From chapter 12.

March. The funeral was held the first Thursday of the month. Almost all of the sixth form attended. The B had announced after dinner the week before that we must make a good showing.

Mr. Hewitt rode on the bus with us. Other masters drove their cars. I’d never had a class with Mr. Hewitt, and now, in the spring semester of my final year, I never would. We hardly knew each other, but we had the kind of bond that, in my naiveté, I guessed men form in war, and he was young enough that maybe he hadn’t faced anymore death than I had. I knew he hadn’t been in Vietnam. I don’t know why not, although we all knew more didn’t go than did, and that there were plenty of ways to avoid service. Founders wasn’t the kind of place that hired you if you avoided service, however. I sat with Will, and midway through the ride Mr. Hewitt sat in the empty bench across the aisle and told us, as if we’d asked, that the reason the funeral was being held so long after Hector’s death was that the family had requested an autopsy. I realized they wanted to know how he’d died, but I knew an autopsy wouldn’t answer the “how” they were seeking.

I said nothing. I simply nodded when Mr. Hewitt told us. I knew everything, or as much as anyone could know, and I could say nothing. I had promised Hector, and my job was always to protect Lew. Mr. Hewitt understood that I knew more than I was saying. Everyone did. Everyone was just waiting for me to break.

When Mr. Hewitt left us, Will punched me lightly in the arm to let me know I could count on him, and when we stepped into the dark, stone church in Newton he said, “Better stay close to me.” At first I thought he said this on general principle, but then I looked up and saw what he saw. Hector’s father and two brothers stood before their pew at the front left of the nave. They watched as we streamed in. They radiated intelligence and anger. Hector’s father’s face was chronically red, his brow pointed down in anger toward the deep crease above the ridge of nose, and I knew that behind his closed lips his teeth were clenched. It was paranoid of me to think that he found me in the murder of black-suited boys, but I felt that he did. Given the chance, he would ring the truth from me, then squash me like a bug. I hardly noticed Hector’s mother, sitting in the front pew on the right-hand side with, I guessed, her present husband. I recognized Hector’s sister with her. She too looked capable of chewing me up and spitting me out, blond, athletic, and radiant in her anger. Except for the mother, this family didn’t bother with sorrow. These people believed in winning. Worst of all, they had a right to know what I knew, to ring it from me, and race with it toward whatever goal line would satisfy them. Who was I to keep it from them? When we were seated and the Episcopal priest led us in the first payers of the service, I talked to Hector instead. What do you want me to do? All that I could hang onto was the promise he’d made me take. If I said anything, his death would have been for nothing.

After the church service, at the gravesite in the sharp cold wind of early March, I was sure Hector’s father and brothers looked at me: he’s the one. We were surrounded by large tombstones in a well-tended section of the cemetery. Thick ancient shrubs divided the boundaries between plots. Family mausoleums were scattered across the landscape like small Greek temples. The sun shone with that kind of aching light you sometimes get in winter, the kind that doesn’t produce much heat. Hector’s family sat in folding chairs beneath the blue funeral home shelter, and they were all restless. There seemed to be plenty of cousins and aunts and uncles. They all sat athletically in their chairs. No one, except for the mother, who sat in the front row with her husband but seemed disconnected from the rest of the gathering, cried or expressed sorrow. Even when the women tapped each other on the arm or brushed their cheeks together, they seemed to be saying, “We’ll get this straightened out.” All of them, men and women, glanced around them purposefully with sharp eyes. They looked like a Northern European tribe ready to draw swords as soon as the burying was done. All fifty boys from Founders stood behind the shelter, our hair blowing about in the wind, young tribesmen in our apprenticeship.

When the graveside service ended, as the first to leave made their way toward their cars, I saw the B and Mr. Kingswood approach Hector’s father, who didn’t seem glad to see them. His lips came back and his clenched teeth were now clear to see. He actually pointed a finger at the B, although I could tell somehow that he was controlling himself, managing to maintain a veneer of civility with his words but unable to manage the finger completely. I realized for the first time that Hector, Lew, and I may have put the school in jeopardy. Hector’s family could probably sue Founders out of existence for not keeping a better eye on their boy. After all, what were they paying a private school to do but educate their son and keep an eye on him?

No reception line had formed. A reception would be held at the church, followed by a second reception at the family home, but we weren’t going, and so I was spared the torment of shaking hands with Hector’s family as they looked me in the face: he’s the one. The school had made a good showing. There was little sense in having fifty boys mill about with the relatives. At least, that’s how I thought about it initially, before I remembered Mrs. Evans and wondered if Hector’s mother would have liked  just to hear the voices and see the faces of fifty boys who knew her son. She wouldn’t know that Ackerly was actually one of God’s great mistakes and one of the biggest jerks in the world. She would know only that he’d known her son and had come to his funeral. But I think she probably didn’t get her way in Hector’s funeral anymore than she’d gotten her way in marriage to his father. You could tell she was a kind of beaten down person, and had been before Hector’s death. I thought about introducing myself to her—she’d probably heard about me from Hector over the years. We’d met once a few years ago when she’d come to the school. But while I was thinking of how to get to her, Hector’s brother Michael approached us and made it moot.

