Thursday, March 17, 2011

American King - Novel Excerpt

The following is a novel excerpt (Chapter Four) from
American King by Fred Sottile
Click on the book cover for more details or to purchase

    Heading out on the road with a suitcase full of cash, is very high on my list of recommendations for just about everybody. At first, you don’t have a problem in the world, but after the initial glow fades, you realize that you have a large responsibility. What to do? What to do? The research that I was doing for the king was still valuable, but now, with my windfall, I had to consider upgrading my general plan. I needed to relax and think. The South is great in the winter and I was lucky again. Just when I was unsure which way to point the van, God, in his infinite wisdom gave me a sign. It read, WELCOME TO MODIFIED COUNTRY -  TONIGHT - OUTLAWS.   Fantastic, a little diner dinner, and then an outlaw stock car event. I wondered if there’d be any super sprints. Open wheel cars are downright hairy. The greatest part is, when you are at a stock car race, you know you’re in America. You can feel it.     
     The stands were full, and I couldn’t help gawking at some of the “real characters” that you see at these events. The guy sitting next to me was a skinny redneck-looking dude, about sixty, with a butch-waxed head, and a grease-stained Iskendarian tee shirt. He started right in, telling me about the track, and the cars, and the history of the whole town. I started right in being polite, showing a little respect, you know, faking it. It wasn’t long though, before my condescension turned to real respect. This man was a walking encyclopedia. I couldn’t get a word in, and I didn’t want to.  Racing and politics. Racing and religion. Racing and just about everything. The “feature” was a real heart stopper. A number of spectacular multiple car wrecks, and three separate battles for position developed every time the announcer yelled “we go green”. After twenty nine laps of “the real deal”, everybody was disappointed that the race finished under the yellow.  “That just ain’t right”. I felt the same way.          
     They say “when the green flag drops, the bullshit stops”, but what they don’t say is, when the checkered flag drops, the bullshit doesn’t stop. The old guy just kept rollin’. He went from physics, to global weather, and was on bird migration, when we hit the parking lot. Then he told a girlie story and said, let’s get some coffee. He said, “We’ll go to the other diner.” My head spun. The other diner? Had he seen me in the diner where I had dinner?  What’s going on? When we got there, I had to laugh to myself. The place was called, THE OTHER DINER. Well, OK, that’s one for paranoia. The parking lot was full of racers who hadn’t “eaten right” all day. I thought I was in for a wait, but the man  knew two “old boys” sitting at the counter who recognized him, and graciously chugged their coffee and gave us their seats. The waitress asked, “separate checks?” When I said, “No, this one is my turn,” the man moved about a foot away from me, stuck out his hand and said, “You can call me Scottie.” I couldn’t help it, I came back with, “Well then Scottie, you can call me Kirk.” I was going to have pie and coffee but Scottie ordered first and selected the biggest most expensive steak dinner on the menu, and a large vanilla shake. Caught up in the momentum, I had a Monte Cristo sandwich and a coke, just before midnight. Feeling full and ready to go, I couldn’t believe my ears when he asked the waitress for pie and coffee.                                                         
     Having enjoyed the company, and feeling that I had showed an old motor-head a good time, I was ready to head out. Scottie wasn’t done. He said, “Talking with you has been great. I can see that you can appreciate the finer things in life. C’mon, let me show you my shop.” Again I followed. S&M Fabrications was the home of a machinist gone mad. Amidst the mountains of parts, hardware and materials of all kind, was an immaculate Bridgeport machine, and stations for lathes, drill presses, welders, pipe benders, bending brakes, milling machines, a cutting table and two drafting tables. Not one thing newer than nineteen seventy five. “S&M”, I asked? Marty was killed in seventy five by a drunk driver, was the response. “Yea, but S&M”, I asked again? “Scott & Martin” he boinked back at me. Looking at me like I was some kind of idiot. “Right, sorry, never mind” I conceded. “Sorry about your partner.” I realized a lot was just as Marty had left it. “What exactly do you fabricate?” I asked. “Mostly pipes” Scottie told me. “A lot of folks out here have dune buggies, Baja racers and sand rails. I’m the exhaust guru.” He pulled out a book of off road, hot rod photos. I don’t know which of us fell asleep first. 
     I woke up Sunday morning to the smell of coffee, and the sound of a lathe coming up to speed. Scott had already gone out to bring back fresh pastries, and said, “You got dinner. Breakfast is on me.” “Fair enough“, I said. “Is this your day off?” Scottie explained that he didn’t take a day off, that he lived here, and to him, one day was the same as the next. My eye kept going to a shotgun that was mounted on the wall, and Scottie noticed me looking. “It doesn’t shoot any more” he said, and asked, “You interested in guns?” I told him that I didn’t know much about guns, but was always fascinated by them, and asked him if he had one that I could fire. He asked if I was more interested in rifles or hand guns. I told him I’d like to try both, and that it was a shame, that the shotgun was retired. He said, “The shame is, ammo costs money, and I’m in, shall we say, the slow season.” “I’ve got money for ammo” I said, “Ya got any good working guns?” Now he really laughed and said, “Oh, I think we might be able to dig something up.”         

