Kettle Blowing Can Be a BitchJuly 31, 2018
I once got into a lengthy argument at work over which of the Jurovat twins was worse. The loading dock boss I was talking to at the time said Tony, not Terry, could ride in the Shit-for-Brains parade every year. “They should name it for him,” he told me. Sam Hathaway supervised both brothers for a month before they were transferred to the nightly cleaning crew where I work. He added, “Terry definitely belongs in there, but Tony, hell, he’s the undisputed got-damn Grand Marshal.”
Anywhere else, those two Neanderthals would have been fired except for one outstanding fact: their uncle owned the plant.
I belong in that losers’ parade myself. I’ve been arrested twice for narcotics possession, three times for DUI, and was sentenced by one of our more creative criminal court judges to stand on the busiest corner downtown on Main Street and Park for two weeks one summer holding up a sign that proclaimed to the world: Sign Holder Lives in Thrall to Narcotics, which I thought was just poetically vague enough to confuse some of my fellow citizens. Turned out, I was right: many passersby gave me an approving nod or a thumb’s-up.
But it finally took one OD to make me see the error of my ways. When I came out of the stupor, a paramedic was leaning over me holding a syringe in one latex hand and a Naloxone kit in the other, not to mention six of my rubber-necking neighbors gawking at me as I lay nude in my driveway. Maybe it takes a druggie to understand another druggie’s impulse to do Whack, tear off your clothes, and then decide taking a bag of garbage out of the kitchen is a great idea. The whole time, my downstairs neighbor and fellow druggie, Jerry Hollobeck, nodded off at the kitchen table. Jerry’s a diehard “tipsy-flipper,” all about Ecstasy and booze, a much safer routine than mine, which was combining fentanyl-laced heroin and PCP. It was time to quit, finally and forever, as we rehabilitated addicts love to say at our Nar-Anon meetings.
Fourteen weeks clean, taking it a day at a time, as alkies’ love to say, I applied for work all over Northtown. I have a degree in journalism; however, nobody is hiring people with my record, so I took a shift at one of the few plastics factories still operating: Jurovat Plastics. Mine’s the graveyard shift, the domain of the unskilled laboring class. The days when these factories worked three shifts and had sweetheart deals with the big automakers in Detroit are long gone. I make a dollar over minimum plus an extra dime per hour because it’s the night shift.
Working nights blew up my daily routines as well as my body clock, that circadian rhythm that keeps body and mind in sync. After the second week on the job, I was stumbling around my tiny upstairs apartment on Tivision Avenue like a drunk in traffic mentally exhausted from sleep deprivation; simple tasks became difficult and little frustrations at work sent me over the edge.
Drugs destroyed that peaceful world I used to live in like sugar dissolving in water. Now, trying to regain some sanity and order, I found myself entering a new phase of hell. What I thought would be a short stroll in sunlight turned into a long slog up a steep hill. But the day I sucker-punched one of the Jurovat twins, however, was the day I entered a new hell.
I hit the deck hard. Normally, I’d have picked myself up and slunk off like a sheep. This time, I got up, turned around, and swung at his jaw.
Miracle of miracles, I missed the jaw, but my gloved fist struck him in the temple; he toppled sideways like an oak. Tony was a streetfighter who bragged over his battles in shitkicker bars and parking lots all over the county. They couldn’t drink at the same time in half of them because one or the other was banned for fighting.
What have I done? I thought.
I expected Terry to come blazing around the corner and kick the living shit out of me. Instead, he and a couple workers rushed over when they spotted Tony on the concrete.
“What the fuck happened here?” Terry roared.
“No idea, Terry. He just suddenly fell over.”
Which was true. I omitted the part about throwing a punch.
“Get the fuck out of my way, asshole! Call Nine-One-One! Don’t just stand there!”
The ambulance came. Paramedics questioned Terry about a possible overdose which, given their sideline hobby, was a likely possibility. In the end, they decided not to use Narcan and whisked him off on a gurney and loaded him into the ambulance.
I was on borrowed time.
I figured on a twenty-four-hour “grace period” before the twins struck. That seemed to be their modus operandi in the past. Not much time, but enough to set a plan in motion.
I picked a time to act out my plan: morning shift change—no one paid attention to anyone else for the most part. I jumped on a tow motor and picked up a pallet of styrene barrels—Nothing to see here, folks—and drove it over to Building One near the loading dock. The plant safety meeting, a fifteen-minute mandatory farce, was scheduled for all workers that morning on the far side of Building Two. Some OSHA lackey would drone on, we’d all pretend to give a rat’s ass about our fellow worker’s safety, and we’d go back to our jobs with the same corner-cutting, me-first, fuck-you-too attitude as ever. So far, sweated labor was not living up to its promise of changing my life for the better. I was like everyone else waiting for the Grim Reaper in the form of cancer arrives to harvest me. I’d be replaced by the next drone in line and leave as much of a memory behind as sticking my finger in a bucket of water and pulling it out. People wondered why I did drugs. I did drugs because it’s fun compared to a piece-of-shit life.
