Prologue

 

            Alone in the pool with Sally Richards.

          Was this it?

            I ripped my trunks off and threw them out the second she suggested the idea of skinny-dipping.  Her stripping was a little more dramatic.  Wasnít everything with women, though?  She made me stay in the middle of the pool while she undid her fluorescent pink top, untying the straps around her neck with a deliberate pace, like she was unlocking the mysteries of the universe.  She let it fall into the water and float away on the same waves that now bounced her chest up and down on its surface.

            And oh, that evil smile.

            She pointed down, and immediately I went under water to see the rest of the show.  The bottoms came off even more slowly as her dark red fingernails slipped them down her legs inch by savory inch.  Now completely naked, she leaned back against the side of the pool, making no effort to hide anything.

            Just twenty minutes ago the waves were rocking because of six teenagers playing chicken.  Jack and Brunno won, of course.  They always won.  I had Sally on my shoulders and Johnny had Heather on his.  Brunno always had Jack because neither one of them ever had a girlfriend.  They pushed the girls off our shoulders with relative ease and were never smart enough to understand that if you played the game right and made it look like it was a struggle, maybe the girlsí tops would accidentally get caught around a random finger or hand and just pop off.  Brunno would never get that concept.  He was a bull and charged through life with no regard for consequence.  Jack couldíve and shouldíve gotten it because he was a couple of wavelengths above Brunno, but to that point he as well never used his imagination.

            But it was just me and Sally now.  Jack and Brunno probably went for beer.  Heather and Johnny went in the house to do whatever it was they did when they were alone.  And now I found myself swimming toward the ultimate treasure, thinking all the while what a great way to start off the senior yearódoing a girl Iíd only dated for the last two weeks of the summer, in Heather Hawthorneís pool of all places.

            I reached my destination and stayed under until my lungs made me go up.  Before I could gasp for air, her lips were on mine, arms pulling me toward her, chest pressed against mine, nipples poking me.  Her entire body was warm under the water, almost hot, and I could feel her breath quicken in my ear.

            She pulled back from my lipsóthe evil smile filling her face againóand disappeared under water.  I stood there like the king of the world, wondering what I had done to deserve this great end of the summer surprise.  A rustling in the bushes thirty feet from the pool distracted my thoughts.  I squinted but saw nothing.  The bushes moved again.

            "Whoís there?"

            The rustling stopped, and started again when the laughter burst out.  It was Jack and Brunno, getting a peek at the action.

            "We just want to watch, Tone," Jack said still giggling like a first grader.  "Weíll be quiet, scoutís honor

            "Yeah we just wanna-wanna-watch," Brunno sputtered.

            Sally was still under water, but I knew she would be up for air any second.  "No, goddamn it, you canít watch.  Get the hell out of here!"

            Sally rose to the surface and looked around.  "Are you talking to someone?"

            Before I could say a word, laughter from the bushes erupted again.  Jack and Brunno emerged from the shrubbery, Jack holding my trunks on the end of a stick.

            "Looks like somebody lost their drawers."

            Sally slithered off like a water moccasin under the waves, collecting both hemispheres of her bikini and dressing herself under water before she came up at the shallow end of the pool.  "Youíre all a bunch of pigs, you know that?"

            Brunno let out an oinking sound, proud of the statement.

            Sally threw the towel around her bodyóthe body that was just around mineóand disappeared into the Hawthorne mansion.

            I looked at Jack and Brunno who were still both smiling like they got the last ride of the day at an amusement park.  "You guys are dumb asses, you know that?"

            "We know," Jack assured me and heaved my trunks through the air.

            They landed on my head, completely covering my face.  A fitting end to the summer.  I stood there with the cold trunks covering my head.  They almost sizzled against the heat of my skin and the temperature of my teenage blood.

            I wasnít ready for books and tests and asshole teachers.  It seemed like summer just started yesterday.  School lay not a day ahead of me, but in that depressing thought there was some hope.  We were seniors.  I looked forward to the fringe benefits of such status and took comfort in knowing that nine months from now it would all be over.

            I knew that a great deal of that time would be spent chasing the girl that had just slipped through my fingers.  But what I didnít know was that in the coming days I would meet the best friend I would ever have.  And his tale would take us far from the beat of high school hallways into a world of mystery and danger, where agents from the government didnít wear plastic ID cards on their suit coats and serial killers werenít just faces on CNN, where the human mind was as powerful as it was kind, and where the extraordinary gifts of one person were both a blessing and a curse.  This is his story.

           

 

 

Chapter 1

Lunch Geek

 

I

            The first day of school was always the worst day of the year for me.  All of the freedoms of summer were stolen after eight hours of sleep by the looming threat of books and homework.  It honestly made me sick to my stomach.  There was only one ray of hope through that drab monotonyówhen we finally got through to the other side of the calendar, when spring finally decided to spread her wings, she brought with her the greatest game that one could ever hope to be a part of.

            My name is Tony Falcone and back in those days I was the starting catcher for the Collingston High School Silver Streaks.  That first year at the high school I beat out two seniors for the starting spot.  They were not happy, let me tell you.  I think Coach Demera gave me the job because he liked my work ethic.  I had a decent arm as a freshman, but my greatest asset was my bat.  I had hit over four hundred for the last three seasons, and if everything went right Iíd do it again.  No big time colleges were after me for one reasonI was only five ten.  If I were four inches taller, Iíd be telling them where I was going.

            Coach Demera had led the Silver Streaks to the state playoffs for the last ten years.  He has never won the big one though.  Even though he hits the sauce a little too much, heís the best coach Iíve ever been around.  There wasnít anything the man couldnít teach about the game.  Only one thing was keeping us from a state title that yearópitching.  Donít get me wrong: weíve got guys that can throw, but we just donít have that one guy that can really go out on the hill and just shove it up the other teamís ass.

            My friend Johnny the Killer was our ace.  Killer, you say?  His last name was really Killman, and the rest will be obvious as the story goes.  He threw in the mid-eighties, nice breaking ball, good control.  The only problem wasóand you can tell this by his nameóhe doesnít quite have what you call the pitcher mentality.  Example.  Last year in the first game of the regional, Johnny got thrown out of the game in the first inning for arguing about balls and strikes.  I did my best to befriend the umpire and smooth him over, but when a guy says, "fucking bullshit" on the mound, itís hard to defend him.  After Johnny we didnít have anybody that stood out.  A couple guys threw around eighty, but thatís batting practice when you get to the playoffs.  Coach Demera had a knack for developing pitchers.  I hoped heíd find a diamond in the rough.

