Leap of Faith
by Brendan DuBois
Art by Laurie Harden
It took me three tries before I found the old dirt road, on the outskirts of the small Massachusetts town where I had grown up. The road twisted and turned, and ended up in a wide turnaround. There used to be a trail that went up a high slope, but now there was a chain-link fence blocking access. Every few feet there was a no trespassing sign, contrasting with trespassers will be prosecuted. I parked the rental car, got out, walked over to the fence.
Well built, with a locked gate in the center. Just over eight feet tall. Pretty impressive. Pretty imposing.
What the hell.
I’d faced worse.
I went back a few yards, took a running start, and in a matter of seconds, I was up and over, landing on the other side.
The trail was overgrown and steeper than I had remembered. Up and up it went, until it emerged on a wide flat area. I sat up against a maple tree, took in the view. Before me was a swampy area that went out about a hundred yards. To my right was a steep and narrow rise, with a stone outcropping that overlooked the swampy area, maybe ten or fifteen feet high.
I closed my eyes. In my memory, the swamp is gone. Instead there is a wide and very, very deep abandoned rock quarry. Once, rock from this quarry had built foundations, bridges, and buildings up and down New England. When work stopped in the 1950s, streams and rainwater filled the quarry, making a rectangular, man-made lake, as well as an incredible attraction for teenage boys and girls to go swimming and diving.
There were three places to jump from. The lowest ledge was about ten feet above the murky waters and was called Rook. The next one was about thirty feet higher and about fifteen feet to the right, and was called Bishop. The third was called King, and was about seventy feet above the quarry and another twenty or so feet to the right. Only the bravest of the brave ever jumped from King.
I opened my eyes. That near stone outcropping was King and now it didn’t look very threatening, overlooking a swamp. From what I heard, years back, town officials from the area communities that bordered the quarry got tired of the drinking, hell raising, and other bad things that happened here, and they used rocks and dirt from area work projects to fill it up.
Now there was nothing here, save the swamp, trees, rocks, and memories.
A rock moved. A branch snapped. Footsteps were coming up behind me. I turned, feeling very aware of my situation, my skin tingling, and a police officer came up the overgrown trail. He was in his late twenties, quite fit, black hair cut short, equipment jangling and jingling on his wide leather belt. He had on sunglasses that were pushed up over his forehead. His name tag said sinclair.
“Hey,” he said.
He put his thumbs in his belt, surveyed the situation. “Took a run up the dirt road. Saw your Buick. You see all those ‘No Trespassing’ signs down by the parking lot, the ones hanging from the fence?”
“The ones next to ‘Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted’?”
I said, “Nope, didn’t notice them at all.”
He grinned. “Seriously, what are you doing up here, sir?”
“I grew up here.” I waved in the direction of the swamp. “I used to come here as a kid, when there was a quarry. Lots of swimming, diving, kids hanging out.”
The cop nodded. “Plus underage drinking, fights, other bad stuff. Don’t see the attraction, really.”
I smiled at the polite young man. “Two attractions. One, when it was really, really hot in the summer, this was the closest place to get a swim. Otherwise you had to take a bus or beg a ride to the county pool, about a half-hour away.”
“And what was the second attraction?”
“It was forbidden.” That caused the cop’s smile to get wider. “Get it?”
“I do,” he replied. “And you’re here today, just catching up?”
“That’s right. Just wanted to see how it looked since it’s been filled in.”
Sinclair looked left and then right. “Were you around when it was filled in?”
First uneasy question of the day. “No. I was out of state. You?”
He shrugged. “Just a kid. I remember that something very, very bad happened here. Then the dump trucks started rolling in. True?”
I waited a moment before answering. “Yeah, something very, very bad happened here.”
“Sounds like a hell of a story,” the cop said.
The young cop rubbed at his chin. “Care to share it?”
“You got time?” I asked.
He laughed. “What, you think crime is a problem in this town?”
So I started.
