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15 February 2015 @ 08:00 am
j'adoube: Knight Takes Pawn (chapter 1)  

Will Darnell mourned his green army-man where it lay half-buried in sand, a small sacrifice for the more important objective.


Chapter One
Knight Takes Pawn


Albuquerque, NM—August, 1993

Will Darnell mourned his green army-man where it lay half-buried in sand, a small sacrifice for the more important objective.

"You served well, soldier!" The boy offered his commiserations as he plucked the valiant toy from the dirt and tossed it into his backpack with his other casualties. A volley of wet giggles coming from the other side of the sand-fort had him narrowing his eyes and swearing his unholy revenge.

He burrowed his knees into the moist silt and rested on his heels, sweeping his pale eyes to and fro across the battlefield. Over the last few hours he'd meticulously constructed an elaborate airstrip, sculpted two army bases and dug a series of trenches and moats filled with river-water. And like Bobby Fischer considering a risky gambit, the kid focused on the field of play, calculating which bold strategy might win him the day. So, taking a few key grunts from their current platoons, Will placed them in a different battalion and made his move, storming the enemy's fort with a rebel yell.

Will mimicked the sound of gunfire and grenade explosions as the battle unfolded. "Dsgh-dsgh-dsgh! Purhghhrh! Ahhhhhhh!" Pressing his lips together and imitating the putt-putt of an aircraft engine, he pelted the enemy fort with small river rocks to simulate the strafe of gunfire. Several enemy soldiers fell screaming into the moat while his ground-forces steadfastly pushed onward, storming the base, seizing it, and then hoisting their flag, victorious at last. Will lifted a triumphant fist. "Hell yeah! Check and mate!"

"Nooo! That's no fair. I'm telling Mom you cussed!" Macy Darnell leapt from behind her obliterated army base, angel-wing hairpins askew, butterfly-themed romper flecked with mud—pure, molten hellfire in her eyes.

"Aw, geez Mace. Don't have a cow. I'm here playing with ya, aren't I? It's not like I don't got better things to do than babysit your goofy ass. I'm a healthy teenager, man. I got things to do, places to go, girls to…" He leered and made like he was squeezing melons with his hands.

Macy stood, arms folded, face puckered. "This is dumb and boring. I wanna play Barbies now." She pointed to her knapsack lying to the side, filled to the brim with the stupid things. A slim, plastic arm and blonde head peeped out the top, its fiendishly perky smile and dead eyes taunting Will. "You be Ken and I'll be Barbie—"

"No way, man!"

"Please, Will?" Macy's eyes shifted from possessed-demon to basset-hound-puppy in three seconds flat.

Will shook his head, panicked. One more second of those dewy baby-blues pleading at him and he'd be stuck in Barbie-town for the next hour. No thank you. Keeping the little dorknugget out of their mom's hair for a couple hours was one thing, losing all dignity in the process was another. He walked around the sand-fort on his knees, collecting the fallen toys as he went.

"No can do, squirt. It's late. We gotta book." He made a big show of checking his watch as if to prove his point and noticed…"Aw crap!"…he wasn't lying. They really were late. "Come on Mace, help me. Mom's gonna have us featured on America's Most Wanted if we're not back soon."

His sister huffed a prissy sigh. "It's Macy," she corrected him as she sifted through the dirt and mud for buried army-men, haphazardly tossing those she found into Will's backpack.

"Watch it! You're getting sand everywhere, Mace-the-space-case!"

"Don't, Will!"

"I'm sorry." He gave her a contrite nod and a pat on the head. "You're right. My bad. I meant Mace-the-duck-face!"

"Will, noooOooOo!"

This time Macy's chin vibrated, nose filling with snot, turning a juicy red. Aw, geez. Will figured he had an 80% chance of tears if he didn't tone it down and a 100% certainty of a full report to their mom, outlining the depths of his cruelty—complete with stick-figure illustrations—if so much as one tear fell. The kid was nothing if not diabolically savvy when it came to garnering parental sympathy. She had no shame, fought dirty. He had to redirect or he'd be doomed.

