you a good haul of forever all-in-ones, that’s
Graco brand, you want the best. Talking like, say, twenty-thirty of
the suckers. All boxed up now. Unopened—see, if they get used and
sold secondhand, the value goes down.”
Roddie lifted a shot glass to
his lips, drained brown liquid and hissed through chapped lips. He
slammed the glass on the bar, lifted a hand at the burly bartender
with the shaved head. “Another
shot of Beam and a tall Bud back.”
in the mirror behind the bar, through dried liquor and beer stains,
Roddie squinted at a tired stripper as she latched non-manicured
fingers onto the pole, twisted around it like a drunk child.
he thought to himself, has many faces and forms.
cleared his throat and said, “Them
models got everything you need. Got six-position adjustment, state of
the art latch system, a steel frame you couldn’t
crush with a backhoe. Shit, they got a seat level indicator about as
accurate as a laser on a sniper rifle. Plush fabric, too. I mean,
bartender slid a full shot glass and beer bottle toward Roddie who
dug into his shirt pocket, came out with a crushed, greasy twenty
dollar bill. “That’ll
do her for these two and my first round?”
bartender nodded, swiped the twenty from the sticky bar top.
drained the second shot of bourbon, coughed hard into a greasy palm.
He scratched the side of his face until red welts surfaced on his
you forget about style, okay? That’s
one hell of a design team they got over there,
wherever-in-the-hell-China they make the fuckers. I’m
talking little beady-eyed motherfuckers who went to some tai-chi art
school or some kind of shit like that. I think it’s
real funny when they get a new color scheme. Comes out every year all
spanking new, like fucking colors make a difference in the things
themselves. But I’ll
tell you what—and my prick of a daddy taught me this—you give the
customer what they think they want. That’s
the secret: Give ‘em
what they think they want. Now, write this down: Forever, all-in-one,
I said. That’s
Graco brand, and don’t
you go after nothing else.” Roddie
turned on his bar stool, shrugged off the awful mirrored image of the
to him, a middle-aged man with a missing front tooth plugged a pinch
of chewing tobacco into his plump bottom lip. He smirked hard at the
bent over stripper, turned to Roddie. “Dude,
I got no fucking idea what it is you’re
gabbing on and on about. I got no fucking idea in hell.”
sighed, lifted his eyebrows in surprise. “Car
seats, man. Forever all-in-ones. I’m
talking the hottest model on the market. I’m
talking—for goddamned shit-in-the-hell sake—about stealing
fucking car seats. I’m
talking about gettin’ rich,
or dyin’ motherfuckin’
He grinned and rolled his
what he was—shook his head with slow contemplation. “You
mean to tell me…” He
stopped for a moment, shoved a finger into his mouth and poked at the
gob of tobacco. “That
you just got out of the joint, fresh out the clink, and the best you
got—the dang schooling you got—is a plan to lift car seats?”
seats go for three-four hundred, buddy. And that’s
on the open market, Amazon, eBay, Craigslist and the like. Not to
mention word-of-mouth sales. Shit, place like this town—what’s
it here, some twenty thousand souls?—you could make a damn good
business out of car seats. It’s
a gold mine.”
Roddie. You just got out the joint.”
in a strip club goes by the name Hip-Diggity.”
talking car seats—shit.”
shrugged, pinched a red welt on his cheek. “You
gonna throw in with me on this, make it like we used to do? I get the
product and you—”
be fucked up the ass if I’m
gonna rob and sell car seats for a living. I mean, shit, I been low
in my life, but even the lowest man got to have a fuckin’
limit. You can count me out,
lifted his beer, took a long, slow sip. “Well,
said and tasted the insides of his mouth, breathed deep like the DOC
shrink taught him. “I
guess all that means is…Hell,
all it means is more for me. Roddie Gets Rich,”
he said. “That’s
the real title of this motherfuckin’
C. Smith worked retail from the day he got his work permit at sixteen
years of age. He was skinny then; a whiny kid with shit-brown eyes
and pimples on his chin. Now, at 38-years-old, Bern pretty much
looked the same. His zits were gone, replaced by crow’s
feet around his still-shit-brown eyes. Bern wasn’t
a virgin, but he was unmarried, couldn’t
do a pull-up, drove a cheap-ass Hyundai Accent (off-purple), and knew
everything on God’s
green Earth about the retail business. More specifically, Bern knew
how to stock and sell baby products; that meant onesies, tiny shoes,
strollers, cribs, diapers, bottles, and car seats. He was responsible
for sales on everything you might see in ‘Lil’
store where Bern worked—hell, the store Bern ran all by his damn
self. There was a plaque out front that had his name on it: “General
Manager: Bern C. Smith.” Sure,
he had to paste his name on the plaque with Gorilla glue, but that
was just because corporate had it made up with the previous GM’s
name. This was before Bern got the job, before his ex-boss fucked a
stock girl in his office while those hacks at corporate watched on
the closed circuit television.
