This is a story I've been posting in chapters on Facebook for the past few weeks. I wrote it all on my iPhone while hanging out at a few places, so there are probably typos. In the end, though I made it up as I went along, I like it. I hope you do, too. Hello, friends.
The camper shell was not perfectly watertight, but he had parked on a slight uphill, so most of the intruding rain had found its way out through the troughs of the ridged pickup truck bed and he woke up lying in a general dampness rather than a pool of cold water. The old red toolbox was poking into the small of his back, a discomfort he would feel for a couple of days. The rolled jacket had proved a surprisingly effective pillow, and he was relieved to feel as though he had slept more soundly under the constant crinkling if the dirty blue tarp than he had imagined possible. A constant patter on the roof registered through his foggy waking stupor that the rain, though gentler, had not stopped. He opened his eyes to the cold dimness that told him it wasn't long after dawn, but he closed them again and decided to lie still for a while longer before scrambling out of the junky shelter and back up front to continue his work. Thoughts flooded his mind from the day before, facts that had straightened and connected somehow in the cogitation of sleep into a more coherent plan for where to start the day, much clearer than the exhausted confusion of his late night surrender to the inevitability of sleeping for the first time in a few troubled days. He knew where he had to go next, the cement plant. It was the only connection that tied Carlo to the enigmatic Mr. Boldt. If he were going to get back what belonged to him and leave this fucking town behind for good, some part of him knew he would find the way forward at the cement plant. He had to be careful. He didn't know what these people were into, and he didn't want to know. He just wanted what was his and he wanted out. The rain picked up as he lay there building the resolve to make the next move. He listened to his breath and started stretching his aching muscles in preparation for arising. It had to be today. He had to make it happen. And he had to pee, so he threw off the tarp and sat up with a groan.
He didn't know who drove the big, shiny, black Cadillac SUV he watched from where he was hiding in the underbrush near the off-road thicket where he had parked his truck a few hundred yards from the cement plant. The Cadillac had barreled past him down the dirt road leaving the plant, the windows all tinted pitch black so he couldn't see the driver or whether there were passengers. He knew well, however, the old green sedan parked beside the giant mound of grey, broken rock at the base of the conveyor belt that climbed way up to the top of the elevator silo of the plant. Carlo had inherited the ugly car from his brother several years ago, his brother having inherited it from their father years before that. Having never worked at the cement plant - having avoided it at all costs even though almost everyone in town, including his own father, had worked there - he didn't know what all the large contraptions and machines inside were called or what they did, but he knew the plant layout well. Everyone who had passed their teen years in the town knew the hole in the fence, the dangerous thrill of climbing the conveyor belt, the best places to hide out in the late night gloom and drink a clandestine six pack or smoke a joint. The concrete floors were damp and made loud squeaking noises with off the rubber soles of his worn hiking boots, so he had left them near the back entrance and was creeping in filthy wet socks as quietly as he could back toward the open door near the back wall, the only one from which yellowish light shone out into the dim murk of the cavernous plant. As he got close to the light, he could hear someone shuffling around in the bright room. He flattened himself against the wall beside the door and gripped the handle he had unscrewed from a wide broom leaning in the corner near the entrance. He tried to breathe quietly, to steel his will to incapacitate as effectively as possible anyone emerging from the room, hoping it was Carlo and not some innocent weekend worker. The light went out, and his heart jumped. He raised the handle like a baseball bat. He'd been a good batter in high school, a power hitter. He choked up on the smooth wood and rubbed his socked toe into the smooth, damp concrete habitually as though the game depended on this one swing. Footsteps approached the door incautiously, unaware of impending attack.
The impact was sickeningly violent as he struck the wooden broom handle directly into the man's gut, and the pain and shock of the noise the manmade doubling over sent visceral shivers of aversion through his body. It was Carlo, to be sure. In spite of a wave of pity, he raised the handle high overhead and brought it down viscously again on the back of Carlo's head. The handle splintered in two and the other half clattered loudly away across the concrete plant floor as Carlos fell in a heap, face down, onto the floor. Quickly he knelt down on Carlo's back, pressing hard with both knees, and pushed the splintered end of the half broom handle firmly to the back of Carlo's neck. "Don't fucking move, Carlo!" he growled through gritted teeth, all the anger flooding back to him as he remembered that night three days ago, waking panicked from his drunken collapse on the bedroom floor at the sound of the glass shattering out of his front door, followed quickly by the loud barking of Black, the German Shepherd his brother had dumped at his place "for a couple of days" six years earlier. Everyone knew he hated Black and hated his brother for dumping him there, since he always made a point of telling them so. Then he'd heard the front door open and Black confronting the intruder with murderous growls and barks. As his wits had flooded back to him through his boozy haze, he'd scrambled under the bed to grab the Louisville Slugger he always kept there, but he didn't find it. Then had come the loud report of a handgun and the brief, loud yelp from Black, his last. Fear had gripped him then, and unexpected wave of grief for that damned dog. Sliding under the bed in fear for his life, he had laid perfectly still as heavy footsteps walked to his bedroom door and flipped on the lights. Luckily he had been too drunk to drive home again and Laurie had dropped him off, so his truck hadn't been parked outside, making it easy for whomever wore the heavy, black work boots to believe he wasn't home. The boot man had rummaged through the closet and then walked down the hall to the junk-filled guest room that used to be his father's. More rummaging, and then the boot man had walked quickly across the living room and out the door. Only when he'd heard the car start up had he found the nerve to scramble out from under the bed and rush, crouching low, to the front window in time to see the ugly sedan peeling away. He wasn't a man who owned much of value, and most of it just personal value. He had some pictures of his son and a couple thousand bucks, all his money in the world, in his father's old metal lockbox with some of his father's supposedly important papers that he'd never bothered to look through. He kept the lockbox in the back of his father's closet. What were the chances the boot man had found it? As he had turned to check, however, he'd seen Black lying in a heap on the floor. Bending down to pet the dog's head, he'd recoiled to find it shattered and sticky with dark blood. Black hadn't even been twitching. Stone dead and still. "Aw, boy," he'd said softly, choking back a surprise of tears for the dog he'd always thought he hated. When he'd finally composed himself enough to check the closet, rage had filled him to find the lockbox gone. And all that rage came out now as he pressed the jagged, broken broom handle into Carlo's thick neck. "This is for Black," he growled, as he rose up and drove his knee hard into the screaming man's kidney.
