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Tow Away Zone

Tow Away Zone

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Tow Away Zone

Length:
357 pages
4 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Feb 7, 2021
ISBN:
9781005778576
Format:
Book

Description

When a travelling salesman finds a town that’s not on the map, he must choose between romance and a long-held promise of untold riches.

Beckman Spiers is a grey man in a grey world—and he’s happy with that.
After 12 years of routine and grind, he’s again fighting to become Number One Salesman of the Year. Legend has it, Number Ones get so rich, they never work again.
With a week to go, Beckman is gaining on his nemesis, smooth-talking Tyler Quittle.

When a chance blowout on a deserted Arizona highway leaves Beckman stranded, the mysterious Saul arrives, and tows him to the strange neon-lit town of Sunrise. Here, he meets the glamorous Lolita Milan and his fortunes change.
Yet, Sunrise’s small-town charms conceal secrets, and his world becomes one of private investigators and backstabbing business deals.

What will he have to do to reach Number One? And what will he do if he wins the race?

In this comedic, stylistic, and mysterious story, meet the most unique characters and get pulled into the colourful world of Sunrise.

Publisher:
Released:
Feb 7, 2021
ISBN:
9781005778576
Format:
Book

About the author

I've been a multi-genre author since 1991.My favourite work to date is 2019's “Tow Away Zone”, a quirky small-town comedy drama, set in modern day Arizona. It has shades of the Coen Brothers’ film canon, and the black comedy Grosse Pointe Blank.It’s been well-received by readers, with 5* reviews on Amazon.In 2020 I published the sequel – “Go Away Zone” - which take the characters into a romcom caper with more love and livelihoods at stake. In 2021 I'm hoping to complete the trilogy.My sci-fi journey started with space opera “Scared Ground” being available on Kindle in 2012.It explores the deliberate, and accidental, casualties of a long interstellar war. It’s about uncertainty, faith, and the consequences of actions.In 2018 I self-published my 2nd sci-fi novel – “Imperfect Isolation - which embraces robotics, asteroid mining and a snowy drive in an 80-year-old Porsche. It's a wild ride for my wisecracking heroine Enna.The sequel, “Reprisals”, followed in 2019. This takes the heroes of the first book, and the consequences of their actions, and dials up the stakes for their survival.In early 2021 I released the 3rd instalment, “Trip Hazard”.I'm currently editing a reflective Western, which was developed from my 2005 screenplay script. It explores prejudice against the deaf community and the Native Americans, as a man struggles to reconnect with his lost son and come to terms with his own failings.I've written a collection of offbeat humorous stories and vignettes in the style of early Woody Allen prose - a real inspiration for me. “The Real Jamie Oliver and Other Stories” is basically a window into my nonsensical side.In 2021 I rediscovered short story writing and have released a variety of stories – most free to read – in genres of comedy, romance and drama.I also write pantomime & stage drama scripts. I’ve had 8 works performed and reached a total audience of over 5000 to date.


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Tow Away Zone - Chris Towndrow

life.

CHAPTER ONE

BECKMAN SIGHED, TOOK a last look at the double-page spread of the ’65 Mustang, and tossed the well-thumbed magazine onto the uneven wooden floor beside the old chair.

He rose and grouched over to the doorway of the treehouse. ‘Coming!’

Below on the back porch, Mom stood without hands on hips, which meant he hadn’t explicitly done anything wrong. She’d also not used his full name, so he was pretty relaxed about the upcoming encounter. Still, it wasn’t dinner time, so he was somewhat bemused.

Shielding her eyes from the late afternoon sun, she looked across the scrubby and scorched garden to where he gazed down from the gnarled cedar.

Ever keen to impress she who doted on him, he reached for the rope that dangled nearby, gave it a quick yank, then sprung outward, a teenage Tarzan, swinging forward and careering down the acutely-angled makeshift zip-wire until his sneakers grazed yellowed turf and he stumbled to a halt.

