Charlie’s Last Stand pt11

Zane motioned for the men to exit the Truck, but he wasn’t privy to the conversation they were having just prior to his arrival. While he was in the front office doing his business, Quentin and Charlie were visiting, and the topic of LeRoy was quickly dismissed. “I never imagined you boys would end up in college,” Charlie said as their conversation continued. “Yeah I know what you mean,” Quentin replied with a half-hearted shrug. The three men continued to chat as they walked. “I always thought you and Zane would stay with the casinos forever,” Quentin casually mentioned as the three men slowly made their way through the parking lot.  As the group made it to the entryway Zane pulled on the door and he held it open. Quentin stayed close to his father’s side ensuring Dad kept an even keel. The dutiful receptionist, Rebecca was her name, took note of the three intriguing Gypsies as they sauntered their way into the lobby. “Your mother really gave me an earful when I talked you out of Auto Mechanic School Son,” Charlie said. Despite the cancer, his deep voice resonated throughout the small lobby. “She accused me of being a bad influence,” Charlie added in a disbelieving tone. Like a wayward moth being drawn to a flame, Rebecca was fully captivated by the gently flowing conversation. “Do you remember that Quent,” Charlie asked as they traveled over the threshold? “That’s when me and Zane went to the casinos,” he noted.  “I wouldn’t know,” Quentin said as the trio entered into the well-lit reception area. “I was still in the Navy and you two had already been divorced for a while,” he said. Keeping a close eye on his ailing father Quentin went on to say, “you guys had all the fun while I was stuck on Guam!” “That’s right, you were still in the Navy Quent,” Charlie recalled as he shuffled up towards the secretary’s desk. By now they were standing directly in front of her as the receptionist leaned back in her chair. In true Charlie Shimek fashion, the ailing man glanced over at Rebecca and asked, “Do you ever go gambling?” Despite the cancer, he still had some of the old dazzle remaining in his eyes! Rebecca should have been stunned but she found the question endearing, especially coming from such a frail man. Rebecca thought for a moment as she adjusted herself in the seat. “No, I can’t say that I have,” she replied with an inviting grin. “Well I can tell you all about gambling,” Charlie said in an instructive manner. “Me and my son are blackjack dealers!”               

Charlie began to spin the yarn as Rebecca quietly listened in earnest. Charlie spoke of a sleepy little town called Hinkley, Minnesota. Sure enough, Charlie was offered a job which was located on sovereign Native land! It was a long way from the Las Vegas strip, and management had to get creative! It was impossible to find enough seasoned help, so they took it upon themselves to recruit and train the indigenous population.  Utilizing hiring fairs and newspaper ads, Grand Casino Resorts Inc. scrambled to procure adequate staffing! It was a monumental undertaking and a terrific opportunity because the corporation paid for the six-week school, whether you decided to take the job or not! Charlie was so thrilled that he couldn’t help but to convince his number one son to get in on the act! He argued that becoming a professional Blackjack dealer would put Zane onto a trajectory leading towards a normal mainstream American lifestyle. It took a bit of mild coaxing, but soon he had convinced Zane to pick up stakes and move to Minnesota! Betty was truly alarmed when Zane dropped out of Vo-Tech school to pursue a career in gambling. She had been divorced from Charlie long enough for the emotional pain to dissipate, but the scars were still raw. She secretly schemed to keep Zane close, because she desperately needed support in Charlie’s absence. The divorce had left her alone, and virtually penniless. Sadly, Betty’s pleas were in vain. Although she tried, Betty couldn’t compete with the wanderlust that swept through Zane’s selfish soul. The eldest son opted to travel with Dad, leaving his aging mother to fend for herself.

Meanwhile, the men were welcomed into a relative life of leisure. The successful bachelors shared a rustic farmhouse as they attended Dealer School. The rent was dirt cheap because the casino was so far removed from the city. The relaxing ten-mile commute consisted of a scenic drive down a rural gravel road that bisected acres of lush cornfields, and various assorted green pastures. The dynamic duo excelled in Dealer School and were both awarded with the highly coveted dayshift in gratitude for their dedication. Right on schedule, the grand opening took place in early spring, and the men eagerly embarked upon their newly established journey!

When it comes to Blackjack most casinos utilize a six-deck shoe, and Grand Casino Hinckley was no exception. Although some chalk it up to superstition, most seasoned gamblers will agree that if a table is running hot it tends to stay that way until a replacement dealer comes along to switch it up. Although they’re trained to shuffle cards in a specific fashion, dealers have their own special adaptations, meaning it’s possible to adjust the cut, or to give the decks and additional stripping.The general perception is that a skilled dealer can influence the odds in favor of the house by ensuring a hot table doesn’t stay that way for long.

For Zane dealing blackjack was easier than taking candy from a baby. In his mind he made plenty of money just from the hourly wages, and as such, he didn’t care if he earned tips or not. Besides, the tips were all pooled anyway and that took most of the fun out of it as far as he was concerned. Because of this, he didn’t go out of his way to hustle the patrons. Instead he would alter his shuffle in such a way as to destroy a hot table! Zane was a self-proclaimed house dealer, meaning he preferred it when guests would lose! He wasn’t being overly vindictive; he was just lazy! It was easier to scoop up all of the losing wagers as opposed to paying out! It was a simple matter of cost benefit analysis. In his mind, Zane figured he was getting paid the same whether the patrons won or not. If they lost, it meant fewer hassles!  Although he feigned disbelief as he dealt himself three consecutive blackjacks, Zane silently celebrated as he quickly swept up all of the losing wagers along with the spent playing cards!  He honed his craft as if it were a science. The cards danced as he rapidly drew aces or elevens, and then a seven. As a dealer, he would seldom go bust; instead he would continue drawing until he came as near to twenty-one as possible without going over! He dealt himself blackjacks and hit on soft seventeen. Defying all odds, he would proceed to draw a four most every time! He was the master of the shuffle, and he could dial in a winning or losing shoe at his whim. On one occasion, Zane was scolded by the Shift Boss for being so braggadocios about his capabilities. She warned him that “altering the shuffle is akin to cheating and we can’t have dealers going around being so loose-lipped.” Having said that, Zane was the Pit Boss’s best friend when it came to busting up a run! Like some sort of mystical wizard, he consistently dealt himself Blackjacks and Twenties. He was clueless of the cosmic harm he was inflicting by willfully manifesting winning hands upon himself! The more he took in for the house, the more the Pit Bosses loved him.  There was something about his upbringing that turned Zane into a cold, and heartless dealer. When it came to dealing cards, Zane was reduced to his primal essence. Like a natural predator, he held no sympathy for the losing gamblers. Because of his talents, the Bosses gave him extra latitude. As a result, their prying eyes would be laser focused onto the hot tables, while he was left to his own devices. He knew that he wasn’t being scrutinized, so Zane would glaze over and let his let his auto-pilot kick in. He spent the lion’s share of his workday completely out of his head. He would let his mind wander as if he were on a long road trip. Throughout the day, he would willingly drift into some distant fond memory as he effortlessly dealt out hand after losing hand. For a man like Zane, dealing cards was the perfect job!

