Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
A half-hour lunch break didn’t give Ginger Marston much time to do the things she needed to get done, especially when she could barely stand the thought of the food. Working at McDonald’s at minimum wage was not what she’d spent four years at Hawthorne College for! She was on her feet all the damn time, and after a while even the smell of the burgers and fries was enough to gag her. The President may have said on the news the other night that the economy was good, but the President wasn’t making a living by shoveling Happy Meals, either. Would you like fries with that, Mr. Reagan?
That half hour was barely time to sit down and gobble a burger, not that she could stand the damn things anymore. Mostly she needed the time to sit down, get off her feet, and zone out a little to try to drive off the headache before she had to go back for another four hours of more and more of the same thing.
She didn’t even get the chance to do that, not today, not most days. No, there were always other things that had to be done. Things like sending out applications and résumés to wherever she could in an effort to get out of that damn magenta and yellow uniform and go to some place where she could sit behind a desk and do what she’d spent four years of college to prepare to do. God only knew how many thousands of dollars she’d spent to do it, but here she was, working at a damn Mickey-D’s! But there was always something else it seemed had to be done in the few minutes she could spare.
Today it was an oil change on her car. It was way overdue, but it was seventeen dollars and some odd cents before tax, and considering how tiny her paycheck was at the end of the week, seventeen dollars was a hell of a lot of money she really didn’t have. But her father had seen the sticker on the door post of her piece-of-shit eleven-year-old ’73 AMC Gremlin and had blown his stack that it had to be done, so it about had to get done whether she had the money for it or not.
Damn it, she thought as she walked out of the back door of the Mickey-Ds. If I’d just had the good sense to go somewhere else, rather than staying here in Hawthorne to go to college, I might have been able to make the break. She wouldn’t have her parents looking over her shoulder and bugging her about every damn thing they could think about all the time. But no, she’d figured on saving a few dollars by staying at home to go to college, and while it may have saved those few dollars, it cost her more in peace of mind because they were on her ass all the time.
The only good thing about the deal was that she could take the Gremlin over to the Fryes
Department Store in the mall where the oil change could be done while she worked. It was a buck or two cheaper than having it done at the service station, and it would get her dad off her ass about it, for a while, anyway.
It was cold out there, spitting snow. Here it was, the middle of April, and they were getting snow! She’d had enough snow to hold her this winter; even though it came late, it came hard when it did. But April, it was supposed to be getting to be spring – hell, according to the calendar it was spring – and the mere thought of snow was more disgusting than she could have believed. There were a lot of puddles in the parking lot from the rain that had been coming down off and on all day, and by the time she made it over to the Fryes’ auto service center her sneakers were soaked. Boy, it was going to be fun to have to work all afternoon with cold, wet feet.
At least it was warm in the service department, although that wouldn’t do anything about her wet feet. There was only one person behind the desk – his name tag said “Hutchinson” – and she was third in line. There went any chance of getting to do anything but pick up the car on her break, she thought.
Sure enough, it took a good ten minutes to go from third in line up to the counter, and the “assistant manager” shift supervisor was going to be all over her ass if she got back late. That burned her butt too. His name was Terry Phipps; she’d gone to school with him. He wasn’t exactly a dropout from high school, but he’d flunked enough classes his senior year that he hadn’t received a diploma, either. He took every advantage to shove down her throat that he was her superior and hadn’t needed any fancy college classes to get there. She was dead sure he wanted to get into her pants, but his approach wasn’t the way to go about it, she thought. She’d die a virgin before she gave him any chance at that.
“And how can I help you today, Miss?” the balding, fortyish guy with the “Hutchinson” name tag said.
“Ginger Marston,” she said. “I dropped my ’73 Gremlin off for an oil change.”
“Oh, yes,” he said, looking at a box of work orders. “We did the oil change for you, that’s $17.63 with tax. But Miss Marston, I have to tell you, you’re going to need more than just the oil change.”
“I know it,” she snorted. “Hell, it’s a ’73 Gremlin. That means it’s a problem by itself.”
“It’s not a bad car for what it was meant to be,” Hutchinson said. “Most people try to get more out of it than it was designed for.”
“You mean they want to use it as something other than a lawn ornament?” she replied sarcastically.
