by Carl L. Biemiller,
edited by C. J. Carnahan and Eric Biemiller

lightning Copyright © 2005 by Eric C. Biemiller

Please respect the copyrights.
The chapter links are located at the end of each chapter.
Chapter 8

School was reasonably glad to see Woodie, and he was glad to run with the pack once more, even to dig into the backlog of make-up work some of his teachers had thoughtfully organized for him. There was a new sign on the inside of the door to his corridor locker. It said ‘brain damage hurts health’ and was obviously the work of Kenneth Angell who went to private schools too long to learn anything--well except advanced needlepoint and trust fund management. There was another inside the lift-up top of his homeroom desk. It said ‘The thrill is back. Emily’. She wore body suits. Her hair hung in hanks down to where her jeans clung in fright to knobs that would be female hips someday. She carried a hockey stick to the rec hall dances on Friday nights. Woodie liked Emily. She was a good, gruesome friend with lots of smarts, and would doubtless make a good guerrilla fighter. Tinker Tubbs dated Emily, and together they looked like the Norse god Thor and a brunette walking stick or, maybe a shrimpy, midget witch.

Yes, Woodie was glad to stretch among his peers. He went to the last game of the freshman football season on Thanksgiving morning, and watched Marterville manage a zero-zero tie with a favored Seaview High team. The Seaview players brought wet suits because they wanted to go home and get in some winter surfing after the game.

Woodie Senior went with him.

The score would have been about 21 to zilch if it hadn’t been for Tinker Tubbs. Tinker was an XL size and would weigh about 250 when he attained full growth. He could move a 40 yards in 4.5 seconds, and he moved with a savage sureness into the Seaview backfield, along its flanks and down field.

“You talk about ESP,” said Woodie Senior. “What was Tinker doing out there on that sideline square-out to pick off that ball? He must have read somebody’s mind …”

“Nah,” explained Woodie Junior. “That clown quarterback has gone to that guy with that same pass play on the same down since we knew them in the midget league. Tinker didn’t read any minds, Dad. He could have been waiting right on that spot all morning and the guy would have thrown the same pass. You call that anticipation and knowing the opposition, or just plain, sound game sense. Ol’ Tink almost broke it on them, didn’t he?”

“And, Woodie, I wish you would stop with the ESP. I’ll cut it out with Dr. Bailiff if you want me to, you know.”

“No, I just trip over my imagination sometimes, and then rub my own nasties on you. Peace?” No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace. Fra Giovanni,” said Woodie Junior.

“What have I spawned? Fra Giovanni in the middle of a Turkey Day football game from my own son,” said Woodie Senior.

“Well, I’ve been spending some quiet time in the school library with that make-up work. I dip for a quote now and then because I know you like it.”

“Why, dammit then, dammit … the ol’ Fra, eh … with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and shadows flee away.”

Tinker Tubbs joined them momentarily after the game. He loomed like a mussed up mountain in his dirty gear, sweat-wet and mud-wet and lime caked from the yard lines. The three of them stood eye to eye, two slim birches and one young oak, noted Woodie Senior who thought like that much of the time.

“You did a good job out there, Tinker,” said Ballard Senior.

“Not enough horses, sir. No offense that matters as yet and we sure missed skinny glue hands here. I think the coaches would have played us both ways today. You noticed I got a shot with the backfield today? Think Dingle wanted to tucker me …”


“Head coach, Dad. Wal, Tink, yuh done good mostly…”

“Except gettin’ sucked on that trap.”

“Only once though, but that Beanie could have taken it in if he’d run cross-grain. Once more step and then lots of air.”

“Beanie is a soggy noodle. I discouraged Beanie. But what I want to know is, you wanna come with me while I get pretty and then maybe over to the beach with Emily and blight-buddy Sue? It’s only like noon now. Maybe hoagies at Never-close John’s...I could eat six.”

“Won’t that take the edge off your Thanksgiving dinner, Tinker?” asked Woodie Senior.

“How sir?”

“Never mind. Go ahead, Woodie, if you like. The aged can find its way home.”

“Nope, Tink. Give me a holler tomorrow. Grab another hero for Sue, and tell Emily to keep her hockey stick in its holster.”

