"Good night, Grover. I'm sure you're right."
Flynn slammed the door of the black Ford.
"It must be nice to be an experienced policeman." Muttering, he went through the gate, along the walk, and up the steps to the porch of the large, dark Victorian house which loomed above him. "Even of low rank."
The Ford accelerated noisily up the two-o'clock-in-the-morning street, and screeched around the corner to the left.
"You'd think somebody wanted him home," Flynn said to himself.
While he was working the key in the lock of his front door, a jet airplane taking off from Boston's Logan Airport across the harbor thundered only five hundred meters above his chimney.
"Oh, God," Flynn said. "I want my tea."
However long he lived there, Flynn heard the noise. Some people, some of his neighbors, were able to put it out of their consciousness as a driver after a while no longer sees the windshield wipers. Others, more painfully conscious than their neighbors, would have a new round of protest meetings every few weeks.
Flynn neither failed to hear the airplanes nor did he attend protest meetings.
He just suffered.
In the living room, lit only by the light from the hall, he gazed at his cello, leaning against the curve of the baby grand piano.
Once, at two o'clock in the morning, when they first moved here, he had spent a half-hour playing his cello. Neighbors complained--even some who had long since stopped hearing the airplanes. Their message, firmly delivered to Elsbeth the next morning, was something on the order of, "Not jet airplanes and the cello, too--not at two o'clock in the morning!"
"Ach, well," said Flynn. "Where's my tea?"
The kettle itself was keeping him company, still burbling and hissing on the range, when he was halfway through his cup, although he'd turned the knob. Elsbeth had left out the fixings.
Another jet shrieked overhead.
Who would want to leave Boston at two-thirty in the morning?
Of all the cities he had left, he did not remember ever taking off at such an ungodly hour.
Jenny was in the door.
The blue saucer eyes now sleepy, the golden curly hair now tousled, the skin of her cheeks a little creased from her pillow, Jenny, at twelve going on thirteen, had missed the awkward phases all her life, with perfect skin and perfect, growing teeth, a perfect little body, and was about to miss the awkwardness of being thirteen, from all appearances: proper, of course, as Jenny would be, even at this peculiar hour in her own kitchen, a bathrobe pulled almost around her, an undone package, a present carried under her arm.
"It's yourself, is it?"
Sleepily, she climbed into his lap.
"I had a present."
"A present? Now who'd send my bag of fluff a present?"
She pulled the plain white card from the mess of paper and cardboard under her arm.
"It says, 'I. M. Fletcher.' That's a funny name."
"Fletcher, is it? That is a funny name."
"When you speak to I. M. Fletcher, are you supposed to call him U. R. Fletcher?"
"I see you've been studying your French declensions."
Only Jenny could make him laugh at quarter to three in the morning, especially after Flynn had just arrested a perfectly nice man who had kindly murdered his sick old mother, even laying her out on her own bed, gray hair flowing on the pillow, before calling the police on himself.
(Grover had been right, of course: The man should be charged with first-degree murder. Mercy murder was not to be recognized, ever; there were too many who would take advantage of it. Flynn had argued for a charge of murder-with-love, whatever that might mean to a court. Flynn knew precious little about the workings of courts.)
"The last time I saw your man Fletcher, he was calling himself Peter."
"Do I know him?" Jenny asked, no part of her mind concerned with the problems of a nice man who had kindly murdered his sick old mother.
"He came here on a Sunday. The day we did the Beethoven F major. You may remember, Eighteen-- One."
"Oh, he was nice. All tight and golden."
"Tight and golden?"
"Like a rubber band."
"Here, let's see what the card says."
Using the back of her wrist, as if she were well used to favors delivered at the door, she passed him the card.
"Let's see, now. On the back, in handwriting, it says, 'Jenny, may I be the first to present you with something too expensive--Fletch.' My God, what could it be?"
Jenny sat up enough to rummage around in what was appearing more every moment to be wastepaper.
"Mother says it's very expensive."
She pulled forth from the tissues a ruby and diamond pin.
She held it out to her father in the palm of her hand.
"My God. Let me look at it."
Flynn held it to his eyes.
"My God. I think it's real."
"It came from Rio de Janeiro. I'm not sure where that is.
"It's in Brazil."
"Well, it's very nice of him."
"It is that."
"I wanted to show it to you."
