Jonas Mec

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The contents of this story are fictional. Any resemblance of characters to living or lived persons is strictly coincidental. Certain characters engage in sexual acts which may or may not be legal in the state or country in which a reader may reside. Any reader with objections to graphic descriptions of sexual encounters between males who may or may not have reached the legal age of consent, or whose local, regional, state or national jurisprudence prohibits such descriptions, should not read further.

Chapter I - First Sight

I made a total cock-up of my life this afternoon. Got myself fired, probably gonna lose my friends when they finds out what happened. Of course, most everybody in town already knows, I guess -- word spreads quick when you live in a little town like Katy, twenty mile from the next town, Totteville, even smaller than Katy, and maybe twenty-five mile to Gove, only a few hundred population.

It's a good sixty mile to the closest Wal-Mart and Home Depot off the Interstate.

Most of my friends works the farms, and a couple of 'em slave at the mine down Calera way, and they'll have heard from their wives by tonight. Only Jerry works here in town - he runs the ag. station, since he had to give up farming when his athsma got so bad. I'm gonna miss that sucker. We've knocked off mor'n a couple cases of bourbon over the years. A little less since he took ill and his Doc told him to cut back, and Elva started makin' sure he did.

Elva's a nice kid -- well, lady I guess I have to say, even though I'll always think of her as my kid sister -- and cooks a storm. She keeps sending me home with casserole dishes, ever since my Mary died. It's a blessing to not have to cook - sometimes I just eat a cold can of somethin' instead of cookin' me up a proper meal.

It warn't really my fault, what happened. I mean, how the criping heck are you supposed to react when you sees a plane crash?

"You see that?" I asked Ole Will when I seen the last shiny bit of the fuselage go down t'other side of the hill behind the Ahmandsen place, towards the end looking like it was at maybe a 45º slant. No way no big jet was gonna survive that kinda plunge. I kept waiting for the sound of the explosion, but it was a long time coming -- it didn't never come atall.

"Nope," said Will, spitting chaw through the gap tween his front teeth. He meant it to go over the edge of the apron onto the raw dirt between us and the feed stores. He warn't concentrating too good; the brown blob broke up a little, an' only hit the post on the right side of the hitch, maybe five feet from the edge.

"Plane. Looks to 'a went down," I said, putting my tools down on the bench.

"Eyes tricked ya," Will muttered. He's not that talkative a sort.

"Gonna go see," I said.

"Ron'll be pissed," said my sixty-five year old mate.

Not a mate like a friend - just work, ya see? Him an' me worked at Charlie's since I got outta school when I was fifteen, back in '53. I don't think we never talked more than a few sentences a day, but Will learned me the trade. I think I piss him off sometimes because I got a better feel for engines an' gears what he has. I do everything there is to do on Deere and IH and Cat farm equipment.

My Dad said I've always had this head for what makes machines work. He's 93 now, and don't remember things so good no more. He don't know me sometimes when I go to the Home, an' mostly he talks at me like I was still livin' at home afore Momma died and I met my Mary. Last time I was up to the Home, he kept askin' me how I was doing on the Model A. I restored it when I was sixteen, and then sold it to some KC dealer for enough to make the down payment on the farm after Mary and me decided to make a family together. That was maybe forty year ago.

"Maybe somebody's hurt," I said as I got into Jeep. He's probably the only all-original '40 Army surplus Jeep left in the state. Except the tires and battery. Even rebuilt the fuel pump a coupla times. That's their weak spot, the fuel pumps. Seals were no good. I use high-silicone seals, what solves the problem pretty good.

"Ain't gonna cover fer ya," Will said to my dust. He's a shit that way. We work together near fifty year, since Ike was President, before Ron took over the business when Charlie died, and he won't cover for me. Shit, I cover for him all the damn time, `specially when he's got his lumbago actin' up. Go figure.

"Fuck it," I thought. "I'm near 62 years old, I own my house and my farm (I let it out, 'cause I ain't got no family since my Mary died) and I got cash in my bank account. Why should I worry about missin' a couple hours?"

I missed like three days out sick since I started working at Charlies' Garage - two of those was when Mary died in '82. We was married almost twenty-five years when she took sick and died of the Cancer.

