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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Parker, Robert B., 1932-
Chasing the bear : a young Spenser novel / Robert B. Parker. p. cm.
Summary: Spenser reflects back to when he was fourteen years old and how he
helped his best friend Jeannie when she was abducted by her abusive father.
[1. KidnappingâFiction. 2. Child abuseâFiction. 3. FriendshipâFiction.
4. BulliesâFiction.] I. Title. PZ7.P2346Ch 2009 [Fic]âdc22
eISBN : 978-1-101-03283-1
For Joanie: The One
I was sitting with the girl of my dreams on a bench in the Boston Public Garden watching theswan boats circle the little lagoon. Tourists fed the ducks peanuts from the boats and theducks followed them.
"It's a nice place," Susan said, "isn't it, to sit and do nothing."
"I'm not doing nothing," I said. "I'm being with you."
"Of course," she said.
The swan boats were propelled by young men and women who sat in the back of the boat andpedaled. The exact appeal of the swan boats had always escaped me, though I too felt it andhad, upon occasion, gone for a ride with Susan.
We were quiet and I could feel her looking at me.
"What?" I said.
"I was just thinking how well I know you, and how close we are, and yet there are parts of you,parts of your life, that I know nothing about."
"Like?" I said.
"Like what you were like as a kid; it's hard to imagine you as a kid."
"Even though you have often suggested that I am still a kid, albeit overgrown?"
"That's different," Susan said.
"I simply can't picture you growing up out there in East Flub-a-dub."
"Your geography has never been good," I said.
"Where was it?" Susan said.
"West Flub-a-dub," I said.
"I stand corrected," she said. "What was life like in West Flub-a-dub?"
"Where should I start, Doctor?"
"I know your mother died right before you were born by cesarean section. And I know you wereraised by your father and your mother's two brothers."
"We had a dog too," I said.
"I think I knew that as well," Susan said. "Her name was Pearl, was it not, which is why we'venamed our dogs Pearl?"
"German shorthairs should be named Pearl," I said. "So what else would you like to know?"
"There must be more you can tell me than that," Susan said.
"You think?" I said.
"I think," Susan said. "Talk about yourself."
"My favorite topic," I said. "Anything special?"
"Tell me about what comes to your mind," she said. "That will sort of tell us what you think isimportant."
"Wow," I said. "Being in love with a shrink is not easy."
"But well worth the effort," Susan said.
"Well," I said.
Susan leaned back on the bench and waited.
My father and my uncles were carpenters and shared a house. They all dated a lot, but myfather never remarried, and my uncles didn't get married until I left the house. So for megrowing up it was an all-male household except for a female pointer named Pearl.
Parents' Day at school was a sight. They'd come, the three of them, all over six feet, all morethan two hundred pounds, all of them hard as an axe handle. They never said a word. Just satthere in the back of the room, with their arms folded. But they always came. All three.
My father boxed and so did my uncles. They'd pick up extra money boxing at county fairs andsmokers. They began to teach me as soon as I could walk. And until I could take care of myself,they took care of me . . . pretty good.
Once when I was ten, I went to the store for milk and coming home, I passed a saloon named TheDry Gulch. Couple of drunks were drinking beer on the sidewalk. They said something, and I gavethem a wise guy answer, so they took my milk away and emptied it out. One of them gave me akick in the butt and told me to get on home.
When I got home, I told my uncle Cash, who was the only one there. One of them was alwaysthere. Cash asked me if I was all right. And I said I was. He asked me if I might have been alittle mouthy. I said I might have been. Cash grinned.
"I'm amazed to hear that," Cash said.
"But I didn't say anything real bad."
"Course you didn't," Cash said.
"One of them kicked me," I said.
"I'll keep that in mind," he said. "And when Patrick and your father come home, we'llstraighten things out."
When they got home, Cash and I told them about what happened. Patrick and my father and Cashall exchanged a look, and my father nodded.
Patrick said, "If you saw him again, could you point out the guy who kicked you?"
"Sure," I said.
"Let's go down and take a look," my father said.
So all of us, including the dog, went down to The Dry Gulch and walked in.
"Sorry, pal," the bartender said to my father. "Can't bring that dog in here."
My father said to me, "See any of the people that gave you trouble?"
"Which ones?" my father said.
"You hear me?" the bartender said. "No dogs."
There were six guys drinking beer together at a big round table. I pointed out two of them. Myfather nodded and picked me up and sat me on the bar.
"Which one kicked you?" he said.
"The one in the red plaid shirt," I said.
My father looked at Patrick.
"You want him?" my father said.