            Collingston High was a massive structure, taking up two and a half city blocks lengthwise and a half a block widthwise.  The outer walls were made of millions of crimson bricks.  A clock tower stood above one of the entrances that joined the main part (containing most of the classrooms) to the second part of the building that housed the gym, pool, weight room, field house, and a few technological classrooms like computer drafting and shop.

            The floors in the building were a gray marble, shined to perfection nightly by the janitors.  I imagine it had been that way since the building was built in the 1930s.  There was never any gum or dirt in the hallways, not at the beginning of the day anyway.

            The first day of school was the same as it always was.  Opening assembly, where we got to hear the new policies of what was and wasnít allowed. No ball caps during school hours, because the junior gangbangers couldnít wear them the right way; girls couldnít have their thongs showing out the back of their jeans because one of us sex-crazed males might decide to rape her; and this one was the best: everyone had to wear a name tag so the prison guards could bust us easier, and somehow it would feel like the Leave It To Beaver days, where everybody knew everybody elseís name.  The nametag thing never went over.  I threw mine in the garbage one second after it was issued to me, as did half of the student body.  They threatened detentions and suspensions and all that shit.  At first they carried through with it; but as time went on, it took up a lot of energy enforcing something that was just plain stupid, so the nametags were scrapped.  We inmates finally won a battle.

Was my take on school harsh? You be the judge. My limited understanding of the word "school" was that it was a place where a person went to get educated. To expand his intelligence and to find what he was supposed to do in life. A place to share ideas. The brick building I attended is getting ready to put in metal detectors at the entrances, had two full-time cops present at all times, and a principal that hated teenagers, much less the ideas that fly from their mouths. It had a no-hat policy. It sanctions anyone who shows any kind of physical affection for another. Hats and hugs are deadly these days. It is a place with no religion, no individuality, and no choices. And once you are there, you become part of a system, much like that of another state institution.

II

The cafeteria was in the basement, under the main part of the building.  It was very large, holding up to fifteen hundred students a time.  In the past, school dances and even large city meetings were held there.

            At lunch I sat with Johnny and some other baseball players.  Johnny proceeded to tell us how he banged the bejesus out of Heather the night before.  The messed up thing about it was she sat at our table.  We would always get there before her, so by the time she sat down, everyone had stupid little grins on their faces.  Heather was a real nice girl, and whether Johnny was screwing her or not, she would have been pissed to know he talked about her like that.

            Directly caddy-corner from us I noticed a nerd sitting by himself.  He didnít have a pocket protector or greased back hair with one wild strand sticking up, but you could tell he was a nerd.  He was timid and skinny.  He read a book while he ate.  Like we didnít do enough of that shit during class!  He never looked up from his plate.  He never responded to the clutter and noise that filled the cafeteria.  He never acknowledged people walking by and never made eye contact with anyone.

            I guess I wasnít the only one noticing the new geek.  Jack Rollings decided that on his way back from getting a pop, he would pay the new guy a visit.  He stopped and said hello.  The new guy just looked at him.  Jack called him a retard and took the guyís milk and poured it on his head.  Our whole table busted up in laughter except for Heather, of course, who only shook her head in disgust.  I watched the guy use his napkins to clean the milk out of his hair.  The geek never got angry.  He never cried or ran to tell one of the prison guards.  His face never turned red out of embarrassment, although it should have.  After cleaning his hair and clothing up, he even went and got more napkins to clean the milk that was splattered on the table and floor.

Over the next week I watched as Johnny and the boys would knock his tray off the table, or spit in his food, or blow their noses with his napkin, or take his books and slide them half way across the cafeteria floor.  It got to the point where people moved to our side of the lunchroom to see the guy get picked on.  People would keep one eye on their food and one eye on the table caddy-corner from us.  It became the lunch hour entertainment.  Even underclassmen were starting to join in on the antics, young punks that would never have thought about picking on someone.  I sat down everyday wishing that this guy would move to the other side of the cafeteria away from us, or better yet, not show up at all.  You heard people in class talk about what happened to the lunch geek today.  Some people felt sorry for him.  Some people thought it was a matter of time before he either exploded against this torture (and believe me, as a teenager the worst thing that can happen to you is have your ego damaged or destroyed), or he would be the guy you always heard about killing himself just before prom or graduation.  Iím sure the masses would mourn, but only for a day or so, and then it would be on to someone else. 

            Iím also not sure what I thought about him.  He was just some fragile little book geek.  You never saw him out, or anything.  I knew he worked after school being a janitorís helper or some shit, but that was it.  That was all I knew about him.  But there was something about the guy that I couldnít put my finger on.  There was something about the way he carried himself.  He had what my grandpa would have called "the spark".

            The guy would always get the healthy mealósalads, applesauce, fruit, stuff like that.  He would always eat one thing at a time before he touched the next.  I remember my mom saying something when I was younger about that being a sign of a genius.

            The day came in the cafeteriaóthe day I knew would comeóthat Johnny and the boys would want me to pitch in with their antics.

            "I think you're up, Falcone," Johnny the Killer said.

            "Whatta ya mean, Iím up?" I said. 

            Johnny pointed with his fork as he chewed his food.  "The faggot janitor over there.  I think youíre the only one that hasnít got a piece of the action."

            The other guys at our table gave me some words of encouragement, or peer pressure, whichever you want to call it.  I picked up my tray and walked over to his table.  I watched the crowd as they watched me.  They stopped eating and drinking.  Some people were pointing, others were already laughing.  I looked down at my tray at the lasagna, can of pop, and garlic bread.  I felt a little drop of sweat run from my temple down the side of my cheek.  I got to his table, right next to him, holding the tray level with the top of his tray.  He knew I was there, but didnít look up.  I looked at my lasagna again, thinking it would be easy enough to smash it in the geekís face.  I knew everybody in the cafeteria was looking at me, I could feel the stares bearing down on me.  The geek continued to eat without acknowledging me.  I started for the lasagna with my right hand and then stopped.  Something popped into my head, a story weíve all heard in one form or another.  Mine came in the way of one of those sappy ass emails you get from time to time.

            As the story goes, some nerd freshman is carrying home all of his books, walking and struggling with the weight.  A popular person (weíll call him the jock) goes and offers to help the poor nerd.  The nerd accepts, and the two throughout their high school years become good friends, even though one is a nerd and the other is a jock.  At graduation, the nerd has to give a speech because he ends up being Valedictorian.  The nerd tells the story of how his good friend the jock helped him carry his books home four years earlier. Only thereís a twist.  The nerd was taking home his books because he didnít want his mom to have to clean out his locker after he killed himself over the weekend.  The moral of the story:  We never know just how much our actions will affect someone in the long run.  And no matter how untruthful or cheesy I thought the story was, I couldnít get it out of my head.