Mary was a good cook, and I missed the company, I guess. We never had no kids. We tried for a few years, but nothing happened, so we sort of stopped. I don't think neither of us really enjoyed sex all that much. It hurt me that she died hurtin' so bad.

So I heads down Main to Terrell Road, take that to the top of the rise, then the Carron trail down into the Flats where I figured the plane musta hit. I didn't see no smoke or nothin.' You'd a thought one of them big mothers that fly over all the time woulda had lots of kerosene, since it's lots of miles from here to Denver or any other airport where they can land. Kerosene makes a lotta black carbon smoke when it burns free.

I tried to remember the look of her as she went down. I didn't see her long - maybe two blinks, maybe three. Couldn't make out the wings - guess they were sticking straight out towards me. Them jet wings ain't all that thick, so I guess they're hard to make out at that angle. Same for the little wings at the back. It was all shimmery silver, though, like all them big jets.

No tail. That's what looked funny - the plane didn't have no big tail fin sticking up with the airline's symbol painted on it. There was that plane off of California what lost it's tail and dropped like a rock into the ocean. But this plane didn't look like one of the same kind, what was real long and skinny. This `un wasn't skinny like that `un. Not fat or nothin, just more normal-lookin'. There wasn't no sign of a crash. No smoke, no nothin. I drove through the Flats pretty good, faster than I ought, according to my butt every time it slammed into the seat frame.

I was about to give up when I caught a flash of sun off metal, clear the far side of the Flats, the other side of the Pond and the Creek.

Still no smoke, so's I got my butt over there quick, jumpin' all around in Jeep, 'cause there ain't no seatbelts in him, and the springs don't got the travel you get nowadays. Maybe I could get some folk outta the way afore it went up in flames.

Made good time, though. Helps that the Creek is almost dry this time of year.

I found the plane half-buried in the swampy area behind the old orchard, the one what the Ahmandsen family ran for near a hunnert years until the sixties, I guess, when all of a sudden you could get apples and cherrries from outta state real easy an' a lot cheaper, and the market dried up for local produce.

The plane warn't hardly recognizable as a plane -- I remember thinking that maybe the wings and tail pieces musta got broke off somewhere, because all I could see was the top half or so of the fuselage. It was real shiny bright. Just one of them long narrow tubes, except . . . the way the light reflected off it, it almost blended into the rock a little on the edges.

When I got closer, I could see there warn't no damage to the tail. It was all smooth, rounded at the back, not even dented or nothing. No wires sticking out, no jagged bits of metal. It was huge. I reckoned they had to be to carry two hunnert passengers and crew and freight an' stuff. I knew some of the big ones came with two decks, even. I mean, we ain't so far from what's happening not to get Consumer Reports (Jerry gets that) and Motor Trend (I have a subscription since I can remember). The Denver Post what comes the next day to one family in town, the Harmons, I reckon, gets passed 'round sometimes, and I read it over to Charlene's coffee shop some Saturdays.

Then I goes up a little rise, where the dike used to be what kept the orchards from flooding when the swamp got full from spring runoff. It warn't no plane - not a commercial passenger plane, at least. I mean, it didn't have the right shape at all. There wasn't no front or back you could make out, because the thing warn't a tube, and dindn't have no windows. It was more of an oval, I guess. Maybe two hunnert, two hunnert twenty feet long. No windows as I could make out. I couldn't get a feel for how wide it was, but no more than half that, I guess. It was tall, too. Sucker was taller than all the fruit trees, I reckon - maybe thirty, forty feet.

"Probably one of them things they test all the time down in New Mexico," I thought at myself. I remember when there was this big thing down there about the Stealth bombers, the ones what you couldn't see or hear except when they was right overhead. Scared the bejeezus out of a bunch of ranchers, I heard.

So I just drives right up to this shiny military jet whatever, and I could see my reflection in it, all distorted because of the curve of the sides, but not wavery like you'd a thought. It was like lookin' at myself in a rounded gold mirror. Oh yeah -- it warn't silver, except when you looked up towards the top where clouds were . . . behind it. I know that sounds funny, but that's the impression I got. Like I could almost see the cloud through the metal. Weird.

