TST (Tuesday’s Ride with Jim)

I’m at the Tahuya-Seaback-Tahuya Road Race near the Olympic Peninsula. It’s April, 2001. It’s misting cold rain. Jim is not here. My heart aches and it’s because I miss him. It’s been more than four years since I last saw my brother. I called everyone. No one knows where he’s at. Somewhere in the world he is lost and I wish only for his return.

The last I saw him was in Louisville, Ky. I was stationed nearby at Fort Knox. He followed me there after his Other Than Honorable Discharge from the Army. When my ETS paperwork came through I left for a civilian newspaper job in North Carolina. He stayed. Self-employed, building web sites, and then gone without a trace. Apartment, clothes, almost everything left behind. This wasn’t the first time Jim disappeared. It was the second. The first time was in twelfth grade. Gone three weeks from our home near Gainesville, Fla., he sent me a letter from Seattle. He said he wanted to see the Northwest for himself:

“…It’s amazing… Clean air… Mountains…  Well intentioned people… There is a bird here called the Steller’s Jay. It’s crested like a cardinal but with dark electric-blue plumage fading to a deeper and deeper black. They’re so smart. I saw three hopping around a loaf of bread at a city park in Portland full of tall conifers. Six big crows flew in and pushed them off but Steller’s Jays don’t back down. What they lacked in size they made up for in tenacity and planning. They were faster on the ground than the crows in the air and once they knew it the Steller’s Jays had a field day. The crows went insane chasing the Steller’s Jays who ran but wouldn’t leave the ground. They kept looping back picking off whole slices while the crows were still in the air. Then they’d fly to nearby trees to hide each piece. They did this until the loaf was gone. Any other bird would’ve given up. Out here I’ve learned not to give up and to always try. Don’t give up, brother. And always try. It’s beautiful out here in the world. You’ll come out and see it one day. Your friend and brother, Jim.”

I read it twice in Mrs. Plant’s first period English class and again in Algebra. I could hear his voice. It was the first time he’d ever called me brother. The first time he ever invited me out into the world. Where was he now? I wish I knew.

(On a hot spring day in the gated community of Rancho Santa Fe a young man in simple attire steps from a 1997 Dodge Caravan, destination stickers still on the passenger window, new car smell, temporary tags. A Top-10 pick that year by Car and Driver. He carries a note pad in the palm of his hand. He writes as he walks down the driveway to a mansion overlooking the city of San Diego. Elevation: high enough to snow.

A woman marches across the neighbor’s plush lawn holding a plate covered with foil. She is undocumented, Mexican, compact build, purposeful strides, a maid’s uniform, heavily accented speech. She calls out, “Yeem! Yeem!” But she means Jim. He stops, turns and smiles.

“They say you are leaving us,” she says.

“Yes. We should all be gone in the next three days starting tonight.”

“It is so sad.”

“Don’t be sad. New beginnings are happy times. This will be a much better situation for all of us.”

“I hope so. Your people have been so nice. Look, I bake you some cookies for the trip,” she says extending the plate.

“You are such a sweetheart.”

He takes the cookies through a garage with stacked bags of beans and rice pushed in a corner and into an expansive stainless steel kitchen where only a picnic table and two people sit in folding chairs. One is an old man. The other a young woman. Both with tightly cropped hair. They are working in front of computer screens. The old man looks up.

“Jim, I can’t get this image to work.”

Leaning over the old man’s shoulder, balancing the plate in the palm of his hand, the young man studies the screen and says, “You’re missing an equals sign in your H-ref.”

The old man types, saves, drags the document from the desktop to an IE icon and drops. A web page opens. The image appears.

“It’s always the simple stuff,” the old man says and then adds, “Hey, the alarm guy stopped by today. He turned everything off except the fire and carbon monoxide detectors. He said those are with a different company. He wrote the number down.”

The old man hands the young man a business card with a number on the back.

“Thanks. I’m sure Do will want me to turn that off as well. Speaking of Do, where is the Shooby Doobster?”