            I looked at the lasagna.

            Then at the nerd.

            Then at the crowd.

            "You mind if I sit down?" I said.

            "Go ahead," he said back.

            His voice was very soft; not afraid, but soft.  Some people when you talk to them have that crack in their voice, like theyíre so nervous to talk their brain short circuits and messes up their voice.  That wasnít the case with this guy.  He had a quiet way about him for sure, but he also had a presence.  I mean when I walked over to the guy, he had to be thinking the same old shit was coming.  But he didnít flinch.  His composure didnít change.  Either he didnít care or he was that secure.

            The first couple of minutes I sat there, there was nothing but silence between us.  The crowdís eyes were still anxious, waiting for me to do something.  Several minutes passed and when the crowd saw I wasnít going to humiliate the guy, boos began to sprout throughout the cafeteria.  Someone even threw an empty milk carton and hit me in the head.

            The guy just kept eating, never looking up at me.  I started to think this was a bad idea until I saw him do something that I hadnít noticed before.  A girl walked by and he looked up.  He watched her go all the way to the pop machines and back to her table.  Maybe this guy wasnít as abnormal as I thought.

            "Thatís Heather Hawthorne," I said to him.  "Sheís the captain of the cheerleading squad.  Real good looking, obviously.  Sheís Johnny the Killerís girlfriend."

            "Why do they call him the Killer?" the guy asked as he finally looked up from his plate.

            "Because if you so much as look at Heather, Johnnyíll kill ya."  When I said that, he cracked a smile.  We were making progress now.  In the days Iíd been watching him, I had never seen him smile.  He had a good smile.  Not that Iím queer or anything like that, but his smile made other people smile.  I was getting ready to give him the old twenty questions when the bell rang.

            "Nice talkiní to ya, man," I said.  "By the way, ya got a name?"

            "Roman," he replied.

            I shook his hand.  He had a nice firm grip.  I heard boos in the background again.

            As I watched him walk away, never did I think that that conversation would be the start of something that would change a lot of peopleís lives forever.

           

III

            The next day was no surprise.  The same old shit.  First hour I had PE.   Second hour was Government.  Third hour was English and so on.  High school was nothing more than repetition.  It was a lot like prison in that regard.  I guess the only difference was that in high school you got to go home at the end of the day.

            When I watched Roman at lunch, this time was no different.  Same healthy meal.  Never looking up as he ate.  Except for when Heather got up to get her pop.  The one thing at lunch that day that was different I guess, was that nobody went and picked on him

            After school I was having some severe problems getting my caróa nineteen eighty-seven Ford Pinto, painted baby blueóstarted.

            "You stupid piece of shit.  God damn this thing.  Start, you son of a bitch." As I slammed my head into the steering wheel, I saw Roman walking down the sidewalk next to the parking lot.  All of the sudden my cursing stopped.  I just watched him.

            "Knock the floorboard out so you can be like Fred Flintstone," someone yelled as they passed by.

            "Screw you, asshole!" I yelled back.

            As Roman got closer to me, he started to slow down.  He held his head slightly tilted upward.  It was a warm day and the wind blew right in his face.  It was like he had nothing more to care about than the breeze in his face.  That might have been the point at which I started admiring this guy.  He was so different from me, yet at the same time I felt I had so much in common with him.  Roman got directly beside my car and glanced over at the situation as I spat out a few more choice words for the heap I called a car.

            "Turn your lights on," Roman said.

            "Lights?"

            "Your headlights; turn them on and then wait a minute or so," he replied.

            I really didnít know what the hell Roman was trying to do, but I didnít have anything to lose so I humored him.  Of course I didnít wait a minute.  But I guess I waited long enough.  When I turned the key, my angel started right up.

            "Well Iíll be damned.  How the hellíd you do that?  Thatís outstanding," I said.

            "Turning your lights on will some times get the electricity running through.  You probably need a new battery or a new alternator," he said and then walked away.  I pulled up beside him as he got to the end of the parking lot.

            "Hey, can I give ya a lift?"

             "No thank you."

  I just sat there for a while and watched him walk down Stephenson Street until he got so far away there was nothing left of him but a dot on the horizon.  I turned the opposite direction and headed for home.

IV

           Later that night Roman mopped the floor of the hallway next to a row of lockers as Heather walked by.  She politely went around the place where he already mopped.  Roman glanced up but did not make eye contact with her.  As he got to the row of lockers she went down, his mop started to slow.  Roman couldnít help but stare down the long row of pale colored lockers at her.

            As she opened her locker, an object fell out and crashed to the floor scattering chaos through the lonesome hallways of the high school.  She knelt down and picked up one of the ceramic pieces, rubbing it with her hands.  Roman stopped mopping and put his full attention on her.  She picked up several of the pieces trying to put them back together, like an infant trying to put a square into the shape of a circle.  She stood back up slowly and looked at Roman.

            "My grandmother gave me it when I was four years old.  It was a Precious Moments cheerleader.  They donít even make this one anymore.  I never used to bring it to school.  But when she passed away I brought it here because it me made me feel closer to her.  That probably sounds stupid."

            "Not at all," Roman said.

            Johnny the Killer walked up.

            "What are you doing?  Iíve been waiting out there for ten minutes," he said.

            "I just broke the cheerleader my grandma gave me," she answered looking down at the shattered pieces.

            Johnny looked down at the mess on the floor.  "Well donít worry about it, the janitor will clean it up.  Iíll buy you a new one; letís go, the Vette is out there running."  Johnny didnít realize that the janitor he spoke of was the one he had been picking on for the last eleven days.

            Heather looked at the broken pieces of the cheerleader not wanting to leave them.  Another minute went by and she grabbed her jacket out of the locker and slowly shut the door.  "Iím sorry for the mess, but heís my only way home."  Roman just nodded and out she went to the silver Corvette.

           

V

            Friday.  All of the cheerleaders were dressed in their outfits and the football players with their jerseys.  Fridays were different than the rest of the week.  Especially on game days.  Especially when it was the first home game day.  People werenít so lethargic.  Even the prison guards were in a better mood.  It also helped that we were on a shortened schedule because of the first pep rally.

