The afternoon was coming fast and I was just starting my shift. I dreaded the trouble calls about to come to me from dispatch through the floor-mounted radio mounted to the floor of the truck. Last night was exhausting. I hated nights but today I started a little earlier and had a few hours of daylight before the sun set.
I sat down in front of my boss’ desk for the day’s briefing. Without hesitation he began to ream my ass about a call he received from a representative whose ear was sore from the complaint he received about me. How would I have known he was fishing.
“That was Jimmy not me!” the bus’s engine began to wind up as I steered the wheel over Jim’s body.
Heck peered over his prescription horned-rimmed glasses as he interrogated me for more answers.
‘Does he know?’ My collarbones began to convulse in preparation of a convincing shrug I was going to need. My brain seized knowing I had just did a gainer into the rat pond. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to spill my guts and jump into the deep shit pool. Now Heck knew I was an accomplice of the horrifying crime of the night before.
My recollection began to focus.
The night before, Jim left his voltmeter on the wall next to this guy’s door. When Jim went back to get it, it wasn’t there anymore. He rounded the corner where I was by the meters on the side of the building. He huffed, “Someone took it,” he said with the punishable tone of a Southern Mountain Authoritarian.
“Oh bullshit. You keep losing those things and Heck will strangle you.”
Heck Heckathorn was a man a small statue and a giant of character. Navy all the way. Nothing got past Heck.
“I’m telling you. Someone took the son-of-a-bitch. I left it right there.” Jim pointed down in the direction of the corner he was standing at where I couldn’t see.
I picked up my flashlight and walked to the corner and looked around slowly in the area of where he was pointing. “You sure?”
Jim pushed back his hair off of his forehead and put his hands akimbo. I pointed my light in Jim’s eyes. “Well?” I asked for an answer.
“You’re damn right I’m sure!”
“You are saying you set the meter right there not one minute ago and it’s gone now. Did you check your bag?”
Jim rustled through the canvas bag of tools he was carrying, “See? I swear on the asshole piece of shit snail-slime covered son-of-a-bitch’s life who took it. Heck is not going to be happy when I tell him this. I’ll have to steal another one from someone else or Heck is going to rain shit clods the size of your big ass head on mine! I’m knocking on those two doors and the first one who answers is going to pay.”
Jim had already determined the fate of whoever was behind the two condominium’s doors that were separated by the small slump block wall that divided the small steps serving as a landing.
The wall laid the line of whose land was whose. Both yellow bug bulbs inside the clear glass porch-lights were lit. Jim’s shadow shortened as he stepped heavily toward the doorbells.
Jim approached the furthest door first and pressed the button. The intensity of the drama I was about to witness made my safety glasses fog. As I removed the glasses for a better view of what was coming, Jim put his ear up to the door. He faced me as he listened, “Do you hear anything? he whispered.
“You’re the one with your ugly ear stuck to the door,” I answered as I set my green canvas tool bag on the wall where Jim’s missing voltmeter once sat. I smiled in amusement of Jim’s question.
Jim and I had been on the same line dock as grunts and became apprentices the same year. Both of us graduated and took jobs on different departments as Linemen. Jim touted himself as a red-haired Italian to most but I always knew he had grown up in a barn somewhere in the Midwest.
A few years later we joined each other again as Electric Troubleshooters for our company. We had become friends for life. Now that’s not to say we hadn’t had our disagreements and trivial work issues but Jim had my back if things ever got out of hand. I had Jim’s no matter what and he knew it and besides, I was always right anyway.
“Ring it again,” I said.
Jim pressed the white button of the golden plastic-encased door bell.
“I can hear it ringing,” Jim said. He now has his finger in the ear not against the door.
“Face it, Heck is going to eat your ass. You could use a little off of it anyway,”
“The bastard is in there, I know it. He’s a short shit with a stupid tie-dyed t-shirt. Looks like a fucking hippie. I know he took it.”
We were ex-hippies.
“Go ahead, kick it in and roll on the carpet when you dive. Here, take my amp meter and act like it’s a gun, Starsky, I’ll be Hutch.” I held my meter out for Jim to take.
Jim backed away from the door and acted like he was going to kick at the door, “I was just kidding. Holy shit!”
“So was I,” Jim smiled and backed off the step. “Shit! We gotta go back to the yard and get one off of another truck.”
“What’s that make, thirteen meters already?” I said aloud, only to irritate Jim knowing the only way Jim could get a replacement is to ask Heck.
“I’ll buy one at Radio Shack if I have to,” Jim said as he walked past me to return to the corner where he set his bag down.
“Aren’t you going to try this door?”
Jim had forgotten about the other door even though there was only two to choose from.
