excerpt

Fool Me Twice – Fishing Trip

Fool Me Twice - Fishing Trip Texas

The next Saturday, I finally got around to doing what I’d promised my father I’d do for the last seven months. I picked Spanky up on the way to my father’s, then the three of us all went

fishing together. We got up early, packed the truck with several coolers filled with beer, sodas, and munchies, and made it to Galveston by mid-morning.

It was—believe it or not—Spanky’s first trip ever to the beach. I couldn’t believe it—fifteen years old, and he’d never seen the coast.

We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. The sun was shining, and the air was filled with the sounds of boats and seagulls and crashing waves and kids frolicking up and down the beach. And just like I had when I’d taken the boy to the zoo, I was seeing it all anew through the eyes of someone seeing it for the first time.

We found the longest pier on the island, a quarter-mile-long monster my dad had taken me to when I was still a kid myself. It was so big it had a bait-shop/convenience store built into it that was halfway between the shore and the end of the pier.

We staked out our own little corner, way out to the furthermost point, marking our territory with towels, fishing-poles, and folding lawn-chairs. Dad guarded our territory while Spanky and I made several trips getting all our supplies unloaded.

There was enough cloud-cover to keep the extreme heat mostly at bay, with the southerly breeze doing the rest.

Spanky got a huge kick out of feeding the sea gulls by hand, donating nearly our entire box of Ritz crackers to the hungry birds.

Throughout the day, the kid kept his own personal flock hovering over or near us at all times.

Spanky had, without a doubt, the time of his life, catching all manner of ocean-going critters, including a baby hammer-head, various types of crabs, two redfish, and an amberjack. It had been slow going at the beginning, though.

After getting his bait stolen a few times, Spanky turned to my father. “What am I doing wrong, Mr Evers?”

Hitching up his suspenders, my dad replied, “Well, let’s see what you’ve got here.”

And for the next half-hour, my father skillfully and joyfully imparted several generations worth of Evers family wisdom pertaining to the art of pier fishing—how to securely tie the tackle, where to place the bobber, and, most important, how to bait the hook—be it shrimp or worm.

It was the first time in a very long while that anyone had gone to my father for advice of any kind. He was delighted at the prospect of once again being useful, of actually being needed again.

As the boy listened reverently, my father took to the task as if the future welfare of the entire world depended on Spanky’s success as a fisherman.

It was plain to see the two genuinely liked each other. It was almost as though they’d been friends forever. But then, my father had always made friends easily. When I dropped my father off that evening, Spanky shared his thoughts.

“Your father’s great. I really like him.”

I smiled. “Me too, buddy. Me too. Back when I was growing up, all my friends in the neighborhood used to always say they wished their fathers were like mine. Matter of fact, he used to bring me and my friends to that same pier to fish. At night, you can catch all kinds of stuff. He’d sleep in the car while me and my friends fished through the night. I mean, how many fathers would do that?”

When I saw Spanky’s expression fall, I realized too late what I’d done.

With a despairing look on his face, he said, “I just wish…” His words trailed off as he stared into the distance.

I put my hand on his shoulder. “I do too, kid. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… you know.”

I wasn’t intentionally trying to compare fathers with the boy. I just got carried away.

“But, look here, kid. If you want, we can come back and do this again. And next time? I’ll tell you what. Next time, we’ll charter a boat, and go waaay out where the water’s deep and blue, and the redfish are as big as a whale! How does that sound?”

He smiled at the prospect. “Really?”

“Absolutely!”

“I’d like that. I really would.”

As I was dropping him off at his grandmother’s house, I stopped him before he could get out of the truck. “Hey kid?”

He turned around, one foot still in the truck. “Yeah?”

I stared through the windshield at the dark night beyond, trying to find the right words for what I was trying to say. “Say, I’ve been meaning to tell you something, but just haven’t gotten around to it.” I paused to take a breath, then went on. “Anyway, a long time ago, probably around the same time you were born, I had a chance to be a father myself.”

I turned away from Spanky’s inquisitive stare.

“And?” he said.

“Well… let’s just say, I sorta blew it. Actually, I blew it big-time. It was all about me, what I wanted. Screw everyone else. I let Lisa down. The saddest thing is, my parents almost expected grandkids. My dad really wanted me to have a grandson. That’s all he talked about, his grandson. Anyway, he would’ve been about your age now… if I hadn’t…”

Now it was Spanky’s turn to look away. “I think I understand.”