The young woman giggles. The old man smiles.

“Don’t let him hear you call him that.”)

We roll off the line and get up to speed. A pack of 75 mostly Northwest Pro 1-2s. Sixty-five miles lay ahead. Normally this is Kenny Williams race to win but there’s a couple guys here of note. One is Todd Littlehales. He’s a professional two-time national champion. I’ve never met a national champion who wasn’t at least bad ass. I’m pedaling next to him and I can sense his presence. A minute passes and I look over. He means business. He has a connection to his bike and its purpose that I can’t understand. I fade back five wheels, maybe six before I shake the feeling of inadequacy. I remind myself that he is not my competition today. I do understand though, he is one of the guys who will decide how hard this race is going to be.

We’re climbing. We’ve been climbing almost since the start. It’s shallow and I don’t notice until I see the first guy going backwards. Then another. They’re in over their heads. This is nothing like the hard part. Nothing like the steep pitches that make this race harrowing. But I’m fine. I’ve been fine lately. Tuesday was the fastest ever for me three times over Repeat Hill. And as I see two more guys going backwards I believe I can finish in the big group today. The big group today. There might be 20 guys in the big group today.

(An older gentleman stands in the Mansion’s backyard. He looks out over San Diego. His arms are crossed behind his waist. Dressed in white, he holds a Walkman. He’s almost always holding a Walkman. The headphones dangle around his neck. It’s another hot spring day and sweat rolls off his shaved head. His stubble is gray. He is slim. A runner’s build at 65-years-old. He is pensive. Sure of a decision but not its details. The young man walks up from behind.

“Do, how are you?”

“Jim, my son. I am happy but sad. You have been a part of us in some way for almost 10 years. Yet you are not coming?”

“No.”

“I trust our secrets are safe?”

“I have given my word.”

“I wish you would reconsider.”

“It’s enticing but I like it here for now,” the young man says.

“Here? This place is a hell hole. I wish you were joining us. We could use you. You’ve been right about so many things. HTML.”

“Pretty easy, isn’t it?”

“A trained chimp. It was true. But now we exceed our needs and a window of opportunity presents itself. I pray that you reconsider. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“I know but I’m going to have to pass. I’ll help with the transition but I won’t be making the trip.”

“I understand. Did you get your mini-van?”

“I did. Thank you,” the young man says turning to walk away.

“Oh and Jim. Could you see to it the carbon monoxide and fire alarms are turned off?

The young man takes his note pad out, “Consider it done.”)

I’m in the vacuum of the peloton now, descending off the first climb. It’s straight, shallow, non-technical. I’m coasting at more than 40 mph but it is not easy. The peloton is heaving like a city bus with a bad transmission. It started earlier when we crested the climb but it has gotten worse. Guys are overlapping wheels, charging the front like bulls. The speed is erratic. I’m funneling into a tighter and tighter space. Some kid’s derailleur is too close to the spokes of my front wheel. Brakes squeal. Mayhem. And then I hear it.

My peripheral sensory tunes up full. Somebody is screaming bloody murder behind and they stop midstream after smacking the pavement. At the point of impact the sound of equipment (like bottles of beer) and bodies (like sacks of dirt) hitting the blacktop radiate. A wood chipper inhaling riders without discrimination moves in my direction. I’m on the wrong side of an overlapped wheel. Someone pushes hard on my hip. I’m going down. I know it. I unclip from my pedal. And then the pushing stops and the guy on my hip slams the pavement with such force that I hear the wind expelled from his lungs. I swear I feel a warm gust hit the back of my calf.

And that feeling persists and everything else is quiet except for the hiss of skinny tires on moist asphalt. A third the field is all over the road behind me. It’s surreal. A relief. I take inventory. I have time to think. I am glad not to be in the group behind. They are far enough from the first climb so chasing is an endeavor they will surely undertake but it’s going to drive the strength from their legs. There can’t be too many guys back there who can afford to do that.