In stark contrast, Charlie loved to dole out the house’s money, and he contributed more than his fair share to the tip pool! He would adjust the shuffle until the cards ran hot, and he would keep them that way. The Bosses were well aware of the philanthropy, so they seldom turned Charlie loose in the high stakes pit. Rebecca sat quietly as Charlie continued with the tale. Being a Gypsy at his core, Zane’s Dad had a special knack for showmanship, and he absolutely thrived in the casino atmosphere!  Charlie went on to explain how he encouraged patrons to “double-down,” or “split ‘em!” He would strike up conversations with the gamblers in the much the same way as he had engaged Rebecca. His overwhelming charm and charisma earned him a huge following. He was the unofficial darling of the day shift! His jovial personality was contagious and the fellow dealers oftentimes mimicked Charlie’s style. He would coach hustling tactics by teaching conversation techniques. Charlie would tutor the eager young dealers during breaks and after shifts. He explained how to kick off conversations by saying things like, “You have to compliment them on their jewelry, or ask them where they’re from.” Being a professional blackjack dealer was the perfect job for a man like Charlie!

The father and son team worked in Minnesota for just over a year when they accepted a lateral transfer to a sister resort located in Gulfport, Mississippi. To make a long story short, Charlie and Zane dealt cards for nearly four years by the time gambling became legal in New Mexico! Isleta Gaming Palace was a fledgling little casino on sovereign land just south of Albuquerque. The sky was the limit! They each landed jobs and relocated back to New Mexico where the lonely Marlette trailer, that sat abandoned for years, quietly awaited their return. “So that’s how we ended up back in Albuquerque,” Charlie sighed.

As the pleasing conversation dwindled to a close, Rebecca sweetly chimed in and said, “So how may I help you gentlemen? She was staring directly at Quentin because the other men were clearly lost in their glory days! To answer the question, Quentin said they were here to pick up some steel, and that Zane had the list. He nodded towards his brother who was still tuned out. “You could have fooled me,” Rebeca said in a flirty tone. “It sounds more to me like you’re looking for a poker tournament.” With that Quentin flashed a genuinely authentic smile and said, “Sorry about that, sometimes we get swept away in our own bullshit.” Rebecca stifled a giggle and said, “no apologies needed.” There was something about the way the fluorescent lights reflected Quentin’s optimistic gaze that morning. Suddenly her cognitive mind quietly asked, “why am I being so flirty?” She didn’t have to answer because the reason was reflected to her in Quentin’s smiling eyes! She stealthily scanned his left hand for a wedding band as she smartly returned her attention to the task at hand. She couldn’t resist the temptation to sneak another quick peek at Quentin’s soft brown eyes as she picked up the telephone and mouthed the words, “LeRoy could you step into the Lobby?” The words were crisply broadcast over a loudspeaker that could be heard throughout the facility. She smiled at Quentin once more, then said, “I’ve got some men out here that you have to meet!”

…to be continued

Charlie’s Last Stand pt10

The melancholy band of Gypsies sat around the kitchen table soaking in the memory as Zane came to the uncomfortable realization that it was time to ‘drop the bomb!’ “I should just come right out and say it,” he reasoned as the men grappled with the uncomfortable silence. Zane was wondering how he would slip the bad news into a conversation when Quentin asked, “What’s the plan for today?” Zane squirmed in his chair. The number one son took a deep breath and calmly said, “I’m going down to ACME Steel to pick up a load of raw stock.” Zane didn’t have the courage to look his father in the eyes, so he focused his attention onto his piping hot coffee. He cradled the mug with two hands as if it were a wounded sparrow and stared directly into the muddy liquid. “You’re not talking about ACME Steel on Candelaria I hope?” Charlie asked the question in a cold and calculating tone. It was glaringly obvious that Charlie was borderline confrontational! “Well, here goes nothing,” Zane thought. In the moment he became aware of his accelerated heartrate, as he summoned dormant courage from the deep recesses of his apprehensive mind! It was the same sort of anxiety that Zane encountered just prior to standing before the Judge at his court-martial hearing! Charlie was just about as intimidating as a Brahma Bull! Especially when he got his dander up!  Finally Zane found his footing and innocently chimed in, “Yeah Dad. You know the place. It’s right at the corner of San Pedro and Candelaria!”  Charlie was becoming agitated because they always took their business to the Koenig’s and the boys knew it!  It was practically a time-honored tradition. “You need to go to see Gene, Son. He always treats us right!” Charlie mouthed the words with a mysteriously timeless authority.  “I have to go to ACME because that’s who Curtis Recommended,” Zane calmly stated. Despite the illness, Charlie’s pale face turned pink with silent contempt! Zane knew it was “go-time,” so he planted his feet firmly into the linoleum and braced his back against the chair while gripping the table’s edge with his manly fingers. “Who the hell is Curtis?” asked Charlie as he took a robust swig of the belligerent coffee!  Zane knew better than to get snippy, so he chose his words very carefully. “Well…Curtis is my welder,” he said in a calm and respectful manner. “Don’t you think Ted knows how to weld, Son?” This was good argument, and he wasn’t expecting it. Zane imagined beads of sweat leaking from his brow, as Charlie sat across the table staring him down! By now Zane was foundering, so Quentin chimed in by adding, “How much is he charging for the labor?”  The eldest son took a deep breath. “Hundred and Fifty,” he said meekly. With that Charlie pushed away from the table with his meaty hands, and belted out the words, “A Hundred and Fifty! You’ve gotta be shittin’ me SON!”  The eldest boy wasn’t surprised by his father’s reaction, or else he wouldn’t have been so apprehensive in the first place. “I don’t know,” Zane said. “I think it’s a fair price. Curtis says he can have it all stitched together in an afternoon. That comes out to about Fifty Dollars an hour.” Zane glanced over at Quentin to gauge his reaction. Immediately Zane realized he would have to stand his ground without the aid of his brother. Charlie took a deep breath and leaned back into his chair. “I thought I taught you boys how to be frugal,” he said in a concerned parental manner. “You did Dad, it’s just that Curtis is still in welding school, and he needs the business.” Zane studied Dad’s reaction and he knew he was making some headway. Surely Charlie wouldn’t want to stand in the way of a man’s education! “I don’t care if he’s in Astronaut school,” Dad said, “Gene and Ted need the business too!” Zane felt somewhat defeated, but he had one more ace left in the hole! Zane knew that Renee was the apple of Charlie’s eye, so he decided to play his wild card. Zane calmly stated, “Renee deserves to have something nice, Dad. She’s always been given the shitty end of the stick, and I want to treat her to something good for a change.” Sure enough, Charlie began to calm down. Quentin was impressed by the way his brother turned the tables so eloquently! “Renee is a good woman all right,” Charlie thought.  Now that he had Charlie on the ropes, he finished his argument by calmly stating that Gene and Ted only have scraps, and Curtis had requested full twenty-foot lengths. With a calculated grin Zane said, “Besides, you always taught us that it’s better to be our own man, and to think for ourselves.” Once again Zane motioned towards his brother with a quick nod of the head. “Yeah but I didn’t teach you kids to just throw your money away,” Charlie said with a frown. After a silent second Zane added, “Besides it’ll be good for us. It will help stimulate the sluggish economy.” Charlie looked at Zane and resisted the urge to say, “nobody likes a smart-ass!” Instead, he begrudgingly nodded his head in the affirmative and conceded to Zane’s argument.