"C'mon, you know I'm kidding, munchkin." He put his foot through the fort, messily leveling the dirt and retrieving the last few scattered soldiers. He lobbed them into his backpack and zipped it tight. "I'll give you a piggyback ride to the bikes, okay?"

Macy stifled a whimper, mollified. "Here's one more." She handed him a stray army-man as a peace offering. Will grabbed the toy and stuffed it into his pocket.

"Got it. Now, climb on, runt."

"I'm thirsty. Can I have some water, first?"

"Ugh," Will evil-eyed his sister as he slung his backpack off and removed the warm bottle of water. "Here. Don't drink it all. I'm thirsty, too." He tapped his foot impatiently as she threw back her head, drinking sloppily. "C'mon, c'mon. Enough. Give me s—" Will squinted. "Hey, what'd you put in there?" Will snatched the bottle, wiped off her kid germs, inspecting it. A strand of beads lay coiled at the bottom of the plastic bottle with a small cross attached. "You drop one of your kiddy necklaces in here?"

"Nope…" Macy squinched an eye as she peered into the bottle.

"Sure…I'll just bet you didn't!"

"I didn't! But can I have ‘em?" She held out her hand, hopeful eyes ogling the beads.

"No way, they're mine now." Will pivoted the bottle away from her. "Squatter's rights, see?" He swallowed a few sips of the hot water and belched. "Guhh, that's nasty. Let's get home and get something cold."

"Hold this for me, too." Macy picked up one of her angel-wing bobby pins that had fallen out of her hair while she drank.

"Ugh, I got it. C'mon y'little squirtmeister. Let's go." Putting the hairpin and the half-empty bottle back in his pack, he kept a grip on it as he bent low so his sister could spider-monkey onto his back. Jogging toward their bicycles, Will made sure to jig a step every now and again to give her a good ride. He loved to hear her laugh, though he'd never admit it.

Approaching the bikes tucked between trees next to an old service road, he greeted his pride-and-joy with a wide, lascivious grin and a wave. "Well, hello there gorgeous!"

"You're such a dumb-dumb-head. It's just a bike!" Macy rolled her eyes as her brother bent down and deposited her.

"Aw, don't you listen to a word, Baby," he cooed, stroked the sleek, black frame with feather-light fingers. He passed his palm over the WD he'd painstakingly etched into her glossy finish underneath the winged GT logo, staking his claim, making sure no one questioned who owned her.

After having squirreled away every cent of his allowance for the past year, everything he'd earned from odd yard-work for neighbors plus a generous kick-in from the parents, Will had been finally able to call this cherry ride his. The damn thing made him weak in the knees. Best bike ever.

Pressing the key into the cable lock tethering both his and his sister's bikes to the tree, he scoffed. "Just a bike, my butt. This here, Mace, is a 1993 GT Pro Elite with tasty AME Pro Tri grips..." he pointed, presenting each item like a Price Is Right model, "...luscious Rhyno Lite rims—perfection right down to her velvety-smooth Odyssey Pitbull brakes. Sweetest ride this side of a driver's license."

Macy put on her Polly Pocket helmet, fumbling with the strap until Will took a knee and absently clasped it for her. He honked her nose when he was done. Mounting her pink, bedazzled bicycle, she scrunched up her face and shrugged. "Your bike's black and ugly," she broke the news to him with an unsympathetic lilt of her head.

"Black and ugly…?" He clutched his heart. "Says the goofball whose bike looks like fairies threw up on it. Sheesh, talk about ugly! We can't possibly have come from the same parents."

"Yes we did. You take it back, Will!"

"Nope. Mom and Dad got you from gypsies when you were a baby."


"'Fraid so, little-bit. They didn't even have to pay a dime. Gypsies offered them $500 just to get rid of you—buh-bye!" He waved his fingers at her.

"You're full'a beans, Will!"

