The Strange – Episode 17 – The Job and the Work – Part 2

Edwin’s stomach flopped as the cab, lacking a trailer, hit the curb that separated the parking lot from the road with a little too much speed.

“Hey G!  Easy on the gas!  Thing’s going to bail over.”

Guillermo smiled.  “Nah.  Tractors are super powerful and high, but the center of gravity is down near the transmission, between the wheels.  If it wasn’t. the whole thing would drive all screwy when the trailer is attached, because that is higher.  We’re actually less likely to have problems without a load.”

“Not with you driving.”

“Relax.  We’re here.”

Up ahead, the two men could see a crew of four men getting out of a similar truck to theirs hauling a plain white trailer.  The only interesting thing about the trailer was two orange contraptions, stuck underneath that looked like two bundles of spare tires, but with a clamp that extended around to the sides of the trailer.  Those men were on the left side of another truck in the parking lot and Guillermo was coming in to park on that truck’s right.

“This is the one.  So remember, we got eyes on all corners except yours.  From your 12 to your 5-ish is pretty much blind to everyone working on the jacks.  You see anything, use the channel.  You’ll hear us working on the trailer but if anything turns south, the first you’ll hear of it is when I come up and get in the truck to haul ass.  But hey, that’s not happening.  Just keep looking out and relax.”

“I’m always relaxed.”

“didn’t you just say doing Loveless’s jobs creeped you out.”

“Well they do, but I’m relaxed about it.  Just… hurry up.”

A minute after Guillermo disappeared, Edwin could hear the Hydro’s lifting the trailer, the squeak of it coming free from its attachment on the other truck and the whine of the lift’s electric motors.   Nothing came into the field of view even though the road ran right through it.  A cop could have easily come by in the few minutes it took the guys working as a big-rig pit crew to do their thing, but none did.  A bystander, a hitch hiker, a family wagon lost on its way to vacation in Orlando, anyone could come by.  But they didn’t.  All completely clear.  Nothing but trash trees and humidity as far as the eye could see.

“And how is this not creepy?” Edwin said to himself as he felt the trailer thunk into place behind him.  His heart skipped a beat as Guillermo opened the other door and climbed into the cab.

“Ok, now we wait.”

“What?”

“We’re covering the right side while they transfer the trailer.”

“Well what about the other side.  Won’t they see this from the diner?”

“Nah.  You didn’t see it, but we parked another truck on the other side.  This bit was the hard part.  And anyway, someone would have to be super observant to even notice us out here doing anything.  You worry too much.”

“Yeah.  Jerry wouldn’t have us doing this.  He’d have us smashing faces.  I really miss that.”

“You aren’t thinking of quitting, are you?  Because if you want to be on shit duty for Loveless, that’s how you get it.”

“And that’s freaking creepy.  How does he know what I’m thinking?”  Edwin talked with his hands while continuing to comb his area of responsibility.  “But no.  I’m not disloyal.  I just wish this made sense to me.  A punch in the face, that makes sense even if the face is mine.  The fact that Loveless knew no one would be on these roads?  That shit makes no sense.  And it’s creepy.”  He sighed.  “You know, I almost wish someone would notice this, so I’d have someone to punch.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Yeah.  Hey, what are those guys doing out there?”  From inside the diner, the young Chronicler eyed the scene in the parking lot.  Agreed, it looked from here like just four generic-looking trucks lined up in a corner of the lot with only three boxes among them, but he knew that the trucker with the bad stomach had come out of one of them.  Now he saw some people hanging about the back of it.

“Hm… don’t know… Looks like they are transferring that trailer.”

“Doesn’t that seem… Odd?  I mean, like … I don’t know … it almost looks like they are stealing it.”

“It’s the south, lots of things are odd.  This isn’t Miami, Junior, it’s more like Georgia here.  And it’s not something of the wind though so fuck it.”

He took a last look at the collection of trucks as the one farthest from them started to pull away. “Consider it fucked.  And on the topic of wind, any sign of Weathermen?”

“Not a damned word.  I always had my doubts and I’m horrified to be proven right.  I fear they could not stand and mount a defense for so long. Not without something to stand against.”

“Well, it’s not like they were ever needed before.  Lots of history before the thirties. People got by.”