"Danny?" Carlo groaned.
"Where's my fucking money, Carlo?" he demanded, pressing the jagged wood into the man's neck, eliciting a scream.
"What money, man? I don't have any money."
"My lockbox. Where the fuck is it?"
"He said it just had papers in it. I didn't know anything about money. I swear, Danny. Please, man."
"Who said papers? What papers?"
"Mr. Boldt, man. I don't know what papers. Something he wanted."
He fumed. Mr. Boldt. The owner of the cement plant and most of the town. No one really knew him these days. He lived in Chicago, everyone said, moved up there years ago. His father had known him. "Where is it?" he growled. "I want it back."
"He took it, Danny."
"Boldt. He just left here. I gave it to him and he left."
"In the Cadillac?"
"I don't know, man. I waited here, like he said. He came in with his guys, took it, and left."
His anger subsided a little and he let up on his old friend's neck, but not too much. Carlo was a big guy and could easily kick his ass if he wasn't too hurt.
"Please, Danny. I'm bleeding, man. I need a doctor."
"Why did you kill my dog, dude?"
"He was going to fucking kill me, man. That dog was crazy. I had to."
He breathed deeply, trying to decide what to do next.
"Anyway, you hated that dog, man."
"Shut up! Just shut up!" If he got off Carlo, how could he be sure he'd get out if here alive? And where would he go? "Where's the gun?" he screamed, pressing again on Carlo's neck.
"Aaagg! In the car man. Under the seat."
He reached down and patted Carlo's waist and heels, making sure the gun wasn't on him. Then he fished in Carlo's front pockets and took out his keys and his phone. "I'm taking that fucking gun, Carlo. I don't trust you. It's over with us, dude. How could you help him do this to me? How could you steal everything I have left?"
"Don't leave me here, Danny, please. I need a doctor, man. I'm getting dizzy, man."
"I'll leave the keys in the car. You wait a few minutes and then you do whatever you want."
"I don't know if I can make it to the car, man. Call 911, dude. I'm hurt. You cracked my fucking skull, asshole."
"That's your problem, man." He jabbed the broom handle again, for emphasis. "You took everything I have left, Carlo. I'm getting my shit back and then I'm gone. I'm so sick of this fucking town, all of you."
"I'm sorry, man. I had no choice."
"Where is he? Boldt? Where is my shit?"
"You don't want to fuck with him, Danny. Forget it. Get away. He'll kill you, man. He'll probably kill me now, too."
"Where is he?" he screamed, kneeing his screaming friend in the back again.
"Fuck! I don't know shit, Danny. I swear. I don't know man. Please."
He thought again for a minute, and then said. "If I see you come out before I leave I'll fucking shoot you with your own gun, Carlo. I mean it. You stay here for ten minutes and then so whatever you want. Goodbye." Rising, he kicked Carlo hard in the ribs for emphasis and then ran in flopping socks across the damp concrete toward the exit. He didn't look back. When he got to his boots, he grabbed them, stumbled around pulling them on, and ran to the ugly Sedan. Fumbling nervously with the keys, he opened the door, threw the keys on the passenger seat, and grasped around until he felt the cool metal of the gun. Pulling it out, he looked to see if the safety was on, but didn't know enough about it to tell. He held it out away from his body, finger well away from the trigger, as he scrambled through the hole in the fence and found his way through the brush back to his truck. As he peeled away, he dialed 911, a last gesture for a now dead forty year friendship.
"You look like shit, Danny," Laurie said through the still closed screen door. "I mean, like, more than usual." Her demeanor made it clear that she wasn't inviting him in.
"Rough couple of days," he said, looking down at the doormat that said "Welcome" to someone else, not him.
"Where's your truck? Did you walk here?"
"It's broken down," he lied. "I need to borrow my bike."
"It's Stephen's bike, Danny. You don't have a bike, remember?"
She had gotten the old dirt bike in the divorce, even though she hadn't really wanted it. When she remarried she gave it to her stepson, who never rode it. "I'll tune it up for him before I bring it back," he lied again.
"Three nights without coming to the bar," she said. "That's, like, a record, isn't it? I know you're not on the wagon, so what's up?"
"Rough couple of days like I said, babe," he answered, feeling the burning in his stomach he got whenever she skewered him, especially when she was right, which seemed to be always. "Come on. I really need it."
"Tom says you haven't been at work, either. He's ready to fire you."
"Yeah," he mumbled. "I'll work it out with him. Don't worry."
"I stopped worrying about you a long time ago."
He wanted to just walk away, but he was sure Carlo had reported him to the cops. He couldn't risk driving the truck. He needed the bike. "Please," he said, unable to look her in the eye.
She regarded him coolly for a minute, saying nothing, before reaching for the hook beside the door and taking down a key ring with a single small key on it. She opened the door as little as possible and held it out for him. "If you wreck it, you fix it," she said.
He took the key from her and started to say, "Thanks," but the door was closed before the word came out. He left the porch and headed for the backyard where he knew the bike was leaning against the toolshed under the torn, black cover he'd bought years ago. As he threw back the plastic and started wheeling the bike into the driveway to begin the still-familiar ritual of getting it running, he winced in the memory of the days after Tres, his nickname for their son, Danny III, had died. He hadn't handled it well. Neither had Laurie, but he hadn't been there for her. He disappeared into a whiskey bottle and hadn't found his way out yet. By the time she'd had enough, she was gone three days before he even came home to notice.
After a few minutes and some gas from the can in the shed, he got the bike running. He didn't usually wear the helmet, but he decided he might need the disguise, so he picked it up from the ground beside the discarded cover, brushed it off and put it on. It smelled strongly of mildew. He straddled the bike, revved it, popped the clutch and tore away, leaving a black streak down the driveway. On purpose.
