Waymo didn't know Burgess well. When they'd been a family, Waymo was often
away from home, stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin, the Sea of Japan,
and later Guantánamo Bay. After leaving the Navy and returning
to Baltimore, he and Flo split up, and she took Burgess and moved
to Ames, Iowa. Waymo sent child support and occasionally he got
a Father's Day card and a beer stein shaped like a corn cob. But
that was about it.
Tall and clean-cut, Burgess looked like one of the young men on
bicycles who were always knocking on Waymo's trailer, wanting
to talk about the Book of Mormon. Waymo didn't know the
man in his early twenties. Burgess introduced himself, then said
he was on his way to New Jersey where some friends were going
to get him a job in construction. Burgess asked if he could stay
and visit. Waymo said sure.
Waymo avoided having house guests, but as far as they went, Burgess
wasn't too bad. Not much to complain about. Made his bed every
morning. Washed the dishes after eating. Rinsed out the bathtub.
They talked some, but mostly about the news or sports or driving
Each night Waymo rushed home from his job at the Dundalk Correctional
Center, then waited for the confrontation or reconciliation or
whatever was supposed to happen.
But nothing happened.
It was the third night, and Burgess was leaving in the morning,
so Waymo figured if Burgess wanted a scene, it would happen soon.
Waymo just wanted it over with so he could go to the VFW Lodge
and visit Marge.
Waymo was sitting at the kitchen table, staring at the bent stove
burner he needed to fix and listening to WCBM Talk Radio. Burgess
was lying on the couch watching a documentary about capital punishment.
"Anyone on death row?" Burgess asked.
"Death row?" Waymo said, then lowered the volume and
stood so he could see over the kitchen counter and into the living
room. "No. That's the state pen. We're not maximum security."
"Riots?" Burgess said. "Ever have any?"
"Nothing we couldn't handle." Waymo walked over, sat
in the recliner, started flipping through Correctional Institutions
"Ever get scared?"
"No," Waymo said. "I'm the maintenance chief. It's
an easy job. I look after the place. Make sure everything runs
okay. But I'm deputized. Got a carry permit and everything."
"Oh." Burgess paced around the living room.
Waymo watched as Burgess dragged his feet across the green carpet
and up and down the warped floor, which one of these days he knew
he'd have to get around to fix.
"Construction," Waymo said. "Know anything about
"No. But I can hang drywall."
"That's not what I need."
Waymo wasn't sure why Burgess really showed up. Wanted a scene,
maybe. Or a shot at him. Or wanted to get to know him. Something
like that. Waymo didn't know. Burgess didn't seem angry or happy,
just restless, not only did he pace a lot, but he was always taking
long walks down by the marine terminal.
Burgess spent a lot of time hanging out around the port authority,
so Waymo figured he was probably looking for work but didn't want
to say anything to him. Waymo knew a guy in the Merchant Marines
and a shop steward in the longshoremen's local and thought he
might talk to them about getting Burgess a job.
"D'you go down to the docks, today?" Waymo said.
"Yeah. Watched them unload cable wire from a Spanish boat."
"Ship," Waymo said.
"If you're looking for work," Waymo said. "I still
know a couple people who work down there."
"No," Burgess said. "I got this construction thing."
"Okay. Just thought maybe you were looking for work down
"No," Burgess said. "Just something to do."
As he passed the coffee table, he picked up the TV remote and
turned up the volume.
Waymo pointed at the picture of the prison on the set. "Where
was that shot?"
"I don't know," Burgess said. "Texas or someplace
"Yeah. Probably Texas." Waymo put down his magazine
and went back to the radio and spun the dial until he came to
the other local talk station.
Burgess followed him to the kitchen and stood on the hump in front
of the sink. "Like that stuff?"
"Take it or leave it," Waymo said. "Got a friend
who calls in."
"Never knew anyone who called those programs," Burgess
Waymo was listening for Marge, the afternoon barmaid at the VFW
Lodge. Waymo liked to stop there after work and hang out and buy
her drinks after she finished her shift. That's where Waymo really
wanted to be.
Waymo looked at his watch and decided to give it a half hour.
He'd press the issue, see if he could figure out what Burgess
wanted, and if nothing happened, he'd leave.
"Why'd you come here?" Waymo said.
"On my way to Jersey"
"But why stop here?"
"It's on the way," Burgess said and opened the refrigerator.
"Want a beer?"
