Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Macro and Micro

It’s a time filled with reality and unreality. Or perhaps we should call it dysreality, since it seems that reality is not lacking but distorted.

The macro—Puerto Rico is about to default on 422 million bucks worth of debt repayment.

The micro—I entered the café at 11:30 in the morning yesterday, only to find that while open, the establishment had only emergency lights on. Right—I know what to say when the lights go off, so I called out, “I…AM…A…GHOST!”

That’s when Santana said, wearily, “hello, Marc.”

Santana is my age, or perhaps younger. Anyway, he remembers New York City in the 70’s, when he was living up in Inwood. There, he felt at home, and part of a community. He moved back to a small town on the island, where he doesn’t feel the same. And now, he was sitting in the dark in the café he has recently taken over.

So we sit in the dark, and Santana tells me—he’s lost X amount of money. Nor does he know precisely what happened, but every business on the street lost power as they were opening up at 9 AM. In addition, he has no idea when the power will be restored, and that’s a problem since tonight is the poetry open mic. And that means it’s his best day.

We say the things that every Puerto Rican says: the politicians are crooks, they have ruined the island; Cuba is the new threat, the people there want to work.

I point out to him: he and his family are Puerto Rican, and they work…well, I’ve never believed in that expression, “working like a dog.” So I’ll use the phrase a black colleague from the South Side of Chicago once used: most days, Santana and clan are busier than a cat covering up shit.

So we are sitting in a dark café, and there is something strangely intimate about it, since there is nothing to do. As I write this, I am watching the clan of Santana unload groceries from Costco. But yesterday, there was nothing to do but wait, and tell the customers wanting to trade money for coffee that the deal was off. 

I tell you the micro since it’s something we can all get on board with. Is there anyone, anywhere, who wouldn’t sympathize with Santana, sitting in every way powerless in his dark, hot café? But something happens on the way to macro—which means that ideology intrudes, the battle lines are drawn, blame is assigned, responsibility is disavowed.

And I tell you that because I have watched John Oliver on Puerto Rico, and yes, I agreed with a lot of what he said. But is it time to point out some things that don’t fit the narrative? Aren’t we at the point where are only chance out of this mess is to look honestly at all sides of the issue, and hope to find some way out?

Narrative: the vulture funds are sticking it to Puerto Rico.

Fact: John Oliver himself said it. Only 30% of the debt is held by vulture funds. The rest is held by individual investors, many of them Puerto Rican, and in mutual funds. I know two people, elderly and now retired, who suffered greatly from buying Puerto Rican bonds, and seeing their worth diminish. I do not know any hedge fund managers.

Narrative: the politicians got us into this mess, now they’ll have to get us out of it.

Fact: we elect the politicians, and the population all watched as every government for the last twenty years got us closer and closer to this mess. Oh, wait—we didn’t watch. We gave up on reading the news because it was too depressing, and we got cynical and decided that all politicians were crooks. Which meant, of course, that no one was holding any politician to any standard. So then we really did get crooks. Try telling your kids that they’re headed for life in the state penitentiary, and see where they’ll end up. That’s what we’ve done with our politicians.

Narrative: The fiscal control board is stripping us of the limited self-government we have, and thus re-imposing the worst abuses of colonialism on us.

Fact: Well, first of all, did we do a really good of of self-governance? No—and we are not alone. Nor is it all our fault: we, like everybody else, suffered from the economic crisis of 2008 to 2010 (roughly). And if we suffered, so did a number of other states and municipalities. From

Most notably, the comptroller (of New York) determined that over 100 local governments have insufficient cash to meet current liabilities, roughly 300 local governments had deficits during 2010 and 2011 or both, and 27 municipalities have seemingly exhausted their reserve funds.   

I got to because I was curious about the financial crisis of New York in the 1970’s. Doesn’t anybody remember that? Doesn’t anybody remember when the Bronx was burning and no fire truck would dare go there, when whole blocks of Amsterdam Avenue were boarded up or burned out, where virtually everyone had seen a murder, or at least a shooting?

