Like I’m telling you,” the sergeant said, “th’ kid could be anywhere. But he’s not here. So if you want to keep looking, go with the patrolman over there.”
Frank Badger turned to see a patrolman elbowing his way through the crowded Headquarters, heading for the door, apparently in a hurry. But Frank hesitated. He wanted to ask the sergeant at the desk why he was supposed to follow the patrolman and what the man’s name was and where he was being sent. He didn’t like the idea of nodding or saluting or doffing his cap and running to do what he was told. At forty-two he’d outgrown all that.
But the sergeant had turned to argue with three men in dark suits—detectives or perhaps suspects—and already the patrolman had made it out into the street, so Frank didn’t really have much choice.
He had to hurry to catch up. It wasn’t easy. The room swirled with activity. He squeezed by a desk where two reporters were questioning a man in a pinstriped suit who might have been an alderman or a prisoner; he pressed himself against the wall to let a handcuffed pair go by; behind him in the next room three policemen were talking with a long-haired creature of undetermined sex. He found himself staring at everyone, a bewildered Adam trying to find names for each new object he saw. But that was nonsense. He wasn’t a part of all this. It wasn’t as if he’d been arrested. He hadn’t even been asked to appear. He was only a father looking for his son. He was just following up a rumor that the boy was being held by the police in this city.
The uncertainty of it all had left him unsettled. He had spent three hours in a jet and was dizzy from two changes in time zone, from four shifts in altitude, from the jarring contrast between the sweet-talking stewardesses and the surly Desk Sergeant, whose language, he recalled now after so many years, was the language of all sergeants everywhere. And now the patrolman he was to follow had disappeared through the door out into the night and he, Frank, had better get his ass out of there…
The walls spread to the size of a warehouse and the blues of the uniforms faded to khaki. It was brutally hot and humid. He could smell the greasy dubbing which they had smeared over their new boots and the sweat of a thousand inductees being herded. They had been lined up by barking sergeants whose voices echoed up to the steel rafters and back, and now they were told to lay out their gear—all their belongings which had been carefully packed into duffel bags at four that same morning. And when they had spread out every last thing—every sock, belt, shirt, underpant, photo, toothbrush, condom, book, packet of letters—all of it lined up neatly on the sooty, paper-littered floor, they stood at attention for an hour for an inspection which never came.
And of course when the order was given to pack up again, they were to do it “on the double,” they were to “get the lead out of their ass,” they were to “look alive” as they stood alphabetically in groups of fifty for another half hour, this time “at ease,” speculating to themselves and in undertones to each other where they might be going. That was all more than twenty years ago, and Frank couldn’t remember what city that warehouse had been in, but he could feel with right-now clarity how the sweat ran steadily down his neck, shoulders, and back, tickling as it plowed little furrows through the film of coal-dust which clung to his skin.
He was out in the street now, looking for the patrolman. A squad car was coming in with lights flashing and a number of pedestrians stood about—the same kind of crowd that gathers for accidents. The patrolman was getting into a second car parked further down the street. Frank ran and opened the back door just as the motor started.
“The Desk Sergeant said for me to go with you.”
He paused as if by some reflex he was asking for permission.
“Well, get in then,” the patrolman said.
“Front or back?”
“Jesus, will you hurry up?”
Since it was the back door he had opened, he got in that one moving awkwardly and stumbling, half falling, over two civilians already sitting there.
“Sorry,” he said, and immediately wished he hadn’t. He would have to watch out for all those little phrases of accommodation with which the civil world oils its conversations. He would have to tighten up again.
They drove through an endless slum, an uncomfortable section in a strange city. The summer’s heat had squeezed all the residents from their apartments down onto the steps and out to the sidewalks. The patrolman drove at a moderate speed and used no siren, but the red roof light was on and in response to it every face in every group revolved slowly, without expression, following the car as it passed.
The two passengers beside him paid no attention to the street scene. They were preoccupied in a silent search for cigarettes and matches. It was complicated by the fact that the left wrist of one was handcuffed to the right wrist of the other. It was impossible to tell which was the prisoner and which was the captor.
Finally the one whose right hand was free found a crumpled pack in the other’s shirt pocket and a Zippo from his own and placed a bent cigarette in the mouth of the other and lit it. Frank could remember placing a cigarette in his wife’s mouth some twenty years earlier when they were first living together, seizing time on furloughs and treasuring the nuances of intimacy.
