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Bullring Days 3 book cover

Bullring Days 3:
Banners Flying
Wes Boyd
©2009, ©2014

Chapter 3

“I know,” Arlene sighed. “I wish there was something I could do to give you a stable job so you could work on some of the other issues in your life. Look, I know this working on maintenance out back isn’t a permanent solution but it will at least give you some money coming in. There’s still a lot of work that needs to get done out back to get ready for the season.”

“We’ll get a better job done than using high school kids, that’s for sure,” Mel nodded, “and without having as much equipment torn up. What do you think, Ray?”

“Well, I’ll do it, like I did last summer,” he shrugged. “Hell, I was going to do it anyway. But I’ll tell you what, I’d almost be willing to do it for free, partly to pay you back for my room and board, and partly because I really don’t want to take another step backward.”

“You mean, back to the stuff you did in high school?” Ray frowned.

“Yeah,” Ray admitted, “and even before that. I mean, I was what? Fifth grade, sixth grade, something like that when I started running the gang mower. Don’t get me wrong, I agree it needs to be done, but well, I’ve done it.”

“You’re right, it needs to be done,” Mel nodded, “but there’s also stuff that needs to be done that we don’t usually hire high school kids to do. Your mother and I have done all of that stuff, along with running the gang mower and everything else when we’ve had to. I know it’s not a fulltime job or a full-year job, but I would sure appreciate it if you could take some of the load off of our shoulders. I’ll tell you what, if we could figure out some way to keep it from being just a seasonal business I’d be willing to shove even more of the track management onto you.”

“Me, too,” Arlene added. “I don’t know how we could do any more than we’re doing now, and we’d both like to be doing less. On top of that, both your father and I have long lists of projects that we’d like to get done, ones that could bring in more money if we had the time to do them.”

“Right,” Mel agreed. “Your mother and I aren’t that far from retiring. We still have a few years to go, but I’d just as soon figure out some way to slow down a little, rather than working harder.”

“It’s something to think about,” Ray agreed, “but when you get right down to it, it’s a six-months-a-year thing. I know there are odds and ends you can do in the off season, but there’s six months a year that there’s hardly a dime coming in. Well, less than that, more like five months.”

There was a dinging sound coming from the kitchen that broke into the discussion. “I guess I’d better go get dinner on the table,” Arlene said as she got up from the chair where she’d been parked for a few minutes.

“We’ll be right along,” Mel promised. “I guess I’d better go clean up.”

*   *   *

Arlene’s meat loaf was good, as always. As far as Ray was concerned, it was one of the better things about having to live at home again – he’d had enough meals in mess halls and greasy-spoon diners, and enough TV dinners to hold him for a long time. Thoughts of settling down were nothing new to him at his age; he’d been thinking about it for a while, but he’d always felt he needed to be establishing a reasonable and halfway reliable income before he did something like that. At least the notion of his working for his folks at the track would bring in some cash, he thought, and dependable cash at that. It wasn’t a perfect long-term solution, but it would be cheap living at home, and if he was careful he could build up a nest egg to carry him over when things got slow next winter.

It was no surprise to anyone that the topic of discussion over the dinner table was the track and what needed to be done to it. There was plenty of routine stuff, mowing, painting, and general fix ups; much of that was stuff that Ray had been doing clear back as far as grade school, along with his brother and sister. There was plenty of other stuff too; Mel and Arlene tried to make some kind of improvement every year, just on general principles. After a bad year when money was tight, they just didn’t do as many improvements.

Arlene was just serving dessert when the phone rang. Since she was up, she was the one to answer it, and the call turned out to be for Mel. She sat at the table after she set out cherry pie, but the end of the phone conversation that she and Ray were hearing wasn’t all that enlightening. “Yeah . . . yeah . . . that’s a bitch . . . you don’t say . . . well, maybe I have an idea, I don’t know. Let me get back with you in a few minutes, OK?”

Mel had to get up to put the phone back on the hook. “What was that all about?” Arlene asked.

“Mike Rowe,” Mel said as he sat back down and picked up his fork, intent on his cherry pie. “You remember last fall he put a rod through the block of his Late Model?”

“I remember you were half an hour cleaning up the oil spill before you could get the race back under way,” she shook her head.

“Yeah, I don’t know how he could have gotten that much oil in a Chevy oil pan,” Mel smiled. “It was only supposed to be four quarts, but I swear that we had to mop at least four gallons up off the track.”

“I remember that,” Ray smiled. “I was out there running the sweeper and I was starting to think we’d never get it all cleaned up.”

“Yeah,” Mel nodded. “It was the last race of the season. Mike was squeezing pennies and he’s no engine man, so he worked out a deal with some guy down in Kendallville to rebuild the engine for him. He went down to see about it today, and the guy hadn’t touched it, says it’s going to be a while before he can get to it.”