“Yeah, but not without losses.  The plague, the flood, the war.  When this stuff gets going and the wind becomes a hurricane the world ends and a new one is born.  It’s never quite the same.  And this time, we’ve got nuclear weapons and super science!”

The younger man grimaced, his blandly handsome face creased in worry. “You really think it will be that bad?”

“That pulse was a doozie.  Like a Riley-sized doozie.”  The older man blew out, scratching his head. “If that gets going, it will be a race to the finish.  Some idiot will crack the planet and all those who thought we were too stupid to live will be proven right.”

“And you need me to write it down?”

“Well… That and try to figure out how to keep shit under control.” He waved his hand to dismiss protest. “No.  Don’t think you’re saving the world, but look, there is always a group.  Some group.  There are always groups.  People group together.  But there will be one that is important.  Find them.  Help them.  Befriend them if they aren’t assholes because lord knows you need to socialize more.”

“I socialize plenty”

“Grinder is not socializing.  You are young enough for that shit not to turn sour yet, but it will.  Just because you can one night stand it doesn’t mean you are having relationships.”

“I know that.  I … just fuck you. ”

He smiled.  “Whatever, Romeo. Anyway, they will be flailing around. Find those guys.  That’s the story anyway so do that.  Be part of the story.”

“And that’s what you did?  When Kesey and Owsley poked a hole in the world?”

His eyes drifted and a grin snuck into the corners of his mouth.  “You bet.  Lots of fun too.  Girls like you’d never seen.  But that was a different sort of incursion.  This isn’t the id poking out, this is power.  More like the 30’s than the late 60’s.  That was just a blip.”

“And the other was a war.”

“End of the fucking world. Gone was the Edwardian gentlemen and in came the mechanized cold warriors.  God only knows what’s coming next.”

The young man stared at the back of the truck trailer, slowly moving sideways in-between too other trailers.  The silence settled into the table as the older man nursed his coffee.

“Ok.  I’ll take it,” the young Chronicler said.  “And I’ll take ownership of your books.”

“Good because they are already in your van”

“Van?”

“Yeah.  I’m giving you the bus.  It’s parked right outside.”

The young man had, seen and heard the old, pale-blue-and rust colored VW Van when it parked and hadn’t given it much thought.  He thought about it now. “The… That relic. What the fuck am I supposed to do with a bus?”

“Drive it.” He slammed the keys down on the table with a flourish.  “Look, it’s a functional vehicle and even someone as … effete as you could rebuild that thing out of a book…  which, by the way, is one of the books that is in the back of the thing, along with all my stuff.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do with the rented shitbox I used to get here?”

“What do you care.  Follow the story.”  The key chain sat in the middle of the table.  A single key with a long cord and a little book charm on the end of it.

“Can I give you a lift?  I mean…”

“Don’t bother… I’m just going to stay a while.  Eat some pie.” The two sat in silence for a time which seemed to annoy the older man.  “The story doesn’t end here. There is always someone else who carries it on, expands it.  Follow the story.”

“And …”

“I’m making my own fucking choices as an adult and an old man so just fucking get out here, Chronicler.  The wind is coming.  The change of the strange is happening.  Now get out of here and do your job.”

The Chronicler thought a moment, looking at the man who would no longer meet his eyes.  He snatched the keys.  “Ok.”

“Good.  And be careful going into third.  It’s a little sticky.  You know how to drive a manual, right?”

“Yeah.  Kinda.”

“Just grind it till you find it.”

He looked down at the man he’d known since he’d been a lonely, confused child.  The weird uncle he knew he’d never see again, but also knew would just be upset at sentimentality.

“Yeah.   I’ll do just that.  Hope there is something in that book about how to replace a clutch.”

As he left he heard the man say, “There never is a true replacement.  It’s always a different thing.  There is only going on.  Be well.  Find the story.”

The Chronicler looked down at the keychain in his hand and looked up at the powder blue VW bus rusting in the parking lot.  He opened the door to burst out of the diner and into the heat and light.  “Adventure awaits, apparently.”  He said to himself. Donning his sunglasses and twirling the keys, he added a mocking, “Tally-ho! By Crom!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The truck lurched to life and Edwin was never so relieved to be hauling stolen goods.  “Feels different with the trailer.”