            Ten minutes before the first bell rang Heather walked to her locker, unlike her other cheerleader friends who were skipping around the joint.  She opened her locker but didnít notice it at first.  She reached in to put one of her books on the top shelf of the locker and there it was.  She took the book back down and stared in amazement.  The cheerleader she had smashed into a million pieces was standing eye level right in front of her.  A tiny string was tied around its waist and the other end of the string was tied to the back of the locker.  She undid the string and put the cheerleader in her hand, turning it over and over.  The missing little fragments she thought she would see or feel were not to be found.  The little statue looked as if it had just come out of the box.  A smile brightened her face.  And as the bell rang, she wrapped the little string around the cheerleaderís waist and stood it gently back in her locker.

            By this time I was spending the last half of the lunch period sitting at Romanís table.  It was curiosity that kept me coming back.  We would talk about numerous things.  Actually I did most of the talking, and Roman would comment here or there.  He made me feel so stupid sometimes ícause anything I would bring up, he would know a lot more about it than I did.  Sometimes heíd get to talking so far over my head that I couldnít even converse with him.  I couldnít really tell if he enjoyed my company or if he was just humoring a dumb ass.  He never told me to leave.  So I guess that was a good sign

            Anyway, I started that day at lunch as I always did sitting at the table with my friends, caddy-corner from Romanís table.  We were already seated and eating when Heather came up.  Johnny would always turn his head toward her and make some stupid kissy face.  Every time, without fail, Heather would stop briefly and give him a quick kiss on the cheek.  It had been that way for as long as I could remember.  But not this time.  This time she didnít even look at Johnny.  She passed him by like he was invisible and went over to Romanís table.  The guys at the table looked at each other and then at Johnny.  You have to understand that in four years of high school she had sat at this very table every day.  So when something as little as this happened everyone was on edge, even maybe a little excited.  School is so boring that people just look for something to break the monotony.

            As Heather sat down next to Roman, Johnnyís face went from kissy-kissy to pissy-pissy.  He was obviously not happy.  I had seen the stare he was giving Roman all too many times; some blows usually accompanied it to the head and stomach of the person it was aimed at.  This was not good.  Iíd seen Johnny beat the ever-living dog shit out of countless victims in the past.  You donít earn the rank of Killer just because your last name is Killman.  Nobody ever came close to whippiní him.  I canít even remember a time when somebody got a good lick in on him.  I started to feel a little bit scared for Roman, but at the same time something told me that he would be all right.

            Roman looked at Heather as she took the seat next to him, which was more than he ever did for me.  I guess you really couldnít blame the guy; I mean here was a girl that every person in the school with a penis thought about at least ten times a day.  She was the real deal.  Guys never really talked to her though, on account of what could happen to them if Johnny found out.

            "I hope you donít mind if I sit next to you. That was a very nice thing you did for me.  It must have taken you hours to put it back together.  I donít have the words to thank you.  How did you get it back together?"

            "I used ceramic glue," Roman said.  "It didnít take as long you would think.  Besides I like puzzles."

            "Why would you do something like that for me?" she asked.

            "The look in your eyes when it broke.  I know the feeling," Roman replied.  "I finished with my mopping ahead of schedule, and had some time to kill."

            "You donít even know me," she said.

            "I know you.  Your name is Heather," Roman said.

            "Whatís yours?í

            "Roman."

            "Thatís it, just Roman?"

            "Swivel," he responded.

            "Thatís a very unique name, Roman Swivel."

            Johnny watched their conversation for several minutes but finally saw enough and jetted out of his chair on a straight line for Romanís table.  He grabbed Heather under her arm and lifted her up out of the chair.  His knuckles turned white from grabbing her so hard.  Roman looked at The Killerís hand but remained seated.  Heather wiggled her way free and WHAP!  The cafeteria turned into a morgue.  You could have heard a mouse fart on the other side the room.  Heather slapped him so hard the gum he was chewing flew out of his mouth and landed on my lap.

            "Asshole!" she yelled as she picked her bag up and walked away.

            Johnny just stood there staring at Roman.  Roman looked back at him but at the same time took a bite of his applesauce.  It was almost like Roman dared him to do something.  Iíll tell you this: if it were any other guy in that chair, he would be cleaning his pants out instead of shoveling applesauce into his mouth.

            "Iíll deal with you later janitor boy," Johnny said.

            With that, the cafeteria turned back into a beehive.  I sat there stunned for a second or two and then picked the gum off my crotch.  It was like nothing had ever happened when I next talked to Roman.  I didnít bring it up and neither did he.  I asked him if he was going to the football game.  He said he had to work, but told me to go to room 339 if I wanted.  That room was on the third floor right behind the football field.  I had a feeling that Roman would be watching the game from there.

            I sat in the pep rally thinking about how mad Johnny was and how Roman never lost his demeanor when Johnny came over to him.  It doesnít sound like a big deal but believe me it was.  You just donít fuck with Johnny the Killer.  He would get even with Roman.  Somebody had to pay for embarrassing him and it wasnít going to be Heather.

 

VI

            Game night.

            The sun had just set about forty-five minutes ago.  The air was crisp and clean.  If it hadnít been for the bright lights overlooking the field, you could have counted every star in the night sky.  I got there about an hour before game time.  You had to if you wanted a good seat.  I sat where I always did in the front row of the north end zone with the rest of the baseball players.  Coach Demera made it mandatory that we attend all home games and sit together.  It had been that way even before I got to high school.

            By halftime we were up a touchdown.  Johnny and a couple of the other guys went to sip on a whiskey bottle out in the parking lot.  I, on the other hand, was going to talk to Roman.  I could see a couple of rooms on the third floor of the school had their lights on.  Room 339 was one of them I imagined.

            When I entered the room I saw Roman on his hands and knees.  He wore dingy gray pants and a shirt that matched.  There was a nametag on his chest that read: Roman Student Janitor.  One of the desks was overturned and Roman scraped gum off of the bottom side with a putty knife.  He worked fast.  Once one desk was done he went directly to the next without hesitation.

            "Christ man, do they make you do this kind of work all the time?" I asked.

            "When youíre low man on the totem pole you really donít have a choice.  Besides this is great work.  You should see some of the toilets Iíve cleaned in the past."

            "Why in the hell donít you get a job waiting tables or something?  This work sucks!"

            "The money is good and I like the hours," Roman responded.

            "What are your hours?"

            "Seven to midnight."

            To tell you the truth, I donít think Roman really liked the hours or the pay for that matter.  I think he liked what he did.  Cleaning things up.  Turning chaos into order.  Another sign of a genius my mom used to say.  Roman was a neat freak, and this kind of work, believe it or not, was a stress reliever for him.  Not that Roman ever showed any signs of stress, but that was my take on the situation.  Later I would find out that was not the only reason he worked that god-forsaken job.

