Victor Lipscomb saw Doreen Swenson for the first time the night Doreen brought her senior prom to a halt with a public display of frowning. Victor, having finished his junior year at the University of Maine, was filling in on trumpet for Mel Goldman and the Melody Kings during the busy prom season. That gave him a front-row seat on the proceedings when Doreen was one of the three girls chosen to be an attendant to the prom queen at the high school in Center Harbor. After the queen and her "court" had mounted the platform across from the bandstand, a photographer with his camera on a tripod stepped forward and spent a moment lining the girls up for the photo he would take. When everyone was properly arranged to his satisfaction, the photographer placed his head under a black cloth and prepared to shoot the picture, but a few seconds later, he suddenly whipped the cloth away. The photographer, at the last second, had noticed that Doreen was not smiling. Now, holding the cloth in his hand, and addressing the girls, he announced his refusal to take the photo until Doreen gave him a big smile.
Even though she had delicate features and large, dark blue eyes, Doreen’s habitual expression, straight on and unblinking, had the hint of a frown in it, more so because of the faint shadow that seemed to hover above her eyebrows when she didn’t smile than the very slight downturn of her mouth. But with a smile—and this was something the photographer must have sensed—the shadow above Doreen’s eyebrows disappeared, and her face, dimpled, took on greater definition. For some reason, a smile also caused Doreen to elevate her chin slightly.
That night, however, when Doreen was being asked to smile on cue, she seemed unable to do so. The photographer, determined to outwait her, stood stiffly beside his camera. During this standoff , Victor, who hadn’t noticed Doreen until then, had this overpowering urge to wrap her in his arms, if for no other reason than to shield her from all the people who were staring at her and waiting, none too patiently, for her to smile.
Nearby, a group of students had begun yelling out advice that was supposed to bring a smile to Doreen’s face. Say cheese, they yelled. Another group said, say money. Still, Doreen simply couldn’t manage a smile, not even when one boy, taller than the rest and with a deep voice yelled out, sex, say sex. The boy who tried to coax Doreen into smiling by saying, sex, was Lester Markey, Doreen’s date for the prom. Markey’s encouragement caused the prom queen and her other attendants to begin giggling, and finally, when they recovered their composure, Doreen broke into a small grin.
Even then, Doreen’s grin was wary and guarded, almost as if she were peeking around the corner of a building, but it was enough to satisfy the photographer. He quickly ducked his head under the black cloth and snapped the photo. A cheer went up from the students and Mel Goldman pumped both fists above his head, once, twice, three times, and the orchestra, with Victor’s trumpet leading the way, responded with the kind of crescendo that usually accompanies the climactic scene in a Hollywood epic.
Victor never did get to speak to Doreen that night, even though he had searched for her when the orchestra took a short break. Later, at the end of the prom, he had a brief chat with the prom queen who gave him Doreen’s phone number. Three days later, when Victor called Doreen, her father—or some man who had a phlegmy voice—said that Doreen had already left for Kennebunkport to work as a waitress. No, he didn’t know the name of the restaurant where Doreen was working. Check back here after Labor Day, he added. She should be home by then.
Victor remembered to call Doreen soon after Labor Day, but this time, the same man, still trying to clear his throat, said that Doreen had left the day before for Boston. She’s gone off to the nursing school at Massachusetts General Hospital, the man added. Without Victor asking, the man then gave him the phone number of the nursing school’s dormitory.
Two nights later, when Victor phoned the dormitory, the young woman who answered said she would call Doreen to the phone. Victor actually heard the young woman yell Doreen’s name several times, but five minutes later, when Doreen hadn’t come to the phone, Victor hung up. He called two other times and left his name and a short message, even inviting Doreen to call him back collect, but he never heard from her. The last time Victor tried to reach Doreen, he called the Center Harbor number during Christmas vacation, but the operator said that phone was no longer in service.
Victor would have tried to contact Doreen again when he graduated but a month after he was out of college—it was June l966—he was drafted. Victor then spent a good part of the next two years in Germany, staring through binoculars at East German border guards who were, in turn, staring back at him. Back home, Victor, who had always been an avid hiker, went to a family picnic at which he met his great aunt’s new husband, a retired fish and game warden from New Hampshire. Victor and his new relative quickly discovered that they shared a common interest in their love of the outdoors. The former fish and game warden said he had had a job he enjoyed so much that he would have worked for no pay and Victor described to him the unforgettable times he had each summer hiking through the wilderness areas of northern Maine with his grandfather. By the end of the afternoon, the fish and game warden urged Victor to apply for a position with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. He even promised to put in a good word for him with some of his former colleagues. Victor applied to the Fish and Game Department, and a month later, after taking a battery of tests and going through three long interviews, Victor was given a provisional appointment as deputy to the fish and game warden in Sherburne. The warden he was assigned to was responsible for the entire northern tip of New Hampshire.