“You are a bummer of a buddy, all’s I got to say. ‘Bye, Mr. Kynwood. Tell your son he’s a lump.”

“Be happy to oblige, Tinker. Enjoy everything.”

They walked home without haste through a mid-day growing gray, and a gathering northeast wind blowing off the nearby sea. The wind searched their nostrils with salt fingers and hummed at their ears with rumors of snow. The morning sunlight which had warmed the playing field vanished into cloud cover. The university buildings and even the trees became steel forms as the gray darkened.

“Why does Tinker call that Sue he mentioned a blight-buddy?”

“Well, for one she carries an all-band transistor radio everyplace, maybe even into the shower for all anybody knows …”

“Music is nice, Woodie.”

“Police calls. Nothing but police calls. Day shift, night shift, fire alarms and ambulances. What music?”

The house was filled with Thanksgiving smells when they arrived, spicy and rich.

“The bird’s on and the oven leaks,” said Connie. “And liberated womanhood has reforged her own chains to pumpkin pie. There is also a surprise.”

The surprise was Dr. Decker Todd in a fawn corduroy suit, a tangerine turtleneck pullover shirt and the look of a man who chose not to sprint that day. He had a friend with him, a hearty, rumpled looking man with salt and pepper hair that looked at though it had been raked instead of combed, and baby-startle blue eyes. There were nests of tiny wrinkles at the corners of those eyes, and a set to a jaw which denied their innocence, however.

“Just thought I’d stop by to see if the patient lived,” said Dr. Todd, “and maybe to have a drink with his father, although we will not stay to dinner no matter how you beg.

“This is Representative Morris T. Otten, Moe Otten, patriot and politician, your friend and mine … and once again a member of the United States Congress … I call him ‘Twit’ …”

Woodie hesitated as he stepped forward to shake hands, and Woodie Senor smiled.

“We’re happy to have you here, Mr. Otten,” he said.

“How do you do, sir,” said Woodie Junior.

‘Twit’ Otten laughed.

“I’m glad to be here. You doubtless know that the pea I was using for a brain was removed and the great surgeon who did the job substituted a BB which qualifies me for the office I hold and that for the sixth time the great surgeon failed to vote for me”

“I could have filled the whole cavity with sawdust, you know.”

“I’m very happy with my BB,” said Congressman Otten. He winked at Woodie Junior. “You’re lucky to get out alive, son. If the laws weren’t so lax in this country, Deck wouldn’t be allowed to cut a pork chop in a third rate meat store.”

“What would you like to drink, gentlemen?” asked Woodie’s father.

“Tea, if I may,” said Mr. Otten.

“You can get two cups for one bag, Connie. I mean it, ma’am,” said Decker.

“We’ve got some cider,” said Woodie Junior.

“Charge at it, then. It just so happens that ‘Twit’ and I have this thing for hot tea on a nasty day.”

“I am going to have a dollop of scotch whiskey,” said Ballard Senior. “Connie?”

“Tea, and not from any old bags. Steeped and poured all brisk from a pot in a cozy way and lady-like as well.”

“You look mighty sharp, Dr. Todd,” Said Woodie Junior.

“Just out of context to you, son, out of my factory garb as it were. I am really a songbird at heart, and content to dress the part. But make a little doctor talk for me. How do you feel? Not tired? No dizzy spells? Food taste fine? All the girls look great in their Army shirts and high heeled sneakers?”

“Once and a while I get the inside lonesomes,” admitted Woodie.

Dr. Todd nodded. His direct gaze was keen as it rested on the boy. “The all gone empty blues and you want to cry,” he said. “That’s a definite post-operative stage, Woodie, and it’ll pass. Matter of fact I think you’ve worked through it already. Color’s good. Muscle tone must be okay because you move easy and light-footed. Don’t think you’ve been lying about feeling sorry about the world too much. And the big Beetle says you’re working out fine with him. I’d say he checked you out pretty frequently. You like his notions?”

“Mostly,” said Woodie

“I know Dr. Bailiff pretty well myself,” said Congressman Otten softly. “He may be recognized as one of the world’s great men someday if he isn’t stoned to death by the BB brains.”

