The inner sanctum turned out to be the last of the original houses on the Chickahominy River from the 1970s construction boom out on the Haven. The house was a simple ranch with a wobbling deck that extended into the river. Jack had gotten to the retreat a little early so he could scout out the scene. He was not prepared for what he would see.

First was the arrival of Betty and Allen. She drove and he got out of his car and hustled around his champagne colored Mercedes to open her door. She thanked him and touched him on the shoulder as she got out of the car. Allen played off her touch well by not acknowledging what had just happened and then shut the car door with a gentle push. “He must have been a valet,” thought Jack.

Jack also thought there must be something going on. He could not be sure, but it looked like Betty and Allen might be having a little something-something. The thought of the two of them together made perfect sense. He did whatever she said. She bossed him around in an overly dramatic way. It was all a ruse. This retreat house was a perfect metaphor for their relationship. They were shacking up.

“This is going to be something-something else,” thought Jack.

The other administrators and board members began arriving and the mingling began. As people introduced themselves to Jack, he pulled his classic move of acting like he was interested in meeting them. The truth was they were doing the same to him, no one cared what a gym teacher had to say about the district’s new instructional program. Finally, it was time for the retreat to begin.

Betty started, “I welcome you all to the retreat for the Willet School District. We are here to discuss the long range goals for the district, which includes the implementation of the PIOUS program. We think that this is the most appropriate solution for resolving the discrepancies of achievement between the various sub-groups of our diverse student population. Let’s start with PIOUS as we have Dr. Jack Rice, who is a teacher at our high school and has been invited to the retreat to share his views on PIOUS. We are fortunate to have him and are looking forward to hearing what he has to say.”

Jack heard a clear message from Betty. She made it clear that she was trusting Jack to do the right thing as she saw it. Jack was ready to play her game without going all Trump on the friendly audience that was sitting in a house decorated in the style of Dicker and Dicker of Beverly Hills. Sometimes it takes awhile for things in education to catch up.

“Thank you, Betty. And thank you to all of you for your kind greetings and the opportunity to share with you my excitement about PIOUS. As you are well aware, this is a program that helps teachers identify the most practical implications for the content being taught. By doing so, teachers can design lessons that will prepare students for the rigors of the world after their schooling ends.”

“The real world,” said Allen.

“No, Allen, I don’t think that is correct. By saying that you are implying the school is fake. If it’s fake, then why should the students take any interest in what they are doing now? School is their “real world” and we need to treat it as such.”

(Trump-1 and Jack-0.)

Allen looked at Betty and smiled. He kept the smile even as he turned and squinted at Jack. If looks could kill…

Jack continued, “This program has potential. Hopefully, you guys will have the patience to include it in the long range planning for the district. There will be problems. Students will tire of the routine of PIOUS and teachers will resist the idea that a canned program built on shaky research will know more about teaching than they do. But, if the district remains firm and allows the teachers to have an honest say in how PIOUS is implemented, it will benefit the students. That’s all I have.”

(More Clintonian this time…)

None of the other members of the retreat had any questions. Betty thanked Jack for his words and optimism. She let him know that she would be in touch and told Jack he was free to go. On his way out the door someone grabbed Jack’s arm from behind. It was a confrontational board member, Ralph Hanby who had once gone after Jack.

“Jack, do you have a moment.”

“Anything, for you, Mr. Hanby.”

“Ralph.”

(I feel like I could…)

“Jack, we’ve had our differences.”

“We have?”

“Ha, always the jokester. Honestly, my kids that you were a real ass.”

“That’s a compliment compared to what you have said about me.”

“Now, Jack, we are over that. Let’s talk about PIOUS. You don’t really believe that it is going to help kids do you?”

“I think it has a chance, Mr. Hanby.”

“Ralph. We have our concerns. Since you have put yourself out there, we on the Board, would like your input about how things are going with PIOUS and the general mood at the high school.”

Jack could see there was more than PIOUS involved in Mr. Ralph Hanby’s mission. “As long as you keep things professional, I would be glad to help you.”

“Good. We will be in touch.”

As Jack walked through a cloud of Chickahominay gnats he said, “I’m sure you will.”

