Authors: Mick Cochrane
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2012 by Mick Cochrane
Jacket art copyright © 2012 by Alfred A. Knopf
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
“Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby”
Words and Music by Jimmy Reed
Copyright © 1955 (Renewed) Conrad Music (BMI) and Seeds of Reed Music (BMI)
Rights for Conrad Music and Seeds of Reed Music Administered by BMG Rights
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International Copyright Secured
All Rights Reserved
Used by Permission
Reprinted by Permission of Hal Leonard Corporation
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Fitz : a novel / by Mick Cochrane. — 1st ed.
“A Borzoi Book.”
Summary: Fifteen-year-old Fitz kidnaps the father he has never known, taking him from his St. Paul apartment building at gunpoint, in an attempt to address his bewildering mix of resentment and yearning.
[1. Fathers and sons—Fiction. 2. Kidnapping—Fiction. 3. Single-parent families—Fiction. 4. Saint Paul (Minn.)—Fiction.] I. Title.
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
For Ron and Marlys Ousky
When Fitz was a little boy, he liked to imagine that his father was quietly, secretly watching over him, loving him, for his own good and unselfish reasons, from a distance. He imagined his father parking his car on their street late at night and looking up at his son’s bedroom window. Thinking of the posters on the wall, the stuffed animals, the night-light. Longing to tuck him in, bring him a glass of water, tell him a story. Instead, making a wish, saying a simple prayer. This fantasy was so strong, so real in all its particulars, he imagined it so often, in such detail, Fitz sometimes found himself staring down from his bedroom window onto the street below, looking for his father’s car
On a cool morning
in late May, Fitz is standing in the alley behind his father’s apartment in St. Paul. Truth be told, lurking is what he’s doing. Trying to act as if he belongs here, as if maybe he’s waiting for a ride. Keeping an eye on the door, checking the clock on his phone from time to time, doing his best not to look suspicious, doing his best not to look criminal.
This is one of the fancier neighborhoods in the city—“the Historic Summit Hill District.” That’s what real-estate agents call it. It’s where F. Scott Fitzgerald, the famous writer his mother named him for, lived a hundred years ago. It’s full of yuppies—Geoffries and Jennas, his friend Caleb calls them, Pasta-Hounds. It’s less than five miles away from where Fitz lives with his mother on the city’s west side, but it took him forty minutes to get here on the bus. He had to cross one of the longest rivers in the world—the Mississippi—and transfer downtown.
His father’s building is red stone, the walls thick as a castle’s. It reminds Fitz of Fort Snelling, the frontier fort overlooking the river he’s visited on school field trips. It’s got turrets and pillars
and balconies. A sleeping porch in the back. It must have been built at the turn of the last century, a mansion for some railroad or grain baron. Now it’s divided into separate units: his father’s, he’s learned, is on the second floor.
Fitz has been in the entry—studied the names on the mailboxes, checked out the catalogs and magazines in the bin—but never beyond the heavy security door. He’s never been in his father’s apartment. He imagines hardwood floors, a fireplace, some kind of gourmet kitchen, a wine rack, a killer home-theater system. His father likes nice things, Fitz knows that much about him. His father’s car—a shiny silver sedan, leather interior, five-speed stick—is parked in its assigned spot, twenty feet away from where Fitz is standing.
There’s no litter in the alley, no broken glass. It’s newly paved. Here they probably don’t even call it an alley. That would be too common. There’s some upscale equivalent—“anterior access road,” that’s what they call it, Fitz thinks, something like that.
A black SUV passes slowly. There’s a woman inside, nicely dressed, wearing sunglasses, fluffing her hair in the rearview mirror. Fitz smiles pleasantly at her, trying his best not to look like a kidnapper, and she smiles back. To her, he probably looks like a typical fifteen-year-old boy. He’s wearing sneakers, black jeans, a gray hoodie. He’s got a backpack slung over his shoulder.
And that’s exactly what he is: a typical fifteen-year-old boy. A sophomore on the B honor roll. A kid with a messy room, an electric guitar, a notebook full of song lyrics, vague dreams about doing something great someday, a crush on a red-haired girl. The
city is full of kids like him. America is full of kids like him. He’s nothing special.