"Maybe I am," he laughed, checking his watch again. "C'mon, we gotta get home before Mom freaks. Annnd," he seesawed back and forth on his bike like an itchy racer waiting for the checkered flag, "our way through the jungle is filled with dinosaurs." He cut his eyes to the left, toward the bushes lining the riverbank. "See? There's a couple Velociraptors stalking us right now! Hurry! We gotta outrun ‘em, Mace!"

Macy's face lit with the promise of adventure, and she took off as fast as her legs could peddle, squealing at him over her shoulder, "I'm Lex…you're Tim, so I get to be the leader!"

Will sped after her. "I ain't no doofy kid, y'crazy munckin! I'm the cool dude who gets the hot blonde chick! Watch out! T-Rex at nine-o'clock!" He swerved to avoid getting eaten. "It's coming for us, Mace, pedal to the metal!"

"I'm Lex!" Her giggle morphed into a whine of dismay as he passed her. "Wait up, Will. C'mon! I wanna be leader!"

The two wove their way through their imaginary Jurassic Park, the scorching sun spilling over them, baking the asphalt beneath their tires. A hot breeze blew across the river, kissing their cheeks. Letting his sister pass him, Will popped a wheelie and held it, pedaled along the sidewalk, carefree and alive and chuckling at his little sister when she tried to do the same, imitating her big brother. She never got her front wheel off the ground, despite giving it several attempts.

With her line-of-sight obscured by a long adobe wall bordering one of the houses and her attention focused on her play, she clipped a corner too fast and plowed into a dark-haired, scruffy man standing there, wearing a heavy leather jacket—in the middle of August, no less. Macy slammed on her brakes and would have toppled, had the man not collared her, steadying her bike before she fell. A thrill of protective adrenaline surged through Will, and he leapt off his bike, letting it fall as he ran to her.

"Easy, Mace! Careful!" He grabbed her up in his arms. "You okay?"

"Yeah." Her face flushed crimson with embarrassment, and she turtled into her brother's chest. Repositioning her bike, Will helped her get back on and get her balance.

"Sorry, sir," Will said to the guy. "She hurt you?"

"Not at all." The man squatted down. "You okay, sweetheart?"

Macy nodded but said nothing, too bashful and uncertain to respond. "Sorry, she's shy around strangers, but we're good." Will answered for her.

"That's all right." The man palmed an old, silver dollar from behind her ear with a magician's flair. "This must belong to you."

Macy sneaked a peek at the coin then retreated toward Will. The man gave the dollar an enticing wiggle between his fingers, tapping it on her bare shoulder.

"Be polite and take it, Mace."

"You can give it to her for me, champ." The man tossed Will the dollar.

Catching the coin, Will placed it in his sister's hand. Macy took the gift with a bashful smile. "Now say thank you."

She swallowed hard, avoided eye contact with the man, whispered, "Thank you."

"Okay, c'mon Mace. We're late. Thanks, Mister." Will mounted his bike.

The man nodded, studied them with a keen eye and tight lip. "It's all right, son. You sure you're both all right?"

"Uh…yeah, sure." Will bobbed his head with a shrug. "We're good. Sorry again." He waited for Macy to pedal ahead then followed, keeping close watch over his sister.

A safe distance from the man, Will snorted at the girl. "Smooth move, Einstein. You're such a klutz."

Macy's bike wobbled as she struggled to control her speed. "Am not. Take it back, Will."

"Um, yeah you are. What about that time right after school got out for the summer and we visited Granny, huh? I saved your goofy face from running right through her sliding glass door. Nearly broke my finger doing it, too. I'll never play piano again, thanks to you."

"You dunno how to play piano, dummy!"

"Well, I'll never be able to learn, now! You can thank me when you're Miss America."

Macy stood, pedaling furiously in her excitement. "I'm gonna be Miss America?"

Will laughed. "Sure, kiddo. Of course."

With the house in sight, Will quickened his pace and shot ahead, aiming straight for the curb. He jumped it, corrected course to avoid his mother's garden with her prized apache plume, drove around the house and came to a sideways, skidding stop inches from the fence spanning the driveway. When Macy caught up, he warned her, "Not a word about hitting that guy. Mom'll have a fit. Our secret?"