It felt good to be on the bike again, speeding along the same streets he had ridden so many times as a young trouble maker when he was Little Danny to everyone in town. He cruised past Jasper Park on Central, whose grass he and Tony had torn up on this very bike numerous times, and then up around Brookman Cemetery, where he had stood with almost half the town less than a month ago as they bid farewell to Big Danny, though he wasn't nearly so big by the end, wasting away in dementia at Dove Haven Nursing Care, though he still cast a shadow Little Danny felt he would never get out from under. "Your father was a great man, Danny," people told him more times that he could count that day, and he would smile and thank them and wish it didn't sound like an accusation to him. He sped up a little past the tombstones and iron gate, wondering what he should do next. He thought about dropping by to see Sheriff Maloney, his father' oldest and best friend, to ask him more about what he knew. "Mr. Boldt is in town, Danny," he'd said. "It wouldn't surprise me if he knows something about this." But he hadn't offered to help. Everyone knew the City Council was afraid of Boldt, and the sheriff was subject to them. "What did Big Dan ever tell you about Boldt?" he'd asked. Nothing. That's what he told him and that was the truth. He only knew about Boldt like everyone else in town, through rumors and echoes of infamy. But, he decided going to the sheriff would be a mistake. He might be a wanted man. Maybe he would see if he could slip into the football club house at the high school and catch a shower. He doubted they had fixed the old door that he'd known how to jimmy for more than twenty years. As he turned the bike off Central and onto Main, however, his heart skipped a beat when he saw the Black Cadillac in the parking lot of the Wilson Inn.
He parked the bike behind the old strip motel, the only one in town, and walked to the corner of the row of rooms to peek around the corner and watch the SUV for a minute. No one came in or out of any of the adjacent rooms. The parking lot was pretty empty. There was a light blue Lincoln Town Car parked beside the SUV near the middle of the row of rooms, and a couple of pickups at the far end. The curtains were drawn on all the rooms, thankfully. He steeled his nerves and began walking as nonchalantly as he could toward the Cadillac. No one came out, but, when he got to the SUV, the windows were too dark to see into. Was this the right SUV? He couldn't remember seeing a car like this in town before. What were the chances more than one visitor was driving this car? And there was fresh mud on the fenders, as there would be driving the dirt road near the plant. He retreated back behind the building to think. What he really wanted most was to get his money and leave town. Right? Was that right? The thought of losing the pictures of Tres made him feel sick to his stomach. And, what about the answers? What was this about? Carlo had said something about papers. He had never looked at his father's papers. His father had worked for years, before he got sick, at the cement plant as a floor worker and then as a foreman. He had never been a man with much going on. He worked. He drank most evenings. He was active at the Catholic Church. He was not someone you would imagine having papers that anyone would care about. All he left behind when he died was debt. Mr. Boldt wasn't the type to want the small bit of money Danny had set aside since his decline. What was it about? He had to ask himself what he was really looking for. Maybe he should just get in his truck and leave. Did those couple I thousand dollars really matter? Where would he go? What would he do? What would a couple thousand really buy him? But, in the end, it was his interminable rebellion that got to him. Why should Boldt be allowed to take whatever he wanted? Who the fuck did he think he was? Surely we all mattered as much as some greedy asshole like Boldt. Surely we all deserved what was ours. And so, he decided to look in the truck. The doors were locked. The windows were too dark to see through. He'd have to break in. And he had no Slim Jim, and wasn't sure he'd remember how to use it if he did, though he'd done it before in his wilder days. Didn't these newer cars have features that made them impervious to those things? He wasn't sure. One thing he knew, though, was that glass, even modern safety glass, breaks. He peeked around at the SUV again. There were large stones covering the ground in part of the flower bed near the edge of the row of rooms. He walked slowly, unassumingly, over to the bed and picked one of the larger stones. He palmed it and walked, his heart in his throat, back toward the SUV. No one came out of the rooms. When he got to the Cadillac, he wasted no time. He tried throwing the stone at the window, but it bounced off, leaving just a small grey mark. No one came out. So, he gripped the stone, making sure his fingers were clear, and struck the back seat window full force. The noise of the shattering seemed deafeningly loud, but he didn't even look to see if anyone came out. He peered into the backseat. There, in the floorboard, he saw, with a jump of his heart, his father's lockbox. He tried to reach it, but it was too far. He tried to wriggle in through the window, but it was too high and awkward. He reached in and pulled the door handle. Dread filled him as the headlights began to flash and the horn began to honk. He didn't look around. He threw the door open, grabbed the handle of the lockbox, and began to run. He heard the screams of someone emerging from a room, but he didn't look back as he dashed, full-speed toward the bike, hoping it would start.
The bike engine roared to life just as the big man in the dress shirt and dark blue slacks rounded the corner behind the motel, blocking his path.
"Stop, asshole!" the man yelled, raising his hand to aim a black pistol.
Seeing the pistol, he peeled the bike around as fast as he could and headed the other direction, pulling over close to the wall of the hotel hoping to block the man's line of sight with the small dumpster beside which he'd parked his bike. He winced in fear at the thought of a bullet, but he didn't look back. The path in front of him was blocked by a chain link fence, so he turned sharply to the left, barely avoiding a collision with the fence, and sped down the narrow alley behind the perpendicular row of motel rooms. At the end of the alley he looked left quickly and was relieved to see that traffic was light on Main. Turning sharply to the right, he opened the throttle wide and tore away from the motel toward the edge of town. In the one small mirror mounted on the handlebars he saw the SUV screech out onto Main behind him to give chase and his heart rose into his throat. He had never seen the big man before. It certainly wasn't Mr. Boldt. Up ahead he saw the turn for Farm to Market Road 870 just past the Marathon station on the left. He veered left into the fun lane and, without slowing, careened onto 870. His mind raced, trying to decide where to go. 870 might have been a mistake. The SUV could probably outrun the small bike on the long straightaway. His eyes darted back and forth from the road ahead to the small mirror, hoping the big man hadn't seen him and the SUV would drive by and not turn, but his bad luck was holding and the black Cadillac sped through the intersection and fell in behind him, maybe a quarter of a mile back. He reached back with his brake hand to make sure the lockbox was secure in the bungee cord he had used to quickly secure it to the back of the seat. A glance in the mirror told him the SUV was gaining quickly. He looked ahead and saw the tree line of the woods around the Lake, and suddenly remembered the dirt path that led toward Wildcat Canyon just past the start if the tree line. He tried to crank the throttle back even farther, but it was already open wide. The trees were about a half mile ahead. The SUV was getting closer. He knew he'd have to slow down to make the turn soon, and he wished he'd had time to put the helmet on. If he wiped out on the turn, though, it probably wouldn't matter much. He'd be dead one way or another. Looking in the mirror, he saw the SUV was dangerously close as he approached the tree line and scanned the left side of the road for the small opening that had always been there, though he hadn't been down here in years. Was that a gunshot? He wasn't sure with all the wind noise. Suddenly he spotted the opening, just the same as it had always been, and he was there. He veered into the oncoming lane on the left and hit the brakes hard, the SUV flew by on the right and slammed on its brakes as he turned the bike and sped for the dirt path. He hit the path entrance and the bike left the ground and landed hard, but he kept control and tore into the dark woods. By the time the SUV stopped and turned back, he was well down the path.
