"I told you, go back to bed."
"Please. I won't be in the way. And I can't sleep now anyway."
"Keep your voice down. You'll wake everybody."
He had energy enough to rise and meet his duty but not the strength to blunt the assault of a thirteen-year-old looking for adventure in the middle of an oppressive summer night. He said, "Get dressed."
Jake was sitting on the edge of his bed. He already had his shorts on and was pulling up his socks.
I said, "Where do you think you're going?"
"With you and Dad." He knelt and in the dark under his bed dug for his sneakers.
"You said hell," he said, still digging.
"You're not going, Howdy Doody."
He was younger than me by two years and two heads shorter. Because he had red hair and freckles and freakish ears that stood out like the handles on a sugar bowl people in New Bremen sometimes called him Howdy Doody. When I was pissed at him I called him Howdy Doody too.
"You're not the b-b-b-boss of me," he said.
Jake almost always stuttered in public but around me he only stuttered when he was mad or scared.
"No," I replied, "but I can p-p-p-pound the crap out of you any time I want."
He found his sneakers and began to put them on.
Night was the dark of the soul and being up in an hour when the rest of the world was dead with sleep gave me a sinful thrill. My father often ventured out like this on some lonely mission but I'd never been allowed to go. This was special and I didn't want to share it with Jake. I'd already wasted precious time however so I left off arguing and got myself dressed.
My brother was waiting in the hall when I came out. I intended to argue with him some more but my father slipped from his bedroom and shut the door behind him. He looked at Jake as if about to say something unpleasant. Instead he sighed and signaled us both to go before him down the stairs.
Outside the crickets were kicking up a frenzy. Fireflies hung in the still black air flickering on and off like the slow blink of dreamy eyes.
As we walked to the garage our shadows glided before us, black boats on a silver sea of moonlight.
"Shotgun," Jake said.
"Ah, come on. You're not even supposed to be here."
"I called it."
Which was the rule. In New Bremen, a town platted and populated by Germans, rules were abided by. Even so I complained until my father broke in. "Jake called it," he said. "End of discussion, Frank."
We piled into the car, a 1955 Packard Clipper the color of canned peas that my mother had named Lizzie. She christened every automobile we ever owned. A Studebaker she called Zelda. A Pontiac Star Chief was Little Lulu after the comic book character. There were others but her favoritethe favorite of us all except my fatherwas that Packard. It was huge and powerful and elegant. It had been a gift from my grandfather and was a source of contention between my parents. Though he never came right out and said so I believe it hurt my father's pride to accept such an extravagant gift from a man he didn't particularly like and whose values he openly challenged. I understood even then that my grandfather considered my father a failure and not good enough for my mother. Dinner when these two sat at the same table was usually a storm about to break.
We pulled out and drove through the Flats which was what we called the part of New Bremen where we lived. It lay along the Minnesota River below the Heights where the wealthy families resided. There were a lot of people living above us who weren't rich but no one with money lived on the Flats. We drove past Bobby Cole's house. Like all the others we passed it was totally dark. I tried to wrap my thinking around the fact of his death which had occurred the day before. I'd never known a kid who died and it felt unnatural and sinister, as if Bobby Cole had been snatched by a monster.
Excerpted from Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. Copyright © 2013 by William Kent Krueger. Excerpted by permission of Atria Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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