Bo Boulay

One never knows when a life-changing event might occur. One happened to Cory when he went to his dad’s funeral. 

The last time I saw my dad alive was at my youngest brother’s high school graduation. There was a photo taken I’ll always remember: Will was dressed in a forest green graduation gown. His big, brown eyes peered out from underneath the cap and his long hair trailed to his shoulders. He stared at the camera looking ill at ease like maybe he was stoned which, years late, he confirmed. Dad stood next to him, smiling and proud, looking like he wanted to put his arm around his son. But he didn’t, being one who was not comfortable demonstrating affection, public or otherwise. He was dressed the way all middle aged men of the day usually dressed for such an event: dark charcoal dress pants, a thin, black, shinny belt with a modest gold buckle, and a light blue, neatly pressed, long sleeve dress shirt, open at the collar. He was a handsome six foot one with discerning gray-green eyes, a quick laugh an even quicker smile.  His tan belied his health and, in spite of smoking a packet of Benson and Hedges a day, his teeth were brilliant and white. People were drawn to him and he had numerous friends. His hair was cut short and it was dark, with only a hint of grey showing on the sides. Where Will was thin, dad was not, out weighing him by forty-five pounds. But he wore the weight well, looking fit and strong. He was forty seven years old and five weeks later he would be dead, killed by a massive heart attack early one morning doing jumping-jacks in the bedroom of his home in a suburb south of Seattle.

Dad’s friend Sam (Sammy) Wong called mom and told her of the news. Will and my other brother still lived at home in Minneapolis, so they found out right away. It took half a day to get a hold of me. I’d been out riding my bicycle around one of the city’s lakes near where I lived and had decided to take a nap under a shady cottonwood tree. When I got back to the apartment I shared with my friend Greg, he told me to call home. I did and that’s how I found out. I didn’t have a car so Tim, my brother two years younger than me, borrowed mom’s ’69 Impala and he drove over to get me.

On the way back we talked.

“Man, I can’t believe he’s dead. We just saw him, what, a month ago?” Tim was twenty and a few inches shorter than my six feet. We played in a band together, ‘Expecting to Fly’, named after one of The Buffalo Springfield’s songs. Since we played a lot of Neil Young covers, we thought we were being clever. Tom wore blue jeans, a white tee-shirt and moccasins. His hair was shaggy, not as long as mine (which was past my shoulders) and he wore wire frame granny glasses. He was a natural singer and played drums in the band and was good at it. When we began to get interested in music dad told us he had played drums, too, when he was a boy. As an adult he was a jazz man. He loved the guitarist Charlie Byrd and the drummer, Buddy Rich. To foster our interest in music (even though it was rock and roll), he bought us a pearl gray Slingerland Drum set when we begged for it. I give him a lot of credit for giving in to our pleading without batting an eye, but then again he may have had an ulterior motive. I was in ninth grade and Tim was in seventh at the time. A year later he left home and three years after that he married his girl friend, a stewardess who worked for the same airline where dad was a senior pilot. She was twenty-four then, six years older than me. If it sounds weird, it was. “How do you think Jane will handle it?” Tim asked.

“Who knows?” I didn’t care for her at all and only tried to get along with her because of dad. “She’s probably crying in her wine.” She liked to drink and smoke. So did dad. Dead at forty seven? Maybe it was to be expected.

Back at the house we sat around the kitchen table. There really wasn’t much to say. We’d all made out peace years ago, in one way or another, in the seven years since dad had left our home. But now he was dead. As final as final could be. The next step was the funeral. That’s why we were all getting together-to decide who, if any of us, should go. Well, to make a long story short, it ended up being me. Will had a trip planned to go to the Rocky Mountains with some friends. Tim wanted to stay home and work on music with the band. It fell to me, at twenty-two and the oldest, to ‘represent the family’ as we put it. Mom was fine either way. She, too, had moved on, but of all of us she was the most saddened by Dad’s passing.

“I always thought he might come back to me,” she said when I hugged her good-bye later that evening. Then she started shaking a little and a few tears formed, “I always kept a torch burning for your father.”

Well, what do you say to that? The guy had left her for a woman just a few years older than his oldest son.

I hugged her tight. “Now you can really move on with your life, mom,” I said. Sage advice coming from someone who’s longest relationship with a woman up to that point was the one I was currently in-three turbulent months. “Go out and find someone who’ll treat you right,” I added, trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about.

She squeezed me back and wiped her eyes, “I will, honey.” She gave me a game smile, then held me at arm’s length and brushed my hair back behind my ears. “I wish you’d get a haircut, though, before the funeral.”

I smiled and called for Tim. He was giving me a ride back to my apartment. “Don’t worry, Mom. No one is going to care what I look like.” It turned out to be one of the few things I was right about on that entire trip.

Four days later I was on a Boeing 727 heading to Seattle with my backpack stuffed under my seat. I was traveling light. I wore an unbleached cotton long sleeved peasant shirt I’d gotten at the local coop, baggy jeans with lots of pockets, hunting boots, and my ever present leather lace tied around my neck with a beaded peace sign dangling off it. I left my old felt hat at home in deference to dad. I only planned to stay a day or so. But at the funeral I met Bo Boulay and ended up staying nine months longer. His impact on me stayed with me for the rest of my life.

When I landed in Seattle Sammy Wong picked me up at the airport. He was second generation Japanese-American and I liked him a lot.

“Good to see, you, Cory,” he said, shaking my hand when I got into the terminal. “You holding up Ok?” He was a short, thin, athletic guy who moved with natural quickness. He was friendly, like my dad had been, and there were lots of laugh lines on his face.

“I’m good,” I said and proceeded to fill him in on what was going on with my mom and brothers back home in Minneapolis. He and his wife had been friendly with my family for years and still stayed in touch, despite Sammy and his family’s recent move to Seattle. He was a pilot and had been transferred there by the airline like my dad had been. They lived on Vashon Island, in Puget Sound, fifteen miles north of Federal Way, where dad and Jane lived. His three girls where the same age as me and my brothers. He told me that his oldest, Sue, was in law school, his next oldest, Nancy, was in pre-med and his youngest, Sally, who had just graduated from high school like Will, was going to spend time in Africa in the Peace Corps. The comparisons between Sammy’s bright, driven kids with me and my brothers, who were decidedly less so, were, thankfully, not touched on; Sammy have the good grace to move on and not dwell on a sore point between me and my recently deceased father.

Dad’s home in Federal Way was off Interstate 5 between Seattle and Tacoma. It was a community of brand new homes carved out of a large pine forest. Sammy was driving his British racing green Triumph TR-4 with the top down. We passed through the imposing stone pillars marking the entrance to the community after about a half hour drive from the airport. As Sammy slowed to turn in, I took out a comb and tried to get the snags out of my hair, to limited success. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him watching me, smiling slightly. He didn’t say anything though, which I thought was nice. He was a really polite, decent guy.

The streets wound through the development, up and down hills, bending and curving around corners until, even though I’d been there a few times before, I was completely lost. The homes, being brand new, had a modern look to them and were a mixture of ramblers, ranch homes with the occasional colonial two story tossed in for good measure. In my spare time back home I cut lawns and did yard work to make extra money and I was impressed by the tasteful landscaping, with gardens full of blooming shrubs planted near the houses and large beds of colorful annuals scattered around the yards. The grass was bright and green, indicative, I figured, of regular rains. Large, squared timbers and massive rocks had been used to shore up the edges of slopes, and in some properties I saw an occasional fountain, bubbling and cascading cheerfully in some back corner of the yard. It was a community that oozed prosperity, just the kind of place that would be perfect for my dad. He liked things new and neat and tidy and this place fit that bill to a tee. Once through the entrance it took us ten minutes to get to dad’s home: a two year old, low L-shaped rambler with light tan siding and dark shutters around the windows. It sat on the top of one of the highest points of land in the development. There were cars parked in the double width driveway and they spilled out onto the street. Sammy pulled up behind a red Mercedes sedan and parked.

“Lots of people have been stopping by to see Jane and pay their respects,” he told me, getting out. “Her parents have flown in from D.C.,” he paused, running a hand through his hair, thinking. “I should tell you that her younger brother’s here, too,” he finally said as we started walking toward the house.

I was glad to hear there’d be someone there somewhat close to my age. “Oh, yeah?”

“Yes. He’s a little different.”

Jane had never mentioned her brother before, so my mind went to town, thinking about what ‘different’ might actually mean; crippled or deformed or mentally not all that much there. I had no idea what to expect. I soon found out.

The front door opened when we got there and a guy stood in the doorway like he was expecting us. He was a little older than me, and was muscular and stocky, about three inches shorter than I was. His head was shaved, so were his eyebrows and he had a week’s worth of thick, dark beard on his face. His eyes were a piercing blue, his jaw was square, his lips full and he wore a gold stud in his left ear. There was a light scar on his right side of his face that ran from his cheek bone to his jaw bone. He wore camouflage pants, black combat boots and a tight black tee-shirt that showed off his muscles. There was a tattoo of a skull and crossbones on his left bicep and a Tao symbol on the right. He took one look at me and smiled a huge smile, showing white teeth, and said, “Hey man. You must be Cory. I’m Bo. It’s about time you got here. I’m can’t take it anymore with all these old fogies around here,” he glanced at Sammy and added, “No offense.”

Sammy just grimaced and went inside, whispering to me as he passed, “Good luck and be careful.”

I probably should have listened to his cryptic advice but I was too caught up in the moment.

Bo put his arm around my shoulder like we were long lost buddies and hustled me off the front steps. “My car’s parked over here,” he said, pointing to the street where a dilapidated, faded blue, Volkswagen was parked with two wheels on the lawn. Let’s go for a drive.”

I was thinking that I should probably stop in and pay my respects to Jane, after all that’s what I was here for, but I really didn’t have any choice. Bo came across as a force of nature and I was immediately swept up by his energy. Back then, I was by nature a reticent person, more of a follower than a leader, and I was willing to be carried along with the monsoon tidal wave of his personality.

“Let’s go down to the Sound,” he said, leading me across the grass to his car, “I feel like getting high.” I got in the VW getting the impression from the debris on the floor and crap on the seats that he might live in it. Which wasn’t half wrong.

He grabbed a handful of junk food wrappers off the passenger seat and tossed them in the back, giving me a glance and saying, “Sorry about that.” He told me he’d driven straight through from Colorado, where he’d been staying with friends, at the request of his sister to attend the funeral. He’d been living in the car to save money for the three days it took him to make the trip.

Then he started the engine and pulled out a joint that he lit and inhaled deeply, holding  in for a long time before exhaling the smoke with a satisfied sigh. He offered me a hit which I reluctantly took, taking a tiny drag just to be friendly and quickly gave it back to him as I tried not to cough. Then he put the car in gear and drove us out of the safe security of Federal Way and down an ever complicated series of hilly tree lined streets and winding roads for about ten miles toward Puget Sound. He knew the area like he’d lived there all his life. Which he hadn’t, he just had a way with direction.

“I’ve never been lost in my whole life,” he told me as he downshifted into second gear and sped past a slow moving truck. “I’ve got a natural born compass built in me.” I clutched the door handle and held on for dear life. Even though he was a good driver, he made up his own rules as he sped through the streets, ignoring stop signs and racing through stop lights if there wasn’t anyone around. I had to admit, though, it was a fun, exhilarating ride.

I don’t know why I was enamored with the guy, but I was. He was just so different. He’d been to Vietnam. He did drugs. He told me he thought he might have child somewhere. We had zero in common, but there was something there.

“Tell me about yourself,” he said, as he drove.”You a hippy or something?” Then he laughed, barking out a mouth full of weed, coughing as tears formed in his eyes. He punched me in the arm and the car swerved to the right, “Just kidding.” He laughed again and then straightened us out. “No really, I’m curious, what do you do with your time?”

So I told him about the band I was in. I told him I liked to write and that I’d had some poems published in a local literary journal. I told him about my yard work. I told him I didn’t have any real plans.

“Yeah, I can dig that. What’s wrong with being free and doing what you want, right?”