Littlehales? Williams? Were they behind me? I can’t remember. Where did I see them last? They could have easily slipped backwards without my notice. But slip backwards. These guys don’t slip backwards in regional races. They’re still near the front somewhere.

(Inside the mansion people are walking to the living room, quietly sitting on the floor. In total there are 40 souls. Before them Do stands. Headphones around his neck.

“Brothers and sisters, take a seat. This is a big day. The first wave moves out in 10 minutes and we will start this process. Tomorrow the second wave and the day after that, the third. On the third day we will all be together and working towards our higher purpose. In my hand I have a list of names belonging to those who will leave in the first wave. I will use your real names and it will be the last time you hear them.”

Do reads the list: “Thomas Nichols, Bonnie Nettles, Sherry O’Donnell…”)

It’s smooth going now. The crash was a catharsis, a reminder that not just glory but skin and bone are on the line here. Holly Hill is the first big climb. It’s about three kilometers in length. I can see it forming a ridgeline to my left. The first half of the race, the easy half, is done. We’re moving. Trucking even. Downhill left hander on Holly Hill Road coming up. I watch the front of the group barrel through the turn. I am halfway from the front when the chasers from the crash behind overtake our backend. Soon after, mayhem ensues. There are 10 guys from the group behind whose emotions are jacked from the chase and they are committed to finding the front of the race. For them, dropping down a gear is not an option. They are carrying their speed through the peloton. They’re looking over at each other, racing each other. It’s fucking crazy.

We’re through the left hand turn now and immediately onto Holly Hill. It’s like a Forest Service road. The wood line ends at the shoulder. Blacktop, chip sealed. There’s no yellow line and for about 300 meters there’s no yellow-line rule that I can discern. The road fills with riders. At the top of the first stair-step traffic is stopped on our left. Riders cut back in just before the flagger. It’s insane.

I am sitting on Kirt Willetts’s wheel. Not a bad place to be. He’s so small but boy can he climb. Jim held the leader’s jersey at the Vuelta a Costa in Columbia just after the Gulf War. He said the Columbian pros there, they looked like juniors, like little kids. He won the prologue and the next day the course was flat and he said he looked down on them and felt shame for pushing them off wheels in the crosswinds. He said they were childlike until you got close and saw they had the weathered faces of 30-year-old professional cyclists. He said people on the street, when he was wearing the jersey riding back to the hotel, they said to him, just wait for tomorrow. You just wait and see. You won’t be wearing that jersey.

And tomorrow came and it was the first climbing stage. There were three climbs. The first he had no problems riding at the front. The second was a little harder, but there he was, comfortable. A little ways up the third climb he began to realize the first two ascents were done at something like a warm-up pace. In nine kilometers the leaders took four minutes from him. The next day, the new race leader wouldn’t even acknowledge him.

Willett is my Columbian. He will roll out the red carpet to the front of this race or at least the most comfortable place my fitness will allow. In his Prime Alliance kit he is a lure and I am a dumb big mouth bass. By the time I realize he’s not taking the race seriously it’s too late. I’m on the right side of his wheel overlapped and he is pulling off gradually to the right and taking me with him. Guys are going around like we are glued to the pavement. He gets drilled in the ribs with an elbow. He’s done. He’s getting off his bike.

(Do announces the names and each member stands.

“… Sherry O’Donnell…”

A tall, slender woman, black hair, blue eyes climbs to her feet. Her smile is nervous. Like a child waiting for a ride at Disney World. She gazes over the heads of those seated below and then to Do. Her smile deepens and her shoulders relax. Her gaze is fixed on him until another name is read and another member stands, blocking her view. Her eyes wander across the faces seated below. She smiles at each one until she comes to the young man and then a frown and she looks away into an abyss.

Do is watching this. He has been aware of a relationship between these two for weeks. He knows because he’s felt it in himself and sees these feelings in the young man. He thought, after his castration, that feelings for worldly desires would go away and mostly they did, but Sherry is sweet, stunning, a goddess. He is protective, wary. She is not for this world but only after the voyage is complete. He wants her to himself.)

