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.
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.
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No Man's Land
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