Reap What You Sow
The alarm clock went off at 5:30am; Steve’s eyes popped open like window shades. He hit the off button, staggered into the bathroom, flipped the light, and looked in the mirror. Dark circles encased his eyes like bruises; sleep eluding him most of the night. He picked up a toothbrush, stale beer breath wafting out of his mouth, and turned on the tap.
He had gotten drunk the night before. And why not? After the backhand from Vinnie Vector, Steve felt he had deserved getting drunk. Fucking bastard, he thought, touching the faint bruise on his cheek. But it didn’t matter what Steve thought; Vinnie had made that clear. What did matter was coming up with the ten grand he owed Vinnie - no later than 7pm today.
“Now you leeson’ to me, you piece of sheet’,” Vinnie had said after the backhand. “I’m sick of fucking around wich’ you!” Vinnie was Cuban. “You get me my fucking money by tomorrow - or I send Bubba to bust yo' fuckin head.”
Bubba was a three-hundred pound redneck with sadistic eyes. He had grinned at Steve like a wolf admiring prey before the kill.
“One more fucking point,” Steve said, bringing his fist down in frustration atop the sink counter. “One more fucking point and I would have made the spread.”
The game was suppose to be a blowout – the Chicago Bears by seventeen – and with home field advantage throughout the playoffs at stake, Steve had been sure the Bears would dismantled the Arizona Cardinals in short order.
The Bears had won – by sixteen points - leaving Steve one point shy of the spread and screaming at the T.V. screen as the Bears quarterback had kneed the last few seconds off the clock.
The mirror was beginning to steam as hot water now ran from the tap. Steve wiped his hand across the mirror, again staring at his reflection. “I’m fucked,” he said, the reflection miming his words. “Barring some miracle today, I’m fucked.”
Thirty minutes later, Steve drove to work. He worked for Hanson Electric as a Mainline Specialist, repairing and replacing ground transformers. The work was interesting, but dangerous. Many of the older transformers didn’t have the safeguards in place that the newer ones did, and working with a blown relic that had eleven-thousand volts of juice running through it tended to get a little hairy sometimes.
After pulling his old Ford pick-up into the work yard and killing the engine, Steve sat behind the wheel and thrummed his fingers on the dash.
There has to be a way out of this, he thought. Has to be.
Just then, a hand wrapped on his window, and Steve damn near jumped out of his skin. He turned and saw the expanding grin of his crewmate – Toothless Tom. Tom wasn’t exactly toothless, but his front teeth resembled rotten stumps of wood…and his breath, my God...his breath! Tom’s wretched breath left such an impression that Steve could almost smell it radiating through the pores of the closed window. The only thing Steve’s mind could come close to associating Tom’s breath with was the combined smell of rotten fish and raw sewage. How such a putrid smell could come out of one mans mouth Steve didn’t know. But what he did know was that the combined fish and sewage smell still came in a distant second to the reek emitting from Toothless Tom’s pie hole. It was that bad.
In his current mood, Steve wanted to roll down his window, cram a package of mints (container and all) into Tom’s grinning mouth, and then force him to chew until he spat foam and plastic like a rabid dog. I’m sorry, Tom…but damn! Someone had to do it!
Then he steadied himself; today was not the day to get fired. Today was payday, and maybe, just maybe, Vinnie would accept twelve-hundred dollars as partial payment instead of the meager five-hundred Steve had offered him yesterday.
And maybe not, a voice whispered deep in Steve’s head.
“Shut up,” said Steve, and opened the truck door.
“Good mornin’, Steve’o’,” Tom said cheerfully, his breath as bad as ever, and Steve rethought the breath mint idea. “Me and you’z gonna be busy today. We got us a busted buzz box waaay out by the county line. Their only sendin’ me and you, so we’ll be there all day.”
Oh, goody, Steve thought as he walked to the office to punch in.
