Home > In Time (The Darkest Minds #1.5)(2)

In Time (The Darkest Minds #1.5)(2)
Alexandra Bracken

Trying to speed things up, I slide a crumpled wad of money his way. The stack looks a lot more impressive than it actually is. I’ve been living off tens and twenties for so long I’m convinced they stopped printing the bigger bills.

“It’s not that I don’t think you can do it, son,” Hutch says, studying the bottom of his pint. “It just sounds easier than it is.”

I should be listening harder than I am. If anyone knows what the job’s really like, it’s him. Old Hutch tried for six months to be a skip tracer, and the prize he won for that misadventure was a burnt-up, mutilated, four-fingered hand. He likes to tell everyone some kid got to him, but seeing as he’s managed to burn down two trailers by falling asleep with a cigarette in his hand, I’m inclined to doubt it. Still, he milks it for all he can. The sight of the gimp hand gets him sympathy drinks from out-of-towners stopping in the Evergreen. Some extra nickels and dimes, too, when he’s holding a cup at the corner of Route 66 and Leroux Street, pretending his white ass is a military vet from the Navajo Nation. Somehow he thinks that combination elevates him over the rest of us bums.

“Can I have the keys?” I ask. “Where’d you park it?”

He ignores me, humming along to the Eagles’ “Take It Easy,” which this bar has on loop apparently for no reason other than the fact that Arizona is mentioned once in it.

I shouldn’t be buying this truck from him. I know there’s going to be something wrong with it; it’s older than I am. But this is the only one I can afford, and I have to get out of here. I have to get out of this town.

“Another one,” he says stubbornly, trying to flag down Amy, the bartender, who is doing her absolute best to deny his miserable existence. She and I have talked about this before—it’s hard to look at him. His teeth got bad over the years, and his cheeks sag so low they’re practically hanging like wattles against his neck. He’s only forty-five, but he already looks like the after photo of a meth addict—the mug shot of the killer on one of those crime TV shows they’re always rerunning. His breath alone is like a punch to the face.

I used to like Hutch a lot. He got to know my dad when he dropped off fresh produce at the restaurant. Now it’s like…I don’t know how to explain it so it makes sense. It’s like he’s a cautionary tale, only one you know you’re speeding toward without brakes. A glimpse of the future, or whatever. I just look at him and I know that if I don’t get out of this place, I’m going to be this old man who’s not even old, but smells like he pisses himself on a regular basis. The guy who spins and spins and spins on his barstool, like he’s riding the old carousel at the fairgrounds.

Hutch slides the key out of his pocket but slams his hand down over it when I reach for it. His other hand traps mine, and then he’s looking at me with these wet, feverish eyes. “I loved your daddy so much, Gabe, and I know he wouldn’t want this for you.”

“He tapped out, which means he doesn’t get a vote,” I said, ripping my hand free. “I paid you. Now tell me where you parked it.”

For a second, I’m sure he’s going to tell me he parked it at the mall, and I’m going to have to walk my ass up the highway for an hour to get there. Instead, he shrugs and says finally, “On the north end of Wheeler Park. On Birch.”

I slide down from my stool, finishing off the pint I just paid fifteen bucks for. Hutch is still watching me with these eyes like I can’t describe. He pauses, then says, “But I’m telling you now, you ever find someone who likes the job, you better goddamn run the other way because you’re looking at the real monster. You’re looking right at him.”

I take my time walking to downtown—excuse me, “Historic Downtown,” they call it, like it needs that distinction because there’s another, more important downtown in Flagstaff, with skyscrapers. I take my time because the sun is out and it’s a beautiful blue-sky morning—the kind that usually makes everything beneath the sky seem that much shittier in comparison, but not today.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see the old train station where my dad and I used to lay pennies to be mauled on the tracks. For the first time in years, I consider crossing the street to sit on one of the benches, just because I know I’ll never do it again. I don’t know how I’d pass the time besides sit, though—what few trains are still running don’t take this route anymore. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. Sitting around, doing nothing, thinking about work but not finding it. I think that’s the problem, all that sitting; it leads to thinking about all this bullshit, about the parks they had to turn into graveyards, about Dad’s restaurant’s still being empty after all these years, about the fact that we had to move to a new trailer because we couldn’t get the blood off the walls of the old one.

Damn Hutch, I think. The only thing Dad wanted was an out.

I head past the boarded-up shops. When I was a kid—I use that phrase a lot, when I was a kid. That was, what? Fifteen years ago? Are you still a kid when you’re ten? I guess it doesn’t matter, but it was right around then that this part of town was done up nice for the tourists. The buildings are practically ancient by Arizona standards. Dad told me most of them, including the red brick one with the white turrets, used to be old hotels. Now they’re bead shops, or they sell mystic crystal bullshit from Sedona or fake petrified wood. Those are the shops that survived the economy’s face-plant.

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