Rory could not believe the crowd at The Bacchanalia. He had seen crazy gatherings in Williamsburg before. There was the yuppie, Miami Vice party goers at Club New York. There were the walking dead at Daddy O’s. None, however, brought the anger the way The Bacchanalia did. There were people from Rory’s past that he had wronged and each looked to be wanting a piece of him. There were middle school rivals, spurned girls, and a bunch of dudes dressed in flannel. Rory saw Allen and made his way through the crowd without giving off his sense of fear and guilt.

“This place is hopping,” said Allen.

“Hopefully, I don’t die here tonight.”

“Naw, relax, you’ll do the right thing.”

“I don’t know, Allen, this might be more than I can give. Maybe the Chupacabra has me this time.”

“Look, you’ve simply got to make amends. Let people know you are sorry for the way you treated them and get on with life,” said Allen.

Rory and Allen walked over to the bar. There was a guy walking around with a video camera. Rory recognized him from high school. He was working on a movie about middle aged people partying and Allen had given him the heads up about this party. The three of them had never been too tight in high school, although they were probably more alike than either of them ever realized.

“What’s up, Rory?” said the camera man.

“Nothing. Good to see you again. Sorry I was such a dick to you back in the day.”

“Thanks. Can you say that again? I didn’t have the camera running.”

“Eff you, want a drink?”

“Sure, what will it be?”

The bartender heard the camera man and yelled out, “It’ll be a Ricki-Ticki-Smack-Me.”

Before they could question the bartender, he had poured four glasses of a chocolatey looking drink. The quantity could have been a shot or an easy sip. Everyone but the bartender took their time. Nearly as quickly as they drank it, the mood in the room changed. Instead of three white guys singing the blues, Charlie Pride took the stage and The Bacchanalia went from angry to happy. He motioned for Rory to come to the stage and whispered some lyrics in his ear. Rory had not sung in public sense the chorus teacher in high school pointed out that he was off key. Tonight he waited for his part and belted out, “I’m just me…” Everyone went crazy. Charlie took the rest until the song was over.

Charlie handed the mic to Rory. “Everyone, I have to say one thing,” said Rory. “I’m sorry.”

The crowd nodded and went back to listening to Charlie Pride. There was an old couple, like ninety year’s old, old dancing in the middle of the floor. The flannel dudes were yucking it up with Rory, the cameraman was filming, and Allen came into the room holding a real live copperhead. He went on the stage with his snake in one hand and another Ricki-Ticki in the other hand and started dancing the Semi. He stepped from side to side and brought his hands, with thumbs extended, up to his chest and looked to the opposite direction of each step. He wore the snake like something from Flavor-Flav and chugged the last of his drink before the first step to the left. He was feeling the good vibes that were flowing through the room and there was something hypnotic in his dance. Charlie was smiling, the bartender was smiling, the copperhead was smiling, and then it happened.

Rory’s third Ricki-Ticki was the one that accomplished something few ever thought they would see. While listening to Poo-Poo, Rory’s non-stop talking basketball teammate go on about something, Rory took that last sip of the Duffy concoction and let loose with the biggest smile. He was grinning from ear to ear and the whole place stopped. Even Charlie Pride could not keep the show going. The copperhead slithered back to wherever Allen had found him and the doors to The Bacchanalia opened. Everyone raised an arm towards the door and looked to Rory and Allen.

Through all of their adventures, Rory and Allen had never quite understood their calling. In some ways they had been called to help others. In some ways they had been drawn into a spiritual quest that left them with wisdom and not dogma. They learned of personal responsibility and the value of leaning on others. Tonight was the end, they learned to be happy. Forgiveness has it’s way of unburdening a soul. Everyone forgiving Rory for his past idiocy felt good, but Rory and Allen both knew it was their ability to forgive themselves that made the greatest difference.

They walked to the parking lot and climbed into the cab of the truck. Rory turned to Allen and said, “Damn, that was fun.”

They turned west on Richmond Road and drove away for the last time…smiling…

The arrival of a dove and crow was not lost on the goats. They knew these were signs of peace and freedom, but the birds did not bring a ceremonial feel to the island. Attached to their legs were messages.

“This is same Game of Thrones stuff,” said Allen. He removed the notes and read them before handing the notes to Rory. “This is not good,” he said.

