Last month, Mel lost his motel in a poker game,
then wandered the streets before climbing into a train station heating
duct to get some shut-eye (Part
Part Two: Dimpe
Mel took his time waking up.
When he had, he crawled down from the heating unit
where he'd slept. No one was around, so he wandered off past the
station to the trainyard's northernmost reaches looking for the
After a couple of minutes he found the watchman patrolling
along behind a long stretch of train cars. It took Mel a while to
convince the watchman to let him into the station. It came up that
both of them had served in 'Nam, and their platoons had roved around
within about a mile of each other. The watchman, Stu, offered some
of his breakfast back in the station, which was muffins and coffee,
and about a shot's worth of whiskey for the coffee.
"Thanks a lot, man," Mel said. "You
don't know how much I needed all that."
Stu grinned between mouthfuls of muffin. "If
you're hard up, go to the eastern stretch of trainyard. You'll hook
up with a guy with some work."
"Really?" said Mel.
"No shit. Just go see him."
Mel thanked Stu again and left to see this guy with
the work. Sure enough, as Mel reached the easternmost part of the
trainyard, where the tracks and cars began to be less frequent and
a lot rustier, he found an area where there was noise and stirrings
of life, even at four in the morning. A solitary car that had been
off its rails and moored to the ground, maybe for storage, was now
the center of the early morning activity. The metal side panels
had been altered and replaced with wood, making things look like
a railroad version of some Beach Boys song. Double doors had been
put in at the end of the car and were wide open, spilling orange
light out into the gray trainyard. A variety of people were coming
and going from the double doors, most of them down-and-out looking
characters, but some wore suits. These Mel might even have seen
before in restaurants downtown, that sort of thing. They all left
towards the south, and, as they rounded a curving track, disappeared
behind some cars. Mel figured he'd give it a shot, and walked to
the splintery wooden stair step that led up to the double doors.
Inside, Mel saw that the center had been partitioned
off, and only the barest amount of space was before him. There was
enough room for one or two more people in front of the makeshift
counter that dominated most of the tiny space. Behind the counter
was a huge man with a crewcut and strange, pig-like features. He
was talking beneath his enormous walrus moustache to a spindly businessman
who was on Mel's side of the counter. When the big man's attention
was finally drawn to Mel, he tugged his moustache and set down a
clipboard he was holding. "Come back later, Freddy," the
big man said, and the businessman left with a glare at Mel as he
passed. "Hey there, fella!"
"How do you do," Mel said, proffering his
hand. The big man shook with gusto.
"What brings you here today, my friend?"
"Well, I heard you might have some work for somebody
that needed it."
"I've got work for anybody!" the big man
announced. "What's your name, friend?"
"My name's Dimpe," he said with a twitch
of his moustache. "Come on back with me and we'll work out
the personnel details." He lifted the hinged part of the counter,
and motioned Mel toward an almost completely invisible door concealed
in the back wall.
The open door revealed the rest of the train car's
space; an office, and quite professional. Dimpe licked his lips
and ambled over behind the mahogany desk. Mel took a seat in front
"Down to business, Mel. What I have here is
a bit of an information operation. I have properties and businesses
all across the city, and I need them checked up on. Also, I need
some checking-up on my competitors, know what I mean?"
"Right," said Mel, "but why a train?"
Dimpe looked momentarily irritated, then replied.
"I just like trains. The place suits me." He clapped his
hands and rubbed them together, then reached into his desk and brought
out a manila folder, which he handed to Mel.
Mel opened it with his thumb, and inside was a glossy
8x10 of Dimpe, a map of downtown and the surrounding area with certain
spots marked and highlighted, along with a long list of directions
and information. "You're familiar with how blackmail works,
"How the hell did you know that?" Mel was
a little bit disturbed.
"The Gotel, right? Mel's? Friend of mine told
me about how the guy there squeezed him pretty hard, for some serious
cash. I told him it was his own damn fault for taking an underage
llama to a 'gotel,' right?" Mel and Dimpe were both silent
for a moment. Then Dimpe's moustache bristled spasmodically and
Mel's face cracked in a smile. Both broke down laughing, and minutes
passed before they were able to stop. Dimpe was panting and holding
his ample gut, stamping his feet as the laughter subsided. "In
all seriousness, Mel, would you believe me if I said that I was
an alien?" asked Dimpe in a very forthright tone.
"Say what?" Mel didn't know whether to laugh
"I'm an alien."
"Do you believe it?"
"No," said Mel. "Fucking loony is what
it sounds like."
Dimpe got up from his chair and went to the filing
cabinet behind his desk, holding up a cautionary finger. He opened
the top drawer and removed a small attaché case. He brought
it back to the desk and, sitting down, unlocked the clasp. From
it Dimpe pulled a small white plastic card and handed it to Mel.
At first Mel thought it was blank, but as he ran his thumb over
it he noticed the hundreds of tiny raised dots. "You steal
from the blind?"
"Mel, it's my ID. Where I come from, everyone
has to carry one."
"No, it's Rigel. What you call outer space."
"No shit," declared Dimpe. "On the
directions in the envelope you'll find a number of objectives. Would
you like the job?"
Mel considered for a moment, then handed the white
card back to Dimpe. "No way," said Mel. "You're too
fucking loony. No offense meant."
"None taken," replied Dimpe as he rose to
show Mel the door. "$500 per objective?"
"No thanks, Dimpe."
"Well, Mel, it's been swell," Dimpe said,
chuckling at his rhyme. Mel stepped past the counter, where a couple
of Hispanic cowboy-types were waiting patiently. They said something
in Spanish, which Mel thought was probably insulting.
"Fuck you, cholo," offered Mel as he stepped
down the stairs and back into the trainyard. This Dimpe was too
weird, thought Mel. As he walked he decided that he would just bide
his time and find some grunt work to make ends meet.
Mel found himself watering the lawn at a large apartment
complex in the suburbs. His small bit of grunt work to make ends
meet had turned into a full-fledged career. He worked for a large
company of groundskeepers, heading a team of cholos just like the
pair he'd met at the Dimpe train. Nobody liked each other much,
but everybody worked and the work got done. Mel didn't make a ton
of money, but he made enough to find somewhere to flop and enough
to save for a truck of his own and some equipment. He was skimming
off the top from the company as far as supplies went and was on
his way to starting his own crew. The landlord hated him bringing
bags of Casoron and dolomite lime up the stairs to his apartment,
but Mel had to keep it somewhere.
Things were going pretty well and though Mel didn't
exactly love what he was doing, it paid the rent. He didn't even
think of pursuing less acceptable lines of work, at least until
one Sunday when he was doing a special job for the boss' great aunt
at time-and-a-half. He was driving the yard debris truck, and the
cholo next to him was reading the paper and practicing his English.
The metro section of the daily paper had some dark photo with some
bright lights over some dark shapes. The headline read "ARE
THESE FOR REAL?" Mel did a double take and swerved as he looked
closer at the picture, which showed the trainyard. He pulled the
truck over and snatched the paper. Under the picture was a small
column which read:
"ARE THEY FOR REAL? This photo is one from a
series that seems to depict unidentified flying objects in formation
over the city railroad yards. The veracity of these photos is still
being determined, but they are well documented by a photographer
who wishes to remain anonymous."
Mel nearly shit his pants when he looked at the picture,
and went on to the job with a great deal of confusion in his head.
He worked the day and, preoccupied, nearly clipped himself with
a chainsaw. At the end of the day he called his boss and gave two
weeks' notice. After he had taken a shower and put on his red sweatshirt,
he took the bus downtown, then walked to the trainyard.