"Nice kid, right? But slow."
"Slow enough he couldn't get out of the way of that train," Engdahl said.
"Shut up, Engdahl." Doyle looked back at me. "You play on the tracks?"
"No," I lied.
He looked at Jake. "You?"
"No," I answered for Jake.
"Good thing. Because there are bums down there. Men not like the decent folks in New Bremen. You ever get approached by one of them men you come straight here and tell me. Ask for Officer Doyle."
"You think that's what happened to Bobby?" I was thunderstruck.
It would never have occurred to me that his death wasn't an accident. But then I wasn't a trained policeman like Officer Doyle. He began popping the knuckles of his fingers one by one. "I'm just saying you watch out for guys drifting along those tracks. Understand?" "Yes, sir."
"Goblins'll get you if you don't watch out," Engdahl said. "They love tender meat like you and Retard."
Doyle stood up. He walked to the cell and motioned Morris Engdahl to come to the bars. Engdahl drew his whole self onto the bench and pressed to the wall.
"That's what I thought," Doyle said.
The metal door opened and Officer Blake came out. My father followed. He supported Gus who was stumbling. Gus seemed drunker than Engdahl but there wasn't a mark on him.
"You're really letting him go?" Engdahl said. "That's friggin' unfair."
"I called your father," the officer said. "He told me a night in jail would do you good. Take it up with him."
"Get the door, Frank," my father said and then looked at the officer.
"Thank you, Cleve. I appreciate this."
"Keeps things around here simpler. But, Gus, you've got to watch yourself. The chief 's at the end of his rope with you."
Gus grinned drunkenly. "He wantsa talk to me, tell him I'll be happy to discuss it over a beer."
I held the door and my father hauled Gus out. I looked back where Morris Engdahl sat on the hard bench. Now, forty years later, I realize that what I saw was a kid not all that much older than me. Thin and angry and blind and lost and shut up behind iron bars not for the first time or the last. I probably should have felt for him something other than I did which was hatred. I closed the door.
At the car Gus straightened up suddenly and turned to my father.
"Get in the car."
Gus said, "What about my motorcycle?"
"Where is it?"
"You can get it tomorrow when you're sober. Get in the car."
Gus swayed a little. He looked up at the moon. His face was bloodless in the pale light. "Why does he do it, Captain?"
"God. Why does he take the sweet ones?"
"He takes us all in the end, Gus."
"But a kid?"
"Is that what the fight was about? Bobby Cole?"
"Engdahl called him a retard, Captain. Said he was better off dead. I couldn't let it pass." Gus shook his head in a bewildered way. "So how come, Captain?"
"I don't know, Gus."
"Isn't that your job? Knowing the why of all this crap?" Gus seemed disappointed. Then he said, "Dead. What's that mean?"
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.
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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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