“The ‘Twit” was in school with Beetle and me. He has a medical degree which few people know about, but he derailed himself from the doctor trade for politics and law,” said Dr. Todd. “A very big man with a calling for law is ‘Twit’, but ding-blast if I ever vote for him. He could have pioneered most of today’s brain studies by now.

Woodie felt the power stir within him and quelled it, but not before he knew a response in the room.

“How do you know he hasn’t?” asked Woodie Junior.

“Because there aren’t any brains in Washington to work on, that’s how.”

“Pour his tea, please Mrs. Kynwood. He gets all tensed up with the stupids, and I want him nice and relaxed when we go to dinner this evening. In fact, I want him tenderized enough to pay for it.”

“I gather you don’t have a family around to share the holiday,” said Connie Kynwood.

“Doesn’t anybody ever read my campaign material?”

“Milked by patients, milked by by friends who don’t even suggest matching coins for dinner. Why would anybody want to read your campaign bilge? No, Connie. The fellow’s a bachelor, one of the worst kind, all scrimy and unwanted as well as being sneaky and elusive,” said Dr. Todd.

“You’re a bachelor too, Doctor,” said Connie.

“Of the better sort. Wanted, followed by crowds of adorers strewing orchids at my feet. Why, I could be married this afternoon if I could hide my bank balance. By the way, Woodie, you haven’t had any strange people inquiring your health lately, have you?”

“Two teachers. They’re pretty strange. They handle most kids as though they expected them to explode in their faces. But they just asked how I felt, why?”

“I don’t know exactly, but one of the bright student interns asked some questions about you, even asked if I kept any EEG records on you that he could study. Then some patient named Appleton Osbert Innsberhoff asked about you. Wanted to know if you were the boy who visited him … while he was dying, he said … couldn’t see you getting out of bed the night he mentioned. I think I had you needled bye-bye.”

Dr. Todd paused.

“You didn’t call attention to yourself in any way silly, I assume?”

“Whatever do you mean, Decker Todd?” asked Connie.

“Footballs,” said Ballard Senior darkly.

“I’d like to get into the conversation,” said the congressman easily. “I gather there is some reference to Woodie’s ESP potentials?”

“Don’t look at me, you Kynwoods,” cried Dr. Todd making waves in his teacup. I don’t talk about my patients even if they have rare diseases like elm rust or nasturtiums. See Beetle. ‘Twit’s a big buddy of the Zulu’s,”

“Dr. Bailiff did mention his work with Woodie to me,” explained Representative Otten. “A long time ago, as Decker told you, I did have visions of a career in brain medicine, and Dr. Bailiff and I did a few things in his line together. So we talk together when I’m home or he’s in Washington. Why not? We’re friends. And I’ve never lost interest in work, which might have been my own. If Woodie has genuine ESPER gifts, he’s blessed.”

Woodie took a chance. He did what Dr. Bailiff had forbidden him do, at least until his training was more advanced; he read Congressman Otten.

There was power there, if nothing like his own. It was warm, sympathetic and friendly and intuitively knowing. But it was not a directed force. It was an accepted believing. But there was a locked door between belief and knowledge, and Woodie retreated after a single butterfly touch.

“Legislators don’t spend all their time legislating, you know,” said Mr. Otten.

“I often wonder how they do spend their time,” ventured Ballard Senior rising to green his scotch. “And I have the uneasy feeling that I shouldn’t have to wonder, that I ought to take time to know. That’s the responsibility of anyone who votes.”

“It is,” agreed Congressman Otten. “But too many people think the best way to find out is to ask somebody else who doesn’t know either. And, frankly and sadly, I admit that it’s hard to get straight answers.”

“To me that’s nonsense,” said Connie. “More tea? Why should any straight and informative answer to any legitimate question be so hard for our people in Washington to produce for the voters who pay their wages?”

Congressman Morris T. Otten looked like the picture on his campaign billboards.

“Stop looking like the picture on your campaign billboards, ‘Twit’,” said Decker Todd, “and tell the voter. It’s her tea.”

“I will. I will. I’ve got two more years before I come up for election again,” grinned ‘Twit’. He was suddenly grave.

“Most elected officials to any governmental post take their first offices with a real desire to do their conscientious best in the cause of good government. Almost immediately, and because they are human, they rationalize that to do that best, they have to be re-elected. Almost immediately after that they begin to compromise with their best, to make it a piecemeal thing, and to make it secondary to what has suddenly become the big job, to be re-elected.

