Tuesday, May 21, 2013
I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction. Today’s letter is Y for “Yikes!”
Will strolled up the driveway in the direction of his son’s place, noting the presence of the full moon, and how clearly it illuminated Andy’s spot, and all that was contained within the peripheral fence. The outbuildings, the house itself, upon which had just been added a kitchen, the greenhouses, and the garden, all were clearly silhouetted by the brilliance of the moonlight.
Will had popped down to his place to shut off a valve, and for refurbishment of his libation, Jameson on ice, and was meandering back up to join the others, when he became aware of movement, just at the back door of the smallest greenhouse, the one that sat farthest away from the house. It was the home of Will’s starts, the one plastic-encased structure, which housed anything other than the organic produce, which provided Will a chance at survival, in these economically-challenged times.
Andy grew a few plants for the pain in his surgically repaired knee, and for the insomnia that had plagued him for as long as he could remember. And he kept the newly-planted starts in this bottom greenhouse, until the weather was sufficiently warm, for the young plants to withstand the wind and the nights, which were still known to plummet down to freezing, at the drop of a hat. But he didn’t have many, and he treated them as if they were his adopted children, even going so far as to affix them with names, early on in their existence.
Standing in the middle of the quarter-mile long driveway now, frozen in his tracks, Will peered through the fence, at was unmistakably the sight of one of Andy’s starts, being carried out the back door of the greenhouse. “Yikes! What’s this all about?” he asked himself, as he saw a figure, wearing a hoodie, carrying the plant downward, away from the house, to a gate at the bottom of the enclosure. It seemed rather peculiar, that someone would choose this particular night, when there were folks up at Andy’s house, eating dinner and enjoying each other’s company, to be absconding with one-or more-of Andy’s starts.
Will knew he couldn’t just stand there; he had to do something. What was best? Should he confront the hooded figure, and take what could be a stupid chance? Or should he hustle up to Andy’s, and elicit some assistance? Time was of the essence, and he had to act quickly.
He couldn’t help but think back to those stories he’d heard about slicky boys ripping off others, striking in the dead of night, willing to risk all, in order to get what they wanted. He even remembered an instance of someone being knocked upside the head when he attempted to stop thieves from carrying out their nefarious plans.
Will decided that discretion was the better part of valor, figuring this was a young man’s game, and he no longer qualified, having hit his sixtieth, the last time “Happy Birthday” had been sung to him. Gasping for breath, as he got up to the top of the driveway, he burst through the kitchen door, to come face to face with Andy. “Hey, Brother Man, someone is going south with your starts. Best get on it most rickety-tic!”
Andy laughed and said, “Hey, Pops, cool your engines. That’s Jack and I told him he could take a couple of my girls because all he needs is two, and I can spare them. Thanks for looking out, though. Now come on in and sit a spell-you look like you just ran a marathon.”
Sunday, May 19, 2013
I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction, or non-fiction, as is this piece. Today’s letter is x for Exultation.
Inches to Spare
I have driven the eleven miles between Laytonville and Bell Springs Road for more than thirty-two years now, though never as regularly as when I was teaching in the school district. During that period I made the run six days a week, and sometimes seven. Luckily, I figured out early on that there was little incentive to push the speed limit past the posted 55MPH. Even if I exceeded that speed for the whole eleven miles, I could not shave off enough time to make it worth while; the cost of a ticket from the California Highway Patrol kept me from trying.
One of the most memorable commutes took place one rainy Friday night, in the dead of winter, when my entire family was returning from school, ready for a well-deserved weekend break. It was windy, the rain beat down and it was pitch-black outside. Driving was hazardous at best-treacherous at worst. I made my way up the 101, at a slightly reduced speed, knowing that I would be on Bell Springs Road in twelve or thirteen minutes.
Dead center in the commute is the only straightaway that exists in the entire eleven-mile route. The straightaway is two miles at the most, and then the highway reopens for a brief stint to allow passing. We had just entered that straight stretch, when from out of nowhere, a vehicle approached from behind and glommed onto the rear of my trusty Trooper. Almost instantly, the driver of this vehicle clicked on his high-beams, obviously frustrated at my rate of speed.
It being Friday night, there was a steady flow of traffic coming from the north, so it seemed impossible that any passing could be done. If he were familiar at all with the highway, the driver of the vehicle behind me would know that a passing lane was available less than two miles ahead, a tad more than two minutes, maybe 135 seconds. Did that make any difference? Not on your life.
