Friday night. House’s place. It
They were both in their skivvies.
in the kitchen cooking pork chops. (He told House they were from kosher pigs,
to which House had reacted by laughing and then spraying a mouthful of beer all over the cook). The late meal was because Wilson needed
to keep himself busy and keep his mind off his kid brother by doing something that involved getting his hands messy and his
mind blanked! Breaded pork chops filled the bill.
House had peeled half a dozen potatoes
while perched atop one of the counter stools, but when his leg started to make him antsy, Wilson had chased him into the living
room where he now sat noodling around on the piano. A few measures of “Wunderbar”
tinkled out of the treble clef.
House was the only person Wilson
knew who could carry on a detailed conversation while playing improvisational passages on a piano. But then House was the only person Wilson knew who could do a lot of unusual things! Snark, for instance, accumulated inside his fertile brain and came out his caustic mouth in a never-ending
flow of one-liners that would have made Eddie Murphy, in his heyday, covet him as a gag writer. His gifts in the art of healing were nothing less than divine mysticism, although House might have had
something to say about that if he knew what Wilson was thinking. He was the closest thing Wilson
had ever witnessed to the multi-level mind that Roddenberry had created with the character of Mr. Spock.
House’s voice carried to the
kitchen over the lilting strains of “Wunderbar.” “Hey
Wilson … I’ve been thinking …”
“Thinking? You? How quaint!”
Wilson licked the egg and cracker meal off his fingers,
smiling to himself. He turned down the burner under the potatoes. “What!?” He
had baked corn in the oven and the apartment was a “Mom and Pop’s Diner” of smells.
“I’ve been known to think
once in awhile, you know … if there’s nothing else to keep me amused.” Gregg did not miss a beat of the song.
“So tell me!” Their voices echoed back and forth between kitchen and living room, and it put Wilson in mind of an old married couple.
“I’m a little amazed at your
decision not to bail your juvenile delinquents out of the hoosegow. Tell me why.”
“Really? It was tough, you know.
I wanted to protect them … but if I did that, I would just be giving them permission to do something stupid again. Best they know now that I’m not the pushover they thought I was.”
“Actually, it’s none of my
business, but I agree with you. I think you’re helping them this way, rather
than hurting them. When are they being arraigned?
Did Captain Ford say anything?”
“Probably tomorrow sometime …
and I don’t even think I’m going. I’m not sure if I trust myself
not to interfere. They have to accept what’s coming to them … and
I’m not hiring an attorney either. Part of the punishment should be putting
up with a court-appointed lawyer. Do you think that’s too harsh? He is crippled, you know …”
The piano went quiet. The volume of House’s voice lowered considerably. “So
am I. So what? I don’t steal
the livelihood from little old men. If I did, I would expect to pay the consequences.”
turned the heat way down on the pork chops and placed a lid over the pan. He
wiped his hands on a tea towel and walked into the living room. Sat down beside
House on the piano bench. Leaned his head gently against his friend’s shoulder. “I didn’t mean to …”
“Shhh! I know. Here’s what I think. You know how disabled people have become so militant about their rights … picketing public buildings
for accessibility … ramps … doors that don’t take a damn S. W. A. T. team to get through them … lower
the thresholds … install elevators …?”
“Sure. And they have every right to do that.”
“Uh huh. Been there, done that. But I still run into steps. And I can’t do steps. I guess you’ve noticed.”
“Yes … ?”
“The disabled want to be treated
the same as everybody else. They don’t want to be fawned on … or
pitied … or treated like second-class citizens … or be shied away from, the way Vince Crane does to me. God knows it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. ‘Don’t
treat me like a fuckin’ cripple! I know
I’m a cripple … you don’t have to remind me!’”
Gregg stared hard at his hands for
a moment. “And then there are some who still expect other people to take
pity … and let us go to the front of the line at the bank … at the super market and the movies. “Don’t inconvenience the fucked up!” People let us get away with it because they don’t want to look like hard-hearted
bastards. Poor us! When you said
Roger cried that he couldn’t walk … that’s what made me think of the way we sometimes try to take the easy
“Cripples usually ignore all the
things it really takes to be treated like everybody else. I’m just sayin’
… We can be a total pain in the ass
to everybody else!”
“No … it’s true. Remember what I said to you once … that you’d be surprised by what people
let me get away with? I play the cripple card, and I get away with murder. Then I walk away and laugh at the dumb asses that let me do it. Roger’s playing the cripple card with you. Whether he
gets away with it or not rests entirely in your hands.
