you don’t change direction, you may end up where you’re headed.
Orange billows on turquoise lit the evening sky, followed by crimson haze
on lapis, then gray, fading gradually to inky black. Sunsets from the porch
of my Augusta farm home often inspire wonder and awe. This one didn’t.
Instead, it sent an unfamiliar chill through my spine. It was the second
of March. Just hours away, my thirtieth birthday lay in waiting, as nightfall
foreshadowed an uncertain future. Maine was between seasons, our band was
between drummers, and I was between mortgage payments, professions and
Generally speaking, I’m an optimistic guy. Put some coffee in my cup and
a little sun on my face, and I step into the morning without hesitation
or dread. But now, alone in the dark, the silence was disquieting. Several
hours earlier, just as dawn was breaking, that sunny outlook took a beating.
Randy Combs and I had been hired to add a greenhouse to the back of a hundred-year-old
home on Winthrop Street. We had completed the footings and slab the day
before; an early spring thaw provided a narrow window to dig a trench and
pour the concrete. But, with a nor’easter bearing down on the coast, we
figured to have little more than a day—two at the most—to mortar a stem
wall, frame the addition and top it with a roof. Randy commandeered the
forklift laden with building materials, while I held aside a series of
tree limbs to give him enough room to slip between the east side of the
building and a row of pines. As he rounded the southeast corner, the pallet—already
listing almost fifteen degrees on the grade away from the house—clipped
the edge of the gutter downspout and jostled the load. A single 28-pound
block of concrete bounced a few inches, paused briefly on its edge, and
finally decided to go all the way over, landing on my left Timberland,
which was temporarily suctioned into some mud. The boot cushioned the blow
somewhat, just not quite enough. I heard the metatarsal pop and felt a
shot of pain through my foot.
A couple hours later in the emergency room at Maine General, Dr. Wilson
Abbott told me I’d be right as rain in four to six weeks. In the meantime,
I’d have to hobble around on a semi-rigid post-op shoe, and carpentry work
was out of the question for at least a fortnight. That’s exactly what he
said. “Carpentry work is out of the question for at least a fortnight.”
I knew how long that would be, but it was only the second time I’d ever
heard that particular word spoken aloud in a sentence. The first came two
years earlier during Vanessa Stephens’ animated recitation as Lady Capulet,
while rehearsing for the Bangor production of Romeo and Juliet. I recall
the reading distinctly.
She had been practicing her lines night and day, concurrent with our plunging
recklessly into passion and romance. She uttered the celebrated remark,
quite unexpectedly, in the middle of a climactic bedroom moment. “A fortnight
and odd days,” she wailed.
remember thinking at the time that there was very little chance that I
could keep at it that long. Instinctively, I remained silent, in part to
suggest that I might have the required stamina, but mostly to not sound
foolish in the event that I had misinterpreted her exclamation.
To the doctor’s instructions, I responded ruefully, “No carpentry for two
he replied, in his thick British accent. “An’ keep it elevated an’ iced
till the swelling goes down.”
Shortly after six-thirty that evening, as I was limping back into the house
for another shot of Jack Daniels, my cell phone rang. Before I had a chance
to say hello, Eric Cochrane was peppering me with questions.
“Jesse! Hey! How are you doing, buddy? Are you in pain? Will you be able
to play on Saturday night? Randy called and told me what happened. Bummer.”
Eric and I formed our first rock band in high school. He’s the lead guitar
player for Ocean Noises, our current ensemble—or what’s left of it. I play
bass and Billy Mosher plays the keyboards. Justin Thyme, our drummer for
the previous six months, left us in the lurch the week before. None of
us actually knew his real name, and at this point, we no longer cared.
“The lidocaine has worn off, Eric, but I’m coping with ice, whiskey and
ibuprofen. As for Saturday, I should be able to make it, but who’s going
to play the drums?”
workin’ on it, Jesse,” he replied, in a weary and slightly discouraged
tone. “I’ve been talkin’ to Willie Franklin. He says that he might be able
to fill in for us…if we pay him enough.”
“How about Amanda? Are they still a couple?”
“It’s a revolving door, of course. But at the moment, he’s beggin’ to get
back in. Naturally, I asked him about her, but he said he hadn’t seen her
for a couple of weeks, and she wasn’t returning his calls.”
“If we could get her to join us, Willie would come along for sure,” I said.
“Why don’t you give her a ring?”
“I did already and left a message,” he replied, not sounding particularly
hopeful. “We’ll need a little luck.”
“I could use some of that myself,” I muttered.
“Keep your chin up, Jesse. It can’t be that bad.”
“For starters, I’m out of work and my mortgage payment is due on the tenth.
I needed the greenhouse job to cover it. I’m behind on my phone, electric
and propane bills. Even the wood pile is thinning out.”
“You could ask your mom for a loan.”
“I don’t want to do that again. She helped me out last winter, and I still
owe her almost a grand.”
“Getting any calls for detective work?” he asked.
“I got one call last week from a lady who said she needed protection from
her ex. After listening to me for a minute or so, she asked me my age.
When I told her, she took a pass. She said she was looking for ‘a more
responsible man.’ Incidentally, that’s why I took my photo down from the
website. It might inspire interest among the younger crowd, but they’re
not the ones hiring private investigators.”
“You know I’d help you out if I could, but I’m tapped.”
“No worries,” I said. “Something will turn up.”
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