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1 - Help Wanted

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How did I become the sort of loser who rear-ends a courier van twenty minutes after getting laid off?

Given a choice, I'd spend my afternoon with an extra large pizza, half a dozen Monsters, and the latest Grand Theft Auto. Instead, I sit in my pickup, parked on the side of the highway, waiting for the other driver to exit his vehicle. Best to size up a guy you've pissed off before meeting face to face. Hopefully, he's an old guy with no will to argue. Luck tells me he moonlights as an ultimate fighter.

Sure, I'm nearly seven feet tall, but thin as a rail and look the part of the quintessential computer geek. My first home is cyberspace. The only threat I pose is to the personal privacy of Internet surfers.

On the passenger seat, under a bag of Tootie Fruities cereal, my cell phone strums like a guitar. I sigh, expecting my mom to be on the other end. But it's not her. The eight-hundred number on my caller ID also bulges out from the van's back door, like in a 3D movie.

Freaky.

I blink and the phone number flattens back onto the van's paint job. I tilt my head and continue to stare, half expecting the digits to pop again. But they don't.

A gruff female voice pipes in over the speaker on the unanswered phone. "OTG Courier Services. How may I help you, Barry?"

I drop the cell to my lap. Eerie enough that the call got through, but how the hell does she know my name? "Hello," I talk down at my lap. "Did you just call me Barry?"

"What, Honey? Barry? Is that your name?" Phlegm gurgles in her throat as if she has a three-pack-a-day habit.

"Uh . . . yeah."

"Well, Barry, why ya calling?" she asks in a pronounced New York City accent.

I clear my throat. "Um. You called me?"

"Why would I call you?" She laughs.

For a second, I contemplate hanging up. Maybe call the police or head down to the county building to file an accident report. Instead I pick up the phone and study the display, as if that will explain how her call got through.

"Hello," she says. "You still there?"

I rush to reply, "I hit one of your vans and the driver hasn't gotten out—"

A deep hacking interrupts. "Sorry, Honey, I've got the emphysema. Did you say you're calling about a job?"

I hold the phone close to my mouth and yell, "No. I rear-ended one of your vans."

"Tsk. I'm not deaf."

"Sorry," I say, then try to sound polite by adding, "ma'am."

"You got a valid driver's license?" she asks.

"Of course." I lean over and fumble to pull my proof of insurance out of the glove compartment, assuming she'll ask for it next.

"How about an aversion to heat?"

I push my horned-rimmed glasses back up to the bridge of my nose and frown. My mouth falls open, but I don't answer.

Slow and irritated, she asks again, "Can you tolerate heat?"

My voice squeaks as I ask, "Why? Is your cargo flammable?" I study the door for hazardous material stickers.

"Have you killed anyone?" she asks.

My back straightens against the seat. "I said the driver hasn't gotten out of the van, not that I killed him."

"Don't worry about that one," she says. "Can you come down to the warehouse and sign some paperwork? I can start you tomorrow morning at fifty an hour, if that's enough?"

Fifty an hour to drive a van? This lady must be off her rocker.

I'm done wasting a college degree, achieved by the age of nineteen, on jobs any uneducated schmuck could do. The last three months, working in customer service was torture enough.

"Listen, lady, I'm not calling about a job. I hit one of your vans."

"So what is it, you don't need a job or you need more money? Because I can go as high as fifty-five an hour."

Dollar signs dangle like proverbial carrots. That and being handed a final paycheck less than an hour ago, a visual of my boss with a forced sympathetic smirk burned into my memory.

"Honey? You still there?"

I raise an eyebrow. "You really want to hire someone who smashed up one of your vans?"

"I need ten new drivers by tomorrow. If you want a job . . ."

Any way I look at it, I've been laid off four times this year. This could save me from moving back in with my mother. A chill rushes up my spine at the thought of it. "How do I get there?"

"We're east of the Denver Tech Center in a red warehouse off Arapahoe and Revere," she says. "Name's Margery. I'm always here."

"What about the van?"

There's silence on the other end as the van pulls forward and merges back onto the highway.

When my phone goes black, a sinking feeling in my gut says get the hell out of here and go file a police report.

I turn the key on my truck and gun the engine. The exhaust backfires like it always does, followed by a cloud of black smoke.

A horn honks. Some guy in a brand new truck with temporary plates zips around me. He flips me the bird.

My hand pauses on the gear shift. Fifty-five an hour would put me in a truck like that. I could be the asshole with the attitude for a change. I shift into drive and merge onto the highway, following southbound to the warehouse.



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