Some Very Good Reasons
by Gina Hanson
Gordon Hewitt was the hardest working man in Milford Falls. He managed Milford Grocery Mart for as long as any of us could remember. Most folks around here expected Gordon to retire back in 2012 after Dick Clark died. It had long been rumored that Gordon was the illegitimate son of America’s Oldest Teenager, and there were three very good reasons why everyone thought this:
(1) Gordon Hewitt was a spitting image of Mr. Clark. From the slightly downturned outer corners of his deep brown eyes to the squared chin that extended a smidge below his jawline, the resemblance was undeniable.
(2) Gordon Hewitt was born on August 5, 1957, the exact day that Dick Clark took his TV show national, the day Bandstand turned into American Bandstand and the whole world would soon fall in love with the man Gordon Hewitt’s mom, Barbara, had allegedly canoodled with—that’s what they called sex back then, canoodling—nine months earlier in a janitor’s closet to the left of the Bandstand dance floor. Everyone knows that significant dates don’t just line up like that arbitrarily.
(3) Barbara Hewitt never married and presumably took the identity of Gordon’s father to the grave with her in 2009. No one knew if she ever told Gordon that Mr. Clark was his father because no one ever had the guts to ask him. In 1994, however, at the Steak Man restaurant over on Main Street, Barbara Hewitt had downed three glasses of champagne in celebration of Gordon’s Milford Grocery Mart Manager of the Year award. Normally a teetotaler—that was what they called people who didn’t drink back then, teetotalers—Barbara got downright shit-faced that night, and the story goes that she described in great detail the shape of Dick Clark’s penis to Mitzy Simpson, the Steak Man’s lead bartender. That’s also how we knew that the alleged baby-making took place in a janitor’s closet. Because apparently Barbara compared Mr. Clark’s manhood to the bottle of Jubilee Kitchen Wax they used to use to remove the young girls’ lipstick from the Bandstand bathroom mirrors.
Along with those three very good reasons, there was the aforementioned fact that like Dick Clark, Gordon Hewitt was considered one of the hardest working men around. So even if Mr. Clark had left Gordon a truckload of secret replacement-father cash when he died, it would make perfect sense that Gordon would have kept right on working as if nothing had changed at all.
“Melanie, please,” Gordon said to me as I tapped the pricing gun against a can of Aqua Net hairspray. “The labels can’t be slapped on there willy-nilly”—that was what Gordon called crooked things back then, willy-nilly. He scraped the small, white price sticker off the side of the can of hairspray, then took the pricing gun from my hand. He centered the gun a couple inches above the words Aqua and Net and squeezed. “People won’t buy a product if they can’t see how much it costs.”
“With all due respect, Gordon,” I said, handing him another unpriced can of hairspray for him to price, “I work the cash registers. Trust me. They ain’t got any problem bringing things up to checkout without a price sticker on them.”
“Still,” Gordon said, “I’m asking you to expend a bit more care here. Yes, it’s sure to take a little longer, but I pay you by the hour, so it doesn’t change your paycheck any to slow it down some.” He handed the pricing gun back to me.
I picked up another can of Aqua Net and centered the price sticker in the way he had just shown me. I held the can out for him to see.
He smiled—which was when he looked the most like Dick Clark—and patted me on the back. “Lovely, Melanie. Thank you.”
“We don’t sell much Aqua Net these days, Gordon.” I slid the hairspray onto the shelf. “A lot of customers are coming in asking for Big Sexy Hair hairspray. You think you’ll ever order some of that?”
“It’s not up to me,” Gordon said. “It’s up to the Big Cheese. But if I know Mr. Rankler, there’s no way he’s going to ever purchase a product called Big Sexy Hair. He still refers to Nair as the Hussies-in-Short-Shorts-Stuff.” He smirked but then seemed to realize that I didn’t get the reference. “Before your time, I suppose. Nair used to have a commercial with these girls in short shorts—” He waved his hand. “Never mind. Not important.”
“You want me to relieve Mary Ellen for her lunch as soon as I’m done here?” I already knew that Mary Ellen wouldn’t be taking a lunch today because she wanted to go home early, but Gordon still hadn’t asked me to cover for her yet.
“She’s not taking a lunch. She’s going home early.”
“Really?” I said in what I hoped was a convincing enough surprise. “Who’s going to cover for her this evening?”
“I am,” he said. He sighed and rested his hands on his hips. “You’re over on hours, and it’s been a while since I’ve worked closely with the customers. I miss it.”
