James turned around and all of a sudden everything was different. He forgot that he was a middle-aged man, twice divorced, and a recovering alcoholic. He forgot that when he was fourteen he accidentally stepped on a nail in an alley on a shortcut to school and had to stay in the hospital for a couple weeks because of blood poisoning. Even worse, he forgot that he was currently driving a van on the freeway well over the speed limit with blood flowing through his veins that was just a wee too bit much enlivened by five, six, or perhaps even eight rum and cokes.
He was looking in the back of his dark blue van. He was looking at the light. The dazzling, hypnotizing, eruption of purest white. Compared to it, the setting sun outside had already died and the artificial light that daintily peppered the city became black blips in an even more impenetrable darkness of night. He couldn’t turn away. It beckoned him, lauded him, warmed him in ways a cheap prostitute never could. He could even hear the tiny, tiny voice in the back of his head that constantly reminded him that he was operating a two-ton vehicle on a large paved roadway filled with other machines of equal or approximate weight, but it didn’t matter. This light was better. This was worth risking…risking…risking what? James suddenly couldn’t remember what he was comparing this light to. He dared not even blink, lest a millisecond of not giving it his full attention would make it disappear.
Hours earlier, James Carstone was sitting in the very same van, which was parked on the side of a shady sort of street in one of the city’s older industrial parks. He was extracting the contents of a small bag of salt and vinegar potato chips and stuffing them in his mouth. After each helping, he would lick his fingers clean and begin again. Occasionally his eyes would drift to the van’s clock, one of the few working instruments on the dashboard (he listened to the radio on a near-ancient battery operated boombox he kept on the decaying passenger seat). Mentally, he noted that the fucker was not fifteen, not thirty, but forty-five minutes late. Now James Carstone did not think less of this person because of his tardiness. In his books, this man was a fucker for many other reasons. One of which James promised himself he would never again accept with silence and a nod. James never considered himself a man of dignity or respect, but he at least prided himself on understanding and adhering to the rules of simple bartering. Quid pro quo, or in James’ grade ten educated mind, tit for tat.
This man, the man James is wasting most of his day for, does not understand, or does not adhere, to the simple rule of ‘you get what you pay for’. After months of dealing with him, James has finally deduced that it is the latter. How much has he lost? James doesn’t really know, he was never good with numbers, but he’s quite sure he could’ve taken at least one week long Hawaiian vacation with the money that should have been rightfully his.
James is calm. He knows what he is going to do. Right now he’ll just sit and enjoy his snack and when the moment comes he’ll lazily get out of his van and go shake the fucker’s hand with a wry grin like it is any other weekly meeting.
It’s another ten minutes before he causally looks in his rearview mirror and spies the familiar banged up brown station wagon coming up the street. James quickly finishes off his snack and pats his inner thigh. He grabs an empty cardboard from the back, takes a deep breath, and gets out of his van.
Brian pulls up on the other side of the street. As soon as he turns his engine off, he sees James beginning to cross the road. He sighs and gets out of his car.
James walks over slowly, the cardboard box dangling from his left hand.
“Hello, Brian,” James says with a tired smile, extending his right.
“Hey,” Brian returns, taking the hand and shaking it, then recoiling quickly, “woah, what the fuck’s on your hand?”
“Oh, I was eatin’ chips in the van.”
Brian looks at his hand and then wipes in on his pants. He stares at James. God, what a fat piece of shit, he thinks. James knows this. He could tell just by looking at Brian that the man detests everything about him. But in the wonderful world business, regardless of the business, that’s no excuse for ripping someone off.
An awkward pause. No small talk has ever passed between the two. Brian doesn’t know that James’ wife left him after a drunken rampage left their house in tatters. James doesn’t know that Brian once savagely attacked a sixteen year old and left him for dead after the kid tried to take his wallet. Perhaps under different circumstances, these two could have been best of acquaintances.