“Oh yea! Hey Steve’o’!” Tom yelled after him. “Did’ga catch dat Bears game over the weekend?” Steve froze in his tracks, clenching his fists into tight balls. “I bet Jimmy Jackoff ten dollars the Bears would win cause’ I know how much he likes them Cardinals.” (Jimmy’s real last name was Jackoski, but Jimmy had tendency of grabbing his crotch when he spoke to others, thus the nickname.) “He wanted seventeen points – like out there in Vegas - and I told him to quits bein’ such a pussy! Them points is for chumps.
“Anyways, I won! So lunch is on me today! Hows that sound, buddy!”
Steve gritted his teeth - fucking redneck hillbilly! – but again steadied himself, waived a dismissive hand, and mounted the office steps.
The yard office was nothing more than a dilapidated portable trailer supported atop flat, rotten tires. It was still dark out, and when Steve opened the door the overhead fluorescents shot bright needles of pain into his hung over eyes. Inside, a grungy desk and one long folding table were the only furnishings. Two of the yards foreman and several other crewmen sat at the folding table as they went over work orders for the day.
“It’s you and Tom today, Steve ‘o’,” said Greg Lacy, the yards general foreman. Greg was a large man, in his late fifties, with a full Grizzly Adam’s beard and blind in one eye. He sat at the grungy desk and never looked up from his paperwork as he spoke. “Take U-truck forty-two, and…”
“Holy shit, Steve ‘o’!” One of the workers at the table exclaimed. “What happened to your face?”
Greg looked up.
Steve’s hand went to his cheek. He could feel his face turning red.
“I know! I know,” another player added. “”You were jacking-off and your hand slipped!”
A roar of laughter followed the statement. Greg turned his attention towards the table, his expression flat and his good eye malevolent. The office fell silent.
Turning back to his desk, Greg held out a work order to Steve. “As I was saying…” He paused to see if anyone would dare interrupt him again. They didn’t. “You and Tom take truck forty-two. She’s got enough wire left on her spool for the job. You’ll have to run by the supply yard to pick up a new transformer and fiberglass mounting pad because you’ll be replacing both. The old pad is cement.”
Steve was still holding his check and reflecting back on the real reason for the bruise.
Greg looked up again, irritated. “You get that…or do I need to explain again?”
Steve jarred from his thoughts. “No, I got it.”
“Well, get goin’. Daylights a-waisten’.”
One of the men sitting at the table caught Steve’s gaze, made a jerking off gesture, and winked. Steve gave him the finger, turned, and left the office.
“Oh, one more thing, Steve ‘o’,” Greg yelled after him, holding the door open with his hand, his bad eye rolling crookedly towards the heavens. “Your safety bonus came in. Here.”
He thrust an envelope out the open door and Steve snatched it greedily.
“Good job,” Greg grunted, and slammed the door shut.
The check inside was for three-hundred dollars. Steve had forgotten all about the six-month safety bonus. He had only been with Hansen for nine months, so this was the first one he had received for not getting himself killed or maimed on the job
That makes fifteen-hundred, he thought as he walked to the U - truck. Vinnie should be happy with that until next week.
And then what? the deep voice whispered. Another meager five-hundred again next week? Say “hello” to Bubba.
“We’ll see,” Steve said aloud, and flipped open his cell phone.
“Yeah,” spoke a growling voice over the airwaves.
“Can…uh, can I speak to Vinnie?”
“Who’s this?” Rude. Suspicious.
“Uh…this is Steve. I, uh…owe Vinnie a visit?”
“He’s busy. Have you got something for him?”
Steve cleared his throat. “Yes…well part of it. Tell him I just got paid, and I also received a bonus I didn’t know was coming…and I…”
“How much?” Cold. Uncaring.
Steve cut to the case. “Fifteen-hundred dollars.”
“Hold on a sec.”
There was a low mumbling in the background, and then a loud voice screaming in Spanish.
“Hey, Steve?” The gruff voice was back.
