Authors: Brian Rathbone
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious and are a product of the author’s imagination. Any similarity to persons living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author.
: This book contains sexual content, bad behavior, and mild profanity.
Copyright © 2012 by Brian Rathbone
White Wolf Press, LLC
Rutherfordton, NC 28139
Looking good with a hangover wasn't something most could pull off, but Sam Flock did it with ease. Tight jeans and a white t-shirt, no bra, clung to her taut form. Blonde hair in loose curls fell haphazardly around her face, and a pair of cheap but dark shades obscured her bloodshot eyes.
Waking up on the kitchen floor was an all too familiar experience accompanied by the not unusual sight of Shells sleeping at the kitchen table, this time her pillow was made up of a pile of pretzels.
"C'mon, Shells. We've gotta get going," Sam said, her voice thick and rough. There came a grunt from the kitchen table but Shells made no other move.
Opening the door quietly, Sam walked outside to where a rusted and presumably historic bell hung. Her grandfather said it was how his mother had called them in from the fields for dinner. It hung a mere six feet from where Shells slept. With a wicked grin, Sam pulled the rope hard. Perhaps, if she had allowed herself more time to wake up, she would have realized that this might not have been the best idea. A long and awful clang knifed the air, and Sam thought it might split her forehead down the middle.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" came Shells' boyish voice. The heavy set girl now sat upright, her usually vertically spiked hair pointing to one side as if she were standing in a stiff wind. Her face was a maze of indentation marks left by the pretzels, and one persistent pretzel still clung to her forehead. Sam pointed to her own forehead and waited. It took Shells a moment to catch on, but then she reached up and pulled the pretzel from her forehead. After looking at it for a moment, she shrugged and popped it into her mouth.
"I need to cure this hangover fast," Sam said, her stomach churning.
"Seagraves or Hudocks?"
Normally she would have opted for Seagraves; it was closer and their cheesesteaks were legendary, but the LAC cops had been spending a lot of time in Tillbury and Sam just wasn't in the mood. "Hudocks."
Shells raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Instead she pointed her hair back in the right direction, gave Sam a wink, and walked into the sunlight. "Holy crap it's bright out here," she said, squinting and shading her eyes with a hand. "We taking the Jeep?"
"My hair's a sight as it is. Let's take my car."
Shells' Jeep was a spectacle. Lifted, painted matte black, and with chrome headers visible in the wheel wells, it was clearly not a chick vehicle, but Shells was clearly not into being a chick. Sam didn't care; she just walked to her '71 Camaro. It was a great looking car, as long as you didn't look too closely. Sam had always liked the split bumper and pointed hood. The black paint with white racing stripes suited Sam perfectly.
"When are you going to get this thing fixed, or maybe even break down and get a new car?" Shells asked as Sam pulled a huge screwdriver from under the driver's seat.
Sam didn't want a new car. This one was perfect; it was hers and no one was going to take it from her. "Just shut up and give it a little gas." Smiling, Sam looked down at the notches that had been burned into the length of the screwdriver, and she tried to find a spot that was still unmarred. After sliding it between the posts on the solenoid, she rotated the screwdriver until it made contact with both posts. Sparks flew and the 350 roared to life, sounding like it would suck her in and spit her out the tailpipes if she got too close; it probably would, Sam thought. Even with her headache, the throaty lop of the V8 was music to her ears. Shells gunned it from the passenger seat. She looked comical all scrunched down in her seat, trying to reach the accelerator and grinning all the while; Shells was not exactly lanky.
The South Jersey sun glared at them, promising scorching heat. The smell of marsh water laced the air, and a massive cooling tower could be seen in the distance. It was an odd juxtaposition of the Delaware River and wetlands, miles of farmland, and the presence of nuclear power that was almost unescapable. Sam didn't even notice; it was something she had grown accustomed to long before and was now simply part of the scenery.
"Let's go. I'm hungry," Shells said.
After slamming the hood closed, Sam tossed the screwdriver back under the driver's seat, next to her black, metal flashlight.
"You ever gonna fix that?"
"Yeah," Sam said. "I need to run out to Holadays and get another solenoid, and then I'll get Morton to make me a heat shield. I think it's just too close to the headers. "
Perhaps it wasn't normal for two girls to ride around talking about cars and engines, but both had left normal behind long ago. With the windows down and the wind tossing her hair, Sam turned up the music a little louder than was advisable, and Shells looked like she might shatter.
"I ain't cured yet." But even she couldn't help rocking out to
Man on the Silver Mountain
by Dio. Playing air guitar on the wheel, Sam drove them straight across the intersection at a place the locals called 'Windy Corner', taking the back way to Hudocks. It meant they wouldn't have to drive through town, which was to their left. Given the exhaust leak, and just the fact that Sam's Camaro was one of the most recognized cars in the county, it was probably a wise move.
Still, she couldn't avoid taking Grieves Parkway, past the county fuel pumps. In accordance with Sam's current luck, there just happened to be one of Salem's finest waiting to make the turn out of the facility. The instant they past it, the squad car's gumballs lit up.
"Damn it. Really? This is getting ridiculous."
