|Posted by Vladimir Mortsgna on August 30, 2016 at 11:20 PM|
I got a sidebar comment that the short story we serialized ("The second Mrs Trummelthau") was too dark, so we'll try something cheerier. Enjoy, in two parts, an excerpt from my novel Space Cadet, a novel about several college professors, shady administrators, rival teams of assassins, rival religious cults living in an abandoned superstore, former military contractors, and at least three candidates for U S Representative from New Jersey, share a mysterious and unhealthy interest in an abandoned amusement park built during the Space Race. Who would even want it and who is trying to keep people away from it? This excerpt is the first part of Chapter 4 - if you like it or just want to find out what happens next, check it out at barnesandnoble.com (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/space-cadet-vladimir-mortsgna/1123623136?ean=2940157922672).
SPACE CADET EXCERPT - PART I
At 6:50 A.M., a turkey crossing the southbound Garden State Parkway was struck by someone driving a seafoam green Volkswagen. Within ten minutes, the southbound traffic was backed up all the way to the tollbooths, which were tollfree in the southbound direction but which spread the southerly cars out just to winnow them back to three lanes again further down. Closer to the accident, cars jostled each other getting out of the second left lane, the scene of the man-bird collision, and the two or three cars immediately behind the Volkswagen that had spared the morning’s commuters much worse with their quick reaction time, were pinned in place by their colleagues three cars back in line who whipped into any opening under the apparent logic that they had shown some sort of superior instincts to be four cars back from the Volkswagen instead of two, and deserved a reward.
Hammer Nozzia was traveling northbound, having left early to avoid the regular but mysterious Clark Parkway jam and the jam from cars assorting themselves between 140 for the Holland Tunnel and 139b for Stuyvesant Avenue, and he was also trying to follow his client’s advice to get to the Congressional Office before pedestrian traffic started in earnest, because there would have to be some picking of locks. Already this was something of which he did not approve, and he recommended from the experience the client was paying for, that he, Hammer, bluff his way in, posing as a constituent. Hammer had an assortment of fake business cards he had produced at a vending machine in Atlantic City and personally preferred the one identifying himself as Emil Wilder. However, the lockpicking approach had won out over the imposture approach during negotiations.
Nozzia gummed into the traffic jam at the gas stop near 131, and as he slowly crept past the accident half an hour later he saw that both the Volkswagen and the turkey were apparently basically unhurt; the Volkswagen driver, a bearded fellow looking like he was preparing early for the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, was trying to coax the dazed fowl into leaving the path of his car’s exit, and the turkey was walking in tight circles, punchdrunk. No northbound cars were affected at all and yet crawled by at global warming pace. Most people in gaper blocks claim they gawk at an accident to make sure no one they know was involved – whether this applied to the turkey or to the VW driver in that morning’s case is as yet undetermined.
After finally exiting the infernal Parkway, Hammer found the appropriate street and parked his vehicle at a Walgreen’s on the corner of the next block, walking on his way out past a sign announcing that the lot was for customers only and was patrolled 25/7. There were dozens of people circulating to and fro already, and he tried to look casual as he walked past the abandoned sewing machine shop that was next to the District Office of Congressman Ronald Hubsch. According to his client, the sewing machine shop had roof access. Hammer did a pass and looked up to confirm that the buildings were three stories there – most storefronts had offices or apartments above them, but his client had assured him that the space about the sewing machine shop was uninhabited and unguarded. He walked onward, looking casual, and stopped in a Portuguese bakery for an almond danish and to figure out when on earth there would be less foot traffic on this block, so he could get to work.
He saw no other way than to just feign legitimate business and make it look like he was entering the sewing machine shop with a genuine key. Hammer grabbed something to go and strode in a manner he perceived as confident to the entrance of the sewing machine shop. The door to the space looked like a prop from a Sam Spade movie and read “Feinman and Sons” with a list below of sewing machine makes that they were capable of repairing, including one in Korean, one in Cyrillic, and one in an alphabet that looked like toasters with different numbers of slots and in different orientations.
“Got to fix the sewing machines,” he announced heartily to a passerby who was reading the hours to the beauty parlor on the left of the repair shop. “Can never take a day off, just too many sewing machines to repair.”
The lady moved on but in his sweat to portray a legitimate sewing machine repairer Hammer bent one of his tools and didn’t want to be too obvious about fishing out his backup. He walked off in the direction of the Walgreen’s and noticed a second Portuguese bakery, so he went in and ordered a diamond bar. Hammer Nozzia was blessed with a metabolism that could absorb unusual quantities of breakfast without gaining weight.
