Tuesday, June 17, 2014

First Shot (2)

Next morning when he bought a Daily Herald from the box near the entrance to Marie's Restaurant, Blow already knew the identity of the reenactor who'd gotten his head blown off. An attorney, he was called at home that night by a man worried he might be blamed. He wanted Blow to represent him should this occur.
Blow, his father and Lila went straight home shortly after witnessing the grisly death. Home was what folks is Leicester County called The Stone House. Blow's grandfather, Samuel Stone, had built it after returning from WWI, settling in Leicester, marrying, and learning the carpentry trade. Meanwhile he studied law with a local attorney, eventually hanging his own shingle and becoming a respected magistrate.
Samuel and Maureen named their only child Felix Joseph, taking names from each of their families, and Blow in turn inherited the same names. Neither father nor son ever used Felix, but confusion between them was avoided when Blow's father became a judge, hence he was called Judge while his son became for many just Joe. Most folks in Blow's generation called him by the nickname he acquired in a childhood prank blowing the paper wrappers from drinking straws so their moistened ends stuck to the ceiling above his favorite booth at the local Walgreen drugstore. Despite its ambiguity he much preferred this moniker over the dreaded Junior. And explaining it to new acquaintances actually proved an effective ice breaker on occasion.

Blow, his father and Lila were sipping wine in the kitchen, still stunned over what they had seen and trying to avoid talking about it directly, when the jaunty strains of Commander Cody's cover of Beat Me, Daddy, Eight to the Bar cut through their fragile veil. Blow snatched the cellphone from its leather holster on his belt.
“I don't know who it is,” he said, studying the window on the old-fashioned flip-top device, “but I'd better take it. Excuse me, please.” He stepped out of the kitchen into the foyer. He returned after a quick conversation, his face crinkled in puzzlement.
“Newt Gunther,” he said. “He's the high school principal.”
His father said, “The principal? Why's he calling you?”
“No. Gunther was the guy who got shot. That was a history teacher calling. Andrew Salzwedel. He's afraid he'll be blamed for shooting him.”
“Wha...” his father started, his face reflecting his son's confusion. “I don't understand. There were a bunch of guys shooting, and they were all shooting blanks, supposedly. Why does he think they'll blame him?”
“I don't know. He sounded upset. I'm gonna talk with him tomorrow.”
Blow ate breakfast every morning at Marie's because the food was good and the staff—especially his regular waitress, Angel—was friendly. Also because the booth that always seemed to be available for him provided a semblance of privacy. It wasn't private enough for confidential discussions—he'd be meeting Andrew Salzwedel after school—but to enable him to read the newspaper with minimum disturbances. It wasn't that he was unfriendly. He was just slow getting up to speed most mornings. Lunch was his preferred time for casual chitchat. Angel understood this, but, alas, the shooting was just too much to keep to herself.
“Mornin,darlin,” she said, setting the steaming cup of coffee in front of him, followed by the plate of scrambled eggs, bacon and toast. “Terrible what happened to Mr. Gunther, huh.”
Blow smiled up at her. He had set the newspaper down when she brought his food, but its thick black headline still shouted up from the bench beside him: MUSKET KILLS SCHOOL CHIEF IN MOCK BATTLE. He pressed his lips together, murmured “Awful,” and, shaking his head, turned his attention to the food.
“I don't see how it could have happened,” she persisted. “I mean, aren't they supposed to be shooting blanks in those guns?”
“They're supposed to, Angel. Can't imagine how anyone could make a mistake. It's not like a modern rifle where all you do is put a cartridge in the chamber already loaded. With muskets you have to ram everything down from the end of the barrel. First the powder and then the ball, wrapped in a patch. At least that's how I understand it.”
“Well, it's just such a shame. He seemed like such a nice man, Mr. Salzwedel did.”
“He was an asshole, pardon my French.” The voice sounded familiar. A squarish, dark-brown-crew-cut-topped head poked around from the booth in front of Blow's. The eyes were large, pale blue and challenging but the mouth underneath a dark-brown bushy mustache was grinning.
“Homer, that's a helluva thing to say. And how would you know? He hasn't been here that long.” Homer Price had been a friend of Blow's since boyhood. He'd inherited Price Hardware from his father, and had become something of a community activist. He was one of the organizers of Deeply Worried Leicester Taxpayers, a group formed some years back to oppose a private prison that wanted to set up shop in the county. More recently he was being mentioned as a possible candidate for the county board of supervisors.
“I don't know first hand. Never met the man. But customers are always telling me how tough he is on the teachers, and how he lets the punk kids get away with murder. Well, maybe that's the wrong word to use now haha.”
Angel's normally friendly open face grew distraught. “Oh my! You don't suppose...” Her eyes grew wide and she covered her mouth with a hand as her voice trailed off. She shook her had and hustled back to the kitchen.
“See what you've started, Homer?”
“Aw, hell, it was just a dumb accident. You know that's all it was, Blow. And now Leicester won't be able to have them anymore, either. Just like Yorktown. Bye bye tourist dollars.”

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