Zoid Man: Chapter Four

17 Dec

Chapter Four

 

Henry’s was a package store about three blocks from the school. You could get pop and gum and candy, plus other stuff, too. A back Coke cooler, it was said, was full of anything but Coke. And Henry didn’t ask questions nor require ID. He was in business to make money.

And he sold cigarettes with the same stipulations: as long as you had the money and could pay, he’d sell it to you. That included chewing tobacco and girlie magazines, as well.

The latest Playboy Playmate of the Month was tacked to the inside of the bathroom door, and all the guys flocked to Henry’s on a monthly basis.

Henry observed all from his barstool perch behind the small counter near the cash register. A sign on the front of the register said in faded red letters, THIS STORE PROTECTED BY SMITH AND WESSON. Behind him along the wall were cubby holes for hundreds of packs of cigarettes, all cellophane-wrapped and brightly colored. The store itself was elbow-room only, with shelves of various products lining the walls, and a center shelf-like island with even more stuff. From hair tonics to shoe polish, every cranny was utilized.

Various aromas hit the nose depending where you stood in the store. Tobacco, bread, Clorox and others mixed in the tiny store.

On the counter was a glass container that housed a hotdog cooker, and a dozen dogs were in various states of doneness, turning slowly on the metal rollers. Henry’s had the best hot dogs in town, next to the Dog House, of course. The monthly inspection grade at Henry’s was never above a C, although once it had received a C+. Everyone thought Henry had bribed the inspector that month.

The rough kids — the greasers — would skip the school cafeteria during lunch and go to Henry’s, where they downed a couple of hotdogs and smoked cigarettes. One or two would get a drink from the Coke cooler, then swig back nearly the whole teardrop container of Binaca, while splashing half a bottle of Canoe so that no one could smell the beer or cigarettes.

No one was supposed to leave the school campus during lunch. They were required to eat in the cafeteria, which served up the same old slop on rotating days. Even the faculty avoided the school food, opting to either bring in homemade meals, or quickly drive to the new MacDonalds a few blocks away. Each — students and faculty — had to keep an eye on the clock in order to be back in class at the bell ending lunch.

Neither Jack nor Benny had been to Henry’s before, and when they opened the screen door and pushed open the glass door it was like walking into the hallowed halls of manhood. Henry looked up from his perch behind the counter, the stub of a cigarette still moldering between his yellowed fingers.

“Hey, boys. What kin I getcha?”

The boys looked all about. There was so much to take in! Plus the mystique of Henry’s heightened everything.

“Hot dogs,” said Jack finally.

“Mustard, ketchup, onions and chili?”

“Hold the onions. Two. One for me and one for my friend”

Henry grabbed two paper plates and put a bun on each, splaying them open, then picked the hotdogs from the cooker and carefully nested them in the buns. He squeezed out watery ketchup and mustard along the meat, than ladled a generous amount of chili from a pan on the back counter.

Putting the plates on the counter, Henry asked if they’d like a drink.

“Coke. Real coke is fine. Not the other …” stammered Benny, half-smiling.

“Only kind I got. Anything else? No? Seventy-five cents.”

Jack paid Henry and the two went back outside in front of the store, where a small wooden picnic table baked in the sun, and flies buzzed about the various empty paper plates strewn about.

As they ate in silence, two “greasers” from school approached the store and went inside. They came back out minutes later with hotdogs and Cokes. One reached into his jeans jacket pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Jack elbowed Benny and nodded toward the guy, who opened a hard-pack container. It was white with two red chevron stripes running from top to bottom. Tareytons!

Jack cleared his throat and looked at the guy, who cupped his hands expertly around a match he struck to light the cigarette pinched between his lips.

“Uh — you smoke Tareytons I see.”

The older boy pulled in a long drag of smoke, and pushed it out of his mouth to sniff it into his nostrils. Cool!

He blew a cloud of smoke into the air, no hint of a cough or gag, and turned to look at Jack.

“Yeah.” He stared at Jack as if trying to place him in his memory, as if trying to unclog a recollection that was stuck in a crack.

“I smoke ‘em too. Wondered if I could bum one from you?” Jack tried to be nonchalant and tough.