“This is Bubba.” Cheerful. Good humored. “I ain’t real good with Spanish, but I think Vinnie said for you to take your fifteen-hundred and go wipe your ass with it. I’ll see you at seven – sweetmeat.”
Steve stared at the phone for several seconds, and then closed it with a shaking hand.
They rode in silence for the first mile, Steve slipping further into depression, Toothless Tom driving and jutting his head back and forth like a chicken to a tune only he heard inside his head.
For Steve, the only thing that broke the thought process was the smell of Tom’s breath filling the cab like poisonous gas. He pictured slithering green snakes, like Medusa’s hair, slithering out of Tom’s mouth in search of his nose. God…how can he stand it? Steve thought as he rolled down the window.
Tom looked across the seat and gave Steve a dopey grin. “Ya farted, didn’t cha?”
By this time Steve had his head hanging out of the window like a dog on a car ride. He gave Tom an unbelieving look.
“Oh, com’on now,” Tom said, giggling like a cartoon character. “It don’t bother me none. What’s a little fart juice between work buddies?”
Steve gazed at him like a confused old woman, and then turned his head back into the breeze. Stupid inbreed, country fuck.
“Well,” Tom pushed on, “were you wanna have lunch? Remember, it’s on me! Skies the limit! Mickie D’s - B.K. - Wendy’s – Taco Bell…” He paused a moment, seeming stuck in thought, then, as if hit by a revelation, said, “Maybe not Taco Bell. We’d end up fart’in us a sing-o-long by three-o’clock.
“Hey, Steve ‘o’! You should think ‘bout comin’ by the house sometime – meet the missus.”
Oh dear Lord, Steve mind screamed. There’s a missus? How can she stand it! Is she human?
As if in response to his thoughts, Tom said, “Yep, she’s one hot little honey – tits the size of bowlin’ balls and an ass the size of Texas!” He looked to Steve and gave him a knowing wink. “And she’s all mine…no sharin’ partner.” Then he brayed a donkey laugh and slapped at the dash. “Hell, I’m just joshin’ ya, Steve ‘o’. You can have some, too!” Then off he went in another volley of goofy laughter.
Would you just shut the fuck up! Steve’s mind moaned. And oooh how he wanted to say - You’re an ignorant moron! Your breath alone could start World War III. A missus? A missus? You gotta be fuckin’ shittin’ me! What is she – a Sasquatch? You’re a retarded hick, and I’m above you…so would you just leave me the fuck alone!
But once Toothless Tom got started, there was no stopping him. So Steve sat, with his head half in - half out of the truck widow, listening to Tom tell his bullshit stories, knowing that shortly after work he would probably be in the hospital, or worse - dead.
An hour later, Tom turned right off of State Road 31 onto a dirt road called Lucket Lane. Steve couldn’t have been more thankful. He wanted out of the truck. The area was desolate, save for four or five turn of the century homes remodeled by their well-to-do owners.
“The work order says 1507,” Tom said. “Should be on the left.”
About a half mile later, Tom spotted the address marker and pulled into a gravel driveway that was surrounded by thick trees and vegetation. Traveling at crawling speed (which made Tom’s breath linger like a rancid ghost because of the lack of breeze) they came upon a rout-iron gate. The gate was open, giving way to a large, manicured yard. In the middle of the yard a lavish, nineteenth century country home greeted the two electric workers. The home was under renovation.
Steve snatched up the work order and read the special instruction aloud. “Transformer at back of property near woods – Owner has been contacted, will be gone till 3pm.”
Tom looked at his watch. “Hell, it’s only nine o’clock. Maybe we could finish early and take a dip in the guy’s pool?”
Steve eyed his co-worker with contempt. “Did you see a pool, Tom?”
“Naw…thought I could get ya on that one.”
They drove to the back of the property and found the transformer buried under thick Jasmine vines. Tom worked on clearing the vines as Steve unloaded the backhoe and collected the tools they would need. The old transformer was in bad shape, the locking mechanism solidified with rust. But after several blows with a sledgehammer, the transformer lid popped open.