The name’s Hank Kelleher, and I was seventeen that summer. And that’s when my fifteen-year-old sister Kara got into trouble. Not that kind of trouble, thank God, but over supper one night Mom had pressed my sister Kara about why she was dating Dev Cullen. “You know he’s just a bad sort,” Mom said, as she slapped dollops of mashed potatoes on the chipped white plates we used, next to the freshly made Hamburg steak. “He and his father Patrick and his damn uncle Blackie. Crooks, all of them. You stay away from him.”
Kara winked at me and I stared down at my plate, not wanting to get involved. Kara said, “Come on, Ma, he’s not that bad. Besides, he takes good care of me.”
Mom sat heavily down in her own chair, tired from being on her feet all day as a bank teller. Dad’s chair was empty. It had been empty for more than eight years. She unfolded a paper napkin and spread it across her lap. “Takes good care of you, hunh. The only reason he wants to do anything for you is so he can do anything he wants to you.”
Kara said, innocence in her voice, “What do you mean by that?”
Mom’s eyes flashed at her. “You know what I mean . . . the way you young’uns dress nowadays. If your father was still alive . . .”
There was a time when those few words would have made me and my sister shut right up, and in Kara’s case, cause her eyes to tear. But it was all different now, as she grew older and developed and started wearing racier clothes. She even mouthed off to Mom more often, and I tried to stay out of the way. Even though I was the older brother, Kara pretty much ignored me.
We started eating, keeping quiet, and as I helped pick up the dishes when we were finished, Mom said, “You stay away from that boy, you understand?”
Kara just smirked, went up to her room. Mom and I did the dishes and while I was drying, there was a honk of a car horn outside, and Kara ran out, saying, “By-Mom-later!” all in one word.
“That girl,” she said to me, shaking her head. “That girl. If only your father was here . . . you know, that boy’s in your school. Can’t you do something?”
I took a plate and kept on drying, kept my mouth shut, wished I was in my bedroom, reading or listening to the radio. We could only afford one television in our house.
“Mom . . . he goes to a different part of the school. Mechanical arts, stuff like that. I really don’t run into him that much.”
She slammed open a drawer that held the forks, knives, and spoons. “You should do something. You’re the older brother, Hank. Look out for your younger sister.”
Later that night, up in my bedroom, I tried to read a Spiderman comic book and then listen to an old shortwave radio that sometimes brought in Moscow or Beijing if the atmospherics were right. But nothing seemed to catch my attention. It was warm and I wasn’t tired, and my eyes kept on looking over at a little framed black-and-white photo on my crowded bookcase. My dad, staring at the camera, looking pretty tough and cocky, big grin and thick black moustache. It was taken back in 1973, and he had on the uniform of an army sergeant, back when he was stationed outside of Saigon. A few weeks after the photo was taken, he had gone out on a patrol, helping out a friend of his, and stepped on a land mine.
My dad. I didn’t have that many memories of him. The bristles on his face when I kissed him goodnight. The smell of his pipe tobacco. And when he had left, him holding me in his arms, saying, “Hank, you’re the big guy now. I’m counting on you to help your mom and sis. Can I count on you? Hank, can I count on you?”
I don’t remember answering him. I think I played with his tie or something.
Then the words came out, looking at his photo.
“Dad, you can count on me.”
I stayed up until I heard my sister come up the stairs. Mom’s bedroom was on the first floor, and ours were on the second, separated by a tiny landing. I opened the door just as she got there, and I said, “Does Mom know how late you are?”
She turned and flashed her eyes at me. “What, you gonna rat on me?” Her face was flushed, her blond hair messed up some, and there was dirt on her dungaree pants.
“No, I’m not gonna rat on you,” I said. “But Mom’s right. You should stay away from Dev.”
Kara opened her bedroom door. “Oh, for God’s sake, give it a rest, Hank.”
Then she shut the door in my face.
So much for being the older brother.
So much for Dad counting on me.
