Life Is Change
Copyright© 2016 by Ernest Bywater
It’s early afternoon by the time Smoky reaches the block of buildings he’s thinking of taking responsibility for. He walks around the full block while he studies the buildings. The three paths between the buildings with the minimal distances from the buildings have solid fences across them, the two wider ones have gates with chains and locks on the wider side, all of the windows are boarded up except for those of the two operating stores, and the doors are all locked with chains and locks except the building with the two stores. The whole block is secured. He unlocks one of the gates, enters, and locks it up again. The windows and doors on the inside are just like those on the outside. Most of the field is tall grass, but a twenty foot area around the toilet is well kept.
Smoky goes over to the section of mown grass to trample down an area beside it that’s against the fence of the building with the shops. This puts him about twenty feet away from the toilet, against the fence so he can use it to help secure the tent, and not too far from the gate to the area used by the store staff. While trampling down the grass to set the tent on it he notices a hand pump and small water trough near the gate. They look very old and he wonders if they’re why they set up the toilet in this corner. It doesn’t take him long to set up the tent well secured to the fence and ground. In the tent he lays out his sleeping bag in the main sleeping area. He sets up the cooking gear on one side of the built-in entry / foyer area for storage while his backpack and bag go on the other side. He also unrolls and sets out the built-in wet-weather fly cover to protect the three feet in front of the entry. Now his camp is set up for the night.
Although Smoky thinks the gear should be safe here he sets the tent lock when he closes it up. Slipping the computer bag onto his shoulders he walks over to the back door of the building with the stores. A moment to find the right key and he lets himself into the entrance area which is well kept and looks good. The entrances to the stores are on either side of the front of this entry area because they share the one street access.
He walks to the store entrances, looks into the one on his left, and he’s surprised by the number of people looking through the stock set out on the tables in the store despite the poor lighting. The same is true for the other store when he looks in there. He walks in and starts to browse the items on display in this store of ‘Abraham’s Antiques’ is a real bazaar of all sorts of items. Some items are new and some items are very old. The majority of the items are old but not old enough to be real antiques while most of the new items are reproductions of antique items.
Only a few minutes after Smoky walks into the store an elderly man is beside him and asking, “After anything in particular, Sir? If so, I can tell you if we have it?”
Smoky turns to the man and asks, “Abraham Stein?” He gets a nod yes with a slight frown in reply. Smoky holds his hand out, “I’m Moses Grey, but you should call me Smoky if you want me to answer you. H J Rowe said I should call in to introduce myself to you.”
Mr Stein smiles as he shakes his hand while saying, “Call me Abe. I had a call from H J yesterday telling me you’ll be in the area. Is it true you’re going to camp in the field?”
“Yes. I’ve already set the tent up and I’m ready for tonight.”
“Better you than me. But watch out for squatters. I’m sure I’ve seen a few lights in some of the buildings when working late at night. I think a few of the homeless people or the like are squatting in them. They can’t be warm in there, but they’ll be warmer than outside.”
“I’ve got keys to all of the buildings so I’ll check them out over the next few days. Where’s a good and cheap place to eat around here?”
Of course that requires Abe to take Smoky over to introduce him to his wife, Mary, so she can provide her wisdom on the local places to eat. He does end up with directions to a few places. However, he decides to try an odd place when Mary says, “If you like spicy foods there’s a Mexican run eatery operating out of a house a few blocks to the east of here.” It’s a simple walk with easy directions. Abe also introduces Smoky to Mary’s brother and his wife who sell the cheap new and used clothes in their clothing shop across the entry area called ‘Frank’s Fashions.’
Around the Area
When Smoky finishes chatting with the two couples and leaves the stores it’s still only mid-afternoon so he goes for a walk around the area to see what other businesses are nearby. One he comes across has the same name as the shop he got the camping gear from in Atlanta, but it also sells guns in a restricted access area of the shop.
Smoky is wandering around the store comparing the prices here with what he paid and he finds they’re a few percent cheaper here but not all of the same items of stock are available here. The other store focussed on the higher quality items but this one has only a few of the better selling high quality items while most of the stock is the next two levels of quality down. One of the staff comes over and says, “If you don’t see what you want we can get it in for you.”
Turning to the man Smoky thinks he’s back in the other store for a moment because the salesman looks so much like the man who served him in Atlanta. He has to ask, “Do you have a relative in a store like this in Atlanta?”
The man grins as he replies, “I’m Fred. My brother Mike runs that one. I run this one and my sister Debra runs our Savannah store. Why?”
“Yesterday I was in the Atlanta store to get fully outfitted. He was so happy with the sale he discounted a few items. The ones you both carry are a bit cheaper here than there, but you don’t have most of what I got because I bought only the top line stuff.”
“Yeah. I’d love to carry all of the gear. But our clients won’t pay for it.”
“Well, since I’ll be living in the area, from now on I’ll probably be seeing you when I want anything else and you can order it in for me. I notice you sell guns while he doesn’t, how come?”