Except that he’s carrying a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver in the waistband of his jeans and a gutful of confusion, a lifetime’s resentment in his heart. A gnawing hunger for a father he’s never known.
He kneels down now, retying his shoes for the third or fourth time. Fitz can imagine his father inside, straightening his silk tie, sipping a cup of fresh-ground, free-trade coffee, thinking about his day—a meeting with a client maybe, a deposition—no idea that someone is waiting for him, that his son has other plans.
For more than a month now
ever since he discovered his father’s home address, Fitz has been secretly observing him, tracking his movements. Not quite stalking, he tells himself, more like a cop on a stakeout. Fitz has discovered that he has a talent for invisibility. He’s good at blending in. The week before, he was sitting in the lobby of the downtown building where his father’s law firm has its offices. He was slouched in a chair, headphones on, reading, when his father got off the elevator and walked right by him. Fitz could have stuck his foot out and tripped him. He got up then and stood in line behind his father as he paid for his bottle of water and copy of the
New York Times
in the lobby snack bar, tailed him as he walked the half block to the ramp where he parked his car.
It started out as a kind of game. It was exciting. Every time he set out, there was some suspense. It was like going fishing. That same sense of anticipation. In this, Fitz, who can be easily bored and distracted, has patience. He’s willing to wait. After nearly an hour of hanging out here last Saturday afternoon—his mom
thought he was at band practice—Fitz saw his father emerge in shorts and a ball cap, and followed him to the local co-op. Watched him fill a basket with organic produce.
Fitz noticed things about his dad, and later, back home in his bedroom, he wrote them down in the notebook where he kept his songs.
Long fingers. Likes Granny Smith apples, red grapes. Doesn’t check prices. Wallet full of twenties
. It felt top-secret and incriminating, like some kind of CIA dossier.
Gradually, after three or four of these outings, it became something more than a game for Fitz. Once, when he realized he’d missed his dad’s departure from work, he felt such an unexpected crushing sadness. He’d had no idea how much it meant to him, how much was at stake.
He wrote a song about his dad, his building actually. He’d been thinking about the rough touch of those walls, their imposing, impenetrable mass. The U.S. Army built Fort Snelling because it was afraid of Indian raids. Fitz wondered what his father was afraid of.
You’re living in a fortress
You’re living all alone
You’re living in a fortress
Trapped behind your walls of stone
There’s bars on your windows
Double chain across your door
There’s bars on your windows
So scared you don’t go out no more
Robbers and muggers and thieves
The bad guys that you fear
Robbers and muggers and thieves
Watch out: they’re drawing near
When Fitz showed it to Caleb, he seemed impressed, as impressed as he ever got. “Not the usual angst,” he said. Caleb played it as a slow blues in A, and Fitz followed along with a little walk on the bass. Caleb read Fitz’s words off his crumpled notebook and sang them in his bluesman’s growl, part Howlin’ Wolf, part Cookie Monster. Caleb once confessed that he sometimes wished he were black, blind, born in the Delta. He is, in fact, white, sighted, and was born in South St. Paul. But Caleb has soul. His voice can sound ancient, ravaged and sinister, like something from a scratchy 78. He sang Fitz’s song with great feeling, eyes closed. Hearing his words sung with such passion, thinking about his father’s building, where he’d stood just the day before touching the rough stubble of the walls, Fitz felt something complicated and jagged working through his insides—not the usual angst, Caleb was right about that, it was something else entirely.
Before long, the crazy cat-and-mouse game with his father became more important to Fitz than his so-called real life. He still went to school, of course, he studied geometry and biology, he ate dinner with his mother and helped load the dishwasher. They talked about their days. He listened to music in his room and texted his friends. He played his bass. He stared at a yearbook picture of the lovely Nora Flynn and tried to think of an excuse
to call her. But somehow, that life, that public routine, came to seem like just filling time, going through the motions.
It was a performance. That’s what it was. A one-man show staged for the benefit of his mother, his teachers, his friends. He knew the script and he could pull it off. But Fitz the son, Fitz the student, Fitz the friend—that wasn’t
. It was like him, it was a part of him. It’s just that there was more to him than anyone realized.