"Let me try again."
I picked up the tire iron and handed it to him. This time he did the deed and danced back from the spray of red glass.
"Can I do the other one?" he pleaded.
When he'd finished we stood back and admired our work until we heard the screen door of the house across the street squeak open and a guy shout, "Hey, what's going on over there?"
We tore down Sandstone back to Main and down Main toward Tyler. We didn't stop until we hit the Flats.
Jake bent over and held his ribs. "I got a stitch in my side," he gasped.
I was breathing hard too. I put my arm around my brother. "You were great back there. A regular Mickey Mantle."
"Think we'll get in trouble?"
"Who cares? Didn't that feel good?"
"Yeah," Jake said. "It felt real good."
The Packard was parked in the church lot across the street from our house. The light over the side door was on and I figured Dad was still inside putting Gus to bed. I set the tire iron on the Packard's hood and we walked to the door, which opened onto a set of stairs that led to the church basement where Gus had a room next to the boiler.
Gus wasn't related to us by blood but in a strange way he was family. He'd fought beside my father in the Second World War, an experience, my father contended, that made them closer than brothers. They stayed in touch and whenever Dad updated us on his old friend it was usually to report another in a long litany of missteps. Then one day just after we'd moved to New Bremen, Gus aad shown up at our doorstep, a little drunk and out of work and with everything he owned stuffed in a pack in the sidecar of his motorcycle. My father had taken him in, given him a place to live, found him work, and Gus had been with us ever since. He was a source of great disagreement between my parents but only one of many. Jake and I liked him immensely. Maybe it was because he talked to us as if we weren't just kids. Or because he didn't have much and didn't seem to want more and didn't appear to be bothered by his questionable circumstances. Or because on occasion he drank to excess and got himself into trouble from which my father would predictably extricate him, which made him seem more like an errant older brother than an adult.
His room in the church basement wasn't much. A bed. A chest of drawers. A nightstand and lamp. A mirror. A squat three-shelf case full of books. He'd put a little red rug on the cement floor of his room that added a dash of color. There was a window at ground level but not much light came through. On the other side of the basement was a small bathroom which Dad and Gus had put in themselves. That's where we found them. While Gus knelt at the toilet stool and puked my father stood behind him and waited patiently. Jake and I lingered under the bare bulb in the middle of the basement. My father didn't seem to notice us.
"Still ralfing," I whispered to Jake.
"You know. R-a-l-f," I said and drew out the word as if I was vomiting.
"That's it, Captain." With some difficulty Gus stood and my father handed him a wet cloth to wipe his face.
My father flushed the toilet and walked Gus to his room. He helped Gus out of his soiled shirt and pants. Gus lay down on his bed. He wore only his undershirt and shorts. It was cooler in the
basement than outside and my father drew the top sheet over his friend.
"Thanks, Captain," Gus murmured as his eyes drifted closed.
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
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