He wished he had made it clear when he first got in that he hadn’t been told where he was being sent. It seemed ridiculous to admit at this point that he didn’t have the slightest idea where he was going or even where he was. As a civil engineer specializing in bridges and aerial expressways it was his job to deal in facts. Mystery or even uncertainty was at best unprofessional. It would never occur to him to spend a summer’s afternoon exploring back roads without a destination; nor would he normally be willing to follow the orders of someone he didn’t know and travel with strangers who wouldn’t say where they were going.
Closing his eyes he could hear the endless “click-it-ti/click-click-click-it-ti/click” of that old troop train, the creak of its wooden sides, the muffled mutterings of poker players in the aisle, a harmonica somewhere, distant snoring. A night and a day and another night without the slightest idea whether they were headed southwest to Texas (“that’s where they do desert-survival training—no canteens”) or south to Georgia “they make ‘em swim across swamps at night”) or west to the Rockies (“Arctic survival—hear two out of ten die in basic”).
At night they tried to read their directions from the stars, peering upward through the filthy windows, but there wasn’t a man there who could tell north from south in that way. And by morning it was drizzling so that the sun was no help. At some point that day the train waited for an hour in a sodden wasteland of stubbled, burned-over fields and red clay. No cattle grazed here and no cars moved along the puddled dirt road. But from somewhere came a tattered delegation of black children, rain-streaked and unnaturally solemn.
Frank and all the others leaned out the windows and shouted “Where are we? Hey kids, where are we? What state?”
But the children didn’t understand and held out their hands saying, “Mon-ey? Penn-y. Gimmie penn-y.”
The soldiers, mostly Northerners, were incredulous. “Jesus,” one of them said, “they’ve drove us clear to North Africa.” They all laughed and started pitching pennies, watching the children scramble for them in the puddles. This was even funnier. Frank pulled back from the window, brooding about where these children were, where they all were, and where in hell they were going.
“Where are we going?” Frank asked abruptly.
“Never mind about that,” the patrolman said.
It seemed needlessly hostile until he realized that the driver may have assumed that it was the prisoner who spoke. “Look,” Frank said, “you don’t have to talk to me like I was under arrest. I’m just looking for my son and they told me to go with you. They didn’t tell me where we were going.”
“We can’t talk with a suspect in the car. Regulations.”
His tone was neither reprimanding nor friendly. It was devoid of human emotion. “Besides,” he added in the same voice, “if you’d kept your boy home he wouldn’t be in trouble.”
Bastard, he muttered in silence. If it weren’t for that uniform…
He had almost forgotten what it had been like to be hemmed in by uniforms. Below him, the old sergeants, leftovers from the peacetime army, their minds addled by military life, yet still ready to discredit the young officers over them. And, worse, the deal-making colonels who knew they had to make good before some idiot stopped the war. And those earnest captains, one notch above Frank, insisting on the rights of elder sons because they had entered the war just one year earlier—the incredible subtleties of rank.
He was startled by the siren. It was not a wail but just a low growl, the sound of a large and threatening dog. The streets were almost devoid of traffic, but they were more crowded with pedestrians; and almost as if by reaction to it the driver was going faster.
It was a mixed neighborhood and the headlights picked up white shirts against black bodies and some whitely bare chests. No one ran from the path ofthe car; they merely walked with insulting lack of concern until they were just barely out of range. Occasionally one would raise a fist or a finger. Frank wondered whether they viewed him personally as a friend of the police or as a prisoner. But how could they tell when he wasn’t sure himself?
They paused at a cross street while four fire trucks passed by, wailing. And then patrol cars. When they started up again they turned and followed in the same general direction but not as fast. And in four blocks they had apparently arrived somewhere.
The driver parked on a side street together with an array of squad cars, patrol wagons, and a couple of ambulances. The crowd in the street, a mixture of races and ages, was scattered and calm, but the mystery of its presence—its mere existence—struck Frank as ominous. It was like the armored half-track parked under the streetlight, motionless but as arresting as if it had been an enormous armadillo. Police floodlights lit the entire area with sharp contrasts, making the scene into a moonscape.
The driver got out and opened the door for the two handcuffed civilians who emerged awkwardly. The three of them headed up the steps of a many-storied, rambling brick building which could have been an old hospital or an enormous city high school. Every window was lit.
Again he hesitated. It seemed impossible that this slum-castle would have anything to do with his son, and it seemed outrageous that the driver expected him to trot along obediently like some jeep orderly. Back in the real world Frank had thirteen draftsmen and a secretary under his command and he had forgotten what it was to be treated like a recruit.