He'd been walking for almost four hours and had finally stopped cussing aloud to no one about the bent wheel on the bike. He hadn't seen the huge tree root until it was too late. In the end, though he hated having to walk out, he was just glad he hadn't hurt more than his finger in the rough landing. He held it up again. More swollen. Purple. Wrong angle. Broken for sure. But he had his cash in his pocket and his dad's papers tucked into the back of his pants. He would get to his truck and get out of town. He'd hated leaving the lockbox with Tres's pictures behind, but he'd hidden it pretty well in a deadfall far from the bike. He didn't think anyone would find it. He would come back for it someday, after things blew over. The edge of the tree line wasn't far ahead, and he was glad to see that he had navigated well. He was on the east edge of town, where the woods wrapped up close behind the crappy frame houses and taverns that made up "Easton," the wrong side of the tracks where he lived and caroused these days. His truck was hidden behind the burned out Philips place less than three blocks away. As he came to the tree line, though, he spotted the back door of his favorite haunt and decided to make one last visit there before splitting. It was late evening by now and Laurie would certainly be there behind the bar. She loved the place. It was her bar. Her husband, Tom, had bought it for her a few years back. The former owner had loved the place, too, but had gone through a breakdown of sorts several years ago and had run the place into the ground. In the end, he'd ended up having to put the place on the block to pay creditors. Mr. Boldt had made a bid to buy the place, but the town rallied to stop him when he submitted permits to open the place as a strip club. Then Tom, who owned the cafe on the square, bought the place with a couple of local businessmen and gave it to Laurie. As he remembered it, he was glad she'd ended up with it. She'd worked there for years and loved the place even then. It was where they'd met. She decided to keep the old name, Danny's. He wasn't sure if it was meant to be a compliment or a taunt.
He knew the back door would be unlocked. He slipped in and closed the door behind him as softly as he could, though it still had that loud creak and attracted the attention of Dave from his normal spot at the sink of glasses.
"Hey, Danny," Dave said, hardly looking up.
"Hey, Dave," he replied. "Can you get Laurie for me, man?"
"She's right up there," Dave said, nodding toward the door.
"I can't go out there right now, dude. Can you just get her, please?"
Dave grunted, grabbed the dishtowel eternally in his back pocket to dry his hands, and walked toward the door to the bar. After a minute, Laurie came back, looking annoyed.
"What are you doing back here, Danny?"
"Laurie, I need a favor." He couldn't look at her reaction as he said it. He dropped his eyes to the concrete floor.
"What now, Danny?" She wasn't even trying to sound friendly.
He reached for the papers tucked into his pants and drew them out. "Some people broke into my house and stole these papers. I got them back, but I don't know what they are or why anyone would want them." He held them out to Laurie, who looked at them like they were dirty and didn't take them. "Tom's good with legal stuff. Can you ask him to look at them for me?" Still she just stared at him. He forced himself to look her in the eye. "Please?"
"Where's the bike?" she asked, still not reaching for the papers.
"It's fine," he lied. "I'll get it back to you real soon. Tuned up, like I said."
She considered him for another minute and then took the papers from his hand. "What are they?" she asked, flipping through them.
"Thanks," he said. "I don't know. Papers of dad's. I haven't read them."
"Okay. I'll ask him. But he's very busy. You're fired, by the way. He said I should tell you if I saw you."
"Okay," he answered. "Thanks again. I need to go."
She tucked the papers into her bag and turned back toward the front without another word. He slipped out the back and headed for his truck.
A week in the city had passed and he still hadn't found work. It was nine o'clock when he finally found a parking place in front of the dingy, smoky Irish pub he had made his new hangout. His money would last at least a few more weeks at this rate, but sitting in the shabby hotel all day calling uninterested employers was making him bored and restless. He hadn't called Laurie for a couple of days to see what Tom might have found out. Last time he called she said Tom had looked at the papers a bit but was very busy and might not have time to look at them more until this weekend. He walked into the dim place and took a seat near the end of the bar as far from the door as possible and the bartender poured him a double Tullamore Dew, neat, and a glass of water, without asking or saying hello, having learned that he wasn't much for talking.
He drank the first one pretty quickly, wishing he had a cigarette, but he didn't want to start that old, expensive habit up again he always wanted a cigarette when he was drinking. Back at home he would sometimes bum one, but he didn't know anyone here well enough. The bartender poured him another without a word and he took the first sip, wishing he had something besides nothing to think about. He thought of the quick grave in the backyard he had dug for Black before he left, how putrid his rain-damp body had been beneath the tarp in the backyard when he'd dumped him, wrapped in the same tarp, into the too-shallow hole. He wished he had been present enough to have buried him before he had left the house in a confused panic after the break-in. But, regrets didn't accomplish much, he supposed. He'd had too many over the past few years and they had gotten him nowhere.
"Hello, Danny," came a voice out of place but strangely familiar.
He turned to see Sheriff Maloney. He knew it was him before he saw him, and his mind raced, wondering if he should flee. "Sheriff?" he said, unsure what to do.
"We need to talk, Danny," he said.
He imagined the Sheriff arresting him for assaulting Carlo. Or for breaking into the Cadillac. He looked at him, confused for a minute, and finally asked, "How did you find me?"
"Tom came to talk to me," his dad's old friend said, taking a seat, uninvited, in the empty stool to the left. "So I put out an APB on your tags. They called me yesterday and said you would be here."
"I didn't mean anyone any harm, Sheriff," he blurted. "I just wanted to get back what was mine."
"It's okay, Danny," he said. "I've had no complaints about you. I'm just here to talk."
He tried to process that. It made sense, he figured, that Carlo and the other man hadn't gone to law enforcement. They had plenty to hide themselves. "Talk about what?" he asked.
"About the future of the town," he said. "About you."
He didn't understand. He looked inquisitively at the Sheriff.
"I think you need to come back, Danny," he said. "There are a couple of people you should talk to."
"Well, Dietrich Boldt, for starters."
