Loo spun around and picked up the rifle. Her fingers went tight on the grip. She scanned the woods, but she saw nothing. Her father was standing and he was staring in the direction of the tree. At the small white mark one hundred yards across the ravine.
He shouted her name as if their lives depended on it. And in one movement the Colt pushed through the air like an extension of his arm, and he was firing into the forest, the gun was flashing, blasting over and over, echoing against the hills. Loo spun, brought the rifle to her chest, and she pulled the bolt and fired, pulled
the bolt and fired, pulled the bolt and fired, and it wasn't until the fifth pull that she realized her father had stopped and that she was out of bullets. Click, click, click.
Loo lowered the barrel of the rifle, expecting to see—well, she wasn't sure exactly what she was expecting. A monster waiting for them in the trees. A shadow from her father's past. But there was only the narrow pine with a new yellow strip, as if Hawley's Colt had peeled the bark straight from the trunk, and two feet under, in the middle of the white spot he'd painted, three dark holes.
Loo's father jogged over to check the target. He took his knife from his boot and dug out one of the bullets. He walked back to Loo and dropped it into her palm. A tiny piece of metal the color of gold. The bullet was from her rifle, small and shiny and hard and broken. Remade by the impact of hitting its target. Hawley smiled, his eyes bright.
Then he said, "Just like your mother."
THE GREASY POLE
Loo had spent her life moving from place to place. She was used to leaving things behind. Hawley would settle them in a town for six months or a year, and then she would come home from school and her father would have the truck packed and they would drive through the night, or two nights or even weeks—living in motel after motel after motel and sometimes sleeping in the backseat underneath an old bear-skin rug, with the doors locked. When she was little it was an adventure she looked forward to, but as the years passed it became more difficult to start new schools, to make new friends, to always be the one who didn't get the joke. She began to dread the moves but a part of her also itched for them, because it meant that she could
stop trying to fit in and simply slip into the place where she belonged: the passenger seat of her father's truck as they barreled down the highway.
They kept only a few belongings. Her father would bring his guns, and the box of Lily's things from the bathroom, and Loo would grab their toothbrushes and some clean socks; a short, handheld telescope Hawley had bought her to look at the stars; and her planisphere—a circular map about the size of a dinner plate, made of plastic and cardboard, that tracked the constellations. It had belonged to her mother. Hawley had given it to Loo on her sixth birthday. Each new place they traveled to, she would wait until dark, spin the dial, set the right date and time, and the chart would reveal Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Taurus and Pegasus. Even if there were too many streetlights, and only the Big Dipper or Orion's Belt was visible, wherever they were would start to feel like home.
Once they unpacked, her father would buy them new clothes and Loo new toys and whatever else they needed. There was a certain kind of joy in this. And another in cracking the fresh spine of a book that Loo had read three times before. She would not say goodbye to the neighbors when they moved, or to her teachers, even if they were nice to her. She would not say goodbye to her friends, either, if she had friends, which she usually didn't.
Hawley and Loo ate ramen noodles in hot-water cups meant for tea. They opened Campbell's soup with hunting knives and warmed them on cans of Sterno. On special occasions they ordered Chinese. It didn't
matter if they were in California or Oklahoma. They could always find a Fortune Palace. Fried egg rolls and wonton soup and scallion pancakes and hoisin sauce were Loo's comfort foods.
On her eleventh birthday they were in San Francisco, and there were so many Chinese food places to choose from that Hawley collected a dozen menus and let Loo pick whatever she wanted. When he came back to their motel room, carrying bags of fried rice and sesame noodles and moo shu chicken, Loo had set up a game of chess on the floor. The board was a birthday gift she'd opened that morning, wrapped in
the comics page of the newspaper. They had played checkers all afternoon, but the set also came with pieces for chess.
"You're on your own with that one," said Hawley. "I don't know how to play."
"There's instructions," said Loo. "Each piece moves differently. The castle goes up and down and side to side. The bishop goes diagonally. The queen moves any way she wants."
"Let's eat before the food gets cold."
Hawley opened a beer and turned on the television. They sat on the beds and dug into the rice and noodles and watched an old Marx Brothers movie together. When it was over, Hawley picked up the food containers and threw them into a bag and Loo sat back down on the floor with her game. Usually they played cards after dinner. Gin Rummy, Crazy Eights or Heads-Up Poker. For chips they used Hawley's spare change, and the winner got to choose dessert from the vending machine. But Loo was ready to do something new. Her eyes had gone toward the chess pieces the moment she'd opened the box that morning. She checked the instructions again.
"Need some help?" Hawley asked.
"I want to figure it out."
"Suit yourself." Hawley tied off the garbage. He tucked his Colt into the belt of his pants and pulled his shirt over it. He took the key and locked the room from the outside, and then she heard his footsteps as he carried the bag down the cement walkway toward the bins.