Chapter One

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009, 11:51 pm

Those of you who write or blog or whatever involving the stringing of words know that November is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) and this year I’m giving it a shot and who knows? Maybe I’ll actually crank out the required 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Anyway, here’s Chapter One:

It’s a cliché but it was hot enough on that Las Vegas morning to fry an egg on the hood of a car. As it happens I actually was frying an egg on the hood of a car (my utilities were turned off long, long ago) and so, as with all clichés, there is a kernel of truth within. I might’ve been the only person in Vegas happy that the temperature was in triple digits before noon because that meant I would have a perfectly-cooked egg for my breakfast. The night before I went to bed so excited I could hardly sleep.

Temperature aside it’s not easy to fry an egg on the hood of a car. It’s not a flat surface, remember, and the egg tends to both slip and slide. I solved that problem last summer by stealing a piece of PVC pipe from an abandoned construction sites and having a friendly Home Depot clerk use his table saw to slice it into an inch-high ring. It’s just like what they use at McDonalds to make the egg-discs for McMuffins and I’m not too proud to steal a good idea when I see one. So when I get an eggy hankering I:

  • Wipe the hood clean with a wet paper towel (towels shoplifted from Wal-Mart).
  • Wait for the streaks of water to evaporate before spraying the metal with some cooking spray (also liberated from Wal-Mart) and set the plastic ring on the hood.
  • Crack the egg (Wal-Mart, natch, their security is rather lax) and pour the contents within the confines of the ring.

And then you wait. You wait a long time because even in Nevada the sun doesn’t provide the same thermal energy of heat as a stovetop, but that’s OK. An egg cooked slowly, an egg whose proteins are allowed to coagulate at a leisurely pace are always creamier and more luxurious than those dry yellow clots and rubbery splats you find in buffet trays all over town. No, this egg was going to be a real treat, and I was content to wait as long as long as it took.

My eyes slid sideways to see if I was being watched and, yes, there was Roscoe, or the putative human being I called Roscoe. A man with six teeth and seven children who lived in the unit across the way, Roscoe delighted in tormenting me every chance he got. It was, so far as I could tell, his only pastime. Goodness knows that working, parenting, and the pursuit of good hygiene held no interest for him. He sat on his stoop and watched me with those weasel eyes and I did my best to ignore him.

“Watcha makin?” he drawled.

I didn’t want him walking over so I said, “Breakfast” and stared intently at the barely-bubbling albumen. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him stand up and scratch his armpit with such gusto that a nauseous tremor coursed my empty stomach. He said, “The missus, she makes mah eggs in a pan. The last time you have pan-eggs, buddy?”

I shrugged and tried calculate how many inoculations I’d need before I’d voluntarily eat anything prepared by Roscoe’s “missus”. Who was a woman of such comprehensive slovenliness that she made Roscoe seem the second coming of Cary Grant. I did what I could to put such thoughts far, far out of my mind as I watched my egg slowly whiten and set. Roscoe was silent for a few seconds and I let my eyes slide left to see what he was up to. He was backing up the stoop, quickly, reaching frantically for the doorknob and I turned my head all the way ‘round to see him slam it shut. “My lucky day,” I thought as I contemplated enjoying my breakfast in solitude.

And that’s when huge, heavy hands fell on my shoulders.

I would’ve jumped ten feet in the air if the man restraining me wasn’t approximately the size of a grizzly bear. “Aw, shoot,” I said, squirming around a bit until strong fingers dug under my clavicles and squeezed HARD. That froze me in place and after a perfunctory struggle I gave and hung my head in limp resignation. Damn Roscoe distracted me so much that my highly-tuned sense of danger hadn’t, well, sensed the danger.

“Lehtz me guess,” said a heavily-accented voice. “No money?”

I didn’t recognize my tormentor and that threw me a bit. “I’m frying an egg on the hood of a car. You think I have money?”

“Okay,” the brute said. “Boss want to see you anyway.”

“Wait, what?” I said, not liking this change in protocol. Usually at this point I would be beaten about the head and thorax until my assailants grew bored and left me in puddles of various bodily fluids. That had always worked in the past, and I didn’t care for this new scenario one bit. The giant released his grip on my shoulders and wrapped his massive palms around my head. His fingers dug into my skull as though testing a cantaloupe for ripeness and this is how he dragged me, my heels kicking up dust, down the block to their waiting Cadillac. I struggled for air and my pursed lips found a gap in my tormentor’s constricting fingers. “Boris?” I croaked, “Boris, is that you?”