Waymo removed his blue prison guard cap with its metal sergeant's
pin stuck to the top, then ran his hand through his block-cut
gray hair. The same gesture Waymo remembered watching Dave McNally
perform in the 1966 World Series.
Burgess set a can of National Bohemian in front of Waymo, then
leaned against the refrigerator.
"Why did you want to see me?" Waymo said, "That's
what I was trying to say."
"I don't know."
"You don't know," Waymo said, fixing his hat back to
his head. He drank some beer, then looked at his watch. "Want
something from me?"
"No," Burgess said.
"Want to know about me and your mom?"
"Swing at me?"
"Get to know me," Waymo said. "That it?"
"Get to know you," Burgess said. "It's not like
Waymo knocked down the rest of his beer, put on his windbreaker,
and grabbed his keys off the hook over the kitchen counter.
"Well, I tried," Waymo said. "Want to go to the
"No," Burgess said. "Have to pack."
"All right," Waymo said. "You know where it is
if you change your mind."
Waymo got into his truck, a three-quarter-ton Ford with a camper
top over its bed and a MIA-POW sticker on its bumper, then drove
along Broening Highway. While passing the port authority, Waymo
thought about Burgess. Thankful it was over. Thankful he wasn't
looking for some kind of drama.
Waymo turned onto Merrit Boulevard, passed an almost deserted
shopping center, pulled into the VFW Lodge and parked next to
Marge's VW Rabbit. He searched his glove compartment, found green
TicTacs under his tape recorder, then chewed on a half dozen while
fastening the Club to his steering wheel.
Inside Marge was sitting at the bar with a cigarette in one hand
and a cordless phone in the other. Marge waved to him through
the wall mirror behind the bar, stubbed out her cigarette and
spun toward him. She wore a creamcolored sweater and black jeans
tucked inside flat-soled, suede boots.
Marge reminded Waymo of the nurses he'd known in the Navy. Same
kind of build. Before taking early retirement, Marge had worked
twenty years for the post office, delivering the mail five days
a week, and Waymo thought this still showed in her beefy shoulders
and padded thighs.
"I'm on hold," Marge said, pointing at him with the
antenna. "But on-deck."
"Oh," Waymo said. "D'you eat?"
"Late lunch," Marge said. "They want to close down
the Wise Avenue Fire Company."
"That doesn't sound good," Waymo said and looked around
the bar. Not much of a crowd. A few people shooting pool. Some
others watching ESPN beach volleyball. "Want to go to Sizzler?"
"Hold on," she said. "I'm up."
"I'll be over there," he said, pointing toward the end
of the bar. Waymo walked over and took a stool next to a draw
poker machine. It was as close as he could get to the radio without
going behind the bar.
Waymo didn't care about listening to both sides of the conversation.
What he liked was hearing Marge's voice on the radio. Waymo found
her on-air attitude appealing, and her low-pitched, smoky voice
sexy. Since he met Marge, he started listening to talk radio at
work, in his truck, at home. Once while overseeing a laundry detail,
he even felt aroused listening to Marge argue against the new
emission control standards.
A lawyer commercial with crashing car noises and ambulance sirens
was playing, and Waymo wished he could make some adjustments.
Raise the bass. Lower the treble. Fine-tune the station. But even
if he could reach it, there was nothing he could do. It was just
a cheap, portable radio.
Only once before had Waymo heard a voice as appealing as Marge's.
He'd been assigned to an intelligence officer and translator eavesdropping
off the Cuban coast. His job was to run the radio and tape everything.
After the recordings were reviewed, he was supposed to erase the
unimportant tapes, then reuse them. Except for one occasion, he
followed orders. Instead of erasing the tape of a woman broadcasting
over some popular station near Pinar del Rio, he kept it for himself.
The woman's voice was beautiful, sultry and lyrical, the cadences
rising and falling like a sailboat coasting to shore on cresting
waters. It didn't matter if he were court-martialed, or that he
didn't understand Spanish.
The ambulance sirens faded, and an urgent male voice repeated
the phone number for Steven L. Miles, Attorney at Law. After the
commercial, Les Kinsolving, the talk show host, came on the air.
"Greetings Marge," he said. "And welcome to the
"Hi, Les," Marge said. "I think closing down the
fire station is a bad idea."
"Well, Marge," Les said. "Where do you think they're
going to find the money?"
"I don't know," Marge said. "Maybe the lottery,
but if they close down that company, it's going to raise the insurance
premiums and I'll have to raise the rent at my rooming house."
