The Pink Packet Thieves was universally adored by the women in the terminal, and for a few days I had my first taste of a writer's celebrity. But I was not really a writernot yet. Not even then. Mr. Humnor said that if we made copies and put them up for sale in his shop we could split the profits. For a night or two I dreamed of the hundreds of dollars I would surely makeperhaps even enough so that my mother could retire and we could fly around the country together.
There was one person whom I had not yet shown the book toand that was Mr. Bjorn. There was no one in the concourse whom I wanted to like the book as badly. For days I watched him, waiting for my moment, and finally I walked over, on a slow Tuesday afternoon that summer, to offer him my story. Up on his high chair, Mr. Bjorn seemed even more terrifying than ever.
"You get any bigger yet? You ready to put one of those links back in?"
"I wrote a book," I said meekly, as I held it out.
"So you have," he said, squinting down at it for a moment. His hands were shaking and he kept sort of clearing his throat.
"You could read it," I explained, as I pushed it toward him.
He lifted it up, made a little show of admiring the title and the cover art, and released a familiar fluttery whistle. "I'll take a look at it as soon as I'm done with my paper. One hour, son. All right?"
I agreed, happy to see him smiling. "A book," he laughed as he set it down. "Sounds like someone wants to live forever."
I didn't know what he meant by this but I didn't care. I rushed off again through the concourse, giddy with pleasure, and I did not stop running until I reached Emerson Books and snatched three candy bars while Mr. Humnor pretended not to look. I camped out there, beneath the rotating rack of romance novels, watching the little hands on my wristwatch twisting slowly around, the little ticking of the escapement seeming to grow louder and louder.
When an hour had finally passed, I rushed out of the store and followed a crowd of passengers to the other end of the concourse. When I got there I was surprised to see a crowd massed around Mr. Bjorn's kiosk. Ms. Barlow and Mrs. De Santos and Mrs. Nederhoffer were all there, but Mr. Bjorn was not. His high chair was on the ground, on its side. His newspaper lay in a heap beside it.
"Old guy's ticker just stopped," I heard a rough voice say. It was a policemana blue pudgy ball with a buzz cutand he was holding my book in his hand. And he was laughing. Not like Mr. Humnor laughed. Laughing as though he thought something was awful. And all of my daytime minders were just standing there, letting him laugh.
"Was this the old guy's?" the officer asked, that horrible smile still on his face.
"No," said Mrs. Nederhoffer. "It's just this little boy's. His mother's one of the flight attendants, and she leaves him here all day like it's some sort of daycare center."
"We all sort of look after him," Mrs. De Santos chimed in. "Honestly, I live in fear every day that some nut will run off with him."
Ms. Barlow agreed, loudly, that if one ever did, it wouldn't be on her chest.
The officer laugheda hacking, barking sort of laugh. "No father?"
This time the ladies laughedtheir cackles were high and excitedas if there were nothing they liked to laugh about more. They all began talking at once, but I heard them say bad words before I could hold my watch up to my ears. Soon I couldn't hear anything but the ticking. I stood there in a dark forest of strangers' knees, listening to second after second, escaping. Then with one careless motion, the policeman chucked my book into the nearest trash can. None of the ladies even noticed.
Excerpted from The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma. Copyright © 2013 by Kristopher Jansma. Excerpted by permission of Viking. 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
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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