another pSecret pSociety pshort pstory
Boxing Day by Mike Bozart (Agent 33) | DEC 2015
On a balmy Saturday December 26th afternoon, Monique (Agent 32) and I (Agent 33) took a short bicycle ride to the new QuikTrip convenient store at Central Avenue and North Sharon Amity Road in east Charlotte. We thought we’d just snag some pizza and a flavored iced tea and watch the traffic and count the sirens for a few minutes. Yeah, something like that.
We rode up to the bicycle rack on the left-front of the store and dismounted. There was a thirty-something white guy with short, fading blonde hair standing nearby, intensely smoking a cigarette. He was wearing khakis and a tuck-in work shirt with a sewn-on name above the pocket: Steve.
As I finished locking up the bikes, Steve suddenly spoke.
“Can you believe how warm it is for late December?”
“I know, it feels more like early May.”
He grinned and took another drag as Monique and I went into the store. Four minutes later, we were headed out the door. As I looked for a table where we could sit down and eat our pizza wedges, I noticed that both were taken. However, Steve was the only one seated at the three-seater table near the bike rack; whereas, the other table was completely occupied.
“Let’s just sit down next to that guy down there and eat,” I said to Monique as we started to head towards his table.
“You think it will be ok?” Monique quietly asked.
“Yeah, he seems like a regular guy.”
Five seconds later we were at the table.
“Steve, is it ok if we sit here?” I asked.
“Oh, sure, have a seat. I’m just waiting for someone to pick me up. He should be here in a minute or two.”
“Thanks,” I replied as I looked at his work shirt again and tried to guess his trade. Is he a plumber? Has he read Water Hammer? [a previous short story involving pipes and revenge]
“Is the pizza any good?” Steve asked as we began to devour the contents of the triangular boxes.
“It’s ok,” I said. “Want some?”
“No, that’s ok. I just ate.”
“So, what’s your line of work, Steve?” I asked.
“Truck driver. I used to do long-haul, coast-to-coast runs, but not anymore. I rarely go out more than 150 miles of Charlotte now. Only a night or two a month away from home when I have to go to Tennessee. The wife likes it much better.”
“Yeah, I bet she does,” Monique added.
“It’s a shorter truck, too. Driving 53-foot trailers through downtowns is a nightmare.”
“I’m sure it is,” I concurred. “I couldn’t imagine trying to get a semi into a loading dock in downtown Charlotte.”
“It’s no fun at all.”
“Any crashes?” Monique asked.
“Oh, yeah. A very nasty one last year, but not in downtown Charlotte. It was down near Pineville. A guy ran a red light at 70 miles per hour. He torpedoed my trailer and took out the rearmost axle. If he didn’t hit my rig, he would have killed a dozen kids on the other side of the road. That was when I decided I was done with big rigs.”
“Was the guy drunk?” I asked, feeling that alcohol had to be the culprit.
“No, not even a drop. It was kind of bizarre. The guy got stung by a wasp while working outside and had an allergic reaction. He thought that he could get to the hospital in time on Highway 51. However, he passed out just as he entered the Rea Road intersection. His foot slid down on the gas pedal. He’s still in the hospital and not doing so good.”
“Oh, man, that’s freakishly brutal,” I exclaimed. “Who do you drive for?”
“I drive for QCD. Quality Custom Distribution. We deliver Golden State Foods’ products. Ever heard of them?”
“That rings a bell,” I said. “One second. Ding. McDonald’s, right?”
“You got it. But, get this, we don’t just deliver to McDonald’s.”
“What do ya mean?” I asked.
“Golden State Foods makes the dipping sauces for most of the fast-food joints and casual dining restaurants, like Chipotle. You’ve heard of Chipotle?”
“Oh, yes. I’ve eaten at the one on Kings Drive a few times.”
“I deliver to that one, too. Well, you’ve seen the news, right?”
“The food poisoning deal?” I ventured.
“The bacteria-virus outbreak?” Monique clarified.
“Yeah, you guys got it. Now, get this: People are falsely claiming to have gotten sick at Chipotle restaurants all over the nation, and then having their favorite lawyer file a multi-million-dollar lawsuit. It’s the new way for losers to get rich in America.”
“I hear ya, man,” I said. “Too lazy to work? Can’t seem to win the lottery or a major scratch-off? Sue a nice, plump, juicy, money-laden corporation. I think it all started a while back with that too-hot-for-my-lap coffee spill in California.”
“Too-hot-for-my-lap.” Steve chuckled. “Now, that’s funny. It’s so ridiculous, though. Guess who ends up paying for all of this nonsense?”
“I know: you and me,” Monique quickly answered.