The city was a mess, and the same voices were singing the same songs then as now. New York was begging for help, Cashman and West were pleading musically just as Lin-Manuel Miranda is now, and the conservatives were telling the city, well…


So what finally played out? First came the Municipal Assistance Corporation, which was a dud. Then came the, well, here’s Wikipedia:

It failed to achieve results and the state came up with a much more drastic solution the Emergency Financial Control Board (EFCB). It was a state agency, and city officials had only two votes on the seven-member board. The EFCB took full control of the city's budget. It made drastic cuts in municipal services and spending, cut city employment, froze salaries and raised bus and subway fares. The level of welfare spending was cut. Some hospitals were closed as were some branch libraries and fire stations. The labor unions helped out, by allocating much of their pension funds to the purchase of city bonds—putting the pensions at risk if bankruptcy took place. The city's banks and the state of New York did not have enough credit to handle the entire crisis, Federal loans and loan guarantees were needed, which Congress provided it (sic) in the "New York City Seasonal Financing Act" of December 1975.[15][16][17][18] 

In short, the Emergency Financial Control Board did much of what is being proposed for Puerto Rico: it stripped the city of fiscal control, it imposed severe measures, it brokered a deal between the unions and the city, and it finally got Washington to provide loans, which were repaid with interest. Did New Yorkers like it? Of course not—they hated it, who wouldn’t? But twenty years later, the city was back on its feet.

I could go on and on, but at this point, perhaps, you have pegged me: a Republican, a statehooder, a fiscal conservative. In fact, I am none of those things. Certainly our colonial status has much to do with where we are. The cabotage laws are completely unfair. Congress has dragged its heals on this crisis and is about to throw us under the bus. I would go further, and wonder why any state or municipality should have been permitted to wrack up such a debt. The bartender—as my friend Lady once said—is responsible for getting the drunks out of his bar in not too bad a shape. Who was tending bar when we were getting sloshed on debt?

My worry is that our love of narrative will blind us to some things that all of us should worry about. And here, in a situation that is somehow the lovechild of Salvador Dali and García Márquez, is what I worry about.

The Government Development Bank is broke: where did the money go?

Well, what money there was got withdrawn and put into banks in the private sector. That meant that the biggest bank on the island—Banco Popular—got a lot of accounts. But was it the municipalities who transferred their funds? The agencies? And who authorized this? And who oversaw the transaction? And what about the organic law creating the BGF (the Spanish acronym for the GDB)? Can you simply disband a government bank, and put it into the private sector?

Or is it the private sector? And is Banco Popular now liable to action by creditors? If so, is my money safe? And how will the state banking commission regulate Banco Popular, now that it is some hybrid of a private and a public bank?

Oh, and what about all the regulatory bodies that we have, that supposedly guard us against corruption, though the controller recently reportedly on a municipality that spent megabucks on a coliseum that never opened? So now how is the controller going to do her / his job?

Funny thing about Banco Popular, because at the same time this was happening, the bank was transferring some government debt to another entity. Of course, you’d have to read Caribbean Business to be let in on that secret, and then you’d have to know business to figure out what means. And do I? Of course not, so I have idea what it meant to be the “trustee to 3.8 billion dollars worth of GDB debt.”

Well, I wouldn’t want to be on the hook for 3.8 billion dollars of GDB debt, and neither, it seems, did Banco Popular. So they requested to be relieved of the trusteeship of the debt. And guess who now is the trustee? The Wilmington Trust, National Association. And that sounds all very much on the up and up, right?

Well, it did to me, until I came upon this:


Yes, the Wilmington Trust has become the first bank to be indicted for allegedly concealing information about the bank’s loan portfolio. And this is CBS news, of 7 January 2016. Presumably just a few months before the government of Puerto Rico assigned Wilmington Trust as trustee for 3.8 billion dollars of GDB debt.

Is this a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing? Curiously, I am less interested in those questions than in one other question…

…why isn’t anyone talking about this, and asking these questions?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Chapter Three

(...of a nascent novel....)
It’s a place that is soaked in evil.

It comes from deep in the impoverished soil, which even with the greatest effort never quite becomes sweet. Yes, things will grow there, but never as easily nor as well as in the rest of the state. Animals will grow stunted, sicken more easily, die sooner. And the people themselves are different: they look at you, a stranger, with hostility. Mistrust is in the air; murder seems a probability.

Travel through it, and it impresses only by its extreme ugliness. Yes, there are the bluffs that line the Wisconsin River, but beyond them the land is flat. There is nothing but malevolence: husbands drink whiskey, fight with their wives, slay their families, and never feel a shred of remorse.