Rory read the notes which divulged that the Chupacabra had taken over Rory’s peanut farm. All Rory could see was the demise of his peaceful oasis. He saw bands of evil spraying graffiti in his house, the fields being burned, and the charities that relied on the peanuts boycotting the evilness that tainted the farm. Thoughts of retaliation mixed with military jargon accelerated his thinking to a point where not even Lucy would be able to make sense of it all. Finally, he snapped, the pressure was too much and he had a temporary mental blackout. He awoke to Allen having a conversation with some of the goats.

“We cannot let him take Rory’s land,” said Sitting Bull.

“We will do whatever is necessary,” said Malcolm.

The only female goat, Harriet said, “I know how to get us there safely.”

The three spiritual goats were steadfast in the need for the Chupacabra to be stopped. They agreed to let faith guide the group and would not let their individual beliefs get in the way of stopping the evil enemy. MLK and Gandi advocated for peaceful resistance against the Chupacabra, but they knew there would be suffering before it was defeated. Their transformation from simple goats to leaders against a common foe showed devotion to their personal principles and to the one skill that would allow evil to be defeated, thinking.

“It’s not probable that the concurrence of evil would come together on a peanut farm,” said Einstein.

All of the goats looked at him with confusion.

“I’m just saying, why is evil using a peanut farm to rid the world of goodness?”

“Allergies,” said Rory. “He’s trying to make the world allergic to goodness. He thinks he can make hate the way of the world. Killing, debt, violence, drugs, distrust, anything evil is what he wants the people to run to. If people are allergic to peace, love, respect and anything else that is good, they will have to turn to his evil ways. We’ve got to change them, baby.”

“That’s Santana,” said Allen.

“I’m giving quoting movies a break.”

Harriet said, “We need to get going.” She made her goat noise and there was a great rush of air outside the house. From somewhere was a train being driven by Esther Rolle. It was the same train Rory has seen at the Stonewall Jackson Shrine. Riding along were the two atheists who doubted that other worlds existed. Now they were caught up in the whole movement.

“Come on, Rory. Let’s go kick some evil butt,” yelled one of the atheists.

Rory, Allen, and the goats got on the train and off they went. They each looked out the window thinking like they were some sort of European graphic designer. Rory knew evil could not prevail, but he wondered what the cost would be in shutting down this latest brand insolence. He imagined the Mr. Peanut that stood on Richmond Road wielding some kind of spray tan and verbal light saber that was tearing apart the farm that Rory had worked so hard to keep going. He didn’t know though what he was up against and the thought of fighting a big peanut made him laugh.

The train stopped at the end edge of the field and Rory’s worst suspicions were confirmed. The Chupacabra has ruined his home. There was no amount of HGTV magic thought would restore his home. The fields were smoldering from a large fire and at the end of the driveway sat a maroon Grand Prix. Rory stepped off the train and was followed by the three spiritual goats, the bearded one, the bald one, and the faceless one.

“You guys stay here. He’s after y’all, so I better go this one alone,” said Rory.

He began walking across the field. The ground was hot, but with the strength of the goats under him, Rory was able to cross without any pain. His heart rate was normal. His confidence was high. He was ready to deal with the Chupacabra on his terms. Evil would have no chance with Rory, Allen, and the greatest of all time in his corner. “This will be easy,” he thought.

As he neared the Grand Prix, he could hear Dylan singing, “Country Pie,” which got him thinking about the Grand Prix he once owned. The car had a big motor and pleather seats with plenty of room for the crew. He worried that there might be more than just the Chupacabra in the car. Then her remembered his team back on the train. They would be there for him no matter what. The door to the car opened and the Chupacabra started to get out. Rory recognized the untied high tops and calf high socks as the style back in the 80s. “This Chupacabra is out of touch,” he thought.

The Chupacabra got out of the car and turned towards Rory. The dove and crow flew from the train and landed on Rory’s shoulder. Their weight was nothing compared to the load that Rory felt when he saw the Chupacabra’s face. He looked back to the train. All of the goats were milling about in the field doing what Commonwealth Goatwork’s goats do, keeping everything in check. With their help, the field would be ready for replanting in no time. He turned back to himself and tried to reconcile how he could be with good goats and also the personification of evil.

