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Stories 1 Fall 2021




by Nick Young



     The cigarettes winked in quick succession, like two orange fireflies in the deep July night.  Hotter than righteous holy hell, it was. That's just the way grandpap would put it, Lanny Wedron thought. Wet-wool blanket heat.


     "What time is it, I wonder?  Eleven or so?" Lanny asked, his words sounding flat, affectless in the oppressive air. Another cigarette flare next to him, followed by a long, hissing exhalation.


     "Hell if I know." Beau Stanger answered, annoyed. "Why you asking me anyway?  I ain't got a watch."


     "Well, I figured you'd know."


     "How would I know, Lanny, if I ain't got a watch?"


     "For one thing, I didn't know you didn't have no watch."


     "You ever see me with one "


     "Well, hell, Beau, I don't exactly spend my time gazing at your wrist.  


     "Which, if you'd looked, you'd see did not include a watch."  


     Lanny took a last drag on his smoke and flicked the butt arcing toward the canal where it died with not so much as a sputter. Away to the west drifted the low, dull thrum of water cascading through the Lock 37 sluice, kicking out spray and foam. But by the time it had traveled the quarter mile to where Lanny and Beau sat on the bank, the current was nothing more than a sluggish crawl.


     "Okay," Lanny began with a shade of exasperation, "so you got no watch. But I figured you're good at figurin' things out, so you might know, you know, about what time it is."


     "And just how would you expect me to do that, Lanny?"


     "Well, I guess maybe the moon and stars or somethin'. Maybe the planets."


     "You bothered to look up at the sky since the sun went down? You see any stars? Moon?  Any sign of a planet?"


     "I can't see nothin'.  It's too cloudy."


     "Bingo, genius." Beau Stanger felt the cigarette burning hot on his fingers and flipped what was left into the small fire that was dying a few feet down the weedy bank in front of them. I swear to Christ, he said to himself in wonderment, in thirty years of living I've never met anyone more ignorant.  Dumb as a fuckin' post.


     "Guess I'll throw a couple more sticks on our blaze."


     "Why don't you do that.  And get me another beer.  We got any more left?"


     "Yeah. Should be. In the truck." Lanny caught his boot under him as he tried to stand, causing him to stumble forward. He narrowly missed planting a foot in the middle of the dwindling fire.  "Shit!  Goddamn!"


     "For Christ's sake, Lanny. Keep it down. Wake the whole goddamn county."


     "Sorry, man."  Lanny, muttered, and kept it up all the way to his pickup a few yards beyond the lip of the embankment. Beau shook his head, lit another Camel and checked his fishing rod, which was propped up in the vee of a small branch he'd broken off, fashioned to its use and stuck into the earth.  It was the way his grandmother had shown him to place his pole -- it was always a "pole" to her, never a "rod;" that was for those fancy fly fishermen from the big city in their Army-green waders. He was only six or seven then, and she'd taken him to fish the first time as the early-morning mist rose without purpose or care off the Illinois River.


     "You get a bite?"  Lanny was back, boots crunching the dry grass, beer bottles clinking together. He tossed a few sticks of dry wood onto the fire.


     "A bite? That'd be the goddamned miracle of the night."


     "You change out your bait?"


     "I have not."


     "Fresh worm might help."


    "I could put ten of them on the hook and it wouldn't make no difference. It's too damned hot. Wasted trip."


     "Aww, come on, Beau. At least we got ourselves some beers. Here." Lanny was carrying two;  he passed one over, heard the cap twist off.


    "Jesus Christ, Lanny, it's warm."


     "Yeah, I know."


     "What the hell, man?"


     "I forgot to put the top back on the cooler."


     "You're shitting me?  No, of course you ain't."


     "Sorry."  Lanny caught sight of his own stupidity, but like many of his thoughts, it was gone as soon as it was there, a flash of electric discharge against an empty sky. He sat down beside his own fishing rig, a cheap six-foot steel rod and Zebco spinning reel. He thought about re-baiting his own hook, but decided it probably wasn't worth the effort. Instead, like Beau, he cracked the cap off his beer and took a healthy swallow.  Pretty nasty shit this warm. Still, it was alcohol.