The mystics attribute it to a vortex: while some places shield, comfort, nurture, the energy in a vortex is reversed. The place sucks your energy relentlessly: the bizarre becomes the believable.

No one who has known it would be surprised by one of the most famous citizens of the area: Ed Gein. You don’t know him? Well, have you seen the film Psycho? The weirdo in the film was a model citizen next to Gein, who exhumed bodies, made lampshades of the skin, kept nine vulvae in boxes, and generally was crazy. So crazy that the psychiatrists couldn’t figure out whether the murder of one of Gein’s victims was intentional or not.

Yes, that’s the place I was raised: my mother came to the area in the early part of the century from Transylvania. She was young, she was beautiful, and she was gifted. She could see what others could not, as many could from her part of Eastern Europe.

Did we have gypsy blood, as my father claimed, usually when drunk? It may be, since my mother made a tidy income by offering her services as a spiritist. Yes, a spiritist, not a spiritualist. That term would come later, when what had been an honest, principled attempt to communicate with the dead was cheapened to a charlatan’s trick.

With my mother, there was nothing of that. She believed, and believed fervently, in her skills, and she had no use for those who claimed that a fortune was a stone’s throw away, or that a handsome young blade could at last enter a dry spinster’s embrace.

Only very rarely did she give advice; never, that I can recall, did she dispense practical information. Rather, she communicated the truths that those who had passed on had learned.

“Fear not death,” she often said, “for I am with you, though you may not see me. I walk with you always, and cast my loving protection over you.”

The critics scoffed, of course, and said that such platitudes were rubbish. But what if they were? What if someone, wracked with grief for a young wife passed on, got some relief that his beloved was still present? Is anyone helped by the belief that death is final? Or that it is a nullity—that an existence stops, is blown out like a spent candle?

And who can explain the events that took place in her readings? How often the table rocked, how frequently were the sounds of knocking in far, empty corners of the room? After each session, no matter how chill the air, my mother would be drenched in sweat. She would retire, exhausted but still unable to sleep; years later, when I suffered my own visions, I would understand the combination of excitement and fatigue.

They sought her from all parts of the state, and even from beyond. For Wonewoc was famous for its Spiritist Camp: people travelled for miles to see the mediums communicating with the other world. And no one who had had a reading done there left unmoved.

She had great powers, my mother, and not always were they a gift to her. She knew, for example, what woman had a cheating husband, even if the woman did not. And her breath grew short if she encountered a person with tuberculosis, even if undiagnosed. Yes, the barrier between the seen and the unseen was for her very thin, and she could not help seeing what others could not, and what she might not want.

“I hope you don’t have my gift,” she often said to me, “for whatever it has brought me, it has taken much more. But if you have the gift, I pray you use it well. Never lie, never cheat. Never dim the lights, and never claim that you are receiving a message that you are not. Don’t be afraid to say that there is silence, that no message is being received. And if you are given money, take it, but never ask. Many a good medium has lost her powers by charging for the gift.”

That was typical of my mother, who was generous to a fault. And how she paid for that generosity! For my father abused it compulsively: even when he wasn’t drunk, his contempt for my mother and her work was clear.

Far worse was when he was drunk, and really, how often was he not? He was a trucker—one of the earliest—and often on the road. When he came home, the mood in the house changed: we grew silent, apprehensive, waiting for the shouting, the accusations, finally the blows. Yes, he beat us often, starting with my mother: I can see her now, sitting at the dining room table, as he towered over her and screamed that the food was dry, or burned.

“Dammit, can’t a man come home to a decent meal? Two weeks I was on the road, and I come home to this? This is shit!”

We knew what would come, even as we knew that it would come regularly, each time he came home. For the rage entered the house with him, and grew, slowly grew. Our nerves quivered, we smelled it, we felt it as we felt the air grow charged, and the storm built up, until at last it exploded.

My mother, my mother—she put her arm up to her face, to shield it from the blows. Was it pride? Was it dread of what the neighbors would say? Was it disgust, to know that others would pity her? Or did she know that a medium with a black eye was a poor candidate for someone’s confidence?

At any rate, she shielded her face, which only incensed my father further. He would grab her arm, lift her to her feet, and throw her into a corner of the room. There, the pummeling would continue, accompanied by the insults and taunts that her carried bundled up inside him.



She would gesture to us, shooing us out of the room. We escaped, but there was no escaping the anger and fury of my father words. Nor could we deafen ourselves to my mother’s cries.

