The Mechanic

by: Jonas Mec

This story is posted for the exclusive enjoyment of readers of the Nifty Archive. While you are free to make a personal copy, no copy of this manuscript may be published, copied, posted to another web site, or otherwise disseminated without express permission from the author, who retains copyright.

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 II - Friends

I ate from one of Elva's casseroles, the one she makes with beef and beans and tomatoes and all, what I just zapped in the microwave. After I et, washing it all down with a quart of fresh cold milk from the fridge, I washed up the dishes instead of throwing them into the dishwasher, then sat on the porch a while to watch the sky while God painted it -- better'n any television, I reckon. I sipped my nightly glass of Bourbon real slow as I enjoyed the show.

The lights over at Jerry and Elva's place went on just before the sun dropped. I can see their house through the trees. Jerry's pickup's lights came on, and it moved down the driveway, turning East towards town. I figured he was going to come over, but it would take another ten minutes.

Jerry's pickup pulled into my drive in no more than a pair of minutes. He musta took the dirt fenceline as a shortcut.

"Darn!" I thought out loud. "Don't know if I can stand it if he makes fun." I almost went inside and shut the door - I wasn't wantin' to face Jerry, talk about me gettin' fired. Nobody never got fired in our family before.

Jerry got out of the old Ford F-150 and walked up the steps, not sayin' nothing, just looking at me `til he sat in the old wicker chair next to the table, catty-corner.

"Hey, Graham," he said as he looked to the red horizon. "Got my jar?"

"Ayuh," I said, and reached under the table for the extra jelly jar I always kept for him. He pulled a fresh bottle of whisky from outta his jacket. Elva didn't let him drink to home - but she said what he did over to my place was his own affair.

Jerry poured a couple a three fingers in his glass, and topped me up a finger or two, then leant back and sipped a little.

"You okay?" he asked, real soft.

"Hurts a little."

"No," I fessed. "Hurts a lot."

"What you gonna do?"

"Dunno. Too old to get another job, I reckon."

"Bull," he said at me across the table. "You know more `bout engines anybody these parts. Ron'll take ya back when he figures out Will don't do but watch no more, an' his Cal's got no more idea to fix a engine than build a computer."

"Ain't goin' back," I said after a sip or two. "Ain't no way."

"So what you gonna do?"


We sat and shared for another hour. Not talking, just settin', listening to the sounds of May as the horizon went from hot orange to ochre to blue-black, as the stars blazed ever brighter. Saw a coupla shooters, but just little uns..

"You gonna be alright?" he asked as he got up to go.

"Yeh," I said. "Gonna take a few days to get used, though."

"You take care," he called over his shoulder as he went out to the truck. "Elva an' me love ya, Graham. Don't like seein' ya hurt."

Two people in the same day said they love me. World record. I felt tight in my chest, and almost got all teary a little. Been doin' that a lot since a while for some reason.

"I love you guys, too," I thought to myself. I did, too, but I couldn't get the words to come out. All I said was "Give Elva a kiss for me."

He drove off and I wandered back into the house just as the old mantle clock chimed ten. I washed up the glasses and dried them, then put them back under the porch table. I moved the chairs around a little, and expected my left hand to hurt like always when I move heavy stuff. (I got arthritis real bad in my left knuckles. Andy said it was probably from when I smashed my hand under the engine block in '63.) For some reason, it didn't hurt so bad, but there was a dull ache in my chest and arms, my mouth, my head, even my legs.

I was gonna write some more in my journal, but I was kinda tired, so I just went up, scrubbed my teeth before I dropped them into the glass, put on my pajamas, then climbed in our bed. I fell asleep at once.

I dreamed about Groth. He was tellin' me stuff about the Engine, how the fuel went into the gycvanothic chamber at hyperspeed, where the lasers and phasers did their thing in the magnetic bottle, converting the matter directly into heavy elements and power. Most of all, I dreamed of how nice he looked, peaceful-like, how . . . comfortable he made me felt, how it felt to be held by him, strong, loving. He was kissing my chin, my chest, his hands moving to take off my pants just when I waked up to . . . Chester.

Chester's my rooster. Old fart starts just as the dew stops forming, and never knows to shut up; once he's started, there's no going back to sleep.