But it was clear that if he stood there much longer he would be demoted to just another onlooker. He’d get nowhere that way. So he ran, once again, to catch up.
An adolescent-looking guardsman—a boy soldier—blocked the door with a bayoneted carbine held diagonally before him. His head was too small for his helmet and his Adam-appled neck too scrawny to fill his collar. He was the original cartoon of a hayseed recruit, the model for Sad Sack, a joke; he also held his bayoneted carbine with shocking self -assurance.
“D’you have a pass?” the boy asked. “I’m with the patrolman.”
“The one who just came in with the suspects.”
“You on the force?”
“I’m a witness. They need me in there.” He tried to muscle by, but in an instantaneous, perfectly executed movement, the soldier spun his rifle to the horizontal position where, chest high, it was poised to send the intruder hurtling down the stone steps to the sidewalk below. And it was entirely clear to Frank that the soldier would do just that if he had to, not in anger or fear but in the line of duty the way a meat packer slings a side of beef.
“Look,” Frank said, trying a new approach. “I think my boy is being held there.”
“I’m not allowed…”
“He’s about your age. I don’t know what he’s done, but I want to get to him. Just let me look and then I’ll get out.”
“We got orders,” the boy said, but all self -assurance was lost.
“Could you check with someone?”
“Well, wait here a moment.”
Incredibly, the boy soldier was gone and Frank walked directly into the large foyer, moving fast. He expected a heavy hand on his shoulder at any moment.
Almost at once he was in an enormous room—some kind of armory or exhibition hall—in which hundreds of people were working with intensity. The place hummed like a nest of hornets. A semblance of order had been attempted by walling off sections of floor space with Street Department barriers; desks had been improvised by laying doors across saw horses; crude signs had been scratched out in magic marker with titles such as MEDICAL AID, INTERROGATION, SURVEILLANCE, and ARRAIGNED. Directly in front of him was a real desk—ancient, scarred, and official. It was covered with scattered documents, typed lists of names, and empty coffee cups. The sign, written on the back of a torn placard, read CHIEF EXPEDITER, and beside it was a small American flag on a lead base. The swivel chair which was behind the desk was empty.
Frank waited there, letting waves of busy people ebb and flow around him. He wanted to stop someone, anyone, and ask him what in hell was going on. It seemed incredible that all these people—police, detectives, soldiers, students, blacks and whites in the street—knew perfectly well what was happening and that he, Frank, was still in the dark. It wasn’t as if he were uninformed. He read two newspapers and three periodicals of assorted political hues. He would have known if this city had ever been characterized as “racially torn” or prone to student strife. No, it was just another city and all of this had been going on behind his back. It chilled him to think that perhaps this scene was being repeated in cities all over the country.
Suddenly he wished he hadn’t come. It was a slim lead anyway—just a phone call from an adenoidal young man saying that Francis was being held by the police in this city. But why on earth here? It was miles from the boy’s college. And it seemed impossible that a student with such good grades could be deeply involved in anything political.
At his wife’s suggestion, Frank had brought along the boy’s college transcript. It would, they thought, serve as evidence of good character. Remembering this now, he was startled at how naïve he had been before he stepped off that plane into all this. But how could he have known? He re called for the first time in years a “V-mail” letter from his mother which had arrived after the three-week nightmare in the foothills of Anzio. She was an unusually well-informed and intelligent woman who followed the war day by day in the newspapers and by radio, and she showed her concern by serving on the Rationing Board without pay, yet she was capable of urging him to instruct the drivers in his unit to make greater savings in gasoline by avoiding quick starts and by coasting down hills. It seemed to him then that the wall between him and the civilians back home was more impregnable than that between him and the enemy.
It was no use waiting for the Chief Expediter. Perhaps he didn’t really exist. So he went over to INTERROGATION where men in civilian clothes, usually in pairs, were questioning suspects. There were ten or twelve such groups going on in the little corral. The prisoners were mostly college-aged but highly varied in appearance. From where he stood he could only see two who had the traditional long hair and beads. The others could have been pulled from the ranks of inductees—some black, some tan, and a majority white; some in torn T shirts, some in sleeveless denim jackets, one in a rumpled suit, several in polo shirts. One had a filthy rag tied around his forehead and another held a handkerchief to a cut on the side of his neck; but the rest were uninjured.
