Nine days earlier
"Do you ever think about Jonah?"
"Jesus, is that my Bible? I haven't opened that thing in years. So you're talking about the guy that was swallowed by a whale?"
"No, I'd have to say I don't think about him. I wouldn't think you would, either. I didn't take you for particularly religious."
"I'm not. That's my point, though. When you're not raised religious, you think of Jonah as the swallowed-by-a-whale guy, like Noah is the ark guy. But when you actually read the book of Jonah, it's not what you expect."
"You read the whole book?"
"It's three pages long."
Morning in San Francisco. Jack Foreman, tall and thin, in his early forties, with a premature streak of gray in his light brown hair, was across the room, already dressed at quarter to eight, already having cleared away last night's Ketel One bottle and two glasses, showered, dressed, and fixed and consumed breakfast and an espresso. He was now scanning the headlines of both the San Francisco Chronicle
and the Los Angeles Times
, and at the same time keeping an eye on CNN with the sound off. I was still in his bed, naked, with my hair half raveled in the braids I forgot to take out last night, reading his Bible for no particular reason other than that it had caught my eye while Jack was still in the shower.
"The thing that's strange about the story is, Jonah doesn't seem to be scared of anything, even when he should be."
"No. The story goes that God tells Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh to preach, and Jonah doesn't want to, so he gets on a ship for Spain. God sends a violent storm, and the ship's crew is scared. But when they go down to the hold to find Jonah, he's sleeping."
. Through a storm that has veteran sailors scared. So they wake him up and tell him, 'We're pretty sure we haven't done anything to anger our gods, might you have done something to anger yours?' And Jonah suggests that if they think this is the case, maybe they should throw him overboard."
"They're way out at sea. Jonah's effectively asking to be drowned. The crew says no at first, but later they decide he's right, and they throw him over, and then comes the whale part that everyone knows about. That's what it takes for him to finally decidethat maybe he's in trouble. He prays to God--it's kind of a pretty poem, by the way--and God intervenes, so the whale spits him up onto dry land. And then he does go to Nineveh, and everyone in Nineveh really gets with the program, from the king on down. Theyrepent in a big way. And Jonah isn't happy about it. He gets mad. He goes out in the desert and argues with God about destroying Nineveh."
"He wants Nineveh destroyed?"
"Yeah, but the bigger point is, he's arguing with the God of the Old Testament, the all-powerful white-beard guy who used to strike people dead. Doesn't that seem a little insane? Shouldn't Jonah be a little more afraid?"
"You think Jonah was suicidal."
"No. I mean, not necessarily."
"Then what's your theory? You sound like you've been putting a lot of thought into this. You must have one."
"No, sorry. I'm just a bike messenger. I don't get paid enough to theorize."
"Hailey..." he said, his tone a change of subject in itself.
"I know. You're ready for work. I've got to get up and dressed and out. I'll hurry." I was already sliding his Bible back onto the bookshelf.
Jack was a newsman for the Associated Press, a Midwestern transplant to California by way of, apparently, everywhere. Photographs on the far wall of his studio, Jack's own amateur work, attested to the width and breadth of his reporting career. Fellowreporters, editors, photographers, and other acquaintances looked out from pictures taken in the world's capitals and war zones, places Jack had been a correspondent.
He and I had crossed paths several times at the courthouse, where he covered motions and trials and I, a bike courier, dropped off and picked up legal papers. But we didn't get to know each other until the Friday night I'd literally backed into him in a tiny, crowded Asian grocery. When, after a few minutes of conversation, he asked me if I wanted company for dinner, I surprised myself by saying yes. Maybe it had been so long since I'd seen a guy who was neither a metrosexual nor a pierced and dread locked bike messenger that he had been exotic to me.
He was the first guy I ever slept with who wore boxer shorts. I didn't tell him that, our first night together. Guys have lost erections over less.
Now, as I was pulling on my long-sleeved thermal shirt and cargo pants, Jack said, "Are you hungry? There's bagels."
I shook my head. "I'll eat later." It was my day off, and a small plan for the morning was forming.
I sat on the floor to put on my boots. When I looked up, Jack was watching me.
He said, "Every time I see you lacing up those boots, I think I'm sleeping with an undercover DEA agent."
Bates Enforcers, heavy-soled black lace-ups with a side zip, draw a lot of attention.
"They're comfortable, is all."
