The day was already hot, the sun beating down like the remnants of an atomic
blast wave. Joe Speers unlocked King’s Auto Emporium and stepped inside. He
went to his desk of twenty-five years, sat down with a heavy sigh, and gazed
out the showroom window. There was no central air conditioning to provide any
type of comfort, the only sound to invade Joe’s thoughts was the constant
tick, tick, tick of the worn out ceiling fan whirling overhead.
Outside, a sun-bleached stretch of highway ran away from the dealership in
both directions, becoming a mirage in the distance as heat radiated off the
asphalt like angry phantom fingers reaching for the sky. A faded banner (which
read King’s Auto Emporium – where a handshake seals the deal) flopped lazily
over the dealerships gravel entrance, and as Joe watched the banner slow dance
with the wind, he wondered how late the new kid was going to be again today.
Dale was young, reckless, and a pain-in-the-ass sometimes. But worst of all,
the kid just couldn’t seem to get with the program.
The front door opened, and in came Tom Stubbs. Tom was a short man with a
protruding gut, graying beard and baldhead. His face wore a permanent forlorn
frown, giving him an eternal, grumpy, go-to-hell look. He raised his eyebrows
in salutation and looked to the empty desk in the corner. “Going to be late
“The boss isn’t going to be happy,” Tom said, taking a seat behind his own
desk. “Mr. King doesn’t like it when we’re late. When is that kid going to
Joe only shrugged again. He knew Tom was right: the boss really did get
agitated when someone was late, and when Mr. King got agitated, life at the
Emporium could become very stressful indeed.
After his heart attack, Joe had learned to roll with the punches, but that
didn’t mean he liked a stressful situation caused by someone else. He also knew
Tom was in the same boat. Though nine years younger than Joe’s sixty-three
years, Tom as well had suffered a heart attack at an early age, and thus tried
to minimize his own stress level..
Tom opened his top drawer, withdrew a clip-on tie, and sighed. “I guess a
subscription to the New York Times would be out of the question,” he said while
adjusting the tie.
Joe gave him a sarcastic wink. “Put it in the suggestion box…see what
Tom barked a laugh. “Yeah, right! The boss won’t even put a/c in this shit
hole and he’s going to spring for the Times? Sure thing. I just miss doing the
crossword – did it everyday at the last dealership I was at.” Tom was silent
for a moment, a faint grin of pleasure dawning on his face. “Those were good
ole’ days…when selling cars was still fun and customers weren’t such a
pain-in-the-ass. Of course, if I knew then what I know now, I would have done a
few things differently…and more honestly. It’s not all about the money. You
know what I mean, Joe?”
Joe didn’t answer. He had returned his attention to the showroom window and
the desolate scene outside. An old Ford Escort, parked closest to the building
with This Weeks Special painted across the windshield, caught Joe’s eye. The
right rear tire was flat. Don’t worry folk, Joe thought. We’ll throw in the air
for free! Then on the heels of that came, Get to have fun with kid today.
As if the mischief ahead had somehow summoned his appearance, twenty-six year
old Dale Harms retched open the showroom door and hurried in.
“I’m here! I’m here! Sorry, guys…I don’t know what the hell happened!”
Dale’s eyes were wide, his dark hair protruding in all directions, his
un-tucked shirt tail flapping behind him like a surrender flag. He looked at
Tom and then Joe, holding his hands up in an exaggerated ‘well’ gesture.
“What’d I miss?”
Tom reached in a drawer and brought out a manila file folder. “Well, sorry to
tell you, kid - Joe was busy and I had already talked to someone, but this guy
came in and wanted help right now.” He gave Joe a secret wink. “I told him it
would be a few minutes, trying to buy you some time to get here. But he
wouldn’t wait and paid cash for that old Dodge truck out front. He’ll be by
later to pick it up. Sorry kid – made a pretty good hit to boot. Put
four-hundred dollars in my pocket.”
