Book Too

Path of a Bullet

Chapter 1 - New Porch

The drop of sweat finally left the tip of carpenter Jake’s nose. It had been rocking there gently for a minute gathering courage for free fall. Courage found, the sweat released and splashed squarely on the head of Jake’s next nail. The nail was unmoved. Not for long. Bang. Bang. Bang. “Shit. Shit. Shit,” thought the nail as Jake’s hammer brought the nail home, through one board and into the board below. The nail’s shank married the two boards together into a porch railing.
“Fuckin’ A it’s hot,” Jake said to no one. He had the shadeless job site to himself. His other carpenter buddies had moved on to the next story-and-a-half house coming to be in newly sold off potato fields of north Minneapolis. Post-war treeless suburbs were spreading like spilled milk into the farmlands around the city in 1955, providing Jake and those in his trade with steady money.
Jake reached into the nail pocket of this tool bag and found two lone nails hiding out. The rest of the pocket was empty. Finishing the porch railing called for three nails. “Fuckin’ A,” whispered Jake. More nails meant a long walk over a clay-mud-boot-sucking road. “Well fuck that noise,” he said. “Shortcut time. If I put one nail at the end as normal with the other centered in the space between, that’ll hold.” Once painted no one would know the difference. He secured the rail end with nail one, then eyeballed the midpoint and drove in nail two.
Jake glanced up. “There you go, baby,” he said to the house. “Last nail for you. A little bit off, but it’ll do.” Jake’s final hammer stroke completed the railing and the construction of the house. The next pounding noise would be happy kids’ feet running around inside their new place. Jake smiled at that thought as he gathered up his tools and started toward his truck. Someday his two toddlers would have such happy feet. Two years, maybe. God willing.

Chapter 2 - Ore

Jerome brushed galena dust off his boots. His day job was exploding galena ore from the earth with properly placed TNT and not getting blown sky high with it in the process. Off the job, ingesting galena dust would kill him too, although it took years instead of a split second. Avoiding that called for thorough cleanup at the end of his shift everyday.
Galena unearthed by Jerome held lead that after extraction and smelting would end up as bullets on the business end of cartridges made by OT Ammo a few states away in Rosebud Missouri. Lead for bullets started with Jerome’s hands on TNT. Hands he now scrubbed hard so he could hold his Martin guitar cleanly, and hopefully his girlfriend Rachel’s curves, after his stint that night at the Whole Note Tavern.
With the latter topic in mind, Jerome hustled his cleanup, punched out on the timeclock, and got to his pickup just as the 4014 was revving up on the rail spur, readying for its run to Rosebud. The locomotive was hitched to a long string of gondola railcars full of three days worth of galena ore. Black smoke poured from its diesels. Five hundred tons of stationary ore were introduced to three thousand horsepower and after a pregnant pause the ore started creeping down the track.
Jerome’s pending exit passed squarely over the rail line. He had a hundred yards to cover to beat the 4014. If the locomotive cut him off, it meant a prolonged wait as the train crawled out of the railyard. This was a twice weekly event -- an event train engineer R.Tingle dreaded for the possibility of t-boning “that moron Jerome”; but one Jerome enjoyed as a thrill to kickstart the night to come.
Jerome smiled and gunned his engine. R.Tingle steeled himself and kept his stubby hand down on the throttle.
“I hope I let the moron have it tonight,” R.Tingle thought. “Take out the back half of the pickup’s box and stop this stupid game. Not kill him though. Just disable him for a month or two.”
The race commenced and Jerome’s pickup covered his distance with a second to spare. R.Tingle caught the flash of Jerome’s pearly whites as he bounced over the track rails, crossing just in front of the 4014’s cowcatcher. “Nuts. Missed the twerp again,” R.Tingle lamented, but inwardly glad for no catastrophe.
The 4014’s line of black smoke crossed harmlessly with the red dust plume trailing Jerome, making a perfect X from above that marked the spot of their next contest.
Jerome got to the Full Note on time, but Rachel was nowhere to be found. She showed up later though, adding noticeable passion to Jerome’s one man show. R.Tingle would reach Rosebud the next day as scheduled with the full load of galena ore ready for smelting.

Chapter 3 - Molten

“Come on Billy.  We’re gonna miss the train if you don’t hurry.” Tom was already on his bike as he called from the backyard, trying to get his brother moving.
“Tom, you leave Billy be. He’s got toast crust to finish.” The boys’ mom June required clean breakfast plates before their morning adventures could begin.
Billy washed down the final crust with the last of his chocolate milk.  He was good at eating food so things ended dead even. All evidence of breakfast gone, June fired the morning starting gun with, “You boys be careful on those bikes. And stay away from the tracks.” Billy flew out the door and threw a “We will ma” back over his shoulder as he made a beeline for his bike. June prayed a silent prayer to the Lord above to keep them safe.
The boys headed out on a dirt path the width of their bike tires. Their destination that morning was the Rosebud smelting plan to see the arrival of the mile long ore train. Houses on the end of town where they lived were spread out over dusty terrain.  The closer west you got to the smelting plant, the sparser the settlements. Noise and stinking air were the deciding factor on proximity choices. With mostly uninterrupted areas to roam, kids on their bikes had worn dirt paths over the years directly to points of kid interest. Highlights were the smelting plant railyard, a spring filled abandoned quarry, the cliff above the county dump, and the airport beacon tower. If you were lucky, you had a moped to gas power you to those places. Most kids though depended on good breakfasts and strong skinny legs.

