We had precious little to do that very dry summer in our precious little town of Vandusenville. Ronnie spent half his time elbows deep in thick iron steamers for Fran Igan in Domainy's laundromat. The other half he spent with me retracing the same worn brick streets we'd tread since kinder garden. Vandusenville was oppressively familiar, it was rare that anything new eeked it's way into our valley town.
Ronnie liked to imagine that he was a hardened detective in a booming, malevolent metropolis. He would watch The Long Kiss Good Night over and over again, so much so that the Murphy's Video made him buy the movie since Ronnie wouldn't let anyone else watch it. He started to wear his father's old grey suit with a loose collared shirt under it. We'd sit in the bowling alley parking lot most Saturday nights. The neon lights cascading across the roofs of musty parked cars and the high pitched ring of bottles in the lane's barroom reminded me of some dark city with dark people and even darker secrets. Ronnie would pace in front of me, twisting a wooden toothpick between his thin lips. "Of course I'm nice baby, I'm a detective," he'd say over and over with a smile. He was transforming into a new animal right in front of me, he was becoming something new and exciting. Ronnie seemed to contain all the possibility for creation in the universe under his dirty sport coat. I decide to give him a flat foot name so I called him Phil Deny.
When the sun was high and the ground was too hot to walk on we'd find refuge under the 17 bridge that reached over the dried Lee river. The grimy concrete supports of the bridge pierced the hot ground and provided a tall flat canvas for Vandusenville's budding artists.
A week before the end of August Ronnie's father decided to send him to private school next Winter. His father was the local minister with all the pomp and square jawed morality you'd expect. The school was forty miles away.
We wrote "Phil Deny" in black paint on the largest concrete support. We wanted to remember this summer, when our tiny town became the shifting shadows of a tumultuous and sinister city. I wanted to remember Phil Deny forever.
In November a deep frost threw Karin's High School sweet heart off the 17 bridge, which ended his life. Karin never slept and other night. One late, restless night she plodded along the edge of thew empty river to the underside of the long arched bridge. Her heart beat against her chest faster and faster as she reached the site of the crash. His old Ford still lay in the deep snow. She didn't feel the slicing Winter wind or the deep freezing chill. Suddenly, she saw written on the concrete support the name Phil Deny. Did she think it was a message from her lost love? Or was seeing his name laid out so prominently too much for her little heart? Without pause she threw herself down a chasm between the looming concrete supports.
The police found her the day Ronnie was to leave for private school. Ronnie read the paper religiously ever since he'd taken to being a detective type. He had worked out the cause of Karin's death that morning over his Cheerios. We stood on the shore of the empty river and watched the endless parade of navy clad police retrace the same path along the chasm. They were snapping pictures and leaning into each other to make comments.
"Phil Deny's dead," Ronnie said to me. These days I often forget what Ronnie's face looked like, but the image of Phil Deny is burned into my memory forever.