A letter and a collision sparked my introduction to a mobster.
The moment before receiving the letter was like a collision in itself as I stood in a waterfront warehouse smelling of fish, old dollar bills and engine grease, fighting back my dread of the reasons my after-school job would call me in earlier in the afternoon than usual.
At first I had enjoyed getting there early. I liked the attention from having to change into my police-uniform-blue armored car services uniform and cap in the Bradshaw High School boys’ room, the looks as I walked down the corridor just after the last bell of the day. The different cliques at their lockers—-the tall, outdoor-smelling athletes, the boys trading strategies for solving algebra equations, and the giggling and gossip-trading girls in tight Levis and short skirts--all turned and gazed at me, almost with respect.
At least none of them tried to make fun of me in my work clothes, and I liked how that felt.
But twelve minutes later I cringed as the warehouse's vault room door banged open and the tall, grim-faced dispatcher handed me the devastating piece of paper that changed everything.
“You are duly advised that you are now under probation for an accident two nights ago," the neatly-typed paragraph read. "It is the policy of ‘E-Z Armored Courier Services' that two accidents damaging our courier division automobiles will be cause for a driver's immediate termination."
"I knew this would happen!" friend and fellow courier Brian DeMec said, gazing over my shoulder.
I closed my eyes against the vision of working forever in a damp dungeon like this if I lost the money source of my college-bound future.
"Carson, it's all because of that thing you keep working on," he said.
When I opened my eyes again, he was pointing to the overstuffed backpack at my feet and the stationery box holding my manuscript that peeked from it.
I looked away behind him, to the rows of red, rust-eaten armored trucks dwarfing a row of small white courier cars.
"You don't need distractions when you’ve got daily deadlines," he said. "You're in the bank delivery business not the publishing business. A car shows its dents the way a truck never does, and we drive their cars."
"I don't let what I'm writing distract me," I said, though my voice was hoarse and I felt weak. "It isn't hurting a thing."
"Carson, you could hang yourself someday on your minor distractions," he said.
For a best friend, he never tried to understand about the manuscript.
"The other night was just a fender bender, not a big accident," I said. "I'm fine." I slipped the letter into my back pocket. "I’ve got a courier route to start."
Part of me, though, couldn't resist being more than a little nervous.
As if I knew a second collision was coming.
It came right at dusk—
--when headlights grazed my windshield and with bang! scrape! shoved me to the curb, tossing manuscript pages and delivery receipts to the floor.
Though dazed, I saw a flash of pink and chrome in my courier car’s rear view mirror. With the vision of that warning letter still burning in my brain, I twisted the wheel and gave the white Ford Escort the gas, making the tires squeal and dirt fly as I u-turned in the street.
My foot hard on the accelerator--as with one hand I adjusted the wire-rimmed glasses half off my face and the cap half off my head--I closed in on a faded-pink Fleetwood Brougham Cadillac heading fast down the barren stretch of road lit by dim street lights.