By Franklin Klavon

SCOTT BOSS DROVE north on the interstate with his son toward Freeville Lake Fairgrounds. The five-year-old sat in the front seat, cuddled close to his father’s side. Desolate evergreen forests and swamps rolled by on both sides of the road, and blue sky promised mild weather. Easy FM, barely audible over the air conditioner, played on the radio.

“Dad, is Mom going to the carnival with us?” Dale looked up at his father.

“Yes, she is. She’s coming home with us, too.”

Shelly Boss had been away all week, visiting her father in Grove, while Scott took vacation time off work and stayed home with Dale. It had been a father—son week of cartoons, baseball, and fishing. The family would soon reunite in Freeville, enjoy a late breakfast at Freeville Café, go to the beach and carnival, and then return to their home in Dunlin that evening.

“I like your new car, Dad.”

“So do I.” Scott checked the rearview mirror and reached up to make a slight adjustment. They were driving a 1985 Lincoln, a month old, and it still had the paper floor mats to keep dirt off the carpet. The white leather interior smelled new. Dale’s foot had kicked the dashboard as he climbed in earlier, leaving a grey dirt mark. Scott reached toward the scuff and brushed it clean.

Traffic slowed down. Up ahead on the right shoulder, a rusty orange Buick leaned toward the ditch, jacked up with a flat tire. The Buick’s doors were green, the original orange ones having been swapped out with those of a green model. Five people stood behind the car. A lady held two children out of traffic, and a few yards past the old wreck, a wiry, middle-aged man in a mesh shirt held his thumb out to hitch a ride.

All the traffic veered left and drove past. Dale, too small to see over the dashboard, craned his neck to peek out the window. I should help them out. Scott pulled the car over. The hitchhiker trotted up as Scott lowered the back, right power window. “Hop in back,” he told the man. “I’ll give you a lift to a telephone.” But the hitchhiker didn’t hop in back. Instead, he opened the front door, climbed in, and sat next to Dale.

Scott checked traffic and pulled back on the road. “Spare tire flat?” he asked as he brought the shiny black Lincoln up to speed.

“Huh?” said the man. “Hell, I don’t know. I was just walking past and stopped to help jack it up.” The sharp smell of whisky emanated from his breath. Dale scooched close to his father.

“So you aren’t with the people in the orange car?” Scott looked at the hitchhiker. The man’s legs were spread wide, his filthy jeans touching Dale. His hands were chapped, his fingers clasped between his legs. The paper floor mat had scrunched up when he climbed in, and his greasy shoes were on the white carpet. Dale looked at the stranger curiously.

“What did you ask?” The hitchhiker spoke with a gruff voice.

“You aren’t with the people in the orange car?” Scott repeated.

“Hell no!” He coughed. “I don’t know those losers.”

Scott suddenly remembered all the good advice he’d been given in his life, particularly by his own mother, forewarning of the dangers of picking up hitchhikers. “I’ll drop you off at the next exit. I think it’s Raider Road. There’s a gas station.”

“Where’re you guys heading?”

“We’re going to Freeville,” said Scott.

“I’ll go to Freeville too.” The hitchhiker searched his door for the power window button and lowered the window. He hacked up cigarette tar, and spat. Turbulent air whistled past as he raised the window partway and pulled a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his pocket. He reached in front of Dale and pushed in the cigarette lighter.

“No smoking in the car, please.” Scott glanced at the stranger.

“Have a heart, man!” He stuck a cigarette in his mouth. “I’ve been jacking on that car. I think I’ve earned it.” He lit up. “What’s your boy’s name?”

“My name’s Dale.”

“Hi, Dale. I’m Roy.”

“Hi.” Dale looked down at his own feet.

“What’s your dad’s name?”

“Scott.” Dale coughed from the smoke.

Roy put the cigarette in his mouth and reached over to Scott. They shook hands. “Glad to meet you.”

“Where’re you from?” asked Scott.

“New Hampshire, originally. Now, anywhere and everywhere.”

