Thursday, 20 September 2012

Fiction Installment #32: (Part II, Ch 4, Jake) "Grunt Work"

 A Red Bull canister fell and clattered on the asphalt as Jake swung open the door. He tossed it into the pick-up’s empty bed. “Hey, Pig Pen,” he said, observing the litter—balled napkins and food wrappers lining the dash, empty energy drinks crowding the floor, and Styrofoam take-out strewn alongside water bottles on the bench seat. Nicos maintained the lustrous exterior of his vehicles with the anal-retentive standards of a military boot camp CO, but expressed a profound shift in philosophy for interiors. The weird split always struck Jake, who thought a mid-point between extremes seemed realistic, closer to cosmic balance; anyone comparing his desk and bedroom would notice matching tidiness levels.
    “Hey, boss, you know me. I like to nest.” Nicos swept discards to the floor and patted the seat. “Okay princess, now here’s a safe place for your hairy Royal Doulton ass.”
    Jake, bested by the subordinate’s rapid-fire brain, slid into position without a reply. Nicos revved the engine.
    “We ready to rock now?”
    “Go,” Jake said, relieved that the interior’s air-conditioner blew away any stench from Nicos’ putrefying snacks. As for the heavy smoker’s residue, he’d just man up about that and hold his tongue. He unlocked the phone and tapped out a message to Lora: “Tell me again, why’d we hire this guy!?!”
   A life-of-the-party personality, Nicos’ compulsion to talk ballooned exponentially when he’d passed long hours alone. Jake calculated that the Location Manager must have been solitary overnight in a motel and likely granted minimal contact during breakfast despite firm efforts at the quick fix of chatting up the waitress or diners at nearby tables. Sharing the cab now would not be too different from circulating in a room of desperate speed-daters eager to spill as many words as possible in their three-minute allotment of “Let me tell you all about me, please.” Stalling for time was possible, Jake could see, but texting work missives could grab only a few moments of privacy.
   Nicos’s mouth switched on as he shifted out of Park. “The compound’s not even ten kliks away,” he said, louder than necessary, “but the crash site is a fair bit of a haul. It’s out of the way for sure, but I figure the pay off is worth it. You’ll see. It blew me away, that’s for sure. A-f-ing-mazing, considering what we had to work with, anyway. It’s not exactly the Himalayas out there—it’s a fricking desert, well kind of a desert, technically the Osoyoos Arid Biotic Zone, but everyone says Okanagan Desert—so finding a sheer mountain face was no small feat. I mean, c’mon, Christ, talk about unreasonable expectations. Dunes woulda been a cinch. Even CGI woulda been easier, way easier.” Nicos turned to face Jake, drawing attention to the sloping Bob Hope nose—another incongruous item for slow-day office speculation. “But I lucked in anyway, chatted up these hippie wannabe dudes on longboards and they told me about this retired gravel pit that I would never a found by looking at any map. Sometimes I’m pretty impressed with myself. Yeah, it’s a gift, that’s all I can say.”
    From past truck ride episodes, Jake was fully aware that Nicos could—and would—say much more. “Hold on a sec. I need to get this sent,” Jake said. He tapped the glass, scanning old online profile messages and photos and waited for Lora’s reply. Being on location and away from city amenities always made his testosterone levels spike, he’d swear. Hormonal torment: maybe the herbal pill magic had begun kicking in, after all.
   “So, you were saying there’s nothing closer, eh?” Jake said, no longer able to ignore Nicos’ swiveling head and quests for eye contact.
    “You saw the pictures, right?” Nicos turned to Jake again, expression obscured by shuttered mountaineering sunglasses. “There’s some hills with a few scattered rocks, right, but nothing epic as per orders.” Nicos flipped through a binder, steering with one hand. “Here it is. See, the list of requirements actually put in ‘grandeur’ a couple of times, so that’s what I looked for. Grandeur, Christ! And found, kinda sorta, you’ll see.” He detached the copy of the email and thrust the sheet toward Jake. “Anyway, the other option was way the hell over there in the sticks”—he thumbed southward—“and that would of pissed off everybody. All the talent pussy footing around and complaining would of been a sight, though. But the cost...killer. K-i-l-l-e-r. Not to mention the fact that we’d have to hire helicopters or a fleet of Humvees to access it. In no time we’d be hitting James Cameron territory with budget overruns. Hell to pay and all that, your head on a silver platter, the whole nine yards.”
    “Right,” Jake said, sending a second message: “The tide is rising.” Jake thought he’d let Nicos spew it all out. Like a baby, Nicos would tire eventually and maybe hit some kind of equilibrium after a painful few minutes of squalling. That strategy also worked when Hurricane Lora approached.
    Lora’s text opened with a smile emoticon: “With great power comes great responsibility. Reward him with a gold star and Good Luck!!! Rearranging YOUR schedule now so can’t talk. ttyl bitch!!” Jake smiled. Schadenfreude: he would have typed the same.
    Jake stared out the window while Nicos spoke, unconcerned about the failure to contribute. Nicos didn’t expect an exchange of sentence for sentence reciprocity; a second body created the necessary illusion of conversation.
    As the truck passed a barely there trailer park on a low sandy rise, Jake followed the abrupt change to greenery, a hand-planted oasis promising reassurance in an otherwise unaccommodating—though harshly striking—environment. In place of imposing barren rock outcrops and the invariable parched grass plains between them grew countless trees—vibrant, groomed, and healthy, a domesticated wilderness planted in fertile, easy-access grids. The layout appeared ingenious in its efficiency, but unlike the cold brutality of an auto plant, the orchards and their fluttering summer grace invited attention. Jake foresaw entranced drivers slowing and pulling over, eventually giving in to the desire to stroll around the luminous unthreatening forest, blithely setting aside the important lessons about the malevolence that awaits in stands of trees learned by Hansel and Gretel or those doomed kids in The Blair Witch Project. And that duo from the bible too.
   Jake made a mental note to wander through a few rows before the shoot wrapped, ideally during the weak light at sunrise or sunset. A roadside sign—“U-pik fruit”—offered a handy solution to the trespassing problem.

 [Part 3 of 6 of this chapter.]

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