He threw off her comment. “Joking aside, miss,” he said, “you’ve got some problems with the front end, and I don’t think it’s very safe to drive. And it needs a tune-up badly.”
“It’s always needed a tune-up, and I don’t think it’s very safe to drive, either. But I don’t have any choice.” She dug a pair of tens out of her wallet and handed them to him.
“Look, we can schedule you for some front end work this afternoon,” he told her. “We could probably do the tune-up at the same time.”
“How much is it going to cost?” she sighed.
“Well, the front end is going to depend on what we find,” he said. “My guess is that you’ve got bad tie rod ends, and if they’re bad there could be several other things bad. If a tie rod end breaks you’ve got a major problem. If you’re going at any speed when it happens, well, it’s a major accident waiting to happen. Just putting new tie rod ends on is $129.99, and you’ll need an alignment in any case, that’s another $79.95. But we could find something else wrong, too. As far as the engine goes, we could give it a standard tune-up, that’s $89.95, and it should solve your problem.
Christ! Ginger thought. That’s three hundred dollars! There’s no way in hell I could come up with that kind of money! The damn car isn’t worth that much, anyway. “I’ll think about it,” she said. “I can’t do it today no matter what happens. If it’s not safe to drive I’ll just have to park it until I can get some money.”
“Well, you could put it on your Fryes card,” he suggested.
“I don’t have a Fryes card,” she said. “I don’t have money to burn, either. I’ll just have to come up with something else. Now give me the keys, I’ve got to get back to work.”
“All right,” he said reluctantly, handing her change to her. “But don’t drive it very far, and go very slowly. Call us when you’re ready to have it worked on. It’s around in back.”
If Ginger thought she was having a crappy morning, the afternoon shift set new records for crappiness. There was no way in hell she had the kind of money they wanted to fix the car. Hell, she could barely afford gas for it at over a buck a gallon, and that was just to drive around town, to work and back mostly, and then to put out résumés when she could find a place to send one to. Of course, things weren’t made any better by Terry being all over her ass – or trying to get a piece of it, same difference – and the mere thought of having to give this news to her parents was really disheartening. Maybe the best thing to do would be to just sell the damn thing for what she could get out of it and try to save some money for something better. It was only four miles from home to the McDonald’s, she could walk most days now that the weather was getting better. Or, maybe ride her bike. Without the car costs, that might save a few dollars, but wouldn’t get her much closer to her goals of getting a decent job and getting the hell out of the house.
Finally, mercifully, her shift dragged to a close. With a parting condescending comment from Terry she headed for the door, glad to be out of the place, but wondering what the hell she was going to do about the car. Maybe it would be better if there was an accident, she thought. Being dead would probably be better than all this horse shit.
She turned the key in the ignition, and the Gremlin started right up, miracle of miracles. She hadn’t paid much attention to it on the short distance across the mall parking lot to the Mickey-Ds, but maybe it was running a little rough. She drove it out to South Main, waited for a hole in the traffic, and stepped on the gas. At first, it wasn’t too bad, but well short of traffic speed she could feel the steering wheel shaking in her hands. It was almost vibrating and it got worse the faster she went. Oh my God! she thought. Something’s going to let go!
She stepped down hard on the brake, and the vibrations died out – well, not died out, but became less intense, almost tolerable. People drove like maniacs on South Main, and she felt like a moving target, so at the first cross street she turned off it, and started to pick her way home over residential side streets. Driving at twenty wasn’t too bad, but much more than that the steering wheel started to shake again.
Although it was only four miles home, it seemed like it took forever, partly because she didn’t dare do much more than inch along, and partly because of all the stop signs. It was with a huge sense of relief that she pulled into the driveway of her parents’ house – something she didn’t normally feel when arriving there. She shut the engine off, and then the whole day just collapsed on her. Without moving, she put her head on the steering wheel and started to cry. Everything she had touched this day had turned to pure shit, and there was nothing she could do about it.
She could make do without the car. She would have to, there was no way her parents were going to loan her any money to get it fixed. They didn’t have much to begin with, and they were just about as bad as Terry when it came to looking down their nose at her for her daring to want to go to college, must less graduating. According to them, she wasn’t worth anything more than a job at McDonald’s, anyway.
