Green Hills Literary Lantern

Firecrackers

 

 

 

They were doing eighty-five, eighty-six, eighty-eight miles an hour coming down that straight stretch from Riverton towards Shenandoah, Casey pushing his feet as hard as he could against the floorboards of the 1955 Olds.

“Yeah!” shouted Buddy, lifting both hands from the steering wheel.

 “Yeah,” shouted Nick, Buddy’s younger brother, sitting in the middle.

Casey, sitting on the outside next to the window, kept pushing his feet against the floorboards and watched the curve in the highway and the warehouses of the Franklin Seed Company coming up, the buildings getting larger and larger.  He knew they’d never make it around the curve.

But Buddy slapped his hands back down on the steering wheel, pumped the brakes, the tires squealing.

 “Sonovabitch!” shouted Buddy, and they were around.

“Jesus!” said Nick.

 “Jesus!” said Casey.

He kept pushing his feet against the floorboards because they were still going too fast, doing over sixty when they passed that sign, “Welcome to Shenandoah, Iowa, Seed Capital of the World, Population 10,016.”

That’s when they saw the two girls riding horses right next to the Franklin Mansion with its huge lawn coming down to the street.

“Hey!” said Buddy.

“Hey!” said Nick.

Buddy handed a firecracker to Nick.  Nick held a match at the fuse and passed the firecracker to Casey.  Casey held the firecracker in his hands and watched the fuse sizzling.

“Christ!” shouted Buddy.

 “Throw it!” shouted Nick.

And Casey must have thrown it because he heard the explosion.  But instead of stepping on the gas and getting them out of there, Buddy slowed down and pulled the Olds over to the curb.

 “Hey, don’t you girls know how to ride?” shouted Buddy from his window.

 “Can’t control your horses?” shouted Nick leaning across Buddy and shouting out of his window.

  Casey could see the two girls holding onto the bridle of one of the horses.  But the other horse was up on the lawn of the Franklin Mansion prancing around, first going this way and then that way.

“Horse girls are full of shit!” shouted Buddy.

A woman was coming along the sidewalk.

“Let’s get out of here,” said Nick to Buddy.

Buddy stepped on the gas, squealing out, turning on Tanner Street right at Mr. Nolf’s store, then along Baldwin Street and the tennis courts at the edge of the country club where some college types in white were hitting balls back and forth.  Then the red brick streets began, the real part of Shenandoah.  At the First National Bank Buddy turned into the square, pulled the Hydromatic down into second to make the motor rumble good, and started making the rounds.  Casey saw the Post Office, Helen’s Cafe, the feed store, Miller’s Drugs, and the police station go by twice before Buddy turned off of the square and bumped over the railroad tracks towards the Dairy Queen.  At the Queen all the guys were standing around Rick Kendall’s ’32 Ford.

Buddy gave a honk, but he had to park five or six cars over.

 “You guys wait here,” he said.

Casey watched the way Buddy swung the chain with the ignition key around his finger, winding up one way and then the other, as he walked over to Rick Kendall and the other guys.

 “Well, I don’t see no reason just to sit here,” said Nick sliding out the driver’s side.

Casey opened his door and watched Rick Kendall pull a pack of cigarettes from under the sleeve of his white T-shirt and tap a cigarette out for Buddy.  Everyone knew Rick Kendall had stopped going to high school.  People said he was already in trouble with the police.

 “Want a cone?” said Nick to Casey.

 “Sure,” said Casey.  “Why not?”

 “Their strawberry-vanilla’s best.”

Inside the Dairy Queen some girls were sitting around one of the tables.  From the cloth bags at their sides it looked like they’d been to the pool.

“It’s on me,” said Nick putting a whole bunch of change up on the counter.

            “Hey, thanks,” said Casey.

“How you girls doing?” said Nick from the counter.

The girls didn’t say anything back.