“What do I call you?” asked Rory.

“Chupa works.”

“Why are we here?”

“Let’s take a ride. I’ll drive.” said Chupa.

Summer vacation had barely started when George made the decision to give up on his summer resolutions. He popped the cork on a bottle of Kentucky’s finest and got serious with a race to beat the melting ice cubes. He also gave up on reading, instead turning to Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and watching with hazy intent Jerry Seinfeld and Margaret Cho amuse the hell out of each other. George thought, “It’s cool when comedians laugh at each other.” That only lasted thirty minutes and there was more ice to race, so his glass was conscripted for another battle and the channel was changed to AXS and Bruce Springsteen in the uncomfortable position of having to watch people sing his songs while he waited to accept an award. George, bordering on foggy, could almost hear Bruce say, “Beautiful,” as Emmylou Harris sang with her angelic voice. He thought of Bruce, “That’s cool that he likes what she’s doing with his song.” All too soon, that show was over, but the bag of ice still offered a challenge and George was home alone, so he decided, “What the hell,” and flipped to PBS. There were the Highway Men, kind of a cross between the Beatles and Cream for country music. Each member, Willie, Waylon, Johnny, and Kris, sang a song of their own and songs written for the group. The guys all stood in awe of each other, appreciating the skills and magic of the others to make music that was cutting through the whiskey and showing George what gratitude and appreciation for the craftsmanship of others was all about. The PBS fundraising barkers came on and George’s pit bull needed his last nightly walk, so George broke from his search for cowboy boots on the Internet and waddled down the hall. They went into the soupy night and walked to Crick’s favorite spot. George looked to the sky, recently cleared of smog and clouds by quick hitting storms, to see the Big Dipper, it was so close that he thought he could almost drink from the gourd. A smile broke his momentary spirits inspired delusion. He smiled because of his realization that the beauty he saw in the sky was the result of another artist, One making it all possible. George and Crick headed back to the house. Willie was picking his raggedy looking guitar and letting loose with a most beautiful tune. The guys looked on, strumming and smiling, on-stage witnesses to Willie’s inspiration. George wondered if Bruce would like this song and how Jerry and Margaret would appreciate the talent of Willie. He quickly swallowed the last of the whiskey, crunching a thin piece of ice just before it melted, and turned off the television. The stairs proved to be an inconvenience, just as moving the dog off his spot would be. With his pillow just starting to find the right shape, George thanked God for everything and fell into a deep sleep, smiling, of course.

“We can go to Second Street,” said Coach Fraser.

Rory and Allen did not object. Second Street was a big part of their history. E Spernanza’s dad took Rory there when it first opened. The ceiling tiles were falling, but the burgers rocked. Through college, Rory dropped a fair share of cash in the more upscale Second Street. The ceiling tiles had been repaired and the burgers were still great. A few years back, Rory and Allen spent an epic night there when the cliche that “even a blind squirrel finds an acorn” would come to life. Heading to Second Street seemed like a good idea.

Except when they got there. The once Cheers like atmosphere had gone cosmopolitan. Rory felt betrayed by the new look and expressed his doubt, “Coach, are you sure this is the place you want to go? How about the Moose?”

Coach Fraser replied, “We have to go here. There is someone waiting.”

Allen secretly hoped it was an acorn reunion, but it was not to be. Sitting in a darkened booth and looking rather mechanical was Poodle. He had been witness to the epic nature of the aforementioned evening, but tonight he was looking scared and out of sorts.

“I found them. Now I’ve got to go,” said Coach Fraser.

He left without even saying good bye. “Some people never change,” said Rory.

“POODLE, what’s up my brother?” said Allen.

Poodle never looked over. He asked, “Are they out there?”

“Who?” said Allen.

“Those voices. The ones singing obscure Blue Oyster Cult songs like “Veteran of Psychic Wars” and “Flaming Telepaths.”

“How much have you had to drink?” asked Rory.

“If I’m still breathing, not enough. You guys, I need your help. Will you come to Tangier Island?”

Rory and Allen looked at each other. Both knew that there was disaster written all over a trip with Poodle into the bay. They would have been safer chugging up the Amazon. Rory still believed that whatever had been going on in his life was real, so he thought this was just another piece to his journey. Allen saw that nothing epic was going to happen, so he offered to drive the trio to Poodle’s boat. They got to the dock in about an hour’s time and Allen finally saw potential for the night.