"I do," Patrick said.
"Yours," my father said.
"Mister," the bartender said. "Maybe you don't hear me. Get that dog out of here . . . and getthe damn kid off the bar."
Without even looking at him, my father said, "Shut up."
Pearl sat down in front of the bar near my feet. All the men at the round table were staring atus. My two uncles walked over and leaned against the wall, near the round table. Patrick waslooking at the man in the red plaid shirt.
My father walked over to the round table.
"You," he said to one of the men. "Step out here."
"What's your problem?" the man said.
"I don't have a problem," my father said, "you do, and it's me."
"That kid been crybabying about me?" the man said.
"That kid is my son," my father said. "The gentlemen leaning on the wall are his uncles. We'rehere to kick your ass."
The man looked at his five friends and stood up.
"Yeah?" he said.
They all stood up. My father hit the man and the fight started. Pearl and I stayed quiet,watching. Behind me, I heard the bartender calling the police.
By the time the cops arrived, both the men who had teased me were out cold on the floor. The
man in the red plaid shirt was lying outside on the sidewalk. I don't quite know how thathappened, except that my uncle Patrick had something to do with it. The other three guys were
sitting on the floor looking woozy.
The cop in charge, a sergeant named Travers, knew my father.
"Sam," he said. "You mind telling me what you boys're doing?"
"They harassed my kid on the street, Cecil," my father said. "Stole his milk."
Travers nodded and looked at the bartender.
"I believe I been telling you, Tate," he said, "to keep the drunks inside the saloon."
"They got no call to come in here and beat up my customers," the bartender said.
"Well," Travers said. "They got some call. Your kid gets bothered by a couple drunks, you gotsome call."
He looked around the room and then at my father.
"Maybe not this much call," he said. "Probably gonna get fined, Sam."
"Worth the money," my father said.
"Known it was you three," he said, "I'd have brought more backup."
"Ain't supposed to bring no dog in here either," the bartender said. "Board of Health rule."
"We'll go hard on them 'bout that," Travers said.
My father came over and took me off the bar.
"Probably have to appear in court to pay the fine," Travers said.
"Lemme know," my father said.
He walked toward the door. Pearl and I followed him. My uncles closed in behind us.
And we left.
"How come he didn't arrest you?" I said to my father when we got home.
"Known Cecil most of my life," my father said.
"But wasn't it against the law?" I said. "What you did?"
"There's legal," my father said, "and there's right. Cecil knows the difference."
"And what you did was right," I said.
"Yep. Cecil would have done it too."
"How you supposed to know that what you're doing is right?" I said.
"Ain't all that hard," my uncle Patrick said. "Most people know what's right. Sometimes they
can't do it."
"Or don't want to," Cash said.
"But how do you know?" I said.
My father sat back and thought a minute.
"You can't know," he said. "But you think about it before you do it, if you got time, and then
you trust yourself."
"How 'bout if you don't have time to think and you done it and it was wrong?" I said.
"Did it," my father corrected me.
He was a bear for me saying things right. Even when he didn't always say it right himself. When
he wasn't around, I talked like all the other kids talked, and I think my father knew that. As
long as I knew how to talk right, then I could choose.
"Sometimes you make a mistake," he said. "Everybody does."
"It sounds too hard," I said. "How do I know I can trust myself?"
"It'll be pretty much instinct," my father said. "If you been raised right."
"How do I know I'm being raised right?" I said.
My father looked at my uncles. All three of them smiled.
"None of us knows that," my father said.
I nodded. It was a lot to think about.
"How 'bout, what's right is what feels good afterwards," my father said. "It's in a book, by afamous writer."
My father wasn't educated. Neither were my uncles. And they didn't know what they were supposedto read. So they read everything. Not long after I was born, my father bought a secondhand setof great books, bound in red leather, and he and Patrick and Cash used to take turns reading tome every night before bed. None of them had any idea what was considered appropriate for alittle kid. They just took turns plowing on through the classics of Western literature in half-hour chunks every night. I didn't understand most of it, and I was bored with a lot of it. ButI loved my father and my uncles, and I liked getting their full attention.
" Were you scared?" Susan said. "After the fight in the barroom?"
"No," I said. "I was never scared with them."
"And you felt important to them," Susan said.
The swan boats, escorted by ducks, moved slowly around the small lagoon, under the smallbridge, around the other small lagoon, and back.
"Much of what you know," Susan said, "you learned at home."
"Where you felt safe."
"With people who loved you," Susan said.
"And they took turns," Susan said. "Reading to you and all."
