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Authors: Edward Bloor

Tags: #Ages 10 and up

London Calling

LONDON
CALLING

For Spencer

We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where,
Don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again
Some sunny day.

PROLOGUE

John Martin Conway
United States Embassy
Grosvenor Square, London
January 2, 2019

Each life, in human history, begins when a person starts to walk down a path. At first it is the path that our parents tell us to walk down. Then we come to certain crossroads where we have two choices—remain on the one path or step off onto another. Sometimes our paths cross the paths of others at crucial points. This is where things can get uncontrollable, weird, unexplainable.

There is a lot more you could say about life, but that’s basically it.

History
repeats itself
only in that, from afar, we all seem to lead exactly the same life. We are all born; we all spend time here on earth; we all die. But up close, we have each walked down our own separate paths. We have stood at our own lonely crossroads. We have touched the lives of others at crucial points, for better or for worse. In the end, each of us has lived a unique life story, astounding and complicated, a story that could never be repeated.

I am thinking about life and history today because of a pair of coincidences. Consider:

I am looking through a window at a statue of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Sixteen and a half years ago, as a seventh-grade student at All Souls Preparatory, I was doing exactly the same thing.

I was just handed a note. The same thing happened at All Souls, and the note concerns the same person. Here is what it says:

To all Embassy staff: I regret to inform you that Henry “Hank” Lowery IV, great-grandson of General Henry M. “Hollerin’ Hank” Lowery, died in an automobile accident yesterday in Bethel, New Jersey, when his car crashed through the railing of the Millstone River Bridge. Information on the funeral arrangements will follow.

Now, depending on what you knew about Henry “Hank” Lowery IV, you could conclude that

—it was a tragic accident;

—it was his latest, and last, drunk driving incident;

—it was a suicide;

—it was all of the above.

I guess it doesn’t really matter. It happened, and I just heard about it, and now I am looking through the window with a flood of memories coursing though me as strong and as clear as the waters of the Millstone River.

I have a story to tell about that time. It begins with Hank Lowery. Then it moves off onto another path, a path that only I have walked down. I have told this story only one other time, to one other person. That’s because no one else would have believed it, not all of it. It is a unique story, astounding and complicated, and I am ready to tell it again.

THE HEROES’ WALK

Looking back now, I can see that I spent my seventh-grade year in a state of depression, imprisoned behind the red-brick, black-iron walls of All Souls Preparatory. All Souls is a private, mostly Catholic school in Bethel, New Jersey, about twenty miles east of Princeton.

Back when I was a student, All Souls had two prominent statues on the campus. Franklin D. Roosevelt stood outside the Student Center, which was a little strange since the real President Roosevelt couldn’t stand. Yet there he was, with one hand on a cane and the other hand raised in a friendly wave. John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, stood outside Kennedy Hall. He was pointing energetically into the air, as if he were speaking.

On the last day of school that year, I was sitting in class in Kennedy Hall and looking through the window at FDR. Across the road, the Lowery Library was nearing the end of a major renovation. As part of this, Father Thomas, the headmaster of the school, had decreed that the statues of Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy were to be moved to join a new statue of General Henry M. “Hollerin’ Hank” Lowery in an impressive new entranceway to the library. The entrance would consist of the three statues, a brass informational plaque about each one, and a slab with the words the heroes’ walk carved into it.

That was why Father Leonard, my history teacher, was spending one last class period droning on about World War II and the heroic efforts of General Henry M. Lowery to alert America to the dangers of Adolf Hitler and Nazism. Father Leonard was the twin brother of the headmaster, Father Thomas. They had both attended All Souls Preparatory some thirty years before; now the paths of their lives had circled around and brought them both back to their beloved alma mater.

I hated All Souls Preparatory.

I hated the uniforms; I hated the snobbery; I hated the tradition. I was an outcast there, and I associated only with other outcasts. One of them, sitting immediately to my left, had just raised his hand.

Father Leonard pointed to him warily and said, “Mr. Chander, I trust this comment is pertinent.”

“Oh yes, Father. It is most pertinent.”

“Fine. Then you may proceed.”

“I read that General Lowery was not really opposed to the Nazis. In fact, he thought the Nazis would win the war easily, and he advised President Roosevelt to make a deal with Hitler as soon as he could.”

Father Leonard looked pained. “I don’t think those are facts, Pinak. But if you would care to do some independent study in that area, I will give you extra credit for your research.”

“I don’t need any more credit, Father. I already have an average far above one hundred. I just wanted to perhaps start a discussion.”

“No. We need not discuss rumors and half-truths and falsehoods. The historical record is perfectly clear about what the General wrote and said at the time.”

Pinak gave up. “Yes, Father.”

