You get these days . They’re part of The Job. My wet shirt was sticking to my back where the rain had trickled down inside my DayGlo jacket. Ya heard of white collar workers? Well right now I was a damn wet collar worker. My shoes had water in them to fill the East River. I was cold, and hungry, and tired. Too much cheap coffee had made me jittery. The Job does that to you.
The wipers smeared more dirt over the windshield as I peered into the greasy gloom, the streetlights doing their best to make the dim light even dimmer. ‘Billerica.’ What in hell sort of name was that for a house? Couldn’t they spell Billericay, or maybe Balearic? Sure as hell old Ma Smolowski, my grade school teacher, would have had something to say. I shook my head. My eyes felt like I was the original nine stone weakling and every guy on the beach had kicked sand in them.
I saw the driveway. ‘Billerica’ was a swell place, hacienda style, real pretend oak beams, the whole works. And the alarms were on show. So how to bust in without making the neighbours’ curtains start twitching like a rat cornered in a shed? That was tough. The van was big, tall, and beat up. None of the cars in the driveway was over 2 feet high, and they all cost more than I earned in five hard years. It would be like trying to hide a dimestore engagement ring in Tiffany’s. Aaah what the hell. I went for broke, took down the gatepost as I went in to show that I didn’t give a two cent damn about their money.
The door chimes played ‘Y Viva Espańa’. A dog set up a lonesome howling somewhere deep in the house. I knew how he felt.
A broad opened the door. Lots of makeup, lots of cleavage, lots of jewellery, lots of ass in the leopard-skin skipants. A few rusty tumblers in the unoiled combination lock I call my brain dropped grittily into place. Now I understood the house name. I felt sorry for Bill.
This Erica dame had big hair, big eyes, and a big mouth.
‘You’re late, I said between 6 and 8,’ she snapped. She had a big attitude too. I checked the watch my mom gave me to hide when the landlord threw us out for late payment. I’d fixed him good. I’d bet he was still trying to figure why he had 19 packs of disposable diapers in his shed.
‘Lady, I got 7:55, and in my book that makes it between 6 and 8.’
‘Awright, so I got me a wiseacre here. Just put the stuff in the kitchen.’
I smiled my shark’s grin to myself. Here it was. The sucker punch.
‘I ain’t allowed to do that. I ain’t insured inside your house. I gotta drop the stuff here.’
‘Listen schmuck. The other guy, he always puts the stuff in the kitchen for me.’
‘Then he’s the schmuck. I drop it here, you get your ittybitty hands dirty carrying it inside. You break a fingernail, big deal, waddo I care?’
‘I’ll damn well make you care, you big lunk. My fiancé, he’s in the Mob, he knows one of the dot.com directors. You better have had all the children you want, you ain’t having no more.’
I’d had it about up to here with this dame. She wanted to scream, I’d give her something to scream about. I reached for my gat. Hell, it was still in the van. I grabbed my clipboard and let her have it right on the schnozz. It worked pretty good. She went down.
I leaned over her.
‘Listen, maybe you got a beef but it ain’t my beef. I just do my job. You order stuff from the Boss. I dunno whatcha order, and frankly I don’t care. The Boss tells me to deliver. I deliver where he tells me. I deliver when he tells me. I deliver what I got. So you just call up customer services, and you tell ’em you ain’t happy because you got tuna in brine not in spring water like you ordered. You just go right ahead, I don’t give a rat’s. Because this is all I got. You don’t like it, you call the Boss, and you tell him. But I’ll be ahead of you. I figure your fiancé (I really laid it on with the French accent) won’t have a snowball in hell’s chance, he rubs the Boss up the wrong way, suddenly ya got a gross of BromoSeltzer ya never ordered. Ya can always use Ocado next time. It’s your choice lady.’
She knew she was licked. I dumped the bags in her hallway, made sure I really messed up the eggs, heard the crunch like when a sap hits someone’s head when they aren’t expecting it. I grinned again.
I was ready to go. I fired up the van and gunned it, sprayed gravel up the front of Billerica, pulled out the driveway, taking a mirror off the Porsche and the other gatepost with me for the hell of it. I headed back for the last drop.
It really was turning out to be one of those days. Ahead of me was an old jalopy, a Micra or something, some old guy driving, a white haired old lady in the back. I checked out the rear parcel shelf. Two cushions, a car rug, and a brass tissue box holder. And the old driver guy – he was wearing a flat cap. I smelled trouble. You have to be able to do that in The Job.