"They took turns with everything," I said. "So none of them got ground down, so to speak, bybeing the only parent."
"And all of them trusted each other to look out for you," Susan said.
"Did you like the books they read to you?" Susan asked.
"I guess," I said. "Sometimes I remember something and understand it in retrospect."
"Probably better than you would if it had been taught to you in school."
"Remember the Paul Simon song?" I said.
Susan smiled and sang. Badly.
" âWhen I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think atall.' "
"How come someone as perfect as you can't sing a lick?" I said.
"It's the flaw that highlights perfection," Susan said.
"Like a beauty mark," I said.
"Exactly," she said.
A squirrel darted toward us and stopped hopefully.
"Do you have anything to give him?" Susan said.
"Sorry," Susan said.
The squirrel lingered until it was clear we were a waste of time. Then he darted off.
"So it wasn't all about being tough guys," Susan said to me.
"It was never all about being tough guys," I said. "It was more about knowing what to do. Theywere big on knowing how to do what you needed to do. Read, fish, hunt, fight, carpenter, cook."
"Better to know than not know," Susan said.
I grinned. "They taught me about sex, quite early too."
"And well," Susan said.
They'd read to me after supper.
Before supper, every other day, one of them boxed with me. They would put on the mitts and letme hammer away with one of them, my father or one of my uncles, calling out the punches.
"Left jab, jab, right cross, left jab. Jab. Jab. Left hook to the head . . . left hook to thebody . . . right uppercut . . . hammer punch off the uppercut . . . right back fist."
The workout was exhausting, but it got me in shape pretty quick.
"Too many bullies in the world," Patrick used to say. "It's good to know what you're doing."
I liked the boxing. I was an energetic kid and they were all careful not to hurt me. And Iliked the feeling that I might win a fight if I had one.
"This has got nothing to do with pushing people around," my father used to say. "This is allabout a sound mind in a strong body. It's about being as complete as you can be, you know?"
I sort of knew.
"And were you able to make use of your sex education?" Susan said.
"Nowhere near as soon as I wanted to," I said.
"But you had girlfriends," Susan said.
"I guess," I said. "Once I asked my father why he never got married again. âYour mother was theone,' he told me. âI met her early and lost her early. But I was with her for a while. I nevermet anyone else who was the one.' "
"But he dated a lot," Susan said.
"Sure," I said. "He liked women. He just never loved another one."
"So while you're growing up out west someplace and Susan Silverman nee Hirsch is growing up inSwampscott, Massachusetts, you're waiting to meet her?"
"Something like that."
"That's crazy," Susan said.
"I know," I said.
"But you believe it still," Susan said.
"Can't not," I said.
"Given my first marriage," Susan said, "I'd have been better off to wait for you."
Some pigeons came by to see if we were feeding anyone. We weren't and they waddled off. Theyshould have checked with the squirrel.
"Your uncles feel deeply about her?"
"My mother? Yeah. In a different way they loved her as much as my father had."
"And you were her legacy."
"But you had girlfriends, before me," Susan said.
"Hell," I said. "I had to keep looking. I didn't even know your name."
Jeannie Haden wasn't my girlfriend. She was a girl who was my friend. We spent a lot of timetogether. Things were bad at home for her. Her mother and father were getting divorced, andthey fought all the time. Jeannie was scared of her father. She only went home when she had to.
"He's so mean," she used to say. "So mean."
She told me once her father had a bunch of places, "hideouts," she called them, scattered alongthe river, on islands. He didn't own the land. He just patched together some shacks here andthere that he could go to and drink or whatever.
"He'd go there and get drunk and sometimes bring women there," Jeannie said. "I heard my motherand him fighting about it. So I snuck out and looked once. I was scared all the time. If hecaught me, I don't know what he woulda done. But I had to see."
"Mighta depended on how drunk he was," I said.
"He's pretty drunk a lot," Jeannie said.
"I know," I said.
"Everybody in town knows," she said.
"I guess they do," I said.
"But they don't know about the hideouts," she said. "The one I saw was a filthy, stinky place.I don't know what kind of woman would go there."
"The kind that would go out with your pop, I guess."
"Ick," she said.
"Your mother liked him," I said. "She married him."
"She was pregnant with me," Jeannie said. "I think he was kind of handsome then."
"She must have liked him some, you know, to get pregnant," I said.
"Well, sure," Jeannie said.
"She his girlfriend at the time?" I said.
"Well, she wasn't a one-night stand, if that's what you're thinking," Jeannie said.
"I'm not thinking anything."
"My mother tries very hard," Jeannie said.