He stuck to the rear of my vehicle so closely, that I was afraid of imminent contact. I tried to keep the tension from overflowing into the Trooper, but with the inside of our car being so brightly illuminated, everyone knew there was a maniac right behind us. All I was hoping for was a quick completion of the two minutes of driving.
Suddenly, the driver behind us, evidently at the end of his slender rope, pulled out into the other lane, and floored his V-8 engine, passing us with his horn blaring, despite the fact that there was oncoming traffic looming precipitously in front of us. Terrified, I applied the brakes, as gently as possible to be effective, without sending us into a spin, and held my breath.
The driver pulled even and quickly passed, darting back in front of me with inches to spare. I was scared, angry and relieved all at once, astounded that anyone would take such a dramatic step, endangering himself and all others traveling on the highway. Seconds after he passed, we got to the passing lane, where I glided over into the slow lane and tried to collect my fragmented thoughts.
Imagine our surprise when those brilliant flashing red and blue lights fired up, and a highway patrol car pulled out from the side of the road, just at the start of the passing lane. There was no need to stop and express outrage at the actions of the other driver. The CHP officer had been clearly able to see the entire episode. We passed without any outward signs of triumph, but inside we were singing a merry melody.
Justice sometimes takes her jolly good time; in this case there was instant retribution, and we drove on our way, chortling with exultation.
Friday, May 17, 2013
I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction. Today’s letter is W for wallet.
The three boys walked into the fast-food restaurant, with the most pressing issue on their agenda being whether to order onions on their cheeseburgers, or not. Marty was the one who found the wallet, sitting right on the chair as he pulled it out from under the table. It took him a second to make the connection, that someone had obviously set it down, and then walked out without it. Either that, or it simply fell out of someone’s pants pocket, and sat there until he stumbled across it.
“Hey, check it out!” He held the wallet up for the others to see.
“Sick, Dude,” exclaimed Ryan. “See if there’s any loot in it. I could use new ball-bearing wheels for my skateboard.” He thought of his own wallet, with his paycheck nestled comfortably inside, awaiting a trip to the bank.
“You’d do that with someone else’s money?” asked Rob, looking sideways at Ryan.
“You better believe it. Finders, keepers-losers weepers.” Ryan folded his arms and stared belligerently at the others.
“Hey, let’s not get carried away,” said Marty. “Let me see if I can get this zipper undone.”
It was an old-fashioned kind of wallet, with a zipper where the cash usually was stored. Marty fumbled with it for a second, observing to the others that it seemed awfully stuffed with something. By the time he had opened it up, the others were beside themselves with excitement.
“Sheee-it,” was all Marty could say, as he turned it sideways for the others to take a look. It was crammed with currency, and the bill on the outside had Ben Franklin’s picture on it.
“Count it up! What are you waiting for?” Ryan was ogling the wallet with his eyes bulging out.
“Is there a driver’s license?” Rob wanted to know. “Maybe it belongs to the mafia. See if there is an ID of some sort.”
“Hold on!” Said Marty. “I can’t do everything at once. Besides, I don’t think it’s too good of an idea to pull out a wad of cash, right here where anyone can see, and start counting it out. Let’s get our food, and head back out to the car.”
The five-minute wait seemed like an hour, before they were able to convene to the relative privacy of Rob’s VW sedan. Once there, he pulled out the money and started counting it, as the others watched, too excited to even dig into their burgers and fries.
By the time he was done counting, Marty was speechless. Altogether, there was almost nineteen hundred dollars, most of it in one hundred dollar bills. It was a small fortune.
“What do you know about that?” he whispered, as if saying it aloud would cause him to awake from a dream.
“This is our lucky day,” said Ryan. “The hell with new ball bearings, I can buy a whole new skateboard.”
“What are you talking about? You didn’t find the wallet-I did!” Marty was visibly shaken and his hands were trembling.
“Is there some form of identification?” asked Rob. “See if we can figure out who it belongs to.”
“What’s the point?” demanded Ryan. “You act as though we’re going to return it. That would be so stupid.”
“So says you. What do you think?” Rob asked Marty. “Are you going to give it back?”
“Slow down, you guys. Let me check out the rest of the wallet.” Marty started going through the rest of the contents of the wallet, finally pulling out a driver’s license, and examining it carefully. “It belongs to some old guy. His date of birth is 1952. Let’s see...that would make him sixty years old! Man, that’s old.”
“Where does he live?” asked Rob. “We could return it to him, if it’s not too far away. Otherwise, we could mail it.”
“What’s wrong with you guys?” spit out Ryan. “Why do you want to return it, when we could make good use of it?”
“Hey, have you ever lost your wallet?” asked Marty. “I did. I got it back but whoever found it took all my money out first. It hurt.”