“Oh yeah, I forgot. This is an old lady. I talked to her before. The little short piece of shit who took my meter lives in there,, not here,” Jim said as he thrust his finger at the door of no answer.
I could hear the doorbell ring inside. We waited for only a couple of seconds when the door opened. A short man with hair mussed up on one side of his head as if he was lying on his side on the couch stood in the doorway. He resembled Barney Fife vacationing in Hawaii. He had a ugly tie dyed t-shirt on and a bottle of Colt 45 in one hand.
The couch the man must had been sleeping on was near the opening. We could see the armrest facing away toward the tube television on two cinder blocks across the room.
On the armrest was Jim’s yellow voltmeter.
“I want my voltmeter back,” Jim said as he pointed through the doorway at the couch’s corduroy armrest.
The little man rocked back on his heels as he turned his head to see what Jim was talking about. A slosh of beer splashed out of the bottle’s top and onto his hand.
He turned back to Jim, “What volt, , , ”
Jim had already knew what he was going to hear anyway. His index and middle knuckle of his right hand hit the man’s nostrils perfectly and other two split his upper lip. This was at the speed of light so the memory is faulted somewhat but I do remember seeing the man fall backward to the carpet as a dust cloud erupted.
I remember watching the beer bottle squeeze out of his hand like a rocket launcher and a gray cat flying out from underneath the couch and up the stairs to the second floor. The cat could have been any color but at that speed all colors blend.
Jim stepped in with one foot and picked up the voltmeter and closed the door. Both porch-lights were still flickering from the explosion of Jim’s hand. My jaw was hanging down so far it was in my canvas bag. Jim walked around me as my head twisted around like a great horned owl trying to understand what I had just witnessed and keep my eyes on Jimmy.
Jim stopped and turned back to me, “What?”
I shook my senses clear, “Nothing, nothing at all. We’re all done here I guess. I say we go get coffee somewhere away from here. You want some decaf?”
Jim nodded, “I’ll buy,” and walked to the corner disappearing around it and into the darkness.
I’m sitting as still as possible as Heck is reading the complaint. The paper was hand delivered, we had no email, text, or computers at the time. Unlike today, we talked.
“It says here that you punched a customer?!
Jim has a habit of saying the word, ‘no’, repetitively when denying anything. His record is 9 no’s at one time.
I shook my head back and forth before answering Heck, “Nonononono,” I repeated. Jim walks in and starts to sit down on the chair by the side wall of the office.
“Hey Heck,” Jim greeted the boss.
“Get your ass up and sit right there.”
There was the chair directly in front but to the left of Heck’s head. Heck could see better out of his left eye so that seat was reserved for special occasions.
Jim was adjusting himself in the chair when I asked, “Can I go to work?”
Heck didn’t raise his eyes from the paper and just flicked his index finger of his right hand toward the door. I got up and closed the door behind me. As I left the office and was halfway down the hallway to the exit, I could hear Heck’s muffled anger but only could pick up on a few words here and there.
“Whatthefuckdoyoumeanyoupunchedacustomerinhishouse.” There was a paused silence. I could hear a whiny voice and several ‘no’s’. The sounds grew fainter.
I exited the main door leading back to our trucks and waited outside by mine.
Jim came out after only a couple of minutes. The doors blasted open as Jim stepped through the double-door entry. He was smiling a closed lip smile. Something was up for sure. ‘Shit, Heck fired him.’ I mumbled to myself.
Jim walked up to me and was continuing to walk by me.
“Well?” I asked with both arms extended.
Jim continued for a couple of steps then turned, “You know, life is just like this. Last night is a night we won’t ever forget.”
“Did he fire you?”
“Oh no, Heck did his Heck laugh but I wasn’t supposed to tell you. He was glad I got my meter back. He thought it was a little odd that you rolled over so easy.”
“That was an accident. I didn’t tell him nothing.”
“You told him I did it. I’d say that’s enough.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry but I was just caught off-guard a little. Still can’t believe seeing that guy laying there bleeding out through his nose like that.”
“Yeah, well like I said, life is just like last night,” Jim said and stopped in mid-sentence.
“And?” I quizzed.
“Life is like bowling. I threw a strike last night and got my voltmeter back so Heck didn’t eat my ass. Two strikes in a row I’d say.”
“So the hippie?”
“No, that was a gutter ball for sure. He stepped over the foul line and I threw him in the gutter. Life is exactly like that.”
“That being, strikes and gutters,” he assured. It’s just a game.
I leaned on the front quarter of my trouble truck and nodded slowly contemplating the significance of Jim.
Jim stopped at his truck and opened the driver’s side door, “Come on, let’s go.”
“Where we going?” I asked worriedly.