He’d spent the afternoon cleaning and vacuuming. Other than a different floral wallpaper and “brick” linoleum in the kitchen, and shortened drapes in the living room and study, the house hadn’t changed in the thirteen years since he’d been there. He opened a window over the kitchen sink and pressed his right hand against the screen, savoring the feel of the cool evening air against his skin for a moment.
A knock startled him and he spun around. Through the screen door he could see the shoulder of a dark blue shirt and a badge. His heart did an unexpected quickstep as he moved cautiously to the door.
The officer looked to be in his late thirties, though the soft belly swallowing the top of his belt buckle suggested older. His face was unremarkable, his receding hair faded blond. Only his eyes were interesting. They were pale green, watchful.
“Can I help you?” Danny asked.
The officer just stared back. Danny licked his lips and stole a quick glance at the silver nameplate pinned above the right breast pocket: Holtz. An image of mirrored sunglasses and a thick blond mustache flashed in his mind. “Dick Hole,” he whispered involuntarily, then tried to cover it with a cough.
“Nice to see you, too, Danny,” Weston Police Lieutenant Rick Holtz said dryly, then gave a tight smile. “Or is it Dan now?”
“Danny’s fine,” Danny replied. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s okay,” Holtz said. “As I recall, I may have earned the name a few times. I heard you were back in town and just wanted to stop by to say hello. All right if I come in for a minute?”
Danny immediately felt wary, but pushed the door open. Holtz stepped stiffly past him into the hallway, then turned right into the kitchen. He took a look around before turning back to Danny. Danny leaned against the door frame, cradling his left arm across his stomach with his right hand.
“Settling in okay?” Holtz asked.
“Yeah, I guess so.” Danny’s mouth suddenly felt dry. “You want something to drink?”
“Do you have any coffee?”
Danny shook his head. “Sorry, I don’t drink it.” He felt oddly embarrassed. “I guess I just never acquired the taste.”
“Mommy has a headache. Make mommy some coffee, just the way I showed you.”
“Probably just as well,” Holtz said. “Stains your teeth and rots your gut.” He nodded toward the family room. “Shall we?”
“Yeah, sure,” Danny said uneasily.
Holtz sat on the plaid couch, while Danny took the orange twill recliner by the fireplace. He shook a Marlboro from a pack on the side table, then looked up. “You mind?”
“It’s your house,” Holtz shrugged.
Danny clamped the cigarette between his lips and lit it.
“So is your left arm paralyzed?” Holtz asked. It came across as detached curiosity rather than intrusive.
“No,” Danny replied. “The nerves are okay, but it got busted up pretty badly and the bones fused in this position. By the time I was stable enough for surgery, they would have had to re-break them all. Didn’t seem worth it since no one expected me to wake up.” He looked down and wiggled his fingers. “Maybe some day I’ll get it fixed, but right now I don’t want to see the inside of another hospital for a long time.”
“I’m sure,” Holtz nodded. “So are you planning to stick around for a while?”
“Yeah. Seems like a good place for me right now.”
“Emotionally comfortable,” Holtz offered.
Danny considered it, smirked. “Well, let’s just leave it at emotionally familiar. Plus my mom’s going to need me to cart her around for six months until she gets her license back.”
“When does she get out?”
Holtz nodded. “I’m sure it’ll be good for her to have you here. I think she got lonely out here by herself.”
The words hung there for a moment, and Danny wondered if he’d imagined a note of blame. He decided to change the subject. “So how long has the Gardners’ house been empty?”
“It’s not,” Holtz said. “Joey lives there.”
Danny blinked back. “It looked abandoned when I drove by.”
“Yeah, he hasn’t exactly kept the place up. I don’t know if anyone told you, but his mother committed suicide a few months after Bryce was killed. Pills. His father has some sort of degenerative brain disease. Joey moved back to take care of him about five years ago but had to put him into a home last year.”
Danny nodded, only half-listening. It hadn’t occurred to him that he might see Joey again, at least not so soon. “Is he married?” he asked. “Any kids?”
Holtz frowned. “I don’t think he’s exactly the marrying kind. He pretty much stays to himself at the house. We see him in town once in a while, though never for long.”
So he’s some kind of freaky homo hermit now?
The neurologist had told Danny “the voice” was just unconscious thought bubbling up from a part of his brain that hadn’t reintegrated with the whole yet. He preferred to think of it as a remnant of his fifteen-year-old self, lurking in some corner of his brain. He found the idea comforting.
“You should stop by and visit,” Holtz said. “I’m sure Joey would appreciate seeing you. And it might be good for both of you.” He looked at a grouping of family photos on the wall above the mantel for a moment, then pushed to his feet with a grunt. “I should get going. I’m sure you still have a lot of unpacking to do, and my wife’s holding dinner for me. Like I said, I just wanted to stop by to say hi.” He paused for a half-second before adding, “Though I would like to sit down and talk with you at some point.”
Danny’s stomach clenched. “Why?”
“I’d like to hear what happened the night you and Bryce were attacked.”
Danny considered just telling the truth—that he didn’t remember anything from that night or the weeks leading up to it—but something in Holtz’s tone struck him as odd. “Why? What does it matter?” he asked. “Tim Walczak’s already in jail.”
Holtz shrugged casually. “You never know. You might remember something that didn’t come out during the original investigation.”
“Like what?” Danny pressed, beginning to feel annoyed.