“You let me get away with stuff,
Jimmy, because I’m so damned handsome and sexy and charming! Roger is a
whole other story.” Gregg looked up, met Wilson’s
gaze, and found Wilson smiling. His own face was set intently as he met the warm brown eyes. He
closed his own eyes and sighed, leaning toward Wilson in return,
letting his cheek rest lightly on his friend’s moppy hair.
“Yeah, I know, House. Who can resist you? Don’t you ever wonder where all
this is going to go … this ‘thing’ between us? You’ve
come to mean more to me than my next breath … but I wonder sometimes if we’ll end up destroying each other. It scares the hell out of me.” Wilson
nuzzled House’s shoulder with his chin, pressing closer, hunched upon himself as though the whole beautiful aura that
surrounded them might pop like a bubble and he would wake up to find it had all been a dream.
“Yeah,” House said. “I
do. A few years from now I’ll become a burden to you … the same way
I’m a burden to myself now. I don’t want that. I want a better future than that for you. You’re not
the only one who’s scared. Trust me!
I keep thinking ‘smoke on the wind!’”
House shifted himself on the piano bench
and pushed against Wilson slightly. “Could you give me a second here … sorry … my leg hurts like hell. I need to get my pills.”
sat up straight and looked down at House’s leg where he’d been pressed for the last ten minutes. “God … I didn’t realize …”
House’s eyes went closed. He palmed a Vicodin and swallowed it dry. His knee felt like a cement pillar. He had thrown the brace
in the trash at the police station. “Isn’t supper about ready by
now?” Divert attention. Take
the conversation somewhere else. He struggled to his feet and grabbed his cane.
By the time Wilson caught up with him, he was in the kitchen. He
was hobbling, face dark, set in stone. Wilson
decided on a compromise, avoid the subject for now. “If you get us each
a beer, I’ll bring supper to the table. It’ll be very fashionable
… dinner at ten. Just like out on ‘Lon Gyland’!” The joke fell flat, but at least House had two silver bullets in his hand and was
heading for the kitchen table.
They ate their meal in silence. The pork chops and the cheddar potatoes and the sweet corn were delicious.
But the mellow part of the evening had fled. Like smoke on the wind.
Replaced by pain and marred with doubt
They never got to bed until 1:00 a.m.
Gregg talked Wilson out of going home to that big, empty house on Ridge
Road. Everything lay scattered where the boys had left it, and the dark parts of James’ mind
inevitably chewed over the events of the day, and chewed over them. He was sure
he would be unable sleep at all, but would be fated to sit up all night and wonder about “what-ifs”. At least, if he was with House, they could chew over all this crap together, and two heads were almost
always better than one.
They did kitchen cleanup together, although
House was next to useless and Wilson did not expect him to
do any of the traipsing back and forth from table to sink, or anything else that had to do with walking around. He did enjoy House’s company though. Gregg was in a
strange mood; accommodating and sympathetic, and Wilson kept
waiting for the other shoe to drop. But it never did. House sat at the table and scraped plates and put the left-over food into covered refrigerator containers. His long face held that deep and thoughtful look he sometimes assumed when his mind
was a thousand miles away. He would ask a question from time to time and listen
carefully to Wilson’s ruminations on the subject. Then he would go back to that thoughtful look again, but James knew his razor mind
was processing every word, and would probably be able to quote the entire conversation verbatim a week or two down the road.
figured that House’s efforts to keep drawing him out also kept Gregg distanced from the pain in his leg. He let himself reminisce at length about Roger and Tom and himself when they were kids. He found himself smiling happily one or two times when one of his childhood memories would remind House
of one of his own … and they would relate the stories, seesawing back and forth in brief, concise sentences.
Later, they sat on the couch with their
bare feet on the coffee table, close enough to touch shoulders, while a muted Leno rerun provided the only night light to
interrupt the darkness. The only sound was the occasional rumble of a car in
the street outside, and the pull of their lips on the beer bottles in their hands. Wilson’s
warm hand rested very lightly on Gregg’s sore knee, still a tad swollen, but less so than before. He was gratified that House allowed him the liberty of actual touch.
From time to time the skin of his palm registered a tiny spiking of ruined nerve endings in Gregg’s thigh, and
he knew it hurt. He also knew it was only a matter of time before Gregg asked
him for the Vicodin bottle that sat on the end table at his elbow.
That happened five minutes later …
They went to bed together in silence and
drew up the covers, also in silence. Tonight it was House who spooned his lean
body against Wilson’s back in gentle support, cupping the younger man’s shoulder
with his hand and allowing his warm breath to whisper against Wilson’s
neck. Neither man voiced further concerns about the uncertain future of Roger
and Jules; nor their own, for that matter. Both understood that the unspoken
tension between them was a vast, uncharted wilderness that stretched ahead, and it was too fragile an environment to bear
much scrutiny right then.
