She'd gotten up before dawn. After spending the last two weeks convincing her friends to trust her enough to put on a quiet little 4th of July barbecue - and some serious convincing on her part - they all said they'd come. She didn't want to disappoint them. Derinda Platt looked around the backyard of her ranch-style home. Set on two acres just outside the the city limits of St. Louis, she loved this little part of her world. She'd decided to go all-out for this Independence Day party, regardless of what promises she'd made to some of her pending guests: 150 Rams players, coaches, front office staff, and their families...
Kevin Demoff - St. Louis Rams COO, and her boss - had presented her with a petition - signed by what appeared to be everyone she'd invited - which listed a number of things she was forbidden to do. As if! She shook her head as she recalled a couple of the items listed: "No fireworks above the child safety rating of age 12... All cooking must be done by a professional catering service, and she wasn't allowed within 10 feet of anything that used any kind of flame... " Really? She shook her head. This 4th of July party was for her Rams family, and the way she thought about it, they deserved the very best...
She heard a "yelp of pain", and glanced down the small fenced pasture to the drainage ditch at the end of her property. Her friend from New Mexico had arrived two days ago in large cargo van. She'd asked him if he knew anyone who could put on a fireworks display, and he'd volunteered. Scratch that: he'd begged her to let him do it, and she felt a small trickle of sweat run down the back of her neck as she recalled saying "yes". Not the most popular of her friends with the Rams, - or anyone in St. Louis for that matter - her friend had assured her the blanket Restraining Order for the entire state of Missouri, issued by the Governor himself, wasn't real.
He'd arrived at night, and tumbled out of the truck, followed by a small ocean of empty energy drink cans. Wearing dark glasses and a well worn sombrero, he'd run 100 feet or so, then knelt down and kissed the ground? He'd mumbled something like "Oh, my God, Oh, my God... I made it!" When Derinda had asked him how his drive was, he'd started to twitch ever so slightly, and maniacally laugh?
"You're kidding, right? Do you know what's in that damn van?" He said as he moved a few more feet away from the vehicle.
"No, what's..." Derinda glanced suspiciously at the van, then gulped. "Dammit! What have you done!"
He smiled, gave his friend a hug and said, "Nothing, really... You said you wanted fireworks, and were on a budget? Well, I got a great deal from this guy I know on what he called "seconds"... I seems there's actually a bit of concern about things like "fuse length", and "sweating" when it comes to fireworks?"
Derinda wondered why fireworks would "sweat"? "How much did you buy?" She looked at the 30 foot long truck.
Her friend had scratched his head, "As far a pieces, I'm not really sure? The guy sold me the whole thing, truck and all... The only thing he said was to not open the cargo door, and something about "three tons"?
Derinda stared at him. "You're tellin' me there's three tons of fireworks in there?" She pointed at the truck.
"Yup!" Her friend said, and smiled.
She'd smiled too, then told him to move the truck to where it now sat. It had taken him two hours to drive the truck down the small pasture. He'd kept leaping out of the truck every time he hit a small hole or bump in the furrowed ground.
The "professional caterer" she'd hired - well, not hired, strictly speaking - had arrived shortly after the fireworks. When she'd told her friend from New Mexico she needed to find someone to do the cooking, he'd told her not to worry: He had the perfect guy for the job. They'd both looked down the narrow country road when they heard a sputtering rumble. Out of the night, around the corner at the end of the country lane, came a bizarre looking truck. It coughed and bounced to a stop. Derinda noticed a Washington D.C. license plate on the bumper, then groaned. She turned to her friend, "You didn't?" Her shoulders slumped a bit when he smiled and nodded.
Brandon Bate waved to them, removed his goggles, then tried to open the driver's side door, but failed. Instead, he climbed through what now appeared to be the windshield opening, the glass gone. Even at night they could see splattered bug remnants all over his face and shirt front. Looking at the vehicle, they realized it was one of the old "Oscar Meyer Wiener" promotional trucks. The long hot-dog shape running most of the length of the vehicle, it had seen a better day. The end of the "hot-dog" at the rear of the truck had been sheered off at some point in its life. Derinda and her New Mexico friend started to laugh when she asked what Brandon had mounted to the broken area. He smiled, and said it had been a perfect place to hang his two large, round, Weber Kettle barbecues... Brandon couldn't figure out why his friends were laughing so hard? Then again, his trip from Washington D.C. had been marked by people all around him laughing as they passed him running 45 mph in the slow lane. People kept taking pictures, and more than a few parents had covered the eyes of the kids as they'd driven by him?
The set up had gone well enough. Both her friends had assured her they knew what they were doing. The menu was simple enough: burgers, chicken, hot dogs, and a few side dishes. The fireworks had been set up in the ditch after her friends had settled who was going to open the door of the truck to see what actually was inside. It turned out they still didn't know exactly what they had, since all the boxes were labeled in Cyrillic? A quick search online of what they believed to be the manufacture's name gave them a clue though. Out of business for five years, the company had closed its doors after an unclear "incident", and the renaming of the town to "кратер" (Crater)...
