No one’s father had ever set themselves on fire, not in Bridgewood County where lawns were well manicured and lady’s heads never went grey. Randall Kody worked in the boiler room of Bridgewood’s only high school.
Some say the sight of his father during the day drove Carston to flood the principal’s office and play mailbox baseball with classroom coat hangers no longer screwed to the wall. The suspensions came in bunches. Carston became a hero to the few who loitered under the door number 3 sign, smoking cigarettes and dreaming of a way out.
Word of Carston’s father spread forest fire fast. Principal Bob Pringles was not sober and flat in his morning announcement. “All students report to the auditorium and don’t forget to bring a smile.” Trapper keepers were flung into the air. Loose leaf papers swayed like feathers to the floor. A perverse confetti celebration filled the hallways.
Something’s always born when something dies. The vultures of Bridgewood knew this and rolled their greedy fingers in anticipation. There wasn’t an empty seat in the room referred to as the big A. Principal Pringles never mentioned the name “Randall Cody.” He discussed casseroles and croissants instead, encouraging students to prepare dishes and forget about the big D, to forget about death. He refused to say “suicide.”
The tragedy was no tragedy at all. It was an Olympic cook up competition with home economics equipment liberated from locked cubbards and students and staff given free rein day and night. Classes were cancelled indefinitely.
Carston did not attend his father’s funeral. Carston never returned to school. The Door 3’ers played the same game of jacks for cigarettes they always played with one slight difference. They looked towards a river they couldn’t see, dreaming of water picking up speed and reaching the ocean.
Randal’s suicide and Carston’s disappearance coincided with the return of Tyrone Stintz from the Japanese Professional Baseball League. The news hit door 3 packed with purpose. Demitri Hanes tapped beats on his thighs. Carla Grammas swayed. Jimmy Fretoro sang, “in a jalopy did they come, in a jalopy did they go.”
Demitri followed proper channels to reach the principal’s office; filled out the necessary forms and waited. Bob Pringles greeted him with a fully extended hand and paper boy smile.
“Your idea of a charity baseball game is without a doubt your brightest moment at Bridgewood,” Bob said. And so it was set; the door 3’ers versus the door 1’ers-those who entered through the main entrance or not at all. Parents and townspeople were encouraged to bake and cook and steam and fry their best dishes for the big game.
Bridgewood residents never disguised their superior attitude and way of life. They were the greatest town in the world, #1, no questions asked. To be a “Bridger” was to be the best and the distinction came with responsibilities. Prinicipal Pringles depended on the door 3’ers as an example. “That’s what happens,” he would say while pointing in door 3’s direction “when you stray too far from our standards of excellence.”
Demitiri didn’t say a word about Tyrone Stintz returning. He just smiled right back at Bob Pringles the Principal, but Bob knew. Oh yeh, he knew. He needed Tyrone Stintz like he needed the door 3’ers.
Stintz had chased Bridgetown’s very own Martin Marshpool around the mound, up into the seats and out the stadium during the previous season’s last game. Some say that was the straw that exiled him to Japan. He was enemy number 1, a disgrace to the grand ol’ game, a hair in the soup bowl of Bridgetown.
On game day, the sun was shining and the door 3’ers dressed to the nines with grey uniforms and sharpened cleats. More than a few shins were spiked. The bases were doused with lighter fluid. A horizontal wick was secretly zig-zagged across the outfield grass and dirt diamond. And when the last out was made, Demitiri made the hand signal. Carla scurried east and west with torches held high in hand.
The field went up in flames. Screams could be heard in neighboring counties. Fire trucks as far as Connecticut were summoned from deep sleeps. The door 3’ers climbed the fence and jumped to the street where a 1977 Buick Oldsmobile waited with the engine revving. The compass pointed onward and off the car zoomed in search of Carston.
He was never found, but the hunt took the Buick out beyond Bridgeport to places the door 3’ers would soon know. They never returned. Next day’s paper pinned the disruption on the get away driver. It was a mug shot of Tyrone Stintz.