When I rolled on my side to get out of bed, I was surprised to see Roger sticking straight out from my pajamas. There was goo on the fly.

"Ain't done that in must be twenty years, wake up with morning wood," I thought with glee. It felt somehow reassuring, seeing him like that. Maybe I wasn't so close to meeting my Maker, after all. Roger was soft by the time I got to the hall toilet, though, so I figured it was just one of those aberrations Life throws at you.

After I flushed the bowl, I went into the bathroom we put in after our first really good harvest, ripping out the smallest of the seven bedrooms in the old farmhouse - the nursery, just off the main front bedroom. My face still felt smooth. Never did need to shave more'n thrice a week, but Mary made me shave every day, and somehow it made me feel a little unfaithful to pass it up.

I looked for a minute at the razor and Barbasol, then decided to let it hang. All's I did was put in my teeth and take a quick shower. Something didn't feel right, but I didn't know what, 'cept my scalp itched, real bad. I told myself to wear a hat when I went out. My gums ached, dull-like, and I felt a little stiff/sore in all my muscles, in my gut and chest. "Men get old, pain gets bold," I recited the line from some poem or other.

I threw on a pair of jeans and a clean shirt. I had to cinch the damned belt a extra notch.

"Musta lost a lot of water last night," I thought. "Too much Bourbon, not enough water."

I fed the chickens, almost automatically went to slop the hogs, even though I gave them over a coupla years back, then backtracked to gather the new eggs from the coop into the basket, leaving the two clutches under the two largest hens, and letting another hen start a new clutch. I hatch a clutch a week on average, 'cause I eat more and more chicken these days, maybe two a week. I've built up the flock some, all Reds 'cause they have better flavor. Not as many as what my Mary used to keep, a course. She used to keep maybe eight dozen laying hens, taking eggs what didn't go to the Motel up at the Interstate into Gove, every morning but Sunday. The male chicks she raised to fryers; what we didn't eat she took to the Saturday Farmers' Market in Gove. She always talked about how's her chicken and egg money made buyin' her fabrics easier, and paid for her little van.

I candled the eggs, fetched a Stet from the front rack, then got on Jeep and headed over to Charlene's for breakfast. I don't do breakfast, I jus' eat it.

Charlene's is as close as what we got to a diner in town. Everybody in town has breakfast there. Not everybody, that's not fair, but all my buddies, all the "movers and shakers" of our little town. She opened her little coffee shop in her folks' old notions store on the corner across from the gas station after Bill got crisped on his tractor. Never saw the thunderheads behind him until it was too late, everyone reckoned, and the bolt got 'im in the middle of the field afore he could even get off the tractor, much less get into his truck.

I was a little early, so I took the northern route, driving by my farm what Gil an Greta Carver lease from me. They's gonna buy it from me soon's their next season's done. Young Gil has done a swell job of it, bringing in top yield and quality, and I reckon he's gonna make a top-rate farmer, just like his Dad and his older brother, Gordon, what got a double over to West of Gove. Gret's gonna have a boy in six months, but I can't say nothin' to nobody yet, cause she ain't told nobody but her Gil and her Mamma over to Totteville. Gordon done told me when I went callin' to see how the plowin' was a-coming -- he saw me look at Greta's tummy then at her creamy-white complexion, and when I winked at him, knew I'd figured it.

I turned right on Post Road, the lush farmland to the South contrasting vividly with the rocky flats to the north. I thought on Charlene, lovely Charlene, as I jounced along in Jeep.

I've knowed Charlene since she first came to meet Bill's Daddy, Cor. I was workin' on Cor's baler when Bill came home to introduce her as his very first girl, when he was still in High School. He was so proud of her that his nerves were on his forehead as he introduced her to his Daddy, then to me.

I knew Bill from the day he got born at Cor's house, we went so far back. Cor brought him out onto the porch to show me an' my Mary when we brung over a meal to heat in their stove. I watched him grow into a mischief-making, laugh-provoking but real consid'rate boy, then man. I was at his christening, his babtism, his homecoming, his wedding, then his funeral. I loved that boy like a nephew, just like my own. It was one of the saddest days of my life when we carried his coffin out of the church, loaded it in the wagon, and escorted it to the cemetery. I cried jus' like I did at Mary's service - deep but quiet, no tears.