“How much?” demanded Ryan.
“Well, only twelve bucks, but I was twelve, so it seemed like a hundred.” Marty seemed genuinely conflicted about the situation.
“Hey, karma is karma,” opined Rob. “You get back what you put out.”
“Bullstuff,” muttered Ryan. “Nineteen hundred in the hand, is better than karma in the bush. Besides, this guy’s probably loaded. Who carries around this kind of money, if he’s poor?” Ryan looked triumphantly at Marty, as though he were the Pro from Dover.
“Look, here’s a phone bill,” said Marty. “It’s got his phone number on it. I’m going to call him.”
“What? You’re just going to give the money back? I don’t even believe this. What a dick.” Ryan was obviously disgusted.
“Look, when you find a pile of loot, then you can do what you want. I found it and I’ll return it if I want.” Marty took out his cell phone and punched din the number. He stepped out of the VW, so as not to have Ryan venting into his ear, as he talked to the man whose wallet he had found.
Returning two minutes later, smiling happily, he informed them, “The old guy was thrilled to hear from me. And he’s not loaded. That’s his paycheck from his job, a whole month’s worth of work. And he needs it to pay his bills. He was so grateful to me for calling. Come on. I got directions to his house. Let’s go. He said he’d give me fifty bucks for returning it.” Marty started up the VW.
“Fine. Whatever you say,” muttered Ryan. “But on the way, can we stop at the bank so I can cash my check?”
“Sure,” said Marty, obviously relieved that the argument over whether or not to return the money was finished. “I need to stop at the grocery store, and the post office. I told the old guy it would be an hour or so.”
“Yeah, I need to pick up some groceries myself,” agreed Ryan. “Maybe that cute checker is working. She’s a sweetie.”
Later, as the boys were lounging around at Rob’s place, hashing over the events of the day, Marty mentioned that the old guy had been very effusive in his appreciation for the return of the wallet. “He told me,” said Marty, “that he was a little surprised in this day and age, that someone had enough integrity to return that much money, and that I must have been raised right, to be able to see above the immediate gratification of having a fistful of money. It made me feel good.”
“Well, you can’t help the way your mom dresses you in the morning,” sneered Ryan. “Come on. Let’s go to the mall. I want to buy some CD’s.”
“Whatever,” said Marty, heading out to the car with Rob, where they still sat, five minutes later, waiting for Ryan. “What’s taking him so long? He’s the one who wanted to go.” He beeped the horn, and waited another minute, before Ryan came out, head hanging, looking as depressed as they could ever remember seeing him.
“What’s up with you?” asked Rob. “You look as though you lost your best friend. What’s wrong?”
Ryan looked sheepishly at them. “I lost my wallet. It’s not in my pants pocket, and I know that I had it back in the grocery store. What a bitch. It had the money from my paycheck in it.”
“Well, I’m sure someone will return it,” said Marty, lamely.
“Yeah, sure. You guys head on without me. I think I’ll hang out here, by the phone. You never know. There might be some honest guy out there, who will try to call and tell me that he found my wallet.”
With that, Ryan turned and went back in the house, wondering about the mysterious world of karma, and what his chances really were.
Monday, May 13, 2013
I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction. Today’s letter is V for Vacancy.
What Every Man Wants
The sign outside the motel read “Vacancy.” What Brandon saw in front of him was not what he was hoping for, but it was better than having to spend the night in the back seat of his compact car. There was a lot to be said for that, especially since the temperature had fallen well into the forties, and no amount of persuasion could convince him that he would get more than a smattering of sleep. Besides, this wasn’t the best part of town, so what more could he expect?
The motel was one of those dilapidated affairs, with a string of rooms which ran perpendicular to the highway, so the farther away from the roadway you were, the less exposure to the sounds and smells of the big diesel trucks there would be. With that in mind, he requested a room as far from the front of the motel as possible. Once inside, Brandon was hoping that after driving more than fourteen hours, nothing would prevent him from getting a good night’s sleep.
He was trying to make it from San Diego to Seattle in two days, and he was fairly certain that he was on track. Originally, he thought about flying, but when he compared the price of an airline ticket, plus car rental, to the price of gasoline, as high as it was, he decided that driving was the better ticket. Besides, if he drove, then he could bring all of the clothes and food that he would need, without having to contend with suitcases on the airplane. All in all, he felt he had made the right choice, even if the fifty bucks he had just plunked down for his room, was not originally in his computations.