"Only if you pinky promise…"

Will sighed. "Oh Jeez. Little sisters, man..." He offered her a pinky. "Well, c'mon..."

She latched on with her own and gave his finger a good shake, confirming their sacred pact. "Our secret."

Once Macy'd dismounted and held the gate for him, he hefted both bicycles at once, setting them inside the aluminum carport before he followed his sister into the house. Will was dying for a cold drink of water, sweat dripping from every pore. Hunger overtook thirst, however, the moment he strode into the kitchen where the scent of fresh-baked brownies hung thick. Following his nose, Will zeroed in on the batch cooling on the counter and pounced on them with a battle cry.

"Nope!" His mother threw out an arm with one fluid motion and swatted his groping hand away like a cruel, nimble ninja, then went back to placidly washing the dishes without ever having looked at him. "Those are for Macy's Daisy meeting tonight."

"You've gotta be freaking kidding me!" Will coughed out in wounded indignation. "I'm starving!"

"We're gonna fire up the grill and do burgers in a bit. You can wait."

"But I'm dying now. There's gotta be laws about this kind of abuse!" Will sighed, dragged his feet across the floor like a hunched buzzard on its last legs. Opening the refrigerator, he rooted around until he found a half-full Gatorade bottle and dejectedly gulped it down.

His mother's eyes settled on the muddied knees of his jeans. "You're filthy. What have you two been doing?"

"Mom, Will called me a space-case."

His mother sighed and gave Will a withering look.

"Okay, now that's totally taken out of context, Mom! I meant it in the best possible way."

Macy moved on to the next offense without pausing for breath. "And he wouldn't play Barbies with me. And all he would do is play with them stupid army-men."

Dammit. So much for the piggyback defense. "Tattletale."

His mom turned from Macy to Will. "Army-men? Aren't you a little old for them?"

"Uh, yeah Mom. I am, but it was either that or Barbies. C'mon. Whaddaya expect? I kept the doof busy, like you said. ‘Sides, it was educational. Y'don't want her dinky brain cells shriveling over the summer, do ya? I taught her some sound military tactics. Well, I mean…you know—" he shrugged his way through another lazy swig, "I taught her by completely decimating her army and all, but, hey, better to learn ‘em young, right?"

"Uh huh," she said, distracted as she inspected her daughter. "Macy, you're covered in mud. You got it on your shoes, in your hair. Oh my God…" She pointed a furious finger to a silty smudge on her clean floor. "Go wash up and change this instant. When you're done I want you to come down and help me shuck the corn."

"Okay, Mommy." The child trotted upstairs.

"And put those clothes in the hamper!" his mom called after her then turned to her son with a click of her tongue. "Did you have to let her get that dirty?"

"You're the one who told me to watch her. I kept the little spaz from swimming in the river like she wanted. I should get a medal for that alone."

"Oh yeah, you're a real humanitarian." She arched one of her freaky, double-jointed eyebrows at him.

"I do my best." Will slam-dunked the empty bottle into the garbage. "C'mon, this cost me a whole precious day of summer vacation when I could'a been spending quality time with Nicole Hamilton and her jugs of glory."

His mother flicked her dishrag at him. "William Michael Darnell, don't you dare let me hear you s—" She ran out of steam, seeing Will's puckish grin and laughing eyes. "Ugh. You're gonna be a handful, aren't you?" She searched his face, softening. "Good God above, you are definitely gonna be a handful. Just look at you—look at them mossy eyes. Fourteen years old and getting more beautiful every day."

"Uh, whoa…hold the phone there, Mom. Totally a dude, here—m'not beautiful—handsome devil, maybe, but not beautiful, c'mon!"

His mother's eyes swept over him, a wistful smile kissing her lips. She shrugged. "Sorry angel-face, I call ‘em as I see ‘em." She palmed his cheek, caressed his freckled nose with her thumb then gave him a couple of light slaps. "But, I mean it, though, Will. Be respectful, okay?"

"You know I am, Mom. Gentleman's my middle name!"