I chawed over it as I turned down towards town, thinkin' on young Bill, handsome as could be for a freckle-face, a smile as wide as the river, 4-H club, won the Blue ribbon for his calf the year afore he got outta school, married Charlene the day after he graduated HIgh School. He got called up and shipped to 'Nam by the Army, only to get a early discharge a few months later when Nixon got us outta there. When he got back, Cor helped him buy the old Carver farm right next to mine, and he plunged into the soil like all real farmers. But something had changed when he was away, something I couldn't never figure out what was it, but he was different. He seemed distant, less . . . available, somehow. He used to go all the way into Kansas City once every month to visit his maiden aunt, Hildegaard, his mom's sister, after she got laid up, and that took some of his time, but he got to be kind of a loner to most of the townfolk.

Andy said something a couple of years after the funeral - Bill's funeral, I mean - what scared me a little. He reckoned as how if a man was bent on getting kilt, getting out of debt and a marriage he warn't comfortable in, they wasn't much better a way to go than on your tractor in a July thunderstorm. "Quick and painless." he said. "Dead before you see the bolt what gets ya." I din't know Bill was all that unhappy. I mean, we're all in hock to the bank up to our ears when we start out, and havin' twins just when the first crop failed ain't the easiest shock, but Bill always seemed like a stable enough kid when he was growin' up.

Why'd a guy what has it all - youth, looks, a pretty wife, two gorgeous kids, his own farm, a bright future - why'd a guy like that sit on his tractor in the middle of his field while watching the thunderstorm comin' right at him? He couldn't have missed it - his tractor was facing due West when they found him, Andy (Andy Jonson, not Andy Trothwell) told me. The ignition was turned off.

I never knew his marriage wasn't - how did Andy put it? - "comfortable."

Another of life's mysteries. I drove past the old Hangar what used to be Harry's crop-dusting company. Damned eyesore, big enough for a blimp, which was what it was originally built for. Harry Boyce bought it from Navy surplus and put the thing up for his three biplanes, but his cropdust company went bust in '73. Gary Boyce owns the land since his dad died, but won't tear the thing down. Keeps talking about one day having a little airport, but I figure he's just too cheap to pay for dismantling it.

It's got dull over the years - it used to be all shiny and twinkly, as I remember. Now it's just a dull gray, the color of February skies. I thought it'd get blowed down when we had the big storm in '96, but it was built solider that I thought - not even the big doors got damaged. Gary was pissed, I think - he was hopin' to get a insurance claim, or FEMA assistance in carting the twisted remains away, and the only damage he had was the old silo he stopped usin' when the new one got built on his farm toppled. The insurance didn't cover it.

I stopped for a minute and watched the sun raise the first heat waves on the dark clay and tar parking area in front of the hangar, making the weeds look like they was waving in wind what wasn't there. With all the shale outcroppings just below the surface, sometimes above, the land on the northwest corner of town is no good for farming, so I guess it coulda made a pretty good airport, 'cept that Grainfield already has a tarred runway where all the dusters in these parts is based. And they's nobody in town what needs a plane private-like. A hawk circled lazy-like overhead, waiting to pounce on any venturous snake or furry what came out of its hole.

A big jet went overhead, a tiny cross of silver in front of its long white cloud-tail of vapor, the sound coming at me from maybe ten miles behind it. I watched it follow the trails of previous flights, gradually dissipating in the heat of the morning. I wondered what it would be like to look down at me, less than a speck on the great plains of central Kansas, and suddenly found me looking down on me in Jeep from just a few feet, then whooshing upwards, seeing the great hangar, then the town then all the farms, up, up. I flashed above the plane, and saw the dark horizon to the West, the curve of the . . .

I snapped my head and came out of it. I was trembling a little. I never done that before, stepped out of me and looked. I put Jeep in gear and started for town, but stalled it in first and had to restart the engine. By the time I got to town, I'd stopped jitterin' pretty much, an' my stomach was growling for food. Guess I can't call us a "town" - really, just a little cluster of houses, the ag. office, Terry's service station, Charlie's garage and Greta's grocer shop, and Charlene's.