Well now, years later of course I could think of lots of answers to that question, but back then I grinned at him, feeling that with Bo I’d found a kindred spirit, someone who wasn’t going to put pressure on me to do anything worthwhile or accomplish anything meaningful with my life.

I relaxed and reached for his joint, “Exactly,” I said, taking a hit and only coughing a little, “I couldn’t have put it any better.”

Victory Park was southwest of downtown Seattle and was known for its groves of beautiful tall pine trees and large, well maintained gardens full of colorful mixtures of yellow, blue, red, orange, white and violet flowers separated by large grassy areas where people could picnic, throw footballs or Frisbees and let their dogs run. Bo parked the car, we got out and stumbled around for nearly an hour, laughing and giggling taking surreptitious hits off another joint of his. We finally found a weathered stone stairway that took us thirty five steps (I counted) through a steep, forested incline, down to the shore. As we came off the bottom step Puget Sound stretched out before us, a wide tidal inlet unlike anything back home in the upper Midwest, land of meadows, farm fields and woodlots. I’d been to the Sound before on visits with my dad, and I was always taken by its beauty: the sailboats out on the water dodging bigger motor boats, tugboat pushing barges, lush pine tree islands where people with money lived, the ferries motoring back and forth, gulls soaring and calling, locals out on the mudflats looking for clams, the distinct aroma of the ocean with seaweed everywhere washed up on the rocky shoreline, and the air filled with a mixture of sea salt and pine like a wild, fresh incense.

This was Bo’s first trip to the Pacific Northwest. “What do you think?” I asked when we settled down on a graying driftwood log. A soft breeze blew through my hair. We were on a pebble beach facing west and way off to our right we could just make out the Olympic Mountains up on the Olympic Peninsulas almost a hundred miles away. Sunlight glistened off the water and tiny ripples on its surface sparkled like diamonds. The air had a moist coolness to it that was refreshing. Small waves lapped hypnotically on the small rounded stones that made up the shoreline. Gulls cried and squawked overhead.

Bo was gazing around like in a trance. “I can dig it, man. It’s not like where I’m from at all. I grew up out east and it’s kind of old and settled. Being out here makes me feel good. It feels wild. Like there are still possibilities to do whatever you want to do.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, you know…anything.” He bent down and picked out a stone. “Look at this, will you. See how smooth it is?” I looked. It was colored with mottled grays and greens, about two inches across and nice and flat. Perfect for skipping. Bo wasn’t thinking about playing any childish games, though. “Can you imagine the history behind this? Where it came from? It was probably formed over a million years ago and traveled through the eons on a journey we can only pretend to imagine to finally end up here it is on this beach.” He looked at me. Then he sniffed the rock, rubbed it on is cheek and then caressed it with his hands. “What a story it could tell.”

Dramatic, I thought. Almost poetic. To me it was just a small rock and I still longed to take it from his hand and skip it out over the water. Bo stood up and stuck the stone in his pocket. “Well, I think it’ll have a different kind of journey, now,” he said, “I’m keeping it for good luck.” He stood up and started to walk toward the stairs, “Let’s go.”

I don’t know. Even now, when I think back on it, Bo was a little different. But I, like I said, I was drawn to him. “Hold on,” I said. I stood up and searched around my feet. Then I bent down and picked up another flat stone. I steadied myself and then flung it out over the water, counting the skips (eleven, if I remember correctly).

Bo laughed and hugged me by the shoulder. “You’re alright, Cory. You’re Ok by my book.”

What he meant by that I had no idea, but it felt good to feel that he at least seemed to be accepting me for who I was.

“Let’s go back to the house,” he said. “You probably want to see my sister and talk about your dad.”

To be frank, I’d forgotten all about Jane and the funeral. He was right, we should get going. Besides, the sun was setting and it would be dark in about an hour.”Yeah, we should,” I said turning to go. But we weren’t ready yet. Bo reached down and selected a stone and fired it out over the water and we both watched, counting the skips.

“What’d you get? Fifteen?”

I nodded in agreement, “Yeah, pretty close.”

He smiled and breathed in a big lung full of fresh air. “Man, I could really get into it down here. We should come back.” I told him I’d come back any time he wanted and he seemed happy with that. Then we walked across the shoreline, climbed the stone stairs up to the top, found the trail through the pine trees out to the grassy spaces and flower gardens, made our way to the car and drove off.

So far so good, right? Just two guys hanging out together and getting to know each other. Well, my safe and secure life started to unravel a bit on the way back to Jane’s house.

“Let’s stop at this Quik-Mart,” Bo said pointing out a convenience store just after we’d left the park. “I need a few things.”

“Ok, but I don’t have much money,” I told him, traveling light as I called it.

“That’s fine. Just stick with me.”

We pulled into the lot and parked off to the side of the store and went inside. It wasn’t too crowded and the young woman in her early twenties behind the counter was talking to a customer and barely gave us a glance.

“What you want me to do?” I asked, starting to get nervous. Bo was acting different. He had forced himself to calm down, hardly able to contain his natural nervous energy.

We were slowly walking down an aisle full of candy when he startled me by suddenly taking random candy bars off the shelves and handing them to me. “Here, stuff these in your pockets…Quick,” he told me, looking casually around.

He was shoplifting. Now it may sound odd, but up until then I’d never stolen anything in my life. Of course I’d been tempted, just to try it when I was a kid, but never had worked up the courage to do it. I guess Bo assumed I wouldn’t balk at his order. I didn’t want him to think I was chicken so I had a decision to make. “Ok,” I whispered, nervously joining in and putting a Snickers Bar in my pocket.

“Good man,” Bo said and then continued walking through the store picking items seemingly at random, sometimes giving them to me, sometimes putting them in his own pockets. One time he handed me a bag of M and M’s that I dropped and bent to pick up, glancing quickly around. No one seemed to care enough to pay any attention to us. My uncomfortableness was all my own doing.

After a few more minutes he was ready to leave. “Want anything?” he asked me.

What could I say? I was afraid that we were going to be caught, yet, at the same time, strangely stimulated. It must have pointed to my rather boring life that something so trivial, like stealing, could be so exciting, but it was. I quickly scanned the shelves and put a pack of bic pens in my back pocket. Bo just smiled like he knew something I didn’t.

“Watch this,” he said, walking confidently toward the counter with a loaf of bread and a six pack of Coke. “Works every time,” he whispered over his shoulder as I followed behind, looking side to side, for some reason feeling I had to keep a look out. I need not have wasted the time.

The cashier greeted us with a smile and checked us out without even batting an eye at our (what seemed to me) bulging pockets.

Once in the car Bo started laughing, “Man what a rush, huh?”

We emptied out our take onto our laps. Our haul: nine assorted candy bars (including my bag of M and M’s and my Snickers), a small tube of crest toothpaste, a pack of Kleenex, a deck of bicycle playing cards, a roll of string, some glue, scotch tape, two Hallmark sympathy cards (Bo picked out those, I assumed for Jane), a packet of Marlboro cigarettes and my bic pens.

Bo told me a day didn’t go by when he didn’t steal something. “I love knowing that I might get caught, but it’s never happened yet. I started doing this last year when I got back from ‘Nam. It may not sound like much to you, but for me it’s a real kick.” He looked at me, waiting for some sort of response.

By now I was starting to get a little unsure of Bo, fearful of what weird thing he might do next, but I was also intrigued by the guy. He was so different from anyone I’d ever met or known before in my life. The basic fact was that I liked him and wanted him to like me. I said the only thing that made sense, because it was the truth, “Yeah, it’s a real kick for me, too.” And with that, a bond of sorts, was formed between us.

We drove back to Jane’s. There were over twenty people still there and I tried to cover up my wired nerves while chatting with some of dad’s friends. I think I was mildly successful, only getting a few questioning looks, which probably had to do more with my long-haired appearance then anything else. I paid my respects to Jane. She was tall and thin with an angular somewhat attractive face that was prone to freckles. She was fastidious about her appearance and usually wore her reddish-blond hair down to her shoulders where it flipped out at the ends. I knew she loved my father deeply, but his death had affected her dramatically. She looked worn and exhausted. Her hair, usually so clean and styled was oily, flat and dirty. He complexion had broken out and her eyes were burned red from crying. I found myself feeling sorry for her and as we talked I was cordial with her and she was with me. Two days earlier when I had called and told her I was coming out for the funeral she had graciously suggested that I could sleep on the couch in the den. When some friends of hers joined our conversation, I made an excuse to leave and went in there, set my pack on the floor and looked around.

Dad had been an amateur photographer and his framed photos of seascapes, horses and mountains hung on the walls. There were also quite a few taken of Jane in various artful poses both indoors and outside. I liked the ones he’d taken of her somewhere along the shore of the ocean the best. She had the wind in her hair and the sun on her face she looked fresh and happy. It was nice to see her like that, and I found myself hoping than she would eventually find someone she could be that way with again.

Bo had followed me in and was looking  at dad’s pictures.”I like these. I like that he did them all in black and white.”

“Dad was cool. He liked to race sports cars. He liked jazz. He was an alright guy.”

“Weren’t you mad at him when he left you guys for my big sis?”

“Well, ya…” I spent some time talking to him about all of that. When my story had run its course I said, “Let’s go outside. I’ve got something to show you.”

We went into the garage. The sun had set by now and darkness was settling in. I found a step ladder and we took it around to the back of the house. Everyone was inside and we were all by ourselves. I set up the ladder next to the house and climbed up. I could easily hoist myself  onto the roof.

“Come on,” I told Bo.

He joined me and we carefully made our way to the top crest and sat down. We were looking north toward Puget Sound. The sun was below the horizon and glowing a deep violet. Lights from homes and street lights shone brightly, speckling the night with a feeling of peaceful calm. Somewhere out there in the darkness beyond the horizon was the Pacific Ocean.

“It’s beautiful up here,” Bo said. “Like a being in a dream.”

“I know. I’ve spent a lot of time up here other times when I visited my dad. Sometimes he and Jane would have to work, you know, go out on flights together, so I’d get to stay at the house by myself. I usually came up here every evening to watch the sunset.”

“Didn’t you mind being alone?”

“Never. It was peaceful, just like now.” We could hear the murmur of voices down below inside and the occasion car starting up out front when someone left, but no one came out to the backyard. It was like we had the world all to ourselves.

We stayed up there watching the night unfold, long enough for the guests to leave and Jane to go to bed. We kept talking , getting to know each other better and whiling away the hours. Bo told me that his name came from Bob, his first name, which ironically was my dad’s name. “I thought it was short for Beauregard,” I told him and he almost fell off the roof laughing.

“God no,” he said, catching his breath, laughing some more. “No way,” he said and left it at that.

The stars came out into a cloudless sky, filling the night with a twinkling dome from horizon to horizon. Every now and then we’d see a satellite drifting by. We could see lights blinking on boats miles away on Puget Sound. The scent of pine trees filled the air. It was so quiet, with everyone in the neighborhood having gone to bed, that now and again we could hear long, low whistle of a tugboat out on the Sound, a lonesome moan that sent shivers down my spine. Bo’s too, he told me. Neither of us wore a watch, but we watched the moon rise behind us and slowly move across the sky. At one point I went down the ladder and into the garage to get some old blankets. We wrapped them around ourselves to keep off the chilly air and eventually fell asleep, waking just before dawn to a sky erupting into shades of salmon and pink. We hadn’t even done any drugs. It was unforgettable and one of those experiences that has stayed with me my entire life.

            The funeral was at noon that day. I sat in the front row on Jane’s right and she held my hand, weeping the entire service. Her parents were on her left and then Bo. Sammy gave a nice eulogy, talking about his friendship with my dad, what a respected pilot he was and how much my father had loved Jane, which caused her to cry even more. I had been asked to say a few words and I decided to quote from Henry David Thoreau, “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains,” and talked about how much dad had met to me and that his life had ended way too soon, and I would always hold his memory dear, and in that way he would never be gone and be with me always. Whether it had anything to do with Thoreau’s quote…Well, to this day I’m still not sure.

