1992 Homestead, Florida
There were four brothers, and five more men who may as well have been. They had all grown up, she was told, in the wild center of Florida; west of Withlacoochee State Forest, on Bradley Lake.
The brothers were all six feet, wiry and toasted pecan, with sun-streaked brown hair falling to just above their tool belts in ponytails made of intricate braids. She found out later that they wore their hair that way only on a job; the braids came out when the job was finished.
The five friends were a motley mix; all different but for the same baked look to their skin and hair, the same shorthand spoken by all of them, and the same stony silence when faced with the boss on this job being a woman. She found it was easier to keep that piece of information quiet, when trying to get construction crews to travel 300 miles to a bombed out landscape with no hot water and no ice and no electricity, and to submit to martial law for weeks on end.
These four brothers were damned close to exactly nine months apart. The two younger boys stayed behind to man the family compound and help their father with the odd jobs that came up in their own community. The eldest, the Alpha, was just twenty-two, with a much older way about him – he already had three children of his own.
They were descended from the Muscogee splinter that eventually became Osceola’s Seminole. Forget the gambling and the prize fights and the discount tobacco – these men were the Unconquered. They could trace their lineage back to Ahaya, they all spoke Creek, and every one of them had a way of becoming the center of wherever they were…it was uncanny, how a bar full of rowdy drunks would go quiet and careful when these men walked in together.
They all carried big Bowie hunting knives in deerskin sheaths, either on their belts, or on a sort of bandolier under their shirts. They all moved in unison, with a balletic regimentation that never left more than two men exposed at once.
She found herself encamped with these men, and another crew, a bunch of carpenters out of Clearwater. She was one of very few women to remain in the area at that point; most had been evacuated from the area after Hurricane Andrew blew it all to smithereens. She was hustling and pleading with and cajoling a lot of building material suppliers, to get what she needed to put houses back together; it was hot, dirty, discouraging work. She was doubly disadvantaged by the massive shortages of everything from batteries to shingles that everyone in the vicinity coveted.
Slowly, as the days wore on and the residents of the camp moved more or less silently around each other, eating, washing in the cold, hard waters of the Florida aquifer, trying to keep enough clothing semi clean and enough food eaten to retain some humanity, constantly fixing, repairing, tinkering with generators and power tools and trucks when they weren’t on a roof…she began to notice that Alpha was always up in the morning when she was.
Even though his crew couldn’t start until the sun was fully up and any dew had evaporated from the slippery roofs they were working on; she’d come out of her tiny bedroom, the only room with a bathroom attached, trying to be as silent as possible as she stepped carefully around the sleeping forms of Alpha’s crewmen and make her way into the kitchen…and there he’d be, staring out of the small window towards dawn. He’d silently, hand her a cup of coffee that he had some mysterious process of making, on top of a little camp stove. She thinks to this day, that those were the best cups of coffee she has ever tasted. She’d drink it silently, too, and they’d go in separate directions without a word spoken.
She was having some problems with one of the carpenters – his foreman didn’t seem to have much control over him, he was drinking a lot and taking too many opportunities to invade her physical space on site; she spoke to him twice, and then fired him, with a deputy standing behind her, a sidearm on his belt. She listened to his threats as the carpenter stormed off the site and turned wearily towards her trailer to see Alpha and two of his brothers standing there, silent as always, but ready. Things shifted then. That night, and every night after that until they finished the job and left, the youngest brother arranged his bedroll in front of her door. She almost tripped over him the first morning, saw him just before her boot came down on his hand…and brought him a mug of Alpha’s coffee in thanks.
“Served in bed,” he said, grinning up at her from his bedroll sleepily in the predawn light, “raises the dead.”
A night in camp, after weeks of nonstop work and pain and heat and misery, a slightly cooler breeze, a clearer sky, a working generator, some ice from somewhere…a bottle of whiskey, a hefty dose handed to her in her coffee cup by Alpha, as silently as ever. Standing in the dark little kitchen, faint moonlight silvering his hair as he gently tapped her cup with his. She leaned against the sink and watched him, wild as a panther, move closer to her, until he was too close, closer than he should be, and she rested her palm on his chest to stop him, and herself.
“I want…,” he said.
“Yeah,” she muttered, thinking, he’s a kid, you’re not, it’s just pent up stress, get a grip. “Me, too – but let’s get drunk instead.”
She watched their caravan leave her soon to be disassembled camp a few weeks later. A month after that, her cell phone rang late one night, as she sat in an actual working laundromat.
“I miss it,” Alpha said. No greeting.
“Don’t,” she replied, smiling. “We have electricity now.”
“Goodbye, Luna,” he said faintly, so faintly that she thought she must have misheard…after all, Luna was not her name. She hesitated; and gently pressed End.
LC Neal resides in extreme South Florida, which is literally crawling with inspiration if one can just remain calm. She is a writer of fiction, irrational and baseless opinion, and reviews of books and music; she is also the founder and Editor in Chief of www.fictionique.com.A sampling of stories by LC Neal:
The Tavern, Midwest of Eden, Lucky Bastard, and Friendly Advice. blog comments powered by Disqus