“Yep.  You can really feel the weight distribution when it turns.  It kinda pulls on you, the weight, but it feels right.  Makes the truck less twitchy.”

“Anything that helps keep the wheels down is good.”

The truck slid past the blue hippie van that was also making for the exit.  Guillermo was a much more determined driver, cowing the blue van into yielding.

“So… Still freaked Edwin?”

The big man shrugged.  “Just glad the weird part is over.  I mean, it’s like Loveless sees the future or some shit.  Spooky.”

“And again, we’re on the winning side of it.”

“Yeah, I guess.  Just glad I’ll be home when the bus comes.”

“I told you, man… Nothing to worry about.”  The truck pulled out onto the two-lane state road.  In the rear view, Edwin could see the diner and the blue bus struggling to get out of the parking lot.  As that scene disappeared once again behind a stand of trash trees, Guillermo added, “Stick with Loveless, man, believe in his plan and we will rob the world blind and get away every time.  Nobody fucks with Loveless.”

The Strange – Episode 18 – Game Plan

The Strange – Episode 16 – The Job and the Work – Part 1

“Yo!  Edwin!” A large man grunted and jogged to catch up to an even larger man in the hallway.  “Edwin!  We got a job!  Need you to run eyes.  Jackass is taking over your guard shift.”

The hallways of the secret warehouses and docks under and in back of the mall were always weirdly cold in a way that air-conditioning, even the hyperactive AC of the mall, couldn’t explain.  Edwin, the bigger man looked back over his shoulder.  While his right hand stayed in place on the butt of his sawed-off shotgun, his other hand subconsciously tried to rub the chill off his forearm.

“Yeah, Guillermo.  I been on since last night.  Don’t think I can do it.  Melisa gets out of camp at 3 on weekends and I gotta be home.”

“Shit pal, can’t your wife handle it?  Your girl I mean?”

The baby faced mercenary smiled but shook his head.  “Marcy usually does on weekdays, but not weekends.  She’s got this house cleaning gig and all…”

Guillermo flinched. “Well hell.  We’re gona be back by then anyway.  This is a quickie.  The boys with the lift are already in route and all.  Bob said to grab you.”

Edwin didn’t like the sound of it.  “Cab?”

“Yeah.  It’s a disappearing cargo trick.  Those are easy since we got the lateral lifts.  Good cover too.”  The tan man grinned, his moustache emphasizing his teeth. “I’m carrying the empty.”

“So we get to pigeon if we get caught.  Great.  You are empty right up until the point where they hitch you up to a newly stolen trailer of … whatever.”

“Don’t think of it like that.  Look, the boss said to put you on it.  You don’t like it, talk to Bob.”

“Bob can’t do anything but follow orders, you know that.”  Edwin scratched his round face and looked up the hall.  “I mean, they call me a meat head, but dude can’t muster the brains to question or plan.  Why he’s the boss is anyone’s guess.”

“Loyalty and he’s so wimpy that he couldn’t even do this job if he wanted to, the little twerp.  Look, I get you.  You can’t do it, you can’t do it.  It’s a paid gig though and if they ever catch us going short we’ll be in shit from the very top.  Like, Loveless shit.”

“Yeah.  I know.  I…” The big man’s resolve broke.  “G, don’t sweat it.  I can do this thing.  You promise I can be in my car by 2, though right?”

“I will do what I can, but if we’re that late, we’re super fucked already.  Don’t worry pal, I got you.”

“Yeah.  it’s nice to have someone watching my back.”  The two men smiled, agreements both spoken and unspoken exchanged. “Hey, let’s get on the road.  If we’re doing this, let’s get it going.”

“Uh… Oh, Ok.  You’ll want to get something from the armory though.”

“Yeah.  Next stop.  This thing ain’t right for the job,” the big man shook the shotgun carefully as he made his way further up the hall.

The door marked “cold storage” had a touch pad on it and Edwin punched in a code.  With a pop, the door opened.  Inside an array of weapons lined the walls.  Everything from small handguns meant to be hidden, to knives meant to be thrown to rocket propelled grenades meant to blow up tanks lined the shelves of the room.  Suits of tactical armor and infiltration gear were folded and stored.  A small war could be fought with the contents of this room and it was all highly orderly.  Clearly, they wanted to standardize on certain makes of particular types of equipment and Edwin checked his sawed-off shotgun in on a rack with a number of identical weapons.  Further down the row he found what he was looking for.  A .44 magnum auto.