"Yuh-huh…it better be. And don't be so rough on Macy, either, huh? She idolizes you. Her sun rises and sets on your say-so. Besides, you're not fooling anyone with that doofy-spaz routine of yours. You love her and you know it."

Will puffed out a piffling breath. "I admit nothing. Kid's a thorn in my side. A pixie-dust covered ball and chain. You'd think if you and Dad were gonna churn some butter, you'd at least have the decency to churn out a brother for me instead."

The woman's eyes went supernova. "William Darnell!"

"What'd I say?" He batted his long, innocent eyelashes at her and backed away, trying to make a break for his room.

"Will, wait." His mother grabbed a brown paper bag from the counter. "Run this over to Daddy. He's stuck workin' on Mr. Simmons' old Plymouth. This should tide him over until he gets home." She jiggled the bag.

"The Road Runner? Whoa! Nice." Will rubbed his hands together.

"Yes, well, you can take this to him, but you can't stay. I need you home to help with dinner. Thirty minutes. You hear me?"

"Aw, maaan!" Will opened his backpack, plopped his father's lunch on top of the water bottle and slung it on his back. He started for the door.

"Wash your hands before you go. You're a mess."

"Oh my God, Mom. You're killing me, here." Will spun around, plunged his hands into the dishwater, pulled them out a nanosecond later and flicked the water off them. "Happy?" His mother came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his shoulders in an affectionate, swaying hug, pressed her cheek to his temple.

He made to wipe his hands on his shirt but his mom Mr. Miyagi'd them away and handed him a dishtowel. "I know, I'm so mean." She teased the boy, kissing his ear where he was the most ticklish.

Will squeezed his ear against his shoulder as a shiver went through his spine. "You kinda are, you know? Big ol' pain in my ass."

"Hey, watch your language, bub. You talk like you were raised by hooligans or something."

"Hooligans? Is that even a real word?"

"Don't change the subject. No swearing. And none of that ‘butter-churning' nonsense, either. You know that's not appropriate." His mom sobered, meaning business, but she didn't release the backward hug either.

"Sorry, Mom. I think I've spent too much time with Macy today. I'm starting to pick up her vocab. You should really have a talk with her. Mouth like a Marine, man. I ain't lyin'."

"I'll bet." The woman chuckled and smacked him on his rear. "Get going, now."

"Yeah, yeah." Will headed for the door.

Before he could make a clean getaway, his mother called out to him, "Oh, and Will…"


She offered him a stern glance. "Aren't you forgetting something?"


Staring at him a moment longer, she blinked and nudged her chin toward the brownies, her eyes twinkling permission.

Will dove at the plate. "I love you, Mom. You're the best—" He snatched a brownie, "—the smartest—" clawed at another, "—the most beautiful mom in the world! I mean it!" He tossed her a disarming smile.

"You're full of it, you now that? But I love you, too, Monkey." She used the pet name she'd given him as a toddler, both warming and annoying him at the same time.

"Ugh, Mom…"

"Thirty minutes. Dinner. Don't be late."

"I won't." He crammed his mouth full of brownie, lashes fluttering, eyes rolling back in his head. "God, Mom. So good!" He licked the crumbs off his fingers, flapped his other brownie-bearing hand at her and shouldered his way out the door.


As Will crossed the river and pedaled toward old-town, a 1967 black, Chevy Impala crawled past him before speeding up, her motor growling like she owned the road.

"Well, hello beautiful!" Will couldn't help but give her a long whistle as he vaulted a ditch and took the corner at a daring angle.

There weren't many cars parked on the side of the road this time of day, so he used the curb to practice his bunny hopping skills. The bike had been in his possession for less than two months, but he was determined to master every trick he could as soon as possible. He made sure to slow his pace as he passed Mr. Adler who stood sweeping the sidewalk in front of his old-fashioned butcher's shop. Between his plump stomach bulging out of his white apron and the sunburn on his balding head, the man looked like a marshmallow with a cherry on top.

The older man hailed him. "Afternoon, Will! I see you're hell-bound, aren't you?"