“Damn it!” Dale screamed, stomping his foot like a child throwing a tantrum.
“I was only fifteen minutes late! You couldn’t have put him off for fifteen
Joe was all but dying inside with laughter. The kid was so gullible…so damn
“Whoa! Calm down there, Dale,” Tom plowed on. “Tell you what I’ll do – I’ve
got to run a few errands later, so you can deliver it for me and I’ll buy you
lunch. Sound fair?”
Dale threw his hand up and went to his desk. “Man, this sucks! You could have
made him wait a few more minutes!”
Joe gave the kid a stern look, still doing all he could to hold it together.
“Dale, Tom wasn’t the one who was late. You were.”
Dale looked exasperated. “I couldn’t help it! I got here as soon as I
could…but something came up and I had to…to…hell, I don’t even know! I’m too
pissed to think!”
Joe looked to Tom and gave him the Okay, let him off the hook nod.
Tom rolled his eyes. He was in the mood to push it further, but didn’t.
“Look,” Tom said, and dropped the phony file folder into the trash.
Dale stared at the trashcan. “What’d you do that for?”
Joe got up and stretched his back, relishing the series of muffled pops
running up and down his spine. “You’re so easy, kid. We were pulling your leg.
It’s been deader than dog shit, and do you really think Tom could have sold and
wrote a deal that quick? Not on his best day.”
“Hey,” Tom said, trying to sound hurt.
Joe ignored him. “On the other hand…you know Mr. King gets pissy when we’re
late, and you’ve been late everyday since you’ve started.”
Dale lowered his head, looking like a scolded puppy. “I know…I know. I try to
get here on time, and something always comes up. Always! No matter what I do,
it just doesn’t seem to matter. I can’t even remember…”
Joe put a hand up. “That’s enough. Tomorrows a new day, and the boss didn’t
come in this morning anyways. But you have to get with the program, Dale. Who
knows where you’ll end up if Mr. King fires you. Isn’t that what happened at
the last dealership you were at? You were running late and driving like a
maniac and ended up totaling a company vehicle where some innocent people got
hurt? And then…” Joe wanted to continue, but Tom cut in.
“Hey, Joe? Duck on the pond. Looks like you’re buddy is back again.”
In unison, Joe and Dale glanced out the showroom window and watched as a beat
up old Chevy cruised slowly through the lot and parked in front of the
building. Joe could see a thin tendril of heated steam lacing its way through
the grill, and knew the old Chevy had probably lost her water pump.
“There you go, Joe – lay down of the day,” Tom said. “He either finally buys
a better car or walks home. Lucky bastard – finally gonna get him. You get all
the easy deals.”
Joe walked to his desk, picked up his clipboard, sighed heavily, and made for
the front door. “Tom, you know as well as I do that there is nothing easy about
a car deal anymore.” He pushed open the showroom door, letting in a blast of
heat, and turned to Dale. “Oh yeah, kid…looks like that cats been at the valve
stems again - the Escort out front has a flat.”
This was another bit of bullshit Dale always fell for, and Joe relished every
chance to watch the dumb ass as he fumble around the lot and tried to hunt down
the stem-chewing ghost cat.
“Handle it, will ya?” Joe said as the door shut behind him.
Dale watched with jealous greed as the elderly owner of the Chevy got out and
waited for Joe. “Old bastard looks like an ogre,” he said through gritted
teeth. “Probably senile and thinks he’s at the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.”
Tom picked up a dated car magazine and flipped through it with disinterest.
“Knock it off kid. I don’t want to listen to your bitching. Everyday it’s the
same shit – Joe gets a customer and you start pacing around like a cat in heat.
Worry about you, not about what Joe’s doing. Go handle that flat tire.”
Dale continued to stare out at Joe and his customer, the two men possessing
his eyes like demon spirits. “Well…can you at least tell me when the old farts
been in before?”
Tom lowered the magazine, gave the kid a puzzled look, and thought, He really
doesn’t remember. “Joe didn’t tell you the story behind that old timer?”