Two years later, when the game warden decided to retire, he did so, in part, because he came to think of Victor as an ideal replacement. In recommending Victor’s promotion, the game warden wrote, "I know that Mr. Lipscomb maintains an apartment in Sherburne, where he presumably goes to sleep, shower and change his clothes, but I’ll be damned if I’ve been able to figure out when he finds time to do any of those things. If Mr. Lipscomb isn’t on patrol, he’s visiting a school or speaking to a civic group or lending a hand to any number of worthwhile causes throughout this area. He does all that, besides writing a column, Wilderness Notes, which appears each week in the Sherburne Enterprise. In his official capacity, and through his civic involvement, he has won the respect of people who generally have little affection for anyone whose job it is to enforce laws related to hunting and fishing."
Victor was named interim game warden, but his appointment became permanent a year later, after he devised a new method for finding hunters who were lost. Victor’s invention was a loud horn modeled on the civil defense siren located on the roof of the Sherburne fire station. A similar device, Victor concluded, if taken to a spot, where the lost hunter had entered the woods, might provide an aural "fix" that helped lead the hunter to safety.
Victor assembled his device by borrowing an air compressor from a contractor he knew. He then wrangled from the Fish and Game Department a pickup truck that was headed for the junkyard. A machinist friend helped him mount the compressor onto the back of the truck and installed the timing mechanism that caused the horn to emit, at one-minute intervals, a blast that lasted 20 seconds. The machinist also fashioned the very large megaphone attached to the top of the compressor. The sound produced by Victor’s device was more like a fog horn than a siren.
Victor used the horn/siren for the first time in l970. Two weeks into the deer hunting season he received a call from two hunters who reported that their companion was missing. The call came in at 6:00 p.m. which would have meant that Victor had to wait until dawn before he could lead a search party into the woods to find the lost hunter. But within an hour Victor, in his pickup truck, had met the lost hunter’s companions at an agreed-upon spot two miles north of the road leading to McNiff’s Pond. Victor was followed by two firemen driving the Sherburne Fire Department ambulance.
Having gone to that area to test the horn with his machinist friend, Victor knew that he had to wear ear protectors while turning on the compressor and setting the controls that caused the horn to emit its first blast. The firemen and the hunter’s companions without anything to cover their ears, quickly took refuge in the ambulance and moved it to a spot about 500 feet away. Once Victor had his device working properly, he also joined them. By then, Tim Norcross, editor of the Sherburne Enterprise, had arrived. Victor was delighted to hear that Norcross had heard the horn at least l5 minutes away from where Victor had set it up.
About two hours later, the lost hunter, looking exhausted, emerged from the woods and headed towards the ambulance. The temperature by then was just below freezing so one of the firemen hurried forward to throw a blanket around the hunter’s shoulders. Moments later, when the hunter and his companions were hugging each other, Victor climbed onto the back of the truck, and grabbing the manual control of the horn, he slid it back and forth, sending out six short celebratory blasts. That became, on the spot, the signal that was sounded whenever a lost hunter was found.
Norcross, by angling the headlights of the ambulance and the hunters’ car and his own, had just enough light to take a photo of Victor’s invention and those who had witnessed its first rescue. The hunters and the two firemen posed in front of the device while Victor, ear protectors still on his head, stood on the back of the truck. In the next issue of the Enterprise, Tim Norcross christened Victor’s device, Big Bertha.
Victor had a bent nose—testimony to his having played high school football before face masks were commonplace—and a crew cut that, because it never stood up straight, made it look as if his hair grew out on a slant. A gap between his front teeth and two red spots on his cheeks, persistent outcroppings of ezcema, also lent his face a certain comic book quality. Nevertheless, people in Sherburne who became acquainted with Victor found him likeable, and attractive enough in his own way, so that they made it a point of introducing him to young single women they knew. At times, it seemed as if there was an unofficial, unspoken competition among people who knew Victor to see which one of them would find him a wife. Victor appreciated the opportunities he had to meet and date these young women, and each of the women, likewise, were impressed with how personable and well-mannered he was, but it was obvious to each of them that Victor wasn’t about to let his social life interfere with his job.
That changed on New Year’s Eve l971, when Victor arrived just before midnight at a party given by a couple he knew, Teddie and Lenore Silver. And there, in the crush of bodies in the front hallway of the Silvers’ house, he found himself face to face with Doreen Swenson. Lenore had begun to introduce Victor to Doreen, explaining that Doreen was someone she had met in nursing school, but Victor, somewhat jokingly, interrupted her to say that he already knew Doreen. He quickly corrected himself by saying he didn’t exactly know Doreen, but that he remembered her from the senior prom in Center Harbor in l965.