“You go to Frankton?”

“Yeah. Me and Benny do. Sure.”

“Who’s your homeroom teacher?”

“Butts.”

“Ha! Butts! Great name for her, right?”

The duo laughed in agreement.

“Well, you and Benny … I ain’t got but five more butts myself. I’ll sell you a couple, though. Five cents each.”

“FIVE CENTS!” Benny blurted out. “A whole pack’s only a quarter!”

“Then go buy yourself a pack. I’m no charity. And it’s not like I know you or anything.”

“Five cents is fine.” Jack dug in his front pocked for change, and pulled out a dime. He gave it to the boy.

“Who is your homeroom teacher?”

“Dickers,” said the older boy, handing over the two smokes. Dickers was the shop teacher. He was the keeper of all the school’s “challenged students.”

“Oh, you’re in the seventh grade, too.”

“I live in the seventh grade,” he smirked, taking another drag on his cigarette. “Been there going on my third year.” He held out his matches to Jack.

“Oh, that’s all right. I’ll smoke ‘em after school. I’m hoping to play basketball next year, and don’t want coach to smell it on my breath. I have gym next period.”

“I got some Binaca you can use. Go ahead. I bet you never smoked before!” he grinned.

“Well . . .”

Jack looked at Benny, who shrugged his shoulders and wiped some mustard off his lips.

“Okay.”

Jack and Benny held their cigarettes pinched between the ends of their thumbs and forefinger, while Jack also tried to strike a match. It wasn’t working. The older boy grinned and shook his head.

“Gimme those,” he ordered, and Jack handed over the cigarettes and matches. The older boy put both cigarettes into his mouth and lit them on one match expertly, as though he had seen every James Dean movie there was. He handed the cigarettes back to Jack and Benny, who gingerly placed the smokes to their lips.

Benny puffed on his, but not in — out — pinching the cigarette daintily.

Jack brought his cigarette to his lips, mimicking the boy, and took a long draw of smoke into his lungs. Immediately he gagged and started to cough uncontrollably.

A few other greasers had noticed the transaction and had formed a semi-circle around the circus scene. Their audience exploded in laughter.

“Wow! What’s your name?”

“Jack.”

“And does Jack have a second name?”

“Carter.”

“Carter. You gotta older brother? Jerrod?”

“Jason. His name is Jason.”

“Ah. Jason Carter’s little brother Jack. I know where you live. Up above the triangle in the Emerywood section. So, Jack — that was impressive! Let me guess — this is your first trip to Henry’s, right? And this is your first time smoking.”

“No — it’s not! Smoking, anyway,” he managed to rasp.

“Second, then. So what is a good boy like you and your pal doing at a place like Henry’s? I bet your momma would go nuts if she knew you were here. Am I right? And especially if she knew you were hanging out with a greaser. And Coach! What would he say? Or your brother Jason? I bet they wouldn’t be happy about this.

“Wonder what if would be worth to you for me to keep quiet about this little escapade of yours? A buck?”

Jack stared helplessly at the older boy. Benny put his cigarette out and backed out of the middle of the small circle. The other boys were nodding and laughing at the situation. Reluctantly, Jack dug back into his pocket, and pulled out a wadded up dollar bill. He held it out for the older boy to take.

“Smart man, Jack. This’ll keep me quiet … for … say — a month.”

“A month!” Jack gasped.

“That’s cheap, Jack! Comes to about three cents a day. Almost the price of a cigarette on the open market!”

More laughter from the gallery.

The older boy stepped up to Jack and bent to put his face inches away. Jack could smell the mixture of cigarette smoke and Binaca and Canoe.

“A month from today, come back with another dollar. If you don’t, it won’t go well with you. Do you understand?”

Jack nodded.

The older boy looked at his watch.

“Oops! Gotta run! The bell’s gonna ring in five minutes. Remember, Jack — a month from today. One dollar. Not too much to ask for peace of mind, right?”

He and his group laughed, slapped each other on their backs, poked each other in the arms, and took off back to school.

Jack and Benny stood in the wake of the older boys’ exit. They looked at each other and said, simultaneously, “Shit!”

 

Copyright © 2015, Lawrence S. Marsden

 

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