20 The Visitor
At four o’clock that day I heard the knock on the door I’d been fearing all afternoon. I waited on my belly at the top of the stairs with my head near the top floor tread from where I was able to peek at the front door where my mom was greeting Mr. Whittemore.
I had gotten home almost an hour ago and had sneaked through my window after climbing onto the porch roof and into my room acting like I’d been there, sick, all afternoon. I listened, my ears straining to hear any of the conversation.
“Good afternoon Mrs. Foster. Sorry to intrude but there was an incident today involving some malicious damage to the school and there is some evidence that, unfortunately, Jeremy may have been involved.”
“But no Mr. Whittemore, he couldn’t have been involved because he was home all day up in his room, sick, I checked on him several times and he never left his room sir. He’s been coughing and has a fever.”
“Oh, I see,” said Mr. Whittemore. “I apologize. It’s just that I had information from one of my students – he was pretty certain. Do you mind if I just have a word with him?”
“Well, I know he’s sleeping because I just came down from his bedroom and his father will be home soon and…well…if his father found out he was suspected even of something like that he’d beat him just in case. His father’s a severe man and so I have to hide a lot from him.”
“I understand Mrs. Foster. I’ll only be one minute. I’d so much it rather be me than the constable. It’s a criminal matter and I’d like to spare the boy any unnecessary questions.”
“A criminal matter you say? Oh heavens. Well okay then, a minute shouldn’t hurt none,” my mother said. “I’ll take you straight up.”
At that moment I charged toward my bedroom and leaped into my bed, shoes and all, and pulled the covers up to my neck and waited breathlessly for what was coming.
Whittemore was suspicious despite what mom told him and was going to try to get it out of me. He was smart enough never to trust what a mother said about her son or daughter, knowing that either she’d lie for them or else she was so tricked herself and didn’t know enough about her kids’ activities, good or bad. But Whittemore knew kids. He was always trying to catch them in a lie and, furthermore, he was good at it. Had Brooks really told him anything or was he just saying that on the hunch that maybe I was listening somewhere like I was where he couldn’t see me? I believe he was bluffing because I think Jack was right: Brooksy would do anything to become a Midnight Raider and besides, we gave him a perfect story to make up. Still, master might not be making it up. I heard them climbing the stairs and I slapped myself across my cheeks to make the blood come to the surface to make it look like I was sick. That neat trick fools my mom all the time but Whittemore might not be fooled. The door creaked and I closed my eyes.
“See he is still a’sleepin’, poor boy,” said mom. “Jeremy dear boy, Jeremy. Master Whittemore is here and would like a word with you son…something about some incident at the school today. I told him you knew nothing about it because of you being sick and all.”
Whittemore approached. “Thank you ma’am, I’ll be only a minute. If I could just have a word in private,” he said closing the door on mom.
“Oh!” said Whittemore. “You do look like a poor ole sick boy,” master said. “And your face is flushed. You do have a fever,” and he placed his hand on my forehead. “Well, maybe not.”
Then he tried to pull the covers off, saying:
“Son you’re too warm – you shouldn’t have blankets on such a hot day.”
“No I want ‘m,” I said, yanking them to my neck. “I have chills!” I almost yelled.
Mom came to the door. “Is everything all right Mr. Whittemore?”
“Oh yes, Everything’s just fine ma’am. I’ll be done shortly.”
He looked confused like he didn’t know what to do or like he just ran into a tree or something. His eyebrows went up and then down as if he was trying to figure it out. His long pointed nose seemed to be smelling me out for lies. I decided to head off his questioning.
“Sir, thank you for checking up on me. I did want to go to school today but I just felt so bad. I hope it won’t count against me. I’ll try to do extra homework tonight.”
I waited to see what effect that would have on that old fox. I couldn’t lie half as good as Jack but with his help I was sure learning. Jack was masterful at lying. I never met anyone who could lie as good as Jack. My mom had placed a pitcher of drinking water on the dresser nest to some daisies in a vase to
help me to feel better. But I wasn’t going to feel good until Whittemore left.
“May I have some water?” I asked him. “I have a powerful thirst sir.”
“Oh, yes, yes of course,” said master and he poured it in a glass and gave it to me still seeming confused.
He stared at me as though not knowing what else to say, sort of awkward-like or maybe he was just waiting for me to confess. I wasn’t sure.
“What happened at the school today sir? Did someone get hurt? I hope not. Sometimes the kids play too rough.”
