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“Dammit to hell,” said a disgusted Hef. “You add just an ounce or two of weight and these bottle rockets won’t go where you want ‘em.”

“What?” Ted responded, as he gave the metal cart a shove and collapsed on an arrangement of plastic milk carton boxes up against the nearest wall, the same place Hef had nested. Hef explained he had taped small finishing nails to the tips of the bottle rockets, sort of making a small rocket-powered lance. Ted was impressed so Hef lit another one, but it did the same crazy short-lived spiral and then crashed to the concrete floor and began to spin on itself like the first one had done. “Good idea... might have to cut ‘em shorter... saves weight,” Ted offered, his voice rising, just as the powder exploded.

“Yeah, they’re top heavy. Do we sell wire clippers or needle nose pliers?” asked Hef.

Ted ignored the question. He didn’t know and instead inspected his hands and fingernails. He hated dead bloody chickens. He assumed he’d hate live chickens, too. Their sticky blood was caked under all ten fingernails and in the cracks of skin on his knuckles and palms. The smell of cold coagulated blood sickened him, not to the point of throwing up, just short of that. “Shitty-ass dead chickens. I got to go wash up before I can touch anything. I’m on break if anyone comes looking for me,” Ted announced as he rose.

Hef lit another nail-tipped bottle rocket. It too dove to the floor, spun and then attacked Hef’s feet and blew up behind his ankle. “Dammit to hell!” he said again.

Hef was a year older than Ted and a high-school senior. Hef was the official nickname for Harold Edward Fleer. He’d had an earlier nickname, Sassy, from his junior high days, but it went away for some reason no one could recall. The adults at the store and Hef’s parents assumed all the kids had just turned his initials into a name, but that was not true. Hef got his nickname from the seniors in gym class when he was a sophomore. You see, Hef always, and this meant always, had the latest copy of “Playboy” magazine in his school locker. Hence, the publisher’s nickname became Harold’s new name. He did not care. True, it was better than Harold, but once the seniors named you, you couldn’t really do anything about it anyway. Hef was the store’s practical joker and was always up to something borderline devious. Ted didn’t mind. Hef didn’t carry that ‘I’m a senior and therefore cooler than thou’ attitude most seniors lorded over the juniors and sophomores. Hef liked his practical jokes and drag racing his car out at the new Industrial Park. Well, actually the city never finished the Industrial Park, but they did pave out a straight-as-an-arrow three mile road leading to the gigantic field of unfinished buildings. When Hef’s grandmother passed away a year ago, he inherited a 1972 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham and the remaining installment payments. This car was about the size of a city block and thanks to the Arabs and the oil embargo, all of Hef’s paycheck went to making the payments and keeping some gas in the tank. Just for good measure, the late grandmother had chosen a baby-diaper-green paint scheme for some extra little ribbing for Hef. The boys had a good time with punishing that car. You couldn’t hurt it for anything. One time at the Gulf station they’d stopped in, Ted casually mentioned to the five others crammed into the car that if Hef ever completely filled his car up, it would double in value. They had to say it was one tough car. It would bounce off side rails, curbs, shrubs and small saplings like nothing happened and it even had a name. The S.S. Bro-Ham was her official name and the typical comments went like this: “Wow, look at that venereal roof.” and “Where do you dock this thing at night?” “How much water does she draw?” or “How many torpedoes does she carry on-board, Hef?” Keeping with the naval theme, when he’d drive up or even drive off, Ted would pipe him aboard. He’d been practicing and could do a decent imitation of a boson’s whistle. That’s the four-note, high-pitched whistle you always hear when the captain comes aboard in all those old black and white naval movies.

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