He used Terry’s laptop to log into his friend’s e-mail and spent two hours sorting through the mass that had piled up. There were so many people needing to be reassured that things would go well even with Terry in the hospital, and Crow gave what assurances he could, and he lied a little here and there.
He called John West, an amusement park consultant and general fix-it man, and asked him to spend the next few days going over every inch of the Hayride and the Haunted House. West, who used to oversee the Cyclone roller coaster up in Coney Island and who now ran a general consulting firm in Lahaska, was pleased to take the job. They’d worked together a number of times at the Hayride and where Crow was able to conceptualize the spooky stuff, West was able to make it work.
“We can’t afford so much as a tourist getting a splinter this season, John,” Crow said.
“Okay, buddy, I hear you. Leave it to me.” And Crow was content to do just that.
By the time Crow finished with all of the Festival matters, it was midafternoon and he was waiting on Mike. Before things went to hell on Little Halloween, Crow had been teaching Mike some jujutsu. Not the deeper secrets or the more esoteric aspects of the art—just the hard-core take-no-prisoners hand-to-hand stuff. Mike had been reluctant to study, largely because it made him confront, however obliquely, the fact that Vic was abusing him. Crow knew about it, but Mike would not be drawn into an open discussion on the subject. He did, however, start training, and Crow was impressed with his progress. The kid had a real talent for it, and he picked up the moves extremely quickly, something Crow attributed to genuine motivation. He looked at the wall clock. Mike was supposed to come in early today so they could pick up where they left off, but the kid was more than fifteen minutes late.
A knot of middle-school kids came in to buy Halloween costumes and by the time Crow had helped them make their judicious selections Mike was there. He wandered into the store as silent as a ghost, looking pale and worn.
“You okay, young Jedi?” Crow asked as the kids left.
Mike shrugged. “Sorry I’m late.”
When Mike was like this Crow knew that something bad had happened at home. There were no visible bruises on Mike’s face, though, and he didn’t wince as he walked over and dumped his backpack behind the counter. Crow looked at the clock. “You up for a little backyard Fight Club?” he asked, expecting Mike to say no.
But Mike surprised him. Straightening from behind the counter, Mike gave him a long, steely look. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I could really use that.”
Crow closed the shop for an hour and they went out through his apartment into the yard. Crow took him through some warm-ups and stretches, and Mike followed along, silent and intense. He did his bends and reaches, his twists and reps, matching Crow and keeping up without effort.
Either I’m getting old or he’s getting better, Crow thought as they did side-by-side push-ups. The boy’s body went up and down, straight as a board, with no more than a small grunt of effort with each push away from the ground.
“Let’s start with some evasions,” Crow said as they got to their feet. “I’ll throw some punches and kicks and you just evade them. Block only if you can’t slip the shot, okay?”
Mike nodded and settled into the defensive crouch Crow had shown him: weight on the balls of the feet and evenly distributed, knees slightly bent, the whole body springy, hands raised but loose. Crow began prowling a slow circle around him, watching as the boy turned to keep his body angled away to protect belly, throat, and groin. Crow faked a punch and Mike twitched his head back—but it wasn’t the frightened-rabbit flinch Mike typically did when he was surprised; this was a classic boxing slip. That was a good sign.
He threw a looping right at about half speed and Mike just stepped back away from it as if he’d seen it coming yesterday. Okay, fair enough, Crow thought and dialed it up a bit. He added more speed to his punches and kept the arcs and lines of each blow shorter, still deliberately leading with his shoulder to give Mike a chance, but doing that less and less as Mike slipped and bobbed away or under each hit. Crow faked a jab-overhand right combination and then pivoted to throw a roundhouse kick that missed Mike’s hip by an inch as the boy spun away. Without putting his leg down Crow shuffled sideways on one foot and fired three more roundkicks, chasing Mike across the yard. Only the last one tagged him, and even then Mike blocked most of it with his elbow.
Crow grinned at Mike and gave him a thumbs-up for that, but Mike’s face was a mask. There was sweat on his face and in the glare of the late afternoon sunlight the kid’s eyes looked funny. Almost red.
They moved like that for five more minutes and then Crow stepped back, palms up and out. Out of nearly a hundred attempted kicks and punches he tapped Mike only eight times. Even though Crow was not going at full speed or power it was exceptional, and Crow said so.