“Whew! Look at this nasty bugger,” Tom said. “Almost rusted through.”
Steve barely heard. He was lost in his own thoughts, thinking about how Bubba had grinned at him. I’ll see you at seven – sweetmeat.
“Earth to Steve ‘o’ – come in Steve ‘o’,” Tom said.
Steve jumped as if hit and whirled towards Tom. “What,” he said irritably. “What, for Christ sakes - what?”
Tom blinked in shock. “Damn, take’er easy, Steve. I just asked if you wouldn’t mind findin’ the electrical pole that this puppy’s hooked up to so we can pull the fuse.”
Steve rubbed between his eyes, “Yea, Yea…no problem,” and walk to the truck to get the Extender-stick.
After walking about two hundred feet into the woods, still lost in his desperate situation, Steve ran - face first - into the electric pole he wasn’t even looking for.
“Ow! Son of a bitch,” he screamed, wiping blood from his lip. He shook his head in frustration and extended the Extender-stick to its full length. After fishing the eyehook of the fuse, he keyed Tom on the company Nextel. “Powers going down.”
“10-4,” Tom said, and Steve pulled the fuse.
An hour later, after disconnecting the main cable and secondary house wires, they were ready to remove the old transformer and cement pad.
Steve was the operator. And as little as he felt like it, he mounted the backhoe and did his job – all the while wondering what it mattered; come eight o’clock, he probably wouldn’t be able to work for a month, if ever again at all.
Next came the digging in of the new fiberglass box, which required a three foot depth instead of the six inches necessary for the cement pad. Steve thought about telling Tom to piss-off, then just walk into the wood – hide out there. Let Vinnie and his boy, Bubba, try to find me. Then he thought about how ludicrous the idea was and began digging the hole.
Ten minutes later, he thanked God for his decision.
“Whoa, Whoa, Whoa…wait up a minute, Steve ‘o’,” Tom said, putting his hand up like a traffic cop. “I think you hit somethin’.”
Steve throttled down with annoyed grunt and stepped off the backhoe. “What is it…a root, rock, what?”
“Don’t quite know yet,” Tom said as he grabbed a shovel and eased into the hole. “What’s this? Whadda’ we have here?”
Steve looked on with curiosity as Tom dislodged a square object and bent to pick it up. It looked like a small wooden box.
“Set it up here, Tom.”
Tom brushed the dirt away and did as asked. And sure enough – it was a small wooden box. It looked old, the wood dark and solid. Engraved on the lid was a crown, surrounded by roman numerals. The clasp looked to be made of brass, with nothing holding it in place but an old nail.
Steve removed the nail and opened the lid, his eyes widening as the items inside caught the suns reflection, spilling red light across his face.
“My God, Steve ‘o’,” Tom said in total disbelief. “Thems’ look like rubies!”
And indeed they did – six of them, at least three carats each, sitting on black velvet in a perfect line.
“Maybe the people who first owned dis’ here house buried um’ here for safe keepin’,” Tom said, his face slack with wonder.
Steve shrugged. “Yea, and maybe the Inca Indians came here on vacation. I don’t give a shit where they came from – they belong to us, now.”
“Well, there is lots of money there,” Tom said in a matter-of-fact tone. “But we’re not exactly rich.”
“Now how in the hell would you know that?”
“Don’t you remember my Uncle Leroy I told you about?” Tom asked as if saying, don’t you ever listen to me.
“Get to the point, Tom.”
“Alright, alright…don’tcha get your panties in a wad. See…my Uncle Leroy use to own a pawn shop, and when I was a teenager he use’ to let me work there in the summers for some extra money. People use’ to bring in all sorts of strange thing – plants, window shudders, animals. I remember this one guy - Tall Larry they called him. Tall Larry brought this big ole’”
“Tom! The rubies! How much!”
