Monday, April 5, 2010

Road Trip

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?"

"You sure?"

"Shit, yeah, I'm sure. But it's five hundred from now on. I got two kids, you know."


Dorte H said...

Good one with just the right title.

Rob Kitchin said...

Yeah, I can see this happening. Easy to slip into what seems like easy money. I think I'd be asking for more than 500 bucks though given the hours and the penalties of getting caught. Nicely paced and judged.

Mike Dennis said...

Well done, Dana. From start to finish.

Unknown said...

I liked this. Solid voice and Tom's complicity in it all. Very strong story, Dana

pattinase (abbott) said...

Very smoothly told. I wonder how easily people can be corrupted when their back is to the wall. Witness Breaking Bad, for instance.

Charlieopera said...

Good stuff. I was expecting them to get bagged and/or the guy Tom "hoped" he hit a "glancing blow to put him down" to die.

Nice twist ... and in this economy, without off the books coin, what's a guy to do?

Two more trips like that and maybe clipping some of the stash and Tom is an official knockaround guy.

Dana King said...

Thanks to all for the kind words. I grew up in an area where recessions never really ended, so the topic seemed natural to me. Frankly, I'm surprised more people don't end up like Tom.

You got me thinking with that one. I could see a whole series of flashes, each one drawing him in a little more, until a decision has to be made.


Charlieopera said...

Sounds like my old man ... he started moving booze off the docks (inside job--the truck was just waiting for him and his friend) and it was always "one more truck" until they were followed back to Canarsie by several unmarked cars. I was delivering the Long Island Press that day. We were about to move into a new house they'd just bought; the old one (same neighborhood) had a basement full of hot clothes they sold (a mini-Macy's) ... my grandfather picked me up halfway through my paper route and said, "Get in the car." I had to forget the rest of my route. There were then a few police cruisers parked around the new house (which was on my route). I learned a few years later what happened. Cost them the first house to keep him out of jail ... it used to be the American Dream. Now Mega Lotto is (das capital) ... "and a fuckin' shame it is too."