"I was playing trumpet with Mel Goldman’s orchestra when you," he said, addressing Doreen, "were the girl who refused to smile for the photographer. I still remember that photographer—he was standing right in front of me—refusing to snap his camera until you gave him the smile he was looking for."
Victor expected Doreen to laugh, in the way people do when teen-age antics are recalled, but Doreen, without the trace of a smile, didn’t agree at all with what Victor had said.
"Oh please," she said, "it was the photographer who held things up by asking us to move this way and that until he had us arranged just so."
Just then, Lenore excused herself in order to greet another couple coming through the front door. Victor, hardly noticing Lenore’s departure, wasn’t about to give up on recreating for Doreen the events from that prom night seven years before.
"No," he said. "I distinctly recall the photographer. He was a tall, skinny guy with a hairline mustache."
"So you remember what a freaky looking guy the photographer was? I’m impressed," Doreen said, sounding as if she was anything but.
"The gym was pretty hot—they always are during those proms—and everyone was getting restless and yelling things that were supposed to get you to smile. When you finally did, the guy took his picture, and Mel, never one to pass anything like that up, had us play a fanfare."
"I beg your pardon," said Doreen, "but you’ve got the whole thing ass-backwards. I told you. It was the photographer’s fault. As I recall, he even put his grubby paws on my bare shoulder."
"Oh, don’t get me wrong," Victor said. "I was on your side. The photographer had no right to embarrass you that way. Some people just can’t fake a smile. But the photographer did have a point—your smile, when it came, was well worth the wait."
"Oh Jesus," she said. "Don’t let yourself get carried away with this New Year’s Eve stuff."
"I mean it," Victor said. "At the time, I got your name and a few days later I put in a call to you. Someone, your father I guess, said you were working in Kennebunkport. I called again in September, but you had just left for nursing school. I called there several times, too, even left messages, but you never called back."
"That nursing dorm was a madhouse," she said, "people coming and going at all hours of the day and night. God knows if any message ever got through to the right person."
"Ah, you’re saying it was my fault that I didn’t keep on trying."
"Not at all. Even if you had, I wasn’t available then. Since you remember so much about the prom, didn’t you see that I was with someone? Plus, I wasn’t about to return a phone call from someone I didn’t know. You learn very early in nursing that there are creeps out there who have a thing about nurses."
Victor noticed that Doreen still didn’t smile easily. He was struck, too, by how small Doreen was and how thin she was. Victor, six feet, two inches, had to dip his head forward when talking to her. Doreen, in turn, had to raise her head slightly when she replied to him. She was wearing her hair in a page boy cut that had outgrown itself so that it covered more of the sides of her face than it should have, but when she looked up at Victor, the hair fell back slightly, more fully revealing her face. When she did that, Victor was reminded why he had never forgotten Doreen.
"Okay, that was then," he said. "What about now? How’d you get to Sherburne?"
"It wasn’t a direct route from Center Harbor," she said. "After nursing school I went to Florida. My father had retired and moved there. I didn’t last through the first summer, too hot and muggy. My next job was at the hospital in Portsmouth."
Victor and Doreen’s chat was interrupted right then by Lenore, who poked her head into the room and rang a little bell she was carrying. It was five minutes before midnight and Lenore wanted everyone to come into the living room for a champagne toast.
Not all the partygoers could squeeze into the living room, so Victor and several other people—all of them as tall as Victor—remained clustered in the doorway. Victor could see that Doreen had gravitated to the other end of the room, standing next to Lenore and Teddie Silver. Then, the countdown to midnight began, followed by shouts of Happy New Year, along with hugs and kisses and people lifting their glasses to welcome in the New Year. By the time, Victor had pushed himself past a dozen or so people and reached Lenore, he had lost sight of Doreen. When he asked Lenore where Doreen was, Lenore said that she had left because she was so exhausted.
"She just moved here a few weeks ago and adjusting to a new job and finding a place to live has been tough on her. I’ll tell you what, though—I’ll give you her number. I think she’d like to hear from you once things settle down."
After three weeks of calling Doreen and never getting an answer, Victor contacted Lenore. Was he calling the wrong number, he asked?
At first Lenore said that Victor should continue calling, but then lowering her voice, she said, "I owe you an apology. I should have told you what brought Doreen to Sherburne."
"Whatever it is," Victor said, "she seems as though she could use some cheering up."
"There was this guy, Les Markey. He was her boyfriend since high school. A jerk then, and an even bigger jerk now. He’s an electrician at the shipyard in Portsmouth, which is why Doreen moved there. Last November, they were supposed to get married, but three months before the big day, Doreen found out the guy was having an affair. Boom. Big blow up. Marriage called off. But we all figured that she and Markey would eventually patch things up. No such luck. The floozie Markey was fooling around with got pregnant and somehow forced him into marrying her. Doreen was devastated, and mostly because she didn’t know what else to do, she took a drive up here to visit me and decided to stay. She’s in much better shape now than when she got here. Back then, I was afraid to leave her alone."
