Tuesday, July 7, 2009


The following is a draft of Chapter 12 of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at http://kunstlercast.com/forum/index.php?topic=2006.msg24275#msg24275 and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct


A car pulled up outside the barn.

It was now almost midnight. I was sitting half asleep on the sofa with Misty’s muzzle on my lap when I heard the engine cut out. Misty jumped up and barked just once. Catherine awoke.

“It’s my doctor,” she whispered.

I instantly stood and went outside, and the dog strangely chose to accompany me. I looked down at Misty in mild confusion as I shut the door behind us. She stood dutifully beside my leg and looked straight up at me from the gravel, wagging her tail. While her attachment to me was certainly baffling, I saw no harm in her company. As I strolled forward Misty shadowed my gait with a perfect precision that would have impressed any dog show judge.

Misty and I headed to this newly arrived vehicle and I noticed the previously-closed barnyard gate hanging wide open now. My first instinct was to grab the dog’s collar to keep her from escaping. But she seemed content to walk obediently at my side, so I instead focused on the huge silent Jaguar that now sat parked with its headlights still on. I saw a man behind the steering wheel in silhouette, evidently fiddling with a cell phone. His shadowy profile struck me as his having a very chiseled nose of manly gracefulness, and a huge jaw line that was probably a real bitch to shave due to all the contours it presented. In short: he looked like a plastic surgery success story.

“Doctor!” I called out, quickening my pace toward the car.

The silhouetted man looked sideways out his driver-side window and leaned forward into the light -- his hair was a golden blond with blue eyes to match. I beckoned with my hands for him to come into the tack room. He quickly exited his car, revealing that he was wearing a black tuxedo with its black bow tie dangling untied from both sides of his undone tuxedo collar. From the car he extracted a black doctor’s bag. When I saw the tuxedo I was suddenly very conscious of my blue collar appearance: the dark blue work clothes with the white oval name tag, and of course the huge letters on my back that screamed “Pete’s Plumbing” from right between my shoulders. There was no hiding my lowly status from Doctor Tuxedo. He came right up to me and was perhaps a half inch shorter than me -- that made me feel only somewhat more confident.

“Where is Catherine?” he demanded. “Is she all right?” And I noticed he was trying to stand just a little taller and straighter than he really was, prompting me also to straighten up to the maximum height that reality would afford me. I delved deeply into the soldier’s part of my soul and summoned every last molecule of “very straight and very tall” I could find. As we both stretched out our spines to their limits, I indeed proved to be the taller man, but only just barely. Misty sat at our feet, watching all of this, and I think she somehow sensed this was a pissing contest: she let off two sharp barks and even tossed in one short growl.

“She’s in the barn. She’s in a lot of pain. I think some of her ribs might be broken, but her lungs seem fine and there’s no indication of internal bleeding.”

He suddenly looked me up and down with a narrowing of his eyes: “Are you a doctor ...” and then his gaze zeroed in upon my embroidered oval name badge, “...Pete?”

I hesitated. “I … was in the Army. I’m certified in first aid and I have emergency field medic training.”

He snorted and stormed straight from me into the tack room. In annoyance I hurried after him, Misty right behind me.

When Doctor Tuxedo entered the tack room he rushed to the cart, ignoring me.

“Catherine!” he said. “My God! What happened?”

“You’ll probably laugh when I tell you,” she whispered.

And now I thoroughly didn’t like the fact that another man --a man who arrived in a tuxedo and a Jaguar-- was attending to her. Yes, he was a doctor, but my place at her side had been taken from me by him, and I seriously doubted at the time that it would ever be given back to me again.

I stood there, feeling utterly out of place and wondering if I should leave. But I wasn’t even sure where to go if I did.

I watched him remove his doctor’s tools from his bag -- the clean elegant tools of his profession. It was obvious he knew from the front of my work clothes that I was some undisclosed variety of “common laborer” (actually, as I said before: I am a craftsperson). But I was still pretty sure that he hadn’t yet seen the backside of my uniform where my “Pete’s Plumbing” logo hung. The clothes I wore were typical to most skilled labor jobs, including appliance repair guys and auto mechanics. So I figured as long as I didn’t turn my back to him, he wouldn’t have to learn the horrible truth. Unless of course Catherine were to suddenly tell him what I was. With that new fear, I truly did want to leave, but literally had no place to go. Feeling six inches shorter, I helplessly watched him go about his work.

“I’m sorry it took me this long to get here. I forgot my cell phone at my house tonight so I only got your text message five minutes ago after getting home. I called you back right away but you didn’t answer.”

“I must have had the ringer off,” she whispered. “My apologies.”

“I drove straight over here. Pardon my appearance -- Laura and I were in Philadelphia at a concert tonight.”

Laura? His wife perhaps? That possibility only somewhat relieved me since I saw no ring on his impeccably manicured hands. I slid my own soiled and cruddy hands back around the sides of my pants to hide them.

“It’s okay, Keith,” she whispered, and I could hear her straining to speak. “I appreciate your coming. Please apologize to Laura for this terrible interruption to your weekend.”

