the true stories
After I had learned the ropes somewhat, Boss hired a sheet-metal man. We were doing three conversions from oil to gas per day. This was because of a government incentive to get people to switch. It was so busy that the Boss was becoming frayed at the seams and short-tempered.
We were all glad he got a new man when we heard the news but this faded after day two or so. I'll call the new man, Rick. He was a handsome devil with perfectly combed rose-oiled hair and a conservative mustache. He was from back East by the Great Lakes. Barrie, if I remember correctly. He was about ten years shy of being old enough to be my father, so he was more like a delinquent older brother.
I was the one working beside him. Boss still fabricated up the plenums, transitions and cleats and dropped them off to the sites, where Rick assembled them while I fit the pipes. I noticed two things the first day. First, he had no idea of the sheet-metal trade and second, he was a barely functional alcoholic. Lots of guys need about two beers for breakfast to keep their hands from shaking during the day but then they wait until quitting time to start drinking proper.
Rick kept a big jug of Dago Red in his work truck and took pulls on it all day long before heading to the beer parlor after work. I am not judging the man on his drinking because in those days, I could drink those raccoons to sleep without slurring a word. I also kept a big bottle of Geritol Tonic in my rig because I figured I needed the iron. One day I looked at the ingredients and realized that it was the alcohol I was after. It was a wake-up call for me and I will relate that tale in a later story. I have not imbibed for over three decades.
We all drank. The problem with Rick was that he was a bull-shit artist, a bully and he acted little boy blue when he screwed something up. He was always suggesting things to me that were either destructive, evil or both. Boss taught him some fabricating skills and this only served to stoke his illusions of grandeur. There were times he would go AWOL for up to four days or so. Rick liked the honky-tonk women and they liked him.
One day towards noon, Rick asked me if I'd like to come have supper with him and his wife. I said yes and scribbled down the address. After work I got cleaned up and brought over some whiskey just in case. It was the first time I met Rick's wife.
She was a woman who looked tough as an oak but acted gentle as a breeze. She drank the wine and Rick and I drank the beers and the whiskey. After some preliminaries and story-swapping we sat to eat. The food was good wholesome meat and potatoes fare and I planned to put away a good quantity of it.
I was loading up my plate when there was scratching noise at the back door of the kitchen.
“Rags wants in,” said Rick's wife.
Rick grinned like a boy at his wife and then at me before he rose to open the door. A spotted dog about the size of a canister vacuum cleaner burst in wiggle-waggling all over Rick. I couldn't make out the mixture of the breeds but it was clearly Rick's loyal dog. Rick patted and tousled it for a few moments and rejoined us at the small wooden table.
Rags shot under the table at Rick's feet like a wheel mechanic at the Indy 500. I leaned a bit over to have a look at the animal. He was hunkered down between Rick's stocking feet, facing me with his muzzle on his paws. He quit flagging his tail. The dog' ears went up like one of those Egyptian statues of Anubis.
During my first course of mashed potatoes, I reached to help myself to the gravy boat. The movement caused my stocking feet to shift a few inches. From under the teak wood and linen there rose a malignant and unholy sound. I could not place it at first due to never having encountered so fell an auditory expulsion of pent and stifled rage. A toxic mewling, ever so slowly, building upon its own excrescence, a tower of inexpressible fury.
It was as if the last seven centuries of exorcisms conducted by the Vatican had been recorded, mixed and played back on quadraphonic speakers. The hairs on my neck bristled and my gorge rose. Besides being Cherokee I am Welsh and quite fey enough to know the calling cards of the Adversary.
I peered under the table again. Rags was halfway onto his feet. His snout was twisted into an impossible grimace. His speckled gums and all his teeth shone in the dim light and fluid dripped from his nose and the channels formed by his hyper-retracted facial flesh. His eyes were glassy and radiated destruction. His body was rigid and trembling from the adrenaline-fueled muscle contractions that had taken him over.
I moved one of my toes an inch. The four-legged fiend yowled as if stuck by a branding iron. I replaced my foot square on the floor. The diseased creature gibbered, moaned, growled and returned to its former position with its head again resting on its front paws, directly under Rick's feet.
“Damn”, I said.
“Oh, Rags!” said the Missus.
“He's a bit of a bad actor, like myself,” laughed Rick, unabashedly enjoying himself.
