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The Outsider by Christopher J. Cronin - HTML preview

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there was no answer at the door, they called the police. They found her in bed. We have to go to the law office tomorrow and discuss her will.”
She looked like she was about to speak again, but couldn’t find the right words.
“I’m sorry, Mom.”
“I know, Daniel. I’m sorry too.”
“Let me know if there is anything I can to help in any way, Mom.”
“Thank you, Daniel.”
Baer, Werner and Associates was the prototypical law office; volumes upon volumes of bound law books crammed into bookcases buckling under the weight, offices with walls of diplomas, accolades, and family accoutrement; elder looking men, dignified with thousand dollar suits and seventy dollar haircuts; and finally, the cheery receptionist at a cherry front desk.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes, we have an appointment with Michael Sullivan.”
“Your names, please?”
“Sarah and Daniel Adams.”
“One moment, please.”
The cheery receptionist left her cherry desk, presumably to fetch Mr. Sullivan. She soon returned with Mr. Sullivan in tow, who seemed out of place with the décor of the office, as he seemed to be much younger than any of his co-workers.
“Hello Sarah, Daniel. I’m Michael Sullivan, the executor of Mrs. Hickey’s estate. Please, come to my office and discuss the terms of the will. In the interests of expediency, I will show the part of the tape which pertains to you.”
We sat in Mr. Sullivan’s office in front of a television and VCR which held the last words of my late Aunt Mae. Sullivan turned on the video, and the static gave way to my Aunt Mae, sitting composed, facing the camera. The words Aunt Mae were about to speak, although I was unaware of the consequences they were going to have in the future, seemed common and typical for the situation at hand. Nothing would indicate about how my life was going to be turned upside down, and how the words uttered forth from Mae’s mouth would have an ironic twist in the future.
“To my niece, Sarah, for your unquestionable devotion and selflessness, I leave you my house and all the belongings contained within, including automobiles. In addition, a savings account at Rockland Federal Credit Union is in my name with you as the beneficiary. May you use this money to better your life for yourself and my nephew, to move away from the unfortunate neighborhood in which you currently reside and live a life which you so rightly deserve. To my…”
Sullivan rose out of his chair and turned the TV off. I looked at my mother, who had tears in her eyes, then looked down at my feet, trying to soak up the contents of the tape. New house? Money? I didn’t want a new house, but the money was sure was nice. Money was something we didn’t have, but a house, or rather an apartment, was what we did have. An apartment near friends, near school, near my life. Exultation turned to indignation as I knew that my mother had already made her decision.
“We’ll be in touch, Ms. Adams. Here’s my card.”
“Thank you.”
“No, I’m not leaving.”
“Daniel”, my mother said, “this is an opportunity for us to better ourselves. We finally have a chance to get out of this terrible neighborhood and live a better life. And God help me if I let this opportunity get away without taking a hold of it. This is chance to leave it all behind, Daniel. You can get away from all the troubles you’ve had in the past. Not many people get a chance to start over. Daniel, you would be stupid not to take an opportunity like this and run with it.”
“I don’t care, Mom. I’m happy with what I’ve got here. You’re asking me to just get up and leave all this? Huh? What about what I want, what I have here? I don’t want to move, plain and simple. And why do we need new house? What we’ve got is fine.”
“Do you really like hearing gunshots every night and dodging drug dealers on the way to your car? Daniel, the heartaches, all the troubles we’ve had to go through, with barely being able to pay the rent every month and not always having food on the table? That’s what you want? You want to continue living like this? Daniel…” the words caught in her mouth as she attempted to choke back tears. “Daniel, we need this. For us. Please, Daniel. Please.”
For as long as I can remember, it’s always been me and my mom. I never really knew my father, only getting a curt, angry response from my mom whenever I asked about him. All I ever managed to glean from our conversations was that he left her when she was pregnant with me, and she never heard from him again. I was the only man in her life, and she proved that time and time again by doing everything in her power to make me happy. She’d often work extra hours during the holidays to buy me things that I really wanted (like my Xbox), and I can remember her working 70 hour weeks during my freshman year because I needed new skates. I wasn’t a little boy anymore; I was a man in my mother’s eyes, and I knew that a man had to sacrifice for his family. Seeing the pain in my mother’s eyes crushed me. She deserved this. She had sacrificed so much for me, and it was time for me to be a man and sacrifice for her. “Okay, Mom.”
