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Discovering that Marky Larson had brought a gun along on the trip to Maine changed everything for Anthony Colapietro.
"Shut up," snarled Marky. It was the hundredth time he'd said it, or maybe the thousandth, since the two of them left New Jersey in Marky's old dark blue Monte Carlo nine hours earlier.
"I didn't say anything," Anthony protested. Not yet six in the morning, they'd been on the road all night, and his eyes felt sore and gritty from lack of sleep.
"You don't have to," retorted Marky from behind the wheel. "I can hear you thinking. You think I don't know what a punk like you is thinking? Quit thinking, you punk."
Marky believed, because he was a hardened twenty-four years old to Anthony's wet-behind-the-ears twenty-one, that he could call Anthony a punk.
"Got your face stuck up to the freakin' window," said Marky. "What if a cop drives by, gets a load of your face?"
There were no cops around here. But there was also no sense trying to tell Marky that. Anthony had wondered how he got picked for this job, but now he figured someone must've thought he could put up with Marky without blowing a gasket.
He stared at the water that appeared intermittently between the tall trees as the Monte rounded another curve in the narrow blacktop. The ocean was blue and glittery, flat as a plate; as he watched, a big bird lifted from it with a slow rhythm of wings.
"I just never saw it before is all," said Anthony.
Marky glanced over at him in contempt. "Never saw the ocean? What're you, a dope? Lived a coupla miles from it all your life, you never freakin' even been on the boardwalk?"
Anthony shook his head. "Uh-uh. Ma wouldn't let me."
Not as a little kid, anyway, and by the time she died he'd been in the juvie home six months already. From there, visiting the boardwalk was about as likely as visiting Mars.
Marky grimaced, showing small, even, white teeth. He was a good-looking guy with thick, curly black hair, a small, tightly constructed body, and what the girls called bedroom eyes.
Anthony didn't call them that, though, not even in his head. When he met Marky's gaze, which he'd already learned not to do very often, he got the strong, unmistakable sense that something unpleasant was in there, peering out at him.
Unpleasant and . . . different. Several times Anthony had looked over from the passenger seat at Marky and glimpsed something that chilled him. A lizard, maybe, cold-blooded and primitive, dressed in a Marky Larson suit.
But that must be just his imagination. Some jealousy too, maybe, because Marky was flash, Anthony had to admit. Thick gold chains hung over the white T-shirt he wore under a black leather jacket; stolen, probably, along with the fancy wristwatch. Crisp new blue jeans, new sneakers on his feet; Air Jordans, it used to be, back when Anthony was helping boost them off of trucks, the drivers standing by knowing the score.
But that was years ago. Anthony's own jacket was a Jersey Devils warm-up he'd bought at a thrift shop for a few bucks, only because it was warm and cheap. He didn't even know what the in-demand sneaker was now. He'd never read a map before, either, and it was this that had Marky so annoyed.
"I think we should turn here," Anthony said as they came up on an intersection.
Well, not a real intersection like he was used to. More like a crossroads. Intersections had street signs. Stop lights.
And traffic. Other cars and people, neither of which were in evidence here on this empty, tree-lined road out in the middle of nowhere. This crossroads only had an old stone mile-marker.
No wonder there were no cops. "Well, should I or shouldn't I?" Marky demanded. "I mean who the freak've I got navigating for me, here, Chuckles the Clown?"
"Turn," Anthony said quickly. "Right. Or no, left. That's right, left."
Marky sighed heavily. "You're a moron, you know that?" But he took the turn. Despite his map-reading inexperience, somehow Anthony had managed so far not to steer them wrong.
It wasn't the real ocean out there, either. According to the words printed on the blue area that represented water on the map, it was a bay. He sounded out the unfamiliar name in his head. Passamaquoddy Bay, it was called, and on the far side of it was Canada.
Anthony stared at the land, low and tree-covered, on the other side of the water, wondering if living over there felt any different than it did on this side. Better, maybe.
"They sure get up early around here," he commented. Boats puttered offshore, cranelike contraptions jutting from the backs of them. Dragging something, though he couldn't see exactly what. Nets made of chain, it looked like, and on the opposite shore he could just make out small houses.
Maybe the boat operators lived in the houses. Had wives and kids there, even. Anthony frowned. "It's a whole other country, Canada."
