Instead of a tip of the week (or, I suppose, it is a tip of the week?) I talk about my writing process and how many drafts I write. Also, I drop some of my Spanish knowledge on you guys. Yes, you’re in for a treat, so don’t miss this very special episode…
And now, TPV Part 2, Chapter 4
Brian moved the last load of scrap from the pile into the back of the truck. Moving piles of scrap from one place to another was not the sole responsibility he had at this job, but it had consumed most of his afternoon. He looked at his watch, and breathed a sigh of relief. Quitting time.
“Hey Dallas,” Brian said to his coworker Dwayne, they grey-haired Texan. Everybody called him Dallas, even though he was from Waco. Dallas had the thick, grumbly Texan accent, which was less refined and circular than the traditional Southern accent of places like South Carolina and Louisiana. “They got an updated time-frame for this project?”
“What’s it to you, short-timer?”
Dallas cracked wise because Brian had recently received the letter of approval for new financial aid at CU. In the nearly two years since he left Boulder, he had become frugal and saved a fair amount of money to supplement financial aid, at least enough for gas in the car and some new jeans without holy knees. Dumping his pack-a-day cigarette habit also freed up a lot of money. He would not be living the high-life, and to meet his savings goals there would be a fair amount of Ramen noodles consumed, but noodles would be better than nothing.
Brian grinned. “No doubt, I guess I am a short-timer. I didn’t think about it like that.”
“Building’s almost finished; we just gotta get power to a couple walls, touch up some of that paint and do the cleanup. Foreman talk at you about using the power washer to get them bits of paint off the cement outside?”
“He did.” Brian said. “It sounds like fun, actually.” Having no prior construction experience, Brian had to learn primarily on the job, and they usually kept him away from the dangerous stuff. He only got this gig because his dad knew the foreman, and so as a newbie they assigned him to cleanup and assisting other guys with menial tasks. Still, he had learned some mudding and taping, some painting, among other things.
“Yep, just gotta make sure you got yourself a good grip,” said Dallas. “You hold that sumbitch all loose, and next think you know, you’re power-blasting your nutsack to High-Heaven.”
Almost everything Dallas said amused Brian. “I’d like to keep my nutsack, in case I ever need it someday. I’ve kept it intact so far.”
Dallas wiped caulk-stained hands on his denims and presented one to Brian. “I’m off at a job in Limon tomorrow and all next week, some big-shit reconstruction at the prison over there. If I don’t see you, have fun chasing them girls up there in the People’s Republic of Boulder. You got yourself an apartment yet or you living in the dorms?”
Brian gripped Dallas’ hand. He had been a solid coworker and a good person to talk with to pass the time. Brian decided he would miss the guy. “I feel like I’m a little old to be living in the dorms. I’ve been checking out apartments in my price range; I’ll find something.”
“You got a bunch of friends up there, right?”
After Wiles and Miguel had their blowup (of which Brian still did not know the context), and neither had anything good to say about the other, Brian wanted to remove himself from the whole situation. He regretted losing touch with Miguel, but also wanted to get some distance from Wiles.
Right on cue, the phone in Brian’s pocket buzzed. He held up a finger towards Dallas and looked at his phone. Text message from Wiles:
Ballys on Alameda. Locker 38. Combo 12-25-16. Left you guest pass at recep.
Brian had not seen Wiles in person in more than a year, but received texts like this several times a week. Sometime just drop-off locations, and sometimes veiled reminders that Wiles was still in charge.
Brian said his goodbyes with Dallas then drove to the Bally’s gym on Alameda. He greeted the woman at reception and picked up his guest pass.
Brian slung his backpack over his shoulder as he entered the locker room and approached number 38. After entering the combination, he carefully opened the door, just a little, since he had no idea what he would find inside. Could be a giant, uncovered bag of weed. The changing room, although sparsely populated, still contained enough people that Brian should be careful.
He peered through the cracked door at an opaque Tupperware container. He opened up the locker all the way, and slipped the container into his backpack. Wiles had taken it easy on Brian this time.
Brian exited the gym with his backpack held close. After he sold the contents of the Tupperware (and within a week, since that was the length of the guest pass Wiles had left for him), Brian would return to this gym and place a Tupperware full of money in the same locker. This is how Brian and Wiles had conducted their business since Brian had left Boulder. Brian did not like it, but this was how it had to be. He at least had the benefit of not having to be around Wiles anymore, and he could sell to whomever he wanted… no more terrible errands like Commerce City.