Frank stared at this group longer than it would take to determine that his son was not among them. He began to understand, quite slowly at first, that his son could be among them. One of the boys looked past his interrogator at Frank and his expression was derisive. His son had given him that look from time to time. But he checked his own thoughts, remembering that the boy’s name was Francis and that he hated to be called Son or, worse, Boy. Francis. He deserved to be called that. It would be a hell of a thing to act out the fantasy he had on the plane while still 60,000 feet above all this, a scene in which he walked down the long, sterile corridor of a model penitentiary to the designated cell and to greet the prisoner with, “Well, Son, how did all this come about?”
The plainclothesmen were through with that student and had him sign something and sent him over to the other side of the pen where fingerprints were taken. Frank could hear one of them say “…over to SURVEILLANCE,” and as the boy started to leave the officer added, “So don’t try anything funny because you can’t get out of here without a pass.”
This reached Frank like the “thunk” of a slide-bolt. Intuitively he looked around for windows and saw none.
“Hey,” he said to the boy as he passed. “I’m looking for someone. Maybe you know him.” He paused, but got no encouragement from the boy. “His name is Francis. Francis Badger.”
“Like if I knew, Dad, I wouldn’t tell you.”
And he was gone. Frank’s hands curled up into fists but there was no one to hit.
He went over to ARRAIGNED, wondering if at this point he would recognize his Francis. Perhaps someone would have to introduce them as, in fact, they had to when he finally came home from Bremerhaven at the end of the war. “This is Francis,” someone had said, and all the adults there laughed uneasily as the father picked up his perfectly strange son, two years old already, and held him awkwardly, the two of them solemn and uncertain.
ARRAIGNED was a larger pen than the others, and was furnished with greater sophistication—it had benches. The prisoners lolled, half-reclining. Some dozed. They appeared to be as unconcerned as sunbathers at the beach. But as soon as Frank reached the barrier (Road Closed, P. D.) they all turned to him as if he had orders for their disposition.
The watchdog was a first sergeant, National Guard, who must have weighed 250 pounds and flaunted his girth with a tieless khaki shirt which strained every button. His face was red, round, and sequined with beads of sweat.
“Yes sir,” he said, Amos and Andy style, taking Frank as a plainclothes man.
“I have a boy here who…”
“You’re the father?”
“Yes, his name is…”
“How th’ hell did you get in here? You can’t be here. You’re outside, Mac. You can’t be in here.”
“But I am here.” Frank was not certain.
“You’re not on the force and you’re not being held, so there’s no way you could get in.”
A Regular Army major came up, talking fast. “What th’ hell is this? Don’t block the passageway. What’s going on here?” And to Frank, “You authorized?” And to the sergeant, “Who is this guy anyhow?” He looked like a welterweight boxer who was about to take on two opponents at the same time.
“Man says he looking for his son.”
“Can’t be. No relatives in here.”
“That’s what I told him. ‘No relatives in here.’ I told him that.”
“I mean, we can’t let just any sonofabitch in off the street.”
“I told him. He can’t be in here.”
“Then tell him to get the hell out,” the major said.
“He’s got no pass. He can’t leave.”
“Give the sonofabitch a pass, then.”
“How can I? He’s unauthorized.”
There was a momentary pause which was broken by a third man, a tall, angular civilian with a gray suit and a face to match. The two soldiers stepped back for him like well-behaved boys.
“You have a son who might be here,” the man said, reviewing the case. “You have reason to believe he might be here?”
“Well, I just got this telephone call and…”
The gray man simply led Frank into the pen and sat him down on a low stool. The three of them stood in a semicircle around him. It was as if the door he had been pushing against had suddenly opened and sent him tumbling into something he wasn’t prepared for.
“Have a cigarette,” the government man said. Frank took one even though he had given them up two years earlier. The major lit it for him. The National Guardsman with the straining buttons stood there with his thumbs under his belt, exuding sweat. His stomach was twelve inches from Frank’s left cheek.
“Nice kids can get mixed up with the wrong crowd,” the government man said. “You see it all the time. Nice families. Nice kids. Sometimes it’s drugs. You wouldn’t believe some of the things we see. Then it’s politics. You know, leftists, anarchists, hard-core stuff. Parents lose contact. They just don’t know. They’d help if they could, but they just don’t know what kind of trouble the kid is in. So that’s where our job begins. We try to pick them up and set them straight.”
Frank, in spite of himself, nodded. In spite of himself? Hell, it was all reasonable enough. It was what a neighbor might say. It was what he had said from time to time. After all, wasn’t that why he was here? If the boy was in trouble, it was Frank’s job to set him straight.