     "I don't suppose you thought to bring down the sandwiches?"  Beau's voice hollow, without hope.


     "I'll get 'em.  Won't take but a sec."  


     Times like these, Beau wondered why in hell he even bothered with Lanny. He was twenty-two, without the brains and sense of a five-year-old. He'd started at the Zippy Lube at the beginning of the summer and latched onto Beau right off. At the time he was open to the younger man's obvious liking for him. It wasn't as though Beau's life was rich with prospects at that moment. Six months before, he'd been let go at the tool and die plant, forcing him to take the Zippy Lube job. Not exactly taxing work, changing oil and checking tire pressures all day. It paid the rent. And it helped him keep his mind off Wanda.  


     She had moved out in the spring declaring that she had higher aspirations for her life than "shacking up with a grease monkey." That was rich, he'd thought. Still did, considering her aspirations led her to promptly put her hooks into Steve Brenner, whose rung on the career ladder was pushing a broom at the local high school.  


     Mainly, he was pissed at himself for not realizing clearly where the road would end the night he'd picked Wanda up at the Tiki Torch. She wasn't exactly the bring-her-home-to-Sunday-dinner kind of girl. Not the way she first caught his eye with a few drinks in her doing Jello shots off her girlfriend's belly, egged on by the crowd gathered around them. Beau had a keen appreciation for the sort of sluttish skill she displayed, and within an hour they were going at each other on the faded shag carpeting of her living room floor. That had cemented the deal for him, and within two weeks she'd moved in.


     "Here's the bag with the sandwiches," Lanny said, depositing a brown paper sack between them. "And I got me two bags of chips, if you want some."


     "What did you get?"


     "For me, a liverwurst with ketchup and pickle on white bread -- "


    "Jesus, how can you eat that shit?"


     " -- and a yellow cheese on a bun for you." There was a long, labored sigh from his companion.


     "I told you -- a ham and cheese on rye."


     "You said 'or'."




     "'Or.'  You said a ham or cheese."


     "Chrissakes, Lanny, I goddamn well know what I said -- a ham and cheese."


     "I coulda swore you said you wanted a ham or cheese."


     "And, Lanny, 'and.' Just three little letters. I guess that's pushing the fucking outer limits for you."


     "Well . . . "


     "And what happened to the rye?"


     "I forgot that part." Beau could see there was no use even responding, not even to tell Lanny what an ignorant son-of-a-bitch he was. There was nothing left to do but unwrap his cheese on a bun and eat and drink in silence.  


     Time passed, enough so that the two men were able to finish their sandwiches. Lanny had attempted to make amends by offering Beau his extra chips ("the real crunchy kind you like"), but the olive branch was snubbed without a word.


     Overhead, a fissure in the thick bank of clouds widened enough so that the half-moon's dull ivory light shone through. The two men sat and smoked in silence. From time to time, Lanny shot a sidelong glance at Beau, whose face in profile was hard, implacable, though Lanny would never have known such a word to use it. He knew his friend had been going through a lot, what with Wanda splitting and all, so he could understand why Beau was as tetchy as he was. He himself had never been snared into a real relationship with a woman. Those waters were much too deep for him, so he stuck to the shallows, quick one-nighters with whatever he could land. It was a  lot like fishing he had realized in one of his very rare moments of reflection. What he was counting on in the end was Beau's understanding, such as it was, and his willingness to forgive and forget, just like at the Zippy Lube when he would get the customer's order confused in his head and put Pennzoil in the car instead of Quaker State.


     When he'd finished his cigarette, Lanny judged enough time had passed for Beau to have moved on from the fucked-up sandwich order, and he cleared his throat and spat a hocker down toward the water.


     "What do you think about that other thing, Beau?" There was a pause as the other man shifted his weight, boot scraping back against the dry dirt and grass.


     "What 'other thing' are you talking about?"


     "You know, the thing we talked about last week while we was drinking at my place?"


     "You mean knocking off the ATM?"


     "Yeah.  That."


     "Well, why in the hell didn't you say so?"


     "You told me not to talk about it, so I didn't want to say nothin', you know, to give it away, you know, until you give the say-so."