Testing the idea. Sounding it out. They'd taught him to read, back in juvie. And they'd taken his tonsils out, after they got infected. That was the sum total of what he'd gotten out of the juvie experience.
Well, that and an early warning system, a kind of alarm that rang deep in his head when things were going haywire. It was jangling now very loudly and unnervingly like the bell for a fire drill, but there was nothing he could do about it.
Marky expelled an exasperated breath, plucked a smoke from the pack in his T-shirt pocket, and punched the dashboard lighter with an angry stab. "Jeeze," he said long-sufferingly.
The road here was even narrower than before, with great big trees crowded up on both sides. They made Anthony nervous, these huge green living things all around with no fences or anything to keep them in.
No paths, no park benches. He'd have given his left nut for a coffee shop but he hadn't seen one of those in a while, either.
Animals, though, he guessed. Bears, and . . . well, he didn't know what else might be running around in these trees. Were there lions in Maine forests?
Marky might know, but another thing Anthony had figured out was that it was better not to ask Marky unnecessary questions. On the Tappan Zee, actually, when Anthony was first confronting the knotty problem of unfolding the map, he'd realized it.
He'd asked Marky to say where in Maine they were going so he could at least try to start plotting their route. That was the first time Marky had told Anthony to shut the freak up, adding that if Anthony gave him any crap whatsoever on this trip, Marky would shoot him and dump his dead body by the side of the road.
To emphasize this he'd opened his leather jacket to reveal the gun's checkered grip peeping from his inside breast pocket.
"Marky, the guy said not to bring any—"
"Screw the guy," Marky had said viciously. "He wants to do the thing, let him do it his way. Hires me, I do it mine, okay?"
Marky had already showed Anthony the small spiral notebook full of instructions for the job: Do this at this specific time, that at the other. Backup plans, too, for different things that might possibly go wrong. And . . . a photograph of a woman.
An old snapshot, white crinkly lines on it from where it had wrinkled a little. In it, the woman smiled into the camera: dark hair, full red lips, eyes laughing and bright. The snapshot had come out of the wallet of their employer, Marky had said, but he wouldn't say any more.
Probably because he didn't know, although just try getting Marky to admit anything like that. Finally there was the heavy cardboard box full of equipment that they'd brought along, which naturally it had been Anthony's job to load into the Monte's trunk: two sets of night vision goggles, rubber-strap headsets to wear them with, a small recorder with an old-fashioned cassette tape in it, plus other things that Anthony couldn't take the time to identify because Marky kept yelling at him to hurry.
What's up with that stuff? he'd wondered, but now he just looked out the window again to where the underbrush crept up to and in places right out over the crumbling pavement.
No power poles, he noticed. Probably no lions, either. But he still wished there were fences.
"This better be right," Marky growled threateningly, spewing out a stream of smoke while casting another evil look at Anthony. "Or you're in trouble."
Anthony was pretty sure he was already in trouble. Coming up here with Marky had been a bad idea, and not only because of the gun.
The money was good, though. He decided his best course now would be to concentrate on the money. He rolled his window down to let some of Marky's smoke out and got an unexpected faceful of ocean smell, cold salt water and what he guessed must be seaweed mingled with a hint of wood smoke.
The smell triggered a hard, deep I want feeling, like when a pretty girl walked by him wearing some really nice perfume. Went right on walking, usually, because girls like that wouldn't give Anthony Colapietro a second look.
Jesus, he thought, having given up yearning so long ago that he barely recognized it. Then they were in the trees again and a different smell came in, like the Pine-Sol from the juvie home.
Training school, they'd called it. Yeah, training to be a loser. Every kid in there had grown up to be a knucklehead. The luckiest ones ended up running errands for actual tough guys.
Like me, he thought in a moment of bleak self-knowledge. An errand boy.
But since the unlucky ones were either dead or in prison, he decided that maybe this little field trip with Marky wasn't so bad, after all. And the smell, he realized, was coming from the trees.
Pine trees, they must be, growing wild here right out of the dirt. He let this idea sink in some more, finding it worrisome but also strangely pleasant.
Marky spoke up again. "So I gotta do everything," he snarled, "while you sit there playin' freakin' tourist? What're you, the Queen of freakin' England, now?"
Anthony jumped, then consulted the map again hastily. Marky was right. He wasn't keeping his mind on the job enough. A mean voice in his head added that this was why the losers were errand boys, that it was in fact why they remained losers.
