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"I can't make him see me, Ambrose, that would...that would stir his mind all up."

-The Bone Orchard, Kindle loc 1444

 

"Hey, Mister! Wanna buy a paper?"

It took a moment for the question to register over the sound of his heartbeat and the feel of his feet pounding pavement, but once it did, Owen stopped jogging and turned around. A scrawny kid who was ten if he was a day offered him a gap-toothed grin and held out a newspaper.

Smiling in return, Owen legged it back the several paces to where the boy stood. "How much?"

"10 cents."

"A dime for a paper? That's a steal, kiddo."

The boy shrugged. "It's my last one. The paper is a little bit crumpled and the ink is kinda smeary, but a job is a job. I can't go home until it's sold."

Owen dug into the pocket of his sweats, coming up with a handful of wadded tissues and a Delaware state quarter. He shoved everything but the quarter back into his pants and held the coin out for inspection. "Well, consider this a donation to the cause."

The boy peered at the silver coin carefully. "I've never seen one like that before."

"Huh? Oh. Yeah, I guess you don't see too many Delaware State Quarters out west. I spend a lot of time on the east coast, though, so I guess I picked it up there."

The boy tried not to look impressed and Owen had to press his lips together to keep from laughing. He couldn't say why exactly, but something about the cut of the boy's jib reminded him of Six... Something about the way he carried himself, maybe.

"Have you ever been to New York City?" the boy asked.

"Yep. I'm from New York originally."

The kid brightened despite himself. "What's that like?"

"Amazing," Owen said immediately. There was no other word that so encapsulated the bustle of the city and its gleaming skyscrapers.  The wisps of steam that wafted up from the subway vents. The incomparable flavor of a NYC hotdog. His job had taken him to California, but he'd always be a New Yorker at heart. "It's a lot cooler there this time of year. San Diego is nicer year round though," he added as an afterthought, wiping at his brow.

"Cooler sounds awful nice," said the boy with a wistful air. His empty carry-on bag which had presumably held papers until recently slid halfway down his arm before he caught the strap and pushed it back up. "I don't much care about the weather usually, but walking up and down the street on a scorcher like today while everyone else takes the taxi sucks eggs." The boy flushed slightly. "Don't tell Ma I said that."

"I won't, cross my heart."

The boy took the coin carefully from Owen and held it ridiculously close to his face as he turned it this way and that, handing Owen the newspaper with barely a glance. As Owen scanned the headlines, the boy reached for a pocket on the front of his bag and scrambled for Owen's change.

"Keep it," Owen said impulsively.

"Just like that?" The boy's eyes narrowed. "You wouldn't be trying to buy me for nef-nefarsious purposes, would you, mister?"

Owen snorted. The kid was reminding him of Ty Grady more all the time. "Nothing nefarious involved, promise. You'd be doing me a favor. I'm out for a run. Spare change just weighs me down."

"Well, if you put it that way..." The boy eyed him and then broke into a grin. "Thanks a lot!"

"No sweat."

"Maybe I'll get to take that taxi after all!"

Owen waved the boy on, smiling sadly when the boy turned to go and shot him one more glimpse of that gap-toothed smile, wavered and disappeared. The quarter dropped to the sidewalk.

Owen's hand clenched empty air as the paper blinked out, leaving only a smear of ink to prove that it had ever been.

"Damn you, Ezra," Owen said without heat.

Taking several steps forward, he leaned down, picked up the quarter and put it back into his pocket. Then, sighing, he rubbed his ink-stained hand absently against his pants and jogged on.