“You got enough ballast in this tub?” asked Allen.

“She’ll get us there,” said Poodle, “It’s whether they let us come back that is the question.”

“Who?” asked Rory.

“I don’t know, voices. Just a bunch of damn voices I heard when I was crabbin’ the other day. I’ve been spooked ever sense.”

“Do you think it was some island dudes trying to scare you off?” asked Allen.

“No way. They told me to go down to the Yorktown Pub and pick up a case of Sea Grass. I never even heard of it, but the guy there was waiting for me. It’s some kind of micro brew. We’re supposed to drink it before we get to the island and then wait. No real person could ever set something like that up.”

They drank their first Sea Grass before leaving the dock. It was cold and dark like a Guinness. It didn’t have any of that hoppy taste like a pale ale. It was dark, smooth, and potent. There was a collective accrual of drunkenness that was taking them beyond boating under intoxication to a spiritual realm like that Rory had experienced at Carter’s Grove. This time, the goats were not present and he felt doom instead of being enlightened. Allen sensed the changing aura and began yelling that the boat needed power washing to appease the spirits. Poodle kept drinking and steered a course into the rising sun that was for him was blinding.

With the sun taking a mid morning perch, Poodle dropped an anchor. The water was a little rough, but there was not lagoon to put in. This end of Tangier Island had been abandoned. Once there was a village called, Canaan, but the island life offered little to people, so they left everything behind. Since then, the Chesapeake Bay had been taking in the leftovers. With little commercial relevance to the island, estimates of it’s death had been written in ledgers at between twenty-five and fifty years. Each of the guys chugged one last beer and jumped into the water. They had a short swim to a narrow beach that was cluttered with all sorts of trash from the bay.

“This is an environmental nightmare,” said Allen as he stepped over an axle from a lawn mower. One wheel was still attached and it was anybody’s guess as to where the junk had floated from. “Goats don’t leave trash behind,” he said.

“Look at this,” said Rory. He pointed to the ground at a human skull. “Where do you think it’s from?” He reached down and picked it up. At that moment, the full force of the beer hit. Clouds streaked across the sky and blocked out the sun. The boat sat perfectly still in water that did not move. Poodle passed out while Rory and Allen waited for whatever was coming.

“I guess this isn’t real either,” said Rory.

“I’m not sure yet,” said Allen.

A voice with an English and Virginia accent began speaking. Rory and Allen assumed it was coming from the skull, so they focused their attention there, “This was our promised land. We settled here. We were buried here. Now the waters dissolve our graves and the bay is taking the island away. Danger awaits those who do not heed the environmental warnings. Rising waters will be the least of the problems.”

“What are the most of the problems?” said Allen.

“Man.”

“What do you want us to do?” said Rory.

“You must fight global ambivalence. There are many fronts. Save this island before the horrors are released.”

The sun came back out. The choppy waters returned. Poodle woke up.

“Get in the boat,” said Rory. “We’ve got to go.”

“Allen, this whole time I thought we were making our way from the west after seeing my brother and running into all these people from high school and throughout history was a dream?”

“Yep,” said Allen.

“What about Ali, Parcels, and crashing the debate?”

“Never happened.”

“Ester Rolle, the leprechaun, my horse carriage business?”

“Nope. Nope. Nope.”

“What the hell, man? Am I going crazy?”

“I don’t know. You’ve always been a bit of a receptive spirit.”

“What do mean by that, Allen?”

“You know that song, Telegraph Road, by Dire Straits?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re like that, full of linear development and Rory, you know you’re my boy, but if I were to go about deconstructing you, I’d say you’re in need of some demassification.”

“I must be back in a dream. I’ll play along, although, this conversation is a bit woolly.”

“We live in an era of technocrats and you’ve been wrestling with your place in this word for quite some time.”

“What do technocrats have to do with anything?”

“You’ve never been one for special effects. You prefer acoustic or simple electric guitar to crazy synthed up sounds. You never turn your phone on and Facebook is the bane of your existence. You are the anti-technocrat.”

