S.Lott - Fiction


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 license.

For some background on this story, the call for submissions, and related stories, see ItComesFrom.

Blunt Instrument

I met her at the Best Market.  Not the best -- like the best in the world -- but the one on the corner of Best street.  She was a total hottie, and I couldn't figure what she was doing in the Best Market at 4:30 AM.  I go out then because the guy behind the counter doesn't scare easily, and I can say "hi" to him and chat a little bit.  The bars are closed, and the morning crowd hasn't started yet. 

I was getting some groceries, considering the Best Market is mostly just chips and snacks and stuff.  I didn't hear a car pull up, so I didn't have time to duck out through the stockroom.  She came in flashing a big smile and a huge rack, and didn't even blink when she saw me. 

I turned away, but she runs over to me anyway, and asks if I can help.  She just needs a tire changed.  I looked at the counter guy, and he shrugs.  I looked out the window for the car, since I didn't hear it, and she points at this brand new black Blazer parked out of the lights, almost behind the dumpster.

I didn't know what she was doing, parking like that by Best Market.  It's a sketchy neighborhood.  The cops usually park right on the corner and get like two or three calls a night.  I can see them from my place, the condo at the top of the new Shoreline Apartments.  Because of the settlement, I got a great place where I can be near the action.

She says she can't change it herself, and doesn't want to wake anybody up or be a bother to anyone.  So I said, "Sure," since I really wasn't doing anything.  I never do anything.  I sort of can't do anything, since I'm in a kind of witness protection program, so I don't know anybody, and I can't really get a job. 

The tire was totally flat, but I didn't want to look stupid doing it.  And the settlement and the witness protection thing meant that I had to be careful what I did.  But she couldn't get the tools out because the back was filled with stuff, and she didn't want to unpack it all just to get the tools out of the bin under the floor mats, so, I sort of had to.  I didn't mean to, but I couldn't really do anything else, could I?  She needed help, I could do the job, and it was really important to her to get going without waiting for a tow truck or anything.

So I just undid the lug nuts with my left hand, lifted the back-end up with my right, swapped out the tire and spun the nuts down finger tight.  It only took a second because it only takes me a second. 

She gave me this big hug.  Not like a little shoulder hug or anything, but a full-tit press.  She also asked if I hung around there a lot, and I said I did, even though I didn't, but I said it in case she might come back or something.  She said she had to run, but she'd be back, and maybe buy me a six-pack or something. 

So I went there four nights in a row, until she was back.  It was a Friday, and I didn't want to go out because the bars are usually busier, and there's always more cars around.  But by 4:30 AM it was quiet and when I went down to the market, her blazer was there, hidden behind the dumpster again.  This time the tire wasn't flat. 

She wasn't in the car; she was inside talking with the cashier.  I could hear everything and she was asking stuff about me: when I came in, what I bought, who else saw me there, that kind of thing.  I didn't want her talking with him because I did the tire change.  But it was cool if she talked to him about me.  From listening, I did figure out that her name was Karla, with a "K".

Karla bought me a six pack of something cheap, like Keystone.  I thanked her, because it's polite, but I don't really drink that anymore.  Now that I have the settlement, I can have Grey Goose and Dalwhinnie delivered, and I don't have to drink cheap stuff like I did before, when I had a shit job and had to bust ass 10 hours a day to afford a car and rent for a dump off Ferry Street and a case for the weekend.

She said that we should go outside and maybe sit in the truck and talk.  But I can't really sit inside cars very easily anymore.  I'm a lot bigger than before the accident, and my knees just kill me all the time.  Standing hurts, but sitting hurts even more.  The lawyer told me that the doctor says it was arthritis from the progeria and I just needed to take Asprin, but like everything coming from a lawyer, that's a crock of shit, too.

She was a secretary or something at an employment agency, and she knew people who found jobs for people.  Since I knew cars, she could get me a job working like nights or part-time or something.  I couldn't say much, except that I didn't want to work.  She thought that was bad because I was just living off society.  I had to work to make myself valuable, and help others, and give something back, she said.  But I couldn't really tell her about the case, and the settlement and the trials and stuff, because they told me I'd lose everything if I talked, so I just said that I couldn't work because of my condition and all.

