Thunder and Lightening
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
Mike pulled into the parking spot next to the beat up old truck. Getting out, he noticed Jerry was underneath the rear examining the muffler. Going over to him, he bent down and said, “It’s about time to open the store.”
In a loud voice, Jerry answered, “Go ahead and open. Everything is ready for you.”
Mike went in the back door and opened the store while Jerry continued his survey of the undercarriage of the truck. He hadn’t seen a truck with a wooden bed in years and was struggling to figure out how to fix it. It looked simple enough, but he knew that looks could be deceiving. Satisfied that he had a good idea how to go about fixing it, he crawled out from under the truck and took stock of his clothes. He needed to change and two days without a shower was a day too many.
Going into the store, he looked around and saw Mike was already dealing with a customer. Rather than interrupt, he went into his office and got a change of clothes and a towel. Wrapping the clothes in the towel, he set it on his desk.
Returning to the counter, he watched as Mike finished taking care of the customer. When the customer was gone, he said, “I’m going down to the Y to take a shower. Can you watch the store?”
“Sure,” replied Mike as he turned back to the counter. He wondered if Jerry was serious about his wife coming to work in the store.
Jerry returned three-quarters of an hour later wearing a fresh change of clothes. Entering the back of the store, he set his dirty clothes in a paper sack and carried it into his office. He called out, “Mike, I’m back.”
He didn’t wait for a reply as he closed the door. Today, he had to locate a place to live since living in the office was beginning to get a little old. While there, he noticed the pages he had gotten from the bank the previous day. He decided that maybe the first thing that he needed to do was resolve his financial situation.
Sitting at his desk, he started going over the record of the checks. It only took him a few minutes to get totally immersed in what he was doing. At first glance, it looked like he could take nine hundred dollars a month without impacting anyone except his wife’s idle time. His concentration was interrupted when Mike knocked on the door. Looking up, he said, “Come in.”
Mike slowly opened the door and peered into the office looking nervous. This was a very tough thing for him to do, but he needed to remind Jerry about the discussion concerning his wife. Apologetically, he said, “Karen is here to talk to you about the job you offered.”
At the reminder of his conversation about hiring Mike’s wife, he grinned over at Mike. He said, “Great. Send her in.”
A few minutes later, Mike’s wife entered the room just as Jerry finished clearing his personal papers from the desk. Jerry said, “Hello, Karen. Have a seat.”
Karen nervously took a seat opposite the big man. She knew that Jerry was a big man, but until now she had never really dealt with him one on one. Sitting this close to him, she could understand why Mike was terrified of him. Voice shaking a little, she said, “Mike told me something about a job.”
“Yes. I was wondering if you would like to manage the inventory of the store. It is a part-time job, but has some nice benefits. You’ll be able to come to work with Mike, take your lunches together, and work around your kids’ school hours.”
“I don’t really know that much about auto parts,” she answered nervously.
Jerry was quiet for a moment before he replied, “That might be a problem. Of course, you don’t have to know what things do, and most of the items have the names on the boxes. I’d teach you, but have recently come to the conclusion that I’m not a very good teacher. I don’t have the patience for it, but I’m sure that Mike would be happy to help you out.”
“I’ve been taking computer classes at the community college,” said Karen hoping that it would be a good reason to hire her.
“We don’t have a computer here, but I’ve been thinking it is time to change that. You could probably take charge of that effort since I have no clue about computers.”
“Oh,” replied Karen wondering if she were up to the job. Finally, she said, “I’m not sure that I can learn all that stuff.”
“Bah! If I can learn it, so can you. The job pays $8.00 an hour to start. If you stay six months, it will go up to $9.00 an hour.”
“Are you saying that you’ll take a chance on me?”
“Yes. When can you start?”
“How about tomorrow?”
Jerry sat there for a moment considering the answer. Tomorrow would be good, but today would be better. Satisfied that she was going to come to work, he decided not to push his luck. He smiled and dug through the desk drawer for an application and a W-4 form. Handing them to her, he said, “Why don’t you fill these out? Mike has late lunch today, so maybe you will want to hang around and go to lunch with him.”
Karen looked down at the forms he had handed her. They were standard forms and wouldn’t take long to fill out. It was only eleven in the morning. She looked up and said, “Great. I’ll fill them out now.”
“Use my desk, I’ll talk to Mike and see how things are going in the store.”
