For the Sake of All Others
About the Book:
Jason Foster III, basketball star in a wealthy seaside community, hangs himself in the high school gymnasium. For the sake of all others in the school, Dr. Harold Martin, the principal, feels compelled to find out why.
This is a seaside town where both men and women have wrinkles surgically removed, where yacht club members paint over rust before selling their boats, and where home builders swap techniques for concealing structural flaws.
Because Hal thinks teen suicide may be avoided by facing the rust, wrinkles and flaws in everyone, he investigates Jason’s suicide and uncovers far too much, at great personal risk. But he can’t stop.
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At sunset, waves change from unruly cotton—tops to loping gazelles. On the ocean side of a peninsula dividing the bay from the sea, a three foot wave crests and breaks in a slow curve, then spits a layer of foam onto the beach where sanderlings dart like children at play. Just off the Southern California coast, Catalina Island balloons out of the sea, as it does whenever Santa Ana winds vacuum the atmosphere. These desert winds blow cold in December, especially at sunset, chilling the summer-clad people who linger along the sandstone bluff to watch the sun settle into the crotch of the island.
A block in from the bluff, a handsome set of cream stucco buildings forms a quadrangle. One of them is a domed gymnasium brimming now with the electric energy of youth. Just as the fuzz-ball sun drops, the final whistle blows on a basketball game, and a hydrant-flow of cheering students gushes over the quad and into the parking lots.
Soon a dark silence covers the grounds.
One lone figure hastens across campus, his large frame bent forward into the wind, unbuttoned brown suit coat whipping his wrists. His clothes, privately tailored, droop on him like ready-mades from Costco. He wears what his mother or wife dictates. His thinning hair, limp and rumpled, matches his suit and his dark brown eyes. “Santa Claus must have delivered those eyes as coals,” his son once told him.
Despite a slight paunch, his prominent jaw and wide shoulders create an aura, one that could easily protect him from assailants in any bar in the world. But he doesn’t like bars. Too dark.
He does like basketball.
A streetlight illumines his B.M.W., a car too small to accommodate his body, too trendy to satisfy his spirit. Since it was a gift from his mother on his forty-fifth birthday, he tries to appreciate it. Whistling an Australian folksong, he drives a mile on Pacific Coast Highway, turns left, and floats up the hill to his house.
No one is home except their yellow cat curled up on the kitchen counter beside a note from his wife and a frozen turkey dinner. He sits at the table and stares for a while, his mind so vacant it doesn’t know it is resting. Feeding the cat, he notices the date on the calendar and smacks his forehead. “December 13! Today’s Jason’s birthday,” he says, hurrying to the telephone to find out where the birthday boy might be celebrating.
Two hours later he prowls the high school grounds looking for that curly-headed boy he has come to love this summer as if he were his own son. Giving up his search, he unlocks the door to the gym and slips inside, moving with the grace of a much smaller man. He flips on a switch that lights the left bleachers. In the semi-darkness he picks up an imaginary ball, rolls it up his arm, then begins dribbling back and forth across the highly varnished hardwood.
Shoes squeaking as he dribbles, he approaches the free-throw line in the shadowed home team’s end of the gym. As he stretches for an imaginary lay-up, he looks up at the basket, then stops, frozen. The body of a boy in a maroon basketball uniform dangles by a rope from the brace of the hoop. A drafting stool lies on its side nearby with a red basketball caught in its legs.
The man lunges forward, touches the boy’s leg. He knows who it is. Quickly righting the stool he climbs up to loosen the rope. When he sees the boy’s distorted face, he howls like a wounded wolf. The sound echoes in the empty gym.
He jumps down and groans, “Oh, no, no, no. Why?”
Later, waiting for the police, he paces the entrance to the gym with clenched fists. Why did he do it? Why? I should’ve known. Should’ve seen through him in Australia. Should’ve seen him…as he saw me. He pounds his fist into the heavy door. I’ll find out why. Got to know why for the sake of all others who feel that bad. I’ll find out why if it takes me the rest of my life. No matter what it costs.