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     ROBERT CRAIS: EXCERPT - INDIGO SLAM

     At two-fourteen in the morning on the night they left one life to begin their next, the rain thundered down in a raging curtain that thrummed against the house and the porch and the plain white Econoline van that the United States Marshalls had brought to whisk them away.
     Charles said, "Címere, Teri, and lookit this."
     Her younger brother, Charles, was framed in the front window of their darkened house. The house was dark because the marshalls wanted it that way. No interior lights, they said. Candles and flashlights would be better, they said.
     Teresa, whom everyone called Teri, joined her brother at the window, and together they looked at the van parked at the curb. Lightning snapped like a giant flashbulb, illuminating the van and the narrow street of clapboard houses in the Ferengi Hills in the south part of Seattle, just up from Jessup Bay. The vanís side and rear doors were open, and a man was squatting inside the van, arranging boxes. Two other men finished talking to the vanís driver, and came up the walk toward the house. All four men were dressed identically in long black slickers and black hats that they held against the rain. It beat at them as if it wanted to punch right through the coats and the hats and hammer them into the earth. Teri thought that in a few minutes it would be beating at her. Charles said, "Lookit the size of that truck. That truckís big enough to bring my bike, isnít it? Why canít I bring my bike?"
     Teri said, "Thatís not a truck, itís a van, and the men said we could only take the boxes." Charles was nine years old, three years younger than Teri, and didnít want to leave his bike. Teri didnít want to leave her things, either, but the men had said they could only take eight boxes. Four people at two boxes a person equals eight boxes. Simple math.
     "They got plenty of room."
     "Weíll get you another bike. Daddy said."
     Charles scowled. "I donít want another bike."
     The first man to step in from the rain seemed ten feet tall, and the second seemed even taller. Water dripped from their coats onto the wooden floor, and Teriís first thought was to get a towel before the drips made spots, but, of course, the towels were packed and it wouldnít matter anyway. She would never see this house again. The first man smiled at her and said,
     "Iím Peterson. This is Jasper." They held out little leather wallets with gold and silver badges. The badges sparkled in the candlelight. "Weíre just about done. Whereís your dad?"
     Teri had been helping Winona say goodbye to the room that they shared when the men arrived fifteen minutes ago. Winona was six, and the youngest of the three Hewitt children. Teri had had to be with her as Winona went around her room saying, "Goodbye, bed. Goodbye, closet. Goodbye, dresser." Beds and closets and dressers werenít things that you could put in eight boxes. Teri said, "Heís in the bathroom. Would you like me to get him?" Teriís dad, Clark Hewitt, had what he called Ďa weak constitution.í That meant he went to the bathroom whenever he was nervous, and tonight he was very nervous.
     The tall man who was Jasper called, "Hey, Clark, whip it and flip it, bud! Weíre ready!"
     Peterson smiled at Teri. "You kids ready?"
     Teri thought, of course they were ready, couldnít he see that? Sheíd had Charles and Winona packed and dressed an hour ago. She said, "Winona!"
     Winona came running into the living room. She was wearing her pink plastic Beverly Hills 90210 raincoat and carrying her purple plastic toy suitcase. Winonaís straw-colored hair was held back with a bright green scrunchie. Teri knew that there were dolls in the suitcase, because Teri had helped Winona pack. Charles had his blue school backpack and his yellow slicker together on the couch.
     Jasper called again, "Hey, Clark, letís go! Weíre drowning out there, buddy!"
     The toilet off the kitchen flushed and Teriís dad came into the living room. Clark Hewitt was a thin, nervous man whose eyes never seemed to stay in one place. "Iím ready."
     "We wonít be coming back, Clark. Youíre not forgetting anything, are you?"
     Clark shook his head. "I donít think so."
     "You got the place locked up?"
     Clark frowned as if he couldnít quite remember, and looked at Teri. Teri said, "I locked the back door and the windows and the garage. Theyíre going to turn off the gas and the phones and the electricity tomorrow." Someone with the Marshalls had given her father a list of things to do, and Teri had gone down the list. The list had a title: Steps to an Orderly Evacuation. "I just have to blow out the candles and we can go."