“But, what I wanted to say is… I just hope he would’ve been like you, kid.”

Spanky smiled. “Thanks, Paddy. That means a lot. And thanks for today. I had a great time. I never thought fishing could be so cool.”

I don’t know how to explain it, but at the end of the day, it was like two loose ends of my life had somehow been brought together- one from the past, and one from the future. Although Spanky wasn’t of my blood, still something real, something good, was passed down that day—from father to son, and hopefully, beyond. It was, for me anyway, the best fishing trip ever.

Fool Me Twice – Mac Takes Off

Halfway to Mac’s nephew’s house, we pulled in at a convenience store to grab something to eat. We’d planned on waiting till we got to Spanky’s grandmother’s house, but since we hadn’t eaten anything all day, we both decided to make a pit stop before that.

When he pulled in to the 7/11, I told him to make it fast.

He looked at me with a sheepish grin. “Would ya mind? I’m kinda drunk.”

He wanted me to get the food.

I rolled my eyes, but agreed nonetheless. “All right, you lazy ass. Tell me what you want.”

He grinned and rubbed his hands together. “Okay, I want a big bag of trail mix. I want a hotdog with mustard and relish. I want a glazed honey bun. I want—”

“C’mon, Mac! You want a fucking filet mignon too? Hurry the fuck up!”

After repeating his order back to him, I walked inside the store and proceeded aisle to aisle, filling Mac’s order item by item. I then carried it all up front, piled it on the counter, and headed to the back to get some drinks. When I happened to glance out the window, it was just in time to see Mac pulling the truck out onto the street and driving away.

I know I’m stereotyping, but the clerk in the store looked and sounded just like Babu on the Simpsons.

Standing at the window, I was too stunned to speak or yell or even move. So, I just stood there with my mouth wide open.

“Are you okay, Sir?” asked the clerk.

No, I was not okay. I was definitely not okay.

“Excuse me, Sir, I’ll be right back.”

I hit the front door of the store running—across the parking lot, and out into the street, where I stood transfixed as I watched Spanky’s old truck drive into the distance. I continued watching as it turned onto the feeder road, got on the freeway, and then disappeared.

In despair, I turned around and walked back inside the 7/11.

The clerk eyed me sympathetically. “You do not look well, Sir. Do you need an ambulance?”

I felt like I’d been punched in the gut, “I’ll be all right.” Motioning towards the pile of stuff on the counter, I said, “But I won’t be needing any of this. I’m sorry.”

He immediately began gathering the items up in his arms. “That’s quite all right, Sir. Will you be needing a ride? My wife can watch the store.”

I stood there, slowly absorbing my situation. In the process, I almost broke down crying. “No thanks,” I said. “I have a phone. I’ll just call someone.”

The one thing I did buy, was a six-pack of longnecks. Then I walked outsides in a daze and sat down on the curb in front of the store, head spinning.

Maybe Mac was just playing a joke on me. If he was, it definitely wasn’t funny.

Suddenly, I stood up and then lurched around to the side of the building and threw up. I pulled out my phone, and with hands shaking, tried calling Mac’s number. When his voicemail picked up, I instead called Spanky and told him to come and get me.

He was surprised to hear my voice. “Already? I didn’t expect you for another hour.”

I sighed into the phone. “Something’s happened. I’ll tell you about it when I see you.” I gave him directions and hung up.

After walking back to the front of the store, I sat down on the curb once more and opened a beer. In my head, I mentally replayed everything that had occurred in the last few minutes. It was the same old bullshit questions that I always seemed to find myself asking: What if I’d done this? Or, what if I’d done that? Or, why hadn’t I done such-and-such?

It was the story of my life, writ small. And the more I thought about it, the clearer it became to me. Nearly everything Mac had said or done since I’d tracked him down, had been designed to lull me into thinking he was my friend. It all fit so nicely into my cynical worldview—just one more confirmation of my distrust of mankind in general.

Now I was forced to ask myself a question. Had anything Mac ever told me been the truth?

The story about his brother? About Tony the Toad? Or Louie Brocca? Had it all been bullshit?

By the time Spanky arrived, the beer was gone.

Fool Me Twice – Mac and the Officer

Mac smiled at me. “We’re home free now, buddy!”

But he spoke too soon.

“Oh, fuck!”

“Shit, what is it?” Mac said, voice cracking.

As he turned the corner to the front of the building, a cop car was slowly pulling up to the front gate, blocking us in.

“Oh, shit.”

