About the Author
Read an Excerpt
THE MAN IN THE MOON LOOKED OUT OF THE MOON,
LOOKED OUT OF THE MOON AND SAID,
"TIS TIME FOR ALL CHILDREN ON THE EARTH
TO THINK ABOUT GETTING TO BED!''
Sarah Jane Hurley wakes with a wetness on her fingertips. She raises her hand to her eyes and tilts it to catch the narrow ribbon of moonlight shining through the slats of the deck above. Blood. Yes, it's blood. Fee, fi, fo, fum. On her fingertips and under her nails. Fresh blood, shiny and new. Her own blood. Must've been scratching her bites in her sleep. She's pulled some scabs off and they've bled again. It's happened so often she doesn't feel it anymore. It doesn't even hurt.
She brings her hand closer to her face and studies the blood, surprised: it's so beautiful--bright and shiny as a brand-new red Crayola--the same as when she was a girl. Way back then, lying in the hammock in her gramma's backyard in Galveston, she'd hold very still and let a mosquito land on her arm. Barely breathing, she'd watch its stinger pierce her skin, her perfect, smooth ten-year-old skin--summer-tanned, stretched tight over thin arms. She'd hold her breath and watch the insect fatten itself. She'd wait until it was full, and then she'd raise a hand and slap down hard--splat. And, wonder of wonders, she would see her own bright blood smeared on her skin next to the squashed mosquito.
Sarah Jane sticks her tongue out and touches it to a bloody fingertip. Salty, rusty taste. Just like back then. But it should taste different now. It should taste like cheap wine and stale cigarette smoke and day-old pizza scrounged from Dumpsters and cold, scummy coffee--all those snips and snails that make up her body now.
But, somehow, she still has the same blood as that young girl in the hammock, that smooth-skinned, sugar-and-spice child. Even though now her skin is ruined--reddened and weathered, and even though she's covered with insect bites and scabs and scars and cuts and bruises she can't even remember how she got.
Yes, her blood should look different. But it doesn't. It is still bright red and wet and hopeful. As though she might be the same inside--Sarah Jane Hurley, good girl. "There was a little girl who had a little curl,'' Gramma would say, stroking Sarah Jane's curly hair, "right in the middle of her forehead. And when she was good, she was very, very good.'' That was when Sarah Jane talked proper English and behaved in the ladylike way Gramma wanted her to. And when she held on to her temper and didn't let people make her mad all the time.
Sarah Jane screws her face up in disgust. Ladylike? What a joke! If Gramma were alive now, she'd cross the street to avoid her, such a filthy, hopeless old hag she's become. "But when she was bad she was horrid.'' Gramma said that too--when Sarah Jane acted just like her no-good mother and got into all that trouble as a teenager. But even Gramma didn't imagine just how horrid Sarah Jane could be, that she would end up like this--a homeless old drunk. And that wasn't even the worst of it. She had far worse to account for than just ending up a bum.
She shakes her head to stop this train of thought; she's letting herself get sucked into that old rearview-mirror trap. She won't think about what's done and can't be changed. She wipes her bloody fingers off on the dirty black and white coat that's wrapped around her and tries to go back to sleep. She is just drifting off when she hears noises--some sharp bangs and thuds above her. Thunder? No. Footsteps. Well, damn! There's not supposed to be anyone up there. At lunchtime, sure, they let people eat out there, but then the deck closes and it belongs to her. After dark, it's all hers.
A bright light comes on, chasing away the moonlight.
Sarah Jane looks up at the wooden deck, at the thin stripes of harsh floodlight between the slats. Carefully she turns over on her back, keeping her big canvas bag under her head. She tries not to make any noise, not to rustle the flattened cardboard refrigerator carton she is lying on. She stares up at the deck, three feet above. Black forms break up the yellow stripes. The lines of light flicker. A clopping right over her head makes her blink. Then a scraping noise.
Someone's sitting down. Damn. This has never happened, in the . . . how long has it been? More than a year. No one has ever sat down on the deck after dark. Occasionally someone would wander out, but they would see it was closed and leave.
