Sample # 5
From Called to Arms Again
By J. L. Salter
Grit doesn’t fade away ... it just becomes crusty. With harrowing elements right out of today’s headlines, this story reaches back into the sturdy heartbeat of people raised during the Depression and tested during World War II. Though the old uniforms haven’t fit in many decades, their resilient spirits still have that same intensity which helped save democracy.
Welcome back to Saturday Samples, where I’m revealing the fifth sample of my newest novel, Called To Arms Again, released on May 30 by Astraea Press. The heroine is reporter Kelly Randall, writing a 12-page special section for Veterans Day. Like the previous excerpt, this is also from Chapter 6, and immediately after the scene snippet in sample # 4. It features Kelly’s good friend (and occasional neighbor) Wade Lawrence, who later plays a significant role in the goings-on at the after-funeral luncheon in the formerly quiet retirement neighborhood where all the action later occurs.
* * * * *
“Well, if I hadn’t been given the name Wade, I would’ve named myself Lucky.” He paused like he was trying out the alternate name. “Kel, you ought to see what I brung back from Thunder Valley” It was a racetrack in Bristol, Tennessee. “Most of them races have a big farrworks display as part of the opening ceremony.”
Kelly rolled her hand sideways. Out with it. “What about the sounds I’ve heard here?”
“Well, I got hold of a bunch of them industrial-strength farrworks. I’m talking about stuff that goes hundreds of feet in the air and makes enough noise to wake up the folks in your graveyard.”
“As it would have me if I’d been asleep at the time. So these firecrackers-on-steroids — is that what’s been going off on Pop’s acreage?”
“Couldn’t blow ‘em up in Cincinnati.”
“So why didn’t you tell me you were out there blasting stuff? I’ve been worrying and halfway to calling the 9-1-1 folks.”
“Didn’t think nothing about it. Just as natural as a real big belch or a nasty…”
“Thanks for those lovely images.” She gave him another stern look. “You should’ve told me.”
Wade looked suitably chastened but that image vanished in a few seconds. None of Wade’s expressions remained very long. Like his constant body motion, his expressions seemed to lurch about. He grinned again. “That’s what I came to tell you now. And show you some of ‘em.” He looked like he was about to jolt off the loveseat.
Kelly motioned him back down. “And I presume these are strictly illegal for private citizens to own.”
“Like I said, only if you’re caught with ‘em. If I blow ‘em up, they was never here.” Wade got up again and both went outside.
“So where’s all the fireworks?”
“Here, under the tarp.” He flipped it back with a minor flourish, revealing several assorted boxes.
“Wade, you’re liable to blow up my cabin with all that stuff.” Kelly scanned the array of samples in the rear compartment of Wade’s buggy. “Okay, let’s ignore all the legal issues for the moment. From what I recall of public display fireworks, there’s always a lot of light bursts, or whatever you call those huge flashes of color.”
“They call ‘em paints. I did some research. Different chemicals makes different colors. The way to tell a real expert is if they can make deep blue or dazzling white bursts.”
Kelly’s mouth hung open briefly. “I’m completely amazed.”
“Bet you thought it was harder to make reds and greens, huh?”
“No. I’m amazed that you actually did some research.” She smiled.
“Yeah. Went to the liberry in Lexington.”
“Hold on. You live near Cincinnati. Why’d you use the Lexington library system?”
He sighed heavily. “Well, I started out in one of Cincinnati’s liberry branches, but after I’d asked a few questions about explosives and gunpowder and such, they started giving me the fisheye. So I figured I’d vamoose from there. Went to Lexington.”
“Lexington’s library staff didn’t give you the fisheye?”
“Nope. Some nice lady just took me to the computer and typed up some words and there was couple thousand uh…”
“Yeah, links. So I sat there and clicked on ‘em. Man, I got all kinds of stuff. I was printing pages like crazy.”
“Sounds like you had a very positive library experience.”
“Well, when I went to grab all them pages I printed, the other lady wanted me to pay for ‘em. I told her the first lady said I could access anything fer free.” Wade had a fleeting frown. “So while she was arguing with the first lady about my access, I snatched them pages and took off.”
“So that’s two libraries you can’t go back to.”
He shrugged — he obviously never intended to visit any more library systems. “So anyhow, most of them commercial farrworks are what they call aerial shells. And the stuff inside ‘em — besides the powder — is little cubes or pellets they call stars. What I been doing is taking ‘em apart and separating all the stuff. Gunpowder here, packing there, stars over yonder. Plus, that big old box I bought had about a mile of fuses.”
“I swear, Wade, sometimes following your explanations is just impossible. Why were you dismantling all those brand new illegal fireworks?”
He looked at her like she ought to already understand. “Simple, Kel. I want the sound from the gunpowder explosion to go with my new invention, but don’t want the blast of light, because them burning phosphorous particles is too tricky to handle. It’s kind of like a big chemistry set, but real turbo-charged. And I’m like the scientist dude that does the experiments.”
Kelly mulled over Wade’s project. “And this is what you’ve been doing, top secret, in Pop’s woods?”
“Pop’s meadow. The woods’d be too dangerous to catch farr.”
“Wade, that’s why these are Class Two, or Class B, fireworks.” She couldn’t recall which. “And illegal. Way too dangerous for use by ordinary citizens. I’d sure hate to see you bandaged up with third degree burns on your face, and your fingers all melted together.”
“Thanks a bunch fer that pretty picture.”
“Just be careful, that’s all. I mean, if you insist on continuing these experiments.”
“After you see my new invention working, Kel, you’ll wonder why you ever discouraged me.”
“Just thinking about your safety. I hope you’re taking precautions.”
Wade rubbed his arm absent-mindedly. “Yeah, I got precautions: long fuse, light quick, and run like crazy.”
“Stop, drop and roll, Wade.” She shook her head slowly. “If running from long fuses is your elaborate safety plan, you’ll need to remember the fire safety motto. Because you’re going to burn down something. Or burn up somebody.”
Wade shrugged. Even that had extra movement in it.
Needing only a fresh angle to write her Veteran’s Day special, Kelly discovers first-hand that the Greatest Generation still has enough grit to fight back. While all the authorities are occupied during a massive Homeland Security drill, an urban gang of thieves targets an isolated retirement subdivision ... figuring the crippled geriatrics would offer no resistance.
Though Kelly’s widowed boyfriend came along only for a post-funeral luncheon, Mitch soon finds himself leading a mis-matched flanking team. Kelly’s good friend Wade has his own assignment, with a home-made mortar and lots of illegal gunpowder.
Maybe it’s difficult to remember everyday things like taking pills, but these octogenarians have never forgotten it was up to them to defend family, home, community, and country. The outcome of their courageous stand depends on the resolve and resourcefulness of an unlikely ensemble of eccentric elderly neighbors, several American Legion members, and others spanning four generations.
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