“Just chill out,” I said. “He’s already seen us. Just take ten deep breaths, and play it cool.”

He began panting. “It’s not working, Paddy! I’m getting dizzy.”

“Mac, look at me!”

When he turned to face me, I slapped him. Not hard, mind you.

He put his hand to his cheek. “What the fuck?”

“Dude,” I said, “you’ve gotta get a hold of yourself. Just get out there and do what you do!”

“What do you mean what I do? What the fuck do I do?”

“C’mon, Mac! You oughta know by know. You’re the king of bullshit!”

“I am?”

“Hell yeah! Remember that cop in Galveston? Instead of throwing us in jail, he invited us to go fishing! Snap to it, buddy!”

A steely glint began to shine in his eyes as he pushed his chest out and clenched his jaw. I was on the right track.

“And remember those chicks in that restaurant? You had those girls eating from your hand! That was you!”

“Yeah!” he said. “I did do that, didn’t I?”

“Hell yeah, you did! Now listen to me. You’re Stuart Heywood’s little brother and business partner. You own this fucking place. You hear me? Get your ass out there and tell him we’ve got shit to do. But he’s in our way. Tell him you’re a busy man and you don’t have time for his bullshit. You’re Jerry Heywood! Understand?”

He gripped the steering wheel, anger flashing in his eyes. “You’re damn right! I am a busy man!” He bobbed his head up and down. “That’s right, motherfucker! Nobody fucks with…” He turned to me. “What’d you say my name was?”

“Heywood, Jerry Heywood.”

He put the truck in gear and pulled up to the gate. Then he got out to meet the officer, who was already standing next to the fence.

“Afternoon, Officer.”

Without acknowledging Mac’s greeting, the cop said, “Where’s Stu?”

Mac’s eyes glazed over. “Who?”

I buried my face in my hands, C’mon, Mac. You idiot!

“Oh! You mean Stuart? My brother? You just missed him.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. But the cop continued to eye Mac warily.

“And who might you be?”

“Name’s Larr-I mean, Jerry. I’m Stuart’s little brother. And his business partner too.”

The cop took off his mirrored sunglasses to get a clearer look at Mac. After a few seconds, he said, “Ol’ Stu and I go way back. Don’t ever recall him mentioning a brother. Or business partner neither.”

Mac chuckled nervously. “Well, I’m his half brother, actually, you know… from another mother.”

I shook my head.

“This your truck?”

“What, this truck?”

The cop just stared at Mac. C’mon, Mac, say something, you idiot.

“Um, actually no. We were just going to pick up some food. But Junior’s inside, if you need to speak to him.”

I threw my hands in the air, certain that Mac had just blown it.

“Yeah,” the cop said, “as a matter of fact, I do.”

That was it, I thought. It’s all over now.

I wondered exactly how Mac planned to get himself out of this.

“Well, is it important, Officer? He’s actually kinda busy right now.”

“I left my truck here last week,” he replied. “I kind of need to know if it’ll be ready on Monday like he said it would.”

“Sure thing, Officer. I’ll be right back.”

As he turned to go inside, Mac gave me a desperate look. The evil eye I shot him in return probably scared him worse than the cop did. I almost volunteered to go get Junior myself. That way, I could duck out through a window and be two blocks away before anyone even noticed I was missing. But there was no way I’d ever desert Mac like that. And so I waited.

Time seemed to slow to a crawl. Until I finally began to wonder if maybe Mac hadn’t deserted me. But finally, the door opened, and out popped Mac with a new spring in his step. Though there was no sign of Junior, Mac had a confidence that was missing before.

“Sorry for the delay, Officer Perkins. I took the liberty of checking the computer. Yours is the Chevy S-1O, am I right?” Mac’s demeanor seemed to put the cop at ease.

“That’s the one.”

“Great! Your truck will be ready Monday, like Stu said. And by the way, Junior’s napping. He told me to handle it.”

The cop nodded. “That’s great. I’ll see you Monday, then.”

I was so proud of Mac. He’d handled it beautifully. Unfortunately, he didn’t know how to leave well enough alone. His mouth always seemed to have a mind of its own.

“Yeah,” he said, “we would’ve had it ready sooner, but we had to order a spare part.”

The cop scrunched up his face, confused. “A spare part? What kind of part?”

Mac tugged at his ear. “Uh… it was a uh… a flux capacitor, I think.”

The cop nodded his head, but then did a double take. “A what?”

