This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet‘s Wednesday Write-In challenge were:
menthol :: blind date :: fried :: secret :: chit-chat
Luggy was chewin’ so hard on his lower lip, I thought it was gonna bust open like an overdone sausage.
‘Ain’t no good. It’s fried, all of it. The whole dang thing.’ He slammed his wrench down on the ground and it sent up a good ol’ clang. Barely missed my boot, too.
‘Hey! You wanna take a little care with that thing?’ I threw my eyes aroun’, checkin’ for any whiff of Ol’ Garth, heart as black as his teeth and breath stinkin’ of that menthol-stuff he chews to try to mask his graveyard breath. We was clear, though. No sign.
‘We can’t keep this secret no more,’ muttered Luggy. His hand left a damp echo on the cold metal. A tremor was runnin’ all through him, like someone’d screwed a wire into the soles of his feet. ‘Garth needs to know what we’ve been doin’.’
‘You know what that’d mean, Luggy,’ I said, leanin’ in close. ‘They’d shovel our behinds rock-side without even givin’ us time to pack.’ I grabbed his shoulder and squeezed, just hard enough to make my point. ‘I don’t know ‘bout you, but I sure as hell don’t wanna spend the rest of my life -’
‘If this thing blows, we won’t have a rest of our life to worry about!’ Luggy’s words came out all strained, bustin’ their way out between his teeth like ribbons of razor wire.
‘Well, well!’ The sing-song voice smashed its way into our ears before I’d even had a chance to think about what Luggy’d said. ‘What’s this? You boys enjoyin’ a little chit-chat, here on your lonesomes?’ I turned to see Prentis, that damned treacle-headed good for nothin’, hustlin’ his way down the corridor toward us. A gush of cooler air made the skin on my arms pickle, and I knew Luggy was makin’ a move. I let him hide behind me as he did whatever was needful. There was plenty of room back there.
‘What you lookin’ for, Prentis?’ My voice sounded, even to me, like one o’ them guns with a spike on top. ‘Ain’t nothin’ down here. Me an’ Luggy here, we was just fixin’ up this engine patch, is all.’
‘Havin’ a little blind date, it seems to me,’ sang Prentis, his eyebrows dancin’. I wanted to tear ‘em off his face. ‘A little one-on-one. You know what the guys upstairs is sayin’ about you, don’t ya? Come on, now.’ I watched him laughin’, rockin’ back and forth in his fancy leather boots. Rest of us worked the shine out of ours, but not ol’ Prentis.
‘We was just on our way back up,’ I said, my voice full of clenched fists. ‘We was gon’ have a talk with Mr. Garth, ‘bout somethin’ important. So, if you’d kindly let us be gettin’ on with that -‘ He held up his hands and stopped my words in their tracks like he was Moses holdin’ back the waters.
‘Not so fast, now. How long you boys think I’ve been standin’ here?’ He was a walkin’ oil slick, this one. Dark and sticky, and hard to get out of. ‘I know all about your tinkerin’ with the engines. Tryin’ to get into Garth’s good books? Or do you guys got somethin’ in particular you need to get home for?’ I could hear Luggy breathin’ hard right behind me, and I knew his mind was on a planet we hadn’t seen for best of eight years. He’d a baby girl he’d never seen; she’d be grown and gone before he made it back, if this dyin’ ol’ engine wasn’t given a helpin’ hand. We thought we’d found a way to boost it, and it had worked – for a while.
But I said nothin’, and Luggy said less.
‘So it’s like that,’ murmured Prentis. ‘Scratchin’ one another’s backs, as usual.’ He heaved in a big ol’ sigh, like we were disobedient children and he our patient Papa. ‘Well, frankly, I ain’t got no choice but to tell Mr. Garth. I’m sure he won’t be pleased at the damage done to his property, but maybe, if I plead your case, he’ll let you stay on board.’ He got a grin then, looked just like an axe had smashed a hole in his face. ‘Maybe.’
I didn’t move a muscle when I felt Luggy’s cold fingers on my arm. Hopin’ I’d read his intentions right, I just moved to one side, givin’ him enough swingin’ room.
The wrench fell like the hand of God, and split Prentis’ face right in two. He dropped, and said no more.
‘Best get him put away before someone comes lookin’ for him,’ murmured Luggy, as Prentis started to drip. ‘Dangerous place, an engine room. Someone like him, no knowledge ‘bout what he’s doin’, shouldn’t even be down here.’
‘Ain’t that the truth,’ I said, bending to pick up the leg of the former Prentis. Luggy grabbed his arms. Those shiny boots caught my eye one last time as we found a quiet stairway to throw him down, but I left ‘em where they was. Not even I’d deny a man the right to die with his boots on.
Funny, I thought later: for a fella who talked so much, ol’ Prentis weighed less than a whisper, and he went down into the dark without a word.