fall from grace is another man’s
you get a promotion and you take it to the bank. When Bern arrived at
seven each morning—today was Tuesday—he sat in his car and smoked
a cigarette, watched for anybody tailing him or casing the store, a
large blue building just off the main highway.
never told anybody he did this; shit, he knew they’d
call him crazy. But Bern knew—because he crunched the numbers—that
a solid million, million-five in sales each year. That’s
not profit, mind you—that’s
total revenue. They did fourth best sales in the Southwest Region,
and Bern was proud of that fact. Point was: Besides the money in the
safe, the store had lots of high value product. And Bern C. Smith
would be damned if he’d
let some wily crook catch him by surprise. No fucking way; Bern would
make sure a lowlife robber got put on that world’s
dumbest criminal show before his store lost one cute baby sock to
theft—in this life or the next.
pressed his cigarette into the Hyundai’s
ashtray, reached over and unlatched the glove box. He pulled out a
black cartridge, pressed a button and smiled; an arc of blue-white
electricity shot from one of the cartridges fangs to the other. While
on duty, Bern carried a taser on his person at all times. This was
only for safety, mind you. In the event of…As
they are want to say. Or, whatever. He shoved the taser into his coat
pocket, straightened the curled collar of his blue polo shirt, and
stepped out of the car. Bern scanned the parking lot—it was empty.
He could see the store’s
sliding glass doors and decided they hadn’t
been tampered with; it was all status quo this morning.
locked his off-purple Hyundai Accent and strode like a soldier on
patrol toward the plaque with his name pasted onto it. Bern C. Smith,
general manager, was on duty. And it was going to be a theft-free
could be damn sure of that.
a gas station across the highway, in a rented Honda with tinted
windows, Roddie sipped cheap coffee and watched the skinny dude who
ran ‘Lil’ One’s
sliding glass doors, slide between them, and shove them closed.
Looked like a pretty wimpy dude from what Roddie could see. For a
week now, since he got out the joint, Roddie watched the skinny dude
who drove the pink car open the place. Most he did when he got to
work was scan the parking lot. Parked in the same spot each day. At
the same time, too.
on the motherfuckin’ dot.
was no different. Roddie knew from prison: It’s
habit that makes a man weak. Why else they make you do what they say,
and when they say it? Keep you weak, that’s
why. He finished his coffee, opened his door, and tossed the
styrofoam cup into the breeze. It tumbled behind the rented Honda,
caught in a pile of tumbleweeds beside the gas station’s
main building. There were seven other cups there, all Roddie’s.
He slammed the door, scratched the fading welts on his left cheek.
Too bad that old buddy of his wouldn’t
be in on this thing, but Roddie knew—or, hell, he thought—he
could pull this one alone.
for me, he thought. Roddie Gets Rich.
the morning, he figured. That was the time. Wednesday morning. Bright
and early. Like right now, you just roll up on the skinny dude, pop
him one in the face, and have him open the loading bay out back. What
do, Roddie told himself, is rent a U-haul truck this evening. Park it
out back and walk around the side of the building. Skinny dude always
comes to work from the west; see, he don’t
circle the building to make sure it’s
all clear. He won’t
even see the U-haul backed in, ready and waiting for a full load of
forever all-in-ones. Graco brand that is. Best fuckin’
model on the market.
reminded himself: You got to make sure not to pop the wimpy dude too
need him to help you load up those car seats. Split the job in half,
make it easy on old Roddie. That’s
the whole point of this thing here.
it? Make things easy on old Roddie?