Shredded rubber from a truck tire littered the right lane of the highway. Black skid marks streaked across the pavement. Scott steered clear and looked at his watch. It was an hour drive between Dunlin and Freeville. The turnoff for Raider Road was just ahead. He let off the gas to exit, his heart pounding, knowing Roy expected to be dropped off in Freeville. Both men watched the exit sign approach, but Scott, not wanting to anger the hitchhiker, stayed on the highway. “I’ll take you to Freeville,” he said, “and let you off at the truck stop.”

Roy cracked his knuckles, shifted in his seat, and looked down at Dale. “What’s your mommy’s name?”

“Shelly.”

“Is she pretty?”

Dale shrugged.

Roy laughed loud. “I’ll bet she is.” He laughed again, puffed the cigarette one last time, and pushed the butt out the window crack. He closed the window. Inside, it got quiet.

Dale looked at Roy. “Mommy’s at grandpa’s.”

“Is that so?” Roy patted Dale’s head and ruffled his blond hair. “I haven’t seen my grandfather in years. He’s an old, old man. I’m trying to get up some money to go back to New Hampshire, where he lives.” Roy looked over at Scott. “I only need a hundred more for a bus ticket.”

Scott watched Roy out of the corner of his eye. Roy was lean and muscular, like he’d been digging ditches and breaking rocks in jail all his life. They were about the same size. Could I take him if he tried to hijack the car?

“Yesterday at night, we saw a star falling.” Dale pointed with his finger and made an arc in the air.

“It was a shooting star,” corrected Scott.

“Yeah, I saw lots. They came from a Perseid meteor shower.” Roy cleared his throat. “Nickel-iron fragments from the comet Swift–Tuttle. They were burning up in the atmosphere, falling to earth 45,000 mph.”

Chubby’s Truck Stop, 1 mile, said the billboard. Scott pulled off the interstate at the Freeville exit, turned right, and pulled into the parking lot at Chubby’s. He stopped the car at the back of the gravel lot. “Okay, partner, glad to be of service.”

“Have you guys had your breakfast yet?” Roy patted his belly. “C’mon in Chubby’s with me, and I’ll buy you ham and eggs. It’s the least I can do.”

“No thanks,” said Scott.

“Would you like a pancake?” Roy asked Dale. “It looks like your boy could use a pancake, Scott.”

“We’re having breakfast with Mommy,” said Dale.

“Oh?” said Roy. “Where?”

Dale looked up at his father to provide an answer.

Roy felt around in his pockets as if searching for his wallet. “Damn,” he said, “I must’ve lost my billfold jacking up that flat tire. Can I borrow a twenty, Scott? I could sure use breakfast and a hot coffee.” Scott didn’t reply. “You know I’m good for it, buddy. I’ll mail it right back as soon as I get to New Hampshire.”

“We’re going to the carnival.” Dale said to Roy.

“You are?” said Roy. “Maybe I’ll see you there. I work at the carnival.” He pulled out a bent cigarette, put it in his mouth, and crumpled the empty pack. He dropped it on the floor and sat there rigid, looking straight ahead, chapped hands on his knees.

“Do not light that cigarette!” Scott’s face turned red. “And get out of the car.” Again he smelled the liquor on Roy, who gave no indication that he planned on parting ways without first collecting the twenty bucks. Just give the bum the money, he thought. It’s a small price to pay to never cross paths with him again. Scott dug through his wallet and held out a twenty-dollar bill. “Here you go.”

Roy took the twenty with one hand and opened the door with the other, all in one motion. “See you around.” He climbed out of the car and headed across the parking lot toward the café at Chubby’s Truck Stop.

“I’d like to teach that clown a lesson.” Scott shook his head. “Boozed up at nine in the morning. Never pick up a hitchhiker.” He pulled out of the parking lot and glanced over his right shoulder at Roy, who was talking to an old couple outside of their car. “Okay, tiger, let’s find your mommy.”

Freeville Café was five miles east of the interstate among restaurants and plazas flanking both sides of Freeville Lake Road. Scott thought about the peril he had put his young son in by inviting a stranger, worse yet one intoxicated, into the car. That was stupid. Hopefully, Dale wouldn’t mention the hitchhiker to his mother. That would incur rebuke from Shelly.