"Can you afford the insurance?"
"Why did he send me such a thing?"
"Well, Jenny, I'll tell you. Mister Fletcher is the marrying kind."
"Ah, yes. He's been known to marry one or two."
"And will he marry me?"
"It rather seems he means to try."
"It's very nice of him to send me a pin so soon."
"You can't wear it."
"Mother said the same thing."
"Well she should."
"But, Da, there's a school play."
"I'm sure there is.
"I'm to play the princess. And Ms. Berger said to bring a lovely jewel from home to adorn me if possible."
"No such thing is possible. Nothing could adorn you, Jenny."
"But it's a lovely jewel, like she said."
"Your mother's costume stuff can adorn you enough."
"But I rather like this pin, Da."
"So would all the rest of the world's beauties, my darling, but few ever see such a thing, let alone possess it, and never at the age of twelve-and-a-half. Here, I'll keep it for you."
He put it into his jacket pocket.
"Mayn't I have it? Even for the play?"
"You may have it when you're twenty-one."
"Not even eighteen?"
"Only if there's a need to pay your tuition. Now, what are you doing up, other than being robbed of your jewels?"
"I wanted to show you."
A long white form appeared in the kitchen door. It was yawning.
"Oh, my God. Another one. And the kettle's off."
"My violin was stolen."
The boy moved into the light, lanky and blond at fifteen, hair sticking up, rubbing one eye with the base of his fist, barefooted, and, being without Jenny's sense of haute costume, pajamaed without a robe.
Even without seeing them, Flynn could tell his twin sons apart from the difference in their voices. Randy's was a mite slower than his brother's. His violin playing was a mite more precise than his brother's, but not much. Other people had to rely solely upon Randy's hair being a mite blonder, not much, his nose a centimeter longer.
He sat in the opposite kitchen chair, his elbows quickly finding the table, the area above his jaws, forward of his ears, finding the heels of his hands.
"What do you mean, your violin was stolen?"
"From my locker. At school."
"At Cartwright School?"
The other voice, Todd's, sounded in the door.
"It's true, Da."
The twins always defended themselves, each other, however it worked, even when neither challenged nor attacked. Flynn had taught them that. Crawling around the floor with them as babies, he had taught them to outflank any aggressor to either or both.
"Things have been missing for weeks now," Todd said.
Flynn looked at three of his five children, fully aware it was three o'clock in the morning. Precious gems and violins were all very well, but there were other matters and their mother to face in the morning.
Randy said, "It was a good violin."
"It is," said Flynn.
"Wasn't it insured?" asked Todd, arms folded under a yawning mouth in the kitchen doorway. Always the flanking action.
"It was not," said Flynn. "And why wasn't the locker locked?"
"It was," said Randy.
"All the lockers were locked," flanked Todd. "In all the robberies."
"There have been many robberies?"
"Dozens in the last weeks, Da."
Looking into the bottom of his teacup, for once Flynn wasn't sure which boy had spoken.
It didn't matter.
They were together.
"What's missing, besides Randy's violin?"
"Money. The money Juan's father sent him from Mexico." Apparently, Todd was beginning a great list.
"Was that much?" asked Flynn.
"Three hundred dollars."
"That's immoral!" announced Flynn, not hesitating to protect himself against further assaults.
"It's for the whole term."
"I've never spent three hundred dollars loosely in my whole life."
"You're not Juan," yawned Randy.
"Mark's soccer ball, Jack's plane ticket home to London, Nicker's pot stash, Ted's--"
"His stash of pot," interpreted Randy.
"It was a lot of pot, Da. Over two hundred dollars' worth," said Todd.
Yawning bored, the boy who had his violin stolen put propriety to youthful, illegal possession. "His Dad sends him to school with it. They grow it on their place in Virginia."
"And do you use it?" asked Flynn.
"Only sometimes," said Todd. "On math review days."
"My God, why did I come home?"
Randy, who was always one for sticking to a point, said, "My violin was stolen."
He wiped his nose with his left hand. He should have been taught piano, thought Flynn, by his mother.
It's the devil's own job to steal a piano.
"Indeed," said Flynn, "you children have entirely too many possessions.
"Not us," said Randy, suddenly awake. "I had my violin, and it was stolen." And he looked pathetically angry. "And it was a good violin."