My Corsica rumbled around the corner of Third and Main to Big’s house. My mother told me that Aunt Mae had two seasonal cars in her garage that were hardly ever used. I thought it kind of ironic to have two cars and never drive. Once the paperwork went through, Aunt Mae’s 2000 Crown Vic would be in my name. Maybe the Crown Vic would start every time I turned the key, as opposed to my Corsica which started when it felt like it. Big was on his front stoop, smoking a cigarette.
“Danny, what’s up, kid?”
“Hey, Big, what’s shaking?” I took a drag off his cigarette.
“You looked like somebody just ran over your puppy. Still upset about your Aunt?
“Yeah, amongst other things.”
“What else?” he inquired.
“Big, I’m moving. To Branton.”
“Where the fuck is Branton?”
“That’s where my Aunt’s house is.”
“Damn. I guess that means you’re leaving Central too, huh?”
“Yeah, I don’t have a choice. I gotta go to Branton High. I looked into staying at Central, and athletic rules said you hafta attend the district where you reside, or some bullshit like that.”
“Coach know?”
“Yeah, I saw him in the principal’s office when I was getting my transcripts sent over.”
“He’s gotta be pissed.”
“More upset than anything. We talked for like an hour. But he understands. He knows I don’t wanna leave.” I shook my head in disdain. “This sucks, Big. This was gonna be a big year for us. We were a shoe-in for the Super 10. Now I gotta play for Podunkville High.”
“What division are they?”
“C. Not nearly the skill level in our division.”
“So you’ll burn these kids.”
“That’s not the point. I’d rather stay at Central and have a terrible season than go to Branton and score 100 points.”
“Well, you know me and the crew are here for you.”
“I know. Thanks, Big.”
I walked to my car and opened the door. “Big.” “Yeah.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Where is Branton anyways?”
“About 20 miles south of here. It’s much, much different than Boston, Danny.” “How different.”
“Much. It’s only about 15,000 people, one high school, very small commercial area. But it is on the beach. It’s a bit of a change compared to what we are used to.”
We pulled into our new house. Since everything inside was given to us, moving in was simple enough. I had my clothes, my hockey equipment, and my Xbox. My mother, being a woman, had enough clothes to open her own clothing store. It took about an hour to unload the car. “A bit of a change” was an understatement. The house was freegin’ huge. Since there were four bedrooms in the house (the master bedroom defaulting to my mother), I had my pick of the remaining three. I picked the biggest.
“So, what do you think.”
“It’s big, Mom.”
“It’s better than our ratty old apartment.”
“I know this is tough for you, Daniel. But really, it’s the best thing that could have happened to us. You get a fresh start and we don’t hafta penny pinch anymore.”
“We’re going to Branton High tomorrow to get your schedule set up.”
If Central High was a pay-be-the-hour motel, Branton High was the Ritz. Everything was new and immaculate, and it didn’t have the same, stench, that Central had. I took in the newness of everything as we stepped into the principal’s office.
“May I help you?”
“Yes, I’m Sarah Adams, this is my son Daniel. We just moved to Branton and we’re looking to get Daniel enrolled and his schedule set up.”
“Ah, yes, Adams. Paperwork came in today. Have a seat.”
It took all of ten minutes to set up my schedule. English, Pre-calc, History, Art, and Spanish. Hopefully these classes weren’t any harder than they would be at Central. Once my schedule was finished, we thanked the secretary and were set to head out when the hockey coach came in.
“Daniel Adams?”
“Coach Brimmer. Pleased to meet you.” We shook hands. “Have a few minutes to talk?”
“Ms. Adams, if you would excuse us for a few minutes, I’d like to talk a bit to Daniel about the hockey program. Feel free to get more acquainted with the school.”
“Ok. I’ll see you in a few minutes, Daniel.”
“Aight, Mom.”