The jalopy wandered about like a pig on rollerskates at 10 miles an hour, blocking me whenever I tried to overtake. I pulled left, I pulled right, put the headlights on full, like you could tell with this heap of junk I drive, trying to stir them up. The old dame leaned forward, giving the old guy some grief. I could almost hear what she was saying.
‘That’s quite fast enough Sidney, and it should be quite fast enough for anyone behind us. So slow down.’
I guess something must have snapped in the old palooka’s head. I saw him reach into the glovebox and grab a Saturday Night Special. Without even turning round he gave her a coupla rounds straight between the eyes, turfed the body out, yanked the door shut, and sped off into the rainy night. As I swerved not quite hard enough to avoid the corpse – I felt the bump – the gun and empty shells went out the window into the ditch. I sighed. You see some really strange things on The Job, though homicide was a new one. But I wasn’t going to tell the cops. With my record? They start questioning me, suddenly the truth comes out about that mix-up with the freezer boxes a couple of weeks ago, and I get 20 years to figure out just how many bricks there are in the walls of my cell in Alcatraz. No thanks.
The van heaved itself round a bend in the road, engine spitting and whining about just how much it needed a service, crates banging around behind me as the straps gave way, temperature readings for the freezer cabinet going up and down like the yoyos we played with while we sucked on Popsicles our moms gave us back in the Bronx when I was a kid, before I started The Job. I wondered what I’d give to be back there, back then, then shut it out. You can’t afford to think, not in The Job.
There was a big trailer combo slewed across the road in front of me. I hit what was left of the brakes, and rolled to a stop. No point trying to sneak up, not with the van coughing loud like Ma Smolowski’s old man before they took him off to County. I figured it might be a trap. The Sainsbury Mob guys were getting a bit restless, what with the business we was stealing off of them like taking candy from a baby. I pulled forward, ready to give it the big one if things turned ugly.
Like I said, a big trailer. Yellow. Cops trying to nail me for overtaking a school bus? Traffic cops may be the meanest sonsabitches we come across in The Job, but they weren’t that mean, I wasn’t being set up for the long walk. Not a soul to be seen. Just this big empty trailer in the middle of the road, ‘Wilson’s Road Safety Systems’ painted in kind of Olde Worlde letters down the side. So the Wilson mob had parked this thing in the middle of a blind bend while they tried to make things safer? I sure didn’t want to be around when they decided to make things on the road unsafe, so I gunned past, forcing an oncoming car off the road. It was that old Micra. I didn’t stop. I figured the old guy had enough trouble without me making him regret being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
One last drop, then that was it. Me finished. At least for tonight. Just one more. I thought briefly why it was always ‘Just one more?’ Then I stopped thinking. You don’t think, not in The Job. My eyes were near popping out of my head as I tried to find the last house. It was getting real dark now. What the hell did these people expect? That I should find them by some sixth sense? Well my psychic powers were pretty well gone by now. I called up.
‘Listen pal,’ I growled to the wise guy who answered. ‘I been driving up and down here for damn near 30 minutes, and I can tell ya I’m just about getting teed off. All I can see is goddam turnips. So where is the goddam White House, and why can’t you people have goddam house numbers like goddam real people?’
So this guy says, ‘Oh, everybody has trouble. It’s simple really. Come up the hill and on your left there’s a big green house and that’s us.’
He shouldn’t have smirked. I knew he smirked. I could hear it in his voice.
‘So why in the name of all that’s goddam holy is a green house called the White House you worthless piece of….’ I ran out of words.
‘There’s no need to take that tone with me my good man. If it were (he was trying to snow me here with the use of a subjunctive, but good old Ma Smolowski put me wise to that one a long time ago) called the Green House the people might think we lived in a garden centre. Hahaha.’
He laughed so goddam hard he mighta bust a rib. I wanted to bust his goddam skull.
Mr Greenhouse got his drop, but I reckon the chickens might have made quite a mess of it by the time he found it in the hencoop. I didn’t care. While he was checking out the fox or whatever it was that was making his hens squawk fit to bust (it was me of course, or as Ma Smolowski would have it, ‘It was I’) I dropped a card in his mailbox saying I’d called but couldn’t get an answer.
It’s one of the perks of The Job.