            "Pretty good game huh?" I asked.

            "I havenít been watching but Iíve been listening.  It sounds like our defense is playing better than they have been," Roman said as he continued to scrape.

            It kind of surprised me that he said that about the game.  If I had guessed, I would have told you that Roman wasnít into sports.  But he was right on the money about our defense.  If our "D" played well, we were in every game.

            The PA announcer came on during halftime and told the crowd that the cheerleaders would now be performing their routine at mid-field.  When Roman heard this, the scraping stopped.  He went over to the window and watched.

            "You need to forget about her, man," I said, looking on with Roman.

            "Why?" he asked back, still caught up in the routine.

            "Sheís taken first of all.  If Johnny thinks you are after her, heíll kick your ass up and down that hallway and use your head for a mop.  Believe me I know.  Iíve been friends with him since first grade and heís the baddest son of a bitch there is, in this school anyway."

            "Iím not after his girl.  I just think sheís nice," Roman replied.

            "Nice?  Sheís the most popular girl at Collingston High.  Every guy wants her and every girl wants to be her.  You donít get that status by being fucking nice, Roman," I said.

            Romanís eyes were still locked on her. "I think itís just fancy wrapping paper."

            "Anyway, Scott Jakowskiís parents are out of town and heís throwing one hell of a bash after the game."

            Roman went back to his scraping.

            "You should come.  Everybodyís going to be there.  Heíll have food and shit, even a keg if thatís your thing."

            "I have to work."

           I grabbed a pen and paper off the desk in the front of the room. "Only ítil midnight, right?  The party will just be getting started.  Look, Iíll write down his address and you can decide later.  He lives on the lake, so you might want to throw on a sweatshirt or something."

            I set the piece of paper down next to where Roman was working.  He didnít look up, but continued to scrape the gum off another desk.  I headed back down to the field to catch the second half.

            We ended up winning the game by a touch down and just like Roman said our defense was the reason.  They ran two interceptions back for touchdowns.

 

VII

            When I got to Scottyís house, there were already people there.  He had a decent-sized back yard that sloped down toward the lake.  At the far end of the yard were stairs that led down to the dock.

            By midnight the back yard was packed.  There must have been two hundred people and at least half of them were girls.  Tonight might be my lucky night.  Sally was in attendanceóthe one I almost had in the poolóand if things went my way, we would finish where we left off.

            Scotty was passed out at his own party.  Not shocking though, he could never hold his liquor.  Most everybody was outside, but there were a few guys in Scottyís kitchen playing the Century Clubóa drinking game in which you took a shot of beer every minute for a hundred minutes.  It doesnít sound that bad because itís beer youíre shooting, but it adds up to almost nine beers in an hour and forty minutes.  The majority of people get so wasted they canít finish.  Like our friend Billy over there.  They were on their seventieth shot, but Billy wasnít going to make it to eighty.  He kept cussing at the timekeeper because he couldnít believe the next minute was up.  Iíve been there.  After about an hour of playing, what at first seems like a long minute turns into a millisecond between shots.

            Billy, on his seventy-seventh shot, fell backward out of his chair and slammed to the kitchen floor.  As he went he knocked a bottle of whiskey off the table and needless to say it shattered all over.  Billy was out cold.  The guys he was playing with laughed so hard they started to cry.  Sam Peterman took a pitcher of beer and started to pour it on Billyís head.  This really broke up the table, and even I started to laugh.

            Outside the music was blaring.  People were dancing.  Johnny was making some under-classmen do keg stands.  Heather was over talking to her friends, ignoring him.  Evidently they still had not made up from the incident at lunch.  Johnny was more drunk than usual because of it.

            Around 2 AM I ran over to the bushes next to the stairs that went down to the dock.  The last Jack and Coke I had didnít go down real smooth and I was ralphing it up with what felt like my intestines.  I must have been bent over those bushes for a good twenty minutes or so.  I could hear people laughing and shit behind me.  As I looked up in between vomits, I glanced down at the dock

            "Iíll be damned."

            Roman sat Indian style at the end of the dock with his head tilted back and the September breeze blowing against his face.  He was little against the size of the lake and even smaller against the star-filled sky.  As I collected myself from puking and wiping my face off with a couple of leaves, I started down the stairs.

            There were a lot of those goddamn stairs, and I must have missed the last two because all of a sudden I was hurtling through the air heading face first for the lake.  Without breaking his Native American sitting posture Roman stuck out his arm and stopped my fall.  I did slam hard against the dock though.

            "Jesus Christ," I said.  "Thanks for grabbing me."

            "No problem," Roman replied.

            "How long have you been here?" I asked, catching my breath.

            "About an hour I suppose," Roman answered.

            "Why didnít you come up with everyone else?" I asked back.

            "And leave all this?" Roman said as he waved his hand toward the lake.

            "No offense to nature Roman, but Iíve got a piece of ass waiting for me up there.  Are you gonna stay down here or what?"

            Roman nodded.  "Here, you might need this."  He pulled out a stick of gum and placed it in my hand.

            "Thanks, Iíll tell Heather youíre down here."  I started up the stairs not knowing why I was going to tell Heather that Roman was on the dock.  I still thought he should stay away from her, but I guess I felt sorry for him being down there all by himself.  Then again it might have just been Jack Danielís filling my head with stupid ideas.

            When I got back up to Scottyís back yard, the party was still going.  The music was still blaring, but it didnít have the attention it once did.  Some people had left by this time.  Others were just passed out in the yard.  It was like somebody came through with a machine gun and just leveled half the people at the party.  Johnny was passed out too, with a bottle of Jack Danielís in his hand, and his head using a rock for pillow.  Most important though my piece of ass was still coherent.  Well maybe not coherent, but she wasnít asleep.

            Sally was over talking to Heather and the rest of them.  Man was she wasted.  Swaying back and forth and shit.  I had to hurry before she bit the dust.  As I grabbed her arm, she fell to her knees laughing.

            "Come on letís go," I said as I picked her up off the ground.  Her legs were jello.

            "Where we goiní?" she asked as she tried to look at me.  You know what I mean?  That look drunk people give you.  Theyíre looking right at you but their eyes arenít focusing or something.  Anyway I told her we were going home (which if home was to Scottyís basement then I guess I was telling the truth).  I picked her up over my shoulder and turned to face Heather.

            "By the way, Romanís down on the dock"

            "He is?"