Coach Brimmer doubled as Athletic Director. He was short and stocky, maybe an athlete in his days. If those days ever existed, they were long behind him. His hair was long and graying in the back, a feeble attempt to compensate for his rapidly receding hairline, while his nose was bulbous and red at the end. I was covered in a spray of spit as he opened his mouth to talk.
“Daniel Adams. I’ve heard about you. First freshman to ever win City League MVP, and then you repeated as MVP Sophomore year.”
I stared.
“Boy, did we ever get the luck of the draw. You’re an excellent talent, Daniel. You’re gonna be a star on this team. We got a great shot at the title this year with someone like you on our team.”
“I know.”
“Confident, too.” He chuckled. “Wait til I tell the team. They’re gonna be ecstatic.”
“We start training in October, and captain’s practices start at the end of September. Usually, that’s a chance for the captains to evaluate the new players, but there is no need to evaluate you. I’m sure I’ll run into you when classes start.”
“Yeah”, I intellectually replied.
He extended his hand. “Well, good luck with getting situated, I’m sure this isn’t easy for you.”
I shook his hand and then met my mom outside.
I shrugged my shoulders. I seemed to be doing that a lot lately.
Classes started a week later. I could tell a lot about the town by the way people looked at me. I was a new kid. And that made people edgy. I dressed differently than everyone else. I didn’t sport the popped collars and gelled hair that these kids did. My baggy jeans, big hoody, and sideways titled Red Sox hat was a style that seemed to offend people. I was stared at in the hallways, in the classroom, at lunch, and leaving after school. This happened for a week or so. Then I blended in. The one benefit Branton had over Central was that I could walk from class to class without a fight in the hallway or something getting in my face for looking at them funny. Life seemed easier here and less threatening. I shrugged my shoulders. I really need to stop doing that. Days turned into weeks, and eventually the first captain’s practice was held at Rockland Rink, only a few minutes from the school. There was no way I could have missed the first practice, even if I wanted to. I couldn’t take a crap in the bathroom without seeing a flyer for it.
I stepped into one of the locker rooms, and silence ensued once the door shut. I walked to the far wall as eyes followed me, put my bag down, and sat down. They kept staring. What the hell were they looking at? As I looked around the room, everyone had the same haircut, the same bag, the same everything. There were twenty black and red bags in the locker room, and my blue and red bag stood out like a white guy at the million man march.
Finally, someone stood up and swaggered over. He stood about 5’8, had broad shoulders, and piercing blue eyes. He had a tough expression on his face, as if I stepped on his territory. As he opened his mouth to speak, I noticed his two front teeth were chipped.
“Who are you?”
Did this kid think he was tough talking to me like that? I didn’t like the directness of the question.
What the hell? How did they know my name? Maybe Brimmer already informed them.
“Coach told us to expect you. Said you were some hot shot from the City League.
I stared, feeling my blood boil, and shrugged my shoulders. Goddamnit.
Then his hard facial expression broke, and he laughed. “I’m just giving you a hard time. I’m Mike Taggert, nice to meet you. People call me Tags for short.”
I immediately relaxed and we shook hands.
Everyone else in the room introduced themselves. All sophomores and freshmen. Due to my superior ability to infer, I came to the conclusion that there were probably two locker rooms, there other locker room consisting of juniors and seniors.
“Is this the entire team?” I inquired.
“No. The juniors and seniors are in the locker room down the hallway. You’re in the wrong locker room.”
Sherlock Holmes would be proud.
I turned towards Taggert. “So are you a freshman or a sophomore?”
“Neither. Senior.”
“So why are you in here?”
“For sake of sanity”, he quickly replied.
It was evident five minutes into practice that if Branton, in Brimmer’s words, was one of the best teams in Division C, and I was running a clinic on the best team in Division C, that I would be the leading scorer in Division C. I shrugged my shoulders. Again. Not that there was a need for it. I guess I’m a creature of habit. I thought back to the conversation with Big and thought about the poetic irony. 100 points seemed attainable. Nevertheless, it appeared that the Branton hockey heroes seemed threatened by my presence. When you walk around the supposed best defensemen on the team and make him drop his jock and question his sexuality, in that order, people are going to take notice. They are going to notice it even more when you do it repeatedly.