Now it was Dale’s turn to look perplexed. “No…why?”
“Because it’s none of you’re fucking business, that’s why!” Tom blurted,
concealing his face once more behind the magazine. “Now go straighten yourself
up…fix your hair, tuck your shirt in. You look like shit!”
Dale stood where he was for the moment, working his jaw and staring hatefully
at the upraised magazine, and then stalked off. Tom peeked over the top of his
reading material and watched him go.
“Kid just doesn’t get it,” Tom mumbled, rubbing his chest, which was more
habit now than to ease pain.
A short time later, Joe pulled open the showroom door and led his ancient
customer inside. Good lord, Tom thought. Dale’s right – he does look like an
ogre! It’s like he’s aged ten years overnight! The old man’s face resembled an
overripe prune, his beak-of-a-nose protruding out like a worn out shoe horn
with a strawberry sore the size of pencil eraser rooted to the left nostril,
and as they passed, the old timer looked to Tom and scowled.
“Aint gonna sell nothin’ sittin on your ass all day,” he croaked.
Tom straightened, but didn’t respond. What would be the point: the old
bastard was looking for a confrontation; Tom could read it in his eyes.
“Over here, Mr. Smites,” Joe said through a stressed grin, motioning towards
The old man shuffled over, still muttering under his breath. “Lazy ass car
Tom waited for him to settle across from Joe and then brought the magazine
back up in defiance.
“No horseshit either this time,” came Mr. Smites grated voice. “I want your
best price, god-dammit!”
Dale re-emerged from the back, saw the customer at Joe’s desk, and stalked
over to Tom. “Already? He sold him already?”
“Dale, go bother somebody else,” Tom said without lowering the magazine.
“All my customers are a huge pain-in-the-ass,” Dale plowed on. “Every deal is
always a fucking marathon.”
Tom remained engrossed in his reading, ignoring him.
Dale eventually wondered over to the showroom window and stared out. He
reached up and pulled at his shirt collar, the stifling heat and the constant
tick, tick, tick of the useless ceiling fan crawling over his stressed mind
like an army of angry fire ants. Man, I need to sell something, he thought.
Outside, a dust devil danced to life and an old candy bar wrapper, caught in
the whirlwind, drew Dale’s attention as it spun spastically across the parched
gravel and lodged under the tire of an old Dodge. For some reason, this scene
brought on a strong feeling of de’javu for Dale, as if he’d watched the same
candy wrapper make the same trip over the same number of countless days. What’s
so interesting about a candy wrapper? he pondered as the feeling began to
depart. Why would that cause such a…
Then a rusty cargo van pulled onto the lot, and Dale’s fixation on the candy
wrapper evaporated like dry ice; he was out the door and to the van before the
customer could even open his door.
Tom watched the spectacle and shook his head. Just doesn’t get it.
“That’s bullshit!” Tom heard, and diverted his attention to Joe’s desk. The
ogre was up on his feet and waiving an arthritic finger in Joe’s tolerant face.
“Wholesale price my ass,” Mr. Smites screeched. “I can damn near buy a new one
Joe handled the abuse like an old pro. “Alright, Mr. Smites: What did you
have in mind?”
The old man frowned like a bully receiving an unfair scolding. “What I have
in mind is leaving! I’ve never been raped in my life and don’t intend to start
Offering an honest smile, Joe said, “Of course not. What did you have in
mind as far as price, Mr. Smites?”
“The most I’ll pay and the least you’ll take,” the old man growled, looking
now more like an evil troll than the ogre Dale had mentioned.
After spending more than forty years in the car business, nothing about a
customer surprised Joe anymore: the elderly with their catheter bags dangling
from their waistbands; the middle-aged yuppies allowing their priceless dogs to
piss on the showroom floor and then never looking back; the teen-aged punks
with their infected tongue rings and smart-ass attitudes.
He had seen it all.