The next day I biked over to the quarry. It was hot and muggy, and the air was thick and still. I wore my bathing suit, a black T-shirt, and an old beach towel was draped over my shoulder. I pedaled up the dirt road, breathing hard, dust settling on my wrists, and then I got to the turnaround, where I dumped my bike against a pine tree. I walked up the trail to the top of the hill, hearing hoots, hollers, and the occasional splash, and the sound of rock music.
Up at the top there were about twenty or so kids, and I recognized most of them from either the neighborhood or from school. Two guys yelled a lot of swear words as they both took a running leap off of Bishop and did somersaults as they plunged down into the quarry water, the quick splashes popping up as they went in. Something funny and queasy seemed to settle into my gut as I watched them go in.
I had a hard enough time jumping off of Rook, never mind Bishop, and from where I was and where I stood, King looked as high as Mount Everest.
I scrambled down the far side of the quarry, kicking up dust and rocks. There was an old pine that stuck out at an angle, where some kids years ago had tied off a piece of rope for a rope swing. Kids were taking turns swinging out and falling in the water. At the bottom was a beach—okay, not really a beach, but a place where there was rough gravel—and I draped my towel over a boulder, kicked off my sneakers, and tossed off my shirt. I slid into the water, gasping at how damn cold it was.
I was a pretty good swimmer, but a lousy diver. The few times I was on Rook my knees would shake and I would have to force myself to take that jump. But in the flat water of the quarry, I was at home.
I swam laps along the rectangular water, staying to the near side. The far side was rougher and there were tales told of hidden boulders that would break your neck and caves that would suck you in and drown you. There was also a junkyard of sorts at the far corner. Over the years, guys from Quincy and Boston and Southie, after they had stolen cars for robbing banks or liquor stores, would dump them in the quarry over at the other side. Guys who lived around the quarry, they’d use the same place to dump old stoves, fridges, TVs, bedsprings, and any other junk that they didn’t want to cart to the local landfill and pay a price.
I paused after two laps, treading water, cooling off, and then the trouble started.
It started with some shouts, hoots, and hollers. I looked up at the edge of the quarry and saw Dev Cullen stroll over like he owned the damn place. He had on bluejeans, work boots, and his shirt was off, showing a bare, muscular chest and thick arms. He had a shamrock tattooed on one arm, and a mean-looking leprechaun tattooed on the other, and his bright red hair was cut short. He was smoking a cigarette and had three other guys tagging along, and he had his arm around my sister.
My sister Kara.
He held her close, like she was his property, and he took a drag from his cigarette and forced his mouth down onto Kara’s, kissing her hard and deep. It wasn’t one of those simple little pecks on the lips . . . no, this was brutish, primitive. Even at the distance I could see Kara’s face color, as her head was forced back.
My mouth grew dry.
Kara had on jean cut-off shorts and a black bikini top, and I had a quick memory of Mom and Kara last month fighting over what kind of bathing suits she was going to have. Mom thought she had won that battle, with Kara agreeing only to buy one-piece suits from Sears, but somewhere along the line, she must have gone behind Mom’s back and gotten a bikini.
Dev lifted his head up and then howled for a sec, like he was a proud wolf among a herd of sheep, and then he tossed his cigarette butt into the water.
It landed about six feet away from me.
I stopped treading water and swam back to where I had left my towel.
After drying off, I put my sneakers and shirt back on, and clambered up the side of the quarry. There was something different in the air, in the attitude of the other kids, after Dev Cullen and his friends had shown up. Most of the kids had scooted away, not wanting to be near Dev and his buds, but a couple of other guys, who hoped to be a part of whatever Dev was up to that day, came over a bit closer, hoping Dev would notice them. But whatever was going on, Dev was in the center.
I took my time walking up to him, and then Kara glanced over at me and lifted her hand, like she was trying to force me back. “Hank . . .” she started, and Dev turned his head.
“Hey!” he called out. “Older brother has stopped by to check things out. Supermarket boy, right? Hey supermarket boy . . . fetch my groceries . . . get a shopping cart for me, why don’t ya.”
