Jack stood in the cold garage and stared at the Late Night on Ragbrai tee shirt. Memories were pushing their way back into his consciousness. He turned to the back of the shirt and read:
Memories came pressing in on Jack from all sides. There were visions of crowds and bikes, and Jack was selling tee shirts in small towns across Iowa many years before. There were memories of beer gardens, sales pitches, and the pressure to close the deal and move on. There was also the constant sense of danger, of being tracked and chased through the crowds and campgrounds.
Officials from the Des Moines Register newspaper tried to catch him all that week but Jack was too quick. He would make a sale and then vanish into the crowds like a guerrilla soldier in the jungle, only to reappear a block away to make another sale. The hit and run war lasted all week until Jack had finally gotten rid of his inventory, but he had been driven underground in the process and ended up on the doorstep of Sister Kim’s orphanage.
And now, years later, the big computer program used to audit the Des Moines Register had detected a tiny bit of missing Ragbrai profit, $120 to be exact, and somehow linked it all the way back to Jack’s tee shirt sales from long ago. Curiously enough, Jack remembered that his profit was indeed about $120 after figuring in supplies, printing, gas, and labor. The much-maligned computer auditing system was surprisingly accurate.
Jack also understood that the brewing companies Miller and Anheuser Busch were attempting to take over Ragbrai and its profits using the computer, a bunch of thugs in the Special Collections Branch of the paper, and an army of raccoons addicted to barley, hops, and newspaper ink. They were searching for Jack in order to recapture Ragbrai profits. No missing revenue would be tolerated.
Jack’s heart was pounding. He couldn’t stay with Mr. and Mrs. Karras any longer. They had taken good care of him but Jack was putting them in danger just by being here. He tucked the Late Night on Ragbrai tee shirt in his pocket and checked for the magic beans
to be sure that they were safe. Then, Jack quietly crept out of the side door of the garage and into the deep snow and cold moonlight.
He was wearing the very same clothes and shoes he had arrived with, and they were no match for the cold, but that wasn’t enough to stop Jack. He chose to avoid the road he had used to get to town with snowshoes over the past four days and, instead, plunged over a snow bank and down the steep slope of the mountain without a clear plan of what he was doing.
The initial shock of the cold weather gave way to warmth brought about by a mixture of fear and the physical exertion of running, sliding, dodging, and jumping as Jack descended through the boulders and trees at break-neck speeds. Jack was soon far away from the Karras home and still moving quickly.
Suddenly, a ravine opened up right in front of Jack, but he was moving too fast to stop in time. He jumped and flew through the cold night air in what felt like slow motion before finally landing in an icy snowdrift on the other side with an impact that knocked the wind out of him.
Too stunned to move, Jack lay helplessly as the entire drift gave way and rumbled down the far side of the ravine in a miniature avalanche, tossing Jack around like a rag doll until he finally came to a stop in a clearing at the bottom of the mountain.
Jack closed his eyes. He was tired, he was cold, he was bruised, he was losing consciousness, and he thought he could hear the familiar sound of a camera shutter clicking over and over again nearby.
to be continued... [a serial by little orphan dbax]