“I rather you didn’t. I mean, if he shot at Ivy—”
“He’s my neighbor, I should say hello. I’ll bring him a few jars of honey, welcome him to the area.”
“If you say so.”
Crop and dairy farming had been the chief occupation of Carver County for over a hundred years. But in a blink of an eye most of the farms had vanished and the county was suburbanized by housing tracts, strip malls, and sixty-four thousand additional residents, most of whom commuted to Minneapolis. You could still see a few farms sprawling west of Braunworth Lake where Mr. Mosley lived, although it was just a matter of time before they, too, disappeared. One of them already had a huge sign attached to its fence posts announcing that it soon would be transformed into a housing development called Carver Hills. There wasn’t a hill in sight.
“I hate farming,” Mr. Mosley said as he studied the sign through the passenger window of the Cherokee. “I used to work a farm like this one. When I was a youngster. They sent me there in ‘45, after they closed the Minnesota State Public School for Dependent and Neglected Children—now, ain’t that a mouthful? It was kinda like an orphanage down near Owatonna, ’cept most of us, we wasn’t orphans. We was abandoned, signed over to the state by our parents like we was property, like we was nothin’. That’s the way we was treated, too. Kept in cottages, thirty of us to a room. Made t’ work in the fields. Workin’ on our hands and knees pullin’ weeds. Catch a whuppin’ if’n we didn’t work fast enough. They’d beat you with a radiator brush, man. Pour kerosene on your head. Somethin’ like two hundred kids died in the place ‘for they get around to closin’ it.
“After they did, they sent me to a farm near Waseca. Foster care, they said it was. More back-breakin’ work for no pay is what they meant. I figure I learned everything there is to know about slavery from workin’ that damn farm. After I got some size, I ran off and joined the Marines. They sent me to Parris Island for training, said it was gonna be tough. Tough? Boy, after what I been through, the Corps was like heaven on earth. That’s where I met your daddy, in the Corps.”
“That’s right. You’ve heard all my stories.”
“A couple of times.”
Laughter rumbled out of Mr. Mosley’s throat. “Well, you’ll probably hear ’em again.”
One can only hope.
The house was old and small, a simple two-bedroom split-level with attached garage. Yet it seemed much grander than that, perched on top of a hill at the end of a long gravel driveway, surrounded by a huge green lawn and, beyond that, by acres of shrubs and prairie grass. What would you call it, I wondered as we approached. Not a hobby farm—there was no indication that any work took place there, except perhaps the work of mowing the lawn. A kid could retire on what he’d make mowing that lawn. Not an estate, either. Just a small house in the country, I guessed.
I pulled off the county road and accelerated up the hill, stopping the Cherokee at the top of the driveway. We left the SUV and started toward the house. We didn’t take three steps before a man rounded the corner of the garage.
I saw the shotgun first, a dangerous-looking over-and-under 12-gauge with the barrel sawed off. Then the man’s enormous gut stretching the material of his gray polo shirt—he looked like the “before” picture of every diet ad ever printed. He was wearing black dress pants and a pair of black wing tips that seemed at first glance to be rooted to the ground. They weren’t. He stepped toward us, moving carefully, the shotgun leading the way.
“Freeze,” he said again.
His hair was the color of potting soil, and he was losing it starting in the front and moving back. His eyes were so dark brown that it was impossible to see his pupils. The expression on his face made me think he was entertaining a private joke and that it was on me.
I flashed on the guns that I keep locked in the safe embedded in my basement floor, yet only for a moment. I could have been carrying as many weapons as a character in a Schwarzenegger movie and it wouldn’t have done any good. Crosetti had us cold.
“Don’t move,” he screamed in case we didn’t know what “freeze” meant.
“Whoa,” I said, showing him my hands. “There’s no need for that.”
I was closer to him, but he wasn’t aiming the shotgun at me. He was pointing it across the hood of the Cherokee, glaring at Mr. Mosley with unblinking eyes as if willing him to melt.
“I’m talking to you, nigger.”
Ahh, fighting words.
I stepped toward him.
He swung the barrel in my direction. “You want some of this?”
I showed him my hands again, both sides this time, making sure he could see that they were empty.
“Mr. Mosley is your neighbor. We just dropped by to welcome you to Norwood Young America.”
“Fuck that. Who sent you?”
“No one sent us.”