He gave himself a 5.2 for that landing, knowing it was rushed by circumstance.

Just a couple of metres from Mom, he wanted to flash an innocent smile, but now he saw her expression clearly, he sensed jollity would not be well-received.

From somewhere inside the house, Bruce reminded them they were born in the USA. Beckman was already apprised of that fact. The immediate uncertainty was of more concern. He mentally double-checked that he’d no specific reason to feel guilty or expect admonishment. He didn’t—what goes on inside a young man’s treehouse is his own private matter. Besides, cars were cars. Dreaming was not a crime. In other treehouses, bedrooms, or dens, other young men were up to far worse.

‘What’s up, mom?’

She gave him a look bordering on apologetic. ‘We’re moving.’

‘Again?! he asked with disbelief.

‘I thought you’d rather hear it from me than your father.’

‘I don’t want to damn well hear it at all!’

‘Language, Beckman!’

‘But …’ he began, realised he didn’t know what he’d started, then figured his tone gave pretty much all the information she needed. Besides, his reaction was always the same and the outcome of his reaction never altered the situation.

‘I know.’ She laid a hand on his shoulder. ‘It’s not ideal.’

He sighed as heavily as it was possible for a person to sigh without actually blowing their lungs across a back yard.

How could it be worse?

A noise rang from inside the house.

This is how it could be worse.

Dad appeared, tugged his wife towards him, and kissed her on the cheek. Her thick-rimmed glasses, jammed up above her fringe, nearly toppled off their perch but tangled in her thick frizz long enough for her to reach up and rescue them.

Dad slipped off his Aviators, an addendum he sported, which never failed to make him look incredibly uncool. ‘You tell him?’

‘I did.’

‘Better pack, Son. You know the drill.’

‘Why?’ Beckman gambled.

‘Pardon me?’ came the unequivocal reply.

‘Why do we have to leave?’

‘This place isn’t working out.’

Beckman had heard those words before, and they implied the same old story. He also knew that saying so would be the passport to his last days here being unpleasant, in addition to unwelcome.

‘Okay,’ he grumbled, turning back towards his lofty wooden sanctuary.

‘Where are you going?’

‘To reflect on this … news,’ he said daringly.

‘You need to pack.’

‘I’ll do it tomorrow.’

‘We’re leaving tomorrow.’

‘But I’m seeing Janelle tonight,’ he protested.

‘No you’re not. Might as well cancel your date. In fact, cancel the whole Janelle episode.’

‘But she’s—’

‘Here. And we’re not. We’re on the road at oh-eight-hundred.’

Beckman hated the way Dad always stated the time like a military order. Notwithstanding circumstances.

His head fell. ‘Yes, sir.’

‘Good.’

After a respectful moment’s pause, he headed for the rope ladder. ‘I’ll clear out up here first,’ he offered as an excuse. It obviously passed muster, as further words were not forthcoming.

His feet were heavy on the ropes of the ladder, his heart leaden.

Janelle liked Mustangs nearly as much as he did. She was cool like that. Her dad had a friend who once owned one. A ’66 in blue.

Things had been going well with Janelle. Tonight was supposed to be Second Base Night.

Looks like you’ve more chance of owning a ’65 Mustang, sunshine.

CHAPTER TWO

SCARLET? PROBABLY.

Imperial? Likely.

Crimson? Possibly.

Spanish? Could be.

Cardinal? Doubtful.

Beckman sighed. He was bored of this game.

The colour was red, which was the important thing. Except it wasn’t important, not in the slightest. He’d never even seen red—it was merely a word, a concept.

It was a light; a flickering light. That was the important thing—because it was pissing him off. Keeping him awake. Riling him. Mocking him.

He rolled over. The portable alarm clock on the nightstand read 22:11.

The motel was full; no point in trudging down to the grunting oaf on the check-in desk to request a change of room. There’d only be an argument, he’d grow even more awake, and still wind up back in Room 12.

At least there lay a quantum of solace—he’d wangled Room 12.

