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Authors: Tristan Egolf

Kornwolf (29 page)

BOOK: Kornwolf
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Under any other circumstance, Grizelda would never have gotten into an automobile. Although she had always been thought of as liberal-minded within her own district, and never more than in recent weeks, she was still, after all, a member of The Order. The
Regel and Ordnung
had to apply. Normally, the sight of Gideon's beat-up vehicle approaching the Hostler home would have triggered a show of her indignation.

Tonight, however, would prove an exception.

With Fannie, Hanz and Barbara watching from one of the kitchen windows behind her, Grizelda stood in the gravel driveway, tensely hearing out Gideon's report. On conclusion, she turned and hurried up the porch steps.

Fannie opened the door. “What's the matter?”

Hastily pushing past her, Grizelda waved, as though to say,
Not now, child
. Instead, she ordered: “Fetch me your keys to the schoolhouse.”

Then she ran up the stairs.

Fannie was left behind with her siblings. She could tell something was terribly wrong. A feeling had haunted her all afternoon—a queasy, dread-filled sense of foreboding. Seeing her mother carry on thus confirmed it. Something was happening now.

She turned to her brother and sister, addressing Barbara, the older: “
Please, if you will—fetch me the keys from my coat upstairs
.”

They complied, disappearing. She stepped out the door.

The horizon was streaked with bands of yellow and orange. Clouds rolled over the sky. A gentle, chilly breeze was blowing—field hay tumbling up the drive.

Across the yard, a spark lit out from the darkened car window Gideon was sitting behind. After a moment, the flaring glow of a cigarette cherry lit up his face. His expression, clearly directed toward Fannie, was one of snide, sardonic amusement.


Good evening
,” he spoke in Py. Dutch, at first barely audible. Then, more deliberately: “
Wonderful night for a ride in the country
.”

Fannie came forward, eyeing his beat-up car with an air of decided mistrust. “
Why do you drive this thing?
” she asked, running her gaze from bumper to bumper.

He grinned, pausing to drag on his cigarette. “
Well, you know
…” he shrugged nonchalantly. “
Necessity dictates
.”

Drawing closer, Fannie could see he was sweating profusely.


What does that mean?
” she asked.

He said nothing. Changing the subject, instead: “
You should have seen your cousin today
.” He shook his head. “
You would've been proud
.”

She looked at him nervously. “
What do you mean?

Leaning forward, he turned on the radio.

Fannie jumped at the blast of music. “
Turn that off!
” she snapped, afraid that her mother might hear.

He turned it off.

It was quiet again. He leaned out the window. “
You know—you really should try to relax
.”

She rolled her eyes.


Not good for the nerves
…”


Shut up, Gideon. What are you doing here? What's going on?

He leaned back in. His bearing was darkly intent, if sarcastic. “
Concerned, are we?


You know I am
.”

Slowly, he tapped his ash out the window. “
Like I said, he did us all proud. Not to worry. He's fine … And the party's still on
.”

Fannie leaned forward and grabbed his arm, overriding his gaze. “
What happened to Ephraim?

His smile faded, gradually sinking to poorly concealed discomfort. He answered: “
He got in a fight with a Redcoat. They're holding him downtown, in jail. We need your mother
.”

She tightened her grip. “
Is he hurt?


Not really
.”

She waited for more.

He shrugged. “
We just have to get him out, that's all
.”

Relaxing her grip, she stepped away from the car.

His look of discomfort lifted.


So, then
—” He motioned toward the house. “
Quilting party this evening, eh?

Fannie, lost in thought, looked around again. “
What?

He nodded. “
Doesn't your mother hold quilting parties on weekends?


No
.”

He dragged on his cigarette. “
Too bad
.” He spoke with a tone of somber nostalgia. “
Patterns
.”

Clearing his throat, he resumed with purpose. “
So, I guess you'll be at the party then
.”

She ignored him, staring across the field.


Come on
,” he coaxed her, cooing melodically: “
Come on—your verschproche will be there
.”

That got her attention.


At midnight
.”

She turned away, feigning disinterest. “
You boys be careful
,” she mumbled. “
You've already been arrested once this month
.”

Smirking, he answered in English. “Don't worry about that, Miss Fannie. Just come to the gathering.”

Behind them, Grizelda appeared in the doorway. Hanz and Barbara followed her out. They handed the schoolhouse keys to Fannie, who handed them off to her mother in turn.

Grizelda took them and, pausing, looked into her daughter's eyes. Her tone was solemn. “
I want you to stay inside this evening
.”

Fannie nodded.

Grizelda shook her head. “
I'm serious. No exceptions
.”


Yes
.”


Your father will be home soon
.”


Yes, Mother
.”

Grizelda turned and walked down the stairs.

Her children watched her go from the porch.

She plodded around to the side of the car. She opened the passenger door. She stuffed a knapsack into the seat, then crawled in after it.


We need the Bishop
,” she said to Gideon. Her tone was strictly business now.

Then, leaning forward, she called from the window: “
Good night, children!

Gideon looked to them, grinning.

His eyes had gone milky white.

As the car pulled away, moving steadily west through a browning expanse of tobacco fields, an aching nausea welled up in Fannie.

The moon would be up in a couple of hours.

Owen swung by the house on his way across town. There, he dropped off his things from the office and picked up the bag of grass he'd been saving for just the right occasion.

Finally, a blast of smoke—be it ever so wanting in nicotine. This would be hard-earned.

He twisted a comically bulbous joint and, while grooving to Miles en route to the West Side, sucked on it, choking and yukking it up as if the fate of a species hung in the balance. The smoke on the back of his throat was a miracle, ripping its way to the pit of his lungs.

He was stoned off his noodle on reaching the gym.

His neurons shouted a million thanks.

