Authors: Tom Henighan
Tags: #JUV000000, #Young Adult
Copyright Â© Tom Henighan, 2004
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise (except for brief passages for purposes of review) without the prior permission of Dundurn Press. Permission to photocopy should be requested from Access Copyright.
Editor: Barry Jowett
Copy-Editor: Jennifer Bergeron
Design: Jennifer Scott
National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication Data
Â Â Â Â Â Mercury man/Tom Henighan.
PS8565.E582M47 2004Â Â Â Â Â jC813'.54Â Â Â Â Â C2004-901391-2
1Â Â 2Â Â 3Â Â 4Â Â 5Â Â 08Â Â 07Â Â 06Â Â 05Â Â 04
We acknowledge the support of the
Canada Council for the Arts
Ontario Arts Council
for our publishing program. We also acknowledge the financial support of the
Government of Canada
Book Publishing Industry Development Program
The Association for the Export of Canadian Books
, and the
Government of Ontario
Ontario Book Publishers Tax Credit
Care has been taken to trace the ownership of copyright material used in this book. The author and the publisher welcome any information enabling them to rectify any references or credit in subsequent editions.
J. Kirk Howard
Printed and bound in Canada.
Printed on recycled paper.
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To Rick and Dale Taylor
“Mercury? Oh, sure, that's the Roman name for the Greek god Hermes. That guy was something special! Divine messenger, trickster and the god of businessmen â and thieves â he knew all the paths and portals that lead from world to world, and he could get from here to there in a twinkle. When he put on his travelling hat and winged sandals it meant change was coming, and that could sometimes be painful, although now and then it worked out all right.”
â Martin Seeland,
Conversations on Mythology
Tom Blake struggled to the window. For two weeks the city had boiled and baked in the July weather. All along Morris Street, a ruler-straight passage through the labyrinth of Mechanicstown, the pavement radiated heat. Light glared from the buildings opposite and from the tops of the parked cars, dazzling the boy's eyes.
He squinted and leaned over the sill, trying to find a breeze in the steamy air. He was sweating badly, attempting to ignore the smells that sifted up through the floors of their ancient, run-down apartment block. Garbage smells, cigarette smoke, hints of overcooked food, and human sweat. The smell of time and waste, of lost hopes and stagnant purposes â after a while he couldn't stand them any more and pulled away from the window. He looked around in despair, then lumbered to the door.
There was nowhere to go, but anywhere was better than here. He grabbed his key from the hook and took a
last look around the place. A living room stuffed with second-hand furniture from Valuemart, the faded walls posted with family photographs, a few old copies of
lying on the tattered rug where he had dropped them after falling asleep. If he and his mother had only been able to find a portable fan it might have been bearable, but fans at a price they could pay were impossible to locate in this heat wave. His mother worked in an air-conditioned supermarket all day, and he had his spell at the diner; otherwise it would have been unbearable.
Wiping his sweating forehead, Tom thought of Grandpa Sandalls. He tramped down the stairs and stepped into the street. Grandpa Sandalls's place had air conditioning, and they had slept there a couple of nights â his mother in the spare room and he on the couch â but Grandpa had a way of getting touchy when you stuck around too long. He was great for an hour or so, then his energy seemed to fade and you sensed that he had no use for you, that he wanted to make you disappear.
Still, an hour in the air conditioning would help. And there would be a cold drink, some snacks, and his collections to check out, including the fabulous comic books â¦
Tom walked west toward the Hollis Street intersection. Hollis was a little wider and much busier than Morris Street. In one direction it led to the river, where the old warehouses crowded together along the smelly and polluted channel. Going the other way you could reach Pitt Park, beyond which lay suburban homes, the library, and city hall. Mechanicstown formed a pocket of shabby buildings and cheap stores in the heart of the
city. Even so, it was not really convenient to anything and was serviced only by a single hopeless bus route. Committees were always suggesting that the area (which was one of the city's oldest) should be modernized and improved, but nothing was ever done.