“Oh no, not to worry,” Whittemore said. “But I came here because Mr. Brooks said something to me after he told me today that he was sick.”
Master paused to see what I might say next, I guessed. His deep beady eyes measured my response looking for some sign of guilt, I felt, and trying to draw the truth out of me through his eyes which seemed to spit fire but I continued to play dumb.
“Yes sir, Mr. Foster, what he said to me caused me to think that you had been directly involved in the incident. But that couldn’t be, right? Because here you were home in your bed all day, right? Sick?”
“Of course I was sir. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it. I wanted to.”
“Jeremy, Mr. Brooks said you were his best friend now and that I couldn’t expect him to tattle on you.”
“Is he dreaming’?” I asked. “We’re not really friends at all.”
“So I had gathered. So I had gathered, Mr. Foster, from my own observations. But I wonder what caused him to say it, to say that you were now his best friend and that Jack was a good friend too. Why do you think he said that at that particular time?”
“I haven’t the foggiest notion sir, really I don’t. I’m just as surprised as you. And I bet if you talk to Jack he won’t know either.”
“Well Jeremy it turns out that I did have some words today with Mr. Stone and I was very surprised to hear what he said about you and about the incident.”
“Sir, what are you saying?”
“He implicated you, he did. Not that he really knew he was implicating you but I believe he did it without realizing it. And then I confronted him with the truth and he was unable to stand up in any positive way to it. His guilt shone directly through his words. He said you were the one I should talk to after him. It seemed as if he just wanted to shift all the blame upon you poor boy. And so that’s why I am here Jeremy, so that you can also confess your role in today’s affair.”
“But sir,” I fumbled, wondering what Jack had said. But then I recalled that Jack said not to let master try to trick me and that master would tell any lie about Jack to make me talk but Jack had said he’d never give master an inch.
“But sir I told you,” I said as firmly as I could muster, “I was here all day. Ask my mom as she was with me much of the time. Sir I’m sorry you don’t believe. No I’m deeply disappointed you’d think so of me but really I had nothin’ to do with any affair today at the school. Nothin’ sir. Please don’t think badly of me. It pains me Mr. Whittemore, sir.”
I looked into those cool grey-blue eyes and I could tell, he still believed nothing I said. “I don’t know what in tarnation Mr. Brooks is talkin’ about.”
“Right,” said master. “Nor do I, at this particular moment. But by heaven I’m going to find out. Well I’ve got to go. I hope you feel better, Mr. Foster.”
“Thank you master,” I said.
As he turned the large brass door knob on his way out, his large bushy eyebrows suddenly furrowed again, one up, one down.
“Doesn’t Mr. Brooks dislike Mr. Stone because Mr. Stone torments him mercilessly?” he inquired.
“Um, possibly,” I said. “I don’t really know.”
“Oh come on Mr. Foster, certainly you do know. Are you being secretive with me?”
“No sir, I simply thought that Brooksy doesn’t really hate Jack…he would really like to be friends with him.”
“Interesting,” said master. “Because Mr. Brooks said something very similar – that he and Mr. Stone were going to be very good friends … that all three of you were going to be very good friends. Now isn’t that curious that such an unimaginative fellow like Mr. Brooks would say something like that?”
“It’s interesting alright,” I said, “especially when there ain’t no good reason for Brooksy a’sayin’ it.”
“Oh but maybe there is a good reason Jeremy. Maybe promises were made. And Mr. Brooks is so easily manipulated by those in society and by his fellow classmates, and especially by Mr. Stone and sometimes there are those in our own very class who, unscrupulously Mr. Foster, place their own selfish interests ahead of the welfare of this rather poor unfortunate and stupid child. At any rate, the constable is going to be talking to Mr. Brooks. “If he’s been manipulated, the constable will find out. He is a very skilled interrogator of twenty years’ experience knowing personally hundreds, maybe thousands of criminals from all over the Charleston area and beyond. He’ll get to the truth of the matter. And then Jeremy, we’ll have another talk. In the meantime, if you hear of or know anything, you can earn yourself some A’s for the year if you come forward with evidence against Jack Stone. But you can never tell anyone about this conversation. I’ll simply deny it. After all, you are one of my better students and might deserve a few A’s anyway if we stretched here and there. Goodbye sir.”
“Don’t be unwise in this matter. Do the right thing. Think about your future – maybe you could be a doctor or a lawyer. Don’t go down the path of perfidy with Jack Stone because that’s exactly where he’s leading you. Son, cut him loose and come clean.”
Master finally left. I was sweating. Now I really was sick.