Fritz looked at his car phone, thought about calling the office, and thought better of it. Hed be at Playtimethe international toy, video game, and software conglomeratesoon enough. And on the ninth floor of the companys Burlington headquarters, there would be a different kind of heat. A bad wind was blowing at Playtime: a hot and angry meltemi.
Fritz lowered the automatic window and leaned out of the Navigator, craning his neck to count the cars in front. Waves of heat rushed in. Jesus, it was hot.
"Jesus, its hot! Shut the window, will you?"
Thus spake 50 percent of the Precious Cargo. Among the more abrasive habitsand there were manyof Michael Brubaker was the thirteen-year-olds uncanny knack of sinning openly in precisely the way and at precisely the moment that his father was sinning in private. Only two weeks ago they had been in the Natick Mall, father and son, when Fritz and Michael passed a little hottie with exposed navel and groaningly tight bustier pulled across a diabolical set of grapefruit breasts. At the moment that the words "God, what tits!" were forming in Fritzs brain, Michael said loudly, "God, what tits!"
Only thirteen! The disrespect of it, the contemptuous disrespect! And the uncanny way that Michael had figured out how to mimic his fathers own failingsto impose on his father the cost of hypocrisy whenever discipline should be asserted.
Fritz knewthe reasons were vague and rather difficult to articulate, but nevertheless he knewthat Michael was too young to be dropping profane epithets around a parent. True, other than for the annual worship-of-children service held at the First Congregational Church of Dover each Christmas Eve (in which children gave piano recitals and then were paraded in as stars, angels, sheep, and wise persons, and tumultuous applause was heard from a large crowd of adoring parental magi, right in the sanctuary), neither he nor Linda had been to services inhow long had it been? So objecting to an infraction of the Third Commandment struck Fritz as a little bit hypocritical. Still, it left him feeling vaguely uncomfortable.
He couldnt see the alcove yet, even leaning out the window. Twelve cars? Fifteen? Of which maybe eleven were as massive as Lindas Lincoln Navigator LX, with its leather seats and side-impact air bags (not that anything would dare broadside this mountain of metal), its surround-sound Blaupunkt audio, and the drop-down DVD screen. On the latter Michael even now was immersed in Death Vault, his latest video game. Fritz could hear stereophonic punches and kicks, stunning groans and grunts, and a glup-glup-glupping that he took to be the sound of arterial blood. When Michael severed a head or a limb, which he did rather frequently, DVD blood spurted from open wounds with anatomical verisimilitude. Michael liked this feature.
"Da-ad, hes been playing that stupid game since we left home. Cant he turn it off?"
This from the balance of the Precious Cargo, Fritzs sixth-grade daughter, Kristin.
"Shut up, queer," said Michael.
"Michael!" Fritz barked, but to what syntactic end was uncertain. Michael in the general vocative. Michael in the undeclined emphatic. Michael in the will-you-stop-being-a-jerk-for-ten-more-minutes.
The mission statement of the Chaney School avowed a commitment to nonviolence, tolerance, and economic justice and affirmed the value of every human being, regardless of race, creed, religion, belief, national origin, gender, sexual preference, or physical, mental, or emotional disability. Michael, an eighth-grader, had been a student there since preschool.
The mission statement hung in a glass frame in the Welcome Center just inside Fielding Hall. It was also printed in the school brochure. Prospective parents lauded the schools commitment to these important values. They thought this an excellent environment for students of tender years. For the parents of a five-year-old, nonviolence and tolerance often appeared to be exotic goals. Only later would these parents educational goals expand to things like chemistry and getting into Andover.
Excerpted from Present Value by Sabin Willett Copyright© 2003 by Sabin Willett. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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