Brian says nothing. He just walks to the trunk of his car, and James follows right behind him. Brian, after one more quick glance up and down the street, pops open the trunk, and a bevy of possibilities open to James. Well, perhaps only two, really. His stolen goods days are far behind him. He quickly dismisses the stereos, the DVD players, and the sweet pair of JBL speakers (which James notes is quite far back in the trunk) and moves to the plastic baggies of white powder. Words aren’t spoken until payment, James just points and Brain grabs the item and places them in the cardboard box.
James feels just a tingle of anxiety as he selects his merchandise. He can’t do it now. Brain is right beside him. He’ll see him trying to-
“I got another six grams in the glove compartment if you want more,” Brian says as he gently drops another baggie into James’ box.
“Oh, sure, that’ll be great.” The two leave the back and go beside the passenger seat. Without giving time to let James even think whether or not this is his only opportunity, Brain is and out of his car with the extra bag in seconds. He tosses it in and looks right at James.
“Is that it?”
“Actually, hold up a minute. I’ve been thinking about a new pair of speakers,” and with that James makes his way to the back of the car again, trying to look as casual as possible.
Brian, pleased that it’s one less item he’ll have to hawk outside of flea markets this upcoming weekend, follows James happily back to the open and trunk and sings it’s praises. “Oh, man. The name says it all, y’know? JBL’s are top of the line, they’re brand fucking new, you just can’t go wrong with ‘em, y’know?”
As James now stands behind him, Brian’s entire upper body is moving farther into the trunk of his car, trying to grab hold of the speakers and drag them out to give his customer a good feel for the quality. James slowly, and with the hours of practice in front of his mirror to make sure the motion seems natural, pulls out the old fashioned but no less solid Billy club he bought at a military surplus store near his apartment from inside his pants. Although he faintly hears Brian telling him that he has a pair of good speakers at home but that he would love a pair like these, James is really only watching him slowly back himself out of the trunk, trying to brings the speakers with him, both helpless and clueless.
Still having not turned around, but just about to stand upright again, Brian barely gets out the words, “so what do you think”, when James, with all the power he could possibly muster without a running start, brings the appropriate end of the billy club down a couple of inches just above Brian’s final vertebrae. As he collapses on his assortment of stolen goods, Brian makes a series of weak noises that reminds James of the sound his ex-wife made when he tried to wake her up against her will. Although slowed and scrambled, Brain was not yet down and out. He seemed to make a pathetic attempt to turn around and face his attacker, which comes out looking more like a simple writhing in pain. James was prepared for this however, and brought down the billy club once again in more or less the same place. Brian immediately goes limp, with no more noises dribbling out of his mouth.
James was pleased. As easy as he’d hoped, no fuss, no muss. He fished through Brian’s pockets, extracted the man’s wallet, and then pushed the rest of his comatose body into the trunk. Perfect. He was just about to the shut the trunk on him, drive off and then make the timely anonymous phone call to the police, when he noticed the thousands of dollars of merchandise, contraband, and what have you that Brian was sprawled upon. A moment of thought passed. James willingly listens to the little voice inside his head. He looks upon and down the street again.
He decides that he would be stupid not to do this, and begins ruffling under Brian’s now spaghetti legs for the goods, and brings them to the back of his van.
First the drugs. Then those speakers that Brian was raving about. Then the Blue-Ray players, although James himself is still a DVD man. After about only five minutes, and making what he believes will be the last trip to Brian’s trunk (the police have to find something to make this work, don’t they?), James grabs two portable MP3 players and, not thinking much of it, a small, high quality black box whose appearance reminds him of how music equipment like speakers and soundboards are transported. As he grabs it with his empty hand, he is so shocked at its weight, that he lets fall back into the trunk. Light, so goddamned light, as if it was completely empty. James turns his back on it and…and before taking a step he turns towards and looks back into the trunk. He stares at the box with a vague curiousity. The small, childish part of him is just genuinely interested in it, and the more rational section of his brain tells him that Brian, while an asshole, was no slouch, and wouldn’t carry around something completely worthless. While rationalization and childish curiousity make a dangerous pair, James is too busy basking in his complete success of this annexation to consider, or much less, care, about any difficulties that might arise.