The woman behind the counter handed Nick the two cones, the tops already beginning to melt.  Both Casey and Nick wrapped napkins around the bottoms of the cones.

 “You girls don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” said Nick.

Outside Casey saw Buddy smoking a cigarette and talking, all the time leaning on the fender of the ’32 Ford.  Probably he was telling Rick Kendall and the other guys about throwing the firecracker under the horses.

Just for a moment it occurred to Casey to go over there himself and explain what had really happened.  That it was him, Casey, who threw the firecracker, not Buddy or Nick.  And his aim must have been pretty good, too, because that one horse had gone up on the lawn of the Franklin Mansion.

 “Let’s blow this joint,” said Nick.

“Yeah?” said Casey.

First they walked along the railroad tracks trying to balance on the rails and licking their cones at the same time.  When they got to the softball diamond at the park their fingers were all sticky from the ice cream and they washed their hands in the fountain.  That was one thing about Shenandoah, thought Casey.  It had more parks than Addison.  And he had his new friends here, too, Buddy and Nick.  But especially Nick.

“I’ll bet those girls on the horses never knew what hit them,” said Casey as he held his hands up to the sun to dry.

 “Yeah,” said Nick, also holding up his hands.

 “My aim must have been pretty good.”

 “Right in the strike zone.”

 “Well, sometimes you get lucky,” said Casey.

They cut across the vacant lot about two blocks from where Nick lived.

 “You want to come in?  My Mom’s not home,” said Nick.

 “Sure.  Why not?”

They went into the kitchen and Nick pulled two Pepsi’s out of the fridge.  He popped the caps off with a bottle opener, handed one of the bottles to Casey, and then Casey followed Nick out to the front porch where they sat in the swing.  Nick made it go back and forth by pushing his foot against the banister that ran around the porch.

“You ever thought of living in Shenandoah?” said Nick.  “All the time?  Not just four weeks in the summer?”

“You mean, moving here?”

“Maybe,” said Nick.  “You know, live with your grandparents out at the farm.  They’d probably be happy to have you.  Or maybe I could ask my parents and you could live with us.”

            “I don’t know.”

 “We could do all kinds of things.  Camping.  Fishing.  Play ball.  You know.”

Casey was looking down the red brick street thinking about maybe living in Shenandoah and not in Addison when a police car came around the corner.  It was one of those big Fords painted blue with a red light turret on the top.  For some reason it stopped right in front of Nick’s house.

Casey watched the door open and watched a policeman get out.  He wore one of those really starched blue shirts and darker blue pants and had a holster at his belt with a gun in it.  Casey watched the policeman start to walk up the sidewalk to the house.

“Jesus,” said Nick.

At the steps of the porch the policeman pulled off his dark glasses.

“Your name Nicolas Bellacicco?”

Nick nodded.

“And what about you?  You friends with Nicolas here?”

Casey nodded.

            “I think you boys better come with me.”

The policeman started down the sidewalk.  About half way to the police car he stopped and looked back at Nick and Casey on the porch.

“I said, you boys come with me.”

“My mother’s not home,” said Nick.

“You heard me,” said the policeman from the sidewalk.

When Nick got up, Casey got up.  When Nick went down the stairs of the porch to the sidewalk Casey went down the stairs to the sidewalk.

The policeman opened the back door of the police car and as Nick started to get in, Casey saw Buddy already sitting there.  Casey got in and sat on the other side of both of them.

The policeman closed the door, went around to the driver’s side, got in, laid his cap up on the dashboard and started the car up.  As soon as he turned at the first corner, the policeman pulled a microphone off the dashboard, held it up to his mouth and said some numbers into it, something like forty-two, sixty-five.  Casey heard some static and a man’s voice on the other end, and the policeman said Roger and five minutes.

Casey looked over at Nick and Buddy.  Buddy was looking straight ahead and Nick had his head down in his hands.  When Casey looked out the window he saw they were passing Jerry’s Grocery.  Casey had been in Jerry’s Grocery just yesterday with Nick.  “How are you?” Jerry had said to Casey as he came in the store.

