by Gail Farrelly
“Don’t ask!” I scream at the radio when that song is played for about the tenth time today.
It’s about 8 p.m. New Year’s Eve and I’m up to my elbows in dirty water, fixing the industrial sink at Carl’s Car Repair Shop. I give the radio a dirty look. I’d like to throw it across the room, but since the radio doesn’t belong to me, I can’t. Instead, I remove my rubber gloves, dry my hands on a paper towel and calmly turn off the radio. I turn to the table behind me to get my iPod and earphones out of my toolbox. Now I’m in business.
Back in my gloves at the sink the strong voice of Connie Francis asks “Who’s Sorry Now?” I shrug and silently answer, “Actually – not me.” I smile, knowing that it’s not only Connie, but many of her singing colleagues from the 50s and 60s who will be keeping me company through the rest of this job. In the music department, I’m a great fan of the oldies. I’m old-fashioned. The later stuff just doesn’t cut it for me.
It’s annoying that I have this job to take care of, tonight of all nights. I’d rather be outta here. But, as I tinker with the pipes, I remind myself of the nice fee that I’ll be earning. And, as I think about ushering in the New Year, I reflect that I do have a lot to be thankful for – an okay spouse (oh, who am I kidding, a terrific spouse!), a thriving business all my own, and a cute four-year-old daughter. I shouldn’t complain about having to work tonight. Oh well, at least I’m just complaining in my head, so unless the Thought Police spill the beans, no problem.
“Twist and Shout” is now playing on my iPod and I’m singing along, also engaging in a little sink-side dance action. My performance is interrupted when I look out the window over the sink and see a familiar face – an ugly one – atop a bloated body. Police Chief Rob “The Rat” Ratner is getting out of his squad car, hiking up his uniform pants and heading into the 24-hour Dan’s Diner across the street. Officious, obnoxious, sloppy Ratner.
Twenty years ago when I was eighteen, The Rat made my life – and the lives of many of the teenagers in town – a living hell, with his constant carping and eagerness to enforce every minute ordinance, not only about drinking and drugs, but also about noise containment, crowd control and whatever else he could find to make our lives miserable. He’s simply a nasty man. That summer I “borrowed” a car and took it for a ten-minute joyride. The Rat caught me. If I had been from the right side of the tracks, he probably would have smoothed it over with the car owner, or at least tried to. But no, he actually encouraged the car owner to press charges and they threw the book at me. There was no chance of getting probation or maybe even just a warning. As a not-so-rich kid of an alcoholic single parent who didn’t have the sense to hire a smart lawyer, I ended up with a jail sentence of six months. Serving it was pure hell.
My hands are busy with the nuts and bolts of sink repair and my mind is just as busy. Seeing Ratner sparks a deliciously evil revenge fantasy. I note that it’s pretty quiet around town tonight. There’s little traffic and few pedestrians. It would be so easy to sneak my way across the street and add a few things to the underbelly of The Rat’s patrol car. No one would be the wiser. The car is parked in a deserted area of the parking lot and I’m talented with my hands. Fixing sinks, cars, car alarms, electronic systems – it’s all the same to me. My toolbox has everything needed.
According to the nuns who taught me in grammar school, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” But what about a mind like mine that can’t help thinking about that patrol car across the street, even when I have the discipline to drag my eyes from the window and back to my work? Just a few adjustments on my part could mean the triggering of a little surprise for Ratner. An explosion, for example, with lots of noise, flying glass, blood and gore! I shudder. But then I figure it wouldn’t have to be an explosion; something else could be triggered, right?
In my ear, Bobby Vee is now crooning “Devil or Angel, I Can’t Make Up My Mind.” Neither can I. There’s that prayer once voiced by St. Augustine: “O Lord, help me to be pure, but not yet.” I silently echo a similar prayer, not asking for help to be pure, but for help to be just plain old good. I don’t EVER want to go back to jail. Been there, done that. But I’m not quite ready to be good all the time…
A short time later, I finish the sink repair and pack up my toolbox. The Marcels are entertaining me with “Blue Moon,” but tonight you can barely see the moon. It’s shrouded in fog. I look across the street. ‘Oh heck, you only live once, and it is New Year’s.’ I reopen my toolbox, remove a few items, including my rubber gloves, put on my dark jacket and head across the street.