Anyway, people seemed to like what I had to say. The service was well attended at a non-denominational chapel and was mercifully short. There was a framed picture of him on a table in the front next to understated bouquets of flowers, red roses, ferns and Baby’s Breath predominating. There was also a silver plated urn etched with soaring birds that held his ashes. Jane would scatter them at a later date, ‘When I’m ready,’ is what she told everyone. But for me, I’m embarrassed to say that it was all secondary to what was going through my mind. Bo and I had ripped off another convenience store on the way to the funeral, this time netting us, among other things like the cigarettes Bo wanted, a bottle of wine, which Bo drank most of on the way to the funeral.

I can’t tell you how thrilling the experience of stealing was getting to be. For Bo it was the element of danger and maybe getting caught. For me it was deceptively simple: I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to do. Just like a little kid, here I was an adult, acting like a child, and, to be perfectly honest, loving every minute of it.

Sammy and his wife gave a reception at their home on Vashon Island. We had to take a ferry across Puget Sound from downtown Seattle to get there. The Island was about two miles long and a mile wide and rose to a pine tree covered crest a couple of hundred feet above the water in the middle. It was heavily forested with large, architecturally unique homes built on the sloping slides, all with dramatic views of the Sound and downtown Seattle in mind. Sammy loved to garden and his Japanese style contemplative gardens surrounded his low, dark stained, cedar sided ranch home. Bo and I walked in the shaded gardens, talking not about the peaceful serenity of the setting, but the incredible rush we both were getting from our fledgling robbery spree. I was definitely getting hooked on that high, something that Bo readily related to.

“When I was in ‘Nam we were on edge all of the time.” He had been a medic in an Evav Unit (Evacuation Unit). His team would helicopter into a fire zone and pick up the wounded, usually while a battle was still going on. The size of the helicopter limited how many injured they could carry out and often Bo had to decide who it possible to save and who wasn’t. He’d been twenty three at the time. “When I got home, all of a sudden that edge was gone. So was the tension. I tried a few jobs. Even tried meditation. Nothing worked. That adrenaline rush of us coming in under fire to take out my wounded buddies…Man, I’ll tell you, there’s nothing like it in the world. I was that close to getting killed myself dozens of times,” he said, snapping his fingers. Then he took out a cigarette and lit it, sucking in before exhaling and blowing the smoke away from us. We both watched it dissipate in the breeze. My life had been a cake walk compared to his. I had no idea what to say. We were sitting on a stone bench by a small pool in a quiet spot under some drooping cypress trees. The ground was covered with soft green moss and ferns nodded in the breeze. There were a few orange and black and white fish swimming lazily through the water. A small fountain was in the middle that bubbled up and trickled water down its sides, babbling like a brook. “Now-a-days I like to smoke my weed and drink a little wine to calm down,” he said, finally, crushing out the cigarette and putting the butt in his back pocket. “But for the rush…Man you can’t beat robbing stores. At least it works for me.” He glanced at me. “How about you?”

I had been watching the fish while I listened to him, mesmerized by their motion. What could I tell him? It was less about robbing stores and more about being with him and becoming his friend. I enjoyed his company. He was slightly off kilter, but all in all, a decent guy and I enjoyed being with him. I felt, in some small way, I was learning something about life from him. What exactly that was I wasn’t sure. But I didn’t want it to end. I told him what I thought he wanted to hear. “I get a real rush, too,” I said picking up a stick and twiddling it in my hand. “I’ve never done anything dangerous before, so it’s new. Different. Exciting.” I stopped and looked at him, hoping I’d made my point. He nodded, agreeing with me, which made me feel good. “I’m willing to keep doing it,” I added.

Bo stood up and stretched, the muscles in his arm popping. “Let’s pay our respects to my sister and get out of here. I’ve got an idea.”

I probably should have blown the whistle right about this time. I had planned to fly home after the funeral and get back to my life with the band and my new girl friend, but honestly, I had no real plans for the future. Besides, the draw of being with Bo and the excitement of what we were doing was too appealing. I went inside, used Sammy’s phone and called home. I told my mom I’d be staying a few more days. She said she’d relay the message to my brother and told me to take care of myself and that was it. Then I called my girlfriend and told her the same thing. The conversation was short. She didn’t sound too upset.

We took the ferry back to Seattle and pulled off to the side at the terminal. Bo got out a map and we looked it over.

“Look here,” he said pointing, “Let’s go to the ocean. I’ve never seen the Pacific from the west coast,” emphasizing ‘west coast.’ He looked at me and grinned, a nod to his time in Vietnam and seeing the Pacific from that side of the world. He started tapping his fingers on the steering wheel of the VW, a sure sign he was getting ready to do some shop lifting. I’d been to the coast with my dad a few times and liked it. The ocean, the pine forests, the sea gulls…Everything appealed to me. It was a far cry from the cornfields and land locked lakes I was used to.

“Good idea,” I said. “Let’s do it.”

Bo put the car in gear and we drove off through downtown Seattle and out onto the interstate. We went south into Tacoma. “I need cigs,” Bo said, and winked at me. By this time I knew what he was getting at. We pulled into a gas station and Bo pumped gas while I went inside to use the rest room. When I was washing my hands I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My hair was lank and dirty, my eyes were sunk into their sockets and my complexion had broken out with a pimply rash along my jaw line where a growth of soft whiskers had taken hold. I hadn’t showered or shaved since I’d left Minneapolis and the effect wasn’t pleasant. I didn’t dwell long on my appearance, though, preferring instead to focus my energy on shoplifting some stuff from the convenience store attached to the gas station. When I came out, Bo was talking to the cashier, a nice looking Asian woman with long black hair pulled back into a ponytail. She looked to be about thirty or forty years old. While he paid for the gas I moved quickly through the store picking up anything I could stuff quickly in my pockets. Then I joined him at the counter.

“Cory, this is Mia,” he said, smiling. “She says we’re only an hour or so from the Pacific.”

“Hi.” I didn’t know what else to say. My voice cracked a little from nervousness. Bo glanced at me, getting the hint, and we left, but not before I saw him grab a lighter on the way out when Mia turned away from us to straighten a display of postcards.

“What’s you get?” Bo asked as he started the VW and headed out of the parking lot. I pulled my take out of my pockets and lay them on my lap: more candy bars, gum, a couple of Hostess Cupcakes and some comic books. Bo laughed. “Way to go, my man. Food and reading material. Can’t get any better than that.”

Then he told me what he did. “I put ten dollars worth of gas in, but only paid five.” He said that he’d come up with a trick that involved using a five dollar bill, a ten dollar bill, a twenty and a bunch of ones. He had learned that he was always able to distract an unsuspecting clerk with his polite talk and chatter. In this case poor Mia never knew that she had been short changed. “I have to say, I’m getting pretty good at it,” he said, smiling and shifting into forth gear. I looked out the window, watching the buildings and warehouses go by. We were in a dirty, industrial part of town, not pretty at all; in fact, mildly depressing. The air smelled like rotten eggs due to the smoke from the mills processing pulpwood in the area. ‘The Aroma of Tacoma’ the locals called it. “Next stop, the ocean,” Bo said. The thought cheered me considerably and off we went, Bo singing ‘Lodi’ at the top of his lungs.

In Olympia we stole some pints of booze from a liquor store. We did it because they were easy to stick in our pockets. To distract the guy behind the counter, Bo paid for a six pack of Olympia Beer, namesake of the region. “Best beer in the world,” he said cracking open a can as we headed out of the parking lot, guzzling half of it. I unscrewed the top of my pint of Jack Daniels and took a tentative sip. God, it tasted awful, but I steeled myself and worked on it as Bo drove us east. The more I drank, the better it tasted.

A little less than an hour down the road and we were in Aberdeen, a working class town on a tidal inlet. We pulled off on an overlook and sat watching the tidal river with boats and small ships on it as they moved back and forth. By now it was mid afternoon and the day had warmed up, but threatening clouds were starting to form on the horizon to the west. Seagulls soared above us and black capped terns raced along the sandy shore as if playing tag with the water. We got out of the car and took some rickety wooden steps down to the shoreline. We walked a little ways until we found a quiet spot where we stretched out in the sand and settled down to watch the world go by.

“Man, I could live out here,” Bo said, looking around before laying back on the sand and looking up at the sky. He was working on finishing off the six pack. As he drank his beer he told me he’d been brought up in a well-to-do family. “My old man is a state senator for Virginia and was a lawyer before that. Mom has her charities and women friends. I was different from as far back as I can remember. Ever since I was a kid I liked to test myself, climbing trees higher than anyone else, jumping ten or fifteen feet into the foundations of new homes, riding my bicycle off docks into the water, stuff like that.” He told me he’d been a jock in high school and had won an athletic scholarship to the University of Virginia for playing baseball. “I was a pitcher but threw my elbow out the first year and that was all she wrote,” he told me. “I kind of lost it after that. Started partying too much, skipped classes and eventually got kicked out. My parents wanted to help me, pay my way and all, but I was sick of everything by then. Enlisting in the Army seemed like a good option.” He sat up and looked over to the right from where we were sitting. A bunch of kids a little younger than us were down along the shore tossing a Frisbee around acting like they had no cares in the world. “I’m glad I went.”

Compared to him I had done nothing. My life had been so uneventful up until this point that, when it came right down to it, being with Bo was the most eventful thing that had ever happened to me. In that way, it suddenly came to me that I was really having the time of my life. It was an adventure of sorts and for the near future it was all that I needed. “How about you?” he asked me. “About the war. Are you going to enlist.”

“No. I’m just take my chances with the draft.” Which is what my big plan was. I didn’t want to enlist. I didn’t want to go into the service. I could go to Canada or a I could go to prison. None of the options were good ones. “I’m just taking it a day at I time,” I told him, trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about.

Bo laughed and flashed me the Peace Sign. “I can dig that,” he said and lay back and closed his eyes. “I can really dig that.”

We stayed down by the water for a few more hours, watching the storm clouds building up over the ocean and the surf getting wild with the waves running at two feet, crashing against the pilings of the docks nearby. The gulls and terns flew inland for safety.  Pleasure boats moved in off the inlet and tied up in anticipation of a storm. We were enjoying watching the weather change and didn’t give any thought to potential danger. At one point Bo went over and played Frisbee with the young hippies and, after a while, brought them back to where I was and we all sat around smoking some of Bo’s weed. Well, everyone except for me. I didn’t and I’ll tell you why: I was running on a high like I’d never experienced before. I felt great; full of confidence and completely in charge of myself and whatever fate might choose to toss in my direction. Shop lifting and stealing was starting to go to my head and giving me a new found sense of myself. I felt I could do anything and I didn’t want to lose the edge that pot dulled. So I abstained, only drinking the last of the warm coke, watching the clouds building up and joining in with Bo and the hippies singing Bob Dylan folk songs. The hippies wanted us to come with them to a party somewhere but we told them that we had other plans, so they wandered off. Bo looked at me, “Now what? Time head out?” We planned to drive up the coast as far as we wanted, which was hardly a plan at all, but that was alright with me. I had nowhere to go and in no hurry to get there.

“Yeah, sounds good to me.”

We hiked back up the steps to the car. The wind was picking up, whipping up grains of sand that stung our faces. The clouds were filling in the sky all around us, billowing ominously in colors of gray, white and black. The sun was completely obscured. It was getting dark. The threat of a storm was eminent.

“Should we make a stop first?” he asked, grinning, getting into the car and out of the wind. “I could use some more cigs.”

“Yeah, let’s do that,” I said, joining him. The VW rocked a little as a gust hit it. My heart started beating faster. I knew what he was getting at. Another shoplifting adventure. I was all for it.

After he started the car he paused, watching the approaching storm. Then he got a strange look, “I’ve been thinking about doing more than just getting candy bars and comic books.”

“Like what?” I felt something changing in our conversation.

“I’m thinking about trying for some money.”

“You mean actually rob the store? Take the money and run, so to speak?” The thought was immediately attractive to me. My heart started beating so fast I thought I’d have a heart attack. My adrenaline kicked in. I felt a smile a mile wide break onto  my face.

“Yeah,” Bo said. “Let’s kick it up a notch.”

I barely hesitated, “I’m all for it.” And that was the beginning of the end.

