I woke up out of a terrible nightmare, reaching for Kit, who wasn’t there; she left early to go to Chicago on family business. The nightmare wasn’t about the cartoon monster in the script, but a related horror I saw in the war.

Artillery support had gotten the new “shock” rounds for the 175s, and the first one they fired fell way short, and it went off above a thing like a Muslim day care center or orphanage. Our camp was right on the edge of town, a place we called Honeypot, so they ordered most of us to run over and render aid.

It was all children except for four women, and all but one were dead or barely twitching. The shock round had blown off all their clothing and most of their skin. Most of them must have died instantly of cardiac arrest, but one was walking, a girl of ten or twelve who looked like a medical-school diagram, flayed from the waist up, just bloody muscles, and from the top of her butt trailed a bright flag of bloody skin like a gory wedding train. She fell over and died before the medics could do anything, but what would they have been able to do? Whole body skin graft; just grit your teeth, sweetheart.

It was two in the morning. I got up without dressing and turned on all the lights in the kitchen and sat drinking a beer very fast. Then I put some ice cubes in a glass and poured in a few inches of Kit’s vodka. That got me tranquilized enough to go back to sleep and not dream, or at least not remember the dreams.

Woke up groggy and went for a walk. I took the next section of the script and a notebook, so I could at least pretend to be working. Went by a bike shop, but it wasn’t open till ten, so dropped in the twenty-four-hour pool hall and had a healthy breakfast of Slim Jims and beer. I read the paper for a while and then went back to the bike shop.

The Steve in the story gets a really nice touring bike, but I didn’t need anything that fancy or expensive. Just something to replace the old clunker I’d bought from a roommate in college.

The shop’s pretty upscale, and most of the bikes are almost weightless and cost as much as a used car. But they did have a section with cheap kids’ so-called mountain bikes—like there were mountains in Iowa—and adult “commuter” bikes. I can commute to work in ten seconds, barefoot, but I got one of those, a bright blue Cambridge. With an accessory package of lights and lock and saddle bags, it was just under $500. One percent of my eventual Monster money.

It was gloriously easy to ride, compared to my rust bucket. It had automatic shift and springs and nice wide handlebars, so you could sit upright and see the world go by. The old one had dropped handlebars, so you rode hunched over, and was so rigid your ass felt every pebble in the road.

Perfect weather for bicycling, sunny and slightly cool, so I pedaled around for an hour and a half, and wound up on the other side of town. There was a new Italian restaurant with outside tables, so I sat down there and took out the script and notebook. I got a half carafe of white wine and started to work.


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