Bubba was too busy to take so much as one sip of Tang, which had been room temperature when Honey had spitefully filled his thermos, and therefore would still be room temperature if he ever had time to drink it. There wasn't the slightest chance Bubba would make it to the break room to microwave his Taco Bell Lunchable, which Honey had not ruined because she couldn't.
Bubba had not a moment to think about the Icehouse or Molson Golden or Foster's Lager filling the refrigerator in the mud room, waiting for him when he finally rolled in, exhausted, around half-past seven every morning except Tuesday and Wednesday, his days off. Bubba did not eat, drink or smoke anything that wasn't Philip Morris. He would have bought nothing but Philip Morris stock if he didn't spend so much on its products and his Jeep and tools.
Bubba Fluck's feelings were lacerated to the point of rage. He was being treated like shit as he tried like hell to speed things along in Bay 8. Sure, there had been a lot of rejects flying into the bins on the floor, destined for the ripper room, where they would be fed into a machine, the precious tobacco separated from the paper and reclaimed. Bubba refused to accept defeat. He figured if three shifts could crank out thirty million packs of cigarettes every twenty-four hours, then he, by God, could whip out an extra half a million cigarettes or twenty-five thousand packs before shift change.
Bubba worked like one possessed, dashing back and forth between the computer and the maker. When the resistance to draw got a little too close to the red line, Bubba was right there making the adjustment. He intuitively knew when he was going to run out of glue and made sure the attendant pulled up the cart early. When the tipping paper broke again, Bubba spooled it back through the air channel, up into the feed rollers, threaded it into the garnisher and hit reset in a record thirty-one seconds.
When the paper broke another time, he realized he had dull knives in the cutting head and summoned a fixer to take care of the problem. Bubba sweated through more lost minutes and worked even faster to make up the time. He ran three hours without another mishap, without stopping, and by four A.M., the production report on the computer screen showed Bubba was only 21,350 dual-rods, or less than two minutes, behind Bay 5.
Production supervisor Betty Council monitored quality and oversaw fixers and electricians, and coordinated shifts. She had been keeping her eye on Bubba for weeks because he seemed to have more technical problems than any of the other operators. Gig Dan had told her he was getting fed up with him.
'How are we doing?' she called out to Bubba as the vacuum in the maker sucked blended tobacco down, and rods formed almost faster than the eye could follow.
Bubba was too busy to answer.
'You don't have to kill yourself,' said Council, who was on her way to being promoted again because she was smart, hardworking, and several months ago had increased production three percent by encouraging competition among the bays.
'I'm fine,' Bubba said as rods were glued, cut, plucked into the transfer drum, carried to another knife and flipper, then to another drum. Plugs from the plug hopper were cut and married to the rods.
'I'm absolutely amazed,' she yelled above the roar and strike of machines. 'You and Smudge are almost neck and neck.'
Brazil stepped on the gas in pursuit of the kid half-falling and zigzagging on the side of the road. It was commonly accepted in policing that if a subject was running, usually there was a reason. Brazil rolled down his window.
'What's going on?' he called out as he drove and the kid continued to dash about.
'Nothing,' the kid gasped, the whites of his eyes showing all the way around as fear propelled his Nikes.
'Something is, or you wouldn't be running,' Brazil called back. 'Stop so I can talk to you!'
'Yes, you can.'
Brazil pulled off the road ahead of him and jumped out. The kid was exhausted and intoxicated. He was wearing a Bulls jersey and looked vaguely familiar, even in the dark.
'Leave me alone!' he screamed as Brazil grabbed him by the back of his jersey. 'I didn't do nothing!'
'Whoa,' Brazil said. 'Calm down. Wait a minute. I've met you before. You're that kid at Godwin, the artist. A different sort of name. What was it…? Week? Wheeze?'
'I'm not telling you nothing!' The kid was heaving, sweat shining on his face and dripping off his chin.
Brazil looked around, wondering, listening. He didn't see anyone else. There was no burglar alarm hammering anywhere, the road dark, the night silent.
'Weed,' he suddenly remembered. 'Yeah, that's it.'
'No it ain't,' Weed said.
'Yeah, it is. I'm sure of it. I'm Andy Brazil.'
'You're that cop who came to school,' Weed accused him.
'Something wrong with that?' Brazil asked.
'So how come you're out here in a BMW?' Weed demanded to know.
'A better question is how come you're drunk and running like a maniac?'
Weed looked up to where the moon would be, were it not covered in clouds.
