It was a fine spring day when my old pal Sonny decided to deliver the letter. There was no indication of the dark cloud ahead.
It started with a girl.
Most things started with a girl, where Sonny was concerned. He collected girlfriends like lottery winners collect cousins.
He met this particular girl at a sporting event when our school was playing a school at the other end of town.
Sonny paid no attention to school sports, but he attended more games than the members of the booster club.
To him, the games were convenient gathering places at which he could cruise girls from other schools.
It was in this way he met Hailey. They spent some time together and later talked on the telephone.
“She’s the one,” he confided while telling me about her.
Things continued to go well between them, and Sonny would no doubt have escalated his wooing had not her mother intervened.
The trouble with school sporting events is they are attended by parents, one of whom happened to mention to Hailey’s mother that she had seen Hailey hanging out with a new boy at the game.
An interrogation ensued.
Hailey’s parents put an abrupt stop to the blossoming romance, and forbade her to have any contact with Sonny. Part of their objection may have been a suspicion on their part that his motives were less than wholesome (which, of course, they were).
Another problem was that Sonny lived on the west side of the city, and Hailey’s family lived on the east side. The collars in Sonny’s neighborhood tended to be blue, and the work performed by its inhabitants, while honest, was frequently of a manual nature.
The east side of the city was characterized by old money, large houses, and professional people. It is possible Hailey’s parents did not want her future tainted by consorting with a person of modest prospects.
When Sonny told me about these events, he seemed more determined than devastated, and I soon learned why.
He had a plan.
Sonny drafted a letter in which he pledged his continuing devotion to Hailey, and outlined his plans concerning how they could continue their relationship on the sly.
Sonny considered sending the letter via the mail, but abandoned this as too risky. It’s success depended on who picked up the mail, and if the letter fell into the wrong hands, his plan would be doomed.
He decided instead to deliver the letter in person.
We parked in front of the estate owned by Hailey’s family. All the palatial residences in that neighborhood were set well back from the road, and the grounds looked more like parks than yards.
We approached the house via a row of trees and shrubberies that ran along a fence separating Hailey’s yard from the neighboring property.
This brought us to the weakest link in Sonny’s plan. He had relied on catching sight of Hailey out on the grounds, or somehow gaining access to her boudoir, which he knew to be located on the second floor at the rear of the premises.
Unfortunately, a brief inspection failed to turn up any sign of the girl. Sonny had also neglected to bring a ladder, leaving the bedroom approach effectively out of reach.
This might have caused a less determined suitor to concede defeat, but not Sonny.
He continued to study the problem, and soon hit upon a solution.
“The gardener!” he exclaimed triumphantly. “I’ll tip the gardener to deliver the letter.”
I followed his gaze, and there, nearly obscured by foliage in a bed at the far corner of the yard, a woman was planting nasturtiums.
We made our way around the perimeter of the yard, being careful to stay out of sight of the house.
On closer inspection, the woman was revealed to be wearing brown trousers, a baggy white long-sleeved shirt, and a shapeless old hat. Her ruddy complexion was evidence of hours spent in the sun.
With a friendly smile, Sonny opened the negotiations.
“Hello old darling,” he caroled gaily. “You look like you could use an extra $5.”
He produced a banknote in the denomination named and held it out to her.
“All you have to do is deliver this letter to Hailey without letting her parents see it,” he added.
He took the letter out of his pocket and held it out to the gardener along with the fiver.
During this process, the gardener had not uttered a word, but had continued to stare at Sonny with a strange kind of focus.
Instinct told me something was wrong. I had remained in the bushes while Sonny approached the gardener, and at this point, I began a swift and stealthy retreat under cover of the bushes.
Glancing over my shoulder, I observed the gardener accept the letter and money, and slowly begin to get to her feet.
About the time I lost sight of them beyond the corner of the house, the gardener found voice, and punctuated her comments by striking Sonny between the shoulder blades with a spade that had been lying handy.
I couldn’t make out everything she said, but I distinctly heard her finish a sentence with the words, “stay away from my daughter!” before calling for assistance from Mitzy and Fritzy, who it transpired were poodles that came running from another part of the yard and began nipping at Sonny’s ankles.
I started the car and put it into gear, ready for a quick exit.
Sonny vaulted the fence and dived into the passenger seat in a single bound, and we were off.
“That wasn’t the gardener,” he explained unnecessarily, after his breathing returned to a more normal rate.
“She kept the letter, and my five bucks,” he added, sounding remarkably sanguine for someone who had just been savaged by poodles and smitten with a spade.
“You know,” he said slowly, after a contemplative silence. “There’s a girl up at Central High I have been thinking about calling. I think she may be the one.”