Will raised his eyes at that. "Hey, Mr. Adler. Dad's workin' on a '68 Road Runner." He waved without stopping.

"Like I said—hell-bound!" Mr. Adler acknowledged him with a wave of his broom.

A few minutes later, Will stopped at Darnell's Restoration and Repair, jumped off his bike and carried it into the shop. Having heard the bell clang as he entered, his dad stepped out from behind the hood of the Road Runner.

"It's just me." Will leaned his bike against the wall, rooted through his backpack for the bag. "Well, me and dinner, that is."

"Hey, son. Good, I'm starved."

Will fumbled mid-stride, his attention stolen by the sight of the car. Mesmerized by her curves, he stood staring with dopy eyes until his father cleared his throat.

"Food…gimme." He wiped his hand on a rag and motioned the boy over, pointing to the sack.

"Uh, right. Sorry." Will shook himself and tossed the bag to his father, lingering to pet the car's crisp, cherry-red paintjob. "Oh man, she's smokin' hot. Wow." He swung around to the front, braced his hands on the grill and bent forward to inspect the engine.

The man took his place beside his son, watching him. "So," he goaded the boy as he unwrapped his sandwich and plowed into it. "Dazzle me."

Will grinned at the challenge. "Okay, she's a 1968 Plymouth Road Runner, first year they made ‘em."

"Excellent." His father took another bite, talked around the ham and cheese. "And what do we got inside?" He wagged his sandwich at the engine.

Will pointed as he spoke, recalling everything he'd read about this car in his magazines, reciting almost verbatim. "Well Dad, this not-so-dainty lady, here, has a 426 cubic-inch Hemi V8 with a high-rise intake manifold and factory dual-quads."

"How many horses?"

"425 gallopers, each and every one of ‘em chompin' at the bit, 490lbs of torque. She's got a 4-speed manual tranny, but—and get ready for this—you said you wanted to be dazzled, right?"

"Do me," his dad prompted with his mouth full.

Will leaned in, cocky smile curling one side of his face as he looked back at his dad. "It's a 1968, yeah…but you can tell this particular unit was built late in the year because she still has her original Hurst shifters, see?" He pointed.

The man snorted, impressed. "Show off."

Will took a step back, taking in the whole engine. "But you can forget elegance and grace with this girl. Ain't her style. Nope, she's a badass street thug. We're talkin' pure nitroglycerine on wheels." Will whistled with longing. "Man oh man…"

His dad's face shone with pride and approval. "That's my boy. She's a sassy thing, ain't she?"

"Sure is. Full'a piss and vinegar. Hey, can I blow the horn?"

His dad started in on the other half of his sandwich, stepping aside so Will could get by him. "Go ahead."

Will's eyes sparkled with mischief as he slipped into the driver's seat and hit the horn twice with rapid, staccato bursts, imitating the ‘Meep-meep!' of the cartoon Road Runner. "Hey, Dad, did you know that Chrysler had to pay Warner Brothers a crap-ton'a money to use the Road Runner and the sound of the horn?"

"Yep. Sure did."

"Worth every penny, though, huh? Big part of her charm." Will ran his thumb across the small Road Runner icon embedded into the steering wheel and pressed the horn again. ‘Meep-meep!'

He continued to play with the horn until his father waved him off. "That's enough, Will. My ears."

"I'm getting one of these for myself someday." Will caressed the seat and smoothed his hand along the dash.

"You say that about every classic that comes through here." His dad opened his dinner sack, grabbed the apple and bit into it.

"Heck yeah. Gonna have a whole harem."

At that, his father threw back his head and laughed. "Harem. I like that. Chip off the old block."

"Darn straight. Gonna be a kickass mechanic like my old man. You hear that, old man?"

"Sure does beat workin' for ‘the man', I'll tell you that right now. Kick me if I ever think of doing anything else but this for a living."

"I'll keep ya in line." Will tapped the horn two more times, cackling with glee when his father gave him the look. He scooted out and closed the door, hopped onto his father's workbench and sat, swinging his legs, making himself at home. He idly played with a hubcap, spinning it on his finger like a Frisbee. "So, what's wrong with her?"