As Derinda went through setting up chairs and tables, she heard the occasional explosion from down the pasture. At one point, she saw a smoldering, smoking Brandon running across the field toward her neighbor's small pond. He'd jumped in, followed closely by her friend from New Mexico, his sombrero visibly on fire. She'd decided to take Brandon off cooking detail after a few of the Rams' players arrived to help her set everything up. Chris Long had smiled when he heard who'd she'd asked to cook and put on the fireworks display. All he'd said was, "Epic! This is going to be EPIC! Does Coach Fisher know?" When she shook her head, he turned away to start Tweeting to his mass of fans pictures of the banged up, phallic, and Weber Kettle hung catering truck parked in Derinda's circular driveway. Linebacker James Laurinaitis, smiled as he groaned, then took quarterback Nick Foles off to the side to explain...
"Don't go anywhere near those guys down there," he point to the two people in the ditch.
Nick shrugged, "OK, but why?"
"Because we need a quarterback this season... Just trust me, OK?" James said after another nervous look at the two guys, one of them shaking what looked like a three foot long tube, and the other running away for his life...
"I think I see what you mean..." Foles said.
Long, Foles and Laurinaitis had quickly "volunteered" to take over cooking for the party, and Derinda had accepted their offer. She knew the chances of the entire Rams team getting food poisoning had gone down quite a bit, though not entirely. Brandon had said the Oscar Meyer Wiener" truck had come complete with a refrigerator unit still packed with hot dogs. All he had to do was flip a switch, and what he described as being a rather rancid smell had all but disappeared. He didn't know Derinda had crept out to the truck late last night, and thrown away what looked like 50 pounds of black, shriveled hot dogs. She'd replaced them with fresh hot dogs, but she was still just a tad worried.
The first guests began to arrive. Jeff Fisher, team general manager Les Snead and his wife Kara arrived. The two men's smiles quickly faded when they found out who was there from Chris Long, who was grinning from ear to ear.
"Oh for the love of... Doesn't she have any friends who aren't bat-crap nuts?" Fisher said as he shook his head.
Snead looked at his wife, who'd dissolved in to laughter. She patted her husband on the back, "You said we had to come, and that Derinda would behave..." She left the two men, and went in search of Derinda, who she actually liked and enjoyed. She loved the fact there was a woman who could scare the living crap out of men so thoroughly that they didn't know how to handle her. Kara found Derinda at the lined up barbecue grills: All five of them. At her feet were what looked like four empty starter fluid containers? Just as Derinda was about to strike a match, Kara grabbed her arm.
"Hi D! Hey, would you mind if Les lights the barbecues? It's something he loves to do..."
Derinda gave her friend a welcoming hug, "Sure, if Lester wants to light the fires and get this party started, it's fine with me... How much of that stuff he puts in his hair did he use today? Can't have a bald Lester, now can we?" They both began to smile, then waved over Snead and Fisher. They each grabbed a book of matches from a table nearby. Kara and Derinda stepped back as the two men struck their matches...
PLOOOOOF! A wall of flame shot up from all five barbecues, the fumes from the adjacent grills having gathered in the calm summer air. The two women watched as Kara's husband and Fisher ran toward the fence, leaping over it and jumped into Derinda's neighbor's pool.
"They never really learn, now do they? Derinda said with a smile.
"Hair grows back..." Kara said, then began to laugh.
The rest of the guests arrived. Players and their families wandered in. The grills were going strong, and the food - a simple fare to be sure - was going over well. Beer and soft drinks were plentiful, and the afternoon began to edge toward sunset. Kevin Demoff had arrived a little late, but couldn't control his laughter when he saw a still soaked Snead and Fisher. Hair singed, Les was wearing a burned and battered sombrero that had literally floated down out of the sky following a loud blast from somewhere in the distance. Fisher rubbed the missing left side of his mustache. But Demoff stopped laughing when his singed friends pointed down the pasture, and told him who Derinda had hired to take care of the evening's fireworks.
"You're kidding?" Demoff felt his stomach begin to knot up.
"Nope!" Snead and Fisher said simultaneously.
"I should have... Where are they?" Demoff looked around, already fighting his urge to flee.
Fisher pointed to the far end of the pasture. A small column of smoke marked where they were; a battered truck next to them.
Derinda and Kara walked up and followed the three men's line of sight down the pasture.
"Whatcha' lookin' at boys?" Derinda asked.
Demoff spun toward her, "You have those two retards lighting fireworks? Are you out of your mind?"
Derinda chuckled, "Oh, they aren't that bad... OK, maybe they are, but you didn't give me much of a budget for this little shindig, and they volunteered..." She and Kara clinked beer bottle necks together in agreement.
"We need to get the players out of here..." Fisher looked at Snead, who looked ridiculous trying to pull the battered sombrero down over his flame cropped hair.
"Relax! They've been practicing for the last couple days..." Derinda rolled her eyes at the three men's worried looks.
"They've been practicing for "a couple days"? Just how many fireworks do they have down there?" Demoff looked back down the pasture.
"Three tons, I think they said..." Derinda shrugged. "Is that a lot?" She said, and just enough darkness edged in for the show to begin. She held up a handkerchief, and began to wave it in the air.
All three men simultaneously realized what Derinda was doing, and tackled her. Too late... The entire crowd looked down the pasture as a line of fire ran the length of the ditch. A few fizzling sounds, and the occasional popping noises could be heard. Then all went dark. A sound of disappointment came from the guests, and they turned away...
Derinda kept watching, while Fisher, Demoff and Snead breathed sighs of relief. She grabbed Kara's arm, "Wait for it..." She said with a smile...
The next thing she saw were her two friends running toward her down the pasture. They were frantically waving their arms. A dull glow behind them began to grow, then it happened...