I looked all over the side I was on for a door, but there was no break. Not even scratches from where it had plowed through . . . I looked down the length, and saw no scrapes on the ground, no broken trees where the thing seemed to have come from when I saw it plunge down. "God, let everybody be okay inside," I prayed silent-like, to myself.

"Nobody's hurt," said a voice behind me. I couldn't tell if it was a man's voice or a boy's voice, but when I turned to look at whoever said it, he was too tall to be a boy. I guess I was looking into the sun a little, because I couldn't make out the details for a second. He seemed to . . . waver a little, like when you see somebody swimming under the water in the Lake. Then the waves calmed, and I could see him more clear. He was wearing sandals of some kind and sort of long grey gym shorts, with a white shirt that had no collar, but didn't seem to be a T-shirt. Shortish sleeves, down to the elbow, and tucked into his shorts. He looked just like my High School Chemistry teacher, Mr. Latham. Except Mr. Latham never had no body like that. Mr. Latham was tall and skinny. Not painful skinny - thin, I guess, is a better word.

Mr. Latham was real good-looking. His face was like you saw on TV commercials, all square chin and clear skin, black straight hair and blue eyes, sharp eyebrows and healthy-lookin' skin. Fer an inside worker, I mean. All the girls in school had a crush on him at some point. He left after my first year in High School, the year before I quit school. My Dad said he warn't made for country, not havin' a family and all. Rumors in school was that he met a lady over in Sharron Springs what wanted him there, so he moved to Cheyenne Wells, I think. I used to think about him a lot, but I hadn't for more than twenty years. Now here he was, almost, but he had an athlete's body, almost like . . . the same as Terry Corcoran.

Terry was a Senior when I was in High School. He was on every team there was, and went to college with a scholarship. He only came back to town to bury his Pa and sell the farm and evertythin, then went back to California, never to be heard from again. When he was still in school, I saw him once in the showers, all ropy muscles and fine definition. I got a kind of funny feeling then. I remember. I wanted to touch him, just to feel him. But of course I didn't. I was only a freshman, with pimples and a voice that broke all the time, and Mom was right, I guess -- I'm kinda homely.

"I saw her go down," I said. "Came to see I could help." The man's face seemed to get more solid, less wavy as we got closer. It warn't Mr. Latham, just one of them faces you see on TV all the time, handsome, white teeth, all that. The shorts were't as long as I thought, just mid-thigh, and I musta made a mistake about how long the sleeves were, because when we got closer, the sleeves were short enough that I could see his upper arm half way to the shoulder. He had good muscles, well-worked.

"Groth," said the man.

"Graham," I answered. "Graham Baker."

"Do you know anything about . . . engines?" Groth asked. His eyes were drilling into mine, like he was trying to see inside my soul. Not evil, mind - jus' . . . intense, I guess you'd say.

"Some," I said. "Don't know nothing 'bout jets."

"It's not the jets we have a problem with," Groth said. His smile was real. "Won't you come inside out of the heat?"

He turned towards the plane, and there was a door open, with an escalator-like ramp leading up to it. I hadn't noticed it before. The door, I mean. It seemed pretty high off the ground.

I had this strange desire to help, no matter that I didn't know nothin' about planes. Never even flew in one, but someday I'd like to, I guess.

"What kinda problem you got?" I asked as we walked the few steps to the ramp. When I stepped on it, it began to slowly move up, like the automatic escalators in the big office buildings you see in TV movies.

Groth looked at me kind of funny as we moved up the escalator, which seemed to move faster. I could feel it speeding up. "It's the fuel pump, I think," he said.

"Only one?"

"Yes. Our mechanic can't get here to fix it before we're supposed to leave," he said.

"Can this thing take off if it's fixed?" I couldn't see how - I mean, there wasn't no flat place for a runway or nothin.

"Yes,"he said. I felt the escalator slowing down as we got to the door and went right through it into a hallway.

Groth -- I never thought to ask if it was his first name or his last name -- steered me into a small room, with doorways on either side -- and the one we come in through, of course. That closed behind me with a silent snap, and I woulda jumped, cause I'm usually a little skittish that way when I'm in new places, but for somehow I warn't this time.

"We need to wait here for just a second to . . . equalize pressure," he said.