"Nothing. Mr. Simmons wants a tune-up, tires rotated. The works. Las Vegas Auto Show is this weekend."

Will let the hubcap fall with a clang. "Wait, this weekend? And we're not going?"

"Not this year, buddy. I gotta work." His dad didn't look happy about it.

"But this—this sucks!"

"Look, I love sharing these things with you more than you can ever know. I live for them. I do. But I gotta pay the bills, kiddo. And it's not like it's the only show in the world. We're going to the Albuquerque Show in September, so we'll have that."

"Yeah, but I wanted…you know…a good, long drive. Get out on the open road, just you and me. No dweeb. Just father and son bondage time."

His dad came close to choking on his apple. "I think you mean bonding."

"That's what I said. I need to move, man. It's not the same when the show's a ten-minute-drive from home."

"Got a touch of wanderlust, do ya? We'll plan for next year." He motioned for Will to get down then bridled him toward the door. "In the meantime, your mom wants you home for supper. She called to make sure you didn't overstay. Knew you'd get all tangled up in the Plymouth if I let ya."

"Maaaan, It's like she has eyes on the back of her head, and on the sides!"

His father nodded sagely, patted Will's head, mussing it. "Well, just remember there are only two certainties in life—"

"Death and taxes?"

"No. Mothers know all…mothers see all. Trust me on this, you can't fight it. Don't even try."

"Geez, tell me about it." The boy dragged his hand through his sweaty hair, pushing his bangs back before he strapped on his helmet. His hair had grown so long over the summer the ends had started to curl around his ears, driving him buggy. It felt wrong. He'd needed a cut before school started again.

"On the other hand," his father wadded the now-empty paper bag, threw it away, "the old bird makes a damn good sandwich. Tell her thanks. And I hear burgers will be waiting for you when you get home."

"Well, if she tosses in some bacon and cheese, I might forgive her for this trava—travi—uh, for this injustice." Will shouldered his backpack, his stomach already grumbling in anticipation. "But, man…it's been a hard day. Had to do chores, had to watch Mace forever, and now this."

His dad chuffed and held the door. "Well, go easy on her. She's the only mom y'got. I'll see you at home in a couple hours. Be careful."

"Always." Will shot out of the shop, mounted his bike at a run and gave a careless wave of his hand as he pedaled away.

After a few blocks, he nodded to Mr. Adler again as he rounded the corner by the old man's shop and stopped short when he spied a man and a boy hunched in front of the open hood of the Impala he'd seen pass by him on his way to the shop. Sure, she was road-worn and dusty, but sweet Jesus, if this wasn't a perfect example of elegance and grace, he didn't know what was. Will pedaled up and circled the car, hopping the curb as he did so.

"Wow! Great car, Mister!"

When the man glanced up, Will recognized the grizzled face from earlier. It was the same guy Macy had run into on the sidewalk. "Thanks, son."

Will wheelie-spun the bike around, passing the boy who appeared to be a few years older than Macy. Geez, a few more inches and his hair would have been just as long, too. It coiled lazily down his forehead, spilling into his big, nervous eyes. And Will thought his hair needed a cut. The younger boy said nothing as he rode past him. He continued to stand there, staring at Will like one of those creepy kids from The Shining, following his every move. It gave him the jeebs, but the Impala proved to be too much of a draw for him to be put off by some weird, twitchy kid.

Braking to a stop, he placed a hand on the fender and balanced himself as he peered under the hood. "Sorry ‘bout earlier. You know—kid sister and all." He offered the man a second apology and his hand. "I'm Will."

The man took his hand, giving it a firm shake. "John. This is my son, Sam." The man stroked his stubble and turned his attention to the engine, his brow pleating into a perfect accordion of frustration. "Darn thing keeps knocking."

"Yeah? Well, she sure is a beaut. '67 Chevy Impala. 327, four-barrel, 275 horses. A little TLC and she'll last a lifetime. Y'gotta take good care of her, though. She's looking a little rundown."