She said that I wanted to help people, and I told her that of course I would help people.  I wasn't any criminal or anything.  The settlement was all mine, and I earned it -- in a way -- through my suffering.  But really, I worked hard for everything, and was willing to help anyone who needed help.  I gave a ton of money to charities, and burn units, and hospitals and stuff.  One of the lawyers helped me pick some out.  And I helped Karla with her flat tire.

And she asked if I'd be interested in helping other people who had problems, and I said sure.  I'd help anyone who needed it and couldn't help themselves.  Victims and stuff, people who'd been hurt, but it wasn't any fault of theirs; people who got hurt because of something someone else had done. 

After we talked, I saw that I really had become a grandpa.  After two beers, I had to pee like a racehorse.  Maybe the scotch had cut down my capacity for beer.  Or maybe I was just getting old.  But I wasn't really that old.  I was like twenty-six when the accident occurred, and there was a year or so in the hospital, and then the witness protection in houses out in the country, and then the trials ran for like three years until last year, when we won my first settlement, so I wasn't really that old.  I think there's still another trial going on, but it's another one of the secret trials, and I don't have to go to it.  Although, one of the lawyers says that's it unconstitutional to have a trial for me where I'm not there, but I guess that's what they're having the trial about, and then, after that, it'll be decided whether I have to go or not go.

When I left to go home to go to the bathroom, she asked me when I'd be back.  I wanted to say "anytime you're here," but I didn't think of it.  So I just said "whenever" and she told me that Tuesday would be good for her, and maybe I could buy.  But I didn't want to carry around a bottle of Grey Goose, that's like a wino thing to do, sneaking a bottle around in a paper bag.  And I have to bring ice and glasses, and I got these great shot glasses from a catalog that sit in this ice bath to keep them really ice cold, and it works.  It's not like some plastic thing you buy that doesn't really work.  It's like real glass, and really nice, maybe the nicest thing I bought that didn't come with the condo.

On Tuesday, I went down at 4:30 AM to meet Karla, and brought an empty Grey Goose Vanilla to show her what I had.  She was already there, again, waiting in her truck.  I can't believe I never figured it out, but at the time, I never figured it out.  You could tell that she didn't wear a bra because she didn't really need one, and had dresses that fit perfectly and showed everything and makes it hard to think.

I wasn't sure how it would go.  I had the empty bottle, but I didn't know if she'd want to go back to my place.  It turned out that she didn't want to, she liked to be outdoors. 

I bought a couple of Stellas, and we sat on the tailgate and talked some more.  I don't know how we got to this, but suddenly we were talking about politics and terrorism and stuff.  I have to watch myself, because I can't mention the TSA or the accident, and it comes up a lot.  It's still on the news sometimes, and they get it wrong, but I can't mention it.  I just tell people I got burned and swelled up a lot.

She told me about this whole situation in North Korea, and how they had nuclear weapons; not bullshit weapons like Iraq, but the real deal.  She knew some guys who wanted to make a clear statement that North Koreans weren't wanted around here.

She told me the Korea General Company was responsible for making parts of bombs.  She told me that they were exporting their twisted message all around the world.  She said that they advocated a lifestyle that was just evil, with fake elections, and people starving, and random searching of people, and no one allowed to travel, and all kinds of restrictions on freedom.

She said that Iraq and Iran both got their bombs and stuff from North Korea, but that was just icing on the donut.  Sure, it would be good to help out our country, but it was more important to help the people of North Korea.  I didn't like that part, because everyone knows Iraq had nothing.

She told me that I could help the North Koreans by destroying the KGC offices.  If their offices were destroyed, it would make them look like the crap they are.  Pictures of their stuff all smashed into a pile of glass and concrete would really show people that the North Koreans can't build anything, and can't be trusted.  It would show the world that taking away people's freedoms just doesn't work.

She looked at me for a while.  If I thought I could help, she said she would get me to where they were in San Francisco.  She told me that I'd be a hero for helping stop North Korean from spreading their evil and their nuclear bombs. 

I told her that it would have to be fast because I couldn't stay away too long.  I had a lot of things going on with some charity stuff, the other trial.  I had calls from my lawyers all the time.  It had been quiet for the last few months, but you never know, maybe the other trial would be done, and I'd have to go back to court, again.

She really turned up the heat next Tuesday.  She brought a bottle of Grey Goose Lemon, and we had a couple of shots.  She told me that things were only getting worse, and I needed to do something to help the people in North Korea. 