I looked at his face from the side. He didn't have any whiskers. None, I swear. And his ears . . . I thought his ears had no holes for a minute, but when I blinked, they were there again.

There was a slight swoosh of air, and a really strong light came on in all the corners of the room, from corner to corner, like we was inside a box made out of light, so bright I had to close my eyes agin it. There was a series of high-pitched squeals from somewhere, then the light went down, and I opened my eyes again. The door to our right opened, just sliding . . . out. No - kinda . . .I can't figure how to explain the way it opened. Strange, all this new technology stuff.

"Could you look at it now?" Groth asked, I'm not sure why. Maybe just being polite.

"Of course," I said as I followed him down this corridor like they have on planes, I guess, no windows, light coming from the ceiling, but not from lights, the ceiling itself seeming to be a single big light fixture. "Don't know much about planes, though." I added.

"We have all the technical data," said Groth. "We'll give it to you as you need it."

Yeah, right. I fix farm engines, and I'm gonna learn on-the-job how to fix a modern airplane engine. Ain't no Cummings diesel gonna get put inside a big plane like this -- no way it'd be powerful enough.

"Don't worry," said Groth. "You can fix it."

I knew somehow that he was right. I know that sounds strange, but that's how I felt.

We went into this big round open space, maybe forty feet across, with low lighting. There was Big-Screen Televisions, those flat models that just hang on the wall, like you see in the movies, covering the walls all around the room, right up to the sorta low ceiling, all switched off. The walls just rose inward towards the center of the room, where they musta been twenty feet high. In the center of the room was a dome, ten feet across, with the top part-way up. As we approached, the whole top just lifted to the ceiling. I didn't see no wires.

At first, I couldn't make heads or tails out of the machinery that was under where the dome had been. There warn't no wires, no fuel lines, nothing. Then, as I lay my hands on it, it seemed to take shape. It was warm, but not hot, and I felt a tingling in my hands and somewhere behind my ears, kinda pleasant. I imagined I saw the tiny glass cable that carried all the information to the operating parts, and the impossibly small tube that led to the . . . combustion chamber . . . no, the tflagonstory, from the tank below. The fuel was . . . liquid. No odor.

"You see the problem?" asked Groth.

"Not yet," I answered, and I lifted the xylathwor away from the tflagonstory, exposing the gycvanothic chamber. I felt inside the Batruqan, and checked the valves for obstructions with the tips of my fingers. Nothing. Then I took the cover off the interior filters, and the problem was right clear. Somewhere along the line, they'd picked up some tiny crabs. Their miniscule orange and turquoise shells littered the entire filter unit chamber of the Batruqan, layer after layer. The second chamber was the worst - the shells stuck in such number in the second and third filter screens, that they turned into a almost solid barrier. That wasn't the problem, though, jus' the signpost. The Batruqan has a self-clean back-flush every cycle, takes maybe a millisecond to run on each filter unit, the other takin' up the slack. I ran the cycle, and the Hrandoth arm stopped mid-way in cycle on the first chamber, reversed, ran another half cycle, then returned to its housing. It didn't backflush at all. I knew that if the Hrandoth cycle wasn't completed on a chamber, it would recycle - so that the other chamber wouldn't get backflushed neither.

I pulled the filter units, scraped 'em into the open trash receptacle in the floor, and wiped out the inner walls with towels dispensed from the floor. It took only a few minutes to pull the filters and clear out the muck, then I pulled the entire base of the unit. That's when I found the problem. The filter unit wasn't seated right - the smallest bore of unit two had a tiny metal scraping wedged underneath, keeping the filters a squidge too high - just enough so's the Hrandoth arm couldn't swing fully into place for backflush. It took only maybe twenty minutes to find and fix the problem, another ten to put the tflagonstory and xylathwor back in place, and a minute or two to wipe off the engine, set up the ignition sequence on the screen, and initiate the auto-qrithinan stabilizer, before the hood dropped down from the ceiling. I still didn't see no wires, so I guess there was some kinda hydraulic lift in the back that I hadn't noticed.