He slung the stethoscope sideways up around his neck in the useless “cool doctor” way, then set aside a neatly rolled up blood pressure cuff beside his open doctor’s bag. He continued to fish through the bag for additional instruments as he spoke:

“Laura had this charity thing to host tonight and her original escort for the evening had to cancel, so I was merely a last minute fill-in. I dropped her off at her new apartment in the City over an hour ago. So I assure you my plans for the weekend are wide open.”

“That’s too bad,” Catherine whispered. “I was hoping the two of you would be getting back together again.”

Doctor Tuxedo laughed wryly at that while he pulled out a micro-sized laptop.

“Not a chance. We’re simply being adults about it all.”

And I now wondered if he was lying –either lying to Catherine, or lying to the face of this Laura lady, possibly lying to both.

He began by taking Catherine’s pulse, one hand on her wrist, and his eyes glued to his diamond-studded watch. After the standard fifteen seconds, he finished checking her pulse and took out the blood pressure cuff while he asked: “In your text message you said you had suffered an injury. What sort of injury was it?” And of course, he was here ignoring everything I said out in the barnyard. This angered me considering how painful it was for her to speak. So I now at last spoke up:

“I already explained to you that I’m under the impression she broke a few ribs.”

He literally pretended that he didn’t hear me while he loudly stripped the Velcro open to fasten the cuff around her arm. My anger increased but I saw no recourse for my saying anything more at this point. The son of a bitch was in complete control of the room.

Meanwhile, Misty sidled up along side me and leaned against my ankles. While I didn’t mind the dog’s obvious affection for me, I was terrified she was getting ready to do the one thing Catherine warned that she might: hump my leg.

As Doctor Tuxedo clicked through his laptop, he glanced over at me in the most sidelong and narrow-eyed manner. “So, Pete, I think I can take it from here. I’m sure you’d prefer to be getting on to your own weekend plans now.”

I didn’t know what the hell to say to his obvious invitation for me to fuck off, especially since I had not even arrived in my own vehicle, had no cell phone, and didn’t know how far of a walk would be needed for me to make it to the nearest pay phone. I chose not to answer him. But in that painful and humiliated silence I secretly dreaded the possibility that Catherine would do me the “favor” of asking Doctor Tuxedo to please drive me back to the 24-hour diner in his magnificent Jaguar where my ugly beat up work van awaited.

But then Catherine spoke up, and the quality of her whisper had a dark edge to it:

“I think I’ve been terribly rude. Keith, please allow me to introduce the two of you.”

“Catherine,” he scolded her, “your health is more important than formalities.”

“Don’t be difficult, Keith. I insist.” And then she gestured at me. “Let me introduce the two of you, then we can worry about me.”

And yet here I sadly feared would be the final nail in the coffin of my never being at her side again. Because here she would now introduce me as … the plumber. I would then have absolutely no standing with him -- the shining knight wearing a tuxedo, sporting no wedding ring, who drove to Catherine’s rescue in a Jaguar. It didn’t matter that I had probably just saved Catherine’s life. The bottom line was that he was a doctor and I was a plumber. He belonged to a country club, and I belonged to a bowling league.

“Doctor Keith Bradley,” she began her introduction, “may I present to you: Mr. Peter Walczak. Mr. Walczak is an old friend and colleague of my late husband, James. They served together in Iraq during Desert Storm, and James always held Peter in the highest regard whenever he mentioned their tour of duty together. Mr. Walczak, this is Doctor Bradley, my family physician.”

As soon as she made that beautiful introduction I knew right then she was pulling for me. The smile that came to my face as I held out my hand to him was far broader than I intended.

“Hello, Doctor Bradley,” I nodded. “So good to meet you.”

I watched Doctor Tuxedo blink with only the most subtle betrayal of his own momentary astonishment. It was just a split second of hesitation, but quite unmistakable. And I was now officially in love with that woman.

What I didn’t know at the time -- because I was not yet terribly well-versed in the finer points of etiquette and protocol as I later came to be -- is that when two total strangers in “polite society” first get introduced to each other, the person of higher social standing is always the one who gets “presented” to the person of lower standing. And in this instance, I was the one who was presented to Doctor Tuxedo, not him to me. And while I did not yet know of this subtle yet crucial point of etiquette, Doctor Tuxedo most certainly did, so that right there was probably the true source of his shock.

He overcame his split second surprise and plastered on a fake smile. His hand extended to mine as he mustered a congenial tone of voice. “Hello, Mr. Walczak. Any friend of James’ must surely be a man worth knowing.” We shook hands -- his grip was a classic dead fish, but most likely he deliberately made it so. “Meanwhile, please excuse me, I have a patient to attend.”

I nodded then stepped back and sat on the sofa. Misty jumped up and joined me there, her tail wagging. As I sat stroking Misty’s coat and watching the doctor diagnose Catherine, I wondered if perhaps Misty slept either near or upon the same bed as her mistress. If that turned out to be the case, I was quite relieved at how much Misty had taken to me.

-------------------End of Chapter 12--------------------