Wandering out to the front of the store, he saw Mike waiting to hear the news. Split in his opinion as to whether his wife should work here, Mike didn’t want to hear from her that she had been turned down. Even worse would be the possibility that Jerry would have him break the news to her. Seeing the look on Mike’s face, Jerry said, “She’s filling out the paperwork now and will start tomorrow. I’m going to head out for an early lunch. I’ll be back in about an hour and a half. I have some errands to run.”
Over lunch at the burger joint, Jerry examined the classified ads looking for a cheap place to live. He didn’t need much, just enough room for a bed, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Wolfing down his burger, he circled a couple of places that were close by and seemed reasonably priced. As soon as he finished eating, he picked up the paper and headed out.
The neighborhood had seen better days and those days had been long ago. It had been taken over by the poor and elderly. The street, or what passed as a street, was filled with potholes and lined with old cars that belonged on the lot of that horrible used car place where he had bought his truck. The few teenagers he had seen, all of whom were black, looked angry.
He parked in front of the house listed in the advertisement. A couple of windows were broken, the steps were half rotted, and the house needed painting. It was in bad enough shape that his truck looked new compared to it. Shaking his head, he debated what to do. Stepping out of the truck, he went up to the house. A teenager, perhaps fifteen, came over to where he stood and said, “Kinda white to be thinkin’ of livin’ here.”
Without turning to look at the kid, Jerry replied, “Kinda young to be out of school.”
“Shit, what’s that got to do with anythin’?” School didn’t start for two weeks, so the insult didn’t mean anything to the kid.
“Is this a safe neighborhood?”
The kid shrugged his shoulders and looked around before he answered, “Depends.”
“Depends on what?” asked Jerry believing he knew the answer to his question.
“Whether you’re black or white.”
Jerry turned and stepped up to the kid. Putting his hands on his hips, he faced the kid directly letting him get a glimpse of his full size. Raising an eyebrow, he asked, “Do you think I’ll have any trouble that I can’t handle?”
Taking in the monster standing before him, the kid gulped and then replied, “Don’t think so.”
“Good. Tell me a reason to move here.”
“You’ll have me for a neighbor,” replied the kid with a smirk.
Looking down at the boy, Jerry burst out laughing and said, “I think you’ve talked me into it. Where do I find the owner of this dump?”
“He’s got the real estate office six blocks north of here,” replied the kid wondering if this guy was serious about moving into the neighborhood. He’d be the only white within a half a mile. As a last resort, he asked, “Are you sure you want to live here? This is a slum if you haven’t noticed.”
“I noticed and I don’t care,” replied Jerry.
The two of them stood there for a moment in silence, Jerry stood examining the house while the kid examined Jerry. Coming to a decision, Jerry said, “I’m going to the real estate office. You say it is six blocks from here?”
“Yeah, take the street there to the left and you’ll hit it. You can’t miss the place. He’s the only one with a fancy car in the whole area.”
Jerry followed the directions and found the office without a problem. Parked out front of office building was a silver Lexus. Considering that he had driven past clunker after clunker on the way there, the presence of the Lexus was almost a shock to the system. The sign in front of the building said, “Robert Benson Property Management.”
A pasty-faced little man with a very bad toupee was seated behind a desk talking on the telephone. Jerry hated him at first sight without being able to put a finger on why he reacted to the man in such a fashion. After the man hung up the telephone, he asked, “What can I do for you?”
“You have a property on Grayson Lane for rent.”
“Yes, I do.”
“I’d like to rent it.”
“It’s not in a very good neighborhood,” replied Robert, surprised that a white man wanted to rent the house and unsure that he wanted to rent it to him. He much preferred to rent to folks who knew better than to screw with the landlord. Blacks and Mexicans knew that little lesson. If they hadn’t learned it elsewhere, they learned it here.
“At two hundred a month, I like the price,” replied Jerry.
“Okay. It’ll be a two hundred dollar deposit with two months rent up front,” answered the guy. With a sly look on his face, Robert asked, “Looking for a little out of the way place to bring your girlfriend, huh?”
Jerry shot a nasty look at the greasy little man. The guy didn’t seem to care and just said, “I guess it is none of my business.”
“Right,” answered Jerry. He pulled out his wallet pocket and removed six hundred dollars. Handing it over to the man, he said, “I need a receipt and a lease.”
The man bent down to fill out the lease. As he worked, Jerry asked, “You gonna fix the windows on the place?”
“You’re renting it as is,” replied Robert as he bent to his work.
Jerry had expected that as an answer and knew that even if he made improvements to the house the guy would end up keeping the deposit. This guy was a slumlord, profiting off the poor. Jerry could feel the rage coming to the surface as he thought, ‘I’m one of the poor and had better get used to it. I have to live off eight hundred a month. That’s probably more than most of my new neighbors.’
