The sirens startled me.Usually they faded into silence as the ambulances pulled up to the hospital emergency room two blocks away.These wound down directly under my bedroom window, drowning out the clattering of my old air conditioner.
I stopped rummaging through the dresser drawer trying to find a pair of socks to blend with my grey pants and looked toward the park and the marina.Unable to see anything, I pushed up the window and stuck my head out.The ninety degree heat and high humidity smacked me in the face and caused my forehead to sweat. A police car and an ambulance were to my left at the head of the alley that ran behind my building.
Any other time my curiosity would have demanded I check it out, but not today.I was running late.Tomorrow I’d call the police chief and find out what went down.What was the good of my mother dating him if I didn’t use the contact once in a while?
I shut the window, wiped the perspiration and finished dressing in my light blue shirt, striped blue tie and navy sport jacket.After reading an article on color psychology, I wore a lot of blue.The psychologist said blue was the most popular color and builds trust and conveys reliability.In my business, selling alarm systems, those two attributes were paramount.
I locked my apartment door, trotted down the creaky staircase and gave the doorknob a tug to free the warped wooden door from its sash.As soon as the money started rolling in from the new contract I landed last week I was moving out of this dump.
I took two steps up the Wharf Avenue hill when a familiar voice bellowed, “David wait up.”
Turning, I saw Officer William Decker coming out of Jake’s tavern across the street.
“David, I gotta talk to you,” he yelled and lumbered toward me.
Willie had been a guard on the high school football team.When he didn’t get a scholarship to college, he joined the Red Bank police force and stopped working out.All that beef he used to open up holes for the running backs settled in a huge gut that hung over his utility belt.I like football but was too thin to play it.No matter what I ate I couldn’t get my tall lanky body over one hundred seventy pounds. I took up baseball as my sport of choice and played short stop all the way from Little league through high school.My career batting average was three ten.
I looked at my watch.“Damn,” I muttered.“This better not take too long.”
Mom taught me to be a stickler for punctuality.As usual her guidance paid off, but also as usual, it took a few kicks in the ass to drum it into me.I only had to arrive late for two sales calls to find out it was a lot easier to sell security systems if the client was more concerned about what I had to say than about the clock.
When Willie reached me, he gave me the once over, and panted, “Big date tonight, buddy?”
“Mom’s sixtieth birthday.I’m taking her to the Fromagerie.”
“Fan-cy.Business must be good.”
I ignored his mocking.“What’s up?I’m running late.”
“Carl Adams was found stuffed behind a dumpster.Looks like he was beaten to death.”
“Gees, who would do a thing like that?”
“Jake says he saw Adams hanging around your doorstep for close to two hours last night.”
“On my doorstep?Why?”
“Who knows.Jake said Adams looked real upset about something and never came over to try and bum a drink off him like he does every night.You never saw him?”
“No, I was out with Bobbie.We took in a late movie and a couple of beers at her place.Got home about one.”
Willie scribbled in his notebook.“You didn’t hear or see nothing unusual?”
“Okay, David.If we got any other questions we’ll be in touch.”
“Fine,” I said, shook Willie’s hand and took off.
As I hurried toward Whitcomb’s jewelry store to pick up my mother’s birthday gift, I thought, who the hell would want to beat up that old bum? Adams was harmless.All he ever did was wander around town panhandling to buy booze.And what the hell did he want with me?He knew I couldn’t stand being near him.He stank.I shooed him away every time he tried to hit me up for some loose change.
I never could figure out why my mother liked him.She worked hard in the hospital for the money they paid her, never complaining or asking for anything she wasn’t entitled to.Yet, she always gave Adams a hand out whenever she saw him.She would even invite him into her kitchen and feed him.
I crossed Front Street and hurried up Broad Street for a block to Whitcomb’s jewelry store.Red Bank had four or five jewelry stores.The oldest was Ballew’s, formerly known as Reusilles, which had been a fixture at thirty-six Broad Street since 1886.The building they currently occupied was built in 1873 and still had the original cast iron window lintels.In 1910, Reusilles erected a free standing clock on the sidewalk which is now considered a city landmark.
The newest jewelry store was Tiffany’s.Yes, that Tiffany’s.Monmouth County, New Jersey was ideal for such an upscale store because the county ranked eighth in median family income and thirty-first in median home values in the entire country.Everyone knew that famous Tiffany’s turquoise box.Getting mom a gift wrapped in it would have been really special, but I still opted for Whitcomb’s Jewelry Store because I was in the middle of negotiations with Mr. Whitcomb to sell him a new alarm system and a fingerprint activated door lock for his back door that led out to a secluded parking lot.
