The weekend after a brick had been thrown through VA’s front window I rode the Vespa back to campus and returned with my hunting rifle, a Winchester lever-action Model 94, chambered for a 30-30 round. I carried the Winchester in a faux-leather rifle case and most people assumed I was some sort of musician.
Over the next few weeks the boys and I put on a show of force for any creeps that might have been thinking about attacking us. Roughly twelve hours a day we patrolled the VA property, carrying the Winchester over our shoulders and looking for trouble. The boys loved this partly because it allowed them to pretend they were soldiers, but mostly because it got them out of school when it was their turn to pull guard duty.
Rich Bolotin, who ran VA, had always done his best to calm people in the Northeast Kingdom down about VA, attending meetings with anyone who would have him: town councils, Kiwanis Clubs, whatever. But now at every meeting he would act terribly worried about what the boys at VA were up to, and especially about what his “hyperviolent Supervisor of Male Residents” was up to.
Rich would wring his hands anxiously and say he didn’t blame the Residents for wanting to protect themselves, but that he hoped the boys would eventually calm down, stop carrying those dangerous rifles around, and, horror of horrors, not shoot anybody.
But it was a complete charade, orchestrated mainly by Rich. We only had one rifle and it wasn’t even loaded because Rich wouldn’t let me buy any cartridges for it. But the creeps got the message anyway and stayed away – VA suffered no more attacks, at least until the hyperviolent Supervisor of Male Residents took his hunting rifle and went back to college.
One afternoon Eddie was patrolling the VA property line out by the road and Meg and I were watching from the swing under the oak tree. I checked my watch and called out, “Your shift’s over, Eddie, time to go back to school!”
Eddie had been marching along smartly, but now he shuffled back to the swing looking like he’d just lost the Battle of the Bulge. “Do I gotta?” he said.
“You gotta,” I said, reaching for the rifle.
While Eddie slouched off toward the schoolhouse I leaned the rifle against the oak tree and said to Meg, “Can I count on you to keep VA safe while I answer a call of nature?”
I was on my way back but had stopped at the kitchen sink for a drink of water when Meg called, “Greg?” Then, “Greg!”
I hastened outside and followed Meg’s gaze out toward the road. A huge black car was parked there facing south, just alongside VA’s yard. I couldn’t have been more surprised if a flying saucer had just landed there.
As Meg and I stared at the car the front window glided smoothly down – automatic windows weren’t yet common – and an arm stuck itself out and beckoned us over. I turned to Meg and said, “Wait here. If they plug me, call the cops.”
When I reached the big car I got more surprises. The driver was a chauffeur in full uniform – he had his hands on the wheel and his eyes on the road and was ostentatiously not eavesdropping on any conversations.
The guy who’d beckoned me over was wearing an expensive-looking three-piece suit with a watch fob. He said, “Hello, there! May I ask what the place is?” I told him and he nodded. Then he craned his neck to look past me at the pretty girl standing near the swing. “That your wife?” he asked.
“Not yet, but I’m working on it.”
He nodded again and said, “I’m afraid we might be lost. We’re trying to get to a town called Island Pond.”
I’d been to the weirdly-named Island Pond once – shouldn’t it have been Pond Island? – it was a little place way out in the far reaches of the Northeast Kingdom. And since the Northeast Kingdom was itself way out in the far reaches of the earth, Island Pond was really out there.
I’d gotten to Island Pond by taking a dirt road northeast off Route 5A, but it was hard to picture this car – I could now see it was a Cadillac – bumping along that rutted and dusty track. I therefore told the guy they needed to drive almost up to West Charleston and take the paved road over.
The guy twisted around in his seat and conferred in some foreign language with the passenger in the back. I hadn’t noticed the passenger because the Cadillac’s windows were darkly tinted, but now I could see that he looked like an Eastern Orthodox Patriarch, with his long black beard, although he was wearing a business suit.
The guy in the front thanked me and asked if there was a nearby place to eat. “My client,” he said, “is hungry.”
His client! The nearest restaurants were in Orleans, but that was in the wrong direction, so I told the guy they’d have to drive all the way up to Derby. “But if you’re hungry,” I said, “I could make you a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”
A loud roar of laughter came from the back seat – I guess the patriarch could understand some English.
The three-piece suit chuckled and said, “Thank you, but I think we’ll pass,” and the window cruised smoothly back up. The Cadillac executed a stately K-turn in the road and headed north.
When Rich got back that evening, Meg and I excitedly told him about our visitors in the big black car. “I know,” Rich said, “everybody’s talking about it. You don’t see that many chauffeur-driven cars up here in the Kingdom.”
I told Rich they were headed to Island Pond and were hungry, so I’d offered to fix them some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Rich burst out laughing.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
Rich slapped his hand on the desk, now laughing almost uncontrollably. “You just offered a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” he said, “to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn!”
Next up: VA, Part 13
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