“Still waiting…”

“I’m just saying that all this technology and social media has been a catalyst for you to understand what you are all about.”

“Go on,” said Rory.

“You wrestle with social, media or otherwise, so all of this pressure to be on this or that has become much too weighty. You went to sleep trying to find meaning and purpose in a world that for all of its connectedness is a testament to isolation and an abundance of trivial social interactions.”

Rory thought for a moment, “That’s pretty good for a guy who once argued that psychology does not exist.”

Allen bowed.

“So what do I do with all of these dreams? They must mean something.”

“How do you resolve complex issues?” asked Allen.

“I shoot hoops.”

With that Rory and Allen hopped into Rory’s grandpa truck. They turned on the radio and Telegraph Road was playing. The song was nearing the end with the great instrumental when Rory turned into Quarterpath Park. He kept an old ABA basketball in back in case he ever wanted to shoot baskets somewhere. There was one car in the parking lot, a lime green Toyota from the late seventies. It was clean, not a speck of dust or a rag streak anywhere on it.

“You know who’s car that is, don’t you?” said Rory to Allen.

“AC, cool old, Alvin Cauthorn.”

Sure enough, out on the court in his blue sweat suit was the man himself. AC had been one of the coolest dudes ever. He was a stud football player, went to college, and came back to teach in his hometown. He had been Rory’s coach in junior high for basketball and Allen’s coach in football. He could have been Denzel’s study for coolness and everyone’s model for treating people right.

“What’s up, coach?”

“My goodness, if it isn’t old Rory and Allen. What’s going on fellas?”

Allen answered, “Since you asked, Rory is having a hard time figuring out who he is. What advice can you give him?”

“First of all,” said Rory, “are you here or am I dreaming?”

“I’m here, just as you are. What’s the problem?”

“I don’t know, coach. Life used to be so simple. Everyone told me if I worked hard and set ever challenging goals I could be something.”

AC stroked his beard and Rory wondered how there wasn’t a bit of gray in it. “You know, Rory, the idea that we keep getting better if we keep raising the bar is full of pressure. It’s too straight ahead for me. I think we move forward, test the boundaries, maybe fail, and try again. There are missteps, but we find a way that works. It’s messy, slow, and at odds with the establishment, but if we learn to think, we can to where we are supposed to be.”

Rory looked at Allen, “He didn’t say anything about technocrats.” Allen made a face back at Rory.

“This time we live in presumes that continued improvement is the only way. Technology has fueled that because of the speed involved in everything. I’m guessing you want something that is more simple.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because you have an ABA basketball. What screams old-school more than a red, white and blue basketball? I’d say the ball represents your gratitude for what sports once were and a bit of pessimism for what sports are. In your search for simplicity and finding out who you are you hold on to the ball because it suggests that the past is within reach.”

“Whoa, coach, you made us think when we played, but you are blowing my mind now,” said Rory.

“Nope, I’m just helping you sort what you already know. What do you think about the ball?”

“I don’t know. It’s got style. The colors make it stand out.”

“How about you go in the corner and show me that patented Rory jumper?”

Rory went to the corner, squared up, and let the ball fly. His wrist flicked and hung over the rim. The rotation of the ball was perfect and the red, white, and blue mixed into a purple as the ball arched and fell into the net.

“Money!” said Allen.

“No, it was more than that. Those three colors became one. All the parts came together to make a perfect shot. Rory, it’s time for you to put the doubt away and rejoin the rest of us. No need to bring the ball, you have all you need. I’ve got to go. It was nice seeing you guys.”

Rory and Allen watched as Coach Cauthorn drove across the dusty parking lot. None of the dust stuck to his rims.

“Come on, Allen, we’ve got somewhere to be.”

Allen and Rory had always dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail, but walking back to Virginia from Arizona was now before them. They started walking and sometimes slept in hotels, other times by the side of the road, but they rarely talked. They wanted their experience of seeing Rory’s brother to become an illustrated history of their time with him. They took turns leading the goat who always knew where to find good food and clean water. They decided to stop for awhile in Memphis. After being silent and walking for nearly five months a few days around the Mississippi River would give them a chance to recharge their batteries and find a soulful recovery for their final push to Williamsburg.

“Don’t drink from the river,” said the goat.