“I love you,” Wilson whispered, as though if spoken too loudly, the hand of fate would whisk it away. Smoke on the wind. The reminders were
“I know,” House whispered in
return. “And I love you. From
the day we met …”
The telephone rang at 8:00 a.m. while they
were still in bed. It was on Gregg’s side.
He coughed thickly with the cottony throat of morning mouth and then grunted something incoherent into the receiver. Roused by the disturbance, Wilson
listened for a moment, instantly awake, reached across and took the instrument from Gregg’s hand.
The caller was Captain Ford of the Princeton
Police Department, and Wilson was not at all surprised. He had given Gregg’s number to the police also.
“Your brother is asking for you,”
the man said. “I don’t ordinarily do this stuff, but he’d like
you to come downtown for his arraignment. Says he and LeBeque have a lot of apologies
to make. They need to talk to you and Dr. House.”
frowned. “How very kind of him to think of me!” He snorted sarcastically. “He’s a little
“Well … yeah …”
Ford continued. “What do you want me to tell him?”
paused at length, but House was awake and listening to the conversation. “Tell
him we’ll be down,” he said softly. “You’ll never
forgive yourself if you don’t. Ask him what time.”
stared at the ceiling for a moment, eyes wide, as though seeking guidance, but he knew House was right. “What time is the arraignment?”
“They’re both scheduled for
eleven o’clock. We don’t normally do this on Saturdays, but our accommodation
for prisoners in wheelchairs is very limited right now. It won’t take long. They’ve waived counsel, and there are just the two witnesses other than the
Bakers. There were no weapons involved, so it’s petty larceny. Your brother will get a fine and community service. LeBeque
will probably pull probation. They’re going to petition the court to allow
them to relocate to Trenton, so they should be out of your
hair before too long.”
“Yes sir. Really. We’ll see you at eleven then?”
Thank you.” Wilson
handed the phone back to Gregg, who reached over to hang it up. Wilson touched Gregg’s arm briefly. “Hey,”
he whispered, “thanks.”
House pulled a goofy face and smirked. “Yeah … you’re welcome. Now
you can tell everybody you have an outlaw brother.”
looked over at Gregg and met the other man’s eyes. “When hell freezes over!” He grumbled.
“Do you think your parents came to
shook his head. “Probably not … but Tom may have …”
“Yeah, I forgot about him. Hand me my pills, please.”
eyes widened again. “Leg acting up?”
“Nah … just wants to know where
the hell its breakfast is …”
“Don’t keep it waiting.”
They drove the Pacifica to the arraignment, which took place in judge’s chambers at the court house. Wilson had been right
… his brother Tom was there, seated with Roger in the wheelchair and Jules right beside him. Both young men were back in their street clothing, and Roger’s crutches were propped across his knees. When Gregg and James walked in, both hung their heads, and Wilson wondered whether his brother would refuse to talk to him again. Never mind that he had “wanted to apologize …”
House and Wilson walked over to them and
sat down, nodding in the meantime to the Bakers, Captain Ford, the bright-eyed eleven-year-old they’d heard so much
about, and a few people they’d never seen before.
Tom Wilson smiled and reached out
to hug his brother and shake Gregg’s hand. He was a pleasant-looking man
in his mid-forties, a little shorter than James, and was already graying at the temples even more than House.
When Roger still did not speak, Tom reached
across and cuffed him on the back of the head. “Remember your goddamn manners,
twerp!” He whispered into Roger’s ear.
Roger’s head came up as though the
gesture had jump-started his brain. “I’m so sorry, Jimmy …
I don’t know where the hell my head was. Pulling this shit someplace where
you’d never hear about it is one thing. But doing it here, this close to
home … was … unforgivable. It wasn’t Jules’ idea. It was mine. I talked him into it.”
scowled angrily. “Are you trying to say that all the other people you scammed
and hurt don’t count because they weren’t around here? You talk like
an idiot. And it makes Jules innocent because it was all your idea? You’re both going to have to make restitution, and I hope the judge throws the book at you!”
“Jimmy, I’m sorry! We did it for the thrills, not the money!”
“You can get thrills going to an
amusement park and riding the roller coaster!” Wilson
felt himself heating up beneath the collar of his McGill University sweat shirt. “I never
heard anything so stupid in my life.” He backed away and resumed his seat
beside House. Gregg looked at him with an unreadable expression and refrained
The arraignment and hearing proceeded
swiftly. The Citibus driver testified to the fact that he had picked Roger up
in the residential neighborhood near Turbot Avenue
and left him out a half block from the Neighborhood Store.