“Here, get ready to put this on when I tell you.” Bo reached around into the back seat where his duffle bag was. He pulled out two cut-off nylon stockings and gave one to me. My heart started to race. I was scared but excited at the same time. It felt like we were being rebels, going against the accepted flow of society making our own rules, making our way on our own terms. It was a rush like I’d never felt in our previous robberies.

Then he reached under the seat and pulled out a knife. Not just any knife mind you, but a big bowie knife in a thick, black leather sheath. It looked to be a foot long. “What’s that for?” I asked, starting to get a little worried. I wasn’t sure what the plan was going to be, but using any kind of weapon wasn’t something I thought we’d be doing.

“Just a little persuader,” he said, stretching the word out like, “per…suede…err.”

Ominous sounding to my ears.”You aren’t’ going to hurt anyone are you?”

“Never had to yet.”

“Yet? You’ve done this before?”

“Lots of times,” he said lighting up a cigarette, and looking at me with a hard stare. I remembered the cuff-off nylons, one of which I now held in my lap. Duh. “Don’t worry, buddy, it’ll all be fine.”

Easy for him to say. But by now I was in it for the long haul and had no reason to say No to him. I was running on adrenaline and trusted that the guy knew what he was doing. Besides, I didn’t want to appear weak. “Let’s do it,” I said, mounting as much enthusiasm as I could.

“That’s my boy,” he said, putting the VW in gear and pulling out of the parking. “Just follow my lead and do what I tell you.”

Just west of Aberdeen along the same tidal inlet was the little town of Houquim. It was made up on old, dilapidated, weather beaten homes on one side of the road, and rotting docks with sad looking, listing boats tied up to them on the other side. The only business to speak of was the ‘Seaside Market’ a grey sided, wooden building that sagged to the right and looked on the verge of collapse. There were two gas pumps in front and it looked like they sold food inside. That’s where we stopped. It was around 8:00 pm and night had fallen. The sky was full of thick clouds. Rain was eminent. The lights inside the building were on and the place looked deserted except for a skinny old man behind the counter. Signs on the windows advertised cheap cigarettes and loaves of day old bread, two for the price of one. On the scale of depressing places I’ve seen, this was near the top. Bo turned to me, a bright gleam in his eyes. He was wired to a level higher than I’d ever seen before, just on the edge of being out of control. But he wasn’t. He held his hand out in front of us and spread his fingers. They were steady, not a twitch of nervousness. “Ready?” he asked me calmly.

My mouth was dry and I felt slightly sick to my stomach. Common feelings for someone preparing to participate in their first armed robbery? I had no idea. I couldn’t speak and only nodded my head, Yes. I was scared and wanted this to be over with as soon as possible.

“Let’s go,” he said.

We got out of the car and walked quickly to the front door just as a hard, cold rain started to fall. I watched the guy behind the counter. He was nearly bald, had a scruffy gray beard and was concentrating on reading what appeared to be a newspaper. He was facing sideways to us. Bo motioned for me to put the stocking on and I did, becoming momentarily disoriented by the nylon so close to my face. I couldn’t see very clearly, but could make out general shapes. Bo put his on and we went in fast through the door. The old guy looked up and smiled, ready to welcome us and then froze. Bo walked calmly to the counter and told the old man to give us all the money in the till. He had his bowie knife unsheathed and pointed it at the guy’s throat. The old man put his hands up and they started shaking. He took a step backward. I didn’t blame him. The blade was a foot long, shining and hooked at the tip, razor sharp and dangerous looking. “Hold it right there,” Bo commanded. “All we want is the money. Just do as I say and you won’t get hurt.” The old guy put his hands down, stepped back to the counter, opened the till and gave Bo all the bills in the drawer. When he handed the cash over to me I noticed there were a lot of one’s and five’s. I stuffed them in my front pockets. Bo calmly looked around, “Where’s the store room?” he asked like he’d done this before, which, of course, he had. The guy pointed a shaking hand toward the back of the store. Bo used his knife to motion him out from behind the counter and marched him down the aisle. “You keep an eye on things,” he told me, as they went by.

I watched them go through a door in the back of the store marked ‘Employees Only’. I looked out the window to the front praying that no cars would pull in, thankful for the storminess of the night. As I was watching the road, all of a sudden flood lights came on outside, shining brightly and illuminating the gas pumps and the front of the store. They must have been on an automatic timer. My nervousness kicked into high gear. With the lights on it made it seem like daylight outside and I figured it must be really easy to see into the store. Where the hell was Bo? I was worried and started pacing back and forth. I grabbed a snickers bar off a rack and chowed it down. Unfortunately, due to my dry mouth, the sticky mass got stuck in my throat and nearly choked me. I was coughing when Bo came out of the back room and joined me by the front door.

“Everything Ok back there?” I asked, regaining my wind, if not my composure.

“Right as rain,” Bo gave me a quizzical look but didn’t say anything more. Instead, he grabbed a few packs of cigarettes and headed out the front door, me following behind, splashing through puddles, removing our ‘masks’ as we went. We got in the VW and were just pulling away when a car pulled in for gas. Bo stomped on the gas pedal and we beat it out of there, speeding away to the west, windshield wipers barely able to keep up with the pouring rain.  We followed the road for a few miles until it bent a hard right to the north. On the left, barely visible through the sheets of rain, the Pacific stretching ominously into the darkness. We’d made it to the ocean.

Bo was giddy. “Man, what a rush!” He put the accelerator to the floor. The VW hydroplaned for a moment and then caught traction. We sailed up the coastal highway.

I was right there with him. “Man, that was unbelievable.” Words were failing me. It was exciting, that was for sure. But something about the whole experience bothered me. First of all the knife scared the crap out of me. I wasn’t back then, and never have been since, one prone to violence, and the knife was scary. Besides that, I found myself feeling sorry for the old guy behind the counter. He was only just trying to do his job. Then I had a horrible thought. What had Bo done with the guy? Had he harmed him? I asked him that very question.

“Oh, I just tied him up in the back room,” he answered vaguely. “He’ll be alright.”

“You didn’t hurt him, did you?”

“Now what would I do that?” he turned to me with a threatening look, like he was pissed off. The car swerving to the right. He corrected it and got us back on the road. “Do you trust me or not?”

Well that was the crux of the matter, wasn’t it? I’d known him for just over a day and we’d been together just about the entire time. I liked him. I felt that we were establishing a friendship of sorts. But did I trust him? I wanted to. Just then the rain turned to a driving downpour and Bo seemed to forget about the question he asked me, preferring instead to concentrate on driving. That was fine with me. I found myself mulling it over. Did I or did I not trust him?

While we drove I counted the money. It was more than I thought there’d be. “Two hundred and sixty seven dollars. Not bad.”

If Bo was in a stink with me he didn’t show it. “Great,” he said, then yawned, coming down a bit. “Let’s find a place out of the rain for a while. Celebrate.” Darkness was complete now and the night was wicked. The wind was blowing the little VW all over the highway and Bo was struggling to keep it in the correct lane. Fortunately, there weren’t a lot of cars out.

A few miles up ahead we saw some lights for a restaurant on the left, overlooking the ocean. We pulled into the lot. It was about half full. We ran through the rain to the front door and went inside, shaking water from ourselves. I was hoping we’d be anonymous but we weren’t. The place was filled with what looked to be locals, hard working lumbermen and fishermen and their wives and families. We stuck out like pigs in a field of daises

Our waitresses’ name tag said ‘Katie’ and she seated us in a corner, out of the way of the other diners. She was a heavy, middle aged woman with short cropped and dirty blond hair tied up in a red bandana. She had a ready smile and if our appearance bothered her, she didn’t let on, calling each of us ‘Hon’ as she gave us our menus. A young kid brought us water which we gulped thirstily, looking over the selection of dinners which were slanted heavily toward varieties of baked, fried, pouched and steamed fish. I looked out through the window that faced the ocean. The darkness was a backdrop to the rain running in torrents down the glass. A good night to be inside. Bo looked up from his reading at the exact moment I glanced at him.

“What do you think? Pretty amazing, huh?”

I was assuming he was talking about the robbery. I was starting to come down from the rush, but still wired. I nodded my head, looking around. People were watching us out of the corners of their eyes. “Yeah,” I said, then leaned closer to Bo, whispering,”How often do you do that? Rob a store?”

“Whenever I need the cash. Once a week, sometimes more.” He, too, had lowered his voice. I had a sudden vision of the both of us traveling around the country in his ratty VW, living free and easy, shoplifting stuff and robbing stores for cash whenever we it. Since I didn’t have a lot going on in my life, the thought was strangely appealing. “I’m thinking of something big. Maybe knocking off a small bank or something like that.”

“Make a living out of this, then?” I asked, “A sort of robbery lifestyle,” I added not sure if I was joking or not.

“Lots of people I know do it. I’ve got friends who live up in the Beartooth Mountains in Montana who camp out, live off the land and only come down when they need some cash. Which isn’t that often. They call it living off the grid. It appeals to me.”

I looked out the window again. Katie came and took our orders, but I suddenly wasn’t very hungry and just ordered a salad. Bo ordered a steak, lobster and a baked potato. He chatted away, still cranked up from the robbery, while I listened, nodded my head to show him I was paying attention and stealing a glance out into the stormy night every now and then. After a few minutes Bo startled me by was asking if I was serious about traveling with him.

“It’d be fun,” he said, picking up a fork and twilling it through his fingers. “We’d take it a day at a time, go wherever we wanted and do whatever we wanted. We’d be outlaw gypsies.”

He kind of had a point. It did, in its own way, sound appealing. I happened to glance across the restaurant where Katie was serving a middle aged couple and their daughter and son. For some reason I thought of my mom. Then I thought of my dad. I had come out here for his funeral which had occurred earlier that day. I certainly wasn’t doing service to my memory of him. Bo’s confidence was catching, but what he was proposing wasn’t for me.

I was trying to find a way to tell him I’d had enough. I didn’t have his background or his history. I hadn’t served in the military and seen god only knew what horrors he’d been exposed to. Something had happened to his moral compass. I liked him, but I didn’t want to be like him. I wasn’t sure what I wanted, but I didn’t want a life of crime, living on the edge of society and just getting by. I was ready to pack it all in and head home. It had to do, in the end, with the knife he’d pulled on the old guy in the store. The whole thing  was too dangerous for me. Someone could get hurt and it wasn’t worth it for any amount of money. The thrill was gone. My decision was made.

But I never got a chance to tell Bo any of the things I’d been thinking of. Katie had just brought our dinners and Bo was digging into his steak and describing in detail his vision of us traveling together, when I saw two policemen come in through the front door and look around. They were big guys, shaking water off their gray slickers and rain hats and they didn’t look too happy. They talked to a thin, dark haired man with a mustache who seemed to be the manager of the restaurant. After a minute the cops looked our way when he pointed to us. They each undid the strap holding their revolvers in place and walked toward us. I remember the restaurant going silent as the diners watched the cops. I saw Katie shaking her head, like she was disappointed in us. The bottom dropped out of my stomach.

Bo was still talking to me about his plans for the future when I taped him on the arm and pointed. I could barely speak. “I don’t think either of us are going anywhere,” I stuttered, “Not for a long time.” It turned out I was right.

The car pulling into the lot when we were leaving had a college professor and his wife in it. He was one of those guys who had an eidetic memory, and when he glanced at our license plate he remembered the number of it. Which came in handy when they went inside and couldn’t find anyone to wait on them. After a short search they found the old guy tied up in the backroom. He was shaken but unharmed and was able to tell them what had happened. They called the police and the rest was history as far as we were concerned. In retrospect, I’m surprised it took as long as it did to find us. Probably the rain slowed the search effort down somewhat. Anyway, we were taken to jail back in Aberdeen, booked and, times being what they were back then, given no opportunity for bail. Over the course of the next few days, Bo’s record caught up with him, while I was seen only as a naive, short term but willing accomplice. He was given three years in the state prison in Walla Walla and I was given nine months in the county jail in Aberdeen. By the time I got out I had short hair and had lost ten pounds. I’d also read a lot of books, trying to make up for the fact that I had been so stupid in the first place to have followed Bo just to be his friend. Dad had left me and my brothers a little money in his will. I used mine as seed money to go to college back home at the University of Minnesota, working and saving and paying for the rest of my education myself. My draft number was high enough that my draft board never calIed me. To this day I’m amazed at how lucky I was. I finally earned a degree in English with a teaching certificate added on. I got a job teaching high school American Literature in the small town of Aurora in northern Minnesota, met my future wife there and moved on with my life.

