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I was wrong about one thing-well, a lot of things, but a cruiser really isn't like a tin can. I'm not saying it's s.p.a.cious, but there was plenty of room for us. While the wharf guards alerted the s.p.a.ceport authority supervisor, and most of the parents went up to the Cathedral to get the other kids, Jenn and I got to rest in the filtered air of the s.p.a.cecraft and take a tongue-lashing from her captain. He didn't raise his voice any, but by the end of the lecture I was feeling pretty low. Only by following Jenn's example was I able to keep from slinking down in my chair. She sat straight and tall and just took it, eyes forward, her face determined.
When he finished and stalked out, we didn't dare speak, just looked at each other. I could hear low voices outside the partially opened door and then second pop came in, shambling and awkward. I jerked up in shock. He nodded at the door.
"Captain wants you, Jenn," he said, and she got up promptly and left throwing me a look over her shoulder like she was sorry for me. Second pop took her chair and straddled it backward. "d.a.m.n, Randy," he said when she was gone. "You had us worried, son. Running off like that..."
I figured it out pretty quick. They thought I ran away and took Tick with me. I flushed. It wasn't like the thought hadn't occurred to me. "I didn't run off," I muttered. "We were just fooling around."
"You didn't stop to think that we'd be worried? And taking Tick..."
Anger p.r.i.c.ked me. "If I thought you'd be scared I wouldn't have done it. I don't do these things on purpose just to bug you, you know."
"Could have fooled me," he snapped back. "The way you've been acting is like that's all you're trying to do."
"Yeah, well, maybe if you would just get off my back."
"Don't take that tone with me, son!"
The words echoed strangely in the room. I think second pop heard it too, because he toned it down. "Dammit, Randy," he said more softly. "You're my son, but you got all of Trey's hardheadedness in you."
I scowled against the lump in my throat that was blocking all the smart remarks I wanted to throw at him. You aren't firs' pop. I don't have to listen to you. Just leave me alone.
Then second pop sad something unexpected. "I miss him too."
I lifted my head and stared at him.
"He wanted you to have that apprenticeship, you know. Said there was more to Glory than White Lake, and one of us should see it. Then when he died we had to face up to things." He didn't say money. He didn't have to.
"I know." I said it too quickly, too loudly. "I decided up at the Cathedral. I'll sign on at the lake. I'll go with you tomorrow. I just want to make sure my first paycheck goes to Tick."
He didn't have time to respond. There was a commotion when the others got back, Tick carried sleepily on the shoulders of a tall wharf guard and Dallas and Austin tired and triumphant, their eyes wide as they looked around the cruiser. With all the grownups, the cruiser got tight again.
We got another talking-to, this time from the port authority supervisor. She scrolled through her handheld.
"Vandalism? Trespa.s.sing? Breaking curfew? I don't know what you kids thought you were doing, but White Lake and the Cathedral are not playgrounds," she scolded. "You put yourselves in great danger, and I'm sure your parents will have plenty to say about that later." We all looked at the floor. "However. You did carry the warning. So I'm going to let the rest of it go, so long as none of you ever pull another escapade like that."
We all mumbled something, even Tick, and I thought bitterly that it wasn't like I was going to have a chance at any more stunts once I started on the lake.
It was time to say good-bye to Jenn. I had been thinking about this all night, imagining how I would take her aside to some secret place and kiss her. But now, in front of all our parents, in front of her captain, all we could manage was an awkward hug. She whispered in my ear, "Bye, Randy."
When it was Tick's turn, she knelt and opened her arms wide and he ran to her, pressing his face in her shoulder.
"Don't go, Jenn," he cried. "Please don't go."
Little kids don't understand. I knelt down behind my little brother and rubbed his back.
"Hey, Tick," I whispered. "You can stay with me, okay? I'll still be here."
"No," he sniffled. "I want to go with Jenn."
It was the only thing I had to give and he turned me down.
I signed up at the lakefront the next day, and second pop shook my hand and told me he was proud. I didn't start working right away though. It turned out the entire escarpment was riddled with holes and caves, bored through by the relentless pounding of the Glory Sea. The Cathedral was soon shrouded in scaffolding. Workers were pulled from the port to work on the rigging hundreds of feet above White Lake, my parents among them, swinging high in the fresh air, maskless in the light of the string-of-pearls. The overtime paid well, first for firs' ma's lungs, then Tick's. Things eased up at home too, and second pop was so loud in his praise of me, it made me wish we were back to fighting.
It seemed kind of silly to go to school when I was going to be starting on the lake, so I cut cla.s.ses and went up to the overlook. I couldn't help but remember how close I had been to the Glory Sea and had even let it drip over my fingers. I rested my head against the sealed-up crack, trying to hear the crashing of the waves through the rock.