Shit, Mac. Why would you say something stupid like that?

“A flux capacitor,” he repeated. “Where have I heard that before?” the cop asked.

And without missing a beat, Mac said, “They um… they equalize the transometer diffusion.”

I could almost hear the cell bars clanging shut.

Suddenly, the officer appeared to get angry. “Look, I told him all I wanted was a damn paint job. We had this same problem last time!” After huffing and puffing for several seconds, he said, “I need to see Stu Senior, right now!”

“You don’t understand,” Mac said, “the flux capacitor was for our paint sprayer. That’s what keeps the bubbles out of the paint when you spray it.”

The cop had a dull expression on his face that told me he was as ignorant about cars as I was.

“I see,” he said, meekly. Mac had done it again.

Putting his hand on the officer’s back, he said, “Now, if you’ll excuse us, Officer. I haven’t eaten all day.”

With a disoriented look, the cop got in his car and backed out of the drive.

I turned to Mac, holding my chest, “I swear, Mac! One of these days you’re gonna put me in an early grave.”

He wiped a dab of sweat from his forehead. “That was close, wasn’t it, buddy?”

Fool Me Twice – Moral Crusader

Lopez smiled. “Perhaps. We’ll look into it. But in the meantime, please don’t do anything to antagonize the guy. Men like that—you’ve gotta be careful. They can be dangerous.”

 

“What do you mean, men like that?”

 

My boss leaned over his desk, eyes narrowing. “Well, like, this morning, for example. One minute he’s quoting Bible verses, and the next minute he’s hitting on my secretary.”

 

My eyes widened. “Tamera?”

He nodded. Then he told me something that was to stay with me over the coming months. “I’ve seen his type before,” he said. “Usually, they’re hiding something. When you see a moral crusader like that, a lot of times, underneath all that Bible-thumping exterior, you’ll find a rotten core. Sometimes, self-righteousness is just a smokescreen.”

 

“A smokescreen?”

 

“Yeah. You know, like to divert attention away from themselves. Like they’re hiding a defect or fault they don’t want you to see. What better way to hide it than to project it onto someone else.”

 

I nodded. “He could even be a serial killer, huh?”

 

Lopez chuckled. “I wouldn’t go that far. More than likely, he’s just your garden-variety hypocrite. The only time people like that are dangerous is when they’ve got a little authority.”

 

I winced. “Jeez, Mr Lopez, that’s not very comforting.”

 

I sat back and let his words sink in. Maybe he was right. Maybe it wasn’t personal after all between Beasley and I. Perhaps he was just projecting his own weaknesses onto me. Then again, who the fuck cared? Why even waste my time trying to psychoanalyze the guy? The important thing was to get out from underneath the thumb of this petty tyrant before it was too late.

 

Something told me my time was running out.

Fool Me Twice – Responsibility

Once the boy was out of hearing range, the woman’s whole demeanor changed. As she sat back down at the table, she abruptly went from cheerful to solemn as she revealed to us why she’d sent the boy outside.

“I just wanted to thank you gentlemen for taking an interest in my boy. I mean, my grandson. To me he’s just like my boy. I love him like my own son.”

As she spoke, she twisted her apron around, obviously distressed at something. I suddenly felt guilty for the real reason I’d taken an interest in her grandson.

“Please don’t take this wrong,” she said, “but that boy needs some guidance. In a bad way! All he does these days is swagger around with his headphones blaring that …garbage! That skip-hop, bip-bop, whatever the hell it’s called. All they sing about—if you call that singing—it’s bitches this or hoe’s that. He’s got to have his cap on sideways, his pants half-way down his ass!”

Mac and I exchanged glances, both stifling a laugh.

She went on. “I’m telling you, that boy’s headed for disaster!”

For a minute, I thought she might cry. But she held her composure and leaned forward. “He used to be such a good boy! If you could have only seen him.”

Then, looking down at the floor, she said, “I’ve already lost one son. I just couldn’t bear to lose another one. I don’t know what I would do. I try! I really do! But I don’t know if it’s me, if there’s something I’m doing wrong, I just… maybe he needs a man, a father-figure to show him…” She looked at us, tears pooling at the corners of her eyes.

Mac and I reached out for her hand.

“Look,” I said, “I’m sure none of this is as bad as it seems. That boy’s gonna turn out just fine. Mark my words. I’ve been where he is myself, Agnes. Matter of fact, all boys go through sort of a… phase. But listen, me and Mac are gonna do everything in our power to make sure that boy’s pointed in the right direction. You have our word on it. I promise.”