Yet at the moment, it didn’t feel like such a good peg to hang anything on. Tight as he pulled the curtains to the window edges, the material was much too thin to fully block out the light. A static wash of red—of any shade—he could cope with. This damn irregular flickering though? Torture.

He debated the merit of asking Grunting Oaf for the neon frontage sign to be switched off, but knew he’d come across like a petty jerk.

Instead, he reluctantly threw back the covers, flicked on the ineffectual beside lamp, padded across the thin carpet, and rooted through his open suitcase. Tucked into a side pocket was an eye mask, a freebie relic he’d kept from a TWA flight back aways—a cross-country trip to see Mom, if he remembered right.

Rarely had he found it necessary to sink so low.

The last time was, what, two years ago?

He’d run out of gas in the middle of nowhere and spent a night in the back seat of the car. The moonlit hours and incessant cicadas turned out to be a minor inconvenience compared to the litany of aches he woke with. It had been even worse than the nights in the treehouse twenty years earlier.

At least tonight he had a bed.

He avoided thinking about what adventures it might have experienced. The long years had inured him to such seeping imaginations and revulsions.

Instead, he slid back under the starchy covers, adjusted the eye mask until his view became blissful darkness, and buried his head as best as he could in the unhelpfully spongey pillow.

The air conditioning unit hummed and, now that the visual distraction had gone, his ears became more attuned to the surroundings. Was the flickering light now making an intermittent buzzing?

‘Oh, snap,’ he breathed in the darkness. Could this night suck even more?

He pulled the edges of the pillow up around his ears and hoped sleep would arrive before cramp set into his arms.

Oh, for the ability to count sheep, he mused. He’d have to count his blessings instead.

He got as far as three and lolled his head over. How much time had passed? Would the unpredictable gods of night and slumber grant him morning?

22:21.

He found a fourth blessing; nobody was playing music or TV at an unsocial volume in the adjoining rooms. No yelling. No grunting.

Nevertheless, on such nights, dormant thoughts resurfaced about trading his Buick for a station wagon or an RV. At least that way, he’d be able to make room for a sleeping bag and be certain the courtesy light didn’t have a mind of its own or harbour dreams of a career in a nightclub.

Maybe a different vehicle would give him a new lease of life? Something needed to change.

Or did it?

Blessing One: steady job.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Not every stop-over on the road turned out like this. Tonight was an annoyance, a mosquito. Matter of fact, it was as likely to keep him awake as hearing such a tiny buzzing in the room, even if he couldn’t see the insect. Difference being, he wouldn’t wake up tomorrow with a red welt on his arm.

So, another blessing, surely. By that logic, he could come up with a million more.

Maybe he could count them:

(1) Steady job.

(2) Travel. Lots of travel.

(3) Meet interesting people. Sometimes.

(4) Health.

(5) Loving family. Well, semblance of.

(6) No noisy neighbours.

(7) No mosquito.

(8) A place to call home.

(9) Only four more stamps to go on the loyalty card before the next free coffee.

See—things could be worse. Now, go to sleep Beckman.

Miraculously, the fog descended. The world outside slipped into redundancy.

His breathing shallowed.

Sunday crept towards its end.

His cell phone rang. It could have been an air raid siren.

He mentally hauled himself back up the ladder to reality as quickly as he could muster, pushed aside the eye mask, stumbled out of bed with an ‘Oh, snap’, and scooped up the chirruping device from the desk. The off-brand charging cable halted his movement, so he rudely yanked it out and hit the Answer key.

Amidst the bleary chaos, he’d noted that the caller was Office, and his mood nosedived.

Office? On a Sunday? Have I woken in a parallel universe?

‘Spiers,’ he mumbled.

‘Is that you, Beckman?’

He recognised the terse voice, otherwise, given the time of night and his general humour, he’d have taken pains to point out that (1) this was his personal cell phone, so who did the caller think would answer? and (2) the caller had addressed him by name, thereby proving he already understood point (1).