noticed the Conway girl—the high school chick—was late to work
again. How many times did he have to tell her? If she wanted prom
off, she had to show up on time during the spring break. Bern stood
in the center of the sales floor, arms crossed, trying not to scream
at her when she sauntered through the front doors. And her fucking
polo shirt wasn’t
even tucked. He moved through the model crib displays (time to get
ready for the summer models) and surprised before she could make it
to the staff lounge and punch her time card. “Conway,
late again. I thought I told you that—”
girl, short and blonde with soft features and blue eyes, jumped and
Bern, I’m so sorry. My mom
get home until three and my sister needed me to take her to a
ran her hands through her hair, pulled it back into a ponytail.
not even busy in here.”
neck got red. So did his cheeks. It wasn’t
busy? No shit—that pissed him off more than anything. Used to be,
people had lots of summer babies and that meant they came to ‘Lil’
made a baby registry before May. Not anymore; between Amazon and
Walmart and other retail behemoths, Bern had to practically beg the
universe for weekday customers. Still, no fucking excuses. To Bern,
you had to be on the floor to make a sale. “I
care how busy it is, Conway. You and I both know you can’t
sell car seats while you’re
listening to Kanye in your car.” Bern
calling your boyfriend.”
blond girl laughed. “You
know I don’t
have a boyfriend, Mr. Bern.”
felt his gut loosen. “I’m
surprised by that…”
giggled, started to tuck in her polo shirt.
the staff lounge, please.” Bern
do that on the sales floor. And I’m
letting it go today, but I expect you on time for the rest of the
grunted, tried not to watch her jog toward the back of the store.
Fine, he had a soft spot for the blonde, but only because he saw a
little of himself in her. He had a responsibility as Bern C. Smith,
general-fucking-manager: Get his staff on the same page, dammit. Get
them to take this shit seriously.
dropped a hand to the taser in the front pocket of his too-large
khakis. This retail shit is serious business, he thought. And look
what we have here… Bern
moved toward the front of the store. Outside, through the glass
windows, he saw a gray minivan pull into a parking spot.
to get selling.
spit on the ground beside the U-haul man. “You
telling me you only got the small truck, the ten-footer?”
They were in the rental lot, a
dirt patch with a portable office trailer at its center. Above them,
the blue sky was going gray with evening and Roddie wanted to get
this shit settled. He needed a drink and a good night’s
sleep. But more than that, he needed (no, he wanted) a twenty-foot
U-haul truck. He scratched his face, grunted hard at the guy with the
got ten-footers if you want it tonight. But I can’t
get you a twenty-footer until Saturday morning. Got one coming in
from Santa Fe. Least, I will if they stay on schedule. No guarantees
on the truck. It’s
too hard to make certain. People say they’re
coming and don’t,
I make a promise, and it all goes bad.”
make all kinds of plans,” the
U-haul guy said, “but
things go to hell faster than a stripper from the bible country.”
He choked on his own phlegm,
coughed up a nice cigarette loogie and hit the bull’s
eye, dead-center in the wet spot Roddie made beside him. “Best
I can do is Saturday. Might be.”
Roddie repeated and searched
the distant skyline. “Ten-footer’s
all the man’s
got. All the man’s
got is a ten-footer. Now, how am I supposed to get done what I got to
get done if all the man’s
got is a ten-footer.” His
nose wrinkled and he spit again. Bull’s
eye in a damn bull’s
eye—how about that?
always talk to yourself, mister?” U-haul
man tried like hell to clear his throat, gave up on it. “My
sister talks to herself. Down at the urgent care, they say she has a
sike-o-poth-ee. Something like that. You know what that is? She’s
always going on about this, that, or the goddamn other. Phantoms to
frog legs. Shit, my goddamn sister. Can’t
say I don’t
love her. Now, mister, if you don’t
like the ten-footer’s,
I can get you—”
punched the man dead in the face. The dude’s
reddish nose crumpled against Roddie’s
knuckles. Took two years in prison for him to learn to punch, but
once you get the hang of it… Gosh
eye, right there. And how the fuck about that, huh? He stood over the
U-haul man with his hands on his hips, listened to him gargle blood
and saliva. Roddie felt himself losing control, felt the familiar
rage he knew of himself burning through his skin, goddamn running
through his blood like a virus. He remembered the DOC shrink;
breathe, the fucker said. Now, you just breathe real deep, Roddie. He
cracked his knuckles, breathed as deep as his lungs allowed.
you? Goth-dang it. Why you punth me, mithter?”
jeez. I’m sorry about that.”
He reached down, plucked
U-haul man to his feet. Roddie brushed off the man’s
backside, handed him his clipboard. “I
got a little carried away is all. I just had it in my head to get a
twenty-footer. You understand how a man gets a picture in his head?”