Yet somehow, sitting there on the dunce’s stool, walled in by various authorities, he wasn’t sure. The simple alliances of the past weren’t holding as they should. If the four adults here were on the same side, why was one of them on a stool looking up at the other three? And why was he scared?
“So maybe there came a time,” the government man said, “when your boy went along with the crowd for kicks. And then he found himself in trouble. Real trouble.” For some reason, this prompted his first smile. But it vanished almost at once and he pulled a spiral notebook from his pocket. “Your son’s name, age, and address, please.”
Frank paused. The three of them waited. The sounds of the armory blurred to a distant, rising wind. The unaccustomed cigarette made him dizzy, and he could feel his loyalties shift and heave under him. He was for a moment back at that mill in northern France, the windy night hissing through the charred trees and empty windows. The foot-byfoot advance through Italy had recently become a crazy rush of 60 and 100 kilometers a day and his group, demolition experts, was well beyond the advance lines defusing the ex plosives with which the Germans had so thoroughly mined each bridge. And somehow, almost unintentionally, his special detachment of eighteen men had ended up with five prisoners—not men but kids, end-of-the-road Nazis, not one of them eighteen yet, two still smooth-cheeked, all hungryeyed and lice-ridden. They were a pain in the ass for a unit that was supposed to move fast. So the next morning Frank was waked with a cheerful shout, “Hey, who wants to go shoot the Krauts?” The shouter, a captain in command, had adopted the voice of the recreation director at a borsht-circuit resort.
Frank, a mere lieutenant, said, “Are you kidding? Execution? Those kids? You want me to include that in our next report?” No, no, that was not what he had said. He had said, “Count me out.” That’s exactly what he had said. Then. The other answer was the one he had said a hundred times in daydreams. But the kids were dead and not even buried. Thrown in a farmer’s well. And he had said, his exact words, “Count me out.”
“So what’s his name?” the government man asked again. “Once we get him on the list, we’ll straighten him out.”
Twice in one lifetime? Frank thought. It was not courage that drove him but the horror of recriminating daydreams. “John Doe,” he said.
“No jokes now. This isn’t a Mickey Mouse show, you know.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. My name is Doe. Jack Doe. My son is John.”
The gray man’s pencil stub paused over the clipboard caught between trust and fury. He looked questioningly at the other two. The sweating sergeant was given courage.
“It can’t be John Doe,” he said. “That’s everyone. He can’t be John Doe.”
And in their moment of indecision, Frank sprang up and jumped over the police barrier. Running, he heard a police whistle and a shout behind him. He felt an exhilaration sweep through him, flushing two decades of bad dreams.
He ran through MEDICAL AID, stumbling over stretcher cases, and headed for the stairs which led up. They were roped off with a sign which said “No Passing,” but he cleared it with a good jump. He thought he heard angry voices behind him, but he couldn’t afford to look back and the air was filled with the sound of his own feet pounding against the old metal stairs. He took two or three flights and then instinctively shifted his course and headed down a corridor of offices. All the doors were shut and locked against him except for the men’s room.
He had just bolted the door behind him when he heard shouting and the sound of feet in the hallway. They passed, rattling doors, and then returned. By that time Frank had the window open—filthy opaque glass—and was out on a fire escape. He closed the window behind him, surprised at his own logic. It had been years since he had experienced fear and he had forgotten that clear-headed energy which glands can produce.
Out there in the dark he was abruptly aware that he was high above the avenue. He must have climbed more flights than he had thought. Below him, police floodlights swept the streets. The crowds, more active now, moved in long ripples across the black river. Soundlessly a red fist leapt up and he could see that a car had been rolled over and set afire. Sirens came to him like wind sighing through the rubble of a gutted city. And a strange combination of smells—the iron of the railing he was gripping, oily smoke, and the faint acidity of teargas which reached him through the open spaces of time from basic training at… Odd how the name had escaped him while the smell lingered.
And now from down there the sound of firecrackers, a happy celebration, kids having fun, the family gathered as a clan for Independence Day. Crack! and the sound snapped into focus and he dropped to his stomach, feeling naked without a carbine in his hands.
It shouldn’t, he told himself, faze him. He’d spent time behind enemy lines before. He had lived through a two-orthree-day nightmare trying to get back across an unfixed line of demarcation, trying to identify his own side, avoiding fire from his own unit, clawing to get out of a dream which was contained within a dream within a dream so that hour by hour and day by day he only moved from one box to the next, never quite catching sight of reality. But that was another life, a kind of group memory for him and his generation.