I’m off the back climbing Holly Hill. My decision to follow Willett has put me in a hole. The big group is 15 seconds ahead. There are five, maybe six guys in between and it looks like we’re going to catch most of them. I’m tired but I’m not tapped. I’m with another six guys. I’m 34-years-old. There’s a couple guys here my age who aren’t doing so well. They won’t make it. I can tell. Their posture. They’re chopping at the pedals. And it’s too bad. I know guys this age, if they’ve been racing a while, they know how to roll a rotating paceline.

A rotating paceling. It’s the most effective way to make time over flat or downhill roads. You’ve got have at least five guys to do it right. Four guys? Not enough. Not for a long steady haul. Two guys on the left going a little slower than two guys on the right. The whole thing rotating counter clockwise if the wind is from the left. With a fifth rider, there’s always someone pushing wind from the space between the two lines. If you’re reasonably tight, the air between the two lines: it moves with you. The exposure is cut almost in half. Just the outside is getting buffeted by wind. With four riders, maybe you can make it work for a short clip, but you better be tight. Three riders? Doable, yes but only for short explosive efforts and only if you’re touching elbows like it’s a TTT.

I’m thinking about jumping, considering crossing alone because I don’t like the make up this this group. There’s still 500 meters to the top of Holly Hill and the big group is close enough to throw a Nerf football across to, but it’s going to tap me and I might not make it anyway. I see Steve Higgins. He sees me and he’s nodding his head yes. I learn later he dropped his chain at the foot of the hill. He’s strong and good at calculating these things. At 44, he’s got more than 100 pro-level races in him. There’s also a big guy who looks like he might be an engine in the chase. He’s younger, but it’s an established team he’s on. Broadmark Capital. He looks smooth and powerful, but heavy. Maybe 180 pounds. Looks like he could kill it in a crit. Like Higgins, I begin nodding my head too. I like this group and I decide to bank my chances with it.

We tip over the top of the climb. Someone yells, “EEEleven seconds!” The Big Guy takes the helm. He is chugging. I was right. He’s good. We are hauling 34 mph downhill but the big group is going just as fast. Single file in front of us. We will not make it back until they slow down and spread out across the road. The Big Guy pulls left after more than a minute. He is strong, an emotional kid and he barks, “You better not fucking jump me. You better not fucking jump.”

It’s the furthest thing from my mind. I take a good pull at the same speed but for less than half his duration. It’s all I can do. Higgins pulls through and does the same. The next guy solo attacks. What is he thinking? I’m too tired to ask. The next guy pulls through and immediately swings left. Another does the same. Six more are sitting on the paceline and not because they’re waiting to play their cards. I can see. They have no cards to play. And so I rotate through again. And then Higgins. And two more and then Big Guy hits the front hard. Another 30-plus mph pull for more than a minute. Halfway through his pull we catch the solo attacker going backwards. Haggard. Mouth agape. He does not look well.

Big Guys says in a nasty whisper, “You’re a fucking imbecile.”

(In the living room, everyone stands. The announced ten surround Do and everyone else surrounds them. Do is lightly touching their heads with his fingertips when he shouts, “Rejoice!” Members embrace the ten and then disperse. They move like robots. Like under a spell. They’re not always like this. Out in the world they’re just as normal as can be. Doing business. Closing deals. Bemoaning the Padres.

The young man watches. Sherry is robotic as well and she walks past inches away. She will not look at him. He already knows this.

She wasn’t happy when he showed up at The Ranch six months ago. She didn’t recognize him at first, the father of her only child. Three days passed and he approached. She looked straight into his face without recognition for more than a minute shaking her head until something inside broke like water and she fell crying uncontrollably on the kitchen floor. Members ran in but quickly left. It was nothing out of the ordinary. A day seldom passed when a Heaven’s Gate member didn’t collapse into tears somewhere on The Ranch.

