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Down and out in Albany, Part II by Vegard
John Reilly was working on the gearbox of an old Ford truck, when he heard someone walk in the door. He hadn´t heard a car drive in, so it was probably just one of his own guys.
Looking up to check he did a double take. The sun was against him, so he couldn´t see the person properly, but off course it couldn´t be. With a sudden, and deep, sadness he reminded himself that Cormac was dead. He wasn´t coming back.
As he walked over, he could see that this kid didn´t really look that much like him up close anyway. He was taller for one thing, and his hair was lighter.
Danny was puzzled at first, as the older man looked him up and down, and suddenly he felt very self-concious again about his appearance. He´d wet his hair in the stream that morning, and combed it down and to the side. And his clothes, and he, were still clean.
In his head he´d sort of prepared for what he was going to say, but he almost forgot it now, with this man staring at him like that.
Finally the man said, "What can I do for you so…, uh, I mean young man?"
"Are you Mr. Reilly?" Danny asked.
"I´m John Reilly, yes" he answered; revealing an accent Daniel was unfamiliar with.
Sticking his hand out, he said, "I´m Daniel Thompson, and I´m looking for work sir".
Shaking it, Mr Reilly asked, "Do you have any experience working with cars?"
"Yes sir, I´ve worked for Jake´s Body Shop from time to time."
"All sorts. Body work, worked on engines, paint-jobs. Pretty much everything sir".
John Reilly studied him. It was summer, and two of his guys were on vacation, so there was no denying they could use an extra hand.
"If you actually know your way around an engine and a shop, we can try it out," he said.
"Thanks Mr. Reilly!" Daniel said, smiling.
"How old are you son?"
"18 sir" Daniel answered, loosing the smile, and looking down as he said it.
"You´re not a very good liar are you Danny?" Mr. Reilly laughed, "Now, how old are you really?"
"I´ll be 16 come October sir." This time Daniel looked him in the eye when he answered.
"Ok. So, it´s just a summer job you´re after then." Mr. Reilly stated, "Go and talk to Linda in the reception there, and she can get the details, and find you some coveralls.
"By the way; Where in the World is Jake´s Body Shop?"
"Louisville, Tennessee sir."
In the office with Linda he gave her the Schultz´ address, feeling very grateful to them for letting him do that. Mr Schulz had told him he would need an address to be able to get a real job, and he was right.
All things taken care of, he was given coveralls and set to work straight away.
John watched the boy as he was set to re-treading some tires, and had to admit he was impressed. Not just by his skills, but his whole appearance. Danny was tall, strong, and did the work like a grown man.
Reilly had come over from Cork, in Ireland, 26 years ago, and shortly after, begun dating his boss´daughter Mary. After just a few months she had gotten pregnant, and they had gotten married half a year before their first born, Cormac, came in to this world.
"The gratest little accident in the world!" John used to call him. Cormac had been destined to take over the shop, and was a good mechanic already, when he got drafted and sent to Vietnam.
He´d died over there, and burying him had been the hardest thing his parents had ever done.
They had 3 other kids though, and life went on. His youngest son Michael was now his hope as successor, but he hadn´t even chosen shop in school, and he was nowhere near the mechanic Cormac had been. Nor would he ever be.
John sighed, and reminded himself, one didn´t really need to be a good mechanic oneself, running a shop, as long as one had good people working there. But it didn´t hurt either.
As they had their lunch break Danny got to meet the few guys he hadn´t already met, and he found he really liked the atmosphere at the shop. There was a lot of joking, and hearing where he was from, he was soon the object of quite a few jokes about hillbillies and the south in general. But, Danny realized this was a way of being included as well. And the others were getting theirs to he supposed. But he did start getting a bit tired of it after a while. Especially two of the guys, who seemed to find nothing funnier than trying to imitate his accent.
It seemed the boss sort of guessed enough was enough though, because, suddenly John Reilly himself, started singing, "Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes, are ca-alling!" And not in a bad voice either.
The guys seemed to take it as a cue though, to go back to work, and grumbling about the Irish and their songs, they all got up.
Reilly signaled to Danny that he was to stay behind.
"It gets tiresome doesn´t it?" Reilly asked him.
"People thinking they can "do" your accent." he laughed, "I´ve had to put up with people thinking they can do "an Irish brougue" since I moved here 26 years ago. Especially when they drink. And not one has managed to get it right. AND no one in Ireland calls it "an Irish brougue" either!"
"And, by the way son; You´ve been doing great work so far!" Reilly smiled at him and left for his office.
His fifth day at the shop Danny got to meet Michael Reilly, John´s youngest son, who was 16 already, and who had his own car. He worked for his dad Fridays, after school during the school year, and all day during the summer.
Mike was a friendly, round faced boy who wore his dark hair quite long.
Reilly set the two boys to work together, and they found they liked each other, despite their backgrounds being quite different from each other.
Mike found it much easier learning from Danny, than from one of his dad´s mechanics. He always felt he was being compared to Cormac, and how great Cormac had been.
And he frequently thought he saw disappointment in his dad´s eyes. But it could be just grief.