“A large number of our clients are hunters and the ones in Atlanta go to the speciality gun shops for the guns they want. There’s quite a few of those shops in Atlanta but just the one here. Most of our clients don’t shop there because he charges a lot.”
“How difficult is it to get a handgun licence here, and do you have any handguns good for self-defence?”
Fred gives him a close study before saying, “The law and the process is fairly simple. You can speed up an application by having the county probate court give you a copy of the application after they receipt it and you take the copy to the police for them to start on the background check while the court does their paperwork. We can’t sell you a handgun unless you have a license. And what do you mean by good for self-defense?”
“My father was a Marine and he fought in the Gulf War. He said there were a few times where he felt having a shotgun to shoot someone in the face would have been more effective than anything else he had. Since then I’ve seen several videos of people high on drugs who will often take several pistol shots but keep going until they couldn’t stand after a shotgun blast took a leg out. Do you have an application form on hand so I can apply for a firearms license?”
“Yes, I can give you an application. We often get asked for them. Put your bag in a locker beside the door to the gun-room and I’ll show you what we have.” In a few minutes Smoky’s bag is locked up, he has an application form in his hand, with a hand-drawn map showing where to take the papers. He’s looking at the various weapons on display while Fred shows him the Bond Arms range as he says, “Many of their forty-fives can be loaded with four-ten shotgun shells. A lot of people buy and use their range of Defender series Derringer style guns to load them with four-ten shells for use as anti-snake weapons and the like. My wife has one with a forty-five and a four-ten load to give her both options.”
Smoky smiles while giving the guns a good check. He’s never owned a handgun before, but he has used them at the range where his father was a member. He knows how to handle and use a range of guns thanks to his father teaching him. He sees a shotgun with a damaged barrel on a work bench and he asks, “What are you doing with that shotgun?”
“When I gave the owner a cost of repair he told me to toss it. Why?”
“While they process my application can you check on the legality of having a single shot pistol in twelve gauge? If you cut the barrel off behind the damage then put a sight on it you can end up with a five inch barrel on a real small single shot pistol once you replace the butt with a pistol grip. Now, that’ll be a great last ditch life saver. It won’t be worth shit outside of ten feet or so, but it will be brilliant right up close.”
Fred looks at the gun and thinks about it before saying, “I’ll look into it for you. If it’s legal I can think of a lot of damaged shotguns I can resurrect that way.” In the end Smoky places an order for a Glock G22 Gen 4 pistol with a spare magazine, holsters for both, and a cleaning kit. He figures the forty calibre pistol with thirty rounds will be more than enough for any serious situation while the modified shotgun will be for close support. He’s heard a lot about trouble with criminals in the US and he’s making sure he’s protected. H J also told him to get a handgun.
On leaving the store he takes a taxi to the courthouse to lodge his application and he gets a copy to give to the police. By the time they take his details with his fingerprints he feels it’s time for dinner so he takes a taxi to the street for the Mexican food place.
Note: The gunsmith does confirms his thoughts the shotgun can be legally modified in the way Smoky asked, but it requires some paperwork and fees to obtain an approval from the ATF under the National Firearms Act before he can do it. He phones Smoky and arranges to have the extra paperwork lodged with the fees. He does the work on the gun after he gets the approval back from the ATF. This opens a new line of business, so it’s worth the trouble to do.
Sitting on the front lawn of a house is a hand-painted sign saying, ‘Mexican Food.’ Smoky walks into the driveway and he’s greeted by a boy in his early teens who says, “We can’t sell food. But if you want to pay us fifteen dollars to sit down and have a drink we’ll feed you for free.”
Smoky laughs and asks, “How spicy is it?”
“We’ve got everything from bland to raging forest-fire hot.”
Smiling at the reply Smoky hands over the fifteen dollars and asks, “I want to try some samples to see how hot I can go. I like hot curries but I haven’t had real Mexican food before.” The boy smiles as he nods. “You don’t sound like how Mexicans sound on television or the news, why?”
“We moved here from Texas about two years ago. Prior to that my family was in Texas for centuries before there was a Texas. We’ve been US citizens since Texas joined the Union. For generations we go to Texan schools to learn to speak Texan, so we sound Texan. It’s just we like the culture and foods of our ancestors so they call us Mexicans. We don’t care as long as we get paid and aren’t mistreated.” The boy shows Smoky to a seat at a table then he stops to talk to a young woman through a back window while he passes over the fifteen dollars.
A little later the woman comes out with a glass of milk and a plate of peppers. She places the plate on the table in front of Smoky and says, “Start with the peppers on the right and see how many you can eat to the left before you must have a glass of milk to quench the heat.” The peppers are in six sets of three so he starts on the right of the plate and eats one. It’s a bit bland so he all but tosses down the two with it then he does the same with the next set of three. The sixth set is a bit rough to get through without a drink, but he manages it. He looks up and sees her look of surprise. She picks the plate up and returns inside. A little later a young man about the woman’s age comes out and puts a large plate of food on the table. No words are said so Smoky starts eating. This is a lot hotter than the peppers. He gets halfway through the large bowl of the spiced stew like mix before he takes a drink of milk, about half of it. He finishes the bowl, drains the glass of milk, and goes to the window.
