After Chet pumped nine-dollars of regular, he checked the motor oil. The dipstick read a quart down but he kept his mouth shut. He lifted the hood up all the way then let it free fall with a bang. “Looks good,” he said to Jim Turner through the beat up Cadillac’s window. Chet thought the missing oil might be on Turner’s disgusting yellow palm tree and hula girl tie.
“Tell your mom I’ll be over tonight,” said Turner after Chet handed him the dollar change.
“Hope you drop dead first,” he said to himself. He was screwed. Turner would tell his mother he’d skipped school.
“We’re full service, Chet, didn’t see you cleaning Jim’s windows and please lower hoods gently,” said Hank, the burly Gulf Station owner, with a noticeable limp from his Boston wrestling days. He was also an Elvis impersonator, looked like him from a distance, neck up. Chet tried to train his dirty blond hair like his but failed. Hank had perfect teeth and Chet envied them every time he got one of his many toothaches even though his mother said Hank’s were false. Chet liked to hear Hank sing as he sometimes did under a car doing work, especially “Jailhouse Rock.”
“Sorry Hank, daydreaming I guess, won’t happen again.”
Business was slow for close to a half hour. Chet watched Hank’s assistant, George, who wore suspenders and sold Amway Products on the side, tune up an Oldsmobile. Chet wanted to do more than tune-ups and oil changes. He needed to build car engines in Detroit, get the hell out of Middletown as fast as he could when he turned sixteen in five months. His Plan “A” was to drive there. Plan “B” he’d hitchhike. He’d get himself a GM or Ford union job, make big money; rescue his mother from R.I. and Jim Turner. Hank broke up his fantasy,
“Make yourself useful kid, go get coffees.”
At the Value Breakfast & Lunch across Prospect Avenue, Chet’s fellow truants huddled around the pinball machine trying to beat the score posted daily on the men’s room wall hidden in a phone number. Tony, the head cook, bottle washer and bookie took bets against their efforts to match or pass it. He wore a pencil mustache that made him look seedy, help that was not needed. And the only cool thing about the aviator sunglasses was they hid his beady eyes. Tony liked to show off his fat roll of bills, snap the wide red rubber band around it to draw attention. Jim Turner said the wad would choke a giraffe and Tony probably slept with it under his pillow.
“Hi Tony, usual please.”
“Tony don’t memorize for that highway robber mechanic,” he said, long pauses between each word, “Talk to me.”
Chet cringed. A classmate, whose mother worked part time in the office at Rodman High searched student records for the lowest IQ’s. Chet was one of her victims. She shared the score with her daughter, good looking Marie turned ugly by starting the moron talk routine. She told a doctor’s son, Todd Pratt, who changed Chet’s name to Lennie after a backward guy in some book. The switch took off. Chet fixed him first, subscribing to a kinky sex magazine using Pratt’s name and address. Chet heard that his parents had the smartass visiting a shrink.
Whale-mouth Marie lived in the Project. Chet shot a couple of rubbers through her door mail slot for her mother to find. Kid next door broadcasted he’d overheard the IQ thief calling her daughter a tramping whore.
“Two large black, two sugars.”
“No extra sugars? What’s going on?”
“I thought you didn’t memorize.”
“Cost adds up, Lennie boy. I should charge for extras,” said Tony continuing the slow delivery. Bobby Nichols laughed like a flaming idiot as he had the time Chet dropped coffees and Danishes.
“Eat sewer sludge,” shouted Chet at Bobby, slamming the door. He’d given up on his sugar sabotage plans when he’d heard Hank tell George that putting sugar in a gas tank to ruin an engine was a myth. Chet had taken the bag he’d accumulated to the Stanton Park Zoo, dumped it in the Appaloosa corral.
At four-thirty, Chet walked home to the Housing Project. His spirits boosted by the twenty-five Bucks he’d be paid Saturday sagged when he saw Turner’s car parked on his apartment’s asphalted lawn. Jackass couldn’t wait to report him skipping school.
His mother was tipsy and the useless-comb-over slob Turner was sitting on the living room easy chair like he was the man of the house.
“Well, here’s the little genius,” babbled his mother. “He doesn’t have to go to school. I should turn you in, let reform school straighten you out.”
“Get him tiger,” encouraged Turner.
“How much money you make, sneak?”
“Nothing, just want to learn all I can about cars.” She slapped his face. “Hand it over, you’ve got to do your part.” Chet dodged her next swing, ran to the stairs.
“Thanks a lot, reptile,” he yelled at Turner.