Nothing, I learned, lasts forever. The rage would play itself out; the storm would pass. At last, my father would storm out of the house, and we could breathe again, for a little while. But never fully, since he was always there, even when he wasn’t, since wouldn’t he come back? However late the night might be, the bar would close, and he would lurch home, often falling, and often unable to put his key into the lock.

We learned: better to leave the door unlocked, than to have him pounding on the door, shouting out, wakening the neighbors. No, my mother had her pride, and if everyone knew—or suspected—of the hell of our life with my father, she didn’t want it aired.

Worse, she didn’t want to see him, or hear him, as he came home drunk. For often, he would be contrite, crying, weeping, begging forgiveness.

“Aw, honey, I feel so bad! I’ll never, never hit you again! I don’t know what came over me, I was just so tired and so weary of being on the road. Believe me, darling, you’re the best thing in my life! I love you more than I can stand! That’s why I blow up, sometimes, because it hurts to think that you might not love me! Do you love me, honey? I don’t expect you to love me as much as I love you, but do you have even a little love for me? Please, honey!”

It was insufferable to hear: I could feel my mother stiffening in bed, revolted by the whiskey on his breath, by his fumbling hands trying to caress her.

“Please, Edward, the children are sleeping. Yes, I love you….”

Better it was to feign sleep, and never to hear another drunken plea for forgiveness, another liquor-drenched promise to make amends. She would lie stiffly in bed, awaiting his arrival, ignoring his clanging into the bedroom, his fumbling to take off his clothes.

She would feign sleep, but the next morning it was impossible not to see. She would be haggard, in spirit as much as in body. She moved as a person moves in quicksand; the sorrow and the rage pulling her downward, downward into a death no one could see.

No one but ourselves….        

Monday, April 25, 2016

On Snowflakes and Blizzards

“This is how desperate I’ve gotten: I’m seriously considering paying 60 bucks for an app that will help me write my novel. So I downloaded the free trial, and it has all these bells and whistles: it counts your words and formats according to what the book agents want, and gives you a page to detail each of your characters. So I screwed around with that, and then decided I had to get official. Google! And now, having searched “how to write a novel,” I can tell you all about the snowflake method….”

“The snowflake method?” said Lady. “What’s that all about?”

“Well, the first thing is that I have to take an hour and write—in 15 words or less—a one-sentence blurb about what the novel is about. Oh, and if I can’t, then I have to read the New York Times Bestsellers list to learn how. So I took five minutes and wrote a thirty-word description. Then that wasn’t enough, so I wrote a five-page synopsis of the novel, which was fine. Except that the ending absolutely stinks, which means I may have to get all operatic or melodramatic or dime-novelish and kill everybody in a fire. Or maybe a blizzard. Anyway, something definitive.”

“Well, you could put everybody on a wooden canoe in the Amazon, and then tip them over into a school of piranhas….”

“Lovely. Of course, I’m actually coming up short on the disasters, or so it seems. Because the author of the Snowflake Method is himself a best-selling author, in addition to being the Delphic Oracle of writing. Oh, and a Nobel prize-winning astrophysicist. Which explains the less-than-15 word blurb for his first novel: “astrophysicist travels back in time and kills the apostle Paul.” Ten words—count ‘em—which is how good he is.”

“Marc? You’re taking advice on writing from a guy who wrote a novel like that?”

“True, it does sound a little weak,” I told her. “But I’m sure his formula is the last Coke in the desert. How can you grow wrong with three disasters and an ending? Wow—even J. S. Bach couldn’t have beaten that formula!”

“Three disasters and an ending?”

“Yup—The three disasters allow you to end each one of the first three quarters of the book. Then, of course, the ending finishes off that last quarter? See? Oh, and then the first disaster can—if you absolutely must—be natural. But the subsequent disasters and the ending have to be the protagonist’s misguided attempts to salvage the wreckage of the first disaster.”

“What if he fixes the problem on the first try?”

“Presumably you then have a novella, or perhaps a short story. Anyway, you can see that this guy is totally organized, and since he wrote the book—namely, How to Write a Novel for Dummies—well, he should know.”

“OK—so what’s the problem?”

“The problem is that every time I try to do something like this, I suffer a boredom that makes a French existential crisis seem like a day at Disneyland. And besides, something tends to happen to my characters—which means that I send them out for a loaf of bread, and the next minute they’re mining cooper in Peru. They’re worse than Naïa…”

“Hey, Naïa is a great kid!”

