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2

A nurse arrives sometime later to check his vitals and change John’s bandages and Astrid takes the opportunity to stretch in the waiting room. She spots Frank and Max as they round a corner, moving faster than she’d ever seen them. Both of them look exhausted, but she expected as much. They were probably asleep when she called them. She greets them in the hallway, just shy of John’s room. “A nurse is with him now, but he’s awake.”

“How bad is it?”

“They got most of the bullet out but there’s a fracture in his shoulder.”

Frank swears under his breath as the nurse emerges and slips by them to head back to the nurse’s station. He pushes by Astrid without another word and when it seems like she might follow him back in, he turns on her, stopping her in her tracks with a hand. “Wait here.” 

“No. I want to be in there with him.” 

“Now’s not the time, I need to talk to him.” 

“Frank…”

“I’m not going to tell you again.” His eyes cut toward Max and nods for her to move in close. “Stay with her until I come out, please.” 

“Frank, you’re acting like a real asshole,” Max said, even though she puts a hand on Astrid’s arm to guide her back to the couch. “Come on, let’s sit down. This kid is killing me.”

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3

The room is silent when Frank enters. John watches him cross the room and take up the seat Astrid had occupied just a few hours before. He says nothing, his expression is unreadable. 

“I’ve already got people on this,” Frank begins but stops when he sees John lift a finger and point at him. 

“I thought I told you I never wanted to hear the name Ramsey again,” he says. Silence follows as Frank folds his arms across his chest while John puts his hand down because the weight of it is too much for his shoulder to handle. “Did you know about this?”

“No, it’s been quiet back home. Everything’s been running smooth. Whoever put the hit out has to be a nobody.”

“It wasn’t a ‘nobody’ who shot me, Frank. It was definitely a ‘somebody’ and I want to know how this happened while you were taking care of my city!”

There’s nothing to say. He’s got a repository full of excuses, but he figures John isn’t interested in hearing them. Instead, he wracks his brain and tries to figure out just how this kind of information slips through the cracks in his crew.

“Astrid and I will be flying back to San Myshuno in the morning. I want that boy found and dealt with by the time we get back.” John shifts where he is, wincing as he adjusts into his new position. “You fix this or you’re going to have another problem on your hands.”

“You got it, Boss.”

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When Bruce Springsteen was a little boy, he learned the story of Brave Cowboy Bill, about a pure-hearted little cowboy. It was the first of Bruce’s Western loves, which now range from John Ford movies to Mexican music to Native American art. Each of these inspirations, plus what he’s learned as a man and a rock ’n’ roller about how to combine whimsy and wisdom, were stations on the way to Outlaw Pete, a modern legend of a criminal who starts out in diapers and confronts the roughest edges of adulthood. It’s one of the most ambitious and original story songs Springsteen has written—rhapsodic and harsh, a meditation on destiny, filled with absurdities but not for one second of its eight minutes exactly a joke. It’s an elaborate musical drama, weaving into a single tapestry several styles of rock and an orchestration reminiscent of a Morricone soundtrack.

Outlaw Pete is an adult book, illustrated by Frank Caruso, who drew and painted its pages. Caruso does more than illustrate the song. His approach, immaculately detailed, simple when it needs to be, parallels Springsteen’s blend of absurdity and meditation. The questions about destiny remain unanswered, as they must be, but they’re also brought into a different kind of focus. Details that pass by almost unnoticed in the lyrics become central.

Reading and listening have rarely so superbly complemented each other. The result becomes the most intense kind of artistic collaboration, a vision shared.

But I’m not trying to start anything, so buy it, don’t steal it, OK?

— Dave Marsh