Charlie stayed indoors as the boys went outside to hitch up the trailer. Upon doing so they checked the trailer brake lights and discovered they were inoperable! Zane tried to curb his frustration, when he realized frayed wiring had caused the Truck to blow a fuse! He was struggling to perform a field-expedient repair with black electrical tape when Charlie came hobbling down the stairs! He waddled up to the trailer hitch where the boys were working and said, “I guess you didn’t know it, but I’m coming with you!” Quentin was both alarmed and surprised! “Are you sure you’re up to it Dad, Quentin asked with legitimate concern? “Yep. I wouldn’t miss it for the world Quent. After we get loaded up I’ll treat you boys to some lunch!”  Zane paused his repair long enough to glance up at Quentin who was looking quite apprehensive. In a neutral tone, Zane told Charlie that the Truck rides pretty rough. The boys were concerned that a bumpy ride may aggravate his symptoms. It was no use because Charlie had already made up his mind!  By this time, Zane had lost any capacity for argument, and he said, “Sure Dad, you can come along.” Quentin knew resistance was futile, so he stepped back into the trailer-house to retrieve a dosage of Charlie’s painkillers just in case things got rough.

It was just past ten in the morning when the three men situated themselves into the cab of the Truck. Charlie scooched into the middle of the bench seat, while Quentin rode shotgun. Being respectful of his father’s pain, Zane gingerly eased the rig out of the long dusty driveway. He slowly made the left turn that led to the gravel road. Once the Truck and trailer made it to the asphalt Zane came upon the gradual bend in the highway that was meant to be entered at 35 mph. Zane slowed down to thirty because he didn’t want to create any unnecessary stress.

Once they made the right turn onto the main highway, Zane proceeded towards the Tijeras Post Office upon which time it would be a straight shot all the way into Albuquerque! The trio motored down the frontage road which ran parallel to the interstate as they continued with their visit. Charlie, who was silently contemplating Zane’s argument, had Renee on his mind. With an inquisitive look, Charlie decided to kick off a conversation. He asked, “What does Renee think about your new Truck Son?”  “Well, I don’t really know,” Zane said. “I think she likes it just fine, I guess?” After a short pause Quentin chimed in and said, “I remember the first time I met Renee. We were having a party and watching movies.” This prompted Charlie to forget about his question, and he asked, “What Party? I don’t remember no parties?” Quentin had the passenger side window rolled down, and he was gripping at the steel frame that separated the side vent from the window glass. He gazed upon the passing scenery as he leisurely stated, “Yeah Dad. Renee brought over her saxophone, and Zane brought beer. You were in Minnesota visiting Aunt Mary at the time.” This triggered happy memories for Zane, and he said, “Oh Yeah, I remember that just like it was yesterday! That’s the time I wrecked your motorcycle!” “Whaaaat,” Charlie asked in disbelief? “Yeah Dad,” Quentin said. “He was about three sheets to the wind and started showing off!” Sure enough Zane had been drinking. In all fairness, they had all been drinking. As a result, Zane couldn’t resist tooling around in the vast front yard, so he went about the task of climbing onto a tall dirt bike! Quentin, and his future sister-in-law witnessed the carnage from the safety of the front stoop as Zane struggled to locate the kick-starter in a drunken haze. Upon firing the engine, Zane proceeded to bounce and bop along through the sage brush and cacti. Sure enough Zane tipped over as he tried to perform a U-Turn. As Quentin continued, Zane remembered how enjoyable it was to hear Renee and Quentin Jam out. Quentin picked out some jazzy riffs as Renee followed along with her tenor saxophone. It was a great time, but they ran out of snacks at around midnight! In an act of drunkenness, they passed around a bag of garlic flavored croutons as they watched Little Nicky, starring Adam Sandler.

After twenty minutes of traveling the rig made its way into the city. Zane made a hard right turn onto Tramway Boulevard, with their trusty trailer in tow. They traveled northbound for three miles and hooked a hard left onto Candelaria Boulevard. It was at this time that Zane’s secret anxiety began to flair up! “I should have scoped out the place yesterday while I had a chance,” he silently reasoned.  Suddenly a flurry of irrational fears went swarming through his mind! “I don’t know the layout,” he thought! I hope I don’t get myself into a jackpot,” he said to himself. “What if I drive into a space that I can’t back out of,” he wondered?

