Read Chance Online

Authors: Kem Nunn

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Literary, #Thrillers

Chance (6 page)

BOOK: Chance
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Chance waited till D had paused in his labors then knocked on the wall to get his attention. D placed the thing he was working on atop a bench and came to the window, using a heavily gloved hand to push a darkened pair of safety glasses to his forehead as he walked. “Doc Chance,” he said. His face was flushed from the labor and the sweat ran from his cheeks but his voice was flat and matter-of-fact, as though Chance’s being there was of little or no surprise.

“Hello, D,” Chance replied. He was hoping to sound upbeat. “Is Carl around?”

“Stayed home today.”

“Is he well?”

“Little under the weather,” D replied.

The big man was dressed as he had been the day they’d met, minus the jacket, allowing for the observation that the sleeves had been cut from the shirt to make way for arms the size of Chance’s legs. The shirt’s lettering was now legible as well—
The art of the blade,
in bloodred script.

“Ah.” Chance hesitated, thinking it over. “Well, I guess maybe you’re the guy I’d probably need to talk to anyway, at least to get things started. You remember the furniture we looked at?”

“I do. You decide you want to make it right?”

Chance smiled at the big man’s phrasing. “I guess that’d be one way of putting it. I’d need to know what it would cost, if I’d have to pay up front or if there would be a way of settling when the stuff was sold.”

“Payment, you’d have to talk to Carl.”

“Of course. Do you think he’ll be back anytime soon? Not serious, I hope, what’s wrong with him?”

“He’ll be okay. I’d expect him back in a day or two.”

“I guess what I’m wondering,” Chance said, “is if I shouldn’t take steps. . . . Just get the stuff down here. I’m sure we’ll be able to work something out.” Now that he’d been confronted with some minor
obstacle, it came to him just how badly he wanted to sell. “I’d need help moving it,” he added. “Carl must have someone he uses for that kind of thing.”

“He’s kind of between those people right now.”

“Does he keep a truck of some sort, here maybe, at the warehouse?”

“He did.”

Chance nodded. He could see that D was not one to elaborate on the mundane.

“I’ll tell you what,” D said after a moment or two had passed. “Go to the U-Haul or someplace. Rent yourself a truck big enough so that we can do it in one trip. I can help you get the stuff down here.”

“Really?”

“Do it today, you find a truck.”

Chance gave it a beat. “Shit,” he said. He felt compelled to make a show of patting himself down. “Phone’s in my apartment. Is there one here I can use?”

D nodded to the door.

Chance made his way into the workroom.

The place was quite expansive once inside, with lots of benches and blocks and vises and tools. There was also a cot in a far corner with a wooden crate placed on one end to form a kind of nightstand with some personal items arranged neatly on the top. There were a number of books scattered about the floor at the cot’s foot and some cardboard boxes stacked neatly along one wall. A large mirror set into a freestanding wooden frame, almost certainly borrowed from Carl’s collection, appeared as part of this arrangement, as did a large piece of plywood affixed to the brick wall upon which someone had drawn a more or less life-sized outline of a human torso in black ink with numbers drawn on it to indicate what Chance could only imagine to be targets. The overall impression of the place was such that Chance was willing to take it for D’s living quarters as well as his workplace.

As Chance studied his surroundings, D dug a well-worn San Francisco directory out of an aging school desk from which a good deal of
the finish had been scraped away before pointing him to an ancient black telephone mounted on a wall. “Knock yourself out,” he said, and went back to doing whatever it was he had been doing when Chance showed up.

 

There was a U-Haul place in Noe Valley. It was not the closest but they had a truck ready for that afternoon. Chance told them he would take it then called for a cab and joined D at his workbench.

“We good?” D asked.

“Cab’ll be here in fifteen, or so they say. I’ll be back with the truck. I appreciate your doing this.”

D nodded. He was once more at work on the piece of steel but had traded the torch for a small hammer with which he was tapping at the edge of the thing.

“Mind if I ask what that is?”

“You can ask.”

Chance smiled. Big D, apparently not without a sense of humor, held the article up for him to see. Chance asked if it was a hatchet.

“Tomahawk,” D told him.

“I didn’t know there was a difference.”

“Hatchet’s a tool. Tomahawk’s a weapon.”

“In this day and age?”

“You’d be surprised,” D told him.

“Is it for you?”

“Buddy of mine. . . . Keeps going back to Afghanistan.”

Chance recalled their first meeting, the military jacket with the Army Rangers insignia. “Is that where you were?”

