Читать онлайн "Pandora's Closet" автора Zahn Timothy - RuLit - Страница 9

 
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Neck-beard stood over me, and he raised the pipe. I couldn’t even get my arm up to protect myself. I just felt bits of bone grinding together where my humerus ought to be. I knew the next thing I was going to feel break was my skull.

Only the pipe never came down. Just then, Quig came out of nowhere, yelling… well, I guess it was a battle-cry. I didn’t catch the words-they sounded Spanish-but it caught Neck-beard’s attention. He took a swing at Quig, but Quig twisted out of the way, then snapped his umbrella around and hit Neck-beard in the face. There was another crack, and Neck-beard dropped his pipe and clutched his nose, which was starting to pour blood. Quig didn’t miss a beat; he spun around, rammed the butt of his umbrella into the back of Neck-beard’s head, and the big ox fell on his face and stayed down.

I just knelt there, grunting and grinding my teeth, while Quig stood above Neck-beard silhouetted against the lights of the mini-golf course. “You all right, J.?” he asked.

“Not… really,” I said, and managed a weak, crazy kind of laugh. I shook my arm, which flopped in a way I still don’t like thinking about. “But I’ll live.”

Quig smiled at me. Then, with another battle-cry, he was gone. A moment later, the pain finally hit, and I don’t remember anything more.

It was a wonder nobody on either side was killed. I was one of the worst hurt-it took the surgeons five hours, a steel plate, and seven screws to put my arm back together, and the elbow still doesn’t straighten all the way-but there were a few other broken bones, a whole lot of concussions, and plenty of cuts, scrapes, and bruises. By the time the cops showed up, it was over. One of the bikers ran away; they found him hiding behind the restaurant’s dumpsters. The rest were unconscious. Gabby and Ravi were still standing; Rick was one of the concussed. And then there was Quig, still wearing that damn bowl on his head, and not a scratch on him.

The media loved it. Quig’s picture ended up on the front of the Providence and Boston papers and even made it into the New York Times: “ Rhode Island ‘Knight’ Wins Parking Lot Brawl.” He got calls to appear on talk shows, but he never did. There were various charges of assault and mischief, but we got off-there were plenty of witnesses who confirmed that anything we did was self-defense. The bikers weren’t as lucky-as Stan figured, most of them had warrants.

Things at work weren’t the same after that. Rick never came back; he cashed in his stock options and moved out west. I hear he’s working in games now. Gabby and Ravi and I stayed a while longer, but we each left the company before too long. After that night in the parking lot, any attraction to baby product websites was pretty much gone. Me, I’m still programming. But I’m writing and taking acting classes too, because hey, why not? Plus aikido. Next time I’m in a fight, I want to be ready.

And Quig…

Ah, Quig.

He fought for us. He went to the CEO Monday morning and told him we wouldn’t be working late to make up for their mismanagement. Said if they didn’t like it, they could fire him. So they fired him, of course. No, he wasn’t wearing the helmet when it happened.

Two weeks later, he showed up in the street outside the office. He was riding a motorcycle-a big, beautiful hog that would have made Neck-beard insane with jealousy. Written on the side was its name: Rocinante. Sitting on the back, behind him, was Donna, and tucked into one of the saddle-bags was the Golden Helmet.

“Where you headed, Quig?” I asked him.

He shrugged. “Don’t know yet. Just driving around the country a while. We’ll probably end up out west. Maybe I can find work in Hollywood, teaching stage fighting.”

He’d changed. He was happy. I never asked him if it was the helmet that did it. That seemed too obvious.

Donna slid her arms around his waist, gave him a squeeze. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll take care of him.”

And like that, with a noise that rattled the windows, he was gone.

I watched the bike head down the street, then turn left and disappear.

I went home early that day.

Oh, and if you’re looking for The All-American Alimentary Adventure, don’t bother. After all the bad press, the company closed the location. The mini-golf people bought it, and they opened a restaurant of their own.

It’s called Windmills.

TECHNICOLOR by Louise Marley

The screen door slammed, making the breakfast dishes jump. Dorothy winced, and Lin rolled her eyes in a manner only possible for a twelve-year-old. “Mother,” she complained. “Do you two have to fight every morning?”

Dorothy sighed and looked away from her daughter’s pouting face. She watched Phil stamp across the sunburned grass of the backyard. His back was stiff, and he slapped at his leg with his ancient baseball cap as he stalked toward the barn. Today, it was because Dorothy had forgotten to buy tractor oil on her weekly trip to the mercantile. Yesterday, it had been something else.

Dorothy wanted to defend herself, but the words wouldn’t come. In fact, it was hardly fair of Lin to accuse her of arguing, since Phil had done all the talking. Dorothy hadn’t said a single word yet this morning. She couldn’t remember if she had said anything yesterday morning, either. Silence was easier. And less provoking.

She looked across the jumble of cereal bowls and dirty glasses at her pigtailed daughter and forced words to her lips. All she could think of was, “Did you make your bed, Glinda?”

A mistake. “Mother! Don’t call me that! I’ve told you!”

“Sorry.”

“Breakfast was late because you two were fighting, and now I don’t have time,” Lin said triumphantly, pointing out past the porch to the plume of dust winding toward the farmhouse. “The bus is coming!”

Dorothy stood, crumpling her napkin. She carried the cereal bowls to the sink and stood gazing out over the pile of dirty dishes. The school bus, covered in dust, was all but indistinguishable from the dry wheat fields, the dirt lane, the browning leaves on the oaks and alders that drooped around the house. “Monochrome,” she murmured to herself.

“What?” Lin asked.

Dorothy just shrugged.

Lin was shouldering her backpack. “Where’s my lunch?”

“On the counter,” Dorothy said absently.

Lin snatched it up, and opened the bag. “Oh, Mother! Peanut butter?” Another roll of the eyes, with the bonus of an exasperated snort. Twelve-year-olds, Dorothy thought. Surely, I never snorted at Aunt Emily. Not even when I was twelve.

She crossed the kitchen to help stuff the lunch sack into Lin’s backpack. “Wait,” she said. “Your shoes are untied.” She bent to reach for the laces of Lin’s hightops, but Lin pulled her feet away, saying, “Never mind, Mother.”

Dorothy tried to brush her lips across her daughter’s forehead, but Lin spun away before she quite reached her. A moment later, she was on her way out the door. “Have a good-” Dorothy began, but the screen door slammed once more, and Lin was off, dashing across the yard to meet the bus. Her hightops, laces flying loose, disappeared up the steps, and the door folded closed behind her. Dorothy raised one hand in farewell, but her daughter never looked back.

Dorothy stood by the screen door to watch the bus rumble away in its cloud of beige dust. Did nothing, in all this landscape, have any color? Even the last of the hollyhocks had died. All of Kansas, it seemed to Dorothy, was painted in shades of brown.

She pulled the kitchen blinds against the rising heat and turned to face the piled dishes and the waiting laundry. It was as oppressive a sight as the dry fields stretching to the horizon. Dorothy knew a woman who started on a bottle of Dewar’s at just this moment every day, right after the school bus left. Today Dorothy could understand. She sighed again and started up the stairs, her house slippers scuffing on the bare wood.

     

 

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