For lunch on Fridays the guys at the shop would have burgers for lunch, and during the summer it was now Mike´s job to take down a list, and drive and get it. This time Danny got to go along.
"Why´s your hair so short?" Mike asked as they drove off, "Did your Dad make you cut it?"
"Nah. My Pa ain´t even here. I chose to have it this short."
"Wow!" This was almost impossible for Mike to understand. No one their age had hair like that, and himself he was like most other kids, and wanted to fit in.
He had to admit to himself it was kind of gutsy to have it cut like that though.
When Danny had worked for Reilly almost a month, he felt it was time to have his hair cut again, and he knew where he would go.
"Do you wanna come over to our house tonight?" Mike asked. "We´re having a barbeque"
"Sure! I just gotta do something first ok?"
"I need a haircut, and your Pa said I could leave early to get one."
John Reilly overheard them, and called over, "Take Mike here with you Danny!"
Danny called back, "Ain´t no way he´s got the guts for it sir!"
The men laughed.
"Bet I have!" Mike protested, without thinking.
"Prove it!" his father said, hardly believing what he was hearing.
Mike´s face turned red. Clearly he hadn´t meant it, but now he appeared to be stuck.
Really uneasy about all this, he asked Danny when they were in the car, "Where are we headed?"
"Barber Bob!" Mike laughed, and began giving directions.
The door opened, and Bob Grant looked away from his customer to see whom it was.
"Young Daniel!" he said happily. "I was wondering when you´d be back!"
"Hey Mister Grant. Have you got time for us?" Danny asked with a grin.
"Sure! Just have a seat and I´ll be right with you."
Danny settled in one of the chairs, but Mike seemed rooted to the floor over by the door.
"Hey Mike!" Danny said, "You gonna chicken out on me?"
Mike grumbled something that sounded like "Hell no!" and came and sat down.
Bob Grant finished with the elderly gentleman, and turned to the boys.
"Ok. Who´s first?"
"I think you´d better do Mike here first," Danny said, "If, not I think he´ll do a runner on us."
"What do you say young Michael? Are you ready?" Bob asked amikably.
Mike felt trapped, looking from Mr. Grant to Danny, and back again.
Soft "Cluck-cluck" noises coming from Danny, suddenly made Mike laugh out loud. He was no chicken! And it was kind of chicken not to dare get a haircut.
"Sure Mr. Grant. I´m ready!"
And still laughing, he got in the chair.
"So, what´ll it be?"
Mike really didn´t have a clue. "Uh. I´m not sure. What do you think Danny?"
Danny shrugged, "How ´bout all off?" he suggested.
"Nah. The chicken in me sais no to that. What do you suggest?" he addressed Mr. Grant.
"How about a regular short back and sides?"
Mike seemed relieved, at hearing a fairly moderate suggestion. "Yeah! I´ll go for that."
As it turned out, Mr. Grant´s idea of a short back and sides was probably shorter than Mike´s, and he went to work with the clippers cutting it short enough to see the skin clearly under the stubble above Mike´s ears, and in the back.
Danny could see Mike´s eyes widen a bit, as in shock, but he soon seemed to accept his fate, and even began to look like he enjoyed it, keeping his eyes fixed on himself in the mirror.
He had really thick, black hair, and Grant cut it down to about two inches, before using the thinning shears on top of his head. When he seemed satisfied with the top, he combed Mike´s bangs forward, and snipped them off a bit over the eyebrows, and combed it to the side.
It was Danny´s turn, and Mike took a seat to watch.
"Same as before?" Bob asked him.
"Yes please. But maybe a little bit longer on top, and without that stuff you put in it the last time."
"Two inches on top, hold the grease! Got it!"
Grabbing his Osters again, Bob again pushed Danny´s head forward, and used it to shave his back and sides completely bare.
Mike watched wide-eyed from his seat, where he could see what was happening from the back, and via the mirror, from the front.
When Mister Grant applied the lather to Danny´s head, he laughed out loud, "Man, I wish I had a camera!"
"I´m glad you don´t!" Danny answered quickly. It did look kind of weird, with the thick, white, lather over his ears, but he didn´t get to watch himself with it long, as Grant pushed his head to one side, and started scraping it all off, with the tiny stubble with it. Then came the other side, and the back, and he was wiped down, and Bob declared, "All done!"
The boys paid for their haircuts, and joked about how they looked as they headed out.
As they walked out of "Barber Bob´s", Mike looked at Danny. In his work-clothes, with that haircut, and being as tall as he was, he looked like an adult.
"Do you have a fake ID?" he asked.
Danny shook his head. He didn´t even have a real one. Looking puzzled, he waited for Mike to elaborate.
"I´ll bet you could buy beer, even without an ID man!"
Danny didn´t take long thinking about it. "What are we waiting for?"
The two boys grinned. It seemed a short stop was called for.
Ed Bradshaw was the coach for the high-school football team, and a close friend of the Reilly´s. His son had also served in Vietnam, but unlike Cormac Reilly, he´d returned.
He and John had known each other almost since John came over from Ireland, and they were always at each others barbeques and most get-togethers.