I had the feeling he’d taken it upon himself to find me because his father was distracted by the B, and then it seemed to me that the B was purposely distracting Hector’s father just to keep him from finding me. I knew I was developing a bad case of thinking the world revolved around me, but it was hard to kick.

Will and three boys standing near me had been conversing about the Boston Celtics. (They pronounced it with a soft “C,” which Lew had once explained was flat wrong for two reasons: first, it should have been pronounced with a hard “C,” like a “K,” hard like the members of the tribe itself, and second, “Celtic” was an adjective—the noun was “Celt,” you were a Celt not a Celtic—but for all that, he admitted they were a pretty good basketball team. He knew this because the Welsh were Celts, or anyway had become Celts. “We were probably a Pictish people to begin with,” he said. Lew lived in several worlds, only one of which was the one the rest of us lived in.). I had been staring off, thinking about what I knew, thinking about Hector’s and Lew’s mothers, and when I saw with peripheral vision the approach of Michael I turned as nonchalantly as I could toward the boys, edged closer to them, and insinuated myself into their conversation. They didn’t mind. As far as they were concerned we were all standing around in the cold doing nothing. This didn’t deter Michael, of course. He made his way through the clusters of boys and called to me. I could pretend not to hear the first couple of calls, but not the third. All the boys in our little circle turned toward him when he grew close to us. Michael had been a Founders student, and although he was too old to have shared any years there with us, all of the boys had figured out who he was, and he was recognizable to some of them, having brought Hector to school or picked him up on several occasions.

“Hi guys,” he said. Two of the boys shook hands with him. “Have you got a minute Mac?”

“Sure Michael.”

He would have put a hand on my shoulder if he’d been ten years older, but he knew he couldn’t yet pull off the gesture, so instead he put his hands in his pant pockets and turned to walk beyond the circumference of boys, knowing that I’d follow. I was self-aware enough to tell myself I didn’t have to follow him like a little dog, but I followed him obediently nonetheless. It was his brother who had died, after all.

After we had broken from the pack, he turned his head and looked at me, still walking. “You doing OK Mac?”

Everyone wanted to know how I was doing.

“Yeah. I’m sorry Michael. You?”

He looked forward and shook his head. “No. Freaked out. Pissed. Screaming at the sky.”

Michael was not a person who would scream at the sky. He wore round wire-rimmed glasses, like the B, not like someone living in a commune. He’d always seemed monotonously even keeled to me, brilliant at science and boring.

“Sorry,” I said again.

“Yeah. Me too.”

We wandered outside the circumference of the pack, Michael with his hands in his pant pockets, his long wool coat pulled back. I tagged along.

“How’s your friend Lew?” he asked.


“Yeah. How’s Lew?”

“Well, he’s in a psychiatric hospital, or some kind of facility. I haven’t spoken to him.”

“You went after him that night?”


He looked at me like I should know what he was looking for. And I did. I just couldn’t give it to him, or let him know I had it.

“What was going on?”

“Have you talked to the police?” I asked him.


“Then you probably know everything I know. Lew came into my room late, distressed, asking where Hector was, saying I knew where he was. I didn’t, although if I had to guess, the mill would have been one of the places I’d guess. Did you ever go to the mill?”

“Couple of times. I know about sneaking off to the mill.”

“Then Lew went running off. I almost just let him go, but I worried about him, so I ran after him.”

“And he went to the mill?”


“What did you see?”

“Nothing. It was dark. I could hear Lew running through the woods and sometimes he talked to himself. Do you know Lew?”

“Never met him. He’s got some problems, doesn’t he?”

I couldn’t let him get away with that, but I couldn’t put him in his place either.

“Hector and I looked after him.”

“What do you mean?”

“Ever since we met at Founders we sort of adopted Lew, tried to help him stay on an even keel. He’s actually an interesting guy.”

“I’ll bet. So you didn’t see Hector at the mill?”

I had to lie. “No.” All I’d seen were dark forms, anyway.

“What about shots? Did you hear shots?”

Christ, it was like being on trial. Everybody wanted to know everything. Who could blame them? But I’d made a promise, and I was keeping it with lies. Some of the information didn’t matter. Hector hadn’t been shot.

“You know, I followed Lew way out onto the lake, and when I found him he did a lot of mumbling, and he mentioned shots, but I was there when he was there. He thought Hector had been shot, I think, but Hector wasn’t. And you know, Lew often got things mixed up. I can’t explain it. The police also asked me about shots, I guess because Lew told them about shots, but I don’t know what it’s all about, Michael. I’m sorry about Hector. He was my closest friend at school.”


I knew he could tell he wasn’t going to get any more from me right then. He looked at me sideways before he walked off, and I could tell what he was thinking: he had time; eventually he’d win.

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