There was a soft whisper from the engine, no more. Maybe the tiniest bit of vibration under our feet. The big screens snapped to life, and I was looking at the area around the plane, but in differing colors, at one time in normal, then reds and greens, then grainy speckles of fluorescent green, then . . . a color I never saw before. Not a color, a . . . I can't explain it. Not light, something else. A model of the plane hung over the dome of the power unit. It had no wings, no tail, no landing gear - just a silvery flattened and elongated sphere, like a blob of mercury we had used in chemistry lab in high school for some experiment or other.

"You fixed it," said Groth. "We knew you could."

"Where is everybody?" I asked. A plane like this shouldn't be -- couldn't be -- so empty.

"At the base," Groth said. "I must join them now."

I looked at him, handsome, young, well-muscled and with life ahead of him open and free. I looked at his chin, and saw the faint stubble of beard that had been missing not twenty minutes earlier. "He must have to shave every few hours," I thought foolishly. Who cared how often he shaved? How often he showered? How often he . . . " My mind led me down a path I didn't want to go. I'm too old for them kinda thoughts.

"Glad to have been of help," I said, turning to go back.

"About the bill," Groth started. He was already taking a step forward to help me find the way.

"Don't worry about it," I said, too quickly. "It'll save me some taxes."

"Oh, it will be paid, believe me," Groth said, with the first smile I'd seen him release. It made him even more handsome. Sometimes I wished I hadn't of been born so . . . homely.

I didn't respond, and he gave me a look that made me almost think he . . . no, stupid thought.

"We'll need to wait a few seconds to equalize again," Groth said as we entered the chamber with the box of lights. I hadn't felt any pressure changes.

Having been through all that once before, I had no qualms about it, and stood while the lights went up. But they had a different effect than the first time, and I felt myself getting a little dizzy, then sort of faint. My stomach cramped and double-cramped, just like I was passin' a kidney stone. I sank to my hands and knees and moaned with the sudden hurt of my insides. I wondered if I was in some kind of microwave, cooking me from the inside. I looked for Groth, but as far as I could tell, I was now alone in the chamber, the light so bright it hurt to open my eyes for more than an instant. When I closed my eyes again, I could tell through my eyelids it was sorta pulsing, real fast.

The hurt was everywhere. It was especially bad in my chest and stomach, but it was strong in my lower abdomen and my groin, my legs and arms, and even the inside of my head. I wondered if my bum ticker was burning out. Even my teeth hurt.

"You'll be through it in a second," came Groth's voice. "It will never bother you again."

There was more of the whistling, then I sort of blacked out, but not completely. I was vaguely aware of Groth helping me up, shumbling to the door, holding me up on the ramp, and the Escalator whisking me back down to the dry grass, far below. I was terribly sleepy, and lay on the grass at the foot of the Escalator, curled up like a dog on its rug. There was no more pain. There was almost . . . rapture? I don't know what that word means, but it "feels" right.

"Long life," said Groth's voice from behind me. "We love you." A shiver went through my body, and I turned my head to look towards the voice, except I couldn't open my eyes for some reason. No man had ever said that to me. Not my Dad, not my Granddad, not my hero brother before he got hisself killed in France on D-Day.

I worshipped Brad when I was little, before he went away to fight the Nazis. I never really believed he was dead, always hoped he'd come through the front door one day and throw me up in the air like always, take me fishin' for cats over to the stream . . . He told me he loved me, just not out loud. My Dad wasn't much for spending time with us kids until we was old enough to work the farm with him. Sometimes I thought he had us just to have workers, but that's probably not fair. He was a good provider, tithed to the Church, honored Mom, and never hit us but what we earned, and never without it being in private, just him and me, his wide belt splatting on my bare backside, leaving hot red marks, and a strong sense of embarrassment about what I done wrong, but no more. I only got licked four times with his belt, once for lying about setting the fire what burned down the old chicken coop, twice for back-talking my Momma, and once for I can't remember what, but I never done it again.

My Momma said that - that she loved me - once in a while, and Mary said it a couple of times, especially towards the end. But nobody since . . . I got that damed chokey feeling inside my head, the one what usually comes just before I have to blow my nose to keep from gettin' teared up when I watch some movies.

"Don't," he said softly in my ear. "There's no more need." And I felt his lips on mine, and I was so grateful for the kiss of friendship, then embarrassed, I musta passed out. I mean, a guy don't do that, you know? But I dreamed . . .

