This is still very much an experiment in writing. I plan to post the raw, unedited development of this short story here. I hope you’ll follow along. Thank you.
The Tequila Journals
By Chad Schomber
I start every story with a blank page. I can see the whole story all at once like a sculptor sees the statue within a block of marble long before the chisels chip. There’s no easy way to get the story on the page. You have press play inside your head, pause, write, press play, write, pause… on and on until the story is there. The story sucks of course because you’re just transcribing your thoughts. Later, when you tidy up your reckless rambling is there a good story worth reading. Some times there are stories within stories that need to be told. Stories more interesting and more dangerous than the ones they hide in. Those are the stories that tequila helps me write.
Herald dropped off collection of alligator teeth for me to sort through. “Pick out the whole ones, leave the broken ones,” he would say. At a buck a tooth, it was easy work for a 17-year kid living in his parents garage. I never asked where the teeth came from because I didn’t care. But the asshole volunteered the low down today. What a fuck.
Some geniuses thought ‘gator wrestling could bring in moolah getting sucker rednecks to go 3 rounds with a starved alligator. Last all three rounds, you get half the pot. A dude from Minnesota won $3000 last week. That crazy bastard went WWF on what had to be a retarded gator. After a fight, the gators are killed, striped and BBQ’d. Good eats, I hear. Anyway, the “bone collector” collects the teeth. Now that’s a messed up gig. And get this, his job is to sort the bones like fucking lumber. Herald never said what they do with the bones. I’m sure there’s some whacko in Arkansas that builds tables and shit with them. Who knows.
I like Herald. He’s only a few years older than me. His parent owned an ice cream place downtown. Though the rumor is that Herald’s dad had mob ties or some shit. What’s a mob guy doing here in Hinkley, Florida? We’re not even larger enough get dot on a map. Come to think of it, I don’t remember ever see Hinkley on a map. Huh. I meet him a couple summers ago at the Salvation Army store. I was looking a couch to put in my mansion in the garage. He was thumbing through some vinyl albums.
You meet plenty of interesting people that have secrets. Now these secrets force them to do and not do certain things in life. Think about one of your secrets. What would happen if your friends found out? In many ways, it’s our secrets that define us, not our accomplishments or successes. The story I’m about to tell, as far as I know, is true. As far as you know, it’s true. If we can agree on that, then you’ll be entertained. But if you’re already calling bullshit, perhaps you’re not ready for the Tequila Journals. Why don’t you spend more time thinking about those secrets you hide from every day.
Ever notice that stories just start in the middle of something? Writers have clever openings to pull you in but the story just to needs to start somewhere, some when. So I have no choice but to just jump in. Do your best to fill in the blanks with your imagination. I don’t care how it all looks in your head as long as you’re following the “thread” of the story. My journal entries will give you glimpse to how the every event, moment is connected to another. It only becomes obvious when we look back at our lives. Ever meet a person for 10 seconds in a random place, then a week, month, year later you meet again, but this time it’s at critical point in your life? I believe that shit is not random at all. Honestly, it’s kind of creepy.
Anyway, as you read, watch how my journal entries hold clues to how the story unfolds. Had I been paying attention, perhaps I could’ve changed the ending. That’s a feeling I can’y shake.
Saturday morning, early. Our neighbor, Mr. Prescott was out milking the cows before the sun had a chance to glow. That old man ticked like clockwork. Up knocking off his to-do list long before anyone else got out of bed. That’s what I liked about Mr. Prescott — that and his stubby right arm. There were plenty of mornings, I wanted to go over and help. I kept to my selfish ways I suppose.
Prescott wasn’t always a farmer. Depending on who you talked to, he either robbed a bank, invented toothpaste or wrote children’s book in a life long past. Probably did it all if you ask me. Shoot, I bet that old koot has tons of stories to share if he didn’t spooky everyone out some much. You know what? That’s what I gonna do. I’m gonna get that man some of Hinkley’s finest whiskey and get him to tell me a tale or two.