There was the usual bunch when I rolled in around half six -- I recognized all the trucks parked out front. The place was real quiet, though, when I went in. Usually it's pretty noisy, the usual gossip about who was getting his sowing done the earliest this year, who was dickering with who about selling his crop on spec, all that. But today it was quiet, and I knew why. Me, the old dickhead what got hisself fired chasing off after a weather balloon.

"Bacon or sausage?" called Charlene from the end of the counter, where she was cutting a piece of bundt for Pete. I put the basket on the little table by the coffee maker. (I give her the extra eggs from my brood, the ones I don't leave under the hens. Saves her buying from somebody from out of town.)

"Sausage!" I said as I swung onto my stool, next to Dan Sofer like always.

Dan picked up the coffee pot from next to him and poured me a cup.

"Damned shitty thing to do," he grumbled. "Who's gonna do the real work for him now?"

I almost spilled my coffee getting it up to my lips.

"Yeah," said Pete Pulaski, from down the counter. "Son of a bitch outta jus' shut down."

I wondered that they didn't think it was my fault, somehow.

"I shouldn'a took off after that damn balloon," I said. "I did wrong, thinkin' it was a goin' down an' runnin' off like that."

"Bullshit!" said Carney Loft. "If'n it'd been a crash an' you din' go, then what?"

Ralph Dreesson sauntered in, his gut preceding him by a foot or so. Ralph's been a buddy since we were in High school. Not many of us left, now -- everybody what didn't sort of drift out of the area after school, one way or another seemed to be dyin' off. Him an' Cary have a double parcel to Southeast of Jerry's spread. And the old Taggert place, of course.

"Hey," he said as he lumped onto his stool next to me. I poured him some brew.

"Hey," I said. "Where's Cary?" Cary an' Ralph has been married since right after grade school, when she an' him played doctor one time too many, and she got pregnant. She was maybe fourteen, maybe thirteen, but looked a lot more. Ralph was always ahead of us in things physical - he got hair under his arms and in his privates when he was eleven, long before the rest of us, and started having to shave when he was thirteen. They have nine grand-kids now, and two great-grand kids in California and Back East - New Jersey, I think. His son Ron and Ron's wife Beth are taking over the main farm come next year when Ralph retires. Cary usually comes to Charlene's and talks women-talk with Charlene on Wednesdays.

"She's having breakfast with the kids," he said just before his first sip. "Stayed at their place last night to help with the girls' back-to-school sewing. Can you take a look at my Deere?" he said. "It's choking up on me."

"I ain't . . . I don't work there no more," I mumbled into my coffee, not looking at him.

"Don't care," he said after a slurp. "You know engines. You're my mechanic. Don't wanna change. Don't figure Ron can do it."

I felt a . . . surge of my manhood? . . . coming back. He didn't care I got fired by Ron.

"Yeah," said Pete. "Asshole Ron couldn't find his asshole with both hands and a map, much less a frayed wire."

He got a chuckle out of us. We all remembered the time that Ron had called me at Charlene's to come look at Andy Trothwell's cruiser, what died on the road from the Interstate. I hauled ass all the way up there, didn't even eat a biscuit, and found Ron, all sweaty and full a' grease, swearing like a sailor 'cause he'd skinned a knuckle on the block, Andy leaning on the fender sucking on his first cigar of the day, his uniform crumpled after the night shift on the Interstate. It took me a second and a quarter to find the wire arcing to the battery mount, patch it with 'lectric tape, and shut the hood down. I was back at Charlene's before my coffee got cold.

"Whyn't you just open your own Garage?" asked Charlene, bringing me the big oval plate of eggs, sausage, flaps and browns, the eggs done just like I like, crispy and yolky. She put a couple of strips of bacon on the edge, like always. "Folks rely on you." She looked a little tired, the crinkles around her eyes deeper than usual, her brown hair a little grayer than I remembered.

Charlene Taggert lost her Bill only four or five years after they got married, back in '78, I think. She'd been so beautiful then, when she married her high school football star, the town clown, nicest kid you never saw. She done bore him two beautiful kids, helped him build them a house in town (well, rebuilt it, is more like it). Then he went an' gets hisself incinerated on his tractor. She proved then how strong she was. She made all the arrangements, buried him up the hill in our churchyard, even sang in the choir at the service. There were tears everywhere but on her face - but you could see them, deep in her eyes, for years after that.

