| American Outrage |
By Tim Green
(The buy button will take you to the standard print edition of this book at Amazon.com. From there you will be able to see if the book is also available in large print or audio.)
SAM’S HEAD WAS BACK against the wall, his eyes painfully closed, wearing the look of a refugee. Crusted blood caked the edges of his nostrils and sloppy crimson smears marked the trail that must have run down either side of his mouth and off the chin. His white Yankees T-shirt, oversized to hide a stomach that spilled over his belt, was stained and rumpled.
Jake’s jaw tightened and he drew deep breaths of air through his nose. He flung open the door and Sam looked at him, blinking back fresh, seventh-grade tears. The principal, Ms. Dean, burst out of her office, shooting her glare at Jake, then at Sam, then back to Jake. Ms. Dean wore a frumpy blue dress. She had a small, grandmother’s face, with curly white hair and petite round glasses, what you might expect on a can of baked beans. She tapped the backs of her fingers against the open door of a conference room and said, “In here, please.”
Jake put a hand on Sam’s husky shoulder, giving it a squeeze before he followed the principal’s orders. She snapped her fingers at Sam. Jake cleared his throat, felt his cheeks go warm, and sat down at the far end of the table after folding his raincoat and laying it over the back of the chair to drip. Ms. Dean pointed to a chair and Sam sat down at the opposite end of the table. The principal put a piece of paper in front of Jake, handing him a pen.
“An order of suspension,” she said. “This is three. The next one and he’ll be expelled, Mr. Carlson. We can’t have this fighting.”
“Ms. Dean,” Jake said, offering her the same smile that he used to open the hearts of total strangers.
“No, Mr. Carlson,” she said, showing him her trembling palm. “I know it’s been hard for Sam, losing a parent. But this school is supposed to be a safe zone for my students.”
“Are you sure about what happened?”
Ms. Dean frowned, the little crescent wrinkles at the corners of her mouth rippling outward and down toward the tuft of fuzz on her chin.
“He bit them,” she said.
Jake flashed a look at Sam, who only hung his head.
“I saw the teeth marks,” she said. “And there’s blood on his braces.”
Sam tightened his lips and winced.
Jake scrawled his signature below the principal’s.
“Come on, Sam,” Jake said. He got up and grabbed his coat, walking past his son and letting himself out into the office.
“I think he should see Dr. Stoddard,” the principal said, raising her voice. “Obviously, whatever you’re doing privately isn’t working.”
Sam followed close behind, filling the entryway with his large presence. Jake wasn’t a big man, but at just thirteen, Sam was nearly as tall and weighed about the same. It wasn’t unusual for people to overestimate his age by three or four years.
Outside, Jake held the umbrella for Sam, giving him all the protection it could offer against the teeming late spring rain. He saw Sam into the passenger side, slamming the door before collapsing the umbrella and tossing it into the trunk. He climbed into the seat of his BMW coupe and wiped away the courses of water running down his face.
“You bit them? Are you kidding me?”
Sam slumped further into the seat and deepened his scowl. He folded his thick arms across his chest and angled his head away so that Jake could see nothing of his features except the ends of those long dark lashes and the tip of his pug nose. Jake slapped the steering wheel, whipping droplets of rain from the stringy ends of his hair across the burl-wood dashboard. He cursed, slammed the car into gear, and raced off into the downpour toward home. The wipers pounded out their beat, fighting off the hissing buckets of rain as they crossed the bridge to Atlantic Beach.
“My father would have kicked my ass,” Jake said. “Is that what you want? Is that what this is about? I’m too easy on you? I’m your buddy and you want some goddamn assurances that I’m in charge?”
Jake pulled up short at a light, stomping on the brake so that Sam bumped his head against the dash.
“Where’s your goddamned seat belt?” Jake said. “Can you follow at least one rule?”
Jake just stared at Sam until he popped open the door and ran out into the rain.