But something about that strawberry sore protruding from Mr. Smites left
nostril made Joe’s flesh crawl. It had been there before, but he didn’t
remember it being so pronounced in their previous meetings; the sore now
swelling as air passed through the old man’s nostrils as if proclaiming Here I
am! I’m Alive! In addition, a malodorous odor had crept into Joe’s sinuses that
reminded him of rotting meat, and he wanted nothing more than to send Mr.
Smites, and his strawberry sore, down the road. But times had changed, hadn’t
they? Yes indeed, times had changed. And unlike Dale, Joe knew that there were
a lot worse places he could have ended up other than King’s Auto Emporium, and
as unpleasant as the old crotch sitting before him was, Joe would do his best
to claim the sale. Until the banner outside said Joe Speer’s Auto Sales, the
customer belonged to Mr. King, and the boss insisted on one-hundred percent
Rule number one: The customer was always right - Rule number two: If the
customer was wrong, refer back to rule number one.
“Hey,” Mr. Smites barked, bringing Joe back from his thoughts. “Are you
listening to me, or sitting there having fantasies about little boys? I don’t
buy cars from perverts.”
The showroom door opened, and as Joe began the chore of trying to close his
customer again, Dale moped in and went to Tom’s desk.
“Yeesss,” Tom said, annoyed.
“The guy out front wants to buy the Dodge cargo van,” Dale said in an
Tom lifted an eyebrow. “So what’s the problem? Bring him inside and sell it
“He won’t come inside!” Dale blurted. “I’ve tried that before…I mean…I know
he won’t come inside! It’s like I’ve tried to sell him before, but it’s
not…man, I don’t know what I’m saying or thinking! He just wants a price!”
“Hey,” Mr. Smites barked. “Hold it down over there! I’m trying to think - you
snot nosed little punk.”
Dale advanced a step towards the old man, a look of murderous fury twisting
his face, but before he could take his second step, Tom’s hand clamped down on
his wrist like a vice.
“I don’t think so, Dale. Let it go.”
Dale tried to pull free, but with little effort. He focused his attention
back on Tom and sighed. “Tom, it’s like I’ve already worked a deal with this
guy on the cargo van - not a real deal, but a dream deal or something. But
that’s impossible! I’ve never met the guy before in my life!”
“Nothings impossible, kid. That car accident messed you up pretty good,
didn’t it.” Tom wasn’t asking, but stating a fact. “Maybe you did wait on him
at one time or another and you just don’t remember. Maybe if you think on it
real hard, it’ll all come together for you.”
Dale shook his head. “What the hell are you talking about? I just told you
that I’ve never met the guy before. It’s just that…”
Tom could see confusion dancing a jig in Dale’s eyes.
“Never mind,” Dale said. “He won’t come inside. He just wants me to bring him
the best price on that cargo and then think about it overnight. I told him if
he came inside I’d give him a deal he couldn’t refuse, but he won’t do it! Mr.
King is going to think I’m weak!”
You are, kid, Tom thought, but said nothing.
“Help me out, Tom,” Dale whined. “What should I do?”
Tom sighed and rubbed his chest. He desperately wished he had taken better
care of himself when he was Dale’s age – no cigarettes, no booze, no drugs, no
wild parties, no orgies – but hey…that was the sixties. Who knew?
But it didn’t stop in the sixties…did it now? A voice whispered deep in Tom’s
head. No, I think not. The cigs didn’t help, but it was the booze that lost you
your cushy job at Rodeo Cadillac, and then seized your heart like an old
engine. But look on the bright side, Tommy Boy! At least you’re still in the
“Shut up,” Tom uttered.
“What the hell did I do?” Dale whined.
Tom waived a dismissive hand. “Nothing…never mind. Alright, get the keys to
the van he wants. Go out and get him in it, start it up, pop the hood, stall
him. Maybe slowing him down a little will bring him around to coming inside.”
