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Chapter 14 December 23, 1994, Christmas Eve-Eve

“When you was a kid bout my age what did you like for presents?” Philly asked.

“I remember the space race was a really big deal when I was your age,” Mr. Nelson said. “All the kids had toy NASA space shuttles and rockets. They were always painted with red, white, and blue and had bald eagle sticker decals.”

“Who was racing up in space?”

“America and the Soviets. The soviets launched a satellite first, called it Sputnik I,” Mr. Nelson said. “Then after Sputnik I, America moved the goal posts a bit, and got really caught up with trying to land on the moon before the Soviets.”

“Did we beat them?” Philly asked.

“I guess it depends on who you ask and what you ask.”

“I am asking you, Mr. Nelson.”

“Ok. That’s fair. What are you asking?”

“Who won the space race?”

“The Soviets,” Mr. Nelson replied without hesitation.

“I don’t like that answer.”

“Yea, a lot of people don’t like that answer. But a lot of people don’t ask me. So they get to hear the answer they want to hear.”

“How do I ask it for you to say America won?”

“Ok, but first you got to tell me why you don’t like it when I tell you the Soviets won the space race.”

“I just know that America is good guys and those guys are bad guys.”

“You mean the Soviets? Why do you say that they are bad?”

“Because they don’t believe the stuff we believe. Their ways aren’t right.”

“Communism?” asked Mr. Nelson.

Philly shrugged his shoulders indicating he didn’t know about communism. “How do I ask the question to make America win against them?” he repeated.

“You could ask who was the first to fly a shuttle to the moon. That would be America. In fact to this day, America remains the only nation to have put a man on the moon. If memory serves twelve men have walked on the moon.”

“All American?”

“Yes sir.”

“That’s better than a dumb satellite anyway. We won the race fair and square. Twelve American men on the moon walking – and now still no other types of men have been there.” Philly shrugged looking annoyed. “Dumb satellite don’t count,” he said again, this time sounding more upset but less convinced. “But rockets are cool I suppose.”

“I used to be really into board games. I remember getting Chess one year, and playing the hell out of it.”

Philly lit up at this suggestion. “That is a good medium sized gift, Mr. Nelson,” he said with a smile.

“Do you know which one you want?”

“When Jay Twice used to come over he would bring a game to play with me but now I don’t know what it’s called.”

Mr. Nelson didn’t know who Jay Twice was, but was glad they were getting somewhere. A board game was a medium size gift. Ok. It shouldn’t be too difficult to power through the list now. “I guess it’s a bit late in the game for you to ask him what game it was.”

“He stopped coming over a long time ago. It’s good too since he is the worst kind of person. I just didn’t know’d it then. I sure wish he would have left that game before he left though. That game. It was so fun.”

“Sometimes friends grow apart,” Mr. Nelson said. “It doesn’t mean that they are bad people.”

“Sometimes it does though, you know?” argued Philly. Just then a cream colored Ford Ranger pulled into the carpool lane. Mark recognized the old truck immediately. It was James Suchie’s old truck. Although he could not make out his features, he saw there was a new face behind the wheel. The last time that Mark had Late Duty and Philly had been a car rider, he had been picked up by black man. This new guy he hadn’t seen before. Maybe this was the new friend Philly had mentioned earlier. The one who would get Philly three medium sized things and one big sized thing for Christmas. Mark sure hoped so. Philly deserved something nice.

“Hope you have a good new year, Mr. Nelson,” Philly told him as he climbed into the Ranger.

“Merry Christmas,” he told him back, proving to Philly he was not too cool to say it.

When he first approached the school to pick up Philly, Ernie saw two vehicles in the parking lot: a silver Caprice and a teal Tracer. Julie’s teal Tracer. She is still at work, he said to himself. He thought better than to pull in with her still at the school. Knowing his luck she’d walk out as soon as he pulled in. Thinking that she may have Late Duty and that she was actually chatting with Philly at that very moment never crossed his mind.

Other than carving “FIX ME!!!” across her trunk and relying on Luke to make his phone calls he hadn’t made much head way with his plan to destroy Julie’s life. He hadn’t even figured out where she lived. The Winterberry Address listed on the Judgment for Divorce wasn’t her new address like he had thought, but instead the address of the law offices of Finestein & Finestein. Fucking Jew, he thought to himself.

Seeing Julie’s car did give him a new idea, though. He pulled his truck into the car wash across the street. From where he was parked he was able to see Julie’s car when it was pulling out the school parking lot. He’d follow her home.

Kat proved to be just as lonely and vulnerable as Ernie anticipated she’d be. And he stroked, prodded, and stabbed at each of these weaknesses and vulnerabilities with near surgical precision. While sitting in the car waiting, Ernie couldn’t help but laugh at the work he had been able to put in. He had been right about Jackie all along. He thought. Yep, Jackie was full of shit.

Sure, Ernie knew that he wouldn’t have been able to craft any of this plan had Jackie shut up that first night in their cell together, but he was extremely glad he didn’t buy into his whole narrative. Jackie had given him the bare bones: Kat was a widowed waitress who lived in Baxton. But this along with the fact that she had a son who wore his daddy’s old shoes were the only two things he had said with any source of validity. Just as Ernie expected, the entire thing about Kat’s husband being killed after a basketball game in Pride Bay was completely fabricated.

He laughed again to himself, because the truth was just as hard to swallow as the Hollywood fairytale Jackie had lifted from White Men Can’t Jump. Kat told Ernie that James Suchie died in the lumber yard where he worked. “Wasn’t gonna be no Workers’ Comp money coming neither,” Kat had said. “On account of he had punched out.” Punched Out, Ernie said to himself jokingly.

