Summer Of Love and Evil excerpt

As his eyes adjusted, Charles could see a dump truck and a tractor, with a scoop on one end and backhoe on the other, lined up behind the sliding doors. In the far back corner of the room were tall wooden shelves, on which pieces of equipment were stacked nearly to the high ceiling. In the near corner, three men clustered around a sagging couch and a workbench covered with splotches of paint. On the wall above the workbench was a large pegboard with hanging tools, and next to it an old Frigidaire. Two windows on the back wall were the only natural source of light.

A short muscular man, with a deep tan and a baseball cap pulled low on his forehead, got up slowly from the couch and walked toward Charles. “I’m Clyde. Last time I remember seein’ you, you wasn’t any taller than that bench.” He took Charles firmly by the arm and guided him over to the couch. “This,” he said to the other two, “is Robert and Madeleine’s boy I told you was comin’ to work with us.” Charles started to say hello, but Clyde continued. “This here’s Dexter,” he said gesturing toward a man in overalls who was perched with his legs crossed on the edge of the workbench. Dexter raised his pipe in greeting. “And this fella is Moss,” a paunchy, middle-aged man who had been standing by the dump truck and now vigorously shook Charles’ hand.

“Clyde said your name is Charles. Do they call you Charlie?” asked Moss.

“I’ve always gone by Charles, and I—”

“That sounds purdy highfalutin’ for a place like this,” said Clyde, while Dexter grinned, pipe clenched between teeth, and slapped his knee.

“It sounds,” said Moss, “like the name of an English king. I used to teach the whole history—”

Clyde spoke over the top of him. “Why don’t you stick with Charles at home, and we’ll call ya Charlie down here.” It didn’t sound like a question, so Charles stayed silent while Clyde lit a pipe and handed his pouch to Dexter so he could refill his own. Once it was going, he said, “If your family don’t want people callin’ you a nickname, they should’ve called you somethin’ like Dexter.” Dexter nodded. “Or we could just call ya Weaver, like we call Moss Moss. Sometimes I forget that Moss has a first name.” Dexter slapped his knee and Moss managed a faint smile.

Charles realized he was still holding his sack. “I brought some doughnuts, since this is my first day. My dad—”

“Moss’s diabetic, or says he is, and Dexter don’t eat much sweets ‘cause of his teeth, but I’ll have one to keep you company.” So Clyde and Charles sat on either end of the couch, chewing in silence while the other two watched, Charles feeling increasingly uncomfortable. Should he ask about the work? Should he tell them more about himself? Just as he was ready to do one or the other, Clyde said, “I hear you’re goin’ to college.”

“I went to college,” said Moss quickly. “Well, they called it junior college back then, until the money ran out.”

“Drake, that what I heard?”

“Yes,” said Charles, “I start right after Labor Day.”

“That’s good.” It was the first time Charles had heard Dexter’s voice. “That’s real good.”

More silence, Moss fidgeting while the other two smoked, until Clyde took the pipe from his mouth and asked, “What you gonna study?”

“Probably history,” said Charles. “I like learning about history, although I don’t have to decide for sure my first year.”

“That’s real good,” said Dexter, and perhaps because he was trying to see them, Charles got a glimpse of Dexter’s few brown-colored teeth.

“History’s good, but I also like literature,” said Moss, glancing around to see if he was about to be interrupted. “Especially Shakespeare.”

Clyde nodded, his lips pursed. “Yes he does, he surely does.” Then, looking at Charles, he asked, “You ever laid cement or put down asphalt?” Charles shook his head. “Ever run a tractor?”

As Charles shook his head, Moss said, “That reminds me of how I was when I started working here, although I’d run a tractor.”

“I’m pretty good,” said Charles, “with a shovel and a rake. We’ve got that big yard—” He stopped mid-sentence as Clyde banged his pipe hard against the edge of the couch, knocking ash on the cement floor. “Maybe I’m not the right—”

“From what they tell me,” said Clyde, “you’re a real fast learner,” and Dexter nodded. Clyde checked the large clock over the door where Charles had entered. “Okay, time to get goin’. Charlie, you help Moss fill in where we put some new sewer pipe. Shovel and rake’ll come in real handy.” He and Dexter smiled in a way that made Charles smile as well. “We’ll worry ‘bout tractors and all later.”

Clyde turned the handle on the garage door in front of the tractor and slid the door up in its track until it was overhead and light flooded in. “You know we work Saturday mornings?” This was news to Charles, although he tried not to show it. “The city council, in its wisdom” (he drew out the word) “thinks we need to work some on Saturdays, so we oblige ‘em, just not too hard.” Dexter grinned and nodded. “Me and Dexter, we usually take Saturdays to clean up the machinery, and do other small stuff that needs doin’. You and Moss’ll pick up trash ‘round the back of the square. Big stuff they set out in the alley that the garbage boys can’t take in their truck. Then you take ‘er to the dump.”

“I thought we were getting two summer workers,” said Moss. Clyde was already part way out the door, but he turned back with a vehemence that caught Charles by surprise. “Goddamn it, Moss! I already told you Flora Hinkle’s kid, the basketball player or whatever he played, gets here Thursday. But you’re still gonna have to do the Saturday pickup, if that’s what you’re wonderin’ about. These boys ain’t here to do all your work for you.”

Charles couldn't say the days passed quickly, but they weren’t quite as tedious as expected. He and Moss spent Monday filling in the trench, although part way through the task he wondered why they didn’t just use the tractor to push the dirt back in. He put this question to Moss who replied, “‘Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die.’ That’s Charge of the Light Brigade, which was a real thing.” Charles also wondered at Moss’ ability to talk nearly non-stop, but since the trench was close to the power station, he couldn’t hear most of the monologue.