Paranoia (120 of 170)

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Paranoia
by Joseph Finder
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Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.


Part Six: 65 (Cont'd)

"I'll guide you out of here," Goddard said. I followed him into the narrow corridor. The box scraped against the shelves on both sides, and I had to turn it sort of sideways and up to maneuver it through. I could feel the box nudge something. There was a loud crash, the sound of glass shattering.

"Oh, shit," I blurted out.

I twisted the box so I could see what had just happened. I stared: I must have knocked one of the trophies off a shelf. It lay in a dozen golden shards all over the tile floor. It was the kind of trophy that looked like solid gold but was actually some kind of gilt-painted ceramic or something.

"Oh, God, I'm sorry," I said, setting down the box and crouching down to pick up the pieces. I'd been so careful with the box, but somehow I must have knocked against it, I didn't know how.

Goddard glanced around and he turned white. "Forget it," he said in a strained voice.

I collected as many of the shards as I could. It was—it had been—a golden statuette of a running football player. There was a fragment of a helmet, a fist, a little football. The base was wood with a brass plaque that said 1995 CHAMPIONS—LAKEWOOD SCHOOL—ELIJAH GODDARD—QUARTERBACK.

Elijah Goddard, according to Judith Bolton, was Goddard's dead son.

"Jock," I said, "I'm so sorry." One of the jagged pieces sliced painfully into my palm.

"I said, forget about it," Goddard said, his voice steely. "It's nothing. Now come on, let's get going."

I didn't know what to do, I felt so shitty about destroying this artifact of his dead son. I wanted to clean the mess up, but I also didn't want to piss him off further. So much for all the good will I'd built up with the old guy. The cut in my palm was now oozing blood.

"Mrs. Walsh will clean this up," he said, a hard edge to his voice. "Come on, please take these gifts outside." He went down the hall and disappeared somewhere. Meanwhile, I lifted the box and carried it, with extreme caution, down the narrow corridor and then out of the house. I left a smeary handprint of blood on the cardboard.

When I returned for the second box, I saw Goddard sitting in a chair in a corner of his study. He was hunched over, his head in shadow, and he was holding the wooden trophy base in both hands. I hesitated, not sure what I should do, whether I should get out of here, leave him alone, or whether I should keep moving the boxes and pretend I didn't see him.

"He was a sweet kid," Goddard suddenly said, so quietly that at first I thought I'd imagined it. I stopped moving. His voice was low and hoarse and faint, not much louder than a whisper. "An athlete, tall and broad in the chest, like you. And he had a ... gift for happiness. When he walked into a room, you just felt the mood lifting. He made people feel good. He was beautiful, and he was kind, and there was this—this spark in his eyes." He slowly raised his head and stared into the middle distance. "Even when he was a baby, he almost never cried or fussed or ..."

Goddard's voice trailed off, and I stood there in the middle of the room, frozen in place, just listening. I'd balled up a napkin in my hand to soak up the blood, and I could feel it getting wet. "You would have liked him," Goddard said. He was looking toward me but somehow not at me, as if he were seeing his son where I was standing. "It's true. You boys would have been friends."

"I'm sorry I never met him."

"Everybody loved him. This was a kid who was put on the earth to make everybody happy—he had a spark, he had the best sm—" His voice cracked. "The best—smile...." Goddard lowered his head, and his shoulders shook. After a minute he said, "One day I got a call at the office from Margaret. She was screaming.... She'd found him in his bedroom. I drove home, I couldn't think straight.... Elijah had dropped out of Haverford his junior year—really, they kicked him out, his grades had gone to shit, he stopped going to classes. But I couldn't get him to talk about it. I had a good idea he was on drugs, of course, and I tried to talk to him, but it was like talking to a stone wall. He moved back in, spent most of his time in his room or going out with kids I didn't know. Later I heard from one of his friends that he'd gotten into heroin at the beginning of junior year. This wasn't some juvenile delinquent, this was a gifted, sweet-natured fellow, a goo d kid... . But at some point he started ... what's the expression, shooting up? And it changed him. The light in his eyes was gone. He started to lie all the time. It was as if he was trying to erase everything he was. Do you know what I mean?" Goddard looked up again. Tears were now running down his face.

I nodded.

A few slow seconds ticked by before he went on. "He was searching for something, I guess. He needed something the world couldn't give him. Or maybe he cared too much, and he decided he needed to kill that part of him." His voice thickened again. "And then the rest of him."

"Jock," I began, wanting him to stop.

"The medical examiner ruled it an overdose. He said there was no question it was deliberate, that Elijah knew what he was doing." He covered his eyes with a pudgy hand. "You ask yourself, what should I have done differently? How did I screw him up? I even threatened to have him arrested once. We tried to get him to go into rehab. I was on the verge of packing him off there, making him go, but I never got the chance. And I asked myself over and over again: Was I too hard on him, too stern? Or not hard enough? Was I too involved in my own work?—I think I was. I was far too driven in those days. I was too goddamned busy building Trion to be a real father to him."




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