D nodded. “What I was doing here, when you came in, was using the torch to temper the blade, same as you would with a knife. You want it thin enough to cut, hard but not brittle.” He held up the tomahawk once more. “I’ve been working out a design with this guy for his past two tours. He lets me know how it works, how he thinks it might work better. I modify it accordingly.”

Chance was a moment in imagining what the particulars of such an
exchange might actually be like. “I better go out and meet that cab,” he said.

It all took longer than expected and the truck a piece of shit with blown shocks and springs poking through vinyl seat covers and the late light drawing out the shadows in Chance’s neighborhood by the time he and D came finally bouncing up from the Great Highway in the ancient rig, one of many as the afternoon rush hour he’d been hoping to beat lurched into full swing with lines of cars at each and every intersection and jaywalking children with backpacks and cell phones and Chinese workmen unloading fish trucks at competing corner groceries and tattooed teenagers with funny hats on clattering skateboards. There was even a guy carrying a surfboard, headed in the general direction of Ocean Beach but looking a trifle lost, when, as if on cue, the old truck backfired by way of announcing their arrival.

Big D started as if he’d been shot at and Chance laughed. He couldn’t quite help himself. “It’s like the Joads,” he said.

“Fuck are the Joads?”


The Grapes of Wrath? ”

D just looked at him.

“The great novel of the Great Depression; wasn’t a bad movie either. John Ford, Henry Fonda. Joad was the name of the family, farmers fleeing the Dust Bowl for California, everything they owned strapped to the back of an old truck. I drive around in a rig like this, that’s what I think of, the Joads.”

“That’s just great,” D said, but he didn’t sound all that happy about it.

 

There was of course no suitable street parking left anywhere near Chance’s apartment. Nor was there, given the truck’s height and width, any chance of gaining access to the small basement garage he shared with his downstairs neighbors. He nosed the truck into the apartment’s scrawny driveway as far as he was able, set the brake and hazard lights as a warning to such traffic as would now be forced to evasive maneuvering, and got out.

He could hear D behind him, huffing and puffing, as they made their way up the narrow stairs. By the time they reached the apartment to stand looking at the furniture, the big man was once again red faced and sweating as he had been in his workroom, and Chance was beginning to worry that the stairs in concert with the heavy lifting might prove too much, that given the man’s weight and apparent lack of conditioning, his rush to get all of this taken care of today may have been a mistake. A hypertensive stroke did not seem out of the question. “Would you like a glass of water?” he asked. He was thinking the guy might like to sit for a moment, that and trying to recall the last time he’d been called upon to administer CPR.

“Forget about it,” D told him, “you get that.” He nodded toward a chair while advancing upon the desk, the largest and heaviest piece in the set and which, without waiting a reply from Chance, he tilted against his thighs, found his grip, brought the entire piece flat to his chest as though it were of no more consequence than a fold-up card table, and headed for the exit. Chance followed, watching as D wrestled the big desk down the difficult staircase, turning it first one way and then the other, at one point, in exiting the building, going so far as to heft the entire thing above his head. When he’d gotten it into the back of the truck he turned to Chance, still in possession of his chair. “You want to get this shit wrapped and strapped, I’ll get the rest.”

 

And that was how they did it. By the time Chance had wrapped the desk in a mover’s blanket and secured it to a wall of the truck with a canvas strap, D was back with the bookcase. By the time he was done with that, D was back with the remaining chair, no more winded and no less so than when they had begun.

At some point, while Chance was still in the truck, some guy had started honking. The traffic was always slow here and the position of the truck was making it more so, effectively squeezing what was usually a two-lane, two-way street into a single lane as motorists were forced to take turns getting around the rear corner of the truck. This was not an unusual occurrence for anyone used to the neighborhood. But horns
were not so unusual either, and one guy in particular seemed intent upon taking umbrage at the situation. He was driving a gunmetal-gray BMW, one of the big ones with tinted glass, and he started honking about three car lengths back from the truck. What he hoped to gain by all of this was unclear, but there he was, honking away. The honking inspired two or three other malcontents to join in.

Chance went once to the rear of the truck, where he and the driver of the BMW, a capable-looking young man in a white shirt with the sleeves rolled above his wrists, were able to make eye contact. Chance held up his hands, palms out and up, as though to ask, “What do you expect me to do? This is what it’s like here.” It was that kind of gesture. The driver responded by flipping him off. Chance went back to wrapping furniture.

BOOK: Chance
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