Inserting the key into the door, he shouldered it aside, and dumped his suitcase on the bed, and put the double-bagged sack of provisions on the wobbly table under the window. After making use of the facilities, he closed the curtain, and looked around for a thermostat, so that he could crank up the heat. Seeing none, he realized that the radiator was an old-fashioned arrangement, with simply an off/on knob, so he gave it a twist, and set it on the highest point on the dial. He turned away from the heater, and headed back to the bed, where he found the remote, and more out of habit than any genuine interest, he flicked on the television, and began to scan the band.
When the knock came on the front door, it startled him, and he jumped involuntarily. Walking over to the door, he paused and asked, “Yes? Who is it?” There was no peephole to peer through, and he felt a little too cautious to just open the door.
“You don’t know me; my name’s Sally,” came a feminine voice, “and if you will open the door, you won’t regret it. I have something that I think you will want.” The voice was sultry and inviting.
Brandon wondered what that was supposed to mean, but he still hesitated. “I’m not sure what you’re selling, but I’m pretty sure I have everything I need. Thank you, anyway.” He had a pretty good idea what she was selling; thanks, but no thanks.
Instead of leaving, the voice continued, “I think you may change your mind, once you open the door. Every man wants what I have to offer,” she went on, “especially men on the road. I have a money-back guarantee on what I’m selling, so you can’t lose.”
A money-back guarantee? Brandon scoffed at that. After all, he had a girl friend in San Diego, and the last thing he was interested in was female companionship and the risks that accompanied it. “No thank-you. I’m in good shape. Thanks, anyway.” There, that was easy, he thought.
“Listen, Honey. You ain’t even seen the merchandize; how can you be so sure?” The voice had taken on a slight edge of desperation, which was not lost on Brandon.
“I don’t need to see the merchandize, if I already know that it’s not for me. What I really need is sleep, and you’re keeping me from it. Good night,” Brandon said, with what he thought was a note of finality.
“What’s the matter, Big Guy? Are you afraid?” That edge in her voice sounded sharper.
“No. Should I be?” What would it take to convince this person that he was not interested?
“Oh, come on, Sugar. Only opening the door will allow you to see that you’re the one who’s about to miss the boat.”
“Well, my boat has already left the dock, so not to worry. Good night!” WIth that he walked away from the door, and over to the window, where, without drawing the curtain, he could see, sideways, the area right out in front of his door.
There, on either side of the door jamb, were two figures, dressed in baggy black clothes, perched on either side of the woman, and seemingly ready to pounce on anyone who opened the door from the inside. Taking one of the two chairs away from the table, he wedged it under the handle to the door, and called 911. He may have missed the boat, but he would live to sail again, down in San Diego. Say goodnight, Sally.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction. Today’s letter is U for Uh oh.
“Ahhhhh, ain’t this the life, Shirley?” Ronnie leaned forward, over the steering wheel of his motorhome, surveying the ocean on the left, and the redwood trees, as they zoomed by on the east side of Highway One. Zoomed might be exaggerating just a bit, as the speed of the mammoth motorhome rarely exceeded 43-45 miles per hour, even on the longest of the straightaways. Even that was pushing it, especially if there was any kind of breeze, not to mention a wind. More than likely, twenty-five to thirty miles per hour was the norm. The motorhome actually measured forty feet long, and included a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and living room, complete with widescreen television, so that Ronnie could follow his beloved Yankees. In fact he was hoping to get to Carmel by seven, but if he didn’t, he would get there when he got there.
“Ohhhhhhh, nooooooo.” moaned George, as he rounded the sharp corner, and spotted the motorhome, lumbering ahead in the distance. “Just what we need...a Winnepiggo.”
“Now George, it is May and the start of the tourist season. Besides, maybe he’ll pull over and let you pass.” Millie was the eternal optimist.
“Sure, and maybe they’ll serve martinis in hell. Why on earth do people have to drive those monstrous vehicles? They just make me want to barf.” George had come up behind the motorhome, close enough to read the fine print on the license plate: Happy Wanderer.
“Look, Shirley! Pelicans! A whole flock of them, skimming along at water-top level. If I wasn’t driving, I know I could spot one nailing a fish. What a way to go. One second you’re swimming along, enjoying the surf, and the next second you’re marking time in the mouth of a pelican. I’ll stick to my nice, comfy home on wheels.”
“That’s nice, Ronnie, but right now I’m checking out the wildflowers growing along the roadside. Between them and the redwoods, I have plenty to see. There is just so much to see here in California. This was such a good investment, buying this home on wheels.”