            I started to carry Sally off but stopped.  "Yeah, heís down there counting stars or some shit."

            Heather immediately headed for the dock.  She made it down a little easier than I did.  Roman was in his own little world looking up at the stars.

            "Do you mind if I join you?" Heather asked as she already started to sit.

            "Please,"Roman said as he looked up at her.

            She sat down next to him Indian style as well.  Her leg lay next to his.  Roman continued to look up at the stars.  Heather wrapped both of her arms around her chest like she needed a hug to stay warm.  Roman noticed, took off his flannel, and put it over her shoulders.

            "Itís a little chilly isnít it?"

            "A little, but Iím so warm blooded the cold doesnít really bother me.  Youíre only as cold as you tell yourself anyway."

            "Is that so?  What are you doing down here by yourself anyway?"

            "Trying to look back in time," Roman said.

            "I donít understand."

            "You donít believe in time travel?"

            Heather said nothing, looking more confused.

            "The greatest thinker of our time thought it might be possible.  Time is relative."

            "Youíre losing me, Roman."

            Roman put his arm on her shoulder and pointed with his free hand toward the sky, moving his face close to hers.  Heather flinched, surprised at first at the closeness, but then welcomed it when he began to speak.

            "You see that star right there?  Thatís Sirius.  Itís the closest star to us besides the sun, which we can see in the northern hemisphere.  Itís only fifty-one trillion miles away.  How you see that star right this instant is how it existed over eight years ago.  How it actually looks now at this very instant we wonít know for another eight years, because thatís how long it takes for light to travel from it.  So, relatively that star is on a different time plane than us.  If you could travel at speeds approaching the speed of light to that star, you would have traveled eight years into the future."

            "Thatís amazing, a little over my head, but amazing nonetheless.  It is beautiful, all those stars so bright against the void."  Heather looked over, noticing the new face had not retreated from hers.  "Iíve always wanted to see a shooting star but never have."

            "What youíre looking for is a meteor and youíve come to the right spot," Roman responded.

            "What, you can control the sky as well as magically bring ceramic dolls back to life?"

            Roman smiled.

            "Most people havenít seen a shooting star because they havenít looked up at the sky for more than a couple seconds.  Theyíre too busy driving or talking; too busy to stop and live their life; instead they run through it.  The truth is, if you look for a couple of minutes on a clear night like tonight, chances are youíll see one."

            Roman had a way of convincing you of things.  I think it was the honesty in his voice.  So there they sat for more than ten minutes, looking and waiting. Not saying a word.  And sure enough there was a shooting star. And then another. And then several in a row.

            "Itís like fireworks," Heather said as she continued to watch.

            "Itís a meteor shower.  You just have to be patient," Roman said.

            "I should do this more often.  Itís very peaceful.  I can see why you like it so much.  How rude of me; do you want something to drink?"

            "No thanks, Iím not thirsty."

            "I mean do you want something to drink as in liquor?" Heather said back.

            "No thanks, I had a bad experience with liquor one time.  Whereís Johnny?"

            "Heís up there passed out in the yard like some sort of ape.  Isnít the first time and wonít be the last Iím sure.  I canít remember the last time he and I actually went on a date.  By ourselves I mean.  He cares more about being with these drunks than he does me," Heather replied.

            "Can I ask you something, Heather?"

            Heather nodded.

            "Why are you with him?"

            Heather paused a moment.  "Heís really not a bad guy.  I see a different side of him when itís just us.  Iíve been with him for so long.  Itís just habit now I guess.  I do care for him even though he is an ass a lot of the time."

           

VIII

            Me and Sally were going at it pretty good down in the laundry room in Scottyís basement.  Her kissing was as sloppy as hell, although I didnít mind in my drunken stupor.  Besides that, I had just finished puking so I was probably getting the better end of the deal.  I had her shirt and bra off and was working my way south when she started to talk.

            "Do you have something?"  She couldnít even open her eyes.

            "Yeah honey of course I do."

            "Put it on, I donít need any accidents."  I think thatís what she said anyway.  Her mumbling was getting worse.

            I grabbed my pants off the floor next to me and picked them up.  Shuffling through the first pocket and then the second, I remembered I left the damn things in my glove box.  I threw my jeans on and zipped up making sure not catch myself in the zipper.  I raced up the stairs stepping on an arm belonging to one of the passed-out drunks.  Bob Franklin maybe, hell I donít know, and neither did he at that point.

            "Hurry!" came the voice from down the stairs.

            I wasnít used to hearing that from a chic.  The sound of it gave me an adrenaline boost as I ran through the kitchen.  I was like an Olympic hurdler jumping over bodies and broken bottles, not for a medal but for something much sweeter.  Hurry was right.

            I got to the Pinto, got the protection, and as quick as I was out, I was back down in the basement.  As I turned the corner to the laundry room, the happy smile on both my faces melted away.  There she was, fully clothed and fully passed out.  The story of my life.  Not giving up all hope I gently shook her and said her name.  Nothing.  It was over and yet another condom goes back in the pocket.  Just at that moment I heard some drunk yelling something from outside.  I went to check it out.

            "Hey janitor boy!" came a yell from the top of the hill.  "I thought I told you to stay the hell away from her."

            Roman just looked at Johnny without responding.  Heather looked at Roman, then at Johnny, then back at Roman.  "We are just talking, Johnny."

            "That ainít good enough, Heather.  Iím going to show this scamp when I say something I mean it," Johnny garbled as he headed down the steps.

            Heather tried to reason with him on his way down, but this made Johnny more enraged.  He was very careful on hitting every step on the way down, but it was still apparent he was wasted.  When he got to the dock, he jumped toward Roman like a wrestler coming off the ropes.  Roman was too quick and moved out of the way.  Johnny went flying into the lake.  When he hit the water he swallowed a sizable amount.  He tried to swim but started coughing and gasping for air.  Then there was silence, the helpless splashes stopped, and Johnnyís head disappeared under the water, turning the waves into a smooth mirror again.

            "Heís drowning!" Heather screamed.

            By this time a crowd of people were at the top of the stairs looking down at the chaos below.  Roman dove off the dock into the cold fall water and went under to get him.  Twenty seconds passed and up came Roman with Johnnyís arm around his shoulder.  He swam carrying the seemingly lifeless corpse with him.  Heather helped Roman pull Johnny onto the dock.  The crowd including myself was now rushing down the stairs.

            "Heís not breathing, Roman!" Heather said.

            Roman put his ear to Johnnyís nose and mouth and then felt for his pulse.