However, knowing the caller wasn’t someone who took kindly to such logic or admonishments, Beckman kept it zipped. ‘Yes, sir, this is me.’

‘Malvolio here.’

Beckman took a calming breath; the words were hardly a revelation.

A Sunday? What fresh hell is this?

A flourish of downdraft from the meshed duct in the stained false ceiling wafted cool air down his back and raised goosebumps. The room flickered intermittently scarlet or imperial. Or possibly crimson.

‘Yes, Mr Malvolio?’ he enquired.

‘I’ve some good news for you.’

Good? Good! Suddenly, Sunday could go hang.

Beckman waited to hear. And waited. And realised Mr Malvolio was waiting for him to indicate that he was waiting, because what else could possibly be more exciting than to be woken (kind of) in the middle (barely) of the night by a random phone call from your godawful boss, bearing news, which doubtless could wait until the first coffee, or ideally second, of the following day had passed your lips?

‘I’m all ears, sir.’ He scratched his balls.

‘Belcher is dead.’

Beckman waited for more detail. And waited. And realised Mr Malvolio was expecting him to say something to indicate a reaction to the apparently Good News of someone’s death. Because what could be more sensible than prolonging a phone call in the not middle of the night on a Sunday when you’re standing with itchy balls in a cold breeze in a godawful motel room in the middle of nowhere?

He really wanted to say, Get bent and call me in the morning, you atrocious slave-driving freak.

But he liked his job. Well, he did his job. It was the only one he had, and he didn’t want to lose it. So he said,

‘Really? How?’

‘He got struck by lightning this afternoon.’ Malvolio said it with the same level of intrigue or sadness as one might when ordering pizza toppings.

‘Wow.’ Beckman was more stupefied. ‘That’s a bad break.’

‘Not for you, Spiers. That moves you up to number two, now.’ Malvolio had evidently had enough of this heartfelt wallowing in the untimely demise of one of his workforce and was, unexpectedly, getting down to brass tacks. Or, more likely in his case, gold tacks.

‘Sheesh. I guess it does. Poor Belcher.’

‘Sad to see anyone die while they’re still in the race.’

‘Or any time,’ Beckman suggested. His mind was barely half on the call now.

Belcher’s sales volumes were now deemed irrelevant to the race. One of the riders had dropped out.

‘I suppose so. So, get your hiney moving, Spiers. Number Two position—pretty good going for a man like you.’

Such praise.

Beckman gave the illuminated screen a hard stare. Not that Malvolio judged him wrongly—Number Two was pretty good going—but to verbally concede such a fact would have been weakness. So he said nothing.

Would Malvolio take the opportunity to further crack the whip? Beckman mentally wagered his worldly possessions on it.

‘Only five days left,’ the harsh old voice continued. ‘It’s not impossible. Shoulder to the wheel, Spiers, nose to the grindstone. You can make Number One.’

‘Absolutely, sir,’ he lied. ‘I’ll get started tomorrow morning, first light.’

‘That’s what I like to hear.’

Then the phone boop-booped to indicate the line had been hung up.

Beckman stared at the screen in a casserole of a stupor made up of tiredness, disbelief, revulsion, hope and itchiness.

Esmond Belcher is dead.

I just got promoted to Number Two on the Salesman of the Year chart.

One week to go.

Could I? Could I really make Number One? Finally?

In a pig’s eye.

He gave his balls a good long scratch and went to bed.

CHAPTER THREE

BECKMAN TENDERED THE handful of notes.

‘You might want to get someone to fix up your sign.’

The neanderthal looked like he’d been asked to explain recent developments in quantum theory. Beckman listened for brain activity. Finally, large metal rods engaged with vast cogs and the whole Victorian construction eased into life.

‘Harg’ll do it.’

‘Good.’

‘Harg’s who fixes the sign.’

A few things were clear. (1) the sign freaking out was far from an unusual occurrence, (2) Harg wasn’t the guy’s real name—there was almost certainly a story behind it, and (3) if Beckman wasn’t careful, he’d be on the receiving end of that story.