     Teri knew that Peterson was staring at her, but she wasnít sure why. Peterson shook his head, then made a little gesture at Jasper. "Iíll take care of the candles, little miss. Jasper, getím loaded."
     Clark started to the front door, but Reed Jasper stopped him. "Your raincoat."
     "Hunh?"
     "Earth to Clark. Itís raining like a bitch out there."
     Clark said, "Raincoat? I just had it." He looked at Teri again.
     Teri said, "Iíll get it."
     Teri hurried down the hall past the room that she used to share with Winona and into her fatherís bedroom. She blew out the candle there, then stood in the darkness and listened to the rain. Her fatherís raincoat was on the bed where sheíd placed it. Heíd been standing at the foot of the bed when sheíd put it there, but thatís the way he was -- forgetful, always thinking about something else. Teri picked up the raincoat and held it close, smelling the cheap fabric and the man-smell she knew to be her fatherís. Maybe heíd been thinking about Salt Lake City, which is where they were going. Teri knew that her father was in trouble with some very bad men who wanted to hurt them. The Federal Marshals were here to bring them to Salt Lake City where they would change their names. Once they had a Fresh Start, her father had said, he would start a new business and they would all live happily ever after. She didnít know who the bad men were or why they were so mad at her father. Something about testifying in front of a jury. Her father had tried explaining it to her but it had come out jumbled and confused, the way most things her father tried to explain came out. Like when her mother had died. Teri had been Winonaís age, and her father had told her that her Momma had gone home to see Jesus and then heíd started blubbering and nothing heíd said after that made any sense. Teri hugged him tight, and it was another four days before sheíd learned that her mother, an assistant night manager for the Great Northwest Food Store chain, had died in an auto accident, hit by a drunk driver.
     Teri looked around the room. This had been her motherís room, just as this house had been her motherís house, as it had been Teriís for as long as she could remember. There was one closet and two windows looking toward the alley at the back of the house and a queen bed and a dresser and a chest. Her mother had slept in this bed and kept her clothes in this chest and looked at herself in that dresser mirror. Her mother had breathed the air in this room, and her warmth had spread through the sheets and made them toasty and perfect for snuggling when Teri was little. Her mother would read to her. Her mother would sing "Edelweiss". Teri closed her eyes and tried to feel the warmth, but couldnít. Teri had a hard time remembering her mother as a living being; she remembered a face in pictures, and now they were leaving. Goodbye, Mama.
     Teri hugged her fatherís raincoat tight, then turned to leave the room when she heard the thump in the back yard. It was a dull, heavy sound against the back wall of the house, distinct against the rain. She looked through the rear window and saw a black shadow move through the rain, and thatís when Mr. Peterson stepped silently into the door. "Teri, I want you to go to the front door, now, please." His voice was low and urgent.
     Teri said, "I saw something in the yard."
     Peterson pulled her past a man in a still-dripping raincoat. The man whoíd been loading the boxes. He held his right hand straight down along his leg and Teri saw that he had a gun.
     Her father and Charles and Winona were standing with Mr. Jasper. Her fatherís eyes looked wild, as if at any moment they might pop right out onto the floor. Jasper said, "Címon, Pete, itís probably nothing."
     Her father clutched Jasperís arm. "I thought you said they didnít know. You said we were safe."
     Jasper pried her fatherís hand away as Mr. Peterson said, "Iíll check it out while you getím in the van." He looked worried. "Jerry! Letís move!"
     The third man reappeared and picked up Winona. "Címon, honey. Youíre with me."
     Jasper said, "Iíll check it with you." Jasper was breathing fast.
     Mr. Peterson pushed Jasper toward the door. "Getím in the van. Now!"
     Jasper said, "Itís probably nothing."
     Charles said, "Whatís happening?"