The thought was so surprising, so different from anything he had ever come up with before, that he wondered for an instant if maybe it wasn't coming from some other head. Marky's, maybe.
But no. Marky was an errand boy, too. Just a meaner, more confident one.
An errand boy with a gun. "Okay, keep your shirt on. Turn here," Anthony said. Hoping he was correct, that he hadn't maybe started getting it wrong a hundred miles ago without knowing it.
Because Marky really would kill him. Even the "keep your shirt on" remark, lightly delivered and intended merely to mollify Marky, jolly him into a better mood, had triggered a dirty look.
Marky wouldn't care if Anthony's body was only half dead when he shoved it out of the car. And Anthony had a feeling that if you got lost here, shot or otherwise, you might never get found again; that the absence of paths, park benches, and cages for the animals was the least of it.
The very least of it. As he thought this, something moved way back there among the trees where sunlight angled in wavery golden patches surrounded by green gloom. Anthony tried to see what it was and especially if it was coming any closer.
But by that time they'd already gone by, and when he craned his neck to look back, it wasn't following them. Or if it was, it was hiding in the underbrush where Anthony couldn't see.
"Hey, whoa, what the freak is this?" Marky demanded as the pavement ended suddenly and the car began bouncing violently.
"End of the line," Anthony replied. "That was the last turn, back there. We should see the house, coupla minutes."
The news seemed to cheer Marky. "Man, we are definitely not in Kansas anymore," he said, his fingers wrapped tightly around the wheel, cigarette dangling from his lips.
Grinning, suddenly lighthearted. He snapped on the radio, a blare of country music filling the car. Marky sang along with the tune in a sarcastic falsetto, ridiculing the words and the down-home country twang, making stupid faces.
"Oh, she broke mah heart so ah broke her jaw," Marky sang in his curiously high, nasal voice. "Ah cut 'er up with a big chain saw."
Anthony wasn't comforted by the sudden show of good humor, though, because that was another thing about Marky, that you couldn't tell when he meant it: the grin, or the lizard look. As if to prove this, Marky snapped the radio off abruptly.
"Christ," he exhaled in sudden disgust. "People listen to this crap around here?" They rode in silence a little more until, in half a mile or so, the dirt road got worse.
A lot worse. Loose stones clattered against the underside of Marky's beat-up Monte as they jounced over the uneven track. The muffler banged a rock sticking up out of a pothole.
Bam! Anthony looked back, wondering if the rock had torn the Monte's muffler right off. Marky cursed eloquently, coming up with words and combinations that even Anthony had never heard of before, and his eyes grew cold and reptilian again as he glared over at Anthony accusingly.
Be there, Anthony thought at the house that was supposed to be hidden away around here somewhere, imagining Marky getting too frustrated and tired to be able to keep a lid on it. Shooting Anthony in the knee, maybe, just to let off steam.
He hoped it would be only the knee. But then around the next curve, a house did appear, first the roof and then the rest of it huddled there under the low branches.
"About time," Marky said grimly, as if it were Anthony's fault that the trip had taken so long. They stopped in a graveled turnaround and got out into an enormous, waiting silence.
In juvie, the noise had been constant, like living against a background of heavy demolition. And afterward, the rooms in the boardinghouses he'd lived in had been loud, too, right over the street in the kinds of neighborhoods where nightfall only got the quiet people to go indoors. Here, though:
Trees and more trees. Through them Anthony glimpsed the bay again, blue and glittering and . . . big. Much bigger than anything he was used to. The silence all around kept enlarging as well, as if it just might suck Anthony right up into it.
He'd never felt so small, so at the mercy of something. Battling panic he waited for Marky to decide their next move, while his gut churned sourly and sweat prickled his armpits. Then a bird cried out raucously overhead: chukka-chukka-chukka!
Anthony's heart hammered and his mouth went dry. The smell of sun-warmed pine needles filled his head again, flooding into it like the ether they'd used on him for his tonsils, clapping the mask harshly to his face.
If Marky killed him here, no one would find him. It would be like when he first disappeared into the juvie home, and then his mom died.
No one would know. No one would even ask. Pretty soon wild animals would come along hungrily and eat his body. His eyes, his ears . . . even the tongue he'd used to cry out with, at the end.
Leaving only bones.