Maybe they were right. Jesus, all that work to get her degree in accounting, all the pride she’d had in doing what she’d set out to do, and it all winds up like this. What a piece of shit! What the fuck do I do now?
There was nothing much to do but go inside and have a serious cry, and then try to think of some way to get out of this mess. Lord knew she didn’t have any idea what that could be.
Finally, she pulled herself together enough to take her head off the steering wheel. There was no point in sitting here; it was just going to get cold if she did. She popped open the door, but as she turned to start to slide out, she noticed a piece of paper on the seat. It hadn’t been there this morning, and it hadn’t been there when she drove the car over from Fryes – it was lying on the receipt in the seat. What the hell?
She picked up the paper and turned it over. I hate to tell you this, was written on it in ball point pen, but I’m pretty sure they intentionally messed up your car. Give me a call at 448-5106, ask for Ray.
Messed up her car?
All of a sudden, a fact dropped on her. The steering wheel hadn’t shaken like that when she’d driven it to work in the morning! No . . . fucking . . . wonder! Whoever this Ray was, he had to be right!
Frustration changed instantly to anger. She had no idea of what she was going to do about it, but if he was right she was going to have somebody’s ass, if she could figure out how to do it.
Fortunately, neither of her parents was home yet, although they could be expected soon. She knew from the number that the 448 exchange was out in Bradford, which was a long distance call. They’d blow a fuse if she made a long distance call, but at least they weren’t around right now to blow it. She got out of the car, stomped into the house, and started dialing the phone.
“Hello,” she heard a man’s voice on the other end.
“Hi, are you Ray?” she said, trying to keep her steaming anger from her voice.
“That’s me,” he said, “are you calling about that note I left you?”
“Yes,” she said, the anger getting through whether she liked it or not. “How do you know they messed with my car?”
“Because that Hutchinson jerk told me to do it,” he replied. “I told him there was no way I would do that to a customer. He told me to do it anyway. Look, ma’am, I don’t know who you are, but nobody deserves to be treated that way. I just started work there this morning and I’m glad I found out early that that’s how they play the game. I got my tools and walked out. If your car was messed up, someone else did it, not me. I saw it sitting in the parking lot at McDonald’s later, and figured I ought to leave you a note.”
“You quit your job over it?” she said, her anger deflating.
“No big deal,” he said. “I need a job, but I don’t need one that bad, now or ever. There are other things I can do. Now, what’s the deal on your car?”
“It shakes,” she said. “I can barely hold the steering wheel in my hands over twenty miles an hour. It didn’t do it this morning.”
“That figures,” he said. “Hutchinson told me to knock the balance weights off the front wheels.”
“Why would he do something like that?”
“Did he suggest a front end job?” Ray replied.
“Yes,” she replied. “It was going to cost three hundred dollars.”
“Figures,” she heard Ray sigh. “That’s an old trick that some crooks use to turn a simple little job into an expensive one. Fortunately, it’s nothing too serious. Usually when they screw something up like that they don’t do anything that’s too expensive to replace. There’s more money in it that way.”
“He said it needed a tune-up, too.”
“Wouldn’t be surprised, as old as it is,” Ray told her, “but was it running worse this afternoon than it was this morning?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “The steering wheel was shaking so bad that I couldn’t have noticed.”
“I’ll bet if I looked under the hood I’d find a plug wire pulled,” he replied. “That’s a real simple way to screw up a car when someone doesn’t know much about cars. Look, I’m sorry this had to happen, but at least you know what happened.”
“Yeah, and thanks,” she said, her anger deflated. She was still seriously pissed off, but not at him – he was trying to do her a good deed, after all, just by letting her know what had really happened. “I’ve still got to get the car fixed, though. I can’t drive it the way it is.”
“I can’t do much about it if it’s not here,” he told her. “But if you were to drive it out here I can rebalance the front wheels for you and check to see if there’s anything else obvious messed up.”
“God, I’d really appreciate it,” Ginger said. “I’m afraid I don’t know what I could pay you with, though.”
“Think of it as returning a favor,” Ray told her. “You did me a big one today. I couldn’t live with myself if I worked with people like that. At least I found out before I got too far with them.”
“But Bradford!” she said. “That’s a long way, the way the car is driving. I can’t go very fast!”
