Huck could still feel the spot on his cheek where the bee struck. A miracle he hadn’t been stung smack in the eye. The speedometer bounced and wagged in the general vicinity of forty. “She’s full gallop right now.”
They hit the macadam outside town, and the rumble of the gravel fell away. For all its roughshod rattles and rust, the T smoothed out across the skim of the pavement, and Huck remembered in a flash that this was how it felt to lift and level and properly soar. Even the raggedy sputter of the motor seemed to settle and glide. He forgot about Shirley, forgot about praying. He just drove and drove and let himself dream.
Huck let the motor wind out again, and the backfiring recommenced, and he backed off the spark, didn’t try to brake, just held tight to the wheel with his left hand and throttled up again with his right when they careened around the last bend and leveled onto Main. A dog trotted blithely down the center of the street, and Huck squeezed the bulb of the horn. The dog glanced back at the blare, tucked tail, and cut for the sidewalk like he’d been scorched. Then the siren started.
Raleigh twisted again in his seat. “Guess we had that coming.”
Huck took a quick glance himself and caught the grim red mug of the driver barely twenty feet behind, jaw set behind the windshield of the new black-and-white. Not Cy Gleason but his deputy, Junior Joe Candy. Hard to know which was worse.
“Thing’s a dern rocket,” said Raleigh. The siren wound up to an outright scream behind them, and Raleigh cautioned another look.
The hospital was two blocks down and a block over, and Huck set his jaw and didn’t slow a bit, and by the time he reached his turn, people were popping out along the walk like gophers out of their holes, all shop aprons and feather dusters and jaws uniformly agape. He took the turn too wide and skidded sideways, heard Shirley thump around like loose cargo. He fishtailed straight again and in a quick second veered past the line of elms into the circular drive and braked to a hard stop in the covered ambulance bay. The T backfired and stalled.
Out in the street, the cruiser overshot the entry and wailed on down to the exit, squealed in that way and roared on up like the champ to the chump in a Charles Atlas ad, all sinewy lines and gleaming chrome, the V8 badge on the grille like the sneer of a natural-born winner.
Raleigh was already out of the car, already starting for the building. The cruiser braked nose-close, its siren winding down but still unnervingly loud beneath the canopy.
Huck said, “Hey.”
Raleigh looked back.
“Best not bring up that inner tube.”
Raleigh said, “No shit, Sherlock,” and vanished inside the hospital doors.
Huck got out and Junior Candy did, too, ambling around the T’s skewed fender. He walked up and stopped just to the inside of what a person with any sense might regard as a polite and sociable sphere, eyes still roving casually around the ceiling or out at the budding trees. He started a slow pink bubble at the precise moment he brought his wandering irises in from the beyond and trained them, like blue gun muzzles, directly on target. The bubble expanded, nearer and nearer. Junior’s gaze finally vanished behind the pink balloon.
The bubble popped. Junior worked his tongue and pulled pink spatter back into his maw. Same blue glare. “Houston Finn. We meet again.”
Huck could smell the aftershave, smell the hair tonic. His voice had not yet dropped, and to his horror, the first syllable when he found his tongue squeaked out like nails on a blackboard. In that instant, Shirley shot bolt upright in the pickup bed.
He looked like a hydrocephalic farmhouse killer from one of Raleigh’s detective magazines. Junior Joe did a double take and heaved out something along the line of “Gid-gadamighty,” and the door to the surgery banged open. Doc Lipton and Sonny the ambulance driver and Raleigh charged out with a gurney.
“How long you have this flivv?”
Raleigh spoke above the sputter of the motor, dusk and chill dropping all around. Huck saw a kitchen lamp come on in the house, saw Raleigh’s ma peer out the window.
Huck shook his head. “Till she’s fixed. Nothing hard and fast.”
“She sure ain’t that dern Buick we stole.”
“Right. Borrowed.” Raleigh reached into the back and took up his fish again, the bloom indubitably gone even in the lowering light. “Reckon I better get to cleaning these morbid things. Tomorrow, hey?”
Huck cut the motor. “You really think it’s a body?”
Raleigh’s mother shouted his name from the house.
“I think it’s a dern dead body.”
Huck chewed his lip.
“You in town or at the ranch tonight?”
“Ain’t sure. Pop’s been gone all day to Billings, fetching my cousin from the train. That’s how come he put me onto this heap.”
“California. My ma’s kin.”
“He older’n us?”
“Yeah, but he ain’t a he. He’s a she. Twelfth grade, I think.”
“Whoa. One in the oven?”
“That’s why girls usually get sent off. What they call ‘studying abroad.’”
“Huh. You mean a baby.”
“Remember Fanny? Rube’s sis?”
Raleigh’s mother again.
“Hold on, I’m coming,” Raleigh hollered. “Gone all last year?”
The door banged at the house.
“Yeah, she had a sick aunt somewhere. What Rube said.”
Raleigh snorted. “That’s old as the hills, too, Houston. This is your ma’s niece, right? Tell me, is your ma sick? I realize that’s a touchy subject, but all else being equal.”
Huck looked at the moon, full or nearly so, half up now over the far rim of the coulee and blue white and so enormous as to look hardly distant at all. By dawn it would shrink to a speck.
Raleigh squinted at his fish. “Some of us may be studying abroad. Others of us is more like innocents abroad.”
Huck continued to look away. “Nobody said nothing about a dang baby.”
They were quiet a minute, both of them watching the lavender sky and night coming on, lights at the edge of town winking a mile off, and Sirius, steady as time, in the far beyond. Raleigh changed the subject. “How’s the ship?”
Huck nodded. “Starting to look like something. Frame’s all gusseted for the fuselage, and I’ve got about half the wing ribs, too.” He thumped the dashboard. СКАЧАТЬ