William “Spud” Russell had been living with his brother Daniel for eight months. Daniel and his wife, Terra, had been accommodating in the way that only family could, allowing the down on his luck brother to sleep on the couch, in return for the first good home cooked meals they had had in some time. Not to be pitied, Spud had taken into the habit of slipping the odd twenty dollar bill into his brother’s wallet at odd intervals, mostly when he would pace the house in the early hours of the morning.
He liked the way Boston seemed so quieter in the morning, without all the hustle and bustle. He’d stump around the comfortably appointed apartment, getting breakfast ready for both of the fully employed go-getters. After that, it was a day of cleaning, tidying, and making a dinner that would be both delicious and able to keep for when Terra came home at eight and Dan at midnight. After everything was squared away, Spud would take up his cane and limp his way down the three blocks to Charlie Kuchenbecker’s “Non-Threatening German” bar & grill, a place that had only applied the “grill” moniker once Will had started working there. So he’d cook a few burgers, serve a few beers, and make his slow way home around two in the morning. He didn’t have to stay so late, his shift technically ended around eleven, but he was a kind and helpful soul. That…and there was Sally Camden. A half-German, half-Japanese bombshell, Sally was finishing up graduate school with the NTG obliging her need for pocket money. As alluring mentally as she was physically, Spud would often stay late into the night talking with her, just the two of them, until closing time and they would both make their opposite ways home.
And so it went: day after day, month after month, until one day in mid-July.
“It’s time I get going,” Will said over another delicious dinner, his own birthday dinner. He was surrounded by several of the NTG regulars, Dan, Terra, Charlie, Sally, and Jack, Will’s young grill protege. It was a shocking announcement, one no one was expecting. They had all gotten used to the gaunt man with a beard and a funny way of walking cooking their cheesesteaks.
Dan was the first to shake off the dumbfounded feeling, confronting his brother.
“I gotta get outta here.”
“Why?” Charlie asked.
“You guys all know me. You know my…history,” he added that last bit with a twinge of pain in his right foot, or what was left of it, “the government’s still looking for me, and they always find me. I’ve stayed too long here as it is, I’ve probably put you all in danger as it is for treason.”
“Where are you going to go?” Sally asked, deeply concerned.
“I have some ideas, but I have to get out of here. I can’t put all of you, my good, good friends, in such danger. I could never forgive myself.”
“We’d defend you!” Shouted Jack, tears welling in his young eyes.
“It’s not your fight, Paco,” Will winked at him, “It’s just the way it’s been. I spent some time with Mom and Dad, I did some migrant work in Arizona. I’ll always bounce around, they can’t hit a moving target.”
He slowly stood from the table, sniffing the air with a practiced ease.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, the cheesecake is ready. Stick around, there’s plenty for everyone.”
A few hours later, the party had dispersed, with its fair share of tears, hugs, and good lucks, but not good byes. Will’s own eyes were welling as he bid the last guest, Sally, off into the quickly darkening Boston evening. He turned to his brother.
“I’ll be gone by the morning. I’ve noticed a strange car in the neighborhood the past few days…I know it’s them.”
“This is asinine, Spud. You and I both know that. You were drafted three years ago, there’s got to be a statute of limitations or something!”
“I’ve become the poster-boy for public menace draft-dodging, bro. They call me a coward, a weakling, but I call myself alive, something I know I wouldn’t be if I woulda let them get their hands on me. They’re not gonna stop, which is why I gotta get outta the country for a while.”
“All right, Spud, all right. I know a guy, he’s got a boat up by the boundaries in upstate New York. He’s my own personal smuggler, so he probably wouldn’t mind dumping you off. Canada would like you, I think…but you’ll still have to keep your head low.”
“I appreciate it, Dan, I really do. But what do you need to smuggle into the country?”
“You kidding? Wisconsin cheese, man. This Vermont and California shit just can’t cut it.”
“Ha ha…how did I know?”
“Take the country out of the boy, et cetera, et cetera…” he coughed unhappily, “I suppose you have to pack…”
“Did it yesterday. All ready.”
“Oh…damn…you planned this then?”
“In that case, hold on a second.”
And with that, Dan disappeared into his study, re-emerging with a silver disc in a plastic case.
“DVD?” Will inquired.
“My newscasts. Mom and Dad can’t see ’em where they are…and I know how Mom loves ’em…deliver them, okay?”
Spud smiled. “No problem. But…how did you know I was going to Wisconsin?”
“It’s the only family member you haven’t hit up yet,” Dan said with a laugh that was half nervous, half flippant.
“You’re gonna go see Roger.”