A ray of hope dawned on Dale’s face. “Yeah…alright…slow him down. Cool, I can
do that.” Dale’s face clouded. “But what if he leaves?”
If, if, if,” Tom said in a mocking tone. “If a frog had wings it wouldn’t
bump its ass every time it jumped.”
Dale nodded and headed for the key board.
Tom looked over to see how Joe was fairing, the old man named Mr. Smites and
Joe in a whispered conversation of wits, their faces inches apart like two
lovers anticipating the first kiss – which made Tom shudder. How can he stand
the sight of that sore right up close like that? You’re a stronger man than I,
Dale came bouncing back with the van keys and paused at Tom’s desk. “If the
guy wants to bolt, will you come out and talk to him, Tom?”
Tom shoed him away. “Go do what we talked about first…you can do it, Dale. Go
take control of the situation.”
Dale grinned, now beaming with self-confidence from Tom’s pep talk. “All
right, I’ll try. Take control, huh?”
“Take control,” Tom repeated, and Dale bee-bopped out the door. “Maybe you’ll
learn something new today, kid,” Tom said, the door closing and a blast of heat
buffeting his brow, and felt pity for Dale.
Tom knew that he and Joe had many demons following them for all the shit they
had done over the years. But as for Dale? How could a kid his age have burned
so many bridges that he had ended up with no other choice but to work in a shit
hole like King’s Auto? And then there was the fact that if he didn’t shape up
pretty damn quick and get with the program, who knew what kind of hell hole
he’d end up in next.
“Come on, kid,” Tom mumbled as he watched Dale through the dusty showroom
window as he unlocked the cargo van for the customer. “Use your head and learn.
Take control – get with the program…before it’s too late.”
“Make it snappy,” Mr. Smites spat, and Tom turned to watch as Joe got to his
feet and made his way to the back room. The old man caught Tom’s stare and
screwed his face into a twisted snarl. “What are you looking at, sonny? You got
a thing for old bastards like me with sores on their noses?” He jutted out his
chin and extended his wrinkled neck, tilting his nose up and displaying a
profile like a sculptor’s nightmare. “Wanna kiss it and make it all better?
Maybe let your tongue dance around the edges?”
Tom only shook his head, got up, and went in back to find Joe.
“Pleasant customer you’ve got there,” Tom said as Joe flipped through the
“Oh yea, a real peach isn’t he.”
Tom snorted a laugh and then frowned. “Hey, Joe?”
Joe looked up, saw the forlorn look deepen on Tom’s face, and straightened.
“What’s up, Tom? What’s wrong?”
Tom shrugged. “Nothing…everything…I don’t know.”
“Come on, Tom. We’ve been working together for what…six years now? What’s on
Tom took a deep breath and let it out. “It’s Dale.”
Joe gave him a flat stare. “What about him? What’s he done now?”
“That’s just it,” Tom said, trying to grapple with how to proceed. “You and I
have talked…exchanged our past stories including ups and downs – with more
downs than anything. And we both know we did a lot of thing we probably
shouldn’t have…hurt a lot of people and threw our own lives down the toilet.
But Dale? Dale’s just a kid, for Christ sakes! What is he…twenty-six? Everybody
does crazy shit when their young, I know I did! Where could he have gone so
wrong that he ended up here at King’s Auto Emporium with two crusty old
bastards like us? I mean, after all, maybe we deserve to be here, and it could
be worse. But does he? I just see the potential in Dale…in what he could have
been. That’s all.”
Tom could see that Joe wasn’t following him, so just spat it out. “Do you
think there could be possible redemption in his future? Maybe a chance to start
over with a clean slate, say…I don’t know…someplace where nobody knows he has a
history of being such a shit?”
Joe clamped a hand on Tom’s shoulder. “Look, Tom – you worry too much. Dale’s
future isn’t up to us. The kid made his own bed. Don’t forget that he’s the one
who got behind the wheel of a company car, blasted out of his mind, and killed
two innocent pedestrians. I feel the opposite. He’s lucky Mr. King gave him
this job in the first place. Things could have turned out differently. Dale
could be rotting away in some dark prison cell instead of here keeping us
company. So as far as I’m concerned, he made out like a bandit.”