"Just pull over and be nice. They can't do anything to you if you're legal. You are legal, right?"
Sam never answered, she just left the car running and the music playing; Tom Petty's
I Won't Back Down
all too fitting. A swaggering man in uniform approached. Peterson's look, as usual, was smug superiority.
"Shut off the car and turn off the radio," he said in way of greeting.
"Oh. Sorry," Sam said, and she gave him an innocent look. She turned off the radio but left the car running.
"Do you know why I pulled you over?"
"Because you're an asshole?"
"Your car is too loud," he said.
"How loud can I have it?"
"It's too loud."
"Do you have a decibel meter or something?"
"Get your exhaust fixed or I'm going to give you a ticket next time. And you can tell your boyfriend that I'm watching him."
"Thanks officer asshole. Have a nice day," Sam said, and at the same time exercised what could have been called 'excessive use of the accelerator', grabbing second gear before having to immediately stop at a STOP sign.
"How did you ever work with those jerks?" Shells asked. Sam just shrugged. "They don't have the right to treat you like that, and that bit about your boyfriend, wasn't that a threat?"
Again Sam shrugged. "There are bad eggs in any line of work; you just have to put up with them. You can't tell me that some of your fellow falafel slingers aren't idiots."
"Idiots yes, malicious people with guns, no. Are you gonna say anything to Greg?"
Sam didn't even bother to shrug. Ahead were white buildings with yellow roofs and shutters, and a big sign shaped like an ice cream cone. She parked on the right and scanned the two lines of people standing outside the building with the grills in it. A glance in the mirror showed another two lines waiting for ice cream.
Familiar faces, but none were on her 'avoid at all cost' list.
Shells watched her and shook her head. "You really need to get out of this town. You know too many people, and with all the crap that you've been through, there's just too much friggen' tension around here."
"Yeah. I know. Maybe. It's kinda hard to up and split when you're pretty much broke."
"The falafel business has been pretty good lately. I can spot you for a bit. I'm telling you, all you need to do is go over the bridge and it's like a different world. You could stay with me for a while if you want."
"Don't you live in a vegetarian colony?"
"It's a new age collective. We're ascending. And not everyone is a vegan or vegetarian."
"Should I order for you then?" Sam asked without looking at Shells.
"Uh. No. I'm just going to have some fries. They have the best fries."
"Fries it is then. C'mon, let's get in line. Maybe I'll get lucky and no one will talk to me."
"I got your back."
The lines had mostly cleared away, the people having gone back to their cars or to bright yellow picnic tables. Those who remained averted their eyes and no one said anything, even if it was obvious that Sam's presence made them uncomfortable. She had once been a pillar of the community, and now no one would even meet her eyes. How quickly things could change.
"What'll it be?"
"Cheese bigboy with sauce and extra fries."
"And some pickles," Shells added.
"How do you maintain your girlish figure on french fries and pickles?" Sam asked.
When the food arrived, Sam led the way to the farthest picnic table from the buildings, as far from the other diners as possible. Facing the road, she sat with her back to a field of short grass, where the land was extremely flat and level. Before they even sat down, the sound of a loud engine filled the air. Moments later a bright yellow biplane rolled onto the grass and accelerated rapidly, taking to the skies seemingly just before clipping trees on a neighboring property.
Despite the noise, Sam smiled. She had always loved to watch Rudy fly, and seeing his plane take off brought nothing but good memories. "Isn't that cool?"
"Cool? He's going to spread poison on our food, and you think that's cool?"
"OK, so maybe crop dusting is not my favorite thing, but you've got to admit that yellow biplane is cool. And have you ever watched him fly that thing?"
Shells didn't respond, busy instead with fries and pickles.
Just north of the custard stand stood a large ice machine, which was a known hangout for hotrodders. Sam generally tried to avoid them, since they always wanted to race, and starting your car with a screwdriver didn't exactly gain you any street cred. Thus it came as little surprise when more loud engines approached. A deep blue Chevelle and a mid-50's Ford pickup, all in primer, pulled into the gravel parking area and onto the grass beyond. Another Chevelle, cream colored with a black top, approached from town and the driver, a longhaired redneck in a denim jacket, must have seen the other hotrods and floored it. The engine roared to life and the transmission downshifted, but when it up-shifted again the tires caught and there was a loud snap followed by a cloud of white smoke that rolled out from underneath the now coasting Chevelle. A roar of laughter rose from those who saw it, and Sam saw officer asshole flash by with his gumballs lit.
"I think now would be a good time for us to go," Shells said.
"I want a chocolate milkshake. You want one?"
"Sure, offer the fat chick a milkshake; real nice. I'll wait in the car. Gimme the keys, it's hot. Oh, wait, never mind, I'll just grab a screwdriver."
Sam just wandered over to the ice cream building and waited behind someone she didn't recognize. The line moved quickly, and Sam was soon faced with a smiling teenage girl. The smile faded, though, when she recognized Sam. In that instant Sam almost turned and left, the milkshake not being worth it. She could see in this girl's eyes that she wanted to ask her questions, and Sam was no better equipped to answer questions now than when the reporters had been asking. She often wondered why anyone would think that asking the same questions over and over again would eventually yield different answers.