Father Leonard always looked uncomfortable when talking about the late General Lowery. Fathers Leonard and Thomas both believed, faithfully, in the legend of Lowery as a fierce Hitler-hater and Nazi-fighter. In return for that faith, the Lowery family had established a million-dollar trust fund for All Souls Preparatory. All Souls had been General Lowery’s prep school, back when it was all boys and they all lived there. Then it was his son’s and his grandson’s prep school, and now it was his great-grandson’s prep school. That great-grandson, Henry M. Lowery IV, was seated in front of me and to the left. Hank Lowery was what is known there as a “legacy.”

I, on the other hand, was what is known there as a “scholarship.” Worse than that, I was an “
employee
scholarship.” My mother worked as Father Thomas’s secretary, and, thanks to that, I was allowed to attend the school tuition-free. My mother had worked the same deal for my sister Margaret, who had excelled at All Souls and then gone on to Princeton, where she earned a degree in history. My future prospects, however, were not so bright. Unlike Pinak, who was an academic star, I barely scraped by with C’s.

The only other kid I really associated with was Manetti. I knew him from sixth grade back at Garden State Middle School. He was an employee scholarship, too. His father was in charge of buildings and construction at All Souls, which meant that Manetti actually had it worse than me. At least my parent was hidden away in an office. His was very visible—always walking around on campus in an orange hard hat, or driving around noisily in one of his company trucks. I was watching one of those Manetti Construction trucks unload equipment when the girl in front of me turned and handed me a note.

There was no name on the note, so I set it on the corner of my desk, temporarily ignoring it until I heard a sharp, throat-clearing noise. I glanced up and saw the red, erupted face of Hank Lowery IV. He pointed a stubby finger at the note. I obediently picked it up, opened it, and read this printed message:

You’re dead.

I looked back at Lowery, puzzled. He clenched his jaw and then shook his large head from left to right. He pointed first to the note and then to Pinak. When I finally understood his message, I passed the note over. As Pinak opened the note and read those two words, his dark Indian complexion turned pale with fear.

Shortly after that exchange, Father Leonard’s lifeless lecture, and the school day, and the school year, all came to an end with the ringing of the bell.

As we did every day, Pinak, Manetti, and I walked together to the Administration Building. Manetti and I had to wait for our employee parents to finish work; Pinak simply had nothing better to do. He asked his mother to pick him up later so that he could hang out with us. On that day, he probably regretted that arrangement.

Even before we got out of the classroom, some kid muttered to Pinak, “Lowery’s gonna kick your ass outside.”

When we got downstairs, Pinak hesitated in the doorway of the building, but a quick look left and right revealed that Lowery was nowhere in sight.

Manetti told us, “He ain’t here. The rugby team’s meeting in the gym about summer workouts. Lowery and his boys’ll be over there.”

Pinak then led us on a brisk walk across the road toward the Administration Building. Manetti, with his usual tact, started in on him. “I thought for a minute that a girl was sending Pinak a note. Then I thought, Wait a minute. We don’t have any blind girls in our class.”

Pinak snarled, “Shut up, Manetti.”

“I figured the girl must have been sending
me
a note, but it got detoured.”

“The note was not from a girl!”

“Ha-ha. I know. It was from Lowery. Don’t worry about him, Pinak. He’s a big nothing.”

“Oh? He’s nothing? So why do I never see you standing up to him?”

“I’ll stand up to him anytime. Just me and him. But it’s never just him, is it? That Lowery’s nothing when he’s by himself.”

The three of us pushed open the heavy wooden doors of the Administration Building. We stood facing the two huge paintings on the back wall of the lobby. One was
Washington Crossing the Delaware,
and the other was some even bigger thing by the same artist, with pioneers marching across it.

Pinak turned to me, anguished. “Martin, tell me what I can do.”

Manetti answered, “Pray.”

“That is not funny.”

Manetti clapped him on the shoulder. “Hey, you’re not gonna see Lowery for three months. What do you care?”

“I care about seeing him today.”

“Then why did you say that thing about his great-grandfather? That was stupid.”

“That was the truth. What’s wrong with that? Is nobody allowed to state the truth about the great General Lowery?”

Father Thomas entered behind us, nearly hitting Pinak in the back with the door. He waited as the three of us shuffled out of his way. Then he suggested, “Why don’t you boys move down by the Rembrandts? That way you won’t keep getting hit by the door.”

Pinak answered for us. “Yes, Father.”

Father Thomas continued into his office. As the door opened, I caught a brief glimpse of my mother seated at her desk, staring miserably at a stack of blue files. She didn’t look up.

Pinak, Manetti, and I moved farther down the hallway toward the boys’ restroom. We settled into an area with plastic chairs known as “the Rembrandts” because it was dominated by two huge framed paintings by Rembrandt. (The hallway to the girls’ restroom had two huge framed paintings by van Gogh.)

Pinak looked directly into my eyes. “Seriously, Martin. Tell me what I can do.”

I answered honestly. “I think praying might be the way to go. We could stop into the Chapel for a while and, you know, pray. I still pray for things.”

Pinak looked appalled. “Really? And do you ever get these things?”

“No.”

“Then why do you waste your time?”

