Lake. Whenever they stayed with Leonard, they would walk to the brewery after school to meet him when his shift ended. On those days, Cork often accompanied them on the pretext of visiting his family’s good friend Sam Winter Moon, who owned Sam’s Place. Though he liked Willie just fine-they both shared a passion for Marvel Comics- Winona was the real reason Cork went along.

A couple of weeks after the start of school that fall, as the trio passed through Grant Park on their way to the brewery, Willie haltingly detailing the exploits of the Hulk in a recent issue and Winona quiet and distant and beautiful at his side, three figures materialized from the picnic pavilion and blocked their way.

“Well if it isn’t the spaz and his keepers,” Donner Bigby said. A cigarette dangled from the corner of his mouth in a kind of perverted homage, perhaps, to James Dean. The two kids with him Cork knew, but distantly. Vinnie Mariucci was tall and as thin as jerky, and everyone called him Specs because he wore glasses. Ray Novak was almost as huge as Bigby. They were high school guys, and they hung with Bigby because he was, in fact, their age. He was in the seventh grade because he’d been held back twice over the years. Academically and socially, he was a mess. In a later, more enlightened day, he might have been diagnosed as dyslexic and having ADD, but at that time he was just seen as unteachable, both disinterested in education and defiant of authority.

Cork smelled beer, though he saw no evidence of their drinking. He felt his stomach tighten, and he tried to speak in a calm voice. “Come on, we’re not bothering you.”

“Look, O’Connor, just being on the same planet with Spaz here bugs me. I don’t like watching him walk.”

“Fine,” Cork said. “We’re leaving and you won’t have to watch.”

“Don’t call him Spaz,” Winona said, low and threatening.

“Winona,” Cork cautioned.

“How about Retard then?” Bigby offered and laughed. His cohorts laughed, too.

“I’m… not… retarded,” Willie managed to get out. His speech, normally a little difficult, was further strained and was hard even for Cork to understand.

“Inotarded,” Bigby said, mimicking Willie.

As the son of the Tamarack County sheriff, Cork felt on his shoulders the onerous weight of doing the right thing. Which meant taking on Donner Bigby, who was a head taller and thirty or forty pounds heavier and who probably knew more about how to beat the living crap out of a kid than anyone Cork could think of. He considered simply trying to talk his way past Bigby, and hustling Willie and Winona along with him, but Winona killed any hope of an easy escape. She stepped up to Bigby and slugged him. She caught him in the ribs, and he made a little ooph sound, but he didn’t budge an inch. Before she could withdraw her hand, he caught her arm by the wrist and twisted. Winona cried out and went down on her knees. Willie tried to go after Bigby, but Specs stepped in and shoved him, and Willie went sprawling.

Beyond thought now, Cork lowered his shoulder and barreled into Bigby. He knocked the kid off balance, and they both went down. He attempted to wrestle the bigger boy under him, but it was like trying to get the best of a rhino. Bigby was on top in the blink of an eye, sitting astraddle Cork and pinning him to the ground, helpless. Cork saw the big right fist, an agate-colored ball of bony knuckle, draw back, and then he saw stars.

As his perception cleared, he was aware that Bigby’s weight no longer held him down. He opened his eyes and rolled his head to the side and saw Bigby trapped in a hammerlock, his thick upper arms useless and his chin forced down to his chest. The kid who’d put him in this precarious position was every bit as large and powerful as Bigby, and he was a stranger.

“Stay back or I’ll break his neck,” the kid ordered Specs and Novak, who stood looking ready to jump in.

“You goddamn son of a bitch!” Bigby cried and tried in vain to shake himself loose. The kid gave Bigby’s head a further nudge, and Bigby grunted painfully and went slack.

“Are you through bothering people?” the kid asked.

When he got no reply, the kid bent Bigby’s neck so sharply that even Cork was afraid he’d break Bigby’s neck.

“Yes,” Bigby shouted. “I’m through.”

The kid released his grip and shoved Bigby away, all in one fluid motion. Bigby stumbled, and his pals caught him. He shook them off and straightened up, but it was clear to Cork that the move was painful to him.

“I’m not finished with you,” Bigby said.

The stranger opened his arms as if in welcome. “Anytime,” he said.

“Let’s go.” Bigby turned and walked away, trying to square his shoulders in a last-ditch effort at some dignity.

Cork finally noticed Winona, who stood with her arm around Willie, and who was not watching Bigby and his cohorts at all. Her eyes were on the stranger, and what was in them was something Cork would have sold his soul for.

“You okay?” the big kid said to Winona and Willie.

Willie nodded, and Winona said, “Yes, thanks.”

The kid looked at Cork. “You’re going to have yourself a shiner.”

Cork felt his left eye and winced at the tenderness there. “What’s your name?” he asked.

“Little,” the huge kid said.

Cork laughed. “You’re kidding me.”

“Jubal Little.”

“I’m Cork. This is Winona and Willie.”

Jubal nodded at them but seemed to take no significant notice.

“You’re new,” Cork said.

“Just moved here,” Jubal replied.

“What grade are you in?” Winona asked.


Cork was astonished because the kid was like no other seventh grader he’d ever seen. “How old are you?”


“Is that like in elephant years or something?” Cork asked.

Jubal shrugged easily. “I’ve always been big for my age.” He looked where Bigby and the others were exiting the park. “You have any more trouble with those guys, let me know.”

“We’re heading to Sam’s Place for something to eat,” Winona said. “You want to come?”

Jubal shook his head. “No, thanks. Got things to do.” He turned to leave.

“See you,” Cork said.

“Yeah,” Jubal replied, without any particular enthusiasm. He didn’t even look back, just lifted his hand in a brief farewell.

As Jubal Little walked away, Cork had a realization. This new kid had just stepped in to save his ass and Winona’s and Willie’s, and yet it wasn’t especially significant to Jubal Little in any way. It was as if such an action was perfectly ordinary for him.

They didn’t talk much after that. There was a darkness in Willie’s face, and Cork figured he was fuming at the things Bigby had said. Winona stared into the distance, preoccupied, Cork was pretty sure, with thoughts of Jubal Little. In his own thinking, Cork was divided. On the one hand, because he’d been totally useless at handling Bigby, he was glad Jubal Little had intervened. On the other, his pride had taken a hard beating, and Jubal Little was a part of that.

After she saw his face, his mother gave him an ice pack but didn’t press him for answers. When his father came home that night, he asked, “What’s up with the eye?”

“Accident,” Cork told him.

His father said, “The kind where your face falls into somebody else’s fist?”

“I can take care of it.”

His father considered, then nodded. “Something like this can get taken care of in a lot of ways. You won’t let it get out of hand?”

“No, sir.”

“All right.” He’d removed his leather jacket with the Tamarack County Sheriff’s emblem on the right shoulder and hung it in the closet. “I was thinking maybe we could toss the old pigskin before dinner. What do you

Вы читаете Trickster's Point
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату