The Whirligig of Time

I came up gasping for air, weighted down by wet clothes, bobbing lightly in the boat’s wake.  The Wilsons and Gabe stood watching, waving off the rear deck like it was the Love Boat and not a ship full of cons.  I turned on my belly and with an unpracticed crawl stroke I made my way to shore.  By the time I climbed ashore.  Peter’s boat was already nearing the closest island.  My battered body winced at the touch of hot air.

I looked out at Peter’s boat passing behind the island.  I couldn’t hear engines, or anything else for that matter.  The empty afternoon had paid no heed to my beating or to the confessions had in that main cabin.  Despite all our difficulties I couldn’t deny that my father had at least tried.  Even after he and my mom couldn’t stand the sight of one another, he had never given up on me.  I looked down at the river lapping against the shore.  To my right the barn at the end of Louisiana sat empty with peeling red paint.  At least my father had married my mother; at least he’d made a go at a family.  In a strange moment of sadness I thought of how it would feel to be born to a father who didn’t want you, who didn’t even care enough to marry your mother.  How had I been so arrogant, to criticize my father for doing his best when I wasn’t even willing to extend the same accommodations to my own budding child.  I turned up the road and walked gingerly toward the LeBaron.  I left evidence of my passing as the river dripped form my sopping clothes onto the pavement.  Ahead of me I saw the way home, slicing north through Venice.  I’d be driving up that road empty-handed and alone, knowing that Peter Bingham was off on his Caribbean escape, scot-free.  My father was dead; the notion was still too galling to believe.  I was no murderer, whatever Peter Bingham might say.  I shoved my hands in my pockets and trudged toward the LeBaron.  When I got there I went rifling through the trunk and changed into my last dry outfit.

As I closed the trunk I noticed a police cruiser passing south through Venice, but it wasn’t until the car came abreast of the LeBaron, parking on the opposite side of the road, that I could read the stenciled letters on the side.  Poscataw Sheriff. I saw Mitchell in the front seat, although I didn’t recognize his passengers.  One sat shotgun, with the other in back.

I figured I was in trouble and resigned myself to catching hell from Mitchell—I’d skipped town when he ordered me not to.  But when he climbed from the car he seemed very at ease.

‘We found you,’ he said.   He was adorned with all his usual sheriff primping.  ‘You look like hell—you get in a fight or something?  Your hair’s all wet.’

‘It’s a long story.’  I crossed the road to the parked cruiser.  I leaned forward to peer into the car and saw a balding man with a square head in a blue oxford shirt.  He looked back at me with a slight smile and I got the impression he knew me.

‘I think you know David Drysdale,’ Mitchell said as the hydrant of a man stepped out from the passenger seat.

‘Drysdale?’ I said in shock.  What was Mitchell doing driving around with Drysdale?  The man I’d envisioned as my co-conspirator eyed me with a curious smile.

‘So you’re the one,’ he said.

‘And I suppose,’ Mitchell said, interrupting before I could say anything, ‘that I should let your father out of the back.’  He pulled open the back door and Johnson Calvert stepped out.  He wore two week’s facial hair but otherwise looked very much like the man I’d abandoned back in Mud City.

‘Dad?’  I started toward him, not trusting my eyes.

‘Hello son,’ he said, closing the distance between us.  I’d never been so happy to see him.

‘Dad I thought you were dead.’  I wrapped him in an unrestrained hug.  We hadn’t hugged like that since I was a little kid.

‘Not quite dead, son,’ he said privately.  ‘But I’ve had better weeks, let me tell you.’  I held him at arm’s length and looked my father straight in the face and pretended not to notice the tremble in both our eyes.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said.  ‘I made a mess.’  My father put his hand on my shoulder.

‘It’s not your fault, son.  What you found has been going on here since before your great grandpa was born.’

I glanced back at David Drysdale, wondering what he was doing down at the end of the river—wondering what any of them were doing.

‘I need a beer,’ I said, ‘and then maybe you guys can tell me just what the hell’s going on.  I just spent the last hour listening to how Peter Bingham had murdered you.’

‘Where is he?’ Mitchell said.  ‘We’ve got some things to talk about.’

‘Gone,’ I said, pointing out to the river.  ‘He and Gabe, they…’  I paused, questioning if I should even talk about Gabe in front of Mitchell.

‘A lot has happened since you left, Jackson,’ Mitchell said.  ‘I know about Peter and Gabe.  Your father and I, we had a talk, and then last night I spoke with my mother.  She hasn’t told Cathy yet, but I’d imagine she will.’  This came as a surprise.  I’d thought Faye would do anything in her power to take her secret to the grave.

‘Ok,’ I said, ‘and what’s he doing here?’  I pointed to Drysdale, who began to laugh.

‘Jackson,’ he said, coming around the front of the car to shake my hand.  ‘I’ve been wanting to meet you.  The three of us—your father, Mitchell, and I—have been discussing how best to position this story in the paper.’  I looked to my father.

‘What did you tell him?’ I said.

‘Everything, son.  It’s time it all came out.’  He had a far-away sadness to his eyes and I knew he was thinking of his own father.

‘Everything?’ I said.  I’d been trying to lasso this story for so long and yet I still didn’t know everything.

