Hot Salt, Part One

Image86They call Colorado the Grasshopper State.

I don’t know if that’s actually true or not, but in this day and age of omnipresent, hyper-saturated, multiple information streams literally at my fingertips, I have no excuse to be ignorant of such things. I mean really, all I have to do is hit alt-tab and Wikipedia is right there. In five minutes I could give you the complete history of Colorado and sing you the state song to boot, but I’m not going to do that.

If it’s not true then I don’t want to know. I wish it to be true. I believe it into being. It’s true because I want it to be true.

Really, I just thought it would be nice to begin a story with:

They call Colorado the Grasshopper State.

Or they used to.

I think.

Maybe the Indians called it that?

Or the Mexicans?

I don’t know. This isn’t about that any of that.

This is a story from New Jersey about death and drugs and sex, and whatever else grabs the kids attention these days…

 

Joey stood at the top of a 10 foot stall stepladder wrestling with a heavy cardboard box full of books.

“There’s no way these things are less than 50 pounds.”

He said it under his breath, but of course his (possibly bipolar or maybe on meth or steroids) asshole motherfucker of a boss Harry heard him.

“I’m running a fucking warehouse here, not some…  pussy boy scout thing!”

He always paused before his big cursing punch line. As if searching for the right blend of anger, degradation and cleverness.

He never came up with anything good.

“If I say we fill a box to 65 pounds, that’s what we do and I don’t wanna hear about it. Quit being a…  pussy boy scout.”

For emphasis, and just to be a dickhead, he banged his hand truck into the ladder as he walked by. A big box of hard cover chemistry textbooks (weighing in at about 62lbs) slipped from Joeys grasp. As he instinctively reached out to keep the box from falling, the ladder moved. Joey’s heart jumped and his life flashed before his eyes, ending in a broken, ugly mess on the hard concrete floor.

He abandoned the box in favor of the ladder but his fingertips gave the box a little flip, changing its trajectory ever so slightly.

Joey stabilized the ladder just in time to see the 62 pound box of hard cover chemistry textbooks crash into the back of Harry’s head. It drove his skull into the floor with all the force of the finger of God.

Easy as a child squishing a bug.

It flipped him face down so violently that his feet shot up behind him and Joey saw the soles of his shoes. Followed by the awful sound of flesh and bone on concrete and the metallic clatter of the empty hand truck as it spun away.

And then silence.

Pete finally piped up from behind a pallet stacked high with boxes.

“What in hell was that? Everybody ok?”

Silence.

Joey was frozen in shock, still grasping the top of the ladder with both hands.

Harry wasn’t saying anything, but if the blood pouring from his shattered face made a noise it would have sounded like the ocean.

Pete came out from behind his stack of boxes and looked up. His smile faded when he saw the look on Joey’s pale face.

“Hey buddy, what’s up? You see a ghost?”

Silence.

“Joe?”

“I think I just made one.”

“Made one what?”

“I think I just made a ghost.”

The two co-workers stood over Harry’s lifeless body, mindful of the blood. His neck was broken and head smashed in. Seeing his familiar features in such grotesquely unfamiliar configurations, and swimming in all of that blood, there was no way that he wasn’t dead. They didn’t check for a pulse or even talk about it. Harry was as dead as it gets.

The silence was heavy.

62 pounds.

Besides Harry’s skull, the box had also broken open and there were several copies of the hard cover chemistry textbook scattered in a perfect arc around his head. I wish I had a picture to show you. The way that the bright yellow books contrasted with the deep red blood was beautifully artistic and the composition exquisite.  A temporary monument to the sudden violence of science.

Pete opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. He looked at Joey who was still pale and shaky. He put a fatherly hand on the young man’s shoulder and Joey looked at him with flat, dead eyes,

“What are we gonna do?”

Normally, Pete would have come back with, “Whatta you mean WE?!?!” but this wasn’t a cat stuck in the dumpster or an overflowing toilet in the men’s room.

He just looked nervously at his watch and tried again to speak but this time he was cut off by the sudden and unholy racket of the automatic garage  door opening. Sunlight poured in to the warehouse followed by the sound and smell of a diesel engine.

The forklift pulled in and stopped, leaving a long shadow that pointed directly to the gruesome scene.

A tall, lanky guy jumped off the forklift and hit the ground at a jog, his frantic shadow bouncing off of still ones. He stopped suddenly at the proper distance.

“What the fuck?”

Todd had half a smirking smile on his face as if he wanted in on the joke. He looked from Pete to Joey and back to Harry. They weren’t smiling.

Pete tried to say something but again he was cut off, this time by Joey who let it all out in a rush of adjectives and pantomime and half sobbed apologies.

When he was done they all looked down at Harry and there was a moment of silence, once again broken by Todd in a less than graceful manner, smirky smile in full bloom,

“I can’t believe I missed it!”

He started to unzip his pants.

“What in hell are you doing?” asked Pete.

“I hated this fucker with a burning passion and now I’m gonna piss on his corpse.”

Pete took a step towards Todd but stopped short of the blood. “Christ in a can, boy! What is wrong with you?!”

“I always said I was gonna do it one day and I figure, you only get one shot at that kinda thing so…”

Todd put himself away and sulked.

Pete walked over to the telephone that hung on the wall, keeping a hard eye on Todd. He picked up the receiver and started to dial.

Pete was thinking out loud. “Should I be dialing 911? It’s not really an emergency. He’s not coming back from that.”

“Call the morgue and a maid!” shouted Todd. Get this mess outta here!”

Pete hung up the phone.

“I think I’ll call the regular number for the police department. I have to go look it up in the office.”

He walked back across the warehouse, keeping his distance from the mess in the middle of the floor.

“Todd, why don’t you give Joey a ride home. I’ll take care of this. I’ll wait for the cops.”

“Won’t they want to talk to me?”  said Joey, his eyes fixed on Harry.

“If they do, I’ll let you know

Go home and relax. Have a drink or three. What you saw was terrible and you can’t ever un-see it, but if you need someone to talk to, you can call me.”

“Pete was in Viet Nam, he’s seen way worse.  Probably done way worse.” Todd was talking to Pete but looking at Harry.

“Ok Todd, he doesn’t want to hear about that. Now go and get him home safe and I’ll make sure you both get paid for the whole day.”

Pete ejected the CD from the dusty old computer and wrote on it in black Sharpie: BEACH BOYS, DON HENLEY, STING

He put the CD in a paper sleeve and then typed a few things on the keyboard. He watched all of the security camera footage of the accident one last time before erasing it. Then he made a phone call.

“Harvey, it’s me. I got something for you.

…Its best if you come here.

…less than an hour ago.

…The heart stopped at about 10:45 and the soul departed at precisely 11:23:03.

…Yes, I know. It put up a little fight.

…no, I’ll be keeping that. The rest is all yours though.

…there was some blood loss, but that was not the cause of death.

…blunt force.

…about 6 feet, average weight, good health as far as I know. Didn’t drink or smoke.

…ok, I’ll see you soon”

He picked up the CD and fanned himself with it.

“And tell Road Dog I got something for him too.”

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