Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sample chapter from Port City, a novel.

This is a chapter from another of my works-in-progress, Port City, a novel.

Ed stood in the dark of the barn and ancient scents of old hay and horses and rich manure long gone floated up in the dust. The Nazi's jeep had come to a halt in the wide door and the lights were still on so that they could all see. Ed pumped the Coleman lantern and the wick began to glow with an almost supernatural incandescence. There was a slight ratcheting of steel as the jeep doors opened up and the pair of racists climbed out, their booted feet settling into the dirty sand, crunching down on the nubs of broken sandspurs and beggars lice and other weeds. Ed's right arm pistoned a time or two more, his great biceps filling with blood, coming to a pump as the muscles had been trained to do through constant, brutal exercise.

"You boys can shut them headlights off, now. We won't be needin em and I don't want nobody noticin us through the woods and comin down to see what we're doin here at night." To prove it, he lifted up the Coleman lantern, its glow dispelling the shadows to vague corners of the old barn. In obedience, the head Nazi reached through the door of the jeep and slammed the light switch down; the jeep ceased to glare at Ed.

"While you're standin over there, go ahead and shut the barn door." Again, in silence, the big Marietta Nazi grasped the old, weathered wood and pulled the heavy door to. Ed figured by then that he followed his orders right well.
The other two came on into the barn, the smaller men as if facing off against Ed. He wondered if they could feel the hate burning off of him; but he doubted it.

"This here's Ed Jones," Tow said.

"Nice to meet you, Ed." The big shot Nazi didn't offer his own name.

"Hello." Ed's face in shadow despite the blazing lantern. His eyes maybe lit from something other than the Coleman.

The Nazi looked around the barn. Most of the contents had been removed before the farm had been abandoned, and thieves and kids had long since ransacked whatever had remained. A disc plow gone almost completely to rust deteriorated at the rear. The horse stalls were stacked with graying lumber of various lengths and dimensions, and straw gone from gold to pale yellow was scattered here and there. The fine dust in the corners was everywhere pocked with the inverted cones of ant lions lying in wait for six-legged meals. Spiders moved and crawled in the joists overhead, in and out of webs.

"Well," the North Georgia racist finally said. "We got some business to conduct here, so let's get to it. My friend, Phillip here, says that you have a large amount of marijuana which you are willing to let go for a bulk price."

"At's right," Ed told him.

"Exactly how much are we talking about here? In kilos."

Ed placed the lantern on the floor of the barn where it settled in an inch or two of powdered filth. "I ain't got the slightest idea how much in kilos we're talkin about here. What I got is an entire bale of weed."

The Nazi smiled. Ed could see his chiseled face wrinkle in the weird light. "And how did someone like you come to be in possession of that much contraband?"

"You want to buy it?"

"Hell, yes, he wants to buy it!" Tow spoke up, sounding more strident than he probably had intended, trying to impress the right-winger.

"Well," Ed crossed his thick arms, the muscles accentuated and exaggerated in the glow of the lamp. "It really ain't no concern of yours how I come by it, so don't ask. I've got it and I want to sell. Never mind where it came from."

The Nazi cleared his throat, but he didn't spit. "We just want to make sure that we're not buying merchandise that might belong to someone who might take offense at our purchasing stolen property."

"You ain't got to worry about that. I got it fair and square, and ain't nobody goin around sayin it's theirs and not mine. So don't worry about it.

"And anyway, what is it that J.C. Steiner wants with a pile of marijuana?"
Marietta man wiped his mouth. Ed could hear his callused hands rasp on stubble.

"Well, I'm on tell you. You want to make a profit, and we want to make a profit. You got to make a livin' and we got niggers to kill. Takes bullets to defend the white race from niggers and Jews."

The Nazi just stood there for a second, and then he asked to see some of the stuff. Ed reached into the deep right pocket of his overalls and drew out a huge five-finger bag of reefer, stems and buds and leaves the color of green-pea soup. The Nazi moved over to where Ed was, the lantern between them glowing like some magic doorway you had to know the secret word to pass through; he peeled the flap of the sandwich bag free and dipped his nose to sniff. Almost as strong as the pungent scent of weed there was.