The radio made some burping and static sounds.

An idea came to Casey.  This is what he’d say to the police.  He’d say that he was only visiting in Shenandoah.  That he only came here in the summers.  For only four weeks.  Sometimes just three weeks.  But he didn’t really live here.  He really lived in Addison.  The police could check that out.  Go to his Uncle Harry’s house.  Talk to Aunt Bess or his mother.  And in Addison he never got into any kind of trouble.  Although sometimes his uncle drank too much.

The policeman turned the police car into the square and passed the feed store and Helen’s Cafe and Miller’s Drugs.  Then he stopped the car in front of the police station.

“You boys wait here,” said the policeman.

He got out of the car, put his cap on and walked toward the door of the police station.  Casey watched him go in that door.

 “Jesus,” said Nick.

 “Shhhhh!”  Buddy held his finger up to his lips.  “Don’t be stupid.  They leave the radio on.  To see what we’ll say.”

Casey thought about running.  He could simply open the door and go for it.  He’d be around the corner just like that.  Then maybe he could get out on the highway past his grandfather’s farm and hitch a ride across the state to Addison.

On the other hand, Buddy wasn’t making a break for it.  And Buddy was two years older.  And, anyway, Casey thought, he had figured out what he was going to say:  That he only came to Shenandoah in the summers.  Sometimes for only three weeks.  And he’d only met Buddy and Nick this summer.

 “All right, boys.”

The policeman opened the back door on Buddy’s side.  Buddy got out, then Nick, then Casey.  Casey followed Buddy and Nick, who were following the policeman up a wooden stairs and then along a hallway and then into a room where an older, fat man in a police uniform sat behind a desk.  This man was almost bald and beads of perspiration ran along his forehead and long sweat stains shown under both arms of his blue shirt.  A small American flag stood right next to a nameplate and the nameplate said, “Peter Bowles, Chief.”

“Sit there,” said the policeman who had brought them up, pointing to chairs at one side of the room.

Casey sat down next to Buddy and Nick.

 “So what’s your name, young man?” said the fat policeman to Buddy.

“Anthony Bellacicco,” said Buddy.

“And where do you live?”

Buddy told him 488 Oak Street.

 “And what’s your name?” said the fat policeman to Nick.

Nick told him his name and that he also lived at 488 Oak Street.

 “Brothers.  You the older one?”

Buddy nodded.

“And you?” said the fat policeman to Casey.

Casey said his name and that he was living just outside Shenandoah at his Grandfather Miller’s farm.  “But I only come to visit here in the summers,” he added.  “For four weeks.  Sometimes three weeks.”

“Judge Miller?  His place south of town?”

 “Yes,” said Casey.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” said the fat policeman.

Then he looked down at some papers in front of him, took out a handkerchief and wiped his brow.

“Well, now, boys, I have a report here that says that around fourteen-thirty-five this afternoon two girls were riding their horses next to the Franklin Mansion right out on the main highway.  And a car came by and someone threw a firecracker out of the car and the firecracker went off under the horses.  As a result of this action one of the girls was thrown from her horse.”

The fat policeman looked up at the Buddy and Nick and Casey.

 “You boys know something about this?”

Casey didn’t say anything because Buddy and Nick didn’t say anything.

The fat policeman leaned back in his chair, the chair making squeaking noises.

 “Now, boys, this here’s a serious matter.  You got two girls riding horses next to the Franklin mansion.  And I’ll tell you this.  Whoever threw that cracker didn’t choose so well.  You know why?  You know who those two girls were?  You got any idea?”

The policeman looked right at Buddy.

 “No, sir,” said Buddy.

