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This is the final chapter of a nine-chapter serial story that has been published weekly in NeXt. The story takes place in the 1920s during Prohibition, when alcohol was illegal. It explores the life of gangsters and the harsh reality of their criminal enterprises.

Our story so far: The family waits to see how Uncle Raymond will be after the shooting.

>Chapter Nine - Homecoming

Raymond lived, but it was several weeks before Martin and Irene brought him from the hospital to the farm in Altona, just in time for Sunday dinner.

Kenny had helped Meme move furniture around the farmhouse. He and Raymond would share the big bedroom in the front that Raymond and his brothers had shared when they were growing up. It would be good, for the first few weeks, to have Kenny there to help Raymond get dressed and wash up.

Kenny had visited him often in the hospital, but it was strange to see him at home and in his own clothes. Kenny thought of him as a large, strong man, but now he'd lost so much weight that his shirt could be buttoned even when it was stretched around his left arm, which was bandaged tight against his chest to protect his damaged shoulder.

Raymond had always sat at Pepe's right, but now he sat next to Meme, so she could cut his meat, and butter his bread. Helene sat on his other side, and the two women passed the bowls across him and took turns dishing up his food.

"Welcome home, my boy," Pepe said, but then he went on with dinner as if nothing had changed, reluctant to embarrass Raymond by paying any special attention to his efforts to eat one-handed.

The conversation was about farming matters: Paul's apples were doing well and he hoped the rest of the summer would pass without hail. There was sweet corn on the table; Irene had sold the first of their crop to the market in Ausable Forks but now they were going to let the rest ripen for the cows. Meme said something was getting to the chickens. Pepe said it was probably a fox or maybe a mink, but the dog was getting old and he didn't get up at night to patrol like he used to. Paul said one of the neighbors had a good hound with a litter coming soon and he'd bring them over to look at the pups if they wanted.

But then everyone had eaten and the women had cleared the plates into the kitchen. They came back with blueberry pie and a pot of coffee, and everybody complimented the pie and then waited for Pepe to speak.

Pepe finished his pie while they watched.

At last, he spoke. "I suppose the police work is over now, isn't it?"

"My arm will never have its full strength again," Raymond said. "I haven't decided what I'm going to do."

Pepe nodded. "We'd like you to come back here," he said. "There's plenty of room and I could use your help."

"I don't know how much help I can be," Raymond began, but his father cut him off.

"There are men who've lost an arm completely and yet work a farm alone," he said. "And you won't be on your own. If it takes two strong hands to milk, well, then you wash the cows and George and I will get that much more milking done."

"Your arm will regain some strength," Paul suggested. "And, if it doesn't come back all the way, your other arm will take up the slack. You watch. In another year, it won't matter if you're swinging the ax with one arm or two."

"And I'm going to help you until you get those bandages off," Kenny said. "There's nearly two months before I go back to school."

Raymond looked at him for a moment. "And how will you go back to school, if I don't have the apartment in Plattsburgh anymore?"

"I'll go to Chazy," Kenny said. "I never liked those town boys anyway."

"Chazy's high school is just as good, maybe better," Paul said.

"There's no 'maybe' about it," Helene spoke up. "They write about it in magazines!"

"He'll stay with us during the week," Paul said. "Our kids aren't old enough to help with chores, so he'll earn his keep, and he'll come back here on the weekends, same as always."

Raymond nodded. "Well, it will do for a time, anyway," he agreed. "I don't know how many people this farm can support, though."

"We can make that work," George said. "I'm thinking it's time we bought a milking machine; the new surge machines are really good, and then we could expand the herd."

"I saw those machines at the fair," Raymond said. "They're not cheap."

"I've got some money saved," George said. "And I'll have more time to work on the farm, too, because I'm not going up to Hemmingford anymore."

"So you've decided construction work is not for you?" Pepe asked, and Kenny peered at him closely. He still wasn't sure how much Pepe knew.

"If I need more money, I'll find work that doesn't take me off the farm so much," George said. "I should have been here that night. I should have been with my family."

"You're really going to give it up?" Raymond asked, and nodded his head in approval. "Maybe you're the one we should be welcoming home, baby brother."

Pepe rose to his feet, which signaled the end of the meal. "Well, that's all settled then," he said. "Kenny, take the little ones so your aunts can get some work done."

Kenny collected the children from the kitchen and took them outside to play hide-and-seek. This time, there was plenty of room to hide behind the driver's seat in George's Roadster.

In fact, he was very comfortable now.

***

Funded by the New York State United Teachers and New York Newspapers Foundation. Text copyright 2011, Mike Peterson. Illustrations copyright 2011, Christopher Baldwin.

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