"It is that," said Flynn, with satisfaction.
Todd said, "You should find it, Da."
"I? Why I?"
"We," amended Randy. "Like before."
Flynn picked up his cup to drain the dregs of his camomile.
"Cartwright's a private school," he said. Jenny was getting softer in his lap, as neither a ruby and diamond pin nor talk about a stolen violin was capable of keeping her awake beyond three in the morning. "What goes on there is private. The Boston Police has no right to interfere there unless called in. I think."
The teacup smashed in his hand.
Jenny's body tightened against his chest.
The kitchen table moved closer to his vest.
Randy's face fell forward from his hands.
A flash of light appeared through Elsbeth's curtains, in the window over the sink.
There was a painful explosion.
There was blood coming from the base of Flynn's hand.
In the doorway, Todd screamed.
Immediately, they were standing in the window of the dark dining room.
The moonlight was reflected on the surface of the harbor.
In the sky above the harbor a mass of yellow flame was whipping up from a huge, hot-red and silver falling bulk.
For the moment, Flynn was one with his children, young, in Munich, seeing unrooted flame hating itself, escaping itself, leaping up from itself.
Small objects, pieces of freight, people, some of them originally on fire, had blown away, downward from the plane, and were falling down the sky, extinguishing themselves. They sprinkled the moonlit surface of the water.
Despite the thousands of times he had heard the sound, he remembered specifically he had heard this particular plane taking off.
"A plane has exploded," he said to his children. No matter how old he got, there would be new things he couldn't handle, old things he had never been able to handle. "It's all right," he said stupidly at the window with his children. "A plane has exploded."
He picked up Jenny.
The children had to know what they were seeing.
Burning, dying people were falling into the harbor from the sky.
"It's all right, boys," he said.
The flaming, thrashing object that had seemed suspended in the sky so, becoming larger, darker as it came closer, hit the water in three pieces, setting up six separate walls of spray in the moonlight.
Steam rose from only one section--the biggest.
In the light, Flynn saw Todd's eyes huge.
Holding Jenny, he tried to put a hand out to each of his sons. And found he could. Jenny was clutching to his neck on her own.
Under his hands, both boys were shivering.
It was only then he heard Elsbeth upstairs, screaming in her bed, in Yiddish, what to do, what to do, some prayers, in Hebrew, reacting to a war in the Middle East she had survived, which had finished.
"It's all right, Elsbeth!" he shouted insanely in German. "It's just a plane crash!"
He heard the baby, Jeff, cry.
"What's in the shoe box, Da?"
It was on the dining room table, next to his coffee cup. He had not dared leave it anywhere else.
"The trouble with having a father as ideal as I am," Flynn said, whacking his boiled egg with his knife, "one who tries to answer your every question with the fullness of perfect honesty, is that on that rare, if not unique occasion when I absolutely cannot answer you, I discover I am without even the normal paternal abilities to lie, dissemble, or evade."
"Yeah," Todd said, "but what's in the shoe box?"
"The only response I can think of at the moment is the considerably rude line: none of your business."
Randy said, "You're not going to tell us what's in the shoe box?"
"I am not."
On the other side of his plate was the morning edition of the Boston Star. There was no mention of the airplane explosion. It had happened too late to make the final edition.
Seeing the facts of the accident reported baldly in black and white this morning might calm them all down.
Both Randy and Todd were white and pinched-faced at their places at table, not eating much.
Jenny was still looking as if she wanted to give herself into a lovely cry. She had several times already and had been told by her mother enough was enough.
Winny, at age nine, was mostly disturbed by having slept through the whole thing.
"You are to be commended," his father had said. "It does little for one to see an accident one can do nothing about."
At first light, Flynn had gone through his kitchen door into the backyard.
Except for Winny and the baby, Jeff, none of them had slept. It remained too early for breakfast, an interminable time.
He had sat with his children enough.
He had seen about fixing the window in the kitchen.
Even then, small boats were clustered on the surface of the harbor--Police Harbor Patrol, the Fire Department, the Coast Guard--moving back and forth, grabbing what evidence of the accident they could. The explosion had happened in midair; most of the evidence had sunk below the surface of the water.
Near his seawall Flynn found a hand.
Excerpted from Flynn by Gregory Mcdonald. Copyright © 2003 by Gregory Mcdonald. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.