Brian returned to his parents’ house to shower and change his clothes. When he opened the front door, he found his mother seated on the bench of the bay window, watching the sunset. She held a limp Kleenex in her hand and her face was red and puffy. It’s a crying day.
“Hi mom,” Brian said.
Brian’s mother did not turn her face away from the window. “Hi, sweetheart,” she said. “How was work today?”
“Much improved, now that I know I’m a short-timer,” he said.
“That’s nice. Your father and I are glad that you’re going back to CU.”
“Yeah,” Brian said. “We’ll see if I can afford it.”
She said nothing, only stared out the window, her neck muscles tensed. Brian had exhausted all of his small talk reserves. On her bad days, most conversations with his mother went like this and nothing Brian said seemed to make any difference in her mood. “I’m going to change and go out for a little bit.”
“Okay, sweetheart, don’t stay out too late.”
Brian entered his room and pulled the envelope from his pocket, then extracted the two hundred dollars he had withdrawn from the bank. He slipped it into the Party of Five lunchbox he had kept from when he was a pre-teen. The bills joined the others. Brian carefully counted his savings, as he did every few days. Someday, it would be enough to go anywhere he wanted, away from Wiles and into a new life.
After rinsing off the sawdust and chemicals, and then spending fifteen minutes in mildly successful meditation, he stopped by his quiet neighborhood bar for a quick beer. Not normally one for the after-work drink, but with the news he received yesterday, he thought he should go through the celebratory motions. Besides, he had been working up the nerve to ask out the bartender, and if he moved back to Boulder, he might not see her again.
The blonde-haired, blue-eyed beer slinger had not yet showed, so Brian took the opportunity to reflect back on everything that had changed: where he was now, and where he wanted to go.
Jimmy had not returned home. No one knew what actually happened to him, but Brian had deliberated many possibilities over the last two years. The most likely scenario, he thought, was that Jimmy had taken off to Utah with some friends to be a rock-climbing bum, met a girl there and just decided to stay.
Brian had once even taken a long weekend and driven to Moab. He did not tell anyone he was going; an impulse hit him so he called in sick to work, packed a bag, and left. He wandered around the town for a couple of days, going into stores and restaurants, hoping to catch a glimpse of the prodigal brother. In retrospect, Brian thought he had wanted to be the family hero who brought Jimmy home, but the trip produced nothing tangible. A series of (inexpensive and therefore ineffective) private investigators hired by his parents had also found nothing of interest.
Even though disappearing in the night with no trace was exactly Jimmy’s style, it still pained Brian that after all this time, his little brother– whom Brian loved and cared about more deeply than that kid could imagine– had not even let him know that he was safe somewhere. He understood the kid wanting to run off and seek his own way, but just a single phone call, or a letter?
On the other hand, their last conversation had ended in flames. Brian found out that Jimmy had recently started experimenting with speed, and Brian could not control his temper when he confronted Jimmy. His younger brother screamed at Brian about being a hypocrite. They did not speak for days, and somewhere in the middle of their mutual silent treatment, Jimmy left. Maybe the lack of goodbye or any form of check-in was Jimmy’s way of getting the last word.
Brian wanted to move on and let go of his brother. Whether Jimmy was in Utah, or New York, or Amsterdam, or in a morgue somewhere as John Doe, Brian needed to start a new chapter, and he thought he could restart the wheels if he moved out and returned to school. He needed a purpose. His parents could not seem to do it… everything with them revolved around their grief and longing.
The squeak of the door behind him alerted Brian to the presence of a new bar patron. Tweaker kid: cheeks gaunt, eyes recessed, with dark circles underneath each depressed socket. He appeared nervous, eyes darting back and forth as he walked. He did not go to the bar, but rather directly to a back table, away from the people and the overhead lights. Brian knew this move: not here to drink, the kid came to meet somebody.
The bar door opened again behind Brian, and he instinctively turned around. Perhaps Brian’s little reminiscing session had somehow caused it to manifest, because there in the doorway stood the ghost of Alex Britton. Two years had passed, but it could be no one else. Brian’s jaw plunged because the last person in the world he would have expected just walked into his sleepy neighborhood after-work bar.
Alex looked thin, with his formerly thick blond hair now shaved to stubble-length. Alex’s eyes lit up and he flashed a curious smile. He sauntered up to the bar and extended a closed fist for a bump.
“Brian goddamn Connelly. How the hell are you?”