Athens, Wisconsin

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bobby Osborne bit his tongue. His parents were throwing a barbecue with some of the neighbors in the backyard, and he was scoffing down a burger. It was late September, and there wouldn't be many more Saturdays like this one.

"Bobby," said his mother, Marie. "Slow down. You'll choke."

"Mom, really?" he asked. "I'm twenty-two," he said with a grin (although he wasn't about to admit that he had just bit his tongue).

"Well, you could still choke," she said. Bobby smiled as he looked right at her. He lifted his burger in slow-motion and took a big bite, and began chewing.

His mother laughed. "You're such a little punk," she said, hugging him. "What are you doing for the rest of the day?"

"I thought I'd go do a little catfishing. George's birthday is coming up, and he loves fried catfish." He shoved in the last of his burger, tossed his plate in the trash and leaned over to grab a soda.

He said good-bye to his parents and their friends and headed out to the garage to grab his fishing gear.

Venice, Wisconsin

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Harrison Weaver sat back in the chair, put his hands up to his face and sighed. "How long?" he asked.

Dr. Frank Whittaker shook his head. "Four months, five at the most? I am sorry, Harrison. You should get your affairs in order. If there was anything else I could do, you know I would."

Harrison took his cane and slowly lifted himself from the chair and out to the waiting room where his Personal Assistant, Dennis, was waiting.

They slowly made their way to the limo, and Dennis told the driver to take Mr. Weaver home.

When Harrison got home, he did something that he hadn't done in a very long time. He dug through the back of his closet and found his old, worn jeans and an older flannel shirt. He had spent so many years in suits that putting on this old outfit felt like a comfortable old friend – like coming home. Then he sat down on the edge of his bed and looked around. He thought, maybe, he should cry or show some emotion. But he just felt empty.

He slowly walked back down to the front door and called for his driver.

Bobby was happily strolling alongside one of his favorite rivers to fish in. He was carrying his fishing gear and a lantern while whistling a tune. Now that the sun was starting to set, there was a chill in the air, especially this deep in the woods. He was glad he thought to grab his sweatshirt.

As he got to a little pool that had provided him with some good fishing, he was surprised to see an older man sitting by the river on the rock that he usually sat on to fish. The old man had his hands on his knees and was just sitting and staring into the water, looking tired. Bobby noticed his old, worn jeans and patched-up flannel shirt.

"Um, excuse me, sir, hello," Bobby said. "I'm Bobby. I was planning on doing a little cat-fishing here tonight. Would that bother you?"

Harrison was startled. He had been lost in thought and hadn't heard Bobby approaching. He looked back at the young man, noticing the shock of dark hair hanging down over his bright blue-green eyes, and the shy demeanor. "No, no, Son. Come have a seat. I wouldn't mind a little company." As he answered, he realized that it was true.

Bobby rolled a fallen log over to the water's edge. He wound a worm on the hook and threw the line in.

"So, you like catfish, do you?" Harrison asked.

"Um, well, no . . . not really," Bobby answered, laughing a little. "I'm catching a few for my friend. It's his birthday on Monday, and fried catfish is his favorite meal. His grandmother is going to cook them up for him tomorrow, so I told her I'd do the catching. I prefer pizza or burgers, I guess."

"That's right nice of you to do that for your buddy." Harrison said, looking a little sad. "I can't remember the last time I had a friend who would do something like that for me," he muttered, more to himself than to Bobby.

Bobby couldn't imagine the hard times this man must have suffered, but the old guy surely wasn't happy with his present situation. "I'd be glad to catch a few for you, Sir. I'm sorry; what's your name?"

"You can call me Harry. Tell you what. Let's whip up a little campfire. We can cook a couple right here, as long as you still have enough to bring to your friend tomorrow." Harry felt a little giddiness that he hadn't felt in a long time.