Another week went by before Victor reached Doreen, and when he did, he didn’t find her to be much friendlier than the first time he had met her.
"Lenore said that you’ve been looking for me," she said.
"We never got to finish that talk we were having on New Year’s Eve."
"And for that you had to bother Lenore?" she said.
"She didn’t seem to mind."
"So I imagine she told you all about Markey."
"Not in any detail."
"Do you want to hear the details?"
"Only if you want me to," Victor said. "But as I was saying, we never even got to finish what we were talking about."
"Maybe we can do that, but some other time," she said. "Right now I have to take a nap because I’m on the midnight shift this week."
A moment later, however, just before she hung up, Doreen seemed to relent. The next week, she said, when she was working days, she would meet him some night for a drink at the Old Town Inn.
When Victor and Doreen finally got together, Victor could see, even in the dim light of the Old Town Inn cocktail lounge, that Doreen’s face was still too gaunt, and that her hair, while not exactly unkempt, looked that way because she often had to reach up and pull it aside to sip at her drink or puff on her cigarette. Doreen had lit a cigarette the moment she sat down, simultaneously announcing that she was well aware of what a terrible habit smoking was and that she was going to quit soon but not yet.
Victor sidestepped any comment, pro or con, on smoking, and went immediately into a brief explanation of who he was and how he came to move to Sherburne. He actually got Doreen to grin when he told her about Big Bertha.
"It’s made me famous," he said, "or infamous. Newspapers love that story. Every time Bertha’s helped rescue a hunter—we’ve saved four so far—newspapers all over the country carry another story about it."
"Well, now I know something about who you are," Doreen said, "but it doesn’t answer the other question—what exactly are you up to?"
"That’s simple. I’m just trying to cheer up someone up who should allow herself to smile more often."
Doreen responded to that by raising her head and blowing a plume of smoke towards the ceiling. She stayed that way for a moment, her lips pursed to direct upward the last remaining puff of smoke. Then she lowered her head and placed the cigarette on the ash tray so that she could use both hands to draw back her hair and hold it behind her ears.
"I want you to know something," she said. "I can’t stand men who think they can swoop down like a vulture on someone who’s recovering from a broken love affair."
"My intentions are completely honorable," Victor said. To emphasize his point, he held up his right hand, and said, "Scout’s honor."
Doreen, smiling slightly, leaned over and took one last drag on her cigarette before stamping it out.
"That may be hard for me to adjust to after Markey. With him, lying was a way of life. If Markey put in all the overtime he told me about, he would have been the highest paid guy at the shipyard. Stupid me, I actually believed he was working double shifts even though the newspaper carried stories about the possibility of layoffs because work was so slack."
"This Markey sounds like he’s quite a talker."
"Double-talker is more like it. He’d go out for a quart of milk and disappear for a day or two. Then, when he came back, he’d tell this story about running into an old Army buddy who was broke and having trouble with his wife and how he had spent the entire time helping his buddy out. Listening to him tell the story, you knew that it was one hundred percent bullshit, but he was so good at it you couldn’t help believing him."
Victor had the uneasy feeling that Doreen wouldn’t have hesitated right then to forgive Markey if he came strolling into the Old Town Inn and gave her one of his cock-and-bull stories.
"I obviously don’t know the ins and outs of everything that went on," Victor said, "but I’d consider myself lucky if I were you, since you learned the truth about him before it was too late."
"So I’m told."
"And you have doubts?"
"Hey," she said, "I agreed to have a drink with you. Let’s keep it at that."
That seemed to bring the evening to a close, even though it took another fifteen minutes or so before Doreen finished her drink and announced that she had to leave early because she was relieving another nurse an hour before the regular day shift began. During that time, Doreen and Victor exchanged a few desultory comments about their respective impressions of Sherburne. Doreen said that she didn’t particularly care for Sherburne because it reminded her too much of Center Harbor, a place she referred to as hicksville. She didn’t think much of the doctors at the hospital, either, and wondered out loud why she was wasting her time in Sherburne when she could be earning twice as much money at one of the large hospitals in Boston. Victor conceded that Sherburne had certain drawbacks, but he didn’t know how anyone could dislike a town that was surrounded by such an abundance of unspoiled nature.
It took another two weeks of phone calls before Doreen agreed to see Victor again. This time Doreen and Victor went to dinner. Doreen proved to be a good listener, or at least she was reasonably attentive while Victor talked of his idyllic boyhood and how the hiking trips he had gone on with his grandfather had indirectly led to his career as a fish and game warden.