It was another week before he talked to her again. She would not say a word, would not listen but she knew why he was there. She hadn’t thought about it for so long and he didn’t say the word, but she knew. He was there to take her home.)

It’s 10 minutes and we are still chasing. I’m tired and having doubts. Nothing has changed: 11 seconds behind mostly a single-file peloton; the Big Guy taking long hard pulls; Higgins and I pulling roughly half his load; two guys just rotating through and the rest sitting on. I’m on the Big Guy’s wheel when he looks over his shoulder squarely into my eyes. It is jarring but to his front I see what he sees. The field is spread across the road. A steep sprinter’s hill rises in front of them. The Big Guy taps his hip. I look over my shoulder at Higgins and tap mine. He nods. We’re going across.

The Big Guy is letting a wheel length open between him and the rider in front. The guy to his left-front cocks his head at the same time Big Guy stands on it.

And I stand on it.

And Higgins stands on it.

And we are flying up through the paceline and there is nothing they can do. Two guys hang their heads as we hammer by. I know it’s not right, but after we’re clear I look back for just a second. One guy is pounding the top of his bars with his fist. The rest are spread across the road looking at each other, trying to understand what just happened and hoping someone can do something about it.

But no one answers the call.

I’m spinning up to speed, a sprint to Big Guy’s wheel. I’m locked on now but it isn’t easy and I hurt and he does another long hard pull that gets us halfway across. I come through. My legs have something but they won’t last long at this speed. I have to swing off. Higgins comes through. He’s in about the same shape. Big Guy pulls through and now we’re rotating. Our wheels, shoulders, hips are inches apart. We’re tight despite great fatigue. Big Guy comes through and I accelerate off his wheel and swing off for the fourth time. “It’s do or die,” he says as I go by. “Do or die.” Higgins comes through. Then the Big Guy again and this time he brings us up to speed. He aims to close it. I’m in the drops, head down looking at his rear hub when I see a lone rider from the big group under my shoulder going backwards. Then another. I can tell we’re on the hill now but I see only the hub. I’m fixated on it.

It’s red. Mavic Helium. Flangeless. Beautiful. One of my favorites. I like the way the stainless steel straight-pull spokes radiate from the hub body. And I like the brushed finish and I’m about 15 seconds from blowing up and I can’t believe this guy is still pulling.

He’s carrying our speed into the group, staying in the saddle and then standing and then suddenly he’s over extended. I can see it. He’s chopping at his pedals. It’s getting ugly. I have to go around or lose momentum. I want to put my hand in the small of his back and push but if I do I’ll push myself right out the back of this group. I go by him. There’s nothing I can say or do. A war veteran told me once that even good guys die on the battlefield. Those words echo through my head as I find a place in the group now on the downhill and I take a second to mourn the loss of Big Guy. He will live to fight another day. Just not this day.

(Do stands in the living room, arms outstretched. He smiles as the young man approaches.

“I thought Sherry was going in the third wave?”

“It has changed,” Do says. “She is looking forward to her voyage. And I am looking forward to joining her.”

“But we talked. I need her design skills. On that project before she leaves. You know I’m not a designer. I don’t have that eye.”

“Jim, Tom is the better designer. He leaves on the third wave. Use him… And Jim. Rejoice. Send your brothers and sisters off with a smile. They’re leaving in 10 minutes and you’ll never see them again. Pull yourself together and come wish them well.”)

I am tucked in the draft of the peloton. Near the front and it is easy. We are crossing an open space. It’s a clear cut. The Hood Canal is near but there is no wind. There are maybe 40 riders left. Dewato Hill is our next objective. After that it’s smooth sailing, mostly downhill, ten kilometers to the finish. But getting over Dewato with the group will not be easy for me. There are guys here who will flatten this climb. Russell Stevenson or maybe the new kid from Oregon, Evan Elken. My name isn’t on the list. Even fresh I can’t climb at the pace these guys will ascend this hill. My legs are feeling it. Earlier I told myself that the chase did me good. Cleared things out. But as the words formed my head I knew it was not true. Even if everything had gone perfectly, this course, like my first wife, does not forgive.