I kept my mouth shut, part of me not believing I was really here. Dev added, “So what’s up, older brother?”
My chest was tight. I knew Dev from school but we weren’t in the same classes, didn’t do anything together. He definitely wasn’t in my circle—the debate team, the Key Club—and I was always happy to avoid him.
“Dev,” I said.
Close up, his skin was splotchy white, with lots of freckles, and even though we were the same age, there were these little lines about his eyes, like he squinted and laughed a lot before punching someone out.
“Hey, older brother knows my name, congrats,” he said.
“That’s right,” I said, swallowing hard, my hands feeling small and useless. “I know a lot about you, Dev. So . . . why don’t you leave my sister be, okay?”
Two of his buds started giggling, and Dev joined in, his arm tightening around my sister. Kara looked down at the ground, refused to look at me.
“Leave your sister be? Jeez, that sounds so goddamn formal. Tell you what, let’s ask your sister what she wants. Kara, you want me to leave? Do you? Hunh?”
“No, Dev,” she said, voice quiet.
“See?” he said, triumph in his voice. “I want to be here, she wants to be here . . . so there’s no problem . . . except you’re here. So get the hell out.”
If possible, my hands felt even more useless. “No.”
Dev’s eyes widened, not in anger but in amusement. “Really? What? You gonna make me?”
More smirks and giggles from Dev’s buds. “Dev, I want you—”
“I said, you gonna make me? Hunh?”
The hot flush of shame flared on my face. I think Dev noticed it because he next picked up a small rock, tossed it at me. It bounced off my chest.
I stayed quiet. Kara kept her face turned away.
Another rock hit me, harder. Dev said, “Get the hell out. Now. Before I hurt you for real.”
So I did, face still burning, and Dev pushed my sister away, strolled confidently to the edge of Bishop, and did a perfect dive into the cold dark waters of the quarry, howling with glee all the way down.
Late that night, Kara burst into my room. She spent at least five minutes or so chewing me out, using words that if Mom had heard, she would have grounded her until she reached college age. When she stopped to take a breath, I said, “What happened to your eye?”
She flipped her fingers up to her eye, where a good-sized shiner was developing. “Nothing.”
“Sure looks like something.”
“Well, if it’s something, it’s because you butted in where you don’t belong. So leave me and Dev alone.”
“Kara . . .”
She grabbed the door and I think she made to slam it, but instead she gently closed it.
Not to wake up Mom, I’m sure.
The next day Kara left a note on the breakfast table, saying she had to get to school early to help her friend Melanie with a late term paper, but I knew she didn’t want to show her black eye to Mom. I guess a good brother would have told Mom all about it, but I didn’t. I just ate my bowl of cereal as fast as I could and biked out to our regional high school, locking my bike on the outside rack with the rest of the losers who didn’t have their own car to drive.
My classes went by in a slow, dull grind, and when I had a study period, I went to our guidance counselor, a fussy middle-aged guy named Heywood Fowler, who had a thin blond moustache and loved wearing his hair long, and who tried desperately to keep up with whatever teen culture or fashion trend was going on. I didn’t have an appointment but that was fine—during our assemblies Mr. Fowler always said we were always welcome to “drop in” to his office.
He shook my hand, closed the door behind us, and when he sat down behind his desk, he stretched out, put his hands together over his belly. He had on a blue button-down shirt with some sort of multicolored necktie that he wore halfway down his chest, like he was trying to show how relaxed he was.
“Good to see you, Hank,” he said. “Any chance of you getting on the swim team before the semester’s out? They could really use you.”
“Afraid not,” I said. “My job at the supermarket . . . takes up most of my free time after school and on weekends.”
He frowned. “That’s too bad. A guy who swims like you should be able to try out for team sports. Well. How can I help you?”
So I told him the story—sort of—about how my sister was dating an older guy, and how this older guy was starting to beat on her, and how my sister was scared and I was scared and I didn’t know what to do.
