A Network Story
Joey Lightfoot usually scored the highest in positive attitude drills and he bagged the Miller account on one of his conquer-the-world sales outings. He did a lot for this Miller guy, we all did, but in the end he became a roadblock to the team's success and Joey arranged to meet me for a discussion in regards to the sour deal.
I waited at the Ann Frills desert joint out on 303, enjoying the flavours of spring, Colombian coffee and cherry cheesecake. The only blemish on the budding green world beyond the open window being some country-style toughs parked in a red convertible. I could see them spilling whiskey and puckering their lips as they exhaled blue geysers of hydro pot smoke. It really made me wonder what they had for brains to be in need of dope on such a beautiful day.
Then Joey drove in and I grinned, thinking how he looked higher than they did though success and not dope had him on the up. Born a country hick, Joey stretched to a thin 6'4” behind the wheel. He had what it takes to sell in the countryside - a handsome mule-face, eyes of shining blue sincerity. His singsong rustic voice could draw leads faster than old Hank Williams could draw hillbillies. An aura of Midas glowed at his fingertips, and since he sold vacuum cleaners and household stuff, he needed the magic. The Babe Ruth Hurricane carried a price tag that really belonged on a big television set or an oven. For the money, it promised to make cleaning a rug as much fun as hitting a home run.
Joey used home run in many of the slogans he dreamed up and as I watched him get out I could see that the sneering local toughs were thinking home run, too, only they were planning to use Joey as the bat.
The biggest of them, a lumpy guy with reddened eyes the size of two dollar coins and uncombed blond hair spiked by grease and the highway winds, hopped out and stepped into Joey's path.
Just on a notion, I pulled out my notebook and listed something under The Network, Strengths and Weaknesses of the Road Team. It had to do with fighting. We had listed all sorts of strengths and weaknesses of members, yet we had neglected to mention muscle and that would never do.
My note mentioned that Joey lacked muscle and the ability to defend himself. Perhaps a self-defense course could be recommended at the next sales strategy session. And as I wrote the note, I could see that the country punk was balling his big fist. Joey would last about one second, and then he would be pile-driven into the earth. Which would never do - the team needed him for leads. Even a blemish on his face could be damaging. The nightmare possibility of our Team coming in lower than the Ottawa team on overall Network growth statistics popped into mind.
It would never do so I simply stood up and kicked the entire picture window out, causing Joey and the stoners to look in my direction and everyone inside to duck and move back. Sucker expressions expanded their faces, and I decided to complete my act before their brains came back into full order.
I pocketed my pen and smoothed my suit as they watched. Broken glass crunching underfoot, I walked to the front door, pulling out another pen as I stepped up to them.
Joey now realized the situation he'd walked into, and the speechless blond gel head had found his voice. “Hey, asshole,” he said. “You can't do that to Ann's window.”
“I know,” I said, flipping the silver pen tube and pressing a button that sent brown mist rushing into his face. “And I can't do this either. Least I mean I couldn't do it if the Network didn't allow it.”
Falling to the dust, the punk's only answer was to claw at his face and choke on the pepper spray. Then the stupid expression of another big guy melted and became one of outrage. He leapt from the front passenger seat and came after me, taking a swing that I ducked. Catching him by the throat, I used the pen to carve two deep gouges in his face, and while he was reeling from that, I hit him hard in the balls. I stepped back as he fell.
The drunken driver had seen enough, he spun his tires, shooting gravel as he backed away and turned out. A moment later, he was racing off on the misty spring highway.
Dust was settling on my suit. It pissed me off. Batting it off I signaled Joey to follow and we left the two guys moaning in the gravel as we went back inside.
Ann Frills was at the door, her blond bangs and dark hollow eyes shaping a tunnel of interest. “Put it on my account,” I said. And she nodded, showing her Chiclets as she smiled and turned. I heard her yelling to her kitchen boy as we sat down, telling him to call the glass company. I knew it wouldn't be a problem. Ann was on the Team; we brought lots of business her way. The local lawman, Don Nelson, was also in the Network, and if he came out, he would charge the local punks with breaking the window and force them to sign a purchase paper for a big order of products from his wife's direct Internet sales company.
The kitchen boy cleaned up the broken glass and if anything the fresh air improved the atmosphere in Ann's. Uneasiness over the scrap faded, but another curtain of bad feelings descended as Joey and I discussed the Miller account.