Now there are voices overhead, male voices. A smooth, phony-type voice is droning. She catches some words. "Full moon tonight, sir. Real pretty. Sure it's not too cool for you out here? Technically, the deck is closed, but since your friend needs to smoke--''
A loud laugh barks out. "Fine. Real fine. You just be sure and tell Mr. Vogel I'm out here when he comes. And, pardner--let's keep it private out here, know what I'm saying?'' This voice is one of those bossy, king-of-the-world voices Sarah Jane hates the most. It's the kind of voice that tells you to get off the bench, get out of the park, leave the library, move along, 'cause he owns the world and you don't.
"Would you like something to drink while you're waiting?'' the smooth voice overhead croons.
Oh, my. Sarah Jane lets her eyes close. A drink--that's the ticket. That's the way you keep your eyes off that old rearview mirror. That's how you get beyond pain.
A set of footsteps retreats and a door closes.
It's quiet, except for the tapping of a quick, nervous toe above. This makes the light dance in a jittery pattern and jangles Sarah Jane's nerves. Now she can't go back to sleep, but she's afraid to move around, or the toe-tapper up there will hear her. She'll have to keep real quiet or they'll call the cops on her like they threatened to do last time. And that would be the end. They'd find out her real name and put it in their computer and come up with what happened in Houston, and they would lock her up for sure. Then she'd be kaput, done in. God, she couldn't even manage school, or working steady, or being married or any of those closed-in things people are supposed to do. She'd never survive jail.
So she waits without making a sound. She's pretty good at waiting; it's the one thing she's been practicing for years--waiting for fate to come along and tell her what to do next. It's quiet now except for a faint buzz of voices and dishes clinking inside the Creekside Grill and, of course, the toe tapping, which never lets up--tappety, tap, tap. That's one nervous dude up there. His edginess vibrates her body, speaks to her own skittish nervous system. Like Morse code, it tells her his skin feels too tight, his blood too thick, his veins too narrow, his hair follicles too full of living roots. It makes him tic and tap and itch.
Sarah Jane itches too--her bites are driving her crazy. Goddamn fire ants. Buggers act like they own the world, too. Maybe they do. Or will. When people destroy everything else, those mean little red ants will inherit the earth. She pictures it--a round planet still spinning, but barren, no lakes or trees or buildings, nothing but millions and millions of those dirt mounds that fire ants push up. When all is said and done, concentrated meanness will inherit the earth.
Finally the deck shudders with more footsteps. One set sounds like a giant wearing jackboots. "Here he is, sir,'' says the phony, suck-up voice. "You gentlemen make yourselves comfortable out here. Your waiter will be right out.''
The wimpy footsteps retreat and the door closes. "Well, pardner,'' Toe-tapper says, "it's getting to be--''
"Wait!'' says a new voice. "I want to look around.'' This voice is low and growly, much older, with some kind of foreign accent. It matches the heavy footsteps that rattle the deck. The guy must weigh a ton. Clumpety, clump. The noise reminds Sarah Jane of something--a nursery rhyme, maybe--where someone goes tramp, tramp over a bridge and someone else is hiding under that bridge. Now how did that one go? Gramma read it to her and she used to read it to Tom and Ellie back in the good days of stories and nursery rhymes, when she was still trying to be a real mother, before everything went wrong. It had to do with goats.
"Looks all right,'' says the guttural voice. A memory zings her: Gruff! Billy Goat Gruff! And the biggest goat had a threatening, kick-butt voice like this guy's. She can't quite recall how the story went. She'll look it up at the library--if she can sneak back in.
Overhead a chair scrapes on wood.
"Glad to see you're a careful professional,'' Toe-tapper says. "You ready, pardner?''
"Ready to get paid,'' the guttural voice growls. "I've incurred expenses.''
"Hey, Mr. V., we agreed. For the cause--half up front, half on completion. We're good for it. The posse's got real deep pockets.''
"So I hear.''
Sarah Jane wishes they'd pipe down or move indoors so she can go back to sleep.
"You got the stuff all ready?'' Toe-tapper asks.
"Yah.'' Old Billy Goat Gruff is a man of few words.
"It's time for you to take a tour of the Capitol, Mr. V. Free public tours every fifteen minutes. See how your tax dollar's been spent.''