Maybe the ocean had been trying to reach me, too. Maybe that's why it had busted through the Cathedral, steady drip by drip. I wondered what it would do if it never found me, but I guess in a way it did.
They were all in the kitchen when I came home that day. I paused in the doorway, taking in their tired, beaming faces, their masks scattered across the table amid calculators and screens. Second pop grinned at me. Tick bounced on firs'ma's lap, and second ma leaned against the counter, a crooked smile on her broad face.
"Looks like we got us an apprentice in the family," second pop drawled, and held up a contract, the logo of a sailing ship splashing at the top. I opened and closed my mouth a few times, trying to get my voice started.
"How-" was about all I managed. Second ma leaned forward and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
"Port authority. If you kids hadn't found that leak, we'd probably all be dead by now. They're calling it profit-sharing but it's really to hush things up."
I didn't have time to figure it out. They all got up and piled on the hugs, Tick somewhere around my waist and second pop shaking my hand and clapping me on the shoulder.
Six months later I stood on the sh.o.r.es of Glory, letting the waves lap against my boots. The sun sparkled on the pinkish sea, and behind me rose the Cathedral, stretching into the clouds. Farther up the beach ran Tick, taking random flying jumps into the air with his arms wide and his mask flopping in the air behind him. Out in the harbor my ship waited, a rusting hulk no more like the sailing ships of my books than the s.p.a.ce cruisers that docked at White Lake. The air stank of salt and fuel, dead fish and garbage. It was better than I had ever dreamed. I thought about Jenn and wondered if she had felt this way on her signing day, crazy with fear and excitement.
"Randall!" barked the first mate. She waved from the skimmerboat waiting to take me out to the ship. I turned to my parents, huddled behind me. "I gotta go," I said, my voice strained, and gave them each a hug.
"Tick!" pop called. "Come say good-bye to your brother!"
Tick turned and waved both arms. "Bye, Randy!" he hollered, and was off again, chasing waves. I got into the skimmer, and the boat took off with a jerk, bouncing over the waves. I took a faceful of spray, and when I could see again, all I could see was the little figure of Tick running along the sh.o.r.e.
GONNA BOOGIE WITH GRANNY TIME.
It book you after, you want m'man. M'man Mouse, that who you want, sure.
Lemme tell ya.
Go way up the top of Howard, tie your steed an walk. Ain't far. Safe, if you cool. You cool, aincha?
Go on down the street, past the old things store an that print shop got burned last time Jawj an Drood Dude come head on. Go on down, like I'm tellin you, past Shantelle an heading for the clean factory, but don't go there.
Tween Shantelle an the factory, there's a street. Ain't much of a street. One block long, one block wide. Some call it alley, but they ain't met m'man. Mouse Mojo own that street, you unnerstan me. What he say-go.
You after book, you gotta walk the Mouse man's street.
You don't wanna walk the street, sometime you find him up Shantelle. Sometime you do. Him and Widda gotta rangemint. Mouse, he talk to you there, sure. But it book you after, you gonna be walkin that street, one way or the other.
Member me a dude-white boy, like you, 'cept maybe you ain't stupid. This boy here belong Jax crew. Jax, he own couple club down the Block. Rule is, n.o.body touch Jax woman but Jax. Easy 'nuff, huh? World full of chicks. But that white boy's brains in his b.a.l.l.s. Any girl, either club-he snap his finger, she his. But white boy gotta have Jax chick.
Only thing, Jax woman ain't innerested. Her an Jax tight. White boy care nothin for that. He gonna have her whatever she say.
Short of it, white boy fine he need book. h.e.l.l, he need a whole f.u.c.kin liberry, digit? Pretty soon, it ain't gonna matter his brains tween his legs or tween his ears, cause Jax, he put the word out. White boy good as meat. If he lucky.
White boy bolt for Howard Street, pay his fare an run. He run past the print shop, past Shantelle. He run til he get to m'man's street, there between. He stop, then, an look around.
Ain't much of a street, like I told ya. Skinny an short. Shimmery, kinda, like it always hot. Buildins kinda bright dark, kinda-fuzzy. That the Mouse man's street, awright. What he say-go.
White boy, he don't like the look of m'man's street. White boy, he like street where da buildins don't boogie. Street where it light at day noon, dark at noon night.
White boy, he start thinking, now it too late.
He turn hisself round an go on back up Howard. He go on up to Shantelle, open that door, walk them long dark skinny stairs. Top of that stairs, there's your club, dark an empty, Friday morning. There's Widda hind the counter, countin her wares.
White boy say, "Lookin f'Mouse Mojo."
