Authors: Matt Christopher
Copyright © 1981 by Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced,
distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written
permission of the publisher.
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First eBook Edition: December 2009
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and
not intended by the author.
is a registered trademark of Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.
ames Cort, Sr., came down the wide sidewalk holding a small, black suitcase in his left hand and a dark coat over his right
arm. He was bareheaded, and wisps of dark hair whipped over his receding hairline from a light, Gulf of Mexico breeze. The
September morning sun, shining directly into his face, made him squint.
“The best sight I’ve seen in two and a half years,” Jim’s mother said as they stood beside their car, waiting for him.
Two and a half years. It seemed like ten, thought Jim.
“He looks great, doesn’t he?” whispered his sister, Peg.
“Great is right,” Jim murmured.
Behind their father and the wire gate he had just
come through loomed the high, gray walls of the prison from which he had just been released after having served time for embezzlement.
Jim’s breath caught in his throat. His vision blurred. He felt Pegs hand touch his, then clamp tightly around his fingers.
Mrs. Cort ran forward, her arms outstretched, her figure freed from the burden it had carried for over two years.
Her husband put down his suitcase and coat and took her in his arms. He was tall and lean, his skin pale. Once he had weighed
close to a hundred and eighty pounds. Now he looked to be about one sixty. Jim, himself one sixty-two, five foot ten, and
a sophomore in high school, could see that he resembled his father.
“Oh, Dad!” Peg said. Her green eyes misted. Then she, too, ran to meet her father, her long blond hair bouncing on her shoulders.
Jim watched as his father held both of them in his arms, his raw-boned face buried in their shoulders. Then he saw his father’s
eyes look up and meet his own.
The happy smile broadened. “Hi, son.”
“Hi, Dad.” In a minute Jim was beside his father, embracing him, hanging tightly on to him until the choked feeling in his
throat wore off.
His father leaned back and looked at his bushy brown hair, his strong, athletic frame. “Hey, man, you’re not only taller than
I am, but you’re better looking, too.” He beamed at Peg. “Bet it’s even-steven with the phone calls. Right?”
Jim shook his head. “Wrong. Seniors have more fun. She gets more than I do.”
“Sure,” Peg replied, her eyes flashing in the sunlight. “But they’re mostly from girl friends.”
She gave her head a saucy toss, letting her hair cascade in soft waves down her back.
“Don’t worry,” said Mrs. Cort to her husband. “You’ll soon find out just which one keeps the hot line hot. Come on. We’ve
got a long way to drive, and I’m not about to push that speedometer up past the fifty-five-mile-per-hour limit.”
She hurried to the back of the car and unlocked the trunk. “Hon, put the suitcase in here,” she advised.
Hon. It was a long time since Jim had heard that word of endearment pass between them.
His father laid the suitcase inside the trunk,
slammed down the cover, and headed for the driver’s side of the front seat. He and his wife met in front of the door, his
hand on the door handle, hers on top of his.
“I’m driving, Jim,” she said softly.
He smiled. “I know, sweet,” he answered. “But won’t you let me start out this beautiful day by being a bit chivalrous? I just
want to open the door for you.”
She beamed at him. “Of course.”
He opened the door, waited for her to get in, then closed it.
Jim, already comfortable in the back seat, winked at his sister. She smiled back.
Mrs. Cort started the car as her husband opened the door on the passenger side and got in. She pulled the shift lever to
checked the traffic, and drove smoothly forward.
“Well!” Mr. Cort said as he laid his arm over the top of the seat and looked back at his children. “What’s with you two? Hey,
that’s right! School has started, hasn’t it? And now you’re in your last year, Peg. Still playing the trumpet?”
“Oh, yes. I was lead trumpet last year, Dad, and Mr. Bush promised I’d be lead again this year.”
“Good. Then on to college?”
She shrugged. “If I can make it.”
“If you want to make it, you’ll make it,” he assured her. “What are your plans? Or is it too early to think about that?”
She smiled. “No. I’ve decided.” She hesitated, glanced down, and smoothed a wrinkle in her dress. “I’m shooting for the moon,
“That’s the only way. What’s your target, sweetheart?”
“I’d like to be a research chemist.”
“Ho-ho! That’s my girl!” Her father reached back, took her hand, and squeezed it. “All the power to you, Peg.”
Her face glowed. “Thanks, Dad.”
Mr. Cort looked at Jim. “How about you, son? Are you playing in the school band, too?”
There was silence in the car for several seconds. They all had their own thoughts, and Jim could guess what they were. While
his father was serving a term in prison, money was tight for the other three in the family. His mother had found a job almost
immediately after his father was imprisoned, but
the job — she was a salesperson in a department store — didn’t pay enough to allow for luxuries. And buying an instrument
for Jim would have been a luxury, in Jim’s opinion.