I only heard from Bo one time after we parted ways, with him heading for prison and me on my way to jail. He called me toward the end of the 80’s. He said he was in Grand Junction, Colorado and had been thinking about me, wondering what I was up to. At the time I was teaching entry level English at HeartLand Junior College in southwestern Minnesota. I told him I’d had a couple of short stories published and was working on a novel. I told him about my wife, Lori, who was an art teacher, my son Jake and my two daughters, Annie and Heather.

“Sounds good, man,” he said. I’d talked for ten minutes, my nervousness finally giving way to curiosity.

“Enough about me,” I said, finally, “How about you?”

He laughed. “Well, you know, doing this and that.”

“You mean you’re still…?” I asked, leaving the question hanging, not wanting to give away too much with my family nearby in the next room. We’d been playing Clue and I was holding up the game. But I was interested in Bo. Even though I’d moved on in my life, I still thought about him every now and then, wondering what he was up to.

He laughed into the phone. “No. I gave that up. I’m living in the mountains with some friends, traveling around. You know…”

“Are you alright, Bo? I asked, suddenly aware that this call out of the blue must have had a reason.

“Money’s a little tight,” he sighed. “My girlfriend’s pregnant.”

So that was it. “I can send you some,” I said, making a quick decision. “Where to.”

He sighed again, this time with what sounded like relief,”Thanks, man.” He gave me a PO box number and we chatted for a few minutes, but there really wasn’t anything more to say. He had what he wanted from me and that was enough.

But for me it was more than that. Who knew what would have happened to me if I hadn’t met Bo? It was a question that I’ve run through my mind often. I went to Seattle with nothing going on in my life and returned, older and wiser, with a plan. Bo played a large part in creating the space for that to happen. It could be argued that I would have eventually figured things out for myself and that may be true, but the fact was that Bo had been there when I needed a jump start and he provided that. Besides, as I said, I liked him.

After we said Goodbye, I set the phone down and sat thinking for a few minutes about the strange ways life works sometimes. I posed the question to myself: Would I ever have Bo come to my home and meet my family? I was thinking about the answer to it when my daughter, Annie, came in and pulled on my arm. “Who was that, daddy?” she asked. She was eleven years old and had long dark, auburn hair like her mother’s, brown eyes and a ready smile. She was my oldest child and we were very close.

“An old friend, sweetie,” I told her.

“From back when you were a hippy?” she asked, smiling and giving me a hard time. My kids had asked about what life was like when I was young and I’d told them parts, but not all, of it.

“Yes, nosy, back then, “I grinned and stood up, “Let’s get back to the game, Ok?”

“What was his name?” She took my hand as we walked into the living room.

“Bo. His name was Bo.”

“Was he a friend of yours?’

“Yes, he was a friend.”

“A good friend?” Annie liked to get as much information as she could when she talked to you.

“Yes, a good friend.”

“Your best friend?”

I smiled and sat down. My wife was watching me. She knew about Bo and also knew I’d put that part of my life behind me. I could tell she was curious too. How would I answer my daughter’s question?

I thought about it. All the arguments about friendship and responsibility and right or wrong ran through my brain in an instant-stuff I’d thought about many times before. Bo’s call had started the stream of arguments running again. But over and above the arguments were the flood of memories that raced back about the time I spent with a guy I’d never expected to meet and probably would never see again. He was unique, I’ll say that for him. I liked him then and I was surprised to find that I cared about him now.

“I didn’t know him very long, but he was a good friend, Annie, let’s leave it at that, Ok?” And I thought about it for a moment before I added, “And I hope someday you have friend that means as much to you as he did to me. That would be a really good thing.”

And then we got on with our game.

Advertisements

On the Lucie Line Trail

A ride on the Lucie Line Trail turns into something more than Mike McCormick bargained for. Is he up to the task?

Man, he loved his horse; a Tennessee Walker such a deep, rich, chestnut color, it made his eyes hurt sometimes if the sun hit it’s coat just right. He gently placed the worn, blue and red Navajo patterned wool blanket onto the horse’s back as the animal quivered in anticipation, muscles rippling. Then he picked up the saddle, admiring for the thousandth time the ornate, floral carving in the leather and then, with a practiced, confident motion, lifted it up, settling it perfectly in place.

“There you go, old boy,” he said, taking a moment to run his hand over the horse’s withers before tightening the chinch and securing the end through a ring on the skirting. “Looking forward to going for a ride?” The horse’s name was Paint, a name given to him by a previous owner, one who thought the white blaze on the animal’s forehead looked like someone had painted it on. Mike McCormick ready didn’t mind the name, and it seemed Paint didn’t either, so it stayed. Mike smiled when Paint nodded his head in the affirmative. Whether it was in answer to the question or to get rid of a persistent horsefly, it didn’t matter. There was a connection Mike felt with his horse that began the moment he’d laid eyes on the animal four years ago. Four years and two months and sixteen days to be exact. The day he was driving his family home from the funeral of Jessie, his seven year old son. He had spied the ‘For Sale’ sign on a fence post next to a country road and the horse standing by himself out in the pasture. It turned its head, watching as Mike slowed his car, pulling off onto the grassy shoulder where he coasted to a stop. He got out and walked toward fence, the brown expressive eyes on the big horse following his every movement. The day was warm for April and a light breeze blew from the south, ruffling the horse’s black mane and tail. Suddenly it started walking toward Mike and their eyes met and, in that moment, it seemed like fate was suddenly intervening, driving a wedge into Mike’s grief and sending a wave of warmth through him he was unable to explain.

” I think it’s something Jessie would have wanted me to do,” he tried to explain to Lauren, his wife, who, along with their two daughters, was waiting patiently in the car. “It’s like he’s trying to communicate with me. I think our son would have wanted me to have this horse.”

Lauren, who was grieving in her own way and really didn’t want to deal with her husband at that particular moment, waved a hand at him to end the conversation, “Then go ahead and get him. Just be careful.”

Being careful became her mantra from that day forward, and who could blame her? Jessie had died after being hit by a car while riding his bicycle. He’d been on one of the many quiet, tree lined neighborhood streets in the area, only a few blocks away from his home. He shouldn’t have been riding where he was, but Jessie always had a mind of his own. ‘Willful’ some would say. ‘Independent’ was how Mike looked at him. But, whatever the term, his son was gone, gone for good and Mike began to use his time on his horse to help alleviate his grief which, now, after all this time was still there, but much less so, thanks, in no small part, Mike felt, to the time he spent riding his cherished horse.

“Let’s go, boy,” Mike said, stepping into the stirrup and lifting himself up into the saddle, wiggling his butt, enjoying the feel of the leather through his jeans. He was fifty five years old, clean shaven, with a slight paunch and a stocky build. He had short cropped dark hair, speckled with gray, a narrow chin and droopy dark bags under his brown eyes. His appearance was unremarkable and he knew it, but when he rode Paint, well, he felt on top of the world. Something about being on the horse made him feel happy and carefree. He loved the muscular motion of the animal, the warm mixture of horse sweat and leather that filled his nostrils and the freedom of movement, pretending when he rode that he could head off in any direction he wanted, and go anywhere in the world he felt like going. And even though he knew he was only pretending it felt good to go somewhere, anywhere, in his mind and escape, if only for a little while. “Let’s go,” he said, making a clicking sound, tapping the horse with the heels of his cowboy boots. Off they went, Paint breaking into a smooth trot; the trot Tennessee Walkers were known for.

The horse kept a steady almost metronome pace as Mike steered him down the driveway. It was paved with crushed red limestone and easy on the horse’s hooves. Little puffs of dust hung in the still air as horse trotted along, the early evening sun reflecting off soft clouds of red like a colorful, floating mirage. At the end of the drive was Old Orchard Way, a paved secondary road that ran north and south through the county. He took a left, careful to stay of the gravel shoulder. Paint moved happily at a steady gait as Mike acknowledged with a nod and a tip of his hat the few cars that sped past, careful to keep off to the side, ‘Being careful,’ just like Lauren had asked. In five minutes they met up with the Lucie Line Trial, a state maintained, ten foot wide, hard packed dirt track that ran east two miles to the town of Long Lake and then twenty miles further on toward Minneapolis, and west all the way out one hundred and fifty miles to Blue Heron Lake in the middle of the state. Usually Mike turned left, heading back toward town, but today he was feeling adventurous. He checked the traffic and then turned to the right onto the trail toward the west, finally allowing himself to relax, slowing Paint to a walk and feeling himself unwind and start to enjoy the serenity that came with riding his beloved horse.

June blooming wildflowers of white Campion and purple Dain’s Rocket adorned the sides of the trail, vying for space with purple vetch and yellow trefoil. Wild cherry blossoms filled the air with a scent so sweet it made Mike’s mouth water. Off to the left, in a thicket of wild cranberry bushes, a finch sang a warbling song. From a clump of wild sumac a wren chattered back, as if in accompaniment. The sky was cloudless blue and the sun was moving down toward sunset, nearly level with the tree tops and leaving a burning orange glow on the horizon. The day had been hot but now was cooling and Mike was glad he had chosen to wear a red plaid, long sleeve, pearl snap button cowboy shirt. He waved a few deerflies away from himself and Paint with his old, straw cowboy hat, and concentrated on enjoying the horse’s easy saunter as they made their way down the trail, careful to stay toward the center.

The Lucie Line Trail was an old railroad bed that had been reclaimed by the state in the early 1980’s. It passed through five counties and a mixture of forests, fields and marshland, and was elevated, with thick, brushy sides dropping away nearly ten feet in some cases. The trail was popular for walking, jogging  and bike riding, but was rarely crowded. Only a few used it for horseback riding and that was fine with Mike. He liked to get out and enjoy the peace and quiet, listening to the birds singing, immersing himself in the natural world and letting his mind go wherever it wanted. He rarely thought about work (he was assistant sales manager for Heartland Controls, an international electronic controls manufacturing company) preferring, instead, to unwind and relax. Lauren had taken the girls, Emma, fourteen, and Chrissie, twelve, to their evening lacrosse game. Ever since Jessie’s death, she had thrown herself into raising their daughters. She had quit her job at Mount Olivet Hospital in Minneapolis where she had been head of Administration, telling Mike that they could use her savings to help make ends meet. Money wasn’t a problem. His job paid him well; they had bought their home nearly twenty years earlier for a fair price a few years before housing values had begun to shoot up. They lived in the western part of the Hennepin country in an area that was nearly rural with rolling woodlands, marshes and small ponds the predominant features. Like most of the homes in the area, they had three acres, enough property to have a corral and small barn built for Paint. On paper life was good, however, Mike was often plagued by vague feelings of unease, sometimes even mild depression. But he wasn’t one prone to considering using drugs or drinking to escape his problems. Instead he chose to be alone and spend time with Paint and get away from what he sometimes referred to as ‘life’ for a while. Like he was doing now, not thinking about if it was the right or wrong thing to do, but, rather, that it was something he had to do. So, to that end, he sat back in his saddle, soaking in the sights and sounds of the oncoming evening. There were only a few people on the trail. He let Paint have the lead and the horse walked along with an easy, undulating motion that was almost like a narcotic. Time slowly slipped past, Paint’s hooves clip-clopping down the trail, the sun moving further below the horizon, twilight turning to ever increasing shades of dark.

Mike awoke with a start from a deep sleep. Night had fallen completely, the sky above nearly blocked by the tops of tree branches forming a high arching cathedral over the trail. There were stars out but any starlight was dim due to the thickness of the leaves; he could barely see where he was going.

“Whoa, boy,” he said, shaking himself alert and reigning Paint in. “We need to get back to home base. Lauren will be worried.” Mike was upset with himself; his wife didn’t need more worries due to his negligence. The Lucie Line was running through a thick forest. Up ahead he could just make out an opening to the left, probably a marsh or pond. The trail at this point was straight as a stick, but he could only see a little way due to the near complete darkness; sight more of an impression of things than true vision. The forest on either side seemed intent on hemming him in, trapping him. He fought back a vague feeling of claustrophobia as he turned the horse around.