The Baker Brothers testified that both
Roger and Jules had entered the store together, but pretended to be strangers who had met by chance.
When Ralph “Jingo” Prozetta
got up from the bench where he’d been sitting between his parents, and took the witness chair, the room came alive.
“I was up in the tree,” he
began. “The big maple tree in front of my house. I climb up there a lot. I got this old bottle in my pocket
that I was gonna sell to Mr. Ben … ‘cause he pays all us kids for old bottles.
Anyhow, I’m up there lookin’ around … an’ this old car pulls over to the curb across from me. I notice the car because Arnie … my sister’s boyfriend … has a white
one just like it. There’s two guys inside, and it’s like they’re
arguing or something. They both got these Yankees baseball hats on … an’
I think to myself that I saw these guys before … like earlier … driving around the neighborhood the whole morning
… back an’ forth an’ back an’ forth. So I see them take
the hats off. Then one of ‘em gets out, and I’m thinkin’ …
‘jeeze! He’s on crutches! … and he goes over to the Citibus
bench an’ sits down. An’ the dude in the car leaves. Jerk!
“And I’m thinkin’ …
wow! …like, why didn’t the dude in the car take him where he was going instead of dumping him at the bus stop? What a creep! So anyhow, he gets on the
bus and the bus pulls out.
“I climb down from the tree and take
off for Mister Ben’s store to show him the bottle. I take a shortcut down
the alleyways and get there just as the crippled guy gets off the bus. What the
… ?? So I hide an’ watch. The
crippled guy’s legs are bent kinda funny, an’ it looks like it really hurts him to walk. I felt kinda sorry for him.
“And then I look down the street
the other way, and the other guy that was in the car is walkin’ up the sidewalk in the other direction, and it looks
like they’re gonna meet right about in front of the store … an’ I’m thinkin’ … Whaat?? An’ they do, an’ they pretend like they don’t know each other, and
the black guy holds the door for the crippled guy an’ they both go inside.
“An’ I’m thinkin’
… ‘Whoa! That’s nuts!’ So
they’re in there, an’ I keep watchin’ … and after awhile the second dude … the black one …
comes out of the store and looks around. He’s got this white bag in his
hand, and it’s lumpy and something with corners makes parts of the bag stick out … and I’m wondering if
it’s money … and about that time he takes off running like crazy … back down the block the way he came …
an’ I got this feeling that somethin’ aint right!
“I go across the street and walk
inside the store, an’ the crippled guy is all hunched up in the aisle …
and it looks like he’s cryin’ … and Mr. Chris helps him to a chair … but I don’t believe his
crap for a minute! I can see the cash register is set on NO SALE … so I
go over an’ whack the crippled dude on the ear and call him a jerk … or somethin’ like that. An’ I tell Mr. Chris an’ Mr. Ben that the black dude that’s with this guy just robbed
‘em blind. Mr. Chris an’ Mr. Ben don’t believe me at first,
but Mr. Chris goes up to check the register … an’ it’s empty.
“The crippled dude gets all pissed
off, but by then they know he’s lying. They call the cops.
“The cops find the car that the black
dude is in, ‘cause he’s waiting for the crippled dude. I told ‘em
the kinda car it was and the color … and the license number, see? … ‘cause I like to memorize numbers …an’
I guess they both ‘fessed up after that …
“’Cause here we are …”
Jingo finally took a deep breath and looked
up at the judge who was smiling broadly. Actually, everyone in the room seemed
to be smiling broadly, except for Roger and Jules, whose heads were down, their eyes averted.
The judge shook her head appreciatively
and banged the gavel on her desk with a crash. “I will give this case serious
thought,” she said. “We are adjourned until two o’clock this
afternoon when we will reconvene for the results of my findings.” She rose,
turned and left the room by a back door.
It was 12:30 p.m. A bailiff appeared to return Jules and Roger to their cells.
When the gavel banged again, it was exactly
“This hearing will come to order!”
Neither one spoke when the word came down. Jules pulled a six-month sentence for doing the actual robbery. He got probation and 500 hours of community service, working with the highway cleanup crew in Trenton, New Jersey. Roger got probation and three hundred hours community service working in Emergency 911 at the police station
Roger and Jules would occupy the
remodeled basement apartment in the home of newspaper
reporter-photographer, Thomas Wilson and his wife, Suzanne of Trenton, and everybody knew you didn’t mess with news
reporters! They would receive the princely sum of twenty dollars per man, per
month, until they had made complete restitution to everyone they had scammed. After
that they would find gainful employment in the community and pay rent like everyone else … or they could move out.
