THROWBACK * Chapter 1: Parnell’s Plight

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And where were the flying cars, he wondered. Parnell watched people buzz along in their vehicles—cars that were likely to remain terrestrial for the next twenty years.

As a child in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the forward-thinking magazines he’d read, comic books he’d traded, and movies he’d seen promised a future that would allow modes of transit that defied gravity and wouldn’t pollute the environment. Hell, hybrids and electrics had finally come into vogue after the technology had been available for years.

There would be no vertical takeoffs from the tops of apartment buildings anytime soon.

He putted along in the van, cursing under his breath at the dense holiday weekend traffic. While everyone else was daydreaming of barbecues by the pool, Parnell trudged toward what would hopefully be his last emergency call of the day.

He loathed the stench of sewer gas and wondered how his life had come to snaking sinks and blowing shitters for a living. With the stop-and-go gridlock, the myriad of parts and fixtures stored in the back of the van rattled each time he tapped the squeaky brakes. He swore this was to remind him just how meaningless his life had turned out to be.

As if the incessant clanking of PVC pipes and elbow joints combined with creeping traffic weren’t enough, the vehicle’s air conditioning had long gone out. What was a heat index of 101 degrees outside became a merciless, rotisserie oven inside the rolling metallic prison. His name-tagged blue shirt adhered like a second skin, glued firmly in place by sweat.

Greg, his boss, wasn’t just a taskmaster, but also serious cheapskate. Parnell had first mentioned the AC back in April, long before the skyrocketing temps of summer had the chance to set in. But Greg didn’t see any benefit and promised to get it fixed after the new fiscal year turned over.

“The summer is forecast to be extremely hot and humid,” Parnell had muttered while staring at the carpeted floor in Greg’s office.

“Just drive with your windows down,” his manager snapped, irritated that the matter was even being discussed. Greg looked his employee square in the eye. “I promise I’ll get you straight, come October.”

Parnell watched as his boss licked his fingers and slicked back his mullet hairdo—something he often did whenever he was lying. Seeing that gesture, he knew the air in his van would never be fixed.

The phone rang and Greg had an official excuse to sidestep yet another empty conversation about AC repair. It was on to more pressing business—the kind that made money and didn’t subtract from the bottom line.

“That Sinking Feeling Plumbing,” he chimed cheerily, suddenly subtracting the asshole quotient from his voice, “How may we be of service?”

The work van was the oldest and cheapest in a fleet of ten. The other nine had their issues, but they all had electric windows and the air worked just fine. Parnell’s piece of crap was equipped with handles for the windows and the one on the driver’s side was broken. That meant he could let down the passenger’s side window for a bit of air but it made little difference.

Yet another thing Greg promised to get fixed.

Parnell stood on the showroom floor, staring at the waves of heat through the panoramic storefront window. He dreaded stepping out of the comfortable 75 degrees of the office back into the inferno.

Taking his mind off it, he perused the business logo that sat behind his boss’s desk. Though it had been designed to display two cheery plumber characters clearing a clogged drain, the name of the company resounded in Parnell’s head: That Sinking Feeling. Just like his life, just like the empty promises of repaired air conditioning…and flying cars.

“You’re in Yorktown,” Greg repeated into the phone, sounding courteous and unlike himself. “Yes, ma’am, we can get somebody on it.” He scribbled the lady’s address onto a piece of paper, ripped it off the pad and handed it to Parnell dismissively. Then he spun in the chair, turning his back and continuing his conversation. “He’s on his way now. Yes, ma’am. And a Happy Independence Day to you, too!”

When Greg turned back toward his unhappy employee, he wrinkled his nose at the fact that the underachiever hadn’t already left. He leaned forward in his seat and flatly said, “Busted toilet that overflowed in the upstairs bathroom and down into the AC vent.”

Of all things, it would come down to air conditioning. Parnell sighed.

“Do yourself a favor,” Greg yammered on, “Take the Monitor-Merrimack Tunnel to save some time. I guarantee the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel is at a standstill.”

When the boss finished speaking, there was an uncomfortable silence lingering in the space between them. All Greg cared about was a representative from his company getting to Yorktown in a timely fashion and before the customer called another plumber.

“Why you still standing there?” he asked gruffly, turning his palms up. “Time’s a-wasting. Pick up any parts you need and get moving.”

Parnell held his breath, wanting to protest, but not able to bring himself to do it.

“Look,” Greg said, bringing his voice down a notch. “We’ll discuss getting your van fixed on Monday. Maybe I can get Todd to do a jerry rig and dump some Freon into the loop. That should at least get you through next week. Weatherman says we should be back into the lower 90’s by Wednesday, so that should be some relief.”

The plumber pursed his lips, muttered a defeated, “Okay,” and lumbered out toward the parking lot.

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