“Why not?” asked Rory.

“Microbeads, they are in the water and killing the fish.”

“Good advice, thanks,” said Rory.

“Guys, I’ve got to be going. My future takes me to other souls and you guys are on your way. Remember, the goat leaves, but I never do. Keep plugging along. Everything will be alright.”

The bearded goat walked away and disappeared into Beale Street before the Rory or Allen could say a word. They looked at each other and saw a sad sight. Not only was the goat gone, leaving them a little shaken, but their clothes had the look of a 1,500-mile walk. They were tattered and worn. Up a side street was a vintage clothing store, so the ragged pair made their way inside to get some new clothes. Given their haggard look, the store owner gave them a suspicious look. She eyed them like an old time saloon owner who had a couple of desperate looking cowboys enter her establishment.

“We are looking for some new clothes that are good for walking. Can you help us out?” asked Rory.

“Sure, but you can’t try anything on until you clean up,” said the owner.

“You wouldn’t happen to have one a shower, would you?” asked Allen.

“Hold on.”

She grabbed her phone and called someone. While she was busy, Rory and Allen looked around the store. It wasn’t the clothes that caught Rory’s eye, it was something from his high school days. Sitting on a shelf behind some old army coats was an antique reader. The machine would show one line of text at a time and finishing a passage the reader would take a comprehension test. With each test passed, the machine could be set to a faster speed.

“Allen, remember this? I loved that class,” said Rory.

“Turn it on see what happens,” said Allen.”

Rory hit the switch and instead of the screen lighting up, an envelope popped out of the slide slot. Derek and the Dominoes singing “In the Presence of the Lord” played on the store’s sound system, Allen looked around for the goat, and Rory tore open the envelope. He could hardly believe letter he was reading.

“Rory, I once told you that you were not challenging yourself. Now you are wrestling with a crisis of meaning and I am here to tell you to slow down. Look around, there is beauty in ease. Mrs. Linkenauger…”

“Look at this,” said Rory as he handed the note to Allen.

The owner of the store approached Allen and Rory. She said, “I get the impression you guys just need a break. When I write about this in my chronicles, I hope it’s not something I regret. Come on.”

She let them go upstairs and wash the last couple of months away.

The sound of a bone breaking is horrific. The snap sends a recoiling through the witnesses that nearly takes the breath away. In the initial moments of a break we are not only startled by the sound, but also drawn to the aftermath. The gruesome, macabre nature of our beings is not satisfied by the sound of a breaking bone. We must see the disfigurement and the anguish on the victim’s face. Somehow that brings a calm to us. We can get over the horror by gawking at the grotesqueness.

The Rhinebeck All-Stars were making their annual summer southern baseball sojourn from New York. Each year the team with the Houston Astros striped jerseys made the trip to Williamsburg to play our all-stars, take in Busch Gardens, and then head south for more games. They were something of a travel team before the travel leagues really got started. Each year they pulled into the parking lot looking really old for fifteen year olds. Some sported full fledged mustaches that were major league compared to the faint strands of hair poking through our lips.

Most years the games would be close and this year was no different. We fielded a team with live arms and decent bats. Our work in the field could be suspect, but everyone on that team was a gamer. We were a cool mix of kids from Lafayette and Bruton and this was about the only time of year we were able to tolerate each other. Thunderstorms were in the area which made the late July humidity worse than normal. Because of the gravy like air both were hoping for a quick game. There was no wind at Kiwanis Park and a haze hung over the field. The buzz of the lights drew every possible bug into the air. The night was miserable.

I was playing third and John was playing shortstop. The score was tied at three, but Rhinebeck was threatening to score. They had runners on second and third with two outs and a stud hitter at the plate. Our pitcher, Rob, was good, but on this night he struggled to mix in good curve balls, so the Rhinebeck hitters were pretty much waiting for Rob’s fastball. He wound up fully intending to blow a heater past the hitter, but it was not to be. As soon as he let the pitch go the hitter was already locked in. He hit the second hardest ball I would ever see while playing. The good thing was that the ball was heading to the ground and in the direction of John at shortstop.

Because I knew John, I did not buy into the myth. He was a quiet dude, but super competitive. He was build like something out of the Marvel franchise with muscles that looked tough, not all puffy like a body builder. His quiet way and chiseled physique made him something of a mystery to most, one the kids from Lafayette tried to avoid.