I received a centering pass in our defensive zone and swooped wide as I entered the offensive zone. Captain America Brian Kallock stepped up to pokecheck the puck, and I effortlessly dragged the puck around him and cut in, only to be encountered by another defenseman. Quickly shifting my hands over, I put the puck through the defenseman’s legs and buried it upper corner. Kallock skated to the bench, broke his stick in half, and sat down. I skated by while Kallock stared, and pondered whether he was gonna kiss me or jump over the boards and strangle me. After all, I did make him question his sexuality after embarrassing him twice already during practice. I was hoping for the latter.
“You’re lucky there’s no contact.”
I smiled at him. Then shrugged my shoulders. “Maybe.”
“What are you smiling at?”
People tend to get nervous, and pissed, when you smile at them. Maybe he was being flirtatious and liked my smile. I sure hoped not. I always had a cocksure attitude, and being cocky got me into more scuffles than I can count. Maybe me being cocksure had made Kallock cock-sure. Of mine. I decided to capitalize on his anger.
“I’m smiling at you cutie.”
“Fuck you.”
“Don’t make a promise you can’t keep.”
“Who do you think you are?”
“I’m having trouble deciding. But I do know that you’re my bitch.”
“Yeah?” he said, standing up.
“Yeah. See you in the showers, cutie.”
I spent the rest of the practice targeting Kallock. I was in his head, and there was nothing more I hated than a kid who thought he was better than he actually was. Finally, Kallock snapped. After receiving a pass at the offensive blue line, I looked up to see Kallock leaving his feet to crosscheck me in the throat. I casually dropped to one knee as he flew overhead. I skated in uncontested, deked left, and slid the puck in five-hole. The rest of the team jeered Kallock as he stood up. Their jeering turned to constraining as they rushed over to prevent him from skating over and biting my head off.
“Fuck you, pussy.”
“I don’t fuck on the first date,” I explained to him.
That pissed him off. Even more so. He started to skate towards me again before being herded off the ice by a few of his teammates as I headed to the freshman-sophomore locker room. Welcome to the world of Branton High Hockey. I showered, headed outside, and was stopped by two kids on the way to the Vic. “Hey, Adams.”
I looked over.
“Mike Cooper.” Cooper stood about 5’ 10”, and maybe weighed 150 pounds soaking wet. His off-color green eyes and blond hair seemed like a product of mix and match genetics. He had a cocky smirk on his face and sported big horse teeth when he opened his mouth to talk.
“Rick Emerson.” Short and chubby, if a human mated with a cocker spaniel, it would produce Emerson. The big, droopy ears, chubby cheeks and squinty eyes were definitely traits I observed in cocker spaniels. Poor bastard.
“Hey”, I acknowledged.
Emerson spoke up. “We’re captains, along with Kallock and Jim Gardiner. Kallock didn’t wanna come over and introduce himself.”
“Isn’t that a shame.” I quipped.
“Don’t worry about him. He’s one of the best defenseman in the state and doesn’t like it when he gets beat.”
In the state? Yeah, right. He would have been the seventh defenseman at Central.
“You’re a good player. We’re glad to have you on the team”, Emerson said. Off to my left, I saw another player approaching. Cooper nodded to him, and Emerson said, “Dan, this is Jim Gardiner.” We shook hands.
“What’s up” Gardiner said. I nodded. Gardiner was about six feet tall, blond hair, blue eyes. A prototype for an officer’s position in the SS.
Now it was Cooper’s turn to speak. “We just wanted to introduce ourselves. Anything you need, just say the word. We’re trying to make it smooth here for you.” Yeah, right.
“Thanks.” I got in my car and as I drove away, I saw Emerson, Cooper, Gardiner, and Kallock all standing together and watching me as I drove away. Kallock was big, but chubby. Black hair, brown eyes, a darker skin tone. Summoning my Sherlock Holmes powers, I decided that they were comparing notes on me. The discourse I had with Emerson and Cooper was more to size me up if anything. I shrugged my shoulders as I took the right turn out of the parking lot.
Captain’s practices happened every Friday until the week of first week of December. Then, the “real” tryouts happened. I use term loosely because Coach Brimmer already had his team picked. Those few kids on the cusp had a chance to prove themselves because it was a chance for them to be elevated to hero status in Branton. Tryouts were also used to determine who was playing with whom and where. I learned my place about ten minutes into the first “tryout”.