“Well, sir, I’ll tell you.  Just so happens that this one girl was Mr. Franklin’s granddaughter.  Come to visit all the way from New York City.  The other girl come all the way from New York City, too.  Friend of the granddaughter.  All the way from New York City.  Now, you can just imagine how Mr. Franklin’s going to feel when he gets home from work at the plant today and his wife tells him that his granddaughter and her friend were out riding horses here in Shenandoah, Iowa, and three boys in a car come by and one of those boys throws a firecracker.  Yessir, the horses start rearing up and the girlfriend from New York City is thrown off her horse.  You think about that now.”

Casey wanted to say that he didn’t mean to throw it, the firecracker, that Buddy had given it to Nick and Nick had lit it and handed it to him and that the fuse was burning.

“Boys, I’m going to be honest with you.  Put everything right here out on the table.  You know what?  We got cells back there.  Behind me down through that door.  Holding cells.  That’s where we put people.  And after we put them there for a while, we take them over to the county jail.  Ain’t such a nice place.”

The fat policeman looked down at the papers in front of him.

 “A funny thing here, boys.  We got a witness.  Yessir.  Seems there was a lady walking down the street near the Franklin Mansion, a Mrs. Clara Brown, by name, and it seems she saw this car stop and some boys holler at the girls.  And you know what kind of car she said it was?  Mrs. Clara Brown says that car was a 1955 Olds, red.  And this Mrs. Brown, well, she’s pretty observant.  She even told us the license number.  You want to hear which number she saw?”  Again he looked at his papers.  “Freemont County, 5842.  That jog your memory?”

The fat policeman looked right at Buddy, but Buddy didn't say anything.

“Well, boys, you know, here’s the thing.  I took the trouble to call up Des Moines and check this plate out.  And guess who this car belongs to?  Any idea?  No?  Well, I’ll tell you.  This car belongs to Ralph Bellacicco of 488 Oak Street.  That’s where you two boys live, didn’t you say?  And I guess Ralph Bellacicco’s your father, right?  Well, hell, I know Ralph Bellacicco.  Ralph and I went to school together.  Not the same class.  He was two grades ahead of me.  But I always looked up to him.  A fine man.  And I know that he’s not the kind of person who would drive past the Franklin Mansion and throw a firecracker under girls’ horses.”

Casey heard some whimpering and saw that Nick had his head down in his hands.

“You stop that!” hissed Buddy to Nick.

“Young man,” said the fat policeman to Buddy, “I think you was driving your father’s car at fourteen-thirty-five this afternoon.  Show me your driver’s license.”

Now Nick was crying louder.

“Sir,” said Buddy, “I don’t have it with me.  It’s at home.”

“How old are you, young man?”

 “Fifteen.”

“And I guess you know the legal age for driving without an adult in the car?”

Suddenly Nick brought his head up, pointed at Buddy and shouted, “He did it!  He gave it to me!”

“You shut up!” said Buddy.

“That a fact?” said the fat policeman.  “That a fact, Anthony?  You give the firecracker to your younger brother?”

             “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” said Buddy.

 “Well, now, you talk pretty smart for a fifteen-year-old.”

The fat policeman swung his knees sideways, put his hands down on the desk, pushed himself up and went over to a file cabinet where he took a file out.

“Let’s see.  Kendall . . . Kendall.  Here it is.  That’s right, Rick Kendall.”

Again the fat policeman looked right at Buddy.

 “I’m just wondering if you know a boy in town named Rick Kendall.  I’m wondering if you ever spend any time with that boy.  How about that, Mr. Anthony?”

Buddy didn’t say anything.

The fat policeman came back to his desk and eased himself back into his seat.  Now he looked at Casey and Nick.

“Boys, here’s the thing.  My guess is that the two of you is all right.  That you was just along for the ride.  I don’t say you don’t do nothing.  Hell, you’re boys, ain’t you?  But Ralph Bellacicco’s a fine man.  We went to school together.  And William Miller?  Well, it was my privilege to work with Judge Miller for many, many years.  So, I’ll tell you what, boys.  I’m going to release the two of you.  Let you go.  I’ll have Bob, here, drive you home.  But understand.”  Now he looked directly at Nick.  “I’m going to call your father.  I’m going to have a talk with Ralph about you.  I’ll explain everything to him.  You understand that?”

