"What?" I asked.
Bobby's face wrinkled like an old elephant's sagging skin. "Bob Martin's dead."
That made no sense. Bob's my favorite adult. Anyway, he’s too young to die. He has black hair not one gray hair. He has one son who’s Little Pete's age. Bob's soft spoken and smiles at everyone. He even smiles when he waits on us kids as we take plenty of his time to figure what candy pieces we're going to buy with pennies we firmly hold in sweaty palms.
Just about every day, Bob helps Romie Nelson, who was born with cerebral palsy. When Romie walks, his body fights itself. It leans dreadfully one way, then the other, as his hands reach for the sky to keep him from falling. Sometimes, he does fall. I can't understand him when he talks. Then, he gets angry and cusses words I do understand.
For years, Bob has helped Romie bale cardboard and paper Romie sold to Consolidated paper mill so Romie could buy his adult-sized trike and Badgers red and white jacket with a large W sewn on the front. With Popeye-sized forearms and hands with Polish sausage-sized fingers, Bob rips apart cardboard meat boxes with such ease, you'd think they were pieces of paper. "Just a sec. I'm going to get dressed and come out." Moments later, I was by Bobby's side. "Are you sure Bob Martin did those things?"
"You can ask Albert. He'll tell you. He says she wanted expensive things Bob couldn't afford, like jewelry and fur coats. Dad says she was a true bitch."
"Albert said that?" After Bobby nodded, we ran to his house.
What takes most people a minute or two to explain something, Albert Kell does it with a grunt, a drag on his Raleigh cigarette, the exhale accompanied by smoke and one word, perhaps two, but no more. So, we stood before Albert in his overfilled garage with little spare space for even an ant to walk in. "Dad, didn't Bob Martin shoot and kill his wife and then himself?"
Drawing on a cigarette that invariably (Thank you Readers Digest Word Power page) remained between his lips until it was a stub, Albert exhaled, "Yup."
"Are you sure?" I pleaded.
"Think I'd lie about that?" Those were the most words I ever heard him speak.
"No." That meant only one thing. Bob Martin's soul was surely in hell or on its way there.
"She was a true bitch," added Albert. "Everyone liked Bob. Not her."
I knew what I had to do. I left Bobby and Albert, ran to our garage, and rode my Schwinn to the white, clapboard Saints Peter and Paul Catholic church. I was so nervous I had to pee. Still, I opened the huge front door. Alone, except for pigeons cooing and rustling in the belfry, plus the wind that made plenty of noise, I dipped fingers in the holy water fount and made the sign of the cross.
Scared that Monsignor C.W. Gille might catch me, I made believe I walked on eggs down the center aisle. I approached the railing in front of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I knelt, made the sign of the cross, and said, "You don't know me. My name is Gordy Hoffman, uh, Gordon Bartholomew Hoffman. I need your help. Would you please ask your son to let my really good friend Bob Martin's soul in heaven? He was such a kind and good man to everyone, including me, a reject, but he shot and killed his wife and then himself last night. Please tell Jesus to warn Saint Peter to let Bob in heaven because Bob's wife was a true bitch. Anyway, that's what Albert Kell said. I didn't. Amen."
Making the sign of the cross, I rose, turned, and silently as possible made my way down the aisle, the pigeons yet cooing and rustling in the belfry and the wind making noise, and thankfully not made by Monsignor Gille.