Doreen, a picky eater, was not as forthcoming. When she did speak, she told of a childhood that was anything but idyllic. Her mother, after a series of debilitating illnesses, died when Doreen was still a sophomore in high school. Since her two older sisters were already married, Doreen was left to keep house for a father who quietly drank himself into a stupor each night.
"Before my mother died, my father was just another drunk," Doreen said, "After that, he liked to think that getting shit-faced each night showed just how much he missed my mother. His big accomplishment, one he bragged about his entire life, was that hungover or not, he never missed a day of work. Two years ago, he finally quit drinking, and six months later he died from a massive heart attack."
That night, and then, on the following week, when Doreen and Victor went to dinner together, Doreen gave Victor a peck on the cheek as he was dropping her off. But after the third time they had dinner, Doreen, instead of kissing Victor goodnight, turned and said, "So when do you make your first move? Or do you still consider me too fragile?"
"Are you extending an invitation or just wondering if I’m interested?"
"Oh, now we’re going to play a game of you-go-first. If that’s so, I’ll be the one who goes first. Do you want to stay over? Yes or no? And don’t take all night to give me an answer."
"I just want to make sure I’m not mistaken for a vulture," he said.
"You’re not a vulture, okay? Does that clear things up for you?"
Doreen may have been the one who invited Victor to spend the night, but she turned out to be exceedingly proper and circumspect in her approach to lovemaking. Victor, overly courteous himself, and a bit tentative, was workmanlike and mechanical while Doreen responded to each of his maneuvers with either a quiet yes or no. Her involvement overall was much like that of a woman who was simply going about some household task, something on the order of folding clean laundry. In the morning, when Victor left, the kiss on the cheek Doreen gave him seemed more sincere than any of her gyrations and exertions the night before.
Whatever Doreen’s shortcomings, in bed or out, Victor over the next few weeks felt that his courtship of her, sedate and unhurried, was beginning to yield results. She laughed more easily now, didn’t smoke as much and sometimes made positive comments about the people she worked with. Even her appetite seemed to improve. Yet she talked constantly of forsaking Sherburne for a more lucrative position in Boston. What am I doing in this godforsaken place, she would ask? She said this so often that it seemed as if this was her way of letting Victor know how little he meant to her.
Victor’s response was mainly to remind Doreen that the cost of living in Boston would eat up any anticipated increase in her earnings. He also talked of Boston’s impossible traffic, not to mention the noise and dirty air and street crime that seemed to him, at least, to have reached epidemic proportions. When that didn’t seem to curtail Doreen’s apparent desire to leave Sherburne, Victor told her, "You should understand one thing. If you move to Boston, I’ll be coming right along."
"Oh great," she said, "and how do you plan to earn a living there? By patrolling the Boston Common, looking for anyone who’s shooting pigeons out of season?"
"The point isn’t what I’m going to do for a living," he said.
"I get the point," she said.
"That you are, my friend, that you are. And that’s why you sometimes drive me buggy. I wish you’d get over the idea that it’s your job to save poor Doreen."
"So what are you saying, that you don’t need saving?"
"Maybe once I did, but look at me: Do I look like someone who’s in any danger of falling to pieces?"
"Exactly. If all I cared about was saving you, I’d be moving on by now. But notice—I’m still here."
When Doreen agreed to marry Victor, she seemed to do so only because she could never counter the arguments of her sisters and her colleagues, all of whom kept telling her that Victor had all the qualities that made for an ideal husband. In any case, Victor and Doreen, once married, followed a routine that was quite similar to their prenuptial relationship. Because of their schedules, particularly during the work week, Victor and Doreen often saw each other only when one was arriving home and the other was leaving. If Doreen worked a double-shift or Victor came home late two nights in a row, three or four days might pass when the only contact between them was the muffled kiss they exchanged when one of them was either getting out of or into bed. They usually managed, however, provided their schedules jibed, to go out to dinner on Saturday nights or maybe attend a party they were invited to. Their love making, as always, was both punctual and predictable.
Victor, off-duty, remained Sherburne’s all-purpose volunteer. At Rotary Club meetings, his hand was always the one that went up first when the call went out for a work party to reseed the grass at the Little League field or to head the fund drive to refurbish Sherburne’s memorial to World War II veterans. He was a permanent fixture at the annual auction to benefit the Sherburne Community Hospital, and at Christmas, any poor family answering a knock at the door was likely to find Victor, a Santa Claus hat on his head, distributing toys collected by the YMCA.
Doreen’s main interest in the first two years after she was married was reclaiming the overgrown, weed-covered backyard of the house she and Victor had bought. She cut back the shrubs that prevented any light from entering the downstairs rooms, replaced the weeds with grass and transformed the rocky ledge on the east side of their backyard into a colorful rock garden. In non-gardening months, she was part of a quilting circle and attended, off and on, a yoga glass, Quite often, because she and her nursing colleagues ended up with days off in the middle of the week, they took day-long excursions to various shopping malls within a two to three hour radius of Sherburne.