"You like cars?"

"Uh, yeah. My dad owns the garage a few blocks away." He nudged his head in the general direction.

"I see. Yeah, me and my son here, we're just visiting for a few days. Noticed the car making a knocking noise whenever I start her up. Dunno what's eatin' her."

Will smiled at that. Any man who called his car ‘her' had his respect, creepy kid notwithstanding. Hopping off his bike, he laid it down, hooked his helmet on the handlebar and moved in for a closer look. His mom might freak at him for being late, but hey, she was always preaching at him about doing for others and helping the needy. Hell, he was practically being a damn selfless hero, here.

"What kind of knocking? Loud rap or a soft tick?"

"You wanna take a listen?" The man edged away, allowing Will to settle in, letting him get a feel for the car.

"Sure, I help my dad all the time. He taught me everything he knows."

The man smiled, small and thin, like an aftertaste. He held out a keychain to his son. "Sam, turn her over and then wait in the backseat while Will takes a look at this."

"Okay, Dad." The boy took the keys and jumped behind the wheel, leaving the door open when he started the car.

As soon as he heard the knocking, Will smiled in relief. "Sounds like a simple piston slap to me."

"Yeah? So, is that serious?" The man stepped behind him, peering over his head into the engine.

Will swallowed a laugh, poor guy was a total rookie. "Naw, it's an easy fix, man. Eight ounces of Sea Foam in the gas tank, and, boom, adios knock."

"That's real good, son." The man set a firm hand on his shoulder. "You're definitely still in there somewhere."

Will cranked his neck back, about to ask what the hell that was supposed to mean, but he never got the chance. Without warning, the guy's grip on his shoulder tightened. Before Will had time to react, the man threaded his other arm around his chest, just like his mother's embrace not a half hour ago, and pressed a rag over his nose and mouth.

The force of the man's powerful arms squeezed the air from his lungs, and Will gasped in response, breathing a lungful of a heady chemical compound that reminded him of a somewhat sweeter version of the stuff his father used to help start frozen engines during the winter. It singed his nose; and though he bucked hard, fighting like an animal to break free, the rag followed whichever way he turned. Making a final effort, Will flung out his hand and clawed the man's face. His nails were short, but he pinched with all his might until skin broke, coating his fingers with blood. And for one desperate second, the man's grip relaxed enough for Will to get his mouth free. He shouted for all he was worth, but the rag was soon back, stifling him, making it impossible for him to think straight.

Everything began to spin, and for the life of him, Will could not figure out which way was up. His lungs burned with every breath. The hood of the car slammed shut, and his knees buckled, but he never hit the ground. Will felt a jerking lurch, heard the scrape of his sneakers dragging across pavement. As his eyes rolled chaotically about, he caught a warped flash of the man still holding the rag to his nose, saw the determined set of his jaw, the strange gleam of hope or excitement, maybe, in his eyes. The guy manhandled him into the hot car, sun-heated vinyl scorching his unprotected arms as Will fought to get away. Another shove and his head hit the passenger door.

"Dad…Dad, be careful!" A small voice warbled like a mirage in the hot, desert sun.

As someone shifted him back so that his cheek rested on the seat, Will vacantly watched a streak of his drool steam and evaporate in the heat. He felt the prick of a needle on his arm, and his thoughts cartwheeled into the nether.

Mr. Adler's voice came from under the ground, somewhere. "What's all this racket? Will? Son? That you?"

A car door slammed and he felt a powerful engine grumble beneath him, felt the nauseating whoosh of acceleration.

A few more hollow words from the kid…

"Dad, is he gonna be okay?"

And the man's gravelly voice reverberating like he was in a cavern…

"He's fine Sam. Whatever's going on, we'll fix it. We'll fix him. Your brother's gonna be just fine."

Then everything went gray.

Continue to Chapter 2

sharlot1926sharlot1926 on February 16th, 2015 11:24 pm (UTC)
Good...good! I'm glad the hints came through. I spent a lot of time tweaking that chapter because I feared it was too vague.