Nick had his head back down in his hands and Casey could hear the crying sounds coming from him.

Then the fat policeman looked directly at Casey.  “And I’m going to call your grandparents.  And I’ll have a talk with Judge Miller.  He won’t be too happy about hearing these things.  Not Judge Miller.  You understand, boy?”

“Yes, sir,” said Casey.

“All right, Bob,” said the fat policeman to the younger policeman who had been standing behind the desk all this time.  “Take ’em back.”

Then he turned to Buddy.  “But you, my friend, are staying here.”

“Come on,” said the younger policeman to Casey and Nick.

And it was true.  They were leaving the room, then out along the hallway and down the wooden stairs they had come up about twenty minutes ago, and Casey could see the door at the bottom of the stairs and the policeman had opened it and they were following him out into the sunshine of the square and the stores around the square.

Casey turned to Nick, but Nick was still sniveling.

“Get in, boys,” said the policeman at the police car.

Casey sat beside Nick as the policeman pulled the microphone off the dashboard and said some numbers into it, and after a puff of static the policeman said Roger again, and backed the car out of the parking place.  Casey watched Miller’s Drug go by, Helen’s Cafe and the feed store at the corner, and when the policeman turned right Casey saw that the policeman was taking them toward Oak Street, where Nick lived.  Sure enough, the next thing that happened was that they passed Jerry’s Grocery store.  Yesterday Casey had been in that store with Nick.  But that was yesterday.  Today was today.

And in his mind Casey saw the girls on the horses ahead of them, heard the explosion of the firecracker, and again saw the horse by itself, up on the lawn of the Franklin Mansion, prancing this way and that.

The policeman pulled the car over to the side of the street next to a vacant lot.  He turned and looked at Casey and Nick.

“I'm letting you boys off here now.  Understand.  No more trouble.”

Casey got out first, and then Nick.

As the police car drove away, Casey saw that Nick was trembling, shaking, his hands not steady at all.  Casey had never seen Nick like this.  He had never seen any boy like this.

“It’s all right,” said Casey.  “You can come over to my grandparents’ place and . . . .”

“You did it!” shouted Nick right at Casey.  “You threw it!  You did!”  Nick’s face was all distorted.

“You gave it to me . . . ,” said Casey.

“You did it!  You did it!” shouted Nick.

Then Nick started walking out across the vacant lot.

And Casey knew.  For sure.  There was no way Nick wasn’t going to tell.  As soon as his father talked to him, he would say that Casey was the one who threw the firecracker, and Nick’s father would tell Nick’s mother, and Nick’s mother would call Casey’s grandmother, and his grandmother would tell his grandfather.  Maybe his grandfather would call the police and tell them, and maybe then the police would call Mr. Franklin of the seed company, the man who made Shenandoah famous.  And everyone would know that it was him, Casey who did it.  And then the bad things would start to happen.

“Hello, Casey.”

It was Mrs. Damson, one of Grandmother’s friends from the Methodist Church.  She had stopped her car right by the vacant lot and was leaning out of the window.  From her smile Casey knew she hadn’t seen him get out of the police car.

“My goodness, Casey, what brings you to this part of town?”

“Hello, Mrs. Damson.  I’m on my way home.”

“Home?”

“Walking.”

“Walking?  No, I don’t think so, young man.  My goodness.”

“It’s all right, Mrs. Damson.  I do it all the time.”

“Well, you may do it all the time, but not today, my young friend.”

So, even though Casey wanted to avoid going to his grandparents’ house right now, he saw he really didn’t have any choice.  And also, when he thought about it, it really was a long walk out there to the farm.

“And what will you folks be doing over the Fourth, Casey?” said Mrs. Damson once she had got the car going.  Casey sat in the passenger seat beside her and watched Jerry’s Grocery go by one more time.