Widda point and that boy turn to see. Table in back. Man at table. Place ain't empty after all.
White boy take hisself over table. Lean on back of the chair an say to m'man.
"Gotta book. Word be out."
Mouse he look up from his ledger pages. He say, "Set a spell. I'm with ya directly."
"I'm tellin' ya-word be out!" white boy say, an I'm askin if that the way you be talk with a man owns a street, when all you got is need?
But the Mouse man, he cool. He pick up his gold pen an go on back to his pages, that big diamond winkin yalla on his least finger. "Set or go," he say. "Make no mine to me."
Minute or so, white boy set. He fold his hand on table, watch m'man write, then he turn round an snap his finger at Widda.
She shake her head-"We close"-an go on to the back.
"Lady say she close," Mouse say from over his figgers. "Nothin say lady gotta sell brew if she close." He make another number, close his pen an put it way inside his suit coat. He fold his hand top his papers an look at white boy.
"You the boy force Jax woman?"
White boy get a little whiter, there in the dim. "How-?"
"Like you say, word be out." Mouse lift a hand, showin palm. "I ain't no particular friend of Jax. But I never heard his woman did anybody hurt. Never heard that."
White boy set his face. "b.i.t.c.h ask for everything she get," he say, but it don't sound so sure it sounded downtown, now he talkin with m'man.
But Mouse, he only nod. "So why you come here?"
White boy lick his lips. "Gotta book. I told ya." He wait a beat, but Mouse he don't say nothin.
"I'll pay," white boy say then. "Cash or stuff, you say what. Jus gotta book outta here, man, quiet an quick. That's all. Got friends in 'troit. I'll pay you to get me there."
Mouse, he don't say nothin.
White boy lose what sense he got. He slam his fist on table. He glare at m'man.
"Listen, you the book man or aincha?"
"I tell you how it be," Mouse say then, his voice real quiet, there in the dim. "I ain't no f.u.c.kin travel agent, you dig? I own that book-I don't rent. You pay me, sure you do. You pay me cash an stuff, just like I tell you. But you don't tell me where you gone, William. I tell you."
White boy stare. "What you call me?" He scare, then, think. Well, who wouldn't be? All this life you been Jag Saratoga, workin on your legend an movin up that ladder. Now come a man callin you by nother name from nother life name you half forgot yourself.
"Call you William," say the Mouse man. "Call you William Bzdrecky, like you mama name you."
White boy he sit back, forehead leakin sweat.
"Now, I tell you, William," say the Mouse man, all quiet in the near dark. "You wanna book, I sell you book. I Mouse Mojo an what I say-go. I say when an I say where. You dig that, m'man?"
White boy swallow, thinkin this too funky. Thinkin, maybe this too dangerous. Then he think bout Jax an Jax woman an he think bout knifes an cow starters an other hurtfuls they might use him with. He hurt Jax woman-well, he had to, didn't he? b.i.t.c.h claw him, bite him, hit. Had to smack her down, didn't he? Keep her quiet? Show her who boss?
He nod at the Mouse man, jerky like, an wipe his face where the sweat run down.
"Dig it," he say, his voice scratchin outta his throat.
"Good," say Mouse an push back from table. He fold his papers an slide them in a side pocket. He straighten that silk knot on his tie, that big diamond leakin green off his finger.
"Come with me," he tell Jag Saratoga, whose mama name him William Bzdrecky, an head off down them stairs.
They hit the street an Mouse turn left. White boy look right fore he follow, see three Jax boys movin down the sidewalk from Preston. White boy scuttle after Mouse.
"They here. They right behine," he say into Mouse's ear. Mouse don't even look around.
"We fine, boy. They know better then come down this street. "
He take white boy's elbow an steer him right, tween the clean factory an Shantelle. Steer him right onto that street an it be hot an the buildins boogie an shimmer: yella, red, green, black, mocha-gone. An back.
White boy stop an throw his hand in front his face. "Why they do that, man?"
"That?" Mouse look at the buildins, look at them dancin. And he smile some, Mouse, cuz this his street and what he say-go.
"See, they do that cuz they ain't neither here nor there," he tell white boy. "They here an there-they boogie down with Granny Time."
White boy don't dig it, course, would you? But he don't get to say, cuz Mouse move his hand an that diamond show wetblood red-move his hand an say, "This way, now, boy. You gotta book an I don't wanna keep ya."
He go on down that shimmery, glimmery sidewalk an white boy got no choice but follow. He don't be likin this, unnerstan, but Mouse Mojo is his only hope of life. Jax boys find him, they make him into pieces, then kill the pieces, one by one. He take one look behine fore he follow Mouse away, just to see how close Jax boys come.