By Abbott, Jeff
Grand Central Publishing Copyright © 2011 Abbott, Jeff
All right reserved. ISBN: 9780446575171
NOVEMBER 14–APRIL 10
“In the flux that defines the world of the illegal, beginnings are often endings and vice versa… Trillions of dollars move around the world outside of legal channels… They ruin the lives of some and create vast empires of profit for others.”
—Carolyn Nordstrom, Global Outlaws
ONCE MY WIFE ASKED ME: if you knew this was our final day together, what would you say to me?
We’d been married for all of a year. We were lying in bed, watching the sun begin to shine through the heavy curtains, and I answered her with the truth: anything but good-bye. I can’t ever say good-bye to you.
Two years later, that final day started as most of my days did. Up at five, I drove and parked near the tube station at Vauxhall. I like to use the public housing a few blocks away for my little adventures.
I started the run with a long warm-up in the open, exposed concrete courtyard of the old public building, slow-running in place, gathering pace, elevating my body temperature by a few critical degrees, then took off. You want your muscles and ligaments hot. A brick wall lay directly ahead of me, three feet taller than me. I hit it with a step that launched me upward, my fingers closing on the edge of its top. I pulled myself up with one fluid movement I’d practiced a thousand times before. No hard breathing, no creaking of joints. I tried to move in silence. Silence shows that you’re in control. Over the edge of the wall, running across the ground, and then a vault over a much shorter wall, one-handed, my legs clearing the bricks.
Into the main building. A stairwell, smelling of piss and decorated with a finger of black-and-white graffiti, lay ahead of me. I hit the painted wall with my left foot in a careful jump, using the energy to launch me rightward to the railing at the turn of the stair. A hard move where I’d fallen before, but today, sweet, I landed with care onto the railing, holding my balance, heart pounding, mind calm. Adrenaline thump. I jumped from the railing to an extended steel bar that stretched into the construction site, used the momentum to swing myself over to a gutted floor. The building was being torn apart and redone. I would damage nothing, leave no sign of passage. I might be a trespasser, but I’m not a jerk. I ran to the opposite side of the floor, launched into the air, caught another bar of steel, swung, let go, and hit the ground in a careful roll. The energy from the fall spread across my back and butt rather than jamming in my knees, and I was up and running again, back into the building, looking for a new, more efficient way to enter its spaces. Parkour, the art of moving, gets my adrenaline going while, at the same time, a slow calm creeps over me. Make a misstep and I fall down the brick walls. It is exhilarating and settling all at once.
I made another three passes through the building’s interesting web of space—broken floors, gaping stairwells, equipment—using a mix of runs, vaults, jumps, and drops to find the line—the simplest and most straightforward path through the half-ruined walls, the low brick rises, the empty staircases. Energy burned my muscles, my heart pounded, but the whole time I tried to maintain a distinct and separate calm. Find the line, always the line. Around me, in the distance, I could hear traffic beginning to build, the sky lightening for the new day.
People think that what the British call council housing is an eyesore. It’s all in how you look at it. To a parkour runner the old square buildings are beautiful. Full of planes and walls to run up and bounce off, railings and ledges to walk and jump from, neighbors who don’t call the police at the merest noise.
The last route, I dropped from the second story to the first, grabbing a bar, swinging, letting go in a controlled fall.
“Hey!” a voice yelled at me as I slammed through the air. I hit, rolled, let the energy of impact bleed nicely through my shoulders and bottom. I ended up on my feet and took three steps and stopped.
Not a guard, a teenager, watching me. A morning cigarette perched on his lip. “How do you do that, man?”
“Practice,” I said. “Long, boring hours of practice.”
“Like a spider,” he said, smiling. “My mum and I been watching. She wanted to call the Old Bill. I said no.”
“Thank you.” I really didn’t need the police in my life. Time to find a new place to practice. I waved at my benefactor and decided to cool down with a long, straightforward run. Twenty minutes in a long, looping circle, a normal jogger out for his paces, and I jumped back into my car to drive home. Most Americans living in London don’t have cars. You don’t need them.