"I know she does," I said. "I didn't mean to say anything bad."
"I know," she said. "Poor Momma."
"She ever talk to you about it?"
"Then how do you know?" I said.
"I know when they were married," Jeannie said. "And I know when I was born." I nodded. "And it was him?" Jeannie was outraged. "You think my mother was a slut?" "Just asking," I said. "Patrick says you don't ask questions, you don't get answers." "The hell with him," Jeannie said. I shrugged. "Well, my mother wasn't sexing around, if that's what you're thinking." "I wasn't thinking," I said. "I was just wondering. I mean, wouldn't you be glad to find out he
wasn't your father?" She started to cry.
"Not what you had hoped for," Susan said. "In those days," I said, "I knew less about why women cried." "And now?" "I understand why men and women cry," I said. "The advantage of maturity," Susan said. "Being young is hard," I said. "Being grown is not so easy either," Susan said. "But it's easier," I said. She nodded. We were quiet for a moment. Then Susan said, "You hunted." "Sure," I said. "We all did." "You don't hunt now," Susan said. "No," I said. "Because you disapprove?" I shrugged. "When we hunted, we hunted for meat," I said. "It was a way to feed ourselves. Had a vegetable
garden too, and in the fall we'd preserve stuff for the winter. We were pretty self-
sufficient." Susan smiled. "How surprising," she said. "I liked self-sufficient," I said. Susan smiled again, wider. "I've always suspected that," she said. "Are you making sport of me?" I said. "Yes." "I figured that right out," I said. "I know," Susan said. "You're a detective . . . So the hunting wasn't just for fun." "Not so much," I said. "Although it often was fun. Especially bird hunting. I liked working in
the woods with the dog."
"Did you train her to hunt?" Susan said.
"No. It's probably genetic. They range like that and come back, without any training. Andthey'll point birds without training. But they have to be taught to hold the point. Otherwisethey'll just rush in on the bird and flush it before you're ready. Before she was trained,Pearl would occasionally get one and kill it."
"Why not just let her do that? Kill them for you instead of shooting them?"
"It's harder on the bird, for one thing, and by the time you get there, the dog's got it halfeaten."
"Was it ever scary?" she said.
"Pheasants rarely turn on you."
"I mean, did you ever get lost or anything?" she said.
"Me? Pathfinder?" I said. "No, I didn't. I'd been in the woods all my life. Besides, the dogalways knew how to get home."
"Did you shoot anything else?" Susan said.
"Sure, antelope, elk, deer, nothing dangerous unless it fell on you."
"Never anything dangerous?" Susan said.
"Ran into a bear once," I said.
"No, a black bear, big enough, 150 pounds maybe, bigger than I was, for sure."
We were bird hunting, my father, and me, and the dog, in an old apple orchard that hadn't beenfarmed in maybe fifty years. You had to go through bad cover to get there: brambles and smallalder that were clumped together and tangled. My father was about thirty yards off to theright, and the dog was out ahead, ranging the way they do and coming back with her tonguelolling out and her tail erect, checking in, and then swinging back out.
All of a sudden I heard the dog barkâhalf bark, half growl, kind of hystericalâand she cameloping back, stopping and turning every few yards to make her hysterical bark/growl, and thenshe reached me and stood with her front legs stiff and her tail down and her ears flattenedback as much as long ears can flatten. She stood there and growled and the hair along her spinestood up. Must be a hell of pheasant, I thought. And then I saw what had spooked her. It was ablack bear and he had been eating the fallen apples in the abandoned orchard. The apples hadprobably fermented in his stomach. Because he was clearly drunk. He was standing upright,swaying a little. The dog was going crazy, growling and whining, and the bear was grunting. Ihad bird shot in my shotgun. It might have annoyed the bear. But it certainly wouldn't havestopped him. But I didn't have anything else, and I was pretty sure if we ran, the bear wouldchase us. And bears can run much faster than people. And I didn't know what the dog would do.
So I stood with my shotgun leveled, hoping that maybe, if he charged and I hit him in the face,it would make him turn. The dog was going crazy, dashing out a few feet and barking andsnarling and running back to lean hard against my leg. Everything seemed to move very slowly.
And then my father was beside me. He hadn't made any noise coming. Later he told me he heardthe dog and from the way she sounded, he was pretty sure it was a bear. He had a shotgun too,but it was no better than what I had. But he also had a big old .45 hog leg of a revolver thathe always carried in the woods. He took it out and cocked it and we stood. The bear dropped toall fours and snorted and grunted and dipped its head and stared at us awhile. Then it turnedaround and left.