Joe could still see a troubled look in Tom’s eyes. “Look…let’s worry about
getting Dale on track first. Because if he doesn’t figure it out pretty quick,
it won’t matter anyway. Right?”
Tom nodded. What else was there?
“Now,” Joe said, trying to sound positive. “Let me see if I can’t handle the
problem at hand. “ He removed a stock card from the inventory book and flipped
it back and forth. “Let’s see if I can’t make the boss happy and sell something
Tom laughed. “Good luck.”
“Yea, no kidding,” Joe said grudgingly. “Where are the car gods when you need
They headed back towards the front, neither laughing anymore.
“Hey! Where are you going,” Joe said, trying to sound hurt. Mr. Smites was up
and heading for the door.
“I’m tired of waiting around while you two have a bullshit session. What ever
happened to customer service?”
Tom could see that Joe had damn near reached his boiling point and tugged at
his sleeve. “Hang in there, tiger.”
Joe put an arm around the old man’s shoulder, leading him back to his desk.
“Well, the waits over…and I’ve made you a deal you won’t be able to refuse.”
The showroom door flew open, a blast of heated air pelting Tom in the face
like an open furnace, and Dale came in looking more frustrated than ever. “He
gave me his name – Mr. Burns – but that’s all! He won’t come inside, won’t
drive the damn thing…, hell, he won’t even sit in it!”
Tom saw Mr. Smites out of the corner of his eye watching the scenario unfold,
saw the blackened stumps of his old mans grin turn into a spiteful smile.
“Mr. Smites,” Joe said, “have a seat and I’ll go over the figures.”
The old man’s eyes twinkled. “Whoa, Whoa…hold on a minute,” he said in a
playful tone. “I’m enjoying the show. That punk kid couldn’t close a paper bag
if his life depended on it.”
Joe had had enough. “Mr. Smites…that’s none of your concern.”
The old man whirled in fury, his amused smile turning into a hateful snarl.
All at once, Joe knew the battle was lost, civilized dealings no longer an
option, but he didn’t care. In the beginning, his salesman’s nature, hardwired
into his genetic make-up like a breed of champion dog, insisted that this was
the day – he was going to finally sell the miserable old bastard standing
before him. But now Joe realized that his visit to Fantasy Island had ended.
“Don’t you tell me what is and isn’t my business, you son-of-a-bitch,” Mr.
Smites screamed in a hiss.
Joe reached across his desk, grabbed the old man by the collar, and pulled
him forward. “Now you listen to me, you nasty old fuck! I’ve put up with your
abuse for far too long, and it ends today.” The strawberry sore on Mr. Smites
nose flared and contracted as the old man’s respiration increased, but Joe
ignored it. He was too pissed to let it bother him anymore. “I want you the
hell out of here and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out!”
Meanwhile, Dale began pleading with Tom for him to go out and talk to his
customer before he could leave, his voice rising in the chaos as Joe and Mr.
Smites began exchanging verbal volleys of abuse.
“Get your hands off me, you shit bag,” the old man half whined, half
screeched. “I’ll have your job for this!”
“Get out, you old fuck,” Joe blasted back.
“Please, Tom,” Dale brayed, “please go talk to the guy. Help me out! I’ve got
to break the ice! I can’t lose this job!”
And as the show continued, anarchy in full swing, Tom’s eyes caught movement
outside. A large, black SUV with dark tinted windows pulled into the lot, its
extravagant chrome package reflecting in the sun and casting intricate patterns
of reflective light across the front of King’s Auto Emporium.
“The boss is here,” Tom said, and the concern he heard in his own voice
scared him a little.
