All I wanted was a humble can of WD-40 with which to oil my chain.

I was at the tail end of a weeklong vacation and trying like hell to stay in a vacation state of mind.

I refused to read Sun Journal news or even scan the headlines. I refused to even glance at Facebook. I plugged my ears and hummed loudly whenever somebody tried to talk about news of any kind. La-la-la! I can’t hear you!

I even refrained from riding downtown for fear Sun Journal gravity would reach out with its writhing tentacles and suck me back prematurely into its orbit. That’s straight physics right there, bro.

But I figured a trip to Walmart would be safe, especially since I was disguised behind a week’s worth of vacation beard. Who would recognize me with all this pure testosterone pouring out of my face?

The second I pulled into the Walmart parking lot, I knew I was in trouble. Police in cruisers were pulling up every which way. An ambulance and a firetruck were parked near the center of the lot, and all around them people were running wild in the delirium of their adrenaline spikes.


News was happening, I knew that for sure. But maybe it was just a car fire, a water main break or a shoplifter take-down. Surely it was not the kind of news that would suck me into its thrashing, frenzied core like some spinning black hole of information.

The sucking started the second I parked my motorcycle just beyond the yellow crime scene tape that was being hung. A fellow I knew from somewhere recognized me in spite of the beard.

“Did you hear?” he said, trotting over to me. “Some guy got shot right here in the parking lot. I saw it happen. Had to drive my car in reverse to get away from it.”

La-la-la, I can’t hear you.

I spotted our old friend George Stanley, trembling and near tears, talking to a pair of police officers.

“Right in front of me,” he said. “It happened right in front of me.”


Another man told me what he had seen. I didn’t even have to ask. He just walked up and started talking. He described two men arguing, one of them in a car, one on foot. A gun came out, he said. The man on foot tried to turn and get away, but shots rang out and took him down.

“Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!” the man told me. “At least four shots, maybe more.”

My fingers itched to grab my phone and call the newspaper. But there was a night beat reporter on duty. Surely he would hear about this on his own. I closed my eyes a moment and tried to go back to the rolling potato fields of St. Agatha, a place I had left so reluctantly the day before.

La-la-la, I thought. I can’t hear you.

I went into Walmart. I had forgotten what I had come for so I wandered over to the health and beauty section. Maybe I needed shampoo. Maybe I need Advil for the throbbing ache that came with trying to repress the urge to report the news breaking around me.

“Hey,” said a voice from behind me. “Mark LaFlamme? Is that you?”


La-la-la. …

The woman was someone I had known for nearly two decades. Wouldn’t you know it? She was the one who had tried to administer aid to the shooting victim in the parking lot. She told me all about it. What his wounds were, how bad it looked, how much he bled. Her companion told me what he had seen and what he had heard.

WD-40! It came to me all at once. I had come for WD-40, and by God I was going to get a can. I headed in that direction, but down every aisle I walked was somebody talking about the shooting outside.

In the toy section: “… heard the guy with the gun is just 16 years old. …”

In home furnishings: “… called the kid’s girlfriend a name, and that’s when the gun came out. …”

In that weird no man’s land between sporting goods and the auto section, in reference to the man shot: “… You remember him? Somebody left him for dead years ago in the Buckfield woods. Poor guy. I hope he makes it.”


Some news is so big, so compelling, so richly textured there’s just no ignoring it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a news reporter on vacation or just some Joe out to buy a bucket of paint and some brushes. Breaking news — especially that of a tragic nature — pulls at you the way the ocean will when the tide is rushing out. Breaking news is like a giant puzzle with clues dotting the landscape, and the compulsion to connect the dots is irresistible.

Out at the Walmart parking lot, I found police had sealed up my motorcycle behind the crime tape. While I negotiated its release with an on-duty cop, a young couple in a car pulled up next to me.

“Do you know what happened?” they asked.

La-la-la. …

I broke it down for them, explaining what I could from the information that had been thrust upon me in the parking lot, in the health and beauty section and in auto parts and tools. Relating the facts that way creates a picture. Chunks of information begin to fit neatly together and some semblance of a story begins to form. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing it for the newspaper or describing it on Facebook. The story has begun to take shape and stories demand to be told.

This particular story, “The Tragedy at Walmart,” must have been told a thousand times by a thousand people, even as the yellow crime scene tape still hung and flapped in the breeze at the center of the Walmart lot. Not all the facts were in, but the story grew bigger by the minute. Some of it was right, some of it was wrong, some of it was wild speculation along with the usual leaps of logic and demands for hasty justice.


During my vacation, I spent 90 percent of my time on trails slicing through farmland or snaking through forests so thick and vast it was almost overwhelming. No matter. As long as signals are able to bounce off satellites in space, news will follow you anywhere.

On Thursday, my last day in beautiful Aroostook County, my text messenger lit up while I was standing next to my bike on a dusty road in a glorious potato field.

“Have you heard about the Meserve case?” the message asked me. “Police just put out a press release. The case is breaking open.”

I thought maybe if I jumped back on the bike and gunned it toward the forest, I might be able to outpace the clamor of happenings back home. But in my heart, I knew better. People might take vacations, but news never does. And news travels faster than my Suzuki in a deserted potato field, even in the best of conditions.

La-la-la, I thought wearily. But then I went ahead and answered that text, anyway, because if 25 years of vacations have taught me anything, it is that you can never outrun the news no matter how much you might want to.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. News sticks to him like flies to a pest strip. You can email him at [email protected]

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