Sarah Jane tunes in here. The Capitol--she passes it on her rounds every day. She's wondered if it would be a good place to cop some A/C on hot days.
"They've done a real pretty job of renovating the old girl,'' Toe-tapper is saying, "but for a hundred and eighty-seven mil, they ought to, huh? Follow the guide and look real good at the Senate chamber.''
"The Senate chamber?''
"Yessir. That's where you're gonna do your thing. You're going to turn that Senate chamber into a gas chamber. Being a Kraut, you know all about--''
"Stop right there, mister!'' The gruff voice is dead mean. It makes Sarah Jane suck in her breath. Anyone talked to her that way, she'd reach for her knife real quick. "I'm a citizen of the United States,'' he says, cold as ice, "just like you.''
"Okay. Okay,'' Toe-tapper says. "Keep your powder dry.'' He laughs. "You like art, pardner?''
"If it's naked.''
"Well, hate to disappoint you, but this is art with no tits. Take a long look at Dawn at the Alamo--the guide will point it out--an old oil painting with lots of blue in it, real pretty, my personal favorite. Right above it, in the public gallery, is where you'll probably want to set up shop.
"Hang around awhile after the tour. But if you see me, don't say howdy 'cause we never met. Get the layout of the chamber in your head. Sit up in the gallery a spell and ponder the security. Know what I'm saying, pardner?''
There is silence, then the flick of a cigarette lighter. Sarah Jane holds very still. She is close enough to smell the cigarette smoke. Public gallery? Sounds like a place you could sleep and no one would notice. If it's public like he says, they have to let you in or you can make a big stink about being discriminated against. Sarah Jane decides she's going to take that tour. She needs a new place to hang out during the day after what happened at the library.
"When do you want the service delivered?'' This is the big billy goat talking.
Toe-tapper laughs his high horse laugh. "Why? Your dance card getting filled up?''
"I asked you when.'' The voice drips with menace.
Toe-tapper says, "Now, pardner, we agreed you'd be on call, ready to deliver between now and sine die, the end of the term.'' He laughs, a nervous laugh that tells Sarah Jane he is scared of this dude but is trying not to show it. "I'm gonna let you know in plenty of time, just like I said. See, we won't know until the bill gets scheduled. But I'm there watching every day. When it's set for a vote, I'll call you just like we agreed. In about a week, we figure.''
"I been reading the paper. They say it's a done deal.''
"Sure,'' says Toe-tapper. "If it ever comes to a vote, but we're not gonna let that happen. Know what I'm saying, pardner?''
"Yah. I know what you're saying,'' growls Billy Goat Gruff.
"We let them pass this bill and we're saying so long to our God-given rights. Once they get us to sign up for licenses, the Feds got their lists ready for the big confiscation, sure as shooting.'' He chuckles as if he's made some joke. "The four L's of gun control, pardner. Licenses lead to lists. Lists lead to loss. Loss leads to lamenting. Know what I'm saying, pardner?''
"Yah, I know. You're preaching to the choir,'' Billy Goat says, "but does the posse understand how lethal this soman is?''
"Meanest-ass gas around. Sure, we know. You aren't going mushy on me, are you, Mr. V.? Tell you what: you sit in the gallery like I do every day, up there above the chamber, and you look down at your state senators scurrying around. Know what they are? Cockroaches. Traitors. In league with the Feds, trying to take away our constitutional right to defend ourselves. That's what they are--cockroaches, and they deserve exterminating. Think about Waco and Ruby Ridge.''
Suddenly Sarah Jane tenses in panic. A hand is clamped over her mouth. It has come out of the darkness with no sound to warn her. Someone has crept under the deck, into her space. She reaches up to grab her bag, her knife, but a hand pins her arm down and a heavy shoulder leans on the other arm. The hands feel horny and rough. He crawls on top of her, his lanky body weighing her down, settling into hers. His breath smells of deep sewer rot. His beard, pressing against her cheek, feels like sandpaper and wire. He doesn't make a sound.
He lets go of her arm, reaches down, and hikes her long coat up around her hips. He keeps one hand pressed over her mouth.
Very slowly, Sarah Jane lifts her free arm and raises it toward his face. She extends her index finger and lays it gently against his lips.