Thornton Wilder once said, All good things must come to an end, while bad things can go on forever. I’m not sure either is an absolute; more than likely it depends on how we cherish the good and handle the bad. And, since we humans sometimes take the good times for granted, we might dwell more on the hardships we face. The thing I find most interesting about this is that if you hold good memories about someone or some period in your life, they usually spring to the front of your mind faster than the bad. Or, the bad doesn’t seem as bad when you look back at it from a more experienced perspective. Not an absolute here either, since you need to have had good experiences to create good memories. Bad memories have their own niche in our subconscious and can pop out to do more damage if we let them. The difference lies in how we deal with each.
Friendships are a bit more complicated if only because they involve people, not things. Emotions and events can go hand in hand here, the good cementing the good, the bad tearing apart the fabric of lives. We may meet a person only a few times but know that we’ll recognize them again in the future and pick up the relationship as if time had not passed more than one minute. We may know a person for years but never really know them at all because we only share one piece of their life. We may love our siblings but never be close friends or they may be our closest allies in life. We can’t always recognize the pitfalls of friendship just as we don’t always treasure the joys. We are sometimes not as good friends as we should be even though we expect our friends to be perfection itself. Friendship done right can be both painful and rewarding.
And where does Auld Lang Syne come in? Ah well, Mae will tell you that it’s about old friends, new friends, good times, and hope. It’s about drinking a toast to kindness and days gone by and looking to the future with friends, and with strangers who will become friends.
I kept me word to the bonny detective, pulled him over to the soup kitchen and let him settle in, taking care to introduce him to Drum. Me brother may not have been the steadiest man on the streets, but his gentility and kindness were held in respect by his cohorts. If he accepted Alex as homeless, they would too. That done, I wandered over to my child care partners and caught up on the doings of the wee ones and their parents. Next I looked, Alex was gone and Drum with him.
About a week later Drummond and I were walkin’ home from the kitchen, later than usual, full of stew and glad there’d been no more friends lost. It had been quiet and I hadn’t seen no police, (or me detective) either, but maybe there was no need. What talk there was on the streets hoped that could be the killer had just been passin’ through and moved on. The homeless are easy targets, but one too many dead vagrants can raise a flag. So, life edged back to what passed for normal in Townsend-Nestor. People were smilin’ again, not so edgy, and comin’ back to the oil can fires to warm up in the evenings.
We two were weary after havin’ put in a full day for the Father, so I didn’t think nothin’ when Drum mentioned he’d forgotten his hat at the table and insisted he had to go back for it. Some blather about needin’ it for yard work in the morning. I told him to go, I’d wait for him at the tents. It had been a bit since I checked on the wee ones anyway, and he promised to hurry. I was just chatting with one of the mums, the babies already asleep, when I heard a commotion back toward the street. Shouts, and people running through the rough grasses like to a fire. Then came the sirens.
I took my leave without even a goodbye and followed the ruckus, my eyes strainin’ to see in the weak moonlight. My pounding heart told me Drum was at the middle of it, but I could only push my way through the cluster of people gawking at several figures rolling frantically on the ground and hope I was wrong. Suddenly one of the forms jerked several times, body contorted in spasm after spasm until it fell limp into the weeds.
“Dear God,” I heard my voice screaming. “Drummond!” I would have thrown myself on the lifeless form if another figure hadn’t blocked me. A figure with a shield dangling on a cord from his neck, swingin’ against his ragged flannel shirt. Alex Morales.
“No, Mae.” He kept a grip on my arm. “Don’t.” He led me to one side, away from the body.
“But I have to. In case…” I bowed my head. If it was Drum lyin’ there I needed to know. “Me brother went back this way just a minute ago,” I stammered. “It could be him. So I need to see.” I wrenched away from the detective’s grasp and walked rapidly to the still figure. Alex followed me. When we reached the corpse, he shone his penlight on the face. Not Drummond. I was staring at the twisted features of the young reporter from earlier on. His gloved hand clutched a small balled up piece of gauze bandage. An irregular patch of wetness at the side of his neck glistened in the beam of light.
“Not my brother,” I said, stating the obvious. “But…” A reed-thin form rose from the ground not ten feet away. “Drum?”
My brother stumbled toward me, and even in the dim light I could see the pain and weariness on his lined face. I ran as fast as the tangle of my skirts allowed, almost crushing his ribs as I hugged him. “You scared the bejesus out of me,” I added in my sternest sisterly tone. “Don’t do it again.”
“Not his fault, Mae.” Alex again. “He just stumbled into it. The killer came up behind and grabbed him, but your brother fought back long enough for one of our other undercover guys to get here. The rest of us were close. We managed to pull Drum out of the fight and out of Fraser’s reach.”
“Aye, Mae, they did. The bastard tackled me, but I grabbed his arm and didna let it touch me. Maybe on the sleeve,” he pointed to a damp patch on the heavy flannel shirt he always wore, “but I think he musta hit himself or somethin’ during the bust-up. C’n we go? I’m tired.”
“Do ye need us for anything now, or can we talk in the morning?” I tightened one arm around Drum’s waist and felt him sag against me. “You need to get things done, you and those ‘other undercover guys’. And Drum is no good to you now.”
“Couldn’t tell you everything, Mae.” Alex shrugged. “But we need to get a statement from both of you. I’ll send Parsons over. It won’t take long. Then you can get your brother home. Of course,” he added with a smile, “I’ll be back tomorrow, getting some of McGinty’s famous coffee. And wrapping things up. Maybe I’ll see you then.” A uniformed officer called his name and he jogged off, leaving us to deal with Parsons.
I could tell you that it was all just the work of an evil man, but I’d be lyin’. According to Alex, the dead man with the camera was Cameron Fraser, same as I’d seen twice before. The few people who knew him talked about Fraser as a man on a mission. He seemed driven by the need to call attention to the dangers of being homeless, using his own pictures and his job on the paper to do that. When no one paid much attention, well, it seems he raised the stakes.
Alex told me he’d talked to Fraser’s mum. He discovered from her that Fraser’s older brother, a veteran of Afghanistan, had ended up on the streets. Unable to keep a job, and not willing to take his prescribed medication, he disappeared into the world of cardboard boxes and crowded shelters. Fraser, who never stopped searching, found him dead in an alley in Baltimore. His boots, the one reminder of his time as a soldier, had been stolen. His brother’s death probably sent him over the edge.Turned out the boots on the men Fraser killed were military issue too. Maybe he took them to replace the ones his brother lost. The coppers found them and a jug of distilled nicotine in his closet. Fraser can’t tell them now, but he must have loved his brother as much as I love mine. He just didn’t know how else to show it.
Drum and me are headin’ out again. South this time, before the New England winter gets too harsh. We’ll be tryin’ to find warmer quarters, thankful we’re still around to appreciate the opportunity. I’ll be missin’ the friends at Townsend-Nestor, and me bonny detective, but Drum is set to take off, and I follow as I always do. Maybe Florida, or maybe the Gulf Coast. There’s day work aplenty for those who are willing. That and a warm pot of tea in the evening are just the ticket. Auld Lang Syne, my friends.