Paint nodded his head as he made the turn, chomping the bit in his mouth. “Come on, boy,” Mike said, touching the horse’s sides with his cowboy boots, “Let’s head for home.” They were just straightening out and Paint about to break into a trot when, unexpectedly, up out of the brush popped a coyote, right onto the trail and only five feet in front of them. The scruffy animal planted its paws and stopped dead. It took a second to stare at the horse and rider before it snarled, baring canines that gleamed in the low light. It looked like it might leap at them. Mike froze in the saddle, fear taking hold. Then the coyote barked a few short, yipping bursts and snarled once more before sinking into a crouch and running across the trail, where it dropped into the underbrush on the other side and scurried to safety. The movement startled Paint so badly that he snorted and reared up on his hind legs, whinnying and baying out of control, eyes wild. Panic caused him to step backwards, his hooves flailing, looking for purchase in the air. There was none. He lost his balance, falling off the trail, tumbling down the embankment and sliding and twisting through ten feet of brush all the way to the bottom. When he finally came to rest, Mike’s left leg was crushed and pinned beneath him. It all happened so fast that both horse and rider were momentarily stunned. Then Mike became aware of a sharp pain in his leg at the same moment Paint instinctively made a sudden move to stand up, his body pushing off of his rider’s leg, magnifying the intensity of the pain, raising it to an unbearable level. He screamed in agony as a wave of nausea overwhelmed him. It was probably fortunate that he passed out. Paint rose to his feet, shaken but unhurt, reigns loose and hanging. The horse shook his head, stomped his hooves and looked around, snorting once or twice, distressed. The night was deep and dark, the woods silent. After a minute he got his bearings, settled down, and moved to the prone body, stepping carefully on the uneven ground. He bent down and nuzzled his rider. Mike didn’t move.

It was probably the mosquitoes feasting on his face that finally caused him to regain consciousness. “Damn,” Mike slapped them away and then immediately screamed. The pain in his leg nearly made him throw up. He’d never felt anything like it before-sharp pulses surging through him like a tide of burning needles. Stupidly he tried to move, ratcheting up the pain to an unbearable level. He nearly passed out again. “God…” his breath was labored. He closed his eyes, but the mosquitoes buzzing round and feeding on any exposed skin forced him to stay awake. He feebly waved at them. He was on his back, his head facing down the slope, his crushed leg at an odd, unnatural angle. He had cuts on both his hands and it felt like something like a stick had punctured through the skin under his right shoulder blade where his shirt felt wet against his back-blood, no doubt. He adjusted himself as comfortably as he could and was closing is eyes again when there was a loud snort, startling him back to reality. Panicking, he remembered the coyote, wondering if it had come back to try to feed on him, a thought too gruesome to contemplate. There had been rumors of black bear sightings in the area too. Frantically he raised his head, trying not to move his leg, and looked around, eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness, readying himself to fight to the end if need be. With his fingers on his left hand he pawed through the leaves and plant debris on the ground looking for a stick or anything he could use as a weapon. A movement over his shoulder caught his eye and he dared to look, expecting the worst. Then he calmed down and smiled. It was Paint. His old horse was standing right behind him at the bottom of the slope, swishing his tail and shaking his head to keep the bugs away. Mike couldn’t help but be touched. The animal had stayed with him rather than run off. “Hey there boy,” he said affectionately, gritting his teeth, trying to ignore the unrelenting pain. He reached his hand up to pet the horse, “How are you doing?” Paint nodded his head and snorted again, stepping closer until he was near enough that Mike could reach out and touch its leg. The connection felt good. Mike ran his eyes over the horse’s body as best he could in the dark, judging him to be uninjured. “You look good to me, boy,” he said. “You look real good.” He patted the horses leg again and then lay back down, exhausted by the effort. He closed his eyes and passed out again.

Lauren put the phone down with an exasperated sigh and said to her friend, Kali, “Still no answer.” She shook her head, resigning herself to her husband’s uncharacteristic behavior.

“What’s up with him, anyway?” Kali had invited Lauren and her daughters back to her home for lemonade after their lacrosse game. She didn’t have a high opinion of Mike, thinking him at best inattentive, and at the worst, selfish and self-centered. “Why doesn’t he answer?”

“I don’t know,” Lauren sighed again, “He’s probably busy.” With what she had no idea. He was supposed to be on the trail with Paint but should be back by now. “Maybe he’s out in the barn. He should at least have his phone with him.” She was tired and wanted to relax with her best friend and not think about Mike right now. The girls were on the same team lacrosse team as Kali’s daughter, Heather. They were letting off steam after the game, playing tag in the pool, laughing and shouting. The night air was cool and refreshing, the sky brushed with a white wash of stars. She leaned her head back in the lounge chair, put her feet up and closed her eyes with a grateful sigh. She could stay like this forever. “I’ll call him again in a little while,” she said.

Kali was concerned for her friend. Lauren was just over five feet tall and wore her auburn hair cut so it was just long enough to pull behind her ears. Her eyes were brown and her complexion dark. Over the last few years her expression had taken on a more severe and serious look, frown lines had formed around both sides of her mouth. She rarely laughed anymore. Kali reached over and patted her friend on the arm. You just relax. I’ll go freshen up our drinks. Do you want something to munch on? Veggie’s and hummus?”

Lauren opened her eyes and looked gratefully at her friend. She shook her head, “No, thanks. Just the lemonade is fine.” Lauren watched her blond, tall, slim friend walk slowly toward the sliding glass patio door that lead inside the sprawling ranch house. Kali was a confident, no nonsense person-someone who Lauren depended on to talk with and confide in. What would I do without her? Lauren thought to herself, not the first time today, or any other day for that matter. Then she turned back to the pool and waved at Emma and Chrissie goofing around in the water, tossing an oversized blue and white beach ball. She smiled a rare smile. She loved to see her girls having fun and secretly wished she could join them. But she didn’t. Instead, she lay her head back and allowed herself to close her eyes again; except her mind wouldn’t shut down. Sure, she and Mike had drifted apart somewhat after Jessie’s death, but she still loved him and was convinced he still loved her. All couples had to find ways to cope with tragedies, didn’t they? She and Mike were working through their grief in their own way and in their own time. She had the girls and Mike had…What? Well, work and Paint-a horse she really did adore. She knew others felt she and Mike should be focusing on their own relationship, working toward reestablishing the bond they once had. Sometimes, though, like now, it was easier to make the best of things the way they were, letting time heal their wounds, to paraphrase the old adage. They’d been to couples counseling off and on and she felt they were making progress; moving ahead with their lives. She had nothing to complain about and could cope with her husband’s occasional distance. In truth, though, she longed for them to be closer and for him to communicate with her more. To that end, in fact, she was planning a surprise. She recently had been thinking about getting a horse so they could go riding together. To that end she’d found a pretty little mare for sale at a ranch just west of them. Her color was a mixture of warm honey and cream named Butterscotch. The owner was willing to hold her for a least another week. She could picture herself and Mike going for long, relaxing rides together, following their whims and riding wherever they wanted; being spontaneous for a change. The image came into her mind of her on Butterscotch ridding next to Mike on Paint out on the Lucie Line. The thought made her smile. She’d plan to talk to him about it tonight. Why didn’t he answer his phone?

“Here’s some more lemonade,” Kali said, interrupting her thoughts. She walked across the flagstone apron of the pool and plopped down on her own lounge chair, handing over an icy glass. “Drink up and relax.”

“Thanks.” Lauren glanced at her watch and took a refreshing sip, appreciating the icy,  sweetly sour taste of the drink. It was a few minutes after 10:00 pm. She was starting to get worried about her husband. Where was he? Then a splash from the pool caught her attention. Chrissie had exploded into the water with a huge cannonball off the diving board. Lauren laughed and applauded. She turned to Kali, “This is nice. The girls are having so much fun. It’s just the kind of evening we all need.” She settled herself more comfortably on the lounge and took another sip from her glass. Just a few more minutes, she told herself. Then we’ll get going.

There was a young boy standing next to him, when Mike regained consciousness. “Geez!” he yelled, startled, trying unsuccessfully to sit up, pain shooting trough his back and leg again. “What the hell are you doing here?” He lay back, groaning.

“I heard your horse, mister, and then saw you.” The kid eyed Mike quizzically. “What happened to you? Are you Ok?” he asked, carefully stepping past Mike and moving over to pat Paint on the nose. The horse stood still, accepting the boy’s gesture, lowering his head, encouraging him to continue. “Hi there, boy.” He started petting the horse, now using both hands, working up around his ears and under the straps of his bridle. Paint whinnied softly in obvious pleasure.

“Coyote scared my horse,” Mike forced the words out and raised his head to get a closer look at the boy. From what he could tell in the dark, he was a skinny little kid dressed in a white tee-shirt and baggy, dark colored basketball shorts. He had on a baseball hat (Mike assumed the Minnesota Twins), worn backwards and he appeared nearly five feet tall. Mike guessed that he was maybe ten or twelve years old. Suddenly his vision fogged over momentarily, then cleared, and he started to have trouble breathing. He realized there might have been more damage done to him that he wasn’t aware of. The unrelenting pain was dulling his scenes.

The kid kept petting Paint, moving now to run his hands over the horse’s shoulder and through his mane. “I like your horse. What’s her name?”

“She’s a he and his name is Paint,” Mike panted. His back really hurt, his leg felt like it was asleep, which was good, he figured. The pain was less but still a constant throb. He lay his head down and closed his eyes.

The kid moved over to him, swatting away misquotes. “Mister, mister.” The kid shook Mike’s right shoulder, causing him to scream in pain. “Sorry,” he said, backing away, looking scared.

“Hold on, there,” Mike had come to and was holding up his hand as best he could. “Don’t leave me.”

“I’m not, I’m just getting some bug spray.”

Thank God, thought Mike. The mosquitoes were swarming all over him, hungrily feeding. He watched the kid shuck off a small backpack and take out a can. “What you got there?”

“Northwood’s Off with Deet,” the kid said. “Best stuff in the world.” He shook the can, the aerosol rattle strangely comforting, and moved closer. “Close your eyes, mister.” Mike did as he was told and in a moment the cool mist of the spray drifted over his face. It felt wonderful.  The kid then sprayed Mike’s hands. Then himself. When he was all done he put the can in the pack and sat down on his heels, peering into Mike’s face. “You Ok, mister? You don’t look so good. Do you have a cell phone to call for help?”

Mike shook his head, groaning. He’d unintentionally left the damn thing on his dresser at home. Stupid. The pain in his back now seemed to encompass the entire upper part of his body. He felt the kid carefully move some leaf debris and dirt from his clothes and then gently caress Mike’s right leg, the one that was undamaged. The touch was remarkably soothing.

“Where you from?” Mike finally asked. “From around here?” Speaking was getting exhausting.

“Naw,” the kid responded. “Not from around here.”

“How old?” Mike could barely speak. The pain was returning but something about the kid made him curious.

“Eleven,” the kid said. “Just finished sixth grade.”

Geez, Mike thought to himself, he’s the same age as Jessie would have been. Then he had a thought…”What the hell you doing out here this time of night, anyway?” The effort to speak sapped his strength. He lay his head down and closed his eyes, seeming to drift into unconsciousness.

Dimly aware, he heard the boy say, “I just went for a bike ride and ended up here.”

“Really?” Mike asked skeptically, senses on alert. Despite his pain and ever diminishing capacity to think clearly, at heart he was still a father. Something didn’t right true. “At this time of night? Where are your parents?”

“Oh, they’re around,” the kid said, looking into the forest, avoiding eye contact. “They’re busy with some other stuff.”

Right, Mike thought to himself. Sounds exactly like what the girls would say or even Jessie would have said when pushed for the truth. He might be severely injured, but he’d been a parent long enough to easily see through the kid’s lie. Right now, though, he was too exhausted to argue. Instead, he played along, thinking it was probably good to keep talking. Besides, having the kid around was giving him hope that he was going to come out of this Ok. He changed conversational gears, getting more to the point. “So are you going to help rescue me or what?”

