Sunday, February 20, 2011

His to begin with ... [Fiction Circus Translation Nexus submission]

His to begin with

By Chris King

It began in a river valley that was deliberately flooded by men. The boy’s grandmother was bought out by a regional authority, formed to acquire land and administer the new power gathered from the river. It was “more money than any of us ever thought we’d ever see in our lives,” as the boy’s father bitterly told the story in prison.

The grandmother took the money from the buyout and bought land in another river valley far away. This valley was getting built up, and one of the builders-up of the valley – remembered as Eldon the Cement Truck Driver – was the man who stole the money. He courted the wealthy widow, at bowling alleys and smoky taverns, and got her to marry him and his big belly like a bowling ball. Not long after that, the grandmother suddenly “crapped out,” as the little boy learned to tell the story, being purposefully disgusting; but, she did die on the crapper.

The big change came from the terrible efficiency with which Eldon made away with the money. Eldon the Cement Truck Driver was a slow man – he waddled when he walked and seemed to be stupid, mispronouncing familiar words and thoughtlessly belittling other people in petty ways. But before the old lady was a cold bump on the hill up the ridge, Eldon was gone from the valley and all the money went with him. He was never tracked or trailed. He stayed gone.

The perfection of his hustle was what ate away at the old lady’s son and what changed things so much for them. It began to gnaw at him, nights on the road. The son was a traveling salesman – had been since back before the buyout. He got up and out of that valley as fast as he could. He could tinker at things and make them run better. Fixing trucks, he took to carrying parts; and soon he was trading in what gets called “junk” by those who don’t share a sense of its value. Then, just as he got interested in selling parts by hauling parts around, by hauling around and selling parts he got interested in the act of hauling around and selling. So he took to running Bibles for a Christian outfit in town that was aiming to expand its distribution. It was good, clean money for a man who liked to drive, and this man, Larry Lane, loved to drive. Packing books all around him and driving up and down the country finding readers for them seemed like a dream come true. Because Larry Lane was a devilish reader.

His mom getting the big money from the buyout was no big deal to him. She just had more money she could keep to herself. When she moved unexpectedly far to the west, that was no big change for him. He just shifted his Bible route slightly thataway. Probably he would have just let his mother go, but there was some concern for his boy. His son had no mother, so the grandmother should have been important to him. There had been stories about all of that back in the old river valley, when “that runt Lane boy” came home with a baby of his own after one of his Bible runs. The story that would be taken as truth in that valley up until today, had the valley not been deliberately flooded and emptied of people, was that the Lane boy had taken a little problem off some perverted preacher’s hands and should not have been surprised when his own mother didn’t much care. So that is why the orphan boy grew up on the road alone with that strange man.

The facts of the matter are different, but to make it plain might confuse things. It might confuse just how amazing it was to Larry Lane that Eldon had put together such a perfect hustle. That he had tied up all that old lady’s money in places where he could get his hands on it the instant she died – a tragic fate of which Eldon must have had foreknowledge, which suggested the very worst evil. When Eldon had his mother killed and made away with the money, Larry Lane was already familiar with pimps and whores, because it was from their world that he had conjured a boy of his own. But he was not one of them, then.

His best friend in the city, Encyclopedic Bob Lovejoy, owner of No Dirty Books or Ephemera, was Larry’s connection. Larry told Bob he was looking for a woman who would stay put just long enough to have his baby, and then hand him the boy and leave him alone. Bob loved to listen to people’s problems, that’s why Larry was telling him his, and that is how Bob knew a man who knew a whore who wanted out and just might try this trick. She did try it, and a boy was born. Larry Lane brushed shoulders with some pretty rough people seeing her through the pregnancy, one visit a month along his Bible route, which had become a trade in rare books, as well. But drugs never touched them. That was a stipulation for the mother of his boy: no booze, no drugs, no smoking. Larry Lane fanatically hated drugs, then and always, even after he came to traffic in them.

Something snapped in Larry, when Eldon made off with the money. The boy was old enough by then to hold up his end of a conversation with his father. So the boy would be reading a book to his old man on the road, just like he always did, exactly as he had been raised up to do, but he’d notice, looking up for his dad’s reaction to a really good part, that the old man’s mind had wandered away from the story. That was not like him. So the boy would ask, “What’s eating at you, Daddy?” and out would come this anguished speculation about what Eldon had planned and when he had planned it, and where he had landed and who knew, and what he was doing now with all that money that wasn’t his to begin with.

At first, the boy tried to tell his dad his own stories back to him. He said things like, “But it wasn’t ever anybody’s money to begin with, Daddy. Who ever heard of flooding a river valley on purpose and making the people on the river trade in their land for paper money?” But the old man did not listen. He stayed trapped in speculation.

Encyclopedic Bob was the one to ask Larry what he aimed to do about it, other than mope around and get freaked out. The old man shot back, “I am glad you asked me that question, for I am putting together a hustle of my own that will put to shame Eldon the Cement Truck Driver.” Bob kept his bookstore on a sliver of crowded street in a big city along the sea. He traded in rare books with people like Larry Lane, on the high end, and in ephemera with guys like Gary McCorkle, on the low. It was Gary McCorkle who strayed deeper into the dark that sometimes crept into Bob’s shop. It was Gary McCorkle who once had said, when a scary man hailed him by name on the street, “Hey, scumbags know scumbags.” It was to Gary McCorkle that the old man went when he decided he had business to do with scumbags.

From that point on, the facts are mostly known. Court records will show that one Larry Lane was contracted to transport by vehicle various contraband articles that assorted interested parties wanted moved from one city by the sea to another, and felt they could not trust to a passenger on an airline. This business ended badly, as it always does. The perfect hustle for Larry Lane would have been to tie up all the money of his clients, described in aggregate in open court as The Jamaican Mob, and leave them only with a puzzle and a mess. But his collaboration with law enforcement officials came too little, too late, and there was nothing anybody could have done to get him off the hook for his one murder on the run, a blow to the head of a gas station  attendant, delivered with a hurled hand ax, vividly captured on a surveillance videotape. It would have been said the old man grew old in prison reading the Bible and a few rare books he remembered in the voice of his son, but there remained no one to ask for stories of him or to hear them. For the boy who loved him best went to sleep forever, long before the father, at the bottom of a flooded river valley, which, he said to himself, as he swam out in the night, was his to begin with.


This story is copyright 2011 by Chris King, who reserves all rights.

It has 1,500 words exactly, title included, and was written for Fiction Circus' Translation Nexus.

The photo is borrowed from the Flickr of Jacob Whittaker and belongs to him, or the river, not to me.



Whimzwhirled said...

I was very entertained by this story. It is hard to forgive someone who has wronged you. I find I can best do this in two ways. One being to realize how many dumb things I have done that I needed forgiveness for and the other, knowing that holding on to such feelings will only hurt me and not the person who upset you. A wise teacher told me if you can't forgive for the sake of forgiveness then do it for selfish survival of your peace of mind. It made a lot of sense to me.

Scott Intagliata said...

Nicely done, with great economy and motion, each bit of repetition driving the narrative further and further. Like all good short stories, it prompts the reader to want to more about these extraordinary characters. A pleasure to read.