so I'm going to. I'm going to post the first chapter of the novel I'm working on. It may not actually be the first chapter chronologically, but it's the first one that I've done. This is a thirdish draft so comment away.
The Brotherhood of the Welding Helmet
By: S. Dwight Parker
What lies before is my attempt to craft a story. Not just any story, but MY story. In my scattered comings and goings it has become clear that people enjoy a good story. Philosophers, theologians, kings and barons may all blather of methods to change the world yet all the systematic theology, volumes of enlightened prose, rousing speeches, or patented systems in existence succeeds, most often, do nothing but rock the masses to sleep. While even the obligatory “what I did this summer” selection will perk up the attention of an bystander, if only for a moment. While a sordid or suspenseful yarn can gather even the most exhausted of the muddy sticks. My story begins.
As in any good story, a significant chunk is somewhat embellished. In actuality, only the most persistent of observers would recognize the events in this selection as anything but a completely original work of fiction. Some is fact, some is mythology and the rest falls somewhere between a Roger Clemens misremembrance and complete bullshit. More precisely the events described are semi-factual. I was there for most, and knew well those there for the rest, and the statute of limitations saves us all.
Names of places were changed for no good reason and the names of people were so that my ass wouldn’t be kicked or sued as some incidents tend toward the unsavory. With such an extensive disclaimer you may think I doth protesteth too much. Possibly.
The New Testament, tells of a man born blind. Jesus’s disciples asked why the man was born with such an affliction. They debated that either the man himself had sinned or that his father and mother had. As Jesus did often when a question missed the point, his reply was not an answer. In this instance, Jesus spit upon the ground and with his fingers made mud from the dirt. He then plastered the man’s eyes with it. Jesus then told the man to go down to the pool of Siloam and wash in the waters there. When the mud fell from his eyelids, the man born blind was able to see for the first time.
I am not the son of my father’s sin. I am not a brother of perdition. I am a creature of the created. An image of the artist, the source of all metaphors, the muse of all poets, the essence of melody and rhyme. Somehow, it was I who started the fire. In my soul exists the trinity of contrition. Reality, Responsibility and Right. For everything done in darkness will one day be brought into the light. The sun’ll come out tomorrow, betcher bottom dollar that tomorrow they’ll be sun. I was blind but now I see.
Like I told that cop and the dumbass reporter, we were all there that night. Now that’s not something that you could say many nights in those days. Hell, there wudn’t but five of us that worked there all total even if you counted Jean who didn’t do nothing but fill out ledgers and cut checks. But by the grace of God and the damn New York Yankees, we were all there.
I was working the evening shift, three til closing. Jean was hustling to get her ledgerin’ done in time for her appointment with Tom Selleck in Wranglers for some boot scootin. We were on-site and available for no one in particular so we tuned into baseball while waiting to be needed.
That damn Darryl Strawberry swung a bat exactly the way that my little league coach would make us run laps for. But when Darryl’s shoulder dipped and the bat head dove toward the earth it was poetry. The sweetest swing in the game which at times looked like something from a Ben Hogan instructional had rolled into Baltimore to oppose the Birds. No cable necessary, the game came through sharp and clear on the rabbit ears. Darryl came up while I was taking a piss and smacked one so far to leftfield that the ball one hopped that brick warehouse at Camden Yards. Jean laughed as I ran out of the john still buckling my belt only in time to catch the end of the final replay. A harbinger of a night of unfortunates.
The work wasn’t hard, but I never liked being at the shop alone until closing. Closing alone was the reason I bought the pistol. The old man was paranoid as hell that I’d get some wild hair and OK corral some crackhead. It wasn’t no Dirty Harry hand cannon, hell, I didn’t have that kind of money and I knew that a mammoth handgun like that only worked in the movies. Mine was a .22 magnum revolver. A little kid may have thought it was a toy. It looked like a Hop-along Cassidy 6 o’clock movie original. Fake bone handle and a steel barrel that was just too skinny. I kept it in the box with the price sticker still on the side. Will’s Guns, Your 2nd Amendment specialists.
Besides the Yankees and O’s the night was dead. There was work in the bay, but the parts hadn’t come in time, so those automobile repairs would wait until the old man returned to his money pit at the crack of dark.