This kid who was hanging out with Mike intrigued him. He was always on the lookout for new talent.
"Hey John!" he walked over to his host, "Who is that kid? The one hanging out with Mike?"
"That´s Daniel Thompson. He´s moved here from Tennessee."
"How old is he?"
"Going on 16."
"Which school does he go to?"
"Ah. I don´t know." John seemed to concentrate, "I never thought to ask."
"Hey, Danny!" he called, "Can you come here a minute?"
Danny exused himself from Mike and a couple of buddies, and came over.
"Danny, this is Coach Bradshaw."
Wondering what that had to do with him, Danny shook hands with the coach, and stated his name.
"You´ve got a good handshake there son. And you look strong. I´ll bet you play football!"
Coach Bradshaw was not known for tact. He was a former marine Sargeant, and was used to speaking his mind, and yelling orders.
"I don´t sir." Danny felt annoyed.
"What school are you going to?" the coach asked.
"I work sir, I don´t have time for football!" Danny answered rather brusquely.
Coach didn´t notice that the boy seemed almost hostile in his answers, but pushed on, "Sure you do! We´ll have to see to it you get to try out for the team!"
Biting his teeth together, Danny said, "I don´t go to school any more. I work!"
John Reilly wasn´t too sharp on observation, but he caught on that Daniel was uncomfortable with the coach.
Bradshaw was going on about the team, and didn´t notice that neither the boy, nor Reilly were paying attention to him now. Danny had a dark scowl on his face and stared at the grass.
"Would you excuse us Ed?"
Without waiting for a reply from the rather perplexed coach, who just found himself being cut off in mid sentence, Reilly steared Danny away with him, and went over by the garage. There weren´t anyone else there, and deciding on the direct approach, he asked.
"Danny; Are you signed up for school come September?"
Danny shook his head, and mumbled, " And I ain´t signin´up either."
"You have to go to school son, it´s the law."
"I ain´t been goin´ to school for years! How can it suddenly be the law now?"
"What do you mean, you haven´t been in years? How long has it been?"
Thinking hard, Danny realized it hadn´t been that long really. "A year, I guess."
He´d stopped going when they still lived on the farm, and everything was just chaos anyway. And no one from the County had come and pestered him about it.
"I need to work!" he blurted out. Regretting it instantly. "I want to work." He tried to correct it.
"What do you mean, you need to work? What do you mean Danny? And be straight with me on this, do you hear?"
Danny squirmed. He felt trapped.
"I need to work, so as to get a place to stay come winter".
Baffled, Reilly was beginning to feel embarrassed for not having talked to the kid properly before.
"Where do you stay now?" he asked.
"I have a tent by a field over that way." Danny indicated the direction.
"You live in a tent, by a field?" Reilly was trying to understand, "Like a bum?"
"I´m not a bum!" Danny´s eyes flashed with anger.
"Ok! Ok, so you´re not a bum. I´m sorry I said that. Ok?" Reilly felt out of his water, "Where´s your parents?" he added.
"Back in Tennessee."
"And why did you leave?"
"´Cause there wasn´t anything there for us any more. We lost the land to the bank, and all Pa does now is drink all day. So we left."
Reilly began studying his callused hands, while trying to get the full grasp of this.
"Who´s we?" he asked suddenly.
"My sister and me. Mary-Ann," Danny explained, "She´s 18, and the last I saw of her, she was with a hippie in Queens."
"How long has that been?"
"About a month and a half." Daniel could hardly believe it wasn´t longer. So much had happened since.
Reilly sighed deeply, and scratched his head. Looking at the boys when they came from the barber had made him realize he needed a haircut to. And Mary had run her hand through it, and said to get it cut short!
But, back to the problem with Daniel.
"We will help you sign up for school!" he said, "And you will go!"
Danny opened his mouth as if to talk back, but thought better of it.
"I´ll have a talk with the principal, and we´ll have you set up for shop, ok? And I can probably swing it so you can work for me, at least one day a week!"
John Reilly had helped the local high school out with some boys in the past. Kids who needed some direction you might say. And they´d all benefited greatly to be set to "real work" as Reilly called it. He was sure he could pull some strings for Danny.
The boy sat there without saying anything. "How ´bout that,…., I mean him?" he pointed at the coach, who was now talking to Mike and the other boys. "Will I have to play football as well?"
"Don´t you want to?" Reilly was puzzled.
"Not if I´m pushed!" Danny replied.
"No one is going to force you son, but Mike and the other boys there play, and they like it! So, up to you, but you might want to give it a go!"
They stood in silence for a while.
"What will I do for a place to stay though?" Danny swallowed hard. This was what bothered him most.
To his surprise, Reilly grinned and pointed to the garage they were standing by.
"In the loft here!"
Seeing the boy´s bewildered expression, he explained, "We were planning on letting Cormac move in there after the Army with a bath and a small kitchen and everything, but when he didn´t come back, we just left it half finished. What do you say we fix it up, and you can use that?"
And I want you to make the trip to New York tomorrow and check on your sister. That´s an order. Do you understand?"