chapter 19 -- from bed to verse
Jack ducked farther into the entryway of the Tattered Cover bookstore as the Des Moines Register delivery truck slowly rumbled to a stop just twenty feet from him. The rear of the truck was facing Jack, and he couldn’t see into the cab, even with the side-view mirrors. He waited, but no one got out, and the engine kept running.
Then, Jack saw an employee of the bookstore emerge from an entrance further down the block and walk to the back of the truck. The employee flipped the latch on the rear door of the truck and shoved it up to reveal several stacks of newspapers perched near the tailgate. Then he grabbed the two stacks of papers nearest the tailgate and carried them into the bookstore, leaving the back of the truck open.
Jack’s mind was racing. He was stuck in Denver with no way to get to Fort Collins to find Kelby and deliver the mysterious beans. Sister Kim had helped Jack a few days earlier by placing a secret message in a classified ad in the Des Moines Register. Now, Jack hoped for another secret message from Sister Kim in the Register. Jack only had 99¢, which was not enough to buy a copy of the paper, but maybe he could grab a copy of the paper right from the back of the Register’s delivery truck. It was risky, but Jack was ready to try.
The employee of the Tattered Cover came out of the bookstore once again and went to the back of the truck. He reached farther into the truck and picked up two more bundles of newspapers to carry inside, leaving the tailgate unattended.
As soon as the coast was clear, Jack left the entryway where he had been hiding and walked as calmly as he could up the sidewalk toward the waiting truck. When he reached the back of the truck, Jack turned as if he planned to walk across the street and stepped off of the curb, stopping behind the tailgate of the truck, out of sight of the side mirrors. Jack paused to listen for noise from the truck’s cab, or footsteps on the sidewalk but heard nothing. “So far, so good,” he thought.
Jack peered into the darkness of the back of the truck and could see large stacks of boxes and packages but couldn’t make out any details. The next two stacks of papers were farther back from the tailgate, just out of Jack’s reach. He hopped up onto the edge of the tailgate and slid himself back across the truck bed until his fingers felt the next closest bundle of newspapers in the dark. They were tied together very tightly.
In the dark, Jack worked frantically to free one corner of one newspaper in the stack. He pulled harder and tried working the paper from side to side, but it just bunched up and made the cords and knots even tighter. Try as he might, Jack couldn’t separate the newspaper from the rest of the bundle. To make matters worse, Jack heard footsteps approaching.
It was too late. Jack couldn’t make a run for it without being spotted and starting the chase of the last few days all over again. Instead, he quietly slithered between the boxes and packages, farther into the back of the dark truck. Hopefully, as soon as the bookstore employee left again, Jack could slip back out of the truck unnoticed.
The plan was not meant to be. Instead of taking more bundles of papers into the bookstore, the employee reached up and grabbed a strap, which pulled down the rear door of the truck with a loud clattering slam that pinched off any remaining light. “This is bad,” whispered Jack to himself breathlessly.
The metallic sound of the latch snapping into place echoed inside the darkened truck. “That was worse,” murmured Jack.
The sudden lurch of the truck as it pulled away from the curb was unexpected, and Jack toppled into a pile of boxes before hitting the floor of the truck bed. “It can’t get any worse than this,” muttered Jack, although his voice couldn’t be heard above the roar of the engine and the hum of the tires on the road.
It did get worse, however, when an unseen object that had been perched against one wall of the truck toppled silently through the darkness and smacked Jack squarely on the top of his head. By now, the truck was moving fast enough to completely drown out Jack’s howls of pain.
After feeling around on the top of his skull for the knot that was already forming, Jack groped in the darkness to get hold of the object that had clobbered him and was now lying on top of him. His fingers gingerly traced along the lines of metal teeth, levers, cables, and tubes. It was a bicycle.
to be continued...
[a serial by little orphan dbax]