Doreen, at the wheel of her car and accompanied by two of her colleagues, was on one such excursion, when she pulled into a parking lot of a new mall near Portsmouth and spotted a station wagon with the vanity plate, MAR-KEY. Doreen stopped so suddenly that her two friends, even with their seat belts buckled, lurched forward. Since the lot was almost full, Doreen was able to explain her abrupt stop by saying she had just noticed, one row over, an empty spot. She then had trouble maneuvering into the spot she had found because her head kept twisting around the other way, towards Markey’s car. By now, her palms were sweating and there was a tingling feeling across her scalp.
Although she didn’t know why, Doreen wanted to get a closer look at Markey’s car. Perhaps that might give her some clue about Markey himself, who had not been entirely absent from her thoughts while driving to a mall so close to Portsmouth. Her friends, of course, were only interested in getting into the mall to begin their shopping so Doreen went along with them, but just as she approached the mall’s entrance, she recalled having turned her headlights on when driving through some fog. Feigning exasperation with herself, she told her friends to continue on without her while she went back to see whether or not she had remembered to turn her lights off.
Doreen went immediately to Markey’s car. That gave her more time to figure out what she might do if she ran into Markey inside the mall. No answer came to her as she slowly circled Markey’s car, taking note of the toy truck on the back seat, along with a plastic bat and a whiffle ball. On her way back to the mall, she couldn’t stifle her excitement at the possibility of seeing Markey, even if she had no idea what she should do or say if she ran into him. She could just imagine him, greeting her with a big smile and a hearty hello, maybe even wrapping his arms around her and giving her a warm hug. It would be just like him, she thought, to act as though nothing had happened. And where would that leave her? And what if his wife was with him? And his little boy? No, she changed her mind. She didn’t want to see Markey, not right now, not with her friends nearby.
So when Doreen returned to the mall, she trailed along a step or two behind her friends, her eyes moving from side to side so that she could spot Markey long before he saw her. Her plan, if she saw him, was to find some way to shield herself behind her friends, or maybe find refuge by ducking into a nearby store. After an hour or so, still uncertain about what to do if she met Markey and tired at trying to spot him before he saw her, she suggested to her companions that they move to a nearby mall because it had better eating places. She couldn’t deny a faint sense of longing, however, as she maneuvered her car out of its parking space and drove by Markey’s car.
The next week, Doreen made a return trip to the mall—this time alone. When living in Portsmouth, she had a dental bridge done by a dentist in the town where the mall was located, and now, as she told Victor, the bridge was bothering her so she wanted the dentist who had worked on her to take a look at it. That wasn’t a complete lie because Doreen did go to the dentist, but once the dentist looked at her bridge and assured her there was nothing wrong, she drove directly from the dentist’s office to the mall. There, she found Markey’s station wagon parked in almost the same place.
On this visit, Doreen methodically made her way from one store to the next until she had traversed the shops on one side of the mall. She then made a U-turn and started down the next row of stores. She had gone into three shops before she approached one that sold sporting goods. Through the window, she saw Markey, who now had a mustache and a slight paunch. From the gestures he made, he seemed to be giving a clerk some instructions. The name tag clipped to the front pocket of his shirt also seemed to indicate that Markey was an employee of the store.
Entering the sporting goods shop, Doreen made her way past a display of volley balls and stopped briefly to glance at baseball gloves before reaching the area set aside for golf clubs. That brought her close enough to Markey so that she could hear him tell the store clerk how he wanted her to rearrange a display of sweat pants and t-shirts. While listening to what Markey said, Doreen grabbed a driver and studied it. She even flexed it back and forth, as if testing it for balance and feel. She was aware that her heart was beating faster as Markey turned away from the store clerk and headed towards a door that said Employees Only. That’s when Doreen, moving slightly to the left, placed herself directly in Markey’s path. When Markey spotted her, he came to a sudden halt, pulled back his head and slapped both hands to his chest.
Doreen, more calmly than she thought possible, said, "Pardon me, but I was interested in looking at these new clubs."
"Oh, they’re fantastic," Markey said, a big grin on his face. "But there are some better ones if you come right this way."
Doreen quickly replaced the golf club she was holding and followed along as Markey led her through the door that said, Employees Only. Then, Markey, after peeking around some shelves to see if there was anyone nearby, said, "What the hell are you doing here?" At the same time, he took a step towards her and grabbed both her hands.
"I told you. I was thinking of taking up golf so I was looking at some clubs and the next thing I knew—"
"I have my lunch break in l5 minutes," Markey said.
