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Chapter Seven

CROUCHED under the blanket in the back seat, Tommy Troulson
listened for a while to Larry and Joe as they chatted nervously about
squeaks that sounded like sirens and reflections that looked like police
flashers. But then he let their voices drift away as he became
preoccupied with the sights and sounds of the TV set in his head--
that's what Tommy called it when he would shut out the rest of the
world and tune in his imagination. He wondered if other people had
TV's in their heads, too--if they could close their eyes and watch the
'what if' scenes that Tommy enjoyed so much. Sometimes he would
watch a scene from his life, then watch an instant replay of the same
scene modified by 'what if this or that happened' or 'what if I did this
or that,' until he had covered all the possibilities he could think of.

This time the program he tuned in was titled "Me in the Laundry
Cart." It started out with a re-run of the ride he had just taken from
room 606 to the waiting get-away car. Under the heavy blanket in
the back seat of the car, it was easy to recall the feel of the laundry--
actually quite a bit heavier than the blanket--and the vibration from
the rolling wheels. Memory provided the rest: the suffocating odor of
the soiled linen, muffled sounds of the elevator door opening and then
the cart clickety-clacking down the corridor. It was just like being
there again, only it was running on fast-forward.

Now Tommy decided to play it over again, this time with Ms.
Czinko listening to her intuition, stopping Randy at the elevator,
digging through the laundry, and finding the boy hidden at the
bottom. She would get all indignant, start screaming about child
abuse, lift me out of the cart, try to carry me back to my room, find
that I'm too heavy, he thought, lead me back by the hand, and then
stand at the door while she had someone else call the police on Randy
and my parents. Tommy saw and heard it all, replaying portions over
and over again with slight variations of events.

Then his mind moved on to another imaginary scene, this time
with a single piece of linen, a bedsheet, being pulled up over his face
by Mrs. Gibbs, the head nurse. She did it very business-like, as if she
had covered the faces of dead children hundreds of times. Then the
scene re-played with Miss French pulling up the sheet, only the smile
that always danced on the corners of her lips wasn't there, and a blue
tear ran down from each of her blue eyes. It started to re-play again,
this time with him dying in his mother's arms, while she shook with
sobs, crying, "Tommy, please don't leave me! Tommy, please!"

Tears ran down his own cheeks, and he must have begun to
sniffle, because Joe took a hand off the steering wheel, reached back
and shook the blanket, waking him from his reverie.

"Hey, kid, are you okay?"

"Huh? Yeah, I'm okay", Tommy mumbled, wiping the tears from
his eyes and feeling glad that the blanket hid them from Joe. "Where
are we, anyway?"

"Almost over the state line," Joe answered, returning his hand to
the steering wheel.

"And its just a few miles beyond that to where we're going to
meet your parents," Larry added, while reaching again for Joe's right

Joe repelled this advance with a snap of the wrist and a disgusted
frown, adding, "Hey! I'm the one driving, not you!" so that Tommy, if
he had seen anything, would think Larry had been trying to grab the
steering wheel.

But Tommy was already preoccupied again, watching the TV set
in his head.

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