I've lived in West Armpit as long as I can remember. Aww, alright. South Jacksonville Heights, West Jacksonville, Jacksonville, Florida. Mom and I live in this old trailer park way out in the boonies. There's about 80 trailer pads, not that all of 'em are filled There's no swimming pool and you'll only try swimming in the drainage pond once. The cottonmouths and the gator might fight long enough over your butt for you to scramble out of the water and mud, but maybe not. Then there's the green slime ... It's a damned dissapointment, let me tell you.
I was tall and skinny for ten. I don't look anything at all like mom. She's about four foot eight and really curvy with black curly hair, big darke eyes and huuuge eye lashes. She says she looks like Betty Boop, whoever that is. I look like some damned white elf from a Japanese cartoon or something. The hillbilly kids around here used to really bug me before I figured out how to use my speed. One big guy used to punch me every time he could. I fixed his wagon. I fed a long beetle into one of those big slurpee straws and blew it up his nose. Man, the noises he made were awesome!
Last winter we had some home-grown entertainment. An old guy on a really big motorcycle moved in. What was strange was what he moved into. There's this long, low concrete block building in the middle of the park that holds the water tank and lawn mower in one part of it, and an old busted-up laundry mat in the other, larger part. It always smelled like mushrooms and decay when I went near it.
When I came home from school just after Thanksgiving break two guys were tearing off the roof and throwing the pieces in a dumpster. The next day they were wearing gas masks and white overalls while they tore everything out of the old laundry. Dust and crap flew everywhere when they pressure-washed it with bleach and something smelling like Iodine. Mom said it was old-style Lysol. She said it would kill anything but the income tax man. Once everything was stripped to the walls they put up a new roof. Then they got out a concrete saw to replace the old single-pane window with a big 3x6 foot tall one and put in a new door and frame, all in one piece. It was pretty cool looking. It had this big stained glass panel on the front that you couldn't see through. It was taller than usual.
The guys came back one more time to cut a small hole in the concrete block wall and put in an air conditioner. They taped and papered over everything then spray painted the room and all the outside of the building a dingy yellow, kind of like the color of a pecan board. I looked at the label on the big five-gallon paint bucket to see what it was. It said 'marine grade epoxy resin paint'. They sealed it all up and left, taking the dumpster with them. Damn! A mystery!
A couple weeks later an electrician's truck and a plumber's truck drove up. I figured somebody really needed some work done because it was a Saturday and it was going to cost them an arm and a leg. Anyway, the electrician was bending tube, screwing down boxes and running wire like crazy. The plumber just sat on his running board, smoking a cigarette and watching the electrician run in circles. Pretty soon the lights came on and the electrician left. Then the plumber made a phone call and went into the building with a big coil of copper pipe, a tool box and a big box fan. It wasn't long before I heard hammerin' and squealin' and the sound of a propane torch. I'll say this for him, that old guy worked fast.
It wasn't but most of three hours later that a contractor's truck drove up hauling a box trailer. The contractor and his helper started unboxing cabinets and stuff until they could get to a big stack of 2x4s and a table saw. I heard the "Thwap! Thwap!" of a nail gun as that stack of lumber dissapeared. Next I saw a stack of hard pink foam panels, then tongue-and-groove boards went through the door and the sound of a power drill disturbed the quiet. I stuck my head inside and saw a big, long apartment longer than a house trailer and wider than a single. All the electrical boxes were showing through square holes in the boards. I thought that it looked real nice. There was what looked like a bathroom and a small bedroom at one end. I got chased out after the plumber got done with his bit, because he left. The contractor and his helper varnished the whole place, ceiling and all, using stilts like drywall guys use. The sinks and counter top were missing. I guessed that they didn't want to drip varnish on the counter. Once they were done they locked up and left. The contractor guy gave me a grin before he left.