Charlene never got married again, just tried her best to raise the twins on her own, Bill Junior and Barry. She kept the farm goin', hiring Gil Carver on as hand, and had four good harvests. But Barry got Leukemia a year after Bill went, when he was only three, and died before he turned five. That's when she sold the farm to Ralph (he paid a fair price, about $200 an acre, what Gil couldn't come up with, even with his family's help.) and opened up her eatin' place after payin off the bank. I don't think she had much left by then, seein' as how the medical bills was so high. Her brothers over to Gove and Totteville helped her out some, and we had a yard auction to help pay the hospital in Salina. Most everybody donated, and we made sure everything got sold. I wasn't the only one who bought back something that I'd put up for sale, then decided I couldn't do without.

Bill Junior looks just like his Dad when he was a kid, slim and handsome as all get-out. He's share-cropping for Hal Cooper, next to Ralph's second parcel. Hal lost his son in 'Nam, and his daughter Manda lives in Atlanta with her lawyer husband. Ralph hates lawyers - especially the one what Manda married - so he ain't got nobody to leave the farm to. I reckon Bill Junior will get it as a bequeath when Hal goes to join his wife, Lynn, what died two years ago. Hal's been poorly since then.

Rumor has it Bill Junior's getting tail from Terry 's girl, Beth. Terry is Ron's stepbrother, lives out on Post road, maybe three miles past my farm. Beth is a sweet-looking kid, but I can't see Bill with her. I mean, she's only sixteen, and he's gone twenty, I think. Besides, he's too good, too handsome . . . well, never mind, not important.

"I ain't got the tools I'm needin'," I said as I tapped the bottle of Heinz 57 over my eggs. "Besides, there's no place to set up shop."

"Foo," she said. "You wanted to, you'd do. You just ain't thought on it."

"Y'oughta think on it," said Ralph, eyeing my platter. Ralph don't eat a proper breakfast - just Raisin Bran and milk and juice. Man's been on a diet since he was twelve, and seems to put on five pounds a year, no matter. I reckon it must be the genes. He has a full head of hair, I have a fairly high tolerance for food. He's got six kids - two sons and four daughters, all married, all except Ron living out of state. I got none. He's not a real farmer - his Dad was a carpenter in KC. My Dad's great-grandfather, Chester Baker, came to Katy in 1888 from Glocestershire, where his family had been farming for generations, and bought my farm on credit when he married, in 1891.

Ralph's got no second son what wants to take over no farm, so he'll probably just sell the old Taggert farm out to the guy what's sharecropping now, Tad Barret from up Grainfield way, to the northwest some. Tad's family has been in farming for four generations, but he's youngest, so won't get the family farm. His Dad will help him buy Ralph out, like we does around here. Like Ralph helped out when Charlene had to sell.

"Yeah," called Pete through a mouthful of flaps. "You'd get my business for sure. Old Will's past it, an' Cal can't tell a gas tank from a water can.

We all laughed at the reference to the time Cal poured gasoline on his momma's rose garden and near burned down the house when Ron threw his cigar on the rosebed when he got home. Cal never even knew it was gasoline, even after he poured it on. Least that was what he told everybody, and he's too sorry in the head to invent a fool story like that.

"Guess I'll think on it," I mumbled 'round a hunk of egg and home fries. I was figuring in my head what it would cost me to get a shop set up. The biggest expense would be the diagnostical gizmo what John Deere introduced last year. Damn thing goes for more'n thirty grand.

"Y'ought to talk to Gary," sang Charlene from over the top of the grill, where she was starting Gary's eggs, seeing as how his pickup had just parked across the street, right on time. Gary's struggling with his bills since his Dad kicked three years ago. He got took to the cleaners by the IRS, because they assessed his Dad's estate over the $1 million mark. He couldn't sell the Hangar parcel for love, much less money, and he couldn't part with the farm, what's been in the Boyce family since the town was founded in 1868. He cut some deal with the IRS and the bank, so he pays the taxes off over ten years, but him and his wife Diane don't have enough to buy squat after their kids get fed and clothed. And the damned soft-palmed big-city liberal Democrats wonder why we vote Republican every year. They takes our money and gives it to people what ain't worked a honest day in their life, all in the name of "fighting for working families." What the hell do they think we are?

