Tuesday, September 11, 2012

short story: the pickup

Well, here it is then, a short story with a bit of background on Morley Fenn - the protagonist of the novel I'm planning out at the moment though this scene does not appear in it. So, this is like a DVD extra . . . or something.

Hope you like it.

The Pickup
by Paul Darcy

Morley worked the hanky from side to side across the toe of his left shoe. He had it perched on the back bumper of a late model Lincoln Town car. About the only thing these newer cars were good for, Morley thought. He inspected his polish job with a critical eye. All traces of blood were gone. But, he chided himself, that was a long time ago, and another pair of shoes. About to begin polishing the heel, Morley noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. Folding the hanky up and placing it carefully into the inner breast pocket of his dark gray, three piece, pinstripe suit, Morley adjusted his black fedora to block out the sun and get a better look at the salesman heading his way through the maze of parked vehicles.

Hating to be in this situation, Morley had to face facts. His last ride, a 1953 Pontiac Chieftain, was well and truly dead, far beyond the skills of sane mechanic to bring back from the afterlife. The scrappers, for the metal content alone and no other reason, had given him five hundred for it. That old Pontiac had served him well. Still, in his current profession a truck would serve his purposes better. He wasn’t a young man anymore and lugging bodies in and out of the backseat or truck of a sedan was taking its toll on his back.

A slight breeze stirred the odors of rust, decaying vinyl and motor oil together. Despite the bright sunshine, it was relatively cool for late August. Behind the approaching salesman a sign, which looked like it was painted a decade ago then left to fend for itself, hung askew above the door of a trailer likely doubling as a home and office by the look. The trailer was far too small to house much in the way of occupants. Well, maybe one cat, or in this case, a weasel. A large white propane tank, streaked with rust, leaned crookedly up against the trailer. Gaudy streamers, which were strung around its edge displaying their red, white and blue metal foil triangles failed to add class to the joint. In fact, the overall effect was that of a traveling gypsy caravan, broken down, abandoned and left to decay in the elements.

The faded sign on the trailer read, "Bart’s Auto Mart" and the man flicking a cigarette away and making his way towards Morley wearing a five dollar suit and a two dollar smile was likely Bart himself. If Morley trusted his information, Bart’s was the cheapest used car dealership in the area and Morley didn’t have a lot to spend or a lot of time to shop around for a better deal. His work tended to pay him off in the coin of moral correctness but very little in cold hard cash. It was hard being humanities champion, a job he didn’t ask for, but one he had no choice in accepting and an even smaller chance of getting out of any time soon. Still it was his profession, and a life, a life he would otherwise not have.

The man raised his right hand as he walked up the side of the Lincoln and his grin added another two bits, revealing, of all things, one shining gold front tooth. "Hello friend," the man said offering his hand, "I’m Bart." Morley, doing his best imitation of cordiality while trying to ignore the odor of smoke from his breath mixed with cheap cologne, accepted the man’s hand. Instead of replying, Morley simply nodded his fedora by lowering and raising his head slightly. The man’s palm felt clammy and reptilian and Morley resisted the urge to retrieve his hanky and wipe his palm clean immediately afterwards. Before Morley could look the man straight in the eyes and see what was really there, the man started up his practiced spiel with gusto, and far too much body movement.

"I’ve got some fantastic deals today my friend, fantastic deals," the man orated with polished, if altogether phoney, enthusiasm. He patted the trunk of the Town Car and winked. "This baby is only five thousand my friend, five thousand, can you believe that, and only eighty thousand on the odometer my friend, only eighty thousand." Bart reminded Morley of a Monty Python character, and if he said "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" and elbowed him in the ribs, Morley may have to hurt him.

"Well," Morley said, using his all-business voice, "I’m actually looking for a pickup truck, older model mind you, and I don’t have a lot of cash." The man kept bobbing his head like he was ducking blows, had to pee, or contained pigeon DNA. Morley, despite two more attempts, couldn’t get a solid look into the man’s eyes long enough to know for sure what was what.

"Excellent my friend, excellent," Bart said, spun around and moved hurriedly through the rows of vehicles waving his hand for Morley to follow. Morley couldn’t understand why this man kept repeating everything he said. Did he think Morley slow or deaf? Morley’s shoulders stiffened. And this Bart certainly was no friend of Morley. The last person to claim Morley’s friendship wound up in several unidentifiable pieces in a state run forest in Oregon. Well, maybe this man could be Morley’s friend after all.

Smirking at his own morbid sense of humor, Morley trailed after Bart. Despite wanting nothing to do with this buffoon, human or otherwise, Morley was in desperate need of a vehicle and should play nice.

After a short while of weaving in and out of vehicles, Bart led Morley to the far side of the fenced compound. The fence here was clearly broken in several places. It could barely keep out the flora let alone any type of fauna. Up against the fence, overgrown with weeds and even more neglected than the rest of the lot, a few trucks and two more cars were parked. This part of the lot was apparently reserved for the less desirable rides.

