The other rider’s bike was battered and dirty with a mixed batch of components and a scraped-up paint job. Jack cringed while he watched the beat-up bicycle seem to absorb his brand new spare inner tube the way a crotchety old man might greedily take in a fresh young kidney transplant.
After pumping up the tire with just enough air to get home, the other rider stood up and said with an impish grin, “Hey, I’m Randy. Thanks for the tube. Sorry about that trick on the hill back there. Didn’t mean to get you dropped.”
“Whatever,” said Jack as they started riding again, “How far is it to Iowa City?”
“Aren’t you part of the group ride?” Randy asked.
Jack answered cautiously, “No, I’m just on my way to Iowa City.”
“Hey, I know who you are,” said Randy as his impish grin widened into a big smile. “At the start of the group ride my brother Scott was talking about riding with some kid named Jack almost all the way from Des Moines today until he dropped him. Scott must have been talking about you. He said we might blast by you on the group ride.”
“That was your brother?” Jack burst out. “You guys must be inbred or something.”
“Lighten up,” growled Randy. “Look, swing by my house on the way to wherever you’re going, and I’ll get you another tube to replace the one you gave me. Where are you staying anyway?”
Jack hesitated. He had an address from a classified ad tucked in a Pop Tart wrapper in his pocket but didn’t know where to find the address in town. “Keep the tube. Don’t worry about it,” said Jack as they came to the city limit sign for Iowa City. At the next intersection Jack mumbled unconvincingly, “I’ve gotta turn here,” and ducked onto a side street.
Once Jack was sure he was alone again, he made his way back to some busier streets and found a convenience store where he could look at a map in a phone book. As luck would have it, Jack wasn’t too far from the address he needed to find, on Miller Avenue between Benton Street and the highway. Even though the sun was beginning to set, Jack figured he could get there with some daylight left.
Jack rehearsed the directions one more time before closing the phone book, but then it occurred to him that he really had no idea what he would find at this address. It could be a house, a store, or just an empty building. Would it be a safe place?
Jack had been on the run for only about twenty-four hours, but already he had been attacked by a raccoon, nearly poisoned with bleach, and misdirected over a hundred miles out of his way. He had received a weird sort of singing telegram about being chased and found a mysterious message from Sister Kim in a classified ad. Now Jack was running out of options as his second night of escape was drawing near.
His mind made up, Jack hopped on his bike and pedaled out of the convenience store’s empty parking lot. It was dusk, and the street lights were just beginning to flicker to life. He found the streets exactly where the phone book map claimed they would be and was soon standing at the curb in front of a small green house that matched the address he had in his pocket. On the opposite side of the street was a big field with some trees growing along an old fencerow. Lights were on in the windows, and Jack could see the outlines of people moving around inside. He took a deep breath and then walked up to the front door and knocked.
Jack knocked again, louder this time, and he could hear someone from inside yell, “It’s open.”
Jack leaned his bike against some scrubby bushes along the front of the house and took one more deep breath. Then he opened the door and took a step inside.
to be continued...
[a serial by little orphan dbax]