Click to read the Q&A with author Max Austin.
Dylan James raced across Washington Street, dodging a shiny red pickup that honked in protest.
The far sidewalk was lined by a construction fence bordering one of the old Route 66 motor courts. The graffiti-spattered motel was boarded up, awaiting renovation, and prickly weeds grew thick along the chain-link fence. Dylan bounced off the wire as he took a hard right, his sneakers slapping the sidewalk.
A brown-and-black German shepherd materialized on the other side of the chain-link fence, barking savagely. Dylan’s rational mind knew a six-foot fence stood between them, but his body still tried to jump onto the nearest cloud.
The big dog paced him as he ran, barking and snarling and snapping. But as soon as Dylan crossed Copper Avenue, the beast lost interest and trotted away. No longer its territory. No longer its concern.
Washington turned into a residential street on the next block. Boxy stucco houses sat close by the curbs, which were lined with mulberry trees, their fluttering autumn leaves as yellow as penalty flags.
Two police cars barreled downhill toward him, fallen leaves swirling in their wake. Dylan veered left onto a side street. His lungs burned and he had sweat in his eyes and a stitch in his side, though he’d run only four blocks.
An engine raced somewhere behind him. He didn’t look back to see whether a cop car was gaining on him. With his luck, he trusted that it was.
He cut to the right, into a gravel driveway that ran between a tan stucco house and a seven-foot-tall wooden fence. Two wheeled bins—one black and one blue—sat in the driveway, parked against the side of the house. Blue was for recycling, and Dylan guessed that one would contain fewer germs. He lifted the lid of the waist-high bin and dived inside. The bin was half full of cardboard and paper and aluminum cans, but the trash crushed under his weight, making room. He yanked his feet in, and the lid shut out the daylight.
His breath came in ragged sobs, loud inside the plastic bin. The corner of a cardboard box stabbed him in the ribs, but he lay still, curled up like a fetus, expecting the cops to throw open the lid any second and drag him out into the light of day. He could hear the engines of their patrol cars as they raced up and down neighborhood streets nearby, searching for him.
He wondered if they’d captured Doc, if they’d hurt him. The Albuquerque Police Department had a bad reputation for killing people, especially under the current chief, Harmon Schlitz. Trigger-happy cops had put down so many crooks and crazies over the past few years, the feds were investigating the department. The whole town was talking about the controversy, and it was a regular topic of Doc’s speed-fueled monologues.
He hoped Doc didn’t give them any reason to shoot. Doc could be annoying as hell, especially when he was cranked to the gills. There had been times when Dylan wanted to shoot him, just to get him to shut the hell up.
Still no gunshots, so Doc must’ve been taken without a fight. That was a relief.
For all his windy cantankerousness, Doc was the only adult who’d ever shown an interest in Dylan. His own parents ignored him, his teachers overlooked him, but Doc gave him a place to stay, food to eat, a reason to get up in the morning. Dylan had learned a lot more than burglary techniques from the older man, but he hadn’t ever thought to thank him. He wondered if he’d ever get the chance.
What would Doc advise now, given the opportunity? He’d probably tell Dylan to stop feeling sorry for himself. To buck up and solve the problem and get out of town. That’s what Doc would say. And it would only take him an hour or so to complete the thought.
Dylan shifted the box underneath him and tried to get comfortable. He pulled loose a rumpled length of brown packing paper and covered himself with it as best he could. Not much of a blanket, and certainly not enough camouflage if anyone looked inside the bin, but it made him feel better.
It would be dark in a couple of hours. If he wasn’t discovered before then, he might have a chance. Slip through the neighborhood in the night, keeping to the shadows, putting more distance between him and the scene of the crime.
He wasn’t sure where he’d go. He was estranged from his parents, who’d happily left him behind when they moved to Florida, and he’d essentially been homeless when he landed on Doc’s sofa. The cops would be watching Doc’s place now, so Dylan couldn’t go back there, not even to pick up his few belongings.
Leaving him with what? The clothes on his back, which weren’t any too clean even before he’d jumped into a trash bin. One Swiss Army knife, dull. A cell phone that needed a charge. A plastic pocket comb he carried out of habit, but didn’t need because he’d recently gotten his brown hair buzzed to a half-inch bristle. A battered leather wallet containing thirty-seven dollars. Maybe sixty-five cents in change.
Pretty fucking meager, considering he was starting a new life as a fugitive.
Dylan sniffed and gulped, determined not to weep over his hopeless situation. He couldn’t afford to make that much noise. He settled deeper into his cardboard nest. Pulled his brown paper blanket up to his chin and lay still.
Long time until nightfall.