A station wagon with a big inner tube tied to the roof drove past, then a pickup camper pulling a speedboat. Dale’s looking forward to the beach and the carnival, thought Scott, and he’ll likely never think of Roy again. But then he remembered what Roy had said about working at the carnival. Scott shook his head. Who knew if he was telling the truth or not? Guys like him are pathological liars. One thing for sure, if Roy did work at the carnival, they’d likely bump into him again. Freeville was not a big town.

Shelly turned and smiled at Scott when he pulled in the café lot and parked next to her. She grabbed her purse and swung open her car door, careful not to hit Scott’s door. “There’s Mommy.” Scott unbuckled Dale’s seat belt. Shelly was in her late twenties, slender, with long dark hair. They had married right out of college. She and Scott, both civil engineers, worked at the same consulting firm. They owned a big house in Dunlin five miles from the main office.

Dale climbed up on the seat and tapped on the passenger window. “Hi, Mommy.” Scott winced at the greasy handprints smeared on the glass and yanked Dale out through the driver’s door. The family hugged in the parking lot.

Shelly groaned when she lifted up Dale, who felt extra heavy. “What’s Daddy been feeding you, donuts?”

“Daddy picked up a hitchhiker,” said Dale.

“Oh?” Shelly gave Scott a sideways glance. “Hitchhiker, eh?” She and Scott kissed.

Inside, a pregnant waitress, who looked about eighteen, served water and passed out the menus. “What do you want for breakfast, sweetie?” Shelly kissed Dale’s forehead.

“I look like I could use a pancake.” Dale repeated what Roy had said. Shelly laughed, and Scott laughed uneasily. Dale traced a maze with a blue crayon on his placemat for kids.

The waitress came back with coffee, and Shelly ordered a pancake for Dale and waffles with strawberries. “Just rye toast for me,” Scott told the girl, her belly like a watermelon, her apron smudged with food.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Shelly touched Scott’s hand. “No ham and eggs today?” Scott didn’t reply as he tore open a sugar packet and sprinkled it in his coffee. It irked him that Roy had guessed his favorite breakfast. “Tell me about the hitchhiker,” she said.

He exhaled an exasperated breath, glanced sharply at Dale, and reassured his wife the man had been nothing to worry about, just some guy with a flat tire who needed a lift to the gas station. “How’s Nick?” he asked about Shelly’s father, wanting to change the subject.

“Oh, grumpy as always. But he’s always happy to see me.”

“Roy was boozed up at nine in the morning,” Dale announced to his mother.

“Who’s Roy?” asked Shelly.

“The hitchhiker!” exclaimed Dale. Shelly narrowed her eyes at Scott and shook her head.

After breakfast, outside at the cars, the family confirmed their plans for the beach and the carnival. “I’ll follow you to the lake,” Shelly told Scott. “Do you want to ride with Mommy or Daddy?” she asked Dale. The boy clung to Shelly’s leg, indicating Mommy.

Just then, on the four-lane, the orange Buick drove past Freeville Café. Dale pointed at the saggy clunker with green doors. “There’s that car,” he said to his father as they watched it go down the road. The back of the Buick rode so low to the ground that the tailpipe dragged and sparked underneath as it bounced over a bump.

“They must’ve got their tire fixed,” said Scott.

“So it seems,” Shelly observed.

Ten minutes later, they were at Freeville Lake. Scott pulled beach toys, towels, a cooler, and a lawn chair from his trunk. Shelly and Dale went to the bathhouse and changed into their swim suits. Scott headed to the shore, but not too close to the water, which smelled like seaweed. He set up his chair, and spread a blanket in the sand. Shelly and Dale came from the bathhouse, deposited their clothes on the beach blanket, and headed to the water.

“You sure you don’t want to wade in the lake with us?” Shelly asked Scott. He was already comfortable on the lawn chair with a bottle of red pop and a hotrod magazine.

He rubbed sunscreen on his nose and put on his sunglasses. “No thanks. I’ll watch from here.”

