A muffled snore escaped from the boy, and Len risked a look in
his direction. Wrecker. What kind of a name was that? Slumped
against the door with his neck bent at an unnatural angle and his
short legs jammed straight out on the seat. Len shifted his grip on
the wheel and blinked his gaze forward. The highway buckled
into green hills between each sleepy little town. Two hours down,
now, and they still had four to go, a hundred miles north on narrow
roads before they turned and threaded night- blind through
the giant trees, up and down the winding mountain nearly to the
sea. When the few buildings of Cloverdale loomed ahead, Len
pulled in and parked in the lot of a diner. He was too weary to
make a straight shot of it. Boy? Len said, and reached a big hand
to jiggle the kids shoulder. Wrecker. It would take some getting
used to. You want something to eat?
Wrecker blinked a few times and reached a hand to wipe away
the spit that dampened his cheek. Len hadnt noticed the boys
blue eyes before. Stormy. The color of sea- squall, not clear sky. I
have to pee.
Pee? Oh. Len wrinkled his forehead. That. He got out of
the truck and crossed to the other door and unbuckled Wrecker
and lifted him down, and they stood there awkwardly for a moment,
while Len wondered if he should carry the boy, or take his
hand, or simply walk ahead and hope he would follow. He had
settled on the last when the door to the diner flapped open and
two men and a woman walked out.
Len sagged. Four hours from home, and his Mattole neighbors
were marching straight at him. Charlie Burrell bleated a greeting,
and his wife moved in to lay a sympathetic hand on Lens elbow.
Hullo, dear, she said. Greta was a decent woman with a face as
broad and bland as a saucer. Hows Meg?
Lens gaze swerved aground. Six months had passed since his
wife had gone in for a root canal and come home with an infection
that spread into her brain and rampaged like a wild beast.
Penicillin saved her life, but it couldnt save her mind. Meg? Len
answered gruffly, glancing back up. Megs fine. The same, he
clarified. The doctors didnt think shed change much from how
she was now.
Charlie shuffled and grunted. Hell of a thing, he mumbled.
He glanced at his wife, and his voice veered toward belligerence.
Theyd had some news. Junior got his draft notice, he announced.
The son, thick and sullen, stood behind and pretended
deafness. I believe hell go, but Greta here . . .
Len watched the womans lips tighten and her body inch away
from her husbands. She kept her gaze trained on a spot just past
Lens shoulder, and answered in clipped tones. Their neighbor had
troubles of his own without them burdening him with theirs,
Greta said. She flashed Len a quick glance, and her voice softened
slightly. He should take care of himself, now. She would stop
over to see Meg soon. Len nodded. He breathed out as they left.
He settled his cap back on his head, paused a moment to reset his
balance, and remembered the boy.
Len circled the truck and scanned the parking lot.
Kid? He called twice, his voice tight and low. He swung his
head toward the road to make sure the boy wasnt trapped in traffi
c, and then he hurried across the lot at awkward angles, checking
between the cars. Len rushed inside and anxiously searched
the faces. A boy, he stammered, taking hold of the waitress. Had
she seen him? A little one. His eyes lit on a stool at the counter.
Maybe this tall.
Whoa, there, she said, steadying him. You lost your kid?
She studied Lens panicked face and then turned to the diners.
Any yall seen this mans boy? Bout yay high. She gestured to her
hip and then turned back to Len. How old? Her eyes widened.
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