Tom strolled along the street, beginning to get thirsty already. He wondered where Pete and the guys were. Bim, he knew, would be in the country at his uncle's farm. He hadn't seen Estella Lopez in days. Old men and old women were everywhere â the rents were quite low in Mechanicstown. All around him, the shabby trees seemed withered, and cats hid in the darkest alleys. Yet a couple of geezers, with canes and sunglasses, tottered along past the fire hydrant, casting wistful glances at its locked-up metal. Maybe they were remembering the torrents of clear water that had been released by a merciful authority on some long-vanished summer day. Maybe they were afraid they would fall asleep and die if they didn't move.
On the corner of Hollis Tom hesitated. It was an anonymous intersection at the best of times, and today the action was minimal â one or two delivery trucks, a few cyclists dressed as if they were heading for the beach, and an empty bus bumping down from the Pitt Park area.
Tom stood looking around at the stores. Small stores, with cheap gaudy signs and dark interiors â they were always changing hands, always offering something new that nobody wanted. How did people think they could make a living selling “barely used” clothes,
gaudy amateur artwork, or ten-year-old knick-knacks for bathrooms? Almost nobody ever dropped in on such places, and only the bar at the corner, the magazine shop, and the economy branch of a local funeral home survived the constant changes.
“Hey, man, you lookin' for a freezer locker or something?”
The figure was upon him before he could blink: Jeff Parker the jogging fool, stripped down and sweating, pumping his feet up and down, smiling, dancing around.
“You must be crazy! Some day to be in motion,” Tom said, smiling. He was flattered to be addressed by Jeff, a high school superstar who had won every race he had ever entered and was being courted by track coaches from all over the country.
“I'm in training, I'm always in training. Beat the heat, get in shape for the meet â you know how it is. You headed for work?”
“Not today. Gotta go check on my grandfather â he's getting pretty old. Besides, he's got air conditioning, and I nearly fried in our apartment.”
“Sounds like a cool move. You ought to be in motion, though. Don't get any benefit just lumbering around the streets, like.”
Even as he spoke, Jeff himself stayed in motion, his strong legs pumping steadily. Now he danced around Tom, who had to keep turning to face him. Jeff was a strong guy, shorter than Tom but with well-developed chest and arms. His legs, not really long, were awesomely moulded. He was bare to the waist and sweating like a pig.
“You look like you could run, man. How come you never tried? Always wondered about you, Blake. I may have to recruit you as a partner. Just tried to haul up Wally Jones, but he looks something like a zombie. Must have been out drinking or got something up his nose. Wanna jog back to the park with me?”
“Sorry, Jeff. Got to go on to my grandfather's.”
“Hey, then, you wanna play Little Red Riding Hood, you go ahead.” Jeff smiled at him. “I don't see no basket, but you watch out for the wolf!”
He whirled away and with a few strong strides disappeared down Morris Street.
Almost without looking, Tom scampered across the intersection. A horn sounded close by. His pace continued fast â he didn't look around. He felt the sweat run but didn't let that slow him down.
Of course he could run! He was amazed and a little irritated by Jeff's taunting. Sure, it was flattering. To run with Jeff Parker â some kids would kill for the privilege. It sounded too much like his mother, though. “Don't know why you don't take up some sport,” she would say to him. “Just look at you, rangy and strong, the figure of a tennis star. You never play baseball or anything. Watching too much TV again â I wish you'd get out and get active!”
Tom winced at the memory, swore at a cat that refused to move from a hot patch of sidewalk, dodged a kid on a bicycle, and walked on past the small hardware stores, the tailor, and the bakery.
Of course his mother would always be sorry after one of her lectures and give him credit for his hard work and study. In first-year high he had even won a prize. It was for an essay entitled “Reaching for the Stars,” which had been read by one of his friends to the assembled city schools because he was too scared to do it. His mother was thrilled; she knew it didn't come easy to him. Books didn't grab him â he liked movies much better â but when he had to, he could buckle down.
There was no competition with dating and parties, either, because he wasn't into that scene â avoided it like poison, in fact. Tom told himself he didn't want any part of it, yet he got angry when he overheard his mother telling someone he was “shy.”