Price Breaks and Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
On the day I got my special assignment the sky was cloudy and business was brisk. Athena was making a sale while I leaned on the side of the truck watching. Paul’s hand settled onto my shoulder, “Hey Al…”
“Iwasn’tlookingatherass!” I turned to face him, my eyes wide my posture slightly hunched over.
“You having too much caffeine again?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“I need you to do something for me,” he said. “I’m going to rent another U-Haul truck for a few days.”
“And I’m not signing for it. I’m still getting calls over that motel room thing.”
Paul rolled his eyes, “Are you the one that peed in the air conditioning unit?”
“Then what are you worried about?”
“Smart kid,” he said. “Were you the one that sent Lonnie to eight different auto parts stores looking for ‘Headlight Fluid’?”
Not wanting to answer I said, “Were you the one that told Lonnie that police aircraft used paint filled water balloons to catch speeders?”
“Touché,” Paul pitched his cigarette at one of the rusting gas pumps. I hated it when he did that, sure this gas station had been out of business for a years but who was to say a few stray fumes might not be lingering nearby waiting for that one spark?
“Now Al,” Paul said. “We’re going to go on another extended road trip and we need more stock. I’m going to send Max down to get it but I want you to be his co-pilot.”
“So you want the guy with only one working eye and poor night vision to drive a U-Haul truck with a stick shift that he doesn’t know how to work?”
“No. I just want you to tag along with him, keep him company and keep him awake,” he gave me a wink and tapped the side of his nose, “but not too awake.”
Are you old enough to remember a song called ‘Betty Davis Eyes’? If you’re not then I hate you.
Oh wait, where was I? Oh yes there was a song called ‘Betty Davis Eyes’ but if they ever wrote a song about Max Casey it would have to be called ‘Jerry Orbach Hair’. It was jet back and slicked back with some kind of odd smelling Brylcreem stuff. He had spent most of his formative years working on construction sites and it gave him this haggard, leathery look.
He was the Casey brother I saw the least and he was the one that seemed to cause Paul the most frustration. He was forever showing up late or not showing up at all. He was a subject that was never talked about openly by the DeSanti and Casey families so the most I could figure out was that he had some kind of a work ethic problem.
Early the next morning I met him at Paul DeSanti’s house. The new and probably fraudulently obtained U-Haul truck was in the driveway with its engine running.
Paul’s wife Debbie made us breakfast, I ate heartily while Max just sipped at his coffee and Paul waved maps in front of our noses to show us the best route to Staten Island. I asked Paul about the logic of driving all the way to a warehouse in New York City to pick up merchandise made in Mexico and he explained it was all about volume.
Once we were on the road I tried several times to engage Max in conversation but was only answered by non committal grumbles. I began to regret I hadn’t brought a book along with me; books had been my constant companions during those quiet hours when the only things casting shadows in the gas station were me, the paintings and the occasional vagrant.
Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, Ray Garton, Robert R. McCammon, and Fred Chappell all kept me entertained, inspired and insanely jealous that summer.
About an hour into our quiet drive Max made a detour so he could see a friend about something. He didn’t specify what that something was. He parked in front of a small crackerbox of a house and told me to stay put. I waited for what must have been half an hour before he came running back out and we hit the road again.
For the rest of the ride he really opened up to me and we made excellent time.
The U-Haul truck zigzagged through traffic. Max bounced in his seat and laid on the horn whenever traffic slowed to a speed less than 15 miles over the speed limit.
“Move faster you bastiches!” Max shouted and yes he actually said ‘bastiches’.
I hung onto my seat with one hand and the dashboard with the other, “Aren’t you worried about getting a ticket?”
He waved a hand at me “Nah. Cops around here don’t pull over white guys.”
“Sure,” he said as he changed lanes without signaling.
“So,” I began. “I heard you used to be in the construction biz? That’s what my stepfather does too.”
“I was in construction for a while but the last couple of years I’ve been upstate making office furniture. I liked being out on the iron when I was young . All the babes would check me out. Man I wish I was your age again, I bet you get a lot of poontang.”
What’s worse than going 80 miles an hour down a highway in a rented truck? How about blushing at the same time? “I… Well… There was this girl…”
“And you nailed her?” He sniffled and blinked about a dozen times.
“No I didn’t. It never got that far,” I tried to explain. “I was so busy trying to get her to marry me that I never really pushed the physical aspect all that much.”
“What?” He stared at me, “What?”
“I was in love...” It sounded so pathetic saying it out loud, “I thought she was the one.”
He stared even harder, “You’re screwin’ with me.”
“You’re a virgin?”
“Only in the sense that I’ve never had sex,” I didn’t like the place this conversation had drifted to.
I looked out through the windshield, we were about to drive right onto the grassy median.