As it turns out, Zane didn’t have anything to worry about.  All he had to do was follow clearly marked signs which instructed patrons where to go. It couldn’t have been easier. As instructed, Zane maneuvered the rig into the clearly marked staging area.  From this point, the builders would typically exit their trucks and walk into the front office at which time an order would be processed. Just to be sure, Zane instructed Charlie and Quentin to stay with the vehicle. “I want to go in there and check it out really quick,” Zane said. Upon entering the office he was greeted by a friendly receptionist who helped to assuage his nervous energy. “I’ve never been here before,” Zane said in a questioning manner. “I’m here to place an order,” he continued. “Did you call it in,” she asked? “Nope, all I’ve got is this shopping list,” he said as he handed over the hand-written note that Curtis had given him. “Oh I see,” said the young woman. “It’s really simple,” she said. “All you have to do is go down through that corridor and ask for LeRoy. He’ll be behind the counter, and he will get you all set up!” Now that Zane knew what he was up against he thanked the lady and said, “Sounds good, I just have to go out to the truck and get the rest of the crew.” The receptionist smiled and proceeded to answer a ringing telephone. With that, Zane briskly walked back outside to the Truck where the two men sat patiently waiting. “It’s all set up!” Zane said with a positive attitude. “All we have to do is go inside and talk to LeRoy!” Charlie was beginning to ramp up again, so he muttered, “Who the hell is LeRoy?” With an eager smile the number one son said, “I don’t know, but were about to find out!”

…to be continued

Charlie’s Last Stand pt.9

In total Steve McQueen fashion, Zane blasted the horn repeatedly and gunned the engine as the Truck bounced its way through the rough driveway that led to the Trailer House! The shock to the rigid suspension nearly jolted Zane from the bench seat! Like a crazed mad man, he pulled up parallel to the Trailer House and jammed on his brakes! The Truck skidded to a halt as the tires gripped into the loose soil that made up the sprawling front yard. By this time, Quentin heard all of the ruckus and stepped outside to witness the commotion. The brothers met as Zane exited the Truck. Quentin never felt a need to pump up his ego by engaging in meaningless acts of self-bravado. He was a quiet man with the soul of a poet. In addition to being a bachelor, he was also a gifted musician. It was never a priority for Quentin to prove his manhood. For instance, Zane joined the Marines to prove he was tougher than the old man, while Quentin opted for a non-descript enlistment in the Navy. Quentin spent the lion’s share of his military career on the isolated island of Guam where he took up guitar to escape from the crippling loneliness. On one occasion, Quentin recorded a live classical performance on VHS as a gift. It was an impressive ensemble of intricate songs that he had mastered during his free time. Quentin didn’t have any qualms with the Navy barring the fact that he never once set foot upon a ship! He scored phenomenally high on the Armed Services Aptitude Battery. Because of this he had the luxury of picking any job he wanted. Perhaps he was entertaining the idea of a medical career because he ended up serving as a dermatologist’s mate?

The two brothers stood in silence as Zane absent mindedly kicked at some random pebbles on the ground. With his head facing into the dirt, Zane’s eyes looked upwards to meet Quentin’s gaze. To break the ice, Zane asked, “how’s Dad doing?” There was a faint glimmer of optimism in Quentin’s eyes as he gave a brief summary of Charlie’s condition. “He slept really good last night, which is rare,” he said. The brothers looked deep into each other’s eyes without saying a word knowing it was nearly time to consider the final arrangements. Zane didn’t know what to say, and the pair stood silently for another moment. Eventually Quentin added, “He’s finally taking his pain pills, but his mind is still sharp as a tack!” When it came to his mortality, Charlie was in just about as much denial as Zane was. Charlie abhorred narcotics, and he was initially resistant to the idea of morphine. Be that as it may, his nurse informed him in no uncertain terms that, “There are no points for pain!”

The two siblings entered the trailer house via the front door. They stepped through the threshold and were immediately greeted by an ambient odor of stale decay that intensified Zane’s apprehension. The home was in desperate need of a woman’s touch, and the stagnant aroma reminded Zane of a poorly maintained locker room. Having said that, the living quarters were neatly kept and tidy. By now the carpeting was as old as the Trailer House and smelled of lingering greasy dirt! The disheveled curtains were drawn shut in an attempt to keep the harsh morning sunlight at bay. Charlie, who was seated at the dining room table, acknowledged the arrival of his eldest son by belting out the words, “Ya-Te-Hey Hostine!” This was native dialogue which translated into, “Hey Zane, How’ve you been?” With that Zane cautiously made his way towards the kitchen where his ailing father was seated. “I’ve been real good Dad,” Zane informed him with an authentic smile! Charlie never taught his number-one-son to be affectionate, and because of this they always greeted each other with a robust handshake! Today was no exception. Zane was silently relieved when he noticed the familiar twinkle in Dad’s eyes. He surmised that Charlie looked relatively fit, meaning the eyes had not yet fallen into the recesses of his skull. “It’s good to see you again Pop!” The words fell from Zane’s lips almost by instinct. “It’s good to see you too My Son, My Son,” Dad responded with a jovial flair! It was telling because Zane never referred to his father as Pop. “I wonder why I called him that,” Zane thought?  The number-one-son nervously glanced over to his brother hoping to find an answer! Quentin didn’t offer up a reason, so Zane continued to analyze the state of Charlie’s dwindling being. His father had lost some more weight since the last visit and loose trousers were supported by red suspenders. He was wearing a western styled cowboy shirt with snaps instead of buttons. By now some more of his impressive musculature had atrophied. His clean-shaven face was alarmingly pale. Nevertheless, Charlie was in good spirits, and he was smiling!

“Have you eaten yet Son,” Charlie asked in a nurturing tone? “Yeah Dad,” Zane said. As it turns out, Charlie and Quentin had just finished up with their usual breakfast which consisted of potatoes, sunny side up eggs with bacon, and buttered wheat toast. Quentin was still drinking milk from a glass tumbler as Charlie nursed at a luke-warm cup of black coffee. Suddenly Charlie said, “Quent, could you get your brother a cup of coffee?” Charlie nudged his head towards the countertop where an antique percolator awaited. He went on to say, “I’d get it myself, but I’m old and tired.” Quentin glanced over at Zane as if to ask, “could you use a cup?”  Zane nodded in the affirmative and added, “Don’t put yourself out, I can get it.” With that the eldest son began rummaging through the familiar cabinets of his boy-hood home. He retrieved a cup and grabbed the faithful percolator by its rustic black handle. “You boys come and sit down at the table with your old dad now,” Charlie instructed. Zane and Quentin obliged their father’s wishes and joined Charlie at the kitchen table. With his mug in hand, Zane settled in to join the conversation. He sat down in the wooden chair as he treated himself to a hearty gulp of black coffee. He nearly choked! By now Renee had introduced Zane to Starbucks, and as a result he had acquired the taste of a double latte. In stark contrast, this coffee tasted like what you would expect from a seedy truck-stop, or a cowboy’s chuck-wagon! “How’s the coffee Son,” Charlie casually asked in an attempt to keep the conversation rolling? “Real good Dad, it reminds me of home!” Again strange words were falling out from Zane’s mouth without his proper authorization! “Well I have to drink it now, or else they’ll think I’m turning weak,” Zane thought as he gingerly took an additional swig of the steaming black potion!  