Bobby smiled. How could he let the old guy down? He scooted off to find some kindling and got a little fire together. The two men spent the next three hours sitting there, sometimes talking quietly and sometimes just enjoying the quiet of the woods and river. They cooked three catfish, and Bobby even tried a little and declared it "not as bad as he figured it would be," which drew a hearty laugh from Harry.

Finally, though, Bobby started to pick up his gear. "I'm sorry, Harry, but I've got to get going. Can I help you get anywhere? I hate leaving you here in the dark alone."

"No, no, Bobby. I'll be just fine. Look, I have a little penlight here in my pocket. It'll get me where I'm going. You don't have to worry about me," Harry answered, a little gruffly. He didn't want Bobby following him or seeing the limo that was waiting for him just under a mile away.

Bobby hesitated. He sure didn't want to leave this old guy out here.

"I mean it. Now, Bobby, you go on home. I'll be just fine. I'm no stranger to these woods," Harry insisted.

Bobby didn't like it but gave in to Harry's insistence. "Well, you want to meet next week? We can do a little more fishing, before the season ends?"

"Sure, Bobby. That sounds just great," Harry said and already found himself looking forward to it. There was something calming about this young man.

"Same time? Same place?" Bobby asked.

Harrison nodded. "It'll give me something to look forward to this week," he said, smiling sadly.

After Bobby was far enough out of sight, Harrison reached into his pocket and took out a cell phone. He hit speed dial. "Hey Dennis, send Quincy out to get me, will you? Sorry I took so long. Yeah. There's a big flashlight in the trunk, isn't there? Okay, I'll be slowly working my way to you. I've got a little light."

As Bobby walked out of the woods to his car, he couldn't stop thinking about Harry, wondering who he was, how he got out there, and most importantly, how he was getting out.

He drove home and cleaned and prepped the catfish for the next day. Just as he was finishing up, his father came out.

"Looks like you got some nice catfish for George, huh?" he asked.

"Yeah, actually I caught quite a few more, but there was an old guy by the river tonight. He looked kind of tired and hungry, so we cooked some up there and ate them. It was weird, Dad. I don't know if he lives out there somewhere. I've never seen him before, and there are no houses out that way." Bobby scowled as he worried about his new friend. "We made plans to meet there again next week. I hope he'll be alright."

"I'm sure he knows how to take care of himself, Bobby," his father answered. "Just keep your eye out, and if he shows next week, try to find out what else you can about him." He gave his son a clap on the back, and the two men headed back into the house.

Harrison Weaver sat in the back of the limousine with Dennis.

"Do you really think he had no idea who you were?" Dennis asked. "How is that possible? You're in the news all the time."

"I'm telling you, Dennis," Harrison insisted. "He didn't have a clue. There was no recognition. He honestly didn't want anything from me, just company and a little fishing. It was quite refreshing, actually."

Harrison fell silent and looked out the window as they approached his estate. Then he turned and looked at Dennis and said, "Contact Sidney Hale's office. This kid's name is Robert Osborne, and he lives in Athens. Have Hale find out everything he can about him. I want a report by Wednesday." The door opened and Quincy, the driver, was there to assist Mr. Weaver upstairs for the night.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Katie Baxter sat under a willow tree with a book on her lap in the Pine Grove Cemetery. She had stopped by to visit her mother's grave. It was a peaceful spot and a sunny day, and Katie was reluctant to go home. Being a Saturday, she knew Daddy-Glen would be there, and h e would most likely be drunk.

Katie had spent the last 12 years learning to be invisible whenever Daddy-Glen was concerned. He had never gone farther than the 8th grade and seeing someone read a book in front of him, usually set him off – ranting about "smart-alecks think they're better than me . . . useless books" – so Katie had learned at a young age to be somewhere else when she read, which was her favorite pastime.

Carla Monroe, Katie's mother, had died five months ago after struggling for years with drug addiction, and Katie still missed her terribly. These afternoons, spent reading by her mother's grave, were her only comfort.

