“Everyone Dies Famous” by Len Joy
Excerpted from “Everyone Dies Famous.” Copyright © 2020 Len Joy. All rights reserved. Published by BQB Publishing.
7:00 PM—July 18, 2003
Zeke Mesirow left his apartment in Crestview Manor as soon as Big John Thomas on KUKU-FM announced—using his serious radio voice instead of his fake hillbilly twang—that they were bringing the bodies to the high school gymnasium.
The tornado had arrived from the north, surprising the so-called experts. It cut an equal opportunity path of destruction through Maple Springs, flattening the black Baptist church on the west side where Zeke’s very white ex-wife used to sing in the choir, and blowing away the sanctimonious Presbyterians on the east side. It pinballed down Main Street, chewing up the Tastee-Freeze, Hank Dabney’s Esso Station, Dr. Manickavel’s emergency care clinic, and the Main Street Diner, but sparing the useless bank, Crutchfield’s boarded up general store, and the VFW Lodge.
As it roared out of town, it destroyed the Chevy dealership where Zeke’s son had once worked and the fancy townhouse development project Ted Landis was building across the road from Crestview Manor.
Zeke wanted to call his son, but Wayne didn’t own a cellphone. The road into town was impassable. Uprooted trees, overturned vehicles, chunks of concrete, twisted rebar, and pickup-stick configurations of aluminum sliding, roof tiles, and wallboard were strewn across the highway. It didn’t matter—he couldn’t drive anyway. His truck had disappeared.
A soft mist hung in the air like a wet fog, and it was eerily quiet as he started walking down the highway to the high school. At the outskirts of town he saw a man, his dark business suit turned gray with grit, standing in his front lawn clutching an open briefcase and staring down the road like he was waiting for the bus. A few blocks farther on an old woman wrapped up in a ratty bathrobe swept brick fragments from her front stoop. The stoop was all that was left of her home. As Zeke turned on to Hill Street, a teenager on an ancient Huffy with a twisted front tire pedaled slowly by, weaving around the debris, his head swiveling like he was trying to figure out which pile of rubble was his home.
The high school at the end of the Summit Avenue looked untouched. A highway patrol car and Sheriff Patrick Quinlan’s cruiser flanked the driveway leading to the front of the school, and there was an ambulance and a fire truck in front of the entrance to the gymnasium. Two men were lifting someone off a stretcher into the ambulance.
Sheriff Quinlan leaned against the open door of his car like he needed it for support. Water dripped from the brim of his hat and his uniform was plastered to his skin. A mud-splattered Silverado rolled past Zeke and stopped at the driveway entrance. There were two body bags in the truck bed. Body bags just like they’d had in Nam. Quinlan waved the truck through.
As Zeke approached the sheriff, Quinlan held up his hand. “You have to go to City Hall, Zeke. The mayor’s handling the missing persons reports.”
Zeke Mesirow frowned. They had been friends once.
Len Joy is an award-winning author of the novels “American Past Time,” “Better Days” and “Everyone Dies Famous.” He is a nationally ranked triathlete and competes internationally representing the United States as part of TEAM USA.