“You’re carrying the high heat?”

“Yeah.  If we get in trouble we’re likely going to be shooting at cars.  I’ll pack a 9 as well, but I want to be able to take out an engine block.”

“Good thinking.  Is that standard for eyes on a truck job?”

“Is for me.  9’s are good at stopping a dude.  I’d rather take out dude’s ride.  Loveless comes up with the play, but he’s smart enough not to tell a man what kind of weapon he should shoot.  Not everyone can handle the kick on this thing, even sitting down and braced.”

“Yeah, but if you trash the car and leave the dude, you leave a witness.”

The man focused on inspecting the weapon, but turned contemplative.  “You know G, we been at this a while.  Ever since Melissa started actually talking and thinking, you know … past the cute bundle phase into being a real kid and all, I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t kill a guy just … because.”

“That’s not a plus in this line of work.”

His head snapped up from his inspection of the weapon.  “Oh, don’t get me wrong, somebody gets nosey I’ll blind side them with a right hook.  Get too close and I’ll blow them away, but avoiding it is probably best, you know, since we’re already sneaking around. But still, I’ll be prepared for anything.  I mean, you know, safety first and all.”  The man holstered the massive weapon in a plastic case and went looking for the smaller gun just in case he had to shoot a bystander.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The roadside diner was a thing of chrome and pink leather.  Seemingly imported from the desert, it sat at an old intersection of two busy state roads in the middle of nowhere.  A different kind of desolation from the desert, wet as opposed to dry.  A huge parking lot welcomed truck drivers with easy access on and off of the two roads that bypassed and predated the major interstates in this portion of North Florida.

A young man with an expensive haircut and road-weary clothes sat at a booth.  He drank coffee from a coffee cup that did not fit right into the saucer.  His eyes peacefully drank in everything around him, including an obviously uncomfortable trucker running in from the scorching parking lot.

The man burst through the door. An old long sleeve shirt draped lazily over the thinnest of wife-beaters, stretched to near bursting over a barrel chest and belly.  Behind the counter, the oldest of the wait staff shook her head.

“Melvin, I swear to god I’m going to start charging you.”

The man looked sheepishly back.  “Sorry, Karen.  Need to lay off the chili dogs.”

“Sorry my ass, if you didn’t eat like you was a teenager… Go on sweetie.  But see a doctor will ya?  And remind your wife that she needs to give you shit for all the shit you give me.”

“She already did!” The trucker sprinted to the bathroom as the older woman shook her head, half laughing, half disgusted.  On her way to the bathrooms she grabbed a well-used “out of order” sign and hung it on the door.

The young man crinkled his nose and tried in vain to get the coffee cup to sit straight next to the spoon.  In the end, he pushed the whole thing back slightly to marvel at the way it actually did fit, odd angle and all.  Even things that didn’t fit did, even if they fit uncomfortably.

Into the gleaming chrome, glass and tackiness strode an odd figure in a light robe with stars and comets on it.  Bald, fat and unshaven, the odd man who wore more years than apparel strode up to the table.

“You are still going with that look Johnson?” the younger man said as the bald man slipped into the booth.

“Yeah, why not?”

“As long as you keep the front closed, I guess.”  The man took a sip and scribbled into a notebook.  “I got your message.  Something urgent?  You needed an assist or something?  Your note wasn’t exactly clear.”

“Not an assist as much as … well … can you feel it?”

The young man looked out, as if smelling the air.  His eyes squinted, catching a sent.  “Yes.  Like a breeze, getting stronger.  Really, though, you brought me in for that?”

“Well, for the record, Junior, I don’t need permission to ask you to come talk to me,” he grumped, “And… well, kinda. ”

The younger man smirked with half of his face “Kinda.”

“Yes.  That breeze.  I need for you to look into it.”

The younger man shook his head.  “I’m supposed to be in DC and New York.  I thought we’d agreed that I’d stay in the north east.”

“Northeast isn’t where the action is.  The story is here.”

“Then it’s a good thing our best man is here, Johnson.  You are the ace.”