Dale ran toward the lake and splashed in knee-deep water as Shelly, in a brown bikini, waded close by. “Is she pretty?” Scott brooded about what Roy had said. None of your damn business, grease ball. He imagined punching Roy in the face.

The midday sun reddened Scott’s shoulders as he flipped through the magazine. His thoughts once again returned to Roy and the way the hitchhiker had bullied him for the twenty dollars. At least I did the right thing, he decided. Roy obviously needed the money more than me.

At the edge of the water, Dale sat in the sand with a toy shovel and pail as Shelly lay on a towel. Scott watched from afar and looked around at the other beachgoers. The shoreline was filling up. He felt sleepy and nodded off, and a deerfly bit his ankle and startled him awake. He scratched the bug bite and glanced toward the beach. A man with a straw hat stood at the edge of the lake, gesturing with his hands as he talked to Shelly and Dale. He was much taller than Shelly, and he wore jeans and didn’t wear a shirt. Scott squinted then jumped to his feet. It was Roy.

You bastard, Scott clenched his fists. Get the hell away from my wife and kid. His first impulse was to “rescue” his family, but he was in no hurry to see Roy again. Shelly stood next to Dale with her hand on his shoulder. Just wait and watch, Scott decided, he’ll be gone in a minute. Finally he’d waited long enough and headed across the hot sand.

Scott came up behind Shelly and put his arm around her. “Howdy, Scott.” Roy nodded. Shelly glanced at Scott. “Your husband’s a good man,” Roy said to Shelly. She looked at Scott again and smiled.

Roy had a skull tattoo on his left shoulder. He was slightly taller than Scott and a bit older, maybe late thirties. His boots caught the higher waves off the lake and had gotten wet above the heels. Scott could see the outline of a flat whisky bottle in Roy’s jeans. Roy pulled a pack of gum from his pocket and offered a stick to Dale. “There you go, little dude.”

Dale glanced at his father, unsure if it was okay to accept candy from the stranger, then reached for the gum. “Thank you.” He unwrapped the foil and put the stick in his mouth.

“Well, I should get.” Roy fluffed Dale’s hair.

“Bye,” said Dale.

Roy offered to shake hands with Scott, and Scott reluctantly brought his arm out from around Shelly’s waist.

“Take care, buddy.” Roy clenched Scott’s grip.

“Adios.” Scott clamped down on Roy’s hand.

“Enjoy your weekend, folks.” Roy touched the brim of his hat to Shelly then turned and headed down the beach. The Bosses watched him go.

“So that’s Roy.” Shelly shook her head. “He’s a strange one.”

“He stinks like pee,” said Dale.

“What kind of nonsense was he throwing at you?” Scott brought Dale close to his side.

“Oh, he asked about my father.” Shelly smiled in spite of herself. “He said his father died years ago, and after the burial he started drinking and lost his job at NASA.” They both laughed. Shelly said, “He told me he has a doctorate in physics and an IQ of 140.”

“So he’s a certified genius.” Scott rolled his eyes. “I should’ve known by the mutton-chop sideburns.”

“He likes Mommy’s bathing suit,” Dale spoke up.

“I’ll bet he does,” said Scott. “I’ll bet he does.”

Back at the cars, the Bosses loaded up the beach gear. They drove both cars to Freeville Carnival on the south shore of Freeville Lake. The parking lot was on a hill overlooking the lake, and the fairground lay on the far side of a narrow strip of woods.

The Ferris wheel turned slowly, barely visible over the treetops. Music blared out of loudspeakers, and kids screamed on the roller coaster. Dale looked around wide-eyed, holding hands between both parents. A whiff of fair food drifted in the air, and seagulls picked at the ground. The aroma of cow manure wafted from animal barns.

The sounds of gunshots from shooting games and bells and buzzers had Scott looking in that direction since he wanted to win a stuffed animal for Dale. Scott had won a stuffed tiger for Shelly at the Dunlin County Fair on their first date ten years before. That was on the high-striker game, and Scott, a weight lifter in high school, was determined to impress his son today with his strength, swinging the big hammer. He kept a look out for the game.