Robert handed him the lease and said, “Sign it.”
Jerry took the time to read over the lease. It was the nastiest lease he had ever encountered. A week late with rent and the owner could change the locks on the door and confiscate everything inside the house. It was illegal, but who among the tenants could afford to contest it in court. Growling, he signed the lease. Before handing it back, he said, “Receipt for my six hundred.”
“Oh, yeah,” replied the man. He filled out two receipts, one for the deposit and one for two months rent. As he handed them over, he said, “You’re gonna love living in that neighborhood. Lots of young black pussy there that’ll f•©k you for a few bucks. Hell, I bet some of them would appreciate the chance to f•©k you instead of me for the rent.”
The rage welled up in Jerry at the way the man talked about using people and his hands slowly curled up into a fist. Fighting back the rage, he handed over the crumpled lease and said, “The keys.”
Robert handed him the keys and watched as Jerry stiffly walked out of the building. It was lucky he didn’t know how close he had come to seeing a demonstration of Jerry’s strength since Jerry had wanted to tear the man in half.
Jerry sat in the truck as the rage slowly retreated. Talking to the truck, he said, “I was hoping that I wouldn’t feel that rage anymore. Maybe I’m wrong, but there was something different about it this time.”
He started the truck and drove back to the house he had rented. Pulling up in front of the house, he looked over at it and said, “Thunder, this is your new home.”
Getting out, he fished the keys to the house from his pocket. Unlocking the front door, he opened it and stepped back as a foul smell billowed out. Holding his breath, he went into the house and opened windows to let it air out. Two of the windows had broken panes and he left them closed. The place was filthy with trash piled up on the floor. Garbage that had been in the kitchen had turned into a science experiment. Coughing, he said, “I guess I’ll be spending another night or two in the office until I get this place cleaned up.”
Getting out of the house, the kid turned up and looked at him. Surprised at seeing the guy back, the kid said, “I thought you were fooling about renting this place.”
Jerry frowned as he thought about it. He tended to be a rather literal guy who did what he said. He replied, “I don’t fool about things.”
The kid nodded his head, as he believed the guy was telling him the truth. After a minute he said, “I’m Abraham Lincoln Spencer.”
“I’m Jerry Smith. Can I call you Abe?”
“Makes me sound old,” answered the kid even though that was what everyone called him.
“Nothing wrong with that,” replied Jerry as he looked over at the kid with a neutral expression.
“Okay, if I can call you Jerry.”
“Sure thing,” answered Jerry as he stood back from the house. With a smile, he said, “You didn’t tell me the owner was such a nice guy.”
“Nice guy?” asked the kid incredulous. Everyone hated the landlord with a passion. In fact, he was surprised that no one had killed him yet. Stepping back, he challenged, “You whites all stick together.”
“Yeah, we do. In the five minutes I was there, I felt like ripping off his head and shoving it up his ass.”
Abe looked over at Jerry for a minute and said, “Oh, you don’t like him.”
“Right. That’s one slimy asshole.”
Abe didn’t reply in any way except to smile a little more broadly. The more he talked to this guy, the more he liked him. It was going to be interesting to see how the other people in the neighborhood took to the guy. Of course, considering the size of Jerry it would be just as interesting to see how he would take to the people in the neighborhood.
Jerry said, “I’m heading back to the job.”
“Aren’t you going to lock up the house?”
“Someone might steal something,” answered Abe looking over at the wide open door. It was just inviting anyone to come in and take whatever he or she wanted.
“I hope they do,” replied Jerry. “There’s nothing in there that I want.”
“They’ll take the fridge.”
Jerry looked down at Abe and replied, “Just let people know that if they take the appliances, that I’ll play basketball using their body as a ball.”
That Jerry could carry out that threat was not lost on Abe. He’d spread the word knowing that it wouldn’t do any good until more people saw the guy. Shaking his head, Abe answered, “They won’t believe the threat until they see you.”
Jerry laughed and said, “Then I expect they’ll return them to me.”
Abe stood there laughing as Jerry drove off in his truck. It was going to be fun having this guy as a next door neighbor. He was going to create quite a stir amongst the people here.
Jerry drove carefully down the street avoiding the potholes. The city probably wouldn’t fix them, so he was just going to have to be careful driving around here. It was twelve blocks to the store and he made the trip in eight minutes. As he drove, he decided that if Abe was old enough and was willing, he could ride a bike to the store and work part-time as a stock boy.