The Sheriff had thought he should come back with him in his squad car after hearing about the incident at the motel, but he decided to wait until the next morning and come back on his own. He agreed to come see the Sheriff first thing when he got to town. The Sheriff hadn't told him many details, just that Mr. Boldt wanted to see him and had an offer to make him. The Sheriff would guarantee his safety. So, after sleeping off the whiskey he had drunk after the Sheriff left the night before, he woke up late in the morning, checked out of the shabby hotel, and made the three hour drive back to the town he thought he had left behind. He came in the long way, past the lake, and stopped at the Quickway near the campgrounds to get coffee, his eyes peeled as he got close for the black Cadillac. As he walked out the door of the gas station, he decided to give Laurie a call from the pay phone before going to see the Sheriff. He wasn't sure what he would say, but he wanted to let her know he was back.
"Hello," she said.
"Hey," he answered.
"Danny?" She had a strange urgency in her voice. "Where have you been? Tom needs to talk to you."
"I've been in the city," he said. "I told you that."
"Why haven't you called?"
He didn't answer. "What's up?" he asked.
"Hold on," she said, and she set the phone down. He heard voices in the background, but couldn't make out what they were saying.
"Danny?" It was Tom. He dreaded talking to his former boss and his ex-wife's new husband.
"Where are you?"
"I'm back in town temporarily."
"I'm headed to see the Sheriff," he said.
"He found me and asked me to come down."
He was getting irritated with the conversation. "What's up, Tom?"
"Danny, I want you to come talk to me before you see the Sheriff. Can you do that?"
"I've done a lot of looking at those papers, Danny. I need to talk to you about them. You need to know what they say."
"He's waiting for me," he replied, wanting to get off the phone. "What do they say?"
"Do you know why he wants to see you, Danny?"
"Listen, I really think you should come by the house first. Can you do that, Danny? It's important."
"Important for who?"
"For you, Danny. I don't want to say more on the phone."
He sighed, not wanting to be bothered with Tom or Laurie. She would hound him about the bike. He would hound him about disappearing from work. "I'll come by, as soon as I can." he said.
"Before you see the Sheriff," Tom said. He sounded insistent.
"Okay," he lied.
"We need to talk before Boldt sees you," Tom said.
"Yes. The Sheriff and the mayor have been talking to Boldt, Danny. About you."
"What about me?"
"I'll tell you when you get here. Come now."
He sighed audibly. He wanted to just turn around and leave town again. He was sick of this place, of who he had become to all these people. "Okay," he agreed, though he hadn't decided what to do.
"Come in, Danny," Tom said. He was unusually cordial.
He walked through the open screen and door into Tom's and Laurie's living room. Laurie wasn't there, but Jack Darvish was sitting on the couch. Jack was a local politician of some kind. He'd gone to school with Jack's older brother, Clint. Clint had been a baseball player, too. Jack was several years younger and had always been more of a brain than a jock. He'd never really liked him.
"Hello, Danny," Jack said, standing to shake his hand.
"Jack," he replied. "How's your brother?"
"Which one?" Jack asked, smiling like a politician.
"Oh. Clint's good. He's working at the plant still. He and Tracy just had their fourth, a girl. They named her Gwen."
"Yeah," he replied. "I heard that."
"Do you know Clint? I didn't know."
"We played ball in school."
"Oh, right. Right." Jack sat back on the couch. Tom sat beside him. He just stood near the door, looking at them.
"Have a seat, Danny," Tom said.
He wanted to leave, but he just paused a minute and then sat in the overstuffed chair near the door. It wasn't comfortable. "What's up?" he asked.
"Danny, Tom asked me to look over your papers when he started to suspect what they were," Jack replied. "I hope you don't mind."
He shrugged and didn't reply. There was an awkward silence.
"I've been on the net all day researching Breen."
"Breen?" he replied. The cement plant was called Breen Cement. Beyond that, he'd never heard the word.
Jack and Tom glanced at each other. Then Tom said, "What do you know about your mother, Danny?"
Not much, he thought. "She left dad when I was pretty young. I don't really remember her." It wasn't true. He always remembered her. He remembered a green dress, and singing, and a white necklace on a gold chain. It had a woman's face on it.
"Your mom was born Rose Breen, Danny," Tom said. "She was Rose O'Shea when she married your dad."
"Sure," he replied.
Again Tom glanced at Jack. "Do you know where she went when she left, Danny?" Tom asked?
His dad had never really talked about it. He shrugged.
"Well," Jack said sheepishly, "apparently she had some involvement with your dad's boss, Danny." He was hesitant as though it were a sensitive subject.
Again he shrugged.
"Well," Jack continued, "I guess Rose and your dad had a falling out over it."
"She left your dad and married his boss," Tom said.
"Oh," he replied, not sure where this was going.
"Dietrich Boldt was the manager of Breen Cement," Jack said. "She left your dad for him."
"Boldt?" He'd had no idea.
"Right," Jack said. "Well, Dietrich Boldt had run the plant for your grandfather, Padraig Breen for several years. Your mother, Rose, had an affair with him and left your father."
He glanced back and forth at the two of them.
"And she divorced your father and married Boldt," Tom said.
"My mom married Boldt?"
"Yes," Jack replied. "They were married for twenty-three years."
He tried to see where they were going, but he had no idea.
"Danny, Dietrich Boldt owns Breen Industries because it was willed to him by your mother in her will."
"She died?" he asked. It made him sad, though he'd never imagined seeing her again.
"Yes," Tom replied. "We haven't been able to
find much, but her death certificate says cancer."
He found it surprising to have feelings about her. He heard her singing in his memory. He remembered the necklace.
"The thing is, Danny," Tom said, "these papers of yours have a will in them for a Rose Breen Boldt."
"Yes. And it leaves Breen Industries to her child."
He was her only child, as far as he knew. He blinked at the two of them. "So, it was an old will?"
Jack glanced at Tom again. "Well, that's the thing," he said. "The date on it is less than four months before she died, long after the will that gave Dietrich Boldt ownership
of her father's company."
He blinked and looked at them, unable to process what they were implying. Some part of him understood, but he couldn't align himself with the implications. He blinked at them again several times.
"I was wondering if you had changed your mind," the Sheriff said when he walked into the office. He started to sit down in the chair across the desk, but the Sheriff stood quickly. "Let's head over there."
"Where?" he asked.
"To see Dietrich," he replied, walking around the desk and grabbing his jacket from the hook on the wall by the door. "He's been waiting."
"Where is he?"
"Just come with me." The Sheriff motioned him toward the door. He walked out into the hallway. The Sheriff followed him out and closed the door behind him, checking the handle to be sure it was locked. "I'm parked out back."
