In the summer of ’64 three eighth grade friends from Newfound, N.H., Butch Welcome, Joe Tinker, and I, met again. We were twenty-one. Neither Joe, nor I had seen Butch since he was sent to the State Industrial School, accused of molesting some rich girls out in the woods when he was thirteen. We’d all played post office and spin the bottle, but the girls liked sweet, quiet, muscular Butch. They believed since he lived in a slum, he must know more about sexual wonders than table manners, and they were full up with table manners. They persuaded him to play dirty until Cindy’s father caught her.
I hadn’t seen Joe since he’d dropped out of high school and spent three years in Germany as an army scout. He was hanging around Newfound driving too fast and drinking too much. Sitting in the Newfound beer joint, I told Joe he’d become dissolute. “You even look dissolute,” I said.
He was on his second mug. “I work at it,” he said. “I earn it.”
Not dissolute, Butch, stronger than ever, was short dark, and handsome. His smile proved no juvenile facility, no years in the Navy, could steal his spirit. He said he was going to look up Cindy. “Like you, she’s back from college,” he told me.
“She’s not like me,” I said.
After calling her, Butch said, “Cindy wants to see me this weekend.”
“You going to re-up?” Joe asked Butch.
“Hell, I just want to tell her, ‘no hard feelings,’” Butch said.
“I meant the service,” Joe said. “An army buddy wanted me to take the bonus and go back overseas, but I had all I could stand of sirring and saluting.”
Joe’s parents had moved to the West Coast, where he was headed. I dropped him at the bus station the next morning and didn’t see him again for thirty years.
When he looked me up, I was living a thousand miles from Newfound. “The longest thousand miles on earth,” I told Joe.
“Thank God, I found you,” he said. “Everyone in Newfound was either in jail, drunk, or dead.”
Starting on the floor in an Washington equipment factory, Joe had risen to plant manager. He and two partners had bought the business. Half the year Joe traveled from China to Germany selling huge machines.
“So,” he asked me, “how’d Butch make out with his reconciliation mission with Cindy? They get to playing house again?”
I told him the police claimed Butch broke in the French windows in the back of Cindy’s house and in a drunken rage tried to rape her. Her father said Butch raved and smashed a glass table, so frenzied he ignored his own blood and pain. “He was like a wild bull,” the father said. “It took both barrels to bring him down.” All lies, of course, but justifiable homicide, the county attorney determined. A closed casket for Butch and a vacation in Europe to help Cindy get over her trauma.
“You never told them she wanted to see Butch?” Joe asked. “Welcomed him?”
“I live a thousand miles from Newfound for a reason.”
“We were lucky,” Joe said. “We got away. Twenty years to get out of Newfound. Twenty more to get Newfound out of us.”
“I don’t know as it’s out of me yet,” I said.