I don’t know who dared it, but the rule was the rule.
Dare me, I’ll do it.
Anyway, it was me drew the short straw.
I squeezed through the loose board and snuck up through the weedy underbrush.
Near the the edge of the property there were a lot of broken bottles and trash people sometimes pitched over the fence, but by the house there was nothing but dead weeds.
I went to the open window you could see from the alley, black like the mouth of a corpse.
I stood under it for a minute to work up courage.
“We were so worried. Papa heard shots.”
He removed his coat. It was always a surprise, how thin he had become. I suppose we all had. “I’m fine, ma. Don’t worry. I’m always careful.”
“Were you able to get it?” Papa asked him. I could see he was trying to guard his eagerness. To shield himself from disappointment.
He reached into his pocket with a look of triumph and pulled out a muslin-wrapped parcel. “A whole loaf!”
Papa got to his feet, clapping. “Splendid! A feast! I’ll get the knife.”
I knew we should save it, but I said nothing.
Two days outside Sidewinder his horse stepped into a gopher hole and busted the right fetlock. Much as it pained him, he’d been obliged to put a bullet in its head.
He’d left the horse lying there without cutting off any of the haunch to take with him. He couldn’t bring himself to butcher such a faithful animal. It seemed wrong. Now he regretted his scruples. This barren country was an endless vista of rock and scrub. Not a critter to be seen.
There was nothing to do but cinch his belt tight across his empty belly and trudge onward.
I guess it started with that ghost hunting show. You know the one where that bodybuilder dude goes into some abandoned asylum or hospital and shouts into the dark while the infrared cameras are rolling? She loved that shit. Had all the gear, too. Laser thermometer, EMF reader, night vision glasses. It was cute.
She talked me into going. We hung around until after midnight, then went down to the ruin. I brought wire cutters for the fence. We slipped in and started exploring. It was pretty creepy.
Somehow we got separated. I found her stuff. No trace of her.
My old man was an original member of the Jackpine Gypsies. They called him The Kid back then, since he was only fifteen in ’38. After the war, he rode a surplus Chief he bobbed himself. All seasons except February, he’d say.
I tell you, if he seen Sturgis now he’d up and die. All these fat, rich lawyer types towing their fancy Harleys behind RVs and dressing up in three grand’s worth of Schott leathers, pretending to be bikers.
It makes me sick.
There used to be ethics. Honor. Being a biker wasn’t for everybody.
That was the goddamn point.
It isn’t until I go upstairs that I realize somebody is home. Just my fucking luck. They told the neighbors they were going on vacation. Boarded the dogs, stopped the paper. But here I am in the bedroom and somebody is in the shower. A woman, from the smell of the soap.
I search the dresser. Two Rolexes in one of those self-winder cases. A diamond engagement ring on the nightstand. I’d like to find some cash, but there isn’t time.
Then the water is turned off and out she comes, wrapped in a towel. She looks right at me.
Yuri Andrejevic passed the bottle of kvass around the fire. Nicolai Ivanovich merely stared angrily, arms tightly crossed over his belly.
“Oh, did we hurt your feelings, Nicolai?” bellowed the Colonel. “Well, I won’t apologize. Your story is ridiculous. A stone from the sky did all this!” He waved his gloved hand.
We’d been six days riding along the Tunguska river across thousands of versts of destruction, the great forest trees laid flat and burnt to charcoal, the rabbits and deer of the forest lying dead in their tracks with singed fur and blistered skins.
I drank the kvass, wondering.
“Got the last box packed. Where’d you get the flowers?”
“They were on the porch. No card.”
“You think they’re from him?”
“Duh. Who else?”
“Doesn’t he know we’re moving?”
“Probably. You didn’t hear anything? He didn’t ring the bell or nothing?”
“Maybe. The tape gun makes a lot of noise.”
The girl unboxed the two bouquets and carefully arranged them on the table.
“There. A nice surprise for mom when she gets home.”
“Who you gonna say they’re from?”
“No way she buys that bullshit. She’ll scream and throw them out.”
“I want her to see them.”
Soon as they took out pay phones, I knowed there was a war on the poor. It’s symbolic.
Take the cops. It’s like whatever rules held them back in the old days is gone. In them times, a cop might roust a brother for sleeping where he ain’t supposed to. Maybe even they arrest you for vag and take you downtown. Depending on the time of day, you might even get a meal if you was sober enough to eat.
Not no more. Nowadays they curse you, hit you with them batons, maybe even shock you with them stun guns.
“You bought a Hitler Car? You can’t be serious.”
“You should feel the air conditioning. Like a movie theater.”
“Chryslers have air conditioning. Volvos.”
“The cars are terrible. Read your Consumer’s Reporting.”
“So it doesn’t matter with you that this company made machines that killed my entire family? This is nothing?”
“I knew you would be this way. Remember the Bayer aspirin? When we were courting?”
“That was different! They conducted medical experiments! They killed thousands for their science!”
“Yes, they did. I am not denying they did. But these are different people now.”
“I will never ride in it.”