“Okay…okay. Back then, maybe five hundred a piece. Today…?” Tom closed an eye, looking to the sun as he calculated and rubbing his tongue over the black stumps of his teeth. “I’d says maybe two grand each.”
Steve was flabbergasted. “That’s it!”
“Well, I tell you what, Steve ‘o’,” Tom said, grinning. “If six grand ain’t enough for ya, I’ll keep’em all.”
The words clicked in Steve’s head: Keep’em all, yea, that’s it. I have to keep them all. Vinnie already made it clear that no partial payment would be accepted. I have to have them all!
Little did Steve know that if he would’ve just told Tom about his predicament, Tom would’ve been happy to help him out, even with a loan if the stone didn’t cover the whole amount he owed Vinnie. In Tom’s view, that’s what buddies did for one another.
Instead, Steve decided to kill Tom.
It was Tom who decided the how, signing his own death warrant without even knowing it. “I says we plant our box and fire up that there transformer. Then we can go down to one of them there pawn shops together, and hear what they have to says.”
Of course! Steve’s mind yelled with the glee of a lunatic. Go flip the switch, then ask Tom to plug it in! Of course!
Putting on his best poker face, Steve grabbed Toothless Tom by the shoulder and nodded. “That’s a great idea, Tom. Let’s get this done. And if I’ve seemed a little pissy today, I apologize. I just got a lot on my mind.”
Tom smiled his dopey smile, bathing in the compliment and apology. “Oh, that’s no problem, Steve ‘o’…we all have our days. Let’s get this done.”
Steve grinned, and Tom didn’t seem to notice all the teeth involved in that grin. It was a grin of desperation and greed. It was the grin of a savage.
Thirty minutes later, the fiberglass box was in and Steve was in the process of setting the transformer using the backhoe.
“Little to the right,” Tom said, guiding the transformer into place. “Down, down. Little to the right, down, down…perfect!”
Steve reversed the backhoe and dismounted while Tom began process of securing the transformer mounting brackets, which would take him about fifteen minutes.
Steve groaned and put a hand to his stomach.
“You okay, buddy?” Tom asked.
“Yea,” said Steve, acting it up. “I just never had a chance to take a dump this morning, and it’s haunting me now. I’ll be right back.”
Tom waived a hand and went back to work. “Take one for me, too!”
“Yea…I’ll do that,” Steve said, and headed into the woods.
As soon as he was out of ear shot, Steve pick up a running pace, dodging trees and thickets as he went. The electrical pole was easier to find this time, the yellow Extender-stick sticking out like a sore thumb as it dangled from where Steve had left it, hanging from the loophole built into the fuse.
He approached the pole with second thoughts, and then an image of Bubba holding a baseball bat flashed across his imagination. I’m here for you, sweetmeat!
“No…” Steve whispered as he grasped the Extender-stick, “I can’t let that happen,” and threw the switch, energizing the primary cable sitting next to Tom’s foot with 11,200-volts of power.
When he came back into the clearing, Tom was in the process of connecting the last of the secondary cables. “Hey buddy. Feeling better?”
“Great,” Tom said, tightening the last lug. “Why don’t cha’ go ahead and load up the backhoe. I got this just about…”
But that was the end of Tom’s sentence, and of him. He had grabbed the primary cable to plug it in, and now 11,200-volts of electricity coursed through his body.
Steve had assumed it would be quick. But as Tom’s mother could have told you, the word assume can make an ass out of u and of me.
Tom’s entire body began to vibrate like a tuning fork, causing his blackened teeth to click together and break off as blood began pouring over his gums. For the next few seconds, Steve thought the worst was over. But then to his horror, Tom’s eyes burst from the sockets and flew across the yard like prehistoric tadpoles, the remaining optic entrails beginning to blacken and curl, frying to Tom’s face like strips of rotten leather.
Steve wanted it to end, but didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t touch Tom, or go anywhere near him for fear of being electrocuted himself. He thought of running back to the pole and pulling the fuse again, but for some reason couldn’t take his eyes off of Tom’s now smoking carcass.