            "Heís still got a pulse."  Roman said calmly.

            Roman tilted Johnnyís head back and squeezed his nostrils shut with the other hand.  He blew into Johnnyís mouth, paused and then again.  He did this three times and on the fourth Johnny spit up some water and began to cough.  The coughing turned into puking.  Roman turned him on his side so he wouldnít choke on his own vomit.  The crowd gathered around and as quickly as it started it was finished.  Heather was bent down holding Johnnyís head making sure he was all right.  The confusion started to diminish and before long Johnny was on his feet.  I looked around for Roman, but there was no sign of him.  He left the same way he came, without anyone noticing him.

           

 

IX

            Dreadful Monday came and as I sat in algebra class I stared into the nowhere that was everywhere but Algebra.  I was a senior in high school and should have been in trig or calculus, but instead I was in a class with a bunch of stupid freshman.  Whoís the stupid one really?  I spent three years of my life doing just enough to get by.  Why should I be shocked at the result?  The kicker of it all is that I was barely passing the class.  X equals five, y squared is 16, I donít know what the hell any of it means.  Donít care to either.  Itís my senior year, and Iíll be damned if Iím going to worry about anything.

            I glanced around the room noticing my other co-genius, Johnny, was nowhere to be found.  Not surprising really.  He might still be hung over from the party Friday.  Or maybe heís still getting his lungs pumped from almost drowning.  Probably the best explanation, and weíll never hear the truth from Johnny the Killer, was that he was embarrassed.  Embarrassed that Heather slapped him in front of the entire cafeteria.  Embarrassed that he charged and missed Roman.  Embarrassed that he fell into the water and was too drunk to swim.  Most of all though, he was embarrassed that the man he called the geek janitor saved his sorry hide.  Most people would be happy to just be alive, but Johnny would rather have drowned in that lake than have to face the crowd and especially the guy who saved him.  Iím quite sure that Roman was slowly moving up the long totem pole of Johnnyís shit list; in fact I wouldnít be surprised if he was already at the top.  The time was coming that I would have to stand up and take a side.  My father was always preaching at me from what Jesus said.  Something along the lines about a person shouldnít be lukewarm.  Eventually I got the drift.  A person has to choose one side or the other; there is no such thing as in between.

            "Tony," I heard a voice in the room say.

            Without hesitation I said, "Sorry, I donít know the answer."  That was my standard answer in a classroom and it wasnít a lie; I really didnít know.  It probably would have helped though if I were paying attention.

            The teacher, Mr. Buttworst, moved on to the next unsuspecting victim without getting in my shit.  He knew it was a waste of time.  I really liked the guy though; he was a student body favorite probably for several reasons.  He was burly with gray hair and an even grayer beard. He always wore a dress shirt and tie but at the same time wore jeans and cowboy boots.  His little beer gut hung out over the front of his belt.  He had real thick glasses and his breath smelled like an ashtray mixed with coffee grounds.  Very nice though, he never raised his voice or gave people detentions for not paying attention.  There were pictures of deer and ducks hanging on the wall.  Behind his desk toward the ceiling there was a banner that read: If guns cause crime, then matches cause arson.  He always brought a thermos to school and filled that thing up between every class.  The man could drink some coffee.

            The best thing about Mr. Buttworst was getting him off the subject.  He would give us the first few minutes of every class period to talk about whatever we wanted.  He was the mediator and the antagonist at the same time.  We would talk about everything from politics to cartoons and a lot of the time the bell would ring before we so much as opened our books.  If you got him real fired up, heíd drop a "hell" or  "damn" during our discussions.  Iím sure the rest of the prison guards wouldnít have approved, but thatís the reason students liked him the best.  He was real.

            It was common knowledge that his wife and daughter were killed in a car wreck some years ago.  You couldnít tell it now.  I really think he liked what he did and was pretty good at it.  He was one of those people that liked to get up in the morning, just the opposite of me I guess.

            Roman had Mr. Buttworst for 6th hour.  Not for Algebra, but for Calculus.  I couldnít even dream of what that would be about, but Roman was really good at it.  In fact I found out later that Roman never missed a single question on a quiz or test or final.  No one had ever done that in one of Mr. Buttworstís classes and he had been teaching for damn near twenty years.  It goes without saying that Roman was definitely one of his favorites.  Mr. Buttworst caught up with him one day after class

            "Roman?" Mr. Buttworst asked.

            "Yes, sir?" Roman replied.

            "I just wanted to congratulate you on the fine work youíve been doing in this class.  Right now youíre on pace to be the brightest student Iíve ever had and thereís been some mighty fine young men and women to have came out of here.  I was looking over some of your work, and it occurred to me that you havenít missed a single point on any problem.  I donít mean to pry, but have you taken a class like this before?"

            "No, sir," Roman replied.

            "I notice that during class you never open your book or take a single note down.  I checked with some of your other teachers and they all say the same thing.  Your schedule is as tough as they come but you have straight Aís.  Do you spend hours studying at home?"

            Roman broke eye contact with Mr. Buttworst and stared out the window.  "No sir, I donít.  Iíve got what some people would call a photographic memory."

            Mr. Buttworst stared at Roman for a minute and then smiled.  " A photographic memory is one thing when youíre memorizing vocabulary or spelling but this class is about comprehension, and you also do that very well."

            Roman looked back at him, his mouth locking away secrets in his head.

            "Thereís a competition in Chicago next Saturday for the top students in Illinois.  Itís sort of a scholastic bowl, if you will.  The winning school gets the high honor of being named champion.  The individual with the highest score gets a five thousand dollar scholarship for college, his or her picture in the paper, and gets to meet the governor.  What colleges have you applied to.

            Roman took a deep breath and then exhaled slowly.  "None sir."

            Mr. Buttworst took his glasses off and stared again at Roman.

            "You donít have to give me an answer today Roman, but I would like you to compete.  You should look into applying to some colleges also.  The mind is a terrible thing to waste you know."

            "Yes sir, Iíll let you know tomorrow."

           

 

X

            The next day at lunch me and Roman sat at our usual spot.  I noticed Johnny was not at lunch for the second day in a row.  I went over and asked Sam Peterman if he had heard from Johnny.  Come to find out Johnny had come down with the flu, at least that was what he was telling people.  I think it was bullshit.

            I brought up the fact that Homecoming was coming up and Roman should ask somebody to go.  He informed me that he had to work on the cleanup crew and dancing wasnít his thing anyway.  That had to suck.  I was taking Sallyóthe one I had in the basement that nightóand this time I was going to finish the deal.  At least I hoped.

