At last, Jack felt like he was making progress in his escape to the safety of the great mountains to the west. He had found a fellow cyclist named Scott Dickson who was willing to show him the way. Meanwhile, several miles behind them, three raccoons were busily tracking the scent left by the raccoon pee on Jack’s rear wheel.The miles went by quickly as Scott led Jack through the back roads in order to avoid most of the traffic. This was fine with Jack because he wanted to stay out of sight as much as possible anyway. They passed through the towns of Reasnor and Sully before stopping after about forty miles at the Zip’n Mini Mart in Lynnville. The pit stop was Jack’s idea. He had the feeling that Scott would have been fine without stopping. As Jack refilled his bottles he noticed that Scott’s lone water bottle was still pretty much full.
They got back on the road and the next thirty miles through Searsboro, Montezuma, and Deep River went by just as quickly but not as easily for Jack. He took fewer pulls at the front and spent more time sitting in the draft staring at Scott’s rear wheel. The day was still overcast with no hint of a break in the clouds. Jack could only guess at the time of day, but he took comfort in the fact that at least he was finally headed in the right direction.
With his bottles empty once again, Jack suggested another rest stop, but Scott didn’t seem interested. Scott mentioned, “making it to Iowa City in time for the group ride,” and this was Jack’s first hint that something was wrong. He had lived at the orphanage for as long as he could remember and hadn’t traveled very far until now, but it seemed like Iowa City was a bit out of the way.
Regardless of direction, Jack had to stop. His legs were cramping, and the big breakfast he had eaten that morning was long since used up. In a last feeble attempt to get Scott to stop, Jack tried the flat tire trick on Scott, but he didn’t have quite enough extra breath left to make the sounds very loudly. By then, Scott was pulling away. Jack was thoroughly cooked and was suddenly left all alone.
There was nothing more Jack could do. He barely coasted into a town called Parnell and found a little gas station with a soda-pop machine. Fifty cents was all that stood between Jack and a Coke, but he had no money. Sister Kim had taught Jack and the other orphans to be resourceful in situations like these, and just as Jack decided to go inside and raid the “Need a Penny – Leave a Penny” tray he heard singing.
“Hey nickel, bicycle, here and there I’m G-Pickle.
Paved or gravel, I’m not fickle.
Hike or bike, but no motorsickle.”
To Jack’s surprise, a tall, friendly-looking, Tom Bombadil sort of character rolled into the gas station parking lot on a bicycle and stepped off smoothly right next to Jack at the soda-pop machine. He reached into his jersey pocket and pulled out a crisp dollar bill, which he fed into the slot and punched the Coke button twice. Two ice-cold cans dropped out and the fellow, who evidently called himself G-Pickle, handed one to a very surprised Jack.
G-Pickle sat down on the curb and opened his soda with a loud snap while munching on a Pop Tart he had pulled from another jersey pocket. Jack was still standing there sizing up the stranger. He was stranger than most strangers, with mismatched socks, shorts, and jersey. He had squarish glasses and flames tattooed on one arm. His hair was the color of freshly cooked pasta before you put the sauce on. That last comparison reminded Jack that he was very hungry and thirsty, so he sat down next to G-Pickle, who handed him an extra Pop Tart.
Jack refueled and then leaned back and closed his tired eyes. G-Pickle sang another curious little song that nearly lulled Jack to sleep.
“A kindly nun, a worried one,
Had forty-six orphans,
And one on the run.
The Market Place, a classified space,
Secret notes for Jack,
About the chase.”
to be continued...
[a serial by little orphan dbax]