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16

IT WAS CHESTERS WIFE, Grace, who noticed the ad, in the local paper, the Berwick Register. When they were kicked out of the Eden of Monroe Halls estate, Chester and Grace had found a small house in a little town called Shickshinny on the Susquehanna River, just north of Interstate 80, handy to most of North America. It wasnt as big or as nice a place as the house theyd had at Halls, but it was cozy, and the smallness helped to keep Chesters rage on the boil. Grace always took an interest in wherever she wasChester mostly took an interest in the roadsso she subscribed to the Register, and found the ad, in the Help Wanted column. Look at this, Chester, she said, so he did.


WANTED DRIVER

Good pay, easy hours. No priors. Discreet. 436-5151

Grace, Chester said, what are you showing me this for? You want me to take this job?

Grace was a firm woman, firm in body and firm in attitude. Chester, she said, I know you have faith in those dishonest friends of yours, but until they actually produce some swag for you to share in, yes, I think you oughta get a job. But what got my attention to this ad, its got a funny word in it. You see it?

Chester read the ad again. Discreet, he said.

And it doesnt ask for a chauffeur, she pointed out, it asks for a driver. Why would they want a driver to be discreet?

Maybe its a call girl, Chester said.

If it is, Grace said, I dont want you to take the job. But if it isnt, who knows? Discreet. It might be interesting.

So Chester made the call, and a guy with a slurry voice gave him directions to a house across the river past Mocanaqua, and Chester drove over to find a good-sized old stone house with woods between it and the neighbors on both sides. Not rich-rich, like Monroe Hall, but not scraping along like Chester, either. So he stopped in front of the house, and as he walked toward it the door was opened by a guy with a glass in his hand. This was eleven in the morning.

Im Ches

You couldnt be anybody else, the guy said, sounding just as slurry as he had on the phone, but at least no worse. He was maybe fifty, with a big-boned shambly body and a thick head of wavy black hair and an amiable good-ole-boy grinning face. Comonin, Im Hal Mellon, he said, and switched the glass to his left so he could shake hands, then shut the door and waved generally at a large comfortable living room, saying, Lets sit down, get to know one another.

So they sat down, and Hal Mellon said, I called this party, so Ill go first. Im a salesman, I sell office machinery for the office, big firms, medium-size firms, I handle computers, copiers, faxes, shredders, you name it.

Uh huh, Chester said.

Well, I dont handle the products my own self, Mellon said. I wouldnt know how to operate one of those things if you held a gun to my head. What I do is, I schmooze the office manager. I explain to him how the thing I sold him last year is this year a piece of shit and he should let me sell him a new one. Im the one convinces him he doesnt need one of this, he needs two of this, and probably one of that.

You must be good at it, Chester said.

Im goddamn good at it, Mellon told him, and swigged some of his drink. But I got one natural advantage.

Oh, yeah?

Yeah. My breath doesnt smell.

Chester blinked. Yeah?

Yeah. I could be half in the baghell, I could be three-quarters in the bagyou wouldnt smell a goddamn thing on my breath.

Oh, I get it, Chester said.

You see, what it is, Mellon explained, you cant do what I do sober. Before those miserable stinky rotten office managers can be my best friend, I gotta get tanked.

Sure, Chester said.

Mellon nodded, and finished his drink. Anything for you? he asked.

Not when I got driving to do, thanks.

Mellon burst into a huge grin. There, you see? he said. There it is right there. In the offices, I can handle the situation. I dont weave, I dont slur more than I am right now, I can smooth it right on through. But behind the wheel? I got no reflexes, man.

Not good, Chester said.

My last DWI, Mellon said, they took away my license forever. Never gonna drive again. And if I try to, theyll put me in jail. The judge said so, and I believed him.

So thats why you need a driver, Chester said.

I got a nice Buick in the garage here, Mellon said. Maybe not the best car in the world, but its what a salesmans got to drive.

Buicks can be good.

Thats what wed use, Mellon said. Take me around to the offices, wait for me, keep his mouth shut.

Discreet.

Thats it. I cant afford to have the word go around. Not to the managers, and not to my bosses.

I got it.

Mellon sat back. Your turn.

Chester said, Well, started out, I was a stunt driver in the movies

No shit!

then that job dried up so I drove for some bank robbers

Holy shit!

then I got put in jail

Christamighty!

then I got a job taking care of a valuable car collection for a rich guy, but then he got in trouble with the law, so now Im looking for a job.

Mellon stared at Chester as though he were a new kind of butterfly. Finally, he said, Would you do some stunt driving for me?

I dont think so.

Mellon shrugged. Yeah, I can see that, he said. Then he brightened again. Say, a guy with your background, you could be better than the radio in the car! We drive from appointment to appointment, you must have a whole lot of stories you could tell.

Im sure we both do, Chester said.

Mellon laughed. Yeah, he said. But youll remember yours.


| The Road to Ruin | c