For much of Dougs life it was a simple formula: Fuck up and learn about Uncle Russ.
But there were times, usually in early fall, when his father would get sentimental and make comments that told him more about his uncle. When Doug helped turn a triple play in a county-wide semi-final, his father, over the first beer he had ever bought his son, mumbled that he "looked a lot like Russell out there." And when he nailed thirty skeet in a row, he overheard his father say, "His uncle once got a hundred." Slowly Doug uncovered that, along with being responsible for most of the crimes in central Pennsylvania, Uncle Russ could have made it to the majors, was a decent horseman, taught himself to play the guitar, and would never turn his back on a friend. There were times that Doug felt his father looking at him out of the corner of his eye and he knew that something he had just done sparked a memory his father had thought hed long forgotten.
Uncle Russ had died fifty years ago in Singaporeend of story. Doug learned never to push for details, not from his father or from his aunts or from his mothers two brothers, who seemed to know more than anyone else, at least they said they did. "He wasnt so bad," Uncle Carl would say, "your dad just never forgave him for running off the way he did. And five years later, when your folks got married, I think he hoped Russ would be there, do the Best Man thing, but of course that didnt happen. Thats what your dad remembers." When Dougs father died three years ago, Doug felt that they would tell him more about Uncle Russ, but it was as if his fathers last wish were that no one mention his brother again. And no one ever did.
And now someone he didnt know from a foreign country hed never been to was writing to tell him about an old friend, his uncle. And it was a woman.
"I knew your uncle for about ten years and I have a lot of great memories courtesy of Russell," the letter continued. "I also have a box of his things and I thought you may want them. If youre interested. "
He called the woman, Edna Bowers, in Toronto and made plans to come up that week. He had no place to be on Monday morning, unless sitting on the couch, flicking continuously through the same sixty-two cable channels, was a place to be. At first it was great to be home watching TV all day, but after two weeks of it Doug found the magic was wearing thin. He had added "hanging out at the mall" to his daily itinerary and that made things better, but even that was starting to seem sort of dull. And now the chance to take a few days off before he filed for unemployment and pretended to look for a job looked more interesting than staying home.
Mrs. Bowers sounded like a nice old ladyif she knew his Uncle Russ she had to at least be in her seventiesand of course there was that hope that hed learn something new about the Pearce family Official Black Sheep.
Doug missed the turnoff, missed the exit, missed the right-hand turn and the second left, and had to drive up and down the street three times before he found the address, an ivy-covered brick building in the Rosedale area, just outside of downtown Toronto. A small brass nameplate by the door held the hand-printed names Mr. and Mrs. Frank Bowers.
When the door opened, Doug figured he had the wrong address. Dressed in the kind of suit hed seen on network news women, and wearing her tin-colored hair in a short, almost boyish style, this women looked more like a flattering "where are they now?" shot of some Fifties movie starlet than anybodys grandmother. He was ready to apologize and leave when she opened the door further.
"You must be Douglas," she said. "Im Edna Bowers. I hope you were able to find the place alright, I cant say Ive ever given directions from Pottsville before."
From Relative Danger by Charles Benoit (Chapters 1 & 2, pages 1-16). Copyright Charles Benoit 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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