PUFFERS

puffer pixRichie headed over to the leaper colony, aka the ‘Designated Smoking Area’, while he waited to get four new ones mounted at Rubber Room Tires. He had thought about quitting but if two nagging ex wives and a spotted lung didn’t do it then being shuffled off between a dumpster and a porta potty probably wasn’t going to either.

A lone outlier was burning one when he got there. Like Richie he was in his thirties, facing a three-day beard and wearing the fashion of the day. That guy, though, came in extra large, all beef.

Never having problems striking up a conversation, Richie stuck out his cigarette and motioned for a light. The other fellow, Smitty obligated and lit him up.

“Thanks. Richie’s my name.” Richie says.

“No problem.” Smitty says, making no never mind.

They stood around pulling and puffing on their cigarettes for a minute.

“Getting new tires?” Richie asked.

“Yeah.” Smitty replied without explanation.

“Me too, four of them. You picked a good place, I’ve been here plenty.”

“O…k.” Smitty pulls out his cellphone and begins to scroll.

Richie looks away. not sure whether he should take it personally or not. He walks a few feet and looks back at the racks to see how far along his car tires are. None outta four. He sees the only other car in the garage and notices it has out of state plates. He heads back to the smoking outpost.

“Just wanta ask, is that your car with the South Caroline plates?” he asks Smitty.

Smitty barely looks up.

“Yeah.”

“Hey, that’s interesting, I used to live in South Carolina. Burswood. Ever hear of it?”

This time Smitty looks up.

“Used to live there myself.” Smitty says to Richie, showing signs he has a pulse.

Having exhausted their smokes Richie pulls out his pack and offers Smitty another one.

“When abouts?” Smitty asks as he fires them both up.

“Down there a couple of years ago, left pretty soon after my divorce.  Not a bad place.” Richie says as he puffs. “And I gotta say, I’ve seen your face somewhere.”

Smitty shrugs, nothing ringing his bell.

“Well, you remember that bowling alley under the grocery store? I think it was ‘Penny Lanes.’” Richie’s says, moving it along.

“Do.” Smitty says, a small smile on his face.

“The produce used to jump up and down. Smoke had nowhere to go, everybody coughing all night.” Richie adds.

Richie brings up the fist bump and Smitty obliges.

Richie continues, “So, what brings you out here?”

“Passing through on our honeymoon.”

“Congratulations, wish you two the best.”

“Thanks.” Smitty says.

“Well, power to you. For me, after a couple of ex’s, I’m only romancing older women that don’t act their age. You’d be surprised how appreciative they can be.” Richie says.

Richie looks at the dock of the bay…one outta four wheels changed. “So what kind of work did you do in Burswood?”

“Plumber, general handyman, sometimes just finishing work others don’t.”

“You remember that plumber’s truck in town that had the guy painted on the side sitting on a toilet with his pants down to his ankles giving the thumbs up?” Richie acts out the pose.

“That was me, dude!” Smitty’s exclaims. “Name’s Smitty.”  He’s all in the conversation now.

“No…really? What did you have, like four or five of those trucks?”

“Nope, just that one.” He tells Richie.

“Well, you must have gotten around. I remember seeing that truck just about everywhere I went.” Richie says.

“I did get around. Laid a lot of pipe.” Smitty’s making funny now.

“Say, did you ever do any work at 91 Bell Drive? Did you ever get there?”

“Don’t do numbers real well.”

“Okay, well, I’m a numbers man myself. Actuary, actually.” Richie talks a drag. “How about this, we had three plastic frogs on the front porch.” Richie says.

“Well, I usually came in through the back door.” Smitty’s on a roll.

“’Back door, that’s funny.” Richie agrees. “So, how did you two meet?”

“Found Jeannie on the Internet, well we knew each other years ago…in Burswood really. Me and a buddy were messing around on the computer and looked her up. Went back down there. Asked, answered and married.”

“Jeannie? I knew a girl in Burswood named Jeannie. Jeannie Hamilton?” Richie says.

“Nope, Jeannie May.” Smitty replies.

Richie looks a little perplexed. Takes a moment to himself as he looks over at the bay. Two outta four.

“Jeannie May” May, that’s your last name?” Richie inquires.

“No, my last name is Lordy. May is Jeannie’s middle name. Jeannie May Lordy.”

Richie is getting an itch of sorts. An itch he doesn’t want to scratch but knows he’ll have to. “You knew her in Burswood? How did you two first meet?” he asks him.