‘Have a nice day,’ Beckman offered emptily and made himself scarce.

He popped the trunk of the white ‘09 Buick, checked what he already knew—that the sea of small, plain cardboard boxes left no space for a travel case—smacked the lid closed, pulled open the rear door, and set his valise on the bench seat.

Sinking into the well-worn driver’s perch, he flicked the visor down against the morning sun. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and he sensed another roasting June Monday of interminable disappointments.

After a beat, the engine caught, and he swung onto the blacktop.

It was the top of the hour, the hour was nine, and the radio announced there were news headlines. They all washed over him unheard. One topic commanded his mind.

Belcher was dead.

It wasn’t great news, especially for Belcher. He’d been a decent enough guy, had never given Beckman a bad word—which couldn’t be said for everyone else on the Pegasus sales force—and had been far from shabby when it came to peddling their product. That un-shabbiness had boosted him up the rankings to Number Two.

But struck by lightning? What a way to go. At least it’s quick.

Shocking.

He checked both ways at the intersection and prodded the gas, taking the on-ramp and climbing onto the freeway. In the sparse traffic, he merged in, settled at sixty-seven, and flicked on the cruise.

Dead man’s shoes.

Until now, it had been an expression. Today it chimed a reality.

To what end? Last time he’d seen the sales ranks, both he and Belcher had been so far adrift of top spot as to be irrelevant. Essentially, Mr Malvolio had called to say, Hey, Beckman, good news in your shot at reaching the Moon—I got you a stepladder.

True, second spot for Beckman represented two places higher than he’d ever achieved, but it made scant difference. Who was the second person to summit Everest? Who was the runner-up for circumnavigation of the globe? Who’s the second fastest hundred-metre sprinter?

Exactly.

The individual who really needed to get struck by lightning was Tyler Quittle. But how would Beckman feel to win by default, rather than honest effort? Hollow? Guilty? Fraudulent? If the Elysian fields of Number One Salesman were even half as bountiful as rumoured, Beckman reasoned that his moral compass could stand a knock or two. After all, he wasn’t exactly a shoddy practitioner of his role—more that he faced … unfair competition.

Forty minutes into the journey, he saw a Rest Area signposted, noted the Coffee Planet logo, and took the opportunity to caffeinate himself, and get his loyalty card stamped as well. Only three more until the freebie.

He checked the fuel gauge, baulked at the advertised rates, and pressed on. All the towns in the neighbourhood had repeatedly proven to be sales washouts—he needed to get further West. If only there wasn’t so much damn nothing out here. But it had been his sales patch for five days a week, fifty weeks a year, eleven interminable years.

It’s a job, Beckman. Pays the bills. Keeps you in steak and coffee.

Keeps you moving.

After another twenty minutes at a steady schlep, traffic thickened, then slowed, then crawled. He cranked the air up a notch, sighed, and curled his lip in despair. Malvolio’s apparent stepladder was creaking already.

After ten minutes between zero and five m.p.h., the gas-guzzling metal snake crested a rise in the freeway and endlessly stretched into the middle distance.

‘Ah, snap!’

He noted an exit ahead and, judging unpredictability to be preferable to the Chinese water torture of stop-start, he manoeuvred across to the far lane, then, checking his mirror for law enforcement, took a brave pill and eased onto the shoulder. The car thack-thacked over the expansion joints, his heart thudding, until the exit lane speared off and he fell clear of the melee, if ‘melee’ was an accurate word to describe a plethora of almost stationary objects, which it wasn’t.

At the intersection, he checked his lawlessness hadn’t been noticed, then scanned for a sign as to what to do next, ideally in the shape of a sign.

He recognised the name of the town posted off to the left. From memory, he’d made a laughable six sales there last year and, as a bonus, suffered food poisoning from a dodgy burger joint.

Instead, he threw the wheel to the right and powered away.