“So it is a serious problem,” Joey said.
“Okay. I want a full report before I decide. Same as always.”
“Pretty much the usual,” Joey said. “I did a run out on the Kingston back roads and came up with Miller - a city executive turned country gentry. He built a house out there for his wife and they had barely moved in it when she left him. I sold him a vacuum and while making the sale I discovered that he was lonely and bisexual. He came onto to me but I managed to duck out with a promise to return. When I did, it was with Uncle Merv, our representative in charge of sales to homosexual clients. Merv hit it off with Miller and when I left, they were necking on the couch. After that, things went smoothly right through the network. I passed out the lead slip and everyone contacted Merv to arrange for a piece of the action. Ann Frills delivered all of Miller's meals. Mary Sampson got a cleaning contract from him. Alf sold him encyclopedias and discs. On the weekends, Merv got him drunk and took him on shopping sprees at member stores. He bought a few big-ticket items. Wannamaker sold him two powerboats and Jackson sold him a Mercedes. By the time a month had passed, he was in love with Merv and Danny came in and arranged a new life insurance deal. He has a million-dollar policy and Merv is the main beneficiary. A declaration of his homosexuality is contained in it. He also bought a statue for his grave and an expensive funeral package from Weaver.”
“Sounds ideal,” I said. “It's not often that a lead pays off so big. So why do you need a follow-up? Something I can do to smooth some ruffled feathers? Or is it a case where the money has run out?”
“Miller has a stable income and perfect health. His feathers are ruffled and you won't be able to smooth them.”
“Got a report from Officer Don Nelson - Miller was in town at the police station asking questions about Uncle Merv. Nelson didn't help him, but he says that Miller is talking about hiring a detective. He thinks we're all part of a big conspiracy.”
“Damn that Merv - he's been skimming the customer again. He's likely pulled about fifty thousand out of Miller's accounts. If a detective gets a chance to investigate we'll be screwed.”
“Not if you come in and play the detective.”
“I could try that. Okay - let's go out to Miller's now and see how we stand.”
Another lead gone full circle, I thought as I followed Joey out into the lot. On the way to the car, I noticed that the two local toughs were still there. The guy I pepper sprayed shivered beside a bucket of dirty water, trying to wash the pain out of his face. His pal was nearby, moaning and holding his crotch.
“Jeez, I didn't realize I hit him that hard,” I said.
“You going to leave them here? What if they go after Ann?”
“You have a point and I may be able to use them,” I said, and then I looked around as I walked over to them. Ann's place was now deserted. The odd car buzzed by on the highway. Stooping I picked up a discarded Coke bottle and dipped it in the bucket. Then I pulled a bag of white powder from my coat lining and poured it in. The drug being angel dust - about ten times the normal dose a person would take. “Okay boys, we're going to drive you to the hospital. Ann wants you to drink some of this water and aspirins. It'll help kill the pain.”
The guy with the sore balls reached out right away and downed about half the bottle. The other chap was a little more difficult. I ended up yanking his neck back and forcing him to swallow it. Joey helped me toss them in the backseat, and then we were off on the road to Miller country.
A rough stretch of 303 turned through valleys of dense deciduous forest and rose through hills of pine. A meadowland covered about 50 acres on the last run up to his house. Robins, jays and butterflies flew on a fragrant dandelion breeze - an atmosphere that would have been perfect if it weren't for the vomiting trash rolling about in the back seat.
Glancing back, I saw froth and swollen lips.
“Shit, they're puking on my new upholstery,” Joey said.
“Just use your Babe Ruth Hurricane, it's guaranteed to vacuum up any mess.”
He gave me a sad grin. “Why not dump them here?”
“No, not here - I want to see what Miller's angle is before I do anything.”
“Sure, you're in charge of finalizing this deal. Say, you seen these yet?”
He handed me a large plastic card. A scroll embossed with gold lace formed the background image. As I glanced down it I found slogans like Feed the Need, Bet you can't eat just one, A little dab 'ill do yah . . . and so on. “Interesting, but what's it for?”
“A little thing we’re compiling at the church. A scroll of the best ad slogans of all time.”
“Nice touch. I've been meaning to get by for a service. I think it's great that we have a reverend in the Network now.”
“It is great and he thinks just like us. We've got our sales awards and ribbons decorating the walls and we've replaced the old book with our new Online Sales Bible and a holy motto that says -- If you eat our Jesus bread you're eating the Breakfast of Champions.”