“I don’t see why it should take that long,” Ray shrugged. “Maybe the guy decided that since it was a cheap job he could shove it to the side while he worked on stuff he could make more money on.”

“That’s exactly how I see it,” Mel agreed. “Anyway, now with the season a month off, he still doesn’t have a mill. It wouldn’t be that much work since all the engine really needs is a new block and a few parts, con rod, bearings, like that. Strikes me it’s a job where you could pick up a few bucks.”

“Sure, I’d be glad to,” Ray told him. “A few bucks is a few bucks.”

*   *   *

Ginger headed out of the speedway driveway toward Bradford with a considerable sense of relief, mostly because there had been nothing seriously wrong with the car after all. That three hundred dollars had hung over her head all afternoon like a rain cloud. There was no way she could come up with that kind of money. To have a Good Samaritan come out of nowhere like that to get her out of trouble was a downright miracle. If he hadn’t been a good guy or if she’d chickened out it would have been a real disaster. Yeah, there were a lot of things he could have done to her in that situation, but he hadn’t even hinted at it. This Ray was just a nice guy, that’s all, but after the experience this morning she’d had plenty of reason to be pretty paranoid.

A couple miles up the road she came to the General Hardware plant. She knew there was a better way from Bradford back to Hawthorne – the back roads that Ray had sent her up had been to keep her out of heavy traffic so she could go slow, after all. She drove on through town, stopping at the light at the main four corners, and then rolled on out the east side.

It just wasn’t right, she thought as she got back up to speed. It wasn’t right that people cheated each other like that, and it especially wasn’t right that men cheated girls like that in hopes of getting into their panties. There were just so damn many men like that out there, and she’d had more experience with them than she wanted. She was beginning to think that the decent guys had all been taken, and all she’d found in the way of guys since leaving college were shit heads like her shift supervisor, Terry. There’d been a couple guys in college she should have gotten more serious with, but that was in the past, there was nothing that could be done about it now. Why couldn’t she meet a single guy who was good looking and a nice guy . . . like Ray?

“Oh, SHIT!” she said out loud.

She hadn’t asked, but if she hadn’t been on the defensive with her head stuck right straight up her ass she might have realized that Ray was single! Well, most likely single, anyway. She hadn’t seen any wedding ring, but of course that meant nothing. However, he was clearly living with his parents, who were obviously fairly well off, and that meant a hell of a lot! Yeah, he might be married, but living at home it seemed pretty unlikely. And she’d been so paranoid about the whole deal that she hadn’t even hinted at trying to find out something about him, other than he was a mechanic and a fairly good one, with a pretty well-developed sense of honor. Which was worth a hell of a lot, in her book, just like the three hundred bucks he’d saved her was worth a hell of a lot to her. She could have done something, said something, to at least indicate the door was open a little.

But she hadn’t. Maybe it was because she’d still been upset about what had been done to the Gremlin. Maybe it was because she was still dressed for work in that ugly uniform and stinking of grease, but she’d just stood there and let what might have been a perfectly good opportunity slip through her fingers without even realizing it. She hadn’t even told him her damn name!

You fool, she thought. All the shitty things that have happened today and this takes the prize, especially since you have no one to blame this one on but yourself!

Now wait just a damn minute, she thought. Think about this. Maybe he’s not all that great a damn prize. He’s not bad looking, he’s a nice guy, his parents obviously aren’t hurting. But he is a mechanic after all, and one who messes around with race cars at that. The odds are he’s not a college graduate, probably didn’t even go to college at all. But you didn’t even take the slightest amount of effort to find out anything about him! Hell, there’s any number of reasons he might have been working at Fryes. And, when you stop to think that losing the job didn’t seem to bother him all that much, the fact that he was working as a mechanic might not mean anything.

Maybe all isn’t lost, she thought, trying to push her anger with herself to the side. You still have his phone number! Maybe what you ought to do as soon as you get home is to give him a call, thank him again, and try to get some kind of conversation going. At least you’d be nice and safe that way, you can probably find out a lot of what you need to know.

But maybe not, too. Dad probably would be pissed if I got on the phone and spent more than a couple minutes talking to a guy on a long-distance call. She worked an early shift again tomorrow, maybe she could call him after she got home from work, and at least she wouldn’t be getting daggers stared at her along with blunt orders to get off the phone and quit running the bill up. It sure would be nice to be able to have a life of her own, without being second guessed all the time!

Ginger’s mood didn’t get any better all the way back to Hawthorne. What with everything, she was still pretty upset when she pulled to a stop in front of her house, and she was pretty sure that things weren’t going to get much better.

