Authors: Edward Falco
This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2005 Edward Falco
All rights reserved.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced
in any form without permission.
Originally published as an Unbridled Books hardcover
First paperback edition, 2006.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Wolf Point / Edward Falco.
Hardcover edition ISBN 1-932961-08-9
Paperback edition ISBN 10: 1-932961-30-5
ISBN 13: 978-1-932961-30-0
1. Middle aged men—Fiction. 2. Life change events—Fiction.
3. Hitchhiking—Fiction. I. Title.
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Book Design by SH • CV
At age fifty-seven, dressed in faded blue jeans and a black cashmere sweater, with silver-gray hair and a lean, muscular build, T slowed down in his new Land Rover on Route 81 approaching Syracuse, New York. On the side of the road a pulp tableau coalesced: a young woman somewhere between eighteen and twenty-one in red leather pants over black boots and a white silk blouse opened three buttons down, with blond hair flying out from her head wild and wind blown and radiant in the horizontal light of late afternoon, put one foot up on a black guitar case and stuck out her arm in hitchhiker pose. Behind her, completing the warning image, the only-a-fool-would-stop vignette, an older, longhaired, black-leather-jacket-clad boy leaned back into the roadside foliage as if hoping he wouldn’t be noticed. T knew better than to stop, which was why he did, veering to the shoulder
and rolling past them as the girl trotted toward him, leaving the guy to pick up the guitar case and follow.
“This is funny,” he whispered to himself, encased in the as yet undisturbed atmosphere of his SUV. He twisted around in the driver’s seat just as the girl hesitated at the rear door. She bent down slightly to look into the front of the Rover, to check him out. Their eyes met and for an instant they held each other’s gaze. She might be twenty-one but more likely eighteen or nineteen. He’d have bet his Porsche, from that one look, that she had summed him up as one more concupiscent old guy, easily manipulated.
He pushed a button and all the Rover’s locks popped up. The girl flung open the rear door and then cheerfully got in the front and started undoing a series of laces on her boots. “My feet are killing me,” she said, the vowels of each word slightly elongated. Her boots rose up to midcalf so that she had to peel back the leather pants to undo the complicated crisscross of laces, folding herself over in a position that left him free to gaze unobserved at her mostly exposed breasts, a fact of which he understood she was totally aware. “I am so grateful you stopped,” she said, and abandoned her work for a moment to look his way with a radiant smile and touch his thigh lightly as a brief gesture of thanks before returning her attention to the laces. “I was so like no one was ever. I thought you’d all leave us out there till kingdom come.” Behind her the boy gently placed the guitar case in the back of the Rover. He took off his jacket, revealing a sweat-stained T-shirt. “This here’s my brother, Lester,” the girl said. “I’m Jenny. What’s your name?”
“T Aloysius Walker,” T said. “My business associates call me Tom Walker, my family and friends call me T, and no one at all calls me Aloysius, at least not to my face.” He put the Rover in gear and pulled out onto the highway. “Where are we going?”
“Anywhere away from here,” the boy said.
T saw that he was a good bit older than his first guess. “And where is here?” he asked.
“Tully. Tully, New York.” Jen pulled off her boots, having at length finally unlaced them. “You don’t mind, do you, T?” She held up a boot.
“Not at all. Make yourself comfortable.”
Lester leaned into the front seat. “Where you headed, Tom?”
T feigned concern with a sixteen-wheeler roaring toward him in the passing lane. He considered whether or not to tell them the truth—that he was heading toward the region of the Thousand Islands, though not toward any specific location. Several hours earlier, after another long night of restless sleep, awakening to the prospect of yet another empty day in Salem, Virginia, he had packed a suitcase thoughtlessly, throwing in whatever clothes were readily available, thrown the suitcase into the back of the Rover along with his camera gear, and started for the Thousand Islands with the vague ambition of taking pictures there.
Once the truck had passed, he looked up into the rearview again and found Lester looking back at him. His eyes were dark and his arms were spread over the back seat in a position
that accented his biceps, which were big enough not to need accenting.
“I’m just curious,” T said. “What do you use on your hair?”
Lester took a strand of hair between his thumb and forefinger, as if to confirm the turn in the conversation. He had thick, shoulder-length auburn hair that was so obviously styled it would have made him look feminine if it weren’t for the squared-off chin and cheekbones and the day’s growth of beard. “What do I use on my hair?” he repeated.
Jen said, “Sometimes Lester spends more time on his hair than I do.”
“That’s bullshit.” Lester looked up into the mirror. “My momma always said I had good hair. Ought to be proud of it.”
“God bless her,” Jen said. “That’s just like her.”
“She’s a good woman,” Lester said.
