Friday, May 9, 2008

BIG MONEY, Chapter 40

He is liking the drive very much. The big rented Buick surges up and down these green hills, no effort for the big V-eight engine, or the tight steering.

Max spots the hand-painted sign only as he’s whizzing by, much too late to stop. Though quickly making his decision to go back, he must still drive over a mile before finding a turnaround.

Back to those three children and their offensive sign.

Is nice day in the Pennsylvania country. Cool, but with a bright blue sky and pine-washed air Jerry said comes from Canada. The budding crooked oak trees and the rolling hills remind Max of semi-wooded land around Budapest. With the car windows down, the clean air blowing, even the wet-earth smell is same.

Max stops the car on a dirt pull-off. He squeezes from the driver’s seat, then stands a moment to cough at a dust cloud before approaching the kids and their sign. Kids’ eyes get bigger and bigger as Max walks toward them.

The boy with crewcut hair and big hands is surely the oldest. The two girls might be his sisters. All of the kids are blond with blue eyes, all staring at Max like he was Papa come to hit them with a stick. Kids all the same.

“You want a kitten, mister?” the boy says.

The boy stands up to face Max. His younger sisters stay in their beach chairs, beat-up aluminum frames with green and white plastic strips for cushions. Lawn chairs, Jerry calls them. Is early spring, still pretty cold for beach chairs.

“How many cats you have?” Max says.

“Six. All of them two weeks old.”

“Fluffy had babies,” the youngest girl says.

The crewcut boy looks very worried about Max’s size and strange accent, scared maybe he’ll have to protect his sisters if Max turns out to be a creepy sex pervert. Max is used to this reaction, especially from children. He stretches his mouth and cheeks into a maximum smile. Maybe showing his crooked front teeth.

“Is lucky day for Max,” he says. “I have exactly six nieces and nephews. They’re waiting now for presents from Uncle Max. I need a cat for each.”

“You want them all?” the boy says.

“Yes. You are smart boy. Is exactly what I want. Six kittens for six nieces and nephew.”

The boy glances at his sisters, then down at the black-and-white spotted smelly little cats. Squirming like cockroaches.

“Six kittens might be too much for one person, mister,” the boy says. “We want them to have happy homes.”

Max pulls from his pocket the Timberland wallet Jerry gave him last year for Christmas and slips out a one-hundred-dollar bill. Max knows he could just grab box of cats and walk away, but he sees no reason to upset these children. Not job, like other thing.

Max sticks out hundred-dollar bill for the boy to take. “Is cold day, and children like you must have happier things for doing than to stand here. Let me make my niece and nephews happy. They like kittens, will take home to four different houses.”

The crewcut boy is finally interested in something other than Max’s size and shape. His gaze focuses on the money. One hundred is many dollars for a child so young.

“You’re sure they’ll have a good home?” the boy says.

“Nieces and nephews love little cats,” Max says. “They take very good care.”

Max opens the Lincoln’s trunk, blocking the children’s line of sight, and then dumps smelly cats into an empty burlap bag. Lucky thing he brought extras, although for first time in hour, little girl in first burlap bag completely quiet and still.

Max pokes her leg, checking to see if she’s alive. A low whimper gives Max his answer.

Eighteen miles away from where he bought the smelly cats, Max sees the river and the bridge he’s approaching will be a good place.

Max steers the Lincoln off the highway when he can, works the big car down dirt roads to the base of the steel and cement bridge. The big river is fast and smooth on this side, right away deep. Plus there are lots of heavy round stones to put in burlap bag.

He parks, oozes himself out into the chilly river air. Sky is orange and gold with evening. The water smells dirty, like mud and old car tires. Birds squawking somewhere. Crows maybe. Or jays.

Max opens the trunk.

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