“Why not?” his father asked.
Jim shrugged. “Well, to tell the truth, Dad, I’m not really crazy about playing any kind of instrument.”
Their eyes met. “I thought you said once you’d like to play the drums?”
“Yes. Well, maybe someday. I’ve still got a couple of years to go in high school to change my mind.”
“Playing any sports?”
His father glanced at his shoulders, his thighs. “You’ve got the build for either a backfield man or an end. I would guess
Jim smiled. “You’re right. Tight end.”
Jim had started last year in a running-back position, then had changed to end when Coach Dan Butler realized he could catch
a ball better than he could run with it.
“Have you had any practice games yet?”
“Oh, sure. Matter of fact, we’re playing our first league game Friday night.”
His father grinned. “Nothing’s going to keep me from seeing it,” he said proudly.
For the next several minutes no one seemed to have a word to say, and Jim reflected sadly on the circumstance that had caused
a complete change in their lives. His father had been an accountant for a car dealership in Port Lee. A strike in the automobile
industry took place, affecting a lot of dealerships, including the one where his father worked. He was forced to take a big
cut in pay. It was either that or get fired.
A month later Jim’s mother suffered an attack and had to be rushed to the hospital for a gall bladder operation. Because their
cash was scarce, the doctor agreed to be patient for his bill. The hospital wasn’t as kind. Weeks passed. Bills began to mount.
Jim’s father started to inhabit some of Port Lee’s bars. He never came home drunk, but Jim sometimes wondered if the amount
of drink his father consumed could have influenced him to do what he had ultimately done: embezzled several thousand dollars
from his employer.
He was apprehended at home one Saturday morning.
Jim could picture the scene in his mind as clearly as if he were looking at it now on a screen: the knock on the door, the
two men entering and introducing themselves as police investigators. They had his father’s picture, and they asked him to
go to the station for questioning. His father paled, got his hat, and left. The photo was somewhat blurred, but not enough
to matter. The man in the picture was clearly James Cort, Sr.
What had helped the police trace him so quickly was the carelessness with which he had tried to cover up his crime. It was
as if he wanted to get caught.
Dumb, Jim thought. A dumb, foolish move to get some quick money to help his family out of a growing debt. And look what happened.
A two-and-a-half-year prison term, every minute of it undoubtedly filled with hurt and regret, and a sad, embarrassed, painful
life for his wife, for Peg, and for Jim.
What now? Jim asked himself. What was their life going to be from now on?
They had dinner at home: Delmonico steak, whipped potatoes with gravy, honey-dipped carrots, creamed onions, corn on the cob,
hot rolls, and pineapple turnover cake, Jim’s father’s favorite dessert.
“Good to be back in paradise, hon,” he said to his wife, and reached over to touch her hand.
At eight o’clock, Ralph and Frieda Delaney and their seventeen-year-old son, Barry, came over from next door with a large
strawberry ice-cream cake. Barry was a junior in high school, a tall, ruggedly built boy who was vying for an end position
on the school’s football team. Although he was older, it was his first year, and Jim didn’t think he was fast enough to compete
with him or the others who were also fighting for the end spots.
There were awkward moments at first, as if the Delaneys didn’t quite know what to say to the man they had once known before
he went afoul of the law. But later, over coffee, the conversation turned to light topics and stayed that way, thanks to the
talkativeness and resourcefulness of Mrs. Delaney.
The Delaneys accepted large pieces of the cake they had brought, and Mrs. Delaney immediately explained the problem she had
in trying to bake a
topsy-turvy cake. She found out, too late, that she had left out baking powder, so she had driven hurriedly to the bakery
at Jacaranda Square. Once there she saw this scrumptious-looking, calorie-loaded cake and bought it. She remembered that James
loved cakes, and he couldn’t possibly resist this one. She laughed and chattered on.
Almost without taking a sentence break, she started to tell about Ralph’s coming home last night with a rip in his pants that
had opened up during the third frame of his second bowling game. It had embarrassed her, because every time he leaned forward
to roll the ball down the lane the rip got larger. She wanted him to go home and change his pants, but he refused.
“Go home and change my luck?” Ralph cut in, looking at her as if he couldn’t understand her reasoning. “I had two strikes
going into that frame, and finished up with a two-twenty score. I should let a little rip interfere?” He looked at Jim, Sr.
“What would you have done, Jim? Would you have gone home and changed your pants?”
“Don’t get James involved in this!” Mrs. Delaney
exclaimed, striking her husband lightly on the arm. “It’s your problem!”
Jim was glad they had showed up, but he was just as glad when they left at a quarter of ten.
The four of them retired to the living room and talked — about the children, and about Mrs. Cort’s job — until ten-thirty,
when the ringing of the telephone interrupted them. Peg went to the kitchen to answer it.