George maneuvered his Cadillac Crossover so that he was breathing down the back of the lumbering motorhome in front of him. The curtains across the back windows swayed to and fro, allowing him to get the occasional peak into what was probably the bedroom, judging from the framed pictures on the wall, and the tips of a pair of chests of drawers.
Frankly, it annoyed the bejabbers out of him, but then everything about the colossus irritated him.
“He’s crawling along at thirty miles an hour. Why can’t he pull over, and let the rest of the world get past?” he grumbled.
“Honey, I’m sure he would, but where? There hasn’t been a turn-out for miles, and the way this highway follows the cliffs, there doesn’t seem to be any hope for it.”
“Why does he need a turn-out? Why can’t he just pull over?” George was beginning to see red, which meant that he was close to doing something about it.
He swerved out into the oncoming traffic lane, and just as quickly pulled back behind the behemoth, just in time to avoid a little red sports car, zipping along at fifty miles an hour. “Whew,” was all he said.
“Looks like we got a Type-A personality behind us,” muttered Ronnie, noticing the shiny black Cadillac behind him, and the fact that he kept pulling out into the oncoming traffic lane. “I’ll bet he doesn’t even know the ocean is here, or that there are redwood trees that are three hundred feet high on the other side of the highway. I know I can’t travel as fast as others, but I can’t understand why they have to get so gosh darned mad. You’d think I was talking trash about their mothers. Sheesh!”
“Well, Ronnie, not everyone who drives this highway is as interested in the sights as we are.” Glancing back in her right-side rearview mirror, Shirley added, “I think the car behind us is going to try and drive right over the top of us. My, he is close. Is there a spot that we can pull off?”
“Shirley, take a look! If I could, I would. What’s he expect? That I can pull off where there is no shoulder? He’s just going to have to be patient.”
“Whoa! He’s up to twenty-seven miles per hour! At this rate I’ll be in Carmel by midnight,” moaned George.
“I don’t think it’s quite that bad, George. Be patient.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You’re not the one who has to meet with a client at dinner time. I’m going to blow a fuse if I’m late.”
“You’re going to blow a fuse either way, Dear. Maybe we should just pull over ourselves, and take a break,” responded Millie.
“How is that going to get me there any earlier? I swear, Millie, sometimes I think you’re on the other team.” With that, George abruptly leaned on the horn, sending a loud blast out into the afternoon air. When the motorhome continued to rumble along, George did it again.
“He’s blowing his horn at me? What’s he think that’s going to accomplish? Does he think the road is going to suddenly grow a turn-out, just because he toots his horn? This guy is insufferable. I’m beginning to think he’s a nut case. Maybe I should just stop in the middle of the highway.” George looked over at Shirley.
“Well,” began Shirley, when she suddenly jumped up and pointed. “Look, Ronnie! It’s not a turn-out, but it’s big enough to squeeze in so that this man can pass.” Sure enough, the road widened at a spot where George could ease his rig over, bringing it to a shuddering stop. He leaned out his window as the Cadillac flashed by, just to get a glimpse of the driver.
“I hope you’re satisfied,” was all he could think to say. As he sat there, deliberately looking out to sea, he saw a pelican dive, disappear for an instant, and come up with a wriggling fish in its ample mouth. “Yahoo!” he bellowed. “Perfect timing!” He was beaming from ear to ear.
“Praise the Lord,” sang out George, without so much as a flick of his wrist to acknowledge the good deed done by the driver of the motorhome. With that he floored the gas pedal, and was quickly up to fifty miles per hour, slowing only when he got to the next bend. Coming around the bend, he immediately floored it again, looking sideways at Millie, and saying, “We’re sailing now!”
Two minutes later, he came barreling around yet another bend in the highway, and had to apply the brakes instantly. Just pulling onto the highway, from the first turn-out that had materialized in the past ten miles, was a motorhome that-if anything-made the last one look like a miniature.
“Uh oh,” groaned George. “Here we go again.”
Friday, May 10, 2013
I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction. Today’s letter is T for telephone torture.
Out Through the In Door
Neil sat next to his wife in the crowded lobby of the California Pacific Medical Center, in San Francisco, more than an hour early for his wife’s appointment, and prepared to wait. He went through this same exercise almost every time she had an appointment, simply because it was inevitable. If they arranged their arrival closer to the allotted time, then they would invariably hit commuter traffic and be late. So they arrived early and prepared to mark time. It reminded him of the old army mantra, “Hurry up and wait.”
Today, as he sat there, beside his sweet Marie, he noted with a certain relief that the lobby did not seem as overwhelming as it usually did. There were plenty of people-make no mistake about that-but at least they were not hemmed in on both sides by the other patrons of the health center. Neil opened up his computer and accessed his email account, telling himself that he could at least make good use of his time. Marie worked on her embroidery, a past-time she reserved for doctors’ appointments, of which there were many.
