Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fourth Of July, A Short Story by Samovar Lightfoot

Fourth Of July

Short Story by Samovar Lightfoot

Fourth of July, 1961, Chicago Loop.

Harry was behind the bullet-proof glass. Only two cars had

pulled into the parking lot since he'd started his shift at eight in the morning, relieving Willy Blackman. Willy'd been asleep when Harry knocked on the window, startling him awake. Willy went for his gun, a .38 snubnose special he kept in his belt. When he saw Harry he took his hand off the gun. Willy didn't smile much. A smirk was the best Harry ever got.

After Willy had turned over the change and cash Harry'd need for his shift, Willy'd gone to his canary-yellow Cadillac, and driven out of the lot. Harry'd put the 12-inch portable GE television on the counter, ready to watch the baseball games later in the day. He had a twelve-hour shift to kill.

Harry worked Sundays and holidays. Usually there was no business until later in the afternoon when families came down to the Loop for dinner. The lot had a contract with the Blackhawk Restaurant providing free-parking for the dinner guests, if they returned with a stamped ticket.

A short list of typed names was taped to the wall near the cash register. Most of the names were Chicago big-wigs who parked for free. Some of the names were Mafia dons. When they pulled in they were usually followed by a non-descript sedan occupied by stern-faced men in suits who Harry assumed were the FBI.

Getting up for work wasn't easy. He'd been out on a date until three in the morning. When the alarm went off at seven he thought he'd been shot.

The two cars had come in together, a Plymouth and a Chevrolet; two families heading somewhere, dragging little chldren who protested all the way down the driveway and out towards Randolph Avenue.

Harry'd been working in the parking lot for two years, since he was 15. It was owned by his cousin, part of a chain of about fifty lots. During the summer and on holidays Harry parked cars alongside the men, all black, who treated him kindly.

Cars were part of Harry's life then. Parking them, admiring them in magazines, going to races. He and his buddies, the other four Jewish guys, would sit around and listen to records of the sounds of car races trying to identify the cars.

"That's a Ferrari," Al would say. Al was the genius, a homely Judo champ who was always skipping grades. "Nah, it's a Lotus," Gabe would say. Gabe was the muscular dunce who was always flunking. If tests knew what ADD was then he'd have been on Ritalin and given more time at exams. David wouldn't say anything. He never did. In later years he became a well-respected radiologist, but that too is a solitary profession. David and Harry and Gabe had been on the football team together until Gabe been expelled for misbehavior and wound up in a private and expensive Military school. The last in the group was Earl, a smart, pudgy non-athletic kid who was usually asleep. He was a decade younger than his next sibling, and the spoiled baby of the family.

Gabe and Al had their own car. They were partners. They'd been given the little Morris Minor as a gift by a shady character who'd caught their attention one morning when he'd flown down the street in his red-Ferrari, a car as rare as the abominable snowman in their north-side brown brick apartment building neighboorhod where Chevy's and Fords were the mainstays and a Buick was already a move up.

His name was Dick, and he was some minor hoodlum, hiding out in the neighborhood in a third-floor walk-up. The Ferrari kept in a wooden garage in the alley behind the apartment building. Gabe and Al worshiped the guy, who was handsome, trim, and claimed to race sports cars. He even deposited the Morris Minor on the street, complete with black rollbar and numbers painted on the doors.

The engine block had frozen up. He gave Al and Gabe the car. They rented a wooden garage in an alley a few blocks away and worked feverishly trying to rebulid it. They had dreams for the car, cutting off the old body and replacing it with a fiberglass Devlin, bought from a magazine.

The hauled out the engine, took it apart and rebuilt it, dropped it back in the Morris Minor, and were impatient to test it. The car didn't have any doors or a front bumper. The hood was standing on it's side near the door of the garage. When they tried the key, the engine wouldn't turn over. So they thought of a push to start it.

Gabe and Al pushed he car out of the garage, out to the alley. Al thought if Gabe pushed it, got it going fast enough, Al would pop the clutch and the engine would catch. They tried it until Gabe was covered in sweat and gave up. They couldn't get the car going fast enough.

By then they'd reached the end of the alley, and were near the street. A young guy driving by in an old Oldsmobile saw them, and offered to help. They man handled the Morris out into the street. Gabe and Al sat side by side, and the other guy started pushing. Up to speed, pop the clutch, zip. No luck.

Then Al thought the problem was the carburator. He had Gabe stand on the metal struts that usually held the bumper, lean over into the engine, and play with the choke and carburator while he released the clutch. Again the push, the speed, pop the clutch. Zip.

Okay, Al said, I'll do it. So he switched places with Gabe. Got on the struts, the car behind pushed, the car came up to speed, Gabe popped the clutch, the engine coughed once, twice, backfiring and sending out a plume of black smoke, then the engine froze up, the tires bit hard into the asphalt as if Gabe hit the brakes. Al was thrown twenty feet from the car in a graceful arch landing with a thump as his head hit the cement curb.

By the time Gabe reached him blood was pouring from his ears. By the time the ambulance arrived Al had been dead for ten minutes.

Harry heard the news on the radio. "A freak traffic accident is the only fatality on this July Forth. Seventeen year old Aly Feldman was killed...."

Harry's knees went out from under him. He called his boss for relief, and then rushed to Al's house. Al was an only child. His parents were inconsolable. Al's grandmother kept calling Gabe a murderer.

Two days later Harry was a pallbearer at his friend's funeral.

There would be no more horse-play. No more games. Wearing dark

suits and white gloves, the four friends were no long kids. Death had ended their childhood.

A coroner's inquiry cleared Gabe of any criminal charges.

But Gabe never forgave himself, nor forgot. Some say you never really get past being seventeen. Al never did. The rest of us ran from it as fast as we could.