“Was the ace.”

The younger man rolled his eyes.  “You covered San Fran in the day.  That’s the most active we’ve been since… what, the 30’s?”

“Yes but this is your show now.  I can’t do it.”  He leaned back as the waitress set down a mug of coffee with a side of stink eye at his clothes.  “I shouldn’t do it.”

“What” the younger man leaned forward. “Because you are old?  That’s crap and you know it.”

“Because I’m dying jackass!”

The shout carried across the diner.  The waitress, who had been about to take their order paled and left.  But the startle from it died quickly. The two men resumed their conversation.

“That…” The younger man looked him up and down.  “You look fine.”

“Yeah, well, got hit by a fucking car of all things.  Back is a mess.  And knees.  Went to the hospital and they patched me up.” He looked up from his mug and caught the younger man’s eye.  “but then they released me.”

“No.”

“With a prescription for pain meds.”

The younger man shook his head at the ghastly news.  “On paper, I hope.”

“Yeah.  Got the first one filled ok, but the ones after, the physical therapy appointment, any fucking record…”

“Gone.”

“Like the fucking wind!”

“Oh shit, man.  What did you do?”

“I did what any sane person would do.  Found a fucking drug dealer.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The big rig felt weird to Edwin without the trailer.  While it really didn’t feel any different, especially sitting in the passenger’s seat, the picture of a high, short, top heavy looking vehicle gave him tension across his shoulders.  He was relieved when the gleaming diner emerged from the trash pines and underbrush.

“So, how do we know this guy is going to be away from his truck?”

“It’s a loveless thing.  He knows.  You been on things for the boss before.  They make no sense but they always work out.”

“Except when it don’t.” Edwin looked out the window. “I miss working for jerry.  That made sense.  Rough up the dealers, take the cut, do security. Maybe it wasn’t taking a truck, but it was honest.  There was a service, protection for money.  Loveless is… he just… I don’t know…”

“Yeah.  I miss Jerry too.  But he crossed Loveless.  Got off light with exile.  Nice he had someplace to go when the consolidation went down.”

“Yeah but still.  Loveless.is… she’ll he’s always nice to people to a point, but the way he works is just … it gives me the creeps.”

“Yeah, but we’re on the winnin’ side of it.  Better than loosing.”

“I guess.  Still, don’t you miss the way we used to just shake down the freshmen for lunch money in highschool?  I tell you, the first time that actually worked out, I knew that was my calling.”

Guillermo smiled. “Yeah, you are a hell of a thug, but you have to get modern.  What, you think you can support your little girl by just random mugging and bullshit?  Who even carries cash anymore?”

“Yeah.  I still feel like the shift from muscle to sneaking around doesn’t properly exploit my skillset to its fullest potential.”

“Man, you just need a vacation.  Even if you like your job gets old after a while.”

Edwin stared out the window at the fast approaching crime scene.  “Yeah.  Maybe.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Your fucking me.  Instead of going back to a hospital, you go to a street pusher?”

“No and don’t project your fantasies onto me, I’m not your type.  No, I had horrible pain, no pain pills, no record of jack due to our wonderful constitution and the drug dealer could give a fuck who you are.”

The young man considered this for a while, running his hands though his well-groomed hair. “So… how are you doing?”

“How do you think I’m doing?  I’m on the fucking H and horribly addicted.  I’m patching my shit together mostly because I can rob the pusher blind.  Not being remembered does have its perks sometimes.”

“And its drawbacks.”

“Yeah.  No shit.  Just got to spread my shit around.  Good thing I always had an affinity for lowlifes.  Anyway, I can’t go.  It’s your show.”

“North Florida?  Land of humidity, bibles and rednecks?  Get someone else.”

The older man was resolute.  “No.  There is no one else.  Believe me I thought about it.  Look Junior, I know New York and DC is way more comfortable for you.  You’re a queer.  Queers fit in there.  It’s nice to have a community and I respect that.  But you got to think about the story here.  The history.  This is where things are happening.  And you are a Chronicler.  When the history of the fantastic is written, you write it…”

“…Because we’re the only ones who can,” The young man finished.

“Right.”

The younger man could not meet the older man’s eyes so he stared out into the parking lot.  “So what happens to you?”