"It'll effect everyone, Marge."
"That's right," Marge said. "And if things like
this keep happening, people will keep moving farther and farther
away from the city."
"That's a good point," Les said. "Let's see what
some other people have to say."
Marge pushed in the antenna, slid the phone to the edge of the
bar. Waymo took a stool next to her, reached down the bar, slid
a cardboard basket in front of them, and grabbed a handful of
"Stupid idea," she said to Waymo. "Closing down
that station. I don't want to raise the rent."
Waymo brushed chip crumbs from his fingertips and tried to figure
out why she was always so worried about her boarders. With her
pension from the post office and her afternoon job at the VFW,
he didn't know why she even bothered with running a rooming house.
"Maybe if enough people complain, they won't close it,"
"You sounded great," Waymo said.
"Thanks." Marge poured the rest of her beer into her
glass and took a sip. "What's up with Burgess?"
"No, guess nothing is going to," he said.
"Just as well."
"Yeah," he said. "Want to go to Sizzler?"
"Sure," Marge said. "Want another round first?"
Waymo motioned to the bartender, pointing first in front of Marge's
glass, then his. The bartender set two cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon
in front of them.
They drank, and Waymo listened to Marge talk about her day at
work. She'd paid off seventyfive dollars on one of the poker machines.
Spent an hour on the phone trying to find a plumber who could
fix the water heater at her rooming house. Talked with a few customers
who had seen the Holabird Avenue Kmart burn down.
Marge was talking about how the beer man gave her a free Miller
Lite clock when Waymo saw Burgess walk into the bar. He was wearing
what looked like new hiking boots and a green and yellow high
school jacket with a picture of an eagle on the front. Waymo introduced
Burgess and Marge, then ordered a Budweiser for Burgess.
"We're going to Sizzler," Waymo said. He thought he
and Burgess might use the coupon that he'd clipped from the Sunday
flier. They were having two-for-one dinner specials. On past trips
to the restaurant, he'd tried to use the coupon with Marge, but
he and Marge could never agree on the same special. "Want
"I want to see where you work," Burgess said.
"The prison? It's kind of late," Waymo said and looked
at his watch. "That would be kind of difficult, tonight."
Marge reached over, tucked one hand under Waymo's arm, then put
the other on his hand. "Go on," she said. "I'm
not that hungry."
Waymo didn't like the idea of taking Burgess out to the prison.
He was hungry and looking forward to dinner with Marge. He couldn't
figure out why Burgess wanted to see the prison.
"I wanted to see where you work before I leave," Burgess
"Go on," Marge said. "I'll come too. Then we'll
all go and eat after."
"All right," he said and shook his head. He stepped
toward the door. "Let's go."
Waymo usually liked driving along the back roads to the prison,
but he was in a hurry, so he turned onto the Peninsula Expressway
and headed toward the beltway. Driving past Bullneck Creek, he
cracked his window and took deep breaths of the salt-air blowing
in from the Chesapeake Bay.
Burgess sat on the other end with his head turned away, and Marge
sat in the middle, flipping back and forth between talk radio
"You really like that stuff?" Burgess said.
"Sure," Marge said.
"You call in?"
"All the time."
"This who you were listening for?" Burgess said to Waymo.
"You were listening for me?" Marge said.
"Yeah," Waymo said and passed a Pepsi-Cola truck. When
he saw the lights far behind in his rearview mirror, he hit the
turn signal, eased into the exit lane, looped around the ramp
and onto the beltway.
Waymo felt kind of uncomfortable with the two of them in the truck
with him, but they seemed to be getting along, talking about radio
personalities and living in the Midwest. Maybe it was better this
way, he started to think. Maybe they'd get along better with Marge
"Lot of radio stations in Ames?" Waymo said.
"A few," Burgess said. "Do you use your real name,
"What?" Marge said.
"When you're on the air. Do you use your real name? Or an
"Mine," she said. "Why shouldn't I?"
"I don't know."
"There were times," Marge said, "when I'd make
up a name and disguise my voice."
"I didn't know that," Waymo said.
"Years ago," Marge said. "But I'd always mess up.
Forget the name I chose. Or I'd stop disguising my voice."
Waymo tapped the brake, then merged onto the off-ramp. He pointed
to the prison grounds lit up with floodlamps. From the beltway,
it looked like a stadium without a game or fans.