I was kissing him back. I can't tell you why, but it felt like the most natural thing on earth to do. I opened my eyes, and he pulled back from me, his eyes sparkling in the bright sun, his lips forming a beautiful smile.

"Look," he said, his gaze moving down my body.

I looked down, and I was nekkid to the waist, and so was he.

I wasn't just half-nekkid . . . I was hard. Not just my dick, astraining under my denim. My whole body. My paunch was gone, the hair on my chest short and dark like it was when I was eighteen, my muscles more defined under taut skin than ever they were, even then. My hands was smooth and tan, and the old yellowed nails were gone, replaced with clear and unridged ones. My knuckles was normal size again.

I felt no wonder, though - this was a dream, wasn't it? I moved closer to Groth, wanting more contact. I can't explain it - I wasn't never that way, not never - but I wanted to make love with Groth more than I never wanted nothing in my life. I wanted to be inside him, looking down on him as I filled him with my love, feel his seed boil over his passion as I filled him with mine, then make slow soft love to him as we came down from the heights of orgasm . . .

I woke to the call of a crow somewhere near by, and opened my eyes. My clothes was back on. I was facing towards Jeep, patiently waiting for me to remount. My head hurt, but only a little, like I had a glass too many of cheap whiskey before I went to sleep. I got to my feet too quickly, and expected my back to register protest, but I scraped through somehow.

I turned back towards where the plane had been, but it was gone. There was a smooth bowl where it had rested, the rock outcroppings just pulverized into the ground, trees and brush gone, not a blade of grass, just the red clay and sandstone.

I don't remember ever using the work "pulverized" before. Funny how words just pop into your head sometimes.

Nobody would never believe me if I told them. At least about the plane. It might be a national security thing. So I decided not to tell anybody. Just a weather balloon, probably -- coming back to earth after days way up on the edge of the atmosphere . . .

I shook my head to clear it of the dream, the longing I felt for Groth's touch. I could never tell nobody that. Lose every whit of respect I ever earned, I would. We don't have them big-city problems and things out here.

As I drove slowly back towards town, I wondered. How come they didn't just check the filter themselves? It looked like the tiny crabs had been gathering for a long time, breeding in the tanks, gradually clogging the filter. Strange that the military, a thousand miles from the sea, would have crabs. And it took me no time at all to find the problem -- why hadn't they just took a look under the hood? And why the crazy dream?

I thought back to when we got a call to send a tow truck all the way up to the interstate rest area halfway to Salina, account of something what kept all the rest of the Tows busy t'other side of Salina, even from Wakeeney and Park and Grainfield. Something about a big pile-up on the interstate, as I recall. It was a coupla years back, when Ron made me go even though it was Carl's turn to take the tow. When I got there, the car was right at the rest area, the battery too weak to turn the engine over.

When I lifted the hood - something the husband hadn't even done -- it was obvious right away what was wrong. The battery post was covered with the fine crystals you get when terminals aren't tight and smeared with a dab o' Vaseline. The car had simply not been able to recharge the battery, and the man coulda fixed that aforehand by just looking. Human nature -- if it ain't broke, don't look, it might break.

The guy was pissed at me 'cause it took over two hours to get to him, his wife was pissed at him 'cause he'd been so dumb he didn't know to look after his own Lexus, and the kids were havin' a ball playing Cowboy and Indian in the brush. I charged 'em the Freeway Rate instead of the Good Neighbor Rate. Ron lets us charge that -- the top rate allowed by the Auto Association -- when the customer is a asshole. Then he goes and spoils it all by givin' me a big tip -- just fer jump-startin' him after I used a wire brush, some Vaseline, a couple a wrenches and some hand cleaner. Go figure.

Maybe Groth was like that husband, except he was a Good Neighbor. Maybe he just didn't know to check the filter on the Batruqan, didn't have a idiot light what showed the hrandoth arm was gettin' stuck mid-way.

My scalp itched. "Musta got too much sun again," I thought at myself. I keep fergettin' my hat. Mary used to make sure I took it, from when I started gettin' sparse when I was 25 or so. I got a pate shiny as a lightbulb now, just a fringe over the ears and in back.

