Over at Do Some Damage, Jay Stringer has issued a challenge to write a flash piece with the recession as its theme. Links to the other entries can be found over at the Do Some Damage blog; my entry is below.
"The thing is, Denny needs new skates. His feet grew over the summer, he can hardly get his feet into the old ones, and new skates are six hundred bucks."
"Jesus Christ, Tom. Six hundred dollars? For ice skates?"
"Hockey skates. Special blades, special insides. It's okay, he needs them. It's the sticks that kill me. Two bills apiece, and he'll break at least two, probably three this season."
"Two hundred bucks for a piece of wood?"
"Not wood anymore." Tom drank an inch of beer. "Some composite thing, fiberglass or something. Lighter, easier to control, lets him shoot harder."
"He knows you're laid off, right?"
"Yeah, he's a good kid, telling me he'll make do. Thing is, schools are looking at him. Northeastern and Minnesota-Duluth are talking about scholarships to play hockey. Best he gets here is a couple years community college, even if I'm working. I'm not going to blow his one chance because of a lousy thousand dollars. Not a lot of money when you think about your whole life."
Frank Morgan finished his beer, waved for two more. "I got a day's work if you're interested. We'd keep it off the books, not screw up your unemployment."
"My unemployment don't even pay the mortgage. I heard some jagoff on the radio the other day, talking about how paying unemployment makes people not want to work. Cocksucker's probably taking money to vote for bills paying farmers not to grow shit. You got a day's work, I'll take it. What do you need?"
"Drive a light truck. Help me load and unload some machine parts. It's a long day—leave here by seven, probably not home till after ten or midnight. I could pay you three hundred."
"No shit, Frankie? Three hundred bucks? I'll push your fucking truck for three hundred. Where we going?"
"Where the hell's that?"
They left two days later at ten after seven. Ate breakfast at a joint in Erie and were at the border near Buffalo by noon. Canadian border guard asked if they had anything to declare; Frank said the springs in the truck were for shit and the guy laughed, waved them through. Stopped at a warehouse in an industrial park halfway from Mississauga to Brampton to load the truck.
"What's that smell?" Tom asked Frank when they picked up the first case.
"Some kind of special grease they pack them in. So they don't rust."
"I believe that. The stink alone probably repels water."
They picked up a box of Timbits for Denny in Oakville and made the US border by four-thirty. Border Patrol waved the truck over, asked them to get out, asked what they were hauling.
"Machine parts." Frank showed him the packing list. "Tool and die stuff."
The BP told Frank to open the back. Another guy already there with a dog. He slipped a muzzle off the dog and motioned him into the truck. The dog came out whimpering less than a minute later.
"What's that smell?" the handler said.
"Packing grease," Frank said. "For rust."
"You better open one of those cases," the BP said. "Here. This one."
Frank used a pry bar to get the top off. The smell got worse. The BP and dog handler looked inside, saw what looked like a differential dripping with goo. The BP covered his nose with a handkerchief. "Close it up. Jesus Christ, that stinks." Signed the slip and waved them on.
Across the border, Frank said, "We have a couple stops to make. I got a map."
They dropped off cases in Lackawanna and Wattlesburg before getting back onto 90 and driving through Erie. "Keep going," Frank said when Tom signaled for the ramp onto 79. "We gotta go to Conneaut."
"Conneaut? That's in Ohio."
"Unless they moved it. You got a limit how many state lines you can cross in a day?" Both of them getting cranky, twelve hours in and still a couple of hundred miles to go, with this new side trip.
Tom parked behind an auto parts store. Frank told him to stay in the truck. The back slid up and Tom heard Frank talking to someone. Voices got agitated, then louder. Frank said something about "a little light" and the other voice said "cocksucker" something and then feet were scuffling on the gritty pavement. Tom slid out of the cab and snuck to the corner of the truck in time to see some big SOB bounce Frank off the lip of the bed and fling him into the parking lot. Said something about how he'd rather run the grow house himself than have to air this shit out. Tom picked up the pry bar from the back of the truck and hit him as hard as he could between the shoulder blades, then what he hoped was a glancing blow to the head to put him down.
In the truck, Frank said, "Thanks."
"You want to tell me what that was about?"
"The less you know, the better."
"How much more is there to know? You're running reefer down from Canada and this guy don't like the product. How stupid do you think I am?"
Frank sat quiet for a few miles. Then, "I'm sorry, Tom. I shoulda told you. I'll keep you out of it."
"Like hell," Tom said. "When's the next run?"
"Shit, yeah, I'm sure. But it's five hundred from now on. I got two kids, you know."