“Da,” sighed a man off to the right. “I only get most important jobs.”

I twisted my head two centimeters. “What’s the problem? Can’t we work this out?”

I heard a short bark of laughter. “Sure, we work it out. Six years I yell at you, beat on you, tell you the next time I see you be the last time you see anything. One of these days that come true.”

Panic rising I asked, “Is today that day?”

I heard him yawn. “I don’t know, I don’t care. Boss say bring you to him, I do as asked. I could not give a shit either way.” The giant dragging me down the road stopped and yanked me to my feet. He released his grip on my skull and I turned around. “Right,” I said, “You’re not Nikolai.”

“Nyet,” the giant mumbled. “I’m Georgi, Nikolai is my cousin,

I titled my head way, way back to take in his doughy face, limp black hair, eyes black and flat as olives. “I see the resemblance. Nikolai is only around six-six, I guess he’s the runt of the litter. He’s well, I hope?”

Georgi nodded. “He move back to Moscow, pay much better back home.”

Boris ran fingers through his thin, pale hair. “Again this bullshit? You want go back to Moscow, go already! Go make that big money with Nikolai.”

The giant looked down at his size-17 shoes. “He doing good there, he says.”

“Sure,” Boris said, lips curled and brow furrowed with contempt.  “He’s making so much money. Ask him if he’s making enough money when he shits his pants starting Alyosha’s car in the morning. Ask him about his bank account when he has to worry about someone firing an anti-tank missile through the fucking windshield.”

“It’s not that bad…”

“No, no, you’re right, it’s not that bad,” Boris soothed, with so much sarcasm that you could dip a tortilla chip in it. He patted the huge man on the shoulder and said, “And I promise, when Nikolai gets blown to pieces tomorrow, or next week, or next month, I’ll see you get a whole hour off to mourn him. With my hand on my heart, I make this promise to you.”

Fascinated as I was by this discussion of working conditions among hired goons I was still preoccupied with my own perilous situation. A situation that grew more perilous when Boris pressed a button on the key to pop the trunk. “Get in,” he barked.

“Wait, what?” I said. “Boris, come on, it’s like 100 degrees. I’ll die in there.”

He nodded. “Yeah, maybe. Tell you what,” he said reaching in his pocket and pulling out a bill, “I bet ten dollars you survive the ride. This is Vegas, right? I even give you a deal—you die before we get there, I buy you a headstone. Your name on it and everything.”

“You’re a funny guy, Boris.”

He spread his palms. “This best deal you ever get. Look,” he said, stepping close and putting a hand on my shoulder, “We both know you ending up in a ditch, or a culvert, maybe just left for the coyotes. This, we both know. And I’m offering you an actual grave with tombstone. No Potter’s Field for you, no bones pushed up 20 years later by bulldozer.” He patted me on the cheek with one hand and pushed the trunk lid open with the other. “You can’t lose. Now fucking get in.”

There was nothing to do but duck my head and crawl into that infernal metal box. “Wait, I want to improve my odds,” Boris said, disappearing around the car. I heard the door pull open, slam shut, and he reappeared carrying a plastic water bottle. He was about to hand it to me when I said, “Boris, look, I gotta be honest here, I don’t have ten bucks.”

Boris took a deep breath, and at that moment he looked very, very tired. “You make it hard to have my fun,” he said. He unscrewed the cap and lifted the bottle to his lips, chugging about two-thirds of it, dribbles of water coursing down his chin. He twisted the cap back on the bottle and tossed it to me. “You’ll owe me later. Or, maybe not.”

They walked off to the side and I heard Boris say “You drive” and Georgi say “I drove here, you say you drive back” and then they realized they were talking to each other and not to me and reverted to rapid-fire Russian. Which was fine with me, I didn’t really care what they were saying because from my stifling enclosure I saw Roscoe skulk down the stoop of his hovel and make his way toward my car/skillet. He’d brought a paper plate with him and as I watched, helpless, he tossed the plastic ring aside and scraped the egg off the hood. “My breakfast,” I mumbled, impotent. And then Boris, having settled his situation, walked into view and slammed the trunk lid shut, and all was blackness, hotness, helpless, etc.

Permanent link to this post.

One Response to “Chapter One”

  1. brdpoker Says:

    Sounds good so far! Good luck on the rest of the writing!

Leave a Reply