“She absolutely is,” I told her, “and she’s also 14. By the way, you seem to be doing very well off the Puerto Rican fiscal crisis….”

So she asks about that and I tell her: I have seen the same groups of glib lawyers come into the café for the last several days. And how do I know they’re lawyers? Well, the suits kind of give them away….

“Well, I’d be willing to read about somebody who trades bread-going for copper mining,” said Lady.

“Impossible, because the snowflake man knows exactly where all that leads to, which is a 400-page mess. Whereas if I just sit down and do the work, plan it all out, write the one sentence blurb, and then the detailed character analysis of the protagonist and antagonist, and then the structure of each section or even each chapter—in short, if I plan it all out, I’ll save myself 30% of the writing time. No re-writes, no deletions, no….”

“Somehow, this doesn’t sound like any book I’d like to read,” said Lady. “After all, does anyone’s life work like that?”

In fact, neither one of us has a working life, since she has been avoiding going to the doctor as much as I have been avoiding sending my characters off to mine copper in Peru.

“I’m damaged goods,” she says, and tears up a little. “Ever since the operation, my whole life has been different. I can’t do the things I used to do, or go to the places I used to go. And people are treating me different….”

“I totally get that,” I tell her, “since it’s happened to me. I know that after four hours, my back will start to hurt, and that I’ll spend the next two hours in bed, either reading or playing Patience. And do you know how much Patience I’ve played? I only win one game in twenty, and all-time number of wins is now over 500. Which means my characters could have mined their way to the inner core, harnessed all that energy as free, alternative fuels for any government that agrees to disarm completely and provide free education and health care to all. Oh, and then they could have discovered the cure for cancer….anyway, I’m wasting prodigious amounts of time, as well as spinning my wheels.”

“Did I tell you I’m going to France the last day in May?” asked Lady. “Remember the last time I went, and you threatened to put a chain around the front gate, so that I couldn’t get out?”

“It may come to that, again,” I told her.

So all of my characters are mining copper in Peru, which is terrible since there’s no bread so how can they make me a sandwich in the café where they’re not working? Am I to starve just because Mary Ann van Hoof stopped seeing the virgin, and decided to van Hoof it down to Peru? Where, by the way, she uncovered in the copper-laced rock the face of Jesus Christ one idle morning? Instantly, she got the entire population of South and Central America to flock to the shrine that she set up, that day after she had bought the full commercial rights to the mine!

Well, I hope you’re happy down there, Mary Ann van Hoof, on your coffee plantation with your hot Latin lover, whose mustache twitches as he tells you, “te quiero,” as you count the bags of money to be sent down to the bank you bought. Yes, yes—you left me with nothing but Necedah, Wisconsin, and a dusty old shrine, and thirteen old geezers who still believe. Oh, and a back that I now have to put to bed.

Enjoy Peru, Mary Ann van Hoof, ‘cause guess what?

You’re dying in a blizzard!  




Thursday, April 21, 2016

Chapter 2

(....of a nascent novel...)

The old lady gives me the creeps.

It something about the way she stares at you when she’s talking to you. I swear, she doesn’t blink, she just keeps looking at you. And sometimes, for no reason, she just goes quiet, and she doesn’t care how long she stays quiet, either. I mean, most people say something—anything—to fill a silence. But she seems to grow bigger, in those silences, while you feel yourself sinking into the ground.

No, that’s not it: you feel like an eagle has swooped down, clasped you in her talons, and is carrying you off to be devoured. 

“We don’t allow smoking on this farm! How dare you! How dare you bring your filthy habits here, to the very place where the Virgin chose to make her appearance, and bring her message to the world!”

I had figured out behind the barn was a time-honored place to light up, and I was dying for a smoke, since I’d been carefully rationing them out. My grandma, she kept a pretty good eye on me, and cigarettes weren’t easy to steal—not like other stuff. So I’d kept one pack going for a couple weeks, now, and I was down to two or three left. So I took a long drag, looked away, and held the smoke in.

She struck me.