If Holly Hill is the bookend on the right Dewato is the one on the left. In between are the Books of Cycling: The Book of Crosswinds; The Book of Sprinter Hills; The Book of Slick Roads; The Book of Crossed Wheels. Each tells a rider’s story, sometimes tortured. But these narratives fall on deaf ears.  No one is around for miles. If the roads here are for any purpose other than servicing the forests, it’s a mystery to me. No homes. No farms.  Just Mother Nature stretching her lovely, strong, unforgiving arms in every direction.

Last year I made it to Dewato in the big group. Maybe there were 40 of us left. I rode a perfect race. Felt good. Dodged crashes. Chased back on twice but when I got to Dewato it was one hill too many and I got dropped halfway up. I was alone, chasing a chase group that was behind a chase group chasing a chase group. Now Dewato towers in front of me. We are at her foot and I pray to the cycling Gods. A feeling develops in the pit of my stomach. I’m not sure I can do this.

(It’s evening at The Ranch. The young man stands in the kitchen, palms down on the granite counter, head hung but not defeated. Like a cyclist in a race over his head, he’s looking for a wheel.

In less than 10 minutes 10 souls will form a line. They will be dressed in black sweat suits and wearing matching Nikes. They will take a handful of capsules. Cyanide and arsenic. They will wash them down with vodka, lie in bunks and wait for their voyage to begin.

A call to the police would delay only the inevitable. Somewhere in outer space there’s another comet on its way. The voyage would be rescheduled. The flock would tell the police whatever Do told them to tell the police. The capsules? Down the toilet. The young man knows his mentor. There’s always a backup plan. Always an escape route.

The stakes are high. The wheels are flying by. He’s looking for one moving at the right speed. Wasn’t there something he was supposed to do? He pulls the notepad from his pocket. “C0/Fire alarm off.” His eyes wander and suddenly snap to attention. He pulls the business card from his pocket. There’s a phone on the wall. He picks it up and dials.

“You have reached Western Hills Security. For a customer service representative, dial one…” )

I’m halfway up Dewato and I’m going backwards. But it’s okay. On the flat roads leading up to the climb I positioned myself close to the front without being on the front and now, on the climb, I go up slower as riders pass.

And they start to do so in single file. This is not the frenzied pace of Holly Hill. Yes, there are guys on the font putting it down. I can see Stevenson. I recognize his style. And skinny Rusty Beal. But I can only watch for a few seconds as their outlines grow smaller against the horizon. I wonder who will win. This course favors either the best climber who can sprint or the best sprinter who can climb. Climbers like Stevenson and Beal are on the front playing their hand. Sprinters like Williams and Littlehales are behind following wheels playing theirs. If the climbers can’t separate from the sprinters, the sprinters will shepherd them to the line like sheep to slaughter.

Behind the winners, all is single file, quiet except for labored breathing. I count 15 riders in front of me. It’s time to start looking for a wheel. I let a few more riders go by. I look over my shoulder. Higgins is near. I’ll take his wheel when he rolls by. We’re both going the same today. A wheel passes followed by a gap where I expect to see Higgins. I look back. Higgins. He’s chopping at his pedals. His head is hung deep between his shoulders. He’s not going to make it. Behind him riders are scattered in ones and twos weaving. The wheel in front of me, the gap grows to two, now three bike lengths. I stand but my weight does not go into my pedals. It goes into my bars, into the palms of my hands. My legs balk. Fail. I fall hard on my saddle. The bike wobbles. I try again and again I’m back in the saddle.

I didn’t see this coming so early on the climb. I am done now and my eyes un-focus and wander. My chin comes up. My shoulders squeeze together and on the side of the road I see standing like critical spectators three Steller’s Jays.

