said something wise. “That’s what I was afraid of.”

RAY DROVE BACK up 95, his head on fire. He had felt driven to see his father again, to try to sort out what was him and what his old man and the way he’d been raised. He had come up to the edge of something standing in the store with that girl with the glasses, and he wanted to know would he always come up to that edge and look out and away at something he’d never really get to, never live out. Now Bart was going to die, and he didn’t know if that mattered, if it meant he’d be free or stuck forever.

He remembered guys upstate drinking raisin jack, only the guys he knew called it chalk. Older guys, mostly, who’d been in for a de cade and more or were back for their third or fourth jolts. He remembered a guy named Long John keeping a plastic bag full of rotting fruit and dinner rolls under his bunk. He’d had a drink of thin, milky liquid from a glass jar and thought it tasted like orange- scented gasoline. He didn’t get the point, with weed and meth around most of the time.

He’d hated every second of prison but saw guys at home there. Guys who’d get out with the couple of bucks they gave you, what the old cellies called shotgun money because that was all it was enough to buy. They’d blow the money in a couple of days, stick up a 7- Eleven or a gas station and be back inside. Get in bar fights still wearing the Kmart jackets they got when they were gated out. They’d talk like it was bad luck or people on the outside fucking with them that brought them back, but the truth was they couldn’t make it outside.

One day upstate they took him off the laundry and sent him and a big convict named Merce outside to bury two guys who’d died within a couple of hours of each other in the infirmary. One from AIDS and one from old age. Merce spent the whole time telling him about the beef that got him locked up, killing a friend in the dope business.

“I went out to get my scratch tickets, I come back, the motherfucker’s drinking my last can of soda. You believe that shit?”

“Uh- huh.” They were standing in a field in the snow, watching a trusty scratch a trough in the frozen ground with a green backhoe. Ray kept his hands in the pockets of his thin jacket, and Merce smoked a cigarette, stabbing at Ray with the red end to make his points. Ray’s arms ached where they had been broken.

“That wasn’t Coke or Sprite, neither. That was Guarana, what my baby drinks.”

“It was what?”

“Guarana. It’s from Brazil. You can’t get that shit at the Wawa. You got to go to a Brazilian store like all the way the fuck up in Norristown. I said, you did not just drink my last soda.”

“Huh.” The trusty was taking his time, smacking the ground over and over to break up the frozen clay. Ray felt the ground under him shudder every time the bucket on the backhoe hit the ground.

“He said you just go to the store. I said, bullshit you go to the store. I went to the closet, got my crossbow.”

Ray looked at him, eyebrows up.

“You heard me. My baby didn’t like guns in the house.”

“Good compromise.”

Merce gave him convict eyes, his head lowered, smoke from his Newport streaming from his nose. Then he gave a snort and started a deep laugh that shook his frame and started him coughing and made his eyes tear. “Yeah, I guess you got to laugh now.”

There was a grinding snap, and the backhoe stuck fast in the frozen ground. The engine died, and they heard the trusty swear. Ray watched a thin film of frost materialize on the plywood coffins. Thought about it forming on the dead men inside the boxes. Merce’s eyes fixed on the middle distance.

Ray said, “Lesson learned, huh?”

“Yeah.” Merce bent to the stacked coffins, throwing the cigarette away in an arc of smoke like a plane going down in a war movie. “If only my baby had bought more soda, I wouldn’t be in this fix.”


THE NIGHT MANNY picked him up it was raining, and they went for Rick, splashing through black streams covering the roads at every low intersection. Ray held the thickened bones in his arms, and under the dark clouds they sang to him, an eddying ache that made him wince and sigh. The van slewed in the water, and Manny cursed. “Christ, look at this. And it’s still a thousand degrees out, how is that possible?”

“I figure it’s good for us. Keeps the civilians indoors, watching TV.”

They slowed in front of a white house in Horsham fronted with crumbling asbestos tiles. Rick limped out under a sheet of newspaper and climbed in. “Look at that rain. I thought maybe you’d call it off.”

Ray shook his head. “Nah, neither rain nor dark of night. What happened to your leg?”

“Ah, I went around to my ex’s to get my fucking stereo back, and her asshole boyfriend was there. Like to take my fucking knee off with a monkey wrench.”

Manny put the van in gear. “Been there. You notice they always trade up for somebody with bigger shoulders than you?”

Ray watched Rick rubbing the knee. “You take something for that?”

“Ah, you know. I handled it.” Manny looked over at Ray and shook his head.

“Rick, you high right now?”

“No, man. Just took the edge off, you know.”

“If you aren’t a hundred percent it’s better you tell us now.”

“No, no way. I’m cool, really. It was hours ago, and I’m in the pink.”

Ray watched Rick, who looked out the window. He did seem all right. When he turned and saw Ray considering him, he smiled, held up his hands.

The car in front of them stopped short, and Manny stood on the brakes, the back of the van fishtailing. They all cursed, and Ray put a hand out to the dash. Rick slid forward and hit the back of Manny’s seat; he screwed up his face and grabbed his knee. “Mother… fuck.” He gritted his teeth and clenched his eyes shut.

After a minute they began to inch forward. Ray saw a cop, waving a flashlight, and a traffic barrier three cars ahead. They were being waved onto a side road. Far ahead a tree lay across the road, green leaves splayed out in the rain, pink shards of wood broken over the road looking like wet bone. Ray grabbed a map from the floor and began to try to orient himself.

Rick pointed at a road sign. “Left or right?”

“Left. No, right.”

They turned onto a smaller side street. Dark water streamed in a ditch by the road, and lightning illuminated low clouds that looked to be a few feet above the trees. Ray called the turns. Once they ended up in a cul- de- sac and had to backtrack. Eventually they came out on the right road a few miles beyond the tweaker farm and pulled over.

Manny and Ray climbed into the rear, and Ray pulled a duffel bag out of the back and put it on the rear seat. He opened it and pulled out the DEA windbreakers and Manny’s pump gun and handed them over. Next came a box of shells and a big Colt Python with a six- inch barrel. He held the gun out to Rick, opening the cylinder and spinning it to show him it was loaded. He pulled out three folded parkas and handed them around and then brought out two walkie- talkies and three heavy police flashlights. He flicked on one of the lights and pointed it at the walkie- talkies each in turn, tuning the dials to the same channel and then clicking them on. He adjusted the volume on both and handed one to Rick and clipped the other to his belt. He rummaged in the bag for a minute, pulling out items to show Rick and Manny and then dropping them back in the bag. Tape, the heavy wire wraps that they used as cuffs, a folding knife, a half pound of ground meat, bottles of water.

He took out his map and laid it on the seat and put the light on it.

“This side is me. I’m moving up from the street along these trees. You’re on this side, and we’re both moving parallel to the driveway in the middle. You two come to the side door here, I’m going to the front door. I’ll take care of the dog, if it’s out. Fucking thing barks nonstop anyway as far as I can tell, so it’s not a big deal.” He drew an arrow on the map.

“When you get to the side door here, key the button a couple of times. Don’t fucking say anything, just key the button.” He clicked it so they could hear the corresponding click and hiss on the other walkie- talkie. “I key you

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