When I pulled up in front of Charlie's, Ron's car was in his space.

"Hell to pay now," I thought as I swung outta Jeep. I felt kinda frisky, like I'd not since a while, sorta like a coupla years ago, when I got all coltish. Even . . . abused myself, and then took a jog out the Taylor road a ways, which cured me right quick, 'cause that's when we found out about my bum ticker, Andy Jonson an' me.

Andy's been Doc since his Dad died in '63. He's got his surgery in Gove, but lives on the family piece here in Katy, on the West side maybe three mile out. That's where I got took when I fell on Taylor.

Ole Thurman actually saw me fall. He said it was like when you shoot a sick animal -- one minute up, the next instant on its knees, then topples over. It was him what got me to Andy. Ole Thurman, I mean. I wish somebody had found him when he went down in his alfalfa last year, but the vultures was already circling by the time his old lady, Maggie,  called me when he didn't come in for dinner. He musta went quick - he was lying on his back, next to the tractor, his eyes closed and his face peaceful. I forgot how grey the face gets when they's no blood pumpin' to it . . .

"Where the hell you been?" Ron called out the open office door, before I even got halfway to it. "You don't leave work in the middle and just run off like that!"

"Thought I saw a plane go down up the Ahmandsen place," I said as I got to the door. "Just one o' them plastic weather balloons, though." Ron was facing the window, his back to me. He didn't even have the courtesy to swing his fat frame around to talk at me.

"Well, you'll get lotsa time to chase after balloons now, old man," he said with a grunt. "You didn't punch out, so I ain't payin' ya for no hours since lunch. Here's yer check." He just held it over his shoulder up in the air and waited for me to take it.

"You firin' me?" I asked in a voice I didn't recognize. It warn't like me to talk down to Ron. But I was, and my voice was as deep as it ever got, no quaver at all.

'You got it, Baker. I ain't gonna pay near twelve bucks an hour to some old man what drops everything to chase butterflies. I'm bringin' Cal in at 'bout half that startin' Monday." He didn't even turn his head to look up at me.

Cal is Ron's nephew. Don't know nothing 'bout mechanicals, but he got Sara Troman good an' juiced, an' they's getting' married next week, 'bout five months 'fore the baby comes. Not a bad kid, but he ain't got a lotta solids between his ears, if you know what I mean. He'd been workin' down at the Calera mine. Ralph says he's too dumb to operate anything more complicated than a shovel, and they's a lotta 'Spanics what do that better'n him, which is why he didn't go to Calera no more.

Fair 'nough, I guess. Cal has to find a way to feed his new family. But I didn't like the idea, gettin' fired after near forty-five years. I gotta reputation to keep here in Katy. If I'm gonna live as long as my Dad, that means another thirty years or so. Don't want my townkin always thinkin' on me as the one what got fired from Charlie's.

"Ron, I ain't missed no time from this job 'cept when Mary got buried and when your Dad dropped that ladder on me 'fore you were born. Ain't that a little unfair?"

Ron swung around in his chair and started to yell "You God- . . . " Then he got this real weird expression on his face, his eyes kinda bugged out even more than usual, his mouth kinda dropped, and he looked at me up and down, like you do a calf at auction, but a lot faster.

"Get the fuck outta here, you goddamn dirty old man," he screamed, like he'd got stuck in the butt by a Unicorn. "Don't you never come here again. Not like that, not like anything!" He jumped up -- or at least as close to a jump as a guy tippin' scales at about the same weight as a hog at the slaughterhouse door -- and went to shove at me, but I just reached out an' pushed him back down in his chair. Ain't like me to be that assertive. There I go again with new words.

I looked down, and saw what Ron was so upset about. Roger  was hangin' outta my jeans. I guess the buttons musta popped when I was rollin' around in Jeep, and I hadn't noticed. My shirt was open, too -- all the way to my belly. It was one of my usual denim shirts what my Mary used to make outta my used jeans and ones we bought at the seconds store over to Colby. They was old, but I kept them in good condition, all twenty or so that was left, and there warn't no reason why the buttons shoulda undid themselves like that.