Finally, she let go of her apron, which was now twisted around her hand. “Remind me again, just in case I need to give the boy a ride over there? Where’s this chess club located?”

“Um…” I looked to Mac for help. He was looking at a bottle of Worcestershire Sauce sitting on the table.

“Ma’am,” he said, “it’s over on Westchester Street.”

She gave him a blank look. “Westchester Street? Where’s that?”

“Don’t you worry,” I said, “we’ve already got his rides taken care of in advance. If he needs you, he’ll let you know.”

She smiled sadly. “Thank you again, so much! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you both. I’m just thankful he’s finally got something constructive to do with his time. I’ve been so worried about those friends of his he’s been keeping. A couple of weeks ago I thought I smelled cigarettes on his clothes.”

Mac casually pushed his pack of Marlboros deeper into his shirt pocket.

“We’ll do everything we can, Agnes.”

Spanky returned with the tomatoes.

“Did you get the best ones?” Agnes asked.

Spanky gave her a dutiful nod. “Of course, I did Grandma.”

While the two of them did the dishes, Mac and I were relegated to the back porch, each with a cup of coffee, to relax and watch the sunset. Before stepping outside, I’d asked Spanky to dig around and see what he could find out concerning the truck.

Ten minutes later, he stepped outside onto the porch.

“What’d ya find out?” I asked.

He handed me a small piece of paper. “This guy named Stuart Heywood bought it. Grandpa used to take the truck there for repairs, but mainly it’s a body shop and refurbishing place. They buy and rebuild old cars and fix em up and resell em at auction. That’s their address and phone number there.”

I looked up at the boy. “See there?”

“What?”

“You really are CIA!”

Spanky blushed. “I am?”

“That’s good work, kid!” Mac said.

“Good work, but bad news,” I said. “What if that guy decides to start working on that truck tomorrow?”

Mac looked at the boy. “What kind of shape was the interior in?”

Spanky frowned. ‘“Bout what you’d expect from a fifty-year-old truck, I suppose. Lots of rips and tears.”

“Just chill out, Paddy. We’ll head over there first thing in the morning,” Mac said.

I agreed.

Then, for some strange reason, I turned to Spanky. “Hey, kid. How bout you and me go to the park on Saturday? I’ll show you how to play chess in case your grandmother asks you about it sometime. We can stop and get a burger on the way—make a picnic out of it.”

He shrugged. “Whatever.”

I wasn’t sure if I felt sorry for the boy or instead just wanted to perform a good deed so I could pat myself on the back. I had my own chance at fatherhood years before. But sadly, I’d blown it. And since I’d long ago forfeited my one and only chance, a part of me inside knew it, and understood—it was too late.

I’d missed out on something vital, something essential in life. But whatever my reasons for helping the kid, the fact is, I ended up helping myself more than I helped him.

Later, as Mac and I were getting in the car, Spanky’s front door flew open, and Agnes came tearing down the sidewalk like the house was on fire.

When I saw what was in her hand, I shot Mac a dirty look. “You big dummy! You forgot the tomatoes!”

With Brandy at her side—tail wagging—Agnes gave me the sack. When she handed me the bag I almost dropped it.

“Good Lord, Agnes! You put bricks in here?”

Her rosy cheeks blushed. “Oh, now, stop it! I just thought you two might like a few cucumbers and squash to go with your tomatoes.”

I gave her a warm handshake. “I’m sure Lisa will love them. Thank you so much, Agnes.”

From the corner of my eye I could see Mac’s lower lip protruding.

“Don’t forget about me!” he whined. “Don’t I get half?”

Winking at Agnes, I said, “We’ll see, Mac. Depends on your behavior.”

When he made a boo-boo face, everyone laughed, including Mac. We said our goodbyes and were off. As we drove away, Spanky and his grandmother stood in the driveway waving until we were out of sight.

I gave a wistful sigh and turned to Mac. “It’s crazy how much that woman reminds me of my own grandmother.”

“Really?” Mac said. “I was just thinking the same thing.” Then he turned and looked me in the eye. “Did you mean what you said back there?”

“About what?”

“About looking after the boy?”

“Absolutely!”

Of course, at the time I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But as time went on, I began to understand that something inside of me changed that day.

I knew I still had a long way to go, but that was the day that marked a turning point in the education of Paddy Evers. After all those years, I was finally going to learn the meaning of the word, responsibility.