“Listen to me, boy. You think I can’t see? You think I didn’t know you were trash the moment I lay eyes on you? Yes, you and that grandmother of yours—nothing but trash. Come here with nothin’ and expect three square meals a day? Chocolate cake after dinner? Listen, boy, this is a farm, and we got plenty to do, here. So starting tomorrow, you’re seeing brother Edwin. He’ll start you on your chores for the day, and he’ll damn sure make sure you do ‘em. See that whip?”

She had led me into the barn, and now pointed to the central beam. There was a riding crop hung on a nail.

It wasn’t that she was strong, though she still had me by the forearm. No, there was something in that gaze that made you unable to resist: she could have led me into fire, if she had wanted to.

“Ain’t never done a lick of work in yer life, have you? No, you grew up easy—watching TV instead of going to school, out on the streets when you should have been studying. Stealing food for your supper, since your momma wasn’t nowhere. Nobody to make you pay any mind! Grew up with a common whore for a mother, stealing for your food, lying down every night in your filthy clothes! Well, none of that here! You’ll put in a day’s work, and get a hot meal, and you’ll be glad of it!”

“My mother wasn’t no whore,” I told her.

“Oh she wasn’t, was she? Nah, she just believed in “free” love, which meant that she fucked for food or more likely drugs. Huh—a respectable whore does better than that. Woman may be on the streets, but that don’t mean she can’t look after a child, see that he gets three square meals, and goes to school. No, but your momma didn’t do none of that, did she? Oh, I seen it all the time! Kids who needed a good spanking and somebody to tell ‘em what to do, and never had nothing. Who’s your poppa, kid?”

“Disappeared before I was born.”

“Bet he did! Bet he disappeared just as soon as his seed lodged in your mother’s womb! Hah—maybe before! So some man knocked up your momma, and she never had nothing to do but keep whoring around! Some women get some sense in ‘em when the child comes along. Pity yours didn’t!”

Suddenly, she got under my skin.

“You SHUT UP about my momma,” I shouted. “I didn’t come here to get this kinda flak. You don’t know nothin’ about her!”

“Yeah? I know she ain’t here, and I know she ain’t takin’ care of either her son or her mother. So where is she, punk? She still alive? She in prison? She on the streets, turning tricks and violatin’ every commandment put by God? Filling her veins with junk and waking up in her own puke on the street?”

She was pacing in front of me, speaking real fast, and getting louder by the minute. I realized, I was terrified of what she’d do next.

“I don’t think you know, do you, boy? Don’t think you have the faintest idea, where your mamma is. And you don’t care, do you? ‘Cause nobody never gave a damn about you—not even your granny, who you dumped here and ran out for a smoke. Oh, you make a fine pair—old woman one-step away from the grave, and a smart-aleck brat like you, don’t care about nothin’ or nobody!”

She stopped, now, and got within an inch of my face. Her eyes narrowed, and seemed to get darker as they got smaller. I could feel her breath on my lips.

“No reason I should bother myself with such trash,” she muttered, as if seeing me for the first time. “The old lady don’t have no work in her, and it’ll take brother Edwin all his day to make sure you do a thing! Out! Get offa my property! Just because the Virgin has chosen to make herself known to me, don’t mean I have to put up with every piece of trash the wind blows into my yard. Get away, both of you, and go somewhere else. Don’t have no time for every bum in the country!”

“We ain’t no bums,” I told her. “We don’t have no money, but we ain’t bums. And my momma, she made sure I went to school, every day. Sure, sometimes I played hooky, but she’da skinned me alive if she found out. Don’t you call my momma a whore!”

“Oh, so now I’ve offended little lord Fauntleroy! Yes, yes—grew up in a Christian home! Probably was an altar boy! You said your prayers every night, boy? Got down on your knees and begged God for forgiveness for all your sinning ways? Your momma teach you how to pray?”

“She wasn’t real religious,” I said. “She kinda had it, since her momma was such a nut about it! But don’t you go calling her a whore!”

“I ain’t calling her a whore—I’m calling her a plain damn fool, who gave it away instead of charging for it. And I know how she died, boy, and who was with her when she done it, and who covered up the evidence, and who took you, in the middle of the night, back to your grandma’s house, and rang the bell. Stood there until the door opened, then ran like hell before the old lady could say a word. ‘Cause there was still a lot to do, that night, and he didn’t have no time to spare with an old lady. ‘Specially one that might ask questions. Questions that man didn’t feel like answering!”

We’d been here less than an hour—had the old lady wormed it out of my grandma? Didn’t seem so, but…

…how did she know?