Pot belly, grey hairs on my chest, my prong all limp and loose, my belly scar from the hayrake what threw a fit at me in '57, no longer angry red after all these years, just a little pink - that's what I shoulda seen. I mean, I'm well gone sixty, ain't I? What I seen, though, was what I dreamed, at least at first. I saw me at my prime, my dick all fresh and smooth, even at rest, and my belly lean and muscled. I blinked, and the old me was back, but something was different. I just couldn't figure what.

"Keep yer fuckin' cool, Ron," I said with as much dignity as any guy can have when his dick's as nekkid as a baby possum in a shoebox. I flipped Roger back into my jeans, took the check and walked out the door. It was for four hundred thirty-seven dollars and fifty-three cents. I felt glad for some reason that he'd paid me for too many hours in his haste to chuck me out the door. It was Tuesday, and we'd got paid on Friday, not a week ago Friday. The bastud had got confused, I guess. Served him right -- he never paid me no vacation money.

Just in case he changed his mind, I took Jeep right to the Coop Bank in Gove and cashed it, then put three hundred of it in my bank, across the street. I keep my money in the First National -- or at least it was the First National until it got bought up by Norwest, and again by Wells Fargo. I like the idea of banking with Wells Fargo. They used to run the stages through Denver a long time back. Beth, the teller what's been there most long as I can remember, gave me the receipt showing my balance, but didn't say nothin' about how come I was there on a weekday. Nobody I know was there - most of 'em don't do banking with them no more, since Norwest took over and started tightening the noose on the farmers.

"Don't really need that job anyhow." I told myself as I drove the old road back to home. I mean, my stocks pay more dividends now than what I get paid - except they only get paid four times a year.

That was Andy's idea. He said I should take a lot of my savings and buy shares, "to balance my investments." I asked him what to buy -- I think it was in 1984, just after my Mary passed and I had her will read. She didn't have nothin' any way, I figured, but the will had to get read, Bill Parker told me, so he read it. He was the executer, the guy what ties up all the threads of a person's life when it's over. We all have him as that in our wills what he helped us write when he first came back to town after he went to college on the GI bill after he got shot up in Korea.

My Mary had a savings book account what I didn't know nothin' about, at the First National like me. (That was afore Wells Fargo took over.) I knew she had a little egg money - she kept a pretty big flock in the two coops, and drove 'em - her eggs and the fryer roosters - into Gove every weekday for as long as I could remember, but I thought she spent all the money on feed and stuff for the house, and the cloth she bought to make herself her dresses and things on the Singer. Had near thirteen thousand dollars in it. She said in her will it was money we was going to use to travel someplace, maybe, when we paid off the mortgage and I retired. I guess her egg money built up over time.

I had a total of maybe ninety thousand, what with insurance policy an' all, so Bill bought me sixty thousand worth of shares. I paid down the house mortgage with the rest, which pissed Bill off `cause he said I had too much networth in real estate, what with the house and my farm. I don't like owing people money when the crops are okay. Never know when you'll need to beg for money from the bank after a drought or somethin.

Anyway, Andy said he used Bill Parker to run his investments, and I should too, so when Bill Parker told me what to buy, I just bought five hundred shares of each of his top five choices, and let them sit in the account and collect dividends what bought another hundred shares every time enough cash accumulated. I didn't buy but 100 shares of one of them - it was almost three hundred dollars a share. Some shirt company, I think, Berkshire something or other. Never paid any dividends, so I never bought any more than the hundred shares I started with. Bill said it's still a good stock, because it's worth more, so I should keep it for a piece longer.

All my other shares was these computer companies, Microsoft, and Hewlett Packard, and Intel and another company I don't remember the name of but it got bought up by Telephone. Telephone pays real good dividends because I got a lotta their shares for my 500, which somehow got split up or divided or something before Telephone traded more than 10,000 of their shares for my 500. I get books from them all every year or so, but I just look at the pictures and throw them away. Never was much one for readin' books. I used to get these forms to make votes on, but I told Bill to do all that stuff, `cause I didn't want to be bothered with `em.

Come to think of it, never was one much for writin' neither, but I sure done a patch this afternoon. Sun's goin' down, guess I'll put this away and fix me some supper, maybe put down some more tonight.

God,  what they'll think of me when they find out I got fired, I jus' don' know. And if never they find out what I dreamed . . .