"I'd rather follow you, if you don't mind," he said, not moving as the Sheriff started quickly down the hall.
The Sheriff regarded him for a moment. "Where are you parked?"
"In the front."
"Okay. I'll drive around. You follow me."
"To where?" he asked.
The Sheriff smiled. "Can't you just follow me?"
"What if we get separated?"
He laughed. "It's a small town, Danny. I think we'll be fine." Still he didn't move from in front of the door. The Sheriff looked at him in a puzzled way for a moment longer, and then said, "He's at St. Joseph's."
"Okay. I'll wait out front and follow you over." He turned and headed for the front door, not looking back.
The smell of the hospital would always remind him of the night his dad died. He hadn't really visited the town's small hospital much in his life. The ambulance had brought Tres here, but he was already DOA. He was dead when they picked him up. Tres died at seven years of age in his arms in the driveway of their house, his truck still running and his door still open from when he had jumped out, the sickness rising in his stomach that lingered to this day, knowing already the worst had happened.
He followed the Sheriff down the hall to Room 111. The Sheriff opened the door, but didn't go in. He hesitated, looking at the Sheriff. "Is he alone?"
He glanced inside and saw the foot of the hospital bed. He took a deep breath and walked in.
Mr. Boldt was asleep when he walked in. He stood beside the old man's bed for a minute and regarded him. He was a big man, broad shoulders and a thick neck. His white hair was still full and looked well-groomed. He had a bushy grey moustache. The old man didn't look unkind, but he looked formidable, even with the fading bruise of a black eye and his right arm in a cast. He'd never seen the man before, though, like everyone in town, he'd known the infamous name all his life. He reached out and tapped the man lightly on the left arm. The old man's eyes snapped open and he jerked with a start, eliciting a light groan, and he cleared his throat and regarded the younger man silently for a minute, not moving.
"You look like your mother," he said finally. He had a strange accent, like a northern city inflection was slowly overtaking an Eastern European accent.
"So they say."
The old man looked at him in silence for another moment. "I knew her well, your mother."
"So they say."
At that the old man grunted with exertion, reached for the bed controller and pushed a button. The bed machinery whirred and brought him into a more upright position.
"What happened to you?" he asked the old
"I got into scrap with some friends, thanks to you." The old man laughed when he said it, though doing so made him wince. "They didn't get out unscathed," he said, with a wink and smile. "Though I certainly got the worst of it."
"Sorry," he said. "They sound like great friends."
"I think you met them. At the motel."
"One of them."
"They're really quite charming once you know them."
"Looks like it."
The old man chuckled at that and winced again. "Well, they were disappointed in the outcome of our little road trip."
"Are you a betting man, Daniel?"
"Not really. It's Danny."
The old man waved it off with a look of distaste. "I don't prefer nicknames when men talk serious business. And it's good that you're not. Betting is a bad habit. Trust me on that. Nothing but grief."
"It's an addiction, betting, Daniel. Do you know that? I understand you might know something about addiction." He pantomimed a sip from a glass as he said it.
"What do you want, Mr. Boldt?"
"Call me Dietrich, please. I know Mr. Boldt is the bogey man name around this town."
"So we're down to business, then?"
He didn't reply.
"Well, have a seat, Daniel." He motioned to the chair beside the bed.
"I'm fine. Thanks."
The old man considered him for a moment, like sizing him up, trying to decide what sort of man he was dealing with. "What do you think I want, Daniel?"
"I have no idea, Mr. Boldt."
The old man frowned. "Dietrich, please."
"And I'm Danny."
He smiled at that. "Very well, then, Danny." He adjusted himself to sit taller, a maneuver that obviously caused him discomfort. "You must know that I wanted some documents that your father kept in a small safe box."
"Well, do you know what they are?"
He shrugged. "I've never really looked at Dad's papers. I just wanted my money back."
"Ah, the money. Yes. My friends considered that a bonus for their troubles. They weren't happy that you took it back."
"And the broken window annoyed them, too, I'll tell you."
"I figured that when the guy shot at me."
Mr. Boldt looked intently at him. "I don't care about the money, Danny. It's your money. I never meant to take it from you. I just wanted the papers of mine your father had."
The man stared at him, trying to decide what to say. "Have you looked at the papers since you got the safe box back?"
"Not really." It was true. He hadn't, really.
"And do you have them?"
"I have the lockbox, yes," he lied. "And my money."
"Well, like I said, Danny, I don't care about the money. But I'm willing to pay you for the papers. They are of no value to you, but they are of interest to me, and to my friends."
"Yes. And I can pay you well. Far more than that little bit of money in your father's box."
"What are they worth to you?"
"You tell me."
"I already did. They are of no value to you, but great value to me. And you have them. You could just give them to me."
He smiled at that. "They're valuable to you, right? I guess just giving them to you would be bad business. I wouldn't want tone a bad businessman."
"A businessman? Is that what you are, Daniel? That's not what I've heard. I'm a businessman. I always have been. And a good one."
"Well, I'm not a sucker."
"But you've had little success in business, right? I seem to remember something about a bar you couldn't keep solvent some years back. Wasn't that you?"
A lump rose in his throat at that. "Make me an offer," he said.
"A sensitive subject? I apologize. So, we're bargaining, then?"
"Make me an offer."
He liked the sound of that. He could walk away and live on that for a while. But, he decided to play it cool. "What's the company worth?"
The old man frowned at that. "What company?"
"The company that owns most of this town. The company you run. It must be worth a lot, right? $20,000 seems a little low for a man like you to get put in the hospital by some thugs."
The old man paused for a long while at that. "My company is worth millions, Daniel. But that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about your papers."
"I believe it's my company, Mr. Boldt. Isn't that really what we're talking about?"
The old man frowned deeply at that, but, before he could say anything, the mayor of the town walked into the room, with Clint Darvish's annoying little politician brother not far behind.
"Oh," the mayor said, "I'm sorry, Dietrich, I didn't know you had a visitor. I hope this isn't a bad time. I needed to talk to you."
The old man looked surprised and unpleased. "I was talking with Daniel, William," he said.
"This will only take a minute, Dietrich," the mayor said. "I think you know Jack Darvish, our District Attorney."
"Mr. Boldt," Jack said with a nod.
"Jack," the mayor said, "could you step outside with Mr. O'Shea? Hello, Danny. I need to speak with Mr. Boldt for a moment. Sorry to interrupt. It's pretty urgent."