So my adventure began. I got Tuck Boone’s older brother to buy me a bottle of Rubicon Whiskey. It wasn’t much to get him to do it. I stumbled on him and Darlene Himdune “studying” in the backseat of her dad’s Camry. No big deal except he was dating Bobby Sue Kendall. I got him to pretty much do anything I needed. At least for a few months. Once they broke up, I had nothing.
Prescott accepted the whiskey with a pinpoint stare and a gentleman’s nod. I nodded back, cleared my throat and mumble something to the affect of, “Tell me how you robbed a bank.” Now that I think about it, I blurted that after he offered me a swig.
“Why you want to know about that?” said Prescott
“Didya do it?”
“Son, if I did, why would I tell you? Who are you anyway?” Prescott pointed the whiskey at me.
“Vaughn. Vaughn Scots. I live other there.” I pointed to the next house over. “We’re neighbhors.”
“Heh. How old are you boy?” said Prescott as he shuffled back to his porch. He took a seat on the weathered wooded planks that resembled steps.
“How’d’ya get this whiskey? Ahaa. Never mind, it doesn’t matter.” Prescott squinted and looked out into setting sun. “That was a long long time ago, Vaughn.”
“That bank deal.”
“So it’s true? I knew it.”
“Whoa there chief. Ain’t nothing true unless I say it is. Even then I might be fibbing. Ya see, ya gotta keep people guessing. Wondering. Shoot, life ain’t nothing but dodging lies, telling lies and hoping no one’s smart enough to figure out the truth. That’s lesson number one, Vaughn.”
It’s funny. I kept bringing the whiskey, Prescott kept rattling off lessons. Got up to 123 before he died. In between all the bullshit, I think a few nuggets of real wisdom sunk in. I miss him.
It was just Mrs. Glut and me at his funeral. No family, no speeches about what a great man Mr. Prescott was or anything. Not even his neighbors showed. I could tell it was awkward for Pastor Phil. He inherited the gig from Sr. Pastor Chris who was a mission trip out west. Pastor Phil had been in town for about a week when Prescott collasped at the LunchBox Diner. I heard Fran Pritchard fainted when she saw Prescott’s skin bubble like spoiled eggs on a scorching griddle. That got me thinking about a story he told me.
Mr. Prescott died today. I’m sad but really confused. Yesterday he mumbled “Garret Sumpter. Engine 999,” after a couple long swigs of whiskey. He had mentioned Sumpter in the story about the bank robbery. Nothing specific, just his name. And Engine 999 is completely new. A train? Fire station?
Herald was late as usual. The one time he invited me to a gator wresting fight and that dumbass had me waiting like a teen pacing over a pregnancy test. I swear he did it just to make me squirm. That fucker. When he finally pulled up, he jibber jabbered about some house fire on Bluff Street down by the YWCA. At the time, I didn’t care. I was stoked about beers and gator wrestling. The next morning, when I heard about the house fire, I found out that it was Gary Olskraft’s mom’s house. Gary and I played Frisbee golf at the park sometimes. I liked Gary. But my parents, well, they preferred I had other friends. You see, Gary nearly burned down our house about five summers before. We were fooling around, striking matches in the kitchens. That knucklehead threw a match into the garbage. Poof!
The whole goddamn place when up. It wasn’t until that moment I wondered why we had carpet in the stupid kitchen in the first place. Thank goodness for a nosy neighbor who called 911. I learned a lot about fires weeks later when my Mom dragged me down to the fire station for a lecture from Chief Wiggums. Not his real name. Wignamski didn’t have the ring to it that kid’s were hoping for. So his nickname became Wiggums. He liked it. His buddies at the station called him Wiggy. You decide which is worse.
