Day 2 of the #WHYSTUFFMATTERS Blog Tour
To celebrate Day 2 of the Blog Tour for Jen Waldo's stunning new book #WHYSTUFFMATTERS here is an exclusive: the entire second chapter!
In the morning rescue workers with dogs come and search the remains of the apartment building. Three bodies are excavated, along with a five-year-old boy, still alive, who is taken to the hospital. News crews park their vans in front of my building. For the whole day pictures of the rubble across the street, along with photos of the three men who died there, are shown on the cable news stations. Where once there was an apartment building, now there’s a ragged jumble of couches at odd angles, upside-down washing machines, and cars and trucks crushed by slabs of concrete. The houses on the other side of the apartment didn’t fare too badly—only one home lost its roof, but the rest were left intact.
If there’s one thing I know about tornadoes it’s that they’re capricious. This one skipped all over town, kicking up and down like a chorus girl. It took out the education building of the Lutheran church, but respectfully left the sanctuary alone. It wiped out the Sears store, cutting it off at the entrance to the mall with impressive precision; power tools, still in their packaging, were scattered all over the place. It took out the new elementary school which was the only school in town with a storm shelter; and though this was discussed on the local news as a pertinent aspect, the shelter really didn’t matter because not only had school already let out for the summer, the tornado swooped through on a Sunday night when no one would have been there anyway.
More relevant in my small sphere is that one of our own was killed. Pard Kemp—Pard being a nickname derived from a nickname. Eighty-six years old. It looks like his decision to take shelter in the basement of the Baptist church came thirty seconds too late; he was knocked on the head by a flying brick in the parking lot. He was an offensive old guy—smelly the way some old people get when they’re too tired to shower or do laundry. He had very little hair, only a few teeth, and an ornery disposition that made everybody wish he’d just go somewhere and die, which he finally did.
Pard operated the double-sized booth at the rear of the second floor, as far from the front door as possible. Secretive by nature, he preferred an inconvenient location. His is one of the more enticing booths—small household implements from the last half of the eighteen hundreds. Irons, washboards, chamber pots, bellows, cuspidors, farm tools. Wandering through his booth is like a trip back in time, and who doesn’t enjoy that?
Most troublesome is what he kept out of sight, locked in the deep bottom drawer of the cabinet at the back of his booth—handguns. The guns were most likely slipped from sweaty palm to sweaty palm, offered in payment for sly favors, or given to Pard for safekeeping. Unfettered by banalities such as documentation or licensing, the question about what to do with them is going to get the vendors worked up.
I checked earlier; there are a dozen of the bothersome things. I know nothing about small firearms. Most are black or dark gray; a couple of them are silver; some are smooth; some have textured grips. Manufacturers’ names are etched on the barrel or grip—Filigree, Walther, Desert Eagle, and Beretta. Various sizes, different barrel lengths. Mostly pistols, only two revolvers. Ammunition is boxed and set to the side—cartridges and bullets in different sizes. I have no idea what cartridges correspond to what weapons. It surprises me that they have an odor—machine oil is my guess.
Pard had no living family and he left no will. While this means his modest house on the west side will go to the state, the state’s not going to step in and claim all his old fixtures, tools, and prairie paraphernalia. I’ve scheduled a meeting to discuss the allocation of his inventory.
Around noon I haul the plastic chairs from the storage area in the east corner and set them up at the T-junction right in front of his booth. The vendors begin to limp in. There are forty-five of them, and all are in attendance, except Janet, who’s in Fort Worth awaiting the birth of her first great-grandchild. When everybody’s found a seat, I take the center position at the entrance to the booth. The folks shift and glare at each other and me. They’re grumpy. Every one of them is certain they’re going to lose out or be taken advantage of in some way.
‘I should just absorb it all.’ Dee’s laying claim right from the start. ‘It’ll fit right in with my inventory.’
I’m glad to see Dee’s sharp side; she’s been vague lately, forgetting names and getting turned around in the building. Her assertion is reasonable. Though her space is themed around a more feminine motif—brush-and-comb sets, jewelry boxes, elegant shawls and gloves of lace—her stock is from the same era. But of course this solution isn’t acceptable to the others.
‘You’ve got no right to any of it,’ Will says. ‘I’ve known Pard for fifty years.’ Technically true, though they were hardly fond of one another.
‘I get the guns.’ This from Sherman, who thinks that seeing action in Korea entitles him to the weaponry. His inventory is military gear—service medals, canteens, hats and helmets, belts and boots. I guess he thinks small arms will fit in nicely.
‘No,’ I say. ‘They’ve got no documentation. I’m turning them over to the police.’
As proprietor of this raggedy-ass business, it’s my job to at least keep things looking like they’re on the up-and-up. My announcement is met with grumbling, which is nothing new. I haven’t done a thing since I took over last year that hasn’t been met with grumbling.
The reason for their objection isn’t that I’ve made an unfair or unwise decision. The problem is that these obsessive old people can’t bear to watch anything walk out the door. Handing the guns to the police goes against their code. Here, in this place, you don’t give things away. Every item has a price and until that price is met the item doesn’t move. Their attachment to their stuff is evident in the way they overprice every item (eighteen hundred dollars for a toy), the way they always manage to be elsewhere when someone who sincerely wants to buy walks through, the way they down-talk some of their best items.
‘What if we can unload them for a decent price?’ Carly asks.
‘That’s what we’ll do.’ Will’s taking over. ‘We sell them and split the money.’
‘Or one of us keeps them and buys everybody else out,’ Sherman says.
‘I’ll allow them to remain on the premises for two weeks.’ I’m becoming adept at compromise. Dealing with these folks requires constant give-and-take. ‘If no one’s come up with a buyer by then, I’ll have no choice but to call the cops to come get them. If a single buyer among you wants all of them, I’m making the stipulation that they’re moved off the property.’
I don’t care where they go; I just want them gone. It’s not like any among us is going to take a moral stance. At least half this group is involved in some form of legal misconduct.
Barry, whose booth holds jukeboxes and turntables from the sixties, buys electronics from pasty-faced men who slink in and out during off-hours. These items are never put on display; he furtively sells them from his back storage area. And Carly does the same, only with jewelry.
Roxy Lynn basically runs an unlicensed pawnshop, dealing primarily in musical instruments.
And Sue. Every member of her extended family has a doctor or two writing prescriptions for pills they don’t need, and they route them through her. There’s a constant stream of all kinds of people between the front door and her booth.
I doubt there’s a single one of these vendors who isn’t running one kind of scam or another. And the few of us who aren’t actually cavorting on the dark side are silently complicit.
‘Two weeks,’ I repeat. ‘Then I’m turning them over to the authorities.’
Whatever side schemes Pard had going were lucrative. He’s been storing his cash in the safe in Mom’s office—my office, now—for years, as do several others. Up until this morning I had no idea how much money was in his box.
In my safe.
Why Stuff Matters was published by Arcadia Books on the 20th October, get your copy here.
If you enjoyed this, check out the rest of the blog tour here:
To catch up, see what happened when Linda's Book Bag asked Jen Waldo what three possessions she would save in the event of a fire: Blog Tour Day 1.
Also by Jen Waldo:
Before they'd let me out of rehab someone had to agree to act as my legal custodian. There it is, the snappy truth about why, at the age of thirty-two, I live with my mother. She now has control over every aspect of my life, from my finances to my laundry.
One little cocaine-induced heart attack and it's back to my childhood to start over.
'An absolute blast ... Olivia's directness and understated comedy, together with the author's unwordy style make for a delightful read.' Shiny New Books
Old Buildings in North Texas was published by Arcadia Books in October 2016, get your copy here.