I got back from school on Monday to see the contractor's truck and trailer back. I stuck my nose around the door frame to see what was up. The floor was covered in green plywood and they were using a strange gizmo to nail real wide tongue-and-groove boards down. They were a gorgeous dark red. I must have said, "Wow!" because the contractor sat back on his heels and stretched his back, then looked over at me. "It's a one-shot floor, made from recovered red-oak boards over a hunded and fifty years old. This place is going to be a real showplace when we're done." He grinned. You could tell that he was proud of the work he'd put in and the materials he used.
When they were done he vacuumed it twice, then his helper used a tack cloth on hands and knees to get the last speck of sawdust. Finally they poured on four one-gallon cans of a real syrupy varnish and leveled it with a squeegee. When they'd finished he locked up again. "This Veruthane stuff will self-level and be hard as a rock in three days. Then we'll finish with the trim, counter top, drawer pulls and wall plates." He winked at me and they left.
Wow. Normally workers treated me like a scrounging dog. This guy seemed friendly. I wondered why? If he was after my skinny ass, well, I could guarantee that I could run faster than he could. I just had to stay out of any rooms that had doors the contractor could lock.
The next weekend was library weekend. Mom worked hard to support the two of us, so I did all I could to make her life easy. I cleaned the trailer, did the laundry, took out the trash and did my best not to give her any lip. Anyway, she expected good grades out of me and every second weekend she took me to the big library downtown. Lately I was on a math kick and was seeing how physics and calculus came together. I liked it a lot but I didn't have the knack of coming at a problem from both sides like differential equations seemed to need. Maybe if I could get someone to explain it rather than just reading the books it would make more sense.
When we got back home mom cleaned up, got dressed up and went out with her friends from work. Well, I thought they were from work. I figured 'Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies' applied. Less friction was my motto. I was curious as to what the contractor did that day so I picked up a flashlight and walked over to the place. I walked up to the big window to try to catch a glimpse of what he'd done. I got right up to the window and the inside lights came on. Wow! The baseboards were black, the switch plates and power point plates were shiny brass and a big brushed steel side-by-side refrigerator/freezer sat next to a huge stove with blue control knobs. Suddenly, WHAPF! A strobe light went off. Sucker took my picture. I laughed. My face must have looked like I was on the wrong side of the fence at the monkey house. Man, did I get rubed.
We broke for Christmas the day before he drove up on his motorcycle. It was pretty quiet considering it was almost eight feet long and had three rear tires. I could have sworn it was alive. He was about six-eight. Nothing was small about him. He looked like he could have bench pressed that bike without breaking a sweat. He wore black leather chaps, a big black leather duster, heavy boots and gloves that looked like they could punch out a tractor-trailer rig. He had a silver-white beard and a nose that looked like he'd landed on it a few times. I watched through the living room window as he pulled off his gloves, removed his helmet, unlocked the door and dissapeared. I didn't see him again for DAYS. My curiosity damned near killed me but I wasn't going to go poking into another person's business. I didn't appreciate it when someone else did it to me so I did my best to return the favor for everyone else. When that place was empty it was fair game. Now that someone lived there it was out of bounds.
I was chewing my calculus into small pieces when I heard a knock on the door. Mom was at work, along with almost everyone else in the park but the moms and little kids. I opened the door, curious to see who it was. It was the big guy. My eyes must have turned to saucers as I went into fight-or-flight. He grinned and stepped back two steps. I stopped thinking with my hind brain and said "Hi.". Real genius conversationalist, eh?
"Do me a favor? keep an eye on my place. I've got to get a better vehicle for this climate so I'll be gone most of the day." He handed me a cell phone. Something European. Ericson, I think. "Hit speed dial one and lock the door if anything amiss happens." From his size I shouldn't have been surprised at the sound of his voice. It sounded growly, like distant thunder.
I blinked for a minute. "Anything I should be looking for?"
He shrugged. "Anything approaching the place." His use of anyTHING versus anyONE didn't hit me until later. I nodded while he handed over the phone. He dragged on his helmet and gloves as he walked away. Ya don't say no to a guy that big. Not when he knows where you live.
.... There is more of this story ...