U-haul man gulped, wiped blood off his mouth and chin. “A
ten-fooder do you righth? Thath okay then? A ten-fooder?”
do just fine,” Roddie
appreciate you, buddy. Don’t
never think I don’t.”
this morning. Bite a man like a pincher bug. Roddie chugged the last
bit of black-tar coffee from his styrofoam cup and tossed it out the
window—yes, it was a damn ten-footer and it was backed in tight
against the ‘Lil’ One’s
dock. My, oh my, Roddie thought, I backed this sucker up to where
snug as saran wrap on a ding-dong.
watched light morning traffic pass on the highway, mostly beer
delivery, UPS, or mail trucks whipping up for the hump-day frenzy.
never did understand it.
people could get up each day and put on the clean uniform, act like
nothing bothered them; hell, thinking about it made Roddie clench his
what Roddie had done his whole life, try to avoid work. Sure, it put
him in the joint a couple times, but what are you going to do? He
shook his head, tasted the thin film of coffee on his tongue.
spoke into the sideview mirror, talked to his own reflection saying,
Roddie. Graco brand, my motherfuckin’
man. Roddie gets rich. Oh, yes
Roddie thought, he dies motherfuckin’
He checked his wristwatch—piece he ripped from Macy’s
the week before—and saw it was about that time: Mr. Wimp in the
pink car ought to be walking into the store, give it a minute or two.
hopped out of the truck, slammed the door. Around back, he flipped
the lever on the sliding door and threw it open; the door clanged
like hell. Roddie liked the look of that flat, empty loading area,
smooth as a baby's butt. Still, he knew he’d
like it better when it was full of car seats. Top models, too. The
kind that go for three-four hundred on the open market.
kind that make a man rich.
the side of the building now, Roddie pressing himself tight against
the cold gray brick, his breath shooting out in front of him. A
couple more steps and he'd peek at the parking lot, see if Mr. Wimpy
was headed inside, and then he'd clock the man on back of the head, a
real good blow to his dome. Roddie had a tire iron in his hand, one
of the cheap chrome ones from Walmart, do a man just as good as those
elitist-fuckin' Auto Zone tools. Snap-On my ass, Roddie thought. He
gripped the chromed steel, liked the hard coldness in his palm.
reached the corner of the building, tried hard to control his
breathing, but couldn't. Like breaking out of the joint that one
time, Roddie thought. I couldn't get my breath running from those
dogs. My goodness. Jeez-fuckin'-Lou-eez. He patted himself on the
chest, shrugged. Here goes... When Roddie peeked around the corner,
he saw Mr. Wimpy slam his door, scan the parking lot. The man loped
around the pink Hyundai--sorry fuckin' excuse for a car--and headed
toward the building's entryway, framed by sliding glass doors.
when Mr. Wimpy reached the doors, when he was fiddling with the lever
there, trying to push the doors open, Roddie sprinted alongside the
building--five or six steps, seemed like--and he was behind the man,
the chrome tire iron high above his right shoulder.
Mr. Wimpy shoved open the doors, he turned; Roddie swung down,
clipped the man above his right eye. He fell hard against the cold
cement. Snap that on, motherfucker.
slipped the tire iron into his waistband, dragged Mr. Wimpy into the
Bern clawed from the fog of his own unconsciousness, the first thing
he saw was a rat-nosed fucker with a snaggle tooth and two tear
tattoos on his left cheek. A dull ache lurked behind Bern's eyes, but
he managed to say, "Who the fuck are you?"
friends call me Roddie. But you," he tapped Bern on the forehead
with the tire iron, "can call me Mr. Roddie-Sir, if you dare
fuck do you want?" Bern squinted, tried to pin the man into one
was seeing double. "Why'd you hit me?"
I want, Mr. Wimpy, is a goddamn full shipment of forever all-in-ones,
Graco brand that is. You know what I'm talking about?"
seats," Bern said through gritted teeth. "Best damn car
seats on the market."
fuckin' A right, Mr. Wimpy. Look at that––you
know your biz-nass!"
and Driver called them the––"
of car seats!" Roddie laughed hard, all the way from his crotch
to his widow's peak. "That's what I'm talking about, a man who
know his biz-nass."
said, "Like you know yours?"
again, Mr. Wimpy. One hundred percent."
nodded slowly, pulled himself up against the wall. "You need my
help? To load them up, I mean? I bet you don't want to do it
nice of you, Mr. Wimpy. Put her there, pal." Roddie held out a
grease-stained palm, fingernails black as mold.