One of the men had brought some boxing gloves to the yard one day and said something like, “I got these for my kid, but he done moved on to something else, figured since he ain’t playing with em, I’d bring em here . . . case any ya’ll wanna duke it out.” The tail end of his statement was meant as a joke. The men in the yard often brought stuff their kids weren’t using any more. They grow out of stuff so fast, but that don’t mean none of you can’t use it, was the shared sentiment.

But like all men, even the ones working in lumber yards are incapable of turning down a challenge whether it was meant as a joke or not. “I’ll duke it out with ya,” one of them said back to the bearer of the boxing gloves gift.

Well now all the workers want to see a fight, and they are riled up. Foreman tells em knock it off, “Come on now, y’all know we ain’t gonna do that shit here,” he says.

“But they’s just training gloves, big 16 ouncers. Don’t even hurt when you get hit,” said the man who brought the gloves.

“Yea, ’sides those two tubs of lard won’t last but a minute having to hold up those heavy things and throw em,” some unknown man in the back ground yelled.

It must have been persuasive or he must have known it was going to happen whether he gave it his blessing it or not, because the Foreman said something like, “Alright let’s get this over with, but ya’ll got to get off the clock first.” The two men looking to box one another walked towards the time clock. “Oh no, not just them,” the Foreman said. “I’ll be God damned if ya’ll think you are going to sit around watching these two fat asses go at one another on company time. Everyone needs to clock out.”

Dozens of men made a mad dash creating an instant bottle neck at the time clock. Someone near the back yelled, “Hey get mine while you’re up there.” This was followed by what seemed like every other person requesting the same thing.

The man at the very front took some initiative. “Dammit I’ll just get everybody while I am here,” he said. The line dispersed, and the man loaded each of the workers’ time cards in the time clock. No doubt it was ten times faster than each one having to do his own card individually.

Later that same day, James Suchie died at the lumber yard in a freak accident totally unrelated to the boxing match. Ernie believed that this is where the story takes a turn from the sort of unbelievable to the completely fantastical. “He was still punched out from when they was boxing when he got kilt,” Kat had told him.

It was none of Ernie’s business, but the whole thing didn’t pass the smell test. It irritated Ernie to no end that Kat took the story given to her at face value. Didn’t someone else clock everybody out to watch the fight? Who is to say that James Suchie even watched the fight, or even knew he had been clocked out? And c’mon whether he was clocked out or not is pretty trivial given that he was actually doing work for his employer when he died. Ernie detested that fact that she was fine living in poverty because she blindly believed the company when they said Workers’ Compensation money wasn’t available. Why not? Because he was punched out. Punched Out!? They said. In Ernie’s head they even laughed under their breath when they said it. Yea Kat was vulnerable and lonely, but unfortunately she seemed stupid too.

I bet that Jew Finestein would have gotten the Suchie’s some Worker’s Comp money, he thought to himself. Maybe if I stick around long enough I’ll get Kat to call him. Just then, the left brake light on the teal 1991 Mercury Tracer lit up. “I see you still haven’t fixed that light,” Ernie said to himself. “Now let’s see where you live.” He followed her.

Seeing the house Julie pulled the Tracer into was the last straw. He figured, either she spent all of his money on that damn thing or that Jew Finestein had bought it for her. Both made him sick. Either way, he knew, she was running that Jew in and out of there. That Fucking bitch, he thought before asking his front seat passenger, “What did you learn at school today?”

“Bunch of stuff, like did you know we beat the Soviets to the moon?” asked Philly.

“Damn right we did.” Ernie was impressed. He had really taken a liking to the kid lately. Sure he had to provide a bit of corporeal punishment to set him straight at first, but the kid had learned fast. He couldn’t even remember why he had beat him the last two times. “Who told you that?” he asked.

“My teacher, Mr. Nelson.”

“Seems like a good teacher.”

“He’s my favorite.”

“I can tell I’d like him.”

“Yea you sure would,” Philly promised. “He even told Ms. Green that she was getting a lump of coal for Christmas.”

“That’s funny. Man after my own heart, all right. Wait, when did you see Ms. Green? I thought you said she was fifth grade.”

“She was on Late Duty but left before you came and got me.”

“Oh.” So that explained why she was still at school earlier, he thought. “What else did that bitch say?”

“Said she ain’t been good all year long.”

“Now why would she tell you that?” Big Ern asked barely believing it.

“She said it’s why she wasn’t gonna help me make my Christmas list.”

“Now that’s fucked up. That bitch has no right to say that to you. You understand that right, Philly?” Philly nodded, showing he understood.

Ernie thought it was one thing to whore yourself out to a Jew. But it’s another thing to tell a student that you are too bad to participate in Christmas. “That’s probably the story she tells now instead of saying the truth.”

“That she is a Jew?” Philly asked.

“She told you that?” asked Big Ern.

Philly had seen that look in Big Ern’s eyes before, and knew he better be good or he’d be in for the beating of his life. So he nodded. It was a nod that would cost Julie Green her life, but it was a nod that would earn Philly Suchie a brand new blue Stringray Bicycle.

“Let’s you and me go pay that Jew loving bitch a visit,” Big Ern said, “and afterwards, straight to Toys R Us.”

“Yay!” exclaimed Philly. “And I’ll get three medium sized things and one big sized thing.”

“Son, if you help me take care of this, and promise to keep your mouth shut about it -you can have all of that and a super big sized thing.”

“Like a bike?”

“Yes sir,” Big Ern promised. “You can pick out any bike you want in the whole God damned store.”

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