Carla had married Daddy-Glen when Katie was five years old. He was quick to grab a bottle and even quicker to give little Katie a backhand. She stayed out of his way as much as possible, and books became her escape. As a young child, she had been bright, inquisitive and full of energy, but life with Daddy-Glen changed that. She became withdrawn and hid her curiosity, but to her credit, she did not lose it; she buried it deep and let it out when she had the opportunity.

Now, the afternoon was dwindling away. Katie sighed and closed her book.

"Good-bye, Momma," she said. "I'll be back later in the week. Maybe Wednesday." She rolled onto her knee and grabbed hold of the tree trunk to pull herself up. Throughout high school, Katie had become increasingly uncomfortable with the way Daddy-Glen leered at her. In an effort to make herself as unappealing to him as possible, she spared no effort in putting on extra weight. Her concerns and complaints to her mother about it fell on deaf ears, as Carla always thought the best of Glen, and the notion that he would hurt Katie was unthinkable to her.

Katie walked slowly to the bus stop. She kept her eyes down and her heart was heavy. The bus pulled up, and she was happy to see that it was not that full yet, so she could sit alone in the back. She had twenty more minutes of respite before arriving at the trailer and cooking dinner for Daddy-Glen.

The bus stopped at the corner of her street. She stepped off and looked to see if his car was in the driveway. She sighed. Not only was his car there, but the rusted pick-up truck of his best friend, Dwayne, was too. Yup, she thought. They'll be drunk.

She stopped at the little garden shed at the corner of the trailer and hid her book in with the flower pots. That was as safe a place as she could find. Daddy-Glen hated that shed, as gardening had been Carla and Katie's favorite activity to do together.

Then she pushed open the door and prepared herself for the onslaught of verbal abuse that would surely head her way.

"Kate," Daddy-Glen bellowed as she walked in the door. "Where the devil you bin, girl? I'm hungry. I ain't had a bite all day."

"That ain't stopped you from drinkin' none," she muttered under her breath. "I went to visit Momma," she answered.

"Your Momma's dead and buried. She ain't got no need for visitors. You keep your butt in this house and tend to your responsibilities. You hear me?"

"Yes, Daddy-Glen," she sighed as she got out a skillet and started to prepare some fried chicken. She had made a potato salad earlier in the morning and hid it in the back of the fridge, knowing he wouldn't touch anything beyond his beer cans.

"And don't you sass me, neither, girl. You're fast approaching 18, you know. After that, my obligation to take care of you is over. If you think you're gonna stay here in my house, we'd best negotiate 'an arrangement'. You git my meaning?" he snickered. Dwayne just outright guffawed at that. Clearly, they had been talking.

This was a new development that had Katie more than a little worried. She had hoped that she could finish her senior year before heading out on her own. As she turned the chicken, she looked at the girly-pin up calendar Glen had hung near the fridge. She had less than two months to make a plan. Her birthday was clearly marked on the "Important Dates" paper her mom had posted at the beginning of the year. Carla had told Katie that she could have a "real" party for her 18th birthday, although Katie didn't have any idea at all who she would have invited.

After she set the platter of chicken and the potato salad down in front of the men, she fixed herself a heaping plate. She grabbed a soda and headed out the back door to the rickety lawn chair set out on an even more rickety porch. As the door slammed behind her, she heard Daddy-Glen mutter to Dwayne, "she may not be much to look at, but she sure can cook."

With knots in her stomach, she mentally calculated how much money she had hidden in spots around the shed and trailer. Over the past few months, every bit of spare change mysteriously made its way to one of the hiding places she had set up. Mrs. Newbury, who lived across the street, had offered to pay her for some mending jobs, and she knew that her mother had stashed some cash somewhere; she just had to find it. If she was lucky, in two months' time, she might be able to scrape together a couple of hundred dollars. How far that would get her, she couldn't even begin to imagine.