One of the hazards of writing a novel is when a minor character stands up on her (or his) hind legs and says, “I’m taking over this boat.” That’s just happened to me. I had a minor character, a 22 year old kid named Donnie Bradshaw, who I’d determined would be a murder suspect and not much else. Now, he’s clambering for an increased role and get this, his own voice. Here’s our introduction to Donnie in my novel-in-progress, Thnunderhead.
A logging truck sped down Stillman Road, dust rising in a plume behind it. Donnie Bradshaw sneezed then swung the 8 pound splitting maul, his long arms working as pendulum, letting gravity do the work. He struck the pine round square on and split the log in two. He took up one of the halves and split it into wedges. Five, maybe six cords today. Three bucks a cord. Hell, he and Uncle Jack would be rich in no time. Donnie laughed out loud but there was no one about to hear him.
He loved this place, an old logger’s cabin, up in the Ochoco Mountains. The spring had been warm and the snow had melted for the most part, but snow melting meant that the skeeters were about. Damned bugs. He liked to cut with his shirt off, the sun hot on his back, and the skeeters attacked him with frenzy unless he put on the beautyberry lotion his ma had cooked up. It worked fine and didn’t smell too bad.
The rhythm of physical labor helped Donnie forget about the troubles down in Barnesville. He’d gotten into a tussle with Karl Hanke at the Brightside. Hanke and Debbie Quick had been arguing down by the Troll House, loud enough that Donnie heard them way up at the loading dock. Hanke twisted Debbie’s arm, yelling at her and Donnie wasn’t going to stand by and watch that, she was his friend. Friends didn’t abandon their friends, did they?
He’d stepped in and Henke had clocked him. No words, just a hard overhand right. Donnie had popped up ready to dance, he wasn’t yellow, but Debbie had jumped in the middle. “No, no!” she had cried, pushing them back like a prizefight referee. “Let it go, Donnie. I’m fine.”
Donnie stopped to wipe the sweat from his forehead. The eye still hurt where Hanke had slugged him. No mirrors around, but Donnie figured it had blackened. It wasn’t the first time he’d had a black eye, nor probably the last. He’d get Hanke back. This wasn’t over.
Dutch had called him in the office later that day. “Can’t have fighting in the yard,” he’d said and canned Donnie on the spot. Donnie felt sorrowful. He’d liked that job, loading railcars, better than pulling green chain, moving irrigation pipes or bucking bales. They had a good crew, Debbie and Elmer and Roy. Now it was all gone, the joking, the hard work, being part of a group. Damn, Snotty, that’s what the milljocks called Dutch Van der Sloot behind his back. Donnie resolved to call him that to his face if he ever got a chance.
Debbie had dropped by his home that evening and told him it might be better if he’d get himself scarce for a few days. Donnie couldn’t see the use of that, but he trusted Debbie, said “Sure enough”. Debbie kissed him on the cheek, a sisterly kiss, and told him everything would be fine. She’d make sure of it Donnie trusted Debbie. Everything would be hunky dory.
While he chopped, four prop fighter planes buzzed over in formation like geese, heading west. There’d been a bunch of military planes flying overhead lately, both fighters and bombers. Folks all concerned about the coming Russian invasion. Bunch of bullshit if you asked Donnie. Though he did worry about the draft. He had no desire to go across the Pacific and shoot at folks that never did him harm.
Donnie walked over to the shade of a pine tree and swigged water from a canvas water bag. The water was warm, but refreshing. He resolved to refill the bag from the creek during his next break. Have to make it quick, he wanted to split another half cord before dinner.
Another truck chugging up the mountain roused Donnie from his thoughts. From the sound, it wasn’t a log truck, but his Uncle Jack, here to pick up another load of wood. A chill went through him as he stood in the shade waiting, and he put on his shirt. Maybe with the money he and Jack made from the wood, he’d buy another shirt. Man should have more than two shirts, he thought.
Uncle Jack backed the truck up to the stacked lumber so they could load it easier. When his Uncle climbed from the truck, and walked towards him dragging his gimpy foot, Donnie knew something was wrong. Jack’s broad smile was missing and his shoulders were hunched as if he carried a burden.
“Is Ma okay?” Donnie asked.
“Just fine,” Jack said. “Merle Cameron called. Sheriff Harkness is asking about you.”
“I didn’t do nothing bad.”
“Harkness is a good man. He won’t shanghai you.” Sometimes Jack’s words came out wrong after the logging accident when he lost the working part of his left foot and got conked on the head. He meant railroad, but Donnie knew what he meant, most of the time. “Everything will be fine.”
That’s just was Debbie had told him.