            Heather came over and I knew I was now playing second fiddle.  As I listened to them talk I noticed the guys at the table were giving Roman dirty looks.  A few fingers pointed in our direction and whispers went in and out of ears.  Johnny had probably rallied the troops against Roman.  I knew the day wasnít far off when the shit would finally hit the fan.

XI

            Every Friday in Mr. Buttworstís class, the bearded teacher would put problems on the board and the first person to raise their hand and complete the problem would get extra credit points.  Basically, although Mr. Buttworst would never have said it, it was a way for dumb asses like myself to not quite redeem ourselves, but we could avoid flunking if we could answer even a few of the problems.

            This went on in all of his classes, even the higher calculus class that Roman was in.  Roman sat in the front row of the classóprobably because no one else wouldóand watched as Mr. Buttworst drew equations on the board.  Mr. Buttworst finished, and the pencils and calculators went to work.  Roman looked at the problem a couple seconds and then stared off into space.  There was no paper or pencil or calculator in front of him, only the blank desk that he scraped the gum off the night before.  His backpack sat on the floor unopened.

            Mr. Buttworst looked around the room as the keys of the scientific calculators were pounded over and over, and marks on paper were chiseled down and then erased.  People scratched their heads and chewed their gum.  Roman stared at the top of his empty desk.

            "Has anyone got it yet?" Mr. Buttworst asked.

            Roman turned and looked at Kathy a seat next to him.  Kathy was bright, and behind Roman the smartest person in the class, but on this occasion she was as lost as the rest of the flock.  Sam Peterman snapped his pencil in frustration and quit working on the problem.  Mr. Buttworst looked at Sam almost asking if he had got it, but then saw the pencil and thought differently.

            Mr. Buttworst looked around the room and saw Roman with his head down.

            "Do you have it, Roman?" he asked.

            Roman nodded, getting up from his chair.  Once at the board, he picked up the chalk and went through the equation without hesitation, circled the answer at the bottom, put the chalk down, and walked back to his seat.  Mr. Buttworst looked at Romanís work and then at his own notes, but before he could say it was right, the rest of the class was already copying what Roman had just written.  Satisfied that everyone had copied the solution, Mr. Buttworst erased it and wrote another problem on the board.

            Roman looked at it briefly, and then stared at his desk.  The calculators began to tap and type and papers rustled again.  Mr. Buttworst stared at Roman this time.  Roman looked up and made eye contact with him.

            "If anyone has the solution please raise your hand as soon as you have it," Mr. Buttworst said, his eyes maintaining contact with the reluctant janitor.

            Roman raised his hand.

            Roman went to the board and quickly solved the problem.  The class started copying before he was finished.  Mr. Buttworst checked his notes when Roman was finished and nodded his head.  Mr. Buttworst flipped to the back of the classís textbook, as he watched Roman walk back to his seat.  He picked out a problem from a chapter that this class would not get to before the end of the school year.  He went to the board and wrote it down.  The class looked around at each other in bewilderment.  The calculators were even silent.

            When Mr. Buttworst turned around Roman already had his hand up.  The result was the same.  The class started to copy the problem

            "Wait, wait, thereís no need to copy this, we might not get to this by the end of the year, I just wanted to see if.... anyone could get it," Mr. Buttworst said.

            The bell rang and the class began to file out.  Mr. Buttworst grabbed Romanís arm as he passed by.

            "Did you get your permission slip signed Roman?"

            "I have a little problem with that day, sir.  My parents have a trip planned to go see relatives back in Iowa.  They want me to go as well," Roman responded, without looking him in the eye.

            "Thatís too bad, Roman.  You are a shoo-in for that scholarship and you give our chances as a team an extraordinary edge. Maybe I could talk to your parents and convince them of what a great opportunity this is for you."

            Roman hesitated.  "I donít think that would be too good of an idea sir.  My dad has been planning this trip for a year, and I donít think he can be swayed."

            "I see," Mr. Buttworst said. "Let me know if they change their mind."

            Roman began to walk toward the hallway.

            "Roman," Mr. Buttworst said.

            Roman turned and looked at him.

            "Nice job on the problems today.  Next time Iíll let the people that need the credit answer, I just wanted to see if you could answer a problem we have not covered yet," Mr. Buttworst said.

            Roman nodded.

            "If you donít mind me asking, Roman, how do you know about things we havenít covered in here?"

            "I read the book the first day of school, sir," Roman answered.  "I have to go."

            Mr. Buttworst nodded in disbelief.

XII

            After school I offered Roman a ride home; as usual he declined and started to walk.  It was a nice fall day, but I just couldnít believe that someone liked to walk that much.  Roman was headed home, but where was home?  I decided that I would find out.  Instead of starting my car, I waited and watched Roman as he headed down Stephenson Street.  When he got a block away from me I got out of the car and started to follow on the opposite side of the street.

            Roman was carefree, walking at a steady pace, looking around at the houses he passed and the cars that passed him.  I think if Roman would have looked back to see me walking he would have stopped, but he never looked back.  He stopped for a moment at a newspaper vending machine and got a paper.  He read as he walked, not slowing for the cracks and craters in the sidewalk.  It was as if he had the obstacles on the route memorized down to the last step.  A woman walking her dog headed toward him but Roman moved politely to the side avoiding a collision, not looking up from his paper.

            On Vine Street Roman turned left.  I hid behind a tree in someoneís yard in case he looked in my direction, but the only thing he looked at was now the third page of the paper.  When Roman was safely out of my view I began to jog, making sure not to lose him.  When I got to Vine I peeked around the corner.  Roman was still walking, heading toward the cemetery.  I waited until he went in the entrance and then jogged there myself.

            The cemetery was old, filled to capacity with headstones from this age all the way back to the Civil War.  Large oaks and maples shaded the sunlight from the tombstones.  After the entrance there were two roads paved and well kept that circled the cemetery and met again in the back of it.  I looked to my left and then to my right.  Roman was on neither of the roads.  I squinted and scanned the landscape of the cemetery.  I could see the other side and the other entrance.  There were people placing flowers on graves, people standing, a young man had his arm around a woman.  She was crying.  But there was no Roman in sight.  I looked frantically again to be sure.  Still no Roman.  I stood there waiting for him to pop out from behind a tree but it never happened.  I wanted to call out his name but didnít.  I wouldíve looked like a dick head standing there, babbling excuses of why I was following him.  Just like that Roman had walked into a cemetery and vanished like the ghosts that occupied it.

I turned and walked back to my car.

 

 


 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

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