Kiwanis Park, where we were playing, was tired and rundown. There was a lip on the edge of the infield that tonight was part water slide due to the humidity and part Evel Knievel launch pad. John had been playing in, so when he charged the ball he found himself caught with an in-between hop. The ball hit the damp grass just on the edge of the infield and skidded into flight. The speed of the ball coupled with the weird hop left John in a bad position to field the ball. He missed it with his glove, but fielded it with his athletic protector, the cup.

The sound of the ball hitting John was equivalent to the sound of a bone breaking. I watched the ball bounce away and John scamper to grab it and make perfect throw to first base for the third out. Right about then, there was lightning, and rain that fell straight down. We got back to the dugout and hoping the rain would not stop.

“Man, how’d you handle that shot?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but check this out,” said John. He reached into his pants and pulled out his cup, both pieces. The ball hit him so hard, it broke his cup in half. Say what you will about kids from Bruton, but John was tougher than anybody I knew.

“I work in the CIA creating new identities for people. Give me a call if you need anything.”

That was the last time I talked to my childhood friend, Dory. We were all grown up and hanging at Paul’s Deli. In the years of running up tabs there I had heard a lot of stories, but this one was the best. It was late, or early depending on your perspective, so I nodded my head and took off. My old friend had suds mouth from too many pitchers of Mr. Busch’s finest.

From fourth grade until sometime in high school, I had been friends with all the kids who lived in my apartment complex. Two, Dory and May, were older girls who would prove to be my mentors into the world away from the complex. The other kids were all younger, so I was able to play like kids with them, but Dory and May were the two that I learned from.

Before I go any further, I didn’t learn any of that from them. Concepts, yes. No realities, though.

They taught me how to play cards, backgammon, and Truth or Dare (always go with truth). They introduced me to the cool older kids, although I wasn’t ever really in with them. The picked on me like a brother. Once Dory smacked me on the stomach with an open faced peanut butter sandwich. The bread just stuck there and after a few seconds of shock we ended up having a great laugh about it. Mostly, they got me out of the horseshoe where we lived and away from the house. As middle and high schoolers that usually meant Disco Night at Busch Gardens.

The Old Country used to stay open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays in the summer. The bumper cars would be shut down and turned into a makeshift disco, it was the late seventies, after all. The Bee Gees, Sister Sledge and Earth, Wind, and Fire would take over the Octoberfest Bavarian atmosphere and give sleepy old Williamsburg a taste of Studio 54.

The three of us would get there early and ride some rides. Somehow I was always getting crushed on the Spider, but it was all good because I could claim I was there with two older girls. None of my friends could claim that. The reality was that I was tagging along because I was more little brother to Dory and May than boy toy.

I learned a few lessons at Disco Night:

1. Look across the dance floor and find someone who looks like they know what they are doing. Copy them.

2. Marijuana has a funny smell. The first time I smelled it was at Busch Gardens. I wrestled with how funny everyone thought it was that there was a joint somewhere in the crowd and my allegiance to law and order due to my father’s career as a cop was put to its first test of right and wrong.

3. Middle school boys have no chance against high school boys. The same is true for the next level. Interestingly, my friend equates “potential for harmony” to the “expense of the relationship.” He told his son that the son did not have the wallet for his college girlfriend who had just found another (way richer) boyfriend. I guess those early lessons only grow in complexity as we got older.

Each Disco Night would end the same way. We made a mad dash to meet our ride home, who was usually my mother. We would get there just as she was pulling up which probably was a little late and claim the night had been kind of boring, but the truth was it had always been fun in that adolescent way.

I moved in high school and after those Dory and May could drive I lost track of them. I ran into Dory at a party in college. I was hanging with some friends at VCU and heard my name being called from a balcony apartment. I hung at her place for awhile, but left her party without even saying goodbye. May catered my brother’s funeral, but both of us were too busy to catch up.

It’s nice to know that if I ever need a new identity that there is someone in the government who can help me out. Of course, that’s assuming she really is working for the counter intelligence dudes. My instinct tells me that it’s counter intuitive, but who knows? Now for that peanut butter revenge.