Home > I Am Death (Robert Hunter #7)(5)

I Am Death (Robert Hunter #7)(5)
Author: Chris Carter

Ricky lay still for a moment, his eyes shut tight as he fought back tears. He thought he heard the sound of hurried footsteps.

‘Hey, are you OK?’ a male’s voice asked.

Ricky opened his eyes to blurred images.

‘Are you all right?’ the voice asked again.

Ricky felt someone lifting his bike off his legs. His hands and knees hurt as if they’d been scalded with boiling water. He looked up and saw a man kneeling next to him. He was dressed in a dark suit with a crisp white shirt and a red tie. His brown hair was wavy and pleasantly tousled above a prominent brow, high cheekbones, and a strong chin that was covered by a neatly trimmed goatee. His pale-blue eyes showed concern.

‘Who were those kids?’ the man asked, jabbing his chin in the direction that the gang had ridden off in. He had a somewhat angry look on his face.

‘What?’ Ricky said, still a little disoriented.

‘I was just on my way to pick up my son from school when I saw a bunch of kids bump you over.’ He indicated his car, which was hastily parked with two wheels up on the sidewalk on the other side of the road. The driver’s door was still open.

Ricky followed the man’s gaze. He knew that the kids on the bicycles were Brad Nichols and his gang of asshole friends, but he said nothing. It would make no difference anyway.

‘Hey, you’re bleeding,’ the man said with serious concern, as his eyes moved first to the boy’s hands, then to his knees. ‘You’ve got to clean that up before it gets infected. Here.’ He reached inside his breast pocket and handed Ricky a couple of paper tissues. ‘Use this for now, but we need to wash it with disinfectant soap and warm water pretty sharpish.’

Ricky took the tissues and dabbed them against the palms of his hands.

With the fall, his rucksack had opened, scattering his books on to the sidewalk.

‘Oh!’ the man said, first helping Ricky to his feet, then helping him collect his books. ‘You go to Morningside? So does my son.’ He paused as he handed one last book back to the boy, looking rather surprised. ‘You’re an eighth grader?’

Still in silence, Ricky nodded carelessly.

‘Really? You look like you’re about ten.’

‘I’m eleven,’ Ricky replied, a hint of annoyance in his voice.

‘Sorry,’ the man said, acknowledging his mistake and backpedaling as quickly as he could. ‘I didn’t mean to offend you in any way, but still. You’re quite young for eighth grade? My son is ten, and he’s just finishing fourth grade.’

Ricky placed the last book back into his rucksack. ‘I entered school one year earlier than most kids, and because of my grades they made me skip sixth grade.’ This time there was pride in his words.

‘Wow! That’s amazing. So I’m in the presence of a real child prodigy here.’

Ricky finished clearing the blood from his hands before looking down at his bike and its twisted front wheel. ‘Shit!’

‘That’s pretty damaged,’ the man agreed. ‘I don’t think you’re going to be riding anywhere else on that bike today.’

Ricky looked like he didn’t know what to do. The man read the boy’s uneasiness.

‘Listen,’ he said, consulting his watch. ‘I’m a little late to pick my son up from school so I have to go, but if you like, you can wait here and on our way back John and I can give you a ride back to your house. I’ll be five minutes. How does that sound?’

‘Thanks, but I’ll be OK. I can’t go home like this anyway.’ Ricky began dabbing the paper tissues against the scratches on his knees.

The man’s eyebrows arched in surprise. ‘Why not?’

‘If I turn up at home bleeding, with a broken bike, that gang of kids will look like heavenly angels compared to what my father will do to me.’

‘What, really? But it wasn’t your fault. They ganged up on you.’

‘That doesn’t matter.’ Ricky looked away. ‘Nothing ever matters.’ The hurt in the boy’s voice was palpable.

The man observed Ricky for an instant as he picked his bike up from the ground.

‘OK, how about if John and I drive you home? I’ll then speak with your father myself and tell him what happened. I’ll tell him that I saw everything and that none of it was your fault. He will listen to an adult.’

‘I told you, it won’t make any difference, OK? Nothing ever makes any difference. Thank you for your help, but I’ll be fine.’ Ricky started limping away, dragging his bike.

‘Hey, wait up, kid. If you’re not going home, where are you going, limping and dragging that heavy thing behind you? You really need to clean those wounds up properly.’

Ricky carried on walking. He didn’t look back.

‘OK, I’ve got a better idea. Hear me out,’ the man said, taking a couple of steps toward Ricky. ‘My boy, John, is a nice kid. A little quiet, but a nice kid, and he could seriously use a friend – and it looks like, right now, so could you. I can load your bike into the back of my car, we pick up John from Morningside, and I’ll drop you guys at his mother’s place. It’s not that far from here. She’s got a swimming pool and all. And she can also attend to your hands and knees.’

The words ‘swimming pool’ made Ricky finally pause and look back at the man.

‘I can then quickly run your bike to a shop. The same shop where I got John’s bike. I’m sure they can fix that wheel in no time.’

Ricky looked like he was measuring his options.

The man checked his watch again. ‘C’mon!’ He pressed his lips together for a moment. ‘Look, I’ll be honest with you, all John does when he’s not in school is read comic books and play games . . . alone. Here . . .’ the man reached for his wallet, took out a photograph, and showed it to Ricky. ‘You might’ve seen him around school?’

Ricky squinted as he looked at the photograph of a skinny kid with short, light-brown hair.

‘Maybe. I’m not sure.’

The man didn’t look surprised. Junior high students would never mingle with elementary ones. Not even outcasts like Ricky Temple.

‘Anyway,’ the man continued. ‘He really, really could use a friend. I know that he’s only in fourth grade, but he’s a smart kid, he really is, and he’s got loads of games that I’m sure you’ll be into as well. You guys could play together.’ He gave Ricky a moment. ‘C’mon, you’ve got nothing to lose, and I’ll get your bike fixed for you, what do you say?’

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