The family headed to the midway, and Shelly and Dale rode the merry-go-round. Scott took their picture as they circled past, Shelly holding Dale on a silver stallion, blue cotton candy stuck to Dale’s face. Dale won a rubber spider at the duck pond, but cried because he wanted to keep the toy duck he’d pulled from the bubbly water. Scott rode the bumper cars. Shelly went in a maze of mirrors. They took a break, bought French fries and hotdogs, and ate at a picnic table.

“Test your strength!” Scott heard in the distance. “Ring the bell and win a prize!” said the man over the loudspeaker. Scott’s ears perked up. The Bosses finished their dogs and dipped their fries in ketchup and gurgled through straws the last drops of icy lemonade. They hurried past a spook house to the high-striker game, where a big crowd had gathered. The carney on the microphone heckled a contestant: “C’mon, you sissy. My granny can do better than that!” Scott bought a ticket at the ticket stand and stood in line with Shelly and Dale.

“Another cream puff bites the dust.” The carnival barker broadcasted over the loudspeaker after a burly man swung the hammer three times and fell short of the bell every time.

“That guy on the microphone’s a jerk,” said Shelly as they listened to his taunts.

“They just say that stuff to scare up business.” Scott took off his Hawaiian shirt and gave it to Shelly. “He’s only doing his job.” He flexed, and stretched his muscles as the line advanced. “Daddy’s going to win you a tiger,” he told Dale.

“A bear,” said Dale.

“Okay, a bear.” Scott laughed.

People pressed in close to watch. Scott tried to get a better look at the big prizes hanging in the prize booth as he warmed up, crisscrossing both arms in front of his chest and rolling his shoulders. “You look good, honey.” Shelly admired her husband in cargo shorts and no shirt. The line crept forward, but nobody could seem to ring the bell.

“Old lady!” shouted the carney at the next failed contestant.

Shelly shook her head. “What a jerk.”

“It’s all right,” reassured Scott. “I’m sure he’s a nice guy just trying to earn a living.”

Scott’s turn was up next. He finally got to the front of the line and could clearly see the hammer blows on the lever, the puck climbing the tower, and the bell, which had yet to be tolled. A girl dressed as a harlequin with pigtails took his ticket. In the prize booth, holding a microphone, stood Roy, his gravely voice echoing through the loudspeaker. He wore reflective sunglasses, and his greasy hair curled out from underneath a straw cowboy hat.

Scott’s heart lurched. “Look!” He pulled Shelly’s arm. Shelly and Dale looked at Roy, and Roy, never missing an insult, waved at the Bosses.

“Maybe you should go home and play Barbie dolls,” Roy teased the big guy who failed to ring the bell right before Scott’s turn. The crowd laughed. The guy walked off shaking his head, laughing.

Scott took off his watch, put it in his pocket, and turned to Shelly. “Time to show these clowns how it’s done.”

“Ladies and gents, here comes Tarzan the Ape Man,” Roy announced as Scott stepped forward in camouflage shorts. “Look at those muscles, folks. I’d hate to lock horns with that guy.” Scott approached the tower and spit on his hands. He rubbed them together and took up the hammer.

“Three swings for a buck, Tarzan,” said Roy. “Three bells will get you the big stuffed tiger.”

Slow backswing, Scott reminded himself. He planted his feet, inhaled deeply, and swung the hammer. It clunked on the lever off center. The puck rose halfway up the tower, stopped, and dropped down.

“Hey, Tarzan,” badgered Roy, “maybe you ought to let your girl take a swing.” The crowd laughed.

You missed the mark, idiot, Scott berated himself. Once again, he gripped the hammer and smashed down with all his might. The puck went knee high and fell back down. The gathering spectators roared with laughter.

“We got a real Boy Scout here, folks,” blasted Roy.

Scott jerked the hammer up and swung fast and angry. The big sledge hit the mark, but the puck barely moved an inch. Scott dropped the hammer, walked off, and pushed Shelly and Dale in front of him as they weaved through the crowd. “It’s rigged,” he grumbled.

