With the last of his blood-donor money Mac makes some of the old rounds, and they feel slightly strange, as if he had been somewhere else a long time and come back. The garish yellow Mercedes Inn near the zoo has three dead cars parked in the mud lot and a sign in front putting the whole thing up for sale. Nearby, in the deep shadows across the street, the llama regards Mac with great equanimity. He drives slowly past with window down and elbow out and whispers softly, "Ralph."
This much is a good thing: Mac has never known inactivity in the south city at any barren hour of night (unlike the vast stretches of the northside quickly vacated after dark) and late on a Saturday things were always moreso, colored more brightly. Down Burg Jones there is much walking between the bar and the Stop-N-Go and the laundrymat, bicycles weaving interbout, some waving at Mac, some retreating from the white face. Some just stare, heads turning with the slow-rolling Fury. Voices calling at him; sounds mostly indecipherable, like the sudden reappearance of some lost and unrecorded language.
Down here are no sidewalks, just crumbly footpaths through soft earth on both sides of the soft tar surface street. Frame churches and frame houses hardly distinguishable from one another among stunted yards and undernourished vegetation. Deepset in trees off the ragged streets hidden eyes follow Mac's progress.
In the Stop-N-Go he buys his Icee from a white girl much amused at the attention she's getting from a group of sub-teen black boys; closer, he sees the dark roots of her blonde hair and careless poundage beneath a checked regulation clerk blouse. "C'mon, got horses in my pocket, I swear. None of 'em used."
Mac stands around, looking at the unbought newspapers. Video basketball is being played noisily nearby. A tap on the shoulder points out a sign above the door: No Consumption On Premises. The man is seriously big, seriously black. No official uniform, yet the proprietorship is undeniably his.
Mac sucks the straw, grins, indicates other customers with their obviously open bottled soft drinks. He finds his shoulder pushed, his Icee disturbed, and himself outside getting in the car, not entirely under his own locomotion.
There, in the parking lot, bicycles surround him, hands slapping the trunk, doors, hood. This was a first timer, never happened to him before. He's able to drive away, but the bicycles follow him.
He speeds up, cutting down Standifer down by the deep foliage around the sewerage plant, the taunting voices heard no more. Past the water chemical station, the Lone Star Baptist Church, and Ray's Bottle Tree. It seems that he's lost them. No street lights down here.
His stomach feels jittery.
Reluctant to go further or turn back, he parks the car on a gravel access road, sits on the hood, searches for the absent moon. A guy and girl stroll past silently in the dimness. He nods; they are civil enough, then he perceives a moustache on the one supposed to be a girl.
So he drives on, coming across the tracks at South Jackson, cruising near the reformatory and charity hospital. There, suddenly, bikes, different ones. His leg jerks crazily, startled. Quickly he makes the first sharp right. To get bearings, he looks for a street sign, but none appears. There's the lone pole, the perpendicular green name plates removed.
A strict shortness comes up his throat. Mac does not recognize this street at all. When he was at the warehouse and on terms with Cooper, Cooper would get a bunch of them around Mac in a circle and hand out a map and take bets, daring one of them to pick an obscure name off the index and see if Mac couldn't name the region and progress and order of each intersection. But he does not know this street.
A Dead End sign announces itself, one corner somehow ripped away and paint-faded. A barbed-wire fence and rural field and black woods beyond. It is as if finding himself transported to another place in the world entirely, beyond his realm, grossly unfair. He is trying to back up when he sees the bicycles, coming. They are around him, slapping, kicking fenders with bare feet. Circling, yelling, calling him out. Voices chant, ancient deep leering sounds that strike at his heart. He can't drive past, they are so thick.
Later he would consider at length why he had actually gotten out of the car.
One appears to be a kind of leader. Mac makes several attempts to chat, but gets no coherent reply. A nearby porch light comes on, but the screen door remains closed. He is sucking the Icee when they dismount and close in as the bikes fall over heedlessly and his last recognizable utterance is Ret's name shouted, and then blows to the stomach, head, chest. The breathy, greenstick sound of ribs in distress. Within moments Mac is fetal, wheezing. The bicycles leave, chains clanking, and the porch light goes off. No sirens, no two-way radios. No Ret around to hear.