More About Al…

{continued from yesterday}

Al’s been in Spruce Pine since 1939 and spent his childhood in Ingalls in Avery County. Despite his rumored wealth, he lives modestly and dressed by the book. The mountain living book, that is. Take a “Toe Cane Bee Keepers” hat, worn blue jeans, and a button up plaid shirt thin as a dishrag. Add a pair of suspenders, sturdy work boots, and a mechanic’s blue uniform jacket and you’ve got Al Onteroa. Keeps his hands dirty because he’s always working, even at age 76, and besides, you never know when some piece of equipment or another is going to need repair.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Still expecting to be stood up, Shane and I pulled into the lumberyard and parked in front of the main entrance to Al’s company office. The signs on the door proclaimed loud and clear: THERE IS NOTHING ON THIS PROPERTY WORTH BEING SHOT OVER. Another sign hung above the door handle: WARNING: TRESSPASSERS WILL BE SHOT. SURVIVORS WILL BE SHOT AGAIN.

I reached for the door handle. Shane reached for his camera.

“Hello?” I called into the cluttered office. An abandoned front desk, piles of yellowing papers, and a darkly lit backroom all cautioned to take pause. “Hello?”

“What is it?” a voice called from the side office.

I followed Shane toward the direction of the voice, then we stood, shoulder to shoulder in the narrow entrance. An old man sat with his back to us, hunched over piles of junk strewn across yet another desk. Bumper stickers, magazine clippings, old deeds, political cartoons, and more dotted every square inch of wall space. Half the window was blotted with papers as well, lending a muted yellow quality to the tiny room. We shuffled into the office but Al wouldn’t turn to greet us.

“Hi Al, I’m Katey Schultz, we spoke on the phone earlier this week and we were going to—“

“Don’t tell me what you’re doing, tell me what you’re gonna do,” he interrupted.

“The footbridges, sir. We spoke about the interviewing you for Our State Magazine and we were going to talk about—“

“I’ll need your names,” he said, spinning on his office chair to face us. “Both of them. And your cards. Your phone numbers—everything—before we can continue.”

His hands trembled a little and his look was fierce. Pointed blue eyes that meant business. I fished in my purse for a card. Shane scribbled his info on a notepad. Al looked on, holding his gaze on the tip Shane’s pen, breathing just loud enough to be heard.

{more tomorrow}

  • Joy Tanner

    i’m hanging on the edge of my seat, you’re torturing me!

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