Steller’s Jays. I am hallucinating. These are not coastal birds. There are no conifers nearby. It’s a clear cut. But I hear Jim’s voice:  They are crested like a cardinal… What they lack in size they make up for in tenacity and planning. My hair stands on end. Electric. The wheel I want is still near. Within reach, I think.

I am not done. I click to a smaller gear. My eyes re-focus. I spin it up, grunt, stand and slam it down into a bigger gear and I’m there and I’m hanging on and we’re tipping over the top and I look back and Higgins is on my wheel and we’re the last guys on.

(The young man stands in the garage pondering a disc-shaped smoke and CO detector above the door that leads to the kitchen. He pushes a doorbell button beside the door. The garage door cranks opens. He walks to the mini-van, starts it and backs in. Stepping out, he closes the garage door and ponders the detector and the exhaust coming from the mini-van.

He shakes his head. It’s not enough.

He looks around the garage. There’s a stack of 20lb bags of rice. He lifts one. Opens the mini-van drive side door and drops the bag on the accelerator. The engine roars. Loud. Blue exhaust rises. The young man again ponders the detector. Ringing his hands. Tapping his foot. Come on. Come on. The kitchen door opens. A man pokes his head out.

“Jim, what’s going on?”

But the young man doesn’t take his eyes off the detector until: BEEEEP! BEEEEP! BEEEP!

“Get out of the way!”

The young man pushes through the door. In the living room Do is at a console feverishly pushing buttons. The alarm is deafening.

“Jim! I told you to turn off the fire detector!”

“I know! But I changed the code instead!”

“You did what! Why would you do that? Give me the code!”

“Give me Sherry!”

“Jim, we don’t have time for this!”

“You’re right! Police and fire are on their way!”

“God damnit, Jim! Give me the fucking code!”

The young man stares at Do sternly.

Do takes a deep breath and says, “Somebody get Sherry!”

“Say this, Do! Say, Sherry, go with Jim. It is God’s will! Say it!”

Sherry runs up.

Do says, “Sherry, go with Jim!…”

“Say it!”

“It is God’s will! Go with Jim!”

Sherry is confused. Her eyes dart to and from the faces that surround her. To Do. And she stops. Her face is a question mark.

“It’s God’s will!” he says.

 The young man takes her by the hand. He takes the Walkman from Do. He puts the headphones on Sherry’s ears and turns the machine on, the volume up. They head for the door.

“Jim! The code! The code!”

“Seven, seven, seven!”

Do punches in the code as the young man and Sherry walk briskly to the garage. The alarm stops.

“Sherry, come back. It’s not God’s will! It’s not! Jim is not the prophet here!”

But she cannot hear him. Just the Bee Gees: How Deep is Your Love.

The young man puts her in the mini-van passenger seat and closes the door. He throws the rice on the ground. They drive down the street of mansions overlooking San Diego. She looks over to him. She removes the Walkman. Her eyes fill with tears.

“Home?”

Eyes fixed on the road, he says, “Yes. Home.”)

I’m sitting in my car. It’s running.  Doors closed. Heater on. Windows fogged. I’m damp. Cold, but the creases of my mouth are up. The race is over. Williams won. I finished 22nd, Higgins 18th. I’m fine with the outcome. When the pace ramped up for the sprint I opted out. No chance to place. A bad attitude, I know. I knew it when it happened.  But I’m okay with it. I’ve learned to accept my limits given certain situations.

I look at my cell phone on the dash.  One missed call. I don’t recognize the number. Twenty minutes ago.

Twenty minutes ago.

My eyes dart around the inside of the car. RPM. Cigarette lighter. Radio, but I see none of it.

Twenty minutes ago.

I was on Dewato 20 minutes ago. I ask Higgins later and he says he never saw the Steller’s Jays on the side of the road.

Twenty minutes ago.

My pulse quickens. I pick up my phone. I ring the number back.

My brother’s voice answers, “Hello.”

My eyes fill with tears. I can hardly speak.

“Jim.”

There’s a pause.

And then, “Hey, brother.”

–30–

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