JAMIE GABRIEL WAKES at 5:44, as the clock radio's volume
bursts from the silence. He rolls and hits the sleep bar, clipping off the words
to an annoying pop song by some boy-band graduate who wears the same clothes and
does the same moves as his backup dancers. The worst. Kids at school say they
like him. Some do; the rest are just following along. Jamie listens to Green Day
and Linkin Park. It's three-quarters dark outside. He clicks off the alarm and
puts his feet on the floor. Waking up is easy.
In the master bedroom sleep Mom and Dad. Carol and Paul. The carpet is wall-to-wall, light blue. New. The liver-colored stuff that came with the house when they bought it is gone. The blue goes better with the oak bedroom set, Mom says.
It was a good move for the Gabriels, to the split ranchstyle on Richards Avenue, Wayne Township. Trees line most all of the blocks here. The houses have yards.
Jamie walks past his school photo, which hangs in the hall on the way to the bathroom. He hates the picture. His wheat-colored hair lay wrong that day. He takes a pee. That's it. He'll brush his teeth when he gets back, after breakfast, before school.
He moves through the kitchenPop-Tart? Nahand goes out the utility door into the connected garage. Mom and Dad love it, the garage on the house, the workbench, and space for the white minivan and the blue Buick.
He hoists the garage door halfway up; it sticks on its track. A streak of black fur darts in and hits him low in the legs.
"Where you been, Tater?"
The gray-whiskered Lab's tail thumps against the boy's leg for a moment. After a night of prowling, Tater likes the way the boy ruffles his fur. The boy pushes him aside and crawl-walks under the garage door.
A stack of the morning Star waits there, acrid ink smell, still warm from the press. Jamie drags the papers inside and sets to work, folding them into thirds, throwing style.
He loads white canvas sacks and crosses them, one over each shoulder, then straddles his bike. The Mongoose is his. Paid for with six months' delivery money after the move to Richards Avenue. Jamie ducks low and pushes the bike out underneath the garage door, when Tater rubs up against his leg again. The old dog begins to whine. He shimmies and bawls in a way that he never does.
Jamie puts his feet on the pedals and cranks off on his route. Tater groans and mewls. Dogs know.
"Should've gone to McDonald's, you fat fuck," Garth "Rooster" Mintz said to Tad Ford as he reached across him for a French Toast dipper. Tad's face squeezed in hurt, then relaxed. The smell of gasoline, the fast-food breakfast, and Tad's Old Spice filled the battleship-gray '81 Lincoln.
"You're eating same as me," Tad said back. "You're just lucky it doesn't stick to you."
Rooster said nothing, just started chewing a dipper.
Tad was unsatisfied with the lack of reaction, but that was all he was going to say. Rooster was seventy-five pounds smaller than him, but he was hard. The guy was wiry. Tad could see his sinew. He'd once watched Rooster, piss drunk, tear a guy's nostril open in a bar scrap. The whole left side of the dude's nose was blown out, and just flapped around on his face with each breath after the fight was broken up and Rooster was pulled off.
Tad had plenty of targets of opportunity with Roosterthe small man stank much of the time. He didn't shower most days. He left his chin-up, push-up, and sit-up sweat in place, only bothering to wipe down his tattoos. His red-blond hair hung limp and greasy as well. Then there were the scars. Nasty raised red ones that ran up and down his forearms like someone had gone at him with a boning knife. When Tad finally screwed up the nerve to ask where he'd gotten them, Rooster merely replied, "Around." Tad left it there.
Published by Doubleday. Copyright © 2008 by Levien Works, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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