When he judged the coast had cleared, he returned to the door and his labors. “Never a break,” he said to another passerby. “When people want their Singers fixed, they want them fixed.” Finally he had the lock sprung and opened the door, quickly entered and shut the door behind him.
It was very dark inside at first. The light switch was just a hanging chain and when he pulled it no light came on. His pocket flashlight showed that the space in front of him was nothing but a narrow set of stairs, the same width as the door. He could hear some kind of music from the beauty parlor, so he guessed that the owners of the sewing machine shop had sold all reclaimable space on the street level to the neighbors and only owned the stairs leading up. So up it would be, though Hammer knew his ascent would not be an easy one. That was because the stairs in question were filled with sewing machines.
It looked like the process had started in an organized fashion – there were ancient cardboard boxes jutting against the right-hand wall on many of the lower steps and others had sewing machines of various makes neatly arrayed in an orientation like shoe boxes. But over years, the process had apparently become more chaotic, and some of the sewing machines and loose parts looked like they had been tossed down from a higher location. Hammer started moving some of the crap off to one direction and trying to pick his way through what had once been the path. He figured the repair shop itself was probably on the second floor, and imagined the last owners, trying to eke out a meager living, and accepting that they didn’t require a high level of street level room to repair sewing machines.
He reached the landing, but to his surprise, he still saw no doors or rooms. What greeted him at the landing was a second set of stairs, just as crowded with stuff as before. He now realized that some of the tumbled and ramshackle detritus from the first staircase had probably drifted down over the years from the second staircase. There was nothing to do but pick through it.
The third and uppermost landing was the same. No doors, no rooms, just the top of a staircase and piles and piles of sewing machines, sewing machine repair equipment, boxes, and random parts. The walls were sheetrock pimpled with patches of spackle. He could hear a television through the wall on his left. Obviously the beauty parlor and congressional offices, when they had expanded into the repair shop’s space, had simply dumped all the unclaimed goods in the only remaining domain of the repair shop, the stairs.
Above his head, Hammer saw the trap door to the roof. He stacked up a couple of decrepit crates to reach the ceiling, predicting all the while that the trap door would be locked. The client had reported that the trap doors were never locked, but after navigating three flights on broken sewing machines, Hammer did not want any misadventures. He had recommended a practice run to the client, but this plan broke down when the client refused to pay extra for the extra labor, on the logic that the practice run was Hammer’s idea and his concern. In the end, there was an impasse: the client wouldn’t pay extra for a practice run and Hammer wouldn’t do the practice run gratis.
The trap door flew up into space, showering Hammer with a rusty dust and blinding him momentarily with the sunlight. He hoisted himself through the square opening and onto the roof, which was puddled with rainwater and pigeon shit. A Mello Yello can that had rolled against the lip of the wall was the only sign of civilization. He stood up shakily, and looked across the street to regard the roofs of the buildings across the street. He saw no one, but suspected that at least a few of the roof accesses would be employed for legitimate business in a given day. Hammer picked his way past a television aerial that probably had not worked since the 1970s and headed to the area that should be above the Congressional Office.
This space also had a trap door, just like the client had described. In fact, the client had described its dimensions, and Hammer could see that these were accurate. According to the client, it was never locked and there was no reason it ever would be. This turned out to be inaccurate.
Hammer did not have a crowbar with him but did have a screwdriver which he was able to wedge under the steel square. Some pressure on the tool made it clear to him that the door was bolted from beneath in a way that would require a blowtorch, not a crowbar. He cursed and tiptoed to the back side of the roof and looked down for the highest window, which was barely reachable but had the butt of an ancient window-mounted air conditioner in it. He had a small length of rope with him and tied one end to a strong-looking vent and then gingerly lowered himself down to stand on the air conditioner, feeling extremely visible to anyone who might be in the alley behind him.
While he stood on the air conditioner, pondering if it was safe to try to breach one of the nearby windows, he felt shifting beneath his feet and grabbed the rope just as the air conditioner, which apparently had been ineptly installed, lurched six inches out of its moorings on a sickly slant. As he clambered back onto the roof, the machine shuddered the rest of the way out of the window and crashed to the ill-paved alley below, trailing a curtailed power cord behind it like a parasite.
Categories: Herschel's Adventures in SpaceLand