Marie had health issues, ones that were time-consuming and required constant attention, but Neil was more than happy to accompany her on these occasions, because he would have done anything on earth for her. He had been scared out of his wits when the first of her problems had surfaced, realizing the fragility of life and how lost he would be without her. She was his everything, the center of his universe, and he could not conceive of life without her.
“What! What the hell are you saying?” The voice had rung out through the lobby, irritated, raspy and loud. It was the loud part that made the biggest impression on Neil. What had begun as a fairly mellow wait, had suddenly taken on a different look.
“Don’t try to hand me that line of crap,” the voice continued, “because I ain’t buying it. I didn’t come all the way to San Francisco to hear you feed me a bunch of bull shit.”
Three sentences, three profanities. Neil squirmed, conscious of his sweet Marie beside him. Why did people feel so free to impose their private phone conversations on others?
“Listen here, you bunghole! You better get your facts straight. Why do you think I called you for in the first place? I have got to get this taken care of before one this afternoon, because I will be boarding a plane at that point, and I damn sure can’t take care of it from 30,000 feet in the air.” The speaker now materialized out of the crowd, a florid-faced man, in his late fifties/early sixties, with blown-dried silver hair and a tailored suit, tight-fitting, covering a white shirt and tie.
The lobby was filling up now, the available seats becoming fewer and fewer. From his vantage point, off to the side, strategically placed so as be a little more secluded from the rest of the herd, Neil simmered. He resented it when others chose to use their telephones in a loud, obnoxious manner, with absolutely no regard for anyone else.
After the shortest of pauses, the voice burst out again. “Son of a b**ch! I don’t need this sh*t! I need to talk to Troy about those f***ing invoices. And you’re telling me that you have no record of them?” If anything, the speaker was more agitated than ever, and his use of inappropriate language had drawn more looks, as the conversation proceeded.
Neil had closed up his computer, after the most recent diatribe, focusing a withering look on the man as the most recent profanities had spewed out within the hearing of all in the lobby. He twisted in his chair, so that he was almost squarely facing Marie, and said quietly, “If that joker keeps up with the potty mouth, I am going to have to do something about it.”
“Oh, posh, Neil. This is a lobby-not a library.”
“But what right does he have to thrust his agenda on the rest of us? And where does he get off using such foul language?”
Again the raspy voice rang out. “You’re an ass***e!” Even Marie squirmed.
Neil quickly stood up, set his computer in the now-vacant seat, and walked over to the loud-mouthed cretin, who seemed oblivious to his presence. To be honest, Neil had no idea where he was going with this; it was just a matter of principle.
The telephone tormentor seemed to become aware of Neil’s presence slowly, as if awakening from a deep sleep. He spoke into the phone abruptly, saying, “Hold on Phil. Some twit is standing in front of me, and I need to send him on his way.” He had emphasized the pejorative word, used to describe Neil.
Neil felt his hackles rise as the word “twit” but waited for the man to say something else. “What’s your problem, Elmer? You need an engraved invitation to return to your seat?”
“My problem is that your language is offensive to me, and to my wife. I need you to curb your tongue.” Neil spoke calmly, but his tone left no room for conjecture, as to whether or not he was serious. The people in the immediate vicinity stopped what they were doing, and sat transfixed.
“Who died and made you king?” retorted the loud man, rudely. He accompanied the question with a sneer.
“No one had to die, for me to address your rudeness. You need to respect that this is a public place, and I-and others-do not have to be subjected to your foul-mouthed invective.”
The rude man guffawed loudly. Into the phone he said, “This buffoon thinks I’m rude. He hasn’t seen anything yet.” Putting his phone down, he gestured toward Neil, and spat out, “This IS a public place, and as such, I can say whatever I want. You’re a mealy-mouthed pussy. What are you going to do about my invective? Tell your mama?”
“He doesn’t have to. Now that I’m here.” The speaker was a uniformed security guard with a tight-lipped smile and his own cell phone balanced on his hand.
Rude-Dog looked at him uncertainly. “I was just making a phone call and this jerk is giving me a hard time. He’s the one out-of-line.” He stared belligerently at the security person.
“I don’t think so. I’ve gotten five calls about you in the past two minutes. Can you see that door? The one through which you entered? Grand! I want to see you on the other side of that door.” As the rude man looked around, as if for support, the security man barked, “NOW!”
The man sputtered, looked around, stood up, and left.