     "Well, you can talk about now, Lanny.  For Christ's sake, we're out in the middle of fucking nowhere."


     "Okay.  So what do you think about it?"


     "I don't."






     "Why not?"


     "Why not?"


     "If you ask me, Beau, it's a helluva plan."




     "No, man, I mean it."


     "I was shooting my mouth off when I was drunk. Nothin' more to it."


     "But this is really somethin' the two of us could pull off, and then our troubles would be over."


     "They would, would they?"


     "Sure as we're sittin' here fishin'.  We could kiss the fuckin' Zippy Lube goodbye."


     "Let me ask you a question, Lanny."




     "Have you thought for two seconds how we're supposed to pull off this crime of the century?"


     "Well, like you said at my place -- we drag the cash machine out."


     "Drag it out?"




     "Right out of the Midwest Federal branch?"


     "Right.  Like you said at my place."


     "I said I was drunk, Lanny."


     "But we could do it."


     "No, we couldn't."


     "We could."


     "With our bare hands?"


     "No, Beau, with my truck!" Beau's barking laugh shook the midnight quiet.


     "Please, God, tell me you're shitting me."


     "No, I am not. And there ain't no reason you gotta laugh at me."


     "I've sure as hell gotta laugh. Your truck?"


     "Well, why not?"


     "You taken a hard look at it lately?"


     "Okay, well, yeah, it's got some pitting -- "


     "Some pitting? Christ, Lanny, you can look through the chunks that are eaten out of one fender and see straight through the other side."


     "Okay, Beau, but you're talkin' cosmetetics. It's still got the muscle under the hood to get the job done."


     "Pardon me for playin' the skeptic on that one. But let's just say I agree with you. What's your plan for pulling it off?"


     "Okay, well, so here's how I got it figured:  we roll up with the truck at Midwest Federal about two or three in the am. We head for the drive-up behind the building where the machine is. We loop this logger chain I got around it, hook it to the rear axle and then we drag the whole goddamn thing away."


     "Just like that?"


     "Just like that.  Sweet, hunh?"


     "You have the slightest idea how much that ATM weighs?"


     "Probably a couple of hundred or so."


     "Try a thousand."


     "No way, Jose."


     "Some of  'em even more. You think they want anybody to just waltz in and waltz out with it?"


     "Well, okay.  But we could still do it with the truck."


     "You'd better get real, Lanny. You hook that machine to your truck the way you say and all that's gonna happen is that you're gonna leave the rear end of your shitbox pickup layin' in the street as Exhibit A when they arrest your ass."  


     This possibility, which Lanny had obviously not accounted for, generated  a long pause. He looked out over the water that reflected dull and brown in the meager moonlight. He saw his vision of the future wither from Easy Street back to his single-wide sitting on a dusty lot in a trailer park bereft of even a name.


     "So this big plan of yours that you were going on and on about wasn't any real plan after all?"




     "Well, you had my ass fooled."


     "That don't take much."


     "So you was just drunk?"


     "I told you that."


     "So what's it mean then, Beau?"


     "What do you mean 'what's it mean'?"


     "Well, I'm askin'."


     "Don't mean nothin', just alcohol talk. Means that bright-and-fucking early on Monday morning we'll be back drainin' pans at Zippy Lube." It was a hard truth that Lanny continued to fight. He shook out a cigarette and lit it, then tried to muster up some hope and bravado.


     "I'll bet we could do it, Beau. I'll bet we could."


     "Just shut up, will you, and fish?"


     Lanny drew on his cigarette and considered reeling in his line to apply fresh bait. Aww, fuck it. He reclined against the slope, and, looking up, saw that clouds were once  more moving across the moon.




     "What now?"


     "I didn't eat my other bag of chips. You can have 'em, if you want."



Bio: Nick Young is an award-winning retired CBS News correspondent.  His writing has appeared as part of the episodic novel "The Whole Wide World" (Sweetycat Press), the San Antonio Review, CafeLit Magazine, 50-Word Stories, the Fiery Scribe Review and Vols. I and II of the Writer Shed Stories anthologies.