He grabs the box, places it on top of the CD equipment, slams down Brian’s trunk with his free hand, and heads back for his van. Success. He gets in, and before getting the hell out of dodge for the last time, he heads to the bar for eight separate mixed toasts.
Cars honked. James still stared, unconsciously releasing his foot from the gas pedal, his hands from the steering wheel, apparently ready to crawl into the back of his van as it slowed to a stop in the middle lane of the freeway and cradle the source of the light in his arms.
So warm, he thought, my god, it’s so-
He tried to get out of his seat, but was somehow restrained. Without turning away, his trembling hands found his seatbelt, followed it down to the release button and pressed down. Like a fat man launched from a catapult, he leaps forward into the back of the van as it slows from ninety kilometers an hour to seventy-five…to fifty… He bumps his head as he stumbles forward. Getting closer and finally having his eyes able to make shapes out of the mass of glowing in front of him, he sees that the box (and of course, it is that mysterious, originally-thought-to-be-empty box) is not even open. All the light that has ensconced the van is only streaming out of the crack between the box and it’s lid. Yet the latch that is holding these two parts together sits serenely, until James Carstone places his right thumb against it, quite prepared to flip it open.
James has forgotten most of the experiences of his life in the last few seconds. The light overshadowed them, swallowed them, made them insignificant, made them mean nothing, when they were brought up against it. James’ (few) friends, family members, and every drunken anecdote vanish from his brain. The light. The light is better than all.
The little annoying voice in his head is drowning, struggling to have it’s voice heard, and when it does come, though it must be screaming, only comes out in a whisper: PUTITDOWNPUTITDOWNPUTITDOWNFORTHELOVEOFGODPUTITDOWN…on and on, a pathetic defense to the dazzling white that more than likely has swallowed our protagonist’s soul.
James is not even thinking about much else as he flips off the latch. It’s just something he seemingly has to do. It’s the only thing that really makes sense at the moment. The lid springs to life and pops open. Less than a second. No measurable amount of time, to be precise, but sometimes that’s all it takes. James isn’t sure if the light has changed, if something is different, he’s too far bathed in it to tell which is which, what is where, anything really. He knows he’s screaming, though, screaming and screaming at the top of his lungs, and he just can’t seem to stop. And putting down the fucking box isn’t really an option either.
Twenty five minutes later, a police cruiser finally pulls up beside the van. While obviously pissed off (what with no warning lights, or anything), all motorists have been able to successfully avoid the stationary van sitting in the middle lane of the freeway. Looks like he’s having some sort of party in the back, though. Brighter than a goddamn Christmas tree, one young man thinks to himself as he roars by.
The officer pulls up right behind the van and when he sees that the coast is clear, grabs his flashlight, turns it on, and begins to walk towards the van, shining it with just the hint of caution. Light is streaming out of the back windows obscuring anything that might be happening inside. Not good. This is the shit that’s gonna get me killed, he thinks to himself, not in some shootout over drugs or during a bank robbery, but by some depressed psycho in the back of a van packing a revolver from the first world war.
“Police! Get out of the van!” He yells. Nothing. As he gets closer he can tell that no one’s in the driver’s seat, but there is definitely something, someone in the back. He can hear the hoarse screaming.
“Police!” He yells again, “Get out the van, open the door slowly!” Now he’s in front of the back door of the vehicle, light streaming not just from the window but also from the cracks between the door and the frame. He runs his fingers cautiously, slowly over the cracks, wondering what the fuck is going on. Perhaps seconds pass. The arm holding the flashlight wavers a bit, his interest in what it might shine upon is waning. Besides, the light from inside is more than enough, he thinks, I can do this with just… that. And the officer feels better all of a sudden, more assured, even safe. There is no reason to be afraid, he finds himself thinking, there’s no gun, there’s no…no…
The flashlight has dropped to asphalt and rolls a couple feet away. The officer’s hands find the handle for the door and he opens them both as serenely as if he was entering into his own house. Light. Of course, the light. Then came the screaming.
|go stick some Archie Bronson Outfit in your ears|