All I needed to remove one barrel from the pallet was three minutes, then swing it over to Jerry’s pickup borrowed the night before and backed into the loading bay. I didn’t even bother to tie the fucker down. I just had to get out of sight fast before the meeting broke up or some nosey-Nellie foreman cruised by looking for some underling to holler at or ask what the fuck I’m doing with that barrel.
It rattled and banged around back there, but my luck held out because no cop spotted me driving with an unsecured load. I pulled into my driveway, drove around to the back of the two-story apartment to get out of sight in case the landlord swung by as was his custom. Knowing of my drug convictions, he made up one excuse after another to drop by to ensure I wasn’t trashing his place in some drug-addled frenzy.
The barrel wasn’t going out of the pickup anytime soon, so I had to use my own vehicle. I packed the trunk, back seat, passenger seat, and every available space of my Jeep. I barely had room to shift gears and heard several glasses breaking inside the cardboard boxes on the way back.
I couldn’t afford to be sloppy. I knew what the diluted solution I used in the big kettle could do. I just had to look at the raised bumps of scar tissue running down the insides of my arms like crisscrossing white worms if I needed a reminder. This, however, was the real McCoy: hydrochloric acid, undiluted.
It took hours, as I knew it would. When the barrel was empty enough to work it to the edge of the truck bed’s gate, I woke Jerry up from his dope nod and asked him to help me lift it to the ground. We dragged it behind the garage out of sight. I’d deal with it later.
“What the fuck are you snorting, man?” Jerry asked me.
“Nothing, man, I swear,” I replied.
“Yeah, right. Pull this leg,” he said; it’s got the bells on it.”
I gave him a twenty for the loan of his pickup and another to “fuck off’ for the night.
“Where am I supposed to go?”
“Trust me, buddy,” I said. “You do not want to be in your apartment on this night.”
He rode off, convinced I wasn’t sharing my stash. He said he needed to take a piss and then left in his truck. He was convinced I wasn’t just back to using, I must be cooking up there in one of those quickie Beavis-and-Butthead methods where the cooks blow themselves to smithereens or die from the gas fumes.
So be it. It was my life I was concerned about, not my ragtag reputation.
It was already late afternoon. I had to clean up, eat, get some sleep, and get ready for my night visitors, those twin terrors who were out there somewhere like a pair of nomad lions on the prowl in the Serengeti.
The expression “sleeping with one eye open” isn’t a joke. It doesn’t permit much sleep either, although I managed a few winks. Every strange noise jolted me upright in bed, anxious, heart thumping like a bongo. Them—the twins . . . coming—
The best time, I reckoned, would be close to shift change. They’d have a ready-made alibi: We were at work, Officer, my brother’n me. . .
One of my own crewmates would be strong-armed into supporting their alibi.
I checked my wristwatch a few dozen times, waiting in the dark, all the windows open for ventilation and to hear cars approaching from my end Harbor Avenue. Fifteen minutes before I’d normally be leaving the apartment and heading down the steps out back, I heard the first sound. A step board groaned under someone’s weight. I had visitors. Three more times, the slightest creak told me I was right. They’re coming, I told myself. Get ready.
It seemed an hour passed but it could have been minutes. I was aware of the door opening by the lighter shade against the outside blackness. I’d been hunched at the end of the hallway dressed in gale-proof black raingear from the Army-Navy store downtown, a mountaineer’s oxygen bottle and mask to keep the fumes from searing my lungs, and a pullover head mask with eyeholes. I was wrapped tight with masking tape at the wrists and ankles and clutching a Louisville slugger against my chest. I was cramped, frightened, my hearing pitched to hear a dog whistle.
Then another sound. A hand brushed the wall: one of them reaching for the light switch. The click was audible, loud as a pistol shot to my rarefied hearing.
An urgent whisper, one brother saying something to the other. It sounded like hisses. They’d seen my car in the driveway: I had to be inside.
I’d intentionally left a clear path between hallway and kitchen, three feet wide leading straight to me. I’d cut the power to my apartment hours ago. If they brought flashlights, they’d see everything, but I was counting on these morons swaggering right into my bedroom and jumping me while I lay prone in bed, helpless and unable to fight back.
This was the moment I needed discipline. I had trained myself to wait from my kettle job. Delay too long and the risk of explosion was increased. The top would blow off and I’d be spattered with hot acid solution. Throw the switch before the needle in the gauge was halfway into the red, and I’d send down an ineffective cleansing that wouldn’t do the job and I’d be responsible for ruining an entire shift’s work.
Come on, you lunks, I prayed in silence. Keep coming.