"Diesel," he said. "You found this shit washed ashore, didn't you? How much you find, son?"


"A bale, plenty? More? You found yourself a whole bale? Do you know who tossed it overboard? You think they might want to know where it is?"

Ed stood there, blank faced, the color draining from his flesh. In the weird light, the Nazi could not see the warning sign. Ignorant, he continued to talk, now hoping to scare the yokel into giving away the contraband.

"There's suppliers who might not think this is your dope, son. There's boys out there just as soon have this back."

"They threw it overboard when the Coast Guard was chasin em," Ed droned. His voice was starting to go shaky, and the Nazi mistook the warble for fear. "It's mine, now. I found it. I dragged it across the beach. I loaded it up and hid it. Ain't nobody's but mine."

"You know, Ed. You look like a white man. You talk with a fine southern accent and Tow tells me you born and raised in this great state of Georgia. But he also tells me you a nigger lover. Why you want to be a nigger lover?"

Ed's face had gone almost completely to white, nearly no color there at all. In the white glare of the Coleman wick, though, neither the Nazi nor Tow could tell. Ed said nothing, for to speak would have been to act, and to act would have been to kill two men. He swallowed, and then the Nazi put his hand out and patted Ed's gigantic shoulder, all muscle and solid as a grizzly's neck.

"Just jokin son. No call to get choked up. Why don't you just let me see the bale and we can begin to talk some numbers. What say?"

Ed looked across the barn. Tow was still where he had been; only now he was leaning against the barn door. He looked like a guard standing there at the exit.

"Wait here. I got to climb up and haul it down for you fellahs to see."

"Fine. Fine." The Nazi smiled and patted Ed once more, as if feeling to test again this inhuman flesh.

Leaving the lantern, Ed walked across the barn to a shadowed rear corner and put his hand on the dry, flaking wood that made the ladder. He climbed up, his sneakered feet making heavy scraping sounds. Old nails groaned beneath his weight but he paid them no mind. On the floor of the loft, he swatted at trailing webs and seemed not to feel at all the tickle of spiders that dashed along the flesh of his back and exposed shoulders before launching themselves off of the giant.

Below, the Marietta Nazi saw Ed's face appear from the lip of the loft, his face white, white as an avenging ghost. Two lengths of nylon rope, frayed and yellow, drifted down in slow motion. "You and Tow grab holt of these," he said, his voice quaking. "Y'all hold these and we'll ease this son of a bitch down for you to see."

He looked to see that the two did as he requested, both men standing about three feet apart, gripping the tethers. Then he vanished into the dark beyond the edge of the loft.

Beneath his flannel shirt, laid in tight to his ribs, the Nazi felt the holster of his little 9mm Beretta chafe against his cotton tank. He smiled at Tow, and Tow smiled back. Above them, they heard the small grunt that escaped through Ed's clenched teeth, and they barely noticed how the loft groaned above them, nails and old staples doing the suddenly damned difficult job to hold tight.

Up there in the shadows, the figure of pure rage lifted up the bale, hundreds of pounds, a goddamned miracle like some crazed mother levering a mass of steel off of her trapped child. Inside Ed, somewhere in his back, ligaments stretched, muscles painlessly tore, and the bale somehow like one of Hercules' tasks went over his head and he stutter-stepped to the edge of the loft and not really looking down dropped the enormous weight on the two fools who stood holding nautical rope attached to nothing save a heavy beam.

Below, he heard the bale come down with a soft thud, amidst the earthen sound a dry popping. Or two. He went to the edge and looked. A great gout of dust full of fine sand and horse shit gone to powder. As it settled, he saw legs jutting out, the yellow nylon ropes dangling down. The Nazi's fingers were splayed, his right hand, on the far side of the bale. A stream of urine was creeping out first between the Nazi's legs and then Tow's. Ed screamed. "Mother," pause, "FUCKERS!" He leaped down, his two hundred and fifty pounds landing solidly atop the bale, his knees locked even after a plunge of eight feet; he barely felt the sting of impact in his heels. Something beneath popped like a hard, unripe watermelon taken too soon from the vine.