One of the pains about living where she did was that the driveway was only one car wide, and there were four cars that had to be parked there – her father Frank’s, her mother Virginia’s, her brother Nick’s, and hers. As she drove in the driveway, she could see that her brother wasn’t home, and that meant that sometime either tonight or in the morning some shuffling was going to have to be done. She couldn’t leave her car on the street overnight, it was some local law. At least if she left it there her brother would only have one car to get out of the way so he wouldn’t park her father in and slow him up getting to work in the morning. Shuffling cars around when someone got parked in could be an immense pain in the ass, but there wasn’t much she could do about it; it was the way things were.

She put the Gremlin in park, shut off the engine, and just sat there behind the wheel for a moment, not wanting to have to go inside and face another hassle that she was dead sure was coming and that she didn’t think she had the energy to deal with. Finally, she got out of the car and headed in the back door. She’d no more than got in the door when her father greeted her with, “Did you park me in again?” That was it, no hello, no how was your day, just how much of a pain in the ass she might be this time.

“No,” she replied, trying to keep her temper. “I saw Nick wasn’t home yet so I parked on the street.”

“Nick won’t be home till late,” her mother said. “He had a game.”

“Nuts,” she said, trying to keep her language decent. “You know he’s not going to bother to put my car in the driveway when he gets here, so I guess that means I have to stay up, even though I have the early shift again.”

“Just don’t park me in,” her father said. “I have to leave early again tomorrow too.”

“I didn’t know when you were getting home, so I told Nick to go ahead and finish up dinner,” her mother said. “I’m afraid he didn’t leave much for you.”

“I’m surprised he left anything at all,” Ginger said, not very happily. She’d been pretty sure that she’d already lost out on what might have been a halfway decent dinner, but to actually find it out was disappointing, another down-check on what had overall been a pretty rotten day, except for the good deed Ray had done for her. “I’ll find something.”

“Before you do,” he replied, “I understand you took your car in for an oil change today.”

“Yeah, I did,” she said. “I learned my lesson on that, too.”

“You need to change the oil once in a while,” he said sharply, reminding her of the hissy he’d had the night before. “But I had a call from Fred Hutchinson over at Fryes. He said your car needed a lot of work, but that you didn’t intend to do anything about it.”

“The only reason it needed work is because he or one of the scumbags he has working for him messed it up,” she said. “I wouldn’t let him near a car of mine, ever again.”

“Ginger!” he said. “Fred has always been fair with me. Now, first thing in the morning, you give him a call and get your car set up for that front end work and tune-up he says it needs.”

“Like I said, no way in hell,” she replied bitterly, her determination to keep her language under control sliding by the wayside. “The car was driving fine when I took it in. When I drove it out the steering wheel was shaking so bad that I could hardly keep it in the street, and it was running so rough it would barely keep running. I took it out to a friend of mine, who took the front tires off, put the balance weights back on and plugged in the spark plug wire that one of his guys had yanked out. It drove fine after that. That joker wanted three hundred bucks to fix something he loused up deliberately, and there’s no way he’s getting it from me!”

“Now you listen to me, young lady. I’ve known Fred Hutchinson for years; he’s never done anything like that to me. I don’t like to hear you talking like that about someone that’s been fair with me. Now tomorrow, you get it set up to do that work!”

“All right,” she said. “If that’s what you want. I’ll take it in there, but you’re going to pay the bill, since I’m not going to let him rip me off. If you want to get ripped off like that, fine, but leave me out of it.”

“I don’t know where you think you can get off talking about him like that,” her father replied angrily. “Fred is a friend; he wouldn’t do something like that.”

“I hate to tell you this, Dad, but he would and he did,” she snorted. “He saw the chance to rip me off and took it. If he’s a friend of yours too bad for you, because I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw a fit, not after what he did to me today.”

“Now you just listen to me, young lady,” he replied ominously. “You went to college so you think you know it all, but what do you know about cars? Fred has been working with cars all his life, don’t you think he knows more about them than you do?”

“He knows how to screw a customer, that’s for sure,” she snorted. “Dad, we can fight about it all evening, but he’s not touching my car again. Ever. No way. My friend is a mechanic too, and he said that the car is old but that the front end is fairly tight. He thinks it’s fine. If it becomes an issue I’ll take the car somewhere else, but I just don’t have the money right now to get ripped off like your so-called friend wants. I couldn’t have paid for it anyway. I was thinking I’d have to get my old bike down and ride it to work until I could have paid for the work, but that was before my friend took a look at the car and discovered how it had been messed up. That’s it, it’s final, there’s no way I’m letting Hutchinson or Fryes work on it again, I’ll walk to work before that happens. I don’t make enough money to let you throw it away for me.”

“Honey,” her mother said. “I know Fred too, I don’t think he’d do something like that.”

“I do,” Ginger snorted. “Take a flashlight and go look at my front wheels. You can see where the old balance weights were. I’ll admit, I wouldn’t have known it myself until my friend pointed it out to me, but at least that’s one thing I learned.”