The woman sitting closest to the scene rose, and started clapping her hands, slowly. One by one, every other person in the crowded lobby stood up and started clapping. By the time the rude man had gotten to the door, the room resounded with applause, and continued until he passed out of view, across the parking lot, walking with his silver-haired head bent forward, as if he sought some answer from the ground in front of him. Not until Neil had returned to his chair, did the clapping slow down, and gradually cease.
Apparently Neil was not the only person in the lobby who hated one-sided, torturous telephone calls.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction. Today’s letter is S for stuck.
A Lot to Learn
We were stuck. And I’m not talking about being between a rock and a hard place. Unfortunately, there were no rocks to be seen-nothing but a sea of mud. I was with my friend, Will, and we were getting nervous. My name’s Stanley, but folks mostly just call me Lee. The rain which beat down on our unprotected heads, as we stood surveying the scene, was merciless. Why we had ventured out at this particular juncture in time, in the first place, was beyond my comprehension. I guess you might say we were grasping at straws. But straws would do no good, in this sea of mud.
Originally, the idea was to get up to Ricky’s place, take care of the business at hand, and get back to Dodge, and all had proceeded according to plan. But we never realized that the weather could be so extreme. Being new to the region, recently transplanted up from SoCal, I guess we had a lot to learn. We just did not have that much experience with dirt roads, especially ones which turned to mud in a driving rainstorm. Afterwards, we were to learn that the road had been recently graded, leaving the surface susceptible to a muddy quagmire, requiring four-wheel drive to have any expectation of reaching one’s destination. I knew that if we waited long enough, it would all be good, but time was precious, and we had a long road ahead of us.
Unfortunately, the only form of transportation available to us, had been a little Toyota Camry, with worn tires to boot, and it had functioned as well as we might have expected, until it slid into the ditch, leaving us incapable of going either forward or backward. It reminded me of the time we tried driving up to Mt. Baldy, in a similar form of transport, and ended up stuck in the snow, when we pulled off the road and tried to turn around. At least then, we were able to flag down a passing four-wheel drive truck, and get pulled back onto the road, pointed in the right direction. Here, we had not seen another vehicle at any time in the forty-five minutes since we had left Ricky’s, and with darkness settling over us, we were unlikely to encounter any traffic now.
Any effort at getting our little Camry out of the ditch, was met with spinning tires, and a belch of smoke from the tailpipe, indicating the forward progress was going to require some sort of miracle. At this time, I would have settled for reverse progress, or movement of any sort, but evidence indicated I should not hold my breath waiting. Our cell phones provided no service, out in this rural area, so it would probably have to be a land phone. Out of desperation, I had texted Ricky, letting him know of our predicament, hoping that he would get the message and come to our aid.
Just as it got to the point where total darkness was settling over us, approaching headlights gave us a ray of hope. It was the first sign of civilization we had encountered, and at the very least we were hoping to get a ride to a place where there was a functioning phone. The headlights swept past us, stopped, and then backed up, as the three-quarter ton Ford pickup was put in reverse, until it was even with us. The driver and his passenger paused, staring at us, as if we were the most bizarre creatures in on the planet. What was up with that?
“You fellows OK?” The driver had rolled down his window and was peering out at us, grinning like a drunk sailor.
I wondered what he thought was so funny, but beggars can’t be choosers. “Hey, are we glad you stopped! We’re stuck. Can’t go forward-can’t go in reverse. I guess this little Toyota isn’t the best vehicle to drive up here.”
The driver took that in, sneered at us and said, “You think?”
His buddy in the passenger seat guffawed, loudly and added, “You mean because it’s a little runt of a car, with no four-wheel-drive, and tires the size of a bicycle?” He derived a great deal of pleasure out of his witticism.
“You’re probably right about that,” I agreed. “But right now, what we could use is a hand getting out of the mud, and back into the center of the road, where we might at least have a shot at getting back down off this mountain. What do you say?”
“I say, the only reason geeks like you, in a car like this, come up to our neighborhood, is because you’re after some lucrative product, grown locally, and you’ve probably just come from somewhere up the road, and are packing anywhere from five to twenty pounds of the good stuff. How am I doing so far?” The driver had pegged us pretty accurately, except he was off on how much we had. Thirty pounds of Train Wreck were stashed, as carefully as possible, in the surprisingly deep trunk of the little Camry, all seal-a-mealed tightly, and ready for delivery to an acquaintance down in Orange County, who had told us he would pay twenty-eight per pound. Since we had gotten each elbow for eighteen, that meant a cool thirty large. I was not all that anxious to share this information with the two rowdies now parked right in the middle of the muddy road, smirking at us with contempt.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I exclaimed, figuring I would start with a bit of a bluff. “We were up visiting my brother, who’s a teacher down in town. What would I know about any product?” I emphasized that last word, hoping to convince him that I was just a stranger in a strange land.
