Katie's Atomic Junk

Katie's Atomic Junk

By H. Turnip Smith

tsmith@sinclair.edu The stench from Katie's Atomic Junk , squatting behind barbed wire under the Bay Boulevard Bridge, rose, eddied, and drifted malodorously across the wide expanse of foul river to the clustered apartment complexes at the southwest corner of Staten Island. Katie, clad in a pair of huge orange coveralls sewed out of an abandoned parachute, sat in the shack she and her husband had built out of used tires back in 2057 and mopped her brow as she petted a nondescript butter-colored puppy the size of a groundhog.

"Poor little guys suffer in the heat," she said.

It was the fourth day in a row the thermometer had stuck at 101 degrees and a shroud of smog swallowed the metropolitan area and enveloped the 625 abandoned refrigerators on the property.

Alvin, Katie's 35 year old nephew -- only three courses short of a diploma in mortuary science at the Brooklyn Institute of Cryogenics, sat opposite Katie feeding an opossum with an eye dropper. "It's the truth. These poor boogers are starving, Aunt Kate, we gotta do something."

Alvin was referring to the over 600 dogs, cats, squirrels, rabbits, ocelots, yaks, and one alligator that lived among the discarded particle-accelerator-starters, '03 Yugos, and discombobulated modems that littered Katie's' acre and a half of treasures.

"Well you're going to have to go fetch another one, Alvin. We got a call from the cemetery today."

"But they stink, Aunt Kate."

"A little stink ain't going to hurt nothing when it comes to animal rescue operations, Alvin. Stink disappears fast anyway."

"Well we're OK, so long as the cops don't get wise to what w're buying. "

"Just use that power digger like I showed you. Your Uncle Art and I never had a bit of problem."

"That was in the old days before folks were haunting the graveyards for food."

At that moment the prehistoric fax machine on the three-legged table with a pile of dirty magazines substituting for the fourth leg began to wheeze and spit out a message.

"What's it say, Alvin?" Katie said, pouring the last of the milk for the six starveling kittens that huddled about her threadbare houseslippers.

"It's from a process server, Auntie."

"Yeah, so what's it say?"

Alvin read aloud. "To Katherine Arnt, proprietor of Katie's Atomic Junk. This is in accordance with previous warnings to notify you of a cease and desist order under the power of the city attorney of Perth Amboy. You have 48 hours to comply with local animal nuisance statutes at which time we are authorized to use all and any means necessary to seize your facility and make arrest."

"Damn bureaucrats in ironed underwear," Katie snorted. "Seize my facility and make arrest. Send all these little dears to the gas chamber is what they mean. Jesus Bullwinkle I wish Art was still alive; he'd know what to do."

"Well, what are we gonna' do, Aunt Kate? They'll come in here with bulldozers. "

"Let 'em doze. We'll have us a plan."

That night at one a.m. Alvin went on his graveyard mission. Because of the global warming situation, food was in such short supply nationally, restaurant garbage could no longer feed the menagerie. Alvin had to scout out remote cemeteries with pauper graves where he could put the power digger to good use.

Meanwhile Kate paced frantically among the herd. The ribs of the ocelot that had just showed up at the gates one day in March were beginning to show, the homeless St. Bernards that she and Alvin had nursed back to health looked emaciated, and the alligator that they found in the bedroom of an abandoned camper-trailer looked like a sickly comedian. Finally overcome with despair, Katie fell on her knees and began to talk out loud. She was not fundamentally a praying woman and was actually trying to communicate with her dead husband though she did not believe in spiritualism and assorted higher religions of that type.

Sprawling on the ground, she cried out, "What the hell am I going to do, Art? The city's going to come in here with tanks and shit and seize our babies and put 'em to gas. The whole zoo rescue operation will be down the tubes. I just don't know what to do."

Unfortunately there was no answer from Art. Katie lay there feeling lower than the alligator's belly. "Damn ," she thought, "maybe I should have finished my degree in cosmetology after all, so I'd have some real dough to run things at the yard on a legit basis." She staggered to her feet and back to the office and was well on her way to downing her third tumbler of scotch while entertaining morbid thoughts, a parakeet perched on each fleshy shoulder, when the lights from Alvin's van appeared at the gates.

"You get one, nephew?"

"Affirmative. Fresh Caucasian male with lots of blubber. He'll keep the gang eating for a couple days. "

"O.K., good deal. I got the power saw,"Katie said. "We got to get the ocelot something quick. He's looking starved, Alvin."

It was while Alvin was butchering the corpse, that the plan came to Katie. It came so suddenly she had half a notion that Art had communicated it from beyond the pale. After Alvin got the body down to kibbles and bits, she and he were busy feeding the rest of the night.

Forty hours later the grandfather clock with the warped pendulum and the arrythmic heart signaled the time had come. Right on schedule the forces of New Jersey civic virtue lined up outside the main gate, including a tank, a bulldozer, a hook and ladder, six animal control vanettes, and a battery of process servers with bullhorns.

The head process server, his gut hanging over his belt, read the decree from the tank turret. "Mrs. Arnt, in the name of the city of Perth Amboy we command you to open the gates per police order #4073."

"The hell with police order #4073," Alvin said, looking fiercely at his aunt. However, the ancient tank lobbed a couple of feeble rounds that exploded harmlessly in an old mattress near the back of the junkyard. The frightened parakeet jumped from Katie's shoulder to the bird'snest Katie called her hair at the sound of the blast.

"Ain't they think they're big stuff, Alvin?" Katie said.

"If you do not comply, we are authorized to batter down your gates," the process server on the bullhorn bellowed. Tear gas began to drift through the compound.

"Ah go ahead and open the gates, Alvin," Katie said.

Reluctantly, Alvin unlocked the chains as Katie stood by the tire hut, hand on hips, looking sturdy as Grant's tomb while in rolled the tank, the bulldozer, the hook and ladder, and the six animal control vanettes. A gaggle of process servers fanned out faster than flies on shit as the head honcho stuck his head out of the tank and confronted Katie.

He was a little, bald guy with a pigtail in back, elevator shoes, and a bristle-brush Hitlerian mustache under his nose to make him look important. The parakeet took one look at him and squawked bloody murder.

"You realize you're going to jail this time, Mrs. Arnt," the process server smirked.

"She ain't going nowhere," Alvin said.

"And just why is that, Mister?" the process server said.

"Because we're in compliance. There's only dead animals here."

"Oh really?" the process server said, lifting his eyebrows. "That I got to see."

"See for yourself," Alvin insisted, standing back with his arms crossed proudly on his chest. His smugness triggered an immediate search that included the trunk of the Yugo, the back room of the tire hut, the empty safe full of old newspapers, and the innards of a half dozen upside-down, abandoned motor homes. Six hundred stiff-legged animal corpses were discovered, including an ocelot, but not a single live beast.

The process server and his minions kicked junk with their boots and seethed, giving orders to "get these bastards buried " as Katie calmly bumped along behind, patting her tummy, a lone parakeet on her shoulder, thinking of Perth Amboy in ten more years when Alvin would re-activate the life force in the cryogenic menagerie. The alligator would come out roaring, the yak would be hungry as hell, and the two hundred and six dogs would really raise hell. There wasn't a better cryogenicist in New Jersey than Alvin, and Perth Amboy law enforcement could kiss her butt if they thought different. She was heading out at dawn the very next morning to find some new, little pets.

Copyright 1998 by Thomas Smith

E-mail: tsmith@sinclair.edu

Bio-- Turnip Smith runs a home in Ohio for biodegradable vegetables who write in their spare time.

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