Modern country houses generally look impressive and the tranquil atmosphere and bright sunshine made a gem of Miller's place. Foliage crept over the stone walls, the windows shone like facets and the paint glowed with perfect luminance. Joey mentioned that with land values rising by the day out here, Miller was getting richer by the moment.
Joey pulled in and parked. We walked up to the oak door. He mentioned that one of the reasons for the tranquility was that Miller lived alone.
“Strange bird, but rich,” I said.
“Guess I might as well outline the problem,” Joey said. “Miller is what you could call brilliant but also paranoid. No one can work for him for long before he fires them. He brings out different people on contract to work on the house. What it means for the network is that since Miller sees conspiracies by nature, he has noticed that everyone he has been buying from seems somehow connected. He believes there has been a conspiracy to rip him off and his past records show that he will likely hire detectives to investigate us. Of course anyone he hires will know he is a nut, but routine digging might still mean trouble for us.”
“Trouble, you can say that again.” My hair nearly stood on end at the thought of this well-connected corporate guy paying to have us done in.
“I'm leaving the decisions to you,” Joey said. “You figure out what has to be done.”
Suddenly feeling the weight of the stolen police Glock in my pocket, I knew what to do. The Glock was a gun that resisted ballistic tests, which is why I kept it. I considered shooting Miller as soon as he answered the door, but when no one answered; I reconsidered and decided we had better talk to the guy first.
“He has a gazebo in the meadow behind the place,” Joey said. “Likes to sit out there and read surrounded by his weed garden.”
And that turned out to be the case. We walked through trimmed bushes and windy maples to the back and spotted Miller sitting on a white wicker chair in the gazebo. He didn't look up from the coffee-table book he was reading until we were nearly on him.
Miller had an impressive shock of golden hair, clear blue eyes and a smile that never quit. He even had that salesman's quality of smiling while he gave you shit. And shit was what he gave us. He said a quick hello then pointed a finger at Joey and began to lecture him on manners. Apparently, Miller didn't like being disturbed during his reading hour.
Joey tried to reply but Miller kept cutting him off. The initial grin gave way to anger on Miller's face. His quick temper and obvious paranoid lines were a tip that he had gone off his nut some years ago. “I know Merv is in their pay,” he said. “You all are -- masquerading as a bunch of shallow business and sales people. You made one big mistake -- I know that no one could be as devoid of character and phony as you people are -- so that means you’re actors. You're brainwashed losers who sold out to the Alien Nation. Now it isn't enough to have the robot ships filming me from the treetops, you have to get close and rob me of every shred of dignity. But you won't get away with it. You won't -- because I'm bringing in a team to sweep this place of the robot bugs and the human bugs. And that means you.”
He glanced accusingly back at Joey and continued with his paranoid rant. I thought it over, considering that under other circumstances Miller could've been an asset. But he knew enough to get some sort of crazy investigation going and that meant the team was in danger. Time had come to abort this sales operation. I figured that even the big outfit he worked for had to know he was nuts and that would work to our advantage.
Shards of cracked sunshine fell tinkling through the rocking maples - a sound like broken wind chimes. I had the old power racing in my head again. Murder is the angel dust I use and when the rushes start, they are perfect and as powerful as a blood-red eclipse. I run in the darkness of those moments of shattered light, and I know that I will get away with it.
It took a fair effort to drag our drugged-out captives to the back. The gel head kept trying to crawl away and I kept knocking him on the head with the butt of the Glock. Blood on his face blinded him and he didn't know which way to crawl. When we got them to the gazebo I knocked them both on their backs and stomped on their balls. Gel head ended up hanging backwards over the gazebo rail, his blue lips spewing reddened froth. Blood ran thick on Miller's battered face as he crawled in the grass below. And the third guy sat there biting his lip with broken teeth and rocking himself like he was a mad baby.
“Looks like Miller has been given an overdose by those two drug addicts,” I said.
Joey grinned from ear to ear. “If you aren't buying you're dying. And that’s a fact.”
And because of that fact, the last lead slip always goes to me - The Team hit man.
“I am very impressed with your handling of this job,” Joey said. “For a reward I have a straight lead for you. No sales or complications, just straight payment to get another threat to the Team out of the way.”
“He handed me the lead slip and I studied the name. “Your wife?”
“Yeah, and I don't want to talk about it.”
“Don't have to,” I said as we walked away. |
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