“Really?” I said in what I hoped didn’t sound too surprised. “You miss it?”
“I do.” He handed me a can of hairspray as if to say I needed to work while I talked. “I like people,” he added.
“Hey, Gordon? Do you ever—”
My question was cut short by a loud bang and the high-pitch shrill of glass breaking. We both instinctively headed toward the front of the store to find out what was going on, but our progress was halted by a police officer with a gun in his hand.
“I’m going to need you two to barricade yourself in the Manager’s Office,” said the police officer who looked an awful lot like my fifth-grade crush, Derek Chester—that is if Derek Chester had had a full moustache back in the fifth grade. “The Dixon boys are at it again.”
“Oh dear,” Gordon said as he pulled his office keys out of his pocket.
“Stay down and don’t come out until you get a call on the phone saying it’s all clear,” the officer said. “You know how this goes. Shouldn’t take long to talk some sense into them.”
Gordon assured the officer that we wouldn’t move until we got the call, and then asked if the officer could check on Mary Ellen who’d been outside washing the windows. Before he sprinted away from us, the officer told us that Mary Ellen was fine and that she had already been moved to safety.
I could see Gordon’s hands tremble as he tried to insert the key in the office door.
“Was that Derek Chester?” I asked Gordon.
Gordon hesitated, clearly distracted by my question. “Uh, the police officer? No. I don’t think so. I think that’s Patty Lynn’s boy, but to be honest, they all look the same to me these days.” He held the office door open and ushered me inside. Then he locked the door behind us and directed me to sit on the floor next to the safe.
“The last time the Dixon boys did this,” I said, “it took the cops almost two hours to get them calmed down. Their fights seem to be getting worse and worse these days.”
Gordon nodded. “It’s ridiculous that they can’t do something about those two. You can’t just let grown men get into shoot-outs whenever they disagree. This isn’t the Wild West.” Gordon sat down next to me, his hands still visibly trembling.
“My mom says there’s two very good reasons why those boys never get arrested. One, they are excellent shots, so the fact that they have never once hit one another means they’re not really trying to. And, second, no one wants to charge them with anything because they know Old Man Dixon would close down his store in protest, and then everyone would have to drive two hours away to get to the nearest gun shop.”
Gordon smoothed out the fabric of his tan khaki pants like he was trying to get some non-existent wrinkles out of them, but I suspect he may have actually been trying to dry his nervous palms. “They do love their guns around here, don’t they?” he said.
“Plus, Old Man Dixon always pays for any damage the boys do, so there’s another very good reason why everyone turns a blind eye.”
Gordon shook his head. “Still. Someone is going to get hurt someday.” He continued to run an age-spotted hand over his leg, which seemed to refuse to hold still.
“You okay, Gordon?” I asked because it wasn’t like him to be all fidgety like this.
“Of course,” he said, unconvincingly. After a moment, he added, “It’s just that I had a dream last night . . .” He waved off the thought. “Never mind all that nonsense. I don’t believe in any of that dream hullabaloo.”
More gunfire popped in the distance.
“Sounds like the Dixon boys are moving it away from us,” I said. “We should be getting a call from Chief Sonny any minute now.”
“You’re probably right,” Gordon said. We sat for a few moments in a comfortable silence, despite the discomforting sound of gunfire in the distance. Eventually, Gordon looked at me and said, “What were you going to ask me out by the hairspray, before we got interrupted?”
I thought back to what I was going to ask, but I couldn’t remember, so I went with the question I had at that moment. “You ever think about retiring, Gordon? You’ve been doing this a long time now. Nobody’d blame you if you finally decided to take it easy.”
Gordon’s Dick Clark hair remained motionless when he shook his head and then smiled. “I like working. I really do. Besides, I can’t quite afford to retire just yet.”
“No?” I said. “I thought I heard you came into some money a few years ago.”
Rolling his eyes, Gordon said, “You mean those rumors that I inherited money from my dead dad Dick Clark?”
“Is that what they say about you?” I tried hard to sound clueless, but I don’t think Gordon bought it.
“Dick Clark didn’t leave me any money,” Gordon said. “The man was not my father. My mother never even met the guy.”
“Maybe that’s just what your mother told you so you wouldn’t be upset about not having a relationship with him. My mom used to tell me that my dad was killed in Iraq just so I wouldn’t ask questions about him.”