He was a classic fireman — walrus mustache, beer belly middle and mostly gray hair. He talked like he had mashed potatoes in his cheeks, which was creepy and kind of reassuring at the same time. After showing the cool stuff at the station, things got more sobering. Chief scattered old Polaroids onto a table. Parents cryings, kids burned to the bone, and houses charred. I remember a siren going off just I as I picked up a picture of a little girl holding her stuffed bunny rabbit. Firefighters attacked the blaze that was consuming her home. My stare never flinched. I was playing out the events in my head. I was mesmerized by the photo.
By the time we got to the field out past the Winfield County Fairgrounds parking lot, Herald and I missed the first two gator matches. I didn’t really care much. With no money to bet, I just wanted to see some action. And that included chasing after the ladies.
Herald strutted around like Don King promoting a Tyson fight. He spewed winks, waves and what’up nods as he dragged me through makeshift rows of lawn chairs and coolers. I just smiled at every pretty face I passed. Some even smiled back. The three beers I slammed on the drive over started doing their job. I felt on fire and fearless. And chatty. I struck up a random conversation with this crooked-smiled bitty in a red sundress. Her snakeskin boots supported her swaying hips just right. Mmmm, those hips rocked side to side like Old Glory dancing with the wind. Her name was Taylor and I was smitten.
I never expected to see Taylor again but I did. Later that night. She and a few friends were sitting on the tailgate of a muddy pickup truck. I was on the way to piss.
“Hey! Hey you, cute boy!”
Oh man, I had to pee. I kept walking.
“Vaughan! Come here, we want to talk with you.”
Between that sexy voice and having to pee, my dick was a sequoia shrink-wrapped in faded denim. I curled around and heading their way.
“Oh Vaughan. You shy boy with the cute dimples. Come over here.”
Taylor eyed me up like a cop does with a shoplifter. The conversation in my head was a lyrical battle royal.
“Dude, she’s waaaaay out of your league.”
“Shut up! I got this. She’s up on me.”
“Whatever Casanova. She totally not gonna using for a prank. Dumbass.”
The beer never tasted so good. And I chugged that PBR, my eyes were locked on Taylor. Her summer tan glistened with glimmer and glitter. Her eyes were fixed on me. My blood boiled with lust.
— sirens blasted —
But before I could even get close enough to smell Taylor’s sweet flower perfume, the cops were busting up the party like Kip going Chuck Norris on a UPS box — what can brown do for you?
March 13, 1995
Finally opened Prescott’s dented metal lunch box he gave me the week before he died. “OTIS P” was hand etched on the front. The hinge on the top handle was broken and it looked like Prescott tried to fix it a few times. It was the sort of thing hardworking men wielded around like a badge of honor. It wasn’t just a lunch box. It represented the soul of America. The blue collars that built this country by hand, one shift at a time. During an era when no one bitched about work conditions or ergonomics. You just busted your ass from sunrise to sunset, had beer before dinner, threw the ball around with the kids after dinner, fell asleep hugging your wife just to wake to do it all again. With all that, Prescott thought to trust me with it. Why?
March 14, 1995
The empty lunch box wasn’t so empty. That sneaky bastard. Inside the towering thermos, at the other end of a piece of red string, there was a well-worn key. A key to what? Was it meant for me? I think we’re going on a treasure hunt, Vaughn.
April 4, 1995
A wild goose chase. That’s what that old koot’s got me doing. Damnit! Prescott’s key doesn’t fit any locks inside his house. Nothing in his garage. There’s gotta be a clue or something. He knew I’d find the key, right? So he must’ve planned for me to want to find out where this key goes. Maybe I should talk with Herald. That knucklehead just might lend some light bulb eureka shine to this little mystery.
April 7, 1995
Herald may be a little off, but that kid might be onto something. Why would Prescott hide something important in his house? But if it’s not there, where? Buried somewhere? Crap. I’m not diggin’ holes ‘roung town. I wonder if Jerrod at ACE would help? He’s operated the key machine before, he might know what type of lock the key is for. But Jerrod is a greasy SOB.