“McDougall, Doublet, and Adams, face off against Cooper, Emerson, and Gardiner”, Brimmer shouted.
Hmmmm. The three people so eager to meet me were on a line together. After 30 seconds, I saw why they were on the same line. McDougall and Doublet were average, while the other line had a solid chemistry. Cooper really wasn’t any good, but he was better than McDougall and Doublet. By default, the three best players played on the same line. Now I saw why they were so eager to meet me. Maybe my presence threatened to break up their line. Go Go Sherlock powers. I guess I was a second-line player here. Sad. I guess I’d hafta deal with it. Two weeks of practice, and I was still on second line, despite me single-handedly dominating the first line. And Kallock. Stupid Kallock, such a prick. The last day of practice was following by a rah-rah speech from Brimmer, telling us about how it was a new year, how we have great leadership, and that no one could touch us in the conference. “No one could touch me”, I thought. That’s what makes us untouchable. God, I was so cocky. I smiled and shrugged my shoulders.
Brimmer made a point to speak about team policy. The punishments here were stricter than at Central. Any kind of violation that involved drugs or alcohol carried an automatic five games. If anyone got suspended from school, they missed whatever games fell during that suspension. Any negative progress report from a teacher or a failing grade in a class forced that person to sit out until a satisfactory report was issued, if it all, at the end of the next grading period. Any disrespect or back talk was an automatic game. Any police involvement or suspected crime immediately kicked someone off the team. “Blah, blah, blah” I thought. I’d come a long way since my troubles at Central, so I didn’t envision myself having a sudden bout of alcoholic, drug-induced, disrespectful back talking all whilst on a crime spree.
After practice, Cooper pulled me aside. “Hey, Adams, spaghetti dinner at my house. Little tradition to start off every season. See you there.”
“Aight, cool.”
The spaghetti dinner at Cooper’s was the first of many that season. Apparently, there was a spaghetti dinner before every game that season. Can’t beat free food. I headed into the kitchen and ran into Cooper, Emerson, Gardiner, and Kallock.
“Hey, Adams”, they said. Kallock just stared.
“Soda’s in the fridge” Cooper said.
“Thanks.” I helped myself to spaghetti and meatballs and headed into the living room. Those four were always together. Maybe that’s what gave them their chemistry. Where you saw one, you saw the other three. I overhead them talking about how it was their year this year, and how their line is gonna be the most productive and talented in the conference. No sooner did their conversation tail off did a well-endowed brunette plop herself down next to me.
“Danny Adams?”
“Hi. We have Spanish together. I’m Meghan. Mike’s sister.”
I didn’t recognize her, because I sure as hell wasn’t staring at her face. That’s great, I thought. Who are you friends?
“Yeah? Where do you sit?”
“In the back.” She smiled coyly.
I nodded. We chatted for a while. Well, she talked. I stared.
“I heard you’re really good at hockey. I can’t wait to see you play.”
“I guess I’m alright”, I responded.
“Well, good luck in the game tomorrow. I’ll be watching.”
She smiled and walked away as she looked over shoulder and eye-fucked me. Well nice to meet you, too. Hopefully I’ll be watching her after the game tomorrow. I hung around for a while, and then headed into the kitchen, where I said the obligatory thank you and goodbye to Cooper. I headed home, thinking about the game tomorrow. I was excited. Very, very excited.
Hockey in Massachusetts is like football in Texas. The town is excited for every game, and starting the second week of December, work schedules are cleared to make way for game schedules. Even the has-beens come to the games, reliving the glory days and how they supposedly ran the school when they were there. Move on guys. It was ten years ago. Regardless, the rink was electric. The first game of the season might as well be a local holiday. Little kids littered the stands in their youth jerseys, parents wore old hockey coats, and students filled the stands as a light aura of alcohol was emitted.
Brimmer came in and called us together. “Gather round boys. First game of the season, let’s not disappoint. We got the team this year to go all the way, and we all know that. Let’s go out there and show Oak Creek that Branton is the team to beat this year.” Brimmer then headed out into the hallway, leaving his captains to lead us to the ice.