‘Clyde King,’ Johnson Calvert said.  ‘You were right—it went much deeper than it seemed.’

‘Once the story gets out,’ Drysdale added, ‘Earl Watkins might want to reconsider his bid for governor—his shady family history is about to become part of the public record.’

‘How about that beer,’ I said, needing something to take the edge off.  In a mere five minutes my silly crusade had been turned on its head.  I’d spent so long thinking I knew clues that others didn’t, knew truths that were otherwise buried, but on this afternoon at least I was the one in the dark.  ‘The Royal Flush is just right up the road,’ I said.  ‘It’s a good spot.  I need the full story here.’

‘I think you might want to wait a bit,’ Mitchell said, glancing past me and up the road toward greater Venice.  ‘The others should be here soon.’

‘The others?’

‘Everybody’s coming, Jackson,’ my father said.  ‘Helen wanted to make sure no one was left out.’

‘Left out of what?’ I said, although as soon as my father spoke her name I knew what he was getting at

‘Your wedding,’ my father said.  ‘I’m so proud of you, son.  She’s a wonderful girl.’  I tried to fight back the color rising to my cheeks but there was nothing I could do.  I took a moment to respond.

‘You mean to tell me everyone is coming down here?  Why?’  Despite asking the question, I already knew the answer.

‘I get the impression,’ Mitchell said, ‘that Helen didn’t want to wait one more hour than she needed to.  She wants to do it right here.  Fuco’s going to conduct the ceremony.’

‘Fuco!’  I held back a flood of profanity.  I hadn’t seen him since that damn fiasco of a circus, and I’d figured he was long gone by now.  ‘He can’t marry us.’

‘Apparently he can,’ Mitchell said.  ‘Helen made some sort of deal with him.’

‘Deal?’  I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

‘I’m not sure about the details but I guess you’ll find out soon enough.’

I dug my hands into my pockets.  ‘Who else is coming?’

‘Everybody,’ Mitchell said.  ‘My family, for one.  And your mother.’  A cold panic set in.  Had Helen mustered all my friends and family against me?

As if in answer, I heard a resounding backfire from somewhere up the road.  I turned and saw Fuco’s circus truck lumbering in our direction, towing the converted horse trailer that all his animals called home.

‘Oh lord,’ was about all I could say.  The bearded lion tamer grinned at me through the glare of his front window, with Meg at his side.  He parked the truck behind Mitchell’s cruiser.  Marty and Monty popped their heads up from the back.

‘Calvert!’ Monty shouted.  He and Monty clambered down from the bed of the truck.

‘You guys are in on this too?’ I moaned.

‘Not just us,’ Monty said as Kingston stepped down from the truck.  We met eyes and Kingston gave a shy wave.

‘Duh dut duh-da!’ Marty began to sing.  He grabbed Monty in an imitation waltz and they pranced toward me arm-in-arm to the tune of Here Comes the Bride.

And come she did.  The end of the caravan—Faye’s black Civic—glided south through Venice.  My aunt parked behind the circus truck and out sprang my bride to be, wearing a casual t-shirt and shorts.  Her smile was all mischief.

‘You look like hell,’ she said to me.  ‘Did you get mugged or something?  You’ll have to get cleaned up, and make it quick.  Everyone’s here.’  She was right.  As my mother and Cathy squeezed their way out of the tight fit in the back seat I noted that everyone important in my life was now gathered at the end of the river, prepared to see me marry Helen.

‘What an exciting occasion this is!’ Fuco exclaimed.  He had one arm wrapped around Meg, who’d abandoned the gypsy garb in favor of a unisex moo-moo.  I was surprised to see that Helen had let Meg come along.

‘So…’  I didn’t see a need to articulate the question as the group gathered around me.  Helen knew what was on my mind.

‘I’m sure you’ve had a chance,’ Helen said, ‘to talk to your father.  You see he’s done a very neat job of wrapping everything up for you—he and Mister Drysdale.  Your mystery, as you call it, is solved.  Which leaves us only one thing to do.’

‘Get married,’ I said feebly.

‘Exactly.’  Helen’s smile was almost taunting.  She knew she had me by the balls.  ‘I thought, since you seemed to like it so much down here, that you’d appreciate the location.’  Helen did her best Vanna White impression as she swept an arm across the blue horizon.

‘I wouldn’t mind doing the ceremony up in Poscataw,’ I said, praying for a filibuster.

‘We’re already here,’ my mother said.  ‘This is a great spot—just look at that adorable barn.’  Dorothy Calvert started in that direction.  I saw now that while I’d been gone—a mere twenty-four hours!—Helen had marshaled consensus support for a marriage.  I should have known she’d find a way to make my hollow promise stick.

‘Plus we can head up to the Royal Flush,’ my dad said, ‘for a few drinks afterwards.’

‘I need a few drinks before,’ I said, ‘and at the very least I need to know what you mean by the mystery being wrapped up.’

‘Everyone knows,’ Helen said, rubbing my nose in it.  ‘But maybe you and your father should take some time.’  Helen glanced up at the late-afternoon sun.  ‘Take an hour,’ she said, ‘and we’ll do it at six.  Oh, by the way, your tuxedo’s in the back of Fuco’s truck.’

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