Friday, October 5, 2007

Chapter 5: Hard at Work, Part IV

Ethan was gone when Vernon arrived. He leaned back against the wall and waited, rubbing his eyes and trying unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn. His friend’s nameplate beside the door stared at him. He glared back. Just one hint, some sort of warning about the town, Ethan. That’s all it would have taken. How could you let this happen to us? Vernon thumped his head against the wall and fumed, his anger building the longer he waited. Red tinted the edges of his vision.

The double doors opened and Ethan stepped through, his eyes locked on a sheaf of papers. Vernon straightened and folded his arms. Ethan looked up, spotted him and smiled. “Hey, bud. Come on in.” He pointed into his office. “Got any news for me about that press?”

“Yeah,” he replied curtly and reached into his back pocket. He tossed the wrench on the desk. “I’d say whoever sent that maintenance guy out here last month owes us a complete rewiring.”

Ethan picked the tool up and slowly turned it in front of his face. “This was causing our problems?”

“Yep.” Vernon ground his teeth. “It was rattling around at the bottom of the machine and getting knocked around when the press dropped. It’d connect with the wires and ground them out. I guess this last time around, it finally crossed between the two and shorted the whole thing.”

“Good work.” He glanced at the paper again. “Tomorrow, I’d like you to take a look at a vacuum mold. It’s not working right.”


Frowning, Ethan folded his hands and rested his chin on them. “You OK?”

“I was wondering…” he began. I was wondering why you sent us there to die. But he couldn’t bring himself to say it aloud. It sounded so stupid all of a sudden, and blurting out accusations like that would only threaten his job. He couldn’t afford for that to happen. Neither could Raymond. His anger sputtered and died. Heaving a sigh, he muttered, “I was wondering if I could knock off early and get home.”

“Of course! Go home, and for God’s sake, get some rest. See you bright and early tomorrow.”

“See ya,” he mumbled. It’s got to be more bright than early. On the way out, he stopped at a locker assigned to him when he walked in this morning and retrieved the brown sack lunch Ware had given him. Paper crinkled as he unrolled the top and peered inside. Two halves of a hefty roast beef sandwich lay under a small bag of chips. Vernon’s stomach rumbled.

He polished off the chips and a quarter of the sandwich before ever reaching the car. The rest of the food disappeared by the time he left the parking lot and turned onto Loop 286. As he approached Highway 271, he noticed a hardware store at the corner. A sign out front proclaimed it “Callahan & Son.” Patting the wad of bills in his pocket, Vernon slammed on the brakes and whipped into the lot. A horn blared behind him. He looked back at the highway and saw a middle finger pointed high in the air above the roof of a pickup. He killed the engine and went inside.

A small bell tinkled overhead as he pushed the door open. Vernon wandered the aisles, gazing listlessly at screws, nails, hammers and wallpaper until an elderly man shuffled up beside him. At least a foot shorter, age had bent him further so that he had to twist his neck and cock his head to look Vernon in the eye. He wore a blue and white striped apron with large pockets on the front. Black stitching spelled out “Theron” on the left breast. Vernon wondered if this was Callahan.

“Help you, sir?” He spoke in a soft croak.

“Uh, I’m looking for…um…” Vernon shook his head, trying to think straight. “Flashlights. I need flashlights. Oh, and batteries, too.”

Theron nodded and shambled off. Vernon followed with a slight smile. Odd as it looked, the clerk’s arthritic gait carried him with deceptive speed, seeming to cross the tortured linoleum floor in great stretches whenever a doorknocker or ceiling fan or power tool snagged Vernon’s attention for a moment. He constantly found himself having to increase his speed to catch up. Then Theron disappeared.

Rounding a corner, he found the old store clerk with thumbs hitched into his apron, standing in the last aisle next to a great stack of shelves bearing what had to be every type of flashlight known to man. Batteries hung in plastic blister packs at the far end. It was, he decided, one of the most beautiful things he’d ever seen.

“Good thing I found you,” Theron rasped. “The way you were going, you would have spend most of the afternoon in here wandering around.”

That would have been fine with me, Vernon thought. Aloud, he said: “Thanks a lot. This is just what I was looking for.” The old man nodded and shuffled off to some other distant corner of the hardware store.

Fingers caressing the middle shelf, he gazed at the flashlights, studying each one with the care of a cop selecting a new sidearm. Small ones, he dismissed right away. No way those things would do any good out there. Several plastic ones joined the “no” list almost as quickly. Too cheap; can’t depend on something like that. One by one the candidates fell, until he found himself staring at a group of seven lights lined up on the top shelf like soldiers guarding a castle wall. Each one bore a sizable price tag, but even the weakest looked to have the power of his light at home. Which one? He tapped the bulge of money in his pocket.

Unable to decide, he finally grabbed all seven and hugged them to his chest. A virtual mountain of D-cells joined them.


Part V coming Monday!

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At October 5, 2007 12:10 PM , Blogger Bret Jordan said...

Glad to see Vernon arming himself so well...I think he may need it!DirectX 9.0d-download  

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