“Retrieval” by J. Bradley
Bob bakes in the driver’s seat of his rusted white Dodge Ram. “Shit, it’s only seven in the mornin’ and it’s already hot as fuck.”
“Why didn’t we just do this in the middle of the night? It would have been a lot cooler out.” Marvin says, holding the coffee cup cap of his Thermos steady as the Ram hits a small pothole.
“My place isn’t big enough to keep what we find overnight until the store opens up the next morning, you know that. Besides, after we do our run, I have to go to work.”
“I see one on the right, in the bushes outside of the apartment complex comin’ up.”
“Hang on.” Bob twists the wheel. Marvin grabs the Oh Jesus bar, hoping the truck doesn’t tip over. Bob cuts the engine. “Wheel that sumbitch over while I get the back open.” Marvin walks over to the shopping cart stashed away in the bushes. It makes it back onto the sidewalk after a solid push.
“How’s it lookin?” Bob yells, putting down the door of the truck bed, propping a large wooden plank at an angle.
“Decent enough. I hate when people just wheel a cart home instead of carry the bags home. It’s some ghetto ass shit.”
“Yeah but if there were decent people, we’d be out of a job. Now help me get the fucker in the back.”
Marvin pushes the cart up the plank while Bob grabs the front of the cart. Bob pulls it all the way to the front of the truck bed, near the back window. Bob lashes the cart to each side of the truck bed, brings the wooden plank back up. He closes off the truck bed.
“What’s our time?” Marvin looks at his faded black digital watch.
“We still got time to look for more before my shift starts. Let’s go.”
Vincent Mangolo stands outside of Save-A-Ton. His black clip-on tie flutters in the wind as he stares at his iPhone. They should be here by now. A rusted white Ram pulls up in front of him, the cab full of shopping carts. Two men get out of the Ram.
“You two are late,” Vincent says.
“We found one more of yours thirty minutes ago. It took us forty to get it the hell out of the complex it was in.”
“How many did you find, Bob?”
“Five this time. You need to do a better job at watchin’ your carts, Vinnie.”
“Goddamn it.” Vincent presses his iPhone. “That makes fifteen this week so far. Fifteen. Usual rate?”
“You and your partner get my carts out of there while I get your money.”
Bob and Marvin open the truck bed, wheel each cart out from the back to the corral of carts in front of the store. Vincent comes out with an envelope and hands it to Bob. Bob opens the envelope and sees a hundred, a twenty, and a five.
“Pleasure doin’ business with you, Vinnie. See you tomorrow morning.” Bob and Marvin get back into the Ram and drive off.
“I’m glad the little fuck hasn’t caught onto the whole force field thing most stores are starting to use now to keep carts on property,” Bob says between drags of his cigarette. “It’s bad enough that I have to sometimes get my Ginny involved to drum up business here and there.”
“Did you know California has a corporation just for shopping cart retrieval? Why don’t we start one, go legit?”
“Marv, that’s way too much hassle. Besides, we’d have to report what we make to the government. The last thing I need is our government taking more of my hard earned money. Keep it under the table. That’s what my dad taught me.”
“Bob, what’s gonna happen when Vinnie finally gets a force field installed at Save-A-Ton?”
“Not fuckin’ happenin’. Save-A-Ton is one of those super cheap stores, the one where all the people with food stamps go at the beginning of the month. The store can barely afford non-spoiled meat let alone decent generic shit. There’s no way their corporate office would let that happen.”
“What if it happens?”
“Then I’ll have a plan. What are you doin’ after work tonight?”
“Nothin’. What’s up?”
“I need you to help me to test somethin’ out over at the UberMarket, somethin’ that could drum us up more business.”
“The UberMarket? Are you fucking crazy, Bob?”
“Damn right. Someone has to be fuckin’ crazy. That’s why you’re the spotter. You’re good at seeing shit, just not at thinkin’ of shit.”
People spill in and out of UberMarket’s double sliding doors. The first few rows of cars bask in the green light from the letters of UberMarket. A dollar sign wearing a cape patrols the storefront to show UberMarket’s commitment to scouring the galaxy to make sure it has the lowest prices. Bob opens his cellphone, punches a few buttons, the closes the cellphone.
“Bob, what’s goin’ on?”
“Ginny’s gonna cause a distraction so we can test somethin’.”
“How do you know it’s…” Four security guards rush past the Ram on Segways.
“Find a cart that hasn’t touched the yellow line yet. Lemme know when you find it. We’ve got about five, ten minutes at best.” Marvin looks around the lot.
“Found it. We can get to it in about a minute top running speed.”
“Let’s go.” Bob and Marvin rush out of the truck toward the lone cart. More security guards on Segways rush into the store.
“Bob, what the fuck is Ginny doin’?”
“You don’t want to know.”
Bob and Marvin reach the lone cart. They grip the sides and lift it as high as they can. They walk slowly past the yellow line when the shield slides over the back right wheel.
“Shit, just what I thought. Marv, we gotta get back to the truck.”
“What about Ginny?”