“Sure!” The kid sounded enthusiastic, happy to be needed. He opened his pack again, taking out a bottle of water, “Here, mister.” He unscrewed the cap and held it to Mike’s lips, “Drink this.” He tilted the bottle, cupping the back of Mike’s head as he drank thirstily, excess water running down his chin. The cool liquid felt wonderful on his overheated body. The kid seemed to sense this and he poured some into his hand and washed Mike’s forehead and face. Mike sighed a silent, grateful ‘thank you.’ The kid then took a drink before capping the water and putting it back in his pack. With the water washing off the mosquito spray on Mike’s face, he went through the spraying process again. By now, they both could see pretty well-their eyes finally having adjusted to the darkness. “What else do you want me to do?”

“Go get help,” Mike said, shifting up on his elbow. He could tell shock was setting in: the pain had come back into his leg and was now a throbbing dull ache that was never ending. He needed to do something quick. “How’d you get here anyway?”

The kid point up onto the trail, “My bike.”

“Can you ride and get someone to help me?”

The kid looked around. “Maybe me and Paint can pull you up to the trail. They do stuff like that in the movies all the time.”

In spite of all the pain he was in, Mike grunted out a laugh. “And then what? I get on the horse and ride home?”

“Damn, mister. I was just trying to help.”

The kid got up and made a move up the slope. “Hold on, hold on,” Mike said, “Don’t get bent out of shape.”

He stopped and spat out, “What?” He was angry.

“Look, we need to work together…” Suddenly Mike screamed. He had moved just slightly to try and get more comfortable and was leaning back when the point of a dead branch went right into the wound under his  right shoulder blade. “God damn it!” was all he was able to say. Sweat popped up all across his forehead, beads of it running down his face.

The kid quickly bent down to help him, looking at what little of Mike’s back he could see. “Man, mister, you’re bleeding a lot. I’ll see if I can help.” He pushed the sharp branch out of the way. Then he reached into his pack and pulled out a tee-shirt. “Here, let me see if I can stop the bleeding.” Their argument was forgotten.

Working together over the next few minutes, the kid was able to use the shirt to staunch the flow of the blood. He took off one his shoes and used the lace to wrap it around Mike’s chest to hold the shirt in place. The effort exhausted him and he lay back with a groan, grateful for the padding of the kid’s shirt. But the pain was still there. They needed to do something fast.”You got to go for help.” Mike was laying flat out on the ground, gasping for breath. God, maybe he’d punctured a lung.

“Where should I go?”

“Do you live around here? Can you go to your home?”

“No, I’m from back toward Minneapolis.”

Well, that answers part of the mystery thought Mike. “Fine. Go back the way you came…”In spite of his labored breathing he was able to explain how to get to his house. When he was done the kid asked, “Why don’t I just take Paint? Wouldn’t he know the way?”

Smart kid. “Maybe. First you have to get up onto the trail.” He was losing the strength to talk.

“I’ll do my best,” the kid said and he spit on his hands and rubbed them together in preparation. Just like in the movies, Mike thought, as he struggled to maintain consciousness, mentally crossing his fingers that the plan would work.

Well, it took about two minutes. The kid grabbed hold of the horse’s reigns like he was born to the task, and Paint followed right along with all the confidence in the world. Together they scrambled up the slope, clods of dirt flying from the big animal’s hooves, both of them slipping and sliding and fighting through the brush until they finally reached the trail. Paint shook himself, took a moment to get his bearings, and then immediately turned to the right and started walking toward home. “Whoa,” Mike yelled, using the last of his strength, yet watching the whole process, impressed beyond words. “Tell him to ‘Whoa’,” he gasped to the kid.

Between the two of them yelling “Whoa” Paint finally stopped. The kid positioned himself on the side of the horse, grabbed the saddle horn, jumped up, scrambling and kicking his legs, fighting himself into the saddle, his feet dangling above the stirrups. Paint, to his credit, stayed standing still through the whole process.

“I’m ready, mister,” he said. At the sound of the boy’s voice the horse started walking down the trail, heading for home.

Mike suddenly had a thought. “Hey, kid,” he yelled, using the last of his strength.

“What?” They were beginning to move away at a steady pace.

“I’m Mike. What’s your name?”

“Jacob,” came the reply, fading into the distance. “They call me Jake.”

Geez, thought Mike. That was Jessie’s middle name. Then he passed out, but not before saying a silent prayer that the kid, Jake, would make it down the trail Ok, find where he lived and bring help.

“Come on, girls, time to head home,” Lauren waved to get their attention. Emma was just diving into the pool.

“Aww, mom,” Chrissie complained. “Can’t we stay a little longer?”

“Nope. Go inside and change. We leave in five minutes.” Honestly, she didn’t want to go and said to Kali, “The girls always have such a good time here.” The cooler temperature brought out the scent of Japanese Lilac, it’s sweet aroma filling the air. The night was so quiet that when the girls weren’t yelling and laughing she could hear a chorus of frogs down in a nearby marsh. Off on the edge of Kali’s property near where the forest started, fire-flies were out. Lauren had spent the last fifteen minutes distracted in her conversation with her friend, watching as they blinked trails through the darkness, trying to guess where the next flash of light would appear, never successful, but not caring either. It was a silly little game, but it was fun to play. Plus, it took her mind off her worry: she had been unable to get a hold of her husband.

“Want to stay overnight? The kids would love it if you did,” Kali leaned over, smiling in encouragement.

“Tempting as it sounds…” Lauren checked her watch, “It’s nearly eleven thirty. Mike will be wondering where we are.”

“You think? He could always call you, you know,” Kali not too successfully tried to keep her low opinion of her friend’s husband out of her voice. “All he seems to care about is that stupid horse.”

“Yes, well…” Lauren’s voice trailed off. She could see her friend’s point. Lots of people felt Mike wasn’t handling the loss of their son too well. But from her perspective he was doing as well as could be expected. If you haven’t ever lost a child, don’t be too quick to judge how parents cope, was how she looked at it. She began to shake off her relaxed mood, gearing up to head home.”At any rate, we should go. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

She pushed herself out of the lounge chair and stood up, taking in the quiet, peacefulness of the night one more time. But thoughts of Mike were now intruding. It was time to get home and find out what was going on. In a few minutes the girls returned, dried off and changed into shorts and tee-shirts.  Lauren pulled a white cotton cardigan closer to ward off the night’s chill. “Let’s go girls,” she called to them. The she and Kali embraced goodbye as Emma and Chrissie waved to Heather and then joined her. The three of them walked side by side to their Suburban.

“Is dad home?” Emma asked.

“He should be.”

“But is he?” Emma was a persistent, exacting child.

“We’ll find out, honey.” They got in, slamming doors, and Lauren started the engine. She carefully turned around and drove down the long driveway, thankful for the illumination of her headlights. She paused where the driveway met the dark county road and looked both ways before turning onto the night. He switched the headlights to high beam and accelerated cautiously to twenty four miles an hour. Then she carefully drove home.

In five minutes they were pulling into their driveway, head lights cutting a path through the darkness. Up ahead a few soft lights from inside the house shone the way. Off to the right was the barn with an outdoor security light on over it’s double wooden doors. Lauren was concentrating on driving the car up to the garage, wondering to herself where Mike was, when suddenly Chrissie called out, “Mom! There’s Paint!”

Lauren stopped the car and looked. Standing next to the barn was Mike’s horse. He was nosing at the closed door, trying to get in, stomping his feet and impatiently shaking his head. Probably hungry, Lauren thought herself. Then, a more immediate thought hit her and a rising panic set in. Where was her husband?

She jammed the car into park, turned the engine off and got out, running to the horse. Paint turned and took a step toward her. He was comfortable with the members of the family; they all rode him. He nodded his head up and down and snorted, loose reigns flopping. He was sweaty, dirty and had burrs sticking to his tail and mane. Otherwise, though, to Lauren’ eyes he appeared to be alright. As she approached him she saw something attached to a leather lace on his saddle. Emma raced ahead and got there first.

“Mom, it’s a note,” she said, opening it.

“What’s it say?” Lauren was worried about her husband but trying to hold her emotions at bay, not wanting to upset the girls anymore than they were. A tiny part of her hoped this whole thing might some kind of joke. But she was a realist. It couldn’t be.

“It says ‘On the trail To the west Hurt,'” Emma said, handing the note to her mom, who quickly scanned the tattered piece of paper, concurring with what her daughter had said. It didn’t look like Mike’s writing, but if he was hurt…

“Girls, go and check the house for your dad,” she commanded. As they ran off, she took out her phone and dialed 911. It was 11:45 pm. Her feeling was something was horribly wrong.

By 12:20 am Hennepin County Search and Rescue was on the Lucie Line Trail, heading west, looking for Mike. One guy was driving a county pickup truck, headlights on high beam, while four officers rode in the back scanning the sides of the trail with high intensity flashlights. Behind the truck a line of hastily assembled volunteers spread out on foot, carefully peering into the underbrush, their flashlights in constant motion.

Lauren sat in her living room with Kali. “Mike’s gone missing. I’m scared,” was all she had said into her phone when she had called earlier. Kali came right away prepared to hear her friend’s husband had left home or something. Anything idiotic Mike would do at this point wouldn’t surprise her in the least. She immediately downplayed her opinions, however, hearing Lauren’s tearful telling of her story. “I just hope he’s alright,” Lauren said sobbing when she’d finished. “The girls and I need him safe and sound and to be here in our home. Where can he be?”

Kali moved close and rubbed her friend’s back, “He’ll be home soon. He’ll be fine, just wait. Mike’s pretty strong.” The words spilled out in a rush. Whether that last statement was true or not only time would tell. Kale hoped for Lauren and the girls sake it was. She moved closer to console her friend and hugged her tightly.

Emma and Chrissie were out in the barn, their concern for their dad’s safety running on overdrive, adrenaline flowing. They were cleaning Paint, their nervous pacing back and forth making the job take twice as long as it normally would. “Do you think dad’s going to be Ok?” Chrissie asked. She had sprayed the horse off with a hose and was now wiping him down with a towel, rubbing it over his coat and rinsing it in a bucket of clean water. After a few minutes, the repetitive motion began to have a calming effect on both her and the animal.

“I don’t know, how would I know?” Emma spit the words out. She was mad that her dad was causing them grief, but, more than that, she was worried. Loosing Jessie was hard enough, but the thought of loosing their father was too much to bear. “Let’s just get Paint cleaned up, Ok?” She was running a curry comb through the horse’s mane, taking out the burrs and smoothing the stiff hairs with her fingers as she worked. Working on the orderly task of cleaning the horse was calming her down as well.

When Chrissie was done she hung the towel on a post to dry, picked up a soft bristled brush and started working it over Paint’s coat. She stood on the opposite side of the horse as her sister. After a minute they both made eye contact. The barn was silent except for Paint occasionally stomping one of his hooves. Outside of the open door of the barn, darkness seemed to spill in. It had a sinister feel to it. Where was their father? Tears welled up in Emma’s eyes. Chrissie saw them and then she too started crying. Something made them join hands and lean across the horse’s back. The heat of the big animal warmed them. The closeness felt good. In a few minutes their tears subsided and they both went back to work in silence, bonded by the mutual hope that their father was going to be home soon, and that he was going to be fine and life, as they knew it, would get back to normal. They stayed holding each of the other’s hand, while with the other they worked on into the night, until much later the job was done. Then they put Paint in his stall with a bucket of fresh oats and clean water and went inside to join their mother, exhaustion having finally set in.

At 3:10 am Lauren’s phone buzzed. She hadn’t been asleep, but, instead had been talking to Kali non-stop about how much she loved her husband and how much he meant to her and how she couldn’t live if something had happened to him, not after what had happened to Jessie, and what would happen to the girls if their father wasn’t there with them… And on and on. When the phone buzzed, she fumbled once but was able get a hold it, hands shaking. Kali watched as her friend nodded her heah. Then she smiled, sighing with relief, covering the phone, “They found him. He’s going to be Ok.” On the floor where they had fallen asleep, the girls stirred, coming awake.