Holtz smiled as though he’d just discovered Danny was slow. “If I already knew, then there wouldn’t be any reason to talk to you, would there?” Before Danny could reply, Holtz took out his wallet, removed a card, and handed it to him. “Give me a call when you have some time. I’m not on patrol anymore, so I’m usually at the station.” He patted his stomach and offered up a grin that seemed intended as self-effacing. “Or grabbing a bite at Ye Olde Cottage.”
Danny felt the old dislike come rushing back.
Danny watched the taillights disappear down Cherry Brook, then went back inside and locked the door. He grabbed a Coke from the fridge and lit a cigarette.
He wasn’t sure what to make of Holtz’s visit. Clearly it had been more than just a social call. How had Holtz even known he was back? He’d been in town for less than nine hours and had made only a quick stop at the boutique grocery store that replaced the Triple A Market.
The Holtz he remembered had been petty, insecure, and desperate to have his authority respected. He’d been like the substitute teacher who starts class by warning the kids not to test him or they’ll be sorry. It might have made him dangerous if he hadn’t also been predictable. Danny had always gotten off with a slap on the wrist because it had been so easy to push Holtz’s buttons and get him to undermine his own credibility.
This Holtz seemed outwardly different. More direct, at ease with himself, maybe even thoughtful. Yet Danny had still sensed the old Holtz lurking behind the not-so-shiny new facade, and the visit had definitely felt like a warning shot.
But for what, and why did he need to stop by so soon? It’s been thirteen years. What difference would another few days make?
His thoughts began to move faster.
Or another few years? Walczak’s already in jail, so what does it matter? Why does he want to talk with me at all? I don’t know anything. I didn’t have anything to do with the murders. I was almost killed. But what if he doesn’t believe that? What if he’s been waiting all this time to prove that I was the killer, and…
Danny caught himself and laughed. He took a drag on the cigarette to slow his racing pulse, and shook his head. Or maybe he’s just missed me because he hasn’t had anyone to hassle since I’ve been gone. He cracked the tab on the Coke, took a sip, and headed upstairs.
Though he’d expected to be immersed in his past when he moved back, he hadn’t realized it would be quite so literal. His room was a virtual time capsule. Marantz receiver and Technics turntable still on a low stand under one window, albums neatly arranged beneath. Bookshelves lined with classic adventure and mass market paperbacks. Walls a who’s who of stoner rock—Pink Floyd, Hendrix, the Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Aerosmith, the Allman Brothers, Cream, Skynyrd, Marley. Paint and a new mattress were definitely in the near future, he decided.
He looked at the lone poster over the bed, a stark black and white shot of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page from a 1973 show at the Boston Garden. Plant’s shirt was open, his hips thrust forward, his cock and balls gaudily outlined against his upper thigh. Danny smiled, remembering Caroline staring at the poster with a combination of disapproval and curiosity. How did she not know? he wondered. I hardly ever listened to Led Zeppelin.
She was married to Jerry for seventeen years.
He knelt in front of the stereo and pressed the ON button. After a few seconds the tuner glowed blue. He set the function to FM and slowly turned up the volume. A station promo—“WBCN Boston. The more you listen, the longer it gets.”—segued into the frenetic marimba organ loop of Baba O’Riley.
Guess that hasn’t changed either, he thought. He opened a box and began sorting clothes into the dresser.
The idea of seeing Joey scared him. It wasn’t just the disturbing picture Holtz had painted. What if things between them were too different? Though he knew it would be ridiculous to assume they could pick up like no time had passed, what if there was no connection at all?
He pushed the drawer shut, opened another, and began filling it with socks and underwear. He had a vision of Karl giving him an exasperated look and straightened up the underwear.
He’d never been one of the popular kids or even part of a clique, but he’d always felt like he belonged. It wasn’t just pieces of his memory that were missing. He’d lost that sense of belonging. The world he’d been part of had moved on without him, but he didn’t feel part of this one yet either. Something was missing. He’d hoped he could find it by coming home. Maybe Joey would be part of that.
He pushed the drawer shut and reached into the bottom of the box for the porn magazines Abby had slipped into his bag as a going-away present from Shady Meadows. He already had them pretty much memorized, but couldn’t bear to part with them. He crossed to the nightstand and opened the top drawer. All thoughts of Joey faded.
The drawer was empty save for an oversized white book with horizontal bands of both bright and dark green above blocky hand-drawn type: WESTON 78. It was the yearbook of what should have been his graduating class.
He laid the magazines on the nightstand, sat on the edge of the bed, and took the book out, resting it on his lap. He stared at it for a moment, then ran his fingers over the cover. He felt a tingle run through his body, raising the hair on his arms. He took a deep breath and flipped it open.
The inside cover and fly leaf were covered top to bottom with scrawls of blue and black ink. Danny leaned closer and studied them. There were a few short notes, but mostly signatures. He recognized nearly all the names, and felt a lump form in his throat. He looked self-consciously into the hallway as though Caroline might be watching.
He turned the page. On the right was a photo from his last Christmas morning, proudly modeling the fleece-collared Levi jacket Caroline had gotten him. His long sandy hair was disheveled and his eyes still a little puffy with sleep, but he looked genuinely happy. He was sure it was the only choice Caroline had given the yearbook committee. She’d told him it was her favorite photo of him because he was always sweetest in the morning, before he remembered to be a teenage boy.
Across the top of the page it read DEDICATION, and just above the photo, To Our Friend Danny Tyler. Below it, We Miss You. Love, The Class of 1978.
Danny began to cry.