All Jake could do was watch as he ran across the parking lot, a husky, hunched-over shape in tennis shoes, whose bear-gait sent him into the misty gray rain coming in off the ocean until it swallowed him completely.
“I don’t belong,” Sam said, his face contorting as if someone had pinched his skin, then let go.
“I’m sorry, Sam,” Jake said. He knelt down and touched Sam’s shoulder.
Jake hadn’t bothered with the umbrella when he went after him. His suit clung tight to his body and dark blue dye stained the backs of his hands. Sam sat balled up underneath the boardwalk with his head in his knees, trembling. Heavy drops from the boardwalk above plunked into the lake of water surrounding them and the rain hissed as it struck the dunes beyond.
“They say you’re not my dad,” Sam said, his head back in his knees, his shoulders shuddering. “Everyone sees you on TV and they say you’re not my dad. I tell them to shut up, but I don’t look like you, and if someone hits you, you always said to hit them back.”
“Sure,” Jake said, moving his hand from Sam’s shoulder to his dripping head, “but you don’t bite people, Son. You just don’t.”
Sam’s head jerked up and his big dark eyes had that red cast.
“There was three of them. Mike Petroccelli was choking me from behind and I put my head down. I didn’t bite him. He was pulling my head off and my braces cut his arm. There was three of them. I didn’t bite. I swear to God.”
“Is that what all these fights are about?” Jake asked. “You being adopted?”
Sam nodded his head and dropped it between his knees. When he spoke, his words were muffled. “I want you to find my mom.”
Jake lost the feeling in his arms and legs and his head felt light.
“Your mom’s gone, Sam,” Jake heard himself say.
“No,” Sam said, his voice barely audible above the shattering rain on the boardwalk above, “not Mom, my real mom. I want you to find her.”
Jake felt his lunch pushing up into his throat and he swallowed it back down.
“The records are gone. That was part of how we got you. We wanted you so badly, your mom and I. You have to know how bad we wanted you, Sam.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, someone out there knows. There are things on the Internet about everyone.”
Jake shook his head. “You’re talking about finding a person. You don’t just go Yahoo! it.”
He studied Sam for a moment then looked at his watch. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but I’ve got to get you home and get to the city. I got the nanny Angelina Jolie just fired.”
Sam rolled his eyes.
“I know,” Jake said. “Who gives a shit, right? But we get to live in a house on the beach and eat Häagen-Dazs by the gallon.”
“You find everyone else,” Sam said, looking up at him, his eyes looking into Jake’s. “That’s what you do. You find people. They talk to you. That’s your job. I want you to do that for me. I want to find her.”
Before the crap he was doing now, Jake had spent time in the streets of Kabul and Baghdad. He’d seen the mobs, the fighting, smelled the gunpowder, the burnt and rotting flesh. That didn’t scare him the way this did because this wasn’t someone else’s problem that Jake was there to give an account of. This was his problem, and he knew it was a problem. His instincts, the same ones that had launched his career as a journalist, had told him back then when they got Sam that something was wrong. It wasn’t anything on the surface, all the documents were there. The lawyers had signed off. There were assurances.
But Karen had gone through the first of many operations back then, and she was desperate for a baby, desperate because she knew that no matter how it turned out she could no longer have children of her own. And back then, when they were praying that maybe she’d been cured, Jake wanted to give her that baby more than he’d ever wanted anything. To make her a mother. To make her life complete. And as hungry as Jake was for his own success, it paled next to the yearning he felt for Karen to have what she wanted and for her to be happy.
So, he had pushed it.
Jake realized Sam was still looking into his eyes and it made him start. Sam was a boy whose eyes usually shifted, his head tilting down, and his face disappearing beneath that dark thatch of unruly hair. This time, though, Sam held his gaze. And maybe it was because Jake had seen that same desperate look in the faces of so many strangers that, despite the fact he was scared, he said yes.
“Okay, Sam,” he said. “I’ll find her. I’ll try.”
Excerpted from American Outrage , by Tim Green . Copyright (c) 2007 by Tim Green . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top