In the store, I handed my receipt to John, the clerk Mr. Whitcomb had assigned to wait on me when I bought mom’s gift three days ago.He disappeared into the back.
Before I landed that new contract last week I had no idea what I was going to get mom for her sixtieth.It certainly wasn’t going to be jewelry and dinner in the finest French restaurant in the county.I had started my business six months ago and it was a struggle.I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, but I was determined to get her something special.All I could think about was how many times Mom went without so I could have new clothes, a bike, a baseball glove or some other trivial thing I wanted.Not that she didn’t make me earn what she gave me.
“You don’t get any free rides around here,” she would say.“You want something in this world, you have to work for it.”
Later when I read something Mark Twain said―Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living.The world owes you nothing.It was here first―I realized exactly what my mother meant and it made me work even harder.
Because I had no father―I mean I had to have a father but he was out of the picture from before I was born―I was the man in the family so it was my job to clean the gutters, paint the house, shovel the snow and rake the leaves.
I had thought about borrowing money from my girlfriend to buy a gift, but I rejected that idea.It was too embarrassing.Then I landed that new contract with a nice retainer.When I told Mom where we were going, I had to tell her how I could afford it, but I didn’t tell her who the contract was from.I wanted that to be a surprise.I couldn’t wait to see the look on her face.
Returning with the necklace, John said, “Wish your mom a happy birthday for me.”
Everyone knew my mom.She’s a nurse on the pediatric floor in the hospital.She helped either deliver or care for most of the babies born in the area for the last thirty years.
“I will thank you.” I held up the necklace by the chain and stared at the word “Sally” spelled out in fourteen karat gold.A ray of light danced off the diamond on the end of the ‘Y’ and refracted into a rainbow.
Turning it around, I checked the inscription which ran across every letter.To the best mother in the world, your loving son, David.
I gave it back to John, and said, “Perfect.”
He placed the necklace in a white box between cotton padding and wrapped the box in gold paper.
I looked at the thin package and thought, you’ve worked hard enough, Mom.This present is going to be just the beginning of my repayment to you for being mother and father to me for twenty-six years.
I walked back to pick up my car I kept parked in Jake’s lot.Jake’s pub was built in the 1790s and was a gathering place for the farmers after they delivered their crops to discuss prices, the weather and their harvest and to rent a bed on the second floor if they lived farther than their horse and wagon could make it before nightfall.Jake’s sported the original beamed ceiling, pegged wooden floor and stone hearth with baking ovens.Jake was my first customer and in exchange for the great price I gave him on the alarm system he let me park in his lot.It was a good deal because parking meters lined the sidewalks for blocks around my apartment.
Of course getting a free parking space wasn’t the main reason I gave Jake a big discount.Jake’s was still a meeting place, only today it was for the yuppies who came to watch sports on the six TVs and for his great burgers, ribs, chicken and homemade sourdough bread he cooked in that hearth.Jake promised me he’d talk me up to his clientele.Unfortunately most of them were singles like me and lived in apartments and didn’t need alarm systems.But, hey you never know as they say in the lottery ads.
Jake also let me run a tab when I was tapped out which was often.That was why I was so thin.I only ate two meals a day, cereal for breakfast and whatever I could afford at Jake’s for dinner.Except on Sunday when I ate dinner with Mom.I used to eat with Mom four or five nights a week, but since I started my business I often worked evenings calling on homeowners.And Friday and Saturday nights were reserved for my girlfriend, Bobbie, whom Mom loved.Anyway, Mom always made something that was perfect for leftovers which I took home and used for diner Monday and Tuesday.
Pulling out of Jake’s I noticed a crowd had gathered in Marine Park across from the murder scene.Poor slob, I thought.Nobody, not even a derelict like Adams, deserved to die like that.I wondered if he had a family.Maybe Mom knew.Well, I wasn’t going to tell her about Adams until after dinner.I didn’t want to spoil our evening.