Cooper stood up. “Let’s get a ‘Marauders’ on three. 1…2...3…”
Kline the goalie led the procession as Cooper, Emerson, and Kallock waited by the door to high five us as we headed to the ice. Pennywise’s “Bro Hymn” blared deafeningly as the crowd cheered and shook the glass. Holy shit, I thought. These people are hockey mad. While at Central, I never saw this many people at a game. Both parents and students had jobs and could rarely afford to miss work to watch a game. I guess it was a little different here in Branton.
We could barely hear Brimmer as he shouted at us on the bench. Warm-ups ended, and the line of Cooper, Emerson, and Gardner lined up against Oak Creek’s first line. The referee dropped the puck, and somehow the rink got louder. Two minutes later, my debut in a Branton uniform was about to begin. I won the draw in our zone, quite easily, and Bernie Andrews handled the puck behind the net. I tied up my man, then spun off and headed up ice. McDougall handled the pass from Andrews, to my surprise, and passed to me as I exited the zone. I had a crazy adrenaline rush, and my stick felt like an extension of my arm as I effortlessly skated up ice and entered the Oak Creek zone. I curled away from the defenseman, and saw that McDougall and Doublet were still at center ice. “What the fuck”, I thought. “Hurry up.” I saw the Oak Creek center back checking, and realized that by the time Slow and Slower got here, the Oak Creek line would already be back in their zone. I pushed off and headed to the corner, with the defenseman and center both closing in. I broke hard in the corner, spraying the defenseman with ice shavings as he came in to hit me. I banked the puck off the boards behind my back and spun away from them both. As I picked up the pick in the middle of the face-off circle, I saw the remaining Oak Creek defenseman ready to defend me. I got him to open up, and I fired the puck between his legs and over the goalie’s shoulder. The place erupted. My teammates jumped me in front of the net as the goal celebration song came on. I skated to the bench and high-fived my teammates.
“Thataboy Danny!” Brimmer shouted, muffled by the crowd’s singing of the song and high-fiving each other. The loudspeaker crackled as the scorekeeper prepared to announce the goal. “Branton goal, scored by number 10, Daaaannnnyyyyyyyy Adddaaammmsssss. Assisted, by number 13 Briiiaaannnn McDooouuggalllll, and number 6, Berrrnnnniieeeeee Aaaannndddrreeewwsss.” The announcer wasted his breath announcing it a second time, as the crowd erupted after the initial announcement. “That’s Adams, from McDougall and Andrews at 4:30. The black and red monster that was our fan base started on the Oak Creek goalie right away, pointing at him and calling him a sieve. I caught my breath on the bench, soaking up the excitement of the fans.
The cat was out of the bag. The Oak Creek coached had me double-teamed the rest of the period, leaving the first line to do the remainder of the scoring. They were unsuccessful. Very unsuccessful. Cooper was set-up in front of the net four times, fanning on two, shooting one wide, with the last one fluttering lazily toward the goalie. With me being double-teamed and my linemates unable to do anything on their own, our offense stalled. The red and black monster quieted. With the score knotted up at 1 after the first, we headed to the locker room where Brimmer flipped out.
“1-1? 1 to fucking 1? Are you shitting me? What the fuck is the matter with you guys? You suddenly can’t shoot? Can’t pass? You guys weren’t even playing hockey out there. Cooper, what the fuck is the matter with you? You should have four goddamn goals at this point. A blind kid with one arm would have put in three of them. If you can’t fucking score after being set up like that, I’ll put someone out there who can. Some leadership that is. Don’t fuck up again.”
Brimmer walked out, and Cooper stood up. “He’s right guys, I fucked up huge. I’m not on my game. We need to pick it up as a team. We’re better than this, and we know that. Bring it in and get a ‘Marauders’ on three. 1…2…3…”
Cooper didn’t pick us his game, evidenced by his breakaway 30 seconds in and subsequent stuffing by the Oak Creek goalie. The black and red monster roared when Cooper broke away uncontested, then fell silent when the goalie easily handled his attempt. The first line skated back to bench, and my line came out next. The double-teaming con