Without looking at her watch—Markey was still gripping her hands—Doreen said, "Damn. It so happens that I was heading for lunch right now."
Markey, letting go her hands, went over to a coat rack and grabbed a Boston Red Sox warm-up jacket. As he put it on, he said, "Now that I think of it, I guess I’ll take an early lunch today. Give me a minute to tell my people that I’m leaving. I’ll meet you at the McDonald’s in the food court."
A few minutes later, Doreen was seated at a table in McDonald’s when Markey entered. It took five minutes for him to explain that he had been laid off at the shipyard, but that it was the best thing that ever happened to him because there was more money and less work in managing the sporting goods store. It took Doreen less time than that to tell him—tears welling up in her eyes—that she could never forgive him for what he had done to her. Markey, with a slight tremor in his voice, told her several times how sorry he was at what had happened. The biggest mistake of his life, he said, was allowing her to leave Portsmouth.
"But you were about to marry someone else," she said. "What was I supposed to do, wait around to see if I got invited to the wedding?"
Markey, instead of answering Doreen, began to complain about the way his wife mistreated him ever since he had lost his shipyard job.
"No matter how much money I bring in, she seems to think I lost out on something big once I was laid off at the shipyard," he said. "The way she talks you think I owned the goddamned place."
"I just said you gave me no choice but to leave town," Doreen reminded him.
"Oh, that," he said. "Look, we should have been able to work something out,"
"Even when you had the kid?"
"Now you put your finger on it. To be honest, there’s plenty of times I’d tell her to get lost, except for the kid. She can’t do anything to me that’s ever going to make me give up my kid."
Ten minutes later—having left their food half-eaten—Doreen and Markey were in a motel that was only a few miles away from the shopping mall. After Doreen had shed more tears and Markey told her again how sorry he was, Doreen, obviously believing him, admitted that she might have been too hasty in leaving Portsmouth. An hour later, Markey called the sporting goods store and gave his assistant a story about how his car conked out while he was running an errand. He had just been towed to a filling station in Rye, he said, but luckily, the owner—who happened to be someone he had known in high school—had dropped whatever he was doing to begin working on Markey’s car.
"Guarantee, one hundred percent," Markey told his assistant, "you have my word on it. I’ll be back by five o’clock, and when I get there, you go home. I’m the one who’s working late tonight."
"One thing’s for sure," said Doreen, as Markey got back into bed, "You’re as good a bullshitter as ever."
Doreen insisted on one rule about any future contacts with Markey: She did not want him calling her at home. It was inconvenient for her, but she drove to a shopping area six miles outside of Sherburne, where she called him from a pay phone outside a Chinese restaurant that had closed. On his end, Markey would take the call in the sporting goods store, but he then went to a pay phone in the mall to call her back. That was how they arranged the three afternoons they spent together at a motel located midway between Sherburne and the mall at which Markey was employed. The motel was minutes away from the outlet store for gardening supplies that Doreen often shopped at on her days off.
At the end of their third meeting, Markey and Doreen both wished, as they so often did, that they could find some way to spend more than an afternoon together. That’s when Markey said, "Hey, how about hunting season? From what you tell me, it sounds like that’s when Victor spends more time on patrol than he does at home."
At that suggestion, Doreen came out with a laugh.
"What’s so funny?" Markey said.
"Oh, I just thought of something," she said. "Just report yourself missing and Victor will be out there, in the middle of nowhere, sounding that horn he invented, hoping it’ll lure you out of the woods. If you played it right, we might get to spend an entire week together."
Markey laughed at the idea, too, and neither he nor Doreen ever brought up the plan again, even though they had talked to each other several times between then and when the hunting season began. Then, one night, just as Doreen got in from work, she received a phone call from Markey.
She began telling him he wasn’t supposed to call her at home, but quickly forgot about that when he said he was calling from outside the general store near the town of Paysonville, which was 20 miles north of Sherburne. He and two friends had rented a lodge for a few days in Pound Ridge, Markey said, and the next day he was going hunting. What were the chances, he asked, that he and Doreen could get together, tomorrow night, say?
At first Doreen declined, but Markey made it sound as if it were a simple matter to put into affect the plan Doreen herself had suggested.
"The way I figure it," he said, "if I don’t return to the lodge by dark, my buddies will be putting in a call to your old man. By the time, he begins looking for me, we can be having dinner somewhere and have the night and maybe part of the next day to ourselves. At some point, voila, I find my way out of the woods."
Doreen then asked him to wait by the phone for a few minutes since she would have to change her schedule. It took two calls for Doreen to reach a nurse she had substituted for the month before, on a Sunday no less. The nurse agreed to swap days off with Doreen, which would mean that Doreen was free the day after next. Doreen then called Markey and said she would meet him the next night, at 5 p.m., at an inn, The White Fox, which was l0 miles east of Paysonville.
