Mike thrust his hands deep into his jeans pockets. It felt good to be back in his own clothes, and he was glad of the trainers the Indian cop had brought by. He had a comfortable night and an attack free Sunday morning at the Wilbur's place and was now idling about, wondering if he should stay a day or two.
It was warming up rapidly, but earlier on there had been a bite in the air even though the sun shone bright enough to hurt your eyes. Mike's eyes always seemed to hurt. He kicked a stone absent-mindedly which bounced off the white painted clapboard of the Wilbur's homestead. White painted clapboard, white painted picket fence. Hey man! Where was the faithful old 'coonhound that would make the scene complete? And the kid playing in the yard. Maybe Mike was the kid. No; too old: why in a couple of months Mike would be twenty, although he hid it well. You couldn't put out for money if you looked too far out from puberty. Santa Monica Boulevard was full of twenty-year-olds trying to pass themselves off as sixteen. No, if there ever had been a happy kid in this yard, he'd be a graduate by now and off somewhere getting good and famous.
First impressions were that the Wilbur's set-up came pretty close to an image of perfection, but Mike knew from experience, that kind of image was for the movies. They made movies to make rich people buy what they didn't need and poor people feel like shit.
Mike stepped up to the porch and flopped down onto the rocking chair. He could smell dinner cooking. These Wilbur's were sure being good to him; he wondered when they would want the pay-off. People always wanted the pay-off sooner or later. Perhaps they got money from the state for taking in strays, or maybe Dan was a raging queen and the little lady did the procuring for him. Perhaps they were into porn films, ritual murders, snuff movies or - Mike's imagination ran off down the tracks, but he slammed on the brakes before he ran out of line. Maybe they were just nice people, pure and simple. Somehow, it seemed too much to hope for. And if they were, Mike thought, he would have to leave before they found out the truth about him. Leave so that when he left they waved him off, smiling. There goes a nice kid. Shame he couldn't stay a while. The alternative was Dan's boot up his rear-end and a tail-wind of unprintable maledictions. And don't come back you little son of a bitch.
Mike leapt from his chair and over the picket eager for a wider view of the place. It stood alone at the end of a small, tarred road with only the pump house and a small barn for company amidst a sea of sagebrush. It was well maintained and Mike figured a good deal of Dan's time was taken up painting and creosoting.
How old was Dan? Perhaps sixty or so - about four or five years older than Hettie. They didn't ask questions, apart from enquiries into his comfort. They didn't seem to require his background story, or knowledge of his folks, or anything at all. They told him he was welcome in their home and to help himself to this and that, and showed an interest when he wanted to talk. Apart from that, they left him alone.
Mike smiled - one of those smiles that starts in the heart and brings a moment of serenity and joy which all too quickly vanishes - the type of smile that very rarely came to Mike. It came, and it was gone, leaving Mike by himself and without comfort - but it had been real. Joy was a thing soon killed in Mike's heavy heart; nothing for it to take root in. People like him, they didn't deserve it. That's the way Mike saw it.
Mike began to wonder what Scott was doing with his life. Scott, the rich boy, had forgotten his life on the streets and taken up his inheritance. Hal had become King Henry and disowned all his old friends - another pain for Mike. He started to feel sorry for himself when the distant popping of tires on grit turned his attention to the lava-colored road, made to look river-like by a rippling heat haze. An old but well loved brown sedan sailed towards him.
It rounded the pump house in soft-sprung majesty and hove-to parallel with the porch, close enough to suggest the driver was on good terms with the Wilburs. This was soon confirmed as Dan, who had come out to investigate, smiled and waved as the driver climbed out.
'Hi, Johnny!' he called. 'And is that young Jay riding along with you?'
'Sure is, Mr Wilbur,' called the emerging passenger. 'How you doin?'
'I'm just fine. Everything all right at home?'
'Everything's okay Dan. We just come out to see how Mike is,' said Johnny looking over at Mike and snapping off a casual salute.
Mike frowned, not having the least clue who his visitors were, and half raised his hand to return Johnny's greeting.
'Well, just go ahead and ask him yourself. Hey Mike! Let me introduce you to Johnny Hawk. He's the one who picked you off the road and brought you here. Say, do you men want to eat?'
Dan could tell by exchange of glances and hesitation in response that the answer was 'yes' and he disappeared inside with a shout: 'Two more for dinner, Hettie.'