Book One in the CUSA series
(C) 2017 Adam Cole
Published by Nuncici Press, an imprint of Adam Cole Works LLC
“Yes, he dies!” the woman shouted at her. “He ain’t got no tribute. He’s in violation of the treaty. Penalty for going against a treaty agreed upon under God is death!”
“He’s in my care,” Chassis said to her. “You got plenty. Now you get off.”
The woman raised her gun and pointed it at Chassis’ head. “You talk to me like that, you ugly old spigger, I’ll put a hole in you like—“
“See this?” Chassis gestured towards her radio. “It’s on and it’s connected to my home base in Atlanta. They’ve been listening to everything that happened here. They know where we are, because you told them. You harm anyone on this bus, and the Young Guns will come out with sprayers and kill all your sons.”
The woman stared thin-eyed at Chassis for a second. She looked at Chassis’ feet. Rosa wondered what she was thinking. Was she going to get mad? Could Chassis’ threat really stop her when they were all out here in the middle of nowhere?
But the woman nodded. “Okay,” she said. “Come on, Porter. Get on up here.”
He shambled up to the front of the bus, bumping each seat with his legs and his burlap sack. Just as he got to the front, he noticed the pretty Chinese girl and her parents. He stopped short. The old woman and Chassis both watched as he carefully put his bag on the ground. He reached out, amazed, and ran his hand down the Chinese girl’s silky hair. After the second time, she started to tremble. Her mother began talking to her quickly in her own language.
“Look, Mimi,” the big man said softly, his voice gentle. “A China doll! Real pretty.”
“Come on, Porter,” the old woman said, sighing. She suddenly looked very tired, a world of weight behind her eyes.
The Chinese mother was watching the big man stroking her daughter’s silk. Rosa never saw anybody so still in her life. She kept her hands from trembling by holding them in little balls in front of her mouth.
“I want this one, Mimi,” Porter half asked, looking back at the old lady.
Chassis didn’t say anything this time, but the old woman did. “That ain’t under the agreement, Porter. Come on.”
“I want her,” Porter insisted. “For me!”
“No!” the old woman said, patient but firm. “It ain’t part of God’s agreement with Skelton. We keep our word. One tenth. Now get on!”
“I want her for the night, then!” Porter said. He grabbed a hank of the girl’s long hair. The girl screamed. The mother and father cried out and clutched at her.
“No!” the old woman shouted. She moved up the stairs and came right up to Porter. She slapped him hard across the cheek. He let the girl drop to her seat, feeling his face with his hand. “Now we keep our agreements or God takes vengeance,” whispered the old lady. “You don’t get to take a woman out of marriage.”
“But for the night,” Porter protested.
“No! Not for the night! You follow God’s Law!”
Porter stared at his Mimi. Rosa couldn’t see his face, and she wondered if he was going to hurt the old lady. But then he sniffled a little bit, turned, and looked around the bus. His eyes fell on Rosa.
The look in them changed from being frustrated to something Rosa didn’t want to say. She suddenly remembered what he smelled like, could imagine what it would be like to have his stubble pricking her throat.
“Rosa,” muttered her Mamma, like she was thinking the same thing.
All of a sudden, the old lady turned, and her gun went off with a jerk.
The guitar woman lurched as if shocked, then slumped over with a protesting groan. Rosa could see the guitar strings fall to the rubber floor from her hand. She had been trying to take them back out of the burlap sack while the old lady and the big man were arguing. Shot, the guitar woman continued to protest with a helpless shake of her head. Then she was staring at nothing.
The old lady came, picked up the strings from the floor, then put them back in the sack. She looked up at Chassis. “We stick to our agreement,” she said. “One tenth.” Chassis just nodded and didn’t say anything. “Go, Porter,” the old lady said to him. “Or I’ll shoot a hole in you for the same reason.” Porter sagged a little. He moved to the front of the bus and down the stairs.
“You’ll have our protection all the way to Ascension,” the old lady said to Chassis on the way out. “No one will harm you here. Throw six of your tires out, and my boys will put them on for you.”
Chassis nodded again, and she and Rosa’s Mamma and Mr. Kwang started throwing tires out the front door. They felt the bus shake some more. Rosa sat and listened to how quiet it was and how loud the pounding of her heart had become. Rosa’s Daddy didn’t speak. Not about Firoz, not about anything. He just got back in his seat, looked straight ahead and sat really quiet.
Then Chassis started up the bus again and drove them away.
More about Motherless Child
When Rosa’s mother loses her job with the Corporate United States, her family must flee or be killed in an employee purge. Taking the dangerous bus trip across the Unincorporated States, they are ambushed by bandits. Hopelessly separated from her family, Rosa is rescued by the people of Ascension, a small backwoods Virgilna town with a terrible secret.
Seventeen years in the making, Cole’s book about a girl trapped between two Americas serves as a reminder of what the United States has become, and what it still could be.
Adam Cole is an author and music educator in Atlanta, GA. He has written numerous books and stories for children, as well as a number of adult and non-fiction titles including The Girl With the Bow and Seven Ways the World Can End.
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