Twenty minutes later, I’m back in the Repair Shop and I’m smiling. I repack my tools and look around the kitchen to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. Finito! All is well.
My ride home goes quickly. The iPod I had earlier has gone to a far, far better place, but the old CD player in my car will ensure that I have company for the ride. The car is alive with the sound of music. Right now Harvey and the Moonglows are singing “Good Night Sweetheart, Good Night,” and my mood is as mellow as Harvey’s voice. I’ll be home in time to be with my sweetheart at midnight. Nice.
* * *
At a few minutes before 11 a. m. the next day, I’m in the playground across the street from the police station. I give a little wave to my blonde curly headed daughter, parked in her favorite place, the sandbox. She’s ecstatic about having landed a holiday visit to the playground, an unexpected treat.
I glance over at the police station’s parking lot. The Rat’s patrol car is there, just as I had hoped. I knew he’d be working today because I heard him talking about that earlier this week over at the Diner. Yes! I’ll have a front-row seat for the action.
I don’t have long to wait. Suddenly I hear it. Yippee! Just what I’ve been waiting for. The timer I set up has worked perfectly. The strains of “Earth Angel” cut through the crisp morning air, serenading everyone who’s in the immediate vicinity of The Rat’s patrol car. And even some who aren’t.
The Rat rushes out of the police station and over to his car. He’s in a frenzy – looking around, in and under the car. I can tell he’s furious.
He crawls under the car, in what I know will be a fruitless attempt to shut off the music. He must be fiddling with the iPod and the associated wires he found on the underbelly of the car though, because now the music is getting even louder. Perfect! It’s working just as I planned. My rigging will be almost impossible to disconnect; but each time anyone tries, the volume will increase. It will be a three-hour (no more, no less) New Year’s Day performance.
Now the Rat has emerged from underneath the car, holding his hands like shields over his ears. He continues to fume and now he’s barking out commands to a hapless deputy.
Not to bore the town, I provided some variety in songs when I set things up last night in The Rat’s parked car at Dan’s Diner. Now Bobby Darin is center stage, as “Splish, Splash, I Was Taking a Bath” blasts out from the patrol car across the street. By the time we are being serenaded with “Great Balls of Fire,” a crowd is starting to form, and folks are singing along with the music. Some are even dancing to it. There’s a lot of laughter and New Year’s cheer. Not a bad way to celebrate the first day of the year. And it only cost me an iPod (it was an old one, and luckily I have a couple of newer ones at home) and a few bucks worth of supplies from my toolbox. A bargain at any price! And I thank my lucky stars that I’m able to make an iPod do what most people think can’t be done.
My daughter, bored with building sandcastles, is now heading toward the swings. I know what that means. Pushing her back and forth, back and forth will provide my exercise for the day. No visit to the gym needed. I sigh and walk over to the swings to begin my pushing duties.
I doubt that The Rat will catch me for my mischief. Ratner won’t regard me as a suspect. He’d never think that a girl would have the balls OR the smarts to tinker around so successfully with his patrol car. A girl HE said would never make anything of herself, a girl who is an electronics whiz and just celebrated the tenth anniversary of being licensed as the first female plumber in the county. Double trouble – in Ratner’s eyes anyway.
The sexy voice of Dean Martin is telling the world that “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You,” as more and more folks are gathering to gawk and to have a laugh at Ratner’s expense. I’m enjoying myself so much I’m neglecting my work pushing the swing. Uh-oh.
“Higher, mommy, I wanna go higher,” my exasperated daughter demands as she swings.
I watch my daughter soar. My spirits soar with her. Ratner is finally history for me. When I think of him in the future it won’t be so much about a horrible memory of that day 20 years ago. No way. It’ll be about a memory of this day. The first day of the New Year, as he stomps around in the area around his patrol car, trying in vain to stop the music.
Out with the old…in with the new, it feels good.
This will be a very good year.
What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? was originally published by Untreed Reads. You can find more of Gail’s stories here: bit.do/gailfarrelly.
More of Gail’s short stories here in KRL, and many others including 2 more New Year’s Eve mystery short stories, can be found in our Terrific Tales section.