And then there was Dana, who'd be waiting for me at the train. I'd been going out with her for almost a year, but it still amazed me. Part of it was her last name, Neubauer. Maybe you've heard of it. Her parents owned one of the biggest privately held companies in the world, and one of the great summer houses on the eastern seaboard.
I started dating her the summer before, when I was working at Jepson's. She had stopped by to check on her father's luxo-cruiser. I don't know what got into me -- but I asked her out. I guess she liked the rich girl - working boy scenario, and I probably did, too. Mostly, though, I liked Dana: she was smart, funny, centered, and focused. She was also easy to talk to, and I trusted her. Best of all, she wasn't a snob or a typical spoiled rich kid, which was some kind of miracle, given her pedigree.
Eastward ho! The old train rattled on, stopping at all the suburban sprawl towns with their 7-Elevens and Indian names like Patchogue and Ronkonkoma, where my tired college pal got off. Real towns. Not the weekend-tourist villages those on board couldn't wait to cavort in.
I apologize if my yuppie tirade is wearing thin, particularly since I had on the same kind of clothes and my prospects were probably better than most. But one difference between us was that for me, Montauk and the Hamptons were real places, not just a way of keeping a conversation going in a singles bar.
It's where my brother and I were born. Where our mother died too young. And where our octogenarian hipster grandfather showed no sign of slowing down.
Half the passengers scrambled out in Westhampton. The rest got off a couple of stops later, in East Hampton. When the train finally wheezed to a stop in Montauk right on time at four minutes past midnight, I was the only one left in my car.
And something outside the window seemed very wrong.
MY FIRST THOUGHT was that there were too many people waiting to meet the train at that hour.
I stepped off expecting to see Dana's Range Rover in the middle of the black, empty lot and Dana sitting cross-legged on the still-warm hood all by her lonesome.
But Dana was standing right there at the end of the welllit platform, and she didn't seem happy to see me. Her eyes were swollen and she looked as if she'd been crying for days. More alarming was that my father and grandfather were with her. My father, who never looks all that good these days, was ashen-faced. My grandfather looked hurt and angry, a pissed-off eighty-six-year-old Irishman looking for someone to punch.
Off to the side were an East Hampton cop named Billy Belnap and a young reporter from the East Hampton Star scribbling feverishly in a notebook. Behind them the pulsing red bar of Belnap's cruiser streaked the scene with the coldblooded light of catastrophe.
The only one missing was my brother, Peter. How could that be? Peter had spent his whole life careening from one near disaster to the next with hardly a scratch. When Peter was five, a neighbor found him lying unconscious on top of his bicycle on the side of the road. Our neighbor carried him to our house and laid him on the couch. We were about to call the ambulance when Peter sat up, as if from a nap. That was also the year he kept falling out of trees.
But now the faces on the platform were telling me that my brother, Peter, with his risky combination of carelessness and balls, had run out of lives. He'd driven his motorcycle off the Shadmoor Cliffs, or fallen asleep in bed smoking a cigarette, or chased a ball into traffic and gotten run over like a golden retriever.
My legs went weak as Dana wrapped her arms around my neck and put her wet face against mine. "Jack, I'm so sorry. It's Peter. Oh, Jack, I'm sorry."
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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