“I’ll come back for her in an hour. They’re gonna call the number on her med bracelet. I’ll explain she forgot to take her meds and something set her off so she’ll get out of it pretty easily, a slap of the wrist at worse. You can make a half truth into a whole truth.”
Bob and Marv walk briskly back to the Ram. “Why do you keep putting Ginny up to your crazy shit?”
“Since when can I ever put Ginny up to anything? Once she’s got an idea, that’s it. I just come up with my end of the plan and hope it all works together.”
“Marv, I thought the strips were just giant fuckin’ magnets.” Bob says between sips of Pabst.
“Turns out, it’s some sort of radio signal that talks to the carts.”
“Can we jam it?”
“Not really. We’d have to get inside and turn off the machine. That would let people take the carts off the property. That would let us recover them.”
“Do you remember what happened to Tommy before UberMarket put the force field in, what they did to him?”
“That’s a fuckin’ myth, Marv.”
“No it isn’t. They broke his hands, their elite recovery team they had back then. They paid for Tommy’s care and settled out of court but it sent a message to everyone. It’s one thing for Ginny to go crazy and knock some shelves around. It’s another to steal from them. Eye-for-an-eye biblical justice, Bob. That’s what’s UberMarket’s into. They have the legal team that lets them get away with it, especially with small timers like us.”
“Are you a chicken shit, Marv, a faggot?”
“If I was suckin’ dick Bob, I’d have a helluva lot more money and I wouldn’t need to scheme. You’re on your fuckin’ own on this one.” Marvin slams down his tall boy of PBR before walking out of the bar.
“You’ll be back. You’ll see.”
“Ginny, thanks for comin’ with me to find those UberMarket carts. If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t have the chance to do this.”
“Bob darlin’, you know I’d do anything for you. For us.”
“Gin, do you see any carts?”
“I don’t, honey.”
“Where the fuck are all the carts?” After two loud pops, Bob hears the grinding of metal against asphalt.
“Bob, the back tires are blown.”
“Hang on, darlin’.” Bob steers the Ram into the nearest apartment complex. A black van follows behind, parks behind the Ram. Four masked men dressed in all black step out of the van, semi-automatic rifles strapped on them. One of them goes toward Bob. The other three aim at the truck.
“Sir, you need to come with us.”
“I warned you, Bob. I warned you if you tried this shit, they would come down on you.” Marvin sits across from Bob wearing a black pinstripe Perry Ellis suit and a red power tie.
“Marv, who the fuck are you?” The handcuff on Bob’s right wrist rattles against the armrest of the chair.
“I’m the head of this UberMarket’s security. Vincent over at Save-A-Ton tipped us off about you, what you were doing to them. When you posted the ad for a spotter in the paper, I answered. I needed to see for myself if you were doing what Vincent said you were doing. Though we work to crush our enemies, from time to time we’ll unite against a common cause. In exchange for his tip, I told him UberMarket would pay double to Save-A-Ton what they paid you to retrieve their carts.”
“That little fuck. What are you gonna do to me?”
“I don’t know, Bob, what should we do to you? I don’t mind you doing what you do. There’s still a need for people with your talent. Force fields, as you call them, are expensive, and not every store can afford them. They need retrieval specialists, honest ones.”
“So…you’re just gonna let me go?”
“Not quite, Bob. Put your hands on the table.”
“Fuck you, Marv, I’m not putting my hands on the table.”
Marvin pushes a button. Two men come into the room and hold Bob’s hands down on the table. Marvin takes a hammer out of his desk.
“I warned you, Bob. Eye-for-an-eye is our policy when it comes to theft. Don’t worry. We’ll make sure you’re compensated. The message we send will be worth it.”
“Don’t fucking do this, Bob.”
“It’s too late.” Bob winces, suturing his eyelids. The hammer head slams near his hand. “You can open your eyes.”
“This isn’t Vegas. We don’t break any bones here.”
“What about Tommy?”
“The dumb shit broke his hands while trying to take one of our carts and then sued us for it. Somehow, he was going to win so we settled. As part of the settlement, he agreed to sign a sworn statement indicating what we said we did to him. It reduced the amount of people taking the carts off the premises, reduced our need for people like you, before we got the force field installed.”
“What does this mean for me?”
“You will pay penance for what you’ve done by doing some free cart retrieval for Save-A-Ton for a month. After, we’ll talk about future plans. You’re good at what you do, I can attest to that, but you can’t pull this shit.”
“What if I don’t agree?”
“Then we’ll prosecute to the full extent.”
Bob bites his lip. “Goddamn, I guess we have a deal.”
“Good, I’ll have security uncuff you and let you go home.”
“Thanks, Marv. You’re still a fag.”
“And you’re a crazy motherfucker. Just remember one thing.”
“The poorer you are, the less you can get away with.”
J. Bradley is the Interviews Editor of PANK Magazine. His recent publications include A Patchwork of Rooms Furnished by Mistakes (Deckfight Press, 2011) and the novella Bodies Made of Smoke (HOUSEFIRE, 2011).