C. Smith shook the man's hand.
was clear as mud to Bern, once it was halfway loaded, the U-haul
truck wouldn't fit the store's entire stock of forever all-in-ones.
No sir. This son of a bitch was going to have to make two runs.
"Might take two trips," Bern said as he slid another stack
of car seats onto the truck, pulled the hand-truck from beneath the
boxes. "We can go unload, come back and get the rest."
stood watching Bern; the man hadn't lifted a goddamn hand to help
load the truck. He'd stood in the loading bay picking his teeth,
watching Bern with flat brown eyes, shit-colored, matter of fact. And
Bern knew what that meant––the
man ripping him off was a lazy son of a bitch. Well, Bern thought, I
can work with that.
had experience with lazy sons of bitches. Plenty.
said, "Try to get as many in as you can."
I'd hate for you to leave some back here. Now, look, if I can get you
to take all of them, that's a help to me when it comes to insurance.
nodded. "I didn't think of that."
that's what I'm here for." Bern pushed the hand-truck––heavy
to Roddie, got within spitting distance.
turned to look at the remaining car seats.
were stacked in one corner of the stock room, ten rows or more of the
same models, stacked three high. Sold like goddamn hot cakes and
'Lil' One's Place' always had plenty––Bern
made sure of that.
looked back to the truck, over Bern's shoulder, studied it for a
second. "Okay," he said, "what you do is––"
Turning back to the stock room now, the rows of stacked boxes, "get
me those two rows there and we'll flip the others on their sides
lifted the hand-truck and brought it down against Roddie's thin
shoulder blades. It was a hard blow, but it only brought Roddie to
his knees. As the crook turned to face Bern, the taser came out of
Bern's jacket pocket, burst lightning in his palm.
said, "What the fuck?"
have searched me, smart-ass." He pressed the taser to Roddie's
neck, grinned with satisfaction as the man collapsed, shook himself
into a stupor. Roddie pissed his pants, shit himself like a baby.
"Well, holy shit. You got a mess in your pants," Bern said.
"You want I should go and get you some Pampers?"
pressed the taser to his neck; the crook's body shook and shook and
vomited, tried to scurry away shouting, "Momma! Gawdammit,
momma! Where you at! I miss you, momma!"
Bern was on top of him again, pressing the taser into the man's
fucked with the wrong baby store, pal." Bern laughed. "Say,
what's your full name? I want to make sure your obituary reads just
right. Your tombstone too."
Roddie said. "I give you whatever you want. Just, please.
Please, stop it."
didn't get that." Bern tapped the taser against Roddie's crotch
again. "What's your name?"
Day. My name's Roddie Day. I grew up around Pahrump. Dropped out of
high school. Got me a job running car parts in and out of Vegas for
hit the taser against Roddie's chest.
man shook, gulped, stopped moving. After a moment, he spoke, "Ah,
stop. Fuck. Please, just let it stop."
ask for your résumé,"
Bern said. "All I wanted was the name." He slipped the
taser back into his coat pocket, took a few steps away and retrieved
the hand-truck. Its tiny wheels squeaked as he wheeled it back toward
Roddie. "Thanks for your biz-nass, Roddie Day," Bern said.
He lifted the hand-truck to his chest, the flat tongue of it pointed
downward at Roddie's rat-nosed face.
swear, I won't––no!"
brought the hand-truck down as hard as he could, salivated at the
crunch of skull, watched blood dribble out from Roddie's ears. He'd
have to clean this shit up later.
legs shook, became still.
turned and saw Conway, the high school blonde, standing there
watching. And wouldn't you know it, her fucking polo shirt was
untucked. The hell had he told her about that? Bern bent over,
flipped the dead man's left hand, studied the watch on his wrist. He
stood up and placed his hands on his hips. "You're late again,
Conway. What'd I tell you about that?"
sorry, Mr. Bern. I got caught––"
on and unload this truck," Bern said, motioning toward the
U-haul. He looked back to the dead body on the floor. "I got
another bit of pressing business. You show up late again," Bern
looked at the Conway girl, "and I'm going to write your ass up.
You got that?"
chin trembling with fear, the blonde girl nodded.