Welcome To #%&!
Death came, not in the night, but on a Friday afternoon. Directing his ‘92 Chevy pickup, he followed Rt. 29 past St. Peter's Cathedral and the “Welcome to Hell” graffiti spread, and pulled into Sal’s diner. A neighborhood nook, it sat by itself as if reflecting on its own broken life. There were more exciting joints in town but Sal’s was consistent and consistency fell in line with the patrons' midwestern theology.
Death trudged out of his truck, lowered the gate, and claimed his scythe. He stepped inside Sal’s and rummaged through the papers, picking yesterday’s edition of The Times—half price—and ordered a Coke. The cashier fumbled the changed and Death reassured her with a smile:
“If I was here for you, I wouldn’t bother with the paper.”
He tucked it under his arm and returned to the truck. A dry spell had taken root in town and had refused to leave. It was hot. Death wrestled with the window handle, cursing its inferior design. He felt the eyes of the diner on him but after the window gave a few inches, he was able to shove it the rest of the way down with his hand. He leaned back, waited, and began to read.
It was not unusual for Death to visit a town such as Kutztown this late in the summer. May and June, now that was his bread and butter when husbands over-promised lavish vacations and new pools. Winter was good to him too given the creation of seasonal depression. But he enjoyed late summer. It gave him the chance to see small town America. The blue collar towns, like Kutztown, that felt that they had a purpose in the gears of this country, no matter the size of the cog.
That cog lay undisturbed in rural Indiana, about twenty minutes off Rt. 69. An hour in each direction found you touching Ft. Wayne or Indianapolis. Quiet for 75 years, Kutztown made not a peep. The townspeople prided themselves on their civil behavior, small dreams, and modest bank accounts. They rooted for Jesus on Sunday mornings and the Colts that afternoon. Streetlights hit the bed around 9:30 and the stars took over until dawn.
Death's client was William "Buck" Howler and he found him arriving at Sal's at two minutes past four. He wasn't scheduled to pick him up until 4:30 and besides, Death was halfway through a two-page book review of Dr. Simon Barone’s memoir: If Time Could Move: My Quest to Meet Jesus. Buck Howler could wait.
The weekend was around the corner and Death was looking forward to it. Since the inception of the 40-hour work week, he kept a tight schedule. A well-organized week yielded a peaceful weekend. In emergencies, he would venture to large city scandals on a Sunday but minions, eager to prove the credentials listed on their resumes, jumped at the chance to take a slice off of Death’s workload on their off days.
Peeping over his paper, Death met the eyes of a woman sitting in the diner. He sighed. It was impossible to do his job without causing a ruckus. His boss hated this. Meetings about the work handbook and team cooperation lined his calendar. He had told Franny, his secretary, that if he had to do one more trust fall at a park pavilion in god-knows-where state park, he might escort himself to the gates.
The woman turned and Death checked his watch. Jesus Christ, it was 4:45. Death threw the paper on the seat beside him and rubbed his eyes. He had to plan this perfectly and perfection was not on his side right now. He would waste thirty minutes grabbing Buck while avoiding touching any other patrons and not damaging the place. One look at Buck told you he wasn’t fast and he had ordered two double cheeseburgers—it wouldn’t be a sprint but a runner was a runner. There was a term in this business—the unicorn—given to any client that didn’t run and accepted their fate. Ninety-eight years on the job and Death had yet to spot one.
Death grabbed his phone. He had a missed call from his boss. Crap. He dialed Scraps, a trusted minion on his way up the ladder.
“Go for Scraps” Scraps answered.
“Hey, it’s D. You covering the weekend for me?”
“I got some time but I’m out Saturday night. Lulu’s got a thing. A play I think. She says I have to go. But don’t worry, I gots the shift covered. You got nothing to worry about.”
“Appreciate it.” Death started the engine and lit a cigarette. “Keep on this Buck guy. I was supposed to nail him today but you know. I don’t think he’ll cause any trouble for a weekend. Oh and call the boss back, will ya? See what he wants and if it can wait for Monday, let it.”
“Will do boss.”
Death threw the phone down and dug around in the glove compartment until he found his GPS. He strung it up on the dash and typed in an address to the Michigan dunes—two hours and fifty minutes.
Putting the truck in reverse, Death let the breeze catch his hood, draining the burden of work and filling it with the hope of a weekend that would never end.
He caught Buck sitting next to the diner window and waved. Buck waved back, tiny drops of confusion and doubt now born in his brain.