     In the gun shop he was like a kid in a candy store. I noticed he was getting quite a variety of bullets. The owner asked, “Did you lose a relative? You’re over three hundred bucks.” Scottie looked at  me and said, “Damn, I’m sorry, I guess I’m getting carried away.” I asked, “How long will it take us to waste all this lead?” He replied, “As far as time goes, it depends on how far you want to be from the targets.” I told him I wanted to be far. He said, “Well then, this ought to do it.” He was happy. Turning to the owner, I commented, “Not much business.” He answered, “Can’t be. We ain’t open.”                                                
     I was grateful for a chance for a little target practice. I wasn’t sure if I fooled him or not. The way he said, Well hell, I guess you’re a natural, kinda’ led me to believe that he was letting me know, that he knew, that I was, well, not a complete beginner.                                                            

     After dinner, which was my turn to buy again, we dragged back to the shop. Lo and behold there was a smashed exhaust header leaning up against the front door with a note on it that said, DO YOUR THING - JOSE - 9050. I was happy for Scott. I asked, “Don’t you have to fit this in the vehicle?” He said, “No I have the blue prints and a fixture. Let’s just say this ain’t the first one of these I’ve made.” I asked, “Why don’t you just make a few and have them ready?” He patiently explained that you had to reuse the flange. I was going to tell him that while it was apart, that he could probably, easily make a few copies of the flange and……..and…….I decided to drop it. He went right to work. After a few hours he gave me five bucks and asked me to run for snacks. I came back with four paper bags of groceries and a pizza. 2:00 AM I woke to the flash of a MIG welder. “Almost done” he said. Next time I woke up, you guessed it, coffee and pastries, and a lathe coming up to speed. I asked, “Didn’t you see all that food I brought home last night?” He shrugged, “Yea?” “Just gotta’ have a pastry in the morning do you?” I continued. He grinned, “Oh, no man, my old lady brings ’em every morning, well, except Saturday, on her way home from work. She’s an overnight baker.” Old lady? Scottie had a girlfriend? I never gave it a thought. This guy was full of surprises.                                               

     Full of surprises? I asked what was going on with the lathe and Scott said that he was working on a number of projects. Always a bunch of stuff in the works, I think was the way he put it. He said that he thought my gun handling was OK, and asked me if I was interested in this. “This” was an automatic hand gun, made right here. He handed me a nine shot clip of nine millimeter hollow points and a large, very impressive looking silencer. He invited me to go out back and squeeze it, gently. The action was so smooth and easy, and the sight was already set for where I was standing. It was accurate, but lots of guns are accurate. This one though, had no flash, and was ninja quiet. I was quiet too. Speechless for a moment. Finally, and dead serious, he asked, “How many do you want?” I looked him right in the eye and said, “Two. Two and a matching machine gun.” He hesitated about ten seconds and finally said, “The machine gun is going to take some time.” Some cash changed hands, and I asked, “Time frame?” He gritted his teeth and said “Not more than two months.”

© Fred Sottile

No comments:

Post a Comment