What caught Morley’s attention, besides the four foot tall flowering thistles, was a vintage flat bed pickup truck. To any other observer the pickup would likely resemble some decomposing relic waiting to be swallowed up by time and vegetation. But to Morley, it was simply beautiful. Morley could see the man lick his lips, obviously cunning and adept in his slippery profession as used car salesman, giving away the fact that Bart knew Morley was interested in this one.

"A fine choice friend, a fine choice. And only one thousand dollars friend, one thousand, a steal for sure, a steal." The man stepped beside the vehicle and opened the driver’s side door for Morley which protested with a squeal of dry hinges. The left front tire was low and a good sized dent, about the size of Bart’s head, pushed in the engine cowling just in front of the driver’s door. The faded blue paint job reminding Morley of how the pigment washes out of a dead man’s eyes. The interior, actual leather and not vinyl, had few tears and was a sickly cow brown. Besides those minor defects Morley knew it was mechanically sound. It was part of his gift, the knowing. And it was at this moment that Bart, smiling his shark’s grin, remained still long enough for Morley to obtain the necessary look into his eyes and determine what he wanted to know.

Morley was startled by what he saw though his poker face never gave him away. Bart was definitely human, no doubt about that, but what made Morley start was the fact that this man was going to die in some horribly painful way, and within the hour. Morley, master of his outward emotions, took this in stride and almost felt pity for Bart, almost pity. Oh crap, now Morley was thinking the way this guy spoke. Morley knew better than to even drop a hint to Bart about his imminent demise. It may be Morley’s gift to know, but to share that information with another meant oblivion for Morley, and he was fond of the whole being alive thing even if it meant doing humanity a favor by thwarting the outsider’s plans. The price was steep, but it was one he was willing to pay. Morley consulted his time piece. Time was running out on him as well. He’d best seal the deal and get the hell out of Dodge, pronto.

"I’ll take it," Morley said. The man beamed like a road flare. "Excellent friend, excellent. Let me get some grease on those door hinges and fill that tire and ready the paperwork and get you the keys and a set of plates." Morley waited a second for the repeated phrases, but Bart, apparently so excited by a sale, must have forgotten to repeat himself. Morley also thought a dab of the oil from his hair and some of his hot air would fix both door and tire in an instant. But that was unkind of him, what with this man’s impending doom.

Poor sod, Morley thought taking a walk around the pickup pushing weeds out of the way and trying to avoid burrs and lacerations from some of the larger thistle spikes. Still, it was not up to him to judge or pass judgement. He was on a mission not of his choosing and had to play by the rules, even if they sometimes rankled.

Morley arrived back at his starting point. By his reckoning, the truck was a nineteen thirty six Ford pickup. All the lights and glass were intact with no appreciable rust marring the original, but faded, Washington Blue paint. It was a standard shift which didn’t bother Morley overmuch either. With a flat head V8 under the hood this truck should really haul ass when Morley needed it to, and the body metal was made from genuine quarter inch thick steel, not that crappy beer can thin stuff they used nowadays. Real steel was much better for deflecting, or even stopping, small arms fire. Gas mileage would suck, but Morley vowed years ago that he would never be caught dead in one of those hybrid gas-sipping sissy cars. This old Ford was perfect for his needs.

Almost running back to Morley, Bart, presumably eager to close the deal and so unaware of his doom, arrived back with papers on a clipboard, a set of keys, licence plates, bicycle pump and an oil can. "All I need is a deposit of two hundred dollars, your signature here, and it’s all your friend, all yours."

Taking the keys and the offered clipboard with a pen attached by a string, Morley scanned the papers. Though there was nothing wrong with the papers, Morley sensed a conflagration in their future. He signed them. So, Morley thought, this unfortunate shark would not expire from a heart attack caused by the sheer excitement of this sale. He could rule out natural causes for Bart’s demise then. Morley watched with pity as Bart, like a hyperactive four year old, quickly pumped up the truck’s low tire, greased the door hinges and attached the plates. Smiling back at Morley, Bart finished his work, retrieved the clipboard, Morley’s two hundred dollars, then tucked clipboard under his arm and pocketed the cash. Bart reached into his other pocket and handed Morley the ownership. Morley needed to fire up the old truck and get away from here before he became embroiled in some kind of time wasting investigation.

Quickly brushing off Bart who had sparked up a cigarette, Morley got into the truck and inserted the key into the dash. He crossed his fingers, hoping it would start the first time. Luck was on his side as the old Ford’s engine turned over twice and then on the third time it coughed to life. He depressed the clutch and got the truck into first gear. It hopped out of the ruts the tires had made from sitting so long, mowed down a few tall weeds and then he was on to the small road which snaked through the other parked vehicles.

Despite the truck’s outward appearance, she felt solid and Morley couldn’t be happier. Morley had just exited Bart’s when he felt, as much as heard, the whoosh of a huge fireball explosion. Morley didn’t need to look back to know the trailer was a blazing wreck, Bart dead inside or somewhere nearby. Morley always knew smoking was bad for your health. Any other time Morley would have stuck around, helped as best he could. But, checking his timepiece again, Morley shifted the truck into second gear and stepped on the gas. He had a rendezvous he could little afford to miss.

the end

Until next Sunday . . .

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