The building was tall as an aircraft hangar. The lights were out. The place looked empty.

Owen parked his car along King Street. He turned off the stereo and glanced in the rearview mirror. His eyes were grotesquely bloodshot. A bottle of Visine was stashed in the glove box. He used it.

With smoke wafting up all around him, he stepped out and, tripping, locked the doors.

He walked up the alley. A cool autumn breeze rolled through. It was quiet. No pushers. No people.

While turning his key in the back door's lock, he realized the gym was as empty as it looked. Rhya's class didn't run on Saturdays.
None of the juniors had shown up to spar. Jack was out for the afternoon. And Roddy was home in bed, recovering.

Speaking of whom: Owen had forgotten to check if the paper had covered the fight. No matter, really—as nothing in print would have shed any light on his evening's experience. Goodall would have assigned a reporter to follow the match on television, then dash off an article by midnight, at best.
If
they had run a piece at all … Owen, having worked the corner, probably wouldn't have suffered the coverage well. He could picture it now: “
In the end, the pressure was simply too much for our hometown boy
”—which was
true
, admittedly, though none of the hacks at
The Plea
would have understood why, or how. Roddy's performance
should
have been as far beyond their grasp as their word on the matter.

Thinking about it made Owen's experience back at the paper seem insignificant. His mind, his tangible worth was still back at the fight, in the corner, jumping and hollering. Nothing would ever contend with that—certainly none of the Stepford Kegels …

Owen stepped into the darkened expanse of the training room and looked around. A feeling of confirmation went up in him.

This
was what it was all about.

The room was cool and enormous around him. It almost emitted a silent hum: the slapping of leather on leather, the music of discipline, momentarily suspended.

He stood in the half-light coming to terms with the fact that he now played a part in this world. He'd landed a role in the fight game, at last. He felt like a kid in a candy store. True, his exhilaration was cut with a nagging concern as to how The Coach's regular fighters might receive him, the “rich” white kid from the suburbs, initially. But Owen felt genuinely up to the challenge, and by that, his efforts were sure to pay off. In time, he would win them over, ho ho. All it would take would be perseverance.

Once in the office, easing his way into Jack's chair was the strangest part. He had to remind himself that he wasn't intrud-ing.
He wasn't sneaking around. The Coach had asked him, directly, to be here. He was
supposed
to be watching the place.

As discussed, emergency contact numbers were filed away in a flash card box. A security console was mounted behind him. Keys were stashed up under the desk. A .45 automatic was tucked in a subcompartment of the top right drawer. Dossiers, tax records, files and photos were stored in the cabinets to either side.

Everything was exactly in order.

Owen leaned back in the chair, at last allowing himself a moment's respite. Slowly, he ran his gaze across the opposite wall, photo by photo: Jack with Vito Antuofermo. A younger Jack with Earnie Shavers. Jack in the corner of numerous amateurs, in between rounds, barking instructions … Jack in a spat with a referee … His Golden Gloves Hall of Fame certificate … Trophies, ribbons, plaques, inscriptions and eulogies lining a row of shelves … And, front and center: a photo of Jack, beaming with pride alongside of Rodrigo Velazquez, the West Side's prodigal son—holding the lightweight belt between them …

Slowly, as the fear that somebody might barge in and find him there without written consent and work him over began to subside, his exhaustion, brought on by the match and the joint in his system and so forth, overtook him. Soon, the photos along the walls had begun to fade and blur in his vision. The chair beneath him softened and cradled his worn-out body. He closed his eyes. The opening shots of an inner-eyelid movie in lavender—which felt to be warming up to a great escape in blue—appeared to him just as he started to drift.

Then the telephone rang.

He jumped.

He hadn't expected a
call
, Jesus.

He glared at the phone: a battered old rotary deal hooked up to an answering machine. The portable unit appeared to be broken. Actually, just the receiver was gone. The ringer jangled and tore at the calm like an air horn, echoing up the stairs.

Quickly enough, the machine picked up.


Hello, you've reached the West Side Gym. We're not available to take your call
…”

Owen relaxed as the tape started rolling. For a moment, he thought about picking up the line—mostly because he could.

But he didn't.

He went back to settling in for a doze—back to the land of lavender safety …

Suddenly, from out of the speakers sounded a vaguely familiar woman's voice. “Hello?”—pausing to wait out the screening routine. “Jack. Hello, this is Scarlet.” Another delay for good measure. Then: “Jack, are you there?”

Owen sat up in the chair.

Scarlet …

She exhaled. “No. I guess you've left already.” Her tone was confidential. “All right, then. Everything's ready on this end. We'll see you tomorrow. Or Monday.” Another pause. Then: “Please be careful.”

The line went dead.

Owen stared at the answering machine for a long, inconclusive minute.

To start with, he offered himself belly-up to the sanguine, echoing lull of her voice. There was no mistaking it: that was The Coach's lady friend. She was mesmerizing.

But then her warning (“
Please be careful
”) succeeded in growing to wear on his nerves.

He grabbed the receiver. His first act in office, per se, instead of taking a call was to
trace
one.

Class
, he thought …

This was shameless.

He should have been minding his own business.

The call had been placed from the area code 812. He dropped the receiver and reached for the phone book.

812 was Indiana.

What the hell was she doing out there?

Owen had taken Scarlet for more metropolitan—or possibly rural Southwestern. And Jack had claimed he was going out west.

Confusion.

They must have been related. Was that it? Jack had mentioned family matters, and she had said: “
We'll see you tomorrow. Or Monday
.”

In response to which, Owen was filled with a strangely perturbing, ineffable sense of relief.

Feeling no less underhanded, however, he sat back down in the chair. He couldn't be trusted. You couldn't leave people like Owen alone with your wife or business. Ever.

BOOK: Kornwolf
11.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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