“So don’t go very fast,” he replied. “Look, you live somewhere in Hawthorne, right?”
“Yes, north side.”
“OK, you can find Plank Road, can’t you? Head out Plank until you cross over I-67. The next road to the left is Fremont. Go down that, oh, four miles, and you come to the General warehouse. On the back side of it is Taney; that’s Main Street in Bradford further down. Take a right on Taney. About two miles out, you’ll see a sign for Bradford Speedway. I’m in the farmhouse just past the sign, same side of the road. All that is pretty much back road, there’s not a lot of traffic, so you won’t have to drive very fast.”
“OK, I think I can find it,” she replied. “Any problem if I come right out?”
“None on my account,” he told her. “I’ll probably be out in the shop, that’s the second building to the left side of the driveway as you come in the yard. Just walk right in, I might not hear you if you knock.”
“I’ll be there as fast as I can,” she replied, feeling some serious relief. This was going to be a pain in the ass, but it wasn’t the absolute disaster that she’d been convinced it was just a few minutes before. “Just so you realize that it’s not going to be very fast.”
“In this case, the slower, the better,” he told her with a grin she could hear in his voice. “See you in a bit.”
It was a long, slow trip from Hawthorne out to Bradford in the sopping April rain. Any number of times Ginger got tired of the slow pace and tried to pick up speed, but every time she got much over about twenty miles an hour the steering wheel started shaking so bad that it scared her. There was nothing much to do but to drive slowly, trying to pull over for faster traffic, which was just about everything except a dog that ambled along the road.
In that time she didn’t have much to do but think. Was this a setup? She didn’t know this Ray guy from Adam! It would have been easy for him to set this up as a way to get her alone so he could do any number of unpleasant things to her. The more she drove, the more her imagination ran wild on her – she could be kidnapped, raped, murdered, and no one would know what had happened to her! She knew she should have left a note or something to let her parents know where she was going, except for the fact that she didn’t want them to know where she was. They ran her life enough already, and if her father knew what the guy at the Auto Center had said, he’d insist on her spending the money to have everything fixed there. There was no way she had that kind of money and no way that she was going to let them get away with it. At least there was the possibility that this Ray guy was being straight with her. A couple of times she all but turned around out of the fear that her imagination was stuffing into her bones. But what were the chances something funny was going on against the near certainty that her father would fly off the handle insisting that she have the car done “right” and out of her pocket. It was none of his damn business, after all.
She was eventually going to have to tell her parents something about why she wasn’t there for dinner. After all, driving this slow there was no way she was going to be able to make it back in time for dinner. At least one thing was certain – she wasn’t about to stop off at McDonald’s for a quick dose of their crap. She’d go hungry first.
Eventually, she got to Bradford – well, not exactly to Bradford, since the route Ray had given her took her around the town – but she was happy to see the General Hardware Distributors Distribution Center appear in front of her. That place was huge! It was a big building all by itself, but there were hundreds of semi-trailers parked around outside it. How they ever kept anything straight was a miracle, she thought.
She turned right on Taney Road, putting the town and the plant behind her. It was still a slow production to get out to Bradford Speedway. She could remember going past it two or three times, but had never been there. Now, she was relieved – and admittedly a bit concerned – as she drove past the sign. She’d never paid any attention to the place in the times she’d noticed it, but she could see grandstands a ways back from the road, and curiously, more grandstands on the top of a hill a little farther in the distance. She couldn’t help but wonder what that was all about, but the farmhouse Ray had been talking about was only a short way past the sign.
She took a deep breath, hoping this was going to turn out all right, and turned into the driveway with a mixture of fear and relief.
Here at last, for better or worse, Ginger thought in resignation as she shut off the Gremlin and got out. Boy, I sure hope this works out and I don’t have to drive this damn thing back to town like this, she thought as she looked over the second building back to the left of the driveway. The first one was clearly a garage, and newer than the rest of the buildings around the place, although all of them were well painted and neatly kept. The second one looked, well, something more like a barn than a garage, although there were several overhead doors facing the driveway. There was a medium-sized door with two garage-sized doors on either side of it. That must be the place, she thought, wondering if she really ought to knock, even though she’d been told not to bother.
She gathered her courage. Well, here goes nothing, she thought.