“Well, I’m done with my rant. Thanks for hearing me out, guys.”
“No, go ahead, Steve,” I said. “Bang on, as they say in the UK on this Boxing Day.”
“Boxing Day? Oh yes, I saw something about that on the morning news. A day of gift-giving after Christmas in England. And, it has nothing to do with the sport of boxing.”
“Yep,” I chirped.
“And, it has nothing to do with the Boxer Rebellion, either,” Monique supplemented.
“Boxer Rebellion? You lost me there. I think I was taking a nap during that World History class.”
Monique chimed back in. “China. 1900. No gifts.”
“And no dipping sauces,” Steve added with a chuckle.
I laughed. “That’s some story about how competitors buy dipping sauce from the preeminent McDonald’s supplier, Steve.”
“It’s cheaper for them to just buy it from us. That way they don’t have to have a plant and all the headaches that go with it. Golden State Foods even has custom chefs that cater to their demands. If they want their sauce a little more tart or sweet, they’ll whip it up for them, and keep it exclusive to them only.”
“Very interesting,” Monique said. “I bet 99% of the general public have no idea.”
“Probably so. But, if you dig around on the internet, it’s all there.”
“Yeah, everything seems to be on the internet,” I tacked on.
“Too much is on the internet, if you ask me,” Steve added.
“Did you really kill her, Steve?” Monique asked. “Hey, I’m just kidding.” She had a brief chortle.
He laughed for a few seconds. Then there was a ringing cell phone. It was Steve’s. He had an earpiece on his left ear and flipped down a thin microphone.
“Steve, here. Where the hell are you, man?”
There was a four-second pause while the caller spoke.
Then Steve clarified his whereabouts. “No, man, I’m at the QuikTrip on Central – not the one on Eastway!”
Another pause. Then Steve flipped the microphone back up away from his face. It snapped into place behind his head.
Steve then looked at us. “He went to the wrong freaking QuikTrip – the one on Eastway Drive. He should be here in five minutes. That dude is always getting lost.”
“Ah, we’ve been to that one many times,” Monique said.
“QuikTrippers, aye?” Steve asked.
“Biweekly,” I answered.
“They’ve really risen the bar for what a convenient store can be in this town,” Steve said. “They’re almost as good as Wawa in Florida. Now, that outfit is da shit. People actually do take-out from those convenient stores. The sandwiches are that good.”
“I hear ya, Steve,” I said. “I have brother in the Tampa Bay area who has mentioned them to me. As for Charlotte, yeah, I think the other ones are now playing catch-up.”
“Notice served to 7-Eleven and Circle K,” Steve added.
“Speaking of notice, guess what I noticed the other day while using my socket set to fix the old bike?” I asked, wondering what answer Steve might throw out.
“An eleven millimeter socket will work on a seven sixteenths nut?” Steve offered. Is that true? Must remember to check that out later.
“No, my rear axle nut is a 15,” I stated. “What I realized, Steve, while looking at the SAE sockets is that 3/8 equals .38 if you do the customary rounding up. I think that’s the only fraction with a single-digit numerator and denominator where that occurs.”
Steve rested his thin beard on his left knuckle and pondered what I said. “How about 1/6? Oh, wait, that would be .17.”
“A good guess, Steve,” I said. “That one is very close. However, I think that 3/8 is the only one that becomes its two-digit decimal equivalent.”
“Maybe so,” Steve said while running the numbers. “Maybe so.”
Suddenly, we heard two toots from a car horn. Steve turned his head around and spied a maroon-colored vehicle that looked like a tricked-out Monte Carlo.
“Well, guys, that’s my ride. It’s been nice talking with you two. Have a nice day. Stay safe on those two wheels. And never, never trust a car to stop.”
“Likewise, Steve, and we will,” Monique replied.
“Safe travels,” I added.
Before leaving, Steve took a moment to muse on something. After about six or seven seconds, he unleashed his curious question.
“Now, what really brought you two bicyclists out to this particular place on Boxing Day? Listen, I know it wasn’t the heat-lamped pizza. Spare me the humoring.”
“Ah, well, you never know where a tale lies in wait,” I said as I moved my right hand in a writing motion.
Monique then handed me an imaginary piece of paper to reinforce the mime act.
Steve then got into the back seat of the sedan. Wonder if he suspects that he’ll be featured in a short story someday. / I wonder if he’ll mention us to his buddies. / These two are whacked.
“Eight ninths,” Steve said as he shut the door and beamed an ear-to-ear grin. 8/9. How did I overlook that one? That’s .88888888. Even closer than 3/8 is to its decimal. I’m getting old.