"GotDAMNED shits!" He stomped on Tow's calf jutting out from the diesel-y bale. He did it again, the rage not gone yet, the adrenaline still pouring through his system. His mind was effectively shut down, and everything he saw he saw through a haze of red. The barn was a big red screen upon which were scrawled wooden beams and discarded lumber and old straw and dust floating lazily in the dead air. Ed gritted his teeth, grinding them, his jaw muscles bunching and clenching and he had bitten his tongue and the insides of his mouth so that blood was seeping in through little cuts leaving that coppery taste.

And then he saw what he'd done.

"Oh, god. Shit," he said.

The bale rested atop Tow and the nameless Nazi. Both were dead. A smell of spewed urine was rising up from the bodies, and in the seat of Tow's jeans Ed could see a soft round bulge of feces excreted beneath the weight of baled weed. There was also the stench of human excrement just beginning to pollute the close air of the barn. Ed smelled it through the diesel and the dope. Not far from one corner of the bale, the Coleman lantern burned on, showing the deed. "Shit."

Ed put his hand out, feeling the tight, dry burlap that held his marijuana together. Fifteen grand if he'd sold it by the pound. More if he'd been patient and let it go a quarter of a pound at a pop. Forty thou if he had set up shop somewhere and sold lids and dime bags and reefers to kids and skinflints. He looked around him. In the shadow of one of the old horse stalls he saw the edge of a croaker sack jutting up from a pile of dry-rotted two by fours. He went over and picked it up, felt to see if it retained any strength in its moth-y fibers. It was solid.

He shuffled back to the bale, reached into one deep pocket and drew out his pocketknife, the one his daddy had given him the year before he'd died. "A good pocketknife can be a lifesaver," he'd said. The bale sang a short, ripping song as he plunged the blade home, opening up the burlap skin to expose the leafy flesh beneath. Ed reached deep, jamming his monster arm in, far down where the diesel had not tainted the stuff, and he began to fill the sack. He reached in, drew out the stuff, dropped it in the sack, reached in, drew out, dropped in, reach, draw, drop.

When the sack was full, he went to the barn door, and he peeked out. Nothing moved except for the weeds in the warm breeze. He bunched the mouth of the bag together into a pucker and put it in the front seat of the Nazi's jeep. The keys were still in the ignition. "Thank you, fucker," he said.

Going back into the barn, Ed picked up his lantern and slowly turned the wick down until the light dimmed and dimmed and then was a tiny orange glow that lit nothing and then was gone. He put the lantern down, and in the pitch dark he drew out the book of matches and struck one, sulfur against rough. A tiny stink of what Hell was supposed to smell like and then a quick yellow flash. He waited while the flame ate the matchstick and grew fat. Then he bent carefully at the waist, feeling a twinge in the base of his spine, hardly noticing it, and he placed the plump little orange babe to the bale. The babe grew and made a twin of itself so Ed went to another spot on the bale and touched it again, made a triplet, then down and another sibling appeared and another and another until the family was crackling and popping having a party. Ed backed away, picking up his extinguished lantern, watching as the fire rose up and began reaching for the timbers and he could see Tow's rawhide belt steaming and the Nazi's pants catching fire and the bale was a great big gout of flame hissing out a tale of nastier things to come, arms reaching up and up sending fat yellow sparks to the loft which erupted with a low roar.

Ed went out the door and slammed it shut behind. From out there, you could see the sun inside the barn trying to get out. Thin lines of fire flickered and roared in there, saying that they were about to jump out, to cover the exterior of the barn and give off a show such as this old forgotten farm had never seen.

And when it did, when the barn went up like a ball of Hell, Ed was gone, taking the Nazi's jeep with him, taking it deep into the woods down logging roads thick with sassafras trees and post oaks and slash pines standing up like poles amidst the palmetto. There he left it, the keys hanging from the ignition, waiting for the next driver. An hour later, he was in the front of his pickup, the sack of dope stuffed behind the seat and his lantern on the floorboard.

And then he was home.

The next morning, black children, whose families had seen the orange glow of the burning barn in the night, came through their secret paths and they poked about in the cooling ashes. One of them found a little blob of silver, never knowing that it was silver, or that it had once been a twisted swastika.

Nothing else. There was nothing else except for vague, dark ashes that had ceased to smolder waiting for rain.

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