The kid drove down the block at a crawl. Entering license plates into his phone, not every car but just those likely. For the most part anything manufactured in the past five years. Nobody’s going to owe much on some ancient rust farm.
Outside was gray and threatening rain. Late autumn, but pretty much winter already. It was so damn cold. The kid loved this weather. All calm and peaceful. At the stop sign, he sent a text to dispatch. Stating the area—seven hundred block of Cedar Drive—and a list of license plates.
Out of maybe fifteen cars on the block, only five had been worth listing. Out of five, the kid would be lucky if even one hit. Still, there was always the eight hundred block. And the nine hundred block. And after Cedar Drive, there was Maple Lane. Twenty-five bucks a hit and the kid was set on recouping his gas money today. At least that.
* * *
The truck left the yard, heading north on the Boulevard. “The fuck are you listening to?” Chester, he was in the passenger seat, kicked the tape deck. Lightly. But still. You don’t do that.
“Bob Marley, man.” Arnold pronounced it “mon” in some sort of wannabe island speak. Really, the dude was fifty-six and so white his undershirt looked tan. He sounded foolish but at least he didn’t go off about Chester’s kick. “Everyone loves Bob Marley. He’s like the pizza of the music world.”
And when Chester didn’t say shit, just looked straight ahead, Arnold asked him, “Seriously?”
“Gluten allergy,” Chester said. “Pizza rips my insides apart. Same with all sorts of breads and cakes and crackers and…”
“Well, fuck me. If you aren’t the most anti-American bastard ever to ride shotgun in my tow truck.”
“Anti-American because I don’t like Jamaican music and Italian food?”
So Arnold only nodded, acknowledged the point, and drove ever northward. Eventually, “I hate making pickups way out here. In the city you jut nick some car right off the street and the shithead owner will spend three hours trying to remember where he parked. Here, you’ll likely get shot just walking up the driveway. Fuck me.”
Chester agreed, but didn’t ask for further exposition. He had heard the speech before. Then finally he called out, “Target on the left.” This just as the tow truck lumbered onto the 700 block of Cedar Drive.
* * *
Parked at the bottom of the driveway, the tow truck of course, blocking any hasty exit. And this is where Chester waited, looking to the cloud covered sky and leaning against the rig’s front bumper. Waiting as Arnold walked to the house, knocked on the door, maybe convinced the owner to submit easy. Maybe. If they were lucky. And maybe the owner wouldn’t be home. And they could nab the car and go without static. Maybe. If they were really lucky.
But no. Chester saw the door swing open even while Arnold still knocked. And though he could hear but bits and pieces of the conversation, what with posting up thirty yards from the house, there was no question the owner wanted to keep his automobile. Arms in the air and the dude was babbling without pause, no opening for Arnold to work with. So this would take time. Chester reached into the front pocket of his shirt and removed a cigarette. He blew smoke straight up and the plumes disappeared immediately, camouflaged by overcast sky.
Always, Chester had liked the crossbars on back of the tow truck. He couldn’t help but think of a crucifix every time he looked at them. Each time they hoisted a vehicle up, it always felt so damn poignant. What this meant, Chester could never be sure. Maybe machines are the gods of our time. But no, he didn’t like that. Maybe he sacrificed these people, displayed their troubles on the cross. They suffer in order that he be saved.
Then, “But I need my car to do my job!” This the owner screamed so loud as to be perfectly audible across the yard.
“No.” Arnold, just as loud. “I need your car to do my job!”
Even if they had to call the police, Arnold and Chester, no matter what, the car was theirs. Another sacrifice. Another payday. And Chester asked himself, why? And Chester answered himself, because of the times.
The owner, trailed by Arnold began out into the yard. Further from the house. Closer to the car. Overall, Chester took this as a good sign. “Listen buddy,” Arnold to the owner. “We got no real use with your car. We don’t want it for keeps. Just make a couple payments and it’s yours again. Simple like that.” And the man nodded and bowed his head and handed his keys to Arnold.
Chester pulled some leavers. Lowered the crossbars.
* * *
A couple chimes sounded when the kid entered the convenience store. He walked to a cooler in the back and removed two large cans of beer. At the register he handed a twenty to the clerk. Covering the drinks and a few gallons of gasoline.
Back in his car the kid held up a crisp white envelope. Inside, the remaining few dollars. His sack of gold. His day’s work. Then, he kissed his cell phone gently and drove off down the boulevard.