“Oh,” Smitty says, “the first time. She called me to her house to clean her out. The sink I mean.” This time Smitty lets out a little chuckle but Richie’s not so much getting the funny anymore. “We got to talking and soon she’s calling me to fix this and that, one thing to another…”

“…Wait, wait,” Richie interrupts, “she’s about five foot two, you know, kinda short. Heavy set with black hair?”

“Oh no, she’s about five eight…tall girl. Slim. Blonde, nice ass. A real looker.”

“Worked at a flower shop?” Richie asks.

“No, no. Worked at a hardware store. Remember that place on Bear Road with the large ironing board on the front. Hey, do you remember that pizza place that had…” Smitty’s rolling along.

Richie stops him. “… By any chance was she living with her mom?”

“Nope, she said she was thinking of leaving some guy real soon. Wasn’t keeping her satisfied. Sounded like a jerk. I felt a little bad but I’m sure you know how that is.” Smitty tells him.

“No, Smitty, I don’t.” Richie’s about to scratch that itch.

“Son of a bitch.” Richie mutters to himself as he’s about to blurt out the words that can turn a conversation all sorts of around.”That was my wife you were seeing.”

“No way, you were talking about a totally different Jeannie. Flower shop, uh, short – living with her mom…” Smitty says, not quite getting the whole picture yet.

“And what do you mean she wasn’t satisfied? She was always worn out when I was with her.” Richie shoots back.

“Well, she wasn’t when I saw her. Every which way which.” Smitty tells him getting his footing back and his hairs up.

“Well, that explains that – and where’s the diamond ring she had. I want it back.” Richie says.

“We pawned that little thing for some tools I needed. Wasn’t worth a whole lot, still I got a plunger and a reamer and a …”

“Fuckin A.” Richie mutters.

“Look, man, that’s just how it went down. Funny that way…live with it…fact of life, Richie or whatever.” Smitty’s laying it out for him, like it or not.

Richie drops his butt onto the pavement and rubs it out. He sure could have used a weeks’ notice that this was going to happen.

“Live with it… yeah.” Richie mutters and stares off for a minute. And then a divine moment of realization on the road to vindication. “Yeah, life’s funny that way.” he says back, knowing what Smitty will soon find out.

They stand facing each other, a slow shake both ways. Richie reaches down into his pocket while Smitty warily looks on. Richie pulls out a pack of smokes, takes one and offers the pack to Smitty.

“I prefer mine.” Smitty says and waves him off as he lights his own.

“Yeah, I’d prefer my own, too.” Richie says without a touch of irony. He looks over at the tire bay. Three outta four treads on the car. Just enough time to share one last memory of  Burswood.

“You know, Smitty – well, first let me ask you this. Do you believe in Karma?” he says.

“As in payback?” Smitty’s trying to get ahead of where this is going.

“No, no, no. More like ‘what goes around comes around’.” Richie says. “Though I gotta say sometimes you’re not sure which end you’re on.”

“Dunno.”

“Okay, okay I’ll give you an example. Like I said I am good with numbers, so I’m going to give you two sets of numbers and you tell me what comes to mind.”  Richie reaches into his pocket and pulls out his own lighter.

“Okay, first set of numbers, 7715649. That’s 7 ..7..1..5..6..4..9.” Richie says while he fires up his smoke. He lets Smitty puzzle his way through the riddle for a moment.

“Here’s a clue.” Richie takes a puff. “Maybe you remember the statue of the pink unicorn in the bedroom… on the green dresser…next to the picture of her son.” Richie’s figured out where last he saw this guy.

“Wait, wait, 7715649…that’s my mother’s number.” Smitty’s not sure what’s he’s thinking except that he’s probably right about all the wrong things.

“Older women, love’ em to death.” Richie points out again. “Okay, here’s the last set of numbers for you to think ‘bout… sixty nine.”

Richie takes a look over to the garage.

Four outta four.

Bingo.

Fade to black.

When Richie regained consciousness the first thing he tasted was the blood on his face followed by the pain from the punch causing it. As his condition permitted he unraveled himself from behind the dumpster and staggered a path to the tire store.

It wasn’t too hard for the cops to apprehend Smitty, not the brightest but apparently lighting fast enough to lay Richie out. He left behind a lot of the information at the Rubber Room you don’t want to leave – license plate, make and model, credit card, name, address and phone number– when you’re fleeing your own crime scene.

The state troopers found Smitty topped out drunk at a rest stop some thirty miles outside of town. Add resisting arrest. They didn’t find Jeannie.

And Richie, after a few weeks of his face healing while wired in a cage on a straw diet, realized that smoking wasn’t in his best interest and finally quit.

 

 

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