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 spark.
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 strangers
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.
Excerpted from Wrecker by Summer Wood. Copyright © 2011 by Summer Wood. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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