Home > All the Crooked Saints(4)

All the Crooked Saints(4)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Daniel leaned close to turn off the radio. The quiet hurried around them.

On the other side of where the owl had appeared, distant headlights came into view. In a place like this, you could go all night without seeing another vehicle, and so it was with interest that Beatriz watched the two tiny lights travel from right to left. It was far too distant to hear, but she knew the sound of tires on the gravel so well that her ears pretended they caught it. She lifted her hand to see if she could feel the sound with her fingers.

Daniel closed his eyes. His mouth moved. He was praying.

“Headlights! Are you two stupid?” Joaquin had grown bored waiting for them to report and now called to them from the open back of the truck. “Headlights! Why didn’t you say right away?! The FCC!”

Beatriz closed her fingers and lowered her hand. She said, “They aren’t headed this way.”

“How can you know?!”

“They’re going to …”

She lifted a vague hand and allowed that gesture to serve as the rest of the sentence.

Joaquin sprang back inside to rip wires from the battery, then leaped back out and began to tear up ground wires with a great and fearful energy. But Beatriz was right, as she often was. The headlights continued on their distant path without pause, illuminating motionless antelope and clumps of grass. The vehicle was headed unerringly toward Bicho Raro. It was hunting not for a radio signal but for a miracle.

Daniel opened his eyes. He said, “I need to get there before they do.”

There would be no miracle without a saint.

 

 

There were two people in the vehicle driving toward Bicho Raro that night: Pete Wyatt and Tony DiRisio.

Pete and Tony had run into each other in western Kansas many long hours before. Not literally, but nearly. Pete had been hitchhiking alongside endless prairie, slow-motion counting the mile markers out loud four or five times an hour, when a big owl flew right overhead, making him jump a few inches. A second later, a car skidded into the space Pete had just been occupying. Tony had rolled down the window, peered through the cloud of dust and gravel, and demanded, “What’s my name?” When Pete had confessed that he didn’t know, Tony’s expression had cleared. “You’ll have to drive,” Tony said, unbuckling his seat belt, “because I’m too high.”

This was how Pete, a kid who had driven his father’s sedan only a few dozen times since getting his license, found himself piloting an aggressively unattractive Mercury station wagon painted an overdone egg-yolk yellow. Tony DiRisio liked large cars. When he’d visited the Philadelphia car dealership to purchase it, he had brought only a tape measure and his checkbook. He felt there was a permanence to a car that was over seventeen feet long and covered with wood paneling.

Tony himself was handsome as a cigarette. Currently, he wore a white suit and dark sideburns. Both had appeared stylish at one point, but by the time Pete met him, they were rumpled. He had been driving the Mercury for five days and driving himself for longer. He was only thirty-four, but he had lived all of those years twice, once as Tony DiRisio and once as Tony Triumph. After surviving a childhood too boring to repeat in polite company, he’d become a DJ at an easy listening station too boring to play in polite company. Over the past few years, he had transformed himself and the station into a household fixture by the expedient of bringing random housewives into the station to play their pick of the hour. He became a hunted man; Philadelphia women now sought him in grocery aisles and on neighborhood sidewalks, hoping to catch his eye. The local rag ran pieces analyzing the type of woman he was likely to invite: what they’d been wearing when discovered (shoes without heels, mostly), how they had worn their hair (often in rollers), and how old they’d been (usually over fifty). The headline mused, “Does Tony Triumph Want His Mother?”

Here was a thing he wanted: to stop having dreams of being laughed at by tiny birds with very long legs. Here was a thing he feared: people watching him while he ate.

He also missed his mother.

Pete Wyatt didn’t know any of this about Tony. He was not an easy listening fan and had never been east of the Mississippi anyway. He was only a few weeks out of high school, a clean-cut fellow with dull brown hair and bright brown eyes and reasonably tidy fingernails. Although he was more than a decade younger than Tony, he had been born old, already a good rock to build a church from the moment he first rolled out of his mother.

He was one of those folks who couldn’t avoid helping. At twelve, he’d organized a canned food drive and set a world record for the most pounds of creamed corn ever donated to the poor. At fifteen, struck by the unspoken misery of being a friendless child, he had saved up enough money to give every first grader in his old school a baby chick. A miscommunication with the newspaper covering the story had resulted in three Indiana poultry farms doubling and then tripling and then quadrupling the donations. Two thousand chicks had arrived in Pete’s hometown, one for every student in his school system, plus three extra. He’d trained those three to do tricks for old folks’ homes.

Pete had intended to join the military after high school, an army man like his father, but doctors had found a hole in his heart. So the day after he graduated, he’d packed up his shame into a duffle and started hitching from Oklahoma to Colorado.

Here was a thing Pete wanted: to start a business that made him feel as good as two thousand baby chickens. Here was a thing he feared: that this strange feeling in his heart—this palpably growing emptiness—would eventually kill him.

Colorado is a long way from most places. This meant the drive would’ve been long in any circumstance, but it seemed even longer because Pete and Tony, like a lot of people who were destined to be friends, couldn’t stand each other.

“Sir,” Pete said, rolling down his window several hours after taking the wheel, “do you think you could give that a rest?”

Tony smoked in the Mercury’s passenger seat as the dusty afternoon followed the car. Pete had been looking for road signs to let him know how far they had to go; there were none.

“Kid,” Tony said, “do you think you could get that stick out of your ass?”

“If the point of me driving all these miles was ’cause you were too high, and I’ve been coughing on your smoke for ten hours, I don’t—I guess I don’t see what the point is, then.”

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