“The parade, I guess.”

“Well, I should think so.  Henry and I will be going, too.”

When they passed the Franklin Mansion out on the highway Casey couldn’t help looking.  It was right there, just on the other side of the road, where they’d seen the horses and he’d thrown the firecracker.  Nick had handed him that firecracker.  And the fuse was burning.

Just after the Franklin Mansion and the Franklin Seed Company warehouses, Mrs. Damson turned left on the dirt road, passed the Bradshaw farm, and turned up the lane to Casey’s grandfather’s farm.

“Yoo-hoo!” trilled Mrs. Damson as soon as she got out of the car and saw Casey’s grandmother and grandfather sitting out on the screened-in back porch.  “I found this little boy on the street!”

“Thank you, thank you,” trilled his grandmother back.

“Shall I take him home with me in my car or leave him with you?”

“Oh, Mollie, I think you better leave him with us.”

“Just whatever you wish, Ruth.”

Going up the sidewalk with Mrs. Damson, Casey knew the bad things were about to happen.  His father—back when his father was still alive—had spanked him that one time when he’d stayed overnight at Tim’s place and hadn’t told his parents.  “Don't you ever, ever do that again!” his father had said.  For a whole week he’d had to stay in his room after dinner.  And something like that was going to happen now.  Or worse.  The fat policeman had talked about those jail cells.

“Hello, dear,” said his grandmother from her chaise lounge.  She often lay there when she had one of her headaches.  “Did you have a good time downtown?”

“Yes, Grandma.”

“That’s fine, dear.  And, hello, Mollie.  It’s so nice of you to bring Casey home.”

His grandfather looked out from over The Des Moines Register and winked at Casey.  He had a tall glass of what looked like tomato juice on the table beside him.  Only it wasn’t just tomato juice.  It had alcohol in it.  Casey knew that because his grandfather used to keep a bottle of vodka right on the table beside the glass until Grandmother made him put it down out of sight.

“Still hot out there?” said his grandfather to Mrs. Damson.  He put the newspaper down, pulled a cigar out of his breast pocket and started to clip the end.

“Well, I just think the summers are getting hotter and hotter,” said Mrs. Damson.

“That’s a fact,” said Casey’s grandfather.  “That certainly is a fact.”

Casey went out into the kitchen where the hired girl, Ellen, was cutting up the meat for dinner.

“Hello,” he said to Ellen, getting lemonade from the fridge.  He went back to the door between the kitchen and the screened-in porch.

“I’m going up to my room.”

“Oh?” said his grandmother looking up.

His grandfather winked again.  He already had his cigar lit up.

Once up the stairs Casey closed the door to his room and sat down on the bed right next to his poster of Hank Sauer on the wall.  So, nothing had happened—yet.  His grandfather and grandmother were doing just what they always did before dinner.  And now they were talking to Mrs. Damson.  That meant the fat policeman hadn’t called.  And that meant that Nick’s mother hadn’t called.  So the bad things that were going to happen hadn’t started yet.

Maybe everything would stay just the same.  Maybe the fat policeman wouldn’t call.  Maybe the fat policeman had thought about it, things like Casey being Judge Miller’s grandson.  Things like how Casey came to Shenandoah for only four weeks in the summer.  Sometimes three weeks.  And maybe Nick wouldn’t tell his father.

Casey looked out the window and down toward Shenandoah where Nick and Buddy lived.  “Don’t tell, don’t tell,” he tried to send thoughts to Nick.

Then he looked over at the poster of Hank Sauer holding the bat, looking out toward the pitcher.  Maybe next spring some time his Uncle Harry would take him to a Cub’s game.  Chicago wasn’t that far away.

Downstairs the phone rang.  “Yes?” he heard Ellen’s voice say.  “Yes, he’s here.”

