"It will be alright. We should have all of this sorted out in a few hours." The doctor's voice was distant. "One way or another."
The last thing Captain Henry saw before the anesthetic pulled him into darkness was a huge bone saw and a wicked smile on the doctor's fatherly face.
Halfway through the involved surgery - the sun beginning to break above the Peten rainforest - a second sun blossomed in the sky and an electromagnetic pulse knocked the power out for seventy miles in every direction. Doctor Heinz Krieger was so enthralled by the bloody and complex work he was doing that he didn't even notice the atomic fireball visible through the thin stucco walls.
The fan inside the old air conditioner was clogged with dust and human hair and buzzed every few seconds as the motor struggled to overcome the obstruction. The buzz was a fragment of a cicada's call, a rising tone that reached a low electric hum and then extended on for several seconds. Every time this happened there was a click and then the whoosh of cool air resumed. The sweltering air inside the convenience store seemed aggressively unaffected by the decrepit air conditioner. It was so hot inside that huge clouds of steam billowed out whenever a kid opened the popsicle cooler. If he took too long the elderly Korean man behind the register would scream with unnecessary shrillness and venom.
"Close the damn freezer," he would shout in heavily-accented English.
If the kid ignored him - as they tended to do - he would follow up with, "I charge you for electricity if you don't hurry up!"
Lee Hook's Check to Cash and Liquors was located in the worst neighborhood of Fort Wayne. Ten years earlier that would not have been much of a comment on the quality of the neighborhood, but over the past decade the factories had shut down and the neighborhoods once populated by the blue collar workers had gone to seed. It had been a steady decline for most of Fort Wayne.
While the national economy was soaring like a giddy bald eagle the factories in Fort Wayne just kept handing out pink slips in waves until, one after another, they had all closed their doors. Some had relocated to Mexico, India, or some other country where companies didn't have to worry about health insurance or even about one of their employees being eaten by rats in the storage room. The rest had simply gone out of business, leaving menacing industrial shells closed off behind chain link fences and broken promises to their employees and the city planners. Most of the folks who had worked at these factories had gone elsewhere looking for a job, but a few hundred clung tenaciously to their homes.
Lee Hook was one of them, struggling to eek out a living with his convenience store like a remora circling a dead shark. He was in good company with Miss Jayne Washington, an elderly widow who had lost her husband to a trucking accident and lost her two grown sons to the prison system. She lived alone in a two bedroom shotgun house with peeling baby-blue paint and window frames filled as often as not with billowing trash bags. Miss Jayne was considered crazy by the rest of the neighborhood, but it was a shrewd sort of senility that might have been a ruse. She was just too sharp when she wanted to be.
Miss Jayne had dark coffee colored skin and brilliantly white hair that liked to slip out in thick dreadlocks from the loose bun she kept it in. She had an uneven smoke-yellowed smile and unmatched soft voice that was relaxing to hear as long as she wasn't angry. Half of her face seemed hidden behind thick-framed glasses that enlarged her eyes to alien proportions. She was legally blind but she drove her 1983 Buick Le Sabre anyway, because that's how Miss Jayne was going to do it.
Miss Jayne's granddaughter Cokey was with her that night in Lee Hook's store, catering to her grandmother's whim and helping her "get somethin' to quench that thirst". Cokey knew this meant either a flask of hobo wine or a small bottle of cheap bourbon. She could have gotten it for her grandmother; she was only 20 but Lee Hook knew her well. Miss Jayne had refused, citing Cokey's inability to select an adequately fruit flavored Mad Dog by saying "you ain't never picked right".
"You just go have a look at the ice cream for yourself girl," Miss Jayne said as she ambled on her cane over to the counter. "You can have any flavor you want."
Miss Jayne squinted and adjusted her glasses, gazing intently past Lee Hook at the large display of flasks. While her grandmother was carefully deliberating her choices Cokey walked back to the coolers where the milk and pop were kept. She glanced over her shoulder and determined which one was most out of Lee Hook's view, then opened it and leaned against the glass door with a quiet sigh. The rush of cool air was a welcome relief from the slow, humid summer night. It had rained the night before and the pools of water were dissolving into the heat, turning Fort Wayne into an unpleasant greenhouse.
Cokey was a tall girl, very thin, but not in an awkward way. Her skin was even darker than her grandmother's and in school her skinny muscular body had earned her the teasing name "Grace Jones". Since that time she'd filled out a little bit and her sweat-tightened tank top revealed a modest swell of bosom. Her face was broad and pleasant, and she had a large mouth with thin lips and matching big dark eyes. Cokey knew she could have gone to college as an athlete or a scholar, but she'd stayed in Fort Wayne to take care of her grandmother. She'd never known her father - Miss Jayne's son - and her mother was only a vague memory from when she was still in a booster seat.
Cokey craned her neck around the corner of an aisle full of trash bags, detergent, and paper plates and watched her grandmother discussing the liquor selection with Lee Hook. It wasn't that she wanted to delay her future and take care of her grandmother; it was that no one else would. She seemed to be in that position a lot; always the last person left standing in the way of responsibility.
With college finals approaching, it's time once again for Microsoft Word autosummaries of all the old, boring books you were supposed to read.
"Don't you get it? What we have to understand is it's them or us. It can't be all of us, or one. It's got to be us, or they become it. Then we lose what makes us we."
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