Our Great Summer Novel — Chapter 7: The Hardware Store Business Becomes Explosive
Feeling an inexplicable sense of urgency, Davis ran to lock the back door then back to his beat-up old F-150. Boots had already put the trunk in the truck’s bed and secured it with bungee cords — “Just in case, it could be worth something,” Boots explained — and was wrestling a seat belt across Tater’s ample middle.
“Did you just hiss at me?” Boots asked the annoyed feline. “Safety first!”
Davis leaned his forehead against the dented door frame and closed his eyes for just a second. Lina was back, she’d made it clear he’d only ever been part of her long game, he had a letter from his dead father in his back pocket, he’d just knocked out a fake monk/mad scientist and a talking cat was sitting with rigid, wounded dignity in the middle of his old truck’s bench seat while his best friend swabbed at three bloody, forearm-length parallel lines.
A nap in the truck’s bed would have been nice, just crawl on in there for a little oblivion, but Davis slid behind the steering wheel instead. Pumping the clutch a few times before turning the key, he ground his teeth through the usual “RRrrrrrRrrrRrRRRR” before the engine caught and growled to life.
Pulling around the house and onto the street, he glanced at Boots and said, “I have no idea what the heck is going on, but I know it’s very, very off. I don’t like that trunk, I don’t like that empty vial, I don’t like, just, today. Today is turning out to be kind of lousy. And now I don’t even know where I’m going. I feel like we need to go somewhere and do something, but ... what, you know?”
“I have a thought,” Boots said. “I have a, shall we say, acquaintance here in Palisade who deals in some very fine turquoise.”
“Oh, no…,” Davis interrupted.
“Anyway,” Boots continued, “he did some time, I mean spent some time, in Asia — not the Lonely Planet version of it, if you get my drift — and he probably could tell us a little more about the trunk. I mean, it may not even matter at this point, what with the letter that I notice you haven’t opened and that vial, but it’s something, right? A start?”
Davis ignored the dig about the letter and nodded. He had no better ideas and it felt like lines were converging into a giant snarl. “Let’s go there,” he said. “I’m just going to swing by the store first and make sure everything’s locked up.”
Boots snorted. Davis always had been one to worry if he’d left the iron on.
“Meanwhile,” Davis said, addressing Tater, “there obviously was something in that vial and Phony Monk said he was a scientist. Connection?”
“Animal army,” Tater said nonchalantly.
“I’m sorry, what?” Davis replied. Boots merely gaped.
“Well, I won’t get into the geopolitics of central Asia, because who has that kind of time,” Tater said, “but our friend the monk is from China, up in Xinjiang. And it’s pretty much a mess up there, and his bolts aren’t tightened all the way, if you know what I’m saying. Anyway, he has some sort of ideas about taking back China with an army of animals. And then, I don’t know, maybe commandeering a few aircraft carriers and heading this way?”
“An army of animals,” Boots repeated.
“Yep,” Tater nodded, giving his paw a fast lick. “I mean, the yaks and camels alone up there, we’re talking hundreds of thousands of animals.”
“And he was just going to storm Beijing?” Davis asked. “And then, what, invade Seattle on a stolen ship? Dude’s nuts. Besides, what does this have to do with you talking?”
Before Tater answered, though, Davis pulled to the rear of the hardware store. A blue Dumpster has been pushed perpendicular to the road, blocking the alley and making Davis stop the truck 20 feet from the store.
“What the heck,” Davis began, then stopped. He’d never been superstitious, though he respected the power that belief in the supernatural gave it. And at that moment, he just knew something was off. There was no tangible evidence to support that beyond the misplaced Dumpster, but it was like an unseen finger tickling at his hairline. Something wasn’t right.
“Do you hear that sound?” Davis asked maybe Boots, maybe Tater. “That rattling?”
Not waiting for an answer, he opened the truck door and swung his left leg out. And that’s when the store exploded.
It wasn’t like in the movies, though — no apocalyptic mushrooms of smoke, no immediate conflagrations of orange and red. It was a slight, gentle sucking inward and then a great WHOOMP out. Glass and wood splinters cartwheeled outward at epic speeds and Davis dove back into the truck’s cab. The force of the explosion shoved the Dumpster into the truck’s grille, which knocked Tater off the seat and Boots’s head into the back window.
Two stunned seconds of hanging silence, Boots clutching the back of his head with blood oozing between his fingers, Tater growling furiously, when finally Davis could let out a deafening, incoherent yell.
Staring dazedly through a windshield kept intact by the buffer of the Dumpster, Davis and Boots saw flames begin growing and consuming the enormous pile of rubble that had been a store. Then, as if coming to his senses, Davis slammed his door shut and began reversing quickly down the alley.
“What are you doing?” Boots shrieked. “That was your store! We have to wait for the fire department! Oh my holy, oh my, oh my, oh my wubba wubba wubba, oh my Mother Mary of Santiago, oh my, oh my…”
Tater lightly swiped at Boots’s hand: “You’re vapor locked, man. High centered.”
Yanking his hand away from the cat, Boots shook his head and seemingly came to his senses. “Davis, man,” he said. “We gotta go back! We fled the scene of what was obviously a crime!”
“Yeah, but not one we committed,” Davis interrupted a wail of sirens headed toward the spot they were fleeing. “And that looked like a natural gas explosion to me, which makes me think someone wants it to look like I’m committing insurance fraud.”
Davis felt oddly clear-headed saying this. He was experiencing some blessed tunnel vision and all that mattered was that very moment as they were living it. He felt the weird weightlessness of hovering between numbness and crushing unreality.
“Let’s go to your friend’s house,” Davis told Boots, and Boots gaped at his lifelong friend for several seconds. Finally, though, he just nodded.
“OK. Chuy lives up on East Orchard Mesa.”
Davis stared unblinkingly ahead as he navigated up the steep, winding road and turned onto Sobre El Rio as directed by Boots.
“This is him,” Boots said, pointing to a modest stucco home in the center of an enormous yard of natural landscaping. Pulling into the driveway, the trio staggered out of the truck and approached Chuy’s front door, which was open. Peering past the entryway and into the living room, Davis saw a man slumped on a brown leather couch and Lina standing over him with a Taser.
“Ugh!” Lina huffed. “Gun kai!”
“Zhe bu hui fasheng, qinaide,” Davis countered. “I mean it: That’s not going to happen. Sweetheart.”