"Bout what?" said Gary through the screen door as he walked up the stairs. Charlene's voice would carry a whisper across the street, I swear. Not loud - it just carries.

"We're trying to get Graham to open up his own Garage service," piped in Pete from down the end of the counter. "Give Charlie's mongrel Ronnie a run for his money." Ron hated to be called Ronnie. He also hated to be reminded that his mother ran off after he was born, no more'n three months old, and he got raised by his aunt Teresa until he was five, when Charlie married Bobbie Olsen.

"Hiya, Darlin'," said Charlene, dishing up Gary's eggs and home fries. "How's bachelorhood?"

"The pits, Two-Bit," said Gary with a grin, sitting at the leg of the counter on the other side of the walkway. There used to be a piece of countertop over it (the walkway), but the hinges was too weak, and Charlene figured it wasn't worth the effort to replace it after the segment shattered under the weight of somebody or other. "My hand's got  too many calluses for comfort."

Charlene put the plate down in front of him, a blank expression at first, then a flush as she realized what he meant. Most of us managed to keep a straight face despite the cramps of holding back a laugh, but Pete couldn't keep a laugh under control at a funeral, and did his donkey bray, and we all lost it as a result, and had a communal roar. This threw Charlene into the scarlet phase, and she slammed through the kitchen door without another word. I couldn't see if it was to keep from laughing with us, or to keep from lashing out at her brother-in-law's crude joke. (Gary married Charlene's kid sister, Diane, just before Bill died.)

"She'll get over it," Gary said as he salted his eggs. "Hand me the sauce, will you Ralph?"

Ralph dutifully passed the "57" over the counter trap to Gary.

"So what's this about a garage?" he said at me, as he tried to pound a little sauce out.

"Ronnie canned me yesterday," I said, suddenly feeling no guilt in saying it. "He's hirin' Cal to replace me. We was just talking idle."

"Y'oughta think on it," Gary said as the sauce finally started to flow. Ralph passed him the ketchup for his home fries. "They's a couple of guys these parts what would trust Cal to wash their equipment, but none of us wouldn't trust him to lift the hood more'n a inch."

"I hear Sweeney's is shuttin' down after the fire," said Andy Trothwell's voice from behind me.

I hadn't seen him come in, and I spun around a little to see him. He was in the first booth, the high one, so he'd been hidden from the door when I came in. His cruiser wasn't in front.

"Hey, Andy," I said "Didn't see ya coming in. Chasin' someone down?" Andy didn't usually come to town, except to pass through on his way to Gove after pinching somebody who turned off the interstate to flee a speeding ticket.

"Mebbe," he said, grinning. "You feeling guilty, Graham?"

"Me? My pickup won't get up to the speed limit without a steep hill and a tailwind," I said back at him.

"Not growing any illegal drugs or nothing on your farm?" he said with a wink. I used to grow Marijuana, but only for Mary, who smoked it to lessen the pain, and for local consumption, but I never sold it. Andy got his from me for his Dad, who had arthritis something awful. I grew until Mary and his Dad had both passed, but I only smoke the stuff once in a while - I prefer Bourbon - so I stopped. Growing, I mean. I still smoke a little off and on.

"Why, Sheriff, Graham isn't one a them hippies," Pete said in an almost-falsetto. "He's so straight you could use him as a yardstick."

I had to stifle a guffaw - Pete was one of my best customers, and not for a sick relative. He doesn't drink at all, so I guess he needs something. He keeps a few dozen plants scattered in his white corn patch since I stopped growing, and supplies a few friends. He won't give any to the kids, though. They have to make do with the lower-grade stuff that grows down by the creek, semi-wild, probably the result of somebody smoking a joint and spilling a few seeds.

I saw Charlene come back through the swinging door, and I saw the look she gave Andy. He wasn't here on an official visit. She was the reason he was here. "Why not?" I thought to myself. "Andy's in his prime, no more'n 45, and his wife has been gone near five years." I felt a little twinge of jealous, not because he was courtin' Charlene, but because he was young enough to do it, young enough to think she might one day say yes when he asked for her hand.