Casey opened the door of his room into the hallway and heard his grandfather’s cane thump on the wooden floor as he crossed the kitchen to the dining room.

“Yes, yes, hello?” his grandfather said into the phone.  His grandfather always talked really loudly into the telephone.  “Yes, Pete.  No, it’s perfectly all right.  No, Pete, I don’t mind at all.”

For fifteen seconds or so his grandfather didn’t say anything at all, although he heard his grandmother say, “What is it, William?  Is anything wrong?”

Then Casey heard his grandfather again.  “That a fact?  Yes.  This afternoon?  His granddaughter?  All the way from New York City.  Around two-thirty?  No, Pete.  No, not at all.  Well, you can bank on that Pete.  Yes, certainly.  Thank you, Pete.  Thank you very much.”

Then Casey could hear Mrs. Damson saying that she just thought she’d be going now, and his grandfather saying he’d walk her out to the car.

Then, after he heard Mrs. Damson’s car drive away and his grandfather coming back and his cane making that thumping noise, Casey could hear the two of them talking, his grandfather and his grandmother.  Only they were talking in low voices and Casey couldn’t understand what they were saying.

So now the bad things were going to happen.

“Dinner!” called Ellen.  “Dinner.” She rang the dinner chimes.

Casey waited as long as he thought he could, and Ellen even called up the stairs one more time, but when he came down he found his grandmother and his grandfather seated at their usual places, each at one end of the table.

“Take your seat, Casey,” said his grandmother.

Ellen served the soup, some kind of broth, and the whole time the three of them were at their soup neither grandfather nor grandmother said anything.

“That was very good,” said Casey’s grandmother to Ellen as Ellen took away the soup bowls.

“Thank you, ma’am,” said Ellen.

The main course turned out to be pork chops with mashed potatoes and carrots.

“The man on the radio says there’s a storm coming,” said Casey’s grandfather.

“Well, I shouldn’t wonder,” said his grandmother.

When Ellen brought in the pudding for dessert Casey’s grandmother said to her, “Now, Ellen, why don’t you take the rest of the evening off?”

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

“You can go do what you want.  Maybe visit a friend.  William can drive you in.  And don’t worry, I’ll wash up.”

“Ma’am, I’ll do the pots in the morning.”

“That would be very considerate of you, Ellen.”

Casey’s grandmother and grandfather kept sitting at the table, and so did Casey.  He knew it was going to happen now.

“Casey,” said his grandmother, “I want your complete attention.  Because a very serious matter has come up.  Do I have your complete attention.”

“Yes, Grandma.”

“Casey, I want you to know that your grandfather has received a call from the chief of police.  I must say that this is the first time we’ve received a call from the police department for some years in this house.  It seems that Bess Franklin’s granddaughter and her girlfriend from New York City were riding horses out in front of the Franklin Mansion and some boys from a car drove past and threw a firecracker.  And the police told your grandfather the names of the boys:  Anthony Bellacicco, Nicolas Bellacicco and you, Casey.  Now, Casey, it’s important to tell me the truth.  I don’t want you to lie to me.  Were you with the Bellacicco boys this afternoon?”

“Yes, Grandma.”

“In a car?”

“Yes, Grandma.”

            "Who was driving?  I imagine it was Anthony Bellacicco.”

“Yes.”

“Well, how old is he?  Fifteen.  Then he’s not old enough to drive.  That is, legally.  Isn’t that right?”

“Yes, Grandma.”

“And, who threw the firecracker?”

“They did,” said Casey.

“They?”

“Nick did it.  Buddy handed the firecracker to Nick and Nick lit it and threw it out the window.”

“You didn’t, Casey?”

            “No, I was just sitting in the back seat.”

“Is that the truth, Casey?”

“Yes, Grandma, that’s the truth.”

Casey’s grandmother sighed and looked at Casey’s grandfather.

“Well, I’ll just tell you, William,” said Casey’s grandmother.  “I’ve never much cared for the Bellacicco family and I’ve never much cared for those boys.  It’s her side of the family, sure.”

