DogCanyon will publish this story serially, in four parts.
To read Part 1, click here.
That day we fought fire on the Lady’s Professional Golf Association Golf Course. That’s something about fighting fire. I never know where we’ll end up or what the day will bring. The land around the course had been landscaped with crisscrossing vines and plants with huge, sharp-edged leaves. It was supposed to look like a jungle, I think. There were palm trees, too, lots of them. Rock Star grinned his gap-toothed grin and said he hadn’t ever cut one down before, so we set off looking for one that was burning.
Through the trees I could see a bunch of engines pull up next to the thickets. The diggers on our crew started helping the engine slugs drag hose into the bushes to spray down the hot spots. I could see Sasha standing around, batting her lashes at one of the engine slugs. Hinky pulled a bunch of bundles of hose of off the engine. He loaded himself up, probably trying to show off. He trundled along for minute and then caught his foot on a stob, pitched forward and did a total face plant into all that hose. Sasha and the engine slug laughed, but Rock Star and I didn’t. We helped him up. He was twitchy and shrugged us off and I felt sorry for him then.
I think Rock Star did too, because he asked if Hinky wanted to go with us to find a burning palm tree to drop. We all three hiked around, checking out all the palm trees, but we couldn’t find one that was burning. So Rock Star decided to drop one that wasn’t, just for fun.
more at the jump…
He yanked the cord of his chainsaw, grinning so that I could see all of the tobacco stuck between his teeth. Florida Swamp Rot crawled up his neck in an angry red rash. The tree fell just where Rock Star aimed it and all three of us stepped up to check out the inside of the trunk, white and powdery like little donuts and not like the inside of a regular tree at all.
Hinky scooped out a double handful of palm tree trunk and then he dipped his face down and kind of rubbed his cheeks against it, like he’d never felt anything so soft. He started sobbing and the tears rolled off of him and into the white palm tree dust in his hands. He said he hadn’t known Sasha was in it for the money until the money ran out. Hinky was really going by then and Rock Star and I looked at each other and we were helpless to get him to quit. Then Hinky said, “She told me, when the money ran out, that she knows I dye my hair. She told me… that I’m small.”
Well, hell and shitfire, I couldn’t handle Confessions of a Small-dicked Piker. I patted him on the shoulder and Rock Star kind of mumbled something about dumb hooker gold diggers and then we bolted. I looked back over my shoulder and Hinky had his face all the way down into his hands, which were still full of the inside of that palm tree trunk.
At the end of our shift our whole crew went out on the empty putting greens. We made golf balls out of duct tape and used pulaskis and combis for putters. As we walked back to the bus, we were talking and laughing and happy. Being a fire crew in a way we hadn’t since we all started feeling so mad about Hinky and Sasha and Lee and the whole fucked up situation. As we walked Rock Star started talking about the size of our next paycheck–figuring out our overtime earnings was a favorite Piker pastime.
Rock Star said for sure we’d be able to stay out on fires in Florida for a full twenty-one day tour because the whole state was burning. He started doing the math aloud. He figured how many hours we’d work and he added in overtime and hazard pay and finally he figured it’d come out to, “Shit, a lot of money.”
Tan said he needed the money to make his truck payment and pay off his hernia operation. Said it hadn’t been cheap having his intestines lifted out of his nutsack. Rock Star said the check ought to about make up for the slow start we’d had that season and for the Florida Swamp Rot and the snakes and giant bugs we were all fending off.
Tan said maybe it’d make up for the bullshit; he jerked his head to the side, where Lee and Sasha walked too close to each other, then lifted his chin at Hinky trundling along a little ways in front of us.
Hinky took another normal step and then a step that buckled, and his legs folded up like the blades of a Leatherman. He crumpled onto the grass and we all trotted up to him. Hinky was the paramedic and he was saying that he was fine-just-fine, but his sunglasses had cut into his cheekbone and he was muttering to himself, saying crazy shit like, “Drop a jar of raspberry jelly to see how blood looks on concrete.” Doug radioed for an ambulance.
Sasha stood to the side and chewed on the corner of a fingernail for a minute, but then she went and sat on the curb by the bus. Lee sat down next to her and pretty soon they were talking and she was giggling and Tan and Rock Star and I were standing back a ways from it all, not able to believe what was happening to our crew.
The next day Doug told us that the hospital ran a bunch of tests on Hinky that showed his potassium was high. It didn’t sound like much to me, and even Doug looked skeptical, but he said the doctor swore high potassium could kill a man deader than shit.
Rock Star wanted to know what was causing it. I said, oh, maybe it was the not sleeping and not eating and the all night barfing and pacing. “It’s the Green Goblin,” Tan said. “It’s eating him alive, from the inside out.” And we all nodded and glared over at Sasha. But then once we started lighting a burn out, we forgot about it for awhile.
That night I had the hotel room all to myself and I slept well for the first time in a week. The next day, we were all relieved the strain on the crew had eased off.
Tan said, “That’s what happens when splittails start fighting fire, though.” Rock Star nodded. I said that splittails is good for what they’re good for and that Sasha sure would make a sexy secretary. My boys laughed and nodded and spit. Rock Star said he’d like to sit her bare ass on a Xerox machine and bump out a few copies.
Then we talked for a long time about how the West wasn’t burning and it was lucky our twenty-one day tour in Florida was practically guaranteed. We all needed that fat fire check.
That night Hinky came back, looking better. He even kept down a little supper. The doctor’d given him something to make him sleep, so I slept, too. The next morning I woke up thinking maybe he and I and the rest of the crew had been through the worst of it.
After breakfast we stopped at fire camp so Doug could go to morning briefing. He came back and told us to gather up. Doug’s a fussy man and he always makes us change out of our dirty undershirts and into clean Piker t-shirts before we go from the fireline into firecamp. So that even when the other crews look like they’ve just been pulled off of some scrap heap, we look pretty spiffy.
When we gathered up around him he told us we were taking the bus back to the hotel. “What for?” we all wanted to know. “The Pike is going to meet President Clinton,” he said. We whooped, but our yells didn’t all have the same sound. Some were excited, but just as many were plain old disgusted. The mucky mucks needed two crews to represent the firefighters Clinton was coming to praise. They picked an Indian crew, to be politically correct, of course. And then they picked the crew with the clean shirts.
To be continued….
Photos of the Pike Hotshot crew in Florida in 1998 generously provided by John Markalunas.