As if scripted, Dale, Joe, and Mr. Smites swiveled their heads to the
showroom window and watched as the gaudily accessorized SUV pulled through the
lot, the smoke tinted windows offering no clue of the driver’s identity, the
22” low profile tires and spinner rims giving the impression of bullet-time
The driver’s window glided down as Dale’s customer on the cargo van
approached to talk with the driver. The conversation was brief, but whatever
was said seemed to entice Dale’s stubborn customer enough for him to follow the
black SUV to the parking place marked Mr. King.
Mr. Smites turned to face Joe, who was still gripping his shirt collar, and
grinned like a shark. “Now that’s who I want to see: the Big Man. Now let go of
my shirt, Joe, because I think it’s time we all sat down and have a nice long
chat, don’t you?”
Joe’s hands relaxed, a look of sad defeat clouding his face as the old man
pulled his collar down in a series of quick, hard yanks.
“Now the real fun begins,” Mr. Smites said with arrogance, and winked.
“Just what the hell’s that suppose to mean,” Dale asked as if offended.
“You’re the one who…”
“Shut up, Dale,” Tom snapped, “just shut the fuck up!”
Dale jumped, confused and hurt by Tom’s tone, but closed his mouth.
The driver’s door of the SUV opened, the man that stepped out wearing a
charcoal, three piece suit and bright red tie. He was tall, at least six-four,
and bore a striking resemblance to the actor, Jack Nicholson. Conversing
briefly with Dale’s cargo van customer, Mr. King put an arm around the man’s
shoulder and led him through the showroom door.
After surveying his surroundings in casual style, Mr. King let his startling
blue eyes settle on Dale and pleasantly smiled. “Dale, Mr. Burns would like to
purchase the cargo van out front. Would you please show him to your desk and
write it up.”
Dale only stared in slack-jawed wonder. Not only did the boss look like Jack
Nicholson, but his voice was a silky, identical match.
Dale came out of his haze. “Oh…uhh, yes sir.” He took a step and then
hesitated. “But we never talked price.”
Joe and Tom both flinched while The Boss smiled a knowing, fatherly smile.
“It’s all worked out, Dale. Just write it up.”
Mr. King planted a hand on Tom’s shoulder, “Tom, How the hell are you!” and
laughed. “No pun intended.”
Tom shuddered, but nodded and grunted a laugh.
“Ahhh, Joe!” Mr. King said jubilantly. “I see you’re working a hot deal!
Anything I can do to help?”
Mr. Smites eyes blazed with revenge. “You bet you ass you can help! Your so
called salesman here was in the process of giving me the bums rush out the door
right before you showed up.”
Mr. King turned to Joe, a puzzled, sad look cascading down his face like a
slow moving stream. “Is this true , Joe?”
That was when Joe realized two things: the sore on Mr. Smites nose made sense
now, and the day was going to end badly – not just for Dale, but for all three
“And to boot,” Mr. Smites added before Joe could answer, “he grabbed me by
the collar in anger and threatened me. I might wanna press charges.”
Mr. King gave the old man a sharp look, and Mr. Smites flinched back as if
talking out of turn hadn’t been such a good idea.
Then the bosses face broke into a sunny smile. “Well now, I don’t think that
will be necessary. Do you, Joe?”
Joe closed his eyes and sighed. “No, sir…my apologies, Mr. Smites.”
“Good…good,” Mr. King said, clearly pleased. “Now, what can I do to help, Mr.
Smites? Where do we need to be to send you home in a new vehicle and make you a
“Firing this asshole would be a start,” the old man snarled.
Mr. King straightened to his full height, glaring at Mr. Smites and working
The old man shrank down in his chair, looking old and feeble. “Well, maybe
that’s a little harsh. I just want a good deal.”
Mr. King beamed with delight. “Now that we can do! Joe?”
Joe nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Good,” Mr. King said. “Now take all of Mr. Smites information and write it
up. Then I’ll give you the figures and Mr. Smites will be so happy that he
won’t be able to sign fast enough.”