My mom’s house in Rumson was three and a half miles from my apartment.Rumson was the easternmost town on a tongue of land surrounded by the Shrewsbury River on the south and east, and the Navesink River on the north.The five square mile Borough was founded in 1665 and was occupied by farmers until after the Civil War when the New York and Long Branch Railroad laid track down the coast and made the North Jersey Shore and easy trip from New York City.With cool breezes blowing across the peninsula from the rivers and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, America’s newly rich industrialists found Rumson a perfect spot to escape the heat of the city and built great estates on twenty to thirty acres. Charles E. Rector, the famous New York City restauranteur and the Biddles of banking fame lived in Rumson.The notorious Mayflower Madame―her ancestors came over on the Mayflower―was a Biddle and she often visited her relatives.Many of their manor houses were designed by such notables as Stanford White and he also built his own mansion in Rumson. White, a famous architect and infamous womanizer, was shot and killed in 1906 at Madison Square Roof Garden by the jealous husband of actress Evelyn Nesbit with who White was having an affair.
Today Bruce Springsteen lived in Rumson.So did Heather Locklear although I don’t know if she kept her house after her divorce from Richie Sambora, Bon Jovi’s lead Guitarist.Bon Jovi lived across the river in the Navesink section of Middletown.
The other towns on the peninsula were Red Bank, Little Silver to the southeast, and Fair Haven sandwiched between Red Bank and Rumson.Lately, every time I drove down River Road through Fair Haven I couldn’t help but laugh at the dozen pink, plastic flamingos someone had stuck on their from lawn.For the past few months Fair Haven had been mired in a bruhaha over the establishment of an historic district.The pros claimed it was necessary to preserve the historic buildings.The cons countered by saying certain people in town just want to be aesthetic police.I guess the flamingo guy was on the side of the cons and the plastic birds were his way of saying he was against compulsory snob appeal.He certainly made his point.Those were the tackiest things I had ever seen.
If I lived in Fair Haven I would be a con also.I was a property rights guy.What right did the government have to tell someone what kind of windows or doors or eaves to install or what color a house could be painted just because the house was old?If the town wanted to preserve a particular house they deemed historic, they should buy it and turn it into a museum.
I wondered if the whole preservation thing was because Fair Haven’s politicos felt a bit overshadowed by trendy Red Bank to the west and their wealthier neighbor to the east.Worth’s Guide to the Nation’s Wealthiest Communities ranked Rumson at two hundred and eleven with an average house priced close to a million dollars.The rank probably would have been a lot higher if the average price weren’t brought down by small houses like my mother’s two bedroom cape cod built on quarter acre lots around the town’s maintenance garage, and not suitable for mansions.We peons who serviced the rich had to live somewhere.
Although it was only a few minutes drive along River Road to get to mom’s house, I felt like a rung out dish rag when I turned into her gravel driveway.The air conditioner in my ten year old Chevy SUV hadn’t worked for weeks.As I entered the backyard through the white picket fence—did I hate to paint that—the aroma from the blooms on the thirty rose bushes caressed my senses.Mom pampered her bushes with the same tenderness for which she cared for the babies in the pediatric ward.
She talked about those babies and her roses all the time.I barely listened.I wasn’t interested in hospital work, and the only thing I knew about roses was that the beaches opened about the same time they started to bloom.In my teenage years, I preferred to spend my free time playing in white sand rather than black dirt.
Walking through the back door into the kitchen, I was surprised to see a plate with a half eaten sandwich and a glass with remnants of soda still on the table.Mom was a stickler about cleaning up after eating.When I lived at home, she nagged me often enough for leaving a mess in the sink.On the counter by the sink, I spotted the vase filled with water and the withered roses in her wicker basket.They looked like they’d been there for hours.What the hell was going on?
I quickened my steps and pushed on the swinging door that separated the kitchen from the living room.Halfway open it banged into something, stopping its path.I shoved it and stared open mouthed at the destruction—furniture overturned, pictures ripped off the walls, bookshelves emptied and her crystal and china collection smashed.Then I saw the white shoes protruding from the staircase that led to the second floor.My stomach knotted and my heart skipped a beat.
“Oh God.Oh no, don’t let it be,” I cried as I ran across the room, my feet crunching shards of glass and china into the polished wooden floor.
Dropping to my knees, I grabbed my mother into my arms. Her jaw was off center, her nose smashed and her lifeless eyes ringed with dark circles.
Rocking back and forth, I clutched her stiffened body to my chest.My tears dropped onto her sweet smelling hair, a smell that suddenly flashed up a memory of mom comforting me with a hug whenever I had what I thought was an insurmountable childhood problem.All I could think about was how totally helpless I now was when she needed me to comfort her.
The “Oh no’s” gurgled out of my throat between sobs and erupted into a scream that had to have been heard all the way back to the hospital.