The next day, Rich rode his bike to practice. Don did not play on the team, but Sammy was the shortstop. After practice, Rich and Sammy rode home on their bikes. Sammy’s house was on the way to Rich’s. Sammy steered his bike into the driveway as Rich kept going straight.
“See ya later,” Rich said.
“Later,” Sammy said.
Rich saw Sammy’s mother come out of the house. She and Sammy met halfway up the driveway.
Rich peddled a short distance. A baseball slipped from his glove that was strapped to the handlebars. It rolled into the ditch. Rich stopped, got off his bike, and looked for the ball in the high weeds in the ditch. He found it and walked back to his bike
He heard someone yelling at him. It was Sammy. “Rich! Rich! You got to come here!”
Rich turned around and peddled back to Sammy’s. They met at the end of the driveway.
“What?” Rich said.
“You ain’t gonna believe this,” Sammy said excitedly, “my mom just told me, Ole man Winters was found hung to death in the Jorgenson barn this morning.”
Rich swallowed hard and said slowly with little display of emotion, “Really.”
“They said the barn door was wide open and he was just hanging there with a pile of crap in his pants,” Sammy said as though he wanted to talk about it further.
“That’s too bad,” Rich said. “I better go now.”
Sammy stood motionless and confounded as Rich peddled away.
Two days later Rich retrieved the mail from the mailbox in front of their house. Normally, Rich just grabbed it out of the box and placed it on the dining room table, but as he tossed it, the mail fanned out. He saw a letter addressed to him. He opened it. Rich could do not believe at first what he saw. Inside was a hundred dollar bill and a letter.
Rich unfolded the letter and read it.
Please keep our secret. The money is for a good night’s work. I think if I would live longer we would become great friends. Remember where the ring is. It is yours.
Rich laid the money and letter on the dresser in his bedroom. He mowed the lawn, taking the rest of the day.
Rich’s thoughts were only of Chet, Claire, and Lilly—and an unborn child—the tragedies of life, innocence, and brutality. He wondered what, if anything, was to be learned from this. Rich thought about Don’s treatise on god making even bad things come to a good conclusion because Chet ended up with a good wife and two children. “What would have happened if Chet went off with Lilly? He would have lost his farm and maybe they would have had a terrible life together, but as it was, Chet and Claire had a good life. The suicide of Chet did not seem rational or a just end.”
After supper, Rich relaxed in his room and listened to radio in his room.
Mrs. Larsen called Rich from downstairs. He sprang up from the bed. Before leaving the room he passed the dresser. The letter, the envelope, and the hundred dollar bill was gone. He opened the drawers and looked behind the dresser. There was nothing.
Rich slowly walked down the stairs.
“Where ya at, Mom?” Rich said.
“We’re in the kitchen,” Mr. Larsen said.
Rich walked into the kitchen. Mrs. Larsen leaned against the counter and Mr. Larsen sat at the table holding the letter and the hundred dollar bill rested on the table in front of him. Rich looked into their eyes. They were emotionless and stoic.
“What is this all about?” Mr. Larsen said.
Rich looked at the floor and said, “I can’t tell you.”
“What do you mean, you can’t tell us?” Mr. Larsen said with a firm controlled anger.
Rich shrugged his shoulders and pressed his lips tightly and said, “I just can’t.”
“What’s going on here?” Mrs. Larsen said kindly. “We can’t help, if you don’t tell us.”
“There’s nothing to tell and nothing to help with,” Rich said. “I did some work for Mr. Winters and he paid me for it.”
Mr. Larsen slammed his fist to the table and shook the butter dish and the salt and pepper shakers. Rich flinched. He cursed and blared, “There’s something screwy about this and I’m going to get to the bottom of it. You get a lot of money from a guy who kills himself and for all we know you’re involved somehow.”
Rich straightened the butter dish and the salt and pepper shakers. “I promised not to tell and I won’t.”
“Please son.” Mr. Larsen pleaded. “Just tell us and everything will work out.”
“I can’t,” Rich said.
Mr. Larsen sprang up from the chair causing it to fall over backward. Rich flinched again and stepped back. “Has that ole pervert been queerin’ you?”
“No!” Rich said indignantly.
“Are you queerin’ him?” Mr. Larsen said with his hands on his hips.
The room became cloudy and darkened from the edges of Rich’s vision. He breathed deeply, but it did not satisfy his lungs’ appetite for oxygen. His body felt weak and his face felt as though it was going to melt away. Finally, he was able to harness the much-needed oxygen and said. “Can I have the letter and the money.”
“Take your love letter and shove it, ya little queer,” Mr. Larsen said and tossed the letter at Rich.
Rich picked it up from the floor and waited for the money.
“I’m keeping’ the money until we find out what’s going on.”
Mr. Larsen’s eyes were sharp and resolute. Rich looked at Mrs. Larsen.
“You heard your dad,” she said.
“And what’s this about a ring?” Mr. Larsen asked.
“I can’t say,” Rich said.
“You two going steady?” Mr. Larsen said sarcastically.
“No,” Rich said.
“Get out of my sight,” Mr. Larsen cursed flinging his hand.
Rich returned to his room and listened to radio.
Shortly, Mr. Larsen came into the room. Rich jerked.
Mr. Larsen unplugged the radio and tucked it under his arm like a football. “There’s no radio until you cooperate. And if you want baseball, you have to get there yourself,” he said firmly. “You‘re not my son anymore.”
Mr. Larsen left and shut the door. Mr. Larsen never shut doors.
Rich stared at the ceiling. Later, he reached underneath the bed and grabbed his transistor radio. He held it to his ear and turned it on low.
The next morning Rich finished the lawn.
Except for baseball games and practice, he stayed at home for the next few days. Mrs. Larsen and Mr. Larsen hardly spoke to him. Rich felt he had to get away.