“I don’t know. That’s what Catholics do, right? When all else fails, they pray.”

“And you wait for some magic abracadabra thing to happen?”

“Yeah. I guess.”

Pinak looked up at one of the Rembrandts. It was a very scary painting showing a boy on a woodpile. A crazy old man was trying to cut his throat open with a long knife. Pinak shuddered and looked away. “All right. Forget it. Let’s get out of here. It’s the last day of school; maybe my mother has come early.”

We exited the building and turned right. The construction work on the Heroes’ Walk had stopped for the day, so Manetti stepped over the yellow strand of “Caution” tape to check it out. I followed him, but Pinak stayed in the roadway. Three large marble pedestals, still in their wooden shipping frames, had been placed there in a straight row. I reached out a hand to feel the cold, smooth stone. Then Manetti did the same, commenting, “My dad says they import this stuff from Italy. It’s way expensive.”

“You two should not be in there,” Pinak complained.

Manetti pried back part of a wooden frame. “We’re not bothering nothing.”

I sensed some commotion, so I turned and looked toward the Student Center. Four boys in yellow-and-black rugby shirts were walking rapidly toward us. Hank Lowery was in the lead. I mumbled, “Pinak. Watch out.”

Pinak’s jaw dropped in horror. He started backing toward the roadway. “Do . . . do I have time to run?”

Lowery and his gang, perhaps sensing Pinak’s plan, beat him to it. Two of them sprinted around us and cut him off. Pinak stepped over the “Caution” tape and stood right next to me.

Lowery started shouting at him from ten yards away, his hands clenched menacingly at his sides. “You’re gonna apologize to me for that remark, A-rab.”

Pinak’s voice quavered. “I spoke the truth. That is all. But if I offended you, I apologize.”

Lowery’s boys now had the three of us encircled, like a wolf pack. Lowery jabbed a finger into Pinak’s chest, causing him to exhale a burst of frightened air. “You need to show some respect, A-rab, or I’ll kick your Muslim ass right here.”

Pinak answered with as much dignity as he could. “I have told you. I am not Arab; I am Indian. And I am not Muslim; I am Hindu. These are lies that
you
continue to tell about
me.

Lowery pretended to throw a punch at Pinak’s face, causing him to flinch spastically; causing Lowery’s boys to laugh out loud. I had finally had enough. I said, “Why don’t you go to your rugby meeting? Leave us alone.”

Lowery looked at his boys again. Then he stepped toward me until he was within hitting distance. I felt my throat go dry and my face and hand muscles start to quiver. Lowery cocked his head in mock disbelief. “What did you say to me?” He glanced toward the Administration Building. “You think ’cause your mommy’s in there, you can talk to me like that?” He turned to the boy next to him and shook his head back and forth, sadly.

Suddenly, before I could react, his right hand shot forward and his open palm struck my face with a resounding slap.

The noise was so loud that it echoed off the marble. I staggered back a step. I doubled over and pressed my hands against my ears, feeling the blood rushing through my head; hearing a horrible ringing.

I looked up at the faces encircling me. Lowery’s boys were laughing, but nervously, like they had seen enough and wanted to get out of there.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Manetti. He picked up a jagged block of concrete about two feet long and six inches thick. He heaved it with all his might at the back of Lowery’s head.

It missed its target, glancing off Lowery’s shoulder blade before crashing into one of the pedestals, chipping off a large wedge-shaped chunk of white marble.

Lowery reached back dramatically, like he’d been shot. Then he dropped to one knee, screaming and crying in pain. His boys exchanged a quick glance and took off running as fast as they could toward the gym. The rest of us remained in our positions for another half minute until Father Leonard walked out of Kennedy Hall. I listened through the ringing in my ears as he got on a walkie-talkie and told his brother, “You had better come out to the Heroes’ Walk right away.”

Ten minutes later, after examinations by my mother and Father Leonard determined that no one had been seriously injured, the four of us were lined up in front of Father Thomas in his office. He pointed to Lowery first. “All right, Hank. Tell me what happened.”

Lowery stretched his shoulders. Then he thought for a moment and answered. “We were all on our way to the rugby meeting.”

“Who is ‘we’?”

“Me. Uh, Ben Livingstone, Joey Mayer, and Tim Connelly.”

Father Thomas pointed to my mother. “Add those names to the list. I want statements from all of them. Written statements. Continue.”

“Okay. So he”—Lowery suddenly pointed at me—“starts making fun of our shirts to his buddies. He starts calling them gay.”

My face must have expressed astonishment, because he felt compelled to add, “Oh yeah. He was. He was saying, like, ‘They’re way gay-looking.’ Those were his exact words. So then, yeah, I got up in his face about it. I was mad. I’m proud to wear the All Souls uniform, you know? I’m not gonna let him make fun of it.” He pointed at Manetti. “Then this kid, this psycho kid, hits me from behind with a big piece of concrete. He tried to kill me!”

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