Quentin was thinking how nice it was to be together and it prompted him to ask, “How long have we lived in this trailer house, Dad?” It was a good question and it jogged something loose in Charlie’s memory. Images of the beautiful pre-owned Marlette Mobile Home flashed before his eyes. The question toggled a switch in Charlie’s mind that opened up a portal to his youth. For an instant the dying man traveled to a time when the wooden paneling was freshly hewn, and the synthetic smell of brand-new carpeting lingered throughout!  The Shimeks were the second owners, but the house was still in brand new condition! Betty was on top of the world and Charlie was elated! The industrious Shimeks could swing the mortgage payments because they were only buying the trailer, not the land. “We were still selling at the Sweet-Meat, do you remember that Son,” Charlie asked?  Before Zane could answer, Charlie turned his attention towards Zane’s brother and asked, “How old were you by then Quent?” Quentin couldn’t rightly remember but he did recall the warmth and safety that he experienced as a child. The question tickled Quentin’s memory, so he added, “That reminds me of Brenda and Everette!”  Judging by the look on Quentin’s face, the boyhood friends triggered fond memories. Brenda and Everette Pine, along with the Shimek boys, made up a merry band of school bus chums! To their delight it turned out they had also become neighbors!  “That’s right,” Zane said! “I remember that I had to tell the bus driver we moved, and to let us off at their bus stop!” The eldest son remembered the pride he felt as the school-bus driver complimented the brothers on their new home! The Marlette was adorned in an invitingly vivid avocado and white color scheme.  The Trailer House was seventy feet long, and fourteen feet wide! The gorgeous Marlette glistened in the sun as it settled into the hard-packed dirt that served as its new foundation! The unfenced property lay adjacent to a two-lane blacktop that made up LaPlata Highway. The trio of men were basking in memories of their glorious past, when Quentin reiterated how happy they were!  He said, “On the first night You and Mom stayed up late drinking coffee and dancing!” Charlie loved to polka! Charlie was making money hand over fist in those years, and they were some of the best times of his life! He was living free and independently, while taking good care of his family in the process! Because of this, Charlie stood tall, and walked with confidence! It was the late seventies and the Shimeks were on a roll!

Charlie was an industrious man to say the least. When he wasn’t off on buying trips and flea-marketing, he supplemented his income by peddling Advertising Specialties. As it turned out, Charlie became affiliated with a firm who could embroider custom logos and slogans onto such items as baseball caps or T-shirts. Additionally the organization had the capacity to print out custom messages and company slogans onto items such as ink pens and Bic-lighters. Charlie was a naturally born gifted salesman! He would go on cold calls to local businesses throughout the region, and one day he stumbled upon a character by the name of Douglass Drake. Mr. Drake, or ‘Dutch,’ was a very wealthy man who had earned a living by retailing assorted drilling equipment and supplies to local oil-well drillers. He scratched his company together from the ground up. It was a highly lucrative undertaking fueled by a corresponding oil boom that was sweeping its way across the land! Dutch had become a self-made millionaire!

One day Charlie came sauntering into the office of Wire Rope Rigging and Supply Company in order to peddle his wares. Dutch sat proudly behind a sprawling desk, as Charlie made another flawless sales pitch. With the typical flair of a modern-day Gypsy, the gifted salesman provided samples of his items that were smartly configured into a customized faux leather briefcase. Charlie was jovially touting the value of his products when he was abruptly cut off mid-sentence! “How much money do you make from selling this junk,” asked Dutch? Naturally Charlie’s rhythm was thrown off! Before Charlie could come up with an answer Dutch said, “I’m really impressed with your style!” Dutch pondered for a minute as he leaned back into his overpriced leather chair and said, “How would you like to come work for me?” Charlie’s phenomenal acumen for salesmanship had landed him a job offer right on the spot! Dutch offered Charlie an irresistible flat salary, and a lucrative commission to boot! The two men talked and pondered the spontaneous proposition. “I’d have to talk it over with the wife before I could make any commitments,” Charlie said. “Besides, I don’t like working for other people because I like being my own Boss!” Without much of a pause, Dutch informed Charlie to take all the time he needed to think it over. Dutch did not purchase any of Charlie’s office supplies; instead he offered up a Company Car to sweeten the deal! Over dinner that same evening, Charlie revealed the news to his wife. Betty eagerly encouraged him to take the offer, and he did! The proud new homeowners had suddenly plunged headlong into the mainstream! Eventually, the sprawling business became so lucrative, that Dutch was inclined to open up a second location in which Charlie was offered the position of lead salesman and office manager. To persuade Charlie, Dutch offered to pay for the moving costs, meaning he would cover the expense of transporting the Mobile Home.  “That’s how we ended up in Albuquerque boys,” he said with a heartwarming smile! Charlie wrapped up the anecdote with a nostalgic sigh, as the pleasant memory slowly faded into dust.

…to be continued

Charlie’s Last Stand pt.8

Zane was traveling eastbound on Interstate 40. The job for today was to deliver steel, and he needed a trailer for that. He was on his way to Dad’s house where Quentin resided as his primary caregiver. The somber task of hospice nurse fell squarely upon his shoulders. The Truck was geared for maximum pulling power and it was unable to achieve high speeds without being crowded. Because of this, Zane kept the pace at a steady 65 mph. The Truck was loping along at a medium trot as Zane’s mind drifted back towards his youth. The miles drifted by, and Zane slipped Into an altered state as his cognitive mind yielded to another forgotten memory. He was being slowly hypnotized by the music generated by the ten-ply tires. The vibrations trickled up from the asphalt and a cosmic frequency resonated within the confines of his curious mind. Zane was beyond the point of daydreaming, and he had succumb to a mild trance! His subconscious mind and muscle memory were obliged to take the wheel! His awareness was transfixed upon a time when he purchased his first pick-up at a random farm auction in Kansas.