“Mom?” Emma asked, rubbing her face.

“Dad?” Chrissie said, not taking her eyes off her mother.

Lauren held up a finger ‘one second,’ listened some more and then hung up. “Come here girls,” she said as they crawled quickly across the floor and came to her and were enfolded into their mother’s arms. “They found your dad out on the trail. He’s injured, but he’s going to be Ok.” She grinned over the heads of her daughters at Kali who smiled back at her, thinking that it was about time her friend had something good happen in her life. She obviously cared about her husband and, hopefully, one day he would reciprocate the feeling.

“What are you going to do now?” she asked.

“The girls and I are going to the hospital,” Lauren said, standing up, pulling the girls, who were instantly wide awake, with her. She was happy and excited. “I guess Mike’s been asking for us.”

Kali got to her feet, catching Lauren’s energetic mood. “Let’s go, then,” she said, grabbing her purse and leading the way to the door. “I’ll drive.”

Two days later Mike was home from the hospital recuperating. Lauren had set up a bed for him on a couch in the family room: a big, open area, with the kitchen at one end and the living area at the other, separated by the couch Mike was on and an informal sitting area in between. A double set of sliding glass doors along one wall let him see the backyard. Before he’d come home the girls had talked Lauren into going to a local garden store where they’d purchased overflowing pots of red and pink geraniums, white trailing bacopa, orange and yellow marigolds and bright blue cascading verbena. They’d carefully placed the pots on the patio outside the glass doors so Mike could see them.  All the colorful flowers lifted his spirits, which were pretty high anyway. When the sun was shining, like it was this morning, the family room was the most cheerful place in the house. The open floor plan made it easy for Mike to see everyone and be a part of the day to day activities of Lauren, Emma and Chrissie. Which is what he wanted more than anything.

“I don’t want to be away from any of you ever again,” he kept saying, over and over again, both in the hospital and once he was home, obviously shaken by his experience.

Lauren thought it was sweet for him to be talking like that; something he hadn’t done in the last few years. Nevertheless, the sentiment was starting lose some of its punch after hearing it so many times. “Honey, we aren’t going anywhere, are we girls?” Lauren had told him time and time again, hoping he’d eventually believe her.

“No, dad, never,” Chrissie would say to him, rushing to give him a hug.

Emma was by nature somewhat reticent but still thankful her father had returned from his accident safe and relatively unscathed. His tibia had a hairline fracture and he’d strained some tendons. The puncture in his back only did muscle damage and would heal nicely. She had appointed herself entertainment coordinator and had been enjoying some much needed ‘quality’ time with her dad. They had been playing cribbage almost non-stop since his return, chatting and laughing like old times.

There was a definite change in him, that was for sure. A change for the better as far as Lauren was concerned.

“I love how nice the walls look in here,” Mike remarked. It was his first morning  back home and it was as if he was seeing the color of the room for the first time. He had slept well the night before, felt rested and ready to put the ‘ordeal’ as he put it, behind him. “What would you say, Lori, light green?”

Lauren smiled at him calling her ‘Lori’, a term of endearment he hadn’t used since Jessie had died. “Don’t you remember?” she chided him. “It’s sea-green. We picked it out last year.”

Mike shook his head, grinning. “I’ve been kind of in a fog for some time, now, haven’t I?”

That’s certainly an understatement, Lauren said to herself. Try over four years. But she kept her thought to herself, preferring instead to enjoy the novelty of having her husband more like himself than he’d been since Jessie had passed away. “We’ve all been trying to deal with Jessie’s death in our own ways,” she told him.

“But you’ve been doing such a good job holding things together,” he countered. “The girls are doing great,” he shook his head, chagrined. “I haven’t been much help, have I? I’m going to try to do better, starting right now.” As if to prove the statement he made a move to get up and suddenly grimaced. The pain still evident. “Well, maybe I’ll take a rain check,” he groaned lying back down.

Lauren smiled to herself. She had been sitting in an easy chair next to him, keeping him company, having a cup of tea and glancing through a home improvement magazine. She was enjoying the homey sensation of starting to feel like a complete family again, and, even though it only had been a couple of days, she was daring to let herself think that maybe their situation had turned around and that Mike would become more of the man she needed him to be: more involved in raising the girls and more of a husband who helped rather than hindered around the house. She allowed herself to hope Mike really was changing and that it would be for the better and that it would last. She set her magazine down, stood up, came over and sat on the couch and ran her fingers through her husband’s hair. It was thinning, had been ever since Jessie’s death, but the intimate gesture felt good to her.

Mike responded, looking into her eyes. He took hold of her hand and kissed it, “I love you so much. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Lauren smiled and lay her head on his chest. She could feel his heart beating. She felt the warmth of his body. Suddenly, all of the chores she had planned: getting the laundry going, dusting and sweeping the first floor, and vacuuming the upstairs, didn’t seemed so critical anymore. She stretched out next to him. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Mike sighed and smiled, looking up at the vaulted ceiling with it’s rough beams giving him a sense of security. He felt relaxed and was happy to be spending time with his wife. He put his left arm around her shoulder and kissed the top of her head, “I was wondering…have you ever thought getting a horse? Lately I’ve been thinking it would be nice for us to go riding out on the trail. You know, do something fun together,” he ran his fingers through her hair.

Lauren laughed, thinking he was wondering about something else. She reordered her thoughts. “Funny, I’ve been thinking the same thing, you know, about getting a horse.” She briefly told him about the little mare Butterscotch. When she was done she asked what he thought. Mike nodded in approval. Before he could say anything, though, she asked, “Where’d you get your idea?”

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while, but it really started coming to me when I was out on the Lucie Line waiting for help.” Then he stopped and slapped his forehead. “God, I forgot to ask you. What about Jacob? Jake? Where is he? What’s happened to him?”

Lauren sat up, perplexed, “Jake? What in the world are you talking about?”

“Jake. The kid who rode Paint home. Skinny, little guy, but pretty friendly. Resourceful, too. He was the one who put that bandage on my back.”

Lauren smiled at him and went back to her chair and her tea and magazine. She’d heard an automobile drive up and car doors slamming, the girls getting dropped off from lacrosse practice by Kali. They’d be coming through the door any second and would probably give their parents no end of grief about being intimate together on the couch, as good as it had felt. “There was no Jake, no little kid, no nothing. Just the note you wrote, stuck in the saddle, telling us where you were. You were probably hallucinating seeing someone. The doctor said that happens sometimes if you’re in a lot of pain.” She opened her magazine and took a sip of her tea, chamomile, appreciative of its flavor and relaxing effect.

“I never wrote any note. I couldn’t. I was in so much pain I could barely stay conscious, let alone think to write something. The kid rode off on Paint. I swear he was there.”

“Well, I never saw anyone.” A little part of Lauren wondered about what he’d said, though. Could it have happened? Too bad they’d lost the note in all of the confusion of that night. Just then Emma and Chrissie bounded into the room and interrupted her thoughts, their strawberry blond long hair tied back in pony tails, faces glistening with sweat. They were laughing and joking, obviously in good moods. Whether it was from practice or having their father home, Lauren couldn’t tell. She hoped it was both. “Girls, did either of you see anyone around Paint when he came back the other night? You were out at the barn with him. Your dad thinks there might have been a boy around somewhere.”

Emma rolled her eyes, chiding her dad., “No dad, no one. I think you’re making the whole thing up.” Then she smiled a big smile and ran over to the couch and hugged him, putting that awful night out of her mind. “I’m so glad you’re back and are going to be Ok.”

“Me, too,” Chrissie added, plopping on the couch and hugging her dad as well. “Double glad.” She looked at her sister, gave her a high-five, and they both started laughing.

Lauren was amazed how, in just a day, the girls had suddenly become more relaxed and less tense. It must have to do with how Mike is behaving, she thought-he’s being more attentive and thoughtful, talking to them, talking to me. It’s a start. I hope he keeps it up.

From Mike’s point of view, all he wanted to do was whatever he could to bring his family back together again. He quickly decided to put the thought of Jake out of him mind, putting the arguments aside and willing to accept the kid was only in his imagination. After all, he’d been pretty banged up and had lost a lot of blood. It made sense that he imagined the boy, who really, did look a little like Jessie might have looked like if he’d grown to that age. Stop it! Mike shook his head to get rid of that kind of thinking. He made a silent vow right then never to let thoughts of what may or may not have happened on the Lucie Line Trail ever cloud his mind again. It was time to put the entire experience behind him.  All he cared about right now was his family and being home and safe with them.

He turned to his daughters, “Hey girls,” he said, giving Lauren a wink, “Your mom and I have been talking. What do you think about us all getting another horse?” And he smiled, then, at the response to such a simple idea when both the girls jumped up and down and clapped their hands, cheering and joyfully echoing each other, “Yes!” Mike watched as the girls danced around the room. He grinned a wide grin and looked over at Lauren who gave him a wink back and an encouraging smile. She was all on board. “Well, girls,” he called out, “Let’s do it then!”

That same day, when Mike and his family were talking about getting another horse, out on the Lucie Line Trail, right where Paint had reared up and fallen off the side, there was a movement in the underbrush. Suddenly a coyote jumped up onto the trail, paused and looked both ways. In an instant he realized he was all alone. He relaxed, sat down on his haunches and bit at a tick crawling across the top of its paw. The coyote was a male in its third year and not yet attached to a pack. He roamed the woods and fields around the town of Long Lake, every now and then venturing into the well kept, manicured yards common to the homes in the area, looking for any inattentive cat or small dog. He was always on the lookout for food and getting to be a good hunter; rarely did a day pass with him being hungry. He chomped down the tick and took a survey of the trail and the woods around it. Then he sniffed, catching the faintest whiff of horse and human. In his brain the memory came back of the commotion a few nights back with the truck and all the humans with their lights and all the racket they’d made. He remembered the encounter with the horse and the human. He had escaped the horse’s hooves and scurried for safety into the brush, but he hadn’t run away. No, instead, he’d circled back across the trail and hidden pressed to the ground nearby under a thick tangle of grapevine. He’d been curious and had watched the horse and the human. After waiting for a while he’d seen the little human come along and a while later him and the horse leave and go down the trail back toward town and, a while later, he’d seen many humans come around and the big human get taken away. He’d stayed crouched out of sight after the big machine had left and the humans had gone until, finally, the night had become quiet once again. Then he’d come out of his hiding place and gone to where the big and little human had been with the horse and looked around , taking a few minutes to thoroughly sniff the ground. Finally he had relaxed. The forest returned to normal with the night sounds of the measured hooting of an owl and the quiet murmurings of frogs and other amphibians in the nearby swamp. Satisfied all was well, he had left the area and gone on with his hunting. But now, on this pleasant summer morning with the sun shining brightly in the sky, curiosity was starting to get the better of him. He put his nose to the ground and sniffed in the dirt. He picked an aroma, a scent of something familiar. He turned and looked away from the rising sun, out to the west. There was the faintest mark in the hard packed surface. Narrower than his paw, the mark was nearly smooth with little bumps in it. The coyote bent and sniffed again. It had a faint odor, like the smell on the roads with the fast machines on them that he so carefully avoided, crossing over only every now and then. There was the faintest scent of a human, too. Not an old human, but a young one: experience had taught him the difference. It brought back the memory of the other night when there had been all of the commotion and the young human had been there. It was his scent. He thought about following it to see where it went but decided not to. He knew the dirt trail went away for a long distance, out toward where the sun would set later that day. Many miles. Today he wanted to stay close to the woods he called home. He’d picked up a trace scent of a female earlier that morning, just after sunrise. She was traveling alone, unattached like him. Maybe they could join up and start hunting together. If she was good, they could perhaps start a pack of their own. Suddenly his ears caught a sound. Something was down in the brush on the other side of the trail. A rabbit, maybe. He crouched and ever so quietly made his way to the edge, sniffing, nose to the ground. He paused, watching, his eyes quick to catch any movement in thick undergrowth. His heart beat rapidly, his muscles tensed. He was ready. He made his move and pounced. In an instant he was gone.