"You're just lucky it doesn't stick to you," Tad repeated, chewing on his own French toast.
"Yeah, I'm lucky," Rooster said, turned, and looked down the street, still dark beneath all the goddamn trees. "Should've gone to McDonald's."
Jamie Gabriel, rider, pedals. He flows by silent houses, houses dark on the inside. He tosses papers into yards and onto porches. He works on his arc and velocity with each throw. An automatic sprinkler quietly sweeps one lawn, still blue in the bruised morning light. Jamie slings for the front door of that house so the paper stays dry. He works his pedals. A line of streetlight goes dark with a hiss as morning comes. Dad thinks it's great that they moved to a neighborhood that supports tradition: newspaper routes. Mom's not so sureher boy needs his rest. Few people know the streets like Jamie does. Dark and empty, they're his streets. Jamie wasn't so sure either, at first, when he was still getting used to the work and slogging through the route on his old Huffy. But then he earned the new bike. He read an old story of a mailman who became an Olympic biker. Why not him, too? He has a picture. The black man's thighs bulge and ripple. He looks like he's set to tear his bike apart more than ride it. Jamie checks his watch. His time is looking good.
Rooster glanced at the clock inside the Lincoln. Goddamn Lincoln now smelled of an old fuel leak and Tad's farts over the sickly sweet of the aftershave. But the car was clean. Riggi bought it in a cash deal and dropped it off with fixed-up tags. Rooster hated these goddamned pickups. He flexed his forearm, felt the corded muscle move underneath his wounded and roughly healed skin and light red arm hair. His forearm was thick for his stature. He was ripped. He was disciplined with working out, but he was a lazy bastard, he suspected, when it came to certain parts of the job. Yeah, he hated the fucking snatches. Anybody could do 'em. It wasn't like the house work. That was rarefied air, sir.
"Start the car," Rooster said low, glancing sideways at the clock again. He scanned out the windshield of the Lincoln. The goddamn thing was like the bridge of the starship Enterprise.
"Oh, shit," Tad said, his last bite of hash-brown cake sticking in his gullet. The car turned over, coarse and throaty.
They saw movement at the corner.
Jamie puts his head down and digs his pedals. He's got a shot at his record. He's got a shot at the world record. He throws and then dips his right shoulder as he makes the corner of Tibbs. The canvas sack on his left has begun to lighten and unbalance him.
He straightens the Mongoose and glances up. Car. Dang. Jamie wheels around the corner right into the rusty grill and locks them up.
Tires bite asphalt and squeal. Smoke and rubber-stink roil. Brakes strain hard and hold. The vehicles come to a stop. Inches separate them.
With a blown-out breath of relief, Jamie shakes his head and starts pushing toward the curb, bending down to pick up a few papers that have lurched free.
Car doors open. Feet hit the pavement. Jamie looks up at the sound. Two men rise out of the car. They move toward him. He squeezes the hand brake hard as they approach.
CAROL GABRIEL PUSHES a strand of dirty blond
hair back behind her ear and sips her coffee, Folgers beans, freshly ground, a
mellow roast. Her friends like Starbucks, but she finds it bitter and knows they
drink it for the name.
She stands in the kitchen and looks out over the sink through the small square window. She's found herself smiling here most days since the move. Especially since fall hit three weeks back with a burst of color on the trees. There's no smile today, even though the day's a bright, shiny thing. Her second cup of coffee has begun to curdle in her belly, as Jamie usually wheels into the driveway before she's done with her first.
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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