As it turns out, the mystical prodigy was the winning bidder of a well maintained 1970 C-10! The half-ton Chevy was the color of metallic root-beer and was nicely accented with a frosty white cab! The brilliant memory had captivated his attention and he mindlessly traveled back in time. He was reliving the event as if he were actually there. He could smell the distinct aroma of the freshly cut alfalfa, and he sensed the presence of a large festive crowd! Because it was a farm auction, a various array of loose items were strategically placed upon the flat surfaces of tractor-pulled hay wagons. Alternately, the heavy equipment was pre-arranged in long rows in a freshly manicured pasture. The auctioneer conducted his business from a semi-permanent platform installed into the bed of a brand-new F-150 which served as a mobile auction block. An anonymous driver would ease the pick-up down the line as the auction progressed. Meanwhile, a dutiful clerk would ride shotgun armed with a clipboard in hand.

Bidding at auction is a risky venture when it comes to machinery. You can kick the tires and peek under the hood, but you won’t hear the engine until she hits the auction block. There were no refunds! It was printed in plain English on the the reverse side of the buyer’s assigned bidder number. The auctioneer sang out “Whatcha See is what you get boys, You buy it like it like you see it!” Despite the warning Zane kept on bidding until the deed was done!

The farm sale wrapped up in the late afternoon and it was time for Zane to settle-up. Like a real man, he proudly strolled up to the cashier with his cash in hand. He produced three Hundred Dollar bills, along with 15 Twenties. In exchange, the cashier handed over the clear title.  He was fourteen years old, and he owned his first vehicle outright! He was living the American dream, and he was on top of the world! Having said that, an insipid voice of nagging doubt persisted which suggested the truck may be a lemon! “What if the truck turns out to be a dud,” Zane asked himself? He heard the engine running as it passed through the auction block, and he knew it was hitting on all eight cylinders with no visible smoke; but he had no idea if the transmission was rotten or if the suspension was shot?  One constant variable in the equation was that Zane was broke! He only had Fifty Dollars left to his name and it would all go towards coffee and gas! He was all in as they say in the poker dens. Although Zane was moderately proficient at driving, it would be another year-and-a-half before he could do it legally. The Shimeks had damn little respect for the law however, and Charlie suggested that Zane drive his truck home by himself! It was more than just a suggestion; it was simply a matter of logistics. It was to be Zane’s first solo road trip, and he was 550 miles from home. “You’ll be alright son,” Charlie said. “Just follow along behind me and don’t go speeding.”

The trucks were loaded, and the summer sun was lingering. It was Zane’s moment of truth! For the first time, he slid behind the wheel of his truck while Charlie closed the door behind him. “I want you to adjust the seat son,” he commanded with an elusive fatherly eloquence! Upon doing so Zane was instructed to start the engine. Charlie knew his son had gotten a good truck for a steal, and he stifled a smile when he noticed the nervous look in Zane’s eyes! It was an older truck, and the ignition switch was located at the lower right portion of the dashboard, just below the instrument cluster. Because of this Zane had to turn his attention away from his father and towards the task at hand. “You might have to pump it son, we don’t know if the choke works!” Charlie suspected the choke worked just fine, but he couldn’t resist teasing his number-one-son. Zane obeyed his father and pushed the accelerator pedal to the floor and then promptly released it in order to prime the manifold. “Please Start?” Zane said under his breath as Charlie looked on from the passenger side window. “Please Start,” He silently repeated as he twisted the key. The pretty brown Chevy with the white cab turned over with ease. “Give ‘er a little GAS Son!” Charlie barked the order as if he were a commanding General, and Zane immediately obeyed. Charlie briskly made the few paces towards the rear of the vehicle in order to inspect the exhaust. Zane nervously watched his dad through the rear-view mirror as he gingerly gunned the engine. He revved the engine up and down while listening for rattling valve lifters and sloppy rod bearings. “I don’t see any smoke Son,” Charlie hollered with the pride of a man who knew a bargain when he saw one! To Zane’s huge relief he didn’t hear any rattles or knocks. The oil pressure gauge indicated a steady 40 psi, and the temperature indicator was still seated on the ‘cold’ peg. All the while the voltmeter suggested the system was charging. At this time, Zane’s attention was directed back to his father who shouted, “Hit the Brakes Son!” He obliged and Charlie acknowledged that the brake lights came on. “Now Hit the blinkers,” he hollered with the joyful enthusiasm of a court jester! Zane alternated between the left and right turn signals, and then he tested the four-way hazard lights. “Now try the taillights,” Charlie roared! Dad was being close lipped about the test results, but Zane reasoned that no news was good news. By now Charlie had made his way towards the front of the vehicle and repeated his commands so he could verify the signals in front were as reliable as the ones at the rear. The next item up for inspection were the headlights. “Pull the switch all the way out, Spud bud,” Dad said! “He hasn’t called me that since I was a kid,” Zane thought as he fumbled around for the activator switch. “Now try the brights,” Dad said with enthusiastic glee! Zane knew the operation consisted of actuating a pressure mechanism that was mounted to the floor, but he couldn’t feel it right away. In order to locate the switch he had to lean his head down under the dash. He found the switch and rested the sole of his left boot upon it. For the first time he pressed on the High-Beam actuator which transformed soothing yellow orbs into brilliant white light! That concluded the inspection in Charlie’s mind, and the truck was deemed road worthy. “The only thing left is to adjust your mirrors Son!” Once Dad was satisfied, he ventured back to the driver’s side door. “Okay Son listen to me.” It was only on rare occasions that Charlie spoke clearly and directly. “We’re going to stop in at Dodge City and gas up now. You follow me close! If anything acts up I need you to flash your headlights on and off. I’ll see it in my mirrors, and we’ll pull over right away!”  Zane, who spoke mostly with grunts and body language, nodded in obedient agreement. He looked his Dad squarely in the eyes and mouthed the words, “Good Enough…Let’s go!” Like an obedient soldier, he waited while Dad got situated into his rig. The trailer’s brake lights flickered on, and then suddenly went dark. This suggested that Charlie’s rig was about to get underway. Zane drew a deep breath. He applied moderate brake pressure, and lovingly shifted the automatic transmission into D for Drive. He then removed his foot from the brake pedal and accelerated very carefully. Charlie’s rig made it through the pasture and negotiated the hard right turn onto a dirt road. He followed along like a dutiful son. The brown Chevy didn’t come equipped with power steering, and Zane noticed right away! To his horror, the fourteen-year-old boy discovered he couldn’t crank the wheel! He was attempting to follow along behind his dad, but because he lacked adequate strength he couldn’t make it happen! Zane found himself using two hands to make the corner! Zane practically had to use his body weight in order to muster enough leverage to budge the steering wheel. He struggled and toiled and finally negotiated the turn. He was relieved to find the steering was easier once the truck was moving down a straight road. Having negotiated that obstacle, Zane’s attention was once again focused upon reliability. He was still nervous about the transmission. Charlie’s rig was slowly accelerating, and Zane followed close behind. He was delighted when the Turbo-Hydromatic shifted out of first gear, and up through second, and finally into third. “Transmission seems fine,” Zane thought as he sighed with nervous relief! As the caravan slowly gained speed, he apprehensively felt around for stray vibrations and wobbles. None were detected. The two separate rigs traveled the forty miles to Dodge City where they filled their coffee mugs and took on fuel. Zane checked the fluids, and the levels were fine. The tire pressure on the other hand was an issue that needed further attention. Zane could tell the front tires were low just by looking at them. Utilizing the station’s air compressor, he pumped each tire up to 40 psi, including the spare.  Zane was delighted to learn how much of an improvement proper tire pressure could provide! Once he got back on the road He concluded that having under-inflated tires made it harder to steer and he was correct. Low air pressure, coupled with the loose soil of the freshly tilled dirt would have made it difficult for any man to navigate his way out of that pasture!