So I told her that I would go to San Francisco as long as nobody saw me and we were back the next day.  She laughed and said that it would be tough to do in one night, because of the flight times and all, but we could do it over a few days.  I felt like a dumb-shit not knowing how long it took to fly to San Francisco, but I never flew on a jet, except once when I was a kid and we went to Disney.

And, she said, we could forward my condo phone to a cell phone.  I told her I didn't like cell phones because they hurt my head.  Actually, a bunch of things hurt my head, like microwave ovens, computers, cops, and some building loading docks.  I knew which ones, but I didn't know why some hurt and some don't.

The place they put me up in San Francisco was a dump.  I told her that, too.  It was just an old office space with the cubicles removed and some curtains hung up.  The air conditioner filters hadn't been changed and the place had that empty-building funk.  They told me we'd hang out for a few days and meet up with some guys who'd fill me in on the details.

But it didn't work out like that.

The second day in San Francisco, the guy who delivered the pizza beat the door in.  I mean seriously, beat the door in.  No one else was there.  I was watching TV in the back of the office.  I left him the envelope with the huge tip and the instructions to buzz twice, but he didn't buzz, he bashed open the door with one of those giant crowbars that firemen carry.

I heard the smash and looked around for something to beat him down with.  Old habits die hard.  I wanted a baseball bat like I kept behind my door at home.  I could probably crush him with my bare hands, but I still looked around.  He rushed into the office, hands up, like someone's holding a gun on him.

He says my name, my real name, not my witness protection name.  I couldn't believe it: here's this guy who breaks in, stands there with his hands up, and knows my real name.  I guess I just stood there looking like a dumb-shit for so long he put his hands down, and asked if he could take a seat.

I looked at him and asked about the pizza.  "Oh yeah," he says and comes back with a two double pies, 60 wings, and a two cold subs, my exact order.  And the giant crowbar.

I didn't know what to do.  Call the cops?  Call Karla?  I couldn't call any of my lawyers; I wasn't supposed to be here, so that would put my money at risk.  I had to keep it all quiet, so I figured I should just be nice to him and he'd go away.

Besides, he had some kind of little radio that felt like someone was drilling in my head.  I could barely hear anything else.

"What is this?" I asked, not knowing what else to do. 

"I should ask you that," he says, but tells me that I don't really know what's going on.  I dig into the pies, and he tells me a little bit about what I'm doing here.  He doesn't have everything right, but the North Korean nuclear bomb story is top dead center.  And he knew Karla, and the whole Best Market thing, like he was there, too.

I tell him that he's half right, but I don't tell him which half.  He doesn't seem to care. 

"Here's the deal," he says.  "You're working for the North Koreans.  For the North Koreans."  Twice like that and then he sits back and looks at me.  I can't figure out what he's talking about, and I tell him he's full of it.

He leans forward.  "How do we know?  Easy," he says.  "Who's paying for all this?  Who's that girl, Karla, working for?  We traced the money.  We traced the money."

Why?  I asked him.  Why would the North Koreans ask me to smash up their company?  It didn't make sense.

"Anger," he said.  "Anger at the Americans, and their South Korean friends.  Anger at everyone who did this to them."   Then he jumped up.  I heard a little speaker buzz something but didn't catch it all.  "Don't be pushy.  Keep your eyes and ears open.  You watch, this is a bigger game, and you're being played by them.  Played," he said, turning to look out the window.

He started heading toward the door.  "Wait," I said.  "Tell me how they found me.  How'd you find me?  I'm  supposed to be hidden so no one gets back at me."

"No one gets back at you?" he says, mocking me.  "Seriously, who'd get back at you?  You were a victim, champ.  Victim.  Listen, this is important: someone sold you.  You're being played.  A lawyer, a Federal Marshall, someone at TSA, someone burned you.  We don't know exactly who, but we're trying to find out.  What does matter is that you're being played, you're doing their dirty work.  You have to quit, walk off the job, find a way out."

He ran out the door, across the parking lot.  I heard a car door open and shut and a car ease around the building.  I heard Karla's car come screeching into the lot.  I heard a pile of guys get out of the car and scramble all over the place.  I was halfway through the wings when Karla came into the back where I was, asking me what happened.

"I went out to get the pizza," I said.