The older man sighed and ran his hand over his bald head.  “I don’t know.  I’m giving you my books.  I… I’m not going anywhere good, Junior, you know that.”

“Fuck man” He hung his head.  “I’m … sorry.”

“Yeah.  Me to.  You know how it is for us though, something always gets you.  And there are so few.  More new ones lately though.   I think there was a new kid.  Girl.  In New Mexico.  Glenda went to get her.”

“Just like Mur did for me.”

The old man nodded. “Taught you.  The story … it’s not the history.  The wind scrubs it all away.  People forget.  The story is what counts.”

“Yeah.  The past isn’t what it used to be, eh?”

“It never is.”

“So really… Are you going to be ok?”

“No.  But I’ve lived for long enough and saw much.  Had some kids that loved me when they saw me and thought I was a prick when they didn’t.  Pretty typical actually.”

“I never knew that.  They aren’t Chroniclers are they?”

“No.  No.  Never works like that.  Random.  Never know who gets a power, eh?  One’s a reporter, but not a Chronicler.  Only the wind knows who will get the change of the strange.”

Meeting his eyes once more, the young Chronicler asked, “And you think there will be more?  Others, I mean… Not just us?  Different?”

“Yes.  There already are.  If you focus, you can taste it.  And there was a pulse.  A strong pulse, just this morning.  I fear that it will accelerate.” He reached out for his coffee mug and added, “possibly very quickly.”

The Strange – Episode 17 – The Job and the Work – Part 2

Screams from the Candle – 420

On this 420, I wanted to lay out the Screaming Candle’s view on marijuana legalization.  If anyone is reading The Strange, it should be no shock at all that I believe that pot should be legal, taxed, and regulated.  The prohibition on pot has been used for decades as an excuse for the police to harass citizens, especially minorities and poor people.  The suspicion and the surveillance that accompanies this prohibition is demoralizing to the population and breeds mistrust between the citizens and the police, making the situation progressively worse.

Really, it is this opening of an adversarial relationship with the cops that is at the very heart of the problem with the current prohibition.  There are other arguments as well.  With the drug illegal, food purity and sanitary standards that we apply to everything else we put into and onto our bodies are completely out the window.  Your pot could be 20% dog poop or infested with e. coli and it would still be sellable.  Nothing else in this country is like that.  The money that goes to drugs goes to people who thoroughly suck and are terrorizing Mexico, making a proud democracy into a shithole.  Pot is not a gateway drug, BUT it is a drug that is sold alongside the truly dangerous drugs like coke and H at the criminal drug dealer.  AND that guy makes most of his money from the ganja.  Take away those sales and there wouldn’t be nearly as many outlets for the other stuff.  Want to keep pot away from kids?  Put it behind the store counter with the porn or in a special shop like a booze store.  The current system has a criminal being the only gatekeeper between kids and pot and that criminal knows that the school kids – all kids all the same age all talking and networking with one another – is a prime word of mouth marketing opportunity.  All of these arguments wrap up into one unassailable truth, the prohibition on pot is unjust and unjustified, especially if one thinks of it in terms of public safety.

The fact is that as I sit here right now, I want a fucking bong hit.  I’m an adult, a father, a home owner, a tax payer.  I don’t smoke pot because I don’t want to break the law or hand my money over to criminals.  Colorado and other states have already figured out how I could possibly have that bong hit without breaking the law and without handing my money over to criminals.  LETS FUCKING DO THAT!

Oh and last but not least, let’s think of the kids.  I look at my little candle, Captain Q, and I see a potential future pot smoker.  He’s a weird ass who loves humor, spazing out, and cookies – not too far a leap to think he’d enjoy a joint when he gets older.  Thing is, we live in the city.  He gets popped for doing that in high school it’s into the criminal justice system for him.  And he’s so lily white, he practically glows in the dark, but still, we live in DC – stuff happens here.  The thing is, I don’t think it’s as big a deal as getting caught with a beer.  I’d rather have him intoxicated than incarcerated.  He’d get over being stoned and being a stoner WAY before his criminal record was expunged.

So, if we want to “think of the children” let’s do the sensible thing and legalize, regulate and put an age limit on who can have pot.  It is the ONLY thing that makes any sense.