T nodded as if he were agreeing with something and then was quiet a while as he turned his attention back to the road, where the rolling hills of upstate New York slid slowly past while the sun continued falling toward the horizon. As if he might have an appointment, he glanced at the digital clock and temperature display on the dashboard. It was four o’clock, an unseasonably warm fall afternoon on the first Friday in October, 2002.
“Hey?” Jen broke the brief silence. She scratched his leg playfully with her toes. “Is it something we said?”
Lester added, “You’re lookin’ kind of down in the mouth there, bud.”
“You did us the favor of a ride,” Jen said. She jabbed at the air, as if an idea had just come to her. “We should cheer you up,” she said. “We should have a party.” She lifted herself slightly to look into the back seat. “Don’t you think, Les?”
“Party down,” Lester said.
T laughed, as if amused at the sudden rush of high spirits. “Where’d you two say you were from?” he asked. “You don’t sound like you’re from upstate New York.”
“We’re originally from Tennessee,” Jen answered quickly. “Our family just moved up here a few years ago.”
“Business move?” T asked. “Job?”
“You know,” Les said, leaning into the front again, “you never did answer my first question.”
“Which was?” T turned to find himself eye to eye with Lester. Up close, he smelled the faint ammoniac odor of sweat.
“Where you going? I asked you where you’re going.”
“Listen,” T said to Jen, “I’m sorry if I looked glum.” He touched her knee just for an instant, giving it a friendly pat.
Jen nudged Lester into the back seat and slid closer to T. She squeezed his thigh. “That’s all right,” she said. “We’ll cheer you up.”
“Where are you going, Ace?” Lester asked again.
Jen said, “Lighten up, Lester.” She studied T’s face a moment and then asked him gently, “Where are you heading, T?”
“Thousand Islands,” T said.
“Jesus H…” Lester flung his head back, as if addressing the sky.
“I told you,” Jen said, looking back. “I told you how things work. See?” She tucked her feet under her. “That’s where we’re going too,” she said to T. “That’s where we’re trying to get to.”
“So I guessed,” he said.
“No, really,” Jenny said. She grasped his arm and held it. “I have a relative’s got a cabin there, by Alexandria Bay, and that’s where we’re trying to get to.”
“That’s amazing,” T said. “Piece of luck.”
“Shit.” Jen turned to Lester. “He doesn’t believe us.”
Les spoke while yawning. “Who gives a fuck,” he said, the words coming out high-pitched and distorted.
“You’re a little out there,” she said to T. “I’ve got a feeling about you,” she added.
“Jenny,” Lester said. He sounded sleepy. “Don’t start fucking around.”
T snuck a quick look into the back seat and saw that Lester had stretched out on his side. His eyes were closed and his head was resting on pressed-together hands like a little boy taking a nap. T said to Jenny, “Are you fucking around?”
She gave him a bemused smile. “Let’s play a game,” she said.
Les moaned and whispered something indiscernible.
“What kind of game?” T asked.
“This is how we play.” She slid away from T, across the seat to the opposite side of the car, her feet still folded under her so that her knees were pointing at the steering wheel.
“Everybody gets to ask one question of somebody else, and that person has to tell the truth.”
“That’s so stupid,” Lester said, his voice less sleepy. “How in hell we supposed to know he’s telling the truth?”
“How’s he supposed to know we’re telling the truth?”
“Yeah,” Lester said. “But we’ll know if we are or aren’t.”
Jen closed her eyes as if she needed to be someplace different for just a moment.
“What?” Les sat up.
Jen said, “Try thinking about that for just a moment, Lester. Will you?” To T she said, “Play?”
T was in the passing lane behind a silver PT Cruiser, a car that looked to him as though it had been lifted from a cartoon strip. The Cruiser was attempting to pass a UPS truck by going approximately one mile per hour faster than the truck. He considered flashing his brights and then remembered he wasn’t going anyplace and was in no rush to get there.
“Okay,” he said. “How old are you?”
“Twenty-three,” she shot back.
“You are not.”
Les said, “She’s playing the game. That’s the truth.”
“Really?” T said.
“There’s got to be a little trust here,” Jen said. “I swear, I’m twenty-three. You want me to prove it?”
She looked twenty-three like he looked seventy. She had a young girl’s skin, unblemished by age: it vibrated good health;
it resonated youthful energy. On her face there wasn’t as much as a crease other than the soft brackets around her mouth that came from smiling and talking. He looked at her again, at the full lips and striking green eyes, at the semicircle of her eyebrows, which were thick and full, not unlike the unruly profusion of blond hair that framed her face and fell to her shoulder. There seemed to be no excess fat on her anywhere: her thighs and legs were hard, her stomach taut under the fabric of her blouse. Even her feet in their thin white socks looked like a little girl’s feet.
“Sorry,” he said. “But I’m afraid I’ll need some proof to believe you’re twenty-three. If you’d told me you were seventeen, I wouldn’t have blinked.”