"Weren't you supposed to leave the money?" she asked.

"I was bored.  I went out into the hallway to get the pizza.  You know, check the guy out after he dropped it off."

"We're here with you," she said, like I didn't need anyone else.  But she was never around.

"Yeah," I said.  "But the door locked behind me," I said.  She didn't want to hear that.  You could see her get really, seriously angry when I said that.  "Yep," I said, "I didn't know I was locked in here, but I was."  She looked pissed, and then suddenly looked happy again.

"It's for your own safety," she said.  "You don't want anyone to know you're here."

"Yeah," I said.  I wanted to ask about the Koreans and the building and who was playing who, but you'd have to be a moron not to say that everything was okay and what we were doing was good.  Really, she could say anything and I couldn't tell one way or the other if it was true or not.

The next day we moved to an empty condo somewhere else.  It smelled like drying paint.  Everything about this was starting to suck.

Once we were in the condo, Karla asked me how I liked the place, was it better than the other place?  I said it was okay, but there was no decent TV.  She said they'd look into that.

"I got money," I told her.  "I don't want to order one if we're going to get going."  I asked her what the deal was; when were we going to get this moving?  I told her, "I'm in trouble here.  People know."

Karla looked really pissed for a second.  "People know?  Who's people?  Who knows?"

I'd slipped up on the pizza guy.   I told her that no one specifically knew, but that it was all taking too long and someone might know I was gone and start asking questions.  Like if I ordered a TV from Best Buy, they might wonder why I'd moved, or something.

She told me not to worry, that things were going great, and she'd have the guys who knew the building come by tomorrow and they'd show me what to do that would knock it down and make the biggest mess.  That would let everyone know the North Korean government was taking away people's freedoms and making their life suck, and making everyone in North Korea poor except a few wealthy businessmen.

She could really turn on the heat when she wanted to.  It was hard to disagree with her.  She kept asking me if I wanted help the starving North Koreans get freedom from the piece of shit government.  Of course I wanted to help, everyone wants to help.  And it wasn't like I knew a lot of Koreans; I had Korean take-out once and didn't like it.

I was watching some WWE on the little crap-ola TV when it finally hit me.  The Koreans were in a can't lose situation.

If someone smacks you, you're a loser unless you fight back.  But you can't just beat someone down for no reason.  What better way to pick a fight with someone than to say they're a friggin' moron and wait for them to hit you?  Then you get to fight back with everything you've got.  Drop the bomb.  Start the war.  It happens in WWE all the time: someone trash-talks someone else, there's an incident, and the fight is on.

And the details don't matter.  In WWE, you can't tell who insulted who sometimes.  It just comes down to what happens in the ring that night.

Is that what these Koreans were doing?  They'd called someone a moron, someone didn't hit back, so I was supposed to hit back for them?  Was that the deal?  When I hit back, the fight is on. 

I felt sick.  Really, sick to my stomach sick.  The progeria left me feeling crappy sometimes, but this was worse because it was all nerves.  I was being played.  I wasn't helping anyone in North Korea, or the US or anywhere.  I was just going to start world war three when the Koreans started bombing god-knows-who that they called a moron and busted up their Korea General Company.

Did it matter who the Koreans called a moron?  The pizza guy had said something, but I forgot which countries.  Someone was going to get a beating for something, whether they deserved it or not.  

And why tell me?  Why break in to tell me?  Why not just stop me?  Or, why not stop Karla?  Couldn't they arrest her for something and let me out of this?  All I could figure was that arresting Karla was the same as me knocking a building down:  the North Koreans would claim they'd been attacked and start shooting at whatever country is near North Korea.  Or, get another moron like me to do their dirty work.

I hit the road that afternoon.  There wasn't any other way out.  If I kept up with Karla, I was going to get found, and my settlement was gone anyway.  I had everything to lose, and I wasn't getting squat out of the deal.

I hated being played.  That was just crappy.  But what's worse was the whole witness protection line.  I was a victim not a rat on the run from people I burned.  The damn thing blew up in my face, burned me like a friggin' cheese steak with Velveeta dripping out of me all over the place.  I lay on that loading dock for hours while they pissed around, and they said that I needed protection.    I didn't need protection; the TSA morons that poured the bomb stuff into the trash barrel needed protection.  They needed protection from me.