We never sold gas at night. All of those little mini marts had popped up like mushrooms after a spring rain. We could fix just about anything wrong with any kind of vehicle. We had two gas pumps out front. There was an RC cola machine on the sidewalk by the office door, and a gumball machine filled with cashews by the counter. If your needs ran a little more into the exotic on this side of town. Let’s say somebody’s thinking that a hot dog might go well with that RC, or preferred honey roasted peanuts in a plastic sleeve to a palm full of cashews and salt then those high fallutin’ tastes would require that business to be conducted elsewhere.
Jean’s boots clicked double-time across the concrete as she headed towards her gold Sunbird. I waved as she twirled out onto Post Avenue and it was going to be the brotherhood and Darryl Strawberry until the lights flicked off at closing time.
I smelled burning tires. Scorching rubber is a distinctive fragrance. Similar in palor to the singed hair smell you get from too much lighter fluid on charcoal. I knew what it was immediately, stood and started scanning to find the source. Without even realizing it, I had grabbed the Western Special. It was right there in my right hand my thumb on the hammer and my finger on the trigger. I glanced down at the cylinder and counted one, two, three, cartridges. I hopped up from that army surplus steel desk chair the old man saved and cracked my knee real damn good on the underside. Pain shot through my guts like a scythe. I grabbed my knee and rubbed, caveman’s Vicodin.
I looked out towards the service door and saw flames across the bay farthest away. Fire was devouring a stack of discard tires loaded on pallets for the dump. I eyeballed the fire extinguisher right between the old man’s tool box and old refrigerator at the back corner of the garage. I hustled over to that extinguisher with an intention to do the best I could to get things under control before I called the fire department. That plan and any cool focus left me the second I saw that the tower of flaming tires was starting the lean that was going to be a tumble and the landing area was going to be the old man’s arc welder. I could tell you that what ever chemistry was going to come from that recipe was something I was not going to hang around to know.
I blasted open the service door, through the office leaving the Yanks and Orioles to their own. I staggered toward the gas pumps eliciting a ding-ding from the black rubber alarm hose. I dove behind the pay phone in front of my Camaro which was as far away as I could get from the building without standing in the street. I reached around with my right hand and grabbed the phone receiver and pressed the nine, one and one buttons with my middle finger.
“Emergency how can I help you?”
“Yes ma’am I’m out at the Post Hills Exxon and we’ve got a fire.”
“Is there anyone in the building?”
“No ma’am, not anymore, but that fire’s burning pretty dang good there’s some stuff in there that’s probably gonna blow up so y’all might want to hurry.”
The windows of the repair bays blew out sending a shotgun blast of tempered glass toward me. The old man’s station was a ruin, before the first fireman slid down the brass pole. They could break all response time records but the only job they were going to do was cool down the mess for the insurance adjuster.
I watched the flames lick the remains of the lift arms hypnotized by the curtains of heat.
“Hey fella I need you to put that pistol down.”
I startled from my trance just registering the police officer from the corner of my eye. I could see his right index finger undoing the snap of his holster. I put hands in the air then laid the pistol down beside me but my eyes were drawn back to the fire.
“What’s your name?”
“Brodie Gayel, I work here, or used to anyway.”
“Tell me what happened Brodie?”
“I don’t know what in hell just happened. We was watching the ballgame. Jean left. Strawberry hit another homerun in Baltimore. Then I smelled burning tires.”
“How long ago was this?”
“I don’t have no idea, a few minutes, what time is it now?”
“It’s quarter to midnight.”
I looked down at the cracked face of my watch, squinting in an effort to clear my view.
The game was in the sixth inning when Jean left. The last thing she said to me was she needed to hurry to get to the bank by 8. I’m sitting here looking at the shops burning to the ground at quarter to twelve.
“Brodie come over with me to my car, and see if we can get this thing figured out. Leave that gun there, I’ll get it.”
It was just like when Vanna turns over those s’s t’s and r’s. When it all clears up and you know. I knew. All of this. The fire, the glass, the cop, the gun. This was all really happening. And I had no idea of anything between Darryl Strawberry’s second homerun and the smell of burning rubber. And I was walking over to a police cruiser to talk with an officer of the peace about a four hour hole in my consciousness. And it was apparent that in that hole some dangerous shit went down.
“The old man is going to be so pissed.”
“Who’s the old man?”
“My uncle, he owns the place.”
“Was there anyone else working with you tonight?”
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