All the way up the driveway he kept thinking about Marge using
different names and disguising her voice. What names? he wondered.
How'd she change her voice? He parked next to the fuel pump in
the staff lot, then shut off the engine.
"What names did you use?" Waymo said.
"I don't remember."
"How did you disguise your voice?"
"Sometimes with a handkerchief," Marge said. "Sometimes
with a foreign accent. But they always complained that they couldn't
"Oh," Waymo said, pointing to the main building. "Here
it is. This is where I work."
"Inside?" Burgess said. "Can we go inside?"
"You want to go in?" Waymo said.
"Yeah," Burgess said.
Waymo left the keys in the ignition so Marge could listen to the
radio and told her to lock the doors.
Waymo and Burgess walked up cement stairs toward the main gate.
A deputy sheriff's cruiser drove near, blew its horn, and the
deputy shouted, "Hey, Waymo."
They stopped outside a chain link fence topped with spirals of
razor wire. Waymo pushed the intercom button, and looked up at
"Waymo, what are you doing here?" It was Simmons, the
second-shift duty officer.
Waymo leaned toward the intercom. "Long story," he said.
"Who's that with you?" Simmons said.
"He's with me," Waymo said.
"Guess you want in."
"That's right," Waymo said.
The bottom links of the fence grated along the asphalt as the
gate slid open, then they walked through and headed toward the
Waymo stopped. "Well, this is it. Seen enough?"
"No," Burgess said. "I want to see where you work."
"Where I work?"
Simmons hit the switches, opening and closing barred doors as
Waymo and Burgess walked through the waiting area, passed the
holding cells, and entered the minimum security wing.
Waymo stopped and looked at Burgess. "Don't say anything
to anyone. Understand?"
"Sure," Burgess said.
As they started down the main corridor, Waymo watched Burgess
dragging his feet along the floor, leaving black smudges. Waymo
grabbed Burgess by the elbow, then pointed at the scuff marks.
"Be careful with the floor," he said. "They just
waxed it today."
The prison was locked down for the night, but everyone was still
up, watching TV or listening to the radio. Some of the prisoners
called out Waymo's name or asked who his friend was, but Waymo
didn't say anything.
"Your office is here?" Burgess said.
"No," Waymo said. "Down in the basement."
They were almost at the end of the wing, when Waymo heard someone
yelling his name repeatedly from cell nineteen. Waymo didn't know
the inmate very well, but remembered his name was Syd because
of the unusual way he spelled his name.
"Hey, Waymo," Syd shouted.
"Wait by the door," Waymo said to Burgess, then turned
and stood in front of Syd's cell.
"Hey, Waymo," Syd said. "Hear about the Kmart?"
"Yeah," Waymo said and stared at Syd. He was thin and
sweaty and looked desperate with his bloodshot eyes jumping from
one object to the next. Hopped up on something, Waymo thought.
"I burned it down," Syd said.
"Sure you did," Waymo said and took a step away.
"Listen," Syd said. "I'm telling you I did it.
I burned down the Kmart."
"You're drunk. Sleep it off," Waymo said, then walked
Syd kept shouting, then the other prisoners started yelling at
Syd to shut his mouth.
Waymo found his key, opened the metal door at the end of the wing.
They walked down two flights of stairs, passed the laundry room,
and stopped in the middle of the hallway.
Waymo pointed out his cabinet where he kept some tools and paint,
his file cabinets and his metal desk. "This is it,"
"Right here in this hallway?" Burgess said.
"Not much, I know," Waymo said. "But nobody ever
comes down here anyway."
Waymo fell into his chair, kicked up his feet. "Sit down,"
he said, pointing to the stationary chair alongside his desk.
"What do you do down here?" Burgess said, while taking
"Not a lot," Waymo said. "Sometimes I set up a
TV in the laundry room. But mostly, I read or listen to the radio."
"That's not so bad," Burgess said. "What's with
that guy and Kmart?
"Who knows," Waymo said. "Shit like that happens
all the time. He didn't do it. Guys in here. They get a hold of
some dope or booze or just start feeling disturbed, and they'll
say about anything."
Waymo unclipped the key ring from his belt, opened the side drawer
of his desk, and searched through stacks of cassette tapes. He
found one labeled "Dusting the Boiler Room," placed
it in the cassette player at the back of his desk and hit play.
