Cloudmaker. Malcolm Brooks
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Название: Cloudmaker

Автор: Malcolm Brooks

Издательство: Ingram

Жанр: Историческая литература


isbn: 9780802146335


СКАЧАТЬ stumbled down onto dry ground and walked off by himself, shaking his head and spitting bile. Huck gathered his wits and shouldered the coiled rope. He climbed up on the log and started back.

      “Houston. Are you serious?”

      Huck kept on. He made the upright limb and put it in the crook of his arm, slid the coil from his shoulder, and tied a running bowline in one end. He could see the black shape through the silt and swirl, was already getting a sense for the timing of the thing. He set a ten-inch loop and let the loop dangle about where the hand would emerge. He looked over at Raleigh. “River’s rising again. This body comes loose, no telling where it’ll end up.”

      “Jeepers, who cares? It’s a dern dead crook.”

      “Might be a reward. I need to buy an engine.”

      Raleigh rubbed his eyes.

      The body breached a moment later, the bleached hand with its purpled nails, and Huck dropped the loop and drew the rope taut and tried and failed not to glance again at the face. Eye sockets bruised as plums. The knot in his stomach tightened as well at the solid tug of a waterlogged body, this odd combination of deadweight and buoyancy.

      “Now what?” said Raleigh.

      Huck steadied himself against the limb when the body again went under. He thought for a moment, tried to work out a plan. He tied the rope to the limb and balanced his way back for the shepherd’s crook.

      “Water’s below the bottom of the trunk in that stretch,” said Huck. “Just barely and probably not for long, way she’s coming up. I’ll send the rope under, snag it, and lead it back here.”

      “Then what?”

      “Then you’re going to reel while I crowbar him loose with the staff. Send him under the tree after the rope.”

      “You’re gonna fall in and flipping drown.”

      “You watch. I think I got it figured.”

      “Houston. There is a fine line between calculated risk and famous last words.”

      Huck looked at him. “I don’t think he’s stuck by much. I think it’s mainly water pressure holding him in that pocket. Some weird hydraulic. I got a way to keep from falling, too. You watch.”

      Huck went back out to the limb with the staff, untied the rope, wound it back to a coil, and dropped it to the water. The body had again gone under. The rope passed beneath the tree on the current, and he turned and grabbed the limb, dipped the shepherd’s crook with his free hand, and snagged the rope where it trailed from the dead man’s wrist. He hung the crook overhead on a fork of the limb and walked the wet line back to Raleigh. “Anchor it to that bit-off alder. If the current gets him, this might be a real handful.”

      Raleigh took the rope. “You know this is crazy?”

      Huck didn’t answer, just headed back out. He made the limb, circled it with his arm, and undid the buckle on his belt. He pulled the long tongue back through three loops on his waistband, ran the leather around the limb, and cinched himself to the tree.

      “Houston,” Raleigh shouted. “Remember English class? The Wreck of the Hesperus?”

      “Christ save us all,” Huck shouted back, and when the body loomed up through the depth, he hooked his foot around the base of the branch and leaned into the bite of the belt. He held the staff in two hands and put the crook down into the water and watched it refract toward the dead man’s upper arm.

      He tried to hook the arm and felt the crook deflect. He tried again while the dead man bobbed and got the same result, the arm evidently in a rigid lock against the torso. The body rolled a bit against the prod and drag of the staff, and those dead-lidded eyes seemed to divert their attention in a scan of the sky, then bring their fixed stare right back upon him as the body centered again.

      He felt the dip of the tree and knew the pull of the water would take its claim again at any second. He thought to try for the dead man’s own belt with the crook, and he looked hard through the shimmer and saw only the flapping tail of the black jacket. And when the current began to pull him down, Huck looked full-on again at that ghoul’s face with its dancing hair, and he reached down and in one fluid motion set the hook behind the man’s neck. He felt the solid tug of contact, the stubborn resistance of a weight that wanted only to sink.

      He heaved with both arms and felt something resist and then release below the surface, and the head and chest sat up into the air like a jack-in-the-box, wet wreath suddenly plastered to the skull and a blue bullet hole the size of a dime in the temple. And Huck heard again the words Christ save us and realized the wheezing voice that went with them was entirely his own.

      He yelled for Raleigh to pull and the body did indeed jump with the current. He heard the rasp of fabric against the bark of the tree as the force of the staff shoved him into his belt, and he let go in reflexive panic and clawed for the limb. Staff and torso both dropped back for the water and slid under the tree, the staff at its skewed angle jutting and knocking against the trunk and torquing down with the heavy pull of the body, scraping under and springing back into the air on the other side.

      The corpse floated with the current. Huck’s head snapped to Raleigh, struggling to pull against the water, and he forced his fingers from the limb and fumbled with his belt, got himself free, and with one hand clutching his waistband somehow nearly vaulted back to steady ground. He made it to Raleigh in three leaping strides, and the two of them moved downriver, walking and hauling the body toward shore. They reeled him to the shallows, his arm stiff and seized tight yet against his torso, despite the loop at his wrist and the force of the water. The staff jutted.

      They steered the body to the gravel and looked at each other. “Houston, your pants are falling down.”

      “I saw the bullet hole, Rolly. Right in the side of his dern head.” Huck hoisted his trousers into place and buckled his belt. “It’s blue.”

      “Aye, yi yi.” Raleigh spat a time or two. “My mouth tastes awful.”

      They moved together toward the body on the bank, its legs trailing into the shallows. One foot was bare beneath the black pant leg, the skin pale as wax and weirdly hairless, the other clad yet in a wingtip shoe.

      “He looks like a dern lawyer,” said Raleigh.

      “Preacher.” The word popped out, and Huck immediately regretted it.

      Raleigh took a good hard look at the bloated face. Huck could hear him breathing, saw his hands still tight around the rope. He took hold of the staff and twisted the head. “There’s where the bullet got him.”

      “Ho-ly.” Raleigh looked away, swallowed hard and shook his head and looked back. “Dern thing must still be in his melon, otherwise he’d be missing half his head. That’s a .38 at least. Maybe bigger.” He seemed to notice his hands and the wet rope for the first time, and he half flung it at the ground, like a thing gone snake-alive in his grip. He looked at Huck. “Now what?”

      “Reckon we’d better get to a phone and call Cy. This cuss’ll bloat quick out here in the sun.”

      Raleigh seemed to gather his wits by the second. He looked upriver at the sweeper, then back to the body. “Let’s get the rope off him first.”

      Huck said, СКАЧАТЬ