Sunday, May 11, 2008

jack and the magic bean bus

chapter 32-dedicated to bobby lewis

[play this while reading this chapter]
Wednesday morning began with yoga, breakfast, and vegetable juice, just as the other mornings at the Karras’ home had. After breakfast, Jack made the long trek down to the car wash and back with the latest copy of the Des Moines Register. Both he and Mr. Karras were disappointed not to find any news stories or clues to help them unravel the Ragbrai conspiracy.
Mr. Karras and Jack spent that afternoon in the garage, where Mr. Karras began cleaning his bicycle. “You wouldn’t think a bicycle could get so dirty in just a week, but Ragbray really puts wear and tear on everything pretty quickly,” he explained while shifting to the smallest cog and dropping the rear wheel out of the frame. “Filthy. Of course, it didn’t help matters for the bike to be lost in a warehouse for months. Look at this rust!”
Jack was sitting on a milk crate and Mr. Karras handed him the wheel, saying, “Here, clean this up. I’ve got some shop rags around here somewhere.” After rummaging around under the workbench for a moment, Mr. Karras said, “Ah-ha! Here they are,” and he tossed an old tee shirt to Jack to use as a shop rag.
Jack went to work on the rear wheel while Mr. Karras wiped down the frame and started pulling the cables. As they worked, Mr. Karras began telling Jack stories about how he first got started in journalism and what the early days were like. Jack paid attention at first, but the box of shop rags under the workbench kept pushing its way into Jack’s thoughts.

The tee shirt that Jack was using was covered in grease and grime within a few minutes after beginning to clean the rear wheel, but the next tee shirt in the box of shop rags hadn’t been used yet, and there was something very familiar about it.
Out of caution, Jack had not told Mr. Karras about the magic beans in his pocket, and it was out of this same caution that Jack kept quiet about the curious nagging thoughts he had about the tee shirt. It wasn’t that Jack didn’t trust Mr. Karras. Jack was just worried that the Ragbrai conspiracy might swallow him up if he didn’t stay a few steps ahead of everyone else.
Jack waited for a break in the story telling and then asked casually, “Where did you get these shop rags? They’re really good.”

[a sample from the orphanage collection of contraband ragby tees]

“Contraband tee shirts,” muttered Mr. Karras, absent-mindedly. “Confiscated bootleg Ragbray merchandise produced by people who didn’t get the Register’s permission to use the name. I got a box load several years ago, and I use them in the workshop.”
Jack shuddered. There was something oddly familiar about it all.
For the rest of the afternoon, Mr. Karras and Jack worked on the bicycle, tearing it down to the frame in order to clean everything thoroughly before re-greasing and reassembling it all. They finished by supper, and Mr. Karras hung the bicycle on a hook next to the workbench before turning off the lights and closing the door behind them.
Jack had been sleeping well every night since he had arrived at the Karras’ mountain home, but this night proved to be different as Jack tossed and turned. He couldn’t take his mind off of the box of contraband tee shirts in the garage. It seemed that an old, long forgotten memory was pushing up from his subconscious.

Finally, around midnight, Jack climbed out of bed and carefully crept to the door leading to the garage. He slowly turned the handle and passed through the door without a sound. Once the door was closed again, Jack felt along the wall for the light switch and clicked it on.
Like a moth drawn to a flame, Jack approached the workbench. He reached into the shop rag box, pulled out the tee shirt that had caught his eye earlier, and held it up to the light.
The front of the tee shirt had fancy lettering that followed the style used by the Late Night with David Letterman show, but instead of naming the TV show, it said,

“Late Night on Ragbrai”
to be continued... [a serial by little orphan dbax]

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