“Straight answers become harder to get. They get mixed up with the answers the representative thinks the most voters in his constituency want to hear, especially if the real, true answers are unpleasant and disturbing. No politician is going to go about bleating hard answers even if he knows them.

“And that’s another thing. There are so many problems, which affect such a diversity of people in this country, that no one man can be more than informed on any one, single phase of those problems.

“Trouble is that people expect us to be both informed and expert on all phases of all problems. By grabs, I can’t. Nobody can be. And that’s why it’s hard for you to get straight answers, Mrs. Kynwood.”

“How about the deliberate concealment of truth?” asked Ballard Senior. “How about the lying, stealing and other things we read about in government?”

“Strange conversation for Thanksgiving Day,” said Decker Todd. “Any of this interest you, Woodie?”

“Yes, sir.” He grinned. “They teach us to read pretty early these days, and we hear the news on radio on TV too…”

“Between blight-buddy Sue’s cop calls, eh,” laughed his father.

“Inside joke?” asked ‘Twit’ Otten. “Okay then, but before we leave the politics, friends … Sure, the things Mr. Kynwood mentioned do exist. We try to correct them because we can’t accept them and exist as a society. We correct our evils through laws. That’s why we have laws, and why those laws have to apply to all of our people all of the time, the highest and the lowest. Sometimes our laws work slowly, too slowly. Many times, too many, they don’t work evenly … There may come a day when this country accepts corruption as a routine part of normal life, and decides there’s no harm in trying to get away with wrong-doing because so many others are doing wrong. That’s the day you close the store on all the best hopes of man.

“Why do I let myself get all up-tight about stuff?”

“Because you’re a twit, ‘Twit’ and your brain is pure BB,” said Decker Todd.

“I’m glad it is. I am about to be a new member of the House Judiciary Committee. It’s very important to me, and I’ll need the best of all possible BB’s.”

“Right out of a kid’s Lone Ranger Daisy air gun,” said Dr. Todd. “My own, as a matter of fact.”

Woodie Junior looked puzzled, and Decker Todd chuckled.

“Too bad for you not to know about BB guns. When I was your age you could get ‘em for box tops, and the Daisy folks made the best. Too bad for you double. You probably never heard of the Lone Ranger either. He used to give ‘em away on the radio. And too bad for you triple. There’s probably an ordinance against using BB guns by now.”

“There is,” said Congressman Otten. “I had it passed when I was mayor of this town.”

“You took an awful chance. Suppose I hadn’t kept mine? Then what, ol’ Moe ‘Twit’ Otten? Then what? You’d still be using a pea for a brain instead of the BB I gave you. A sick pea too.”

“Did Dr. Todd really operate on you, sir?” asked Woodie.

“Unfortunately, he did. Busted skull from an auto accident, probably just like your injury. I must say he did a fine job. But then surgery is all he knows. He has to have instructions to be able to tie his shoes in the morning.”

Dr. Todd and Congressman Otten stayed and chatted for another fifteen minutes before they left.

“I may see you before I go back to Washington,” said ‘Twit’ to Woodie Junior. “Maybe at Dr. Bailiff’s lab. I think his work is important, you know. And maybe I can get him to bring you to Washington when he comes down to visit. He fools around at the National Institutes of Health now and then. Would you like that?”

“Sure would, sir,” said Woodie Junior. “And thanks.”

“You tell the Beetle, in case I forget, that somebody was asking about your case,” said Decker Todd.

“Yes sir,” said Woodie Junior. “You look mighty sharp today, Dr. Todd.”

“I am delighted to hear it. One more thing. If you decide to conquer the basketball courts later, wear a head-guard. I looked in my Daisy last night, and I only have three BB’s left. One’s flat on one side. “Bye. I’ll be in touch.”

“Come again,” said Woodie’s mother.

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five
Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty One
Chapter Twenty Two Chapter Twenty Three Chapter Twenty Four Chapter Twenty Five Chapter Twenty Six
Chapter Twenty Seven Chapter Twenty Eight Chapter Twenty Nine Chapter Thirty
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