Several people of Hispanic appearance are in the room and most are involved in cooking but they keep glancing at him. The two who served him slowly shake their heads at him in wonder at his love of spicy food.
After handing over the empty bowl and glass Smoky hands them a ten dollar tip while saying, “That was wonderful. I just moved into the area but I’ll be back as often as I can. Thank you.” They take the items and smile at the tip before wishing him a goodnight. On his way out he tells the boy, “That may be the dearest glass of milk I’ve ever had, but that’s the best meal I’ve ever had. And it was free.” The boy smiles, then he turns to greet a couple walking up the drive.
Smoky arrives back at the shops at the same moment Abe is leaving, so Smoky wishes him a goodnight and adds, “I’ll lock up the entry.” He watches Abe leave before he locks up the front door, checks the store doors are locked, goes out the back door, and locks it. Then over to the camp area, shutting the gate to it behind him. When he turns to go to his tent he notices the tent is close to the same colour as the grass and of the same rough height. He set the dome style three person tent in the edge of the tall grass and now it’s almost invisible in the grass due to it blending in so well.
He walks over to the tent, unlocks it, opens it up, and gets in. There’s still some daylight left so he gets out the computer, types up an email to his mother with a note to share it with Betty and he includes his phone number. A moment to plug into the phone, bring up the Internet access, and he uploads the email. After a moment more he’s reading an email from H J with more of the information he wanted and details of people coming in the morning to inspect the buildings for him.
Fifteen minutes after he gets back to the tent the computer is off and put away, the tent is ready for the night, and Smoky is sitting outside the tent entrance but still under the weather fly protecting a few square feet to provide a dry entry area. He watches the shadows lengthen with the last of the sun’s light slowly vanishing behind the buildings. He sits there while thinking about the buildings, his life, and his future.
About an hour later it’s full dark but there’s a little light washing in from the city street lights. There’s a drop in the temperature and Smoky is turning to move into the tent when he hears people talking in low voices while walking up alongside the building beside the one with the shops in it. He can’t make out what they’re saying but he can track their movement by the low sound. A moment later he hears a chain rattle. He stands on the bottom rail of the six foot fence to look over it, and he can see the freight door to the building beside the one with the shops is open. It closes, the chain rattles again, then all is quiet.
He waits, and a little later he can see a light shining through some of the cracks in the boarded up windows. Smoky moves over to the gate into that property where he tries keys until he finds the one to unlock the padlock on the gate, walks through, shuts it, and goes to the normal back door of the building. A moment to find the right key and he unlocks the door. He slowly opens it up just enough for his slight frame to slide into the building. Taking short careful steps he makes his way to the entry for the shop on the left because that’s the side some light is showing. It’s not long before Smoky is standing in the doorway looking at a group of five mid-teens, three boys and two girls, sitting around a gas camp stove watching something cook. One of the girls says, “We got paid forty bucks today ‘cause we finished the sewing job. Got told to call back to see if there’s any new work in three days, but not before.”
A boy replies, “Well, that’ll get us some food. So will the sixty we got paid for today’s work landscaping. But that job’s done and we’re to call in on Monday. After we get the stove gas we’ll have to buy what food we can and make it last until we can find some more work.”
Another boy says, “It’s getting a bit cooler. Do you think we can get some more blankets or coats from one of the churches?”
The first girl replies, “I don’t know, but it can’t hurt to ask them.”
One checks the pot on the stove and they all lean back when he shakes his head no. Smoky decides it’s time to get involved so he says, “Just sit still and give me a good reason not to call the cops on you.”
His voice startles them and they all jump a bit, but not much due to their seated positions beforehand. They all look toward the doorway and they immediately realise they have to get by him to get out. The girl who first spoke asks, “Who are you? And how did you get in without the chain rattling?”
“I’m the new manager of the company that owns these buildings and I’ve the keys to all of the doors. So I didn’t need to move the chain on the freight door. Now, talk to me!”
While one keeps checking the pot the others take turns to tell how they’re runaways from a church managed orphanage in Alabama. The management were a bit rougher on them than they liked, so they ran. Now they try to survive while not stealing anything. Life is rough and meals are thin, but they’ve been managing for over six months.
Smoky moves closer while saying, “Those with proper IDs of some sort best get them out to show me. I’ll run checks and if you’re not on any wanted lists for crimes I’ll let you stay. I’ll probably have some work for you too.” For a few minutes things are a bit hectic while they show him what they have in the way of documents to give him their details and last known addresses. They all have some sort of papers, but only two have photo IDs where they match the faces and papers. He checks it all and notes it all down in a pocket notebook H J gave him yesterday. “I’m camping in the field, near the toilet. I’ll leave the gate between the two unlocked so you have easy access. I’ll also leave the back door’s deadbolt unlocked so it’s only on the latch. In the morning I want to see you all at my tent in the field.”
They all nod yes and he leaves them to their dinner. Back in the tent he sends H J an email including their details with a request to check them out before he undresses to settle down for the night, and he’s soon asleep.