Something 'snapped' in my head. "Sweeney's going outta business?" Sweeney's was the biggest Deere/IH/Cat service center west of Salina, and there's nothing West as far as the state line. "Fire?"

"They got burned out last night," Andy said softly, but the room was all of a sudden so quiet, he might as well of been shouting. "Elaine (Andy's sister, what was married to the Mayor of Oakley, but I can't remember his name) told me they was having troubles with keeping mechanics, and Deere was talkin' about lifting the franchise anyway."

I knew they was having troubles - Bill Sweeney even called me once to see if I'd be willin' to come work for him. As if I'd drive 75 mile each way every day to Oakley. Not for a hundred dollars a day more!

There was a general buzz in the room, like no one was really talking, but sort of murmuring just the same.

"Looks like we need us a Mechanic pretty bad," Gary Boyce said at me as I turned back to my sausages. I always save them for last, they're so good. Charlene grinds her own pork and grows her own spices out back in her truck garden.

I just looked at him, content to chew my cud.

"They's still a lotta tools and stuff in the workshop next to the hangar," he said as if to himself. "Place is big enough for a few good-sized engine bays, I reckon."

It was all downhill from there. I don't remember all the details, but Gary and me eventually signed a letter together what said I would rent his place for $1.00 per month plus two and a half percent of billings plus all utilities and taxes of $680 a year (on the whole 1280 acres, which was taxed at the lowest rate in the county, since it wasn't farmable). He gave me a ten-year lease plus a ten-year option renewable twice (as if I'd still be around in 40 years!) with a one-year buyout if I didn't want to continue, so my maximum risk was just one year of taxes. My hand shook as I signed the letter, which we wrote on a sheet of Charlenes's white butcher paper what she used to wrap pastry and sandwiches and stuff to take out in the fields for Dinner.

Pete said he'd bring his tractors in for major servicing as soon as I was ready, and Gary told me his four tractors were coming due in a few weeks, plus he had a combine and a baler what needed lookin' to, but of course I'd hafta come out to his place to do the lookin'. Charlene said she figured her brothers' equipment was up for grabs, as they didn't like Sweeney's anyhow, and the Salina dealer was already swamped with work so's they couldn't send nobody out to West Gove.

By the time I drove back up to the house, I was wonderin' how long it'd be before I'd have to hire me another mechanic to handle the extra work. My gums still hurt for some reason, like dull toothache, but all around, top and bottom. I took a half asprin, then started the process of starting up my business. I called the telephone company, the Power & Light people, the Yellow Pages, John Deere, International Harvester, Caterpillar, my insurance agent in Hays, and about fifteen prospective customers. I got nothing but encouragement from Deere and IH, cautious support from Cat, promises of all their business from most of the prospects, and the runaround from the utility people. The yellow pages had just closed, the telephone company had no record of any wires going into the building, and the power and light people wanted a qualified electrician to certify that the wiring was up to code.

I quit around six, and set the feather-pot on while I fed the chickens, selecting one for the block and plying it with extra, to calm it down. Keeps the meat more tender-like, because they're not as nervous when you snap their neck. I almost scalded myself throwing the bird into the feather-pot, before it was full done flapping.

By the time I'd cooked up the chicken and some greens for supper and et, it was already too late for the sunset, but I still went out on the porch and sipped a small Bourbon. Jerry called as I was eatin' and said he was feeling kinda poorly, so he was going to make an early night of it. He's been doin' that a lot of late, says Elva. She thinks she's gonna lose him in a couple of years or so. I won't tell her what Andy told me, in order to get me ready for the Winter. I said a little prayer to my Mary, and thanked Him for giving me a project I could get my teeth into.

That reminded me. My gums hurt again, so I went upstairs and took another half asprin, then got ready for bed. My scalp itched like I had lice, even after I showered and scrubbed my dome with Ivory, but I was too tired to pay much mind to it. I crawled under the down comforter, savoring the chill, wondering if I would dream again of Groth, seeing him in my mind's eye. I was asleep almost at once, but not before feeling Roger tingling a little, not before a vague thought that maybe I ought to take him for a stroll, masturbate a little, even if I knew I'd not come, just for the pleasure. I don't think my hand had time to find Roger.