The first thing Turner had done before going to sleep was to set his alarm for six o’clock. The alarm sounded and he went into the living room and flicked on the TV, but there was no news about a woman being killed out by Lake Travis. He went out the front door and stole a neighbor’s newspaper, unfurling it on the living room table. “Nothing here, either,” he said to himself. “But maybe it was too late for the news deadline.”
He re-wrapped the newspaper and put it back on the neighbor’s stoop.
His stomach was growling, and he realized he now had money for food. The thought made him sick. In staggered Will.
“Hey, man! What are doing up this early? It’s Saturday.” Will was still drunk.
“I’ve been checking the news,” he said.
“For what? That’s the first time I’ve ever seen you even watch the TV.”
“Your frat brother threw the woman out of his truck last night and stole all her money.”
“Galen did that to the whore? Really?”
“I don’t believe it.”
“He did. And he gave me a hundred bucks to shut up about it.”
“Oh,” Will said. “That sounds more like Galen. He’s a pretty generous guy. You gotta be pretty happy, huh? You’ll get to eat breakfast and dinner!”
“You guys are fucked up,” said Turner.
Will had gone into the kitchen, popped open a beer, and flopped down on the couch. “How’s that?”
“You brought that woman to the party, then robbed her and probably hurt her and maybe killed her for all I know.”
Will grinned. “Dude,” he said. “She is a whore. Do you know what a whore is? A whore is a woman with a drug habit who sells her body for money. Whores get beaten, robbed, pushed out of pickups, and smeared with every venereal disease known to man. That’s why we don’t let our daughters be whores. We let other people’s daughters be whores. Whoring is not healthy for children and other living things.”
“She’s not a whore. She’s a person.”
“Really? Sure looked like one to me.” Will swigged the beer. “You know your problem, Turner?”
“The one that’s eating you up right now.”
“No, actually I don’t.”
“Let me tell you. You’re one of those people who likes the hard road.”
“What does that mean?”
“There are two roads in life, the easy one and the hard one. The frat life is the easy road, buddy. You kiss a little ass. You dress right. You talk about the right stuff. You pay your monthly dues. You drink the beer and whiskey and you puke a little bit and you screw the hookers and you cheat on the accounting test and you major in business. Then you graduate and one of your brothers gets you a job and you marry a nice girl and get a house in Houston or Dallas and make money and live a good life. That’s the easy road. It’s open to everybody who’s white, male, reasonably smart, and who knows how to play along to get along.”
“And what’s the hard road?”
“Shit, you know better than I do. It’s the road for the guy who won’t be a team player.”
“Like not raping the stripper and robbing the prostitute?”
“We didn’t rape the stripper. And even if we did, so what? She’s a fucking stripper. She takes off her clothes so that men can look at her pussy. She’s a moron and a drug addict.”
“So that makes it right?”
“No, but the fact that it bothers you means you like the hard road. You’d rather wonder about the inner workings of the whores and strippers than stick five bucks in her crack and pile on for sloppy seconds with your buddies. Piling on is easy. Understanding the inner workings of strippers and whores? No harder road, Turner.” Will finished the beer, neatly flipped it into the trash can, and went into his bedroom.
Turner took a t-shirt out of his drawer and wiped down his Nishiki. It was a beautiful, lustrous, pearly gray-and-tan. He pulled the cloth around the spokes and carefully polished the few flecks of dirt and grit from the day before. With twenty of the stolen dollars in his pocket, he pushed the bike out the door. It was barely seven o’clock, and the student ghetto was absolutely still.
The air had a touch of fall in it. He swung his leg over his bike and let gravity start to accelerate the wheels. His mind was so full of anger and confusion and guilt that he thought he would explode. This time the bike felt more natural. Its smoothness wasn’t quite as surprising as it glided through the turn at Woodland, and his feet hadn’t fumbled as much trying to slip them into the toeclips.
Turner couldn’t believe he’d taken the money from Galen, but the twenty was in his pocket and he was hungry. He was no better than the guy who’d robbed her. He felt his face turn red from shame. Then his legs were turning as he hit the first roller. Up and over, he pedaled more, and pedaled harder. When he came to the big one, the roller that had stopped him and knocked him over the day before, he jumped out of the saddle unencumbered by the backpack, his chain already sitting neatly on just the right gear.
His legs jammed down hard and the bike shot forward. There was nothing in his head any more except the sound of the tires, the wind in his ears, and the slight labor of his breath.