Alfredo's Luck

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Otis Chandler began to chant as he struck out along the fence. It was remarkable, really. Sun warming the ground, Otis gliding along like some incredible thoroughbred.

And now he was calling out this weird sermon-like thing, parsing the words in time with the soft crunch of his Nikes on the sand, the sound echoing over the grounds.

Birds stopped their pecking. The iron boys turned to watch. For a moment, the whole yard got quiet. Otis finished his first lap, still boldly proselytizing as if there were no need to breathe.

Thirty feet above, Johnny Cordele checked his watch, then leaned over the railing to scan the northern fence line. He studied the yard quickly, then, squinting, a moment out east, then south, then dropped down onto his chest for the next set – extra slow.

In the distance, the last of a faint haze clinging to the ground, hiding the bottoms of the trees. Otis, doing his own counting, watching the ground for Cordele's shadow to reappear. Three minutes went by. Three minutes and three seconds. Then Johnny C. was up again, sticking his sissy jaw out over the tower ledge, resting the M-16 inside his elbow, daring somebody to try something.

It was hot early. Everybody was outside. In the shade of the old west wing, long-timers stirred dirt around tomatoes coiled through battered wire baskets, bending to pluck caterpillars off the squash. A couple of the big shepherds jounced and barked, testing their pipes.

In a moment, Johnny would be back on the floor starting his crunches. But Otis had his own regimen to think about. He'd have just two hours, then they'd call him in.

Tall, lean, bushy brown hair hanging wherever it fell, he had spent the last five of his 29 years here and all he ever did was run – always the same route, as far and as long as they'd let him.

Not a cloud in the sky. A peaceful morning, a great stage for the whiz kid. Otis, a prodigy, a dazzling child born of ordinary parents who didn't understand.

He loved Shakespeare. And Satchmo. Some of the guys in school thought he was funny. The girls, a little creepy. He never raised his hand, but always knew the answers, just slouching there, his long legs sticking into the aisle. When the teachers did call on him, the way he trotted out the information made them squirm.

He'd curl one lip up under that beaked nose, cross his arms. Half the time he'd have to explain his answer and then everybody was picking out colleges and Otis didn't want any part of it. As if dutifully finishing a disappointing book, he gradually succumbed to crime.

Otis was helping himself to a rather nice stereo that day, got into an inconvenient pissing match with an indignant homeowner, shoved him so hard he split his skull. A good man gone.

In an absurd way, Otis thought he was getting what was coming to him. He'd mounted no defense, hadn't even wanted the lawyer.

The shrinks said he was a sure bet to kill again. Otis had smirked at that.

Wipe that smile off your face, mister.

And then young Otis had something to say.

"Rather lofty sense of authority, your honor, seeking to control what I think. It smacks of arrogance, as does the visitation by your so-called experts. I feel I have to offer my sympathy to anyone who comes into your courtroom."

That pissed the judge off. Otis got 20 years. His lawyer said it was an easy appeal. Otis told him to let it go.

Today, his mantra would be a Randall Jarrell piece, a nice rhythmic selection he'd read the night before.

As he came around to the West Tower, he shifted into a sideways gait, first one leg stretching out behind the other, then in front, alternating. Another 40 yards and he'd shifted again, now running backward, still stretching, still keeping pace. It was strange and elegant, Otis dancing in mid-air, calling out the words, everyone staring.

And in the midst of it all, Jackie Boy snipped quickly through a dozen links on the first fence, right down against the ground where no one would see.