“¿Es este coche que se envían? ¿Cuál es el nombre del barco?”
“I don’t speak no Spanish,” I say in a wide southern accent. “Hoblas Englisee.”
“You car. It goes on the ship? What is the ship?”
“Well sir, you see, it ain’t my car.” I holler and slur the words as though I was drunk. “It’s my boss’s car, you understand? He told me in no uncertain terms to get my goddamned ass down here ASAP.”
I smile at the guard in a confused, tentative way.
He obviously follows none of this. “What is the ship?” he asks again.
Become one with the night. Allow the darkness to inhabit you.
Hand over hand to the roof, the knife in your belt. Silent as a cat, as an insect.
Noiseless, shapeless. You will not assume your true form until the decisive moment.
The third of six windows down. Spread your weight as you crawl. Haste is your enemy.
When this time comes, you will be as an arrow in the air. Hard. Sharp. Sure.
Hold your breath as you wait. The night sounds surround and cloak you. Even the blue moonlight cannot reveal your true shape.
Calm certainty guides you.
Dr. Soul had seen it coming. The legalization heyday had been brief and glorious, but he always had a secret feeling it couldn’t last. The trend had swept four states, starting with Colorado. That was why he moved there. Then came the federal crackdown, the troops, the gulags. It was worse than before, especially when they started executing dealers.
But all the stress made business boom. People needed to get their smoke on. And they had gotten used to the best, strains like Cinderella and Boysenberry Sigh. If he grew it, they would come.
Dr. Soul needed to go underground.
Evan bought a map of the city.
He had never considered the city from a bat’s perspective, from the air.
He looked at the sinuous thoroughfares following the river’s curve, straight streets jutting out like bones from a herring’s spine.
The parks were shown as patches of green, the sloping letters naming each.
In the night, they would be black.
Evan closed his eyes and lay on the floor, the map spread beneath him, arms wide.
He was a bat, soaring over the city, random in his flight.
He would need something for the gasoline, perhaps a white milk jug.
From above me I heard a sound like somebody killing a dog. After a minute I realized it was singing. I walked up the shattered stairs to investigate.
In the corner of the rubble-filled room, an old man lay on a grimy sleeping bag surrounded by empty bean cans. He was bony and filthy with long greasy hair, his grizzled beard a tangle, hairs nearest his mouth stained with food and wine and tobacco. He fixed me with his blue eyes, bright beneath bushy brows.
“You ain’t staying here,” he snarled. “But I’d take a cigarette if you got one.”
Things got so bad on the farm that I run off. I figured they wouldn’t waste much time looking for me, but it would be good to get as far away as I could.
I lit out to Frenchman’s Bend. The trains always slow down before crossing the bridge, so I knew I could hop a freight easy enough.
When I got to Jefferson City, my belly was growling. I realized I didn’t have a red cent. I spied a diner and went around the back. I could maybe sweep the floors for food. If not, I had my knife.
“Thirty bucks says you don’t,” Ike bawled at me.
I knew what was coming.
Once Ike started betting on something, he couldn’t leave it alone.
He would keep raising the amount of the wager until it became an improbable sum, just within the realm of what he could possibly pay.
Ike never welched on a bet, a point of immense pride.
He once bet Jeps he wouldn’t get into a fifty gallon drum and roll down Cemetery Hill into Route 80.
Jeps waited until Ike got to five hundred bucks, then done it.
Ike paid up, though it took him months.
“What the hell are your doing?”
“What’s it look like? I’m getting my bone on. Amsterdam, bra!”
“It doesn’t work like that. You can’t just spark up a joint on the street. You need to be in a licensed coffeehouse. See?” I pointed to a no smoking sign.
He walked over to the sign and studied it, turned around, the joint in his mouth. “Dude, take my picture! Instagram!” He squatted down in front of the sign and thrust double fuck-you fingers in the air. “Don’t be a fuckin’ pussy! USA! USA!”
I wondered how quickly I could ditch him.
Andrew Carnegie spent his cancer-riddled final years trying to give away all his money, but most of the rich bastards he knew weren’t that way. Maybe it was because that they could never be as rich as Carnegie, never be rich enough. Whatever the reason, they decided they wanted to try to take it with them.
The library’s microfiche newspapers had society columns where they would mention Mrs. So-and-so and her famous jewels. You look for a mention where one of these old biddies says she wants to buried with it. There might be a photograph.
The rest is easy.
“I have something to show you.”
“Will I like it?”
“I hope so. I like it.”
“I want to tell you about it first. Just a little. Not a long explanation.”
“I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this, but sometimes you find something that just makes you feel better. Feel…whole, you know?”
“I think I know. A little.”
“My old man, for instance. He says he only feels like himself when he’s on the golf course. For my grandma, it’s when she’s baking. Something about kneading dough gives her solace.”
“Promise not to laugh.”