Huck crouched by the corpse and realized his knees were still shaking. He took the rope close to the stiff white wrist, tried to work the cinched knot with his thumb and index finger only, tried not to make actual contact with cold flesh or sodden cloth.
The body really was stiff as a board. “I don’t know if I can get this loose. Dern knot’s like a turnbuckle.”
He pulled the rope in different directions against what felt for all the world like the permanent grip of death itself, tugged this way and that and round and round, hoping to flex the thing loose from the bite of the knot. The stiff arm jerked, and the wet black cuff of the jacket slouched farther down the wrist. Huck pivoted on his knee to get a better angle and found himself staring at the moving hand of a clock.
Not a clock but a wristwatch, a particularly enormous one, strapped to the inside of the dead man’s wrist. Huck watched the metered jump and stall of the second hand, the jump and stall, past the Roman XI and on again toward and then beyond the twelve o’clock apex. He watched the minute hand advance.
“Son of a bitch.”
He was not known to swear in the manner of most teenage boys, had in fact a sort of reverse notoriety for exactly the opposite. “Whoa,” said Raleigh. “You hurt?”
Huck shook his head. The watch had a gigantic glass face and a steel bezel around the outer rim marked in degrees, one through fifteen, with graduated minutes of angle between each numeral. A prominent onion-shaped winding crown protruded at three o’clock, with a smaller crown positioned at two. LONGINES, in bold if diminutive block lettering beneath high noon. Huck reached over and pincered the two o’clock crown and twisted. An inset dial at the center of the face marked with its own arcane graduations rotated independently of the main Roman dial.
“Son of a bitch.”
“What is it?”
Jump. Stall. Huck couldn’t peel his eyes away. “It’s a Lindbergh flight watch. First one I’ve ever gotten a real look at.”
Raleigh crouched beside him. “Holy—look at the size of it.”
“I know it. So a flier can work it with gloves. They also come with a special strap to fit over a flight jacket.”
“What all’s it do? With the dials and all?”
“It’s for calculating longitude. You set the watch to a radio signal from the prime meridian in England and then figure the hour angle of the sun by the settings on the watch, which gives you your location in the air. I don’t exactly know how it works. Colonel Lindbergh came up with it, after the Atlantic crossing. I can’t believe I’m actually seeing one.”
“So this guy’s a flyboy himself, then.”
The body. Huck pried himself from the jump and stall and started again at the distorted face of the deceased. He’d become fixated with numerology, with the steady blue momentum of time. He’d forgotten the body altogether.
He looked back to the watch. Worn on the inside of the wrist, like a proper aviator. “Yeah, I guess he must be. Or was.” He looked at Raleigh. “I’d give a lot to have enough time with this dern watch to figure out how it works.”
“So take it. Start figuring.”
Huck shook his head. “More complicated than that. I’d need to study up on the basic science, then figure out the watch after. Plus, I think you’re supposed to use it along with a sextant or something. And a radio signal. No way I’m going to make heads or tails before Cy gets here.”
“No, Houston, I mean take it. As in, take it with you.”
“Take it?” Huck watched the needle jump again past twelve, watched the long, pierced point of the minute hand advance. Eight past nine and no doubt dead-on. Sunrise that morning had been shortly before six, and he’d left the shop not long after to meet Raleigh. “You mean steal it?”
“Huck. He’s a dern dead crook with a bullet in his head who probably stole the thing himself. Or bought it with stolen loot at least. We hadn’t spotted him yesterday, and you hadn’t come along with Old Man Neuman’s rig when you did, no telling how this would’ve ended. Eventually he’d have come loose out of that snag and kept right on floating, watch and all. Or the fish would’ve eaten him. You believe in God, right?”
Huck looked at him.
“You was brought up to believe, right?”
“Was brought up to, yeah.”
“Well, maybe God put us in this to get that watch in front of you. Think about it like that. This guy don’t need to know the time anymore. Don’t need to know his latitude, either.”
“Longitude. Latitude’s a sight easier.”
“Right, longitude. Look, you want to see that watch on Junior Joe’s wrist? ’Cause that’s exactly where it’ll end up.”
A streak of a shadow came across the ground at the corner of his eye and passed over the corpse and on and then another in fast tandem, killer angels returning. Huck’s eyes flashed up and he beheld again the mergansers, banking and coming back around toward the river, flashing in the morning sun with their plumage and their long fish-killing beaks and that topknot on the hen, like a painted warrior in the Bodmer prints at school. They splashed down against the river.
Huck watched the drake’s head go underwater and then his whole body dive. The hen’s head swiveled like a ratchet. “I reckon they need to make a living, too,” he said, and he reached out and seized the cold dead wrist in his grip and undid the buckle on the watch strap. He handed it to Raleigh and worked the bowline now with his fingers, tried to ignore the bruiselike impression the watch had left behind on the now bare wrist.
He freed the rope and stood. Raleigh handed the Longines back. “Now that’s a watch.”
“So we just, you know, keep mum about it? Tell ’em what they want to hear?”
“And do what we have to do. Good as any blood oath.”
They started back for the T. Raleigh toted the staff and the wet rope. Huck could feel the watch in his pocket, heavy against his thigh.
“How long was the ol’ Lone Eagle in the air on that flight? All told?”
“Thirty-three hours,” said Huck. “More or less.”
Raleigh walked along a minute. “Awake the whole time.”
“Reckon he had to be.”
“All that dern way, one straight shot, over all that water. Far as the eye can see.”
Huck put his hand in his pocket and gripped the watch. “When he could see. A lot of it was in the dern dark.”
“Thirty-three hours.” They came upon the swell in the shortgrass and angled for the T, setting cockeyed in the sun. “You ever wonder, you know, what СКАЧАТЬ