They drove on through the night for eleven hours before the tiny caravan made it safely home. It was just breaking dawn and Zane was physically exhausted. By now the crew had been awake for over 24 hours, and it was time for sleep. After a few hours of rest, Zane woke up in a state of panic! He dreamed he had fallen asleep at the wheel! The nightmare climaxed as he drifted into rapidly approaching headlights! Having been fully awakened by the sudden jolt, he decided to crawl out of bed. He rubbed his swollen eyes and pulled back the curtain while processing what had just happened? He wanted to ensure that he wasn’t still dreaming so peeked out of his bedroom window. His optimistic gaze was greeted with a beautiful brown Chevrolet pick-up as it sat majestically in the dusty driveway! The first thing he noticed was the chrome from the bumper as it reflected the glistening New Mexico sunshine! It was really there! It wasn’t a dream. Zane loved his new pick-up more than life itself! He planned on performing an oil-change right away to help celebrate his good fortune!

Those were good times Zane thought, as the pleasant memories rapidly dissolved into the recesses of his inner subconscious. He remembered his father’s cancer and it was a sobering thought. As he came to his senses, he realized he had missed his exit ramp! He was so engrossed in the vision that his sub-conscious mind missed the usual turn-off. His autopilot had failed him. He pulled himself awake, and back into the present moment. He directed his attention towards the immediate task at hand which was to borrow Dad’s trailer. By this time he was approaching Woody’s Truck stop at the Sedillo exit, meaning that he would have to back track. The minor slip up added three miles to the voyage. Zane put on a brave face as he arrived at the old homestead. It was about nine o’clock in the morning. He was bracing himself because Charlie’s appearance became exponentially worse upon each successive visit. “I have to remember to smile,” Zane reminded himself. “The last thing I need is for him to see me cry.”

…to be continued

Charlie’s Last Stand pt.7

The children had been quietly tucked into bed and Zane was still out! He hadn’t mentioned how long he would be gone, and this conjured sour memories because he was known to stay out all night on rare occasions. Renee was laying on top of a neatly configured duvet in some cotton pajama bottoms and a blue tank top. She was watching network programming on television because YouTube hadn’t been invented yet. “It’s so bazaar being alone in bed,” Renee thought. Zane had his quirks, but at least he wasn’t overly promiscuous. There had been a few occasions when Zane would leave Renee alone at night to go off drinking by himself, but those days were becoming fewer and far between. As the minutes ticked by Renee wondered if Zane would come straight home? Maybe he would get the urge to drink with Quentin? Maybe not? “He’s never been the type to stop off at the corner bar,” she reassured herself. Renee was letting her rational insecurities get the better of her when she heard the familiar fumbling around at the front door! Suddenly the suspense was broken because Zane was safe at home!

When Zane entered the bedroom she muted the tv and asked, “How did your meeting go?” He slowly removed his t-shirt, and absent mindedly tossed it into the hamper. “It went really well I thought,” her husband responded as he pulled open a dresser drawer.  Renee quickly ascertained that Zane was in a good mood for a change and that was a relief! “I think they will look really nice when they’re finished,” Zane informed her as he wiggled into a clean pair of pajama pants. “How much is it going to cost us,” Renee asked?  She wasn’t concerned about the money; she was only trying to keep the conversation going. “I’m sure the whole thing will be just shy of Three Hundred. Curtis wants $150 dollars on his part,” he said. “Oh wow! We should be able to afford that easily,” said Renee.

Zane decided not to talk about the camper, because he didn’t want to get their hopes up. He felt it would be more sensible to wait until after the move. “One rabbit-hole at a time,” Zane thought. It was his secret motto! Without saying a word, Zane positioned his shirtless body into the bed, drawing back the comforter in the process. He shimmied his way in between freshly laundered bedsheets and commenced to stare off out into the distance. The overhead ceiling light was switched off and the room was only partially lit with lamp light.

Renee clicked off the Television and rotated her body to face her husband. She was laying on her side, cradling her head upon her folded left arm as if it were a pillow. Zane was laying flat on his back with the weight of his head supported by his uplifted arms. He was gazing upon the textured ceiling and succumbing to an unrelenting need for sleep. Renee lovingly watched in silent wonder as Zane’s steely gaze was peacefully transformed by the involuntary sinking of his heavy eyelids. In no time he was fast asleep, and Renee wondered if the good times would last forever? She only asked herself the question because she was brought up in scarcity. It was never easy for Renee. She was different from the rest because she lived in her heart, and that was unacceptable where she came from! Renee was the sacrificial lamb in her family, and she took her lumps on a daily basis. Although she was treated like an uncelebrated barn animal, Renee never lost hope.