Rick's wife got up and crossed the floor to get our sweets and more drinks. Rags didn't budge nor make a peep. As I ate my rice pudding I pondered how I was going to relieve my legendary bladder later when the time came as my hosts were obviously enjoying the show. For another two hours we sat, never once coming to the conclusion that it might be a good idea to put Rags outside.
For my part, I was raised with big dogs and thus I am not fearful of them. This one simply needed to put out of its misery. I was upset at being tricked into the trap in the first place and would not give my hosts the satisfaction of asking for quarter. Every so often I wiggled my toe and the soul-shredding cacophony began anew. Eventually the two idiots tired of their sport and worried that their neighbors in the town-house next door might complain, they relented and led the livid sack of waste to the door.
I stayed for a coffee and whiskey and decided that I would not accept any more invitations from these good folks. Still, I felt sorry for the people they must have been at one time before they became twisted into psycho-pretzels. They say revenge is a dish best served cold. I have never said that. I don't believe in the institution. Two wrongs don't make a right. There is right and there is wrong. It is always our choice. Wisdom teaches that to wrong another is to wrong oneself, irregardless of the post-nastiness label of “revenge” placed upon the wrong.
There is a universe and there is a Creator. I always leave justice up to the power which actually controls it. There is no revenge, only justice. We may not choose when and where. Justice is not some ephemeral thing to be sought in vain at the hand of man or to be purchased by the highest bidder. Nay, it is sure as the sun-rise without any help from us. Were it not so, life would be a ragged march to nowhere for all but the depraved.
One chilly overcast day, some months later from the incident related above I was dispatched to a job in North Vancouver's Lynn Valley neighborhood. It was a big, old green rambling house. It sat amongst many overlarge evergreens and the moss on the shake roof was beginning to make the house blend into the surroundings. I was to upgrade the old gas furnace to a larger BTU unit and Rick was to add a new, bigger heat run down to a room at the far end of the structure.
Boss had already fabricated the pieces Rick needed at the furnace itself and it remained only for him to snap together as many five foot lengths of five inch duct as necessary to reach the distant room. He had to tap off the plenum in the furnace room and then run down the joists to the register location. A piece of cake.
My work was conducted in the furnace room. I dismantled the old gas furnace and carted it off on a dolly to the backyard for Paul to pick up. I brought in the larger furnace and Rick called me to help him heft the new plenum so he could cleat it together. Together we lowered it onto the new furnace. All I needed to do was wire it, vent it and button it up to the existing drop.
I did this while Rick screwed the plenum down and began making five foot lengths of duct. He had walked off the distance on the outside of the house and had a rough figure in his head. He would measure the last piece exactly in the room at the register location. I finished first and was putting away my threading machine and other tools when Rick flew out of the house like he was being pursued by a band of Pygmies brandishing their spears.
He raced past me to his own truck and after tearing open the back doors he plunged in a shaking hand and pulled out a gallon of red. As I approached to see what was the fuss, he downed about half of the ruby juice and spilled the other half all over his shirt, such was the violence of his tremors. His face was bloodless and he couldn't speak.
He dropped the jug onto the driveway and pointed like a man who had been asked by a specter which way were the gates of Hell. He looked like Captain Ahab astride the white whale, entangled in the ropes of his own hate and fear, his arm beckoning each time the Leviathan sounded. He was pointing at the room at the far end of the house.
“Th-there,” was all he could articulate.
I walked into the house slowly and made my way down the long hallway to the room. The door was curious in that it was the only one sheathed in steel. It was slightly ajar. I pushed it open carefully. The room was big and only the tiniest yellow glow came through small windows which had been plastered over with old newspapers. I smelled algae in the fetid air.
I reached around to a light-switch and flipped on a single naked bulb that hung from the ceiling. There was nothing in the room by way of furnishings. I looked at the floor. It was unfinished concrete. I saw a fat lump of brown mottled with yellow-green. My eyes traced over twenty contorted feet of this same pattern until they came to rest their gaze on the head of the biggest anaconda I had ever seen in person.
Rick's trouble light and ladder were clattered near the doorway. The ambush predator's squat ugly tail lay in a puddle of slime not four feet away. Thankfully, the monster worm was torpid from the lack of proper heating which we were no doubt hired to provide. It stared as I grabbed the ladder and the light, backing away carefully. I closed the door. I'd let Rick explain this one to the Boss.
Copyright © 2015 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.