Mr. Fowler took a lot of notes and said “mmm” a lot, and when I was done, he said, “Damn, I’m glad you came to see me, Hank. This is intolerable. There’s no way your sister should have to put up with this. Is this guy a student here?”
I nodded. He said, “Good. That means we can get the cops and the school system involved, truss him up so tight he’ll be so scared he won’t do a damn thing to your sister.”
I relaxed in the chair. It was going to work out. Kara was going to be fine. I was going to do my Dad proud.
He made a few more notes. “Okay, might as well get this officially started. Your sister’s full name?”
“Kara Anne Kelleher.”
Another nod. “Yep. Sophomore, isn’t she?”
I told him that, and then he said, “Her boyfriend’s name, the one who’s beating her up?”
The pen on the yellow legal pad stopped moving. “Dev Cullen?”
“His father’s Patrick Cullen, right?”
Mr. Fowler let out a slow whoosh of air, put the pen down, and leaned back in his chair. It squeaked, the noise very loud in the small office with motivational posters and piles of college catalogues. “Sorry, Hank, I don’t think I’ll be able to help you after all.”
“Why not?” I asked. “You just said you could get the cops and the school system involved, help my sister, truss him up tight.”
Above his moustache his face turned red. “That was before . . . I knew who he was.”
“That’s not right! That’s not fair!”
Mr. Fowler said, “Hank . . . you know how things are. You know about Patrick Cullen and what he’s done.”
By now I was so pissed off at Mr. Fowler I couldn’t think right, so I said, “No, I don’t know crap. What don’t you tell me?”
A big sigh from the previously happy guidance counselor. “C’mon, you know what it’s all about. Patrick Cullen, he owns Cullen’s Liquors. But he’s a connected guy. You never heard this from me but you know what that means. Numbers, drugs, loan-sharking, other crap like that. Runs his own little criminal enterprise on the other side of the tracks. You telling me that you haven’t read about that stuff in the newspapers?”
I shot right back at him, “I’m just a student, looking for some help for my sister. Between my work and schoolbooks, I don’t have time for newspapers.”
“Then make time for this. If you want to do something about Dev Cullen, go to the cops. But don’t be surprised if not much happens. Dev’s dad . . . he’s got a lot of juice in this town.”
I got up. “If he’s got juice, then you’ve got nothing, do you?”
“Just being real, Hank. That’s all.”
As I walked to the door, he said, “Oh, please, do me a favor?”
I couldn’t believe what he had just said. “What?”
He frowned. “If you do go to the cops . . . don’t mention my name, okay?”
I left his office without closing the door behind me.
When school was over, I had some time to kill before going to my supermarket job, and without really thinking it through, I wandered through the mostly empty hallways and found myself on the Vo-Tech side of the school. I felt out of time, out of sorts. There were odd smells and loud music and noises and the sound of machinery being used.
I found Dev and his buds in the automotive shop after following the signs. It was hard to believe what I saw belonged to the high school. Wide bays with cars and pickup trucks being worked on, garage doors open, and shelves of tools. Rock music was being played from a sound system and Dev was leaning against a tiled wall, casually smoking a cigarette underneath a NO SMOKING sign. Two of his buds were sitting on beat-up school chairs, and one nudged Dev when I got closer.
He smiled and took a deep drag from his cigarette. “Hey, it’s my girl’s big bruddah. Where’s your shopping cart? What’s up, big bruddah?”
It was like seconds flew by as I came right up to him. “You leave Kara alone.”
Another drag from his cigarette, and he blew smoke at my face. “Why should I? She’s a cute piece and—”
I moved closer and maybe he saw something in my face, or maybe he was just reacting automatically, but in one quick move he tossed his cigarette away and gave me a swift push to the chest with his hands.
I fell back and then swung at him, all of those movies and TV shows flowing through me and my arm flew out and—
# # #
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"Leap of Faith by Brendan DuBois, Copyright © 2015 with permission of the author.
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