Renee was born into extreme scarcity in June of 1976. She hailed from the old frontier, and so did Zane. They complimented each other in that respect. With the exception of the naming process, Renee’s birth was uneventful. Throughout the pregnancy the unborn child was designated as Jenifer because that was to be her given name. Upon arrival however, Jenifer’s mother took one look at her fresh infant and realized the child’s name was “Renee.” It had been all along.

Renee’s mother came into the world In 1956. She was born into a desperately primitive environment. It was a quiet, sandy, and desolate space located roughly seventy miles south of Albuquerque. The New Mexican tumbleweeds would meander their way through sleepy streets, and rattlesnakes were a common nuisance! Pick-up trucks had replaced the mule-drawn wagons by this time, but just barely. Cowboys, Ranchers, and Indians cohabited as best they could in the unyielding brutal heat! When Renee’s mother was thirteen she was wed to an older man. He was 21 at the time, but the union didn’t raise any eyebrows. It was customary for women to marry young because it was the Old West. The population consisted primarily of misogynistic Hispanic Americans who resided on the land for generations. Woman were treated as if they were property; they were expected to rear children and cook! If they demanded better, disobedient females could expect a beating! That’s the way things were.

The locals were forced to intermingle with a smattering of Caucasian transients who attended the local college. New Mexico Tech is one of the world’s leading technology and mining institutions and it attracts a lot of talent. Per capita, there are more PhD doctors residing in New Mexico than any other state. This is due in large part to a scientific community that lingered after the big explosion! In the summer of 1945, America detonated the world’s first Atomic Bomb at the Trinity Test Sight!  A town, known to locals as Socorro, was only forty miles away. Apparently indigenous populations were of no consequence to the United States Government. It was wartime after all, and they needed Guinea pigs! The word “Socorro” loosely translates into the word “Help!”  Renee would jokingly suggest that residual nuclear fallout had created a community of genetically altered mutants who have access to yet undiscovered mysterious abilities. Who knows, maybe she was right?  

The comfortable bedroom was still pitch black, with the exception of a 40-watt table lamp that was burning in the corner. Zane was snoring by now and Renee’s thoughts drifted towards Charlie, and his terrible affliction. “I remember the first time that I really got know him,” she thought. “It was just after we moved in here and I was really angry.” While laying peacefully in bed, Renee recalled the occasion when she scolded Charlie! It was an amazing sight to behold, because she was one of the few people who ever had the courage! The incident occurred at Charlie’s place. Zane witnessed the entire event, and he was simply amazed! He had never seen his father backed into such a corner! As it turns out, Charlie was just coming in from outside. He entered the trailer house through the back door. He closed the door behind him and proceeded down the poorly lit corridor where Renee was waiting! The friction centered around a Roper electric clothes dryer that was taking up space. The Hoffman house came complete with its own gas dryer which meant that the electric dryer was rendered useless. Because of this, Charlie agreed to store the appliance on his property. The heated argument ensued when Renee learned how Charlie later went on to sell it for scrap! 

Charlie never fully realized the extent of Renee’s troubled upbringing, and as a result he was unfamiliar with the scarcity that she had to endure. For example, Charlie failed to recognize that normal people spend Thousands of Dollars on household appliances. The concept was lost on him because he would only pay Fifteen Bucks for his washing machines! Sometimes they needed to be repaired but that was beside the point! The parts were cheap and readily available, and Charlie loved to tinker. This was of no consequence to Renee however, because after interest payments her dryer cost over $700!  Renee was livid, and Charlie was dumbfounded! “I had to spend a lot of money for that,” Renee insisted! Charlie loved Renee, and as a result he felt compelled to stifle his frustration. Charlie could be very intimidating when he needed to be and as a result people tended to avoid confrontation.  Renee was undaunted by Charlie’s bluster however, and she continued with her relentless pursuit! He didn’t know how to react, so he calmly offered, “I can get you another one just like it, Renee. They’re not that expensive!” Charlie was being dismissive, and that fueled her anger! “That’s not the point,” Renee retorted in a combative tone!”  She went on to adamantly express how she purchased the washer and dryer combination while in the Air Force with her ex-husband. They were struggling to make ends meet with the monthly car payments, and they were only scraping by! Having their own appliances meant they never had to deal with crowded laundromats, and that’s why she made the financial sacrifice in the first place! This is why it touched a nerve. Like many other struggling Americans, Renee knew the importance of establishing good credit. For Renee a strong credit score gave her hope. It was if she could finally grasp the first rung on a ladder that would assist her on the ascent from crippling poverty! In Renee’s mind having credit was equivalent to living in the mainstream of society. It was her way of pursuing the American Dream! It took years to pay off the credit debt, but Renee finally owned the appliances outright. It was like being released from a financial prison, and it freed up funding for other purposes. In Renee’s view, losing her dryer to the recyclers was akin to losing her economic footing. It prompted irrational feelings of inadequacy and frustration.

All of the thoughts tumbled throughout her tattered mind as she struggled to maintain her composure. She felt like raging, but instead Renee opted to turn her back on Charlie! She stormed out of the corridor and back into the kitchen where Zane stood patiently watching. Charlie glanced over towards his number-one-son who was bearing silent witness from in the kitchen as if to say, “I don’t know what to do Son! You’re going to have to take it from here!” With that, Charlie shrugged his shoulders and turned around. Like a wounded hound Charlie licked his wounds and shuffled the few paces from the hallway back to the relative safety his bedroom. “Well…I guess we should be getting back home,” Zane suggested in a neutral and supportive tone. Besides that, he had nothing more to offer. He could see that Renee was shaken but he lacked the proper skills to help process the anger.  

Renee lay in bed next to her sleeping husband as the memory slowly faded into the night. She recalled the awkward drive home on that same afternoon when Zane did his best to moderate between the two warring factions. Renee could sense Charlie’s adoration towards her, but she was still perturbed. Zane did his best to explain that Dad is just ‘like that.’ After it was all said and done she felt silly for being so upset, and it wouldn’t be necessary for him to procure a replacement. In hindsight she knew that no harm was done. Besides, Charlie made Renee feel like she was accepted, and for her that was rare.

…to be continued