"Come with me, Danny," Jack said, taking him by the arm.
He resisted for a minute, feeling like he was losing his last chance to make a deal with this old man and get out of this town for good.
"Please," Jack said, and he relented. The Mayor watched impatiently and Mr. Boldt looked worried as they left the room.
"There's something you should see, Danny," Jack said as they walked down the hospital hallway toward the waiting room.
He was irritated and confused by the intrusion. "What are they talking about in there?"
"I'm not exactly sure, Danny." They got to the waiting room and Jack sat in a shiny, brown leather chair. "Have a seat, Danny. You should see this," he said, holding out a piece of light green stationery paper with handwriting on it. "It will help you understand."
He looked at the paper and stood in the middle of the waiting room, not wanting to sit down and not wanting to read anything.
"You should read it," Jack said, rattling to paper as if to say, "Take it."
He took the paper and walked over by the window. It was grey outside and drizzling. He was suddenly overcome by the desire to flee. He wanted nothing to do with these people. He had no idea what this will thing meant for him. He was tired of his life, tired of everything, tired. He missed his father. He decided that he would just go. He'd find work. He'd try to forget about everything.
Instead he raised the paper and began to read. The script was lovely and flowing.
I know you hate me. You've made that clear, and I do not blame you.
I'm not asking you to respond. Just pass this on to our son and explain it to him. I know it might be a shock to him and to you. He will need your help. I hear he runs a little bar in town, but that won't prepare him for this.
I cannot leave my father's company, which he loved almost as much as he loved my mother and me, to Dietrich. He's taken to gambling and in a bad way, Danny. He will ruin it all, I know. Enclosed is my will. I'm sending a copy of it to you, and I've sent one to the company's longtime attorney, Oscar Bershem, and one to Dietrich. I know he will be angry, but he has brought this on himself. I trust Oscar to work with you to make everything happen as it should. I am leaving my father’s company to our son, Daniel. Most of it, anyway. Enough that, together, you should be able to keep Dietrich from squandering it on his foolish addiction. He will get only 15%. He has earned that much at least, I think. The rest is for Daniel.
I'm dying, Danny. I don't know if you still have any fondness to care, but it's cancer of the pancreas. The doctors have done all they can. I only have weeks left. It's important to me to have this done now, while I still can.
I am also enclosing my mother's brooch. I understand that Daniel has a young son. If he never has a daughter, maybe his son can give it to his wife, or pass it on to a great granddaughter. I'm no better a grandmother than I am a mother. I will never meet him now, I know. And why would he want to meet me?
I won't throw around words about love for you or our son. They would sound empty, I know. I'm sorry, Danny, for everything. I hope you have found happiness.
He tried to feel something about the letter. It left him feeling hollow. He skimmed over it a second time, but there was nothing. He folded it in his hand and turned back toward Jack.
"He never even opened it, Danny," Jack said, holding out the envelope. "He didn't know."
He walked over and took it from Jack. Opening it, he saw something inside. He dumped it into his hand and turned the brooch over. He remembered it, a woman's face carved in white stone of some kind on a gold chain. A lump rose in his throat, but nothing more. He remembered it. Feeling the smooth carving with his thumb, he wondered what to do next. He dropped to necklace in his jacket pocket and sank into a chair a few away from Jack. Within three minutes he was asleep. He dreamed of a necklace, a green dress, and a song to which he could almost remember the tune.
He woke a few hours later, his back sore from the waiting room chair, to find that evening had set in deeply and Bill White, the mayor of the town, had taken the seat where Jack had been sitting.
"Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I can move the world," the Mayor said.
He was barely awake and feeling disoriented. "What?"
"Archimedes said that, I think."
He blinked and stretched his aching muscles, the leather chair squealing loudly as he did. "What?" he said.
"You've given me the lever I've needed for years, Danny."
He didn't like being addressed as though he were familiar with this man whom, as far as he could recall, he'd never met. "I didn't give you anything."
"Sure you did, Danny. That will of yours is the leverage I've needed to get that man off the throat of this town."
"Can I go?" He wasn't sure why he asked the man's permission. He stood with a groan and looked around the room for something. He wasn't sure what.
"The men from the FBI want to talk to you, I think. And he's asked to see you when you wake up, though you're certainly not obligated to talk to him."
"Mr. Boldt," the Mayor replied.
"Oh." He felt thirsty and hungry. "Is there coffee around?"
"I'm sure there must be somewhere." The Mayor stood up, too.
"Yes. They're with Mr. Boldt now, but they said you could come in when you woke up."
"What do they want from me?"
"I'm sure they just want to hear your side of the story. The men Boldt brought to town have been under investigation by the FBI for some time. Mob ties or something. I understand you had a run in with them. They want to ask you about that."
"Am I in some kind of trouble?"
"Not at all, Danny. Not so Mr. Boldt, however. I fear he's having a bad time of it."
For some reason, he felt a sudden pang of sympathy for the old man, in spite of everything. These men bothered him more than Boldt had. Mr. Boldt had been direct with him in a manner he had enjoyed, though he had no love for the man. These politicians and lawmen annoyed some part of him in ways he couldn't explain. "I'm going to get some coffee," he said, and he turned and walked away quickly before the Mayor could offer to come along. He shoved his hands into his jacket pockets as he walked and recoiled a bit at the necklace. It had seemed a dream, the letter and the necklace, but it hadn't been. It had been real. He followed the signs toward the cafeteria and turned the brooch over with his finger and thumb, rubbing the smooth stone of the carving, thinking, as always, about just walking away from all of this.
When the FBI man in the grey slacks, blue blazer and blue and grey striped tie found him a while later, he was just finishing his second cup of coffee and a tuna fish sandwich on bread that was somewhere between dry and stale.
"Mr. O'Shea?" He sounded like a jerk.
"Sir, if you're finished, do you have a minute?"
"We're taking Dietrich Boldt with us soon and he's asked to speak with you first, if you're willing."
"Do I have to?"
"No, sir. It's your choice."
He swallowed the last bite of the sandwich and stood. "Okay, then I will."
"Thank you, sir. This way."
He followed the lawman back through the waiting room and down the hall toward Room 111. There was another indistinguishable FBI man waiting outside the closed door. He nodded at the first lawman and knocked, then opened the room without waiting for a response.
