Her name was Kelly Carlyle. She was twenty-years-old, and she was the girl Kristy Reed had seen over a year before in the classroom, who had shown him the book.
Some twenty days after this meeting in the diner, he visited her at her home, when she was sick with a high fever, and the lights of the city hung in a rippled haze beyond her window. She lived in a bare spacious flat far west of town, in a subdivision along the fringes of the desert. She lay upon her back on a wide black futon on the floor. Her slender white fingers looked flowerlike across the dark-blue sheets. He brought her a bottle of icy-cold water.
“I would say that I’m surprised to see you,” she said, “except for some reason I’m not surprised to see you. I think I half expected it.”
“They told me you were sick,” he said.
She lolled her head on the pillow and looked at him from under heavy eyelids. He did not speak but regarded her frankly.
“I think I was hoping you’d come,” she said.
“Is there anything I can do for you?”
They were both silent, and in the silence a big generator throbbed stupidly outside.
She apologized for the noise and told him she was unable to sleep because of this noise, because city road-crews were tearing up the entire street right out front and rebuilding it. She said that even though they stopped working at 5:00pm, they left their klieg lights on all night long, for some reason, and the generator too, and she said that it was very loud and bright and that the lights and the noise kept her awake, even though she had heavy black drapes. She said she’d even called the city and complained about it, and they told her there was nothing that could be done, that that’s just the way it was.
“You can’t fight the city hall,” she said.
“What is that?” he said.
“Just an expression.”
He looked contemplative. She was in this moment struck by his sprawling and haphazard education, which in the past two weeks she’d come to know: she found endearing the gaps in his knowledge but also the depths, which stemmed from his upbringing, his autodidacticism, his singleminded decision to take upon himself the task of his own education.
“I think it means you can’t fight bureaucracy,” she explained, “because there’s no one human there.”
“Have you tried?”
He looked thoughtful again, deeply thoughtful, his eyes narrowed as thin as saber slashes.
“I suggest earplugs,” he said. “For the noise,” he added, “not the city hall.”
He smiled, and she weakly laughed and said:
“Don’t make me laugh: it hurts my head. I’ve tried earplugs. They don’t really help. I’m resigned to the noise. Besides, I can hear my heartbeat when I wear earplugs, and I don’t like that. It reminds me too much of my own mortality, and that definitely keeps me awake.”
But that night, the lights and the big generator indeed went simultaneously silent and black.
That next morning, the foreman found the generator disconnected — no small job since the generator was fenced-off and secured. He asked the nightwatchman about it. The nightwatchman said he’d witnessed nothing, and so that next night the foreman stationed himself, with a large thermos of coffee, in a hidden alcove very near the high fence that enclosed the generator.
Near midnight he saw a hooded figure sweep through the darkness, leaping lightly over the fence and shutting off the generator by removing the wires and the boot from the spark plugs and thereby instantly abolishing the lights and the noise. This figure then hopped back over the fence and ghosted away into the darkness.
It happened so rapidly that the foreman scarcely had time to react.
The next night, he was better prepared: He had men with him.
Thus when the figure came, they were all three waiting in the dark, and when the figure got inside the fence, the men sprung.
But it was almost as if the figure expected them: he vaulted like a puma over the other side of the fence, and he bound off into the darkness.
The men gave chase.
“Halt!” the foreman yelled. “STOP! This is government property. You are trespassing.”
The figure did not stop but kept running: a hooded blur in the darkness.
The men followed after him at top speed.
The figure did not know that a high cement wall awaited him.
But the men knew.
When the figure came to the wall, he hesitated for just a fraction of a second, but he didn’t stop running. There was a slight hitch in his step, and that was all.
He leapt with all his might and ran two steps up the concrete facade which stood glowing brightly under an apricot klieg and then one more shorter step before leaping again — a wild effort in which he reached for the top of the wall.
He caught it.
Just barely, but he held on with his left hand and hung there for a split second. Then he swung his other arm around and grabbed hold of the top of the wall with his fingertips and started to pull himself up — until one of the men below, who was agile and strong, ran the wall as well and leapt and grabbed hold of the hem of the hooded jacket, striving to pull the figure down, momentarily stopping the figure from climbing over. No sooner had he grabbed hold of the jacket-hem, however, than the figure slipped out of it, leaving the man empty-handed and back on the ground, but exposing the figure’s face as he did so.
It was Kristy Reed.
All three men saw him in the light.
Kristy slipped up and over the wall and dropped down and then vanished into the night.
Four days later, on a Friday afternoon, when Kristy learned that a nameless boy had been caught and jailed for trespassing on government property and shutting off the generator, he went down to the police station and turned himself in. A little later that same day, the foreman and his two men definitively identified Kristy as the person they’d chased and who had evaded them.
He was arraigned three days after that, on Monday, and brought before the judge. The courtroom was spacious and mostly empty. Along the righthand side of the room, a screenless window stood open to receive the desert breeze.
When the judge asked him why he’d done it, he said because he cared for the young woman, who was his friend, and who was ill and unable to sleep for the lights and the loud noise. He said a second time that he cared about her.
“Did you know you were trespassing?” the judge asked.
The judge looked at the papers before him.
“It is my understanding also that you’re a runaway who’s been arrested at least once for truancy, and that you’re not yet eighteen-years-old — not until next month.”
“Yes, that is correct.”
“How do you plead?”
The judge looked at him. Kristy spoke:
“There is deep legal precedent, judge, going back to at least 1786, for escaping and running away with impunity, even from police or other government personnel, when matters of personal safety, injury, and security are at issue.” Kristy paused. “Judge, in a land of freedom, life is worth living because in such a land, under such circumstances, life is full of promise, and it teems with potential. I was born in no such place. I was brought up in no such place. I was brought up in a place where we are not allowed to own the fruits of our labor, which is property, which is an extension of person. In running, I sought to come into such a place. Frederick Douglass said ‘Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails and any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.’ That is what I come from, judge.”
The judge cast Kristy a long, steady stare.
“You may say that at your trial,” the judge said. “Your bail is set at twenty-thousand.” He hammered the gavel.
The bailiff then came to lead Kristy Reed away, back to the jail cell. He reached over gently for Kristy’s arm, but Kristy slipped lightly out of his reach, and in a liquid-like manner, he went for the open window. He jumped out.
The police chased him, but they did not catch him.
They pursued him down the alleys and the backstreets and the neighborhood lanes, and they pursued him down the labyrinthian ways — and they lost him. They put out an all-points-bulletin, but he was not found.