Ten seconds later, Steve regretted his decision to stay.
The side of Tom’s shirt burst into flames, charring black and curling over like burnt paper, revealing the bubbling cauldron of boiling flesh beneath. Then, as if an invisible ax man wielded the devastating blow, a jagged tear opened in Tom’s side and a blue bolt of electricity arced from his body to the transformer, grounding the circuit and causing the pole fuse to blow with a shotgun blast, thus killing the power.
The execution was finally over.
The primary cable tumbled from Tom’s blackened hand, along with three barbequed fingers, and Tom fell forward in a smoldering heap.
Steve walked to Tom’s body, an involuntary twitch dominating his left eye. A curl of smoke rose lazily from the dead man’s mouth, and an insane thought went through Steve’s head. I wonder if his breath ignited the fire.
Steve heard the laugh of a lunatic escape his lungs.
After his head began to clear, Steve remembered the small box with the six large rubies in it and thought it was time to get his story straight.
I have no idea what possessed Tom to unplug the primary line after I energized it. I guess he just didn’t like the way it was positioned and wasn’t thinking. Everyone knew that Tom wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I didn’t think he was that dense.
“No, no,” Steve said aloud, tapping a thinking finger on his chin as he paced in front of Tom’s smoldering body. “Don’t say things that are negative. Don’t call him dense. Try to say things that are remorseful, like…”
But just then, he heard the crunching of stone beneath car tires. The owner of the house had returned early. Steve glanced to the wooden box sitting on the trailer, knowing he didn’t have time to react.
Tom had parked the Mayer Electric truck cross-wise in front of the transformer they had been working on, which now blocked Tom’s grizzly corpse from view. The car approaching was a top of the line B.M.W., the man behind the wheel wearing a suit.
I’ll listen to what he has to say, Steve thought, picking up a shovel as if tidying up. And if he doesn’t say anything about the wooden box, I explain there’s been an accident – try to look in shock. It sounded lame, but it was the best he could do on short notice.
And if he does try to claim the box, then what? That was the other voice in Steve’s head, and it sure was getting loud.
“Then I guess I’ll have to kill him too, won’t I,” he said through gritted teeth.
The Beamer came to a stop ten feet from the truck, and the man in the bankers’ suit got out. He was short, plump in the middle, and completely bald.
“Good day to you, sir,” the man said in an English accent.
Steve nodded, trying to look distraught. “Hi.”
“Almost finished up here?” The man asked.
Steve nodded again, smiling inside and readying his story. “I’m afraid there’s…”
“Oh look there,” the Englishman interrupted. “Good show, my boy! You found the buried treasure!”
Steve tightened his grip on the shovel. Swing high, the voice in his head yammered.
The suited man’s face took on a puzzled look. “Or should I say – my grandsons buried treasure.”
Now it was Steve’s turn to look confused. “What do you mean?” If I don’t like the answer, I’m cracking him over the head.
Fine by me, the other voice said.
The jolly Englishmen clapped his hands together, and smiled. “Oh yes, of course! My apologies…let me explain.
“I’m a jeweler, you see, and I moved here from England about six months ago to be closer to my daughter and grandson. He’s eleven now, and outgrowing the games we play I fear. Anyway, about two months ago, he and four of his friends came over for a nightcap, and I thought it might be fun for them to hunt down a buried treasure. So I took that little box over there I found at a trading post in England, put six large glass stones in it, and buried it in the yard.”
“What?” Steve said in a horrified whisper, his eye beginning to twitch again.
The man didn’t seem to notice, so continued. “Of course, they lost interest after about a half hour, and then I forgot where I buried the bloody thing. No loss though. After all, it is only a three dollar box with five dollars worth of glass stones in it.”
Steve began to tremble all over.
“But jolly good show finding it my good man,” the jolly jeweler from England said. “By the way, what’s that awful smell?”
Steve fell to the ground, curled into a fetal position, and began to scream.