As he entered the room he saw Mr. Boldt sitting up on the edge of the bed with blue slacks, black shoes and a white undershirt on. A nurse was helping him with his white dress shirt, his broken arm tucked inside and the other through the arm of the shirt properly. She was trying to button as much of the shirt as she could.
"Hello, Daniel," he smiled.
"Could you give us a moment?" the old man asked the nurse.
"Just one more button," she said.
He waved her away. "I can manage it. Please."
She frowned and let go of the shirt, turning to go in annoyance.
"Thank you for seeing me, Daniel."
He didn't respond.
"So, it seems it all works out for you, son. I tell you the truth, I'm glad it's over."
He shrugged. "I have no idea what's going on."
"I suspect you will feel that way for a while yet." The old man laughed loudly at that.
"What happens to you now?" He was genuinely curious.
"Well, I suspect these men will want me to tell them everything I know about my friends. And they will offer to protect me. Between you and me, I will be fine without them. I'm not afraid of anyone."
"And your Mayor is already scrounging up rich friends to buy me out of YOUR company. I won't go cheap, I can tell you. I owe a lot of money to my friends, and I have no plans to die a pauper." He didn't smile as he said that, but then, after a moment, his big smile returned.
"I bet you'll be fine," he replied, and smiled a little himself for the first time in as long as he could remember.
"Safe bet, Daniel, if there ever was one. And now, if you could go out and distract those men, I'm going to slip out the window."
He wasn't entirely sure the old man was joking. "Yeah?"
"Would you?" His smile turned sly.
He thought about it. He just might.
"You would. I can see it. I like that about you, Daniel. Maybe you're the right man for the job after all."
"I could fake a heart attack."
"You give them too much credit. They wouldn't give a damn. No, my boy, I'll give them the slip later."
"One more thing." He got a serious look.
"I'm sorry. I don't say that often, and rarely mean it when I do, but that's really all I wanted to say to you."
He considered the old man for a minute. "Okay. I accept that."
The new board of the company, made up of some longtime members from the old board and several new investors from town, had insisted that he be involved in company business. They said they couldn't afford to have the majority owner completely unfamiliar with the operations. So, he accepted a position as co-chairman and attended the minimum number of board meetings possible. In exchange they gave him a generous salary and one demand: he had to attend AA meetings regularly. They got status reports from his sponsor. He had also made a habit of going to Monday afternoon status meetings at the cement plant, but he didn't really pay attention most of the time. His contribution, so far, had been to veto an action item to fix the hole in the fence. "Let me be perfectly clear," he'd said, "as long as I own this company that hole will stay there." When they asked why, he said the town needed that hole in the fence. He refused to say any more on the matter.
After a couple of months at AA, his sponsor, an old biker named Mike that used to hang out at Danny's pub, said to him, "You know why you're not getting anything out of this, Danny?"
"Because, brother, you're not an alcoholic."
"Oh, don't get me wrong, brother, you're all kinds of fucked up," Mike smiled, "but you are not an alcoholic."
"Well," he replied, "I don't have a choice. If I want to keep my job, I have to do this."
"You know what you need, Danny?"
"You need to see a shrink, brother."
He wasn't sure how to feel about that. "Well, that's not what they asked me to do."
"Fuck them. This is about you. Tell you what, man," Mike said. "You go to my friend, Donna, and set it up. You do that - and I'm gonna check with her and make sure you do - I'll give a good report to your people."
He thought about it, but the thought didn't appeal to him much. "I'm just going to keep coming to the meetings, Mike. I don't have any interest in that, but thanks."
"Look, brother, I mean this in all love; I don't give a shit what you're interested in. If you don't start making progress, I'm going to tell those fuckers that you're loony as hell and there's no hope of you getting better. I mean it."
They argued about it for a couple of weeks and neither would budge. Then Mike gave him an ultimatum, which pissed him off.
"Just try it, Danny," Laurie told him one night at the pub. "It couldn't hurt."
"It's bullshit," he'd replied.
"What are you afraid of? You've been stuck in reverse ever since Tres died. You should give it a try. It might help."
Something about those words hit him. Stuck in reverse. He didn't know if she'd meant it that way, but it hurt him. Stuck in reverse ever since he'd backed out of the driveway that horrible day. His new cabin out by the lake, far enough out of town that no one got in his way, had a circle drive of crushed gravel. Stuck in reverse.
"What did it say?" Donna asked him when he mentioned the postcard from Mr. Boldt.
"He said he was slipping away tonight and no one would find him where he was heading."
"And he said I shouldn't let the board push me around. And he wished me well and said he wouldn't want my job anymore for all the money in the world."
"What does that mean, you think? Slipping away?"
"I have no idea," he lied.
"Did it make you angry to hear from him?"
"After everything he's done to you?"
He fumbled with the necklace in his pocket and thought about it. "We're all just doing what we have to," he said. "I might have done the same or worse in his position."
She poured water into her annoyingly dainty little glass from the clear, slender pitcher she always kept on the table. She filled the glass a million times a session. He wondered why she didn't just get a bigger glass. "I don't think you would have." She set the pitcher down and flipped her stupid hair. "Did you talk to Carlo?"
Mike had insisted that he participate in the apologizing religion they had going at AA. So, he'd made a list of people he should apologize to and had been working through it over the past couple of weeks. "Yeah."
"How did that go?"
"Awkward, but fine. He said he was sorry, too. He said he had a family and was afraid something might happen to them."
"Are you angry with him?"
He looked out the window and at the clock on the desk, the slowest clock in the world. "No."
"He broke into your house and shot your dog."
"I hated that dog."
"No you didn't."
He thought about burying Black in the backyard, the putrid smell and the cold. It hadn't been easy. "I cracked his skull. He was trapped and scared. I apologized. He apologized. I think we're even."
She was quiet for a minute. "Any other apologies this week?"
He thought about standing the morning before in Brookman Cemetery in front of his son's little monument, a couple of places over from his father's. He had been there many times, but that had been the first time sober, including the funeral. He remembered what he had said and how he had cried for the first time since that terrible day. "No," he lied. He wasn't ready to talk about all of that.
She was quiet again for a minute. "Drinking much?"
"No," he said, and it was true. He went to the pub twice a week or so and had a whiskey or two, but he hadn't been drunk in weeks. He just didn't want to be.
The clock minute hand rolled mercifully vertical and he stood to go. "Thanks, Donna," he said. "I have a meeting at the plant. I'll see you Thursday."