Mike just made a face and shook his head. “That means you hit me eight times. It’s not the ones you evade, it’s the ones you don’t that matter.”
“What jackass told you that?”
“You did, the first day we worked out.”
“You shouldn’t listen to strangers, Mike.” That got a tiny flicker of an artificial smile. “Okay,” Crow said, turning to get some padded mitts from his equipment bag. “Let’s see how you like hitting back.” He fitted on two gloves that had thick flat foam pads covered in black leather. “I’ll move around, changing the position and angle of the targets. You hit and kick them as many times as you can. Don’t worry about power—concentrate on speed—and don’t let up, even if I back off. When you’re winning a fight you press the attack until your opponent is down. Fighters who get a good one in and then step back like good sports to give their opponents a chance to collect himself deserve to lose the fight.”
“No mercy,” Mike said under his breath.
“Well…I’m not sure I’d go as far as that. Let’s just call it the will to win.”
“Whatever.” Mike raised his hands and began moving forward before Crow even had his pads up.
Mike’s fists slammed into the pads before he could finish, and even through the thick pad Crow could feel the brutal power of the blows. Hard. Much too hard for the weight and muscle Mike carried. As they moved Crow watched the boy’s hips and legs and feet, and he saw that on each punch he was shifting his weight and torqueing his hips to put body weight behind each blow, and the speed gave each shot more foot-pounds of impact. It was right, it was perfect; and Crow was not really sure he had ever shown Mike how to do that.
Mike hit without a sound except for his fists and palms and elbows slamming into the targets. His face was bright with exertion and sweat, and all the while his upper lip was curled back away from his teeth in a feral snarl of hate.
Jesus Christ, Crow thought, this kid is in hell.
It became a busy night in the store and Crow never found a good moment to talk to Mike, and as the evening wore on the boy seemed more and more like his old affable and comfortably geeky self. Crow let it go.
At closing, Crow and Mike parted with a few jokes and with that it felt easier, more like normal. Mike rode his bike away through the tourist traffic as Crow locked up and shut off the lights. Val tapped on the door just as Crow was heading back to his apartment and he let her in. They kissed in the doorway and then walked hand in hand back to the apartment.
“How was your day?
“We have the memorial all set for Friday night. The Rotary wanted to host it, so we’ll be using their hall, and the college asked if they could cater it.”
“Nice of them.”
“Mark had a lot of friends,” Val said. “Everyone wants to make a gesture.”
“How are you with all of this?”
Val shrugged. “Better than I thought I’d be. I stuffed my purse with tissues thinking it was going to be that kind of a day, but I didn’t use a single one. Now, Sarah, on the other hand…she pretty much cleaned me out.”
“Yeah, she looked pretty rocky.”
Val sank down on the couch. “She’s keeping it together, but only just. No change at all with Terry.”
“I know, I spoke to Saul a couple of times today.”
They sat with those thoughts for a while. Val broke the silence by saying, “Twelve days.”
He looked at her. “What?”
“Newton’s folklorist friend will be here on the twenty-ninth. Then we can find out what we have to do to put Mark to rest. The thought of him just lying there in that drawer…” She shivered.
“I know, but we’ll have to be pretty careful with how we ask her. Just ’cause she’s a folklore professor doesn’t mean she believes any of this.”
Val nodded. “We’ll be careful, but I intend to find out one way or another.”
“I’ll look through my books again tonight when Newt gets here. Maybe there’s something I missed.”
“You looked, honey. Newton looked. I looked, too. It’s not there. Your stuff, good as it is, is mostly the pop-culture version of folklore. We need to go a lot deeper than that.”
The doorbell rang. “That’s him.”
Crow let Newton in. The little reporter, looking seedier and more haggard than ever, slumped down into a chair and set a bag down between his sneakered feet. The contents of the bag clinked. Crow knew that sound and came to point like a bird-dog.
Val beat him to the punch. “Newt…you do know Crow doesn’t drink.”
Newton gave her a bleary stare that for once was neither deferential nor accommodating. “I do,” he said, and reached down into the bag and brought out a longneck bottle of Hop Devil, twisted off the cap, and drank about half of it down. “And, don’t bother getting mad at me…I didn’t bring it to share.” True to his word, he did not offer one to her.
Val opened her mouth to say something, but Crow touched her arm and shook his head.