Chapter 4 - On Display

Donna ran her hand across the tape that sealed the box. No way she could open the box barehanded.
“Elvis, honey, borrow me your box cutter for a minute, please.” Her ask was directed at “Elvis” Presley Johnson. Presley slipped the box cutter from his belt loop and handed it off to her.
“I am on break,’ he said. “Back in fifteen. Don’t lose my knife.” His words bore slight disgust. Donna pissed him off pretty much daily, always asking him for help. Her pay was fifteen cents more an hour and he was the one that really kept the Howling Wolf Guns and More stockroom running right. That burned him.
“You’re in a good mood today,” she replied, pouring gas on the Elvis flame. He stomped off. Donna slit the tape, splitting the seal. The shipping box flipped open exposing a dozen smaller boxes of OT Ammo cartridges. She slid open the back panel of the gun display case, merged the new boxes in with the old, and made two neat rows. Shiny brass shown from tiny cellophane windows in the ammo boxes facing front. Within, cartridges stood at attention with their lead tips ready for action.

Chapter 5 - Purchase

Sara looked at the sign above her head as she ran a brick through the front of the gun display case in the quick in-and-out move of a practiced thief.
“Payment by brick tonight,” she thought.
Shattered glass fell into the case and onto Sara’s tennis shoes. She reached through the havoc and grabbed a box of OT Ammo and a handgun to match. She figured she had three minutes to get out of the Howling Wolf gun shop before law enforcement came screaming up the hill.  Plenty of time to exit the front door and melt into the teenage crowd forming in front of Tiny’s juke joint across the way.
“The sooner the better,” her bladder urged.  She really had to pee, having spent three hours hiding scrunched down in the middle of the gun shop’s coat carousel waiting for the shop to close, and for Donna and lame-brain Elvis to vacate the place so she could rob it.  She knew both of them from high school days. Funny the odd mix careers in gun retailing and gun theft put together.
Sara stowed the goods in her backpack as the Howling Wolf silent alarm howled through  the phone line to AACE Security down on West Broadway. Second shift Albert looked up from his Psychology II book and saw the 10-62 code on the bank of AACE alarm monitors.  Break in at the Howling Wolf gun shop. Or a false alarm like last week when a squirrel bit through a wire in the same vicinity. New to the job, adrenaline kicked in, switching Albert’s brain from an anxiety disorder characterized by irrational fear on page 103 to a frantic search for the phone. Phone found, he dialed KE-70528. Sargent Harris picked up.  “Roseville Police, Sargent Harris here. May I help you?”
“Yes Sargent. This is Albert at AACE Security. I have a 10-62 in progress at the Howling Wolf gun shop.”
“On it,” Sarge’s replied.  He hung up and left to get his boys rolling.  Two squad cars hit the street a blink later, lights screaming but sirens silent.  Better to sneak in than warn a burglar of their approach.
As Roseville’s finest pulled up to the scene, Sara had already slipped through Tiny’s crowd and found relief for her bladder, secure with her new gun in a graffiti peppered stall, out of sight from authority. The responding officers found the gun shop door locked with no sign of forced entry.  Sara’s exit from the inside out left the door closed and locked gracefully behind her. The coat carousel blocked the smashed case, covering her tracks. 
The officers piled back in their squad cars, did a u-turn that many in Tiny’s crowd noted as illegal, and headed for donuts and black coffee. Later, Sargent Harris posted “squirels again” on that night’s activity report.

Chapter 5 - 

Dick downed the last of the vodka. The cat clock above the back door read 2:15.  Or 1:15. It was hard to tell. The clock hands were a blur. The cat tail swung back and forth an offered no clue as to which. Anyway, his wife Ann was way overdue.  Out again with friend Dorothy drinking his hard earned wages.
As the clock hands moved to 2:16 or 1:16, the back door knob twisted slowly. It was Ann attempting at a quiet entry to not disturb Dick who was hopefully out cold on the living room couch, his place of sleep for the last six months.
Dick, being quite awake, fired off a “Where the hell have you been?” from his corner of the kitchen ring. Startled, Ann slammed the back door shut. Stealth figured it was time to go and evaporated
“Jesus Christ almighty Dick, you scared the hell out of me.”
Ann took her corner of the ring and slipped her gloves on.
Sara was down the hall waiting for round one to begin. Fight night again. Sporadic in the past as she had grown up, now it was a hellish routine event.
Her mom threw the first punch. “Dick you’re drunk. Go to bed.”
Sara’s stepdad countered with a long sentence that included “slut” mixed in with his favorite profanity.  He then crossed the kitchen ring and punched her mom in the face. There was no alcohol on Ann’s breath. She rarely had a taste of the stuff. The taste on her tongue now was blood from a cut lip.


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~ David Ralph Johnson



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