“That is our story. You ready?”
“Born ready. Remember, middle of the street. Get me under the wires at Second and light her up.”
“Forty by Fourth.”
“Forty by Fourth. Way I’ve got her figured, I can cut loose by the time you get to the church, and you can hook south and sneak on back. I’ll sail out over the ball diamond and set her down.”
Raleigh crawls out in first gear with the headlamps cut and the parking lamps low. The slack goes out of the rope and the rope comes off the ground and tightens into the shock cord, stretches the elastic out of the cord and yanks the glider forward in a jump. Huck hears the shift into second and steady they roll down the street.
The trees loom on either side, all reaching crooked branches, all dead and dying leaves. With 3:00 a.m. gone they creak past dark cars, past dark porches on darker houses. The wing appears blue-white now against the black of night, bobbing and rocking overhead. Gravel crunches.
By the time Raleigh turns onto Main and the macadam, the left buggy wheel has begun to squeak in its rotation, a whine at regular intervals. The Buick throttles up, and the whine off the wheel hub speeds, too, as the air rushes at his face, rushes around the vibrating wing, and even though they have not yet made the Second Street wires and not nearly achieved their speed ceiling, the ratio of the Buick’s whitewalls to the tiny cookie-cutters on the glider nevertheless has the buggy wheels already flat zinging across the pavement. In no time the right wheel wails in answer to the left.
Most of the buildings along Main jut at dark angles, electric bulbs switched off at closing in these struggling times, although the shell-shaped globe atop the gas pump at the filling station beams like a beacon, and low-watt streetlamps glow here and there along the blocks ahead. Raleigh’s foot goes deep into the pedal now. Huck watches the black power lines come into view with the moon behind them and seemingly cross the sky above the street like wipers across a giant windshield, an illusion of approach, which then vanishes behind the leading edge of the wing. He realizes he’s got about a block and a half to test the warping before the moment of truth.
The buggy wheels fairly shriek, a sound like tangled alley cats. Out ahead the Buick roars. Hot exhaust and chill autumn air. Huck tenuously moves the levers. He feels the tension load in the cables out to the corners of the wings and feels an almost imperceptible shift in the glider’s lateral balance.
He goes to try the cables in the other direction and something seizes as the arms scissor past each other, and for a disorienting moment he panics at this unexpected glitch and shoves hard on the right-hand lever, yanks hard on the left.
The pair of them unstick with a nearly violent lunge that sends him deep into the cables, and the torque on the wing in conjunction with the now significant speed of the Buick puts the glider into a hard roll to the right, the left wheel jumping off the ground and the opposite wing veering down. The right wheel speeds on edge along the pavement, throwing a fountain of sparks like a blade to a bench grinder.
He knows full well the technical advance of ailerons over Wilbur Wright’s original wing-warping design, and regardless he’s built this particular specimen to the earlier patent. Now as he teeters at velocity on one screaming, sparking wheel, it races in his mind that he’s an idiot, that he shouldn’t have allowed fundamentalism to beat out evolution, shouldn’t have been so hell-bent on doing things the old-fashioned way.
He’d wanted to begin at the beginning, is all. The Wrights had the sense to start with actual birds, spending endless hours watching through field glasses the giant gannets and eagles glide and soar with the flex of their wings, and so rule the air. Making sketches and notes and even studying pantomimes with their own arms, until they landed on the first workable method of steering a heavier-than-air ship.
Back in the summer he’d ridden out to a dog town one roaring-hot weekend and shot a hundred or so gophers over the course of an afternoon as they popped and popped out of their dens, cooling his rifle barrel with a wet rag and heating beans in the can for supper and sleeping out overnight with the coyotes and owls.
By midmorning the vultures began to gather, two at first and then six and before he knew it twenty or more, appearing as though thin air and magic were one and the same. He lay in the sagebrush and watched the circling kettle through a telescope he’d built himself the winter before. They congregated impossibly far up and spiraled impossibly down, on the same invisible currents that vectored the slightest carrion whiff to whatever far-flung points they’d originated from. At ground level, even by noon, Huck couldn’t smell a thing.
He watched the way the vultures flared their wings while they circled at a single, static elevation. He watched them not merely glide but even climb without flapping so much as a feather, as though air itself were an elevator.
He remembers all this in a cockeyed flash on this crisp October night, careening along on the razor edge of that screaming, sparking wheel, and without really thinking he throws the levers back and reverses the warp.
The glider reverses its roll, slamming back down hard and overcorrecting and tipping this time onto the other wheel. The spark shower goes up there as well. He backs off the levers and sets the ship aright.
The sparks don’t subside but fly now from both wheels, and both wheels wail like warring banshees, and just about the time he starts to wonder whether the pair of them might fly off or combust or otherwise disintegrate altogether, Raleigh roars across Fifth and the sparking and the shrieking simply stop.
The vibration of the road stops, too. The wheels still whir on either side of him but softly now, silently, spinning by inertia alone. He presses on the elevator pedal.
The macadam drops and in no time he’s twenty feet in the air, sailing dead level past the great glowing eye of a streetlamp. Only his stomach plummets.
He hears the rush of air over the curve of the wing. He feels the same rush against his eyes and squints and thinks, Goggles, I need goggles, like a proper airman. He squints down and sees Raleigh, glowing green in the dash lights and looking smaller than ever behind the wide wheel of the Buick. He looks up again just in time to realize his right wing is heading straight for a power pole.
He scissors the levers by sheer reaction, and the glider instantly banks away from the pole but sharply enough and steeply enough that he practically slides off the seat. He backs off the levers and levels with his heart in his throat and thinks, Harness, need to rig a harness.
He barely has his balance before Raleigh encounters the one wild card on the route, a shallow dogleg where Main Street kinks to follow the natural bend of the coulee. The firehouse sits on the street’s inside bend, the New Deal Mercantile directly opposite, and when Raleigh rips with tires squealing through the jog, the glider swings hard sidewise on its tether and the New Deal zooms right at Huck out of the night, twin windows in the second story right there like a pair of sinister dark eyes.
Huck braces himself as best he can against the vertical strut and cranks again on the levers and puts the ship into a hard roll as it arcs right up tight to the building. The outer edge of the wing clips the hanging shingle out front with a bang, the hard jolt inextricable СКАЧАТЬ