In his room, he fell onto the bed as he did when he was feeling sorry for himself but after a few minutes, went to the escape backpack he kept at the ready with survival stuff, Boy Scout Manual, hand fishing line, aspirin, flashlight and hunting knife he’d swiped from the Gob Shop. Also the Trojan left over from the once-beautiful-now-skuzzy Marie sabotage in case lightning should strike once. He’d been adding to the collection since he was seven. All of the sudden, a delayed reaction to his mother’s smack occurred. Plan “A” was in motion. He pulled out an envelope with Hank’s Gulf’s name and return address. Removed a piece of paper, a page he’d ripped from a paperback he’d found when a customer asked him to toss some car trash. The book was in two pieces, page 193 showed on one. Chet read the a few lines over and over and they gripped him again, more than anything he’d ever had to read in school. Dean came up on lines of cars like the Angel of Terror. He almost rammed them along as he looked for an opening. He teased their bumpers, he eased and pushed and craned around to see the curve, then the huge car leaped to his touch and passed, and always by a hair we made it back to our side…It is only seldom that you find a long Nebraskan straightaway in Iowa, and when we finally hit one Dean made his usual 110. Man, hitting that speed was what he’d do: The “Chet of Terror” would. Chet had crossed out the “Cadillac,” scribbled “Lincoln” in the margin. His father took him to Murphy’s a couple of times, Coke and State Line Potato Chips matching a short beer and shot of rye. He played “Hot Rod Lincoln” on the jukebox. The Blob Turner’s unreasonable facsimile of a Caddy of course was a factor.
Chet took out his road map collection – one of the best benefits at the Gulf Station. He ran his finger over a stretch of I-95 in Westerly and into Connecticut where he’d meet 110 MPH the first time. There would be many chances on the way to Motown.
Before turning in, Chet took a .22 revolver out of a shoebox hiding place in the closet. It was in an ankle holster he’d made from a toy cowboy gun set childhood. The night of the worst fight, a block your ears with fingers fight, his father ran up and gave it to him so he wouldn’t use it. He never returned. His mother suffered a detached retina. Chet put the fully loaded pistol in his backpack. He slept soundly until three. He’d laid out his clothes before going to bed. The most important piece was on top. A blue Navy work shirt he’d stolen off Bobby Nichols’s mother’s clothesline. His brother Ed was on a heavy cruiser. He dressed in record time, attached the ankle holster, wiggled into his backpack. He had his usual peanut butter and marmalade sandwich and milk without waking up his mother and the creature. It was the last of the milk so Chet filled the quart carton with water. When Hank called the sugar vandalism a myth, George said, “Might be true, but water will sure as hell do some lasting damage.” Shoot, he couldn’t imagine Turner’s Cadillac doing 50 never mind 110. Godzilla’s trousers were on the couch. Chet slipped out his wallet, removed the bills that included twenties. He deposited them in a Blessed Virgin flower vase where his mother kept her food shopping money. He didn’t need it; plenty of dough would soon be at his disposal. He took a couple of eggs from the Fridge; put them in puke face’s pockets.
Chet froze for a second when he heard noise from the bedroom but continued out the door, muttering, “She’s gotta be deaf, dumb and crazy.” His mother was a good-looking woman. He’d heard a cop say to his partner that she looked like Elizabeth Taylor. She had great shape too. “Christ almighty, loser scum Jim Turner!”
He’d forgotten a funnel but lucked out, found a supermarket flyer he coned to add the water to Dracula’s gas, didn’t lose a drop. He felt good strutting along despite the weight of his guardian angel backpack. He was new-pair-of-sneakers-in-springtime happy in the dark. He flexed his fingers in his father’s Army gloves and wondered what he’d think of this operation.
He worked his way to the rear of Tony’s, one hand touching the wall. Removing his backpack, he put what gear he’d need on the ground. Carrying his flashlight, he moved cautiously to Tony’s new dark green Lincoln even though it was risky with the door wide opened. Shining the beam on the speedometer, he read the120 at the high end. “I’ll ace this IQ test,” he whispered to himself, almost laughing. He retreated to his staging area, buttoned the top button of the Navy shirt. Bobby Nichols always did, to get his full money’s worth. After tucking the flashlight in a backpack pouch, he drew the .22 from his ankle holster, lodged it in his belt. Backpack on in a jiffy; he took three steps toward the door than backed up quickly. “Goddam,” he blurted, lucky that a trailer truck rumbled by. He breathed deeply twenty times. “I would have been dead meat!” he thought. Kneeling down, it took him a minute or so to ready his accomplice, adjusting the eye holes in his Halloween Elvis mask to 20/20 was tricky.
Bio: I grew up in Pawtucket, RI. The home of the Pawtucket Red Sox, Triple A affiliate of the Boston Club. I graduated from Fairfield University, 1973. A retired computer programmer, I worked for a small software house in Meriden, CT that sold a business package directed at Plumbing Supply Houses. I reside in VA with my wife, no kids, no pets. I served two hitches in the U.S. Navy, aboard the USS Mullinnix (DD-944) and USS Miller (FF-1091). My fiction has recently appeared in Running out of Ink. I also write poetry, Gadfly and The Moon have published my work.