Jack had never seen the gun. It was a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson Airweight, easy to conceal. Just five shots, but the kind of trouble I was likely to get into was the up-close-and-personal kind, and if I couldn't get out of it with five rounds, I wasn'tgetting out of it at all.
I stood and gathered up my single-strap messenger bag, putting it over my shoulder, when the newspapers on the counter caught my attention.
"Are you done with this?" I asked, indicating the Los Angeles Times Calendar section, its front page dominated by a profile of a young white hip-hop producer. "Can I have it?"
"Sure," Jack said.
I slid the section of the paper into my bag, then walked ahead of Jack into the entryway, where my bicycle--it was my private transportation as well as my livelihood--leaned against the wall.
We emerged into the cool gray of June in San Francisco, me wheeling the bike and Jack holding the keys to his old Saab. He stopped for a moment, tapping a cigarette out of a pack, his first of the day. While he lit up, I looked downhill, toward the restof the city. Jack's studio was at the edge of Parnassus Heights, and the view was fantastic.
It's hard to find anyone who doesn't find San Francisco beautiful, and I couldn't argue. I had been in San Francisco nearly a year. I had ridden every inch of its neighborhoods, the storied ones like Chinatown and North Beach, the quiet ones like the Sunsetand Presidio Heights. Late at night, I had watched the lights of great containerships as they ghosted into the port of Oakland, across the water. I had seen this city in the rain, the sun, the fog, the moonlight, on moonless evenings illuminated by its owncity lights. San Francisco seemed to pose for you endlessly, proving it could look beautiful under any conditions. People came from all over the country and paid exorbitant prices to own or rent a tiny part of San Francisco.
Only a philistine could stand on a hill, look out at San Francisco, and wish she were seeing the overheated sprawl of L.A. instead. But I did.
Jack had gotten his cigarette going; I could smell the fragrant-acrid smoke from behind me. I turned back to him and was just about to say, I'll call you sometime this week, when he spoke first. "Hailey?"
"When you say you're going to get something to eat later, you mean later this morning, right? Not late this afternoon?"
"Yeah," I said, baffled. "Why?"
"We had a lot to drink last night, but I didn't see you eat anything. You're getting thin."
"Jack, my job burns, like, eight thousand calories an hour. I couldn't do it if I wasn't eating enough," I pointed out.
He was not appeased. I said, "Something else on your mind?"
He said, "You treat yourself with a certain amount of disregard, Hailey. I've known you for six months, and how often in that time have you been injured on the job? First those stitches in your eyebrow, then that thing with your wrist--"
"That was an old break. The bone was weak," I argued. "Look, I'm a bike messenger. I've been the top-earning rider for my service nearly every month since I hired on. I couldn't do that without taking some risks. There's a lot of competition."
Jack closed his eyes briefly, then said, "You don't want to be the most reckless bike messenger in San Francisco, Hailey. That's like being the town drunk in New Orleans."
"I didn't know you cared."
"You ever think about school?"
"I thought I mentioned that before," I said. "I did a little school back east. It didn't work out."
"And you can never go back?"
"What's with you today?" I asked him. "The thing I like most about you is that you're free of all the middle-class rhetoric, and now suddenly you're doing a guidance-counselor thing."
Jack sighed. "I'm not trying to make you angry."
"I'm not," I said, relenting.
"Really?" He threw down the cigarette and stepped on it.
"Really. I'll call you tomorrow. We'll get together, I'll eat a whole pile of food. You can watch."
Besides, I hadn't been lying when I said I was planning on having breakfast. Just not right away.
I didn't own a car, which wasn't supposed to be a problem in San Francisco. It's said to be one of the world's great walking cities--fairly compact, with temperate weather and beautiful neighborhoods. All true, but even so: forty-nine square miles. Inmy first weeks here, I'd chronically underjudged the time it was going to take me to walk places. Now, of course, I had my bike--an old silver Motobecane, very fast, with drop handlebars and paint rubbed off the top tube where someone had probably kept a chainwrapped around it.
I'd been a messenger for eight months, long enough to develop the cyclist's long, flat ellipse of muscle in my calf--I didn't have that even back east in school, when I'd thought I was in the best shape of my life. Now a short, easy ride brought me tomy destination, the Golden Gate Bridge. Ever since I'd come out to San Francisco, it had become something of a habit of mine to come up here when I didn't have any big plan for my day. From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Hailey's War by Jodi Compton. Copyright © 2010 by Jodi Compton. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.