No, this shouldn’t faze him—except for the fact that he had spent twenty years proving, year by year, that those nightmares had never occurred, that he had never reeked with fear, had never been propositioned by death, had never fired blindly and watched shadows of himself falling, had never struck a skull with his carbine butt because the man was flipping like a fresh-caught fish and was making sounds no human could be expected to tolerate.
For two and a half decades he had commuted between a muted family and an orderly office, creating life to replace that which he had taken, designing spans for the smooth flow of traffic, willingly washing in and out from work with the tide of his generation, sweeping with daily strokes like a hand over a blackboard, erasing, erasing.
Which is the lie? he thought. Which is the lie? For a moment an imaginary part of him walked down that fire escape, untouched by that which simply could not be happening, and turned to a friendly cop, smiling, and asked where he might find a cab which would take him to the airport. Surely he was a neutral in a foreign land; surely they would respect his passport and lead him through chaos to the Airlines desk, there to be treated as an adult whose credit rating gleamed golden like the eagles of a major general.
Was he out of his mind? He’d be shot, going down there, slithering down a dark fire escape like a sniper. Killed. No metaphor. Dead. Never mind the goddamned issues, he told himself. Leave that to the civies. Let the commentators wax eloquent over what builds the fighting spirit. In the now and here he was lying on his stomach on the metal grate, his brow pressed against the iron, his body unprotected.
And in instant confirmation, a spotlight dashed his eyes like spray. He could see nothing but a milk-white glare. He was on his feet at once and racing up the fire-escape flights, the light losing him and then catching him, raking him like a cat’s claw.
Above him was the parapet. Along it were three or four heads like pumpkins. They urged him on, identifying themselves not with uniforms but by tone. And when he reached the top, he wondered if he had strength to climb over. But a clutter of arms seized him by the jacket, arms, shirtfront, and hauled him roughly, lovingly over the edge. He collapsed in the welcome dark and heard someone say, “Let him catch his breath. I’ll stay with him here. The rest of you go two buildings over. Make noises.”
Frank breathed deeply, aware that he was now back with his own detachment. The great booming, buzzing confusion of the conflict hushed. Years ago he had learned that in times of crisis, all loyalties and all logic shrunk finally to the level of the squad.
He lay back, still gasping for air. Above him, way above, he could see the green wingtip light and the blinking white taillight of an airliner. It seemed preposterous that a hundred or so people could be settling down to an evening highball, copies of Time, Look, and Fortune, soothed by the familiarity of Howard-Johnson decor, Muzak, and the cooings of stewardesses. Only that morning he had been doing just that. He was reading a “literary” best seller which described in intricate detail—like an elaborate etching—the lives of bored New Englanders who had turned to sex for therapy. Flying at 60,000 feet, the work seemed at least possibly relevant and vaguely stimulating. Now it reminded him of the early Fitzgerald novels which he had skimmed with derision in the Army hospital outside Milan. No wonder he had left it in his seat.
From the corner of his eye he could see the bearded form who had elected to remain with him. He sat with his elbows on his knees, methodically chewing gum. He could have been some French resistance fighter. He could have been his son, Francis. Francis who had insisted on his full name ever since he read about the saint. Yes, this could be Saint Francis responding not to the birds but the killers of birds. Can there, he wondered, be love without a corresponding rage?
There was no answer but the catcalls and obscenities shouted from a distant roof, delivered for Frank’s protection.
“I got involved,” Frank said with difficulty, still sucking in air, “looking for my son. Francis Badger.”
“I know him,” the bearded one said.
“Is he all right? Arrested?”
“He was. But he got out. Same way you did.”
“He’s up here?” It seemed impossible.
“The other side. He got down and across. He’s O.K.”
“How do I get up there?”
The boy didn’t answer for a while. He picked up gravel from the roof and rattled it around in his hand like ideas. Then he said, “Don’t go up there. It’s not your thing. We’ll get you back.”
Frank nodded. Of course he would go back, perhaps even looking much the same. Still, it seemed terrible, that black river that flowed between himself and Francis.
“Suppose you’ll be seeing him?” he asked.
“Sure. I’ll tell him you were up here looking for him.” Then he laughed—a kind of quick snort like a poker player who is caught off balance by a good card. “That’s something,” he said. “That’s pretty good. I’ll tell him you gave a damn.”
And then they were off over the roof tops, heading back to the homefront where the civilians—even his best friends—would listen carefully but with little comprehension to his account of the war.