doubted it. He'd probably had plenty of chances to sell it.
"Titles!" Richard Gem marched in through the barn's back door and right up to Tina and Georgia.
"You need to come up with titles for all the paintings," he explained. "People want to know what they are buying."
Georgia looked from Tina to Richard, suddenly overwhelmed. She wasn't as skilled as Tina or some of the visitors at figuring out what was depicted on each canvas.
"Oh, I couldn't… Can't we just…"
Richard looked into Georgia's eyes and said with all sincerity, "We need to do it this way."
And Georgia smiled, suddenly inspired. "Monday. I have someone who will help me, but she's busy on the weekend. She can come Monday morning."
"That's gonna make us short on time," Richard warned.
Tina stepped in. "I can help. I've only had one absence this year. I think a senior skip day is in order."
And it was settled. Tina and Georgia got back to work hauling boxes and sweeping while Richard continued his marketing pitch to the growing crowd.
Tina worked with Georgia well into Saturday night and then traveled up to Woonsocket on Sunday for an away track meet.
On Saturday night, Nick got a visit from Danforth's Chief of Police.
Chief Collins went out of his way to explain to Nick's dad that his son was not under arrest, was not under suspicion, and was not in any way in trouble with the law. He just needed an hour or two of the boy's time, and he was hoping he might catch him at home.
Of course, Chief Collins knew that Nick was a lot more likely to be stuck at home on this particular Saturday night, given that Nick's truck was totaled.
"Ride up front, Son. That way I don't have to walk around and let you out." Nick didn't feel like he had much choice, but he knew that Chief Collins and his dad were buddies going back to their high school days. They'd played shortstop and third base on the Danforth High baseball team, and the team photo and state championship trophy was enshrined on the mantel in Nick's living room.
"Just don't get totally stupid," Nick's dad had told him the first time he'd ever handed Nick the car keys. "Chief's got your back, long as it's nothing that's gonna make the papers, son. You're fortunate, Nick. Don't forget it."
Nick sure wasn't forgetting it right now.
"We're not going to the station?" Nick asked, as the cruiser turned away west on River Street, heading out of town.
"No need of that, Son. Just wanted a chance to chat. But it's a busy night, so we're gonna chat while I get a little bit of work done."
But the Chief wasn't actually interested in chatting about anything more than a recap of Danforth High's football season as they drove out to where the houses thinned out and the woods grew thick. The Chief's cell rang. His ringtone was the music from some old cop show.
"Yeah, what’s the problem? What? Who? Fuck it. Okay, put her out of the way, and I'll talk with her. No, nothing like that. Just stall, okay? I'm two minutes out."
"Sorry. Business," Chief muttered to Nick. Nick just nodded to reassure the Chief that he wasn't about to ask any questions.
They almost missed the turn, and Chief swung the wheel hard into the powerline access road. The gate was open and there Nick could see flashing lights up ahead.
"Stay out of the way and keep your fucking mouth shut, Son." The friendly laid-back tone was completely gone. The Chief pulled up behind another cruiser and got out and walked right into an argument between an old woman and one of Danforth's patrol officers.
"Mrs. Franz. What exactly is the problem?" Chief dismissed his officer with a nod.
"Chief Collins, you know damn well what the problem is. You're ignoring a bunch of constitutional rights with these sweeps. Ignoring common decency while you're at it." Nick stood a few feet back as the woman walked right up to confront the Chief.
"You can't just round people up without cause! It's a violation of…"
Collins had Mrs. Franz's face down on the hood of his cruiser so fast and smooth that he almost looked gentle doing it. Almost. If you ignored the pain written in her face.
He leaned down as if to whisper in her ear, controlling her effortlessly with one hand that gripped both of her wrists against her back. Mrs. Franz was gray-haired, but neither small nor infirm. But the resistance she offered was almost beneath the notice of the Chief.
"Federal employee my ass!" Collins sneered. "Glorified temp worker and nothing more is what you are. Now I want you to think a bit. Think about your mother. What's she? Like ninety-nine or something? Just you in that house to take care of her? What happens when something goes wrong? Who gets called? That's right. My men. Now go the fuck home, and think that over before you decided to stir shit up."
Collins stepped back and one of his officers stepped in to lead the sobbing Mrs. Franz back to her car.
"I'd tell you I was sorry you had to hear that, Son." Collins turned his attention back to Nick. "But I'm really not. I wanted you to see what goes on out here."
He walked as he spoke and Nick followed. Ahead, four men were kneeling on the dirt, handcuffed. Nick recognized Steve Gem immediately.
"We do our best to help out folks who've fallen on hard times around here, Son. But you know that one town can't do everything for everyone. Sometimes people need a little encouragement to move along. For the good of the community."
Nick listened and said nothing. Collins didn't expect him to say anything.
Collins turned to face Nick.
"You ever heard of good cop and bad cop, Son? Sure you have. See, there's not really two kinds of cops. But I can tell you, son, there are two kinds of people in this world. There are the people who have to deal with good cop, and there are the people who have to deal with bad cop. You've been very fortunate, Son. Fallen into that first category all your life. One of my men stops you? We'll do what we can for you. Not gonna get away with murder, Son, but we don't mind helping you out a bit if the situation can get resolved. That's good cop, Son. Some people, like these sorry sons of bitches, like Mrs. Franz back there, they don't get to deal with good cop. And that's what has people worried lately, Son. There are people in this town who know you, Nick Lorem, and they're worried that you're slipping into that second category. They're worried you're going to turn into one of those people who has to deal with bad cop. You understand me, Son?"
"Yes, sir." Nick answered just the way his Dad would have expected him to.
"That's good, son. Because we were gonna show you a little bit of what it's like."
The cops standing over the four handcuffed men had their nightsticks out.
"But I don't think it's necessary for a good boy like you to see that. Let's get you home, Son."
Nick didn't see what happened next, but it was a slow walk back to the Chief's cruiser, and Nick got to hear plenty.
Sunday night, Nick finally reached Tina on the phone and they compared notes.
"The same last name. You figure they're brothers or something?" Tina asked.
"I don't know." Nick hadn't told Tina all the details about his talk with Chief Collins. He'd just made a vague mention of the police giving him a lecture. He didn't know whether Steve Gem was in jail or in the hospital, and he didn't mention that to Tina either.
"You need to keep an eye on him for me. I'm out tomorrow."
"Hey, I don’t need to do anything, Tina." Nick figured that would make her mad, but Tina spoke in the same level tone.
"I need you to do this, Nick. Please. Just go to the meeting. You can sit in the back. I just want to know what he has to say."
In the end, Nick reluctantly agreed.
Tina set the alarm like it was a school day, and drove over to Willow Street while the sky was still dim with early-morning fog. She pulled into the driveway and saw Georgia Tabbot running straight for her, wild-eyed, panicked.
Then Tina saw the reason.
Smoke and flames burst through the roof shingles of John Crowell's barn.
TO BE CONTINUED
Story and image by Rick Silva, Copyright 2010