Update of “The Chain”
By Brandy Streigle '12
In Tobias Wolff’s “The Chain,” there are many points where a different response probably would have altered future events. Students were to choose a pivotal point in the story to rewrite a continuation or ending to be evaluated on originality and style.
As he sped through the empty streets he howled and pounded the dashboard. He stopped in a shriek of brakes and seized the crowbar and ran up the stairs to Devereaux’s door. Barnes pounded the door with his fist.
“I told you next week, you motherfucker! I told you next week!” he shouted at the top of his lungs. Barnes listened for a second and could hear voices inside the apartment. He cursed at the people inside demanding to be let into the apartment. When no one answered, Barnes began to use the crowbar on the door. The door finally gave way, and he staggered into the apartment, yelling in search of Devereaux.
Devereaux didn’t appear to be home. Marcel, Devereaux’s sixteen-year-old nephew, was staying the night after helping his little cousin write an essay for school. Marcel faced the the door while Barnes was trying to get inside; the rest of the family stood behind him clinging to each other in fear. When Barnes made his way inside, Marcel tried to push him back out the broken door. A fight began to grow between the two, and then things took a turn for the worse.
Barnes shoved Marcel backwards causing him to lose his balance, almost knocking him down. Barnes then lifted the crowbar, and as he began to make his deadly swing, someone caught hold of his forearm from behind. He saw Marcel turn and run toward the bedroom where the rest of the family had retreated. Barnes was confused. Did he stop swinging in mid-air or did someone stop him? Why was Marcel smirking when he turned and ran off? It all became too clear when he turned to look behind himself.
There on the balcony before the door stood Devereaux. Barnes could feel the blood in his veins slow to what seemed like a complete halt. He couldn’t remember a time in his life when he had been more scared than this very moment. It wasn’t who he was staring in the eye, but the look on his face. Everyone in Devereaux’s shadow knew how defensive he could be, especially when it dealt with his family, and the look on his face said it all.
“Barnes!” Devereaux said through clenched teeth as he picked him up and shoved him into the wall, “you had better explain now and you’d better make it good and fast!”
“Can’t…. (cough)… breathe….” Barnes gasped. Devereaux released his grip enough for Barnes to speak clearly.
“NOW!” Devereaux demanded.
“I found a dent in the side of my beamer from a crowbar, and I came here because I told you I would pay what I owe you next week.” Barnes flinched and closed his eyes as Devereaux shoved him harder into the wall and drew up the crowbar prepared to swing. Devereaux swung his arm with all his might. Barnes felt a breeze and heard the crowbar hit with a dull hard crack but could feel no pain.
Am I dead? He thought to himself. No…still breathing. Barnes opened his left eye and glanced to his side. There was the crowbar embedded a good inch into wall no more than a fourth of an inch away from his head. He let out a deep breath.
“WHY would I dent a beauty like that? What the hell do you think I am? A mad man?” Devereaux shouted with disbelief. Barnes looked at Devereaux who now had a confused and distraught expression on his face.
“You mean you weren’t the one who dented my baby?”
Devereaux grabbed Barnes and threw him across the room. He landed on top of the coffee table shattering the glass all over the new carpet. Devereaux paced back and forth in the living room while Barnes regained complete consciousness.
“If it wasn’t you then who…that son of a bitch!” Barnes sat down in the recliner elbows on his knees and hands on his face. Why didn’t I think of that before! That guy has been bugging me for months about hitting his car! How did I overlook him! Barnes continued to rattle on to himself while Devereaux stood slightly stunned by his sudden outburst.
“Earth to Barnes!”
“…Huh?…” Barnes head shook his head out of the daze.
“Do you mind explaining what the hell that was all about?”
Barnes then explained to Devereaux about the night he hit a guy’s car and dented the side door. He had had a few drinks and was on his way home after getting something to drink at a gas station. When he backed out of his parking spot he hit the side of the dude’s car. Barnes told Devereaux how he had just ignored the man and continued on home. Ever since then, this guy named Rourke had been constantly on him to pay for the remainder of the costs to fix the car.
“It has to be him!” Barnes claimed.
“I have a plan to silence this Rourke fellow once and for all. Are you in?”
“I’m in,” said Barnes.
Devereaux and Barnes spent the next two days planning their revenge on Rourke. It was a cold and rainy when they arrived near Rourke’s house that night. They made sure to park a couple blocks away by the gas station just down the street. Devereaux opened the trunk and pulled out two duffle bags, handed one to Barnes, and kept the other for himself. They took the alley way and carefully climbed over the backyard fence.
Barnes landed with a thud on the ground, and both men froze waiting to see if they had been heard. Nothing, the coast was clear. Devereaux smacked Barnes in the back of his head and glared. They crept to the back door, but it was locked. Plan B. Barnes opened his duffle bag pulled out the crowbar and worked on the door. Finally after what seemed like twenty minutes, the door sprang open. Barnes gingerly placed the crowbar back inside the bag, and both men entered the house.
They searched the downstairs only to find a sleeping pup which Devereaux quickly and silently dismantled. He and Barnes then made their sweep of the upper floor and found Rourke fast asleep in his bedroom. Reaching into his bag Barnes pulled out two nylon ropes and a roll of duct tape. Barnes readied the tape while Devereaux stealthily climbed onto the bed, straddling Rourke in his sleep.
Rourke heard something that sounded like a gun click, and his eyes shot open. There above him was Devereaux with a Glock 19 pointed at him.
“Talk and it will be the last thing you do, do you understand me?” Devereaux whispered threateningly.
Rourke nodded his head. Out of the corner of his eye he could see someone moving toward him with something in his hands. The bedside lamp was on, and as the man came closer Rourke realized it was Barnes. His jaw dropped open in shock. Barnes moved quickly and covered Rourke’s mouth with the duct tape.
“Now sit up!” Devereaux ordered as he grabbed hold of Rourke’s shirt and pulled him up. Barnes bound Rourke’s hands securely behind his back. They forced him out of bed and led him downstairs to the living room. Devereaux took Rourke to the couch while Barnes went to retrieve the dispatched pup from the other room. Rourke’s heart sank when he saw Barnes bring in his little dog.
“Why?” asked Rourke in a muffled voice with a tear streaming down the side of his face.
Both Devereaux and Barnes ignored him. Barnes pulled the other nylon rope out of his bag to bind Rourke’s ankles together. While Barnes was busy downstairs Devereaux took his duffle bag and returned upstairs. He pulled out one of the cans of lighter fluid and soaked the woodwork and furniture. After Barnes finished with Rourke, he piled furniture around the couch where Rourke was lying. To add a final touch to the surroundings, Barnes picked up the pup and placed it on the coffee table right in front of Rourke.
Barnes turned to see Devereaux reach the end of the stairs and toss an empty can of lighter fluid on the floor. Devereaux nodded, and Barnes pulled out a few cans from his bag and poured it on the furniture surrounding Rourke and on Rourke himself. They made sure they had put fluid in every room of the house ending with the door they came in through and tossed their duffle bags on top of Rourke so the evidence would be destroyed.
As they left the house Devereaux handed a lighter to Barnes. Holding the back door open Barnes sparked the lighter and threw it into the house. In a matter of seconds, the entire house was in flames while the two men briskly walked away down the alley to Devereaux’s car. A neighbor across the street saw the fire and called 9-1-1, but by the time the fire department arrived, it was already too late.