“Now, now, Ruth,” said Casey’s grandfather.

“I've never cared for them and I’ve always been clear about that.”

“My heavens, Ruth.”

            “No, no.  I’ve always said that.  It’s her side of the family.”

Casey’s grandfather pushed his chair back and stood up.

            “Think I’ll finish reading the Register.”

“William!”

“I said, ‘I think I’ll finish reading the Register!’”

Casey could hear his grandfather’s cane hitting the kitchen floor and then heard his grandfather open and close the door of the screened-in porch.  Casey knew his grandfather was going out to his office in the barn.

“Well, of all things,” said his grandmother.

She passed a hand down over her cheek and turned back to Casey.

“Now, Casey, I want you to know that your grandfather and I don’t hold you personally responsible for what happened this afternoon.  We know that you are basically a good boy and that Mildrid has done the best she can raising you ever since . . . .  Well, you know . . . ever since.  We know that.  And we know that you didn’t mean to get mixed up with those Bellacicco boys.  But there has to be a punishment.  I’m sure you understand that.  Do you understand there has to be a punishment?”

“Yes, grandma.”

            “I’m sorry, Casey, but that’s how the world is.  One must learn from one’s mistakes.  If one learns, then one grows into a better person.  The important thing in life, Casey, is to learn and grow and to always become a better person.  Do you understand this principle, Casey?”

“Yes, Grandma.”

“Then, Casey, and this is for your own good, you must promise me never to see those Bellacicco boys again.  Can you promise me that?”

“Yes, Grandma.”

Casey’s grandmother got up and went into the living room and came back with the big, black family Bible.  The ends of the pages were gold-tinted.  She put the Bible out on the table in front of Casey.

 “Put your right hand on the Bible, Casey.”

“Yes, Grandma.”

“And swear with me.”

His grandmother made him swear that in the future he would never see the Bellacicco boys again, so help him God.

“Amen!” said his grandmother.

“Amen!” said Casey.

“Now, Casey, bow your head and say with me:  ‘Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. . . .’”

Casey followed along as best he could and when his grandmother said, “Amen!” so did Casey.

“Now, Casey, come over here.”

Casey never liked kissing his grandmother, but he got up and went over to where she was and let her put her arms around his neck and she pulled his mouth down to hers.  He saw that she had begun to cry.

“Casey, you are a darling boy.  Don’t forget that you are a darling boy.”

Somehow her lips and cheek were cold.

“Now, Casey, please go to your room.”

Casey went up the stairs and closed the door to his room.

Outside it was getting dark and looking out the window he could see that the yard light had come on.  Beyond the yard light, down the hill past the Bradshaw farm and the yard light there, he could see the lights of Shenandoah.

The main thing was his grandmother had believed him.  When he told her that.  About Nick throwing the firecracker.  She asked him if it were the truth and he said it was.  So it didn’t matter now if Nick told his mother or if his mother called his grandmother.  Because he knew that his grandmother would believe him and not Mrs. Bellacicco.  She was Italian, or something like that.

So everything was going to be all right.

Now it was really dark outside and beyond the yard light at the Bradshaw farm the lights of Shenandoah seemed brighter.  It was as if everybody had their lights on there.  Probably also at the Franklin Mansion.  Although the Franklin Mansion had a lot more windows and so there would be a lot more light.

Again Casey saw the huge front lawn coming down to the street, the horse up there somewhere prancing toward the darkness, first going this way and then that way, an empty saddle, no rider anywhere.

 

 

 

Karl Harshbarger has had over 60 publications of his stories in such magazines as The Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, The Antioch Review, The New England Review, and Prairie Schooner.  Two of his stories have been selected for the list of  “Distinguished Stories” in Best American Short Stories, and eleven of his stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.  He has finished two novels, An Addison Man and Tuckman Hill, and is working on two others.  He lives with his wife in Germany.