“Don’t go away mad, Tarzan.” Roy’s harassment blared through the loudspeaker. “Bring Jane up here.” Again there was laughter.

The Bosses stopped beyond the crowd, and Scott put on his shirt. “Don’t you have a blouse to wear?” he snapped at Shelly, who was still in her bathing suit top with a pair of cutoffs.

“I thought you liked the way I looked.” Her face turned red. “Where’s my bear?” asked Dale.

They went to the animal barns and looked at horses and cows, pigs and chickens. They saw goats and rabbits. Shelly and Dale held hands while Scott sulked a few steps behind. They stopped at a tent with caged deer, and Dale fed kernel corn through the fence as a deer licked his hand.

“Let’s get a snack before we head home,” Scott said. At the food wagons, they sat down near a fountain and had ice cream cones. Dale cried because he wanted a candy apple.

“Somebody needs a nap,” said Shelly. Scott picked up Dale and carried him piggyback on his shoulders as the Bosses departed the fairground.

The footpath to the parking lot snaked through a pine woods and up a sandy hill. Scott’s and Shelly’s cars were parked near the back of the lot, where it was mostly empty. As they approached, however, Scott could see another car parked next to his on the far side. It backed out slowly. The driver cut the wheel, and the power steering belt squealed. Oily smoke puffed out from underneath.

The lot’s almost empty, thought Scott. Why would somebody park next to my car? He lifted Dale off his shoulders as they waited for it to pass.

“Look!” Dale pointed at the smoky car. It was the cursed orange Buick with green doors. The front bumper scraped Scott’s fender, and the Lincoln trembled. The driver paused to shift gears. He was about sixty, unshaven, and grinning with missing teeth. His hairy arm hung out the open window. Scott crossed quickly behind the Boss’s two cars and could see his back left fender had a skid mark from the rubber strip on the Buick’s bumper. “You scraped my fender!” he shouted at the man.

“To hell you say.” The driver jammed it in park, got out, and looked at the scuff mark. “You need to learn how to park, mister.” He pointed at Scott’s tires, which were outside the faded yellow line dividing the parking spots.

“Me?” shouted Scott. “There’s nobody on either side for twenty spaces, and you park an inch from my car!” Scott pointed out the vacant spaces as he ranted.

The old growler smirked. “Calm down, Tarzan.” He got back in the orange clunker, and slammed the door. A big yellow dog peeked his head out the window and bared his teeth at Scott. The man spoke to the enormous woman sitting next to him, and she shook her head and laughed. Kids looked out from the backseat.

Blankets and clothes were jammed up against the rear window of the car, and newspapers and letters covered the dashboard as if somebody had poured out a wastepaper basket. The Bosses stared at the beggarly people inside. They must be living in their car, thought Scott. Later, when it came back to him, he figured there must have been five or six people sandwiched in that wreck, plus the dog. The driver gave a cursory wave and drove across the lot.

The Boss family gathered around the assaulted fender, and Scott licked his finger and rubbed off the scuff mark. “Let’s go.”

In Freeville they bought gas. “I need to stop at the White Horse on the way home and pick up something for dinner,” Shelly told Scott at the Sunoco. The White Horse Food Mart was a mile before the Boss house in Dunlin. “How about salmon?”

“Okay.” Scott kissed Shelly. “Make it Cajun.”

Shelly and Dale followed Scott south on the interstate toward Dunlin. Scott thought about the high-striker and laughed to himself. It was definitely rigged. At Dunlin Road he exited the interstate and drove the two-lane highway west ten miles toward town. Shelly’s car followed a quarter mile back. Up ahead, three deer crossed the road. Scott tapped his brake, slowed down, and let the big doe and spotted fawns pass safely from woods to hayfield. Shelly caught up. A mile later, Scott came to a blinking yellow light and turned north toward home. Shelly pulled in at the White Horse grocery on the corner.

Rocky Meadow Lane circled the outside of Dunlin Golf Club. After several dips and small hills, sparsely populated with new homes, Scott turned right and drove up the Bosses’ long driveway. He parked in the offshoot spur halfway between the street and the garage, given that two of the three garage bays held a 1932 Ford and a seventeen-foot boat.