“Maybe you should let Tom do it,” Joe shot back, “in light of the tension
between us. I’m sure Mr. Smites would much rather…” Joe grimaced, and grabbed
at his chest in pain.
“I want you to do it, Joe.” Mr. King growled, regarding Joe with arrogance.
“Yes…yes, sir,” Joe managed to croak, “no problem,” and sighed in relief as
the pain receded.
“Good!” Mr. King exclaimed.
Dale stepped forward before Tom could grab him. “Mr. King?”
“What is it, Dale?” Agitated. “Are you done writing up Mr. Burns?”
“Not yet…but I would be happy to help Joe sell his customer. He doesn’t look
A tendril of smoke escaped Mr. King’s left nostril, the smell of sulfur
filling the small showroom.
“That’s just it, kid,” Joe said with distaste. “We never sell anything – just
one miserable customer after another. He thinks it’s funny.”
“Why would he think it’s funny,” Dale asked, truly bewildered by the
statement…and the smoke. He never noticed Mr. King lighting a cigarette. Then
his bewilderment vanished as a wet tearing sound fill the air and two
gore-covered horns began to sprout from Mr. King’s forehead.
“Because I like closing the deals myself,” Satan said. “It shows how weak you
A high-pitched squeak of laughter escaped the man known as Mr. Smites, the
three condemned men watching in revolution and Satan beaming with a fathers
pride as Mr. Smites began to shrivel and darken, morphing into a cross between
an imp and gargoyle as the strawberry sore tore open and became a sucking gill
“What’s happening,” Dale whined in a small, horrified voice. “This isn’t
Tom gave the kid a look of pity and closed his eyes. “It is possible,
kid…think about it.”
“Think about what?” Dale blurted though a sob.
Satan seemed to be ignoring the exchange, wrapped up in the envy of his own
creations as the cargo van buyer, Mr. Burns, turned red and began trembling
like a tuning fork. A moment later, boiling tumors pushed through the reddening
skin and ruptured, sending a spray of black gore in all directions as mouthed
tentacles wiggled out in newfound freedom.
“Wonderful!” Satan exclaimed as if watching a magician perform a good trick.
Tom grabbed Dale by the chin and pulled his head around so they were eye to
eye – Tom’s hazel eyes blazing with knowledge, Dale’s green eyes blazing with
fear. “What do you remember after the car accident, Dale, the one that killed
the two innocent bystanders?”
Dale’s eyes began jerking back and forth as if he was having a waking dream.
“I remember…remember…” A look of terrified confusion twisted his face. “I don’t
remember anything!” And then a dark, horrible realization set in. “I died? Is
that what you’re saying: that I died and I’m in…” He couldn’t say it, then did.
“I’m in hell?”
Tom gave him a hard look. “Maybe tomorrow you’ll finally remember this time.”
“Remember?” Dale asked, looking like a confused old woman. “This time?”
“Oh, quit your blathering!” Satan barked as he pushed away a tentacle seeking
affection. “You’re making my ears hurt.”
Joe stood up and joined his co-workers as the two creatures known as Smites
and Burns, (Satan does love his clever puns), slithered and coed and worshiped
“Please,” Dale begged, “please let me have another chance. I don’t deserve to
“He wants another chance,” the Smites creature mocked.
“Doesn’t deserve to be here,” Burns chimed in through a garbling mouth of
Joe and Tom only remained silent. They knew the fun was just beginning.
They knew the program.
Outside, the sky became a boiling river of dark red, endless and churning
like an eternal storm of blood. A microburst of super heated air blasted
downward, setting afire the streamers and banner (Kings Auto Sale – Where a
handshake seals the deal). The cars in inventory burst into flames, the tires
melting off and creating pools of bubbling tar.
Satan firmed his lips and scratched his chin as if pondering a great
question. Then he brightened. “King’s is where you belong now, Dale.” He
surveyed each of them with a cold, possessive stare. “It’s where each of you
belongs. Consider it job security.”