"Want to hear something funny?" Waymo said. "Listen
to this. Left my recorder on while one of my guys was down here
"What kind of job is this?" the voice said. "Wiping
down the boiler room pipes. Ridiculous. Up the ladder, wipe some
pipes. Down the ladder, rinse out the soot. Up the ladder and
do it all over again. Whoever heard of something like this?"
The voice stopped, only static and background sounds remained.
Waymo stood, then pushed a mop bucket out of the way and opened
up the double doors leading to the boiler room.
"This is where he was working," Waymo said, pointing
at the ladder, then up at the sootcovered pipes running near the
"I don't get it."
"Just seemed kind of funny. Him talking to himself and everything."
"I guess." Burgess stood and walked around the boiler
room, circling the ladder, then resting his arms on one of its
"Listen. Hear those thumps," Waymo said. "That's
him going up and down the ladder."
"You have a lot of these tapes?" Burgess said, pointing
at the file cabinet.
"That's kind of weird. Isn't it? Taping people."
"I don't know," Waymo said. Might seem weird, he'd always
known that. But it didn't hurt anyone. He liked listening to the
people he recorded. It was just like what photographers do. And
nobody ever thought them weird.
Waymo could tell by the tone of his questions that Burgess wouldn't
understand. He shut off the stereo, removed the tape and returned
it to the drawer. In the back, he saw the tape he'd taken from
"Know Spanish?" Waymo asked.
"Well, you've seen where I work," Waymo said and took
a couple steps down the hallway. "Guess we should go."
Driving back along the beltway, headlights from the cars passing
by on the inner loop lit up the truck's cab for split-seconds,
and Waymo could see Burgess with his arm resting on the window
ledge staring at the traffic. He still didn't understand any of
it. Wondered if Burgess had gotten what he wanted. Hoped he had.
When they were close to town, Marge said, "Was it what you
"I don't know," Burgess said.
"They got nice T-bones at Sizzler," Waymo said.
"I'm not hungry," Burgess said. "Just take me back
to my car. Would you?"
"Don't you want to eat with us?" Marge said.
"Nice salad bar," Marge said. "All you can eat."
Waymo stopped behind Burgess's Escort, pushed the gearshift to
park, rested his elbows on the wheel, and let the truck idle.
"You far from Atlantic City?" Marge said.
"I'm not sure," Burgess said.
"Marge and I have been talking about taking a trip to Atlantic
City," Waymo said. "Maybe we could stop by and visit."
"Sure," Burgess said, getting out of the truck.
"See you back at the trailer," Waymo said and shifted
to drive. He turned onto Merrit Boulevard.
Marge asked if he wanted to talk about Burgess, but Waymo told
her he didn't have anything to say. He turned on the radio and
flipped from the nationwide Jim Polhamus Show to a local sports
show. Stan the Fan was talking about the possibility of the Tampa
Bay Buccaneers coming to Baltimore.
"What do you think about that?" Waymo said.
"Don't know," Marge said.
"Think it would be a good idea?"
"We'd be just like Indianapolis."
Waymo turned into the shopping center and drove to the restaurant
at the far end of the lot. It wasn't very crowded, so he found
a spot near one of the dining room's windows and parked next to
a handicap space. On the outside wall, encased in glass, there
was a poster of a cow, divided into parts with dotted red lines,
and showing the different cuts of meat. Inside, he could see a
couple in a booth, smoking, then ashing their cigarettes on a
stack of dirty plates.
"Want to call in?" Waymo said.
"It's kind of late."
"No callers. He just said. There's a phone booth right over
there," Waymo said. "I have a quarter."
"Might as well," she said and got out of the truck.
While he listened for Marge, he opened the glove compartment,
pulled out his tape recorder, and set it on the seat next to him.
He slid the restaurant coupon out of his shirt pocket and unfolded
it. He had thought he and Burgess might use it and order T-bones.
Marge didn't care for their steaks. She always ordered the grilled,
lemon chicken. She'd let him taste part of her dinner one time,
and it actually wasn't that bad. He folded the coupon, put it
back in his pocket, and thought maybe tonight he'd order the chicken
After another lawyer commercial, Stan the Fan returned to his
show. "Let's go to Marge in Dundalk," he said. "Hello,
Waymo hit the record button, then looked over and watched Marge.
The green lights from the Sizzler sign left some glare on the
enclosed glass booth, but he could still see her, standing there
with the phone in hand. Her voice sounded a little different tonight-deeper
like she had a cold or had smoked a lot of cigarettes. But Waymo
still liked it. She waved to him.