“Who you trying to kid?” sneered the driver, showing us that smile again, lopsided due to the missing teeth. “Ain’t no teacher live up this road. Only people who live up here are them’s what grow the reefer. Now why don’t you just open up that trunk and give us a gander as to what kind of reward we can expect, if’n we were to actually get you out of that ditch, and on the way again.”
I was starting to sweat, even though the temperature had dropped precipitously, at the outset of the storm, though I doubted that the two cretins staring at me could tell the sweat from the rain. Was it possible I could buy my way out of this mess, without losing it all?
“Look,” I pleaded. “If you get us out of the ditch, and on the road, sure, we’d be more than happy to turn you on to an ounce of the Train Wreck. What do you say?”
Without consulting his partner, the driver responded, “I’d say you thought we were a couple of idiots. Why would I settle for an ounce, when I could just take everything you got, without you being able to do a damn thing?”
I was scrambling now. “Hey, be serious. You’d be in a lot of trouble if you ripped us off for all we have. They put people in jail for that kind of stuff.”
The passenger jumped in now. “And who’s going to call the pigs? You? How do you think they would respond to you having a bunch of reefer? You think the cops care about someone losing his pot, because he wasn’t smart enough to be able to move it himself? You got another thing coming to you, Mac. I think we’re done talking. Open the goddamned trunk. Now.” To make sure that we knew he meant business, he had pulled the rifle off of his Easy-Rider rifle rack, and was holding it nonchalantly in the crook of his arm.
“Whoa! Easy now. Can’t you be reasonable? What did we do to you?” I was stalling for time.
“You fed us a load of crap. That’s what you did. Now you’re gonna to have to pay for it.” The driver had stopped grinning. I wish he hadn’t.
Without warning, the dude holding the shotgun, pointed it up at the torrential rain, and pulled the trigger, scaring what little bravado I still had, right out of me, into the gutter.
“Whatever,” I exclaimed. “You want our reefer, here’s the key. Help yourself.” I wasn’t about to get shot over some lousy money. OK, the money wasn’t lousy, but I knew when I was beaten.
I tossed the set of keys at him, and figured, easy come-easy go. For his part, the dude with the shotgun said, “Now that’s more like it,” and he actually put his rifle back into the rack, as his partner snatched the key from me and scuttled around to the rear of the little Camry, inserting first one key, and then another, trying to pop that trunk lid open. I could tell he was getting frustrated, but was damned if I was going to help him out.
By the time he finally figured out which was the right key, and got the trunk open, I was already regretting my hasty decision. But I was also still alive and kicking, which helped balance the ledger. I stood there in the pouring rain, and watched those two yahoos chortling over my property, knowing I had a snowball’s chance in this rain, of ever being able to regain it.
Therefore, I was flummoxed, when out of nowhere, a voice demanded in no uncertain terms, “OK, you two bozos have had your fun; now put down those bags, get back into your truck, and drive on up the road, or you’ll be on the receiving end of a load of buckshot, with plenty more from where that came from.” There stood Ricky, a sawed-off shotgun pointing right at the mid-section of the gap-toothed driver, his hands steady as the big oak tree, just off to the side of the road. “Kindly take this opportunity to carefully remove that rifle from its perch, and toss it off the road. It will be waiting for you in the morning.”
Turn-about is fair play, and I could see the driver of the pickup and his buddy weighing their options. Ricky advanced several steps threateningly, raised the shotgun to his left shoulder, and sighted down the barrel. “Was there something about what I just said that you didn’t understand?”
They weren’t the sharpest knives in the kitchen drawer, but they were wise enough to see that being on the wrong end of a sawed-off shotgun, had put them in an awkward position, one that spelled out the second chapter that night of “easy come-easy go.”
They went, without so much as a whimper, which was good because no one likes a whiner, and Ricky was already soaking wet, having parked his rig several hundred feet away, behind a stand of oaks, when he had heard the earlier blast of the thug’s rifle. He watched as they climbed back into their truck, jammed it into gear, and headed back up the road.
“Well, let’s get you boys back on the road, so I can get out of these clothes, and into a bottle of Bushmill’s. Sound OK to you?”
Sounded just fine to me. I made a mental note to not come up on this mountain again, unless I was driving a four-wheel-drive, and with a little Train Wreck, I figured I could avoid another road wreck.