'I'm taking you home,' Brazil said.
'You can't make me,' Weed defied him, his words slurring and knocking one another down.
'Sure I can.' Brazil laughed. 'You're drunk in public. You're a juvenile. You can either come downtown or I'm taking you to your house, and if I were you, I'd choose the latter and take some aspirin and go to bed.'
Weed was thinking. A U-Haul truck rumbled past, then a station wagon. Weed was still thinking, wiping his face on his sleeve. A VW Rabbit buzzed by, then a Jeep that reminded Brazil of CABBAGES. Brazil shrugged and walked over to his car. He opened his door.
'Ill call a unit to come take you downtown,' he said. 'I'm not hauling prisoners in my personal car.'
'You said you'd drive me home in it,' Weed countered. 'Now you saying you ain't.'
'I said I'm not hauling your butt downtown.'
Brazil shut his door.
Weed yanked open the passenger's door and slid onto the leather seat. He fastened his shoulder harness and didn't say a word. Brazil pulled back onto West Gary.
'What's your real name?' Brazil asked him.
'How'd you end up with a name like that, huh?'
'I dunno.' Weed stared down at his untied hightops.
'Sure you do.'
'My daddy works for the city.'
'And?' Brazil encouraged him.
'Cuttin' grass and stuff. Pullin' weeds. Called me Weed 'cause he said I'd grow like one.'
Instantly he was humiliated and alarmed. It was obvious he had never grown like a weed, and he had told the cop way too much. He watched the cop write down Weed on a little notepad. Shit! If the cop figured out Weed was a Pike, Weed would die. Smoke would see to that.
'What's your last name?' Brazil then asked.
'Jones,' Weed lied.
Brazil wrote this down, too.
'What's the five for?'
'The five tattooed on your finger.'
Fear turned to panic. Weed's mind went blank.
'I don't got no tattoo,' he said stupidly.
'Yeah? Then what am I looking at?'
Weed examined one hand, then the other as if he had never taken a good look at himself before this moment. He stared at the 5 and rubbed it with his thumb.
'It don't mean nothing,' he said. 'I just did it, you know?'
'But why the number five?' Brazil persisted. 'You picked it for a reason.'
Weed was beginning to shake. If the cop figured out that 5 was Weed's slave number, one thing might lead to another.
'It's my lucky number,' Weed said as sweat trickled from his armpits, down his sides, beneath his Bulls colors.
Brazil fiddled with the CD player, jumping around from Mike amp; The Mechanics to Elton John before deciding on Enya.
'Man, how you listen to that?' Weed said finally.
'What about it?'
'It ain't got nothing to it. No good drums or cymbals or words that mean something.'
'Maybe the words mean something to me,' Brazil answered him. 'Maybe I don't care about drums or cymbals.'
'Oh yeah?' Weed got mad. 'You're just saying that because I play cymbals and pretty soon gonna learn drums.'
'You mind telling me where we're going?' Brazil said. 'Or is it a secret?'
'I bet you don't know nothing about cymbals.' Weed's logic was fading in and out, the dark smooth ride sedating him further. 'We're in the Azalea Parade, too.'
'I know you have to live somewhere near Godwin or you couldn't go to school there.' Brazil was getting increasingly frustrated.
Weed was falling asleep. He smelled bad and Brazil still didn't know why the kid had been out on the street drunk and running as if Jack the Ripper were after him. Brazil reached over and gently shook him. Weed practically jumped through the roof.
'No!' he screamed.
Brazil turned on the light above the visor and took a long hard look at Weed. Brazil noticed that the number 5 on his right index finger was crude and puffy.
'Tell me where you live,' Brazil said firmly. 'Wake up, Weed, and tell me.'
'You live near Henrico Doctors' Hospital?'
'Uh huh. My head hurts so bad.'
'That's not in Godwin's district.'
'My daddy live in the district. My mama don't.'
'Well, who are you going home to, Weed? Your mother or your dad?'
'I don't hardly ever go near him. Just now and then, maybe a weekend every two months so he can go out and leave me alone, which is all right by me.'
'What street does your mother live on?'
'Forest and Skipwith. I can show you." Weed's tongue was sticking to the roof of his mouth.
Brazil plucked Weed's right hand out of his lap.
'What'd you go and get a tattoo for?' he said again. 'Somebody talk you into that?'
'A lotta people get 'em.' Weed pulled his hand away.
'Looks to me like you just got it,' Brazil said. 'Maybe even today.'