The house was of French provincial architecture, white brick, with five bedrooms and four baths. Scott glanced at the lush sod. The automatic sprinkler system, newly installed that spring, had been a long overdue necessity. Next summer, they had already decided, an in-ground swimming pool would go in the backyard.

Across the lane, light fog floated above the hollows of the golf course. A dove cooed on the power line. Scott opened the car trunk and piled the beach gear on the cement drive. He shook the sand from a crumpled beach towel and glanced down the lane toward Dunlin Road. A lone man on foot crested the nearest hill. At the end of Scott’s driveway, he turned toward the house. Scott licked his dry lips, closed the trunk lid and walked halfway to meet the intruder.

“Nice night.” Roy panted, his biker boots shuffling on the concrete. Scott glared out through narrowed eyes, his skin like taut rubber on his face. Hair prickled on the back of his neck. The west sky blazed red and dark blue behind Roy and made a silhouette of the man, who looked bigger than Scott had previously grasped, half a head taller and lean like a rattlesnake.

“May I help you?” Hot breath tasted like fire in Scott’s mouth.

“You may.” Roy approached a step closer. “I need six hundred dollars.” He wiped his lip with the back of his clenched fist. “My little girl caught a dog claw in the face, and she needs a glass eye.”

“I don’t believe you.” Scott stood so close he could’ve sucker punched Roy in the stomach. Neither moved a muscle until Roy lit a cigarette. Scott backed away, turned, and took a few steps to the edge of the driveway, never losing sight of this man he wanted to kill. He raked his sandal across the damp sod and looked down the lane toward the crest of the knoll. The street was empty. He glanced back at Roy. “I don’t have six hundred,” he finally said.

“Hah!” Roy laughed. “Liar. Let’s go in the house. We’ll find some money inside.”

Scott shook his head, unable to swallow, unable to speak. The house was still locked and the garage closed. Roy stepped between him and the Lincoln. Shelly and Dale would be pulling up the driveway any minute.

Roy spat. “Don’t make me lather your ass, Scott.” He turned away and gazed at the evening sky over the golf course. The cloud cover looked like a plowed field of orange dirt in the twilight. Roy seemed to forget himself. “Those altocumulus clouds are twenty thousand feet up. Just before dusk, light travels farthest through the atmosphere, and all the blue light is scattered.” He drew a small bottle from his back pocket, took a swig, and screwed on the cap. “That’s why sunsets are red.”

The golf course water jets sprinkled on the fairways. Scott glanced at the sky. If I give this mother fucker the money, maybe that’ll be the end of it. Maybe he’ll be gone before Shelly and Dale get back.

“You think you’re a victim, don’t you?” Roy kicked a stone across the driveway. “We’re all victims.” He flicked his cigarette in the wet sod and came toward Scott. “Let’s go in the house, Tarzan.”

Scott’s face turned red with hatred as he remembered being taunted at the high-striker game. “Go to hell.”

Roy came at him like thunder, and Scott braced himself to fend off a punch. But Roy stopped short and drew a deep breath. He lowered his fists. Scott trembled. Frogs chirped in the water hazard on the golf course. The sky glowed pale orange.

“590 billionths of a meter,” Roy said after a long pause, “that’s the wavelength of orange sunlight.” He nodded almost imperceptibly at Scott, turned, and trudged down the driveway.

At the foot of the drive, Roy whistled between his teeth as if calling a lost hound dog. A car crept over the hill through the wisps of fog, and Roy waved it in. The orange Buick with green doors stopped at the end of the driveway. Roy climbed in, and it rumbled off into the dusk.


Franklin Klavon has written a novel, Bubba Grey Action Figure, and a collection of short stories, Lemon Wine. His fiction has appeared in Brain, Child Magazine, at storychord.comverdadmagazine.orgschlock.co.ukaphelion-webzine.comredfez.net, and writingdisorder.com. In a previous life he played lead guitar for Bubba Grey and has produced five alternative rock compact discs. Mr. Klavon is an avid chess player and has a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan. For more, visit franklinklavon.com.