Captain Ford maintained that they would
both be old and gray by that time! Benjamin and Christopher Baker agreed with
grins on their faces as their stolen money was returned to them with thanks.
The judge made it perfectly clear that
municipalities would be alerted to the nature of Wilson and
LeBeque’s scams, and actions to be taken if such a thing ever happened again.
They both assured the judge … and Roger’s brothers … that it would not.
The judge said very sternly that she certainly
Ben paid Jingo Prozetta $200.00 for the
little “medicine” bottle … which turned out to be a promotional bottle from 1999 that had once been filled
with vanilla extract. Ben decided he’d got the better part of the bargain. The little brown bottle found a home on top of the brand new digital cash register
at the Neighborhood Store.
Jingo got his fielder’s mitt. And the most expensive bike on the rack at Ace Hardware!
Gregg and James said their ‘goodbyes’
to Tom and Roger and Jules in the parking lot of Appleby’s where they had all stopped for a late lunch. There were tearful resolutions and tearful apologies and tearful promises.
Tom and his charges were on the road back to Trenton
by 3:30 p.m. Some of the “Wilson
compassion” had been restored.
House looked at his best friend over the
roof of the Pacifica, wracking his brain for something with
which to distract James Wilson from the stressful day. “Wanna go over to
the impound lot and see if we can liberate your Sundance? I think someone is
probably around over there twenty-four-seven.”
glared at him for a moment, then grinned. “Shadow!”
He said. “Dodge Shadow …
not Sundance. Yeah, let’s!”
Gregg pulled another goofy face. “Sundance … Shadow … to-may-to … to-mah-to … same difference! Let’s go!”
“Are you sure you can …”
“Alright already … you can!”
paid the fifty bucks and liberated his Dodge Shadow. He wondered what the hell
he was going to do with it. Tom did not want it.
Those boys would not be driving anywhere for awhile!
He and House drove to the place on Ridge Road and Wilson
parked the little car in its usual spot at the edge of the driveway. They went
into the house through the garage, and Wilson looked around
sadly for a moment. “So this is where it all ends. And I thought that getting him back after all this time, would be one of the most wonderful things in the
House rounded on him and placed a caring
hand on a slumped shoulder. “It was, Wilson! It was, and it is. This is nothing more
than a bump in the road … a pothole … a whitewashed rock that somebody painted to look like a snowball. It won’t melt away, but it shouldn’t blow a hole in your oil pan either.”
“House, sometimes your analogies
blow me away!”
“That’s the idea, dummy. I’d like to blow you … not necessarily away!”
They embraced, laughing, and Wilson did not take the bait.
They held each other without further words until they had both begun to relax and put the past several hours into perspective. The last few months had been a strain on both of them, and now all the hoopla was
over. They’d hit the brick wall and been dropped dead in their tracks. The upside was that they were relieved of the tension and severed from the trauma. Like a tree whose trunk had been split by lightning, they were past the immediate
shock and waiting to see which half might be the first to fall.
Where would the vagaries of life lead them
now? Where could it go, and what would become of their friendship? Neither man was willing to speculate, so they allowed an invisible wall to rise. Were they now together inside a force field? Or would there
be an impenetrable barrier preventing their love from becoming permanent?
“Are you okay?” House finally asked.
“That’s my line!” Wilson teased. “I’m not okay now, but I will be. I think I could
stand a beer. How about you?”
House smiled tiredly and reached for a
Vicodin. “I thought you’d never ask.”
“I saw in the TV Guide there’s
a night race tonight.”
“Oh yeah? What time? Where?”
“An hour from now. Lowe’s … Charlotte. You want to watch it?”
“Maybe, if you watch it with me.”
“Oh joy! I love watching hot rod cars on a 200-mile-an-hour merry-go-round of left turns … everybody trying
to run everybody else into a wall.”
you say the same damn thing to me every time! But the thing is, we could watch
it in the den … if you move the TV in there … and change the bed …”
“You don’t ask for much, do
“I’ll go make the popcorn …”
“You’re too generous.”
“That’s because I care.”
“Go make the freakin’ popcorn!”
They watched the race originating from
Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina. They got to see Tony Stewart knock Kyle Busch into the infield and Jeff Gordon into
the wall. They saw twelve cautions and five pileups. They saw Mark Martin get the Lucky Dog not once, but twice, and Kevin Harvick get fined for driving too
fast down pit row.
The only thing they did not see was Carl
Edwards get the checkered flag and almost knock his block off doing a summersault from the net-side window of his car …
woke up at three in the morning and turned off the TV. He pulled the covers up
over Gregg House and snuggled carefully under them by Gregg’s side.
The day hadn’t been all bad …