“You’re pretty snappy tonight,” her father snarled. “You ought to watch your mouth.”

“Fine,” she said. “Since you didn’t bother to save any supper for me I guess I’ll have to go somewhere else. I’ll see you later. Maybe.” She turned and headed for the door before anything else could be said.

Once outside, she ran for the car, hearing her father call “Ginger” angrily from the door, but it wasn’t enough to make her stop. What a shitty way to end a shitty day, she thought as she got in the car, started it, and drove away from the curb in as close to a burnout as the asthmatic old Gremlin could manage.

She really needed to cool off now. In fact, what she really needed was a drink, but she knew better than to head for some bar at this hour. Who knew what could happen? Besides, who knew what could happen if she got to drinking as much as she felt like drinking right then, not that she had enough money to do any serious drinking anyway. This stank; there was no way around it. Maybe she’d even sleep in the car tonight rather than going back home, even though it was awful cold. She’d had to do it before when things got nasty like this; a lot more often than she liked.

One thing was for sure: no fast food. She needed something to eat, but she needed a place she could sit down and eat it leisurely, maybe with a cup of coffee to help her kill the time; maybe several cups of coffee.

She drove aimlessly across town and somehow wound up at a chain restaurant that was several cuts above fast food. She really wasn’t very hungry – she was too mad for that – but thought that she might feel better if she had something to eat. In a matter of minutes she was sitting slumped in the corner of the booth, as mad and depressed at the world as she’d ever been.

In a minute the waitress came up with a glass of water and the menu. “Let me guess,” she said cheerfully, “if I suggest a hamburger you’ll beat me to death.”

Ginger frowned for a second, and realized that she was still wearing the grubby McDonald’s clown suit of a uniform. “Boy, you got that right,” she sighed. “I’m not real hungry, but I’d like to have something that doesn’t even resemble anything they serve at the Golden Arches.”

“The spaghetti is on special and is pretty good tonight,” the waitress said. She was a young woman, about Ginger’s age, and while she acted a little perky it was fairly easy to see that it was an act; she was about as tired and footsore as Ginger was. “It’s not as good as my mother makes, but it’s still pretty good.”

“About has to be better than my mother makes,” Ginger snorted, not amused with the girl’s attempt at perkiness but still respecting it. “I suppose it’ll do. You don’t have to hurry on my account, but a cup of coffee would be nice. Decaf, please, I don’t need to be any more wired than I already am.”

“I understand,” the girl said. “I used to work there, too. As tiring as this job is, it’s better than the stuff you go through there.”

“If you don’t have a shift manager that’s an absolute asshole, then you’re probably right,” Ginger sighed. “Someday I’m going to get out of that place, even if I don’t know how.”

The waitress quickly brought a cup of coffee, and left Ginger alone with it. God, what an absolutely shitty day, she thought. Maybe she ought to call Ray from here; maybe talking to him would perk her up a little. Almost instantly she rejected the idea. In the mood she was in it was not a good idea to be trying to feel him out with the prospect of getting something going with him.

It sure would be nice if he were a little bit better friend, she thought, even if it wasn’t going anywhere. If he was, maybe she could get him to talk to her father, to explain what he’d found. Again, with little thought, she rejected the idea – her father would probably accuse him of lousing up her car and pinning the blame on Hutchinson because he got fired. Hutchinson would sure be willing to buy that story, she thought.

Screw it, she thought. The smart thing to do was to sit here and drink free refills for a while. Her father would go to bed about eleven, like he always did. At least she had to be leaving the house earlier, so if she got up and around a little early she might actually miss him and avoid another fight. But that meant she had to sit around here for – crap, another four hours or so? That seemed like a huge waste, especially to have a short night to follow. Maybe the thing to do would be to try to nap in the car a little, get in late, leave early, and try to make it through another day, hoping it wouldn’t be quite as bad.

There had to be a decent job out there somewhere, something that would get her out of the house, give her a chance to live elsewhere. Maybe she shouldn’t be looking for a job in Hawthorne at all. Lansing, Toledo, South Bend, Fort Wayne, she thought. Look there; it’s close enough to go looking for work on days she didn’t have to work the early shift, yet far enough away that it would be pointless to live at home. Oh, her father would miss her since he wouldn’t have her around to bitch at, but at least she’d be out of the house.

Maybe it was just as well that she hadn’t gotten to sniffing around Ray earlier in the evening, she thought. Starting something there would end up in the way of getting out from under her parents’ thumbs. But, on the other hand, maybe getting something going would be a way out from under, too.

Whatever the hell, she thought as the waitress brought the plate of spaghetti over to her. There’s absolutely nothing that can be done about it tonight other than try to get through the night and see if maybe tomorrow would be a better day.

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To be continued . . .

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