Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The White Van Challenge


By Dana C. Kabel


            “Saddler, my office…please.”

            Tom looked up from his desk and saw his boss disappear behind the mahogany door. Patterson was undone; he never said please.

            Tom got up from his desk and followed.

            “Please…come over to the window and look at this.”

            Another “please,” Tom noted.

            The view was beautiful from four stories up. There was a park across the road with a jogging trail around a small lake, which meant plenty of women in spandex shorts bouncing around it.

            “There!” Patterson hissed, stabbing a finger against the glass.

            Tom followed the direction the finger was pointing in, to the dirty white utility van parked across the street.

            Tinted windows in front, no windows in the back, mud over the plate…a serial killer van.

            That was what they jokingly called them when he was a kid…stranger danger…look out for the serial killer van!

            “Y-you see it, don’t you?”

            If Tom hadn’t noticed it before, he certainly would have when the van suddenly peeled away from the curb and tore down the road, narrowly missing a crossing pedestrian.

            Patterson stumbled back with his hand on his chest like he had just been hit with something or was having a heart attack.

            “Jesus,” Tom said. “He almost killed that lady.”

            “What the hell am I going to do?” Patterson buried his face in his hands.

            “I…don’t know if there’s anything you can do at this point,” Tom said.

            “You idiot, you don’t understand…” Ah, this was the Patterson he was used to.

            “That van has been parked on my road every night for a week now. When I leave in the morning, he follows me. And now he’s stalking me here.”

            “Why don’t you call the cops?”

            Patterson laughed.

            “I called the cops. They can’t do anything about a van parked on a public street where parking is allowed. He tried to run me down a couple of days ago…came within an inch of me, I swear. When I called the cops again I found out why they won’t help me.”

            Tom raised his eyebrows waiting.

            “That little prick, Murphy…in accounting? His uncle is the head pig in the police department.”

             Murphy hated Patterson, just as everyone else on the floor did. Two days before Patterson announced that as a result of the faltering economy that raises and bonuses were indefinitely suspended, he went out and bought a brand new Lexus to replace the year-old Lexus he had been driving.

            The employees hated Tom too, because someone let it slip that he did, in fact, receive the yearly bonus and raise. Tom was the number two. He was the Smithers to Patterson’s Mr. Burns.

            “Still, if someone is threatening you…”

            “That’s the problem. This bastard hasn’t made an actual threat. Murphy’s uncle told me, you’re a fifty year old guy living alone with no children. A van parked outside your house just isn’t that sinister. Call me if they actually try something. Then he laughed at me.”

            “Man,” Tom said. “Well sir, I wish I could do something, but…”

            “That’s why I called you in here. You’re ex-military…fought in the war and all that…”

            “I didn’t really see a lot of action over…”

            “Don’t bullshit me, Saddler. I know you killed people over there.”

            “I don’t know what you’re suggesting, Mr. Patterson, but I’m not going to kill a guy for sitting in a van across from your house.”

            “Jesus Christ, you sound like the cops.”

            Tom shook his head and started to walk. Patterson wouldn’t fire him. Nobody would put up with the shit that he put up with.

            “Wait, Tom…please…”

            The third please was almost sickening.

            “I’m not asking you to kill anyone. I just…I need protection. Could you just…help me, until I figure out what this fucker wants?”

            “I have a wife and kids at home and I already put in fifty plus hours a week here.”

            “I’ll pay you. A lot. And…and you can take a couple of weeks off when this is over. Go on a nice vacation with the family.”

            At quitting time, the other employees left with the usual dirty looks and smirks on their faces. There was kiss-ass Tom, staying late again. The only guy with his nose planted so firmly up the boss’s ass that he couldn’t see sideways.

            “See ya, dick,” the Murphy kid said.

            Tom glared at him until he was out the door.

            A half-hour later, Patterson emerged from his office. He was staggering and there was booze on his breath.

            “A productive day, sir?” Tom chided.

            “Fuck you, Saddler. Let’s go.”

            Tom shut his computer off and got up. He had the whole afternoon to realize that Patterson had no intention of following through on his promises. He would talk his way out of floating anything more than a mere pittance to Tom and indefinitely put off the two weeks’ vacation he was promised.

            “Here,” Patterson said when they got in the elevator. He pushed a brown bag into Tom’s hands. There was a gun in the bag, and some loose bullets rattling around.

            “What the fuck! I don’t need this.”

            “Yes you do. Now make sure it’s loaded!”

            It was dark outside. Patterson was holding onto the side of the building when the van screeched to a halt on the sidewalk. The side panel door slid open. Patterson screamed shrilly.

            Tom turned around and smashed him in the face with the butt of the .38. Patterson fell to his knees trying to hold in the blood that was spraying out of his broken nose.

            “You fucker, Saddler!”

            Tom heeled back and kicked him in the ribs.

            “Hurry up,” he shouted.

            The Murphy kid jumped out of the van and grabbed one end. Tom grabbed the legs and they threw him into the van like a sack of shit.

            “You’ll make things right when you get his job?” Murphy asked.

            “Yeah,” Tom said, handing him the .38. “Here’s your first bonus.”