It was the middle of the afternoon, January 1969, and a halfhearted
rain dampened San Francisco and cast a gloomy pall over
the hallways of the Social Welfare building.
Len stood waiting for his life to change. He was a skinny man
with a long face that showed its creases despite the stubble on his
chin and cheeks, and he kept moving his hands from the brim of
his cap to the pockets of his jeans as though he couldnt be held
responsible for what they might do if left unsupervised. Finally a
door creaked open and a young woman edged into the hall.
Len lurched forward. He stopped abruptly when he saw the boy.
This one? He was barely a child. Theyd said he was three, but Len
hadnt . . . were three-year-olds that tiny? Len had expected something
along the lines of a good-sized calf, seventy pounds or so,
take a little muscle to roll but this kid would have a tough time
toe- to- toe with the goose that patrolled the ragged edges of Lens
yard. Did geese hurt children?
Len said, Hey. He meant to sound friendly, but his voice
caught in his throat and sputtered like a gas engine with a lazy
The boy turned his face to him, and Len peered closely. He
hadnt seen Lisa Fay since hed married her sister fifteen years back,
but there was something of the family resemblance in the snub
nose, in the delicate oval curve of the chin. There was little else
that seemed delicate on this boy. In spite of his small size he was
robust and muscled. His pale hair was cropped short and badly,
and his corduroy pants were bunched by a belt at his waist, the
elastic gone slack. Kid had the right to look bedraggled, Len
thought, yanked from his mother that young. He had the right to
look forlorn. This boy didnt look forlorn, he looked ferocious.
Len cleared his throat and glanced away.
The plain truth? He hadnt wanted a kid. Had no idea, with
Meg the way she was, what to do with one. This boy was too
small to bring to work with him and too young to leave on his
own and would probably not take kindly to being penned up
all day. Len looked sideways at the young woman who had maneuvered
the boy into the hall. There was no other kin to take
him, shed said. Of course, if Len preferred he be raised by
Do I sign something?
Miss Hanson flashed him a weary smile. Why dont you and
Wrecker take some time to get acquainted? She gestured toward
the boy. Ill meet you in ten minutes in the office and we can
take care of the paperwork.
It was settled, then. Len took a hesitant step forward. His body
was a compact knot from thirty years of working the woods,
cramped worse from six hours in the truck on the drive south.
Okay. He grimaced upon squatting down. All right. Should
he call him sport? Son? Fifteen years to go, and already ten minutes
seemed like an eternity. He reached out his hand. It looked
giant and threatening, even to him, and he slid it back into his
pocket. The kid stood his ground. Battle- worn, renegade Len
wasnt a praying man, but a few minutes alone in the company of
this boy and it was starting to feel like something a good bit bigger
than hed bargained for. Im your uncle Len.
The boy made a low sound, mixed outrage and dismay.
That about summed it up, Len thought.
Len drove north out of San Francisco and watched the city fall
away behind them. He followed the line of traffic across the Presidio
and over the water, gray and choppy, that flowed beneath
the Golden Gate. On the far side the truck rumbled past the entrance
to San Quentin Prison. Len snuck a glance sideways. The
boys absent mother was shelved someplace like that. Lisa Fay had
been sentenced for so long to the state slammer that they might as
well have thrown away the key. Len frowned, and his fingers
itched for a cigarette. He hadnt smoked in years, but it had been
a very long day.
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