“Goodness gracious, that’s horrible, Melanie. Why didn’t she simply tell you that your father was Jesse Wallace? There’s not a person in this town who doesn’t know that. It was bound to come out eventually.”
I shrugged a shoulder. I had only learned that Jesse Wallace was my dad two summers ago. My mom still denied it, but if you put a picture of me and Jesse Wallace side-by-side, it was clear that whatever part of your DNA creates the facial features would look identical in mine and in his DNA strands.
“I think Mom’s embarrassed that she fell for Jesse Wallace’s charm,” I said, not adding how back in my high school days, my mom wouldn’t let me date anyone from our town presumably out of fear I’d be dating a sibling.
“Well, I believe I have you beat in the mother department,” Gordon said. “My mom would tell me the identity of my real father all the time. Only, his identity changed based on whatever she was drinking when she told me. Wine and Champagne? Daddy Dick Clark. Tequila or gin? Poppa Elvis Presley. Vodka or moonshine? Sean Connery. My personal favorite was when she drank rum and she would tell me my father was Mahatma Gandhi. Of course, he died almost ten years before I was born, but Mama would claim she had had relations with his reincarnated self.” Gordon chuckled, but there wasn’t any amusement there that I could hear.
“You do look a lot like Dick Clark, though,” I said.
Gordon smiled. “You mean I look a lot like an average white man?”
I shrugged both shoulders and added, “I thought your mom was a teetotaler. I thought she didn’t drink.”
Gordon continued to smile before winking and then looking away. “The truth was all relative with her.”
This was the most I had ever really talked to Gordon Hewitt, and I now had a newfound respect for him. I spent my entire two and a half decades feeling bitter about the mother-card I’d been dealt, and my mom wasn’t nearly as bad as his. And here he was a happy, kind, hardworking older man. It was rather remarkable if you think about it.
I heard no more gunshots or any sirens in the distance. It would seem the coast was clear. I started to stand, but Gordon put his hand on my arm. “Not yet. Wait until we get the call.”
“But I don’t hear anything. I think it’s all over.”
“Maybe so, but let’s wait until that’s confirmed.” He patted my arm and then leaned back against the wall. “And, Melanie, I’d appreciate it if we could keep this conversation between us.”
I nodded. “What happens in the Manager’s Office during an active shooter incident stays in the Manager’s Office.” And I meant it, too. I wasn’t going to tell anyone about Gordon not being Dick Clark’s son. Because truth be told, Gordon was a minor celebrity around this town on account of who everyone believed his father was, and I wasn’t about to go and ruin that for him.
“Thank you, Melanie. You’re a good egg. I think now is as good a time as any to tell you that I recommended to Mr. Rankler that you be promoted to assistant manager. I sure would love to be your managerial mentor for when you take over the store someday.” His eyes glistened as he told me the news. “If you’d have me, of course.”
I never got the chance to tell Gordon that I’d be honored to have him as my managerial mentor because the phone rang just then, and he stood up to answer it, saying “that must be the all clear.” Only it wasn’t. I’d learn later that it was Jesse Wallace—of all people—calling to find out if we still carried Pall Mall cigarettes. And I only found out that tidbit of information when I was at Marcus Dixon’s trial for involuntary manslaughter. That’s what they charged him with after Gordon Hewitt stood up to answer that phone and a stray bullet meant for Lucas Dixon strayed right through the Manager’s Office window, ricocheted off the store’s safe a few inches from where I sat, and then lodged itself right into Gordon Hewitt’s skull. Gordon died instantly.
I sat through the rest of Marcus Dixon’s trial after I was done testifying myself. After I was done telling the jury what happened in that Manager’s Office prior to Gordon’s death. After I told them that Gordon Hewitt died not knowing who his father was but that it had never stopped him from being a happy, kind man who liked people. After I made sure that my Jesse Wallace eyes made contact with every single one of those jurors as I told them all just how remarkable my dear friend Gordon was. I told them: “Gordon Hewitt was the hardest working man I ever knew.”
And then I cried.
Because I had a very good reason to.
© Gina Hanson, 2019
Gina Hanson is a writer out of Southern California. She lives with her wife and a menagerie of poorly behaved rescue animals. When she's not writing, she's teaching writing or taking her rejection letters far too personally. She'd like you to know she's more than adequately prepared for The Great Pen Famine should it ever strike.
Some Very Good Reasons was read by Olivia Killingsworth on March 27th, 2019 for Memories & Mementos.