I have one for security.
I headed up to our apartment off Charlotte Street, not far from the British Museum. I slipped inside, trying to be quiet, hoping that Lucy was still asleep.
She was up, drinking juice at the small kitchen table, frowning at an open laptop. She glanced at me.
“Good morning, monkey,” she said, putting her gaze back to the laptop. “Out making mischief?”
I’d forgotten to take off the hand coverings I wore to protect my palms on the parkour runs. I could hear the disappointment in her voice.
“You didn’t fall off a building,” she said.
“No, Lucy.” I poured a glass of juice.
“What a relief. When you miss grabbing the edge of a wall and plummet to an untimely end, I can tell the baby you died getting your morning fix of crazy.”
“The walls aren’t high. I don’t take stupid chances.” Defensive.
“When I’m expecting, Sam, any chance is a stupid one.”
“Sorry. Mostly it was a normal jog.” I took off the palm protectors, stuffed them in my pocket. I went to the fridge and found a cold bottle of water. I took refuge in it, drinking slowly and steadily. Shower, coffee, then a long day at the office. The adrenaline rush was gone for the day.
“I love you. I want you to know that.”
“I know that. I love you, too.” I turned from the refrigerator, looked at her. She was still studying her laptop, her hand perched on the soft fullness of her belly. The baby was seven months along, and I suppose, with the imminence of parenthood, Lucy and I were both more serious these days. Well, she was. I hadn’t yet been able to give up parkour runs, interspersed with my regular miles.
“I wonder if you might find a less dangerous hobby.”
“My job is more dangerous than my hobby.”
“Don’t joke,” she said. Now she looked at me. In her morning rumple, she was beautiful to me, brown hair with auburn highlights, serious brown eyes, a heart-shaped face with a full, red mouth. I loved her eyes the most. “I know you can do your job better than anyone. I’m scared you’ll take a stupid fall doing these runs. I don’t need you with a broken neck with a baby about to be born.”
“Okay. I’ll learn golf.”
She made a face that told me she didn’t take my promise seriously. But she said, “Thank you. Remember, tonight we have dinner with the Carstairs and the Johnsons.”
I smiled. They were her friends, not mine, but they were all nice people, and I knew our regular dinners out in London would become much rarer once the baby arrived. And maybe they knew a golf instructor. “Okay, I’ll be home by five, then.”
“We’re meeting them at six at the tapas bar in Shoreditch. Do you have a big morning?”
“A PowerPoint-heavy one,” I said. “Briefings all day with Brandon and the suits from back home.” I looked at her as she stood to stretch, her hands on the swell of her belly. “But I could cancel. Go to the doctor’s with you.”
“Save me from the PowerPoint. Let me go with you and The Bundle.” We kept skirting the discussion of names, so I’d given our imminent child a pseudonym.
“The Bundle.” She patted the top of her swell.
“Actually, I may have to meet you at the restaurant. I might have to go drink a quick pint with the suits after the meetings.”
She laughed and smiled and said, “Oh, such a tough job you have.”
I thought, thank God I don’t have my parents’ marriage. Lucy and I didn’t fight, didn’t glare, didn’t inflict long, painful silences.
“Go and bar-hop without your pregnant wife.” She smiled and closed her laptop. “But not quite yet.”
She came to me and slid her hands up my back. Pregnant women are full of surprises; it’s like living with a breeze that can’t settle on its direction. I loved it. She kissed me with a surprising hunger, almost a ferocity, her belly big between us.
“I’m hot and sweaty and gross,” I said. “I’m a yucky husband.”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, you are, monkey. And I’m enormous.”
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, you are.” And I kissed her.
When we were done, the sweetest start to that final day, I made us a breakfast of toast, coffee, and juice, then showered, dressed, and went to our office. Before I walked out, I looked back at her, at the breakfast table, and I said, “I love you,” and she said, “I love you.”
Famous last words. Continues...
Excerpted from Adrenaline by Abbott, Jeff Copyright © 2011 by Abbott, Jeff. Excerpted by permission.
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