     A loud cracking came from the kitchen, as if the back door was being pried open, and then Peterson was pushing them hard through the door, yelling, "Do it, Jasper! Takeím!" and her father moaned, a kind of faraway wail that made Winona start crying. Jerry bolted toward the street, carrying Winona in one arm and pulling Teriís father with the other, shouting something that Teri could not understand. Jasper said, "Oh, holy shit!" and tossed Charles across his shoulder like a laundry bag. He grabbed Teri HARD by the arm, so hard that she had never felt such pain and she thought her flesh and bone would surely be crushed into a mealy red pulp like you see in those Freddie Kruger movies, and then Jasper was pulling her out into the rain as, somewhere in the back of the house, she heard Mr. Peterson shout, very clearly, "Federal Marshals!" and then there were three sharp BOOMS that didnít sound anything like thunder, not anything at all.

*

     The rain felt like a heavy cloak across Teriís shoulders and splattered up from the sidewalk to wet her legs as they ran for the van. Charles was kicking his legs, screaming, "I donít have my raincoat! I left it inside!"
     The driver had the window down, oblivious to the rain, eyes wide and darting as Jerry pushed first Winona and then Clark into the side door. The vanís engine screamed to life.
     Jasper ran to the rear of the van and shoved Teri inside. Clark was holding Winona, huddled together between the boxes and the driverís seat. Winona was still crying, her father bug-eyed and panting. Two more BOOMS came from the house, loud and distinct even with the rain hammering in through the open doors and windows. The driver twisted toward them, screaming, "What the fuckís happening?!"
     Jerry yanked a short black shotgun from behind the seat. "Iím with Pete! Getím outta here!"
     Jasper clawed out his gun, trying to scramble back out into the rain, saying, "Iím with you!"
     Jerry pushed Jasper back into the van. "You get these people outta here, goddamnit! You getím out NOW!" Jerry slammed the door in Jasperís face and the driver was screaming, "What happened?! Whereís Peterson?"
     Jasper seemed torn, but then he screamed back, "Drive! Get the hell outta here!" He crushed past the cardboard boxes to the vanís rear window, cursing over and over, "Always some shit! Always some goddamn bullshit!"
     The van slid sideways from the curb as it crabbed for traction. The driver shouted into some kind of radio and Jasper cursed and Teriís father started crying like Winona, and Charles was crying, too. Teri thought that maybe even Federal Marshall Jasper was crying, but she couldnít be sure because he was watching out the vanís square rear window.
     Teri felt her eyes well with tears, but then, very clearly, she told herself: No, you will not cry. And she didnít. The tears went away, and Teri felt very calm. She was soaked under her raincoat, and she realized that the floor was wet from rain blown in when the doors were open. The eight cardboard boxes that held the sum total of their lives were wet, too.
     Her father said, "What happened back there? You said we were safe! You said they wouldnít know!"
     Jasper glanced back at her father. Jasper looked scared, too. "I donít know. Somehow they found out."
     Teriís father shouted, "Well, thatís just great! Thatís wonderful!" His voice was very high. "Now theyíre gonna kill us!"
     Jasper went back to staring out the window. "Theyíre not going to kill you."
     "Thatís what you people said before!" Her fatherís voice was a shriek.
     Jasper turned again and stared at Teriís father for the longest time before he said, "Peterson is still back there, Mr. Hewitt."
     Teri watched her brother and sister and father, huddled together and crying, and then she knew what she must do. She crawled across the wet, tumbled boxes and along the vanís gritty bed and went to her family. She found a place for herself between Winona and her father, and looked up into her fatherís frightened eyes. His face was pale and drawn, and the thin wet hair matted across his forehead made him look lost. She said, "Donít be scared, Daddy."
     Clark Hewitt whimpered, and Teri could feel him shivering. It was July, and the rain was warm, but maybe he wasnít shivering because he was cold. Teri said, "I wonít let anyone hurt us, and I wonít let anything happen to you. I promise."
     Clark Hewitt nodded without looking at her. She held onto him tightly, and felt his shaking ease.
     The van careened through the night, hidden by the darkness and rain.


   
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