"There’s only one thing," Doreen said. "How do you plan to get to the inn?"
"My car, of course."
"That’ll make it hard for Victor. It’s usually where the hunter’s car is that gives him some idea of where to begin his search."
"Okay, here’s what I’ll do. In the morning, I’ll leave after my buddies have gone out, but they’ll know where I’m going to be hunting. That should give Victor something to go on. See you tomorrow night."
The call came in to Victor the next day at about 5:00 from Markey’s friends. A member of their hunting party, they said, was at least two hours overdue in returning to the lodge they rented. Victor told the hunters he would meet them outside the town hall in Pound Ridge. Victor was in such a hurry to get the search underway that he didn’t find out until he got to Pound Ridge (with the fire department ambulance following after him) that the missing hunter’s name was Lester Markey.
Learning that he would be searching for Markey did nothing to disrupt the routine Victor usually followed when he began his search for a lost hunter. First, he spread a map across the hood of the Big Bertha truck. A spotlight on the cab of the truck helped light the map. Then he and Markey’s two friends tried to determine the approximate area where Markey had been hunting. Victor was somewhat impatient with the two hunters because the information they gave him was so vague, but eventually he was able to draw a red line around the area where Markey might be found.
"This isn’t going to be easy," Victor said. "With the wind coming straight at us, our signal might not carry as far. We might even have to move around to the other side of Pound Ridge."
By 7 p.m., Victor began sounding Big Bertha’s signal from a spot where Markey was likely to hear it. But after two hours, there was no sign of Markey and now it had begun to mist. Victor knew that on the other side of Pound Ridge there was a small river, the Black Diamond, which formed a barrier between Pound Ridge and Paysonville. He couldn’t imagine that Victor was on the other side of the river because he would have had to walk at least two miles downstream to find a bridge that crossed the Black Diamond. That made Victor wonder if Markey had fallen and injured himself. If so, there would have to be a search conducted on foot.
At 9 p.m. Victor had the firemen radio back to their chief to put out a call for volunteers who could join a search party in the morning. By midnight, the wind had become even stronger, and Victor again talked of moving Big Bertha to the other side of Pound Ridge. What would happen, Markey’s companions asked, if Markey was already on his way out of the woods, heading towards Big Bertha?
"I’ve thought of that," Victor said, "which is why I’ve hesitated at doing this. But it’s not a good sign if someone doesn’t show up after Big Bertha’s been blowing a couple of hours. Sorry to be that blunt about it."
At 4 a.m., the first three volunteers for the search party showed up. They agreed, once they looked at the map, that either Markey was unable to walk out of the woods or had wandered too far away to hear Big Bertha. The three of them, all familiar with that area, felt that Victor should take the chance of moving Big Bertha.
The new spot Victor chose was at a point just about opposite where he was located, but on the other side of Pound Ridge. Before he left, he told Markey’s friends to stay where they were, along with the three volunteers just in case Markey emerged from the woods. The searchers would wait until 8 o’clock and then they, and any other volunteers who showed up, would fan out and begin heading towards the new spot Victor had chosen to place Big Bertha. The fire department ambulance left for the new location just as Victor turned Big Bertha off and prepared to move.
The spot Victor had picked out was about a 20-minute drive from where he had been. About l0 minutes into his trip, just as he approached the White Fox Inn, he spotted a car in its parking lot that looked like Doreen’s. He immediately slowed down to take a closer look, which only confirmed that it was indeed Doreen’s car. By now, he had practically come to a stop. That’s when he spotted, three spaces away, a station wagon with the vanity plate, MAR-KEY.
Victor didn’t waste any time planning his next move. Across the road from The White Fox Inn, strung out on a small slope, was a row of cabins that served as an annex to the inn during the summer. Victor pulled into the driveway leading to the cabins, drove about two hundred feet or so up the slope and parked next to the last cabin. Big Bertha’s horn was now aimed directly at the inn across the highway.
Then, Victor got out of the truck and started the compressor. By turning off the timing device, he made sure that Big Bertha’s wail was constant and unending. In fact, once Big Bertha began to sound, Victor grabbed the manual control, which was a knob that slid along a metal rail, and pushed it all the way to the right. He pushed the knob with such force that it went over a small metal ridge and remained jammed in the on position.
Almost as soon as Big Bertha began to sound, Victor saw lights go on in the White Fox Inn. Someone, in a bathrobe—the inn’s owner, presumably—came out of the front door and directed the beam of the flashlight he was carrying towards Big Bertha. The flash light was not strong enough for the inn owner to see Victor standing, ramrod stiff and without any expression on his face, at the rear of Big Bertha. Victor was certain that within a matter of minutes Big Bertha’s record for finding lost hunters would remain intact.