I sensed them before I saw them. They were creeping toward me, dressed in ninja black, only the whites of their eyeballs visible; their faces were smeared in night-black camo paint, and they lingered in the threshold separating the kitchen from the single-room living space of my apartment. Two big cats taking their bearings, sniffing out prey—me. From my vantage, the brothers looked like a single creature, a two-headed beast with four eyes; it was looking straight at me. My stomach heaved at the apparition.
One more step. . . one more step. I sent my telepathic message into the darkness and waited.
One of them, I don’t know which brother, made the necessary step and tripped the wire I’d strung across the doorway; that stumble upended the two tin buckets on either side of the doorway and set everything into chaos.
“What the fuck’s all his shit?”
It would feel cold as ice water—then it would burn like fire.
“Holy fuckin’ Jesus, I’m burning!”
The hydrochloric acid from the buckets sloshed their pant legs. I knew they’d most likely be wearing their steel-toe work boots, so it was crucial the buckets were triggered to set off the panic.
“Put the light on! Put the light on!”
Noises, stumbling, grunts—the panic part was happening as planned.
“I’ll fuckin’ kill. . . fucking burns! Terry, help me!”
Gotcha, Tony, prickface motherfucker.
In seconds, Tony first and then Terry had moved away from “the acid-free zone,” where I’d set up every glass, one at a time all around the apartment. Hundreds of glasses filled to the brim with deadly hydrochloric acid about six inches apart. Two men stomping around in the dark kicking over glass after glass, getting it on their clothes first, and then their bare hands, any exposed skin, was the ultimate goal. I heard something clatter to the floor—a knife from the sound of it.
How’s it feel, boys, when the skin of your face melts, sloughing off like a month-old dead body dumped and decomposing in a river?
Screams that would shatter glass erupted—music to my ears—how can I describe the joy of witnessing through my imagination what was happening in the dark of my apartment?
Tony and Terry were doing the acid shuffle just feet away, running into each other like bulls, slamming their bodies into walls, both desperate to escape the fires consuming them, breaking even more glasses of acid in their terror.
It must have dawned on one of them what I’d done, the trap I’d set. The words fuck and kill were bellowed over and over in a sick kind of counterpoint to the other brother’s cries, a wailing, howling symphony of pain. The sound of acid being splashed around by kicking limbs was music to my ears. I hefted the meat end of the Louisville Slugger in my hands, thinking I should go after them, club them senseless, bash their brains in until that pool of spilled acid ate their sizzling blood. I’d restore the power so I could watch their faces dissolve.
In the end, I didn’t have the stomach for the full revenge. They slipped and slid on the acid-greased linoleum of my kitchen, still colliding into each other to get out the doorway like two clowns out of a circus Volkswagen. One or both fell down the steps. More howls like deranged wolves from the bottom of the steps. Curses, hurled back in the darkness, a car’s engine starting—Terry’s rebuilt Trans Am—and a final sound of gravel from the driveway rattling under the chassis as they sped off into the night.
They made it to the hospital, somehow, half-blinded. Both brothers air-flighted by a medical chopper to the burn unit at the Cleveland Clinic. They’re still there. They’ll be there for a long time, I’m told. The county prosecutor keeps my lawyer informed. Many reconstructive surgeries and skin grafts will be required. Years of pain lie ahead for both. Uncle Marty will be writing checks for a long time, too, I figure, but then, he had the opportunity to corral these monsters long ago and failed to do it. He bears as much responsibility as I do for their transformation into a pair of crippled, hideous freaks.
I’m out on bail, a very lenient one considering the damage done to the apartment, which amounted to thousands in damage as the entire upper floor had to be ripped out and replaced. Jerry’s pissed at me because his apartment was damaged. “My kitchen looks like a set from the fuckin’ Alien movie when the acid blood dripped through the spaceship.”
My lawyer says the photos they took at the hospital will garner sympathy despite the fact the brothers are well known in Northtown. Not to worry, he says, because they’ve hurt too many people and done, as he says, dropping the legal jargon, “way too much negative shit.” That gives me encouragement. The trial’s a long way off, not on the docket until September, and they’ll have time to upgrade the charges to attempted voluntary manslaughter if they choose. My lawyer’s worried about the judge changing venue after voir dire if the publicity works against us.
I’m not worried about that, however. I’m at peace with myself. Revenge, as they say, is sweet. I’m jobless and on welfare but I’m making a few bucks under the table doing construction work and odd jobs around town. People know me differently now.
I sold the story of the twins for twenty dollars under the nom de plume Freddie Bardamu to a website that publishes “gruesome tales of revenge.” I’ve also picked up a new bad habit: vaping. The scented smoke reminds me of the steam billowing from the kettle when I pull the release valve. I got my idea from it, blowing the kettle, glimpsing people run from a cloud of acid smoke, Terry beside me howling like a baboon. I’ve learned something about myself. Neanderthal DNA is inside my cells, too. You can’t go back from that.