The scant habitat disappeared after a couple of minutes, and after about ten more, Beckman found himself alone on a road which took all day to go nowhere, and whose asphalt dated from the time George Washington wore short trousers.

At any moment, he laughingly expected tumbleweed to appear in his wing mirror.

But it didn’t.

Instead, one crossed the road diagonally, causing him to jump on the brake too aggressively.

‘Son of a gun!’ he yelled.

Calming, he wound the speed up to fifty and drank in the landscape. Great for photographs. Pitiful for selling.

A dashboard light flicked on.

He surveyed the world again.

Great for photographs. Pitiful for gas stations.

Easing down to forty to preserve precious hydrocarbons, he scooped up his phone and thumbed through to the map. It was official: he’d reached Nowhere.

He resolved to give it five minutes, then, if Lady Luck remained on her coffee break, turn tail and return to the freeway cataclysm via a gas station he hoped existed and prayed wouldn’t give the Buick petrol poisoning.

Mercifully, before long, a shape rose from the heat haze. A stationary shape. A building-shaped shape. A gas station-shaped building shape.

He exhaled theatrically and slowed the car. Deliverance.

He hoped there would be no banjos.

Out front, a tall pole reached for the clear sky. At its summit, a sign bore the legend, REGULAR $2.00.

Two bucks a gallon?

Suddenly, less pitiful.

He coasted up to the single pump and killed the engine. Emerging from the lone wooden hut came a guy straight out of a movie.

‘Bet his name’s Earl,’ Beckman mumbled to himself, clambering out into the shrouding heat. ‘Morning,’ he offered.

‘Morning.’ Possibly-Earl scratched his stubbled chin.

‘Sign says two bucks a gallon.’

‘Sure does.’

‘Then fill her up I guess.’

Earl thumbed a dungaree strap further onto his shoulder, unhooked the pre-Springsteen pump, and proceeded to give the Buick a drink. He locked off the handle, happy that his part in the process was done (and he couldn’t have been making a wafer of a margin to live off at two bucks a gallon, Beckman considered).

Possibly-Earl surveyed the customer and his steed, and clocked the license plate. ‘Guessing you’re a technical guy, musician maybe?’

‘Nope.’

‘Sound engineer, Mr Beck?’

Beckman shook his head. The guy stared at 12 BECK again, then the penny dropped.

‘It’s not one-two, it’s twelve. And it’s Beckman.’

‘Ah. Ah.’ Possibly-Earl nodded. ‘Where you from, Mr Beckman?’

He let the name misunderstanding slide. Hell—everybody assumed it was a surname. ‘Ohio.’

‘Uh-huh.’

‘Denver.’

‘Uh-huh.’

‘Washington.’

‘Mm-hmm.’

‘Baton Rouge.’

Possibly-Earl’s eyes narrowed. He mistook Beckman’s honesty for chain-yanking. ‘Like Frankenstein,’ he offered.

Beckman gave a faint smile. ‘From all over.’

The pump handle clicked. The ageing attendant holstered it, checked the pump display, flicked his eyes to heaven for a ready-reckon, and came back to Beckman with, ‘Forty-seven bucks.’

‘What?’

‘Forty-seven twenty. Keep the dimes.’

Beckman checked the towering sign. It still said $2.00 a gallon. ‘Sign says two bucks a gallon.’

‘Yeah.’

‘In black and white.’ Even Beckman knew it was black and white. Not maroon and cream, or navy and beige, or any other pair of well-contrasted colours.

‘Yeah.’

‘So why forty-seven bucks for—,’ Beckman looked at the weather-beaten analogue pump display, ‘—sixteen gallons? You said it was two bucks a gallon.’

‘Nope. The sign says it’s two bucks a gallon. Sign ain’t been changed in years.’

Beckman opened his mouth to vent, but instead sighed and fished out some bills. ‘False advertising, that’s what it is,’ he grouched to himself.

Possibly-Earl eyed him up and down. ‘Salesman, then, are you, Mr Beckman?’ Evidently,

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